It's a Thursday Morning, October 11th 2001 to be exact, and my morning Nuclear Chemical Biological frenzy is in full swing. It has been one month since some very low-tech, highly motivated, "Me and my harem of 36DD equipped Los Angeles Airport Call Girl whores will see you in Paradise" motherfuckers gave the post-industrial, post-nationalist capitalist system and five sided Death Star of global military power projection an eight-hundred degree, 350 mile-an-hour, flaming aluminum and jet fuel wakeup call and for an hour seemed to stop the sun in the sky. It was a big, beautiful attack, written for television, seemingly scaled just right for the most powerful nation on earth.
For those of us who were issued overactive imaginations, it begs the question - what do you do for an encore? I am furiously alt-tabbing through multiple windows of terrorist and defense analyst punditry off the Internet. My hands are shaking. I keep knocking out push-ups just so I can cool out enough to sit back down at the computer. But this isn't having the desired effect. On the contrary, all this muscular exertion, coupled with my tension level, has convinced my hindbrain that I will either be beating something to death with my Mag Light or running for my sweet, sweet life some time in the next five minutes. This is it. The Balloon has gone up. The shit has hit the fan. I am looking out my windows on downtown Los Angeles, expecting to see in a dual-engined Cessna droning low over the city, followed by a miles-long glittering crystalline plume of white, weaponized anthrax, fresh from the incubators of Iraq, an enhanced lethality confectioner's sugar over the Belgian waffle of the densest population in Southern California. The handwriting is on the wall. It is time to get the fuck out of Dodge.
First things first. The batteries in my flashlights, penlights, and headlamps are good. I don't know why securing illumination is so critical to my immediate survival, but it creates the illusion of purposive action. Pick your two favorites and throw them on the bed. Quick! Will a HEPA class P100 rated filter stop anthrax? Check on the CDC's site -yes, it will. Throw the respirator on the bed. I only have one, so I guess everyone else is fucked. Check the load in your pistol, the feed on the clip. Throw some MRE's and canned food in the backpack. GPS. Compass. The shotgun and 200 rounds of double-ought buck. My SoCal Gazeteer, my Thomas Guide to the Great State of California.
Who are you kidding? Me and most of the people I love in this life are fucked eight ways from Sunday. This is a pathetic charade. The girlfriend is off at the grocery store. The car probably has 3 gallons of gas in the tank. That wouldn't get us to Victorville, much less across the country to the green fastness of the White family home in the mountains of Virginia, where I always imagined making my last stand for western civilization.
It's not supposed to be like this. I'm not prepared enough to enjoy this. I am supposed to sitting fat and happy in a steel reinforced concrete stronghouse, surrounded by a 2 year supply of food and water, and, vital to the fantasy, two hundred and fifty thousand rounds of NATO weight vest-punching 5.56mm greentip ammo. Inside the hardened infrastructure of this fantasy, the missus is cooking up a surprisingly tasty pasta dinner with vitamin supplements while I peer out though an armored loophole, consult the range card, and then shoot the barb-wire wrapped baseball bat out of the hands of a looter near the perimeter. The gap between fantasy and reality is a large one. Instead, I live in a lovely, if dilapidated, hundred-year old craftsman style home, constructed from ballistically soft glass and wood. Sure, it looks lovely. It's beautiful! But the looters are going to go through it like a wet paper bag. It's as drafty as a colander. How am I supposed to seal off a room against chemical attack? And the thoughtful cabinetmakers of 1902 forgot to include a small arms locker.
I have been waiting for this day since I was probably 13 years old. I have been a jealous student of the pornography of Armageddon since puberty. Child of the 1980's, I was an obsessive connoisseur of potential destruction. Back then, my money was on nuclear war. I read "Surviving Nuclear War" and "The Effects of Nuclear Weapons." I gazed enviously at the cross-sectional diagrams of the fallout shelters in the books. I begged my father to build one in the basement, a petition that fell on deaf ears. Every time the clear electronic warning tone of the Emergency Broadcast System pierced the cafeteria at school, I stiffened, then consulted my watch. I would have 30 minutes before impact if they caught the birds early. The Soviets would blast the Radford Munitions Plant and the secret (open secret, everyone knew about it) Rhododendron Complex inside with a 10 megaton ground burst - very very dirty. After detonation it's 20 minutes to take cover before the fallout begins to settle, drifting up like snow. Then it's announced, "This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. This is only a test..." No war today, just a drill. Back to your Tater Tots.
In the middle of a comfortable middle class upbringing, my every material need attended to, I was engaged in a rigorous program of self-education. Like most autodidacts, the quality of this education was very uneven. Everything was given equal weight. A map of projected fallout patterns over the United States was given the same credence as Mad Max and the Road Warrior. I read up on Soviet military doctrine and while I read Damnation Alley and A Boy and His Dog. I played goofy ass Gamma World and the "realistic" Aftermath with total engagement. I watched Red Dawn like a training tape, and carefully studied accounts of the Mujahideen's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. After all, once the Commies decapitated our military and civilian command systems, could the Antonov transports loaded with Spetnaz paratroopers be far behind? I would need to be ready to emplace my command detonated mines on Coal Bank Hollow road. You know, for when I would lead my Boy Scout troop in an ambush of a Russian motor column?
Looking back, with the perspective of adulthood and significant improvements in my self-awareness, the real forces at work here become apparent. High School sucks. It sucks more than anything I have experienced since in my life. When you're in prison, teenaged logic has you looking forward to anything, anything that might get you out. Even nuclear war. It's easy to feel like you're under siege when your Dad searches your room at random and throws your stuff away. Something like that could make you want a bolthole somewhere that is totally yours, a personal sovereign state that you possess completely, something defensible. Alloy this with the boredom of school, so boring that you can't even pay attention. But Boy Scouts, out in the woods? Now you're talking. Camping, woodcraft, hiking, land navigation, first aid, rifle, pistol, shotgun, map and compass, archery, tomahawk throwing, knives, fire, out under god's sky, free to move, free to be. That was the life for me. Despite the dumb uniforms, it seemed more real than high school ever did.
Imagine studying carefully for something, making yourself smart and strong and tough, but that you possess these capabilities invisibly and silently. You seem unchanged - You look like the same old skinny geek. Then imagine that the basic rules of the world are changed, that now everything is upside down. You fit into this new post catastrophe world like a glove. You were made for each other. In this new world, the jocks and grade grovelers are as inadequate as fish on bicycles. But you, you are a goddamned operator. You are the Lord of the Wasteland, the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla. This new world, which you cup jealously in your heart of hearts, is the ultimate outdoor, go-go geek feel good payback. This is where I felt I could belong. It came complete with a secret base, a reversal of fortune, and the bright promise of violence. It included a self-righteousness, the prospect of lording your own preparedness and fitness for survival over the "weak." It says, "When the shit hits the fan, the sheep are in for a real shocker. I can move, I can shoot, I can fucking survive. I'm an operator - as serious as a heart attack. Once the looting begins in earnest, I'm really looking forward to giving it to you right between the horns, because the gloves will be off." Perversely, it gave me a kind of strength that carried me through my adolescent years, a well stocked bunker of the soul.
Some 15 years later, I am confronted with what feels like a much scarier situation. There will be no 30 minute warning, courtesy of the USSR being kind enough to be a technoindustrial nation-state, considerately attacking with big ballistic missiles that we can track with radar. Instead, I get invisible teams of suicidal fifth-columnists, men in polo shirts with flat, dead eyes, living in condos until they are ready to dump a tractor-trailerload of liquid cyanide into the drinking water supply. And I don't feel ready. I feel exposed and vulnerable, and I don't like it. Why don't they just head down to the Big Five Sports, buy some rifles, give me a call on the phone, and we can take this game into the mountains, like men? Why don't we head back to the mountains in Virginia, where I can play holy warrior, and they can see how they like it for a change?
Confronted with the reality of this situation, as an adult, it's time to think about how much it will suck. Actively suck. The idea of someone plotting the demise of my nation, my people, and me, in furtive darkness, incites an almost immediate physical reaction - it makes me feel like I'm going to vomit. Gone is the relish with which I used to imagine ransacking abandoned homes for canned food, or crossing the Great Plains on foot to reach some rumored enclave of civilization, where I would hire myself out as a mercenary. Now I am left to consider the pucker factor of actual fucking crazy looters storming my fragile home of wood and glass. I am left to consider the real consequences of what happens in a city that loves a good riot, when three million people with illegal guns decide to divvy up 200,000 doses of Ciprofloxin, conveniently distributed in pharmacies and hospitals throughout the city.
So the work begins. And it is work. Funny how my fantasies never included this. Carefully listing out the "button up" scenarios, and the evacuation scenarios. Long checklists of food, water, fuel, clothing, batteries, ammunition. Pouring over maps, finding three evacuation routes over the San Gabriel Mountains, to the relative freedom of the interior beyond. Making call sheets. Map packets. Sitting down with people and walking them through what will happen when I pick up the phone and say, "We're getting out of Dodge. Now."
I feel like a moron as I stand in line at the Trader Joes buying 6 cases of water. It takes forever to get it into the car, then carry it down the stairs around the house, down the hill, and into the basement below. There's twenty gallons of unleaded down there too, in case the car is dry when the balloon goes up. Don't forget the fuel stabilizer, so the fuel doesn't varnish - unleaded gas only has a shelf life of 6 months. That's an extra trip to the Home Depot, but while you're there, you can pick up an extra ventilator and some P100 rated filters. You know, for the cloud of anthrax? And don't forget some polyethylene sheeting for the safe room.
I call my brothers, and ask them if they have planned their evacuation routes from Chicago and Washington D.C.. Washington - if the bad guys have one nuke, that's where they'll use it. My brothers listen, patiently, while I rant and rave and bubble over with fear and anxiety. I email my father and he tells me to send a copy of my planned route out of the city and across the country. We both agree that Mom doesn't need to know. Doesn't need to know that her husband and first born are plotting an evacuation, that her first born has gone mad with fear that he thought he would never feel again. Mother doesn't need to know that the rage is still there too, the desire to see someone pay for the injustice of all this, to see somebody pay from beneath the barrel of my gun. It's no longer an escape fantasy once you have to start making lists, and trips to the store, and considering the various contingencies. Where are my bands of raiders in hockey equipment and loin cloths? My dog hasn't been granted the power of speech thanks to a mutation. There is no noble struggle to save a library from a band of Luddite rabble, culminating in the obligatory small-arms battle.
It's just work. It was supposed to be a kind of desperate fun, but it's just a chore. It is a deadly silliness.
It is no fun being the Lord of the Wasteland.