by Kyle K. Mann
“Imagine the Big One hits right now. What do you think will happen?”
I was seated with a buxom friend at a trendy Sunset Avenue sidewalk cafe at dusk. I’ll call her “Ms. Gonzo,” since I can’t describe her beyond that for reasons I can’t explain here. She lifted an elegant eyebrow at me and sipped her drink. Perhaps detecting one of my verbal volcanic blasts in progress, she said nothing, waiting for me to speak.
The Big One is something most L.A. residents have given some thought to. Even a moderate-sized earthquake located in the right spot will cause havoc, as the 1994 Northridge Quake showed with 57 killed, five thousand injured, and over 20 billion in damage. It was not the dreaded Big One. Not even close.
I milked the moment with Ms. Gonzo. It’s an old radio habit to go for the drama. And my Bloody Mary was a strong one. The waitress passed by and I ordered another, feeling good. Ms. Gonzo had been dogging me about having two cell phones on the table, so I asked the waitress if she thought it was weird. “No, sir,” she reassured me. I was rewarded by an expression of wry chagrin from Ms. Gonzo. The waitress, however, continued, “My boyfriend has two phones. It drives me crazy.” Ms. Gonzo nodded, at least partially validated.
Cheerfully I returned to my thread. “Ok, so the Big One strikes. We run out into the street to avoid the structure collapse.” It was just a one-story building, and we were outside on the sidewalk, but still… “The first thing we hear is thousands of car alarms going off. The din is tremendous. Power off, the streets dark, screams for help from the injured. Pavement probably buckles, and the streets are undrivable. Cell phones likely out or weak what with multiple cell towers down. Water mains rupture, so the geysers start gushing. Taps run dry within minutes.”
She shrugged. “I’d rather focus on something positive.”
“Most of us do, but I like to at least figure out the worst and prepare for it, like having two cell phones. Ok, just to finish the thought. Likely tens of thousands are dead in building collapses. Injured are screaming for help. Food and clean water are suddenly at a premium. Stores looted within hours. Cars useless and the only way out of the area is to walk. The first several days will be a living hell.” My second drink arrived, and Ms. Gonzo took the opportunity to change the subject. So much for that.
But even the Big One that Angelinos are waiting for would eventually be recovered from. It might take years or even decades. But looming on our national nightmare threshold is the next 9-11, and I contend that that one we will not recover from. At least, not with anything like the quality of life we had before.
The next 9-11, if it happens, will be the death knell of a free society in the United States. It won’t matter what or where it is, how it happens or who did it. Dirty bomb in Boston? Suitcase nuke in Nashville? Toxic chemicals in Chicago? A dozen screaming terrorists firing automatic weapons at the Super Bowl? Whatever it is, should it occur, the aftermath is going to be an endless acid bummer.
The roadblocks in the street every mile or so will be just the beginning. Internet censorship will be rigorous, and thoughtcrime will be punished severely. Those existing NSA files on everyone will be called up at the slightest display of disrespect, and every aspect of our past and present will be scrutinized with hostility and precision, analyzed and pondered by beady-eyed government monitors. Half of us will be jailers, half inmates.
The 2012 NDAA provisions for indefinite detention without trial will be widely used by Obama or his successors without mercy. People will just start to disappear. Any troublemakers with a high profile will be removed and then later their sympathizers.
The fear many “liberals” felt after 9-11 will be back but now a hundredfold. The chilling effect on art, on political expression, on criticism of war and wasteful military spending will be profound. Homeland Security personnel will double overnight, then double again. Interment camps, reeducation. It will be The Horrific Homeland.
Later that night with Ms. Gonzo, we sat eating ice cream on The Strip. I beamed at her with the absurd rosy fondness that love gives for one last time. Then my life began to unravel: her cell rang. With almost casual cruelty she showed me the screen’s caller ID. It showed the name of The Other. My doom was writ large. “I’m taking it,” she announced flatly.
I knew at once I should get up from the table and walk away. Don’t listen, fool. But the vodka was working in my system, making me stubborn. In the previous months I had spared no expense to woo her. Bah, I thought, she wants privacy, let her be the one to get up and walk away. I paid the price for my intransigence, listening to her talk to The Other using a tender tone I had seldom heard directed at me. “Will I see you when you come to town?” The tone was pleading, vulnerable, a gigantic jagged dagger plunging into my soul. Damn, I thought, this is hopeless, I’m toast. I shook my head, determined to ignore my deep intuition.
In the following days my idiotic yearning heart was indeed shredded piece by piece. I thought I had felt pain before, but I had no idea I could be tortured over a solid period of weeks with each day worse than the previous. I carried on as an ardent suitor must, foolishly optimistic until the final hideous moonlit night that marked the end. Rejected, with prejudice, and walked away from like so much roadkill, like a dead stinkin’ coyote.
In that moment of ultimate despair, feeling like love would never come to me again and that I faced a lonely old age of wretched misery, I finally completely understood the crazies waiting for apocalypse, those whose lives are so achingly empty that an ending of our times would be welcomed. In their torment, their wish for a cessation of life and hope, the mad desire of a ruinous smoking landscape equals the void in their souls. Jesus will get the sinners at last.
I was enlightened and Saved. Understanding them and their state of wishing for universal termination, I rejected it firmly. No, I will wish for the best for all beings. I must prepare for the worst and expect the best. I will wish Ms. Gonzo and The Other joy. I will walk away head held high, having done my very best, and will find a magical mate…or not. Onward into the mysterious future!
Yep, I will continue living this in goddamned L.A. and this evil warmongering U.S.A., fervently hoping to be wrong about my intellectual and emotional suspicion that something unspeakable is lurking on our event horizon. May I turn out to be shockingly incorrect, indeed amazingly unprescient, and happy when I die in the knowledge that in my time, at least, both the Big One and the second 9-11 never came along at all.
As for dear Ms. Gonzo, to whom I offered my entire life, one thing about having Loved and Lost: I just saved myself a shitload of money.
Kyle K. Mann