SUB: Looking for Goldwhite@...
I'm in San Diego this week, doing some business, and I've had some time in the evening these last few nights so I've been making an effort to track down goldwhite@... We met at one of the big comic conventions a few years ago, and he—Bruce, actually, his name is Bruce—said that if I was ever in the San Diego area, I should look him up. Well, the whole mailing list spam thing has been bugging me and, since I was in the area, I figured I'd track him down. Get in his door and ask: WTF Dude?
The phone number he gave me didn't work any more, but—long story short—I managed to find a working number and reach him. He lives in this place called Cardiff-by-the-Sea. Sort of a retirement/resort suburb of Encinatas. Not a whole lot to do there unless you're a surfer. I think he commutes to San Diego to work anyway.
So, we meet up at this place called the Belly Up Tavern, up in Solana Beach just off the old Hwy 101. There's some indie pop band playing that he wanted to see and, eh, I figured what the hell? He's there with some friends, and while the music is pretty loud, I manage a couple of conversations. I don't mention alt.o.e—much too public of a place to bring it up—and I keep the topics to comics and what-not. He's a pretty genial guy, happy enough to hang out with someone who shares his interests, and while it's been a few years since I paid any attention to the comic industry, I remember enough to fake it.
But there's something off in his mannerisms, and for a while, I chalk it up to just a natural reticence toward people he doesn't know that well, but I get an impression from his friends that this is a relatively new behavioral pattern. Then, the band does this song—I don't even remember the details—about pot, and he just shuts down. One of the weirdest things I've seen in a long time. It's almost a physical reaction. He just mentally checks out, and I can see the change in his expression.
I mean, I've seen this sort of thing in the Oneiroi, but never like this in the flesh.
Anyway, before the song is even over, he's made his excuses and bailed. Just gone. It's abrupt enough that it takes his friends by surprise—they certainly weren't expecting him to suddenly take off like that. It was a strange enough encounter that, if I wasn't making the effort because of his online behavior, I would have written the evening off as slightly surreal and junked his number in my "weirdo" file.
However, this gives his friends and me something to talk about, and I manage to tease out of them that he's been weird for a few weeks. They've not consciously thought about it, but over a few beers, they start to put together a theory. They think it's a cult thing. They think that Bruce's family—he lives in a downstairs apartment/basement arrangement with his parents—have done an intervention and gotten him into this drug rehab cult.
Drug rehab? I say. Really?
Bruce, apparently, used to be a pretty big pot head, they tell me. Used to smoke out all the time. He loved to smoke and surf. Why else would anyone live in Cardiff-by-the-Sea? they say, as if the answer is self-evident to anyone who has lived in the region for any time.
But not so much anymore? I prod.
Not so much, they say. And they say it like they're mourning a lost friend. Like someone has died. And I realize that Bruce used to be their connection. Maybe not recently, but sometime in the past, Bruce was the hook-up for this little group.
Tonight, I wasn't able to get away from the city until after 8 PM and, instead of calling, I just went up to Cardiff to find Bruce. Knowing that he shared a house with his parents made it much easier to track him down. His cell phone wasn't on—it sent me straight to voicemail—and there weren't any lights on in the basement at the house, so I took a chance and knocked on the ground floor door.
Yeah, I've met his parents, and that was a really strange experience.
Nice people—Terry and Erma—but a little devout. To their vitamin wholesaler. They invited me in, told me pretty much anything I wanted to know about their son (who, as it turns out, they don't know all that well), and took every opportunity they could to talk about this supplement regime they were taking. They even showed me Bruce's old bedroom from when he was in high school. Why? Because they've turned it into a storeroom for all their supplements.
The room is a maze of shelves and cases, organized in a way to maximize the available space in the room. You have to sidle sideways to fit between the racks, and everything is neatly stacked—labels out—and organized alphabetically. They had enough stock to last them—shit, I don't know—a couple of years, probably. Because, as Terry told me with fervent earnestness, when the commercial infrastructure fails, all deliveries are going to stop.
What happens in two years? I asked. When you run out?
They will provide, he told me. They will find us. They will restore the flow to each and every node. That is the way the world will be reconnected again, through each and every subscriber.
Erma beamed and nodded at every word her husband said, when she wasn't busy in the kitchen. I lost track of how many different snacks and hors d'oeuvres she offered me, and something like eight different beverages. Tea? No, thank you. Coffee? No. Juice? No. Smoothie? It was endless, and with this earnest smile the whole fucking time.
The really asinine thing? They had no idea where their son was. They weren't concerned; they seem to have the same sort of trust that he's okay that they have in the vitamin rapture. When I really pushed, they finally admitted—and it was like they had to strain their brains to remember—they hadn't seen him in over a week.
A week! What a fucking waste of time.
Anyway, I'm not leaving until Friday so I have one more chance to track Bruce down before I head back to Chicago. I've left two messages on his cell phone, but I'm not terribly optimistic he's going to call back. I've got numbers from a couple of his friends from Tuesday night, so I might try them tomorrow and see if I can't get a solid lead from one of them.
Terry and Erma sent me home with a bunch of samples. "Purification packs," they called them. Good for reducing stress and for cleansing the system. I'm not sure I trust the ingredient list. If the labeling is honest, it's just a bunch of natural supplements: Gingko Biloba, Yohimbine, Tribulus Terrestris, Milk Thistle, Horny Goat Weed (though, heh, they disguise it as "Inyokaku"), and Kawa. DMAE too, though they spell it out to make it seem more "scientific." Doesn't seem like anything that you couldn't get at the nearest GNC, though, so I'm not quite sure why T & E were so enthusiastic about this brand.
The company name is Terra Ternaria. Based in Mexico. No website listed on the packaging. I'm going to do a little research . . .
". . . in fact, only the marvelous is beautiful." —Andre Breton