I cannot pinpoint the precise moment in time when the transformation kicked in, the shift from the occasional one-night stand with someone I thought of as a vapid twit into a torrid love affair of passionate tweets. But I remember the circumstance.
I was drunk, quite drunk. As is my habit when I am drunk, I assaulted the kitchen: whipped cream out of the can, smoked mussels packed in what appeared to be high-viscosity motor oil, several substantial fistfuls of Cheez-Its. The theory, always wrong, was that such indiscriminate binging would make me less drunk when of course it made me both drunk and nauseous. It also prevented me from doing what I should have done, which was pass out. Instead, plopped into a red armchair, I took out my iPhone and checked for email. None was remotely interesting, which is when, for no discernible reason except severe addlement, I punched up my app called Twitterific and looked at my Twitter account.
For a writer of requisite vanity and ego, the account was far from Twitterific—about 500 followers. In my defense I had not used Twitter very much nor did I follow many Twitterers, about 20 or so. It struck me as even more stupid than the very stupid Facebook and its contrived network of “friends,” on which no thought ever goes unexpressed. (“Had Weinerschnitzel for dinner in Dubuque. More after dessert!”) In Facebook at least there was some chance of expansion. But under the fiat of the Twitter Politburo, what could you possibly tweet in a maximum of 140 characters?
As another smoked mussel slid down my throat into a pool of whipped cream-spiked white wine, I did what every writer does—plugged in my name to see what, if anything, had been written about me. LeBron James, with whom I had written a book the previous fall, had just played his infamous Game Five against the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs. In the middle of the game he had given up. It was a terrible performance for someone of such spectacular skill and hustle. It was also his performance. And yet some twit of a tweeter with the moniker of @hoopopinion wrote that as badly as LeBron had played for the Cleveland Cavaliers, it still wasn’t worse than the book we had written. Why was I being dragged into this mess?
Shooting Stars was far from the best book I had ever written; the compromises of such collaboration, written in the first person of James and subject to his approval, had always shamed me. I did it for the money, because all writers, or at least those who don’t want to die, also have to eat. But I also did it because it was an inspirational coming-of-age story involving LeBron and the four teammates who had become his brothers through high school. I took great offense to what this Twit twat said. So I wrote back: Fuck off.
The next morning, as jackhammers played in my head, I checked in on Twitter again. More than the usual number of Twitterites had taken note of my reply, which also meant more gratuitous insults. Now sober, I wondered if my profane remark of the night before had been the right thing to do. Shouldn’t I have some regard for dignified expression?
“I wish I could kick you in the nuts if you had any,” I wrote back to another Twit twat. And then again: “Next time you insult me, come to Philly and do it to my face. Man up. Stop being coward juice douche.”
I felt better, surprisingly better. And it was then I decided to dive into Twitter with two fundamental principles:
1. I was not going to take gratuitous insults anymore but fight back with all barrels loaded.
2. Twitter needed some definite spicing up, particularly in the sports department, where the chatter, at least among those I followed, made the mundane seem magnificent.
I am an angry man, which is one of the reasons I have resumed therapy and take four different pharmaceuticals. I wake up angry, stay angry during the day except to my dog and children, and go to bed angry at night. Most of my anger amounted to a running dialogue of abuse and self-abuse while working alone at home. But with Twitter, I now had an outlet. I used profanity, because that’s the way I talk, the perfect sentence being one in which the f-bomb appears as adverb, verb, adjective, and noun, as in, “You kind sir, go fuckly fuck yourself, you fuck of a fuckhead.” I also began to routinely apply the term “douche juice” to those I felt were sub-troglodytes. It has become my tweeting imprimatur and many Twitterites congratulated me on coining the phrase. I did not. But fuck it. The person I appropriated it from had even fewer followers than I did, implying of course a very empty and unsuccessful life.
I now routinely go on Twitter jags. I have indeed become a mini-blogger, somewhat ironic for someone who made an absolute idiot of himself on HBO’s “Costas Now” in 2008 by condemning sports blogs with all the grace of an elephant relieving himself.
But I like the staccato of anger and vitriol that Twitter provides. I like being nasty as long as it has some basis in fact, at least most of the time. When someone says something inane, an easy mark in Twitterdom, I enjoy douche juicing them as if some kind of human skunk. There is also a certain amount of realistic self-preservation involved, as I realize that the businesses from which I make my living—books, magazines, and newspapers—are potentially crumbling. In other words, if you can’t beat ’em, you join ’em. And it has seemed to work, helped greatly by stories of my sudden Twitter-mania in Deadspin and on SI.com, where Richard Deitsch named me number one in media rankings for the month of May.
“It’s probably safe to say Bissinger is the only Pulitzer-Prize winner on Twitter who uses the term ‘Douche Juice’ on a regular basis,” Deitsch wrote. “He also curses. A lot. And he makes no excuses for it.” Wife no. 3, seriously appalled, points out that this is simply not appropriate conduct for a writer of serious books and pieces for Vanity Fair and The New Republic and The New York Times op-ed section. But since she is working in the Middle East while I have stayed behind in Philadelphia, who gives a douche juice? Because of the nature of the Internet, too many writers have allowed themselves to become speed bags for cruel and bitchy comments. The good old days of Norman Mailer, who punched out those with the temerity to disagree with him, need to be resurrected by at least verbally counterpunching back.
I have 5,777 followers as of this very second (actually 5,778 since I just checked again), ten times as many as I had a month ago, and any writer who says they don’t note the number of their followers nine or ten times a day is not really a writer but a self-righteous hair-shirter.
I do not do literary. I do not try to do little novelettes a la Rick Moody, whose idea of goofing around on Twitter is to write pretentious nonsense. I say on Twitter what I viscerally feel, and the way I feel at a given point in time has nothing to do with the way I write professionally. I take no prisoners, including LeBron James, who has handled the saga of his impending free agency terribly; he appeared on “Larry King” during the NBA finals, and he also refused to meet with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who cited it as a factor in rejecting the possibility to coach the Cavaliers. My tweets obviously rule out the possibility that James and I will have any relationship, but for someone usually so classy, he has been puzzling and uncharacteristic, i.e. jus de douche.
I do admit to moments of punchy moronics, mostly on Saturday nights when it is just I and the dog and a dinner consisting of soup straight out of the can. After Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies pitched a perfect game against the Florida Marlins on May 29, I immediately referred to him as Hackaday. That was beyond juvenile, and I knew I needed a Twitter-vention, but even then there was an underlying belief: Because of his past career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Halladay has never won a difficult contest in his life, and perfect game or no perfect game, I cannot help but wonder how he will do under the pressure of the playoffs if the Phillies get there, which is a very big “if” at this point. I have made merciless fun of Cleveland, because the city so clearly leads the league in defensiveness. I have attacked the Tony awards for the selection of La Cage Aux Folles as a revival of a revival of a revival based on a revival. I have attacked BP over their shocking callousness. I have attacked the NCAA over these ridiculous conference swaps that only have to do with money and make an increasing mockery of college football, if that’s possible.
Twittering is cathartic, particularly for someone used to writing long-form narrative where the odds of producing a commercially successful book have become worse than seven-deck blackjack. So I am hooked. I have joined the modern age I once condemned. I have gone from a hard-boiled man of print to a twittering flower power Tweety.
Many have praised me for my searing honesty even though they also think I am demented. More than a few of my fellow Twitterites are quite funny. When I am egregiously off the wheels, it is usually pointed out with grace, and Twitterdom is far more humane than I ever imagined. Twitterites can also be quite helpful. When I was about to go to the Middle East to visit wife no. 3 after a two-month gap, I asked for advice on how to handle myself. The best came from one who said that whatever I was thinking, I should just express the opposite.
Some say I am two-faced because of my original anti-blog stance, or that I am a washed-up windbag, or that I am seriously demeaning myself. They have a perfect right to their tweets but so do I:
fuck off big butt pencil pushing dickweed windowless basement dweller douche juice without a life or meaning except to don't while others do
As it turns out, 140 characters are just fine.