A week before the proposed end of the Mayan world, I ordered nearly 2 grand worth of food off the Costco website. There’s a special section on their website called “Emergency Kits and Supplies.” I figured it was better to be safe than hungry.
I didn’t foresee the end coming like a movie trailer where the words THE END scroll across the proverbial sky. Over the past few months I’d found myself in the section of Youtube where you say to yourself “How in the hell did I find my way here again?” It’s the place where Peace Corps volunteers take turns pulling embedded insects out of their bodies with pliers and the old man in India discovers his dead twin brother has been living and rotting inside his small intestine since birth.
It’s also the section where I was glued for months to the Discovery Channel clips about the doomsday prophecies, a ritual that was sort of like looking at the photos in the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist - there are things in this section that imprint into and onto you forever - which is why I sort of envisioned a slow, steady Rock Em Sock Em Robot ending to our world.
Given all the time zone differences, I calculated that it could take 7 days to 7 years for the end to actually occur. I mean that’s how long the average disaster takes on CNN (including reruns and late-breaking footage). Living through my own Hurricane Sandy Storm Center updates (click here to see my video posts), I knew it was definitely not a good idea to go into a potential crisis on an empty stomach.
And so, I ordered enough seeds for five years, enough food to last five people three months (9697 servings of elbow macaroni, three hundred pounds of rice and some sort of peach drink) and cardboard containers made out of some kind of astronaut material that would hold 20,000 gallons of water.
When the UPS driver pulled away, he left a pile of boxes (each with the word “Thrive” written on the side) in the driveway that resembled a gorgeous corrugated breast. Despite the fact that I’m a single guy, my response was Pavlovian. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d seen in quite a while.
It took an hour to carry the boxes inside, all the while thinking about nothing but curling up on my king size bed and sucking on a mylarfoil pouch full of beef flavored vegetable stew. If things got bad enough maybe I’d put a wig on the pouch and draw a face on it with a black magic marker just like Tom Hanks did with his volley ball in the movie Castaway. Like a version of a blow up doll, I might get one last kiss after all.
When the boxes filled the living room and the view of our lone, singing Christmas tree on the rotating turnstile had been replaced by the corrugated breast, my Dad flipped out (but not all the way).
He only 50% flipped out because he knew there was a 50% chance the world would end on Friday, but he also knew that on Christmas day 50 relatives were coming over for dinner and having a room filled with a corrugated breast was not part of the original plan.
My dad is 50% Rain Man 50% Francisco Goya and 50% John Wayne from the Movie The Cowboys - OCD, addicted to drama and sensitive to helping young men who are a little bit lost and bad with math. I could tell that despite his ranting he also felt a little proud to have a son like me who spent the majority of his book advance money so selflessly.
You Can Take Back Anything
12/21/12 came and went. The corrugated breast had to go. (There were 50 people coming over for
Christmas dinner). And taking the breast back to Costco was no small feat. By the time I packed the boxes into my pickup, drove to Costco, found a parking spot, found a cart, unloaded the boxes, rolled the boxes in, talked to the cashier, talked to the manager, talked to all the customers at the counter returning all their stuff that was much dumber than my corrugated breast, talked to the cashier again, opened each box, closed each box, watched her check each item off the list on her clipboard, waited for the manager to get my substantial refund from the safe, it took about six hours.
In the meantime, I basked in the glory of being a Costco celebrity. Had I known, I would have worn my black suit, the one bought specifically for my future appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Nearly everyone that walked by asked me questions. One woman took a photo of herself beside my corrugated breast which was now on a rolling cart.
Q: Did you really think the world was going to end?
A: Uhm, yes. You would too if you found the “How in the hell did I find my way to this section again?” section of Youtube.
Q: Are you one of those people?
A: I don’t have a bunker or carry a Leatherman with a built-in compass if that’s what you mean.
Q: That was such a selfless act. To whom do you attribute such rare selflessness?
A: Thank you. It’s a fairly new trait of mine and I owe it all to BB (see the next section for the full explanation).
Entering a New Story in 2013
The day after my last blog post (click here to read it) which was exactly two weeks before the end of the world, I received the following email from BB via the Psychology Today inquiry page.
From: BB <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Your actions are incredibly unkind. Or perhaps the unkindness is just a bi-product of your profound self-obsession. Regardless, it's unfortunate. You are obviously very smart and intuitive and could do so much good with your talents. But instead you're too busy fixating on your own pain to recognize that you might be of service to others. And in that service find the relief that you so obviously desperately seek. I'm sorry that your heart-hurt has blinded you so. I truly wish it heals quickly so that you'll be able to be an active agent of good instead of immense solipsism. Try stepping out of yourself a bit and thinking of others. I think you'll find the world is far better than the limited narrative you've created for yourself. We are all worthy of kindness. And it makes good sense to treat others as we'd have them treat us. I seriously wish you light and love. You and the world deserve a much better version of yourself.
At first, I was excited because I assumed “immense solipsism” described some kind of ethnic dish that included a lot of melted cheese. As a big fan of nachos, I googled the phrase and expected to find an image of a new culinary treasure. Instead, I found out it meant that I was a big jerk.
I wrote to BB (who just so happens to have the same initials as my ex-girlfriend) but my response came back as undeliverable. Then, I figured my ex wouldn’t try to confuse me with big words or a lame email address. Maybe the girl I met at Obscura Antiques & Oddities wrote it? Maybe it was her friend? Maybe it was another girl who secretly wanted me to write about her problems?
That my “actions were incredibly unkind,” caused me to sink to an all time low. For days, I actually considered quitting writing altogether. I mean, I didn’t purposely set out to tell my story to hurt someone else....to be “incredibly unkind.” In another dimension, there was another version of me “stepping out of myself a bit and thinking of others,” buying everyone, everywhere a watermelon Slurpee.
Then, I thought, “WWJAD? What would Jonathan Ames do?” I mean he’s written about having boxing matches with men in his underwear in hotel rooms and what it’s like to carry a book bag well into his forties and never disguised himself in his own stories. I thought about writing to him for advice, but I have in the past and he never writes back.
So, I sent out a mayday to two of my most despicable writing friends - Eliezer and George - both bloggers. They are the closest thing to literary bottom feeders that exist. They do things with words that should be illegal.
Eliezer reminded me that the writer Phillip Roth was disowned by his entire family when his book was published. This only made me more nervous. Then, he sent me some of his own hate mail and I felt much better. George called me while I was talking to Eliezer and when I didn’t click over he sent me a text making me feel bad about myself. And so, all in all, I was worse off after my mayday than before. I should have just written to Jonathan Ames.
Enter the Age of the Personal Identity Story
I used to think our recent cultural obsession with reality revealed the shallow ego-centered nougat of our gene pool - American Idol, The Moth, The Real World, People Magazine, David Sedaris, This American Life, news programs that put our bumps, burns and bruises on display 24-7. Now that the world has ended, I see things a little differently.
I think the Mayans were right all along. The old world has ended and a new world has begun. The new era brings with it a new narrative, one that BB alluded to in her email above, one that people like BB aren’t attuned to yet, one where most of us still confuse selfishness and greed with generosity and unconditional love.
In this place, we are no longer using our personal identity stories to escape. Now, we are using them to avoid escape. Now, we are using them to travel to a much deeper place where we can connect with others and ourselves on a much more satisfying level. From a cultural perspective it reveals a shift in consciousness, one which the Mayans predicted with the end of days.
Last week I found this video. It takes what I do on my blog to a whole new level. A video of a break up while the break up occurs.
Jonathan Mann And Ivory King post their final song as a couple. Then, post break up post, the video goes viral and they have to talk about it all over again and again and again. I tweeted to the couple and they tweeted back. A conversation and a personal narrative that is different than anything we’ve experienced since the days of the Woolly Mammoth.
While I watch it, I feel like a voyeur, a friend, an audience member, and a Peeping Tom at the same time. I get to feel ashamed and aroused and slightly uncomfortable, which is what the new narrative is all about. Maybe it’s just that my vision has shifted slightly now that I’m a Costco celebrity. Maybe, every stack of boxes will look like a gorgeous corrugated breast now. Would that be such a bad thing?