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Monday, March 8, 2004
Updated: March 9, 3:22 PM ET
The World Wide Dread: Emails

By Rob Ryder
Page 3 columnist

"Umhlanga Rocks, South Africa, 1990. Apartheid. Six black kids watching from a distance. Dozens of white surfers out there, carving up one of the world's great breaks. The black kids? Not allowed in the ocean. Not allowed in the damn ocean! Can you imagine that!?"

George is spitting these words out at me over coffee at a local joint.

"There's a movie here," he says. "My pal Mark and I want you to help us write it."

Tom Hanks
Remember when email was all warm and fuzzy and co-starred in a Tom Hanks movie?
I'm skeptical. "It's so ... foreign. Plus, it's period."

"What period?! It was 14 years ago!"

"All I'm sayin' is, man ... that's a hard sell."

God, I'm turning into a studio executive. I hate when I get like this. So many reasons to say no. As a writer, as a teller of stories, the moment you start anticipating them, you're done.

And they (the bastards) have won. They don't even have to do the dirty work -- so many writers willing to emasculate themselves.

Anyway, I look for the bright side. George is one of the good guys. He cares. He's hardcore. Plus, he's brilliant: incredibly well-read, plus well-versed in movie history.

I tell him that "Bend It Like Beckham" is the greatest weapon they've got in getting this story to the big screen.

Movie about a bunch of wacky Sikhs in London working in restaurants and playing girls soccer.

$32 million U.S. $44 million international. Huge for an indie feature. Who'd a thunk it?

I tell George I'm interested. We'll meet again next week.

Why do I bring up this story? First to chronicle the never-ending search for sports movie ideas. Second, to illustrate a point: Never say anything nasty in an email.

It will come back to haunt you. It will wildly exaggerate the degree of your anger. It will always be there. Subject to prying eyes, company spies and federal subpoena.

When I first signed on for this gig, the editors of Page uh, Page uh ... duh ... What page am I on?

Dude, where's my column?

Oh, yeah, Page 3. Or, in my mind at least, more like Page 2 and a half. Page 2 and three quarters? How about that? Can everybody live with that?

Or I'll just pretend I have my own page. In deference to my first-grader's fascination with big numbers, I'm just gonna call it Page Google Infinity.

Anyway, my editors warned me about posting my email address. You'll get spammed, you'll get flamed. You'll get all sorts of bizarre proposals and weird advice. No one will send you money.

Really? The rest I can deal with. But no money, that's a damn shame.

Through some unbelievable fluke of the ethernet, I've actually had more than 100,000 human beings read this rant in a single 12-hour period.

Now, my thinking goes like this. Instead of wasting any more of your (and your boss') time, if you'd each just send me twenty dollars I'd have two million dollars -- enough to make my college hoops movie, "94 Feet" and shut me up for good. (Plus, it'd be the first movie to have 100,000 executive producers which I think would be a record. I think.)

But there are laws against this kind of behavior. Soupy Sales tried this once years ago on his afternoon kids' show, and it got him kicked off the air and almost sent to prison.

You know why? Because the bankers and lawyers can't take their cut. God forbid that people are allowed to invest in other people's wildly irrational schemes without the suits skimming all the cream!

Where was I? Oh yeah, nasty emails ...

So a few weeks ago, I shot my mouth off about the politicians (Republicans and Democrats) so callously extending our soldiers' tours in Iraq. Indefinitely if need be. And how at least in Vietnam the guys knew how many more days they had to survive without getting their legs blown off.

Fairly benign stuff, right?


I get an email, from George of all people.

"Hey, dude, the last thing we need is more Hollywood pseudo political bulls---! etc. etc."

Soccer dads... something far more evil than 20 soccer moms combined.
It stings. The word pseudo means fake, counterfeit (harsh words from one writer to another). God, George, I thought we were friends.

So I break my first rule: Never say anything nasty in an email. I send him back two words: "Tough s---."

Big mistake.

Look, until now, every time I've gotten flamed in this column, I've written back, "Hey, sorry it doesn't work for you. Just trying to pay the rent. Best, Rob."

It works. People who flame other people generally don't like themselves. It's best to kill 'em with kindness. It throws 'em off guard. "Why is this guy being so nice to me?"

But George I knew. Or I thought I knew.

I first met him on the killing fields of AYSO. And for those of you who haven't been introduced to the American Youth Soccer Organization, be warned -- it's run by parents who never got elected for student council when they were in high school (not for a lack of trying).

These people would gladly trade in their shorts and tennis shoes for brown shirts and goose-stepping jodhpurs. But that ain't George.

I spot him at my 11-year-old's game. He looks like some dangerous low-life sitting there in his lawn chair -- unshaven, earrings, bandana around his head. Leather jacket. Ripped jeans. Yelling at his kid, yelling at the refs.

This is how I like my male friends. Takes the pressure off. When my wife gets on me about my personal grooming habits, I can say, "Hey, look at George."

"George has a job," she answers.

"Barely," I reply. (He teaches screenwriting at AFI twice a week.) "And what about Peter? I saw him in Starbucks the other day, he was wearing his pajama top and gym shorts."

"Sounds hip," she says.

"Short gym shorts. With white socks and Birkenstocks."

"Well, that's Peter," she says.

"He doesn't have a job either," I say.

"So now you want to be like Peter?"

I hesitate, grope for a response. "We still clean up nice," I say lamely.

She stares at me, "Do you?"

Sometimes you can't win. You settle. Everybody settles. Whaddaya gonna do, kill yourself?

It's the quarter break at the soccer game. My son Cole runs up to me, "Did you bring my water?"

"No, I told you to bring your own water."

"Dad, jeez, Dad! I'm thirsty. I'm really really thirsty. Give me some money and I'll get a Gatorade!"

I consider. His face is flushed. He has been playing hard. I reach for my wallet, thwarted again. Another vain attempt to teach my child a critical life lesson: bring your own water.

Cole grabs the money and sprints off.

I watch and listen in as George's long-haired kid, Tristan, walks up.

"God, T, what's the deal!?" yells George. "You're so complacent out there. I'm ready to go home and grab a kitchen knife and commit hari-kari and you're gonna be blasť like that?! Gimme a break here!"

HJ friend, George
Which one of Hollywood Jock's wayward friends is this, George the loon or slightly crazy George?
Tristan blows him off. Doesn't say a word. Swigs from his water bottle and returns to the field. How is it that kids are so much better at handling their parents than vice versa?

On top of which, they're brilliant negotiators.

I heard Herb Cohen interviewed on NPR about his latest book, "Negotiate This."

He was explaining why kids are the best negotiators out there. First, they ask for the impossible, raising the bar so high that any compromise works in their interest. Then they're absolutely relentless -- don't know the meaning of no. They'll beg, cajole, seduce, threaten and beg and beg and finally construct the most fantastic trade-offs. "I'll like do all your laundry for two weeks if you just buy me that Xbox."

Anyway, George has caught my attention.

I see some three-year-old wander by and I overhear George whisper, "Hey, kid, you got a couple bucks?"

"Huh?" The kid's totally bewildered.

"Gimme a couple bucks," says George. "Got a fiver?"

"No," says the boy stepping back a step.

"Oh, too bad. Hey, where's your Mom, your Mom around here?"

The kid points and George looks. "Hmmm, nice lookin' lady. I bet she's got five bucks. Go ask her, all right?"

The kid runs for his mother who immediately starts shooting George alarmed looks and moves her chair down a ways. I figure it's time to introduce myself. George is my kind of guy. Maybe he'll help finance my movie by shaking down toddlers.

So we strike up a friendship. Share story ideas.

And just a few weeks later he's flaming me in an email:

"F--- you! Didn't you ever hear of a soldier's right to bitch!? Didn't you ever ..." and on and on. Wow. This guy's a lunatic. Thank God I'm finding out early in the friendship.

But I'm bewildered. Something doesn't feel right. I search through the inbox, the outbox, sent items, deleted items, saved mail. I find the answer in my address book. Aha.

There are two Georges. George No. 1 is a true lunatic. The other George, my George, he's just out of his mind like the rest of us.

Thank God I caught it when I did.

Beware of emails.

They're inherent mischief makers. They send themselves to the wrong people. They confuse identities. They carry viruses. Their viruses carry viruses.

What was meant to be witty is read as virulent. What was meant as reasoned disagreement is misinterpreted as the demented workings of a sick, twisted mind.

Everyone's got an email story.

The young woman in England who sent her fiancee a sexy (and detailed) email about their upcoming night together. That thing traveled around the world in about six hours. With her name on it!

As my first-grader would say, "She was dweadfully embawwassed."

Anyway, it's a great relief. What an idiot I was to think that my friend George would go off on me like that.

And for the lunatic George who's floating around out there somewhere in the ethernet -- you know I love you, right? And your mother loves you too.

So I'm back on board with "Umhlanga Boys!"

And I go to bed at peace with an image I can't get out of my head. A group of black South African teenagers hanging at the beach. Waiting 'til dark when the whites clear out.

Then dashing across the sand with their one battered surfboard. Taking 15-minute turns, an old alarm clock keeping it fair.

Surfing at night.

The ocean black. The kids on the shore staring hard -- it's impossible to see. Then a wave breaks and the foam catches the white of the moon. And there's he is, Kamuzu, shooting out of the curl.

And they cheer over the rumble of the surf.

Over the rumble of the war at their backs.

They're taking back the beach.

Surfing at night.


Rob Ryder played basketball at Princeton and is a screenwriter and sports advisor in Hollywood. He can be reached at