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Two of our granddaughters are just now on a fortnight’s school trip to China (The only such trip I can remember from my own early schooling was a two-hour visit to the local water filtration plant — they called it science.)

In writing a note of encouragement to 12-year-old Lulu, Joan inquired whether she and her sister Cora would be accompanied by Turkalee. A soft toy simulacrum of a turkey, Turkalee has for many years been Lulu’s most intimate friend — intimate and, of course, imaginary. In the past, I have been an inadvertent eavesdropper on animated conversations between Lulu and Turkalee.

I don’t actually know whether Turkalee is in China. They are, by now, a somewhat odd couple, and their future is uncertain. Lulu is in the effervescent flush of girlhood, but Turkalee is decrepit in the extreme, threadbare, limp-necked. But what a friend Turkalee has been!

Imaginary friends are rather on my mind at the moment. They are such helpful extensions of the self. First, I read of the very useful new app Invisible Boyfriend, which for only $24.99 will fill the aching e-voids in your life. Then, in reading of the denouement of the University of Virginia rape-hoax episode fostered by Rolling Stone magazine, I had the startling aperçu that the whole thing must turn upon a most rare species of the imaginary friend — viz., the imaginary rapist.

Jackie — a.k.a. “the victim” and “the survivor” — wanted to attract the sentimental attentions of a fellow student, Mr. X. She sought to animate Mr. X’s sluggish amatory response by making him think he had an ardent upper-class competitor. As this person was entirely imaginary, and thus unlikely to sue me, we need not call him Mr. Y. We can call him, as Jackie at first did, Haven Monahan, or as she later did when he supposedly orchestrated her brutal gang rape, Drew.

Jackie did her best to overcome the inconvenience of Haven Monahan’s actual non-existence by providing him with some baroque means of electronic communication, available for a small fee in the cybernetic wilderness. Of course, she had to write the actual texts herself, but that's no hill for a stepper.

The role of Haven Monahan was to set the cat among the pigeons, though I learn that in millennial speak the cat has been replaced by the catfish. I quote from the indispensable online Urban Dictionary: “A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances” (Urban Dictionary is better at definitions than at grammar.)

In case you need to use the word in its verbal sense in a sentence, the urban lexicographers usefully provide an example: "Did you hear how Dave got totally catfished last month?! The fox he thought he was talking to turned out to be a pervy guy from San Diego!"

Totally? And from San Diego? My God! No wonder so many of us from time to time feel that the world would be a better place if we could control both halves of our daily communications. I am no longer embarrassed when — as happens with increasing frequency — I am discovered mumbling to myself. I simply explain that I find it increasingly difficult to get a good conversation going.

A popular song of my youth — and research reveals that it actually antedates my birth — summed up what surely must be a nearly universal temptation. It was called “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.”

I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter
And make believe it came fro you.
I’m gonna write words, oh, so sweet
They’re gonna knock me off my feet
Kisses on the bottom
I’ll be glad I’ve got ‘em

No blogger, however, is in a position to be critical of such reflexive modes of communication as may be afforded by the Turkalees or Invisible Boyfriends in our lives. For all our wishful thinking, we have an actual, documentable audience of precisely one.

It is possibly notable that, according to the statistics kept by Google, those that I have no grounds for calling into doubt, this very post is the 300th consecutive weekly essay I have published since June 12, 2009, when I first began. By rough and ready calculus, but one more likely to under than over count, that amounts to 255,000 words I have released into the electronic aether without any identifiable motive other than self-indulgence.

For purposes of comparison, I can tell you that there are about 210,000 words in "Moby Dick" and about 260,000 in "Middlemarch." I am approaching the halfway mark for "War and Peace." While I must grudgingly allow a distinction between quantity and quality, that’s still a mighty colloquy with imaginary friends.

John V. Fleming

Author John V. Fleming taught at Princeton University for 40 years before retiring in 2006.

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