So today (Wednesday the 3rd of this brave new world of 2018) I had a mental healthcare appointment to keep (no emergencies — in fact, I’ve been feeling better than I have for the past 3 or 4 years). I first set up these appointments when the family car was working, but because I am a prescient prophet capable of seeing that driving 20 year old cheap beater cars means we’ll be carless from time to time when one dies, I chose a practice in walking distance.
And of course it’s winter when the car chooses to die, the jerky little bastard. And of course the Earth’s hat of cold air has lately slipped rakishly to the side and we’re under all that fine polar air right now while the precious icecap continues melting in frickin January.
But the walk isn’t so bad because it’s over freezing unlike the walk I had to take for yesterday’s appointment, and the legacy of a Wisconsin childhood is knowing how to dress for cold. Only my cane hand gets truly cold, and maybe my nose.
My appointment was on one side of a rectangular route with one of the two grocery stores in walking distance on the other side of it on the way home, so instead of taking the shorter route back home I figured I’d stop by the store as long as I was already walking and pick up a few odds and ends like some apples and pears for the children who, I am very happy to report, can chow fresh fruit like champions and do at every opportunity. Yay, nutrition!
I wasn’t planning on picking up enough things to justify taking along the collapsible cart I recently bought thanks to my Patreon patrons, so I brought an empty backpack. All good. Planning ahead.
But what I did not plan on — and I should have known better given my past experience as a manager in the grocery biz — was the forecast of 8-12 inches of snow in the forecast for tonight (there’s a bit less than an inch on the ground as I type this, and the snow is beginning to come down again after taking a break for nightfall) and what it would mean for my mission.
In Norfolk, Virginia where close proximity to the ocean gentles the temperatures, this is a MASSIVE BLIZZARD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE OH GOD.
The grocery store was clotted with swarms of half-crazed customers. Like, a no shopping carts available, I got one of the last 6 or 7 handbaskets swarm of shoppers — and at that point, not a single snowflake had fallen yet.
Ew, a handbasket. I don’t like using them anymore, because they unbalance me due to my limp and bone-on-bone hip, and I already limp heavily enough even with the cane thankyouverymuch.
I almost decided to say screw it and head home. But, the kids want apples. And the wife’s upset tummy craves full-sugar Coca Cola (which horrifies me; as my grandma’s good little boy I cleave to her teaching that 7-Up is the magic tonic that soothes all ills).
So I shop.
Weather panics are weird.
Some of it is predictable. Half the bread aisle is blown out, as it always is when bad weather threatens. Apparently there’s something about blizzards and hurricanes and nor’easters that makes people crave sandwiches and toast.
The bottled water is also half blown out. Because if anything is scarce during a blizzard, it’s water which is LAYING ALL OVER THE GROUND A FOOT THICK JUST SHOVEL A FEW DRINKS INTO A BUCKET AND BRING IT IN TO THAW FER CRISSAKE. Also, since when does a blizzard knock out the water supply? Your pipes shouldn’t be freezing, because you should be running your water if it’s that damn cold. And the snow will insulate the crawlspace under your home. It’ll actually be warmer under there than it has the last 3 or 4 nights with the cold snap.
And, this is the one that really gets me, and I’ve seen it before (and it’s weirder than anything else I’ve seen in a storm except the guy who bought a whole cart full of frozen dinners because he was afraid the hurricane would knock out his electricity, or the woman who bought two dozen (!!) gallons of milk, also in the teeth of an approaching hurricane. WTF!) — the meat case is also half blown out. The hamburger is GONE. And three customers are standing next to the empty hamburger shelf asking each other if there’s any more hamburger anywhere else and when will the butcher bring out more hamburger?
People, if the blizzard comes and knocks out your power, I assume some of you have gas stoves. But not all of you! Are you planning on crouching in your dark living room gnawing a pack of raw hamburger like Gollum gnawing a fish? Do you figure hamburger will cook itself up if you toss it into one of the snowdrifts in your front yard?
Is there something about a snowstorm that demands you start a cookout?
Is there some theory I’ve never heard of that says you can save yourself from freezing to death if your home is heatless by covering yourself with ground beef?
People are weird.
…or at least that may be an upside of an ever-more-connected world. The “Internet of Things” future will have to ponder if that and other pluses offset living in a world where any of your belongings might rob you.
In a WiFi saturated world, it may be more than your phone or local news weather report that warns you of imminent weather threats like hurricane, tornado, flood, blizzard, and so forth.
Your refrigerator and thermostat and eyeglasses and bathroom mirror and shoes and – who knows by 30 years from now – the earbuds that semi-permanently reside in your earlobe piercings will keep you updated.
Linked to the hyperlocal weather reports aggregated not just from satellites and airports and weather stations, but from sensors integral to the solar and wind power arrays that feed electricity into every building’s batteries, your belongings will keep you appraised of the weather and what it means to you.
“Close the windows,” your windows will say, possibly via your microwave, showerhead, or belt buckle. If your house is posh enough, they’ll say, “shall we close?” and they’ll do it themselves without orders if rain starts coming in to threaten the carpeting.
“Dude! We need to get out of Dodge right now!” your car (set to “casual” mode, obviously) will exclaim as deadly weather ramps up nearby. Your shoes will wail at you to head for the car, or for the curb where a self-driving Unter can collect you – if only you acknowledge you’ll be there to be picked up for evacuation.
But what if you don’t?
“Acknowledge,” the hall light prompts as you stagger by to find a place to collapse. “Acknowledge,” your thrift store sneaks beg, hearing you, from their home tucked in under the front of your second hand couch. “Acknowledge?” your front door asks querulously, but there’s no answer.
Your snores rise from the couch where you slump, utterly zonked. Maybe you’ve hit the sauce too hard, or been at the recreational drugs, or whatever you’ve been prescribed was just too much for you today. After all, you’ve been preparing for a storm and worrying all day.
And maybe your shirt notices that you’re not waking up and the state of emergency created by the weather allows the Unter car to send in a helper bot to bypass your door lock and carry you out to safety. The Unter takes you smoothly away from the danger despite widespread service outages – it’s not dependent on a centrally coordinated net by able to function as cleanly as a fish in a school…
…to take you to a designated shelter through a flood of traffic far more dense and swift than any human driver could navigate.
And you wake in a high school gymnasium shelter thirty miles away, confused.
But your wristband wearable can tell you what happened. And you’re alive.
My God, what a nanny state hell! you say to yourself as you finish reading the above, horrified that the humans of the future might be so helpless and coddled. Hopefully not because you’re a goddamn eugenicist, but surely some of you are. Regardless…
…let me tell you how helpless you really are, roughly from near past to distant. You may be able to contradict a couple statements below. Maybe. But how many? And as a way of life, not a hobby? Are you sure? Read on.
You save your children and yourself from death, pain, infliction of disability, and long-term malaise with medicines and vaccines, most of which were unknown a mere century ago. There’s a fair chance that you, reading this right now, would not be alive without them. I wouldn’t.
You don’t know how to ride, feed, or otherwise care for horses and their harness, because you ride around in automobiles.
You can’t organize a household based on the relatively difficult and time consuming weekly or monthly or seasonal (depending on your distance from civilization) grocery runs. Nor do you know how to keep the things people used to buy from spoilage. Could you buy one cheese wheel per season and keep it good so you could enjoy the last bite three months later? No. You buy a brick of cheese from the store and devour it two days later. Or if you forget it, you find it with a bit of mold and past the expiration date and chuck it straight in the trash.
You buy your food in supermarkets. You don’t know how to dry, salt, pickle, ferment, or can your own food to sustain you through the year. Nor do you know how to store those foods correctly.
You don’t know how to set a bone, stitch shut a wound, or birth a baby.
You can’t make your own clothes from bolts of cloth, needle, and thread.
You don’t know how to spin thread and yarn from cotton and wool or hemp or whatever fiber is local to you.
You don’t know how to winnow chaff, parch grain, grind it by hand, and bake it into bread in your own wood or dung fired hearth.
You don’t know how to bring ten children into the world and bury five of them before their fifth birthday without going mad.
You can’t accept life as a serf, slave, or even vassal – which, historically speaking, the vast majority of people were. You, like everyone else today, assume you’d be some sort of noble because you’re so damned smart. Well, smart wasn’t worth anything if you were born to raise beets. Except maybe getting your smart, restless ass killed.
You don’t know how to build a hut from scratch, or make and keep clean a packed earth floor.
You can’t form a phalanx or ply a sling.
You can’t ride a chariot nor craft a balanced wheel from pieces of wood.
You don’t know the best way to dig edible roots with a pointed stick.
You can’t till and plant a field with a wooden plow, or a hoe, or an adze.
You don’t even know how to save seed for next season’s planting, nor how to figure out how much seed you need to plant your acre.
You don’t know how to rotate crops. You don’t know how long to leave a field fallow. You may not even know what the hell “fallow” means or why it’s a concept.
You don’t know how to slay aurochs and bears with a spear.
You can’t cure hides with brains and piss, nor chew them soft, nor scrape them properly, nor stitch the finished product into decently-fitting boots and cloaks.
You don’t know how to layer for the weather without space-age insulation, processed wools, and garments involving stretchy artificial materials.
You don’t know how to carry embers all day so you can make a fire without having to fool with a bow and drill or flint and pyrite or something.
You can’t tell what kind of animal you’re stalking by looking at its poop.
You don’t know how to stalk an animal, so that last point wouldn’t do you much good if you did know.
You can’t catch a fish with just a length of gut, a bone, and a worm.
You don’t know how to make iron from scratch. Or bronze. Or how to pound native copper into a usable tool. Or knap a knife or spearpoint from stone. You don’t even know how to pick a good stone to knap, the right stone for a striker, and knock off flakes without cutting your fingers open or smashing them.
You don’t know how to cut down a tree with a rock.
Once you’ve cut it down, you don’t know how to make it into a canoe.
You don’t know how to live your entire life on foot, outdoors, in the weather, as a nomad, without even the knowledge of letters or numbers greater than you can count on your fingers.
Maybe you think you do, and it would be an adventure. Well, you don’t. And adventures are awful things that happen to other people that you enjoy listening to when you’re warm and safe.
The “the people have grown soft” of yesterday is today’s “we can get along just fine as we are, thanks.”
Unless we get all obsessive about how great the past was. In which case we may get what we wish for, warts and all.
This was posted to my Patreon a week before it appeared here. If you like what I do, help me do it more by contributing!