Tune Deaf

November 19, 2008

Closing time and I can’t sleep, as is custom. My eyes are dry from staring at the screen: a Yahoo chess match, my second victory, making my record something like 2-47. My feet and hands are cold. The apartment temperature is about 65 Fahrenheit, but I worked all day in sweaty socks and I’ve been chain-smoking since I got home. Hence the frozen extremities.

Lately I’ve been trying to stop telling the future. David Foster Wallace said that addicts are forever preparing for something that’s about to happen to them, and that that something is always bad. It’s hard to get my thoughts off of things like the economic and energy and climatic crises, nuclear warfare or terrorism, etc. These are trying times, for sure. But I know for certain that if there was a thunderstorm outside I’d be thinking about getting struck by lightning. If I heard noises in the hallway I’d imagine home invasions and the distance between me and my knives, rooftop escape routes. My girlfriend is here, asleep, so right now I’m not worried about her getting attacked on the street, but I’m envisioning what I would do should a would-be rapist come through the door, reeling and drunk on lust, groping with his eyes half shut, ruining everything he touched.

All this fear. What if Barack Obama is shot and killed, like Kennedy? What if we go to war with China or Russia? What if smaller cities aren’t quite as safe as I’d thought from unrest or nuclear attack? The Niagara Power Project is right down the road, after all. (And I have no idea what the blast/fire/fallout range of your average nuclear device is these days! ! Why don’t I know this?!) What if Buffalo isn’t as friendly as I tell myself it is? What if we never rebuild the old rail lines or extend the Metro and we’re just as fucked as Phoenix and Jacksonville would be in a gas shortage? What then? Should I move? Will I be able to move? Will there be anywhere to move to?

Meanwhile, I’m depriving myself of sleep, sitting in cold socks in a cold apartment, inching towards death and lung cancer.

I watch people. Most don’t seem as afraid. They probably are, but they’ve found a tune to whistle in the dark. Work, family, goals, a valuable enterprise of some sort. I’ve lost my tune. That’s how it feels, at least. (Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh. There.) David Foster Wallace also said that the people to be most afraid of are the people that are afraid of everything. There’s a slight instinct here towards “yeah, well, what the fuck did he know” thinking, given recent events, but it is nonetheless true.

To feel lost and tuneless isn’t exactly pleasant, but it’s constructive at least. The knowledge that something has been lost is – at least – that knowledge, and the possibility of remedial action.

I’m not sure what I’m talking about anymore. But I think I can sleep now.

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So. No posts for awhile. I know you’ve all been wondering what Master Caution has been up to. Mostly working, thinking, applying for jobs, getting jobs, and trying not to freak out about peak oil so much that it keeps me cuddled in the fetal position next to my hot water tank.

Here we are. A gallon of gas is nearing the cost of a pack of cigarettes. A national average of $4 a gallon, according to 60 Minutes, which is playing through the VHF snow on the one channel I get on the 28-inch TV that sits like a walrus in a toll booth in the corner of my living-slash-bedroom-slash-office. I miswrote, actually: a gallon of gas would be approaching the cost of a pack of cigarettes if the recent New York tax hike hadn’t gone through. A pack of smokes is now equivalent to an hour of work at minimum wage. I tell myself it will make me quit, but I doubt it. At best, I can hope that it will keep me from bumming out cigarettes to the “only smoke when I drink”-ers.

My old editor at Generation came into town last night. “I quit smoking,” he said, as he smoked one of my cigarettes outside the bar. “I was shocked and appalled at how easy it was.”

Me too.

While I’ve been a smoker for over ten years now, I haven’t owned a car since December 3, 2005. I know the date for two reasons: my car, my beautiful Subaru Legacy Outback, was totaled on the street in front of my house. There was a lot of paperwork to fill out. Filling in the “date of collision” has commit the event to my memory. Secondly, the date is a part of the best and worst 9/11 joke I’ve ever heard, depending on where you sit. Taylor Negron. The Aristocrats. If I could find the video (help?) I’d post it. And I can’t tell it here. It’s just not that kind of a joke. But the next time you watch it, if you watch it, look for Taylor Negron near the end or during the credits. I can’t remember which.

Sorry.

At any rate, the date is burned into my memory and life. I’ve even started an informal holiday of sorts. I don’t do anything serious on December 3. If anyone asks, I tell them it’s a religious holiday. If they ask which one, I say, “It’s December Third!” Which probably leads to confusion on their part. “What? Is that like an orthodox thing? Is this guy fucking with me? What sort of holiday mandates the consumption of whiskey-root beer floats?”

The point.

Cars. I haven’t had one since December 3, 2005. (Gesundheit, lady-who-has-loud-sex-across-the-alley.) And I’ve enjoyed the shift. I travel by train or bus. It takes a lot more planning, but every voyage feels like a field trip. I walk everywhere else. I come in contact with other human beings and with nature. Sometimes that means trudging through eighteen inches of snow or sprinting through violent thunderstorms. Most days, though, it just means getting to where I need to go, without being beholden to the costs of gasoline or automobile maintenance.

Of course, the places I need to go are closer than the places I went when I went wherever I wanted to go, back when having a car made sense to me. And I can’t as many people or goods with me as I used to. Grocery shopping has become difficult at times and impossible at others. But I’ve gotten to know my neighborhoods. I’ve been forced to look for food closer to my home, forcing me to look closer at my home and its immediate surroundings in order to survive on more than beer and whatever I scrounge from work.

I’ve had to change my idea of a good neighborhood. According to walkscore.com, my addresses since 12/3 have received a rating of 52, 83, 82, 77, and (currently) 91 out of 100. All this in comparison to my house, my home, the ex-urban Rivendell that I loved and bled and grew up in and for which I rarely go a day without singing a silent boxcar spiritual, which rates a 5. (I still love you, yellow lunch box, stuck in the throat of Dolphin Drive from both ends like a swallowed pill.)

I didn’t know then what I know now. That gasoline prices will never go down. That even if they do, it will be temporary and more damaging than if prices tripled tomorrow. That the world has reached the point where it has pumped the most oil out of the ground that it ever has, that it ever will. And that from here on out, things will get tougher for the new owners of my yellow lunch box and everyone else who lives in a lunch box just like mine. They will find less time for leisure and television. They will need to find new ways of getting work, food, medicine, electricity, candles, mail, flowers, water, clothing, and a host of other necessities, perceived and actual. They will find their government more and more occupied by dangerous and consuming wars over the last of what’s left of our planet’s resources–and they will need their government to win. Many will die–and they will need to die for others to live.

Or maybe not. Maybe hydrogen isn’t as impossible as it seems. Maybe suburban families will begin converting their massive grass yards into the farmland they were meant to be. They’ll stick to the neighborhood and trade their minivans for milk cows and draft horses. Or they’ll move back to the abandoned cities, and sell their old homes to the state to be destroyed, ploughed, subsidized, and made valuable again by the farmers that sold suburban developers the land to in the first place. I don’t know where we’ll put them when they get here, but…

Ugh. Fuck it. It will probably be ugly. In twenty years I’m going to get stabbed in the neck over a loaf of bread by a former Reagan Youth leader and I won’t even have the chance to tell him I’d told him so.

Jesus, who wants to end on that note? This was supposed to be a much more focused post than you normally see here, but apparently all I’m good for today is devolving into this kind of nonsense. But hey, it’s Sunday. I don’t have God anymore, but we all need someplace to speak in tongues for a few hours a week.

I’ll get back to this later tonight. Until then, what are you doing about peak oil?