The Significance of a Shirt

Or, how the Gutenberg Bible was infested by the  {fnord}.

Cthulhu Tequila

Packing up my closet the other night, I stumbled across something unexpected. It took me down the rabbit hole, or through the looking glass, or some other hallucinatory Lewis Carroll literary reference.

25-odd years ago I was young and bold and went to strange, faraway lands (read: Arvada and Wheat Ridge) and returned with specimens of what there I found.

This t-shirt (pictured) is one such as with which I had absconded. It served me as casual daily wear through part of my high school career, and then, as these things often do, it slipped into old clothes obscurity.

During the late part of the era, I wore one of two coats depending on precipitation or sheer coldness. The wooden hangers of the day had notches cut in them for spaghetti straps or bra straps, and one specific wooden hangar had a knack for fraying the liners in my coats. Rather than Tim Allen these hangars, I just hung old t-shirts over them to protect my coats. Hereon they lived; the horror seethed and simmered.

Something in the zeitgeist of those bygone days brought these eldritch nightmares to the fore. Fusion of dark, evil things and booze culture was a succinct expression of the phenomenon. It was as if this shirt said, “Hey, in life horrible madness and death awaits you, but that’s okay. Have another drink.” Or, if you’re given to this kind of thinking, perhaps it said, “Tequila leads to horrible madness and death.” The experience is, of course, subjective.

What was actually printed? “Cthulhu Tequila This Time the Worm Eats You!”

I have a theory on how these dark things crept into the culture: I blame the {fnord}.

I am a co-owner of a licensed copy of the WWIV BBS (Bulletin Board System) source code, which would have been purchased back before its open-source release – sometime in the early 90s I think. In the currency of the times, I believe I was vested for $25, or maybe it was $50. I don’t remember. It wasn’t expensive, per se, but for a kid departing high school for college, that was a lot of ramen.

I (we?) used this license to “spread the word” and the word was infected with the electronic equivalent of {fnord}. When you examine the legacy of Wilson  and Shea, you see it kicking into gear in the late 70s and riding the wave into the 80s and beyond. Concurrently, the same revolution freed computers from the dark depths of DARPA and Al Gore, loosing the {fnord} to prey on the internets.

Looking back at the past couple paragraphs I think I just blamed myself and Al Gore for the propagation of Lovecraftian horror into the hands of the Gen X and Gen XI (why do people say Generation Y? That makes exactly no sense).

The {fnord} multiplied quickly, dominating the WWIV community, and WWIV was the dominant market shareholder there for many years. Many, many innocent people were exposed.

When the World Wide Web was born, node travel didn’t require wardialing anymore, it was achieved over ISDN and DSL – and eventually high-speed copper and fiber – connections were “always on.” The {fnord}, as it were, were free, and exposure exploded.

By the mid-1990s people are basically lost: heavy metal is in its death throes, nu-metal and art-house have sent people spiraling down (me among them!) into a disenfranchised sort of social equilibrium. The east coast punk rock of the 80s spun about, headless, and gave way to west coast influences. People starting losing their sense of how to communicate with each other. (The so-called smartphones wouldn’t arrive en masse until around the turn of the century). Early WWW adopters bailed out of the BBS world and headlong into CompuServe and AOL, and probably something else I’m forgetting. All around us, the {fnord} were sapping our will, putting us into an alarm-state of general anxiety and borderline panic. The disenchanted and disenfranchised steadily fell into a miasma of despair. People ate a lot of venlafaxine.

The status quo was curated by super-secret Illuminati sects within the government.

Inserting the {fnord} into our reading material gave the overlords a way to incite fear in the population. It was a device. But where did it come from? The representative term, shown here as a domain of five alpha characters within curly braces, is simply a metasyntactic variable, it is a way for your mind to embrace the presence of something you’ve been conditioned to suppress and respond to only at the limbic level. In other words, your conscious mind has a placeholder by which to interpret signals its been taught to hand over to the lizard brain. They came from beyond, thrived on paper, and evolved to thrive anywhere ideas are conveyed in a visual medium. So maybe modern podcasts don’t have the {fnord}. Just post-hypnotic suggestions.

We, the youth of the age, desperately needed something to hold onto, something to lend meaning to the utter hopelessness of the burden of living.

Grasp the slippery worm and ride it into the Church of the SubGenius and the Discordians. You probably bought a pipe. You maybe thought about side-parting your hair and you talked about the all-being at the center of the universe: J. R. “Bob” Dobbs. His butt tickled. Side-parting was emo hipster. Shame on you.

What is the connection between the Outer Gods, the Elder Gods, and Bob? That’s for religious scholars to say (scholarly work exists on the subject!). But the links are there, and the {fnord} rode in.

Fast forward to today. One of my oft-reviled coats is on semi-permanent long-term loan to one of my brothers-in-law, who wears it while teaching children about gold- and silver-rush era Colorado. This is the only time its okay to wear a full length black duster in a school in Colorado, too. Or on the street for that matter. And to think, I can throw a rock and hit Columbine High School from here. Oh well. Strike one for long coats. Its hangar, bereft of cladding, now exposed to light by my rooting.

What I’ve been getting to is the supernatural t-shirt was hiding in my closet, next to another hangar covered in ties. The worm was facing the wall, until I turned it out into the light of the lamp. In about 10 seconds, it all flooded back into my brain – the entire experience of adolescing, reading Lovecraft, reading Wilson and Shea, reading Discordian pseudopropaganda… so much reading. No wonder I’m so pale. And being a SysOp on a WWIV board. Being an early adopter for GeoCities, Yahoo, Google – all this cascading influx of technology that, perhaps unintentionally, released an overwhelming, crushing wave of ennui into the culture.

I threw that old shirt in the rubbish bin.


This memoir serves as its epitaph. I convey you to the bosom of Yog-Sothoth, oh shirt representing alcohol and forbidden lore.

(no, I didn’t mention the Gutenberg Bible. Thanks for reading.)