Facebook 'Friends' and the Gentle Art of Summer Poaching

My summer social life languishes in the doldrums. What became of the beach parties? The yachts? The swanky lawn soirees with elegant cocktail attire? In a terrible case of cosmic disconnect, my mind is saying The Great Gatsby while my life is saying The Road.

But Facebook is unexpectedly providing me with an antidote to despair. There, in the virtual hob-knobbing ether, I've succumbed to the most degrading and wanton social climbing that, were my grand-mother alive, would surely cause her to spontaneously combust all over her chintz pillows: I am actively and enthusiastically poaching other people's enviable "friends."

Not that my own actual friends are a bunch of slouches, but so far there's not a Pulitzer, Oscar, Grammy or Emmy to rub between them. And after all the Vanity Fair and New Yorker and People magazines I've inhaled this summer as I've idled between assignments, it's no wonder my thoughts have turned to fantasies involving More Fun With Extraordinary People.

So, call me a pathetic wretch, but my strategy is working in its limited way. Suddenly, my sorry social profile seems to be on an ascending arc, inching upwards one new Facebook friend at a time. While the corporeal pay-off is, strictly speaking, bupkis, I'm nevertheless cashing in on Facebook's equalizing potential by connecting with people who would assiduously avoid me in reality. In fact they'd probably run quickly away, or call the FBI, or both. But I'm certainly not gauchely hoarding every possible name like some addled teenager. Instead, I've cherry-picked only the most fabulous, the most interesting and desirable, and now have my own name linked -- however intangibly -- with studio heads and authors, actors and publishers, socialites, directors and designers.

Superficial, yes, but isn't that the very essence of Facebook networking? For every "confirmed friend request" I harvest by someone with a MacArthur Grant, above-the-line credit, Page Six moniker, or other noteworthy accomplishment, I'm rewarded with a little tingle of joy. My seriously depleted social agenda is easier to bear; this poaching in the realms of utter strangers becomes oddly -- if only temporarily -- fulfilling, in a junk food sort of way. It's like gorging on Twinkies when you're famished: there's no genuine nourishment, but it'll surely delay starvation.

Besides, there is some cache, minuscule as it may be, in these virtual friendships. Last week my brother, who signed on to Facebook but continually ridicules it, casually asked how uber-artist Damien Hirst found his way to my home page. The truth eventually emerged that Hirst wouldn't know me if I turned up floating in one of his formaldehyde tanks. But thanks to my crass Facebook filching, he graciously "friended" me, and now I'm free to mine the British provocateur's social ore for myself.

I've employed a tactic or two. First, I fasten myself, leech-like, onto someone else's succulent, ripe-for-the-picking Friend List. For instance, I recently hit pay-dirt thanks to Manhattan author and journalist Kurt Andersen who, with nearly 2000 "friends," still managed to confirm my own request promptly (much appreciated, Kurt!). His 38-pages of VIPs from the worlds of art, media, and academe required an hour of careful excavation as I culled through connections that stretch around the world from Seattle to Antarctica, Iran to L.A. Hands down, Andersen boasts one of the most elevated, diverse and sophisticated lists I've plundered. It's a virtual gold mine. My brother will want some of these names.

My guess is that anyone with over 1,000 Facebook "friends" isn't particularly discriminating and will probably accede to pretty much anyone, even a low-profile mope like me. But this is not always the case (hear that, Jeff Koons? You might be ignoring me, but I'm down with Damien Hirst,) and my "friend pending" list is woefully long. On the other hand, who cares? There are thousands more urbane potential "friends" waiting for me in the blogosphere! I even anticipate being rejected occasionally, but that doesn't deter me. Barry Diller, with a mere 50 "friends" on his list, is unlikely to accept me. Ditto, Al Pacino and Maria Shriver. But I'm holding out hope for Maya Angelou, Carl Kasell, Chris Rock and Christian Louboutin (I've completely given up on Rem Koolhaas and Errol Morris. And Andy Borowitz has apparently reached the mystic Facebook 5,000-names saturation point. "Sorry, this profile already has too many connections" read the prompt when I attempted to friend him.)

If I saw any one of these folks across a room, I'd be as likely to approach them as I would to perform a tracheotomy on myself with a Bic pen. But on Facebook, I am bold and assertive; I give in to my imagination and desires, knowing full well that these connections will be as close as I'll ever get to Michael Medavoy and Matt Groening, Gigi Grazer and Isaac Mizrahi. My social ransacking has lassoed an incandescent circle of glamorous, brainiac, peripatetic buddies who, were I to herd 20 of them together into a room, would create the kind of dinner party that invariably induces Vanity Fair to dispatch a photographer, maybe even one I've "friended."

Honestly, though, I've tried not to be greedy. My current Friend List hovers around the paltry 300-mark, and I don't pester every single person I encounter who sports a recognizable name or international reputation. I realize that after this post, I might be exiled beyond the pale of my new-found glitterati community: I could be de-friended. Gasp.

But I admit there's a limit even to my own lack of couth. I've resisted the siren pull of all the especially handsome strangers -- a universe of men -- whose profiles declare their singlehood. After all, this isn't Match.com, and I refuse to lapse into cyber-sluttishness. Trawling for friends is one thing, but trawling for dates crosses a line.

Or does it? That, "friends," is a subject for another post.