One of the consequences of having
written for publications for 25 years is that I have a 25-year-old pile of hate
mail dating back to my college days at IU, when I was apparently disrespectful
Along with other forms of
expression, hate mail has been transformed by the Internet.
It's one thing to talk smack in an email or forum message. It's quite another
to take pen to paper, write a letter about how much I suck, put it in an
envelope, attach postage and send it through the U.S. Postal Service. I admire
the determination shown by such an act.
Hitting "reply" on a news
website and spewing venomous words is one thing, but the overt acts of writing
a letter and mailing it show true dedication to the task of expressing
displeasure at me. I've always been honored and humbled by it.
While I, myself, have grown older
and grayer, my hate mail stays the same as it was in the 1990s. It never
changes: I suck as a writer and as a human being and my opinions are stupid.
Reviewing a stack of several dozen pieces of hate mail sent to me in the 1990s
the other day brought back some memories. This letter I got in response to my
first website in 1994 is still one of my favorites:
"Think of me as a person who
wandered by the "snake boy" freak show just to creep myself out. It
worked. I sincerely hope that I don't wind up like you, the ignorant king of a
steaming compost pile of tired prose. Your works in progress or any random
article from your give-away rag have cultural value roughly equivalent to a wedgie. NUVO and your contributions therein have impressed
me with a new record — most consistent parallels drawn between mildly
annoying people/events and Nazis/the holocaust. While you must be quite proud
of your clever style, your broken record experiences-of-the- week
have yet to register on any scale of significance."
For weeks afterward I prided myself
for being "the ignorant king of a steaming compost pile of tired
prose." I like the term and I'm still proud of it. It's MY steaming
compost pile and I am the king of it.
There's also the direct approach, as
seen by this 1996 email:
"I stumbled across your page
and read a bunch of your columns.
"You're just a terrible writer.
Obviously, you have the freedom to embarrass yourself, and you seem to enjoy
doing so on a weekly basis.
"Please stop, for your own
sake; it's awful. There must be something you can to better than this. It would
be hard to do any worse."
Personal attacks work as well when
nothing else does, as this one did in 1998:
"This is the single stupidest
web page I have ever seen. You need to spend a little more time on maybe
finding women that you can see without kneeling or have to look through prison
bars to see. What you really need to work on is your prose style. Work on that
and spend a little less time on your inane, cutesy topics. I really can't work
up enough venom to really let loose on you, since you are really so
"Fuck you, Hammer, find another
hobby aside from writing your lame columns and even worse HTML. Stay off the
net and leave it to someone with something to say."
How quaint it
seems to urge someone to stay off the Internet; what a '90s thing to do.
Here's another '90s classic hate
mail sent to me, with a bonus non sequitur at the end:
"You pompous, corduroy-wearing,
middle-income-earning, time-wasting turd! Who do you
think you are? You are showing to everyone that, YES, you are a simple moron. É
I could sell my wristwatch and most probably buy your house with the proceeds
— and I drink Blue Ribbon beer."
Short but sweet also works, as in
this email from August, 1997: "alot of what your saying is true but you have a lot of hate in you too
try to get over it and live happy." I wish I'd heeded that person's advice
more throughout my life.
The problem one has as a recipient
of hate mail regularly for 20 years is that you never quite know when they're
right. Valid, verbose criticism of a column is one thing but how does one
respond to an email that says you suck?
The same way I always do, I suppose.
I thank them for expressing their views and for reading my words. I was
thankful for my detractors then and I'm thankful for them now because they give
me energy to continue to maintain my steaming compost pile of tired prose.
Thanks for reading.