Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me…

Living in this abandoned vacation village in western Sardinia was exotic for about 12 minutes.  When I figured out that I couldn’t even buy bread out here and that it wasn’t going to be warm enough for topless sunbathing all winter, the novelty wore off rather quickly. 

OK, the village is not completely abandoned.  There are a handful of tenacious year-round residents keeping me company.  There’s also a small group of sorry people that actually commute out here from the city each day to run the three or four cafes serving the city folk that come out on the weekends to stroll by the sea, linger over coffee and smugly revel in the thought that they can jump into their cars and race back to civilization the instant they get bored.

However, at night, it’s really just me and a dozen or so other people, scattered over the length of the village, hiding out in our homes and cultivating weird eccentricities.

Though we’re only 10 kilometers (about five miles) from the city, there’s a strange, but undeniable sensation of being cut off from society out here.  A number of factors reinforce these feelings:  For one, the bus to and from the city runs less than once an hour and stops all service at 9PM.  Missing this bus is like missing a plane; you’ve got a interminable wait until the next departure or worse, you become stranded somewhere overnight.  And before you ask, no, there are no taxis.

Moreover, my one and only connection with the greater outside world, the internet, is dismal out here.  I have a gadget that I shove into a USB port that gives me internet service over cellular frequencies.  This should theoretically allow me to connect wherever I am, even on a ferry in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea.  Unfortunately, the broadcast towers out here in the village are seemingly still running off hardware lashed together during Mussolini’s time, delivering antiquated data transfer at speeds that would have irritated Thomas Edison.

To make matters worse, my house happens to be something of a bunker.  The weak cellular signal can’t penetrate the walls, so when I want to connect to the internet, I literally have to go stand out in the middle of the street, waving my laptop around like a divining rod, trying to find the elusive cellular sweet spot.  Sweet Jesus, I had faster, more reliable internet service in the jungle mountains of Malaysian Borneo!

But the defining indication of my remote existence is the absolute silence that descends here at night.  All you can hear is the sea, sloshing on the beach, the distant sounds of motorcycle geeks, cranking the throttle wide open for speed tests on the empty country roads and me and my neighbors quietly mumbling to ourselves.

This seclusion, along with the idiosyncrasies that bloom and gradually distill when you know that the nearest human is a half-deaf pensioner in a beach condo a quarter mile away, has given way to a variety of nutty activities.

As previously mentioned, a lot of talking to myself has been going on, but that’s nothing new.  I did that without shame while I was still at the Federal Reserve with two dozen increasingly unsettled people in earshot.

Furthermore, I was getting quite comfortable walking around the house wearing nothing but a pair of socks, with all the doors and windows wide open.  That habit came to an abrupt end on the day a family arrived unannounced to spend a weekend in the upstairs apartment, while I was engaged an undignified bathroom task, clearly visible from the terrace.

When a hard rain knocked out the satellite TV one night, I kept myself occupied by doing poorly considered things like testing the theory of whether a watched pot really won’t boil.  To my consternation, it did take about three times longer than usual for the water to boil and I’ve been too creeped out to repeated the exercise ever since.

However, the defining moment of my isolation occurred a couple days ago when I figured out that the comments area of this blog was busted, and had been for over two weeks! (By the way, I want to thank all you guys for giving me a heads up about that, right away, lickety-split and all – ya bunch of jackholes.)

The comments area apparently stopped working after I, with immense help from smarter people, fixed a couple minor nagging details that only an obsessive-compulsive webmaster would notice. In addition to furthering my lifetime record for breaking two things for every one thing I fix to 10,395 and 3 (see how the text in the right margin spontaneously became bigger?  Welcome to my world), this event caused me to seriously consider how many people were out there reading the hooey that I post here each week.

First there was the anxiety-fueled two week run when I got exactly zero comments, which by the second week had me convinced that I had somehow missed out on WWIII. Really, there could be no other explanation.  When I discovered that the comments area was jacked up, I was relieved for all of two seconds, briefly returning to the fantasy that I have untold dozens of avid readers visiting my blog each day, until I was forced to wonder why no one had bothered telling me the comments area was on the fritz.  This again forced me to consider the possibility that maybe no one told me, because no one was trying to leave a comment, because no one was reading, because I’d alienated everyone by incessantly talking about myself, claiming to be a literary genius (rightfully so), and bragging about my spectacular rear end.

I treated this vicious circle of self-doubt with a bottle fine Sardinian wine, followed by some finer grapa.  After waiting 24 hours for several million of my brain synapses to re-animate, I got right to the grueling task of begging someone to fix my comments area (Thanks Evan!).

To be fair, I can’t blame this last bit of neurosis on the creepy solitude I endure here in the village.  Much of the blame lays with my fancy new visitor statistics counter.  It seemed pretty awesome at first; I could pull reports and look up all kinds of juicy information about you guys like how many of you were visiting for the first time and how many were returning visitors.  When you visited and where in the world you were surfing from.  I could even generate a Google world map with little pin points, showing your country, state, city and time of last visit!  I could see what web site you came from, what search engine you used to find me and what key words you used at that search engine.  I could see what page you landed on, your navigation path through the blog and what page you left from.  Really the only information that wasn’t readily available though this counter were your names and how you take your coffee.

Quite frankly, I was having a ball studying my demographics until I found the ‘length of visit’ report, an evil tool that shattered my ego like a bag of frozen rigatoni (don’t ask – it transpired on the same night as the boiling water fiasco). According to the report, the majority of my visitors, anywhere from one third to three quarters on a given day, visit my blog for ‘five seconds or less‘.  Five seconds???  How could that be?  Even the most gifted speed reader couldn’t zap through one of my epic blog entries in five seconds!! 

I spent a minute contemplating this development.  I had another bottle of wine in my hand and the corkscrew at the ready, before the obvious hit me; those people visiting my blog for five seconds or less weren’t people at all.  They were web-bots. 

As I understand it, some of them are search engine spiders, some are link-bots, populating useless link sites and some are spam-bots trolling for email addresses to add to spam distribution lists.  Anyway, assuming I’m interpreting the information correctly, what I thought were very impressive visitor statistics are significantly smaller than I had previously believed.  Still, they’re admirable numbers, considering all I do is write about is myself, casually declare myself a literary genius and wax on about my butt.

Oh how I long for the days with my old, Byzantine stat counter that did only one thing; list the number of visitors.  Back then I could go to bed at night thinking that all those hits were real life people, spending hours on my blog, basking in the glory of my travel writing high jinks, chuckling at my attempts at wit and idly wondering if my booty really was as splendid as I claimed. 

But no, it seems that my largest reading audience are bits of software, whipping through my blog in a flash, hunting for specific word and character combinations, with the exquisite contours of my behind not even registering as an afterthought.

As you can see, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.  Moreover, with the value of the US dollar tanking, my Wine Therapy is starting to get discouragingly expensive.  Now, I don’t want to come off as sounding needy, because we all know artists abhor attention and praise, but I’d like to test the stoutness of my newly repaired comments area.  I’m asking that each and every one of you humans reading this to leave a comment.  Yes, even you, the one who just said “Naw, I’m not encouraging that pathetic cry for help”.  By the way, if you really did just say that out loud, you got nothin’ on me buddy.

You don’t have to write something clever, or advise me in what capacity I should be seeking mental help (I get enough of that from my agent); just your name, where you’re surfing from and the best song you’ve heard in the past week.  That last request is so I can get a bead on what musical progress has been made since I retreated to my Village of Solitude and I can buy myself the right CDs for Christmas.

And remember, if you don’t leave a comment, I know your IP address and I’ve got a legion of web-bot readers who’d love to get to know you better.

Thank you and come again!