In 1999 I was 13/m/Baltimore, soon to receive the sacrament of confirmation. The seminarian said I’d make a good priest: the Holy Spirit was strong in me.
It didn’t seem that way. I’d purchased The Slim Shady LP—Wal*Mart’s clean version—just so I could talk lyrics with Stacey R. at Bye Bye Birdie rehearsal. I made a regular thing of jerking off to my sister’s dELiA*s catalogs in the powder room. On NYE Y2K, I pretended I’d gotten wasted on Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider.
My spiritual dilemma disappeared on AOL, where I was 18/m/Cali and so glutted with self-assurance that I chose the screenname CoolPiep. CoolPiep was an admin at http://www.insidetheweb.com/mbs.cgi/mb404271, a thriving Pokémon message board. He told users when they’d leveled up; he was, to them, a plausible authority. His site opened with a familiar message: “Click HERE if you are stuck in someone else’s frames.”
On early websites, frames split your browser window into segments, adjacent but independent. Intended to aid navigation, they often stalled it: the back button ceased to go back, hyperlinks led in circles, new pages loaded with elements of the old alongside. Such was the liminal condition of CoolPiep and of every thirteen-year-old I knew: stuck in someone else’s frames.