About three years ago, March 8th, 1998 to be exact, I was sifting through my e-mail when I read a startling message:
“Yeah, you guys are pretty cool. You deserve that cool site of the year award.”
What? An award? My mind raced… Meaning had been brought to our lives, even if it was a thimbleful of semi-tainted and grudgingly bestowed meaning! Our prayers had been answered, our existence validated… we had been recognized as cool! Oh what a glorious day that was when The Toilet Paper was first selected as the cool site of the day. That was back when Netscape had a “What’s Cool” button on the browser that went to the site. That was the best day in the history of the TP. I danced around the pool table singing for twenty minutes.
Nine months later the TP had already gone into it’s first non-publishing phase when I got another e-mail, this time notifying me that the TP had been nominated as the Cool Humor Site of the Year. Whoa.
We were up against four other sites:
The Brunching Shuttlecocks
some other site that royally sucked.
I remember going through the nominees and thinking, “These sites aren’t that fucking cool.” Okay, true, Stick Death was much cooler than us, BUT STOP POINTING OUT THE OBVIOUS! Anyway, I thought we might actually be able to win. And I cared. This was before the Cool Site of the Year started charging to submit your site as cool. CHARGING!!!! $14.95!!!
Sigh. The official rules said that anyone and everyone could vote once a day for the coolest site until the Show, 1 month later. In other words, they were inviting us to get as many people as possible to stuff the ballot box... to maximize their ad views in the lucrative pre-holiday season. So like a predictable shithead, I tried to get everyone on the TP mailing list to stuff the ballot box.
And since there were actually quite a few TP subscribers and I felt like the TP had a decent chance of winning, I traveled all the way from Los Angeles to New York City to attend the Awards Ceremony. The representative of the potential Cool Site of the Year has to be bi-coastal after all. I stayed with The Official TP Distributor, Richard Case, who had set up operations in Manhattan.
Two days before the Awards Show I was interviewed online in a chat room by an online news organization. I really thought this whole Cool Site show was important...
Then came the night of the show. I was actually nervous. I was sitting around in my SUIT waiting for Rich (pal I was staying with), my guest for the evening, when the phone rang.
“Joe, I’m really sorry man, but I’m going to be late for the show.” Damn. Now I was nervous AND alone. I walked to Webster Hall, location of the show, waited in line, and then got my name tag. Everyone else had name tags like, “Bob Smith - About.com”, "Elizabeth Woolrich - Amazon.com" or “Roy Jones - Netscape”. Mine said, “Joe Steinberger - The Toilet Paper”. I sighed and headed to the bathroom to post a TP.
After I relieved myself , the hulking bathroom man-attendant handed me a towel and then waited expectantly for his tip. Alas I only had a twenty dollar bill in my wallet, and since twenty dollars seemed a lofty price to pay to have a stranger watch me urinate, I fished around my pocket for change. I pulled out a nickel and was about to drop it in his change bin. But that seemed insulting, so after flashing the five-cent piece, I repocketed it. He told me to have a “great night” as I slunk away. After that, I decided to get drunk really quick.
I passed the evening mingling and networking and hobnobbing with the guests. Periodically the conversation would be interrupted by the host of the evening, Robin Leach, who would announce some act or show, like the Flying Trapeze Man or the 7 foot tall blue bunny. The shows were no-doubtably designed to add to the “Coolness” of the Cool Site of the Year Awards. ($14.95 to submit!) But as the night progressed, and the crowd got drunker on Wine.com sponsored wine, people began paying less attention to Mr. Leach. His anger boiled over as he tried to read some sponsor note and no one stopped talking. He finally screamed, “OH SHUT UP ALREADY!” Then he proceeded to berate the crowd for a full 5 minutes about how we were a joke compared to the Oscars. That was probably the very last time the Cool Site Award was cool.
And then they made the dramatic announcement - it was time to reveal the winners. One thought dominated my mind as they began giving out the awards - “Damn I have to piss.” Sadly, I was intimidated by the bathroom attendant.
As the Awards were dutifully doled out, my anticipation of impending greatness grew. And then came the pivotal moment, when the nominees were announced for Cool Humor Site of the Year. The presenter opened the envelope and proclaimed, “And the winner is… THE BRUNCHING SHUTTLECOCKS!” I nodded thoughtfully as I wondered what the fuck a brunching shuttlecock was. Bastards.
And then something interesting happened. Or didn’t happen. No one got up to receive the award. The presenter waited in increasing discomfort. Robin Leach gazed about the room. Those silly brunching shuttlecocks weren’t in attendance. “Joe, you should go up there,” Rich nudged me. (He had arrived late). “They’re not here. The Brunching Shuttlecocks are not here.” I thought to myself, “Oh fuck it.” In flash I pushed my way through the crowd, bounded up the stairs, accepted my reward and took the microphone from Mr. Leach…
“Hello.” I scanned the crowd and then gazed proudly at the award. “So I’m not actually associated with the Brunching Shuttlecocks. I edit The Toilet Paper.” Many in the crowd of 500 laughed. Oh those crazy b-cocks... what a riot. “Right. Anyway, I promised my readers that if we won this award I would attempt to shove my fingers up Robin Leach’s nose.” Robin Leach gasped. To his credit, after the initial reflex of covering his nose with both hands, he handled himself quite well. “With all due respect of course Robin.” Of course. I’m ashamed to say, however, that standing in front of several hundred people while accepting an award I didn’t win and professing a desire to pick a famous celebrity’s nose, I lost my resolve. Instead of tackling Robin Leach and forcing my fingers into his nose, I backed off, “But if I could get a hug, I think that would suffice.” Robin grabbed the microphone and said something that I didn’t catch in my over-adrenalized state. Then we embraced, two great men sharing an unforgettable moment.
That was it. I had the award. I couldn’t believe it. Would they take it back? What the hell was happening? “Joe, that was AWESOME!” Rich congratulated me. He took the award down to the coat room and stuck it in his backpack for safe keeping. This girl Marni I had met earlier came running up. “That was the coolest thing I have EVER seen. You ARE the coolest person here.” Alright! This Cool Award really was worth something after all.
It only got weirder from there. The announcer began listing the nominees for the Coolest Sporting Site. The Formula1 Racing site was declared the winner, but again, for a moment, no one went up to accept the award. Then Rich began screaming and yelling wildly beside me. I turned to him just as he began sprinting towards the stage to accept his award. He grabbed the engraved plastic and lofted it into the air just as the woman who really earned the award took the stage. “FORMULA ONE RULES!” Rich yelled as he leapt down award in hand. He ran over to me and yelled, “Joe, I’m taking off!” Then he booked out of the hall, two security guards on his tail. The organizer of the event came over to me and asked me who that man was and if he was with me. “Nope, don’t know him… he just congratulated me on my award.”
Afterwards I got drunker with the girl who thought I was cool. She has a website where she poses naked and sells advertising on her different body parts. (An ad on her vagina is going for $100,000). Some guys from About.com, one of whom claimed to be the CEO, started hitting on her, but I felt secure… every babe wants to go home with a winner, and I was a winner. And in fact that’s what happened. Although I didn’t get to shove my fingers up Robin Leach’s nose, and even though the TP wasn’t actually voted Coolest Humor Site of the Year, I went home with the award and the girl. The TP = Cool.