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Twenty-Seventh Kiss Is the Charm | 2018 | Of Befriending a Comedian


I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, spirit capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance.  

-William Faulkner

Thirty-Eight Minutes

The world is not shy about implying it might end sooner than a supernova, mega-caldera explosion, or the heat death of the universe. Our president exchanges nuclear dick jokes with a dictator. Supposed clerical errors resulted in Hawaii believing for the better part of an hour that ballistic missiles were headed toward them. The Centers for Disease Control wants to educate people as to what they should do in the (unlikely, they say) event of a nuclear war. Considering one's actions in the aftermath is no longer a purely academic exercise.

As such, I will eschew Amber's suggestion of a zombie apocalypse. The threat will not be from reanimated corpse or internet memes, something avoided easily enough. If the missiles fall, there will be no way to escape the ramifications, even if one is not at the epicenter.

I live in Red Hook, New York, no one's primary target unless one has a chip on one's shoulder about being rejected from Bard College. We a little more than fifty miles away from Albany, our state's capital, which I also do not believe has much strategic or morale value. Newburgh has a military base, West Point has the academy, Buchanan has the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant, and New York City is a hundred miles away at the crow flies. 9/11 and nearly every blockbuster shows how ripe the city is for symbolic destruction.

So, if the missiles fly, there is a far greater chance they will be flying toward me than Sheboygan. Even if they fly overhead, depending on the payload, they signal soon my demise. I would not be blessed enough by the oblivion of being directly beneath the warhead. I would, in the short term, be a survivor.

My job has a basement, surrounded by cider block walls, fifteen feet in the ground. There are several distinct rooms with thick doors -- to which I don't have keys. One of the stairwells connects to the kitchen. The other is right beside the full stocked medical office. The basement has no running water that I have found, but it does have pipes enough. The facility has a generator and its own water tower. Our communication - phones and internet - seem to route through the basement. There are cages full of supplies that would not arrest starvation - books and pencils, boxes of files, broken computers and tech we cannot legally sell or give away - but might prove otherwise useful.

I would not stay there. I have ingested enough media in the last three decades to know how immediately my facility would try to reenact Lord of the Flies, now with sexual assault and suicidal attempts at escape. The missiles wouldn't make first impact before some emotionally dysregulated boy would try to doom us all.

Higher-ups would tell us to get to the basement, insisting to the boys that everything was fine, the same way we didn't tell them when we suspected one of the teachers had had a heart attack and instead held school a little until the ambulance could get her off grounds.

The moment I heard about a threat, I would get out of there. I would pull my car key free of the capture key, growl at the person inside CSU who has to buzz me out, and I would drive to wherever Amber is.

She will not be home. In the event of a nuclear threat, she knows to head to one of the local schools that has a bomb shelter. She will, almost definitely, have our hamster Pico with her, if possible. If she went home to get him, she will have released the other rodents, but she would save Pico and have him in her pocket. It would be as much for her mental health as his bodily survival; in the event of an attack, she will want all the comfort she can get.

She will not save the betta fish or hermit crabs. There is nothing much that could be done for them.

If she is not close to home, she will find the nearest shelter she can. Her college should have one. When she does her externship, she will be in a town of quiet opulence and proximity to shelters. If she has no reason to be home, I will take what shelter I can and hope to connect with her. I will do my best to live for that, believing she survived and we will find one another once the literal or metaphorical smoke clears.

I know better than to drive far. I would rather die trying for a slim chance I could keep living with her, but I would also rather not die. I won't try the bridge to Kingston. It will be clogged and impassable. If I drive much farther than Red Hook, the missiles will hit, the fallout will come. I will be dead for nothing.

I would not drive to my family. I would call them if possible, but the lines will be tied up and I don't know that their agony and tears will steady my resolve. I will tell them that I love them and that we will be safe, lying.

The people in Hawaii called their loved ones, saying last goodbyes. They made impossible choices of which child they would be with in their last moments. They readied themselves for death, and it was all a supposed glitch that no one cleared away for thirty-eight impossible minutes. They know better than anyone what they would do if their world was about to end. I can only imagine and fear, the latter more than I have in my life.

I state these things to explain to myself what my protocol is. My priorities are fixed: get to Amber, get her to safety. From there, it is a white haze.

I know, in the event of a nuclear attack, my chance of survival is slim. My students found out about the CDC trying to prepare people and looked up the tips, leading me to tell everyone the gleaned factoid that those exposed to fallout should shampoo their hair, but not condition it as that could lock in the radioactive material (surely not something Vidal Sassoon is about to advertise).

If Amber and I somehow get to one of the local shelters, they are sure to be packed. Bard will undoubtedly hide their privileged generation in undisclosed bunkers, so they won't be crowding us, but Red Hook is not as small a community as our Market Streets would lead one to believe. I do not know how much space the public shelters provide, but they will only be useful for a few hours before evacuation is necessary; in the event of fallout, most of us will die.

Nuclear weapons are certainly not being made less powerful or in smaller quantities since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Once the first hovers above in a populated area, dozens more will fire back. Our species will see its end.

Every generation who could look up from the hunt long enough to notice the sun setting believes, often with good cause, that theirs will be the last. My father told me a story from his teen years where some apocalypse or other - prophesied, natural, or nuclear - was meant to occur. His friends and he gathered by the river where, appropriately, a storm shook the ground all night. They drank, smoked, screwed until dawn, then passed out from their vices. They woke up to clear skies and hangovers, the world conspicuously intact.

Some thinker posited our species had perhaps a few thousand years left, according to his specious math. In essence, it is arrogant to assume he would be observing humanity at its beginning or end, so it must be the middle. Modern humans, socially if not biologically, have existed for maybe four thousand years (which is also unlikely, but when has a man misusing math let facts get in his way?) and won't make it to a star-faring civilization.

The Doomsday Clock does not agree. By their metric, we are within two and a half minutes of obliteration, the closest we have been since America dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. The reasons are depressingly obvious.

One of my friends presently lives in Hawaii, though this experience is making her consider her options. Faced with the likeliness of her death, knowing she had no loved ones to get to since they are all in Guam, she called home, then set to making coffee for those panicking around her. From her telling, she was possessed by an eerie calm. There was nothing else for her to do. Others were not so collected. I cannot begin to blame them.

I may at times be a cheerful nihilist, since all my problems are cosmically irrelevant and I am ultimately nothing, but I want this world to last. Some evangelicals endorse our president's sins and short-temper in literal hopes that he will herald the End Times - which shows a gross ignorance of Jesus's quoted words and a blindness to the fact that "trying to end the world" makes them on-the-nose villains. Given the last twenty years in America, I sense a finality that would well make me want to get my house in order, only there will be no house and no order at the end of it. I am not pessimistic of our chances as much as worried. American culture, our greatest export, has become as toxic as lead-sweetened Mexican candies or rumored Chinese plastic rice. We have become parasitic on our resources and antagonistic toward our neighbors. We are not sustainable and are too egotistical to admit we need to be more conscientious. We exist only by the exploitation of our world and brothers, which is surely suicidal long term. There are no undiscovered horizons whose resources we can pocket and enslave, not that we ever really could. We are one world and one people. Stealing from other humans might as well be eating one's arm to put on weight.

The world should persist because humanity is a marvelous creation that is perhaps unique in all the vastness of space. We have no evidence advanced life exists, to say nothing of consciousness. Maybe it died off a billion years ago, or won't rise until a billion after we fall. We are miraculous, an experiment in the universe observing itself, and we are so shortsighted and eager to extinguish this blessing of evolution. At our peril, we see our siblings as predatorial aliens. For all we know and likely will ever know, we are alone and would rather kill each other than save ourselves by looking at the vacuum and loving one another as our only possible saviors. Jesus is not coming back to the party because we trashed the house and killed the guests. If he did, he would be righteously furious.

My therapist - she who refills prescriptions in the five minutes she sees me every two months, not she who speaks with me - tells me that she read an article that has her convinced that the world will be uninhabitable by humans by 2100.

I don't contradict that the evidence points to anthropogenic climate change. We are making our world less habitable, through a shortsighted desire for more individual money. Those who hold more of the money do not tend to see that as a problem, since it is not how they are wired and they do not believe there will be a lack of malls in their lifetime.

Should I lose all worry because something so total and outside my control looms? It isn't my nature to daily acknowledge my mortality. Why let my tense muscles relax for once merely because they will one day stop for good and there is literally nothing I can do to stop it? I can forestall it a while and I will try, but the end will come - for the human world as well as me - sooner than I would like.

Soon in Xenology: Meaning. Comedy.

last watched: Ash vs the Evil Dead
reading: Fire and Fury
listening: Bastille

Twenty-Seventh Kiss Is the Charm | 2018 | Of Befriending a Comedian

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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