NELSON L. ESHLEMAN is the most accomplished graduate of the Grande Prairie Regional College Class of '81, although the point is hotly contested in certain circles. He considers publication in The Adirondack Review to be a significant leap along the interminable road towards literary notoriety, however appreciates that there are others so far ahead that they will never be eclipsed.
Maxwell Horne-Grundtner was no computer expert, but what with his suffocating government job, he’d logged onto a reliable IBM machine every day for the last fifteen years. He was around before “the Internet” became a common term, and it was his honest opinion that it was an amazing thing to have a world of knowledge, the complete reference of human experience, at his fingertips. It was like having a giant brain. A prodigiously monstrous memory. There were times when it was useful to know whether Monday might be a business holiday in Kangwon, or what the temperature was in Shreveport.
Harmless surfing activities however, had begun to infringe upon the time he should have spent working or being with his family. Some might have said it was beginning to cramp his ability to function. Certainly he'd lost all reliable sense of proportion.
He wished sometimes that he could have used the Internet more productively. He frequently played mindless computer games, compulsively read about people and things, performed random searches of inane phrases and expunged countless hours simply investigating his idle curiosities.
Maxwell remembered the websites he found the first time he had searched his own surname.
It was an intense experience, to discover he was not alone, it was like looking up at the stars. There were thousands of Horne-Grundtners out there.
There was even another Maxwell Horne-Grundtner. The sheer improbability of it was enough to make our Maxwell feel he’d been the victim of an identity theft, but then he found two more Maxwell Horne-Grundtners who were deceased, so he decided it could all very well be an innocent coincidence.
Our Maxwell scanned through fifty pages of search results for “Horne-Grundtner” before he found another Horne-Grundtner he knew, a favourite uncle who had been of an evangelical bent. Maxwell was quite surprised at this unfamiliar potpourri, because Horne-Grundtner was not a common name. He'd been related to any Horne-Grundtner he’d ever met before.
Our Maxwell found this all very novel, very instructive, but most of all very humbling. Well, as humble as Maxwell was capable of feeling.
In years that followed, Maxwell quit his government job and opened up a small print shop. At that point, he conceived it might be useful if his own name would appear near the top of the search results so that potential customers could easily find him should there prove to be a demand for his products and services. So it was that Maxwell undertook a self-study into the shrouded mystery of webmaster sorcery and indeed, he sought to find and understand the holy grail of search engine technology itself, the legendary and elusive Google algorithm.
Maxwell tinkered with his website over the course of subsequent months, maximizing the occurrence of common search terms in the body of his pages without blatantly cluttering them to the point where he’d be penalized for artificial stuffing. He put those same common terms near the top of his home page, played around with meta-tags and the size of the font and most importantly of all, he cultivated a nearly saturating series of inbound links by listing himself in every free business directory the Internet had to offer. Apparently these were integral factors in determining his Google PageRank. Over time, he eventually achieved penultimate prominence. Indeed, it could be said, he could climb almost no higher.
There were 95,600 web pages containing the name “Horne-Grundtner” on the Internet, but Maxwell Horne-Grundtner was now listed at number two. Conduct a search of “Horne-Grundtner” on Google or Yahoo and Maxwell’s page came up second, give or take a few paid listings, which Maxwell considered cheating.
He had vaulted over some pretty noteworthy people in the process. Now he was more prominent than Lon R. Horne-Grundtner, the Columbia University physicist and professor emeritus. Maxwell had also surpassed “Horny” Horne-Grundtner, the talented but little-known stage musician.
There was just one more hurdle on the road to greatness. He still hadn’t leapfrogged Colton Horne-Grundtner.
Colton was an author and the former editor of two now-defunct but once “influential” literary journals. He was an interesting man. An American academic who’d travelled much in his youth. He’d lived in Europe and Japan. His poetry, for that was his specialty, was colourful, sometimes coarse and vulgar, but always passionate and sincere. He’d written dozens of books, probably rubbed shoulders with the best of the beat generation. His prolific nature, the sheer volume of his work, would forever remain a legacy. And that tome on Neolithic cave paintings had been a stroke of pure genius. But maybe it was time to pass the torch.
No one read poetry nowadays; it had become much less relevant in the modern world. Then again, people didn’t read short stories, either: it was all about the novel. A poem is like an afternoon seminar, a short story like a two-week course. The novel is the full university degree; it’s all that matters anymore, the test of perseverance and consistency, the measure of who had what it takes to slog through the long haul.
Any idiot with a mug of beer and a thesaurus can write a poem. Hell, it doesn’t even have to rhyme, and usually doesn’t make sense. If you can’t link the disparate nouns and hyper-extended verbs, well then you’re probably just not getting it; it has nothing to do with the author’s attention deficit disorder. And this fad haiku — that was the ultimate parody of poetry itself. Mesmerizing hubcaps spinning nowhere.
Fifteen books of poetry, forty-five years of scholarly endeavour, soon to be wiped away in the blink of a Google eye. It would be a big kick in the ass for Colton Horne-Grundtner at the end of his long and distinguished career, to be ultimately relegated to the back web pages of history, behind “Maxwell Horne-Grundtner Print and Stationery Shop.”
The prospect didn’t seem to bother Maxwell much, though; he quite relished the feeling that came with knowing he’d soon be number one. He had a few tricks up his sleeve. There was a little more manoeuvring that he could do to complete the needed improvement on his search engine ranking. But more than this, Maxwell had been struck by a daring notion: the thought that he might simply be able to eclipse Colton Horne-Grundtner on his own terms; the strength of the written word. Maxwell penned a short poem which he posted on his website to foreshadow his impending ascendancy, in a style he presumed Colton would have appreciated: