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What Is an Apocalypse, and Why Can't People Just Call It Doomsday?
"Assessing your personal megadeath potential is simple using this handy map."
—Gar Smith, New West magazine
The most important things for you to concern yourself with in the coming bad years is, Who's responsible and how can I get even? It is essential that we find someone to blame and really beat the hell out of him. Sure, the tragedy of the past is that we are condemned to repeat it, but does that make you feel any better? No! Your first task is to find a scapegoat.
It will be recalled that Germany in the 1930s blamed the Jews for its economic woes. Jews are good scapegoats because with their long pointy tails they are easily visible, but they are definitely not to blame for the present recession. True, one memorable bar mitzvah did wreck the economy of Scarsdale in the summer of 1976, but Scarsdale's economy had been shaky for some time anyway, what with the inordinate amount of money the town had spent on wall-to-wall carpeting for its sewer system.
Modern Americans are fortunate in having many scapegoats to blame: the Arabs for their oil pricing, the Russians for the arms race, the Japanese for their exports, the Federal Reserve, the bankers, welfare recipients, stockbrokers, Republicans, Democrats, the President, the Governor, the Mayor. Our common sense, however, tells us that none of these can accurately be cited as the source of America's financial doldrums.
That is because the true source of America's financial doldrums is the old American Basketball Association. This nation was doing just fine until the merger of the A.B.A. with the National Basketball Association. Our national debt just prior to the merger was a manageable five hundred billion dollars; only ten million people were out of work; and only fifteen million more people on welfare drained the nation's lifeblood; murder, rape, burglary, larceny, arson, and vandalism caused untold suffering to no more than one person in every three households.
But observe the astonishing change on the very day the A.B.A. and N.B.A. inked their pact: the balance of world geopolitics was violently and permanently altered, social unrest escalated at an unprecedented rate, and international recessionary trends manifested themselves with unwonted ferocity. Plus, it rained like hell that day—flooded subways, battered umbrellas, not a taxi to be had for love or money! What a mess!
It should be particularly noted that on that day, the cost of garbanzo beans registered an incredible 8.9 fluctuation on the Kremnitzer-Fergenmacher scale. Because garbanzos are vital to the production of reinforced pantyhose, they are traditionally used by social scientists as the most sensitive and accurate barometer of economic change. A mere three-ounce fluctuation in any given month has proven time and again to be a harbinger of good times or bad, and on A.B.A.-N.B.A. merger day you couldn't find a single can on the shelf of the A&P on Madison Avenue and Eighty-seventh Street. The very next week you had the Great Pantyhose Scare.
Note, too, the significant dip in sales of long-playing polka albums, virtually a mirror image of the growth in pro basketball salaries. Goddamn things fell right off the chart!
So I say, let's get these basketball players and hurt them bad. Break their fingers! Smash their kneecaps! Now, you say that punishing basketball players won't bring back a stable economy. Not true! In February 1978, when pro basketball was suspended for three days to allow for conversion of player heights to the metric system, the Dow Jones average soared, consumer prices leveled out for the first time since the McKinley assassination, and put-and-call volume on the Chicago sowbelly exchange hit a peak unmatched before or since. Actually, there weren't that many puts, but the calls! "Sowbellies! Sowbellies!" You couldn't cross Michigan Avenue without hearing some damn fool hollering, "Sowbellies!"
The Apocalypse and You
Now that we have determined how we got to this sorry pass and have avenged ourselves with the blood of the transgressors, we must turn our attention to the coming Apocalypse and ask ourselves this critical question: which end of the tube do you want to be on when the world starts going down it?
In order to answer, it is essential for you to recognize whether or not you have an apocalyptic personality—whether, to use the scientific term, you have "apocalybility." In his landmark study conducted at the University of California's Cahuenga campus, pathologist Yitzik Marylebone measured volunteers' responses to what he called Doomsday stimuli, of which there are five known, three inferable from evidence, and a couple more awaiting matching grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Among Marylebone's tests for apocalybility are the following:
Do you flinch when a meteorite is hurtling toward your face?
Are you afraid to rabbit-chop your mother in the throat when she tries to cadge your emergency rations?
If a ten-day bank holiday were declared tomorrow, would you cancel your dentist appointment?
Does the prospect of a protracted and exquisitely agonizing death from radiation poisoning bother you?
Which do you think it's nobler in the mind to do: suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Or take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them?
Marylebone supplemented this test with a questionnaire which included the following questions:
True or False?
There is no relationship between plummeting bond yields and battered wives.
Mussolini came to power after mass sitdown strikes by standup comics.
Sixty-five percent of your Social Security contribution goes toward reparations to the Confederacy for the Battle of Chickamauga.
You can roll pension funds into slush funds without running up a big cleaning bill.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation will reimburse you up to $100,000 if, during a run on the banks, your savings passbook is shredded by a crazed shopping bag lady.
After sifting through the responses, Marylebone classified them into three distinct personality traits, which he termed Type A, Type B, and Go Away We're Closed. Type A personalities, when told, for instance, that ten minutes ago Russia launched two hundred intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at the United States, are likely to cover their faces with their hands and blubber, "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God." Type B's, on the other hand, will invariably ask themselves, How can I use this information to get out of paying this month's Master Charge bill?
Once you have determined what type you are, you will know what course to take. If you are Type A, this book really doesn't concern you, and you may as well stop reading here. And if you think you're entitled to a refund, Mack, just try and get one.
For Type B's, however, the prospects are bright—if you are willing to use your God-given wits, take some risks, and forget everything you ever learned about the Judeo-Christian ethic.
How the World Will End
If we could penetrate the mists of prehistory, we would see that humans have always been preoccupied with apocalyptic presentiments. Or, to put that in plain English, people have always been worried about the end of the world. From primitive man (and woman), spooked by eclipses of the sun, to medieval man (and woman), cowering before the Black Death, to modern man (and woman), facing the prospect of nuclear annihilation, great significance has always been placed on the interpretation of omens (and owomens). More surprising is that, from the very outset, some people have tried to capitalize on Doomsday anxiety and succeeded.
Testimony to this contention may be seen in the form of a crudely inscribed piece of water buffalo scat discovered by a team of anthropologists headed by Annamarie Yerb of the Parsons School of Design. This wonderful find, called the Serengeti Puckey, may be seen in the Scatology Wing of New York City's Museum of Natural History. It describes the concern evinced by a middle-aged Australopithecus erectus that impinging glaciation was creating a bearish decline in hartebeests, whose liver, kidneys, and other kishkes were prized by these humanoids. The Serengeti Puckey goes on to tell how a member of the tribe whose name loosely translates to Stanislaus Wysocki had been speculating on these innards to the annoyance of the rest of the tribe, which had thereupon beaten his brains to bouillabaisse with heavy rocks.
So there is nothing new about Doomsday worries. It's just that the world is more complex. But try and get a good piece of hartebeest liver for under $3.79 a pound.
As we bend our vision to the future, we may perhaps feel twinges of dread not dissimilar to those experienced by our primitive ancestors at the prospect that the Big Short-Order Chef in the Sky is going to eighty-six life on this planet as we have known it. Perhaps we should pause here to examine the ways in which the world will end.
Those of us with classical educations are familiar with the commonly depicted "Four Horsemen" of the Apocalypse, namely, Famine, War, Pestilence, and Sneezy. We know they're saddled up and stomping anxiously around the starting gate. How will they manifest themselves—and when?
There are four major schools of thought, which because of their proximity have formed the Apocalypse League, with spirited competition in badminton, lacrosse, and Johnny-Jumpthe-Pony. Now, what are the philosophies of these schools?
Well, some say the world will end in fire, some say ice. Some say the world will end in a bang, some say a whimper.
Fire. Advocates of the fire school maintain that extraterrestrial influences will cause tens of millions of people to fall asleep while smoking in bed.
Ice. Ice advocates say that (thanks to the same extraterrestrial influences) a massive polar ice cap will descend on the planet, covering all land areas with deep ice and canceling skiing for the season.
Bang. The Bang school is divided into two subgroups, the Big Bangers and the Little Bangers. We know about the Big Bang theory of the end of the world, but the Little Bang is considerably more abstruse. However, since the Little Bang is supposed to go off about fifteen minutes before the Big Bang, the distinction seems immaterial.
Whimper. Finally, there are the Whimperians, who believe that one day, everyone in the world will just sit down wherever they may be and say, "Aw, screw it."
There are lesser schools of thought on the subject, such as the one predicting a deadly meteor shower, or the one predicting a fatal breakdown of the ecosystem, or the one predicting the destruction of the ozone layer over the planet, or the one predicting nuclear power plant disasters. An astronomer has prognosticated an earth-moon collision in four billion years (don't look so distressed: he said four billion, not four million), and a biologist says he is certain there will be a killer virus in our time.
A theory currently making the rounds posits that the world will simply stop spinning and everything will fly off and fall into the sun, except for Los Angeles which will become a satellite of Mars. There is ample evidence even now that the world is slowing down. Researchers at the Furtwangler Institute for Advanced Studies and Horseshoe Instruction observed that the average waiting time for a boccie court in Dubuque has lengthened from ten minutes in 1960 to six hours in 1980. Yet the incidence of sunstroke has increased exponentially, except in women's doubles. These startling data have been rationalized into the following formula:
C2 -B(31 x G4) M + f-6 x v
* * *
In this formula, C equals the number of times the earth turns on its axis daily, B is the number of times it spins on weekends and holidays, G is the height of the Jungfrau, M is for the many things you gave me, f—6 is the proper camera stop for a group photo of the Dubuque boccie team (Won 7-Lost 2), and v is a typographical error—it should have been w.
There is another theory that after an extremely wet winter followed by an extremely arid summer, so much pollen will be released into the air that the entire human race will be convulsed in a giant allergy attack and will thus perish. Still another theory predicts world war on a scale never before witnessed. I am quite familiar with world geopolitics, having taken the Fugazy World Geopolitics Package Tour ("Fourteen Violence-and Terrorism-Filled Days, Fifteen Social Unrest and Leftist-Leaning Nights"), and I can safely predict that if world war does break out, it will commence with the assassination of an archduke in some obscure Balkan country.
Many lesser theories abound about how the world will end. This particular brand of paranoia has been institutionalized in the literature of Survivalists, a growing cult of well-provisioned and well-armed individuals dedicated to the proposition that Civilization Will Definitely Fail in Our Time. At any given assemblage of Survivalists, you may hear advocates of viral pandemics, international power blackouts, worldwide strikes, mass hysteria, mass suicide, and mass transit. One Survivalist believes the most important tool you can salvage from the Final Collapse is a lathe, for not only can you rebuild homes and factories with it, you can make other lathes with it as well. Unfortunately, he has become gravely worried that a master race of lathes will then take over the world.
At any rate, the important thing ... excuse me, but this statement is worthy of its own heading:
The Important Thing
The important thing is not knowing how the world will end, but when. Let me repeat that.
The Important Thing
The important thing is not knowing how the world will end, but when.
So? When is it Going to End?
Just hold your horses. I'll get to it when I'm good and ready.
But You Just Said ...
I know what I just said. Look, Jack, one more word out of you and I'll have you ejected from this book.
Now, I happen to know exactly when the world will end, but I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, and besides, it would kill sales of my newsletter if I told. I can, however, tell you what to look for. Some signs are rather obvious: you'll hear a lot of trumpets, you'll see the earth giving up its dead, lions lying down with lambs, men beating swords into plowshares, rain falling for forty days and forty nights, angels flying all over the place, and masses of people running hysterically against traffic on Madison Avenue, rending their garments. There'll be an assortment of distresses like pestilence, boils, locusts, and murrain (whatever that is), plus some rather unsettling weather disturbances like hail, whirlwinds, and a variation on drought called drouth.
The trouble with all this is that by the time it happens, it'll be much too late to do you any good. Once you see the earth giving up its dead, for instance, figure you have half an hour before it's all over, Charlie.
But there are lesser known—and, indeed, arcane—signs of the coming end which you, in the privacy of your own home, can interpret to your everlasting enrichment. Well, not everlasting, exactly, but certainly longer than half an hour. So commit the following inside information to memory. Later in the book, we'll show you how you can use it to steal a march on your fellowman.
The best way to tell that the end is imminent is to observe the animals. It is commonly known that certain creatures are supersensitive to fluctuations in the electromagnetic fields in their environment, even though those fluctuations are undetectable to humans. When those fields are disturbed, however subtly, these creatures will react with uncustomary behavior.
It has been documented, for example, that sea cows are able to sense forthcoming tidal waves days before the event is detected by humans. Indeed, for humans the first detectable sign of a tidal wave is the arrival of a forty-five-foot fishing ketch on their sun porch. But sea cows anticipate these giant waves by abruptly going off their feed. From a normal diet of watercress and seaweed, sea cows switch to center-cut pork chops, onion rings, broccoli with cheese sauce, and endive salad with house dressing.
What has this to do with the end of the world? Simple: there are numerous end-of-the-world animal behavior syndromes which are observable by any jerk with just a few hours of practice daily in the home!
Excerpted from How To Prosper in the Coming Apocalypse by Richard Curtis. Copyright © 1980 Richard Curtis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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