"Devil’s gonna get me for telling stories."
"I’ll always tell myself that maybe when that tree was young, maybe somebody stepped on it."
"Total… power. There we go. Very gentle, though. Sometimes it’s nice to go back and pick up some of that darkness."
"This is my crow. We call him Midnight. Ain’t he a mean son of gun? He lives in my backyard right now."
"You can put as many layers of clouds in your world as you want."
"It bothers me that someone would shoot him for the heck of it. I’m opposed to shooting things for no reason."
"This is a test, to see how gentle you are."
When #thermonuclearwar became the trending topic on Twitter, I probably shoulda realized something was up, but my office in San Carlos doesn't have windows. Then I stepped out to grab one of those new Cheeseburger Taquitos they've been doing down at the 7-11 and holy fuck. Big mushroom cloud to the south -- San Jose, maybe? -- and the wind tastes like you’re licking a nine-volt battery. At home with the roommates, smoking weed and watching the television. Nearly every major city is toast. Never been so glad to live in a second-tier city. This seems serious.
Power has been off for three days now, water for two days. Nobody knows what's happening. National Guard is on every corner like in that one Bruce Willis movie. Think now might be a good time to find those hiking books and backpack I put in the storage closet. And erase all the porn. You never know, hate to be the guy that future historians use to reconstruct our society and they think we're all perverts. I mean, we were, but.
Okay staying in the city was a bad idea. After ten days of fighting with the roommates over who gets to drink the toilet water and listening to people burn down the city around us, things were getting pretty not fun. Then someone released some sort of bioweapon over the East Bay, a virus that's making everybody's eyeballs turn into jelly. Perfect. Roommates have all fled. Guess who gets all the toilet water now?
City is just eerie quiet for most of the day. The National Guard decamped last night, entire city looks like a Ross Dress for Less store now – shit just thrown everywhere. Armed myself with a steak knife and went out foraging, but anything worth stealing has already been stolen by people braver than me. The cornerstore at 17th that always looked closed but was actually only open for three hours a week was untouched, thankfully. Of course, it hadn't been restocked in about a decade, so now I'm chowing down on Apple Jacks and Diet RC Cola from the Clinton administration. Spent a few hours trying to trap a pigeon with a box and some bait, but turns out even pigeons don't like Apple Jacks.
Guess someone saw me during a late night foraging run, home invasion by several fellows much meaner than me followed shortly after. Managed to tumble out the back window, but lost everything except my boots. Oh well. Huddled on a rooftop a few buildings over, playing the game where I try to count how many burning buildings I can see. Having fun is like any muscle -- you have to exercise it.
Having barely escaped the city, now in making my way down the south peninsula. People are eating people there, which I know, I know, it's easier to judge than to understand, but: yikes. On a bicycle, which helps me cover ground quicker. Unfortunately all I could find in the ruins of the Mission was a fixed gear, so I'm walking it up every fucking hill in sight.
Sleeping in abandoned houses during the day, moving further inland at night. On the plus side, almost no food and near constant physical exertion means that I've dropped four pant sizes. On the downside, I've also lost four teeth. Like anything, there's pros and cons.
Found a house on the outskirts of Modesto and holed up there for a month or so of relatively peaceful living. Was too good to last -- Am now being hunted through the ruins of Modesto by feral redneck children who've forgotten -- or maybe never knew -- the difference between right and wrong. They've been chasing me from building to building, chucking rocks at my head that seriously hurt. But what hurts the most is the words they use. "We're gonna wear that faggot haircut of yours like a hat" one of them screamed last night. Just hurtful.
These kids, man. These fucking kids.
Looks like my luck has finally changed. A long, desperate run out of Modesto, with the kids tracking me like hungry wolves. No direction, just flight, a few more steps, a few more seconds of being alive. Then, suddenly, a huge wall with a gate, beyond it a house. A whole series of houses. Out comes a bald guy with some tattoos that just a few months ago I would have called pretty offensive, with a rifle the size of a compact car. A few shots later and the kids are scattering. Jeff, his name is Jeff, and the other fellows have given me a small room in the compound. If you had told me four months ago I'd be overjoyed to be sleeping with a bunch of armed rednecks that I'm like ninety percent sure are soaring on meth, I would have laughed and laughed. Life, it comes at you strange sometimes, you know?
Hot shower, hot food, clean clothes for the first time in I don't know how long. All the clothes are in various shade of camo, but beggars, choosers, you know. There's eight guys in total here, and it seems they've been preparing for something like this for a long time. Jeff, the leader, sat me down and tried to figure out what I could do here. I can't shoot a gun, don't know how to farm, know jackshit about carpentry. I tried to explain about writing keyword rich SEO-optimized headlines for new media outlets, but that didn't seem to take. Finally I told him I washed dishes for a summer in college, so now I'm the cook. It's okay. Jeff keeps touching my hair a lot.
Things are going along pretty well. Those kids that chased me up here, forty or fifty of them are gathering outside the walls every night, but we keep watches. I'm learning how to shoot a gun. Jeff says it's tough for me because I've got delicate wrists, but we're keeping at it. Tonight after I made everyone dinner, Jeff announced there was gonna be a wedding tomorrow now that the bride is here. Guess she's staying over in another part of the compound?
Something terrible has happened.
So, yes, jokes on me. I was the bride. Jeff is definitely not interested in returning to our earlier, platonic relationship. When I tried to do the "I like you as a friend" thing, he didn't take it very well at all. Now chained up in the root cellar.
Who has two thumbs and is tired of getting raped? This guy. I think I can get this chain loose from the wall. Took a long time to wiggle it loose, stayed focused by thinking about my new goal: smoking weed out of Jeff’s skull.
And here's how everything can change. Snuck out of the root cellar last night. Luckily it was Delmont on watch tonight, not the brightest of the bunch. Added choking semi-retarded rednecks to death with a chain as a bullet point on the old resume. Not sure if it would go underneath "Accomplishments" or "Special Skills."
The kids from Modesto were still out there, waiting at the walls. The oldest one -- the one who said all those mean things about my haircut -- was willing to talk. I unlatched the gate, and the kids are in there now. Sounds terrible, just terrible. The noises, oh my.
I'm up on a hill looking down. The kids are smudges of shadow in between the buildings, lit up for brief moments by yellow blooms of gunfire. The night smells like cordite, and something sweeter, almost jasmine. I'm sitting there under the smoke and the stars and my eyes are wet and leaking and maybe I'm crying or maybe it’s just all the smoke from the compound, which is burning at a pretty good clip now. It's getting quiet. Those kids, they seem all right. Wonder if they need a cook.
This NY Times article is just flat out fantastic. If you at all enjoy people putting together words, check it out. It’s the best piece of food writing I’ve read in 2009 so far, maybe the best piece of writing period.
What Mark Dow does with language in the whole thing — dang, man. Dude can write. He stitches together a bunch of semi-unrelated vignettes with this throughline that is just untouchable.
And then kills it with some sentences that I can only stand by sadly and wish that I had written. (e.g. "We write things down, and hold on to them, for many different reasons. To stop time and keep the “edge of marveling” honed, or at least handy. To create pockets of order. To prove to ourselves that we exist. To be able to immerse ourselves in whatever matters to us but is gone.")
First couple of grafs:
Amy and I stood at the Xerox machine watching each other pay attention to our own palates and tongues. We kept the chocolate-covered caramel-topped cookie pieces in our mouths as long as we could without swallowing, and I hit the reduction-enlargement button over and over again. We started nodding and laughing. We were pretty sure we could taste what our student heard, or see what he meant.
Amy was an art teacher and a therapist, and I was an untrained classroom teacher at the so-called special school in Massachusetts, where our student “Steve” liked to play with the Xerox machine in the teacher’s library as a reward on days he’d behaved. He liked to press the reduction-enlargement button and listen to the sound of the lens aperture closing and opening. He would do this over and over again. It was 1988 or so; the mechanism was easily audible. When I asked him what he liked about the Xerox sound, he said, I guess it’s a kind of a creamy, crunchy sound, like the inside of a Twix Bar.
He said this with deliberation because he wanted to get it right, but without self-consciousness about the words he was using. He was just answering another question from the adults.
First thing in the morning, Steve would usually say something like: “Last night I had cheese ravioli with marinara sauce plus a Pepsi. You do know that I really do love cheese ravioli and Pepsi, right?”
The next day he might say: “Last night I had chili with rice plus a Mountain Dew to drink. Mountain Dew really is my favorite thing to drink, you know.”
The next day he would tell me again that he loved Pepsi or Mountain Dew.
He would tell me again the next day.
Then the next day he would tell me again.
Often, of course, I’d get impatient, especially with a half-dozen other students careening around the room, and Steve had very advanced radar for impatience. When I told him I already knew how much he loved Mountain Dew, he seemed confused. I told him he’d told me already. He stared as if betrayed. He stiffened along the length of his newly pubescent body, and his hands and chin started to tremble. Then he was pleading.
“But you know that I really do love it. You really do know that, right?”
“Yes,” I said, backing off, and he breathed.
“So you do know that I really do love Mountain Dew, right?”
“Yes,” I said, and he told me again the next day. He always remembered having told me before, but it made no sense to him that it made no sense to me to hear it again and again.
Steve knew about boredom — he complained about it sometimes — but this repetition wasn’t boring to him, and he didn’t see why it would be boring to someone else. If it’s pleasant to eat one’s favorite foods over and over again, and to imagine eating them, why shouldn’t it be pleasant to say so repeatedly, too? Why do we draw the line where we do? I never came close to an answer until recently, about 20 years later, in a small book my brother Leon gave me, Franz Rosenzweig’s “Understanding the Sick and the Healthy: A View of World, Man, and God.” The sickness in question is paralysis, what we would today probably call clinical depression. It is the patient’s metaphysical prowess that paralyzes him. It has replaced the common sense that once allowed him to accept ordinary things. He can no longer go to the store for butter because, after all, “the butter remembered, the butter desired, and the butter finally bought, are not the same. They may even be quite different.” And yet he is able to make the purchase — or would be able to, if he would just move on.
Rosenzweig writes: “The continuity of life blunts the edge of marveling. Wonder is finally enveloped in the stream of time.”
Think I want to start collecting the original oil paintings for late 80s teen and children’s books:
"Look George, she’d been drinking all day. The only person we can hurt here is ourselves. Let’s just go!" – Nancy Drew and the Case of Just Forgetting About It
Nancy Drew and the Case of the Monobrow Raper
"All right, which one of you fags broke our lamp?"
"Look, two things to know about me before you fall in love. One, I drink club soda and only club soda and only out of a wine glass. Two, my vulva is three times the size of yours, so don’t even try to compete."
"Oh God, is that fucking horse still behind us?"
"Shh, be quiet and stay still, maybe it won’t notice us."