This One Time, 74

This one time I was wondering what I would do if the world was about to end. It’s the kind of question you hear a lot from people who are actually trying to make conversation instead of just smalltalk. It might be a little trite, but it is a good way to find out what is important to people — or, a bit more accurately, what people want others to think is more important to them. Either way, a person’s answer will tell you a lot.

So here’s the scenario. You’re out at the park, maybe half a pack of cigarettes left, and a number of people are smoking them in ignorance or defiance of the recent ban. The bench is cold through your jeans — What are these things made of? Stone? — but the sun is warm, at least when the wind isn’t blowing. You’re listening to your music in your headphones, watching the egrets at the pond and wishing you’d brought a hoodie to go over your sweater, but determined not to bail just yet because this early spring day is just too gorgeous. Two benches over there’s someone reading something or other on her iPhone, obviously a bit disturbed. Her forehead is all wrinkled. She tugs an earphone out of the ear of the dark-skinned woman on the bench next to her, the one whose bare shoulders don’t seem to feel the wind, who apparently just asked her what’s wrong.

The woman with the iPhone hands it over. The darker woman reads it, for a few good minutes, scrolling up and down, then hands it back over. She doesn’t seem to be taking it well either. Your own music player, ignored while pumping 80s goodness into your head, chimes in with the perfect song from R.E.M. You know the one.

Trying to laugh that off, you pull out your own state-of-the-art-as-of-eight-months-ago smartphone and grit your teeth against the data costs. You open up the browser just as a lovely sunbeam hits the screen and damn near blinds you. You turn on the bench to put the sun to your back and let the momentary warmth soak in there. In the shadow of your body, the now-readable screen delivers the bad news via the sensationalized news outlet of your choice. Apophis, the asteroid everyone keeps saying is going to eventually hit the earth but probably never will, at least not for hundreds of years, just itself got clocked by a dark nickel-iron lump we had thought was just going to cruise through and sun-dive. Apophis itself took a bad bounce. On an absolute fluke.

It’s not the wind and the shade that’s making you lose feeling in your fingers. It’s certainly not the now-shining sun on your back that’s making your teeth chatter. Apophis is large enough that it doesn’t matter where it hits. Scientists debate whether we’ll last longer from a land hit or an ocean hit. Either way, we have eighteen days to impact. Give or take.

You look up. Somewhere beyond the puffy clouds, zipping around like they’re in a hurry to get to cover, beyond the impossibly blue sky, is a misty smear you’ll be able to see tonight because all the dust knocked loose will pick up a huge amount of sunlight that would otherwise sleet right past. The article was kind enough to point out to stargazers where to point their binoculars tonight to get the best look at their doom, which will, over the next eight days, become visible in the daytime sky as well, like a tailless egg-shaped comet. Oh, wait, there’s debate over whether a tail will be visible. The debris trail from the impact of the lump that deflected it our way might be visible to the naked eye. Or might not.

And in your headphones, Michael Stipe says that he feels fine.

So what do you do?

I considered the old standby of having sex with anyone who’s willing. There’s nothing like the complete lack of having to deal with consequences to boil someone right down to their core urges. But hardly anyone ever thinks of how you’ll feel if you set a goal and it doesn’t shake out how you’d like. What if you can’t find even one willing partner? How would you feel on day eighteen after seventeen days of nothing? Worse, what if you sleep with hundreds of people — well, “sleeping” is obviously a euphemism here — and on your last day you’re just tired and sticky, and nowhere near fulfilled? How would you feel?

I have a different plan. I intend to find every familiar face from everyday life, maybe even a few strangers, and tell them goodbye. The last two weeks of my life will be filled with hugs, handshakes, pats on the backs and shoulders and:

“No, seriously. I mean it. It’s been nice knowing you.”

“You only have a few left, so have a good one.”

“You. No you, the one with the hair. I’ve always liked your style. Just thanks for being you, man. Take care.”

“If there’s an after-party, I’ll see you there, right? Cheers!”

“If I don’t see you again, make the best of it, okay?”

I really hope I don’t miss anybody, but if I do, just know I’ll miss you when you’re gone.


March 15, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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