A decade or so ago I was publishing and am still publishing — GO INSIDE Magazine and one of my regular writers — we’ll call him “Alvin” — was incredibly dynamic and productive. He wrote well. He wrote five stories a week. He was awake and online at 4:00am and 8:00am and throughout the rest of the day. He’d call and leave long and intricate Voice Mail messages throughout the day.
During Alvin’s tenure, 56k modems — the kind that farted and burped their way to “doubling” your dialup connection — were the new rage. 56k modems worked well and fast enough you could disconnect your 3-cents-per-minute ISDN line and start living in the world of the almost 24/7 internet connection because you could reset your Windows 95 connectoid to auto-dial your ISP’s landline every eight hours after you were automatically disconnected.
As a no-advertising magazine that was free to read online, GO INSIDE enjoyed a high readership. We were one of the first “webzines” to hit the internet and we were trusted because unlike our slim competition from traditional media stumbling online and other GO INSIDE pretenders, our readers knew our reviews were honest and we held no ulterior motives to sell them anything.
Product manufacturers were always interested in sending us stuff for review because we’d give them 2,000 word reviews instead of 50 word mentions. Alvin decided he wanted to do a mega-review of all the new 56k modems that were coming on the market. He’d pit them each against each other with scientific testing and provide deep detail on his real world experience using them to connect to the universe from his homestead in Georgia. He had modems sent to him from U.S. Robotics, Cardinal, Microcom, Toshiba and other manufacturers. The new 56k modems were not cheap.
Each modem cost around $200 each and Alvin was able — through his charm and unique review plan — to get 10 modems or so sent to him. Some companies sent more than one modem for review. Now a modem review of the depth Alvin planned to construct would take an ordinary person a few weeks to set up and test — but Alvin said he’d have the whole thing done five days after the last modem to arrive for testing hit his hands. I believed him because he had done much more work in less time with excellent results.
A week passed. No word from Alvin. No phone calls. No email. No new articles in his massive review queue were being submitted for publication.
I tried to email him and call him and I had no luck finding him. A few more weeks passed and I began getting inquiries from the modem companies asking me, as the Publisher of GO INSIDE Magazine, why their review had not been published.
The pressure was on me because the way we were able to establish the magazine in the marketplace was by keeping a solid relationship of trust between us — seen as a Newbie-Know-Nothing Webzine, and them, seen as Product Manufacturing Monsters in the Marketplace — by never missing the promised publication date for a review.
The one guarantee the companies had in their pocket from me was a signed statement that if a review did not appear when promised, the product would immediately be returned or we — and when I say “we” I mean “me” — would reimburse them for the cost of shipping and the MSRP for the product. In the previous four years of publication we never had to pay back any company.
The time was fast-approaching when I would have to do one of two things if I could not find Alvin. I would either have to send back the modems — which I didn’t have in New York City because Alvin had them in his Georgia farmhouse — or I would have to pony up the dough to pay for around ten $200 modems and the idea of coming up with $2,000 was not a check writing event I was looking forward to attending.
I couldn’t write off the loss as a business expense because GO INSIDE was not a business. The entire magazine was a bunch of people who loved publishing reviews and articles. The whole $2,000 would come out of my personal pocket — and having to pay that kind of restitution was the one peril of self-publication I never thought I’d have to pay. Through a friend of a friend who loved reading GO INSIDE Magazine, I was given a different contact phone number for Alvin. I called the number and found Alvin’s Aunt.
She was a warm and sweet woman full of blunt Southern grace and she told me Alvin was a Crack addict — Crack was a new drug back then most of us didn’t really quite understand yet — and he had an addictive personality that destroyed his family and he stole from his parents and his family and his friends in order to pay for his habit. I understood why Alvin was always online. He never slept. He was jittery. His body was jumping as it came down from a high or soared on one. His machine-like and prodigious article writing was not driven by a human impulse to succeed.
He was driven by Crack Demons who would kill him if he slept. Alvin’s Aunt went on to tell me he had been living in her basement because she could not bear her blood living on the street. Alvin disappeared on a binger a few weeks ago and no one had seen him since. They didn’t know if he was dead or alive. She told me the modems had to have been traded for Crack and to not expect them back. I thanked her for her assistance and I told her I hoped Alvin would be found alive and that he would somehow recover from his demons.
She thanked me and said she’d never stop believing in Alvin until she was dead in the ground. After I hung up the phone I found my checkbook. I wrote checks to each of the modem companies for the modems that were probably fuelling communications for a ganglion of Crack Dens all along the Georgia forests. I included a letter of explanation and apology.
All the checks were cashed without comment. We never did another modem review at GO INSIDE Magazine again. I never heard from Alvin again. I stopped searching for him. Yesterday, as I reflected back on the joys and junkets of my life, I decided to do a Google search on his real name and I quickly found “Alvin” alive and kicking online.
He is reviewing software again and publishing online tutorials again across several blogs and websites again. I have no idea if he is still being haunted by demons today or not but I do hope somewhere inside he appreciates my $2,000 donation to the promise of his talent. I hope in some small way I helped lead him back online to the light of his life.