We arrived at the Bowery club around 8 p.m. and were greeted by a doorman with a clipboard and a plastic bag wrapped around his head with holes for his eyes and mouth. So, even in real life, 4chan was retaining anonymity.
"What can I do for you noobs?" he asked?
"We'd like to come in," I replied.
He flipped the pages in his clipboard. "Well, let's see... you don't seem to be on the homosezwhat?"
"What?" I asked.
"EXACTLY!" he shouted and high-fived another bagheaded man in the doorway.
I was going to reprimand him for the grade school prank, but he wouldn't have heard me over Tobey's laughter. "So," he said. "You sure you guys want to step inside? This is 4Chan. Not for the faint of heart. Especially to outsiders."
"Do your worst, /b/tard," Oz said and stepped inside.
For a moment, I considered if it were her familiarity with the 4Chan lingo from the /b/ forum that got her through the door, but ultimately decided it had more to do with the fishnets and heels. In any event, Tobey and I followed. It was hard to believe we had gotten anywhere before she showed up.
The club was a standard bar in front with a stage and performing space in back. Small tables scattered the floor and about thirty people all with bags or masks on their head socialized in small cliques. It was like Eyes Wide Shut, but without all the money, prestige, and hot sex. So yeah, I guess it was just people wearing masks, about half of which were of Guy Fawkes.
We made our way towards a table while several /b/tards shouted "Tits or GTFO." While I pondered why someone would verbally abbreviate "get the fuck out" when that phrase is composed of four one syllable words, thereby saving no time in acronym form, a waitress came to take our order. She worked for the club, and wore no mask. Oz ordered a vodka tonic, I asked for Jamesons on the rocks, and Tobey cleared his throat. "I'll have a Stella, and your phone number," he said.
"Yes to Stella. No to number. I'll be right back"
Tobey was unapologetic. "This is a new world. We can be whoever we want to be. You've decided to be a film noir hipster douchebag, I'm gonna be a highly confident ladies man."
"Wait a second," Oz said. "I thought it was the Internet that let you be a new person?"
"Does it? If I went on a date with that girl, she'd check out my Facebook page, she'd see who my friends are, what kind of parties I do or don't go to. What my favorite shows and movies are. She'd see my favorite quotation of all time is "Narp," from Hot Fuzz. She'd see it all. But now, there's nothing to call me on my lies. We're free of the inventory of ourselves. For all she knows, I'm a Los Angeles venture capitalist, accustomed to dating Filipino supermodels."
She returned with our drinks, and I noticed that they contained novelty plastic ice cubes with flies in them.
"Sorry," she said. "They make me do that. It's part of our rental agreement with 4Chan."
We all shook our heads and sighed, and I hung my sports jacket over the back of my chair. Within moments a /b/tard swiped it and my hat. He jumped on the stage, wearing my clothes, giggling uncontrollably while screaming, "Look at me! Identity theft!"
I hadn't been in a fist fight since I was 14, and by an amazing coincidence no one had stolen my jacket since then either. I knocked backed my Jamesons and then stood on my chair.
"Attention all 4Chan douchebags!"
The room fell silent, some with surprise, others quieted by their instant calculations of how best to hurt and humiliate me. I did not pause longer than I needed to. This was the Internet. Unless I fell off the chair and made grape-stomping lady gurgling sounds, their attention wouldn't last much longer.
"What happened to you?" I asked. "Yes, you. You were the agent provocateur of the Internet. The best and the brightest. True, some of you were functionally retarded and/or pedophiles, but think of all you've achieved. Internet meme after Interenet meme. Legendary practical jokes and Anonymous's hacking abilities. Attacks on corporate America and Scientology. The beating you gave to HBGary. A force to be reckoned with. A defense against government abuse. And that's not just me saying that. Didn't Christopher Hitchens call the 4Chan community lunatic and juvenile, but also alarming and brilliant?
"No," someone shouted from the back. "I just said he did on our Wikipedia page."
"Well, that's still something," I said."Look, I can't bear to see you reduced to this. Juvenile gags and practical jokes."
Now, I had them. I could even afford to take a dramatic pause. I did so. And even though someone made a fart noise under their armpit during that moment of silence, they were all still listening.
"My name's Gladstone. I'm looking for the Internet. Will you help me?"
The one who'd stolen my clothes jumped to the middle of the stage, mocking "Ooh, look at me! I'm Gladstone and I'm looking for the internet!"
Suddenly a loud full voice came from behind the stage curtain. "Silence, Sgt. Turd!" The curtain parted revealing a man at stage right with a long velvet robe and Guy Fawkes mask fancier than the others. All he had to do was hold out his arm, and the other 4Chan member quickly turned over my hat and coat. He was clearly /b/tard royalty.
"You raise a fair point, Gladstone. The Internet apocalypse has been hard on 4Chan, depriving us of what we do best. But even now, we are not without our power and influence. And who are you to be so arrogant and stiff-necked before us? Personally, I thought those three McSweeney's lists of yours were a little too on the nose."
"You read that?"
"The internet has not yet to put forth either text or image unseen by me."
"Forgive me, sir," I said. "I meant no disrespect. Can you help me? Are the rumors true?"
He descended the stage, handing me my things. "We believe they are," he said. "There have been reports of internet use, all filled with terrorist content."
"Well, where's it coming from?" Oz asked. "Let's trace the source and get this thing going."
"We do not know that yet. All we know is that it's coming from far downtown or maybe Staten Island. Now take this information and go. Godspeed, Gladstone."
We thanked him and turned to go. We were almost out the door when I stop and turned. "Thank you again," I said. "But before I go, may I ask your name?"
He paused and stood full and proud. His long red velvet robe flowing. "Gladstone," he said. "You may call me QuifMonster42."
TO BE CONTINUED ...
Go to Part Five.
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