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If The Internet Disappeared: Staying Off The Grid

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."

"What?"

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.

"What?"

"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?"

"What?"

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."

"Was there?"

"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.

Oz laughed.

"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 ...

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