We know it's not coming back. Clergymen, sociologists and other really boring people take to the airways to talk about the return of a simpler time. A time of truer human connection. They think losing the Internet is like leaving your favorite sweater on a train. It's not. And while it might be overdramatic to compare the loss to the removal of an internal organ, it's certainly fair to say the Internet fused with our body chemistry. Information and instant messages came and went with a rhythm as constant and involuntary as breathing.
Dr. Gracchus had told me that losing a spouse could cause a period of extreme disorientation. That two people's minds join after a time. Each handling certain tasks for mutual benefit. And I guess it's a bit like that. But the point is, the talking heads are wrong. The loss won't bring back a simpler time. Only a search for something new to fill the void.
Sometimes I hate being right all the time. It's getting weird outside. Bands of shuffling Internet junkies roam the streets aimlessly. Wide, sad eyes seeking out any trace of what they have lost. They devour anything they think can provide the fix they crave whether it be an AM transistor radio or a microwave bearing a slight resemblance to a computer monitor.
Not everyone has fallen into this, of course. The world goes on. People find a way. But enough. Enough former members of society who will just never be right. In the cities, some have begun forming desperate circles. Different Internet rings meant to recreate the experiences of sites now lost. Sexually frustrated libertarians meet up with one another and soon they are entwined in a Digg circle. Each participant takes a turn in the center, sharing the latest news he's heard. Sometimes, it's something about a government conspiracy. Other times, its just some retarded cartoon they've found.
The data is scrutinized instantly by the group who, if sufficiently displeased, will murder the man in the middle by burying him alive. Then they move on to new locations in a ravenous search for more news and members.
And the horror of the YouTube circles. Without a replay button or a link to similar entertainment, these monsters demand hours and hours of mindless joy from whatever is unfortunate enough to be trapped inside their view. So many innocent cats have been worked to death, forced to do tricks for their amusement without food, water, or chance of escape. On the bright side, a YouTube circle in Nebraska got their hands on Fred. They say that by the end, they'd forced the poor boy to suck so much helium for so long that even the heartless YouTubers took mercy on him, putting him out of his misery and beating him to death with a rock. Over and over and over again. And again.
DAY 25: TOBEY
Although, I hadn't heard any reports about Internet zombies breaking into people's apartments (or even looking at people who didn't remind them of the Internet) I decided to board up my windows. Just felt right, but I didn't get very far. Mostly because at no time in the last ten years did it occur to me to stock my Brooklyn apartment with stacks of plywood. And as I contemplated the seemingly bizarre availability of substantial amounts of finished lumber in zombie movies, I heard a knock at my door.
It was Tobey. Bloody, sweating, and out of breath, but still Tobey. You could tell by his "no one is ugly after six beers" baseball hat -- worn ironically, of course.
"Can I come in?" he asked after entering.
"Tobey? What happened ... and why are you not in Los Angeles?"
This was only the second time I'd spoken to Tobey in person. Online, our IM exchanges were punctuated by long unexplained pauses which I believed were caused by the responsibilities of the job -- in Tobey's case, the updating of his celebrity gossip blog. But apparently, that had nothing to do with it because even in real life, Tobey left my question unanswered, and headed off to the kitchen.
"What's going on?"
"The Internet, Gladstone. Haven't you heard?"
"Yeah, of course I've heard, but why are you in my apartment?"
"Because," he said, holding the nearly empty bottle of Yeungling against his bruised cheek, "someone still has it."
"It's true. I heard it in a Reddit circle just outside your apartment. How do you think I got these bruises? Man, those dudes did not like my defense of corporate America."
I was slow to respond, and not just because Tobey was now eating from my jar of peanut butter, assisted only by his finger, but because nothing about this made sense. Online, Tobey was a name. A green dot. A series of sarcastic, meta-humorical IMs that broke the monotony of my day. But in my kitchen, he was a 29-year-old man child who blinked a little too often and moved with more energy than was required to accomplish any task.
"The Internet lives, Gladstone. And it's here. In New York."
"Why? Because a bunch of know-it-all Internet zombies said so?"
"Dude, even zombified Redditors know their conspiracies."
"Wait a second. You said you only just heard this rumor. But you were already in New York. Why?"
Tobey picked at the decal of his Mr. Bubble T-Shirt. "Well, y'know, the site's been down a month. I got nothing coming in ..."
"I don't follow."
"Well, I was down to my last thousand bucks."
"So you used it to come here and live off me? Why not save it or use it to pay your bills until you get a new job?"
"What bills? I do all my banking online."
"They'll just send them to your home."
"But see, that's the beauty of the plan. I don't live there anymore. I'm off the grid, baby!"
Off the grid. For a moment, that sounded appealing, and Tobey could tell he was on to something.
"Let's find the Internet, Gladstone. Someone's got it."
"It not so easy, Tobes. Unlike you, I don't just crack jokes online. I have a real job to think about."
Tobey stood up and took a step closer. "First of all," he said. "I resent the implication that making up funny one-liners about how fat Jennifer Love Hewitt has gotten is not a real job. But more importantly, are you serious? Being a desk jockey for the worker's compensation bureau. That's a real job? Judging from the amount of beer in your fridge and the fact that you're wearing jeans on a Tuesday, I'm guessing you haven't been there for a while."
"I'm working remotely," I lied.
"Working remotely or not even remotely working?" he smiled.
"Wow. That's a really good one." Tobey really was the best two paragraph blogger ever.
"I know. I just wrote that. And now it makes no sense because there's no Internet." He paused for moment. "Also, G-Stone," he said, "considering there's no Internet, that was maybe the worst lie ever."
I wasn't sure why I was fighting Tobey. After Romaya died, and maybe even before, my life had devolved into a fluorescent haze of desktop outlook, Internet explorer, excel screens by day followed by laptop nights of Firefox, Facebook, and Netflix. Two equally useless existences separated only by the F train. There was nothing keeping me. And in the back of my mind, I remembered Dr. Gracchus owed me a favor for clearing a certain questionable workplace injury. It wouldn't be hard to have him verify my depression-based disability and get me out of that office. But it was something else that Tobey said that really sealed the deal.
"It's a whole new world, Gladstone. We can be anything we want to be."
I went to the hallway closet and grabbed three things I knew I'd need: a tan corduroy sports jacket that I bought at a thrift store in college and rarely had occasion to wear; a flask that Romaya had bought me for our first anniversary which I had never used; and my grandfather's fedora hat from the forties.
"OK, Tobes. I'm ready."
"You're not serious. A Fedora? You'll look like one of those insufferable Park Slope, hipster douchebags."
"Says the guy with a chain on his wallet containing no money. Fuck you. This was my grandfather's. And what do I care? It's not like someone will snap a pic of me and put it up on Fail blog."
"Ooh, speaking of that! I got something for this journey." Tobey reached into his backpack and pulled out one of those Polaroid cameras from my childhood. "To document the trip. Who needs the Internet, huh?"
"Tobes, y'know, you don't actually need the Internet to take pictures, right? Digital cams still work and download directly to computers and, y'know ..."
"Well, yeah, but you can't upload to Facebook or tag 'em and shit."
"Fair enough. Let me fill this flask and then we can go."
Most rich kids just want to be pop stars.
How did these hyper-specific tropes spread so quickly?
The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing games with celebrity deaths for at least a century.