It is 5:47 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and I am on Day 5 of a heated argument. Not with a girlfriend – I've learned long ago to cut my losses short in that department. Not with a member of my large Portuguese Catholic family – I've watched the show Game of Thrones and choose to keep my head. But with a group of people I hardly know and in a place that doesn't matter.
Be Warned: If you are not a member of Facebook, what you are about to read will both disgust and entice you. So those with an actual life should walk away.
I promised myself 10 months ago when I started this weekly column that I wouldn't speak of Facebook. Ever! But the call of my dark master is too strong. For those of you unfamiliar with Facebook here is a quick rundown. At its most basic, Facebook is an email address, nothing more, nothing less. At its best, it is the greatest thing in the history of mankind. Where else can I get into a heated debate about the size of an American Flag lapel pin worn by President Obama during a press conference? Or openly discuss what Carrie Underwood wore at the Country Music Awards? Maybe pick apart another person’s favorite band? And have these ridiculous discussions from the comfort of my phone with a group of people I barely know. That is Facebook.
People often say, “Don't you have anything better to do than be on Facebook all day. You need to get a life.” I think about how I'm trapped in a tractor 12 hours most days all by myself, something that I've done since I was 8, and basically I do it on mental auto pilot. Then I'm reminded that the most important ingredient in being a comic/writer is having material, preferably topical events. Nothing sharpens a person’s mental acuity like the back and forth sparring Facebook creates. So to answer the question, “No, I have nothing better to do than be on Facebook all day – and in a way – it is my life.”
Facebook is no bigger a waste of time than attending an A's vs. Indians game midday, but probably a little more fun.
The beauty of the current argument I'm in is that it is not my own. Nor are we even arguing about the original issue any longer.
Case in point: Five days ago, someone we will call “Wise Portuguese Woman” took issue with something that someone had written in this very paper. We will call that person “Dennis Wyatt.” In the 10 months I've written this column I've come to realize that there is a dedicated group of Manteca Bulletin readers. People that love – and I mean LOVE – to point out what they consider a mistake they've read, and let’s be very clear here: I have no dog in this fight. I am an outside entity that submits his weekly column from the comforts of a tractor. And what I'm about to write could possibly anger “Wise Portuguese Woman” or “Dennis Wyatt.” I'm not sure which one I'm more scared of – the one that has the power to yank my voice from the paper, or the one that for all intents and purposes has the power to put my proverbial pan of sopas into the hot water of the Portuguese community.
Here is what she wrote, exactly how she wrote it:
“Ok-My Portuguese blood is boiling a little right now! In today's Manteca Bulletin, the editor Dennis Wyatt states in the article "The Name Game",and I quote "the actual name of the stop —as the story goes — was supposed to have been the Portuguese name for butter or Monteca. The railroad mispelled it,and the name Manteca, which is Spanish for lard, stuck." Believe me I saw Portuguese Red and some Green too! The word for butter in the Portuguese language is MANTEIGA and the word lard in Portuguese is BANHA DE PORCO. How does he get Monteca out of either of these-because his story is not accurate! Maybe he wanted to see how many people actually read his articles. I already posted on the Bulletin sitt, but if anyone else of Portuguese ancestry would like to correct Mr. Wyatt, please send him an e-mail at email@example.com Ok I feel much better now. Boa Noite, Amigos.”
Seems fair enough to me. After all, “WPW” teaches a Portuguese Cultural class here in this very town. But this is Facebook, and so the fun began. Someone took the time to put “WPW's” statement on another Facebook page – a page with 3,000 members known as “The History of Manteca.” Herein lies the rub: Neither “Wise Portuguese Woman” nor “Dennis Wyatt” is part of this site, meaning what in Facebook world we call a “flame war” was about to begin without the two principle parties.
Flame wars start out innocent enough. “She should check her facts, Dennis is spot on.” Followed by the standard “What do you expect from The Bulletin, they all have their heads up their a**es!” The funny part about that last statement was that I was the one that made it. I intended it to be taken as a tongue-in-cheek shot fired across the bow. After all, everybody knows I write for the paper and am just joking … right? Wrong. I had fired the first shot, and shortly after, war was declared.
There are multiple factions within a Facebook war. There are those hell-bent on making their point the most important, known as the Generals. They attempt to keep their side on course, never wavering from the fact that they are right and will win at whatever cost. And then there are my favorite types – those that couldn't care less. They just enjoy stirring the pot and watching the stew heat to a boil. They are the Mercenaries of Facebook, a dangerous lot with the ability to enter and leave the war without fear of court martial.
I bet some of you reading this that aren't on Facebook are thinking, “Well this sounds like pretty much any argument I've ever been involved in.” And you are correct, just with one added element – you will never have to see 95 percent of these people. And that level of anonymity creates monsters. People on Facebook will say things to others that they wouldn't say to their worst enemy. The cyber wall is their shield and the keyboard is their sword.
Without getting into the specifics of the five-day argument, which tailed off into tangents of perceived racism, classism, and an overall lack of respect for other people's points of view. At one point a man I've never met let me know, “You should check your History of Manteca facts after you pull your head out of your…” I assured him my head is in that spot, because that is where I find my column topics. As for what we were able to figure out in regards to the initial issue: NOTHING. I alerted “WPW” about a day and a half into the war that her statement was now the lynch pin in WWIII. She came over to the page and attempted to diffuse the situation, but to no avail. By that point there were so many separate wars within a war happening.
Having a debate on FB and expecting a resolution is like trying to decide the quickest route from Shasta Park to Costco by having a cake baking competition. You'll get nowhere and you're bound to get egg on your face.
As for the name of our beloved town, from what I've been told it was a misprint on a train ticket that we just decided to keep. And since none of us were around back then, we can only go off the parceled history we've been handed.
Ultimately, we are trying to figure out the origin of a word … a word that was a misprint … and the misprinted word is believed to be similar in spelling to another word that was going to be the original name of our town … but we aren't absolutely sure of what that original word was. Second shooter, I'd like you to meet grassy knoll.
Is it Portuguese in nature? Is it Spanish? Was it a typo? What was it originally going to be? Does it matter? They could've named the town “Steve” for all I care because the mystery and quirkiness of the story add charm to our town. “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I know some of you just made a tongue-in-cheek remark in your head about that smell, and I agree with it. But that smell is from the dairies, and is the smell of happiness in my neck of the woods.
“It's not where ya do, it's what ya do”
Contact Chris Teicheira at firstname.lastname@example.org.