I track my uncle’s wanderings into the fluorescent neighborhood diners, through the alleys carpeted with that timeless puke-and-brown-glass-shard ambiance, and down the artfully crimped sidewalks of this city, carefully inspecting everything; they all beckon to me, even while they raise the hair on my neck and give me the distinct feeling that I need to wash my hands a few times before I wipe the cold, greasy sweat from my brow.
Along the way, I knock on every speakeasy door. It’s easy to get in. Sometimes all it takes is the proper knock – a Google search with just the right combination of code words, a click on a fuchsia hyperlink, and I’m in. Other times, they’ll open the little sliding door and question me: Email address? Name? Zip code? Word hidden in the image above? If they interrogate me, I slip them what they want, but only just. I never tell them my first name; I always give an email I don’t check. It satisfies them, though, and I duck through their portal into a whole new world wide web.
When my eyes adjust to the harsh black backgrounds, I must nod to the undeniable, vulgar power of these rough havens. I blink, and in a flash of the screen, the safe, tame internet I love, with its sleek webpages, site maps, calm sans serifs, and working search functions, is swept into oblivion by flashing animated GIFs, crawling text, and blinking headlines screaming things about cosmic sperm, solar-powered adventures, and declassified reports.
I stumble, drunk on puce promises and dizzy with swirling conspiracies, from one end-times coven to the next – lost here in discussion threads, gazing now at the doctored photos of tragedies – hoping to find some trace of him. Someday a click will bring me to a little scrap my uncle has left behind. It will be chartreuse, with strangely capitalized phrases – “Honest Eyes,” “No Nudity or Obscenity,” “a Purple Penis” – and I will suddenly see, will abruptly understand some esoteric truth of the Universe that will explain, pardon, condone somehow his drifting soul.