BLACK METAL TROY or, How to Drink Onlineby Robert Moor
Troy Whitehurst* popped into existence one day with a cold bottle of Steel Reserve1 in his hand. The year was 2008, and Troy—a fat blinking digital newborn—was already kind of drunk. With 40 ounces of Mickey’s2 and 40 more of Olde English3 already pumping through his veins, he found himself fixing to inject 40 more. He slid the sleeve of his black Dimmu Borgir t-shirt down over his fingers, cracked open the aluminum twist-off cap, and lifted the bottle to his lips. He shut his eyes against the golden light. The first sip tasted like beer, but not really. Rather like beer’s evil twin: stronger, meaner, more metallic. It wormed its way down into his guts and began to swell, fuming, like one of those firecracker snakes. Hours later, it would rapidly exit his system from one end or the other, leaving him feeling crabby and head-sick and tired. But he’d worry about later, later.
Troy’d been drinking Steel Reserve since high school, but today it was kind of new, because for the first time he was drinking it on film. Or not film exactly—whatever YouTube uses instead of film. He was sitting in his friend Kent’s room and talking into a webcam attached to a laptop. He hoped to one day get a cam of his own, but until then he was stuck here, distracted by Kent’s shitty music—106.1 Kiss FM, north central Texas’s Top 40 station—and the suspicious glances Kent periodically flicked his way from the other side of the room, where he was playing a game of spades on Pogo. Kent was a college guy—he got paid a lot to use some kind of vibration machine to divine when oil-and-gas drills were going to break down—whereas Troy was just a beer drinker with a side job in fast food. They could still bond over a tallboy of Keystone Ice4 and a game of trashcan basketball, but this, this Internet drinking thing Troy was trying out, made Kent visibly uncomfortable.
Troy could see his image in the laptop’s monitor as he drank. In this murky yellow light, with his soft blond mane, wet blue eyes, and big anaphylactic cheeks, he looked like something you’d find trapped in an exotic aquarium: a startled pufferfish, perhaps. Over the following weeks and months and years, his friends on YouTube would watch as almost everything else about him would change—his blond hair would shrink down to a fuzz, then inch forth again; his skin would grow mottled and stubbly, then blanched and putty-smooth; he would trade off between black metal t-shirts and fratty polos and occasionally just say fuck it and bare his proud white belly, striated as it was with angry purple stretch marks, to the world—but this curiously over-inflated quality would remain constant. He wasn’t fat, exactly. There wasn’t much jiggle. He just looked congenitally over-full.
Troy kept taking long pulls from the bottle as he stared into the camera, because he was trying to finish his Steel Reserve in less than 10 minutes. It was a challenge that this guy Bruz40 had started a while back, making 10-minute videos and then posting them to YouTube, so other malt liquor drinkers could watch and leave comments. Before Bruz, the world of online drinking had mostly been populated by wussies sipping imported shit and using words like “session beer” and “mouth feel” and “Belgium.” Then Bruz came along, founded a web forum for malt liquor drinkers, imposed a ten-minute time limit, and in doing so, gave a shape and purpose to online drinking.
Bruz and his followers called themselves the 40 Oz. Crew. The Crew was a pretty diverse group of people, black and white, men and even a few women, gathered around a common hobby: getting shit-faced with their computers. A couple of the guys, like Bruz, had wives, and they sometimes got their wives to hold the camera while they swilled the swill. Like this one guy, called Odeed. He got his wife to stand around in his garage with him and sip these cute little hand grenade-shaped bottles of Mickey’s5 while he drank the big ones. Another guy, Mr. Brezz, once had his wife record him while he chugged a 40 behind the wheel of his Cutlass in the parking lot of the local Bar-B-Cuties. Afterwards they went inside and had lunch.
Troy liked videos that were filmed in creative locales. On the 40 Oz. Forum, much consideration was given to, as they called it, one’s “styles.” It was considered good styles if you showed yourself cracking the cap, and very good styles if you cracked it and threw it at the camera, and even better styles if you cracked it with your teeth and threw it at the camera, but bad styles if you puked, or wussed out on something you said you were going to do like beer bong a 40, or throw a television off a roof. It was considered especially bad styles to drink in silence, or always in the same room, or in any other manner that might be construed as lonely or lame.
These days, watching malt liquor vids was Troy’s main source of entertainment. He’d already chewed over the same death metal music videos and conspiracy theory DVDs so many times that they’d lost their flavor. He hated the radio, except for The Alex Jones Show and the occasional song by George Strait or Project Pat. And television, well, the way he saw it, you didn’t really learn anything from the TV unless you were watching some educational channel or something like that, or maybe the news, but most of what the news said was bull crap, because when they weren’t talking lies, they were talking about stupid crap like moms killing their kids or how to bake a pie.
Troy had never really had many friends in the “real world,” just Kent and this kid, Jefferoni Pepperoni, who hoped to work for the Department of Homeland Security and practiced this gay kind of dancing called Tektronic. But on YouTube, Troy had tons of friends. By the time, two years later, when Troy would abruptly disappear—after a fellow YouTuber calling himself PopeBenadict16 convinced Troy to film himself drinking a cup of his own urine, which everyone in the 40 Oz. Crew agreed was terrible, terrible styles and qualified Troy as a fucking retard and a prime candidate for suicide, or at the very least, banishment from the forum—he had amassed almost 700 friends (or “subscribers”) on YouTube and his videos had been watched almost 200,000 times. That’s why YouTube was cool. It was nice to have a television that actually connected you to other people, rather than making you feel apart.
The clock was ticking down on his first video, and Troy was feeling pretty drunk. He decided he wasn’t going to finish the 40 he had in his hand in ten minutes, because he didn’t feel like it. He’d done it last night, but then again, last night he wasn’t on camera.
. . .
I can no longer remember how I first ran across Black Metal Troy’s videos, except that I had long been in the habit of searching for random terms on YouTube and scrolling through the effluvia it coughed up. The founding myth of YouTube is that it was designed so that its creators could share a home video of their dinner party with one another, but almost since its invention, these types of intimate videos have moldered in the shadows while highly theatrical music and comedy pieces garnered all of the popular and critical attention. A website has recently sprung up, called Zero Views, to celebrate exactly the kind of unwatched, poorly produced videos in which Troy specializes. Aside from the crass joys of watching laughably bad art or people with lives more depressing than our own, there is something else—the pulse of life, reallife—that elevates these crappy videos into the vicinity of cinema vérité. The lives people present to journalists are always a performance; lives lived on film are even more so. But for some reason, the confessional aspect of talking to one’s own camera—coupled with the Internet’s apparent anonymity, YouTube’s comfortingly huge ocean of content, and a total lack of censorship—convinces people to post videos they would never dream of putting on FOX. There is no shame on YouTube: I have seen people with truly tragic bodies expose themselves in the shower, people confess their tortured childhoods, people irrigate their nasal cavities, discuss their colonic treatments, dig monstrous and mysterious things from the backs of their throats; I’ve seen babies born, and seen a man touch a power line and, briefly, luminesce.
In writing this piece, my editor keeps cautioning me to remember that Troy’s oeuvre is a video, a performance, and to not necessarily to take it as reality. But I rebuff this suggestion. To accept it would be to admit that I can no longer distinguish confession from fabrication, thereby eroding one of the key epistemological underpinnings of reportage. More importantly, for a digital being like Troy, to do so would be to delete huge portions of his life.
. . .
Troy lived in a comfortable one-floor home on Glen Creek Drive with his mom and his mom’s boyfriend Dave. If the whole house were dipped in wax and rendered decay-proof, it could one day serve as a museum of 21st century Americana: eggs boiling on the stove for meat loaf; local news on one TV (“A chain fell and hit him, and he was taken to a nearby hospital”) and Rambo 2 on another; fake flowers in vases; ceramic angels; a Renoir reproduction; a pencil drawing of Marilyn Monroe; gas fireplaces; a smell that could only be a mixture of dog, thick carpet, cinnamon candles, and the muddled molecular memory of bygone meals. Out in the driveway sat his mom’s car, a white 2004 Chevy Blazer Extreme, with a pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview and seat covers embroidered with skulls.
Troy’s half-sister, Tristin, used to live in the house too, but she moved to Houston to live with her aunt. She was 17, real smart, probably headed for college. Her room was still all strewn with her girly stuff—first-place ribbons pinned to her pink walls, stuffed animals on her bed, Grandpa’s old pair of snakeskin boots on display on her shelf. Early on, Troy let Tristin appear in a few of the videos, but it didn’t go well. In the first one, she showed up, briefly, wearing just her bath towel, wet and thin and shivery and smiling. Troy yelled at her to git out, nekkid! and she scampered, nymph-footed, out the door. The second time she sat still, fully clothed this time, for a few minutes, before embarrassingly proclaiming that “Malibu Rum is the shit” and that Troy is an alcoholic. Visibly bored, she leaned over to fiddle with something on the computer to get some music playing, and then—blink—she was gone; Troy was left sitting next to an empty chair. (In the intervening, digitally crunched time, she had run off to watch a basketball game with her friends.)
In another video, Troy tried to beer bong a 40 of Olde English, which was extremely painful because he swallowed an air bubble that made his chest hurt really bad, and he ended up puking white foam all over his patio. But no one in the Crew even seemed to notice; all of the comments on YouTube were just about how hot his sister was.
Troy didn’t have a girlfriend, nor much foreseeable hope of getting one. He had a car—a gunmetal gray 1987 Mercedes 300 E that used to belong to his grandfather—but he didn’t have a license because he couldn’t pass the test. Not much else going for him, sex-appeal-wise, besides that. He didn’t even have a high school diploma, because he’d dropped out half way through the 11th grade. Back when he was in high school, he’d been into football, and he made a pretty decent defensive lineman—this being small-town Texas, he’d been playing since kindergarten—but he quit because he couldn’t remember all of the plays. They were all like 5, 4, Tiger 81! All he knew how to do was to go through the guy in front of him and tackle the quarterback. But it was like, ‘Nope, you gotta go run down that way, go that way, that way that way that way that way!’ That stuff was too confusing for him. So he picked up the guitar. He started out playing Metallica and stuff like that, and then progressed into heavier and more esoteric forms of metal. Sometimes he liked to play some black metal in his videos. Other times, when he didn’t feel like playing, he just lip-synched along to his boom box. Occasionally he’d turn down the music and talk candidly about his life. Still other times, when he was too drunk to talk, he’d just sort of stare blankly into the camera and maybe slurp up some instant noodles, his eyes smoldering in that dim, semiconscious twilight before the black. He knew this last kind of video wasn’t all that entertaining for other people to watch, but he posted them anyway.
. . .
Sometimes in those early days Troy worried that his videos would get monotonous, so whenever possible he tried to introduce new characters. There was Kent, his friend. Of course Tristin, his half-sister. There was his mom, Betty, big and sweet and bottle blonde, who appeared only in peripheral glimpses for a while (sitting on her bed snapping green beans; sunning herself on a plastic beach chair at the lake; standing in the driveway drinking a Jack and Coke with her hair wrapped up in a towel) until one day in 2009 when she lost her shit and demanded that Troy go for a walk in the park with her and film himself drinking a Powerade.6 She called it a “sobriety video,” because she wanted Troy to stop drinking 40s and be productive with his life. “This is to Troy’s new life!” she’d said, raising her Powerade in a toast. “He’s going to get that beer belly off of him, so he can look hot for the girls!” Troy glumly asked her to not embarrass him on his video, please. For the next few weeks he humored her, sticking to just one 40 a night or less, before quietly ramping his drinking back up. A few months after Troy posted his sobriety video on YouTube, in the comments section someone named Barberbeau wrote, “Man, that part where your mom was talking about your ‘new life’ made me sad, because my mom has said that same line to me a million times when I was sorta trying to quit drinking, but I always kept on drinking. It slows down, and then speeds right back up. It’s 9:00 am right now, and I got a glass of Steel Reserve black label in front of me.” To which Troy responded, “Fuck yeah same here! Cheers!”
Troy’s most frequent guest star was Dave, his mom’s boyfriend. Dave drank Bud Light with an exclusivity bordering on the religious and occasionally smoked cigarettes, which, at night, looked really cool on camera; each inhale prompted a perfectly round, super-bright little ember—a floating white dot—to glow between his fingers. Years ago, Dave had had his front teeth knocked out and his lower lip ripped apart by a pitbull, and though his lip had since been repaired, for whatever reason he’d never paid to have his teeth replaced, so when he talked his consonants came out with that aspirated sound you associate with old people and meth addicts. His wiry frame was splotched haphazardly with crude, prison-style tattoos, and sometimes when he got drunk he pulled a wool cap low over his eyes, like a cholo. A lot of what he said on camera made Troy burst out in uncomfortable laughter. In Dave’s first appearance, he and Troy were sitting in Kent’s bathroom, making a video, and Troy accidentally said the word “Welp.” Troy paused, took stock of the situation, and then raised his hand, laughing at himself.
“Yeah, I’m a hillbilly.”
Dave watched this, and then raised his hand, too.
“And I’m a Yankee!”
There was an awkward pause. Dave said, “That was perfect.”
“Both hands up.”
“Oh, yeah, I wasn’t even paying attention…” Troy muttered, unwilling to be seen co-operating with Dave. Troy reached off camera and came back with a white tube. “See this stuff right here? Cortaid. It’s for your butthole, if it itches or something.” They both snort-laughed, leaking out the pressure in bursts, like children in church.
Most of the time, Dave and Troy got on alright, except that Dave liked to call Troy “penis wrinkle,” and Troy sometimes insulted Dave’s religion, which was called Promethianism or some shit. (“Episcopalian,” Dave had once corrected him. “Sounds like alien,” Troy’s friend Jeff had noted. “Protestant, actually,” Dave had huffed.)
One night in November, Troy and his mom and Dave were all supposed to go to the drag races, but the event got canceled because it was too cold, so Troy and Dave just sat in Troy’s room and drank. It was just as well; Troy was dead tired, because he’d walked all over the sprawling, sidewalk-less town of Mansfield—first to cash his check from Braum’s, then to get a haircut, and finally to Best Buy, where he bought a new, higher resolution webcam.
Safely back in his bedroom, surrounded by the rumble and grrr of Cradle of Filth, Troy kept mashing his new haircut lightly with his hand. The gelled spines were reassuringly sharp against his palm—less of a new style than a whole new substance of hair. Dave was sipping Bud Lights, as always. “I want you to meet somebody,” he said to the new webcam. He grabbed a scrawny cat by the scruff of its neck and held it up to the camera. “This is my little bitch. You see this little cat? Mean. As. Hell.”
Watching the monitor, Troy laughed at the cat’s suddenly gargantuan face. Dave retracted the cat and laid it out along the top of Troy’s office chair. He proceeded to taunt it until it bared its little white teeth and struck at his hand with its claws. Troy kept facing the camera, but he watched Dave out of the corner of his eye, as you would a rattlesnake.
“This is only my second video,” Dave said, turning back to the camera. “I’m not really a talkative person, but I’ll let Troy show me how to use the computer and I’ll start doing my own videos, little by little. It’ll be all good, man.” He nodded. “It’s nice to, y’know, meet people on the computer. Never done that before. Ever.”
Troy emptied his bottle and took one of Dave’s Bud Lights.7 Troy couldn’t believe he was actually going to drink a frickin’ Bud Light. It seemed almost traitorous. Normally, if he were going to drink a Bud, it would be a Bud Ice8 in a 40. He took a sip, and found it flavorless. So, technically, “drinkable,” like the ads said, but not good.
They sat for a few more minutes, sipping and burping and chatting for the benefit of the camera. Dave grabbed the webcam and swiveled it—across the walls taped up with Dimmu Borgir and Immortal posters, past a shelf of CDs and conspiracy theory documentaries— Freedom Road, Gulag USA, The Illuminati, Police State 3: Total Enslavement—past a green plastic lawn chair and an electric keyboard and an electric guitar and an amp—to a cabinet stacked high with empty 40 oz. bottles and tallboy cans: Troy’s own wall of trophies. There were beers from all over the world and some 40s that were pretty rare. Troy showed off a special-edition can of Mickey’s featuring Tito Ortiz that was pretty cool. Then he quickly sat back down, because the video was approaching the 10-minute mark.
Before time ran out, Dave insisted on telling the people on YouTube that he hoped to “see” them again. “Like I said, it’s only my second video. I’m not really a talkative person, but if you want man, give us a call, let us know what you think of the video.” Troy couldn’t help but smile at the inanity of this comment.
. . .
Troy’s grandfather came down from Amarillo for the holidays, and Troy soon had him in on the game. First they drank 40s of Schlitz in Troy’s bedroom on Christmas Eve. Troy wore a Santa hat and played Fear of Eternity’s Spirit of Sorrow album, a melancholic dirge with this weird alien-sounding screaming, which acted as a kind of sonic ammonia to cleanse the whole hokey Christmas vibe in the rest of the house.
In the silence of the night I lose myself,
It makes me drunken with its sweet blue sound.
In the drunk’ness of solitude
I fear no more the solemn realms of death
No single sigh from my lips as I drink the wine of bitterness
Grandpa wore his old stonewashed jean jacket and a black cowboy hat with a turquoise and silver hatband. He wasn’t very comfortable in front of the camera. He kept talking to Troy, in asides, thinking that the camera couldn’t hear what he was saying, and then saying louder stuff, like “I just want to wish all y’all a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!” He seemed unsure of the point of these videos. At one point, as Troy was giving a shout-out to his various crews—the 40 oz. Malt Liquor Crew, Beer Drinkers United, and the Cold Beer Drinkers’ Club—Grandpa raised his bottle. “And to reality!” he toasted.
The next day, armed with his new handicam (a $250 Aiptek HD, a Christmas present from his mom), Troy was finally free to roam around. He climbed up a ladder onto the roof of his house. The neighborhood stretched out all around him, a prairie of low-slung homes and winter-withered lawns. There was a pair of vehicles, a momma car (a minivan or a station wagon) and a poppa car (pickup, SUV), in almost every driveway. Some people had Christmas decorations out, inflatable snowmen and candy canes and whatnot. In Troy’s backyard, there was an old trampoline, de-legged, resting against a blue shed. Some dumbass had tried to kick off the side of the shed to do a backflip and had left a big hole in the wall. Mercedes, Troy’s pit bull—of no relation to the one that attacked Dave’s face—had gotten up onto a table in the backyard and was standing, statue-still, and staring up at him. Troy turned the camera around to focus on his stovepipe chimney, which was barely wide enough to insert your arm into and was covered over with this aluminum roof thingy to keep out the rain. He wondered how anyone could tell their kid that Santa could fit through that.
Troy had tried to get Grandpa to go up on the roof with him that day, and Grandpa was going to, but he said his leg was cramping. Three days later, Troy finally got him up there. Grandpa brought along his old Espana guitar from the 1950s and, in between sips from a 40 of Olde English, sang a few old timey songs. Troy always liked “Mountain Dew” the best, but Grandpa couldn’t really remember all of the words to that one, so he just sang the first verse about three times (My uncle Mort he was sawed off and short, he measured bout five foot two…) and then stopped. He started a new song, called “Life of a Poor Boy” by Stonewall Jackson. His soft, quaky voice aside, Grandpa was a natural born performer; as he strummed the guitar, he bobbed and twisted his shoulders to the beat, just like one of those old Sun Records guys.
Poor boy ain’t got no money—a slender gold chain and a couple of gold rings flashed on Grandpa’s neck and fingers—poor boy ain’t got no dough— the air smelled of barbecue smoke, cold earth—Give this poor boy a little ole gal—Mercedes, the pitbull, was back up on the table in the same spot, staring up at the roof in that freaky, hypnotized-looking way—and you watch that poor boy go. The neighborhood had suddenly gone silent; all of the other dogs in the neighborhood seemed to be listening, too:
He’s the backbone of the nation, the pappy of our land.
With a two-buck loan, he’ll build us a home, and we’ll raise a poor boy clan.
His worries they are many, his pleasures are but few
But that don’t worry that poor boy, cuz his daddy had ‘em too…
. . .
Now that Troy had a handicam and was free to roam, his world widened. Sometimes, the camera gave him a reason to go out and do stuff, like the time he and Jefferoni went down to a sewer tunnel on the other side of the neighborhood and shot a video of themselves drinking and farting in the echoey darkness. Other times—like the time he filmed himself at Fat Daddy’s, the town’s new bar—having the camera was like having a silent, pocket-sized friend, someone to talk to, an antidote to both loneliness and interaction.
Throughout that spring and into the following summer, his world continued to expand: he filmed himself going to the liquor store, ambling in the narrow gutter between the shoulder of a four-lane road and plains of nitrogen-rich grass constellated with spectral dandelions; driving his Mercedes (illegally) to another liquor store to buy a case of Steel Reserve; drinking in the new covered patio Dave built with money he won in the lottery; drinking at the drag races; drinking on a trampoline; drinking on top of his mailbox; drinking while watering his yard; drinking in his aboveground pool; drinking while riding his lawn mower; drinking while doing backflips at a man-made lake with his mom and Dave; drinking in an alley near his house after he got in a fistfight with Dave and broke Dave’s nose; and not drinking at all, because he left his 40 of Colt 45 in the freezer and it exploded into a gold-white cloud of crystalline foam.
Adapting to the vernacular style of the 40 Oz. Crew, Troy began describing each new activity as “do a ___,” which had the effect of making every action sound like a meme. So, for example, “do some beer bongs,” or “do some nighttime barbecues,” or “do some jay walks,” or “do some ½ pound cheeseburgers,” or “do some DWI lawnmower rides,” or “do some binge drinking on Memorial Day.” Sometimes he got creative, like the time he filmed himself drinking a 44-ounce cup of root beer at Braum’s, the fast-food restaurant/convenience store where he worked. He introduced his coworkers (“That’s Billy. He’s our cook. He’s gay, but he’s pretty cool”) and filmed the shelves, stocked with boxes of cereal and green Dole bananas, the glass-top freezer filled with giant cartons of ice cream in pharmaceutical hues. His coworkers were kind of camera-shy, which he probably didn’t alleviate by shouting: “There’s going to be a whole bunch of people seeing this video, so—you’re famous now! You’re on TV!”
People were responding to really well to his videos on YouTube—some guys in the 40 Oz. Crew even made t-shirts with his face on them—and Troy was starting to feel the first flush of micro-fame. He set up his own website that he hoped would make him a bunch of money (it didn’t), and he joked with his coworkers that if they wanted his autograph, they’d have to pay $10. (They declined.)
Three videos in particular were approaching an almost iconic status. In the first, Troy had walked across the street to his neighbor Damien’s garage and spent the evening with an old black man named Willy. Troy had seen Willy in the garage before, drinking a Milwaukee’s Best Ice, so Troy figured, hell, he drinks good beer, I might as well come over and make a video with him. Troy had bought Willy a 40 of Beast Ice, and Willy had paid him back, oddly, with a $10 roll of quarters. They stood in the chilly garage, under that white square light that every automatic garage door has attached to the roof strut. Willy was wearing a camouflaged army jacket and a watchman’s cap. Even though he was friendly, it was a little bit awkward at first. He and Troy finally bonded when they figured out that they made roughly the same wage—$100 a week: Troy at his part-time gig at Braum’s, and Willy in his rounds as a “scrapper.” Willy showed Troy the customized shopping cart that he used to collect copper wire, aluminum cans, and brass scraps from trash cans and abandoned buildings. Aside from multiple nylon bags and a yellow plastic trashcan for holding the scrap metal, the cart held a hook (his “can-getter”), a pair of gloves, as well as a beebee gun and an aluminum baseball bat. Troy said he’d seen three big dogs running around the neighborhood at night. Willy umm-hmmed in agreement. He said he’d had to shoot at them before with his beebee gun. “I don’t like shooting at them,” he said, “but I ain’t about to let them bite me.” Troy asked Willy if he ever went out scrapping at night. Willy shook his head. “I can’t see as well,” he said. “I got to see them cans. They be hiding everywhere.”
Troy and his grandpa used to collect cans, too, years ago, by jumping into dumpsters and grabbing them. It was pretty fun, except the time when his grandpa got bit by spiders. Troy also remembered, when he was little, dropping pebbles in the cans, to make them weigh more. He told this to Willy, and Willy laughed, because he did this too sometimes, only with the lead balances that fell off of tires.
Willy looked wistfully at the bottle in his hand. “I could drink one of these in five minutes when I was your age,” he said.
“Oh yeah,” Troy said. “I drank one of these Steel Reserves in one minute and 30 seconds on video.” Troy started in on a story about how other people on the forum had chugged 40s even faster than that, but he kept bumping into these weird cultural/generational rifts. Like, he suggested that Willy go on YouTube and check out some of the videos, but then he realized that maybe Willy doesn’t have a computer or know how to use one, and so had to qualify that with “But you gotta be smart on computers and shit to go on there…” and just trailed off.
A few seconds or minutes later, Troy cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, I work at Braum’s,” he said, trying to bridge the yawning rift between the kind of person who owns a computer and the kind that doesn’t. “It ain’t nothing to brag about,” he said. “It’s minimum wage.”
Willy nodded and said he’d once filled out an application for Braum’s, but never heard back from them. As he was saying this, the garage light went off. There was a moment of total blindness. It was as if the two had slipped into an even deeper chasm—the one between the kind of person who could get a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant, and the kind who couldn’t.
Then Willy hit something in the darkness and the light came back on. The two men toasted, clinked bottles, resumed drinking.
. . .
Malt liquor was invented during the Great Depression, when a chemist in Michigan found that by adding dextrose, wine-yeast, and alpha-amylase enzymes to a primarily corn-based beer mash, he could create a higher-alcohol beer that required less malted barley (and thus, cost less) to produce. In some ways, those early malt liquors—Clix and Sparkling Stite—were formulated from a similar economic equation as today’s malt liquors: more booze + lower cost + widespread poverty = success.
In the post-war economic boom of the early 1950s, marketers paused to reassess the unique characteristics of malt liquor—its crisp carbonation, golden yellow color, and higher alcohol content—and envisioned a new American champagne. Brands like Country Club, Sparkling Grenày, Champetite, Town and Country VVS, and Olde English were packaged in precious 8 oz. cans or in tiny green glass bottles. In advertisements, Country Club’s (all-white) patrons were seen sipping it from wine glasses. “The New Party Brew,” the advertisements read, “Looks inviting... Tastes Exciting!” The burgeoning middle class finally had a drink that made them feel wealthy without feeling aristocratic.
As champagne became more affordable and the middle class wisened up to the fact that malt liquor—both in taste and appearance— resembles partially diluted stomach bile, sales sagged. The malt liquor producers had a problem: according to The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 27, Part 7, section 7.29 (g), a malt beverage’s label “shall not contain any statements, designs, or devices…which are likely to be considered as statements of alcoholic content.” In other words, it was illegal to sell strong beer by telling people how strong it was. Then in 1963, an employee at the National Brewing company created Colt 45, a brand—mixing guns with horses, two things that “kick”—just subtle enough to slip under the censors but obvious enough to sell.
In the 1970s and 80s, malt liquor producers built upon Colt 45s success to start targeting black urban demographics—who, unbeknownst to any of the brewing companies, had long been quietly buying malt liquor in large numbers. With the help of bigger bottles, more aggressive logos and the spokesmanship of Billy Dee Williams and, later, NWA, malt liquor was rebranded as a drink for young black people. In a weird historical twist, Olde English became synonymous with people who were neither old nor English.
If Troy’s grandpa had been in the room with him and Willie, in this one garage you’d have a microcosm of the 70-year history of malt liquor—from its origins as a cheap American champagne among the upwardly mobile post-war middle class, to it enshrinement as an icon of solidarity among the black urban poor, and finally to its current position among young whites seeking an identity more edgy than those offered by Miller or Bud.
So when you watch someone like Troy, someone who is essentially drinking himself to death with this wretched stuff, you have to keep all this in mind. The appeal of malt liquor has always been precisely counterintuitive: it’s cheap, it’s nasty, and it’s dangerous—and that’s what makes it good.
. . .
The second iconic video of Troy’s was one where he put on a cape and painted his face into a grim black-and-white kabuki scowl. He was pretty wasted, and could barely talk, so the video wasn’t that good, but people really latched on to the image. On the 40 Oz. Forum, the painted face became Troy’s avatar, and when the people on the forum made Black Metal Troy t-shirts, this is the image they used.
The last iconic video was his “tree vid,” where he filmed himself climbing from his roof into the upper branches of a tree in his front yard. It wouldn’t have been that great of a video, except that his across-the-street neighbor came out with her kid, and started asking him questions, like what he was doing, and why.
“I’m making a video,” Troy said.
“Just sitting up here, making a video.”
“Oh, just…I’m almost done.”
She turned to someone inside the house, and explained, “He’s on the roof, drunk, making a video…”
“I’m not drunk,” Troy said.
“No, this is my first one.”
“For my friends. On the Internet.”
As she continued to pester him about how unsafe it was to drink from a precarious position 20 feet in the air, Troy’s eyes darted conspiratorially between camera and interlocutor, his friends and his neighbors, those who understand him and those who don’t. “Shit,” he whispered to the camera. “Figures. I knew my neighbor was going to come out here, or drive up or something. Probably going to tell my mom, I’ll probably get bitched at.” He took another swig, and smiled. “Oh well.”
. . .
Troy’s tree video presents a stark example of the discrepancy between “public” in the communal sense and “public” in the Internet sense. In the Wild West of cyberspace, the only things that can get you in trouble are those that are truly illegal; communities can be built around shared interests—no matter how strange—rather than shared physical space. But in the real world, there are a whole host of social codes that can be violated. Putting yourself in physical danger is one of them; drinking malt liquor in full public view is another. The downside to the realm Troy has chosen to live in, as evidenced by the 40 Oz. Crew’s web forum, is exactly the inverse: on the Internet, no one has any real emotional incentive to make sure you stay alive or out of trouble.
The historical record is neatly laid out on a thread dedicated solely to Black Metal Troy on the 40 Oz. forum, which stretches back two years and over 121 pages. In the beginning, the thread mostly consisted of Troy trying to spark a conversation about reptilians (the extraterrestrials in which Troy, half-jokingly and half-seriously, believes) and one-world government conspiracy theories. The other members mostly used the forum to ask Troy slightly mocking questions about his personal life. “Troy, how many pushups can you do?” they asked. Or, “Do you ever hear your mom and Dave bumping uglies?” Troy always answered, earnestly. (Answers: “15” and, “No I don’t ever here them bumping uglies. That’s funny because I used to hear her all the time at night when she was with her other boyfriend. What’s wrong with Dave?”) Troy’s star rose quickly on the forum, due his preternatural alcohol tolerance and the car-crash allure of his videos. And in the seeming darkness of the forums, Troy opened up in ways he wouldn’t even dare on YouTube. He confessed his dream of working his way up to a managerial position at Braum’s and saving up enough money to one day buy a farm. He’d own two cows, two pigs, maybe some chickens. He’d tend a small garden, and feed himself off the land. “It would be a lot of hard work but I could loose the weight,” he wrote. “Do some seeds, do some plows, do some back breaks, do some families?”
And he revealed something that I had long been curious about—the story of his real dad. Apparently, his father had been a drug addict and an alcoholic. On one occasion he chased after Troy’s mother, who was holding baby Troy in her arms, and fired at her with a rifle. She took Troy and fled. He now lives in Dumas, Texas. Troy sent him letters as a boy, but he never replied. But then, not long ago, Troy got a call from his dad. His dad was crying and apologizing for never being around. He said he’d quit drugs but still drank. “It never really bothered me not having a dad,” Troy told his friends in the forum. “I’ve always worried about other things.”
As the novelty of Troy’s videos wore off, and, I suspect, as members of the forum began to see Troy as a real person rather than an entertainment object, the mood of the forum soured. Following the pee-drinking incident, members of the forum alternately urged Troy to eat his own feces, kill himself, or clean up his life. One forum member requested that the moderators “ban him and delete all traces of this fucking retard.” Troy responded with a long diatribe, one of his last on the forum, in which he laid out the central dilemma of his life:
You guys just have to hate me, like I’ve been hated for no reason my whole life! Throughout ALL my school years. I’m used to it, can’t you guys tell that? Point is, is that I never left you guys. The real reason why I drank my own piss that night was because I was actually thinking about you guys that night, I was so angry for all yall’s unprovoked hate, that I thought well, hell there’s nothing I can do to please them. So I thought yeah… I’ll drink my piss on youtube, in order to give you guys something to really hate me about, that’s the honest to gods truth!
. . .
As the months wore on, Troy fell into a series of patterns, all of which he knew were unhealthy. He fought with his mom, and Dave, and, increasingly, his friends on the Internet. He drank until his immune system wore down and he got recurrent colds and his stomach felt all twisted up inside. He cooked unhealthy food, and ate it just before going to bed, which contributed to his weight problem. He even started a new club, called the “Diabeetus Drinker’s Club,” dedicated to the memory Wilford Brimley. (It didn’t catch on.) People kept urging him to lose weight in his videos, often not in the kindest terms. “Man ur the fucken shittest and fattest reviewer,” one commenter wrote. “Good luck tho with ur weight issues and all.” Troy always replied that he wasn’t slowing down for anybody. He loved being fat. He loved drinking malt liquor. And even when he went to Wal-Mart and stuck his arm in one of those automated cuffs and found out he had high blood pressure, it only scared him off of the sauce for a little while, because when he wasn’t drinking he started feeling dizzy and his life became a lot less exciting.
Much of the time, it was easy to get lost in the storm of loud music and dizzy drinking, and whole nights slipped away without his even remembering them. But there were other nights when the booze would have the opposite effect, and his perceptions would gelatinize. One such afternoon Troy was drinking in his garage, listening to a sad, flute-inflected song called “Mourners” by Empirium. His skin looked awful in the viewfinder, at once pale and blotchy—poisoned looking—and his eyes were watery and pink. He sat and drank for a few minutes, trying to work up the nerve to say what was on his mind without sounding whiny.
“I’ve been thinking about it lately,” he said. “I don’t have that much of a life. I just come home and do the same thing every day. Drink fuckin’ 40s—which I love doing, don’t get me wrong—and make videos. I’ve got a lot of friends on YouTube. But I mean, other than that, in real life, you know, reality, I don’t really do anything. And I was thinking, what if I’m like this my whole life, you know?”
He stared into the camera for a long time, then took another swig. He turned the camera around and faced it outward, at the world outside his garage door: the little houses and big trees and the white, obese Texas clouds. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” he asked, adjusting the light settings on the camera so it could catch the lovely interplay of pastel hues in the late afternoon light. He zoomed in on the clouds until they became pixelated, oyster-hued swirls. He turned the camera back around, towards his face. His little chin. His lips. His oyster eyes. The music did a sort of reverse crescendo, the melody sinking deeper into itself. He stared into the camera. Then his eyes flicked off to the left, and the spell was broken.
“What’s up pumpkin tits?”
It was Jefferoni Pepperoni, riding up the driveway on a BMX bike.
“I was just telling everybody on YouTube how, I don’t know,” Troy said. “What do you think, you think I’m going to live with my mom all my life, and drink 40s here, every day, and make YouTube videos? Probably, right?”
No answer from Jefferoni. A machine sang, and another re-recorded the sound. “Maybe I would have actually gave a shit if I’d gotten an education, if fucking society wasn’t so fucked up, you know?” Troy said. Jeff could be heard, far-off, trying to coax Troy outside, into the afternoon air. Come on, he kept saying. Come on. Troy shook his head. “This whole education system is fucked. Society is fucked. So I mean…” He stared off to the side again, eyes lost somewhere inside his head.
“See you, crew,” Troy said, looking into the lens once more. Then the song ended, and the video cut out.
. . .
Initially, members of the 40 Ounce Crew loved Troy because he was strange and kind of pathetic but also kind of vulnerable—in other words, a newborn. But then, as he matured into a definite shape—and as the effect the drinking had on his body and his life became manifest—those were the same reasons they found him depressing. His boss repeatedly refused to promote him to manager, or even assistant manager, so Troy decided to quit his job at Braum’s. Without a job, his drinking spiraled—he took to chugging tallboys of Four Loko at lunch and bottles of Mad Dog 50/50 at night. Hours were spent watching—and emulating—a television show called Man Vs. Food, in which a stocky guy named Adam Richman challenges himself to a series of increasingly gluttonous and potentially unsafe eating challenges. A few of the more compassionate members of the Crew reached out to Troy to beg him to stop drinking for a little while and get his life together. “I talked with Troy last night and he told me hes trying hard to find a job and that hes doing good and he likes the fact that Im worried and he is going to work on his shit,” wrote BigJandthe40. Another crew member, OldeEnglishKing, wrote to Troy that “you need to grow up, you’re not a teenager anymore. When you get a job, move out and make it on your own, you will feel much better. If you can, try to travel. You will see there’s a whole big world out there and it’s not like the Internet. Time to make moves.”
Following the piss-drinking incident, for more than a month, Troy disappeared altogether from YouTube and the forums. I later found out that he had left home and traveled two hours north to the town of Sherman, Texas, where he made $11 an hour washing away the blood in a Tyson’s slaughterhouse where they processed some 6,000 cows per day.
This, it seemed, was how the saga of Black Metal Troy ended—without even so much as a goodbye. I realized, with a twinge of shame, that my relief that Troy was getting his life together was more than outweighed by regret that I no longer had his videos to gape at. The absence left me feeling oddly heartbroken.
But then, not long ago, I dropped by Troy’s YouTube channel on a whim and found a brand new video. He’d grown a feral-looking blond beard and he was holding a bottle of Hurricane High Gravity9 and spinning in circles in his mom’s living room and grinning like a maniac. “What’s up motherfuckers, I’m back!” he rasped. “I had to move back into my mom’s house. Long story, I ain’t even going to get into it. Maybe in another video. This video is just, fucking…” he paused, and tried to crack open the twist-off cap with his teeth. “Shit,” he said, “I can’t do it like I used to…”
Halfway through the video, Troy went into his bedroom and logged into a relatively new website called Oovoo, where he could video chat with six of his drinking buddies simultaneously. For almost four minutes, he filmed himself chatting with his friends, laughing and chugging in glorious real time. Near the end of the video, they egged him on as he tried to finish his bottle before the 10-minute mark. He was on the verge of puking, but he persevered; the last inch of foam disappeared down his gullet, and he raised the empty bottle in triumph. “I did it! I did it in under ten. So fuck you motherfuckers. I’m back! The malt liquor, high gravity king!” he crowed.
We know, as he no doubt knows, that this is a first step back to that dark place he once described—living at home with his mom his whole life, drinking online, never actually doing anything—but in these final minutes of the video, with him laughing and practicing the only talent he’s ever had, you can’t help but feel happy for Troy. The point is that he is no longer alone—alone in his hunger, his feebleness, his empty bloat. And, each time we click, each time we mutely watch, we reaffirm that we too are not, have never been, will never be, alone.
* Nicknames: Black Metal Troy, All-Metal Troy, Fatback Troy, Troy Boy McCoy. Age: 23. Relationship Status: Single. Height: 5’ 6”. Ethnicity: White. Religion: Other.
1 - 40 ounces, 8 percent alcohol, $2.
2 - 5.6 percent alcohol, $2
3 - 5.9 percent alcohol, $2
4 - 24 ounces, 5.9 percent alcohol, 99 cents.
5 - 12 ounces, 5.6 percent alcohol, $5.99 for a six pack.
6 - 32 ounces, 0% alcohol, $1.70
7 - 12 ounces, 4.2% alcohol, $5.99 for a six pack.
8 - 40 ounces, 5.5% alcohol, $2
9 - 40 ounces, 8.1 percent alcohol, $2.50
To see Black Metal Troy on YouTube go to: tinyurl.com/4pxbjr6.
ROBERT MOOR is a freelance journalist and essayist living in New York City.