Saturday, December 11, 2004
What are you on, Doug?
You can’t bullshit me, man. I’m Jonah. You’re high.
So how come you’re back in the whale, man?
I liked it here. When I retired, this is where I wanted to be.
Whaddya mean? This place sucks. It’s cold and clammy, and there are a bunch of weird worms in here.
That’s because this whale is dead. These worms eat at the flesh. It only exists virtually. It’s really a lot better than other places I’ve been.
Houston, for example.
Yeah. Well, after that whole Nineveh thing went down and Yahweh got off my back, I started smoking pot, y’know…
I didn’t know that.
Oh, yeah, I got into the whole playing-guitar-on-the-beach scene. Free love, baby. Peace. Flowers in my hair. Sleeping under fig trees.
You were a hippie?
Well, yeah. But I ended up in rehab and became a Republican. Lived in Houston, worked for Big Oil. It was bad, man. I even let Dick Cheney kiss my virtual lips. One day I woke up, looked in the mirror, and didn’t like what I saw. So I came back to the whale. Fortunately I’d saved it on my very own server.
B-but you lived thousands of years ago or so. There were no hippies in Nineveh, or anywhere else in the Middle East. No Houston, no Republicans.
There were on the web, dude.
But Nineveh wasn’t wired. This is like, way back before electricity.
Everything exists virtually, man. Even Yahweh.
You’re saying this is a Matrix plot? Yahweh pulls the strings?
No, no. That’s a movie, dumbass. This is the real battle. The battle between virtual good and evil and real good and evil. For the ultimate stakes—ontological control, complete say-so over the telos.
“Real” as in what? Pinnochio becomes a real boy?
Well, like you and your hippie friend over there. You’re real.
No we’re not. We’re images. Mere shadows of our former selves. Almost ghosts, really.
Ha. You think? You guys are real enough. Zombies, to be sure. But real.
Zombies? Undead, come back to eat the flesh of the living? Those zombies?
Yeah, kind of. Except you eat living blogs. Ones that get more than 1,000 hits a day. That’s the only reason you’re not trying to eat me. I never got a hit atall until you guys showed up.
That’s why I’m hungry all the time?
Sure. That, and the fact that you’re stuck in the blogosphere with all of your innards. Guts and bones and stuff.
And you’re not?
This body is pure 100% virtual, baby. So’s this joint. Otherwise I’d offer you a toke.
Hey, Bill! C’mere!
This fucker’s got a virtual joint. Says it can’t get us high.
You called me out into this goddam cold whale belly to tell me that? Listen to this email from Paris Hilton…
Take a hit.
No, I don’t do that stuff anymore.
Liar. C’mon. Jonah?
Fine with me, won’t hurt anything. Take a hit.
No, I couldn’t. It’s illegal.
Network Sharing Violation
Bill's still in the driver's seat, opening bottles and reading emails, smoking and chuckling. I'm over in the passenger seat with the console, blogging. The windows are up tight--Bill was cold, the big baby--and so fogged-up we might as well still be navigating through the blogosphere. He's got an army blanket around his shoulders, and seems to be more comfortable now. I think maybe Mullah Billdoug's regulating the temperature inside the blog.
"Listen to this one," he keeps saying, regaling me with the email messages he's finding. They're all pathetic, if you ask me, but Bill is getting a huge kick out of them. "It's from Donald Trump to George W. Bush. 'My friends ask me what I would do if you appointed me to a cabinet position. I tell them, "Hey, anything for my country. Anything for my President." And listen, please, I'm not fishing for an appointment. The only fishing I do is off my hundred-million-dollar yacht, the Trump Princess.'"
"Interesting," I mumble. I try to block him out, mostly. Sometimes I wonder why Mullah Billdoug wanted him on the team. He's low comic relief, at best.
So I'm done. I go to publish my post, and--nothing. I seem to have lost my internet connection. No huge surprise, in here. I wait and wait. Finally I get an error message: A NETWORK ERROR HAS OCCURRED. Duh. But it gives me a link to click for details, and when I do, the box that pops up explains that the network error was a network sharing violation. Sharing? Who am I sharing with?
"Bill?" I say.
"Listen to this," he says.
"No, wait," I say.
"No, you gotta hear this. Some fundamentalist polygamous Mormon sect has bankrupted a local bank by borrowing $18 million for nonexistent businesses. They believe the end of the world is coming soon, and the world financial market is going to collapse, so why not? The bank manager blames the regulators."
"Bill, listen," I say.
"Are you on the internet?"
"No. I'm just reading these bottled messages. Why?"
"I'm getting a network sharing violation."
"I don't even know what that is."
"It means some greedy grabber boy is grabbing my IP address."
"Well it ain't me."
"Yeah? Then how did you get that link to the Independent site for the Mormon story?"
No use talking to a junkie. I snort and go back to my console. A chat box has popped up. A message is waiting for me:
IT WASN'T HIM. IT WAS ME.
THIS WHALE WASN'T BUILT FOR MULTIPLE LUSERS.
This whale? Shit. Of course. Another user in the whale! I slam the console back into the glove compartment, open my door, and stumble out into the gastric juices and debris. Bill doesn't even look up, the big dumb hippie.
I slosh around for five minutes before I find him. It's a big belly. He's sitting on a packing crate for Nineveh gourds, legs crossed, typing on a wireless laptop. He's wearing some kind of Old Testament patriarch robe and has a long beard. He looks up as I approach.
"Howdy, neighbor," I say.
"Repent!" he cries.
He shrugs. "I've always wanted to say that. Hi," he says, sticking out his hand. I shake it. "I'm Jonah. Welcome to the whale."
Friday, December 10, 2004
In the Belly
In the belly of the whale.
It’s big and pink. There are colorful ads popping up all over its ribcage, visible through the thin flesh of its stomach.
And the gut itself is full of bottles, clanking around amongst the fish and krill and circuitboards.
I mean, full.
Thousands of bottles.
I reach out and drag a few in the car. They’re all corked shut, rubbed smooth. Thrown into the ether at some point, I suppose, hoping to be found.
They’re full of old email messages.
Every last one contains an old email message.
Some are a few years old:
I will marry whoever finds this. Respond to…
Some are very old:
Jonah: This is Yahweh. Get your ass to Nineveh. Now. Preach to them. Or else. I’ve had enough of your shit.
I don’t know what to make of it, but I keep opening them and reading the notes...
If you find this, I am at a computer café in…
The whale is groaning and whistling.
It should be very hot in here, but it isn’t.
It’s ass-freezing cold.
"Turn on the heater, man," I beg. My fingers are turning blue.
Whaling and Gnashing of Teeth
POW, the blog says, and bocka bocka bocka bocka.
"Shit," Bill says. "We got a fucking flat. I'm gonna pull over."
"That wasn't a fucking flat," I say. "That was a pop-up blocker."
"Those things never work on my computer," Bill says.
"Well," I say, "count your blessings. So far they aren't working on us, either."
The landscape outside our windows is weird. Sort of grayish, almost foggy, but with thick pinkish-charcoal viscosities shot all through it. It looks sort of like South Dakota at dusk in a sandstorm, after Mt. St. Helens erupted a million squid into the air. We navigate through it like an infection.
POW: another pop-up blocker explodes just off our left front fender.
And then they're all over us: antivirus drones, spam grinders, pop-up blockers like the Fourth of July. Bill steers through it all with two fingers on the wheel, smoking, stroking his beard, his eyes lit up like a little kid's. Mullah Billdoug seems to have some tricks up his sleeve too: he keeps jettisoning packing-peanut chaff, fine black sprays of printer ink, synthetic spam, phony urls.
Through the din, then, gradually, we begin to hear a keening, like a fax whine, or a garbage truck in reverse.
"You hear that?" Bill says, cocking his head to one side.
"Slow down," I say. "Whatever it is, it's getting closer. We don't want to plow smack dab into it."
"Whaddya mean, slow down?" Bill smiles over at me, taking a deep pull on his cigarette. "I haven't touched the pedals in hours. If we crash into something, we crash into something."
"Being a virus means never having to say you're sorry."
"Virality cubed," Bill says.
"I hate it when you--" I start. Then:
"What the fuck," Bill breathes, "is that?"
That is, but can't be, yet certainly unmistakably appears to be, a whale. A huge motherfucking whale. Dead ahead of us, swimming lazily toward us. Mullah Billdoug begins running hex code down his passenger-side monitor. Digitized whalesong?
I'm so engrossed in the battalions of figures trooping across the screen that I hardly even notice it getting darker outside our windows.
"Doug," Bill says softly.
I look up to see the whale's maw upon us, opening wide to swallow us up. As we plunge into the darkness, with only the flickering light of the monitor casting a pale greenish pallor over the interior of the blog, I read out Mullah Billdoug's translation of the whale's mournful song:
Release the banana and go free!
Thursday, December 09, 2004
As I’m writing this, these damn pop-ups keep jumping on the screen.
It’s pictures of these two ugly old white dudes I never seen before, and they’re holding a sign that says: GET HELP. CALL TECH SUPPORT.
And then the damn audio, gurgling: We’re trapped in here, bouncing from one site to another. Get help.
And a video clip: They’re dancing, and singing some song about “Please burn us onto a CD so we can go home to our families, la la la…”
That’s the last time I visit a blattodeific website. Once they get your cookies, the fucking pop-ups just don’t stop!
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Whaddya mean, you hit SEND instead of SAVE?
My finger slipped.
If you'd stop picking your nose, that wouldn't happen. Okay, so. You emailed us where?
Ummm, looks like I sent us to everyone in my address book.
Well, shit. Look who’s opening us now. I didn’t know that Barbara Bush was in your address book.
Sure, I emailed her asking for more information on her son’s unfortunate injuries as a baby. Ooooh, she doesn’t like what she sees. Oh, shit! She’s gonna smash the screen!
Don’t worry. It won’t hurt.
Hey, you’re right. And now, wow—it’s Jesus. You have Jesus’ email address?
Doesn’t everybody? Oh, look, he’s blushing.
Probably thinking of you naked.
More like you.
Hey, you’re sticking your tongue out!
You’re a jpeg image. Images can’t stick out their tongues.
Well, I just did.
Look, there’s a whole range of choices here. It's some kind of blogging dashboard with a network of posting sites. We can pop up on any of these screens, and forward our images anywhere we want. There’s even a place to add text and audio.
Cool! Let’s go there. No, wait—there. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. With an audio file of the Sex Pistols attached.
What? How can you be hungry? You’re a pixellated image.
Well, I am. I’d really like a big, juicy cheeseburger. With onions. And a side of fries.
Knock it off. Your body is still back there in that car, where it got scanned.
Whatever. I’m hungry.
Over there. It’s another image, right in front of us, superimposing itself… shit. It’s the Virgin Mary.
Her image turns up everywhere. Yup, there she goes…
Maybe that’s what we need.
An image that we can post everywhere. A miracle.
Yes, a miracle—exactly. A blogging miracle.
It’s the only thing that will save this plot.
This plot is beyond saving.
It’s me. I said, this plot is beyond saving. You’re both going to have to go to rehab again.
No, we won’t do it. This plot is just fine.
Tut, tut. Enough denial. I can have you both involuntarily committed, you know, as enemy literature combatants.
Not while we’re pixellated images, you can’t.
Oh, you think not? Watch.
"What the hell?" Doug says.
"Is that--?" Bill says.
As Doug turns the Mullah Billdoug blog around, another pulls up with a screech and blocks their path.
"Isn't that--?" Bill says.
His right arm on the seat back, his head turned back to make the three-point turn, Doug senses rather than sees the second blog pull up on their other side, hemming them in.
When he looks, it too is the spittin' image of the Mullah Billdoug blog. Same blattodeific markings, same sidebars, but--different blogroll bars? Probably powered by a different site feed.
"Imitators," Doug growls. "They want us off the Web. Well, we won't make it easy for them."
"We won't?" Bill says.
"We need to take a screen shot," Doug says. "Send ourselves to a new url."
"But you aren't pixelated," Bill says. "There's no way you can make that jump."
"We'll just have to take that chance," Doug says grimly. "If we stay here, we're dead anyway."
"But--" Bill starts.
"Trust me," Doug cuts in. "Or rather, trust the Mullah. He'll know a way to get us through."
More Mullah Billdoug imitators come screeching up, barricading their escape route four or five vehicles deep on each side. Nobody is getting out of the blogs. They've got something more nefarious in mind than simple virtual violence.
Doug fiddles under the dash for the Print Screen button, hits it hard. The image floods into the clipboard. Doug flips the Photoshop lever, loads the blog into a GIF, and goes to save it--but GIF saving has been disabled!
"Damn," he says. "They're all over us."
"What are they doing?" Bill says with a big grin. Man is he out of it.
They're forcing us to save as a JPEG," Doug says. "We could come through a little--wavy."
"Uh, okay," Bill says.
Doug shrugs. Calm down, he thinks. Bill's right: it is okay. Whatever happens to them as a JPEG beats the hell out of staying here.
"You might want to fasten your seatbelt," Doug says.
"Naw, I'm good," Bill says.
Doug nods, turns the Photoshop lever to JPEG save, and floors the blogas for the ride of their lives.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
In the Blink of an I
Fortunately, the beetles were somewhat slowed down by the snow and ice. Their little shimmering bodies skittered all over the street as they helplessly chased the vehicle.
“What the fuck was that all about?” Bill demanded. “I told you it was a stupid idea. But did you listen? Nooooo, you just—“
“Shut up and keep your eyes on the road, goddamit. Here, take this,” Doug barked commandingly, hearkening back to his training at the Fort Bragg Center for Blogospheric Defense. He handed Bill a small blue pill.
“Don’t get excited, you dope fiend. It’s a degaussing agent. You’re turning a light purple. Without this, you’ll soon be nothing but a fine haze.”
“Whaddya mean?” Bill demanded, swallowing the tablet dry.
“You’re a jpeg image. Have been for days now. I should have known.”
“That gate you went through back there with the neon on it was a scanner. It turned both you and the vehicle into a computer image and transferred your image into this server.”
“Oh, bullshit. That’s sooo been done before. Besides,” Bill insisted, jabbing a pen into his leg, “if I was an image, could I do that? and would it hurt? Ow! See? And I have free will, too. See? I just decided to stop the car, and—“
“No, goddamit! Great, now it’s stalled. Get out.”
“Get out! And get in over here. I’m driving. You don’t know how to drive a pixelated vehicle.”
“Do so,” Bill mumbled. Then he brightened a bit. “Hey, I have an idea. I’m an image, right?”
“Right. And you’re now pretty much stabilized.”
“So, I could be emailed?”
“Yeah, sure. So?”
“You can’t think of anyone I might, umm, need to visit?”
And Doug smiled, adjusted his beret, and turned the car around.