The Taqueria of Lost Souls

Ernie’s Note: Before we go any further, I’d like to post a little disclaimer clarifying what I said in “Pizza Box Reconciliation” about not having any friends. I’ve got friends—213 friends. I’ve got a girlfriend. The Beckster. She’s a little shy, and a little fat. Okay, she’s a lot fat. She needs to go on a diet even more than Gabriel Iglesias does, but that’s another discussion. I just told Theo what I told him because I wanted to make him feel better. Besides, I think we’ve all had enough of his “woe is me, I’m blind but can see!” phase. He’s got one of those shiny ABC Family families. If they can afford that big-ass house of theirs, they can afford to buy him new eyes—or whatever it is rich people buy when they go blind. Let him fuck off for a while if he thinks it’s good for him. It’s no honey off my bun.

* * *

@ernie

Sexless Gamer, Twitterpated, Stood-Up Download Dater, Facebooked, and Self-Published Author are sitting beside me at the taco window. As their nicknames suggest (I really don’t care to ask anyone’s real name at the moment), they’re all total losers, and their lives have all been delivered into sucktitude by the Internet and/or SuperMegaNet. This much I’ve learned while waiting for my nacho platter to be ready.

“The Internet has shrouded society behind a veil of superficiality, #truth,” Twitterpated says to no one in particular. (Apparently his thing is that he’s overused Twitter, and so can now only think, speak, or write in 140-character blocks that include interesting links or trendy hashtags. Plus, I think he’s a little tipsy.) “@DownloadDater is living proof that online dating is not a victimless crime. http://on.msnbc.com/gTdnMi

Ugh. I don’t know how the fuck I’ve come to be part of this motley crew—oh, wait. That’s not true. I do know: Theo and Eva have sworn off SuperMegaNet; Jan, he’s too poor to do anything but check his e-mail using his parents’ shitty Internet connection. The rest is God rubbing it in, arranging all the stars and planets or whatever so that my fat, lonely self just happened to download to the same taqueria as the other rejects.

“I don’t understand,” Download Dater says to Sexless Gamer while the rest of us listen in. “Everything was going so well. We went for three months without missing a chat. We talked about everything under the Sun. I told her things I could never tell anyone else. She said the same about me. We just seemed to click, you know?”

Behind the counter, Tacoman—this hairy, thickly-mustached Mexican dude who always looks like he just shit his pants—nods empathically as he works a can of black olives into my nacho platter.

“When I heard about SuperMegaNet,” Dater continues, “I suggested we both install it so that we could finally meet in person. We picked a place and time; she seemed really enthusiastic over the whole thing. I downloaded—and she wasn’t there. I waited ten minutes, twenty minutes, but she never showed up. So, I went back home thinking she needed help with her webcam or something. I checked her video feed, and her room was empty. I ended up waiting around all afternoon thinking something terrible had happened. Finally, she got back. She had someone with her. Turns out she’d downloaded into some other chat room, met a guy, and decided she liked parts of him better.” Dater scowls. “Now I have to watch the two of them make out because SuperMegaNet won’t let me remove her from my buddy list.”

Sexless Gamer shakes his head ruefully, causing the fat beneath his chin to jiggle. “Fucking bitches. They say men are jerks, but they’re the ones who’re always the coldest.”

Twitterpated, Facebooked, and Self-Published Author grumble in agreement.

I don’t say anything one way or the other. One, because no one ever wants to listen to the fat kid. Two, because I know that no one likes to hear the truth. Which, by the way, goes a little something like this: Dickhead. No one goes online to meet people. To keep in touch with friends and family they already know, maybe; to collaborate with coworkers, sure; to lace their hard drive with gigabytes of free Internet porn, hell yeah—but never to meet someone whose name, age, and sex can only be confirmed via a user profile. You totally should’ve seen this coming. Dumbass.

I glance over at the far end of the counter, where Facebooked and Self-Published Author have started talking about how they’d like to create their own Utopian social network complete with a criticism-free comment system. Listening to their naivety is depressing…and yet it’s inspiring, too. I mean, I may be having friend problems right now, but at least I know what’s going on and am working to fix it. These guys are just deluded. Bitterness and moderate HTML skills can’t create a better Facebook—and everyone knows self-publishing, just like traditional publishing, only works for writers who’ve already established themselves.

Where the hell are my nachos? They’re taking forever today. The more time I have to kill, the more I keep getting these flashes of insight. Like right now. There’s a comic page floating in my mind’s eye. In the first panel, a manga version of Theo is sitting cross-legged and straight-backed on the floor of his bedroom, which has become an exaggerated Zen monastery meditation chamber. He’s staring mindlessly at the TV as he plays Wii. In the second panel, Beta’s downloading into the room; in the third, he’s sitting beside Theo and picking up the second Wii controller.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” Theo echoes.

(Frame four: Both of them are sitting and staring mindlessly at the TV.)

“How are the eyes?”

“Still New.”

“Huh.”

Poof! The most boring comic in the world vanishes from my head. It leaves a lingering afterimage behind—because I know what I saw is most likely what’s actually going on in Theo’s bedroom this very moment. He’d rather be lame than be friends. Fucking Biclops.

At long last Tacoman slides in front of me a cardboard tray smothering under six layers of cheese and chips.

“Here is heart attack, Gordito,” he says, matter-of-factly.

(“Gordito” is Mexican for “good friend,” by the way. I’m not a total noob.)

I grab the nacho platter with both hands and, careful not to drip grease on my shirt, head over to where Tacoman has his laptop and webcam set up. As is his custom, he hits the “Send Home” button without even saying goodbye. That’s fine by me. All I want right now is to be alone with my food, my misery.

The world pixelates, smooths out again. I’m back in my bedroom—

—and so is Becky.

She’s got “WTF?” written on her forehead in bright red ink.

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jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.