Pan-Apocalypse Now: Tales from a Geologist on His Bicycle. A tiny play by David Worthington

Act I. The Reckoning

The Sun: Brightly glorious. The Skies: As tropical blue, as it is hopeful too. The Birds: Playfully chirping. For they say… birds don’t get Cable News. These are trying times. Isolation adjustment disorders have frayed the fabric of our society. So, I’m going out. To the Viral Boulevard.

The time is right to get pedaling again. From my humble domain in Costa Mesa, California, it is a smooth hike or bike into the natural essence of the Newport Back Bay (home to over 200 species of birds which nosh on the abundance of the California jackknife clam, the bent-nosed clam, the ribbed horse mussel, fiddler crabs, mud crabs, ghost shrimp, and the California horn snail). Without exception, the bike trail delivers food for thought, foil-wrapped in ambrosia. Biking or hiking in the natural estuary offers an all-access pass to a natural amphitheater. Where a cool breeze quartet plays softly-sung solutions. Ambient heartsongs which serve to un-stick and un-twist the oxidized Rubik’s cube otherwise known as your “headspace”. Oh, the daily permutations you’ve twisted, sewn, and frozen inside the gristmill. Entrenched in the civilized world. The ethereal Back Bay symphony vibrates more musically than the Days Before. The audio mix is notably warmer, more ethereal and brighter now that 95% of air traffic grounded.

Some folks are testing the un-lock down…some folks are warmly smiling like Apollo 13 astronauts freed from the Teflon confines of a modular space capsule. Happy to walk the earth again. Others are cloaked in cloth or surgical face masks. Either way. It feels like a homecoming of sorts.

A colorful peloton of six cyclists floats by… My observations of the new normal: Even the size and shape of the peloton has self-corrected as a result of the pandemic. Rather than the usual stampede of bikers, they are tapping out a calm piano tempo with re-calibrated, six feet wide, open gaps. Unprecedented to see. Six roadies dodging the draft (and these are known wheel-suckers and dopers lead by the Pied Piper of CDM). Damn. Strangely, now the rules abide. Outside of sanctioned competition. “Hey Hoverhawk” sez the erstwhile nemesis and current owner of the Juice Bar. I answer with an auspicious triplet from my bell. Ding Ding Ding! I feel a bizarre kinship in the otherwise superficial exchange. Many of us are reckoning with strange bedfellows in this savage, locked-down land. The entire world is pushing the re-set button. This feels like…Panapocalypse Now.

In pre-outbreak tradition, as is my habit, I like to “put eyes” on my local job sites. Trolling around on the bike makes this a pleasant routine. The Firm has a half-dozen on-going residential projects within a 2-minute radius. The genesis of every construction project begins with the drilling, sampling and testing of the soil material. Then the year-long planning, permitting and eventual erection of the ubiquitous construction fencing. After another 12 to 24 months and maybe 12 to 36 trades (pricey ground-up vs. pricey remodel), you have the eventual de-scaffolding and the de-fencing. The hauling-off of the chain-linked summons the Final Cert from GEO Inc. (the geotechnical engineer-of-record, yours truly).

In the spirit of thrift, we make an effort to recycle our business fence signage. Each vinyl banner displays our laser-graphics logo at 30 bucks a pop. Sign recovery ratio is approximately 2 out of 10.

And so I roll over to Site “A” and park the bike by the large construction dumpster staged in the front yard. Therein, I commence head-first with your basic essential dumpster diving. Paddle-wheeling through the stacks of drywall, spent shingles and lumber scraps. Eureka! I am able to locate and wangle the undeterged signage advertising my logo.

Triumphantly, I gaze up,….And there he is … We exchange glances. He is rubbernecking. His stare is punitive. It implies this: I am shifty. I am “in the act”. My greasy hands deep in the cookie jar. Snatching the hot goods (a. k.a. the Loaf of sourdough nicked by Jean Valjean).

Yep, there He is…The bowed-up and bolted Inspector Javert of Newport Beach. The self-appointed Neighborhood Commandant. Deputy Dog from the Local Shame Police.

I give you: Tan Dad, Un-Masked. Cheat’n-on-his-wife Quarantine Dad. He’s on a mat black and chrome beach cruiser. With the tiki cup holder cleverly placed on the handlebars. Cargo shorts, flip flops, and a Tee… Tan Dad is overly-handsome. Stands 6′ 4”, 220… with the TV anchor hair. Very nice set of fake choppers. Resembles Ted Danson. Played one year of High School football. Torn ACL, and whatnot…

The tony SoCal neighborhood is humming with strollers, joggers, bikers. Mostly white folks out for a short shovel of O2 and Vita-D. Active reprieving in the middle of the State-ordered sheltering-in-place.

True story friends… Tan Dad is FILMING me on his iPhone. In broad daylight. He’s gliding on the bike. Bowed up and all crinkly ball-sacked (I imagine). Lips slightly chapped (actual). Accusatory. This situation is about to go South.

Act II.
The Conflict

Tan Dad is holding up his cell phone like a cocked python, aiming it at my jugular. “This is in case something happens to the house!…” he warns. “ I KNOW the Homeowner!” declares the man with the orange-blossom face. He’s free-wheeling. He’s keeping an awkward gap between us… Hovering. Gerrymandering the map to tilt the campaign in his favor. Refusing to enter my barefaced burning ring of viral. Suddenly I am made aware…. He’s not facing-up like those gents in the hockey rink…No sir. He’s Distancing me.

Ergo, I’ve little time to explain myself. Impeachment proceedings are swift in the mean streets of Orange County. My parasitic malfeasance is crystalline. As transparent as droplets on a fuzz-rancid Petrie dish. I am a syphilitic looter. A carrier. By extension, a malicious, door knob-licking snuffer of grandma and Johnny Prine – I done ‘em both like Chief Bromden done McMurphy (and I’m still running).

See? I have been tagged “ Vicious Vector” by the vivacious Vicar. I am It. And It, has hit, the Fan. He’s on the move. I could tell by the timbre in his voice, he’s got evidence to process. To be entered. Into…the System. Ethan. Gregory. Allen. Vector 19.

Tan Dad is increasingly poker-faced…showing no fear… He pretends not to run-away. While he…uh…slowly banks a U-turn…in the reverse direction. Mercy. For a moment I have a clue as to how it feels to be a black man like Ahmaud Arbery, who had the temerity to take a jog through a predominantly white neighborhood in Brunswick Georgia. Jesus. Am I a pasty-white version of the falsely accused Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird? Friend s. After years of self-prescribed therapy, I have determined, that I am easily triggered by visions of false prosecution. Real or imagined. The slightest act of excessive authoritarianism tend to prompt a spring-loaded response. Especially amidst the shitstorm of raw tensions fomented by tone-deaf leaders hurling flashbangs behind the garrisoned walls of a broken system.

No time to get granular. So I plea: “Yessir! I am here on official capacity. I too know the Homeowners…”

Still. The Tan Dad remains wooden as a post. His refusal to listen is resolute. He`s no numbskull. He’s seen things…box seats with the Toadies in Anaheim. Monthly poker games with the college admission cheats. Cocktails with Karen at the Carmel Yacht Club. Harbor cruising with the sodomites and nepotites. Unvarnished things… Shared only by the ambiguously-fake rich white people. Carriers of the code…of the secrete handshake.

Rattled, I croak “they are my client!” He’s deeply unimpressed.

True Story.

“Look – this is my neighborhood too!” I lied. “I’m checking my sites! Guv’ Newsom declares Residential Construction is DEEMED ESSENTIAL!”. In my often-lampooned Keanu Reeves voice, I dubiously declare: “I…. AM… ESSENTIAL!” “I too hail From District 18! 18-GEOTECHNICAL!”.

Why am I reasoning with this Lugnut? Besides, he’s about to bug out to the dugout (Newport PD? CDC?). So on paper-thin expectation of resolution, we continue with coarse words:

Tan Dad: But you live West of Pettus Avenue…

Ethan Allen: [not to eager to volunteer information] Yes…Okay Okay … I’m 3 meters West of District 18, buh-buh but….

TD: Wait [projecting to the pea-gallery]…AHA! then you are DISTRICT 19…19! As in COVID-One-9!

EA: …BUT I’M TRYING TO SAVE LIVES!

TD: NO. I AM TRYING TO SAVE LIVES HARDER! Also… did you not Attend the live concert headlined by the Texas Legend, singer-songwriter Kinky Friedman?

EA: The Jewish Willie Nelson meets Mark Twain of Texas? That I did. Wait, how in the Hell’s Kitchen did you know this sir !?

TD: Tell the truth. On that night…just a Day before the Lockdown…. did you not press your pungent germ-riddled hand into the pre-disposed mitt of the surly septuagenarian, known as The Kinkster?

EA: Now hold the phone… I confess. I have touched exactly two people in the Age of Covida. My sweetheart Quarantina… and the Cuban-stained, fleshy hand of the Jewish Cowboy from Kerrville. To be straight, it was Kinky’s Last Dance. Curtains before Bye Bye American Pie. And though the Kinkster did in reality appear muy agitato…My gut sez he ain’t got the Covida-One-Niner! Hell No. The man is tougher than the rind on a butternut squash. But if he do… Ain’t nothing that his good Doctor Nothershotta Jamesons can’t kill. On the fucking Spot! In any case, despite what all the people were singing… I was nowhere near Tennessee. The night they took ole John Prine down (though all the bells were ringin they went… Naaah, na, na, na, na, na…)

TD: Jesus. What is wrong with you, man. I’m calling the cops.

{fortunately my red bandana was loosely wrapped about my white neck region; else I end up incarcerated or worse… with two plugs in my chest and next week’s worm food} An so, he’s skating away, slithering….I implore him to listen. It can not end like this. I am not a hashtag “Bad Neighbor”. I am not a hashtag parasite. At least I don’t think so. The tests…the faulty models…the deep state… the bloated, nimrodic President inside a shambolic White House… Into what brand of culture wars and Scavullo He ll have we plunged?

EA: Please come back…don’t ride away …. [Note to readers: I’m not good at name-dropping; according to my friend…Matthew McConaughey] OKAY – the well-heeled client is (names redacted by author) the All-Star first baseman who played for the Angels, now with the Cardinals… In any case, how might it be of value to he and his family if you TATTLE?!… whilst they quarantine in a horse ranch located in Missouri?! This fake news will only Ramp Up the Interstate Angst! Man.

[Absolutely panicked now] “Pump the brakes! I am ESSENTIAL, PLEASE COME BACK, LETS TALK!

Without provocation, I dive into the deep end of my own logorrhea. And so, a murky pool of excessive wordiness ensues:

“I HAVE A 2 BY 3 INCH CARD FROM THE SATE OF CALIFORNIA – BOARD of Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologist…! YOU HALT sir… You CANNOT PUBLIC ARREST ME!
For I PUBLIC ARREST YOU! HALT I SAY! I DID NOT HAVE SEX WITH THAT WOMAN!
I AM NOT AN ANIMAL!!!” Where is your Mask sir! SIR!” [Getting Mt St. Helens hot now].

“Putting up your phone on ME? Coming up six feet on Me! Really!? I put my phone Up on YOU!” [Where ’s my phone gawd-dammit – Now I’m truly piqued]
“F.U. TED DANSON! F.U. NEXTDOOR.COM – COP!
YOU LANTERN JAWWED FREAK! KISS MY ASS!…. and WARSH your FRIGGEN HANDS!!!

So now the villagers are starting to flocculate…I’m running out of juice. It’s feeling more than a little pitchforky over here…

EA facing the coalescing crowd: “STEP ASIDE…I AM CERTIFIED! !”

Still clutching the corporate signage …Hoisting it now overhead. High above Tiananmen Square… (channeling the voice of Johnny Utah, in “Point Break”):

“I WORK FOR G – E – O! ”

For a brief lull, this public address imparts the intended suspension of the tension. En masse, the swarming mouth-breathers and masked soccer moms take pause. High time to cut out.

Not before a parting shot. I angle my voice to the Anglo crowd. Repeating the last words heard at the last live concert by the last man whom’s raw hand I gripped in a vainglorious manly hand-shake… The ornery and irreverent Kinky Friedman:

“Remember everybody…Wash your hands and say your prayers, cuz germs and Jesus are everywhere.”

Quickly and with measured footing, I run my horse down the narrow easement and fling my leg over her mid-Gallup. Disappearing down the white shores of Dover Avenue. Rolling again. Unscathed.

Truly, the most judicious strategy is often “Exit Stage Left”. Like Daddy used to say, “a good General knows when to retreat”.

Anyways. Friends. The Towne Square gaslight flared dangerously close to my Jimbob powder. Do you feel me?

Looking back, I’m progressively mindful that the novel virus is crippling our communities. The whole scene at the job site was an exercise in farcical futility. Or as Dr. Gonzo would say… a “lame fuck-around”.

In my bee-hive brain matter I muse a song by Iron Butterfly. “In-A-Gadd a Covida, Baby…Don’t you know that I love You. So. Please take my haaaaand… Dunt-Dunt, Dunna Ga-gong…”

As I roll southward through the new pale-gray American dawn, I hear the rumble of choppers coming over the bluffs. And the muzzled forewarning of promised unrest. A protest hymn from a distant choir. “No Justice, No Peace. ”

Shit. Saigon.

And so, dawn sheds a new pivotal point of no return. And darkness falls. Perhaps the kind of darkness which descends before the morning of profound change.

Act III.
The Big Sleep

[Our narrator’s voice turns critically somber]

Then, there is this. In the somewhere right now. In this moment. Hospitals across the planet have instituted strict restrictions on visitors. No family members. No friends. The antiseptic smells and frenetic sounds define the bubble interior of the Intensive Care Unit. Beeps and blips from a cadre of machines. Inside this room, there lies a thick veneer of panic over everything. Until the sluggish fog of delirium and loneliness rolls in like a two-ton blanket.

Introducing to the 2020 world: The Unseeable Death Star. The Devil’s Gobstopper. The novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) is known as the invisible enemy because 10,000 of them could huddle-up inside a pinhead.

Under the electron microscope the virus resembles an exploding red Tootsie Pop encased with a hundred fibrous thorn scrubs. Where one type of thorny spike on this viral capsule would do the trick, this spherical, red-headed, vile, flesh-eating bastard has two. One of the spiky spicules springing from the surface is shaped like the letter “H”; the other, an “N”. Hence, the anatomy of a blood cousin named: H1N1 (aka the 2009 Swine Flu). One virulent protein barb clings, whilst the other rips and embeds. The microscopic latching-on enables the budding-off into the host cell. The newly infect ed host cell sprouts multi-pronged tentacles studded with viral particles. Thus introducing human zombie cells, marching inward.
The virus and zombie cells spot-weld onto the pulmonary and heart lining like barnacles on a boat. Unlike the snake-like Ebola virus, this orb-shaped unit is crowned with a halo of 100 reddish protein spicules. Hence the name (Corona is Latin for crown). Name it a thorny crown. In any case. To more than 35 0,000, this enigmatic contagion is a stone-cold killer.
Despite the pseudo-science pablum found on social media, there is not scientific evidence linking the coronavirus to manmade origins. Virologists determined the contagion originated from biologically unique bats sold in Wuhanian wet markets. The ancient species carry pathogens. The fever-tolerant bats are flying syringes loaded with infectious saliva, urine, and feces.
Once infected, humans gradually lose their senses of taste and smell. Then the bubbling heat inside your vital organs. The harrowing shortness of breath. A corrosive coating blooms inside your mouth, radiating throughout your veins. Every labored breath delivers pain. It rips through your lower back and devours your rib cage.
Gunky mucous slowly floods the lungs and restricts any waning transfer of oxygen to the blood. The clock is running down now… you become half-conscious and enfeebled by oxygen depletion.
You have no words. An uninvited blue hose occupies your windpipe. Making communications impossible.
Perhaps this a 2 week period of exponential degradation …a disaster curve taking residence inside your chest … like the sinking of a ship. What duration of time we will never live to tell…one suspects it burns the inside of your lungs; as if you were water-boarded with lava. The torso violently arches. Your eyes like saucers flooded with terror.

The ICU doctor reports that parts of your face and neck are “fluffing-off” due to the fluid pressure buildup. More panic erupts as you descend deeper underwater…unable to re-surface. The clinging. The eventual un-clung.
The infusion of convalescent plasma is effective in some cases. In others, the patient plummets into a cannibalistic cytokine storm. Where the body attacks its own cells.
The infectious, pea soup waters are taking the lives of so many. The sand below your feet suddenly… displaced. Horrifically…dragged into the riptide like a vacuum. Before everything turns to mustard clouds. You hazily witness an astronaut-shaped shadowy figure donning face-shields and rubber gloves. A sentinel, caped in a hazmat burka. Ventilator tubes and cables are festooning about. The faceless sentinels endeavor to rally, but are unable to avert the flat line.

Click. And so then. A total death-tally repetitively tumbles on the Worldometer app brought to you by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hundreds of thousands of “clicks” grimly counting in an automated manner bearing no margin of empathy.

Click. One. More. Integer.

The End

“I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day [that John Prine] died”

………………

David Worthington is a certified engineering geologist and former competitive cyclist; novice songwriter and likes to pedal rocks.

 

7 Comments

  1. Wow what a Wild Gonzo-Esque ride! Very impressive flow and command of language. Urgent and combative and ultimately empathetic.

    As your attorney Laszlo, I urge you to keep it coming!

    You’re the closest thing we have to HST, Hemingway and Twain.

    1. To my friend and dirty rotten attorney Laszlo – It’s all gone Quixotic at the point. I advise you to keep the speed up and take a good aim at the apex. The Great Turning Point. Momentum. By the time we get to Barstow, we’ll be more than half way to Hell.

      We got this.

      May the tailwind always be at your back. Humbly at your service.

      Thank You

  2. Interesting well told recap of your experience. What is the male version of a Karen–Darren?? Shall we now call you professor with your educational lecture on the Covid?

    1. Brilliant! Yes, heretofore the self-righteous brother of Karen shall be named Darren! Perhaps Tan Dan IS a Darren!

      No offense to you beautiful Karen’s and Darren’s.

      Exaggeration is the essayists best friend.

      Thank You for reading and expanding the thread.

      Much Love

  3. An exuberant and cinematic upscaling of our current realities.

    1. Thank you for the read and review!

      As a geologist schooled in plate tectonics, I conclude “Life is Short”. So make it sweet. Make it good!

      May we live to embrace Mother Earth and her seismic uplift.

  4. Wow, David! What a wild ride. Tom Robbins remains my favorite author, but you are now at number two (with a bullet) on the charts.

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