DAY 50: THE INTERNET MESSIAH
Sometimes you just do things without knowing why. When Jeeves dubbed me the Internet messiah, I started running. Maybe it was because he had seemed so collected and self-possessed moments before and now was gasping for words and pointing at me in spasmodic fits. Maybe it was the hunger clawing out from the sunken eyes of the YouTube zombies. Or maybe it was the crippling attention of Central Park. But I ran as fast and as far as I could, and Tobey and Oz, either possessed by the same spirit or just trying to look after me, followed.
It wasn't hard to outrun Jeeves. He started coughing and spitting after only a few steps, but from the bouncing blur of my peripheral vision, I could see inquisitive pedestrians take his place. They turned and pointed and joined the herd one by one. Oz kept pace with me, dressed more functionally today in a pair of a jeans and Doc Martens. Tobey was hauling ass a few steps behind with a huge grin on his face.
"You think this is A Hard Day's Night or something?" I called over my shoulder.
"I don't know what that is."
"I hate you, Tobey."
We ran past the joggers and baby strollers. The hackey sackers and caricaturists. The lovers taking walks and married couples washing off dropped pacifiers with bottled water. But by the time we got to the dude selling Tweety Bird ice cream pops out of his push cart, the YouTube zombies had started closing in. Tobey reached down for a fallen branch without breaking stride and swung it around across the zombie's face. Everything froze before the crack had even stopped reverberating through the Park. Oz and I watched to see what would happen next as did the chasers slowly circling us.
The zombie, on all fours and bleeding from the mouth, made a horrible groan as he reached up and out. Tobey brought the remnants of the branch down on his head and was about to swing again when I screamed out.
"What are you doing?"
"What?" Tobey replied. "I gotta destroy the brain!"
"You realize that's not a real zombie, right? It's just an expression."
"C'mon! Is this the Internet Apocalypse or what?" Tobey asked.
"He's not the undead," Oz explained. "It's just an Internet-addicted human who-"
Just then I kicked the zombie hard in the face.
"Gladstone! What the fuck?" Oz screamed.
"Look," I said. There, on the back of the unconscious zombie was a T-shirt reading "Fred Rules."
Oz shrugged off her concern. "Fair enough."
Unfortunately, in the time it took to down one zombie, 20 more had surrounded us. And then there were the fifty more Park visitors all closing in.
"Will you bring us Facebook?" a 16-year-old girl asked.
"Twitter first!" her friend demanded. "I have no idea what Ashton Kutcher's been doing."
The requests became too many.
"When can I stream Netflix again?"
"I had my high score on Starcraft. Can you bring it back right at that point?"
"Why are you here? Shouldn't you be getting the Internet? It's been months," someone said.
"Please!" screamed a man in sweatpants. And then in a whisper, "... I can't afford the Rule 34 club."
"I can't help you," I said. "Any of you. I'm not this Internet messiah. I'm just some guy looking for it."
"He's lying!" a Digg Zombie called out. "He wants it for himself. It's a conspiracy!"
"Yeah, himself and corporate America!" a Reddit zombie agreed.
The group closed in as if I could produce the Internet from my inside coat pocket if they just pressed hard enough. This would end badly. Especially since no matter how hard they beat me, I would never be able to give them what they needed. I simply didn't have it to give, and more than the fear of being torn apart by a crowd, I couldn't bear to see the disappointment in their eyes. Another promise broken. I had to find a way out.
"ZOMG," Tobey cried and pointed off in the distance. "Look!"
I couldn't believe Tobey was trying to fool an angry mob with the oldest trick in the book. It was probably because he didn't really read books. But then I saw a hundred faces turn, and what's more, it wasn't a trick at all. As if proof of some higher power, there, in the middle of Central Park, was a kitten dressed as Lady Gaga trained to dance to Bad Romance while its owner, a shapely burlesque dancer in a leopard print bikini, Betty Page wig and heels danced along behind. It was the ultimate living Internet meme and the masses flowed to it like moths to a flame or Web reporters to secret gay sex.
Oz and I stared in disbelief as the crowd thinned one by one, leaving us alone. Then we noticed Tobey leaving too.
"Tobey!" I hissed.
"Dude," he said. "Do you not see this shit? Look at it."
"Yeah, it's great. Do you mind if we run away now because getting devoured by zombies sounds like a drag."
Oz and I slowly edged toward the Columbus Circle subway, and Tobey reluctantly followed. Just as we broke into a run, I could have sworn I saw Agent Rowsdower peek from behind a tree, but I wasn't turning to make sure. I needed to get to the hotel as soon as possible. A room with a lock sounded like the greatest thing in the world.
Day 54: IDOLATORS AND THE DEVOUT
For the second time in a month, I have spent days holed up in this hotel. The local news picked up the Internet messiah story and it spread to cable news. It might have died there, but Jeeves gained too much credibility from his FOXnews appearance. Two days ago, he recounted all his Internet messiah prophesies to a skeptical Bill O'Reilly.
"Um, Mr. Jeeves, if I have to call you that, why should I believe any of this?"
Jeeves was unfazed. "Well, Bill, I don't really care whether you believe me or not, but for everybody else -- who won't be dead tomorrow -- I am telling the truth."
O'Reilly died on his way home from the studio that night, apparently killed by a drunk driver speeding to an anti-abortion rally. Since then, Jeeves had become more than a local celebrity, and the world was looking for his messiah. It wasn't the first time people believed a 30-something Jew would lead them to salvation.
Being trapped here actually wouldn't be so bad if Tobey weren't sticking around too. I had barely been with Oz since our first time together, and Tobey didn't seem to notice that the dynamic had changed. He did ask, however, why Oz had stopped wearing fishnets and if she'd had a boob reduction.
"No, Tobey, but thank you."
"Well, something's different," he said. "Why do I want to fuck you less?"
Oz was diplomatic. "Well, you can only suppress your latent homosexuality for so long, Tobes. But I'll tell you what, if you run down to Starbucks and get me a tall latte with heavy cream, I'll be sure to wear something sexually retarded for you tomorrow."
Continued on page 2 ...
That bought Oz and me about 20 minutes, and we made the most of it. A journal is no place for sexual details, but I should note that Oz's claims about not having Daddy issues were decidedly untrue.
Tobey came back with coffee and an unusual degree of energy.
"Here's your dingo juice, Oz," he said, handing over the coffee. "Let's work the cleavage tomorrow as per our agreement, OK?" Oz took her coffee "Oh, by the way, Gladstone, the government has declared you a person of interest under the NET Recovery Act."
Tobey handed me a photo, and there I was. They'd even based an artist's rendering on Jeeves's description. There was a reward, but, for the moment, no one knew my name.
I turned on the TV. Apparently, the government wasn't the only one after me. Some religious groups were calling for my imprisonment. A spokesman for the poorly named C.A.M., "Christians Against the Messiah," quoted some statistics of dubious value, claiming the Internet was the number one cause of sin in the 21st century. These folks believed God had smited the Net like a virtual Gomorrah. By that same logic, anyone who sought to return it was working against God's will. Furthermore, I had to be a blasphemer because I called myself the messiah. It didn't seem to matter to them that I never called myself that.
There was also rising speculation from some that I had stolen the Internet. It was a complicated theory that went a little something like this: Who better to return something than the person who stole it? Actually, that was pretty much the whole theory. Anyway, they didn't like me either.
Not everyone hated me though. Several foreign governments were offering the Internet messiah millions to defect from America and bring the Internet back to their country. A spokesman for Japan offered 500 million and a lifetime tax-free residence. Germany had a vaguely similar offer. Saudi Arabia, however, promised "countless riches" and 24/7 military protection from those "who would see the streets run red with the messiah's Zionist blood." (I knew that artist's rendering was slightly more Semitic than necessary.)
"No offer from Australia, " Tobey said. "Harsh tokes."
"Yeah, I guess they couldn't spare any Bloomin' Onions," I said.
"Crikey," Tobey offered.
"Crikey, indeed. The crikiest."
"Crikey has more than one meaning, right, Oz?" Tobey asked. "Like how you can use 'Smurf' in lots of ways ..."
"I hate you fuckwads so very much."
"OK, enough tooling on Oz," I said. "What am I gonna do?"
"I'd go with Japan," Tobes suggested. "Not that Germany isn't tempting. They both have great porn, but I dunno, Japanese women are just hotter on average."
"No, I mean how am I gonna leave this room with the whole world looking for me?"
"Well, couldn't you just, y'know, work for the government?" Oz asked. "Seems they'd make it worth your while."
"First of all, fuck the government and their bullshit NET Recovery Act. Who even knows what they're up to. And more importantly, fuck you. I'm not looking for a job. I'm off the grid. I'm free. The disability payments keep me alive, and I answer to no one. All I have to do is nothing. "
Tobey and Oz didn't look directly at me.
"Nothing," Tobey said. "I mean, most people hate their job, y'know? Would it really be so bad?"
"Are you fucking kidding, me? You think you know what a job is? You blog for a living. You work in your boxers, cruising news reports you can add blowjob jokes to, and then scrape the ad revenue for rent. You're gonna talk to me about work?"
"Easy, Gladstone," Oz said.
"No, I'm not going to take it easy. You were so disgusted by the notion of a job that you let strangers watch you shower for money. I put in my time. I'm done. "
No one said anything for awhile. I sat at the desk chair, radiating the martyrdom of a misunderstood teen. And in return, Oz silently smoked her cigarette in a way that put her pain only partially on display: hiding the ancient scars while flaunting the fresh wounds I had inflicted. Tobey watched TV.
"Besides, this is stupid," I finally said. "I'm not the Internet messiah, whatever that is."
"Well, y'know, Gladstone," Tobey said. "Maybe you are?"
Tobey shut off the TV. "Jeeves says you are. Anonymous believed in you. Strangers follow you. And your mom popped you out in a manger after getting fucked by God."
"Well, that's a fair point."
Oz crushed out her cigarette.
"Fuck it. Tobes is right," she said. "Who are we to doubt Jeeves? I decided to put my lot in with you instantly. And you were right. Fuck the government. The Internet is ours. We find it for us."
"Yeah, but how long will I make it out that door? All of New York is looking for me."
Tobey stood. He had that look he got before thinking of a new humorous way to describe how much he wanted to fuck Demi Moore.
"Maybe we don't need to be in New York. Let's go to Staten Island!"
"We're looking for the Internet, not Italians."
Tobey frowned at my quip. I'd never seen him so serious. "Didn't Quiffmonster42 say Anonymous believed the Internet signals might be coming from Staten Island?"
"But if we leave New York, we won't be able to get back," I said.
"The odds of continuing our search without being spotted in New York are slim now anyway," Oz said. "You're the messiah, Gladstone. Whaddya think? Is the Internet in Staten Island?"
I didn't know. I had no intuition. No divine voice leading me. But I had two friends, and a deep abiding love of the Staten Island ferry.
"If I end up crucified," I said. "Be sure to mention my sweet cock in the Gospels."
DAY 55: THE LAST SUPPER
We ordered room service that night, and Tobey went to the corner bodega to grab some beers. After way too many chicken tenders and an overpriced case of Bud Light, it was time for bed.
"Maybe we should ditch some of this stuff," I said in the morning. "I kinda feel like all these supplies just bog us down."
"We will do no such thing," Tobey said. "We bought this stuff for a reason and we're keeping it."
I couldn't imagine a scenario where we'd need our absurd K-Mart camping supplies, but I deferred to the certainty of Tobey's conviction.
"But, maybe you should lose the Fedora," he said. "I mean, you're wearing it in that police sketch."
"Yeah, but if I wear it, I can pull it down to obscure the rest of my face."
"True," Tobey said, "but if you take it off, you won't look like a film noir hipster douchebag."
"I'm keeping the hat, Tobes."
Tobey decided to cut his losses arguing with me and turned to the locked bathroom door. "Well, at least you're working the rack today, right Oz?" he called.
Oz emerged from the bathroom in a T-shirt, jeans and plain brown walking shoes.
"What the fuck is that? Are we going to Staten Island or an Indigo Girls concert?"
I laughed. Romaya had some Indigo Girls CDs in her collection, and although not a big fan, she admitted to liking a few songs before I ruined them for her. Sitting on the edge of our bed with my acoustic guitar, I deconstructed what she enjoyed, exposing it for what it was. The 6/8 strums and third harmonies revealed and repeated. I harassed her until she picked letters from A to G, which I rearranged into the chords of simple songs, and strummed in a folk rock waltz. And I was right. She liked it. And then she felt stupid for liking it, and didn't like it anymore. Thinking of it now, it's hard to recall why knowing how to make her happy was something so worthy of ridicule.
"Sorry, Tobes," she said, "But today's about functionality. I'm not flashing tits on a ferry."
We checked the news to see if there was any last minute information that could affect our journey. Things had gotten worse. Jeeves had been declared a person of interest and was now assisting the government in its search for me. He stood beside a podium, visibly uncomfortable by the company he was keeping and the ill-fitting suit he'd been persuaded to wear. It was a gray double-breasted affair, and with his face cleanly shaven and the remnants of his hair pulled tightly back, he looked like Kingpin's weaselly kid brother.
But my bigger concern was the man to Jeeves's right. Agent Rowsdower was back and standing behind the press conference podium. He looked leaner than I'd remembered. His skin pulled tightly like the yellowed plastic of a lamented skull.
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the press," he said, taking an extra moment to savor the room's collective anticipation. "With the assistance of Mr. Daniel B. McCall here, and based on information contained from the government's own investigations, we believe we have uncovered the identity of the so-called Internet messiah."
Everything in my body tightened and suddenly seemed to serve its biological purpose. I could feel the tendons in my arms holding muscle to bone. My veins were filled and flowing. Even the convolutions of my brain quivered like some twisted creature curled up for warmth.
"We believe the Internet messiah is still in New York and goes by the name Gladstone. He has been declared a person of interest under the NET Recovery act. And the government seeks your assistance in locating him."
I lifted my backpack and headed for the door. "We have to leave now. They'll trace my credit card to the room if they haven't already."
"Easy," Tobey said. "There's no Internet. The hotel has to submit carbons to get paid."
"No, wait." Oz said. "There was still electronic credit card clearance before the Internet."
"Yeah. Remember in Say Anything? The Dad's credit card gets turned down at the luggage store. And that was like 1990."
"Yeah, but how? Oh, wait, did it work through the phone lines?"
"I don't care!" I screamed. "Staten Island Ferry. Now!"
DAY 55: THE FERRY
No soldiers were waiting for us in the lobby, and I started to relax as we got closer and closer to the subway. But by the time we got to the turnstiles at 14th street, we saw troops spot-checking commuters.
"Quick, take off the fedora," Tobey said.
"Fuck off, Tobey."
"No, I mean, we'll swap hats and I'll wear your sports jacket."
I stopped for a second and tried to consider the possibility of Tobey having a good idea. He did. And it had nothing to do with conning barely legal chicks into flashing their tits. I was impressed, and donned his baseball cap with a smile.
"Maybe, I'll even create a diversion. Make them think I'm you," he said, slipping into my sports jacket and limping towards the entrance.
"What the hell is that? I don't limp."
"Shush. You're interfering with my process."
Oz scratched at my stubble the way Romaya used to. "It's OK, Babe, "she said. "Let Tobey work his magic."
Then she walked off behind him, still mustering a whole lot of sexuality out of a simple T-shirt and jeans. Two troops instantly asked Tobey to step to the side while a third turned his full supervisory prowess onto Oz's ass. I headed through the turnstiles without a glance and watched them from the platform. One troop held the artist's rendering of me next to Tobey and instantly saw that his gene pool was clearly restricted. My friends joined me just in time to catch the train to South Ferry.
Continued on page 3 ...
South Ferry terminal sprawled out before us all steel and glass against a clear May sky, and I realized it was the happiest I'd been since the Net died. Longer. Its big majestic letters were more suited to an amusement park ride than a mode of transportation, but that was just as well because the ferry was always the epitome of New York's "no-money-fun." When we were in college, Romaya and I rode the Ferry almost weekly, getting a mini-cruise with a view of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty all for the accommodating price of nothing.
"I want to go inside," she said.
"One day we will. When we have money and time."
One day we did have those things, but it still didn't happen. And then she was gone. And the statue closed. And now nothing goes to this tiny island.
We found our seats out on the deck beside a man buried in his New York Times. Oz closed her eyes to concentrate on the mist hitting her face, and I tried not to stare too hard or to let her see Romaya reflected in my eyes. Tobey seemed happy to have his baseball cap back, and the two of them flanked me on each side, protecting me from the world that wanted more than I could give. A 23-year-old Aussie web cam girl, a 29-year-old celebrity blogger, and a 35-year-old office cog on disability sitting in a row. It was one of those incongruous New York moments that made perfect sense like seeing a dreadlocked dude in the subway playing the theme from the Godfather on a steel drum.
"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Gladstone, but your government requires your assistance."
It was Rowsdower, and his smile showed every one of his impossibly tiny teeth. He stood perfectly still. The sky moved behind him.
Maybe it was because I was feeling closer to Romaya than I had in years. Or maybe it was because I had nowhere to run. But I suddenly felt a calm I'd never known, and I put it on like a cotton robe at the end of a long but now distant day. I wasn't worried at all. Just disappointed that I wouldn't have an unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty.
"Rowsdower. Don't you have something better to do than harassing civilians?" I asked.
"You're coming with me, Gladstone," he said, and pulled back his black sports jacket to reveal a badge and gun.
"Who is this dude, and why is he acting all butthurt?" Tobey asked.
"Ooh, don't talk all 4Chan, Tobes. You're better than that."
Oz wasn't confused. "It's the douchebag from the press conference."
Tobey started unzipping his backpack, and Rowsdower unbuttoned the holster to his gun.
"Easy there, tiger. I'm just here for Gladstone. Government business. No one needs to get hurt."
I noticed that Rowsdower wasn't alone. Ten troops had come out to the deck from down below to support this walking cancer that wanted me to help a government that could well be the architect of this Apocalypse.
"I won't go with you," I said. "And please sit the fuck down because the Statute of Liberty is coming into view."
Rowsdower called to the troops. "Gentlemen, it seems the messiah needs some assistance."
Just then the man to the right of Tobey put down his paper and stood up. And although his words were muffled slightly by his Guy Fawkes mask I thought I heard him say, "The messiah will not work for you."
"QuiffMonster 42?" I asked.
"At your service, Gladstone" he said, and then called over his shoulder, "/b/tards to battle!"
Instantly, a dozen guys with Guy Fawkes masks or plastic bags over their heads rushed to the deck. Some had spring-loaded snakes in cans of peanut brittle. Others had crazy string or fart spray. But each set about creating the most infantile kind of offline chaos possible. With all the commotion, Tobey pulled the self-inflatable raft from his backpack and yanked the ripcord. It began to fill as the troops wiped the crazy string from their swat goggles and tripped over spilled marbles. Rowsdower pulled his gun, but the raft rose between us, and then reached critical pressure, lunging forward as it unfurled with a snap. Taking a raft to the face, Rowsdower dropped his gun and fell to the floor. He was swarmed by /b/tards like Japanese businessmen to Hentai porn. Tobey pushed the raft forward over the side of the ferry, and there before me, with no obstruction but the Hudson, was the Statue of Liberty.
"And you didn't want to bring the raft. Nice fucking messiah," Tobey said, and jumped overboard backpack and all.
Oz took my hand. "Come on, Gladstone," she said. "I've always wanted to see the Statue of Liberty."
TO BE CONCLUDEDHERE
The Notes from the Internet Apocalypse finale is coming in two weeks so catch up, starting here. You can also keep up with the latest Internet Apocalypse news on Facebook. And/or follow Gladstone on Twitter. And then there's his site and fan page.
See why losing the Internet may not be such a bad thing in 6 New Personality Disorders Caused by the Internet. And more from Gladstone in A Practical Guide To Sexting (For Men Over 30).