Laurie Notaro's Existential Showdown on Yelp

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Laurie Notaro is an author, crafter, and expert at finding a good cocktail. She grew up in Phoenix, but is currently based in Eugene, Oregon. Each week, she'll be joining us to share a crafting adventure, draw a flowchart, or remember a few of her favorite things about Phoenix. Today, she shares her adventures on Yelp, which include fighting with members of the "elite" and being accused of not existing.

All I really wanted to do was order a pizza.

That's all I wanted to do.

I didn't want to get into a sparring match with anonymous Internet assholes, I didn't want to argue about libel laws and I certainly didn't want to enter a debate concerning my entire existence.

Then again, that's what happens when you enter the arena of Roman-inspired public games called Yelp, and before you know it people who only venture outside to go someplace and then come right back to review it are calling for your head on a flagpole.

Like I said, I was only planning to order a pizza from a place we had been to once before, new Italian restaurant that had opened near our house. The pizza was great, chewy crust, perfect sauce, mozzarella made by the owner every day. It was the closest thing to New York style pizza in our neighborhood. Who doesn't like a great new pizza place? It's like finding gold in your basement, that Spanx actually can make you lose fifty pounds with a couple of deep breaths and some friction burns in however long it takes you to get them on, or that due to a clerical error, you are getting HBO for free even though every show is stupid and will be cancelled as soon as it has a good episode. It's a moment in which a there is nothing but possibilities. There is nothing but pure awesome as far as you can see.

It's something that no one has the right to mess with.

But when I Googled the restaurant's phone number, I was shocked by what I saw. There, on the second Google listing was one entitled "I would NEVER eat at XXXXX" about the very same restaurant, a thread on Yelp with numerous posts by people who decided that although none of them had eaten at my new favorite pizza place, they were never going to. Someone associated with the restaurant, they concurred, was posting phony positive reviews. And the Yelper bees were angry about it. Buzzing. Ready to sting.

God dammit, don't kill my new pizza place, I cried at the computer screen to no one that cared about anything except raging for months about a restaurant that had great food.

It is here that I have to admit that I don't know what the crime was even if reviews were added by well-wishers of the business. I must have missed the paragraph in Revelations that the last sign of apocalypse is that people leave nice reviews about a pizza place as a cue for Satan to step up and rule the Earth for a while. How many children will be born with two heads because a friend of the owner may or may not have said, "the crust is good." Apparently, however, that was the wrong thing to say to people on the Yelp thread, and if you hadn't guessed by now, I was the one who said it.

Maybe they didn't like being called assholes, that probably was a part of it, but seriously, what did all of these people do before their life goal was to earn "elite" status on a message board because they went to six Starbucks in a two mile radius and compared aromas?

Maybe these were the same people who years ago, subscribed religiously to Reader's Digest and would submit their own jokes. Are these the same people who would spend entire afternoons attempting to draw Tippy the turtle in order to get into a correspondence art school? Is this what happened when people don't have to darn their own socks anymore or milk cows? I don't know how many hobbies you have to try and then suck at before you find your way to Yelp, but it appears to be an overwhelming number. Now true, I do know some people who contribute useful, informative content, but none of them are organizing witch hunts and carrying torches to my favorite new pizza place. And, if I may be so bold, if you wanted to be a food reviewer, why aren't you one?

Instead, Yelp has evolved into a socially acceptable bloodsport, and suddenly, it's perfectly fine to cast allegations out into the Google wind and have those accusations listed second on a results page.

The first girl who came at me, Hannah "the Banana," immediately said that I was a fake person with a fake profile, and if that wasn't enough, she was "elite." "Who r you?," she demanded. "We are avid yelpers with numerous tips and photos and friends and reviews.. I plan and go to events. I am elite.."

And that was true. As a member with Elite status, Hannah "the Banana" has climbed up the asshole rungs of the Yelp ladder, with such classic works as "Bed, Bath & Beyond" ("The 20% off coupons you get in the mail, you can use them EVEN if they are expired!!"), Olive Garden ("WE GOT SOOOOOOOO SICK!!! I don't know what would make us that sick but now I really do NOT want to eat here ever again!") and perhaps her Magnum Opus, Seven-Eleven Food Stores ("Good location. Always open.. and there is a redbox outside so that's cool. If you try a slurpee my fav flavors are pina colada and banana..and even the two together.. try em!") And, because I know you were waiting, Hannah gave Subway four stars.

Ahhhhh. The elite.

After I replied to Hannah "the Banana" that "You're the fake. You're not even a banana.," and I begged her to review TJ Maxx, she rallied the troops of the elitist goon squad. Soon, another elitist, Mary "the Skeptic," entered the thread after I said that assuming everyone who posted a positive review of the place was fake was not cool. And accusing the owner of doing it had real implications.

And that's when Mary announced I was a fake, too.

You know how it went. Back and forth, a small suggestion from me to take a Communications law class before spreading more libel about other restaurants in the area, another accusation that I was not real from her. And honestly, I don't know how to argue my existence with someone who has reviewed a gas station (one star). I also don't know what someone who reviews a gas station expects from a gas station. I expect gas and to hopefully not die in a sudden explosion.

If those two things happen, that's a winning experience for me. But surprisingly, once someone believes you to be not real, it is remarkably hard to debate that you do indeed exist, especially that person is so delusional they gave Applebee's four stars twice. Two different locations. That's diabetes squared. Both legs, sister.

Mary "the Skeptic" was such as elitist, in fact, that not only did she review the University of Oregon (three stars) and the airport (three stars), but she is also blazed an elite trails by reviewing Yelp--yes, Yelp--itself. Extraordinary.

I'm sure that the other ranks of elite quiver with jealousy and want simply at the thought. Imagine Mary's disappointment, however, when she dropped into the home office in San Francisco and expected to be escorted upstairs to the main office because, as she explained to the receptionist, she's Elite. You know, Elite. As in "I reviewed 10 separate Starbucks and gave them all the exact same rating (three stars) Elite." Alas, maybe it was the four-star review of Red Lobster that had finally caught up to her or that she was a waddling lunatic that wandered in off the street, but Mary's request was denied.

"When I tried to ask the receptionist whether I could go up to your headquarters to 'check in'," Mary yelped. "She told me she had no idea what that meant." And thusly, two stars were dropped from what could have been an impeccable rating. In the end, Mary gave her host and, at the same time her denier, a "C."

So I decided that perhaps it was time for one more review.

Mary, "the Skeptic" Category: Local Flavor, Active Life

Although Mary "the Skeptic" appears to be very real, her fact-gathering tactics could use some sharpening. Attention to detail is superb, spending what must have been at least a half an hour composing a review of the local sanitation company (four stars), which she called "somewhat reliable." Spends an inordinate amount of time eating meals with her mother-in-law. Delights in crinkle cut fries and not surprisingly, has a special soft spot for restaurants that provide menus for people with dietary restrictions. Is bold--not afraid to write of a review of a restaurant she has only walked into, or one that she's simply heard about. Like most Yelpers, has a tendency to force the mating of any word with the ending of "--ness," even if the merge is somewhat rough and uncomfortable and/or confusing to the remaining population. Has a photo of every meal eaten since February of 2011. Is not deterred easily, and truly believes she can determine the real from the unreal. Online social skills are somewhat lacking and could even be considered "abrasive" or even "bossy" (although sodium levels are most likely quite high). But please, Mary, "the Skeptic," continue in your elitist ways, carry on with your Yelp mission. Keep eating at the chain Mexican place you love so much (four stars!), especially since my plumber told me that their kitchen is so filthy he wouldn't drink a soda in a can from that place (that will remain unnamed since I did take a Communications Law class).

Stay tuned for new adventures with Laurie Notaro, and catch up on a few classics in any of her books including The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life,It Looked Different on the Model, I Love Everybody (and Other Atrocious Lies), There's a Slight Chance I Might Be Going to Hell, and An Idiot Girl's Christmas at Changing Hands, on Amazon, or through her website.

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