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Introduction

 

Looking “presidential” always struck me as an annoying expression. We do not praise a stripper who looks “strippery,” or a plumber who looks “plumberish.” These are not adjectives one aspires toward. But damn me if there’s a better phrase than presidential to describe how he looked on television this morning, telling us all we were about to die.

The wonderful irony is that he wasn’t a politician anymore, just a man in a suit neatly pressed, saying goodbye, telling us the things we needed to know to make the parting easier. If the world weren’t about to end, he’d have been reelected for sure.

His facts were simple and simply put: the end would be coming sometime after midnight, in the dark of the early morning. It would be quick and entirely cer- tain for every living thing on the planet. Utilities would function as close to normal as possible, but mass transit would cease. Then his finest moment: when it came to the part where he was supposed to say “God bless America,” he didn’t.

“Be kind and be calm,” was all he said.

Outside my window, there was no looting, no mass anarchy, no Sodom and Gomorrah end-times panic. Just the quiet, global shock as the big question settled in: what would be done on our last day on earth?

I’ve never felt like my story was worth telling compared to others. The grand love affairs and heartbreaks, the heroic rises and tragic falls were never mine, and I’ve never minded that. Not for any real length of time.

I’ve been content to repeat the stories of others, mostly. I collect them like people do jokes, retell them in social gatherings or when trying to relate by proxy. I don’t see why today should be any different. Even if it doesn’t change the outcome, we all want to know someone heard our story. I know I would.

So I figure I’ll make this my last act of charity, to stay in my seat and play audience right up to the end. I remain even now an atheist, but it can’t hurt going out on a good note. It’s 9:00 am Pacific time. America always was a lucky country and it looks like it’ll stay that way to the end. People all over the continent are waking up with a full day to see themselves off. Other parts of the world, not so lucky. Knowing the end is coming with the dark makes a kind of sense to the soul. Nobody wants to wake up hearing that they’re going to die at teatime.

Now let me tell you about how this is going to go. We’re going to skip over a lot of people—most people really, if you’re comparing it to the whole of humanity. We’re going to respect those who have lived quietly by not bothering them now. We’re also skipping over everyone who seemed interesting from afar but were doomed to disappoint once we got to know them. These include girls who ride horses, burlesque dancers, DJs, and many other broad strokes we won’t get into.

I’m only one man and I cast a net as wide as I could given the short notice, so the stories caught here are just the little fishies that bit. There’s no other rhyme or reason to their inclusion, they provide no cross section of humanity; some of these people I know, most I’ve never met in my life. Never going to meet, either, it looks like.

This is all just to say there’s no omniscient narrator here. I had myself a morning just like everyone else. I’ll tell you about it if you want, though there isn’t much to tell.

I’d stopped by my mother’s house to walk her dog when the presidential farewell came on, and we sat, me in the chair, her on the black leather couch. We didn’t bother muting the TV during the chatter that followed. We were already deaf to everything but the sound of our own laughter.

There’s a particular way my mother and I laugh together. We inherited it from my grandmother. First we pinch up our brow, then cock our heads to one side and laugh like we’re trying not to but can’t help ourselves, shaking our heads the whole time. This is my family’s laugh for when we’re fucked.

My grandmother perfected it while she was in hospice. My mother laughed it with me when she had her cancer scare, and I laughed it right back at her when I lost my mind over a woman. One thing I’ll always say about my family: we get the joke.

I won’t lie—terror was in the room with us, shared by every living creature ever born that discovered its ex- piration date. But my mother and I were of this world and not afraid to yell and scream when we felt wronged. We used our words. We could be here for this. We were not paralyzed.

Mom’s dog meanwhile disproved every theory about animals being hyper-attuned to danger, sitting on his butt the whole time with his tongue dangling out of his mouth, clawing the skin off my arm so I would take him out. Mom and I didn’t bother putting the leash on him. We let him run free, panting in that way we always knew was laughing. Dogs could still be happy. Not all was lost.

It was still morning when I left her. She wanted me to stay but it couldn’t be helped, I was getting antsy. Motion is the only thing that keeps me calm. There was a lot happening out there and I never could miss out on a party. All I’ve ever done as a son is leave my mother, but she let me go.

Her last words to me came out as unconsciously as they had since I first left her house without her:

“Don’t stay out too late.”