Friendster: Seeking stalkers, activity partners

Sigh. The summer has ended, but we have been blessed with memories that will carry us through these upcoming inclement months. I’ll never forget that time when you shared cotton candy with me while we stood in line for the roller coaster. And I’m sure that you will always cherish the day when the gang buried you in the sand and left you for dead. Above all else, we will forever remember those clandestine Friendster trysts –

Come again? Oh yes, Friendster. Simply log onto the website (www.friendster.com) and behold fields of social and dating possibilities. Each person’s profile features detailed lists of their cultural interests, stellar photographs and testimonials left by comrades. Hours can be whittled away browsing through profiles or tweaking one’s own to perfection.

But these, of course, were activities of the High Friendster Period (May 27-July 16, 2003). Sadly, these words hit the page while the site finds itself interred in the graveyard of “Sooo 5 minutes ago.” The proliferation of Friendster articles in recent months has only driven more stakes into its coffin. All of the expected touchstones were illuminated in this critical discourse — technology and the disassociated self; semiotics of hypertext and, of course, the deep metaphysical problem of why photographs make some people look deceptively attractive. I don’t seek to fill this well with further esotericism but rather to explore Friendster on its functional level. In short: this summer, I went on Friendster dates.

It feels like a shameful admission. Even now, I am embarrassed to recall the wary gazes of those anti-Friendster Pratt brats, those insouciant aesthetes, as they clutched their PBRs in the beer hall.

You see, for a time I also thought of Friendster as a shameless hipster orgy. Browsing through secondary- and tertiary-friend connections revealed the program to be an archive for the current, perishable indie finds — for The Postal Service and Xiu Xiu; for “Donnie Darko” and “The Celebration.”

But then I started getting personalized messages from other Friendsters. My eyes widened at the possibility of fumbling, awkward dates.

It took some time to find the right boy. For a while the messages tended a bit too far to the leather quadrant of the homosexual world (my favorite: “Yo big man, check me out. If you’re a monkey, then for chrissake be a goddamn gorilla!”). Finally, I found scruffy Z., who loved Hesse and photography. His messages were laced with witticisms. His photos were just so damn cute. So I invited him to lunch and an art show.

Two hours before the date, I received an e-mail from Z.: “Hi, Just wanted to tell you that if you stand me up I swear to God I’ll burn down your mother’s house!” Suffice it to say that I showed up in a state of hypervolemic shock. Z. was elfin and coiffed with auburn locks. He spoke in a soft, Virginian drawl that brought to mind images of the immolated Southern manors of his prior dates.

After an hour of banal chitchat, I hauled myself to the safety of my apartment. The next week, Z. posted a message on the Friendster bulletin board: “My goddamn date to the Hamptons stood me up! And he still has my Dior sunglasses!”

My ears perked up — beyond the hum of urban traffic, I could faintly hear the first crackles and pops of burning wood. That poor boy’s mother — I’m sure she never saw it coming.

On my second Friendster date, L. and I waited as a bearded man in a white happi-coat coated our foreheads with cream and attached “neuron ports.” This minion of Japanese artist Mariko Mori then raised us into the belly of a giant, sculptural whale. The beast groaned. I cried for Jonah!

Needless to say, interactive art was a frightful date idea. Returning home, I logged onto Friendster and indulged myself in Baudrillard’s brand of postmodern irony: I looked at L.’s profile, at his cute, mal-adjusted photographic face, at his rampant Japanophilia and stellar testimonials. I sighed, “I like you so much better as a Friendster profile.”

Later that week I found myself stumbling toward the Bedford Avenue L Station. A horde of faux-bohemians were strewn across the street, trying their best to look like yesterday’s garbage. Suddenly, a bald man appeared and encircled us all with a magical net of words: “Come to the party! It’s shark attack! Come on!”

We all followed his holy, glistening dome to a nondescript building. At the door we were greeted by 40z-sippin’ loiterers, well on their way to becoming tomorrow’s trash. Suddenly, the harmless anonymity was shattered. A boy stepped into the light:

“Tyler?”

“Carl?”

The bystanders now surrounded us, casting a quizzical gaze on our pairing. I coughed up an explanation:

“We — were messaging on Friendster.”

The crowd slowly dispersed. Certain faces alighted with sympathy; others spun around in disgust. Indeed, Carl and I had been messaging until I chanced upon his live journal. The entry of the day proclaimed, “I found out that I don’t have the gon!” Once I realized that Carl was on a nickname level with certain STDs, I knew that it was time to pull the plug.

Inside the party, I hastened to the corner furthest from this dirty Friendster. Carl approached the dance floor for a flat rendition of “The Macarena.” It was clear that this “Shark Attack” was nothing more than the carnivorous appropriation of early ’90s classics for ironical ends.

As disinclination settled into disgust, I began to realize that I was one of several occupants of this hiding spot. With great surprise, I discerned a friend and fellow Upper East Sider standing nearby. I queried him:

“Alex, what are you doing at ‘Shark Attack’?”

Alex paused for a spell, adjusted his glasses and took a large swig of beer. I read the signs and knew the answer even before he murmured, “My Friendster Kevin invited me.”

We stood there in silence for a few moments, each wondering why we had never been informed that surreality had finally won the battle.

Another wallflower had shifted to my side. She asked, “What’s Friendster?”

My eyes darted in her direction. There was brown hair that fell thin and long over her shoulders; there was the dress, a work of black satin with white doily frills; and there were the eyes. Deep brown. Void-like.

For a moment, a gentle yellow light enveloped the folds of the fabric and the expanse of hair. I stared at her again. It was clear that she was the coolest person in the room.

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