I take speed in the morning, doctor-prescribed, to help my concentration, and follow it with multiple cups of coffee. The view from my window is of two hills, a radio tower, and a chocolate factory. This outside world doesn’t want me. I applaud myself when I venture into it.
I sit down at the computer and type my name into the Google search engine, to see if anyone has written anything about me. No one has. Either I haven’t been mentioned on the Internet in a while, or Google has not updated its database. I think it’s the former.
I read the New York Times online. I return to it a couple of times each day to see if anything new and interesting has happened. If I don’t trust their coverage, I check it against the Washington Post, where the reporting is better but the layout isn’t as good. Online papers allow me to indulge my obsessions with the latest news stories: the French woman who took off her shirt while being screened at an airport in Indiana; the town of Tulia, Texas, which locked up 10 percent of its black population without evidence of crimes; Trent Lott’s recent gaffe. I used to subscribe to the Wall Street Journal online, but it cost money and their editorials were poorly reasoned. To cancel, I had to talk to someone on the phone. It was unbearable.
“Why do you want to cancel your subscription to the Wall Street Journal?” she asked.
“Couldn’t we just do this through e-mail?” I responded.
I check the Amazon sales rankings of the two books I have written. Then I check Junglescan, which tracks my Amazon rankings over time and provides me with a graph.
I play cards online. Euchre is my game of choice. Bridge is too complicated, poker too costly. At any given time, there are between two and eight thousand people logged on to Euchre at Yahoo. The players have handles like Little_Ms_Euchre or dreamingofU_2night. They are ranked by the number and ability of the players they have beaten. The higher-ranked players won’t play against the lower-ranked ones.
My grandfather was a big-time cardplayer in Chicago. I’ve been told that he played cards every day for sixty-five years. In his eighties, when I was taking care of him, he would take two buses to get to the Levy Senior Center in Evanston so he could play pinochle for pennies. Once, on the way there, he slipped on the ice and cracked his head. Not long after that, my grandfather moved in with my uncle in Maryland, where he died after a couple of weeks of solitaire. Perhaps the Internet could have saved him.
There are no rules of etiquette for online cardplayers. Some people are slow. They play at work or at home while watching their children. I’ve caught people playing in several online games at the same time, trying desperately to raise their rankings. (I’ve done it myself.) I’ll type to them, “Hey, slowpoke, how about playing a hand?” Players get angry and hurl insults and threats, or just quit, leaving three Internet cartoons sitting at a table meant for four. Sometimes a player who’s winning will type, “You can’t beat me! Nobody can beat me! I can never be beaten!” Anonymity brings out the worst in people.
I also correspond with a dominatrix named Eurasian Goddess who lives in southern Michigan and posts video clips of herself smoking cigarettes or pulling on velvet gloves. I am in love with her. I am the 834th person to join her Yahoo group, where people post poems and odes to her beauty and letters thanking her for the pleasure of their servitude. I like to pretend she thinks differently of me. After all, I am a published novelist. She wants to know why I haven’t joined her member site, which consists, I presume, of longer videos of her smoking cigarettes and pulling on gloves. I tell her I don’t join because I don’t have Internet access at home, and because I can’t afford it. (She charges fifty dollars a month.) Instead I send her books from Amazon.
My father was a writer. He wrote all of his books on a typewriter. When computers first came out, he said they were just a passing fad. Now he sends me several e-mails a day. Some are full of apologies. Others contain snide references to children who manipulate their parents to gain attention and play up their own victimhood. (I wrote a book about growing up in group homes and having an abusive father.) My father’s e-mails could be used to chart his manic-depression. When he’s in a good mood, he tells me how much he likes my books. When he’s in a foul mood, he tells me that I didn’t have it so bad as a child. He wants to know why I’m always writing about having been handcuffed to a pipe in our basement; after all, he did it only that one time.
I occasionally receive e-mails from women my father finds at Match.com. He writes to them about me and suggests that they stop by to meet me at my readings. Sometimes they do.
In the evening, when my workday is over, I see my girlfriend. We agreed a long time ago that we wouldn’t e-mail each other. In this way, we keep our relationship pure. She asks what I’ve been doing all day. I tell her I’ve been working. I spend the night with her and leave early in the morning, when she is warm and perfect.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I have to get back,” I tell her. “I have things to do.”