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Apocalypse

(Written AD MMVIII, 232nd year of American Independence. George W. Bush, President of the Republic, and gasoline at four dollars the gallon.)

The night after Peak Oil, I met Nixon by the Union Station Metro stop. He was wearing a dust-tinged blue suit and trying to hail a cab.

“I’ve got to get down to the Mall,” he was mumbling when I found him. “I can calm the situation. I reach out to people. I reached out to those goddamned war protestors, but they were too bitter. I can’t stand bitter people. Where the hell is a goddamned taxi?”

“There aren’t any more taxis, Dick. There’s no more oil.”

“What? Those damned Saudis won’t cough up more oil? Goddammit, we’ll send in the Marines and take it from them!”

“Dick, the Saudis are dead. They sent us all their oil and they died.”

“Hmm. Well, let’s walk then.”

Elsewhere the District of Columbia was burning, but near the river the only sign of destruction was the smell on the May breeze. It was a fine twilight, and America was out strolling around, meeting and greeting while they still could.

We passed Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg and Roy Cohn walking down North Capitol arm in arm, passing a bottle of Wild Turkey back and forth. “Hey, Dick!” Roy shouted, but Nixon pretended not to see him.

Jeanette Rankin sat on a bench on D Street, chanting softly: “In the year that Roosevelt started his third term, I saw the glory of the Lord in the House Chamber. The hem of his robe filled the hall and the singing of the seraphim shook the Speaker’s desk. Then one of the angels took the Speaker’s gavel and touched it to my lips…”

“She was a traitor, you know,” Nixon whispered in my ear.

“I’m not so sure about that, Dick.”

Around C Street we hit a crowd and had to push our way through. The closer we came to the Capitol, the thicker it got, until eventually it resolved itself into a line. We walked down to see why they were there.

Outside the Capitol sat Aimee Semple McPherson, under a California palm tree, and she was as Deborah. She wore a white robe and she sang. We saw then that the line was composed of those that had grievances against the United States of America, come to ask justice from the prophetess of the Lord. Waiting there were Creeks and Filipinos, slaves and internees, Guatemalans and Onondagas, anarchists and union organizers, Mexicans and Narragansetts and Hmong and countless others. They presented their petitions and she sang back the sentences.

King Philip, not far from the front of the line, saw us and raised his burden: he was carrying the head of Custer by its long golden locks. As we watched, he drew a Bowie knife and scalped the head in one stroke. The skull fell to the ground; the bloody skin on the hair formed itself into a mouth, which cried out, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great.”

We hustled along.

Nearby was a party of Timorese, who had already received their recompense: they were tarring and feathering Henry Kissinger. Nixon wanted to go help, but I was telling him that it wasn’t really our place when a little Lakota boy ran out from under the palm and kicked us each in the shin, hard.

“What was that for?” I yelped, hopping.

“Wakan Tanka has given it to me to kick every white man once,” the little boy replied.

Then he did it again, in the other shin.

“Hey, you already got us!” I said.

“Wakan Tanka is ever generous, wasichu!” he shouted as he scampered away.

“That little bastard,” Nixon grumbled. “Those ungrateful sons of bitches! They’re lucky we ever gave them-“ Before he could rant further, a black-and-white cocker spaniel ran out from the line and dashed after the little boy.

“Checkers!” Nixon shouted. “Checkers! Here, boy! Here!” He began to tremble. “That dog-the girls loved him. They’d get up early to walk him before school. They treated him with such kindness. My precious girls. Checkers, come back! Come back!”

“Dick-“

My mother and my daughters were the only people who ever loved me!

“Dick, get a hold of yourself! You were President of the United States, for pete’s sake!”

With those words he inflated like a life raft and squared his shoulders. “Quite right, and this is too important a night to waste complaining. Low energy level, I think. Can we duck over to the White House and grab a plate of cottage cheese and ketchup? That always hits the spot.”

“There’s no more food, Dick. The food turned out to be made of oil, and we used all the oil. There’s no cottage cheese or ketchup.”

He seemed not to believe me. “Well, it’s a hell of a note when a man can’t get a nice plate of cottage cheese with ketchup.”

Out in the middle of Constitution Ave. sat a Piper Cub, and working on the engine was Howard Hughes. Now it seemed that everyone had found a little of their youth that evening, but the change was most startling with him. No more fingernails, no more germfear; he was black-haired and laughing. He looked strong enough to lay every starlet in the world, then fly them all home on the same enormous plane.

“Turn it over,” he shouted, and the plane made a coughing noise. I noticed Barry Goldwater was sitting in the cockpit.

“I’m sorry, Howard, but there’s no more avgas,” I said.

“Bullshit!” he replied.

“I’m afraid it’s so.”

“No, bullshit,” he said, patting the fuselage. “She’s got a tankful of methane from buffalo chips. No oil shortage is going to keep me on the ground!”

The engine roared to life. Howard jumped in beside Barry and they soared aloft down the mall.

“He was crazy, you know,” Nixon whispered in my ear.

“Be quiet, Dick,” I said.

As we moved farther down the Mall, we found people dancing. A crude stage had been erected, a generator found, and James Brown was putting on a show. The hardest working man in showbiz was not going to let Armageddon slow him down, not with his flexibility returned. He was twisting his way through an extended version of “Say it Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud” when he spotted us.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced, “Richard Milhous Nixon, Presidentoftheunitedstates! I wantcha give it up, give it up, give it up for him!”

The people cheered for us, because the man on stage told them. Dick smiled and waved back, but I could tell how uncomfortable he was, and it got worse a moment later, when a blur came from the crowd around the stage and slammed right into him.

“Dick!” shouted the blur, Hunter S. Thompson. “You magnificent asshole! This is the only way it could end!” Thompson dropped his two tequila bottles, grabbed Nixon’s head with both hands, and kissed him full on the lips. He held Dick there, struggling, for three breaths, then let go, and raced cackling towards the Capitol.

“Pothead!” Nixon shouted after him.

I pulled Dick away and we continued past the Smithsonian. The nation’s attic had been looted. All the windows were broken. Even as we watched we saw people hauling away bits of the Spirit of St Louis, and Dillinger’s penis.

“Thus falls the rabble,” sneered a man nearby, wearing a pickelhaube and hoisting a beer stein. I recognized him as H.L. Mencken, but was distracted by the structure against which he leaned: a concession stand. A large banner overhead read ICE CREAM 5¢ , but a smaller hand-lettered sign under it said WE’RE OUT. I was disappointed, for I was sore hungry, and I guess you could tell, because John Chapman came up to me. He handed me a Swedenborgian tract with one hand and an apple with the other.

“Thank you kindly,” I said. He smiled and walked west.

At last we came to the Washington Monument. Curiously, there was a ladder propped against it, a golden ladder, very wide, that seemed to go to the top. At the base of that ladder waited a man in a wheelchair and a woman wearing a fur stole.

“Dick!” said the woman. “How marvelous to see you again. Who would have ever thought it would end this way?”

“Er, hello, Mrs. Roosevelt,” Dick muttered.

“Have you met my husband?”

FDR shook both our hands. My fingers ached from his grip. “Good to see you, men. It’s a big night. You’ll want to go on up,” he said.

We approached the ladder.

“She was a communist, you know,” Nixon whispered in my ear.

“Dick, would you shut up?” I said.

We began to climb. As we did, I could see far, further than I should have. The district was aflame in all directions, northwest and northeast and southeast, but–beyond that. Boston sat choked in cobwebs. The spires of New York leaned, collapsed against each other. To the south Atlanta rotted like a flyblown peach.

A quarter of the way up, we found a platform. There another couple waited for us: the Father of his Country, and his wife. Martha greeted us with the soul of Southern hospitality. George gave us both Masonic handshakes and gestured us upward. “Son of the Republic, look and learn,” he told us.

We kept climbing.

Even further I could see. The canyons of Chicago were filled with animal skulls, billions of pigs and cows. In St Louis the Father of Waters went unvexed through the streets; in New Orleans the French Quarter was the home of the eel and crab. Dallas thirsted to nothingness. Denver lay snowbound past the tops of skyscrapers.

As we approached another platform, we heard a sound. A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud weeping. Mary Todd was crying for her sons, all six hundred thousand of them; she refused to be comforted, for they were dead. When we stood before her, with Father Abraham at her side, Nixon, too, began to weep. He collapsed into Lincoln’s arms and cried like a little boy. Lincoln said something to him–I couldn’t hear, it was too low.

Then Father Abraham turned to me, and I could not look him in the face; I was too ashamed. Instead I let my eyes rest on his kindly whiskers. He said nothing to me. He put his hand on my shoulder, a gentle hand, and gestured me up the ladder.

We climbed. Somehow I could see clear across the mountains, across the continent. The last earthquake had found the Late Great State of California. In San Francisco the dead lay in their victorians; in Los Angeles in their bungalows. The Central Valley was now the Central Sea. To the north, Seattle mouldered under the mud of Mount Rainier. With the very last rung, I caught a glimpse of the edge of the world. The queen’s flag waved once more over Oahu, and in Nome non-natives were being pushed at gunpoint into the freezing sea.

My foot touched aluminum.

A cold breeze blew at the peak. It was hard to keep my balance and a long way to fall. A skinny man with an enormous forehead sat there, making something at a portable workbench, softly singing, “If You Could Hie To Kolob.”

“Hello, Philo,” I said.

He looked up, startled. “Oh, hello. Pardon me, I’m just finishing this prototype. I was working in the lab, or at home, or someplace, and I had the most marvelous idea: what if there were a button that, if pressed, would bring An End to the United States, all at once?”

“That’s pretty nifty, Philo,” I said nervously. “I don’t suppose you ran it past the stake president, just to make sure there’s no doctrinal problems?”

“I tried to. The phone was busy. I’m sure it’s OK.”

He was connecting wires within a rectangular oak box about as long as his forearm. On one end was a single brown Bakelite button.

As he worked the world fell away, and we were surrounded by Americans, 232 years of Americans, 401 years of Americans, 50,000 years of Americans. They were waiting for Philo to finish his invention. Beyond them was One, the Judge, watching.

Philo slapped shut the box, and nodded.

“I guess that’s it, then,” I said. “Dick, you get the last word on the United States of America.”

Nixon puffed up again, like a tom turkey on the prowl, swept his arms out and started, “On this historic occasion, we must of course… that is to say… we… our forefathers… America… throughout our proud history… .”

His arms sank and his jowls sagged under the weight of memory.

“We… our country… .”

He paused. And finally said:

“We always wanted to be–better than we were.”

“That’ll do,” I said, and started to cry. “Philo, push the button.” Which he did.

I spent my youth in an Apocalyptic milieu. Apocalypses abounded, both secular (The Day After, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow), and religious, specifically the evangelical model of The Late Great Planet Earth and A Thief in the Night. Though my family was Mainstream Protestant, not Evangelical, I was still surrounded by this in the culture and took it into my heart. As a teenager, I thought long on the Apocalypse, and gave much thought to a movie on the subject.

But, being not evangelical, the movie I had in mind would have had little in common with Left Behind. For one thing, I wanted to make extensive use of the Doors song “The End.” I have always considered it one of the best invocations of the Book of Revelation I have ever heard, an opinion that would probably not have found favor with either Jim Morrison or Francis Schaeffer. For another, there was a extrabiblical element: The Weeper.

It’s hard to describe how I saw The Weeper fitting into this movie. Less a character, more of a symbol. The Weeper was one of the younger siblings of Cain and Abel. They saw Cain murder his brother; they wept over Abel’s corpse. From that moment, they were cursed to see every sin ever committed, trapped in perpetual sorrow, their wailing echoing to the ends of the cosmos. They were the unwitnessed witness to every horror ever performed by one human being against another: every blow, every swindle, every theft, every lie. They could do nothing, only watch and sob.

The sorrows of the Weeper would be interwoven into the film. As humanity descended into ultimate degradation, there would be odd quiet moments when the main characters could hear the Weepers’s sorrow, though they did not recognize what it was they heard. As the corruption reached its climax, the sound could not be denied, would be heard throughout the world, maddeningly.

So it would continue until the very end. The final action of Unveiling, the very last, after the Last Trump had sounded, after the dead had been raised, after Universal Judgment and Redemption , after the Remaking of Heaven and Earth, would be for Jesus to come to the Weeper and comfort them. For the first time, they would cease crying.

That would be the end of the movie.

There is no movie, of course, and never will be. I can’t say I seriously envisioned making it. But it still seems that, in a just universe, there should be a Weeper. There should be something to sorrow perpetually. The World deserves it. May the time come when the Weeper shall be comforted, and the Weeping end.

Maybe we’ve got this ass backwards. Maybe, on the Judgement Day, we will be doing the judging.

That is, God will allow us a taste of his omniscience, just enough for us to see everything we have ever thought and done, in context, to feel empirically all the effect we had on the world, to honestly see ourselves for the first time. We will judge ourselves.

Practically all of us will elect for damnation, of course.

And the task of Jesus, the Savior, will be to talk us out of it.

I don’t know what you’d call this: a music video idea, a film short, a daydream. What it is is:

The Seals have been opened, the plagues unleashed. All works of humanity lie in ruins; the bloody seas sit dry. The End is come.

Gabriel Archangel, having already blown the Last Trump and called up all the dead, tucks his instrument under his arm and announces

“Children of Earth, your Judgement awaits in the morn. Until then, as you will.”

Despite the sun and moon having toppled from the sky, night falls. This once and for all establishes that day and night are metaphysical conditions and not dependent on the earth’s rotation around a star, but at this point, no one really cares. Everyone who has ever lived is alive. They stare at each other, unsure at first what to say.

Children are innocent
Teenagers are fucked in the head
Adults are even more fucked up
And elderlies are like children

Those that died in the Tribulation are hugged by those that survived. Parents find children, spouses reunite, friends embrace each other. A constellation of campfires appears somehow, without need of lighting. People talk.

Will there be another race
To come along and take over for us?
Maybe Martians could do
Better than we’ve done

Odd as it might seem, no one dwells on the coming morning. Maybe there’s an unspoken consensus that there’s nothing to be done about it, or maybe there’s just too much past to discuss. “Why did we do that? Or that?” By the light of the last fires, much of what was one time deemed majestic now seems a bit silly.

We’ll make great pets
(we’ll make great pets)
We’ll make great pets
(we’ll make great pets!)

Secrets are admitted and scandals revealed. Nobody cares anymore. Anger flares, but soon fades. Since everyone knows that perfect justice is hours away, why argue? The truth will out soon enough. Better to enjoy the company while you can.

My friend says we’re like the dinosaurs
Only we are doing ourselves in
Much faster than they
Ever did

As the hours pass, the talk dwindles. Flank by flank, leaning on shoulders, the people watch the fire and simply are, next to each other, there at the end of all things.

We’ll make great pets
(we’ll make great pets)
We’ll make great pets,
(we’ll make great pets)

“It is just me, or is it brighter than it was a moment ago?”

“Yeah.”

With no sun, there is no dawn. Beat by beat, the sky lightens. The Children of Earth rise from their seats around the dying fires, brush off their tuchuses. Angels muster above them.

Last embraces, last kisses. “Good luck.” “You too.”

They stand next to each other, spontaneously linking hands. The sky is bright now, far brighter than any daylight. All that is old is passed away. The Children of Earth brace themselves for the revelation of justice and mercy.

We’ll make great pets,
(we’ll make great pets)

Every day I pray for the Parousia. Every day I say “Maranatha!” Every day I long that this might be the day that sees no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

Yet when I do so, I am reminded that it has generally been held throughout history that the Parousia shall be preceded by a time of chaos and horror and death, not on just any random day.

But then I look at the world, and see that, if the Parousia is dependent on chaos and horror and death in the world, then it might as well come on any day as well as any other.