A message from Elise Ivey assaulted my inbox, and then the peace in my life: “I know you ‘ve always had a crush on me. I’m moving to Toronto. We should hang out.”
Cute enough in those high school football game nights, Elise had now evolved into something altogether tragic in magnitude: long legs and eyelashes, brown skin everywhere, prominent features in perfect proportion, the whole deal. We were from a town in northern Ontario where the girls are always French or Italian and beautiful. Elise had that darkness of Italy, that Sault Ste. Marie angel face.
We had never spoken in the real world. She must have remembered me as an acquaintance of her close friend Rejeanne Aubert, whose desirable photos I had examined with zeal during the early days of social networking. Elise Ivey could be seen in the background, looking prettier with each passing semester. I would have forgotten her otherwise, but somehow the media of her took root in the depths of my subconscious. Some call it Facebook, I name it—the work of Belial: the ugly spirit.
The fantasy’s most unlikely permutations were considered for about the length of a sitcom, but even Elise Ivey thrills recede, so I dragged myself off the couch, opened a beer, and messaged about twenty-five girls on Plenty of Fish, a popular dating site. Most were dark, in their early twenties, and from the suburbs, because girls are very bored there. I had this terrible stock joke that went, “I declined an invitation to attend a rodeo this weekend, perhaps a mistake…”
It was necessary to offer some zany “randomness”. Most of these girls desperately covet something they call “random”—a word encompassing all that they potentially find amusing. In reality, I didn’t feel the least bit zany. I felt what the killer Gary Gilmore had once called “the oldness”. It was sad, not yet 10am, and already feeling like the cold-blooded murderer Gary Gilmore.
Fortunately, outside the halfway house visible from my bedroom window the day’s first screaming fight promised a violent distraction. I sat on the bed to watch. My neighbourhood was labeled “at-risk”, but the personal risks were minimal if you kept your head down or watched from your window.
“I’m trying to make money to pay money,” a toothless old man begged a thick Latino guy. The old man carefully placed his ball cap and glasses on a garbage can, got down on one knee, and pounded the garbage can lid in agony. His glasses bounced high into the air, yet by some grace landed safely on top of the can each time.
“Everybody’s pushing me do you get that?” He transitioned from rage to sorrow, calmed down and explained his whole operation in a quiet voice until I could no longer hear.
The old man’s trouble might have stemmed from a flood of new heroin pushers who’d appeared in the last few months. Outside the methadone clinic (visible from my living room window) I often saw him darting between the skeletons, making small, desperate deals. Sometimes he’d be counting out nickels and quarters in his shaky hand. He seemed approachable. My curiosity extended back to when I had first read Junkie as an 11-year-old, so I tried to think healthier thoughts involving Elise Ivey. An impulsive message was composed:
“Hey Elise, so nice to hear from you! I always notice your status updates, they ‘re very amusing. I saw you went to a Bob Dylan concert once. I was going to comment but I didn ‘t want to seem like a weirdo. How did you know I have a crush on you? Are you inside my head or something? I think you probably have a crush on me and are just projecting. 😉 When are you moving down? “
My wife came home after 7pm and we deep-fried chicken, creating a terrible, wall-coating stink. She lamented the complex intricacies of her job and the various psychological offenses that had been committed against her. As her career quickly advanced she was increasingly overwhelmed by stress. I had it relatively easy, enjoying a summer of unemployment benefits, and felt obligated to listen, but her venting sounded bitter and malevolent, too much like the real world.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but it sounds like you’re full of hate,” I said cautiously.
“I’m not full of hate, you just don’t know how to listen!” she nearly screamed. “Nah, I know hate when I hear it.”
Vibrating beneath the television current that night was the thought of Elise Ivey and the magic she might bring. Amy flipped through a catalogue like it was entertainment, then said, “I want to go to this bike and wine tour.”
“That sounds terrible.” “You are so uncultured.”
“No I have taste, thus, my well-considered position! What are you anyway some wine expert, you used to drink carbonated wine that came in a 2-litre plastic bottle—that’s what’s so offensive, this yuppie posturing.. .because it’s presented to you on TV, or in these “advotainments” you so willingly consume!”
“You don’t have to be a wine expert to enjoy a nice experience like that.” “No, you can also be a poseur.”
The moment she went to the bathroom I rushed over to Facebook like a desperate man. One scrambles from the dank pit of the oldness, acts lustful, hedonistic, savage, all in vain. Prescience often takes over in these moments, and my certainty was warranted, a message from Elise Ivey waited. Oh my God that Bob Dylan concert was amazing. I’m so glad I got to see him before he died. I’m moving in on the weekend why don’t we go for lunch on Monday? “
Was Bob Dylan dead?
My lethargy disappeared and I felt like dancing. Instead I put on Bringing It All Back Home and did a comical duck-walk, bobbing my knees the way Bob Dylan does when he’s enjoying himself in concert. I had forgotten how to dance and now favoured the duck-walk. I wondered how acceptable this might be with Elise and friends in the sweaty nightclub of my hopes.
Amy came out of the bathroom, frowned at the loud music, and said, “The guy upstairs is going to be upset.”
“What guy, there is no guy.. .this fictional upstairs enemy of mine who you identify with? You don’t even know the guy upstairs, the old guy moved out.”
“Because you played the music too loud. He had cancer.”
“So, he’s out of our hair now. You just want me to be more like you. Maybe someone out there would like to listen to music loud, with some enthusiasm, without having it all burnt to shit by your insipid hand-wringing?”
The next morning began with a dry mouth and an undirected hatred. A persistent tickle at the back of my throat raised fears of esophageal cancer. Elise Ivey came to mind and the guilt set in. I noticed a baby picture of my wife—all wide-eyed innocence, a galling fountain of indisputable goodness on this seedy hangover morn. In our finest times together that same innocence and purity shone beneath her pouty exterior like a radiant jewel. I used to marvel at the distinctive beauty of her downturned lips and big sad eyes. But sadly, I got used to being frowned at, and now there is Elise Ivey or some kind of trouble every day.
My penitence was a microwaved Hungryman dinner, heavily salted. I forced myself to walk it off in the park. Two ex-cons sat on a bench twisting up some saran wrap. What form did heroin come in these days? Powder would be easier for the new initiate or the man-on-the-go to snort. Black tar heroin wasn’t likely still in fashion or available, but this confusion prevented me from inquiring with the ex-cons. You can’t reveal any ignorance with these people or they’ll skin you alive.
On the Facebook newsfeed, Elise Ivey: “Moving to Toronto, so excited, can’t wait to see you xoxoxox. Lol Lol. ” The gummy, broken-down bum wept that morning. The money he’d promised must not have materialized. The Latino, understanding the day before, now shouted the old man down and ripped at his shirt. The sad old guy fell to his knees, helpless, and the confrontation fizzled out.
I had a desperate retching cough. It was the internal organs’ lament. I considered switching to vodka and watering down the bottle. I’d heard on Charlie Rose that the act of pouring the drink released the dopamine, not the actual consumption. Similarly, it was the messaging of Elise Ivey, the waiting on her messages, that I was truly addicted to; the hope of her brown flesh, not the flesh itself.
Her very photogenic Facebook content was difficult to resist. Over 700 photos spoke mostly of heart-searing beauty. A few were saved in a folder called “Muddy Waters” in case she deleted me later. I looked at the photos of her gorgeous friends for the first time in a while. I used to look at them quite regularly.
Something caught my attention. Rejeanne had a collage of profile pictures, titled “Top Ten Profile Creepers.” I was ranked second. Most of the fellow creepers were among her closest friends. Had Elise noticed this serious indictment upon me? How I loathed that algorithm! I had not been aware of these functions when I hungrily viewed and sometimes saved Rejeanne’s photos. Lo, this digital age would be the death of me yet.
Some muscle relaxants called my name from the kitchen cupboard, so I took a couple. I drank a beer and then opened another one. I poured myself a whiskey. I started writing a poem:
Where are you tonight (Rejeanne JLu6ert—?
We danced once:
High school dance you pressed against me
pushup bra, and dimples
you were very short.
Now I stand convicted among your top profile creeps
—Explain these years of longing?
These angry mornings
These nights waiting
These ten million estimated Facebook logins
Hoping for a message, not from you,
But from yesterday,
Saying “come home'”
like the old Negro spiritual.
It was pretty bad stuff, particularly the laughable yesterday business, but I wouldn’t face it in the cold light of sobriety for weeks yet, so I remained convinced of its essential truth. A distinct schema of Elise/Rejeanne kept unraveling through the booze-dulled circuitry of my mind. I tried to shake free of these girls with adult, practical concerns. It was no use. A memory is far more insidious than the worst profile creep.
I’d had real girlfriends from that period, whose profiles would have been more appropriate to creep, yet it was Rejeanne I wanted, not her current incarnation, but some old version of her that only existed in those pictures. Things were fucked. “People are crazy and times are strange,” the poet laureate of rock and roll said that. Elise came on Facebook messenger.
Elise: Hey what’sup?
Nick: Elise! How’s it going?
Elise: Good, just getting my shit together for the big move.
Nick: You are so pretty.
Elise: LOL that’s weird.
Nick: Hike to catch people off guard with compliments.
Elise: LOL well thanks.
Nick: Why did you message me? We haven’t spoken in years.
Elise: I don’t know! Something about your Facebook profile. And your picture would always show up in that little box on my page, something about it kept you in my mind I guess you ‘d say. I read some of your articles you posted.
Nick: That’s the only reason I write anymore. The ego boost when I have a link for the Facebook newsfeed.
Elise: Haha you don’t get paid?
Nick: If I had to live off what I make writing I’d be lining up in the bread lines.
Elise: What’s a bread line?
Nick: A food bank.
Elise: LOL LOL I’m sure it’s not that bad.
Nick: How is Rejeanne?
Elise: That’s weird you ask.
Nick: No it isn ‘t, I just remembered you were friends.
Nick: I don’t know any of your other friends.
Elise: Oh no? She’s allright. She’s here right now. She says Hi.
Nick: Hi Rejeanne.
Elise: We ‘re sad because I’m leaving her tomorrow.
Nick: That is sad, though not as sad as a one-eyed dog. There’s this one-eyed dog I always see. I call him old one-eye.
Elise: Lol, what are you talking about?
Elise: OK well we ‘re going out. I’ll message you once I’m settled in Toronto.
Nick: If tomorrow wasn ‘t such a long time, then lonesome wouldn ‘t mean nothing to me at all.
Nick: Bob Dylan lyric.
She was offline. My mind tried to fill in the blanks of the unknown Elise Ivey corporeality— potential arms, the probability of her soft-hair…
This madness was hard to replace with the TV, so I went to the strip club and told the strippers all about these visions of Elise. Strippers (1) listen better than any kind of therapist; they’re just running a different type of con, and (2) sometimes look, smell or feel like the girl that would drive you to a therapist in the first place. Modern mind-medicine boasts no easy answers when it comes to acute carnal-memory disorder—the only effective therapy remains tactile.
The next morning I did some pushups and jogged around the park. An asthmatic, I ran out of breath in under forty seconds. I looked around at all the losers in the park and considered how much better off I was with the fantasy of Elise Ivey in my life. These bums, these morbidly obese, these infirmed and scooter-bound: what would they give for the dream of her?
I felt like boasting. My friend Lyndon was house-bound due to extreme social anxiety, and in this condition, an excellent msn buddy. Thoughtful, well-read, and passionate about culture, he was a nice counterpoint to the LOL’ing and vapid dating site girls who populated my MSN list in place of actual friends.
After discussing Benoit Duteurtre (his favourite) for about ten minutes, then sending a series of William S. Burroughs Youtube clips back and forth, I said to Lyndon:
Nick: Elise Ivey! (I sent her Facebook profile. Not being her “friend”, he could see only 80-odd profile pictures, not all 700. This was enough to convey her beauty.)
Lyndon: Oh wow. I thought all this was behind you.
Nick: She came to me in a dream.
Lyndon: You seem to have the same dreams all the time.
Nick: It’s true. Always about people I used to know, but only the ones I have on Facebook.
Lyndon: I dream about people I don’t know, but they seem real.
Nick: Me it’s always the same bunch of jerks. Then Elise Ivey messaged me in real life and now everything is much better. Just look at her!
Lyndon: There is a certain sense of innocent romance. How old is she?
Nick: 23 or some perfect age, I don’t know, just finishing University, filled with enthusiasm for nights at the familiar bar. There are plenty of strapping young men in her photos. I’m not that strapping these days. Maybe I will wear a baggy shirt. Give me a kind o/urban edge. [A long pause] Oh to… (you know the rest)
Lyndon: Yes, I do. So why do it? It will just be another idealized fiction to remember. To paraphrase your poet laureate of rock and roll, “it’s not you she’s looking for.”
Nick: I want to have things to remember.
Lyndon: Hasn’t your cache of carefully cultivated memories completely crippled you?
Nick: Yes it has. That’s quite an alliterative sentence by the way …in an amateurish way… Anyhow, my hope is to lure her into being my friend. Then convince her to love me, or somehow seduce her, then who knows.
Lyndon: This shoddy plan of yours would lead to a great deal of suffering. Probably a year’s worth on your part alone. This was how long you mourned Daniela, and only half the time you spent eulogizing Christine, the anti-depressed beauty queen, who was just 18.
Nick: So it’s a rhyme-off you want? Fine: Christine gave me something to think about, something to drink about. That could be a hit country song in today’s climate of poor song-writing.
Lyndon: What had you been thinking about before Elise Ivey?
Nick: I’d been writing that hard sci-fi novel at a torrid pace. I just paraphrase Quantum Physics for Beginners and that editor goes nuts for it.
Lyndon: Isn’t that better than writing me 3,000 word emails about some new Daniela, which frankly, I don’t enjoy reading.
Nick: You ‘ve been a good friend. The basic idea is that I’m going to do it, throw caution to the wind and hope for the absolute best.
Lyndon: That’s admirable. But always with the throwing caution to the wind? Can’t caution be left in place for once, not hurled into this wind?
Nick: / have to hurl something into the wind.
Lyndon: Why caution?
Nick: Caution is like a giant blockade—no wind gets in.
Lyndon: Are you drinking port wine again?
Nick: Thank God, no. Beer only. I find I don’t get drunk. Just tired and stupid. I am about 30,000 times smarter in the morning. Just a driveling idiot by evening. But more poignant. How’s that for irony? Oh well, these Quantum page-turners don’t require poignancy, just paraphrasing.
Lyndon: What would you be sober?
Nick: Bored. Unless in the brown arms ofElise Ivey, then—content.
Lyndon: You should write her an ode.
Nick: / have several odes in the works. Do you have any stomach-tightening workout advice? I feel like a fool doing crunches.
Nick: I don’t think that’s right. I’m going back to the classic situp. Lates.
The weekend passed without incident. Watching Sunday Night Baseball, bored, a message from Elise came:
Elise: Hey, finally finished unpacking! Can’t wait to see you. Why don’t we meet at The Drake Hotel around Noon? It’s right near my new place, xoxoxo
I looked rough that morning, and The Drake was a classy joint, so I wore a sport coat. None of the muscle men in her pictures seemed like the tweed type, and here I sensed a small but necessary advantage. It was warm and I began to sweat. I arrived first, went to the bathroom and rinsed the sweat off my face with cold water, then dried it with one-ply toilet paper that shredded up all over my face. I had a terrible time scraping all the shreds off.
It was 12:18pm when she sashayed up the sidewalk with the put-on theatricality of a major film and television star. I just managed to open the door for her. She gave me a sisterly hug and sat down in her summer dress and large white sunglasses. She took her sunglasses off and looked out the window, distracted. She asked the waiter for water. I also wanted water, but someone had to order something, so I ordered Perrier to look classy. She fidgeted and started texting someone—texting, the scourge of modern society. She wasn’t looking at me. Then she seemed to pick up on something; she turned into something else, elfin, a practical joker, a lively child, everything I wanted.
“So you want to know why I messaged you in the first place? Okay… we noticed your profile was always popping up on our pages. First, none of us could remember who you were. Then you showed up on Rejeanne’s Stalker List and it seemed hilarious. Then Celia had saved this weird message you sent her. Like, “Who is this guy?”
“So we have this friend in computer science who designed a program that could monitor everything a person did while he was on your profile. You were on ours for so long Nick. It became a running joke. The program also told us what functions you were using. The ‘Save-As’ function came up all the time while you were looking at our pictures. Some of the girls were kind of freaked out. They thought maybe they could call the police on you or something. But it wasn’t breaking any laws. We took down a lot of our beach photos after that.”
I interrupted, stammering: “First I’d like to say, the amount of time could be attributed to instances I left my computer on then went to work. The ‘Save-As’ was part of an art project I was working on. You can take comfort knowing it wasn’t just pictures of your friends, like some obsession. It was a broad tapestry. Not a tapestry of broads, a full tapestry…”
“Art project huh?”
“Well it informed my art.”
“What kind of art do you make?”
“Interesting. But look, after we took down the bikini and cleavage photos we talked about it. We knew when we started our jobs we couldn’t have those photos up. So we said, ‘Who cares, now’s the time to have fun, right?’ So we came up with a competition, whoever could get the most pics saved by you would be called ‘Slut of the Year.’ It was this huge joke. So we’d take all these pictures with our boobs pushed up when we were drunk. Then they’d show up in the newsfeed and we’d all laugh. It was funny because none of the boys our age bothered to download them. You were our biggest fan. So when we weren’t getting any attention we’d joke about calling you up.”
“It’s so disturbing you were viewing me this way. Something is wrong with you people,” I said.
“It was more disturbing you were viewing us that way, that often, that intensely. You’re lucky we could laugh about it.”
“But you’re laughing at me.”
“That’s right we are. Because it’s so creepy. Sometimes as a joke we’d look at your profile and play that song ‘I’ll Be Watching You’ by The Police.”
“It’s called ‘Every Breath You Take.’“
“Anyways… so one of our last nights we were going to take all the slutty photos down and we started thinking we were going to miss you. We wanted to give you a good send-off.”
Rejeanne’s pretty face in the foyer made it all clear. Celia (who I’d once sent an ill-advised message to, filled with admiration and reverie at 4am) and several recognizable friends followed her into the bar wearing bikinis and familiar Halloween costumes. Some of those pictures I’d downloaded two or three times. They were already quite drunk and laughing hysterically. I stood up. “You’ll excuse me.” I made no effort to pay for my Perrier.
I walked home shaking my head the whole way. I saw the old man from next door on the bench in the park, his weary head in his hands. “Hey man, if I offer you a $20 fee will you help me to get $40 worth of heroin?”
“Get the fuck out of here,” he said.
At home I deleted my Facebook account. I didn’t part with the Muddy Waters folder. I still wanted to wade in that murky swamp, to remember them with a vengeance.
I tried to compose an email to Lyndon that would defend my position—“Secondary experience has value. A bootleg from Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder Review holds real power for me. Other people may need to be present, but my imagination gets by with a facsimile. Pictures that held Elise’s potential magic were waiting at a web address, nourishing as whatever fiction I could impose on them”—but it didn’t convince even me. It was only adolescent desire I wanted to feel again.
This illusion of social media, Elise Ivey, existed only as a Facebook ghost once, so none of it would have mattered without my continued focus. Moral and spiritual weakness made me the ideal victim for these dark, absentee forces. She became real only as some karmic manifestation of horror I had coming. I didn’t even care to recover. A fantasy is like an apple, take a bite out of one and soon it will rot.