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 I write this column from work. It is 2:18 in the afternoon, on a Wednesday. Our server has been down for about an hour and a half. Since 12:30, I have not received an email, or visited a Web page, or downloaded a song, or sent an instant message. I am coming to you live.

It is just me. Just a guy, sitting at a desk, drinking a Diet Coke, alone. No little windows will pop up with questions from my boss. No emails telling me how to artificially extend my penis. No bad news about snipers and Iraq and reality television. An argument could be made that this is as undisturbed an environment as I have seen in years.

And I hate it. I canít breathe. I am lost. I am a man without identity.

I have set up my office space to reflect my online world. I talk to no one in my office, not even people I like. I come into work, put on headphones, play them as loud as is acceptable, and tune out. There may be other people around, but I do not speak with them unless absolutely necessary — say, if one of them is on fire or about to eat something poisonous. I made a deal a long time ago that my work self would be different than my real self, at least at this job, and this deal has required me to make some sacrifices. Social skills were the first to go. Talking no longer happens. From 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., I am no longer Will Leitch. I am simply my Web identity.

Everyone in the office is required to run Yahoo instant messenger at all times, to make sure they are perpetually at the bossí fingertips. I have turned this corporate policy on its head. I have decided that I will only communicate through Yahoo instant messenger. People work in this office, people with whom I have discussed particularly memorable past sexual experiences and debilitating hangovers and illicit substances, all over Yahoo instant messenger Ö these people, Iím not even sure I would recognize their voice.

Watch! Watch! Watch as my tentacles spread throughout the country, lo, the world! Here I am in New York — and now I am in Los Angeles! To Chicago! To Australia! To Mali! I am everywhere at once. Ding! A missive from Colorado! Allow me to join you, weary traveler. I would stay longer, but I must go To Florida! There is sun there, but I have not the time. I am everywhere, but not too long, because there is more and more and more. And it all comes with a soundtrack of my own choosing. Do I want Nirvana to accompany me on my journey? The White Stripes? How about Skynyrd? Wait, I don't have the new Beck album? Click-click-click-damboosh ... now I do! Where to next? Where to? And on and on! And on!

And it is now gone. The server is down. What the fuck is a server anyway?

Who am I if I am not an AOL handle? If I am not, what is it I have become? My link to the world, the one outside of this office, where people create and envision and dream and hope, it no longer exists. It is a Microsoft Word file, empty, cursor blinking, taunting me, type, type, here, no one can here you scream, your life is a vacuum.

I am venturing to the bathroom. On foot. Good Lord, remember when I used to try to dress up for work? I am wearing the only clean shirt I have left, and I have not shaved since last Friday. My hair is mussed, in the shape of the headphones, and my face is pale, pallid, empty ... but yearning. I must get back. There is no time. I must get back to my desk. Perhaps the server has returned! Perhaps we are back on the road! Perhaps I am me again!

We are not back. The server is still down.

We have this computer guy who works for us, an IT gentleman. It is his job to fix this problem. He is from Long Island, has floofy black hair, wears an earring in the wrong ear, and stands about five-foot tall in heels. He looks like a particularly butch WNBA point guard. He is a nice guy, jovial, upbeat, hopeful. I bet he talks to his parents weekly, at least. He likely has a dog who follows behind him, and licks his face in the mornings, and fetches his slippers. He pays his taxes on time, loves the Today show, and smiles and says, ďhi, howdy Paul,Ē to the guy behind the counter when he buys his newspaper every morning for his hour-long train ride. He is telling me he cannot help me. Right now I would like to rip his fucking face off with a staple remover, slowly, meticulously snipping at the edges of the cheeks, under the chin, around the ears, fftt fftt fftt at the hairline, nice little clips all around, and then, yes, weíre ready now, YANK, splurt, splash, all thatís left is a skull with some wet flesh and that earring attached. I hope his eyes stay in their sockets. I want him to see what he has wrought.

Help me. Iím lost. I am a broken man, a ghost, a shell, a dead desiccated oyster buried under dry sand. A character in search of a play. A camel in search of a desert. A bone in search of a dog. I have been out there for so long, hiding from the rest of you so well, that the shakes are uncontrollable. Perhaps a drink of water. No, no, what if it comes back while I am gone?

I donít know what to do. Maybe I could look through old screen shots. Yes, yes, my Microsoft Explorer, if I shift to offline mode, has saved some sites I visited earlier today. Ah! It's a Google search from this morning! It's a preview of tonight's Cardinals game! Oh, look, it's a story by a friend of mine — by friend, I mean an email address halfway across the country which belongs to a body I have not met — on a spunky little independent Web site. That story was funny. Remember that story? Remember when you read that this morning, Oh, those were the days. Such memories. Such great times.

Ah, but I am hungry, and I must find more sustenance. Regurgitation will not suffice. The big dog must eat. Connecting to server ... connecting to server ... connecting to server ... sweet Christ, can't I just connect? Help me connect. I need to connect. I am nothing here. I have no leg to stand on.

Help. Help. Yelp. Yellow. Yemer. Yemen. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. A rat in the house may eat the ice cream. Algebra. Trigonometry. The unbearable lightness of being sad I miss the comfort in being sad two's comfort but THREE'S A CROWD! THREE'S A CROWD!

Wait, wait Ö hey, check it out Ö what's that ... our serverís back! The world has opened again! OK Ö see ya suckers!



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