Our search for 4Chan appeared delayed indefinitely, and not just because we had no idea where to start looking, but because Central Park was surrounded by some very stolid and well-prepared soldiers. It reminded me of the days that followed 911, and that was no accident because even the radio was reporting that the troops were a response to detected internet activity in New York. More specifically, the intercepted transmissions all concerned terrorist acts targeting Manhattan.
"Radio, Shmadio," Tobey said. "We'll see what 4Chan has to say about this."
"Will we?" I asked." I don't even know if we're getting out of Central Park. And if we do, then what?" Tobey thought for a moment and then held up a Polaroid.
"Well, when we were on the bench before, I took this pic of a kid leading a blind man into a pile of dog crap. I bet he knows where to find 4Chan."
"You sat and watched a kid fuck with a blind guy?" Oz asked.
"Dude, you don't understand," Tobey protested. "It was like a YouTube video. And I haven't seen something like that in a really long time."
Oz ignored the response. "Well, I heard a rumor 4Chan has been congregating in the Village."
"Why don't we just check out the nearest chapter of NAMBLA?" I asked.
"Dude, not cool. You don't want to mess with 4Chan like that," Tobey said.
"Playing with fire, Gladstone," Oz agreed.
"What? I'm just sayin' it to you. And writing it in my journal. It's not like I'm putting it online. There is no online!"
Tobey and Oz still seemed uncomfortable.
"Look, if my journal somehow ends up in a time and place where it's printed online, I'll worry about it, but until then, can we just focus on the possibility that major world Governments are without Internet while some third world enemy combatants have found a way to dismantle and exclusively harness its power?"
Oz stamped her cigarette out under her boot. "How could that be true?"
"I don't know, but if such a thing were possible, it would convey a terrifying tactical advantage. And somehow these thirty troops with flak jackets and guns seem like a sadly deficient response."
We made our way to the perimeter. Ozzy's bag was searched, and dogs sniffed around our shoes, but we were allowed to leave the park. Still, for the time being, no one was leaving Manhattan. The subways and tunnels were closed. Nothing moving in or out, and there was nothing for us to do, but get better acquainted as we headed towards our ambiguous destination.
"So, how do you two fags know each other?" Oz asked.
I was a bit taken aback. "I'm sorry," I said. "is 'fag' Aus slang for-"
"Dudes who fuck each other."
"Wow. Hardly politically correct."
Oz took a drag from her omnipresent cigarette before answering.
"I get naked for men on the internet. How much political correctness were you expecting?"
Tobey laughed, but it made me sad. "What's your real name, Oz?" I asked.
Tobey broke the silence that followed by explaining he and I were mutual admirers: I read his horribly inappropriate celebrity blog faithfully, and he was a big fan of the three lists I wrote for McSweeney's over five years ago. An internet email exchange that blossomed into a beautiful friendship, or at least, a beautiful acquaintanceship that lasted years while my real life friends seemed to fall away over time.
"And what about you," Tobey asked. "Why be a dirty cyber hooker?"
"Well, I have to shower anyway," Oz said. "I might as well get paid for it? Besides, I didn't realize making fart jokes online was God's work."
"Well, it beats a real job."
"Fuck, yes. Seriously, Gladstone, how do you do it?"
"Well, I'd prefer not to," I said. "Actually, I've been preferring not to so much, that I'm out on disability."
That made Oz very happy and she took the flask from my pocket. I felt her nails grace against my chest.
"Cheers," she said with a hearty swig. "I knew you were too together not to be batshit. Its always the straight-laced customers who get their freak on."
By the time we got to the Village, our conversation was largely over. We had reached that point where people can't become any closer without disclosing painfully personal details or bonding over a shared traumatic event. And since I wasn't ready to discuss Romaya's death, I was really ready to find 4Chan.
I observed something interesting: New Yorkers are much more helpful to provocatively dressed 23-year-old Australian girls than they are to men over 30, dressed in rumbled sports jackets, and reeking of scotch. That might not be enough for a sociology paper, but it was an interesting fact nonetheless.
We met a 14-year-old boy who was using a skateboard and a staircase hand rail concurrently for the sole purpose of destroying his testicles. According to him, the Bowery Poetry Club had been having a 4Chan members only night every Tuesday since the Internet crashed. That information was also confirmed by a 52-year-old tattoo artist missing an eyebrow. Only one of those two people then asked Oz if he could "touch her boobies." Oh, and Tobey. But that was like an hourly occurrence.
Go to page 2.
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
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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