When I was a kid we used to go to Washington during the summer. My Dad’s college buddy, Lance lived up there near Puget Sound. We’d stay with him and his family for two or three weeks at a crack. They had a house by the edge of the forest, which I loved. I could walk right off their terrace and disappear into the trees. There I could light up and be alone with my smoke. While this kind of privacy was nice, it was a breeding ground for weirdoes. One such weirdo was Lance’s next door neighbor. I can remember seeing the guy a few times from my smoke post. The most memorable occasion was when I was seventeen.
I was sitting on a stump puffing a cigarette. I saw the guy come out the back of his house carrying a lopsided tower of shit. There were water bottles, canned foods, flashlights, First Aid kits, etc. He took it all down to what I assumed was his basement. When he came back up I caught a hard look at him. His hair was an exploded carrot and his glasses were crooked on his nose. He was breathing heavily and sweating up his wife-beater. I snubbed my cigarette on a mushroom cap and made for the house. Lance was out on the terrace watering his tomatoes. I walked up to him and smirked.
“What the hell is your next door neighbor’s deal?” I asked.
Lance smiled with half his face.
“Who, Gus? Don’t mind him, he’s a fucking idiot.”
“Haha, why’s that?”
“Oh he buys all that Y2K crap, so he’s getting himself ready for the end of the world.”
I vaguely recalled hearing something on the news about the possibility of a global digital meltdown the coming New Year’s Day. I knew it had something to do with computers only being able to store two decimal digits and suddenly flipping back to 1900. I voiced this to Lance and he laughed.
“God, that’s garbage. I can’t wait till January first comes. I’m gonna march right over to Gus’s bomb shelter and tell him what a gigantic moron he is.”
Lance and I cracked up. Gus stumbled out his back door with another pile of supplies. New Year’s Day came and went. I barely remember the fireworks.
The years rolled by. Though there was no apocalypse, a lot of bad things happened. Airliners slammed into New York’s Twin Towers and reduced them rubble. America went to war in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The economy tanked around the world. BP dumped five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes, cyclones and earthquakes caused mass destruction in Southern Asia and the US. And in Fukushima, Japan a 130-foot tsunami engulfed a nuclear power plant and triggered the release of countless amounts of radiation into the Pacific Ocean.
All of the above is merely a fraction of the horror that transpired. Despite this, I was able to maintain an aloof attitude towards it. Sure a few things shocked me here and there. But with enough booze, bimbos and bullshit, I could easily cloud my mind into grey indifference.
After blasting all over the planet like this, I settled in Prague. It was the ideal spot for me because the alcohol is cheap, the girls are pretty, the teaching is here, and the winters are long. This last one was especially important to me. I’m a huge lover of sunshine so I knew that if I moved somewhere like Thailand or Brazil, I’d never get any writing done. My main goals when I came here were to edit my first book and bang out my second. Three winters in and I was well on my way.
At the start of my fourth, I blew the sun a kiss and got down to the heavy writing again. I drilled out chapter after chapter after chapter. I took a little break to see my family in Cali at Christmas. Come January, 1st (2014), I was back at it here in Prague. Things flowed smoothly down the same vein. I began rewarding myself with ripped weekends on the town. These weekends became more frequent. Soon the liquor was spilling into my weekdays. I woke up one morning in March with the sun blazing through my curtains. My windows were actually hot to the touch. The previous Marches had been snowy and freezing. I realized the passing winter had been more of a spring. This explained my binge drinking. It also explained my stumbling productivity.
I made a focused effort to get back on track. Within three weeks, I had my writing up to speed. Instead of drinking, I rewarded myself by diddling on Facebook. On one such occasion, I came across an alarming post. The title read “New U.N. Report: Climate Change Risks Destabilizing Human Society.” I remembered that hot “winter” morning and clicked. The article’s contents were terrifying. They said, quote:
“For the first time, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has scientifically linked the changing climate with the destabilization of nation states. It is also increasingly confident of serious effects on food crops, water supplies, and human health, plus global species loss … Unless we change our path, the simple answer is: Climate change could put our future into question.”
Something snapped on inside my head. I could feel the fog peeling apart like a steamed onion. I wondered if this information would affect others the same way. I posted it on Facebook and waited. Over the course of an hour it garnered a few likes. Someone’s cross-eyed selfie below boasted 40 comments. My fingers curled in anger.
“What the fuck is wrong with these people?!” I yelled.
I thought of myself not three weeks prior. The answer was clear. My peeps needed more exposure. I did too.
That week, I tried to get on it. I did a bit of research but was sidetracked by my writing. I had my poetry reading at Alchemy the following Monday to prepare for. I also had a ton of work to do on my book. All this lasted through the weekend. That Sunday night, however, I was left with a few free hours. I used them to watch documentaries on YouTube. I’d recently gotten into the TV-series Vice, which does awesome docs on some of today’s craziest political and cultural topics.
I punched through a few of them. They were good and I wanted more. I scrolled down further to see what I could find. I came across an interesting one entitled “Apocalypse, Man.” The cover-pic was of an old guy bearing his teeth. He had sweaty hair and wild eyes. His face was red as a cherry. It dinged me sidelong like a stray rock.
“Good Christ, he looks like Gus,” I muttered.
I saw that the documentary had six parts. I decided to watch it the next day after my reading. I closed my computer and hit the sack. Sleep took me with strange fingers.
The next day I was tired. I hadn’t slept well due to a general feeling of anxiety. I made it though my classes and came home for a nap. It was a fruitless exercise, so I went over my poems. At 7:00 pm I hit the road. I made it to Alchemy in time for the open-mic sign up. Everyone there was excited about the readings. My mind was still glued to “Apocalypse, Man.” I sat through poem after poem after poem. I read mine, slammed a beer and came home. My computer was there waiting for me like a silent maw. I clicked its teeth and its throat lit up. The documentary started rolling. It opened with the toll of a bell and these words:
“How would you know if you were the last man on earth?” he said.
“I don’t guess you would know it. You’d just be it.”
A smoking mountain came into focus. An unseen man began narrating. His voice was raspy and urgent. As scenes of global mayhem crawled across the screen, he warned us.
“The planet is being destroyed all around us,” he said. “Using money to try to address that problem is shooting yourself in the foot. Evolve or perish, grow up or die. An entirely new level of human consciousness is needed right now … or we’re all dead.”
An explosion rocked a nuclear power plant. My eyes, ears and mouth blew open. My heart sucked in and out like a balloon. I was flush with needles but I was listening. The man continued speaking. He said we fought our hardest at the moment of death. He said he was ready to die. Then the camera showed his face. It was red and haggard. Tears jittered around his pollywog eyes. He clenched his jaw and breathed in deeply. When he exhaled, he said:
“The Scout’s knife is sharp on both edges. It cuts in both directions.”
The words “Apocalypse, Man” faded in to nails-across-the-blackboard guitar. From the confines of a teepee, the man in question (Michael C. Rupert) told his story. He mentioned his well-known documentary “Collapse.” He told of his books “Crossing the Rubicon” and “Confronting Collapse.” He spoke of his career as an LAPD narcotics detective. He said he’d begun questioning the validity of that career because he’d caught the CIA bringing drugs into the country in the late 70’s. He explained that some twenty years later, he confronted the then director of the CIA, John Deutch on national television about CIA drug distribution.
“That confrontation and John Deutch’s poor handling of it cost him his job …” he said.
After being thrown on to the world stage by this incident, Michael started a newsletter called “From the Wilderness.” With it, he and his team attempted to blow the lid off a great many government cover-ups. In the process, however, they were accused by some as being conspiracy theorists. The stress of this, compounded by the deteriorating world situation via wars, peak oil, tar sands, and fracking, pushed Michael to wash his hands of everything and move into isolation. He chose the valley outside Creston, Colorado as it’s the home of his friend (and former band-mate) Doug Lewis. Michael’s plan was simple:
“I came here to die or commit suicide,” he said.
Upon arrival, he met Lakota medicine man, Christopher Long. He doesn’t say this, but I suspect Christopher’s spiritual teachings had a lot to do with why Michael decided to shirk death and keep going.
In parts 2-6 the documentary fettered in many directions. The meat of it, however, was delivered right there in that teepee. Mike broke it down for us in a matter of minutes.
“Where I am,” he said. “With the prioritized threats facing humanity … there are only two. One is climate collapse. The collapse of the jet stream, global warming, in which we know of an absolute scientific certainty that we have baked a 4 degree centigrade rise above baseline, baseline being the start of human industrial civilization … The second threat, which is more imminent, is Fukushima.”
According to Mike, the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant at Fukushima is the more imminent threat because of its not-yet-collapsed fourth tower. He claimed that this now-crumbling tower “contains the radiation equivalent of 15,000 Hiroshima bombs.” All of the measures to secure it have thus far failed. If it collapses, he said, it will be a “human extinction event.”
Hearing this information put my jaw in my lap. I was up till 4:00 a.m. staring at the ceiling.
The next day I was in a panic. I did everything I could to effectuate change. At the supermarket, I bought organic vegetables and chicken. At home, I separated all my plastics down to the soda cap. I then went on Facebook and posted “Apocalypse, Man.” My headline read:
“I have no snooty hook. Just please, please watch this.”
My post got a whopping ONE like. I slammed my fist down and screamed. For the next five hours I did research on Fukushima. Though I didn’t find much on the infamous “tower four,” what I did find concerning the other three destroyed towers was pretty scary. According to “Greenpeace:”
“Many people have been exposed to significantly elevated levels of radiation. Thousands of square kilometres have been contaminated and will be for many decades to come by radioactive fallout from the accident.”
Despite this, they claimed that “it’s not the apocalypse.” I was confused and wondering if this wasn’t a cover-up. I did what I always do in times of great stress. I emailed my Dad, the big chemist. I sent him all the shit that was frightening me. I told him to call me after he’d gone through it. That evening, I got his call. I was chewing my nails off when I answered the phone. He asked me how I was doing.
“I’M FUCKING FLIPPING OUT!” I said.
He told me to “cool down.” I took a few deep breaths and did. We started talking about the information I’d sent him. The first thing to come up was “Apocalypse, Man.”
“So what the hell do you make of this guy, Mike?” I asked. “Is he crazy right or just crazy?”
My Dad cleared his throat.
“Well, he’s a whistleblower. This means he’s out there lookin’ for stuff.”
“Yeah? Well, what if he’s right? What if climate change and Fukushima do end the world?”
“I don’t know about Fukushima ending the world, but he might be right on climate change. Any idiot can see that global weather patterns are all screwy. Christ, your uncle Jim out in Chicago was just telling me what kinda winter they’re havin’. He’s still freezing his balls off.”
“God, that’s scary. We just had the warmest winter on record here.”
“I know, I was reading about it.”
“Well, what if it keeps getting worse? That Michael guy was saying that if Fukushima didn’t take us out, climate change for sure would by 2030.”
There was a pause. I heard my father scratch his beard.
“Something like this might happen,” he said. “But I suspect we’ll be OK.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if you look at history, when the shit hits the fan, it’s usually the very poor who are affected most.”
I felt a wave of relief. This was followed by a greater wave of guilt.
“Are you saying they’re a buffer for us?”
“Not in so many words.”
“Well, then who are we a buffer for? The rich? And them, the super rich? What kind of fucked up system is this?!”
My Dad told me to “cool down” again. I refused.
“You know, maybe Mike was right. I mean, during one of his rants he said the fix for this isn’t about more technology but more spirituality. The native populations of the world have always created a balance with their environments. And all we do is fuck everything up!”
“Do you really wanna go back to living like an Indian?”
“I don’t know. But there’s gotta be some fuckin’ thing we can do besides just fracking and jacking off.”
I ended the conversation with my father. My face was red and my scalp was sweating. I lied in bed and tried to meditate the anger away. It clung to my heart with black talons. A slow, sinking feeling overcame me. I was being pulled through the middle of the bed. I clawed at my sheets and kicked at the air. A voice in my ears kept saying:
“Useless … Useless … Useless …”
I fell through space. My back cracked the sky and I landed on a green hill. There were many green hills around. Their grass dissolved into a grey sea. I stood up and brushed my knees off. I saw others doing the same. We all looked at each other. Then the earth started rumbling. I tried to catch my balance. My foot slipped and I went tumbling downwards. Others tumbled with me. As they approached the sea, they were covered by earth and crushed like wet grapes. Their screams hissed from their splitting skin. I felt my brain wrinkles swell. I threw my eyes backwards. An enormous boulder was crashing down at me. I tore my mouth open and screamed. The boulder slammed into me and I awoke.
The next day I was a wreck. I staggered through my classes like a man made of glass. Every wind-rustle threatened my composure. It was a miracle I made it home in one piece. I ate a bland lunch and stared at my computer screen. It stared back at me like an endless corridor. I searched it for something I could use. I watched more documentaries and did more research. The horizon went from grey to black. I saw proof that we’re turning our ocean waters into plastic. I saw killing after killing after killing in Mexico, Pakistan, Syria, and the Ukraine. I contemplated my abilities against all this.
“I’m not a scientist,” I sighed. “Nor, a politician.”
This got me thinking about “Apocalypse, Man.” I remembered what Michael had said in the beginning about the “Scout’s knife” being sharp on both edges. I decided to watch the documentary again. I came across a part of it I’d overlooked. In it, Mike was sitting in his teepee. He was smiling painfully and explaining what he’d meant.
“I’m a scout for all ‘two-leggeds,’” he said. “‘Two-leggeds’ being a native reference for all human beings.”
He said he was one of the first. He said he’d been unaware of this until he’d met his Indian teacher. He grabbed at his belt.
“That’s why the scout’s knife is sharp on both edges,” he said, whipping it out. “It cuts your life to go out into the world of the enemy and see what they are … [But] ya gotta bring back a good scouting report. Ya gotta do it with honor … once you get to the belly of the beast you have to make your way back to the light, to balance.”
He explained how at the start he’d walked alone.
“[But] I realize [now] that I’m not alone,” he said. “I see other really exceptional people rising up and innovating and kicking ass and leading … leading.”
Hs last word drilled into my ears. I looked at my hands and saw hope. My fingers came to life and wove this story. I pass the knife to you …
While writing this piece, I discovered that Mike had committed suicide soon after I’d first watched his documentary. He was found in his home with a “single self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”
Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.