NEW PORT RICHEY — Miss Destructo is 6 feet tall with cobalt blue hair, chiseled cheekbones and fingernails like daggers.
Her 17,000 Twitter loyalists want to know what she had for breakfast, where she's going for drinks. Her Internet fame is significant, hard for some to grasp. Fans assume she lives in a high-rise, breaking windows, smashing guitars, raising hell. And maybe Miss Destructo does.
Amber Osborne doesn't. At 25, she lives in the same small house in New Port Richey where she grew up, just past a pizza shop and some trucks in the grass. Her father is there with creaky 14-year-old Chihuahua named Spike, but her mother is gone now. She has a black Mac Book with a Henry Rollins sticker and an old Palm Pre.
From a red chaise longue below a spray of peacock plumes, she types to fake friends, real friends, clients, people who hate her. An empire on a limitless canvas.
She works below a photograph of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor everyone called a freak before he harnessed electricity.
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Twitter is a symbiotic mystery.
You follow people's mundane exploits in short bursts and come back for more, even if you don't know why. You hope they follow you, even if they don't know why.
It's a simulated home for people like Amber, people lusting to excel at something and find a niche. People who might not find it otherwise.
Miss Destructo has made business out of the ether.
She manages 15 Twitter accounts, helping firms develop online followings. She speaks on panels about social networking. She created a campaign for Bruce's Yams, tweeting as a snarky can of yams. She helped launch Foursquare Day, an international geek holiday. She has been interviewed about social media dozens of times. She has interviewed stars like singer Adam Lambert and actor Nathan Fillion.
She is the "Blue Cheese" at Head of Lettuce Media. Her friend, Antony Francis, is the "Head of Lettuce," the CEO. She advises clients that they can't set up a Twitter account and walk away. They have to engage. They have to have mystique, swagger, personality.
They trust Miss Destructo, who tweets 40 times a day. Her phone flashes in the middle of the night and she rolls to answer it. She posts pictures of herself riding a mechanical bull, sipping a cocktail, posing in the mirror. She writes random thoughts.
Woah woah woah. Coconut Fudge Blue Bell ice cream. Why was I not notified?
Who has two thumbs and needs a shower? This girl.
Random fact of the day: I used to have a huge crush on Data from Star Trek.
When Amber's own life is not edgy enough, she lets Miss Destructo rumors breathe with a wink. Once, she walked past a broken window in Chicago. Destructo did that, friends joked. Someone tweeted it. It spread.
"I guess Miss Destructo is a little more of a ... I don't know, a secret agent," she said.
Someone recognized her in the soda line at Busch Gardens. "You're Miss Destructo!"
Someone recognized her in the security line at the airport. "Hey! Miss Destructo!"
She makes enough money to get her own place, but she hasn't left home because her father is ill. She has always been afraid to drive, but she is finally learning. She is open about almost everything.
Where Miss Destructo is stubborn, Amber is vulnerable.
• • •
Several people crammed into Amber's office with lights and cameras to document her for this story.
In the living room, Robert Osborne sat in a green easy chair uninterested, watching the Price is Right with Spike. He is 71, a Vietnam veteran and retired respiratory therapist who doesn't even use e-mail. His daughter back there?
"Oh, I don't know what she does."
He knows she has traveled. He knows people give her things. Busch Gardens gave her a bloody guitar from Halloween. The Lightning gave her tickets. Audi asked her to test drive a car in California. When they went antique shopping on the other side of Florida, someone recognized her.
He senses it matters. He is relieved.
"She's one of those kids who needs to recognize her potential and you have to let her go with it," he said. "She didn't like middle school, high school."
She was youngest of six, a tomboy who bit the furniture and covered things in duct tape. Her parents called her Destructo.
She idolized her mother, Margery Ann. They saw Neil Diamond in concert. They cozied up and watched Mystery Science Theater 3000. Margery was a nurse, a writer, a beauty queen who once won a date with five firemen.
The cancer worked slowly, but Amber's mother refused to die in the hospital or let Amber carry her to the bathroom. She was too proud. The night before she died, Margery told Amber she loved her, and Amber walked away angry.
Amber was 8. She switched schools. She was a head taller than everyone and had no friends. She withdrew into her bedroom, writing poetry and stories, listening to David Bowie's Earthling album, entranced how he could control his own image.
She went online the first time to see Bowie's website. She discovered chatrooms, LiveJournal, MySpace. She started posing as Destructo Girl. She wanted to be a hacker, but was no good at programming. She started hanging out with bands, helping with promotions. She wanted to be a musician, but was no good at music.
She was frightened. She would die without leaving a mark. She wouldn't live up to her mother's example.
After graduating from the University of Tampa she moved with a guy to Greenville, South Carolina. She dyed her hair blue, an ode to a character by French artist Enki Bilal.
An alien woman. Tall. Pale skin. Blue hair. Powerful.
• • •
Hey. It's going to be a great fall!
Miss Destructo's first tweet, three years ago. It was underwhelming. What was the point? She went silent for a year and a half.
"I didn't need to know if someone was eating bacon in the morning or if someone bought a new pair of shoes," she said. "I didn't see the value."
Unemployed and starving, she tried again. She learned how to master sentences, make a point, crack a joke. She talked about Greenville street culture. People noticed.
"It seemed like everyone wanted to know what I was doing, what I was eating, what color my hair was."
You're good at Twitter, they said. She didn't know what that meant, but it felt nice to be good at something.
She came back to Tampa single to care for her father. With her imposing stature and edgy geek quality, people wanted her at their events. Businessmen came up to her, unbuttoned cuffs and showed off their tattoos. They were surprised when she didn't have any.
Her siblings didn't get it. They thought she should get a real job. Friends used her to get free things. She'd go on dates and guys wanted Miss Destructo, not Amber.
And as the following grew, so did the briny sea of internet trolls who exist to hate. When she was voted Creative Loafing's best Twitter personality, someone commented that it was dumb to care. And on the website Something Awful, someone wrote a three page letter about reasons to hate her.
She was devastated. Then, her friends said something.
This was the world in which Miss Destructo was born. Where controversy and vitriol feed on each other. Where you can excel and plummet but either way leave an impression. Miss Destructo was doing that.
She thought of her mother.
"I know she would be proud of what I'm doing right now, but I just want to be sure it's in her memory, and I don't give up."
She blogged to one of her enemies.
Seriously dude, let's grab a beer… Above and beyond online or offline, be real… be kind… be human. Even if you don't look like one.