Archives for category: end-times

SNOWPOCALYPSE

 

 

The world appeared it might be coming to an end last Friday when forecasts predicted a 6-8 inch snowfall for Durham, NC. I’d always heard about pre-storm panics and stores selling out of essentials, but I’d never personally experienced it until I went to the local hardware store that morning in need of a paint sample. The parking lot resembled Normandy Beach on D-Day. A line snaked out the door with people clutching numbers like life preservers. Though some customers planned to purchase sleds and saucers to enjoy the storm, most hoped to obtain portions of the store’s fast-dwindling supply of salt, sand and shovels. Not anxious to spend ninety minutes at the store, I retreated, paintless, to my new home, a townhouse half a mile away.

After lunch, I went to the public library to pick up a book. A sign on the door indicated the library had closed at noon “due to inclement weather.” Even the direst of forecasts did not call for precipitation before the evening!

 

*****

 

We moved from New Jersey to Chapel Hill in 2009. Having heard tales of an ice storm in 1999 that had shut off electricity for ten days we were putty in our realtor’s hands when she showed us a house with an optional generator for $7,000 and a large basement. “That’s a small price to pay for peace of mind,” she said. “And you can host the whole neighborhood in your basement when their lights go out.”

As an introvert, the latter possibility sounded awful, but the idea of having electricity during the famed Carolina ice storms made sense. We bought the house and the generator and smugly signed up for its $350 yearly service and maintenance contract. We settled in and waited for the opportunity to be “the smartest people in the neighborhood.” There was no ice during our first winter, or the second.

The years went by. No ice. We began to hope for an ice storm or even a tree to take down a power line, anything to help us realize value from our generator. Increasingly, we doubted there’d ever really been an ice storm that rendered local life as primitive as the Stone Age, or more appropriately, I suppose, the Ice Age.  After seven years, we moved to a new home in Durham just one month ago. It has neither a basement nor a generator. “I’m not making that mistake again,” I declared.

 

*****

 

The forecast downplayed the risk of ice damage because unusual cold foretold a dry, puffy sort of snow. Instead, the predicted sleet/snow line moved thirty miles farther north than expected, and we woke on Saturday to little snow but two inches of accumulated sleet. The temperature then plunged to the teens and the region shut down like a congressional committee on ethics reform. Nothing moved, not cars nor people nor trucks. And that includes snow removal trucks because North Carolina communities hardly have any, and what they have is focused solely on major highways.

Today is the sixth day after the storm! To the amazement of anyone who’s ever lived as far north as New Jersey, schools and libraries are STILL closed even though temperatures have been above forty for three days. The local news refers to “stubborn areas of ice that are under trees and pose a grave danger.” The icy mix is now a muddy mess. Our electricity has stayed on, however, a fact for which I’m mostly grateful. To the extent I’m a writer, however, I’d sort of hoped for a dose of delicious irony.

 

 

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ELECTION NIGHTMARE

A number of readers have expressed surprise the election has not figured prominently in my writing. The reason, I suppose, is the subject is like a slog through a swamp, and the prospect of voluntarily wallowing in the muck for several hours is not appealing. Nonetheless, since I find myself awake at 4 a.m. with despairing thoughts bouncing through my head like ping-pong balls (a much more enjoyable subject) this blog post is not actually voluntary. I hope it will prove cathartic.

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*****

In the words of Richard Nixon, let me be perfectly clear. I don’t “like” Hillary Clinton. It’s not that she’s ever done anything to me personally. And, of course, I’ve never shared a meal or a conversation with her. She might be “likable enough,” as Obama once conceded.

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The problem is her shell, though hardened as an understandable reaction to thirty or forty years of attacks, presents as a lawyerly dissembling that disturbs me. Something is off. Something is amiss. When the circus that defines the Clinton’s comes to town, I find it exhausting. Oh, how I’m going to miss “no-drama Obama.”

But what I feel towards her opponent is an emotion so far from the blandness of “not liking” as to be irreducible to words. After “detest” and “loathe” and “abhor” I’m not sure what else I can conjure.   The language needs something stronger to express the feeling of despair, of embarrassment, of shame that he engenders.

*****

I am not a low information voter. Unlike many Americans, not only do I know that each state has two senators, but also I know the names of ours in North Carolina. Faceless factotums (lackeys) they may be, but Burr and Tillis they are.

I’m not ignorant like some coal miners who believe the charlatan when he says he’ll bring the jobs back. Anyone capable of deductive reasoning and/or of resisting fraudulent come-ons knows it is plentiful and cheap natural gas, not “Obama’s war on coal” that has consigned their careers to the slagheap of history.

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I’m not ignorant like some assembly line workers who believe the charlatan when he says their industries will return. Clearly it is the inexorable march of technology, not governmental policy that is primarily responsible for the elimination of their positions.

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It’s not so much contempt as pity and sadness that I feel for those who can be so deluded, who can be manipulated to vote against their own interests. Sure, lowering corporate tax rates will help the working poor. Haha. Very funny.

I reserve my contempt for those who live behind country club gates yet perceive themselves to be under siege. I despise the ones who enjoy social security, Medicare benefits, mortgage-interest deductions, corporate and government pensions yet cheer and aspire to the avoidance of taxes. Even worse in my estimation are the forty-year-olds, the parents of young children, who have daughters, who profess to want “change” above all, and will vote for a pig, a misogynist, a groper.

*****

I’m among the segment of voters, said to be between two and six percent, who believe the environment is the most important issue. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, the earth is special, it’s unique and it’s all we have. Caring for it, preserving it, restoring it is vital.

America should be and could be leading the way in resolving this issue. Clean, inexpensive, sustainable power should be a win-win for society, even for all of mankind. Creating profits and jobs while improving the environment are not mutually exclusive concepts.

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Republicans breathe air. They drink water. Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air and the Clean Water Acts. How did this issue become partisan? For some reason, probably after significant focus-group polling of low information voters, the same group of propagandists who denied cigarettes are unhealthful has been busy mucking up the truth. Their candidate professes to believe climate change is a hoax. On this rare matter, I take him at his word. He wants to eliminate regulations; he will withdraw from the Paris Accords just entered into by 190 nations.

To those who choose to ignore the scientific consensus I can only ask: Do you ever look at a sunset? Do you listen to a bird sing? Do you appreciate the majesty of a large tree, other than as an obstacle on a golf course?

*****

If I did not care about the environment in particular, the issues of education, basic human decency, women’s choice, gay equality, efforts to promote gun safety… all of these would be sufficient to make me vote for Hillary Clinton. The alternative is too appalling. (Again, I’ve failed to find a word strong enough to express my disappointment if she loses).   And if she happens to be impeached for whatever sins she has committed, real or imagined I’m okay with that. No problem! What the country might truly enjoy, and what might help me sleep again, would be several years of Tim Kaine, whoever he is.


A WAITRESS’S WARNING

We hadn’t planned to eat lunch so late, nearly two o’clock. Our first choice, the Coco Bay (Costa Rica) beach club, had lost the electricity in its kitchen. We found our second choice, a sandwich shop, to be closed. Looking across the street at a café in the corner of a small shopping center, I said: “Let’s try Vida Loco. At least it looks open.”

With such a minor prerequisite – merely being open – we didn’t expect much. We sat at a wooden table and noticed we were the only customers. Even given the hour, that concerned us. The menu, too, seemed blah. A ceiling fan buzzed ineffectively and a stray dog lazed under an adjoining table.

“What are you going to have?” asked my wife, Katie.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I’d like to have something interesting but I don’t see much here.”

The server approached and told us, in a confiding tone: “The chef made lasagna today. It’s not on the menu. She had an inspiration.”

Since the temperature was 92 degrees and I usually think of lasagna as dinner, this didn’t immediately appeal. But the choices were otherwise “same-old, same-old.”   Why not try the lasagna? “Inspired” lasagna, no less.

In addition, the waitress seemed like someone whose recommendation you could trust. She wasn’t particularly young, perhaps in her mid-forties. And she wasn’t notably attractive, exactly, but she looked unusual.   She had jet-black hair, pulled back in a tight ponytail, medium brown skin and perfect white teeth. If you put a flower in her hair, she could have played Carmen. I don’t usually engage my server in idle conversation, but I thought she might shed an interesting light on Playa de Coco. Clearly, she wasn’t a local.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

I would have guessed Brazil or Argentina, but wasn’t surprised to learn, as we chatted for a moment, she was from the Canary Islands, a tiny, remote protectorate of Spain, located hundreds of miles off the North African coast. This made perfect sense, since she seemed European, but somehow exotic. She told us her name was Susanna.

“She’s unusual,” I said, after the server departed for the kitchen.

“Yes,” said Katie. “She’s not a typical local waitress, but she’s nice.”

*****

While we waited for our food, we didn’t think more of Susanna. Eventually, she emerged with massive portions of lasagna.

“Wow,” Katie and I said, together, amazed at the size.

Susanna placed them down before us, then said, in the same confiding tone in which she’d suggested the lasagna: “Beware that the world as we know it is coming to an end this fall.”

“It is?” I said, surprised, looking up from my plate.

“Yes, I read about it on the web. You should check it out,” she said.

“I should?” I said, trying to maintain a respectful tone.

“The collapse will spare no one,” she stated.

“Are we, um, talking financial or physical collapse?” I asked, widening my eyes to indicate my full attention, while actually wondering how I’d end the conversation and eat my lunch.

“Both,” Susanna said. “It’s clear.” She continued in this vein, telling us that the stars were aligned, the signs were clear, the heavens were moving, the spirits were gathering, etc. This went on for several minutes though it seemed much, much longer.

“Okay, then,” I finally interrupted. “I guess we should try to enjoy ourselves while we can.” I glanced down at my now-cooling lasagna.

I’d made a major mistake, I realized, engaging our waitress in conversation.   She’d clearly taken my interest as authorization to inform us of the coming calamity. Perhaps, having shown interest in her background placed us, in her mind, into a special, intimate circle of people who deserved a warning.

“You really must read about it,” she said with urgency. “Just type in ‘end of the world.’ Many very brilliant people have reached this conclusion. I’m certain it is going to happen.”

“I’ll check it out, really,” I said, trying to convey sincerity.

Just seconds before I would have had to say: “Um, I’d really like to eat the lasagna you recommended,” Susanna withdrew, finally.

“That was bizarre,” I whispered to Katie, once we were finally alone.

*****

To our relief, the lasagna turned out to be incredible. It tasted sublime, the cheese and pasta and beef combined in juices that melted deliciously in our mouths.

“Who would have thought great Italian food would be found in Central America?” asked Katie.

“It’s incredible,” I agreed, savoring a mouthful.

“But how do we avoid talking more with Susanna?” asked Katie.

“Good question,” I said. “I can’t take much more ‘bad news.’”

As soon as we finished, we left enough bills on the table to pay, and dodged Susanna on the way out. But for several days afterwards, we wondered how we could go back for another lasagna meal.

“We just have to take our chances,” I said. “Maybe Susanna will be off.”

“The food is worth the risk,” agreed Katie.

*****

Finally, we returned to Vida Loco for dinner with two other couples as reinforcements. We’d told them the whole story, which they’d found hilarious.

“Don’t engage the waitress in conversation,” we warned, “or you’ll be sorry.”

Sure enough, Susanna seated us. She thanked Katie and me for bringing the additional guests. We communicated to our friends with our eyes that she was “the one” and everyone waited in suspense to see if she would offer her grim predictions.

Though it was still not on the printed menu, Susanna said there was plenty of lasagna and most of us ordered it. Her serving was efficient and professional. The lasagna was excellent again. Our friends were pleased with their meals, but I felt both relief and disappointment; like I’d promised them the chance to see a train wreck and it hadn’t materialized.

After she brought out desert and coffee, and dinner appeared to be completed without anything out of the ordinary, Susanna said to Katie and me: “Wait here just a moment, please. I want to show you something.”

“Here we go,” whispered my friend, Rick.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“You’re going to get the real story,” said another friend, Greg, punching me playfully on the shoulder.

“Maybe it’s an asteroid,” suggested his wife, Kathy.

“Armageddon, for sure,” said Rick’s wife, Donna.

A moment later, Susanna emerged from the kitchen with two plastic packages.

“These are for you,” she said. “First is a CD of some wonderful local musicians. It’s music I think you will really enjoy. And this,” she said, handing me the second plastic package, “is a DVD showing the history of the National Parks in this region. The photography is stunning.”

“These are gifts?” I asked, amazed.

“Yes,” for such nice people, said Susanna. “When will you be back in town?”

“Not until December,” I said. For a moment, I wondered if she would tell me that would be too late. By then, the world would have been destroyed.

“Terrific,” said Susanna. “I hope you will visit Vida Loco at that time.”

*****

Considering our encounters with Susanna, initially I thought she was “nuts.” Then, she was so sweet with the gifts that I disliked myself for thinking she was “nuts” when she’s probably just somewhat eccentric.

A friend with insomnia informed me that 3 a.m. talk radio is full of people suggesting we are, indeed, in a seven-year cycle of calamities. For instance, September 2001, September 2008 (world financial meltdown). Now it’s 2015 and we are due! Many of these people, he laughed, have “read about it on the web.”

Of course, I think such prognostications are lunacy. But, with California burning, the stock market gyrating, Trump leading, and the Middle East what it is….