This is a fun tale to tell.
Mr. No One? Who the hell is that?
You may have seen his occasional comments on my blog over the past couple of years.. specifically, back in May of 2014, when they started popping up. The “posting name” varied slightly as the months rolled by.. starting out as “No one of consequence,” quickly changing to “No one,” and then finally, consistently appearing as what appeared to be his officially decided-on title: Mr. No One.
Every now and then, I’d get a notification at 11 PM, 3:30 in the morning, or 2:25 PM. Random times. The notification would be an email from WordPress where I was being notified that a Mr. No One had just commented on the blog. Again.
Wherever I was and whatever I was doing, I’d stop to read each comment immediately, always wondering who this random, faithful poster was. I definitely over analyzed his messages and his writing voice, but by doing so, I was able to assign three definitive adjectives onto the helmet, shield and breastplate of this mysterious persona:
- Vaguely supportive
So I’d read the comment, re-read my post (either in its entirety or just a particular portion of it) in light OF the comment, and then I’d move on with my day.. not feeling unsettled, exactly, and certainly not feeling creeped out. Just stumped. It would be like me ending a sentence without
..see? You’re left wondering if you read that incorrectly or if I died in the middle of typing the sentence out, and then all your mind can really do is try to place a word or a small collection of words at the end of the unfinished sentence to afford some closure. To attach some meaning. Yeah. With Mr. No One, there was never any closure.
Last year, even though Mr. No One didn’t have his “posting” name linked to an existing blog, a social media page, OR what appeared to be a valid email address, I tried responding to some of his comments. Why not, I mused, carefully typing out a quick and inquisitive email to my number one fan. I need to come across as being appreciative of his time and vaguely curious as to his identity, but not desperate for it. I drafted the email, read it back to myself (as the author, for proofing purposes), closed my eyes, and then read it AGAIN — this time, pretending to BE Mr. No One (how will he “interpret” this? I asked myself). I made a couple of quick edits (with the aim of sounding less desperate), and then I clicked on the word send.
Sometimes, he emailed back. Sometimes he didn’t. When he did, I didn’t learn anything about who he was.. only who he wasn’t, and this was through thoughtful questioning and deductive reasoning. In one of my first emails, I ventured to ask him three questions that I believed would help satisfy my curiosity, and questions whose answers, I knew, wouldn’t merit such detailed specifics that Mr. No One would feel like his anonymous identity was threatened. Pulling up a copy of that email in my Gmail account’s “sent” folder, I can quote that my first three initial questions were:
- Have we ever met in-person?
- How long have we known each other?
- When is the last time we knowingly communicated with each other (IE we spoke and I knew WHO I was talking with)?
He responded with:
- Years ago.
Well damn, I thought to myself, elated that he’d responded but disappointed at his perfectly preserved anonymity. I re-read the questions I’d posed, his oh-so-typically vague answers, and cursed myself for not asking BETTER questions. Feeling gutsy, I sent another email, and in the email, I asked a better question:
- Are you Jonathan, Jarrod, Micah or David?
I felt pretty sure that he must be ONE of these people. I’d run through various situations in my head and had analyzed different personality types and these processes had narrowed my suspicions down to those four characters.
He answered within the hour:
I proceeded to ask what city and state we’d met in; he responded that we’d met in the “greater birmingham area.” Becoming increasingly confident that I’d continue to receive answers to whatever questions I asked, I followed up with 4 more questions.
- What year did we meet in?
- Are we friends on Facebook?
- When is the last time we SAW each other?
- Am I asking too many questions?
- I don’t know.
- I don’t know.
UGH! I screamed inwardly. WHO THE HELL IS THIS CHARACTER?
The emails stopped for a while. I continued blogging; he continued reading and commenting on occasion, whenever he felt like it. On my latest post – It’s not the coffee; it’s me – he posted the following comment:
You’re overlooking one very important aspect of the coffee experience. It’s halfway between gas-station and coffee-shop, and that’s ‘diner coffee’. Sometimes you just need the never-ending coffee experience of a Waffle House. You can be around people, but they mostly don’t want to talk to you. Oh, and you need to find a place that does a Vietnamese iced coffee. There’s your dessert.
And I recognized it instantly. My “in.” This was my chance. Was I brave enough to take it?
I clicked on the fake-ass email address that his posting name linked to and began crafting yet another email. It consisted of just two sentences that conveyed confidence and that I knew he couldn’t possibly help but respond to.
“So,” my message read, “if you’re still living in the greater birmingham area, I’m free all weekend. Which Waffle House do you want to meet at?”
I sent the email, feeling my heart racing and feeling VERY pleased with myself. You’re so freaking brave, Jace, I complimented myself, genuinely impressed. This dude could potentially KILL you and yet here you go, waltzing right into the very face of danger.
I shared my email with one of my closest friends before sending it (to get her reaction). I’d been sharing “Mr. No One updates” with her for several months by now, so she was very “in-the-know” about the situation.
“Wowwwww.. REALLY?” she read the draft and then looked up at me with raised eyebrows, returning the phone into my hand. “Are you actually willing to meet up with this guy?”
“Oh, yes,” I answered quickly, “I definitely am.”
“It could be unsafe, Jace. Like, really unsafe.”
“It could be,” I agreed, “but I’m not liking feeling disturbed about not knowing his identity. Especially at night. When I think about it at night, it makes me feel nervous, and I’d like to feel more in control of the situation. I’m willing to chance it. I’m just hoping he’ll agree to it”
And guess what? He did.
“…and ruin the mystery?” he emailed in response. Here we go.
We exchanged several more emails as we fine-tuned our plans; in one of these emails, I proposed that we meet on a Sunday morning at 7:30.
“I can honestly say that I don’t remember the last time I was awake that early on a Sunday,” he hesitated. I was worried that he was going to back out.
“Well then how about we meet at 8:00 sharp?” I offered in reply.
“Nah,” he concluded, “7:30 am is absurd and great. I’ll see you then.”
What a character, I thought inwardly, beginning to question the soundness of my own decision. Isn’t this how people get killed? I considered the question seriously. “I mean really.. on paper, it’s like this: you’re meeting up with some stranger who’s been lurking on your blog for two years at a Waffle House. That just sounds off.” I paused. “It’s sketchy as hell, Jace.”
“BUT,” I argued with the voice, “it was YOUR idea to meet up. Not his. And you’re meeting at 7:30 am, at a Waffle House.. not at 2 am in some abandoned alley downtown. This person doesn’t seem to have ill intentions. They seem friendly and vaguely supportive. Remember?”
I shook my head, unable to firmly choose a side but feeling far too curious to take the ‘cautious route.’
“Whatever. We’ll just have to see what happens.”
Sunday morning rolled around quickly. I woke up and slipped on my dude jeans (loose-fitting, black denim pants), gray vans, and a black t-shirt with outer space swirls and galactic patterns woven into the design. “If I DO die this morning,” I thought to myself cheerfully as I dried my face with a towel, “I’m at least going to look like a total cool guy.”
I hopped in the car, drove for about ten minutes, slowly rolled to a stop in the Waffle House parking lot and then looked down at my phone before heading in: 7:26 am. I was prompt. My mother had messaged me over Facebook again that morning (I had just shared with her, the night before, what my plans were). If I do get kidnapped/killed, I had reasoned inwardly, it wouldn’t be right to have NOT told her.
“Please be careful!” her email read. “Do not leave the restaurant with him.” But what if he says that he has candy in his car? “Keep your cell phone with you at all times,” her message continued. I will.. until he realizes that I have one on me and throws it out the car window, which will happen just before I’m blindfolded, tied up, and sadly tossed into the ravine.
I activated my emergency brake, locked the driver’s seat door before slamming it shut and then began walking towards the Waffle House.
“Well now.. what should I do at this juncture,” I wondered for the first time. “Stand outside and wait for someone I may or may not recognize to walk up? This blogger has to know what I look like, because they said we met in person years ago. OR,” I thought at the half-way point of my short trek through the parking lot, “they might already be inside waiting for me. With a table. Or at a booth. Wearing sunglasses and a ball cap and with a carefully concealed handkerchief that’s been soaked in some kind of chemical and that they’ll discreetly press against my face when no one is looking and which will make me pass out. Then comes the phone tossing and the unfortunate fall into the ravine. OH MY GOD; I might die today.” I was probably making a strange face when I looked up and noticed an oddball standing beside the front door. I paused. He looked vaguely familiar.
“Hey,” I called out tentatively, in a friendly voice.
“Hello,” he answered. He WAS wearing sunglasses and a brown bucket hat.
“Are you maybe meeting someone here?” I queried openly, feeling awkward.
My heart lurched. “IT’S HAPPENING! YOU’RE MEETING MR. NO ONE! YOU’RE LIKE THE COOLEST DETECTIVE ON THE PLANET RIGHT NOW! AND IT DOESN’T EVEN LOOK LIKE HE’S GOING TO KILL YOU!”
“Let’s go inside,” I stated immediately, not really knowing where to begin but deciding that it would come to me by the time we’d found our seats.
We sat down at a booth (after I asked if he wanted to sit at a booth or at the bar and then answered for both of us, before he could cast a vote). I plopped my wallet and phone down on the table, tossed my hoodie over onto the empty booth space beside me, and then looked across the table at him. Mr. No One.
“So,” I began, “you look VERY familiar. You play in a band downtown, right? That must be where I’ve seen you.”
“No,” he answered simply, still settling in across from me. His beard – one of his most prominent and outstanding characteristics – fell down to where his belly button would be. He wore a necklace consisting of bottle caps strung together on a black cord. These were the two things I noticed first, after the sunglasses and brown bucket hat.
“Okay,” I responded slowly, continuing to eye him and flipping through old personnel records in my memory, “then where have we met? How do I know you?”
“The credit union.”
“OH MY GOD,” I exhaled, “that IS IT!”
He reminded me of his name, and, with a name and location now framing things into context, I was instantly able to recall all of our interactions. I had worked, years before, as a teller at a small, local credit union. This particular member — Mr. No One, who I will henceforward fictitiously refer to as Ryder – would come in once every two weeks, and I’d help him with his transaction as we chit-chatted about school, the novel I was working on, and other random things.
“You suddenly disappeared,” he explained, “and when you did, I remembered that you’d signed one of my insurance papers once, so I looked your name up online. Your blog was the first thing to pop up.”
“Really?” I leaned in, intrigued, uncomfortably resting my elbows on the table. “The blog, of all things.. that’s surprising.” I paused. “But why did you decide to look me up, though?” I asked him. “I’m just curious.”
He shrugged. “You were the only person in that branch I could talk to.”
I nodded, satisfied with his response. “I like your shirt,” I offered suddenly, pointing directly at it. “Appreciate the rainbow.”
He looked down at the shirt himself. “I thought it would seem friendly.” He pulled his beard over to one side so I could snap a picture of it. “Don’t worry,” I murmured out loud as I held my phone up in front of him, “I’ll make sure to keep your face out of the shot.”
We ordered breakfast. “And what would you like to drink?” the waitress asked, pen in hand. I smiled to myself, remembering how I’d ended up here with Mr. No One: for the purpose of experiencing diner coffee. “Coffee with creamer, please,” I answered her. He ordered the same.
In a moment, she’d placed two mugs of coffee on the table, along with four creamers.
“You already know pretty much EVERYTHING about ME,” I began, dumping creamer number two into the mug and stirring it around with a spoon,”but I know nothing of you. Other than your name and where you bank.”
Despite targeted probing, I learned precious little about Ryder, because he’s a pretty quiet guy. I did learn that he makes signs (the creative type; no surprise). He’s married. He likes to knit and crochet (especially bottle-covers that are in the shape of Octopuses) and enjoys eating virtually anything other than hot dogs. He had two cats, but they died, and while he’s not a big fan of television in general, he enjoys watching food and travel shows sometimes.
“So what’s going on with you and Charlie right now?” he asked me after patiently answering a steady stream of questions that I’d posed to him. “I know that you two were on for a while and then off and then..” he trailed off, waiting for a reply.
I smiled a little, holding the gigantic mass of smothered and covered hash brown steady with my right hand and cutting into it with my left. “Charlie is actually sitting right over there,” I motioned towards him with an inclination of my head. “Behind you. My mom made me promise that I’d bring someone with me.”
Ryder turned around and laughed heartily. “Ahhhh.. your security detail. Yeah. I knew you could take care of yourself, but I also figured that SOME kind of plan was in place. Back-up of sorts.”
“Yep,” I laughed along with him. “I dropped Charlie off at the gas station before actually pulling in to the Waffle House parking lot. He said, this morning, that he was going to try to dress inconspicuously, but he honestly just ended up looking like a Jehovah’s Witness.” Charlie was wearing clean, blue jeans, a beige button-up shirt with a blue paisley tie, and had a journal tucked under his arm that could easily be mistaken for a leather-bound Bible. Ryder turned around to get a second look at him and then nodded in silent agreement with me.
“And we’re friends, currently,” I finally answered him, “BUT that could change come this afternoon. Who knows.” He laughed quietly. “Really though,” I followed up more seriously, dunking another bite of hash browns into the small pool of ketchup on my plate, “I intend on staying friends this time. I really need time to myself right now. And I’m pretty sure that, before settling down and committing myself to someone for FOREVER again, I’ll want to date a woman or two. After all.. since I first realized I was gay last year, I’ve dated ZERO women, and I think that that’s an integral part of this ‘whole thing.'”
He seemed supportive of the decision. We moved on to other topics: the OCD ticks stemming from my childhood onward; the establishment and dissolution of my heterosexual marriage; my passionate bout with and – now – neutrality towards religion; my gender identity, recently re-homed rabbits, and dumbass (but dearly loved) German Shepherd. I eventually described my mother’s frantic state of being over the nerve-wracking reality that I was meeting up with some stranger I’d been conversing with over the internet.
“And she did specifically instruct me to NOT get into your car with you,” I shared with him very seriously, “so if you even bring the matter up, it’s not happening.”
“Ahhh, right,” he concurred agreeably.
“But I told her that if CANDY was offered, I MIGHT.”
“You might,” he repeated, “but what if I’d had a burrito in there?”
“Oh my god,” I laughed out loud. “YOU are hilarious. Which of those cars is yours?”
The Waffle House grew increasingly crowded, so we decided to carry the conversation outside. He grabbed the ticket off of our table and paid up at the front, which was unexpected. I thanked him.
“No problem,” he smiled. “A cup of coffee and a plate of hash browns; you’re a cheap date.”
We talked outside for a few more minutes, and then I tapped, from the outside, on the window beside Charlie’s table (to get his attention). He looked up; I caught his eyes and motioned for him to come and meet me outside. He and Mr. No One shook hands with each other, and then we all celebrated the fact that I wasn’t dead.
“Ahhh, but I forgot to bring the pepper spray,” I mourned.
“Eh, you’ll bring it with you next time,” Ryder offered encouragingly.
“I sure will.”
Mr. No One and I shook hands and then retreated to our vehicles. I looked over from the driver’s seat and smiled at Charlie on our way to the grocery store.
“Did you enjoy meeting Mr. No One?” he asked. “Was it an interesting experience?”
“It was SO interesting,” I answered, letting my left hand dangle limply outside of the car window and feeling cool air rushing through the empty spaces between my fingers. “The mystery was always intriguing, but I’m really glad I know who he is now. I’d have never guessed it was him. And I’m so glad that it WAS him, Charlie; he’s a very sweet, gentle, thoughtful and interesting person.. super nice guy, and totally harmless. What an interesting morning.” With my fingertips closing around the steering wheel and my foot tapping lightly on the gas, I slid my tongue across the roof of my mouth, remembering the way the coffee had tasted at Waffle House. Slightly bitter; vaguely sweet; earthy. It was functional, and socially, it had been fun to sip on, but it was nothing to write home about. I think I’ll stick with my fancy, weekly cafe mochas, I mused.
Whew — STILL HERE!