In 2012, a stranger sent me a message that was sequestered to the barely-seen territory of Facebook’s Other inbox — the wasteland where strangers’ messages pile up around us — most forgotten, some replied to, and some eliciting that profound creep-chill that only truly unsolicited missives can. What resulted was a romance that hit like a 120-hour bug.
The stranger had met me briefly on a downtown 5 train. Remembering my name and nothing else, he’d reached out on Facebook, only to be pinged into Facebook’s black hole. Miraculously, I found the message nearly a year later in my Other inbox, apologized profusely for missing it, and we scheduled a beer-drinking date. I know where it seems like the story is going. The wily forces of serendipity had shouldered us into contact with one another after a chance happening over the course of a year — this was fated. This must be the man I am currently dating, right? No. It didn’t work out exactly that way. He moved to California and I remained dishearteningly disinterested after about, oh, an evening. But one thing lasted — a fascination with these unseen, ghettoized messages and the people who send them.
Who are these strangers who are contacting us? How’d they get our names? What do they want from me? I decided to get down to it and request an interview from every person who has ever wound up in my Other inbox since it has existed. Of course, many denied requests, were dummy accounts, or simply had faded away into the ether of internet anonymity. One man named Larry was only out to sell me a plant. But a few lingered around and were happy to accept my invitation to get to know a little more about them. I was determined to see just how much I could connect with someone who reached out to me for seemingly no reason. These are tales from the Other Inbox.
Isaac, a man from Nigeria who I have no connection to, had shot me a short and sweet missive back in 2013. “hi. you are cute,” it read succinctly. During my interview with Isaac, I asked if it was alright if I used his real name in my article. His response, more than anything else, best describes the Isaac ethos: “My name is ok. Am me.” Isaac turned out to be a kind, pineapple-loving self-determinist who is likely wiser than all of us. He made many sagacious declarations in the same way that you or I would talk about the weather.
Why did you send me a message and how did you find me?
Cos i saw truth and honesty in ur beauty and i liked that. FB connects.
It does. What’s your favorite type of fruit?
Pawpaw, pineapple, and watermelon. [Editor’s note: The little-known fruit pawpaw is mango-like and native to North America.]
What’s the one regret you have had about your life in the last 10 years?
None, am grateful for my life. Even though somethings didn’t turn out well.
Well, what inspires you in the morning?
Being able to wake up alive. (Life). Gives more than inspiration to my whole being.
Explain the concept of déjà vu in a few sentences.
The power of thought or imagination.
Who is your favorite artist?
I assume you mean Michael Jackson? He’s great. What do you do for a living?
Am a musical artist. Trying to go into sound engineering. Mixing and mastering.
Nice. What’s the most unique thing about you?
Knowing that i have a choice makes me unique and that i am nobody else but me.
Do you want to change the world?
I wish I was Mandela but from the point where I am now, I don’t see myself changing the world… it would be a great honor to change the world for good.
Why do we try to connect with strangers — what good comes out of it?
We are all strangers in this strange world. But we all need each other to see life through. U might be my source of inspiration or i might be urs…
Denise is not her name. I’m really not quite sure what it is. She goes by her artist’s name and wants to keep it like that. Denise seems like someone I would have dinner with at my college cafeteria if the rest of my friends were busy. She likes art, has a sharp, political perspective, and immediately began liking ancient photos of me the second we became Facebook friends. She also liked a quote I had from Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my feed (guilty) and a sculpture of a turkey I made out of guacamole (yep). Of all in my Other box, I think Denise and I will stay internet pals.
Why did you contact a complete stranger? In this case, me. Is that something you do often on Facebook?
I’ve friended strangers if I found their face appealing and had interest in using their face for my art. I’ve also friended strangers from pages with common interests like poetry and corruption awareness topics.
That makes sense. What do you do?
I’m a film and painting student at school of the Art Institute of Chicago and work at Whole Foods.
I dig their hot bar. How has Facebook changed the way you individually connect with people — have you actually met up with people who you’ve “met” on here?
I’ve never met up with anyone from Facebook, except a girl from my school who was selling boots on our school’s Craigslist Facebook page. Facebook has brought me closer to friends than I would have been. It might make it easier to not hang out with people as much now that I think about it. Cuz they are always accessible on Facebook.
It’s a double-edged sword. What are your goals in life?
My goal is to become a documentary filmmaker and to be a successful artist making important art that brings awareness and earns money so I can help causes and people and animals, etc.
That’s noble. Explain the concept of déjà vu in a few sentences.
Woah great question. Never thought about it… déjà vu, in my opinion, it’s something from the spiritual realm. Like God perhaps trying to tell you something.
Is there any one thing that always come to your mind whenever you wake up in the morning?
When I wake up I think, “dammit just 10 more minutes…” Every day —haha. I just think about taking a shower and going to school. Nothing big, thankfully.
Excellent! So, why me?
I forget why you, probably to look for pictures to draw.
What artist speaks to you most?
The artist (duo) that speaks to me most in Herakut. They mix art with poetry and I love the striking expressions in the faces they paint.
Hey, if you found me to draw me, it’d be so fun to see a sketch of me that you did. No pressure…
Jojo— what a guy. “I’m very interested in talking with you,” Jojo had told me after sending me a message saying hi. Jojo commented “nice nice” on some of my photos and thoroughly enjoyed my status when I had food poisoning. But Jojo, a man from Bohol, Philippines, was a tough act to wrangle. He’s a law student and works as a legal assistant full time. Luckily, after weeks of asking politely, we chatted at 2 am the other night.
Why did you reach out to me if I’m a stranger? Is this something you do often?
I happened to read an article in the web which I really like. Unfortunately, I forgot the title. But it was something that’s funny and weird. So I searched in the Facebook the name of the author. It appeared, so I clicked to talk with her. But this is not something that I do often. Thing is, I love to add friends that are of the same interest with me, like writing.
What is the first thing you think about every morning when you first wake up?
The class and school assignments and the fear that I will be called for a recitation. Lol.
What’s one movie that really challenged your view of the world?
Philadelphia. It talks about racism and discrimination.
Tell me about a time where you were super anxious.
I think that was the time when I waited for the result of the entrance exam in a top law school where I really love to study law. Unfortunately, I did not get it. Haha.
Explain the concept of déjà vu to me in a few sentences.
I think it is something that you already experienced in the past. It’s an event in your life where you believed that what’s happening is a repetition of your previous experience. Usually there’s a feeling of amazement when you experienced this thing.
That’s…very accurate. Do you have any heroes?
Yes. My hero is my mother.
If your life was contained in a song, what would it be?
“Go the Distance” by Michael Bolton. I think. That’s my favorite song yesterday, today, and probably forever…lol.
Have you ever met someone from the internet—how did it go?
Yes, I knew her in facebook.We are friends until now. But I did not court her. Haha.
How do you generally court someone?
Ahm….I prefer to have a date with her first. You know, I’m quite traditional.
You’re from the Philippines, right?
Yes, and you’re from the U.S.
I have a lot of American friends.
What is it you love or hate about Americans?
I love your love of freedom and I hate your sense of superiority.
Definitely! What do I need to know about your culture that I probably don’t?
No offense about that last comment…haha. I guess you already know about my culture.
No way. Americans are way too insulated.
Filipinos are conservatives with few exceptions but we are moving to be more liberals.
Do you want to ask me anything?
Yes, are you single or married?
Single. What about you?
I don’t have a girlfriend. Do you like the Harvard school?
You know, I hear only excellent things. I didn’t apply and therefore didn’t get in.
Yes. Massachusetts. I’m a bit familiar with US politics and geography. My degree is Political science. You?
I got a degree in English literature.
Why is it that most of the American comic heroes are journalists?
Woah, coming at me with some good questions. I guess because journalists are badasses with a lot of dimensions to their personalities. Why aren’t many women superheroes?
I dont know…maybe you can write a novel having a woman a superhero. The Philippines is rated as number in Asia when it comes to women equality…
I need to go. So…
Bye bye for now..nice knowing u kate….see yah someday…