My good friend Zeus, from the little village of Anatevka

From time to time it hits me that we need a new word for something. #1 on the list as a word to describe a catastrophe that you cause by specifically and directly trying to prevent it.

Like, you’re at a party at someone’s house, and you notice that someone’s carelessly left a wine glass at the edge of the coffee table. “Someone’s going to bump into that and spill Merlot all over our hosts’ nice rug!” you think. So you reach over to move it. But your fingers brush against the side and sure enough, five minutes later you’re furiously apologizing and insisting to pay for the cleaning bill.

The second priority is for a word to describe people whom you know and enjoy and interact with online, but whom you’ve never actually met. One such person from my past died last month, and as is the way of such things, the news is just starting to percolate through the weenie wire.

“Paul Grant (Zeus)” was one of those top-of-the-marquee names on Compuserve’s Comics and Animation Forum. In 1990 as now, you quickly learn to triage the content on message boards. Some days, I had enough free time and the traffic was so light that I could read every single new message, and could write as many replies as I wanted. But it’s far more likely that I’d just follow a few threads that seemed interesting and then look for posts from folks who always had something valuable to say.

And that described Paul. I remember him as being emblematic of how different message boards used to be, back in the day. His posts were thoughtful and reasoned, more like a full article than an impulsive expression.

Many’s the time when I read his opinion about a certain artist or story and thought “Bollocks!” (I was still young enough that I wasn’t the least-bit self-consious about using words that I had picked up from The Young Ones and Hellblazer.) I’d start writing a response, but the precision of Paul’s posts sort of insisted that I be just as thoughtful in preparing my reply, so I’d examine each of his points carefully. And (goddammit) by the time I got halfway through, I’d be forced to admit that the man made a convincing argument.

(No fair: he was a lawyer.)

And that’s not to say that boards were “better” back then. But traffic was still light enough that individual posts could be carefully read, and taking extra effort in lining up your thoughts paid off. Plus, people didn’t have personal blogs and other outlets of expression, so oftentimes posting your opinion on whether the Thing could beat the Hulk in zero-gravity felt like you were preparing something for publication.

Paul and I certainly swapped a few emails back in the day, but unlike so many others whom I’ve met online, the circumstances for a face-to-face never really resolved themselves. So on that basis, it’d be presumptuous of me to call him a “friend.”

Nonetheless, when I spotted his name in a friend’s blog a couple of days ago, it brought back some v.nice memories and I was keen to find out what Paul was up to these days. Needless to say, I was pretty damned disappointed. I couldn’t claim Paul as a friend, true, but I miss him all the same.

So I don’t know what word I should use to describe my relationship with people like Paul.

There’s a different word that years ago, I enthusiastically adopted for internal use: “Anatevka.” That’s the name of the little town in “Fiddler On The Roof.” It’s a longstanding and tight-knit community but when the Czar’s men break up the village, its members all go their separate ways, likely to never meet again.

As the news of Paul’s death has spread, members of my former little village of Anatevka have been gathering together at a message board that I’d never visited before. I think I’ve only actually met two or three of the people who’ve left comments on this page. But each name conjures up pleasant memories.

I’ll get right to work on coming up with that new word. Swear to God. But it’s possible that as an ongoing solution, the simplest answer would be to just do what’s necessary to upgrade people to full Friend status, and then leave it at that.

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