Virtual Ghosts

Connectivity, or: Stay dead, would you?

Pulp on Gay street

by Jack Mauro

I'm on the elliptical thing in the Sterchi basement. Puddles of sweat expand below me, like feisty amoebae. I think, I will have two cigarettes after this. I think, I will have legs like Alexis Smith's in Follies . Then I turn my face up to CNN, parading multiple images on the set bolted below the ceiling.

People are sleeping on the sidewalks. They have been camped out thusly for days. They are not after tickets to a rock concert. They are not patiently waiting for admittance to a civil service agency doling out reparations for a natural disaster. They are there, tired and vulnerable and stinky, to be the first owners of the iPhone. I think, they should all be shot and hurled into a ditch. Then I think, Great. More connectivity. Which, barring yet another TBS-produced sitcom, is the last fucking thing any of us needs.

It isn't so much this new and jazzy Internet technology to which I object, mind you. I rely, in fact, on the primal urges of men using the web, as my career involves counseling them in the fine art of dating in that sphere. And, although my stomach goes all Vesuvius at the notion of so many misguided souls undergoing battlefield hardships for the sake of a toy doomed to be yesterday's mashed spuds by the time I finish this sentence, that isn't my issue either. It's what's happened already, Internet-wise. It's the enabled contact from searches. It's the ghosts.

Have you heard from them? Have they tapped, tapped, tapped on your door? If your name, for whatever reason, appears when anyone Googles it, you have. They are the shades from your high school days, or the fun folks you worked with 20-odd years ago. And they are absolutely delighted to have stumbled across you again. It has been far, far too long. You have been sorely missed. Now, here you are again. The good times, let them roll.

This has been my fate for the last several years. At first it is warming, if confusing. Was I really this popular, this adored, way back when? Funny, but I don't remember. But how nice to hear from Joe after all this time. He used to crack me up in homeroom. We were like devilish spies together in those halcyon days, wreaking minor havoc in Earth shoes and teenage arrogance. Was it 30 years ago? Goddamn. It was.

Then Billy contacts me. Then Eileen. The histories spring from different places and decades, but the enthusiasm rages. In each case, we're thrilled. In each case, a time is set for a phone call and a lengthy skip down that mnemonic lane of legend occurs. Then something happens. It justâ stops. Cold. And neither one of us even tries to kindle the fire again.

Somebody once said that you can't go home again (I think it was Jon Bon Jovi). Well, you can and you can't, kids. But what you unequivocally cannot do is recapture an intimacy forged under circumstances long since abandoned. It's like what Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park : Nature selected certain critters for extinction. He may as well have been talking about friendships. Once the environment changes, the very raison d'etre for the thing vanishes. Billy was wonderful and I know I used to look forward to our working shifts together. But we don't work there anymore. The foundation is kaput. So, when we move toward each other now, we are running on air, a Cirque de Soleil act with no nets below. It's kind of sad. It's the way things are.

Take heed, classmates.com. You will have much to account for, once the wreckage is finally tallied. There are exceptions, of course. Yet they aren't exactly in this specific arena. I was sought out several years ago by another dear old friend. We are once more as close as we used to be. This friend, however, was never a dinosaur. All through the intervening years, I thought of her frequently andâ"lamelyâ"considered trying to find her. So myself, in her musings. As the thing had never really ceased to be, there was no Frankenstein-ish attempt at infusing life into what had died. The beast was there all the time, dozing.

As for these other shades from the pastâ"no. It is an unsettling thing, because I find them all to be as caring, as bright and as fun as they always were. I envy the people in their current lives, or at least I have a peaceful sense of knowing that others are reaping the benefits of knowing them. Good for them, say I. You are lucky to have Joey and Billy and Eileen. For me, however, the connection is lost. They are memories. If the Internet is an Autobahn, grand. But we'd all better accept: It's a touch hopeless to want to hang out at a loved landmark that you passed 50 miles ago.

More unsettling? In these interactions of which I speak, I too am a ghost. Of course. Which is what lies at the heart of every real ghost story, according to Peter Straub and Edith Wharton. (And, I think, Jon Bon Jovi.)

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