A Strange Memorial

A few years ago, when the internet was first starting to creep into the lives of the huddled masses, I was helping to build an ISP locally here, in the Greater Puget Sound area. We focused on the human side of things – a vision of the individual becoming empowered by this emerging technological wonder that had the potential to bypass, and even erode, many of the traditional power structures we have all lived within. A re-invention, in a way, of the printing press.

I loved working with all the crazy people out there – helping to get them set up with internet access. Most were technically saavy at the time, but there was a growing number of people who thought the internet was just very cool, and there were even a few grandmas and grandpas coming on.

I got to know my customers very well. When a customer calls for help, you have a connection via telephone into their lives – you hear all manner of things going on in the background. And when you visit their houses to help, you learn even more. I never charged them when they fed me. 🙂

I can remember seeing a couple’s names together on their checks, and then I receive checks with just one of their names – and when I ask them about it, they’re surprised. Many outsiders would say it’s invading their privacy, but it was a testament to their belief in our sincerity that they were always grateful when we noticed the little things about their lives, and took the time, and even moreso had the interest, in hearing what they had to say, or feel.

It was always a difficult thing when a customer would not pay – or got too far behind. You learn a good deal about people when you run a business. The variety is staggering. I never knew how to approach them about paying they money they owed – I almost felt guilty for taking it from them in the first place, but we needed to pay our bills so that we could keep offering them the good connectivity.

One day I noticed that a customer – one of my very first – had gotten over three months behind in his payments. I emailed him over the course of two more months, but never received a reply. I found it very hard to believe he would do this. I tried phoning him, but his phone had been disconnected. His userid was “fuzzyguy”.

We gave our users free webspace with their account, and I went to it to see if I might learn anything – perhaps his new telephone number, or an alternate email address. But I found something quite different.

Long before “blogs” were even conceived, fuzzyguy was keeping a journal online. He was a man suffering from AIDS, very poor, very adorable to see, and incredibly honest and brave in his words. He sounded very alone, but detailed his experiences without anger or blame – but most certainly with frustration at his decaying body.

One entry I remember in particular, which described a cancer that had formed in the back of his mouth, and was growing up into his brain. He was going through radiation treatment and chemotherapy, whenever he could somehow get money together. He described how it felt, and how he was feeling. And he always tried to remain positive, though the doom of his situation tinged the fringes of all he spoke.

The entries ended, suddenly, a few months previously. And I felt guilty, not so much for having wanted money from him, but because he was going through all this, and he was right there, and I had no idea. I wish still there were some way that I could have gotten to know him – to help, in whatever stupid way I could.

I thought he might have died. I had no address for him but a PO Box.

As I mentioned, I kept in close contact with my customers, even though there had grown to be thousands by this time. I would send out broadcast emails to them from time to time, announcing changes or possible downtimes, and always included personal things that many business people consider inappropriate, but which I know these people loved, because they were incredibly loyal customers – they never left.

So I sent out a message to them all – pointing them to fuzzyguy’s website, and asking if any of them were friends of his, or knew him – that I was worried, and explained why.

I started receiving many replies back talking about how awful his situation was, but none said they knew him. Two days later, though, I received a telephone call from a KOMO News Radio host, who apparently was one of my customers. She offered to try helping, and the next day I was interviewed about him on the airwaves of Seattle. I didn’t even know why I wanted to get ahold of him so badly – but I think it was mostly because I needed to know if he was alive still, and if he wasn’t, I thought that maybe his family or friends would want to have this incredibly intimate account the last few years of his life.

That afternoon, I received a phone call from a nurse at Bailey Bushay House, which was a homey medical organization to help people AIDS and cancer. Apparently fuzzyguy had died a few months prior. I asked her if she could contact his family or friends so that they could have a copy of his journals, and she said she would do her best, but we never heard from any of them.

So here I had the journals of a stranger – an obviously very kind, sensitive, intelligent, good looking, strong, and incredibly isolated young man. No family claimed them. No friends claimed them. I wondered if I might have every been snappy with him when he called for technical support.

I put them up, back in his website, and left them there, meaning for them to remain for all time.

That was several years ago. I sold out of that nice little ISP when it became apparent that the phone companies were doing their very best to crush the little people. And within the last few days, and many years after never even thinking about fuzzyguy, I am reminded of him as I begin this online journal. And that same sadness comes back.

I just checked, and his site is no longer there. The purchasing company must have deleted it – his memory and writings chewed up and lost in the whir of Industry. I suppose it is possible I have it, buried deeply in the many dark corridors of data from years past. I will have to look. And if I do, I’ll bring it back – though why, I don’t really know.

And I’m left thinking, of all the people out there, who feel so isolated and alone in what you’re going through – you must believe there are others who still care, even though you may be complete strangers. I wish fuzzyguy would have talked to me, and told me he felt so alone. Such a simple thing – a thing that we almost all feel – and yet it’s somehow the most difficult thing to say.

I hope I can find his last few writings.