Blog entry

Apocalypse Not

I grew up during the cold war. I was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian family. This combination provided strong values, community, and a crippling fear of Armageddon. I'm not sure exactly when I became convinced the World might end tomorrow, but it could have been around the time my mother told me, "The World might end tomorrow."

I was twelve.

Mother and father had been exploring apocalyptic prophecy. Their fascination with the subject was sparked by a doomsday speaker who'd made an appearance at our church, St John's Lutheran. He'd developed a mathematical form of divination which revealed a secret timetable in the bible. This encrypted code had our planetary expiration date on it. The man had shared it with mom, and in turn, mother shared it with me. As luck would have it, the World would end while I was in seventh grade. More precisely, mother offered, tomorrow.

This news hit me like a wall of water. But it didn't make my acne and patchy pubic hair feel any less significant. Rather, it spotlighted them. I was about to be frozen for eternity, like those unfortunate souls at Pompei. And while their lives ended gathering water at the well, or preparing dinner, the final snap shot of me would be one of a gangly virgin at war with his own body.

No, I'd never had sex. But I lived under its tyranny. By seventh grade I had an Electric Trouser Eel protruding from my groin. A starving serpent, trapped in my pants. It held me hostage. Other appendages could be commanded to do things. My foot would take a step, my hand would grip a cup. But the Trouser Eel took orders from no one, and it had a singular purpose; THRUST. They say if all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail. When you have a Trouser Eel, everything feels like an orifice. The eel would thrust into girls, boys, animals, couch cushions, deli meets, fruits, and vegetables. Left unsupervised it would violate a mud puddle. It made no distinctions, and regarded all activity as foreplay. In church I was careful not to lay the bible in my lap, for fear of provoking the Eel during the sermon. The Eel was relentless, and beating it into submission four or five times a day was less an act of indulgence, and more a matter of public safety. Up until now, nothing had diminished its incredible will. I wondered for the first time, if the promise of Biblical Armageddon would give it pause?

My mother issued our planetary death sentence while tucking me into bed and tidying up my room. Cleaning up was not a sign of nervousness or aversion; mom is just an organized person. If she folded shirts and dusted while relating the imminent destruction of mankind, it didn't indicate some hidden psychological agenda. She was just multi-tasking. Why should Doomsday make one lazy? If this room were going to be vaporized by a nuclear blast tomorrow, at least it could look nice tonight.

"I'm sorry honey, I don't want to alarm you, it's just that this gentlemen has apparently put a lot of effort into his calculations, and according to everything he's been able to learn after a life time of studying the Bible and Jesus and THE END TIMES, the World is going to end tomorrow. Probably. I just wanted you to know so you can get right with God and make sure that you are headed to heaven, and not... well, you know. Just be ready. And have a nice day."

This last part was Minnesota Nice. The term refers to our native inclination to glaze exchanges with nice-ness. On the plus side, Minnesotans exude a cheerful demeanor and can be unusually welcoming. Bring your friend Bob to dinner, and he will be received with,

"Well, hello there Bob! We're so dang glad you joined us!"

On the down side, the perky warmth becomes spooky when confronted with ideological conflict. For instance, if it were revealed over dinner that Bob is a Buddhist, the response might be,

"So Bob, yewl be going to hell, then, eh? Would ja' like some more walleye?"

Because mother is constitutionally kind, because she is genuinely caring, whatever comes out of her mouth is nice. Including the news that Satan may lay claim to the planet tomorrow.

It might have been easier to brush off mother's apocalyptic prediction if it weren't for the fact that she delivered it at the height of the cold war. My home room teacher Mr Reiser had a diagram on the wall depicting the effects of a nuclear warhead hitting Minneapolis. It had a big red detonation point, then concentric circles radiating outward. Each ring was a different color, and contained a description of the immolation people would experience in that area. Impact would occur about fifteen miles from my desk. If the chart wasn't enough, Mr Reiser (who had one of the heaviest Minnesota accents I'd ever heard) was fond of giving spontaneous speeches about communism, capitalism, and their inevitable mutual destruction. I sat about ten feet from the diagram of nuclear inferno. Mr. Reiser paced back and forth in front of the room waiving a three foot pointer stick for emphasis.

"If you thought Hiroshima and Nagasaki was Gad Ah-wfull. Well..."

He would smack the diagram of the Minneapolis Nuclear blast with his rubber tipped pointer stick,

"This here sucker will make them ones look like a Gad dang... A Gad dang..."

He searched the paranoid vacuum behind his beady eyes for a sufficiently frightening vision.

"It's gonna be a heckuva lat worse is all I'm saying. A heckuva a lat worse. I meen cripes! They got enough bambs to blow da' whole planet up fifty two times!"

This last statistic was surely fabricated, but his point was well taken. After you blow the planet up once, why keep going? I pondered this as I gazed pensively out the window of Angie's car. Angie was sixteen years old, and was responsible for driving me and her younger sister to school every day. On this particular morning she happened to be listening to Sting's Russians, an eery coincidence which lent gravity to mother's predictions.

There's no such thing as a winnable war
It's a lie we don't believe anymore
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

"Would you mind turning that down?", I asked politely.

Sting was right. Our only hope of preventing the second coming of Christ through nuclear obliteration was if the Russian's loved their children too. And of course the Russians loved their children. All people, regardless of political...

"Unfortunately they prolly dohn't love der kids." Mr Reiser corrected me later that day.

"Russians did da Gulag. You tin'k they give two shits about der kids? Der frehkin' drunk on Vadka, wit der fingerz on da' dang button. Dey hate da Bible and GAD an' Religion, and dat's why dey're gonna make the Apocalypse come trew."

Mr Reiser paced the room, pleased to expound on inter-continental ballistic cremation. It was a compelling performance, but he had competition. Seated next to the diagram of nuclear holocaust, was Jocelyn; blonde, gorgeous, and abnormally developed for her age. Jocelyn had moved to town in the middle of the school year. The day she joined our class was the day I discovered my electric Trouser Eel. It was also the day Mr Reiser learned the only thing more mesmerizing than a nuclear war is a nubile woman. He had turned to his diagram of nuclear death, lifted his pointer, and found an adolescent sex pot next to his chart. Stealing his thunder. Eclipsing his star.

Because her desk was adjacent to the poster, Mr Reiser could no longer refer to nuclear incineration without involving Jocelyn. The association confused the class. Jocelyn made nuclear war seem strangely erotic, which made Mr Reiser seem like a bellicose pedophile. Both displeased him. Mr Reiser would have to either move Jocelyn or his diagram.

But that would be an admission that he too, found Jocelyn's body distracting. And so, stubborn Mr Reiser made no changes. Instead, every time he went to the diagram, he forced our eyes to choose between a hellish nuclear blast, or Jocelyn's heavenly body. On the day my mother predicted the World would end, I sat transfixed as Mr Reiser held court, weaving another apocalyptic scenario. He bellowed into the room,

"Do ya' know what happens when da' bamb blast goes off? Do yah?"

Oh God, I'm going to fucking die, I remembered. Until Mr Reiser made the mistake of pointing to the diagram. I turned, and saw Jocelyn in a tiger print tank top and tight jeans, rolling her eyes and dismissing the end of the World with an apathetic sigh.

"Pfff. Whatever," she yawned.

I'm going to fucking die melted into Oh God, let me fuck her before I die, then quickly became; I would gladly die in a nuclear blast if it meant I could fuck her. My desk lurched an inch or two as the Trouser Eel made a run for Jocelyn. I quietly stabbed a pencil into my crotch, subduing the beast for the time being.

While Sting hoped the Russians loved their children too, I wished they could just have a look at Jocelyn. They would never blow her up. The Jocelyn phenomenon was not confined to horny boys. I could swear I noticed the first sparks of bi-sexual curiosity blossoming in my female classmates. Most would wait until college years to act on it, but when they finally dove into their first lesbian experience at a Freshman kegger, they could thank Jocelyn for the head start. Even homosexual men had an admiration for her that said; The food is not for me, but it's a lovely presentation. Mr Reiser sensed our waning attention, and kicked it up a notch, warning us,

"Da Russkies got da bombs pointed at Minna-sohta right now... St Paul, an' Mankato, an' jeez, Brainerd. Right dere. Aimed at cha'. See?"

He gave the diagram a few stern taps for effect. But our faces said, "They're going to destroy Minnesota? Jocelyn lives in Minnesota."

The day the World would end was bitter sweet for me. First, there was the burden of being the only one who knew. My mother hadn't gotten on the public address system at the beginning of the school day and announced to everyone that history had come to a close. She had told me, and only me. I walked the halls with secret knowledge that at any moment, sirens would blare, emergency lights would flash, and the nation would flare with panic. The day of reckoning was here, and I alone knew it.

I would like to say I'd had the presence of mind to research the history of fraud and failure in Doomsday predictions. I would have easily discovered that, for as long as people have made predictions, they have predicted the end of the World. False predictions of the apocalypse were literally as old as time itself. From the moment we could imagine a future, we have imaged a future where everyone dies in a cataclysmic event.

But I didn't investigate it. That would come years later. I had listened intently as mother -the person I trusted most in the World, the most angelic, pure, saintly human being I had ever known, a woman who's devotion to the Bible and God and Jesus are unsurpassed, who's integrity is beyond reproach, I had listened as THAT woman told me the World would probably end tomorrow. Having deeply absorbed that possibility, I sat at the lunch table, unable to bring myself to eat.

"Davis, what the fuck?," said my best friend, Sully. "What's your deal, frowny face?"

"Nothing. I gotta piss," I lied, and walked out of the lunch room.

Knowing at any moment a mushroom cloud would appear over Minneapolis, I wanted to be alone. I walked out the rear exit of the school, onto the football field. I took a deep breath, and wondered how many more breaths I would have in this body. I took a seat on the metal bleachers and scanned the wooded lots bordering campus. Hundreds of birch trees, with white bark. Their leaves fluttered in the wind, reflecting the sun. They were beginning to change color. The numinous hues of autumn added a new shade each day. I inhaled, savoring the crisp smell of fall as it filled my body. Rotting leaves, cut grass. The sun warmed my face. How many places are there like this in the Universe? We are adrift on a gift. A fragile, inexplicable miracle. Our atmosphere, water, oxygen- the explosion of life here is a celebration of this Kosmic jewel. I can't believe how lucky I am to be here, I thought. I love this planet. I am so grateful to be alive.

My mind drifted into the space around our World. I held it, in silence. Cradled it, in love. I floated out beyond the brain and its narrow concerns. My awareness simply witnessed the miracle of this place. I saw the planet from the stars, and felt it enveloped by an Over-soul. Sifting through invisible archeology, unfolding eons of fabric, I marveled at evolution. Countless creatures, appearing and dissolving, issued from and then absorbed back into the Earth. I felt an intimate connection with each one that had ever lived and died. From Protoplasm to Great White Shark, from Amoeba to African Elephant. I felt immense love for humanity, and noticed how it occupied such an immeasurably brief part of the story. Even more whispy were spoken language, written word, religion.

Religion.

The thought assaulted me. What kind of God destroys a planet like this, my twelve year old brain wondered? My mind, as wide as the sky a moment ago, collapsed back into my skull, and gave me a headache. The World is probably going to end today? Why, because some guy sat down with a calculator and a Bible? People wrote the Bible, I thought. Not even people, just a few people. People are fucked up, I thought. Fucked up people probably wrote the Bible. Then some part of me said "you better not question mister, or you'll go to hell". Then another part of me replied, Well if God is so weak it's threatened by people, then...

The World is going to end any minute!

Why risk it, I thought? What if mom and the church are right? I want to go to heaven, don't I? Just play it safe. Pray to Jesus. I got off the bleachers and began to walk. Walk 'n pray. "Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, they kingdom come... Just then Jocelyn flung open the rear doors of the school and headed toward me. A vision of Mr Reiser popped into my head, pointing to the diagram of a nuclear blast. My mother's voice echoed,

"The World will probably end tomorrow. Have a nice day."

A hormonal fire hyrdrant opened its valve at the base of my spine. The trouser Eel harnessed lightening from the sky. Jocelyn slowed as she reached me on the side walk.

"What's up?"

"Nothing. Where you going?"

"Skipping math. Gonna go smoke a cigarette on the bleachers. Want one?"

I don't smoke, I thought.

"I smoke", I said.

She looked at me quizzically. "Well, I have cigarettes."

"Yeah. That's what I smoke," I nodded, "cigarettes."

Jocelyn led me back to the bleachers. We sat down side by side, our knees touching. Moments before I'd swooned in mystical rapture. Now I swelled in lecherous rupture. I am smoking cigarettes with the hottest girl in school, I thought, and our knees are touching. I SO HOPE the World ends right now. In death, I would become forever linked to Jocelyn. People would consider us a couple. A nuclear Romeo and Juliet. I took a puff of the disgusting Camel Light and grew dizzy and elated. I could get kicked out of school for this, I thought. I SO HOPE I get kicked out of school for this. Please, let someone to catch us, and confirm this entire scene. I am on a date with Jocelyn, smoking HER cigarette. I imagined my mother's face, crestfallen, as the police handed me over.

"We caught him smoking cigarettes with a harlot. They were skipping class and feeling lust."

"On the very same day the World is going to end?"

"Yes mam."

Of course the World did end that day. The World where I would be paralyzed by the delusions of religious fundamentalism. Don't get me wrong. I know people can blow up the World. But that doesn't make their Sky God real. When I arrived at school the next day, Doomsday safely behind me, I became decidedly less God-fearing, but no less God-loving. Like the Berlin wall and the Soviet empire, the reign of mythic religion collapsed. In my life at least. It became another odd artifact of growing up, like the tooth fairy and santa clause.

Besides, I mused, I'm going to die no matter what. What difference does it make if it's a nuclear blast or an old folks home? I don't recall mom addressing this episode, but no matter. I never held it against her. The things about her that are important remain true and unshakable. Mom is the kindest person I've ever known. She loves me unconditionally, and gave me a wonderful life. As for mythic religion, it's delusional, but that's not an indictment of Spirituality. God makes people. People make religion and myth and nuclear weapons.

Believing the World was about to end sharpened the detail of life's treasures. Treasures like sunlight, and autumn, and crisp clean air, and cigarettes, and Jocelyn.

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