[T H E F U T U R E F A I R E]
It begins with dull impressions, like a poor forgery and on either side play those exotic cajoling mystic clowns.
"Enter ye who dare
"O- we contemplate, contemplate, contemplate! And it gives us nuttin' but jizzes; how serious must the gathering be?
Outside, turn your head and tell me what you see.
Ay, purblind traffic and a hard crust."
For before us (big-bellied) is a scene we must peer into. And eat the vestiges of fear and loathe the odor of ozone preparing our annihilation. It's our plague and we must adjust. Out of disease comes conscience.
What say, boy!
"I see a man sitting on a rock, his legs folded under him. He's surrounded by dissolution and wisping trails of buildings.
It's recognizable. It's fun. He believes he's the last man alive and consoles himself by turning the waste into pleasure. But let's hear him tell the story. It's his.
He prepares to speak!"
"Why behind me traffic anneals itself and the day is swathed with wild clouds. And I know somewhere a flower blooms and I know of stories never ending.
But here- Bah! To hell with'em all and all their crud.
They should take all the radios and cram them up their ass. And drive all the cars off a pier."
Where were we and what are we doing here? We've stopped by a side-show, a kind of rural snake pit that has a wretched air about it. But the sign has promised something different.
The air is infectious.
I'm driving from San Francisco to Oregon to visit friends and at that moment in the drive where the scenery begins to collide; then I saw the billboards. They were spaced out fifty yards apart.
"The Future Awaits."
"Peek into the Bubble of the Future!"
"See the Final Man!"
Before its Too late. See!"
The radio was in between stations and the combination of boredom and curiosity made me stop. As with any other guy I'd given the future a thought or two. In fact I had devised a little theory about it along the lines of an organic theory of life. To wit: If an individual plays out the biological fate and dies, then too, nature had the same fate and would perish and, in fact, had given the brain the knowledge of its own destruction. Not simply knowledge, but facts and hardware. So, it was all connected together without question. The future had something indomitable about it. The attitude became infectious. What then is left but to drink, eat, and enjoy a woman? Keep warm for half a century maybe and then break down in weird babbling sounds.
I've been suspicious of these highway stands. They contained old, abused snakes and fake Native trinkets. But the promise of a peak into the future was an enticing element for a tired man. I learned later that the proprietor had enormous land holdings around Mt. Lassen but pretended he was struggling by wearing old overalls with the Gorilla Ben brand patched on the back. "Union approved" it said.
He was a stooped fellow by the name of Zog and moved suspiciously behind the front table which was laden with artifacts and souvenirs appertaining to the future. There were pamphlets filled with doom prophets from the religious to the secular. One pamphlet predicted the end by pandemic. "Only the insects will survive." A book on the counter was a studious account of the previous five extinction events in the Earth's history.
This Zog was a shrewd man because he had taken reddish lava rock abounding in the area and tried to pass it off as fused automobiles. There were ten in a row and when I called him out on it he became defensive.
"This is the way they'll be!"
I asked him if he had any melded buildings and he flushed and looked at me cock-eyed as though I was trying to pull one over on him. I caught a fleeting glance of his daughter in hallway that led into the Future Faire, where the future was stored. She passed by the door like a scent and passed down my eyes, uplifted by her beauty.
She was tall and lissome with long pale arms and a face unmarked by any strain or stress but, rather, smoothed by the hot summer winds blowing toward Lassen. Her name was Roberta and she wore a star in her ebon hair. It was apparent that she was kept at the Amazing Future Faire, not only for the entertainment of the customers but that her father, Zog, had decided to punish her for some unexplained reason; as though she had to replace her mother and would never be free from the Amazing Future Faire. That was all speculation on my part. I had that uncanny ability to sum up a life within a minute of meeting them. Half the fun was hanging around to find out how long it took to reveal the facts that I already figured it through insight.
I felt compelled to buy a red lava rock under the scowl of the old German. He put it in a paper bag and kept it on the counter before calling out, "Roberta! Roberta!" until she appeared from the back.
I saw her sadness. Her smile was for customers and concealed what an experienced man could see. Under the smile was a ruined clock. I remember as a boy keeping a clock under water just to see if it would tick afterwards. To my surprise it did, but each day the face and hands corroded and a week later, it stopped. And when I watched Roberta move behind her father I associated it with the boyhood experience.
Zog fingered a fat brown cigar. "This pretty lady'll show you through," he said and motioned me to the entrance between the desk.
The Amazing Future Faire was a Quonset hut painted over in thick psychedelic designs with an enormous red eye on the wall facing the highway. The eye looked impressive from the freeway and was the one everyone noticed. A yellow pupil stared from the eye and around the whole ellipse shimmered an oracular rainbow in the prime colors.
Surrounding the hut was a vast countryside littered with lava rock, manzanita, and weeds.
Roberta took my hand and we went into the back; suddenly it was dark as if the light were put out by a mechanism triggered by body heat. We walked for an inordinate amount of time. Along the wall flushed sudden fluorescent lights that washed over scenes of disaster, one after the other. The stern of the Titanic, the burning skeleton of the Hindenburg, the fireball of Hiroshima, the Dallas Motorcade, an unidentified corporate building and all the while a voice in monotone announced through invisible speakers, "We live in the most barbarous age in the history of mankind and the future...."
I was entertained but not convinced. After all, we who live in this dreadful swale of time understand that the Earth itself, our grand home, will disintegrate in time, be subsumed by the engorged sun and no trace will be left. At the same time we have destroyed all belief in "after life" "heaven" "hell" and the like. I never think of those things at any rate. So it was all relative. Had I had my pick I would have put myself on the Earth ten days before the sun absorbed it fully or until life was no longer possible. Ten days. And I would have converted those ten days into ten thousand years by my intense consciousness that the life of the Earth was ending. After all, that was quite a thing when you thought about it. Ever since the astronauts had taken the photograph of the whole Earth, I had fallen in love with it. I had learned how it was formed and the geological progression of nature. I had abstract notions of many Earths in the universe but that had already become a cliche so I didn't think about it. No, to my mind the Earth was one singular entity irreproducible throughout the universe. A blue-green gem in all blackness and shapelessness. I was convinced in those last ten days knowing the physical end of everything was about to happen, that all constraints of mind, body, and soul would fall away and I would be as close to eternal as possible. I would expand into the vast spaces of the empty universe because that's where energy wanted to go. I thought that but who knows. I was stuck in this time, many billions of years from the end but conscious that it would end, one day, in the calendar year.
The swelling flame from the Twin Tower attack met my eye. Roberta whispered to me, "the government knew it was going to happen."
"They had to get into the middle-east to make sure the oil would flow. This gave them the excuse to take it all over." I laughed and went on in silence.
Roberta was not as soft as she appeared. There was something definitely hard about her and restless. Her shoulders were fidgeting all the time like she wanted to jump out of her skin. I forced myself not to look sideways at her and continued to take in the future. There were no humans in the future, rather there were reptilian type of creatures that had succeeded the humans after their evil did them in. Big Lizards and human like shapes in a reptilian body. "The humans became pets," and sure enough in some of the scenes a small human figure was seen at the feet of one of the Reptiles with the expression of a lost cat.
Zog had a very pessimistic view of human nature and focused, as the tour continued, on the changes in nature; nature, the solar system and galaxy, the whole universe. Collisions of massive galaxies and the intimacy of new planets created from the chaos. "Why," I suddenly asked Roberta, "is your father so down on the future of humans."
"Don't think that. He's a scientist and he says everything collapses, runs down, disintegrates and he's just following the script of it." "But won't humans have the ability to transform from their demise?"
"Who knows? And why would they do that if all they did was go from slingshots to weapons of mass destruction? He told me, "nature speaks in signs and the evolution of weapons is one such sign."
Toward the end of the tour there was a simple exhibit. It was a thin yellow line stretched across a screen. A voice intoned, "In the end we will all be joined in the horizon and held there for many millions of years before we are released, in toto, in a fresh universe." I was expecting to hear a final judgment but there was silence. "Yes," I heard Roberta say, "it will be that way. A thin line containing all life past, present, and future. The babies who died in childbirth, the women killed because a bomb landed in their kitchen, old men burnt alive for the gold in their teeth, armies of Roman and Celtic soldiers slashing each other armless and headless, assassinated leaders, homeless gummed up addicts, actors and their roles, dogs too. We will all end in the horizon." Here she slipped a hand into my hand.
She held my hand in a knowing way as if I should know what was going to happen. I was attracted to her. What a relief from what I had been through in recent times. Life had become a dull meaningless, mute thing that I had wished to escape. The aliveness seemed threatening even a bit evil. I noticed people looking at me without smiles, with disgust and contempt. I wracked my brain trying to figure it out. What had I done? I knew I had had odd thoughts, subversive thoughts even as youth does. "Can they see them as they bounce uselessly in my brain?" I used to think after I had crossed the street rather than confront a large crowd of people who were waiting for the bus.
All it took was a smile and Roberta had me. She kept pestering me to take her up to Oregon. "I can't do that. What about your dad and the Amazing Future Faire?" "He can deal with it," she answered. It's one of those spontaneous moments when you must decide something you hadn't thought about but for two minutes and you know that it will change everything. I stared into the Twin Towers exhibit and remembered where I was on that day. "They will drop a nuke on us next,' i thought and that was when I wanted to run away from the world. Terrible things were coming to my beloved country and I was helpless to do anything.
I quickly thought of five excuses not to take her with me but my mouth didn't move at all. When that happens I usually start to sweat a bit and I feel heat course through my body. I could feel an explosion coming, a mini nuke from my chest cavity and finally blurted out, "OK, you can come along with me to Oregon." She rubbed my arm quickly and then urged me not to say anything to her father. "Let me do all the talking." There was an annex off the hallway that had a simulation of your total destruction. You would sit in this thing and then watch your body disintegrate, sometimes in gruesome fashion until nothing was left. It was surprisingly effective and reminded me of a dream I had where a simply fire turned into a nuclear bomb and I could feel the heat get closer and closer until I was enveloped in my own disintegration. I was certain, on waking, that I had experienced my moment of disintegration. "Isn't that fun?" Roberta enthused.
We decided on a deceitful plan. I would go out to the car and wait. Roberta would pack a little small case and may or may not say something to Zog depending on the moment she passed him by. Then we'd zoom up 5 and go to Oregon. I had my doubts but then I kept overriding those doubts by the excitement of having a companion for a while. And love making was certain, I had no doubt about it.
I sat and watched the traffic streaming up 5. It was one of the chief experiences of a modern person, standing next to a freeway and watching a car blast by at 75 mph. It had a particular sound and created a shock wave and the poor body had no answer for it. It always made me want to get in and drive as fast as possible, always looking for that fool standing next to the freeway watching everything.
So she comes out, throws things in the back and laughed. "He was no problem. Gave me some money. Wished me luck."
"I was wrong about her, my impression of her was off. He was not punishing her. He was setting up her up to get taken by one of his paying visitors! I didn't figure that out until we approached the town of Redding. I looked over at her and she had the look of someone who had pulled a fast one.