No one is safe. Rich and poor alike are in constant danger. Most people don’t know the extent of the risk they’re taking in simply leaving the house, much less going into the city to shop or work. Traps have been laid. Secret agents lie in wait. A taxi driver, store clerk or doorman may be an assassin, and there are tens of thousands of them in all areas of the country, waiting for a prearranged signal to strike.
Don’t expect to be informed by traditional news outlets or social media of the real level of risk. They have known for weeks, but are under heavy pressure by government and police to not spread rumors. No one knows how heavily infiltrated are their ranks.
Best to simply stay home and minimize your exposure. Read quietly. Stay offline. Don’t answer the phone. Wait for further instruction.
It may turn out that the first sign that calamity has arrived will be blood in the streets, the screams of your neighbors, the glint of sharpened steel as your attacker prepares to strike. Wait. Pray.
The stories coming from abroad are frightening. Mass executions at sports arenas, using anti-aircraft guns. Contests among spectators regarding how many standing in line can be killed with one shot. Stray dogs unleashed to clean up the gore at the end of the day, then seen about town carrying a foot or hand in their mouths. Decapitated heads sold on eBay.
Everyone would like to think it can’t happen here. After all, we’re the word’s leading democracy. Or we were. Our leaders are but trusted servants. Or were. Come to think of it, maybe they never were. Maybe that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.
I have a special suit of clothes I wear when the going gets rough. It’s a toilet paper suit. On special occasions, especially on days when I think I might be having sex later on, I wear underpants, usually made from a trash bag I find on the street. Then I’m ready to face whatever might come my way. Toilet paper is actually an ideal material from which to fashion an all-season garment. When it gets wet it dries all crinkly, like crushed silk. If you need to patch an area, you simply start wrapping again.
I stopped using toilet paper for its usual purpose years ago, adopting a spray gun attached to the toilet plumbing. No more clogged drains, and it’s less environmentally wasteful. Half the forests in North America are devoted to producing toilet paper, paper towels, napkins and facial tissue.
But those concerns will seem distant and contrived as soon as the big collapse arrives. Hard to focus on personal hygiene when the very survival of our nation is at stake.
There are rumors that cannibalism abounds now that Burger King and McDonalds have gone out of business. First there were stories about horse and dog meat, but now that one rarely sees a horse or a dog, there are concerns that it’s people next in line at the meat counter. All our news is heavily censored. For every worrying development, the new state-sponsored journalists must run a wholesome, positive piece. Mobs in Bulgaria are burning Hungarians alive, but a kindergarten class in Fort Collins has put on a show about the Easter Bunny.
Most of us gave up watching television long ago. We’re hiding in the dark, reading by flashlight or candle. We whisper when we share information with each other.
Yesterday, I found a small box on the sidewalk, and in it an earpiece that looks to me like a hearing aid. I cleaned the earwax from the tip and inserted it in my ear and could hear a woman counting in Italian. Since there was no Italian woman nearby, I theorized it was a radio broadcast of some kind. The only control on the earpiece was an on/off switch.
When I got home, I sat in my easy chair and listened some more. Now there was a man’s voice telling a sad story in English. Then he began to sing “You’ve Got Me Crying Again, You’ve Got Me Sighing Again.” The song stopped, then the woman counting in Italian started back up.
That night I took the earpiece to bed with me and listened for a few hours as I attempted to drift off to sleep. A different male voice was giving measurements for something…”2.8 centimeters, 1.4 millimeters.” The lists went on and on. I must have fallen asleep for when I woke in the morning the earpiece was still working, only now a voice that sounded exactly like Jack Benny was saying “Rochester, come here, I want you!” Canned laughter, and then the unmistakable voice of his manservant Rochester saying “Sure think Mr. Benny!” More canned laughter.
I thought, how odd that the battery didn’t wear out during the night. So I searched for a battery compartment, and upon opening a little door, saw there was no battery inside, just an empty space.
Lack of power did not seem a problem for my magic earpiece. At various times during the day I listened in and heard men with deep voices singing in Russian, a child talking to his pet rabbit, and a sobbing woman saying “Todos estan muertos. Muertos!”
I had to give the little machine credit for one thing: it certainly wasn’t predictable. Just before bedtime, it spoke to me directly. It said my name and told me to go to the roof and face East. I asked “are you talking to me?” and it replied “of course I am. Go to the roof and face East.” At that point I realized it contained a microphone of some sort.
Our building has a stairway from the top floor to a doorway which opens onto a rooftop paved with asphalt and gravel. Nobody ever goes up there. I did as instructed and stood facing East. After about thirty seconds I could see someone on the roof of a nearby building waving a green light. I waved back. This went on for less that a minute, then the waving light turned to red. I waved some more. Then the light went out and I went back downstairs. I inserted the earpiece. The voice said “Good job. We’ll be in touch.”
That night I didn’t sleep hardly at all. I avoided the earpiece. In fact, I put it in my sock drawer, buried in pile of mismatched socks and tried to forget about it. Trying to forget about something that’s causing you anxiety is a lost cause. It was as if it were calling to me from the sock drawer.
Then, in the middle of the night, it began to call to me from the sock drawer. It was using the gravelly voice of Rochester, Jack Benny’s Man Friday.
“Go back up to the roof. They’re waiting on you. Go. Hurry up! Go!” Rochester implored, his voice slightly muffled through the layer of socks.
This time when I went up to the roof, it was a different scene entirely. There were laser beams sweeping the sky, emanating from a least two different points. One came from a mountain on the Western horizon, the other from the tallest building in our city. I could hear growling and weeping coming from the street below. I didn’t dare go to the roof edge to look down.
I turned to leave and found a woman standing behind me. She put her finger to her lips to motion me to stay silent. I followed her down the stairs and out of the building. We walked to a nearby parking garage, entered it, then down many flights of stairs, far more than I thought would exist in a parking facility. When we got to the bottom level, I could hear people talking. We entered a large room containing maybe two hundred people, most of them sitting in lotus position on the floor. We took out place in the last row.
The woman leaned towards me and whispered “we meet down here because cellphones and wiretaps don’t work this far underground.” I nodded.
Someone called the meeting to order and began to speak. “We are here to fight back. We are here to save our own lives and our families. Time is running out. We have to act quickly or not at all.”
I looked around. People nodded and all expressions were grim.
I asked the woman what I could do to help. She motioned for the to follow her into another room. Here were tanks of water about the size of refrigerators lying on their side. The lights in the room were dim. I could hear a low frequency sound that reminded me of monks chanting.
“We float. Surrender to the void. A bunch of us floating and surrendering will mean ultimate victory.”
“How long will I be in there?”
“As long as you like. You let yourself in and out. It’s salt water. You float in a few inches of salt water that’s kept at body temperature. There’s no sensation at all. That’s the point of it. Unlike sitting meditation, you don’t have to do anything at all. Not even sit up straight or count your breath.”
“So what do I do with my brain?”
“You’ll find out.”
Turns out you had to be naked to float. I was shown to an empty box and let myself in through the door at the top. It was closed with a velcro seal, so I didn’t worry about being locked in.
At first I was disappointed. I had hoped for pleasantly warm water, or something that might feel good, but there was no feeling at all. Within a few minutes my mind kicked into overdrive and I began to daydream at a furious pace. I forgot my surroundings for minutes at a time.
It was like being in a movie theater, watching a Cinerama movie screen, only I was both the viewer and sometimes an actor in the film. I was always the writer and director. Sometimes the movie was sad, embarrassing, and at other times it was fun or erotic. It kept changing. I could neither control the content nor my reaction to it.
This went on for what seemed a long time. Then there was a knock on the plastic door above my head. I reached up and pushed it open. It was the woman who had brought me here.
“It’s been over two hours. Maybe that should be enough for your first day.” She could have said “it’s been six weeks” and I wouldn’t have argued. She helped me out and handed me a towel. I dried myself and dressed.
“Amazing,” I mumbled. “How is this helping?”
“So long as you don’t obsess about what’s wrong now, you’re part of the solution.”
I wasn’t sure I believed her, but I showed up the next day and did another two hours in the tank. I began to think that I was learning something important in the process. No matter what I was thinking or feeling at any given moment, whether I was aware of thinking or simply caught up in the daydream, it all boiled down to the fact that I was simply a guy floating in a plastic coffin in the basement of a parking garage. My thoughts and feelings paled in comparison to the reality of that fact. I began to realize the importance of the Bible quote “Wear this world like a loose garment.” Don’t get too hung up in the details. Be here now. “Relax, turn off your mind and float downstream” said the Beatles.
Maybe the idea is that if you don’t buy into the fact that the world is falling apart, you won’t be contributing to the process. You don’t have to fight back, or convince anybody of anything they don’t already believe, you just have to realize that everything, everywhere is changing all the time. Nothing is solid or permanent. In my tank time, sometimes I’m very sad, or remorseful, but then thirty seconds later I’ve moved on and am happy again, planning ahead.
Even if I weren’t meditating like this with these people, what is would be the way it is and the future will work out the way it will. There are so many factors at work that it’s pure arrogance for me or anyone else to think we can control the outcome. We can avoid contributing to the problems by resigning from the debate. Be here now. I remembered what she said:
“So long as you don’t obsess about what’s wrong now, you’re part of the solution.”