On Valentine's Day, in the Year of Our Lord 2019, a 27-year-old technology salesman walked into a nondescript Outback Steakhouse with a shoddily wrapped present under his arm. His name was Stephen Bonser, and he had made a reservation for two. Nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary. Bonser was dressed in what any hopeless romantic would wear to dinner at a chain restaurant in the DC metro area: an ironed blazer and a button-down shirt. He was prepared. When the hostess informed him that, despite the fact that he had called ahead, he would have to wait ten minutes for his table, he waved her off. It wasn't a big deal, not at all. His date was running a little late anyway.
Eventually, Bonser sat down. Outback, according to CBS Baltimore, was the most googled destination in Maryland for Valentine's Day. He would be in good company. But unfortunately, ten more minutes passed. Perhaps punctuality wasn't his date's strong suit. That was OK. He'd just have to take note of that for future excursions.
Another ten minutes went by. Then another. He ordered steak with blue cheese crumbles, and, for some reason, not a Bloomin' Onion. Everyone makes mistakes. He idled around, doing what any of us would do if we were slowly realizing we had been stood up: shoving loaves of bread and mac 'n' cheese into his mouth, chugging carafes of Chardonnay, leaving nervous voicemails for his lady.
"So the kitchen closes in a minute or so, so I had to order food," he said over the phone, visibly unsure of how to continue. "I'm taking it that you're probably not going to make it."
The staff looked on, reportedly concerned. Finally, toward closing, an older couple walked up and told him not to worry: They had already paid his check. Perhaps good humans really do exist on this deteriorating planet. Bonser was grateful.
Grateful, that is, that his ruse worked! Tricked you! Ha ha ha! It was a joke, you fools! And he had been tweeting about it the whole time!
But still, we're left with this pressing question: How in the world did he come up with the idea to scam somebody? We live in a completely normal era, in which I, for one, would have never even thought this sort of thing could happen. Nobody logs on to Twitter for this kind of real-time amusement, and I would have never guessed that the account of his stunt would receive more than 7,000 retweets. (And climbing!) Minor grifts and blowing stuff way out of proportion… I'm not sure. The entire thing—the grift, the response, all these follow-up articles—is totally novel to me. It wasn't even April Fool's Day!
It's worth nothing that Bonser did lessen the blow of his ploy, tweeting that he left the waiter a $20 tip. He's also donating $50 to to the American Civil Liberties Union, telling the Washington Post that "otherwise, I'm going to have some real bad karma coming my way."
Initially, over Twitter DM, Bonser declined to comment for this article. "I appreciate you reaching out," he told me, "but I think I've done enough interviews for something this silly."
Fair enough. Then, when he got a break at work, he changed his mind. Fame, as you know, is fleeting. One second you're notorious on the internet for receiving a free cut of meat at Outback Steakhouse, and the next you're back in technology sales. He said I could send him a few questions.
I asked him, most importantly, if he expected such a response.
"My sister and my roommate goaded me into doing it after my initial tweet got people's attention," he wrote. "I figured, why not? It was better than sitting at home watching The Office again."
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Alex Norcia on Twitter.