Tales of the Slightly Odd (Preview)

Y2K

By Augustus Gump

The man next door is building a shelter. At least that’s what he told me when I asked what he was doing at the bottom of such a large hole. It was a hot day and, even with the help of the very noisy mechanical thingamabob he rented, digging a hole that deep is very hard work, so he was sweating very hard and drinking a lot of beer. He paused for a moment, removed his hat, mopped his brow, sat down on the cooler he had brought with him into the hole and, in answer to my inquiry, told me why he was building his shelter.

The way he explained it, it’s all to do with this Y2K thing. It’s all over the news, so you must have heard of it. Apparently this massive computer glitch is not just going to cause banks and the government and whatnot to think you won’t be born for another sixty years or so. According to Ralph, it’s going to cause society to collapse into utter chaos, in which only the tough and thoroughly prepared will survive.

“Surely it won’t be that bad,” I said to Ralph.

He just looked up at me from the bottom of his huge hole and said, “That’s what they said to Noah.”

I went home, deep in thought and sat down with a cup of coffee and a cookie. It was worrying, all right. I picked up the phone and dialed Ralph’s number.

“Hello.” He was breathing heavily. I must have interrupted his digging.

“Ralph, it’s Jack. Look, I was wondering where you found out about all this.”

“Look on the Internet, bud. Try Y2Kkdoom.com and go from there. It’s all there.”

“And you think it’s really that bad?”

“Hell, yeah. Check it out.”

I did, and Y2Kdoom.com made for some pretty gloomy reading. So did the linked sites I surfed through that night. Armageddon.com added the threat of a resurgent Soviet threat, taking advantage of the West’s paralysis. This was a theme taken up enthusiastically by the folks at Doomsday.com, who placed particular emphasis on surviving a nuclear holocaust. I called Ralph again. He was a little cool at first, as I had not realized that it was 2:13 a.m., so engrossed was I in this whole thing, but he warmed up when I told him what I was calling about.

“Listen, Ralph, what do you make of the revived Soviet threat? Armageddon.com says they’re just waiting to take advantage of our paralysis. I really don’t want a nuclear holocaust, Ralph.”

“You’d better get used to the idea, bud. Those mothers have really got us suckered in with all that economic crisis shit. All part of a scheme to get us to lower our guard.”

“Gosh, do you really think so?”

“You bet. Lenin said ‘Truth is a luxury of the bourgeois classes. Deception is often justified by the ends.’ Those guys are cunning as hell.”

“But he’s dead.”

“Who?”

“Lenin. And I thought they stopped being communists.”

“You believe that? Look, it’s all part of the deception. Check out doomsday.com.”

“I have.”

“Well, there you are then.”

My wife was clearly upset when she found me digging up the lawn with a mechanical thingamabob. I pointed out that a lawn would be pretty useless in the midst of a nuclear winter, and anyway we could reseed once the shelter was finished. She did that biting of the bottom lip thing she always does, went inside and reappeared ten minutes later with two suitcases. It took me thirty-five minutes to talk her out of the car. I had not seen her in such an unreasonable mood since the llama farm incident of the previous spring, which was hardly my fault – the  leaflet clearly described them as docile. I think that, had it not been for Ralph’s encouragement, I might have abandoned the whole thing right then.

“A firm hand’s what you’re going to need there, bud. You can’t have insubordination when the chips are down.” He had strolled over to where I was struggling to restart the mechanical thingamabob. As usual, he was carrying his rifle and wearing camouflage pants. Ralph had once told me that no damn commie was ever going to get his family, and so far none had. For him the red peril had arrived in the shape of a Corvette, in which his wife had left two years previously in the company of a mortgage broker from Winston-Salem. Ralph said he was glad to be rid of the distraction. He inspected my hole, stroked his chin with the hand that wasn’t holding the rifle and nodded approvingly. “Nice hole.”

North Carolina enjoys a pleasant climate for most of the year, and September is by no means as hot as the mid-summer months. It seemed to me totally unreasonable, therefore, to make a huge fuss about a broken air conditioner, especially when it was an accident that could easily have happened to anyone. I explained to Margaret that those mechanical thingamabobs are extremely tricky to control, particularly in reverse. I even brought Ralph over to back me up, but there was no stopping her and she almost ran us over in the driveway. I called her later at her mother’s and was able to ascertain that her return was conditional on the repair of the air conditioner. I was leafing through the yellow pages when Ralph called.

“If this is the way she’s going to react to a little thing like a broken air conditioner, what use is she going to be in an Armageddon situation?”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” I replied honestly.

“No, I figured you hadn’t. Leadership is going to be vital, Jack. Can’t have women going hysterical in a life-or-death scenario.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“Check out the “Psychological Factors” section at apocalypseY2K.com. It’s got a whole bunch of stuff about leadership.”

“Right. Thanks. Uh…you wouldn’t happen to know someone who fixes air conditioners, would you?”

“Who’s going to fix your air conditioner in the year 2000, Jack?”

“Um…”

“Self-sufficiency’s the name of the game. I gotta go now. There’s a squirrel outside the window.”

I put down the receiver, went out onto the porch and waited for the bang. It came a couple of seconds later followed by a short silence and then a faint “Goddam it.” I was glad. I respect and admire Ralph, but I always secretly find myself rooting for the small animals in his yard.

(End of preview)

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