Monday, May 30, 2011

Weather Report

Southern California

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

There's another deadline for the end of the world coming up this Sunday, June 5, according to my guy on Hollywood Boulevard. The Armageddon came the day before yesterday, May 30. After that, he says, you'll be hoping for the end of the world, what with the flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, and all the other plagues that'll be descending on us for the six days to follow. Funny thing, though, the big news here is the sameness of the weather. Sunny, highs in the mid 70s to low 80s. The calm before the storm? Maybe the bad stuff isn't going to happen until the last second.

Which reminds me. All of us are aware of the latter-day phenomenon of weather hysteria, in which even the tiniest hint of impending inclemency causes the local weather folks to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming with dire warnings or at least to put a little box in the lower corner of the screen with the word "warning" or "watch" on it, diverting our attention from the picture. Some blame this on the advent of the Weather Channel, but I think it was part of a nationwide coup by weather people, always in the past relegated to third-place behind the news and sports people, to wrest time and attention from them by making the weather the news as often as possible. Another theory I heard for the increase in weather presence on TV is the advent of more sophisticated satellite weather tracking equipment. I do not believe this for two reasons. First, modern weather tracking equipment is no better able to predict the weather more than a day or so in advance than whatever old shit we had before. Now, as then, the best way to find out what the weather will be tomorrow is to call someone who lives a couple of states west of you. Second, the weather hysteria that grips the nation's local stations is most of the time not about actual storms, but about the possibility of storms. Rumors of storms.

You might be asking, why is he off on this tangent? Well, here in southern California they've taken weather hysteria to new and (perhaps appropriately) more dramatic levels. Here virtually any possibility of rain, even a gentle rain that droppeth like the quality of mercy, is deemed to be an impending storm. The other day it was raining outside, just like it does half the time throughout the nation. No high winds, no hail, no frogs, no blood. Just plain old rain, and not much of it, at that. The 11:00 a.m. newscast led with the story. They had a roving reporter stationed in a suburban town, interviewing people about the rain, for Christ's sake.

"Hi, I'm Rachel Hairspray, reporting from downtown Monrovia, where I'm talking to people about the rain. Sir, how is the rain affecting your day so far?"

"Well, I was, like, going to take a bike ride, you know? But dude, now I guess I'll have to do it some other day."

"Well, there you have it. This is Rachel Hairspray reporting from Monrovia, where the rain is turning out to be having a pretty big impact on lots of folks. Oh, and they say it might be raining this afternoon for your commute home, so be careful and expect some slow going. Back to you, Nancy."

Had you seen that telecast you would know that I wasn't exaggerating a bit. And telling people in the greater Los Angeles area to expect slow going during their afternoon commute is a little like telling an Eskimo to expect snow. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that by the middle of the afternoon it had stopped raining.

Shifting gears again, Armageddon is an interesting phenomenon, subject to quite a bit of variation, depending on one's interpretation of the scriptures. For most it is the battle between Christ and Satan, following which Satan will be put in his place for a thousand years. For others it is whether their particular religion will be persecuted, or will triumph. It's a mishmash, at best. For many Armageddon is just shorthand for the day when the shit hits the fan, or at least begins to fly in the general direction of the fan. My guy in Hollywood's slim period of six days is a drastically truncated version of things, and suggests that he's of an independent turn of mind, although I suspect he might have broken away from the Jehovah's Witnesses at some point. This is just speculation, partially based on the text of his rambling handwritten manifesto, running to about thirty pages, in which he makes his predictions, all the while pointing out that the Antichrist is chiefly represented here in the U.S. by his minions in the Republican Party. My kind of guy.

Assuming his predictions don't come to pass in any readily discernible way (I wonder if it could all come to pass and be missed by practically everybody, like the posting of the order to destroy the earth to make way for a galactic highway in that Douglas Adams book?), I plan to go to Hollywood next Monday and try to find the Only Begotten Son of God, and seek out an explanation. Who knows, he might have one.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

After The Raptor

Monrovia, California

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

If you're reading this, chances are good that, like me, you weren't taken up into heaven in the Rapture on May 21, 2011, unless heaven is far different from what I conceive it to be, which is very possible. Nor were you swallowed into the bowels of the earth in the gigantic earthquake that rent asunder the crust of the planet.

I am happy to know that you're still here, because even if there are trials to come, say for the next five months--plagues, famine, pestilence--it'll be good to be in the company of friends while we rue the day our mothers brought us forth into this bitter vale of tears. Ruing always goes down better in company, although it can lead to some real mischief, too, as in the period of mass ruing that led to the rise of National Socialism in Germany. But hey, we've only got five months, so how bad can it get? Well, in the words of Clemenza in The Godfather, "Pretty goddamn bad. Probably all the other families will line up against us...." But I digress.

This guy Harold Camping, who had some people in a tizzy, now says the real end of the world won't come for five months, on October 21, 2011. Well, duh. Even amateur eschatologists know that the Rapture, when the dead in Christ rise and then the living who are saved go up into the clouds to join them, has to be followed by some sort of Tribulation, i.e., bad shit for all who remain. After that things get muddy, and time lines and predictions of specific results often vary widely and wildly, depending on whether you're a Dispensationalist Premillennialist, an Amillennialist, a Two-seed-in-the spirit Predestinarian, or whatever. My question to Camping is this: how do you know the Rapture didn't take place last Saturday, May 21, 2011, and the dead in Christ weren't taken up along with all the living who were worthy of going straight to heaven? Just because you didn't go? That's rather presumptuous. Have you checked inside any graves lately? Maybe the number of souls, living and dead, who get to go straight to heaven in the Rapture is so tiny in relation to the world's total historical population (say 144,000) that you didn't notice. One thing we do know, at least, Harold Camping, is that your sorry ass is still here, along with ours.

By the way, the word "rapture" comes from the same Latin root as the word "raptor." It has to do with being "taken up," the same way a giant predatory bird, or perhaps a dinosaur, takes up its prey in its talons. And metaphorically speaking, I suppose getting taken in by someone or some idea is quite a similar concept. We give our "rapt" attention when we are absolutely taken by what is being said or who is saying it. Same root word.

When one of my daughters was a little girl she went to Sunday school with a girlfriend of hers and saw a picture of an angel, wings spread, which had a profound effect on her. The impression she got was that if you went to that church, a giant bird would come and grab you and take you away. How far off was she, I wonder? Taken up, taken for a ride, taken in.

By which I don't mean to ignore my man on the streets of Hollywood, the Only Begotten Son of God, whose predictions haven't had a chance to play out yet. And let's face it, Hollywood usually does have the last word in these matters.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are You Ready?

Monrovia, California

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

It's never too soon to start talking about the end of the world. When I was in Grand Rapids about a month ago I saw three trucks--motor homes, really--painted all over on the outside with the matter-of-fact statement that Judgment Day is coming on May 21st. "The Bible Guarantees It." Just cruising through town, evidently as part of a nationwide tour (begun out here in southern California) to win souls before it's too late, and to warn the rest of us to put our heads between our legs and kiss our asses goodbye.

That's only three days from now, and I feel as if I don't have a thing to wear, figuratively speaking. Of course I know that if it's true I'm screwed for all eternity--consigned to the pit of flame, and all that. But I take comfort in the old punchline that I'll be so busy talking to my friends I won't have time to worry.

Anyway, with the aid of some creative numerology and an interpretation of passages of the Book of Revelation, always a source of ambiguous but intriguing authority for anything scary as it relates to the wackoid fringe of the Christian religion in its many many forms, some "students" of the Bible have come up with May 21, 2011 as the beginning of the end, as it were. On this day the Rapture will take place, in which the already righteous will be taken up into heaven. You've probably seen the bumper stickers saying "In case of Rapture this vehicle will be without a driver." Irresponsible bastards, these saved people, but then I guess it doesn't matter to them or God what happens to the rest of us out on the highway who have to contend with empty cars careening across lanes of traffic and hurtling off bridges. "Fuck 'em if they ain't saved" is the message. Because let me tell you, what awaits the rest of us makes a few traffic accidents look pretty tame by comparison. According to the best authorities, a worldwide earthquake is going to take place, followed by plagues and locusts and suchlike that'll make sliding down a banister and having it turn into a razor blade an attractive alternative. Five months of that, then on October 21, lights out. I think, but am not sure, this period is so the more recalcitrant of us can have our arms twisted, perhaps literally, into accepting the gift of Divine Grace.

As you can see, for me (and lots of other folks, Dante Alighieri and Hieronymous Bosch included) the ascending into heaven and bathing in the divine light of God the Father Almighty isn't nearly as intriguing as the contemplation of the horrors that await the wicked and ungodly. The little imps with pitchforks, the swimming in the fecal soup, the burning in the fire but not being consumed, the writhing in torment. Insects. Monsters. Demons. Nonstop Lawrence Welk reruns. Worse yet, nonstop Glenn Beck shows.

And as if that weren't scary enough, there are web sites in which equally earnest scholars declare, unequivocally, that May 21st will NOT be the Day of Judgment, based on exactly the same source material. Talk about hedging bets. You live by the same crackpot scriptures, but interpret them differently, thus giving Jesus another chance in case things don't go down as planned this Saturday. That, my friends, is the basic mentality that keeps both the churches AND the casinos full.

I would be remiss, though, if I didn't mention that even among those who think the world is coming to an end very soon--like this year--there's a split of opinion as to the exact date. You'll recall that my guy in Hollywood, the one who said he was the only begotten Son of God and that the Republicans were the minions of Satan (whose credibility in my eyes is quite a bit greater than that of the dude with the vans and billboards) predicted the day of Armageddon to be May 30, 2011, and the Judgment Day to be June 5, 2011, a very busy and hellacious six days later. This gets confusing, because Armageddon is by some definitions supposed to be when Christ comes to defeat the Antichrist and set up 1,000 years of something or other, during or after which Satan will have another chance, I think, along the lines of when a defeated foe in WWE wrestling gets up after being pinned fair and square and blindsides the good guy and kicks the referee's ass in the bargain.

But even on the same mean streets of Hollywood on Oscar night there were afoot a band of folks who were predicting yet a different day for all this to happen. In their calculus it was to be May 21st at the straight up End of the World. No five-month, or thousand year, period of something or other.

All this is enough to make anyone's head spin, and I don't want to pit one specific group of delusional folks against another. My years of working in mental hospitals have taught me not to mess too much with people who are responding to otherworldly stimuli. I'll leave that work to Satan, the Prince of Lies, the Beast. But really, who would you believe--some smarmy preacher in a sharp suit, or the guy in the picture here? I mean, look into those eyes! The dude is ready! In the words of the blubbering Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman, he's got nowhere else to go.

There's a larger question behind all this: Are You Ready? Not for the end of the world, or Judgment Day or the Second Coming. Are you ready for those things NOT to happen? It seems to me that expecting the end of things, for better or worse, has always been the easier alternative. Are you ready, instead, for things to keep being pretty much the way they are now? With prating demagogues and silly weather people and idiot talent show contestants on TV? With politicians in front of cameras asking forgiveness from the masses for things that don't concern them? With greasy food available dirt cheap on every corner? With Macbeth's "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," that "creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time"? If you can handle that, you're made of sterner stuff than the end-timers who wait for something magical to happen to make it all go away.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Hollow Men

Phoenix, Arizona

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I spent last night in Roswell, New Mexico, a city I'd bypassed on the walk, mostly because going through it would have meant going some miles out of my way. But I was overdue to visit this town of odd repute, and since I'd been to Snyder, Texas earlier in the day and had entered New Mexico at Hobbs again, I figured this would be as good a time as any.

First I must report that the Boys of Snyder are doing fine. At 2:00 p.m. sharp I walked into Jaramillo's Mexican Restaurant and there they were--three of them, anyway--at their regular table. Tommy and Lonnie, the twins, and another guy they said I'd met before but whose name I can't remember now to save my life. George the token Democrat wasn't there due to the fact that he's busy selling off as much of the junk from his barn as he can to raise money, which he needs right now more than the junk. So the four of us had coffee and I talked about the end of the walk to L.A. Tommy said (and here you must imagine the accent and cadences of a thinner version of Slim Pickens), "We was jest talkin' about you the other day. We said we wondered how that walkin' feller was doin'."

At this point I felt, as I generally do, an obligation to regale them with tall tales of the road. Like a Marco Polo or Gulliver, I sorely wished I could speak of strange lands, strange food, strange people, fierce beasts. To tell of a meeting with the Great Khan, or of a sojourn in the land of giants or the world of Lilliputians. But alas my world, there on the long road of the dead land, the cactus land, going round the prickly pear, had revealed not much more to me than what they had been amidst all their lives. The food I loved the most, Tex-Mex, was their daily bread. What beasts I had seen, as fearsome as they might once have been, were flat dead on the roadside, the victims of modern technology. And as for the walking itself, well, even that had once been their lot, not for leisure of course, but yoked to the plow, or following behind the cultivators or pickers or gin trucks, from sunup to sundown, or as they say in the deep south, "from can to can't." What their quotidian lives had lacked in adventure they had more than made up for in the ardent desire for the late afternoon to be over, something I could certainly relate to. Now, like me, they were at rest.

I asked how the weather has been and whether they've got the cotton planted yet. The weather's been dry and unseasonably hot (it was pushing 100 outside as we spoke) and they don't have the cotton in yet. Tommy perked up a bit when talking cotton, just as I would if someone asked me about state sales tax. After that the conversation petered out and we sat there smiling and occasionally clearing our throats and saying things like "Yep" for a bit. Suddenly it seemed like a good time to take my leave, and I got up, promising to show up again some time. They reckoned they'd be there, unless, one of them ruefully added, they'd gone the way of Mr. Gomez. Gone, that is, the way of all flesh. Crossed to the twilight kingdom. I wondered, with Eliot,

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Walking alone....

On through the not-yet-planted fields I drove, the wind in the dry grass up along the dunelike barriers along U.S. 180, closing the window for the occasional dust storm, until I drew at last within the ambit of Roswell. On the way into town I had a flat tire just a few miles east of the city limits. Since the car is loaded to the gills I had to take a shitload of stuff out of the trunk and place it gently in a ditch, then fish out the donut, which was under everything else. But the operation was a success. By then it was too late to worry about getting another tire so I went straight to the motel, first passing the hospital, or the successor to it, where one of my cousins was born.

I have to say here that my interest in anything extraterrestrial is so low that I never seriously thought about visiting the Alien Museum, even for laughs, or doing anything other than to notice the strategic placement, on walls and fences, of those familiar triangular green alien faces with their black almond-shaped eyes that adorn the chamber of commerce and various cheesy businesses. The prototypical alien of the late 40s, born in the popular imagination only a couple of years before I myself arrived on planet earth. Since I'd recently driven through Oklahoma I decided I'd seen about enough of the truly odd and unearthly anyway.

Roswell is and was essentially a cow and oil town. The whole place smells like cow shit. The land east of the city is flat as a pancake and teeming with beeves. Before there were aliens there were cattle. After there were aliens there were cattle. This part of New Mexico is nothing but an extension of the flat wasted west Texas plains, and indeed was once part of Texas all the way west to the Rio Grande, before the Mexican War. So driving down the main street, past the courthouse, I got the sense that I was in just another of those dusty barren Last Picture Show venues. And that, I imagine, was pretty much all there was to it before whatever fancied close encounter occurred to augment the commercial potential of the city beyond the lure of the rodeo and the roundup.

Here's the thing that always gets me about these aliens, as depicted. It's the combination of solemnity and benignity behind their inevitable verdancy. That quintessentially 40s and 50s schlock movie look that says, "We come in peace, Earthlings. Take us to your leader." They're like us, only greener and with fewer digits, and for some reason known only to the creator of us all, bigger eyes. Well, it's becoming a greener world out there and everyone wants to keep their eyes open for ways to cash in on it.

In the end, whatever may have happened near Roswell seems to have done nothing more than to provide some relief for the locals from their lives of heat and dust, superimposing on the all-pervasive cow-plops another kind of bullshit. The arrival of the aliens was kind of like (but in a much more profitable way) my occasional appearances in Snyder, bringing some relief and a chuckle or two to those locals who sit around restaurants reminiscing, idly planning out their all too foreshortened futures.

This morning on the way out of Roswell, tire replaced, I got a last glimpse of what makes the town famous to the outside world, in the form of a large inflated alien atop the front entrance to a car dealership. It was green and serious, wearing a superhero-type cape and waving a hand that, in its obvious superiority, needed fewer fingers than do those of our dull sublunary bodies. Most significantly of all, I thought, the alien was hollow, waving slowly in the breeze that blew from the hilly grey-brown land west of town. It seemed to be saying nothing more or less profound to the passerby than "Howdy folks, come on in and buy a Honda."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rougher Winds

Elk City, Oklahoma

Sunday, May 8, 2011

It's been a chilly spring so far in Michigan. I left for California yesterday and by evening the weather had changed and spring had advanced by several weeks. Then today, leaving from eastern Missouri, things got hotter fast. The A/C in my car has been out for several years and there was nothing for it but to keep the window open and my arm hanging out, absorbing the cooler air like the turkeys I used to raise did in the dead of summer when they would lie down and fan one large wing out on the ground, spreading their feathers like fingers to lose as much heat as possible. By late this afternoon I began to wonder who'd turned up the heat outside. Careening west on I-40 out of Oklahoma City at 70 mph the air coming at me over the side mirror felt as if it had been released from under the hood instead of wafting in from the great outdoors. When I got to the motel I checked the computer for the weather for Elk City, the little oil town where I'm staying overnight. Turns out it was 100 degrees, and tomorrow it will be even warmer. The wind is blowing in hard from Amarillo and points west. And no, it's not a particularly dry heat.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to drop south a couple of hundred miles from the interstate to try to visit the Boys of Snyder--Tommy and Lonnie, George, and that other guy whose name I can't remember. Mr. Gomez has moved on to the big Mexican restaurant in the sky. Got to get there while the gettin's good. Them guys ain't gettin' no younger. With luck I'll make it for the 2:00 coffee hour, then it's on across the dusty west Texas cotton fields toward New Mexico and another time zone. The coast beckons. I'll be covering familiar ground. Should be out there by Wednesday night.

Let me say a couple of things about Oklahoma before I sign off for the night. As you recall I didn't go through this state on the walk. I could have, and indeed it would have shortened the route to the Pacific, but after reading John Grisham's nonfiction book The Innocent Man I decided to avoid Oklahoma on general principles. It made even Mississippi seem sort of civilized by comparison, which, come to think of it, might have been Grisham's agenda. I'm not sorry about skipping it on the walk. Rodgers and Hammerstein notwithstanding, there seems to be very little to recommend this state, topographically, politically, culturally, and particularly religiously. It was conceived, after all, as a sort of gigantic concentration camp for Indians forcibly marched here from near and far during our national ethnic cleansing phase in the 19th century. Since then I'm pretty sure Oklahoma has done almost nothing to redeem itself. Oil, of course, is the life blood of the place, so the economy is doing pretty well. And gas is about 50 cents a gallon cheaper here than it was in Michigan yesterday morning, but that might be a coincidence. The native sons it brags about on its welcome signs, other than Will Rogers, are all country music singers. And Oklahoma has the nerve to charge you money for driving through, as if it were an Illinois or New York. If anyone out there knows any reason why the whole place shouldn't be flushed down the cosmic hopper, let me know.