Brent Finnegan -- March 2nd, 2011
When David Thorne first walked into Function 4 Sports in January, store employees had no idea who he was. But if you so much as mention his name in the store today, employees immediately roll their eyes.
Thorne is the Australian “fratirist” behind the website 27b/6, an archive of satirical email exchanges he’s had with unsuspecting subjects. He purchased a pair of defective snowboarding gloves from the Harrisonburg ski shop in January. When he returned to exchange the gloves the next day, he claims that he was told by an employee to “f**k off,” and was denied the opportunity for an exchange.
The next day, Thorne, who is also a graphic designer, created a fake newspaper ad for Function 4 promising a free snowboard, boots and bindings. He posted the ad online, and his fans responded by calling the shop.
“For a while, we had to turn off our phones,” said Anton Ganev, owner of Function 4 Sports. “We were getting so many calls” about free snowboards. When he found out what had happened, Ganev said he fired the employee that interacted with Thorne.
On January 25 Thorne published what appears to be his email conversation with Ganev. On Thorne’s site, Ganev appears to insult Thorne, and Thorne one-ups him with witty comebacks.
Thorne’s post went viral. It has been passed around Twitter and Facebook an untold number of times over the past month. (Thorne estimates his website receives around 140,000 unique visitors on days he publishes new stories.)
However, Ganev denied that Thorne’s account is even remotely accurate. “I never wrote any of those emails,” Ganev said.
Thorne claims that a similar exchange did indeed take place, but he granted that those first emails might not have actually been from Ganev. “While Anton and I did correspond via email and the exchange is based on factual events, this particular article does contain a degree of artistic license,” Thorne wrote in an email to hburgnews.
An email conversation between Ganev and Thorne forwarded to hburgnews.com by a Function 4 employee looks considerably different from the exchange published on 27b/6. Here are excerpts from emails purportedly sent between January 27 and February 1:
GANEV: “It was brought to my attention today that you had an unpleasant experience in my store, Function 4 Sports. I apologize for my employee’s bad behavior. The employee that refused to take your gloves back and give you a refund was terminated [...] I would like to welcome you back to my store to do the best I can to satisfy your needs. I would like to reimburse you for your purchase and your time . . .”
THORNE: “. . . I appreciate the tone of the email. I would not, however, be stupid enough to go back to the store and possibly be beaten to death. The amount for the gloves or a refund was not the issue (I couldn’t care less about $44) and I also have no desire to have anybody terminated. . .”
GANEV: “. . . We have taken measures at our shop to make sure the situation that occurred with you will not happen again with you or anyone else [...] I hope we can somehow come to a resolution regarding this issue. I would like to meet with you this week and make you an offer you will like. Let’s go skiing this weekend . . .”
THORNE: “. . . I appreciate the structure of your email but like I stated in my last email to you, I have no intention of continuing the matter and it was never about compensation therefore any offer you may make (even one I “will like”) is unnecessary [...] It is the internet, articles have a two week lifespan and then everyone forgets. It is not necessary for you to attempt a resolution when it is self-resolving.”
Function 4 is not the first local establishment to find themselves the subject of one of Thorne’s email stories. In October, the Aussie humorist published an email volley with a supposed employee of the Massanutten Property Owners Association (MPOA), in which Thorne dressed his dog up as a bear in order to get out of paying a fine.
Carter Miller, the MPOA administrator, called the entire email exchange between Thorne and the MPOA employee a fictitious crock. “Every bit of that was fabricated,” Miller said.
Thorne denied that either the Function 4 or Massanutten stories were entirely fabricated, but (again) admitted alteration. “The primary function of what I write is, basically, to entertain,” Thorne wrote. “Nobody would read the email articles if they all just stated ‘f**k you.’”
A Function 4 employee said they still receive calls about the free gear. Last weekend someone prank-ordered Papa John’s pizzas to be delivered to Function 4.
And then there are the online reviews. The day Thorne published his story, the first user review appeared on Function 4′s Google listing. Within a few weeks, there were more than eighty negative reviews, many of which make references to stories on 27b/6.
“I think this is mostly his friends or people that read his website,” Ganev said of his store’s recent Google reviews.
For his part, Thorne disavows the actions of his readers. “I write under the banner ‘parody with a point’ and am known for this on the internet,” Thorne emailed Ganev. “I am not responsible for the actions/reactions of readers but realise I feed this.”
Ganev said he does not plan to pursue legal action against Thorne, although he believes the prank has hurt the reputation of his business. “Someone can be personally against you and ruin your business using lies,” Ganev said. “There’s really nothing you can do.”
Thorne’s book, a collection of email exchanges from his website, is expected to be released by Penguin Group this spring.