Things happen overnight. Objects materialise that weren’t there before, popping up like mushrooms, taking their permanent place in the world. When I wake up sometimes, I see trees on the street and boxy civic buildings in the distance, that weren’t there the day before. At night I hear the workers on hushed coffee breaks, pretending not to be there.
Daphne, the Social Worker at the drop-in, says that’s impossible, that I should increase my meds. She resembles a Disney character. When she talks to me, she’s all calm and full of hope, with her Pixar complexion and disproportionately large eyes. She tries to hide it with this Tank Girl thing she’s got going, multiple piercing, purple buzz-cut, wearing army surplus cargo shorts and combat boots. She even smokes cigarillos on her breaks, but none of it helps. When she sits with us in Group, she leans forward, nodding a lot and making hmmm sounds. When she talks, all of her sentences begin with, I wonder what it would look like if…. She calls it reframing. I think she needs a girlfriend.
I bring this up because of what happened last week. There’s been a billboard across the street from my room for as long as I can remember. It’s typically used to advertise the dreck of modern consumer society, thirty-six by twenty-four foot depictions of people blissful in their unfailing affection for useless products manufactured by companies and corporations that despise humanity, but love its money. The advertising is frequently misleading, illiterate and chalked full of elementary school errors. A recent ad, for example, for a Chartered Accountants’ office, stated that Truth is never objective. I had to look at that for months. I tried to help. I called the Accountants’ office to point out the faux pas. But maybe I was too emphatic. They used *69, and reported me to the police.
Anyway, it was round 2 a.m. last Wednesday morning. I was a little stoned on bud, and listening to Conspiracy Cavalcade, a radio program, hosted by Blake Willy, that skips into town off of the ionosphere every night from Portland, Oregon. They were talking about Bible prophecy and how Monsanto’s use of GMOs in food crops is hastening the Second Coming. I was taking notes, cross referencing on the internet and sending Monsanto vicious emails. I didn’t need anyone hastening the return of Jesus. My karma’s a little crispy.
After the top of the hour news, the special guest came on, the Very Reverend Clive Firefield of the Pentecostal Church of the Puissant Zealot. Puissant, what the hell was that? On the surface, at least, it was a word that absolutely oozed pornographic potential. I looked it up. Google corrected my spelling. I was disappointed.
“So, Reverend Firefield,” Blake Willy said, opening up the show. “Your new book is called Genetic Apocalypse.”
“That’s right, Blake,” the Reverend said. “It’s in stores now, and available on Amazon in hardcover and for ebook readers. Jesus has told me that He wants all of your listeners to buy my book, without delay. And just so you know, I’ll be donating 10% of the proceeds to the Church of the Puissant Zealot’s Outreach Program.”
“We’ll be opening up the phone lines in just a few minutes,” said Blake Willy. “But first, Reverend, tell me about this outreach you’re doing.”
“I’m so glad you asked, Blake. This is an angelically inspired program that reaches out to the shut-ins in all of the exclusive gated communities of America, especially in the Palm Springs area, where many of our wealthy seniors are shunned and isolated for reasons of their extreme prosperity, which has come to them through no fault of their own.”
“That does seem unfair,” Blake Willy said.
“It is,” said Firefield. “It’s desperately and unspeakably unfair when the rich are blamed for their good fortune under Jesus. Donations are welcomed. Halleluiah! Will you say a prayer with me, Blake?”
“So,” said Blake Willy, “explain, for the listeners, your ideas round the inevitable genetically induced Armageddon.”
“With pleasure, Blake,” Reverend Firefield said. “Man is absolutely facing a genetic apocalypse. Animal genes spliced into turnips and apples. Rodent DNA changing men into rat-blooded chimeras. Bacteria breeding with viruses to create vacteria.”
“Jesus weeps, Blake. I saw it on the internet. What has man done to the natural order of things? How could man have been so negligent, so irresponsible?”
“It’s like a bad acid trip.”
“Indeed,” the Reverend said, “but I believe, based on revelation, that it’s actually none of man’s doing. I’m convinced by prophecy, that man’s attack on the genetic structure of Earth’s living things is really occurring due to divine necessitarianism. Monsanto maybe facilitating the genetic apocalypse, but it is the influential hand of God at work, hastening the fall of an evil world. It is the wage of sin. And when it happens, it will happen very quickly.”
“Just so the listeners know,” Blake Willy said. ”Another word for necessitarianism is determinism, which means the cataclysmic genetic alterations you describe in your book, Reverend Firefield, were bound to occur and are the inevitable outcome of antecedent states of affairs, is that not true?”
“Ah, that wasn’t on the preprogram list of questions your producer provided me with, Blake.”
“Okay,” said Willy, “let me ask you this, then. You keep using the word man in reference to the cause of the genetic apocalypse, where do women enter into it?”
“Yeah, women. You must know some.”
“Ha! Of course,” Firefield said. “You mean women.”
“Well, this is an equal opportunity Armageddon, Blake. Women, household pets. Everyone is welcome to either ascend to Heaven or fry for all eternity in a lake of fire. Praise the Lord!”
“Does this have anything to do with the apocalyptic Blood Moon theory?” Blake Willy said. “The one that says we’re all toast come September?”
“Because if it does, I have a question about that.”
“Shouldn’t we be breaking for station ID, or something?” said Firefield.
“Let me worry about that,” said Willy. “And answer me this. You evangelical nutty bunnies always predict the same thing: The End Times are coming, and with them the collapse of institutions. Banks closures. The Stock Market doing a face-plant. Planes falling from the sky. The disintegration of governments. Families being ripped apart. You predict the gnashing of teeth, confusion, despair, gerbils doing it with chinchillas, mass chaos, fear, grief, zombie squeegee kids and judgment by a higher power. And yet you inevitably do two very interesting things, considering the physical world is coming an end. First, you try to instill fear by claiming that the apocalypse will make our nation vulnerable and that our enemies will attack us, even though we won’t be here to be attacked because God will have assigned us to other areas of the multiverse. And second, you plan on making huge profits off of books and movies, even though your publicists will be in hell, and you, supposedly, will be sitting at the right hand of God. In light of this, how do you claim moral legitimacy? How do you square it with God?”
“Let’s leave God out of this, Blake. We’re talking about Christianity, at the moment.”
“Okay,” said Blake Willy, “you heard it here first, folks. Now we’ll take a break to hear from our beloved sponsors. Coming up, your calls, and later – when things go terribly wrong and evolution happens out of sequence – archeologists find evidence of a failed ancient civilisation that discovered the aerosol can before the wheel, and sprayed itself out of existence. Back in a few.”
That’s when I turned it off. I had another toke, and began to write haikus. I’m good at haikus, and I do my best work before daybreak.
welfare cut me off
food bank just gives me tuna
I feed alley cats
That sort of thing. I know, it’s pretty impressive, but I’m humble. I intend to be published posthumously.
So, it wasn’t long after I started writing that I heard noise coming from across the street. It was 3:00 a.m., and a crew was taking down the billboard ad for Starbuck’s new Marshmallow Pineapple Macchiato, and replacing it with something else, which was fine by me. I was sick of looking at dementedly enthusiastic youngsters quaffing back candy flavoured fidget-provoking genetically modified café plonk. I just wished Daphne was there to witness it. This proved that things did happened at night, while the world slept and I tried to shoehorn life’s meaning into seventeen syllables.
Changing a billboard sign at 3:00 a.m. was strange enough. But the crew doing the job was even stranger, dressed in choir gowns with wings and drenched in an eerie light without a source. And were some of them actually flying? Holy fuck, yeah! I looked at what was left of the blunt in the ashtray — still half a joint. It was some good shit, but seeing floating choirboys was unexpected, even a little scary. Then it occurred to me that they were angels. Maybe it was the olanzapine. Irrationally, I thought for a minute of quitting weed, but I still had a quarter kilo in a watertight container in the toilet tank. I couldn’t exactly donate it to the Boys and Girls Club. I lit up again, and watched the angels do their good work, whatever that was.
At some point I fell asleep listening to the Butthole Surfers on YouTube, and didn’t open my eyes again until after 10:00 a.m. After I had some tuna for breakfast and read some of the more interesting overnight spam, I took a look out the window. And there it was, the new billboard sign.
Monsanto. Proud to partner with God to bring you the end of the world.
Son of a bitch! Firefield was right.
And I had to admit, it was brilliant. There He stood, a twenty foot high Caucasian Jesus, whiter than Beaver Cleaver, holding a GMO turnip, surrounded by genetically modified people and foods from all of the nations of the world. He had a wide toothy grin and an I♥Monsanto badge pinned to His robes. Everyone was smiling and ready for the Rapture, even the Hindus, Taoists and Pagans. No more niche marketing, no more bullying farmers. Now Monsanto would be righteous, and everything to everybody. And the Lord would be their spokesman.
At the drop-in, most of the guys were in the back alley drinking pilfered hand sanitizer, so I had the place to myself. I sat on a couch and was leafing through a back issue of Guns & Ammo when Daphne came by.
“How are you, Arthur?” she said. “What’s new?”
“People never really want to know that,” I said. “Why do they ask?”
“No,” she said, sitting next to me, “I’m truly interested.”
She smelled of musky chocolate and sounded sincere, so I told her about the billboard, and she said –
“Hmmm, I wonder what it would look like if we lived in a world where humans didn’t rely on invisible gods and evil corporations.”
“I guess if those things disappeared tomorrow,” I said, trying to sound sane, “it would just create a vacuum that would likely be filled by other human systems, perhaps far worse than what we have now. Who knows what they might be? Maybe God and Monsanto are protecting us from a far more odious and unknowable fate.”
“That’s a very interesting observation, Arthur,” she said.
“Thanks. I read it in an issue of National Review in my psychiatrist’s waiting room.”
“So,” Daphne said, “you’ll be looking at Monsanto Jesus on the billboard across the street for the next couple of months.”
“It won’t be so bad, if I can forget about all the splicing.”
“Maybe the angels will come back,” she said.
“Yeah, I’d like that.”