Went to bed really really early, so of course it’s now 2:35 in the morning, when a middle aged woman is subject to many whims and fancies, not the least of which is an inclination to invite the Monumental Angst – which has been mooning around the yard – in for a steaming cup of something with no caffeine in it.
Hey Monumental Angst, how’s by you?
Thanks for having me over, I’ve been wanting a minute of your time.
I think, a Jersey accent, what a surprise, and say aloud, You don’t look so good, kinda pale and blobby and you remind me of something out of my childhood. Remember Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream? You’re kinda like that, except you have a mouth. And you kinda remind me of Tove Janssen’s the Groke…. she left a trail of frozenness wherever she went, and she didn’t talk much either, just stared at you. I always hated the Groke, never got the point of her. And you kinda remind me of NoFace from Spirited Away, not able to talk, but desperately needing love and rehab.
Monny just stares, with those wide scary eyes. But the body language isn’t threatening.
I’m going to put the water on for tea while I think of a polite way to ask Monny to stand on something easier to clean than the living room carpet.
See, that’s the first thing with charitable instincts, you immediately regret that you did anything, because it makes a mess in your tidy life. And my heart is pounding. Hasn’t done that in a while. Breathe and blink….
I can hear something out in the street and go to the blinds. Zow. There’s a guy behind a camera, with a crew, outside my house. I can hear an argument. When you notice the guy behind the camera, you see that he’s tired of the tight tight focus on the kitchen sink and the marriage bed and the tyranny of the middle class domesticity and wants to pull way way way back, maybe to a place halfway between the earth and the moon, where perspective is not just a fine distinction between being Chinese or Canadian, male or female, young or old. It’s one planet, and we all share its fate. And in the meantime, the sumbitch is hurting the little birch tree I planted last year, in the teeth of my husband’s objections… Haven’t we had ENOUGH problems with tree roots? he says to me.
While we’re waiting for the kettle to boil, Monny addresses me. I’ve been expecting it, but it stings nonetheless.
You and your f*cking schadenfreude, Monny says. I shrug.
You think the end of the world is romantic, or fascinating. You think it’s edutainment. But what are you DOING about it?
I’m reducing my consumption, I respond, and add, Mint, Bengal Spice or Rooibos? Monny looks at me and shakes his head.
Pointedly, he responds, And what kind of tea will be available after you-know-what?
I call it the Correction, I say, and in this part of the world there will be mint tea. Caffeinated beverages will be very expensive trade goods.
And what are you doing about that?
Nothing, I say. Because I’ll tell you something I’ve learned about human life. Every day is Christmas. Every day is the Day of the Dead. Every day is Hiroshima Day. Every day is my birthday. Periodic mass extinctions are a fact of life on this planet. Just because we’re triggering one of those periodic mass extinctions, as a species, doesn’t make it a bad thing. It’s something I don’t want, don’t want to live through, hate the idea of, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Okay, it’s a bad thing, but I’m trying to have some perspective. If I reduced my consumption to nothing, a nouveau riche butthead somewhere else would eat what I spared in a heartbeat and still not be satisfied; only a Correction will bring the humility that’s required to get us out of this mess. My only regret, and it’s a lingering one, is that my selfishness and my biological programming ganged up on me long enough to drag two children into this world. I knew better, even then, but I allowed fuzzy thinking to overcome certainty. So I am, like many other parents, trying to give my children a golden childhood, so that they will at least have experienced some happiness before the dislocations and woundings that will pursue humanity out of the 20th century and into this, the last brief moment before we descend into barbarism yet again… You think I’m thrilled that my hopes for feminism are dead, not because women are less than men, but because access to birth control, globally, is about to grind to a halt? You think I’m thrilled that millions of people will be moving, all the time, and bringing their guns and diseases and bizarre ideologies with them? You think I don’t know that for every calorie of food I eat, 9 calories of unreplaceable, non renewable energy has been burned, to truck it to me, to fertilize it, to put pesticides on it, to till it?
So grow your own food. Think what they are doing in Havana. They are growing food, organically, in the center of the city.
Thanks, Fidel, I say, tilting my head to one side; I heard that story. And they are growing food organically because they have no choice; but they are still devoting a big chunk of their agricultural land to growing a toxic and addictive plant. I’m sure going to grow a lot of food on *this* yard. And then I have to save seed, which will keep its hybridization for – if I’m lucky – a couple of generations before it reverts back to whatever the hell it was bred from. Or maybe it’s a variety that hardly makes any seed. You know, I’ve actually thought of growing tobacco… but Paul tells me not too. Partly because he only just managed to quit again, and partly because he actually worked tobacco when he was 12, suckering. He says tobacco is the meanest plant in the world. It’s labor intensive as hell, and for what? So you can breathe poisonous smoke? It’s still tempting. No, if I grow anything on this property, it will be something small, trade goods, something that can winter over. Maybe something that kills fungus or bacteria. It’s not like we have many more years of antibiotics left.
Not the mass manufactured kind, Monny agrees. We slurp our tea and look at each other for a while. So how many years do we have left? Monny shrugs, which causes a hideous rippling to go through his (its?) grey form. It depends; of course it depends! It depends, in part, on the extent to which the global powers can maintain control over their military forces. If things shake out the Global Pandemic way, then certain countries will be in better shape than others to maintain something resembling organized culture; much will depend on the time of year, because if the Pandemic comes through during the harvest season in the Northern Hemisphere, we may live to wish we’d died of disease rather than face the prospect of starvation. If things shake out the Global Thermonuclear War way, subsequent to a showdown over oil, then twenty years, tops. You have to maintain those suckers to keep them flyable though… maybe some will be duds. Christ help you if things go bad when you have a nuclear submarine off shore. The guys on board will have nothing to lose holding your town hostage.
You need oil to get and keep troops on the ground, and in the days that are coming, troops will be withdrawn from wherever they are to police back home; if they can’t get home, they’ll form free companies like in the late middle ages or early renaissance and raise hell in whatever country they were abandoned in. If things shake out the Currency Collapse way, barter economies will actually hold up reasonably well; those people have never been anything but poor and agrarian, so they won’t miss much. If things shake out the Local Thugs Grab Power to Fight Disorder way, then you have a thousand civil wars, everywhere, and no clear picture of what the hell is going on, because the global communication network that is now bringing us remakes of Tron, God help us, will now be reduced to a bunch of ham radio operators, who may or may not be free to communicate, and may or may not have a political agenda. Mind you, I can’t help but relish the prospect of television stations all being blown up. Should have happened years ago….
Let’s look on the bright side, Monny says, after a minute. Even Angst has his moments. Sure, I say. Nanotechnology will save us. After a moment, we both burst into hysterical laughter, and then shush ourselves, so we don’t wake up the whole household. I did a shoe count when I got up; Katie’s friend Samantha is here, so we have to keep it down.
Or maybe we’ll all get religion, I say. Monny nods. But what kind of religion? The love thy neighbor kind is pretty thin on the ground these days.
I got up and got myself some ice water; that’s what my doc recommended the last time I had palpitations, and these are getting so bad that I’m having a hard time breathing. As I reach for the ice cubes I realize that Paul bought ice cream on the last shopping trip. I instantly feel much better, and then, of course, I feel guilty.
Monny sucks back the last of his tea and says, Thanks! Anyway, one of your neighbors is lying awake worrying about whether she has cancer. I’ve got at least two more calls to make before dawn.
Feeling like an idiot, I say, so you’ll be dropping by again?
Count on it, he says, and lets himself out the kitchen door. Zeek! comes back in, growling under his breath, his tail like a bottle brush. It’s four o’clock in the morning…. time to go back to bed. All the drips Monny left on the carpet are gone. So is the film crew. I rub my eyes, and wish my hallucinations weren’t quite so vivid. The pic is of the Groke… not exactly what Monny looked like, but you get the general idea.