Howdy Meltedcheesedeks, welcome to the forty-second continuation of HACK. If you’ve made it this far, there’s a silver lining just over that horizon behind you.
OK folks, here’s how this is going to play out. First I write a few self-referential paragraphs to get it out of my system, while simultaneously holding everything else in. Next, a nice little story about Vineland, NJ to help us forget that any of this is (not) real. Finally, a bunch of unrelated, recently taken pictures. If we have a deal, you may read on…
So yeah. I was raised at 42 Victory Ave. in Vineland. Quick Fun Fact!: “Vineland is the largest city in area (69 square miles) in the state of New Jersey.” When I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the whole 42 inside-joke had its obviously relevant appeal to my psyche. If 42 is the meaning of life, then the meaning of life is victory. Victory over what? Self? Ego? Samsara? Death? Fear of every level after 42? Or how about victory over the experience of having been raised at 42 Victory?
But I’m not going there with this HACK. I’m also not going to phone it in with ’42 Things I Am Grateful For,’ a piece from Heroes and Hierophants that I wrote three years ago. Instead, I’m going to phone it in with something from Heroes and Hierophants that I wrote three years ago, but fiction.
That’s right. I’m escaping into fiction again. Why? Well, first and foremost, I know you don’t read this. And if you are reading this, I still don’t believe you’re reading this. Secondly, the piece I’m presenting has been re-edited and expanded and sitting on another internet address that no one visits. Thirdly, I’m all non-fictioned out. I can’t write about what’s really happening in my life…alas, that’s where all the good stuff is. I can’t write about topical issues of the day because I find it hard to even care what you people are fretting about anymore.
(cue angry rant)
For cryin’ out loud, you people are still talking about gender issues. You’re still debating arguments for and against same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating the possibilities of inter-dimensional copulation…and still not getting laid. And you know what? I WILL marry my cat. I’ll do it just to demonstrate my belief that, no matter how absurd or ridiculous, love between any entities KNOWS NO DISTINCTIONS, if only because All is One and All IS LOVE. If that sounds a bit vague and idealistic to you, that’s because we are all still caught in the cycle of ego-separation, the one that continually makes me doubt that All is One and All IS LOVE. Hell, I don’t even know if what I believe is true. Yet if I had to pick a basic operating premise for the universe that seems to make sense, it would be universal love and connectedness. Any gender, any race, any physiology, any chemistry, any consciousness. I would also marry my cat to prove how completely ridiculous the social institution of marriage is. There ya go, two birds with one stone. One each for me and Clemens to eat.
Oh, right. Noel already did it and he did it better. Move on.
Hey, you want something topical? The Avengers is an excellent movie. In fact, it’s kind of mind-boggling to me how much they actually got it right this time. A perfect combination of serious god knowledge, character depth and stupid American entertainment.
Oh yeah, the piece. Well, all I can say is, thank God it’s fiction, otherwise I’d be forced to spend not just the first 30 years, but the rest of this accursed life…
D.C. was hit first. Then the evacuations started. Only so many made it out before New York City was hit a few days later. Then there was nowhere for us to go. Philly was fried. The Delaware River spiked with tons of acid. Even if we could make it to the coast, enemy submarines waited offshore. South Jersey was a veritable island. We were on our own for however long it took the world to finish collapsing around us.
I have to admit that I secretly wished for something like this to happen. I just wish I wasn’t in fucking Vineland at the time. I expected this to happen and my greatest fear was that like all my other expectations, this one would also fail to come true and I would be forced to live out the rest of my days in utter mediocrity. While everyone else huddled around their battery-powered radios sobbing, I secretly smiled to myself. This is the reboot.
It felt like I had skipped the grief cycle, gone all the way to acceptance while most of my family and friends were still in the bargaining phase. They wanted desperately to believe that our great institutions would save us, even as they crumbled to digital dust. So while they slowly came to the realization that their lives would never be the same, I was already preparing for what happens next.
Three months later I had many ideas on how to survive in this new reality, but no one would take them seriously. One night I completely lost my shit and ended up sobbing next to a statue of entombed-Jesus at the St. Mary’s Church cemetery/shrine. Eventually I decided that I would strike out on my own, head North into the Central Jersey wasteland and try to find my friends…Doug, Russ, or even Attila and Noel. There was nothing for me here, anyway. Parents were in Florida, probably hysterical over me and Mike. I certainly couldn’t live with Mike. Even in the end-times we may end up strangling each other to death.
I wouldn’t fit in anywhere else. Everyone who was married thought only of the survival of their children. They perched in windows from their powerless homes, aiming guns and shouting threats at any who came near their property. The poor deluded bastards didn’t realize the truth—nobody owns a thing, they only possess it for a time. Everyone who was single I couldn’t see shacking up with. The hermit streak ran strong. Once I had accepted that I would always be a loner, that I was free to make my own choices…
… In a way those were the best days. No job to slave at, no government to answer to…no more pretending. It was like Camus’ The Plague. Under the shadow of two mushroom clouds, ordinary life in South Jersey took on a sense of hyper-realness. Children played in the streets. The poorer neighborhoods actually began to share supplies and skills. The bars and clubs filled with those living each day like it would be their last. For many it was.
The Invasions changed all that. I think what happened is that Death did not come soon enough for those still partying. And the ones who kept living out the Old Life secretly expected some kind of rescue. When I say The Invasions, I am referring in a large sense to whatever is happening outside of our bubble. We still don’t know which foreign entity is on American soil, but it definitely has a trickle down effect. Bandits and rogue mutants from North Jersey have set fire to the Pine Barrens. Pirate boats from Baltimore Harbor have pillaged Sea Isle City. I remember clearly when the 60,000 or so residents of Vineland went crazy. There were riots on Landis Avenue, and rival gangs took over all our Walmarts and Wawas. Instead of pulling together, most people just fell apart.
Not us. Mike was the first to go along with my plan. Phil and Jon just happened to be next door with their parents and babies and the babies’ mamas. Becky was down the street with her parents and brother. Even the three Snaars brothers held up their end of Victory Ave. Phil and I actually made it happen. We snuck through old backyards like it was just another game of Jail Break when we were kids. We made it to the Memorial School parking lot and hotwired one of the buses. To this day I can’t believe I was the first one to think of that.
Long story short, we convinced as many people as possible on Victory Ave and the surrounding neighborhood to get on that first bus. Then we drove them back to Memorial School and encouraged them all to take a bus, fill it with more people and supplies, then meet at Menantico Colony. If the City of Vineland proper was no longer forgotten by the outside world, surely the abandoned acreage of that once thriving colony for morons still would be. By dusk the next day, a mini-battalion of school buses paraded down Palermo Avenue, past Rossi School and into the Menantico grounds.
They’ll find us eventually. I realize now that I will never leave this place. I am too needed. Everyone here has found a role—mine is teacher/therapist/shaman. Mike has really stepped up. He actually keeps the alpha males in check and under his command they have defended us from three separate attacks by rival Culver City gangs. Last week he killed a feral pig with his bare hands. Phil designed a rudimentary sanitation system and he thinks that after a few raids on some plumbing supply stores he could make a functioning well happen. Becky’s dad is an architect…he’s in his glory organizing the reconstruction of all these semi-ancient buildings. Rachel and Diane take care of all the animals, and my own cousin Anita, our resident nurse, heals the humans. Becky and Ben brew us beer and other surreal spirits to imbibe. Jon and Rhonda have teamed up to grow gardens teeming with life…They remind me of Longwood Gardens in PA. Last reports from there told of a “giant hogweed” that was “consciously attacking the surrounding ecosystem.” At any rate, our seeds are still pure. I don’t know about no hogweed, but I know what I like and I’d like the future to know that we grow some of the most potent South Jersey schwag you’ll (probably) never smoke. Amanda cooks for everybody and Dan, of course, is the fucking MAN. My Uncle Dennis—an electrician—is the one who made it possible for me to access what’s left of the Egonet and send out this message in a bottle, as it were. Hold on, gotta run real quick, Dyce the P is doing his weekly sermon at The Church. I haven’t missed one yet! …
As for Center City Vineland… Landis Theater and the adjacent East Side Motel are festering dens of macabre iniquity. The only building still intact and undamaged is Sacred Heart Church. I often go there to sit in the bell tower and pick off zombies with the lightening gun. Only a fool would think that we’re completely isolated. We must be ever vigilant in case of attack.
The fire is dimming. I’m tired. Survival pushes thoughts of the past away. And I never cared much for the future. Right now I listen to rain beating on the metal frame of the number 42 school bus that I’ve called home for the last 3 years. ‘Rain’ by Noir is playing over my original 4th generation iPodNano.
The children are asleep. They tell me they dream of their mother. I dream of her too, sometimes. Maybe someday I’ll reunite with my Crew from North Jersey. Or maybe they’re all mutants. One thing is certain: every day I open my eyes, grateful and with a sense of purpose.
The rest (they once said) is history.
‘Suriving In Vineland’ was originally published in Heroes and Hierophants, copyright 2010, iUniverse Press.
This is a work of fiction. Any likenesses to persons living, dead, real or unreal is purely synchronistic and therefore solely the intention of the Author.
Towel Boy is already in the next life, writing a scathing review of his posthumously published works.