Sometimes, what one is thinking and feeling is best put in a story. Here, we are checking if this is one of those times:
The cows moved into the living room once my gunny neighbor ran off the Idiots and Fools. Oh, well – I hated that carpet anyway. A few months later, we tore down the sheetrock between the living room and bedroom. The smell wasn’t too pleasant, but since the water heater had died, we weren’t really in much a position to complain. The cows were unlikely to listen anyway.
I finally came to appreciate the golf course this corporate McMansion backed up to. First off – grass; second, a well system that drew water from some aquifer for all those sprinklers; third – and this is just crazy – a backup generator to run the pumps, with enough fuel to keep it running for years if what you’re looking for in a lawn is more ‘not completely dead’ as opposed to ‘Augusta National’. I suppose the backup generators were cheap insurance, given what a round will run you on a PGA-level course.
I named the cows after Enlightenment philosophers – seemed only fair. I whiled away quite a few days sitting on the back porch, watching my small herd of cows graze on the back nine, rifle across my lap. I pondered how the Idiots’ and Fools’ stupidity, cowardice and bucket-of-crawdads tendency to eat each other has resulting in us mostly being left alone.
On a clear day, we could still see occasional signs of L.A. burning in the distance. You’d think after a while the Fools would have run out of things to burn – bungalows, cars, counterrevolutionaries – but they seem to still occasionally come up with something flammable.
Funny thing is, I’m not some sort of prophetic survivalist or anything. The major corporation I worked for put me and my wife up in this gated ‘community’ outside L.A., because I’m kind of good at solving problems, and they had some problems. I’d hardly settled in when things went radically south. Luck or fate, that’s all.
Eventually, one fine sunny morning, HR staged a coup – such was all the rage, back then – and ran off Management and established a bit of a commune, run, I suppose, by people who couldn’t get jobs anyplace but an HR department. The connection between having a major corporation and people buying your products and services had, it seems, gotten lost in a surfeit of egalitarian enthusiasm – that was a Problem, for sure, not that the fools would be able to see it. But it was not my problem.
I was working from home that day – again, just lucky, I guess. The glorious HR revolution lasted about a week, when the Idiots from downtown, who, fresh off having seized City Hall and who, I suppose, were incapable of getting a job even in HR, decided that the people who had seized the big bad corporations were not pure enough to run them – well, sack them, really – and so had them all swear subservient allegiance, hanged or otherwise disposed of.
How do you tell the Idiots from the Fools? The Idiots had uniforms. Black jeans, black boots, an ironic beret. Plus a T-shirt to show how cool you were. The Fools didn’t, and imagined that, somehow, the Idiots were on their side. In their defense, psychopaths often have the best slogans, Fools, on the whole, are not accustomed to thinking much past the level of sound bites. The job market was tight, what with all the corporations burning or being run by people with undergraduate psychology degrees. It would be easy to miss the ‘cannon fodder’ part of the job description.
Anyway, things had been deteriorating for a while before Red Thursday. Most of the neighbors had moved back to Missouri or Bangalore or wherever before things got really ugly, leaving only three of the houses on this little fenced-in hill occupied: next door, Bill the Gunny, a type specimen of that odd combination of paranoia and a knack for making money one regularly comes across in the business world. I kind of liked him. Next house over was Sally from marketing, great gal, very successful, lived by herself. I could hear her biological clock ticking from across the street. Bill frightened her. One day about two weeks in she got in her car and drove away. She had amazingly straight, white teeth.
And me and Velma. Velma’s grandparents lived on a farm, where she spent her summers engaged in activities that were proving useful in our current situation. Velma’s not squeamish.
When the Idiots and Fools finally got around to seeing if there were any more counterrevolutionaries in need of being hanged lurking in the eastern foothills of L.A., Bill was ready. He’d locked all the gates, cleared the perimeter of brush and posted ‘shot on sight’ warnings all around the compound. Years before, he’d had done some work on his house. He had half-inch steel plate installed in the walls of his upstairs bedroom, behind the knotty pine paneling. He seemed to be the only person here who owned his home, and he personalized it to his taste.
He’d converted the entire second floor into a Command Center/guard tower. From it, he had a 360 view, with armored walls to shoot around. He explained to me his approach: “Shoot enough of the Fools to sow confusion, then pick off the highest-ranking Idiots you can see,” he confided, eyes fully gimleted. “Gotta stop the cannon fodder’s advance, then cut off the head.” He spat.
This was the high point of his life.
Long story short, the shootout was brief. Bill executed his plan to perfection. Terrified Fools were running away screaming, a prominent Idiot in a Che t-shirt caught a full Mozambique – damn good shot, Bill! The retreat was not orderly.
More screaming Fools died at the hands of their Idiot betters than from Bill’s marksmanship. When the Fools ran screaming after Bill picked off a couple scaling the fence, the Idiots tried to enforce discipline in the usual manner. Bill shot the shooters first – the Idiots then folded like cheap plastic chairs. Bill showed great restraint – nobody got shot in the back as they fled.
Flush with success, Bill couldn’t resist taking the fight to the enemy. He was ready. He jumped in his Hummer, a rosary dangling from the rear view and thousands of rounds in every available space not occupied by Bill or various weapons. He gave a passing rebel yell, and headed out after the fleeing mob, waving his daddy’s Winchester. We watched him drive away until we couldn’t see him anymore.
After Bill’ War, we were pretty much left alone for a couple years. Pretty much. Bill’s and our houses sit atop a hill, surrounded on 3 sides by the fairways of the 15th and 16th holes. The other side faces the security checkpoint across a wide bit of dead landscaping. Bill, Sally, Velma and I had repurposed a lot of wrought iron into a fair fence encircling the perimeter. We were hard to sneak up on.
In addition to inheriting Bill’s firepower – I’d bet we were better armed than some third world countries – we also came into his 10 years’ worth of canned goods. With water from the golf course, cows, tomatoes and basil from the muck pile and the still beautiful Southern California weather, Velma and I were pretty much set.
Velma and I settled into a bucolic existence, not unlike those nameless 10th century French country peasants who never knew when the Vikings would row up river, kill them and take everything they owned. And the neighbors could be almost as bad. Keeps you on your toes. We stuck to simple, timeless wisdom: Stay calm, have a plan, and keep your cows close.
It was a Thursday, early afternoon. It had been almost a year since we’d seen any fires downtown, and almost as long since we’d heard gunfire. Velma was tanning a hide in the garage – I’m sure glad she’s on my side – and I was watching cows, when a line of people appeared in the distance, ascending the hill, lead by a Hummer flying a big white flag.
“Bill!” I shouted. “Velma, it’s Bill. And evidently a few friends.” Velma emerged malodorously from her tanning, wiping her hands on her leather apron, and joined me out front. That apron had once been Hume the cow.
The Hummer stopped at the fancy front gates that had not been opened since I’d locked back up after Bill had left. The crowd, looking like some UN sub-committee meeting except not as colorfully dressed, huddled around the vehicle. Bill stood up in the driver’s seat and saluted. Next to him sat Sally, teeth as white as I remember. She stood, leaned on Bill’s arm, looking very pregnant.
Next to them stood an exhausted looking priest, a Fr. Sanchez I later learned, who could have stepped out of some picture in a missionary magazine. He looked earnest and worried and a bit terrified. The crowd contained a plumber, a couple of Japanese car mechanics, a Mexican sheetrock team, a blue haired waitress, a girl with tats, a dude from the beach who hadn’t managed to change out of his baggies, a lady who used to run a Chinese bakery, a cop, a family of Hmong, a stern, grey-haired ex nun. You know, typical SoCal crowd. They fidgeted.
“Greeting!” boomed Bill, with a quick glance at Sally. “I see you’ve survived – congratulations! Velma! You look well.” Velma smiled.
“Same to you, Bill,” I responded chipperly, “ And Sally! What a pleasant surprise!” Velma nudged me and gave me a look. “But where are my manners! Will you please join us for some well water and milk? Perhaps a little canned hash?” I spoke as I moved forward and unlocked the gate.
“That’s kind of you, Russ, but I’m afraid we’ll be needing to leave soon.” Bill and the U.N. Subcommittee on Colorful Native Customs exchanged glances.
Odd. “Well, then, we’ll at least bring out some drink. If you all would like to take a seat on the, ah, rocks,” I gestured them in. “I’m afraid I can’t invite you in. The cows have made a mess of the living room. Can’t be helped.”
“No problem, Russ. Now, down to business: we came out here to ask you one question.” Bill had climbed out of the Hummer and stood in front of Velma and me.
“Sure, shoot.” Figuratively, of course, I added to myself.
He looked me straight in the eye, turned to do the same to Velma, then back to me. “My friends and I have started a little project in light of the late unpleasantness. We came to ask if you would join us.” He spat to the left, then turned back to us. I had taken Velma’s hand.
“We’re attempting to rebuild Western Civilization. Want to help?”
I turned to Velma, squeezed her hand, and we smiled at each other. I am good at solving problems, and Velma is remarkably handy.
“Sure. When do we start?”