Long before Antifa rowdies began to home in on me and make my life a living hell—posting ugly pix of me and exposing several of my pen-names and a fanciful variant of my maiden name to the world (or at least to their 17 blog readers, oh noes!)—I had a whole smorgasbord of pseudonyms.
One of them, JW, is nearly old enough to be President. I used it for many a flame-war on the old CompuServe SIGs. I even had an American Express card in that name, at least until I charged up a bunch of dinners for my comedy group and decided not to pay!
In those days, early 1980s, I had a TI99/4A with a 90K single-sided hard-drive and a 300 baud modem. I was probably the only one of my friends to be an online addict at that point, but I was hardly unique in the world at large. I subscribed to, and sometimes wrote for, InfoWorld, which reminded me weekly that there were easily a million more hackers and microcomputer hobbyists in the country, most of them with better systems than I had. But I managed.
On discussion boards the words came out so slowly it was like watching a Telex terminal. I sometimes stayed up all night, typing out heated arguments about comic books and the Holocaust. CompuServe in those days cost you $2.50 per hour, so it didn’t take me long to rack up a few hundred in charges on my account. I eventually stiffed them too, and their bill collectors in Dublin, Ohio hounded me for six months. Then they gave up and I got a new CompuServe account, and the whole thing began again.
Discussion-group members were a nasty, opinionated lot. Take the nastiest ten percent of Twitter trolls you see today, and that’s about the average comportment of the old Special Interest Group participant on CompuServe. I recall an unbelievably insulting and rude old Jew from Southern California—a retired thoracic surgeon, would you believe—who would pop out of nowhere to call me a nazi. Once I failed to pay sufficient homage to the Holohoax® so after that it was nazi this, nazi that. He’s dead now, so I can give you his name, which is common anyway. Sid Kahn.
Then there was the SYSOP for the group, another Jew, whose name I will not give you as I believe he’s still around. Ineffably unctuous and politically correct this fellow was. He’d gone to shitty colleges in Ohio and Kentucky, lived with his parents in Cleveland at age 35, and was an aspiring science-fiction writer. (That last is usually a flashing red-alert for me, and should be for you too.) His specialty was tone-policing the whole rowdy lot of us, but as is so often the case with these characters, he was actually responsible for most of the flame wars. He had a small claque that would cheer him and pile on any adversary. Me for instance; I was always a convenient victim because I was a ‘nazi.’ Leader of the claque was a woman who called herself Dagny, after the Ayn Rand character. She supposedly lived in a 55-foot trailer in the Arizona desert, and had 10,000 books. I always imagined her as immensely fat, but those who knew her better than I never filled me in on that detail. Another regular, now dead, was a Peter Amschel, a lawyer in a desert town in Southern California. Peter was some kind of fundie Christian and forever flaming Sid Kahn and others. Years afterwards I friended him on Facebook. Weirdly he had become a Moslem.
My polemical style today is nearly identical to what it was in 1983. I do not doubt that some of these CompuServe participants would remember me distinctly today if I had then posted as Margot Darby. One or two might even remember me from my distinctive prose idiom, my old pseudonym notwithstanding. But at least the pseud defeats the search engines, and that is mighty important these days.