I Was Behind the Anonymous P-22 Twitter Account

In 2012, a parody Twitter account appeared for the Griffith Park mountain lion. Over time, the tweets went from comedy to become a love letter to L.A.
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For the past 10 years, I have been tweeting anonymously as P-22, the Griffith Park mountain lion, from the account @GPMountainLion. It started as a parody account, but over time it became a love letter, not only to this improbable cat but to the people delighted by his presence. This is the longest I have ever kept a secret.

The early 2010s was the golden era of parody accounts where Twitter users posed as internet-famous animals. In March 2011, after a snake escaped from the Bronx Zoo and evaded capture for six days, @BronxZoosCobra emerged on the platform. Los Angeles deserves a social media figure like this, I thought at the time. After news broke in the summer of 2012 that a mountain lion had crossed two freeways to take up residence in Griffith Park, @GPMountainLion was born.

I spent an excessive amount of time thinking about @GPMountainLion’s voice, inventing for him a kind of mountain lion grammar, where capital letters were rarely used and punctuation had a space before each mark, rather than after (for example ,like this ). The account stuck to these rules for a full decade. The more I thought about how P-22 would tweet, if he could, the more I felt a connection to the online avatar I’d created. Many of my neighbors obviously felt the same. Everyone, I think, saw some of themselves in P-22.

With this in mind, I had one rule that guided everything @GPMountainLion tweeted: P-22 was, above all else, an Angeleno.

The voice of @GPMountainLion was inspired by a particular set of Angeleno qualities that my version of P-22 possessed. For instance, the P-22 of Twitter was defined, in large part, by what he ate (famously, once, a koala); therefore, @GPMountainLion was a foodie. When P-22 wandered into Silver Lake, as he did so often the past couple of years, @GPMountainLion did the same, ordering several dozen oysters at L&E. P-22 was a regular on the side streets of Beachwood Canyon, near the old Theosophical Krotona compound, so @GPMountainLion was, accordingly, a bit of a mystic, a dabbler in the esoteric. He was friendly with the ghosts of the foothills.

Like many Angelenos, @GPMountainLion tweeted about the weather. He could tell when rain was coming because obviously, he had animal senses. Like many Angelenos, @GPMountainLion was fond of animal-related stories in the news, taking particular delight when animals rose up against human authorities.

But, most defining of all, like many Angelenos, @GPMountainLion was lonely.

Is there a better metaphor for the lonely Angeleno than a mountain lion who lives 15 miles from the nearest member of his own species, staring out over the expanse of city lights from high up on a foothill and wondering if he will ever find one of his own kind? Well, that’s how I related to him, anyway.

P-22, to me, was the living embodiment of how isolating Los Angeles can be. That vulnerability was always apparent, so @GPMountainLion wore it on his furry sleeve. Sometimes I imagined him as a late-night DJ, like the ones I listened to in San Fernando Valley when I was a moody teen, broadcasting his ideas into the ether on some Friday night, uncertain whether anyone was listening—just being there for anyone who needed to feel a bit less alone.

Like P-22, @GPMountainLion might eat you. My wife called the @GPMountainLion tweets “charmingly threatening.” P-22 was dangerous and lived in the Hollywood Hills, so naturally, he came off a bit like a rock star. I was certain that some Angelenos secretly wanted to get eaten by P-22, so @GPMountainLion played into their dark little fantasy. Like many Angelenos, P-22 was a creature of the night.

My one indulgence with the account was that @GPMountainLion was into local politics, like me. I started tweeting as @GPMountainLion while volunteering on Eric Garcetti’s first mayoral campaign, and I continued through the entirety of my nine-year tenure as president of the Taxi Commission, and @GPMountainLion was better known at City Hall than me. The Twitter account had an online relationship with every politician who represented Griffith Park during P-22’s residency. His first viral tweet was that he “just ate tom labonge,” the beloved former councilman whose name now adorns the Mount Hollywood Summit.

 

There is a specific kind of thrill that comes from someone quoting your anonymous Twitter account to you, in person, not knowing that you’re the person they’re quoting. (This happened multiple times.) There’s a twisted kind of victory that comes when someone who doesn’t like you retweets your anonymous Twitter account. People I knew of, but never met, interacted with @GPMountainLion. The only time I ever corresponded with the late, great Jonathan Gold was while cloaked in the persona of @GPMountainLion.

This was P-22’s gift to me. Spending this much time thinking about how a famous mountain lion would tweet, I thought a lot about what P-22 meant. And he certainly meant something—no question about it. He reminded us that our city is only ever one step away from returning to the wilderness. He was unique to Los Angeles, he was something special, which no other city had. He was a spirit animal for the Angelenos, an apparition that lingered for a magical time, until it, just like that, was gone.

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