When I was much younger, my grandfather died, my mother’s father. He went outside one day to fix the crack in the sidewalk in front of his home in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and he died fixing the crack.
A few days after he died, I received a letter from him in the mail. He mentioned that if the weather improved, the next day he intended to fix the crack in the sidewalk. I somehow felt that if I wrote back right away and warned him not to fix the crack in the sidewalk, I could prevent this from happening.
But I didn’t write to him, and no more letters were forthcoming, and now he is just gone, he gets a little less vivid every day. Try googling him, and he isn’t there. He existed before the internet, and back then, people died, and they were gone.
Today, though, deceased people maintain their web presence, not as memories, not as nostalgia, but as though they still exist.
My uncle, for example. His Facebook page is alive and well, even though he is not. His friend Pat wishes him “Happy Birthday from Marty and me,” with a cute birthday cake emoji. He does not respond. I could still message him. His Messenger account will stay alive for a hundred years, two hundred. His twin brother, too. On his birthday this year, a friend posted wishes for a happy birthday in Heaven.
I still get reminders every year to wish my deceased friends a happy birthday; many of us do.
Back in my grandfather’s day, if you called the deceased, their phone was disconnected. If you wrote them, the letter would be sent back. But today, you can email them; you can post on their FB page; you can message them on Messenger.
I used to go to a restaurant called The Sumptuary on Third Avenue, which was around for more than thirty years but closed before the web. Today, traces of its existence are few. In 2004, someone wrote on an obscure website, “I loved a restaurant called the Sumptuary on Third Ave around 28th. Now that i think of it, i can’t remember one dish i had there, but Former Spouse and i used to eat there all the time in ’90-’92 when we lived in that neighborhood.”
But now, more recent defunct favorite businesses still beckon, alive on the web forever, making people sad, long after they’re out of business.
I used to go to the original Vegetarian’s Paradise restaurant across Bowery Street from the Music Palace Theater, where I went to see Hong Kong movies in 1983 and 1984. Now the Music Palace is closed, and the restaurant is closed, and many of the people I took to the restaurant are dead (a college friend, murdered in a parking lot; my mom and dad).
Now even Vegetarian’s Paradise 2 is gone too, but you wouldn’t know it from the internet.
“Imagine you’re trapped in a Groundhog Day-style time loop,” they still ask. “What’s the one thing on our menu you’d keep coming back for?” If only I could visit them again, through some kind of time loop.
A great Park Slope Malaysian seafood restaurant, Al Seabu, recently removed its “X” account. For years after it left us, Al Seabu continued to urge its Twitter followers to visit, and its sign was still lit up over its alternate entrance on a side street as though you could still go in. You can still look at photographs of their great meals on their Instagram page. No one will likely ever take it down; as long as there is an Instagram, there will be an Al Seabu restaurant, in our dreams.
Things have always changed, but these weird, ghostly vestiges, calling out to us like a living past, are something new.
Steven S. Drachman is the author of a science fiction trilogy, The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, which is available in paperback from your local bookstore, Amazon and Barnes & Noble; it is also available as a Kindle e-book.