Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders are logged on to the forum. It’s past 2 a.m. for Orangutan and she’s sitting in a mixed bar and internet café, but Chutes&Ladders is chatting during his lunch hour at work in San Diego. Although she seemed previously happy, Orangutan is now upset, feeling as if she doesn’t even belong in her own birth country, that she is truly not connected to anything or anyone. Chutes&Ladders is worried about her being in a bar, especially when she is vulnerable to relapse, and Orangutan admits that she “really really really want[s] to smoke crack.” To distract herself, Orangutan asks Chutes&Ladders what he wants most in the world, but he doesn’t have a real answer. When she asks about his son, he remarks that, “by all accounts, having me a stranger in his life these ten years has given him the best decade of his life.”
Despite their relationship on the forum, which is quite close, Orangutan’s feelings of disconnection from the world around her suggests that such internet relationships are not enough to sustain one in life, that there is something fundamentally lacking in them. At the same time, Chutes&Ladders’s recognition that his son’s life has been better without him in it points to the painful reality that sometimes, due to one member’s destructive influence or addictions, the separation of biological family may actually be for the best.
Although Orangutan has known Chutes&Ladders for three years on the forum, she asks him what he does for work, an admittedly “personal question.” When Chutes&Ladders tells her that he is an IRS worker and that he has plenty of vacation days backlogged, she asks him to come see her in Japan. Chute&Ladders seems fearful of this, worried that she will be disappointed by what she sees, though Orangutan retorts that she is disappointed by herself everyday already, so there is nothing to worry about. Chutes&Ladders continues to tell her that he is the most boring person imaginable, which is how he stays clean, but Orangutan insists that she wants the challenge and risk of a real human relationship, rather than remaining safely “anonymous and alone” as she always has. She tells him, “The invitation is open. Come tear my shyness open.”
Orangutan’s recognition that asking Chutes&Ladders about his occupation—a mundane question often asked between strangers—indicates the importance of anonymity between individuals in internet communities. On one hand, this distance and anonymity seems safe. But it also demonstrates how, despite knowing each other for three years, Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders actually know very little about each other. This demonstrates the limitation of such a relationship that involves neither risk nor reward.
Haikumom appears on the forum and tells Chutes&Ladders that all Orangutan is asking for is to be his friend—even knowing all of his problems—and that he should consider it. She also finds his mailing address, and Chutes&Ladders gives her his last name, Wilkie, but won’t offer anymore than that.
Once again, Chutes&Ladders’s reluctance to even share his last name demonstrates the emphasis on anonymity in their internet relationships, again suggesting that such relationships provide company and support, but not real human connection.
Fountainhead logs on, thanking them for the prior “warm two-by-four to my head.” He goes on to explain that last night, he broke down and smoked crack in his car. He’s disappointed by his failure, and Haikumom is sympathetic. However, Orangutan tells him he needs to tell his wife even though she’s already manic-depressive. Chutes&Ladders is still unimpressed since Fountainhead won’t even admit to having a full-blown addiction, still passing it off as a psychological issue. Chutes&Ladders presses him on this point, ruthlessly badgering him until Fountainhead finally admits “I’M A FUCKING CRACKHEAD” and that he’s been unemployed for a long time, though he was once wealthy. Once he admits this, the group immediately becomes much more tender and supportive of him, including Chutes&Ladders.
Chutes&Ladders’ sharp transition from bullying Fountainhead to offering him gentle support demonstrates his belief that addiction can only be addressed when it’s admitted for what it is. Although admitting to being a “crackhead” feels shameful and lowly, the forum members see such brutal honesty as the only way to truly address the gravity of their addictions. Although this would be difficult for any individual, it seems to be even more difficult for someone such as Fountainhead, who has gone from material success to addicted failure. This reality illustrates addiction’s capacity to destroy anyone, regardless of economic or social background.
While the forum members share their favorite recovery slogans with each other, Elliot is in a boxing gym punching a bag, coaching himself to ignore the pain in his leg. The Ghost stands a short distance away, watching him, repeating the same Arabic phrase. As the forum members are chatting, Haikumom sees a picture of Mami Ginny, her sister. At first she is excited, until she realizes it is an obituary. The Ghost blows on Elliot, knocking him off his feet.
Once again, the physical pain in Elliot’s leg parallels the psychological pain and guilt he feels, embodied by the Ghost. However, in light of Mami Ginny’s passing and Odessa’s subsequent realization that her sister has died, this suggests that Elliot’s guilt is connected to every part of his life—his care for Ginny, his poverty, his family conflicts—and not just the man he killed.