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Internet message boards breed strange microcosms of society.  These "virtual communities" have every segment you'd find in reality:  the patriarchs who lead the pack,  the innocent bystanders,  the bullies who seem intent to start as many fights as they can,  and many more.

Some members of these message boards take it all with a grain of salt -- they don't let the petty differences among the various participants bother them in the least.  Others take things way too seriously,  substituting the opinions of those writing anonymously on their keyboards for unquestioned truths.  On some of these forums,  just reading the topic headlines can alternately anger you or bring you intense joy.  More often than not,  one is left wondering why they even logged-on in the first place.

What's most amazing to me is how some members are so intent on disrupting the flow of the "community" that they will seize on any opportunity -- no matter how tenuous -- in order to discredit another member,  someone who they've never met and know only through online writing which may or may not be factual.  Even with the standard emoticons -- those sometimes annoying, sometimes cute "smilies" -- supposedly expressing the intent of the writer,  it's nonetheless almost impossible to "know" what kind of a person someone is in "real" life.

I write from experience.

A few months ago,  I was "excommunicated" from a popular Bruce Springsteen message board -- one that I'd been involved with since shortly after it's inception.  This was a community that I strove to only write positive things for -- I posted information about how to burn CD's,  how to trade live shows;  I wrote about music I enjoyed,  concerts I'd seen;  and I never participated in the "controversial" topics such as politics and religion.  My eventual "crime"?  Writing about some of the other things I cared about such as travel and my family.

A few troublemakers seized upon this information and when I took a very long haitus from the message board,  they created at least one alternate "identity" to try and discredit me.  When I belatedly found out about this,  I tried to correct the misinformation to no avail.  Members on the board didn't believe I was me!  Some members even Googled my name and delighted in ridiculing my other interests in life.  I suppose they couldn't figure out how the same person could have an interest in Bruce Springsteen and Chinese culture simultaneously.

I thought all of this had blown over at the end of January and beginning of February.  But I received an e-mail yesterday alterting me to a "resurrection" of sorts.  And this brings up my amazement at how people on some of these message boards grasp at the tiniest of things and think that one thing represents all there is to know about a person.

This latest "little thing" about me is that someone uncovered my name on Coin World's website.  Since I was a young child,  I've been a coin collector for much of my life -- although nowadays that consists of just keeping the spare change when I travel.  A section of this site was  (and probably still is -- I haven't checked it out in years)  a listing of new state quarters found in each state.  I happened to have been the first person to report in from New Mexico when the first quarter of 2000 was released.

Coin World happened to mention that I'd found the quarter while working a cash register at Wendy's.  Of course,  the post on the Springsteen message board that I was directed to yesterday said,  in huge bold-face letters,  "He works at Wendy's!!!"  Well,  that was true five years ago.  In fact,  I managed the restaurant  (which was the highest volume store in Albuquerque).  Of course,  the distinction would probably be lost on most of the people on that message board  (the old "retail worker" is not an important job mentality).  In fact,  I worked in retail food for many,  many years -- going back to the Pizza Hut in Shawnee,  Kansas,  and continuing on through Arby's  (THAT management position helped relocate me to New Mexico),  and KFC.  I pride myself on the customer service skills I learned working those positons -- those skills have helped me move on to bigger and better things.

Yes,  the online world can be strange at times.  And even if someone tries to write seemingly bad things about you,  in the end it doesn't really matter.  What matters is that you have friends and family who know you,  who know what you stand for,  and who can help you through the day to day stuff,  good and bad.  We know what's real,  what the past was like,  and what the present offers us.  You can't ask for anything more than that,  no matter what some "virtual" stranger may try to make us believe.