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Christy Mathewson died on October 7, 1925, at the age of 45.

October 7, 2017.

It has been a long, brutal week, from the political to creative to the personal. The monstrous shooting in Vegas. (Here is a deeply moving look at each of the victims from Trace’s Twitter account.) Tom Petty died. My cousin Scott, a truly excellent human being whom I’ve known as long as I’ve known anyone on this earth, passed away suddenly. The week was capped off by the grinning dipshit warning of an impending military “storm,” just in case anyone thought they were going to get any sleep this weekend. It has been as difficult a week as any in this year that has been full of difficult weeks.

So I’d like to talk about something a little lighter today, if just for my own mental health. I’d like to talk about the end of AOL Instant Messenger. As you might have heard, on December 15, AOL, which is still apparently a company, is shutting down Instant Messenger after nearly 20 years. It makes sense, obviously, in an age of Gchat and Slack and Facebook Messenger and FaceTime, to get rid of something so clearly past its time. But still! AOL Instant Messenger was essentially my introduction to the modern internet. I’ll confess that from the years 2000-2007, it was my primary way of communicating with other human beings.



My login name was “mynameisleitch,” which, like many things in the early 2000s, was something I found terribly clever that was actually pretty stupid. And it was my lifeline for my first five years in New York City. 2000 wasn’t that long ago, but it is long ago that the vast majority of people I know, for example, did not have a home computer that connected to the internet, mostly because we were too poor to pay for the extra line. (I do remember trying to call friends and getting a busy signal because they were online.) I myself didn’t have Web access in my apartment until Gawker hired me to start a sports website and Lockhart Steele informed me that, yes, I would need a laptop that connected to the internet wherever I was. Previously I’d been using an old desktop computer my dad had gotten off the scrapheap from his office for me, which not only didn’t connect to the internet but in fact only saved to hard disks that looked like this. Every time I wrote an old Life as a Loser column, I had to save it to my disk and then take it to a Web cafe (these used to exist) so I could email it to my editor. Sometimes that didn’t work, and I’d just have to read it over the phone to them.

This put an imperative on having a job in which one had reliable Web access all day, not only so I could do writing on my downtime but also so I could interact with friends of mine in an age before text messaging and Twitter. These jobs were always miserable — including my infamous one where I answered phones at a doctor’s office for two years, which is where I was working on September 11 — but they had the Web, and they had a desk. As someone who didn’t have either in his apartment, they were vital for the writing career I was trying to build. But probably even more important: They had AOL Instant Messenger.

In 2001, everyone I knew was on AOL Instant Messenger, all day. Most of my friends were like me: Stuck with crappy day jobs that paid just enough so we could afford our rent, smokes and cheap pints at 7B and The Magician when we finally got off work. AOL Instant Messenger was our place to meet, to scheme, to gossip, to escape, to figure out what the hell we were doing with our lives. My primary AOL crew:

  • JOHANWHEE (A.J. Daulerio, without question my most regular chatter. I’m pretty sure 2001-2008 were just me and Daulerio Instant Messaging and emailing all day.)
  • KIDGALAXY (Eric Gillin, co-founder of The Black Table and now the editor-in-chief at Epicurious. The Black Table was essentially put together by AIM chat. Gillin actually taught me how to tie a tie on AOL Instant Messenger).
  • LINDSAYISM2 (Lindsay Robertson.) I would argue to this day that if AOL Instant Messenger had been an accepted public art form, Lindsay Robertson would have won its Pulitzer.
  • JIMBONES11 (Jim Cooke). Gizmodo Media’s art director always knew where the party was.
  • YERICK7 (Aileen Gallagher.) If her students at Syracuse knew how much time she used to waste on AOL Instant Messenger, they’d never look at her the same way again.
  • LEXALU (Alexa Stevenson.) I didn’t meet my wife until 2007, but my primary mode of attempting to charm her in the early days of our relationship was AOL Instant Messenger. I can type very fast.

I know the old internet is for old people, and that all the things I used to do, the stuff I loved, are things that nobody cares about anymore. That is part of the aging process, and I embrace it. I’m not sure things have changed for the better, but that’s irrelevant: They’ve changed, and you either adjust or you sit in the back of the room lamenting how things were Back In Them Days.

But in these dark times, I hope you’ll indulge me the brief moment of nostalgia for a time of meeting new friends and hanging onto them for dear life, not knowing what the world was going to bring me or any of us, just knowing that no matter where I ended up, they would be there with me. I wouldn’t have made it without them or, all told, that dumb AOL app. Let’s pour one out for AOL Instant Messenger. You got me through the early aughts, and that, friends, is not nothing.


Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. Harrison Ford Movies, Ranked, Vulture. I’m pretty sure we got No. 1 right here.

2. Book Review: “The Story of a Curse,” The Wall Street Journal. They let a Cardinals fan review a book about the Cubs???!!!

3. World Series Urgency Update, Sports On Earth. Maybe Houston’s too low. Those top four are tough.

4. What Happens if the USMNT Doesn’t Make the World Cup?, Sports On Earth. That was MUCH better last night.

5. The March of the Eliminated, Sports On Earth. The last words I’ll write on the Cardinals until they trade for Manny Machado.

6. The 100 Greatest Screenwriters of All Time, Vulture. We had a fun time contributing to this big list.

7. NLDS Preview: Cubs vs. Nationals, Sports On Earth. These are all pretty much the same, but honestly, I’m old school (or just old) enough to appreciate some fun capsules from time to time.

8. NLDS Preview, Dodgers vs. Diamondbacks, Sports On Earth.
9. ALDS Preview: Red Sox vs. Astros, Sports On Earth.
10. ALDS Preview: Yankees vs. Indians, Sports On Earth.
11. AL Wildcard Preview: Yankees vs. Twins, Sports On Earth.
12. NL Wildcard Preview: Diamondbacks vs. Rockies, Sports On Earth.

13. Playoff Dossier: Chicago Cubs, Sports On Earth. My editors were pretty sick of me by the end of the week.
14. Playoff Dossier: Washington Nationals, Sports On Earth.
15. Playoff Dossier: Los Angeles Dodgers, Sports On Earth.
16. Playoff Dossier: Arizona Diamondbacks, Sports On Earth.
17. Playoff Dossier: New York Yankees, Sports On Earth.
18. Playoff Dossier: Cleveland Indians, Sports On Earth.
19. Playoff Dossier: Houston Astros, Sports On Earth.
20. Playoff Dossier: Boston Red Sox, Sports On Earth.
21. Playoff Dossier: Colorado Rockies, Sports On Earth.
22. Playoff Dossier: Minnesota Twins, Sports On Earth.

23. Confidence Pool, Week Five, Sports On Earth. 538 still kicking my arse.

24. Dive Dive Dive, Sports On Earth. Dive Dive Dive.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, we dug into Tom Cruise’s American Made, and then Rebooted Bull Durham and Halloween.

The Will Leitch Experience, boy, we had plenty this week. Tons of podcasts with Alyson Footer. Plus, shows with Sridhar Pappu and Erik Malinowski about their great new books out this week.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, first week in the new studios, previewing the Vanderbilt game.

I’m headed to Charleston, South Carolina, for the Go Miller Go 5K. We just ran it this morning, in fact.



I am not going to write a freaking word this weekend. Have a great one. Be safe out there.

Best,
Will