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The What You Are Afraid Of

In any case, we can be pretty sure she’s not the person who wrote: “U talk about shady people hanging out in front of the bodega. What makes them shady, because there jus hanging in front. BUT WHEN U FREGAN YUPPIE ARE HANGING OUT IN FRONT OF THE BARS SMOKIN UR F!@#KIN CIGS> NOT CARING ABOUT THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE TO WAKE UP AT 7 AM TO GO TO WORK. KEEP THE NOISE DOWN CAUSE WHEN GET WATER THROWN ON YOU THEN YOU HAVE A REASON TO BE LOUD”—and on and on, so that it’s easy to imagine these angry words encased in a thought bubble that’s rising from a strange neighbor’s window like a burst of scalding steam.

Yeah, we can be pretty sure she’s not the person who wrote that. In fact, she’s probably never met that person, or talked to that person face-to-face, except here, in the comments on Brownstoner.

The What is a bitter, bitter renter. The What is a ghetto ass punk bitch. The What is a white boy from Idaho. The What is an alien. I have it on good authority that The What is actually a woman. The What is obviously my sister-in-law. The What sees the area around him changing and he can’t handle it. The What is a broker from Lodi, New Jersey, who has been trolling Brownstoner for nearly a year, trying to scare people in Brooklyn to move to the suburbs. The What is missing a chromosome. The What used to work on Wall Street. The What looks like Mickey Rourke before the plastic surgery. The What is on vacation in Orlando with the wife and kids. The What is not one person. The What is online performance art. On the weekends, he serves as a stunt double in porno mags. The What is officially MIA. The What is dead. The What is back. The What is not seeming so psycho now.

The What is our hero.

I am literally bursting with juvenile excitement—I have seen ‘the What.’ ” So started a comment posted on March 27, in the middle, incongruously, of a discussion about an item titled “Atlantic’s Successful Antics.” The comment continued: “I opened up a Bloomberg video story about Neighborhood Assistance Corp. protestors invading Bear Stearns lobby yesterday and there was a pudgy, middle-aged white dude with a ‘Someday This War Is Going to End’ sign held over his head … the disconnect between the guy and his posting style is just hysterical and highlights just what a terribly conflicted medium blogs can be.”

He startled the neighbors,
He gave them a fright.
But soon they were crying,
“What if The What’s right?”

Naturally, this discovery incited some interest among other commenters, who’ve made a sport of trying to create a portrait of The What, like FBI profilers feverishly assembling scraps of clues to trap a serial killer. When word of the video spread—and the same poster, apparently, sowed news of it all over various threads—other readers scrambled to examine the evidence, dissecting it as though it were the Zapruder film. Only to find that … well … if you squint … there is this one guy, though not really …

“ARGH!! I have been looking for the story, but I only find a report (not video) and a different man with another sign. I guess The What has friends in high places and got it taken down...?”

“The only such sign I can make out in the video says, ‘This War Isn’t Over.’ ”

“Can someone point me to the thread where The What was outed?”

“No, because it never actually happened.”

And then The What chimed in with a long comment on equity loans, ending with, “Last but not lease, I was not at Bear Sterns yesterday. I wish I was there. That shows you how bad thing are. Wake up!”

The What, ever elusive, had slipped their grasp again.

Of the many theories floated about The What, a few seem like wishful thinking (the oft-repeated speculation that he’s a white broker in Lodi, New Jersey) and a few seem more credible (that multiple people now post as The What). After all, there’s nothing to stop anyone from simply signing their post “The What.” This multiple-What theory would explain the extraordinary swings in posting style. (An alternate explanation for this, offered by The What himself: He goes on and off his meds.) The What has even claimed other people are stealing his name: When he was confronted about some over-the-top personal attacks against Brownstoner (since deleted), he cried foul, claiming impostors, and reminded everyone that authentic What posts can always be identified by the signer: ”Someday this war is gonna end,” which those posts omitted. Yet if you read through enough of his comments, you’ll notice even this signature changes subtly—“Someday this war will end”; “Someday this war is going to end”; “Someday this war gonna end”—which wouldn’t be notable, especially from someone who writes “reframe from profanity,” except that it is, after all, his signature.

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