Smiling at the Apocalypse

Posted by jdg | Friday, January 22, 2010

The kid's birthday is in a couple weeks and after several days spent in the fetal position on the floor (more on that later) I recently found myself standing at a toy store deciding where I stand in the great yuppie parent divide between Playmobil and Lego, knowing that once the initial investment is made it's almost impossible to go back. The consequences of this decision felt dire.

Although I was a Lego kid growing up, I ended up going with Playmobil. The Playmobil universe has fewer annoying licensed versions and video games and there seems to be slightly fewer creepy Playmobil websites run by adults with way too much time and disposable income than what's out there for Lego. Further, I like how everyone from the anarchist g8 protester with a gun pointed at his head to the alligator that's about to get shot by a couple of rednecks in a hovercraft seem so happy and vaguely Scandinavian, like they're all fresh from the set of a Mentos commercial. Even the caged zoo creatures and performing circus animals have a pleasant air about them, as though living in miserable confinement or performing demeaning tricks at the crack of a whip somehow isn't so bad. Ultimately I was won over the by the historical collections, which would have you believe that life as a marauding buccaneer, medieval peasant, or imperialist legionnaire was all smiles, all the time.

* * * * *

Heading for the toy store was the first time I left home after I got back from seeing the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's apocalypse novel The Road. I think living in Detroit and watching The Road in the middle of January is not a good idea. It's basically two hours of watching the whole world turned into Detroit in January without any hope of the renewal of Spring (and with cannibal-run human farms instead of crack houses). I could have spent the last few days wondering what kind of global catastrophe would KILL EVERYTHING GREEN IN THE WHOLE WORLD but allow Viggo Mortensen to live, but instead I spent all that time revising my apocalypse notebook.  

I have had an apocalypse plan for as long as I can remember. Early on, things were simple: maintain a supply of canned food and potable H2O; travel before dawn; avoid the dirtbike gangs. When I got married, I added something in there about building a small gyrocopter to transport beloved wife above roving dirtbike gangs if necessary. Now that I have kids, the apocalypse plan is so convoluted and filled with contingencies I'm afraid when the apocalypse actually comes, following the plan is going to be like a group reading of Choose Your Own Adventure: Portents of Nostradamus at gunpoint, with the guns held by a group of burly Visigoth rapists circling us on sputtering motorcycles. I hope, at least, our food stores will last long enough that the Visigoths will have finally run out of bullets and they will be forced to shoot flaming arrows when we make our escape.

It has always seemed unfair that so many of the skills that will be really useful during Armageddon are not those that most law-abiding citizens ever learn: things like hot wiring cars and siphoning gas and digging moats that will properly retain foetid-corpse water. For years I have been quite certain that my last words would be, But you never know when you might need someone who can translate Xenophon! I have a feeling that whenever the apocalypse hits, a great many of us will be slapping our foreheads wishing we'd taken the time to learn how to fashion wrist crossbows or how to make a nice ragoƻt out of dog food. I, for one, will be sorry that I pussed out on the Tiger Cubs when I was seven.

I have looked on the survivalists, the millennial fear mongers, the peak oilers, and fundamentalist Christian gun nuts with some degree of sympathy. These are the people who will one day have to show us mercy if they turn out to be right, so it's best, I think, not to be too rude about their beliefs (sort of like extending Pascal's wager to those who have been stockpiling provisions and ammunition rather than worrying about whether their 42" inch plasma televisions are high-def enough or whether that bitch in accounting realizes these are real Louboutins). I've been trying to write this post for days but I always end up down the rabbit hole of survivalist websites and blogs, wondering whether my buckshot bandoleer is big enough, or admiring the ventilation system in someone else's underground bunker, or pricing hand-cranked grist mills. My wife will peek at what I'm doing and ask me, "Have you been watching The History Channel again?" For a cable channel that's supposedly all about history, it sure does focus mostly on its end (seriously History Channel, wtf?). Recently they had some show on called Apocalypse Man in which this asshole shows you how to survive in an urban environment after the inevitable global meltdown.  It was all filmed here in Detroit, of course, and he did some goofy parkour nonsense to get inside and install a radio antenna on top of an abandoned skyscraper I can see from my bedroom window. I wish the History Channel would stick to actual history make a show about how awful life was for the vast majority of people for hundreds of thousands of years so that if the apocalypse does come, at least we'll be able to say, "Hey, we've been through worse."

* * * * *

I was finally able to emerge from the funk caused by The Road after reading this funny bit in The Guardian. I looked at my own kids and thought, God, why bother surviving the apocalypse if these picky eaters will just end up killing me with ingratitude?

"Here, eat this delicious dried-out cicada husk."

. . .

"Sweet! A packet of duck sauce!"

. . .

"We might find some peanut shells in the dumpster behind that burnt-out Lone Star Steakhouse."

. . .

Either the ingratitude will do me in, or the inevitable whining when they realize there is no cheese pizza in post-apocalyptic Detroit. 

* * * * *

I stand before the Playmobil universe amazed at all the different scenarios, but wishing they made a post-apocalypse line. I imagine you could cobble one together between the pirates, poachers, police, city life, and barbarian sets: a blacksmith fastening armor from scrapped aluminum siding; a guy using a bicycle pump to pilfer diesel fuel from an abandoned gas station; a smiling family surrounded by guys in Viking helmets riding ATVs; even smiling urban farmers growing kale and raising goats to feed the rest of us. In the Playmobil apocalypse, everyone would be smiling.

With bifurcated fist gripping bifurcated fist, we'll get through this without complaint. We'll get through this together.