Boogie Boarding the Apocalypse

I met Mari Whittaker when she contacted me at my pirate Internet station to tell me about her parents. I worked with her dad, Tim, at U.S. Angs many years ago. Tim was one of those decent men who industry rarely promoted but he was a good accountant, a good manager, and prospered in his niche.

My wife, Jane, and I were invited a number of times to Tim and his beautiful and vibrant wife Blaine’s home on the Jersey shore and we always had a great time, swimming in their pool and walking the beach late at night. I even remember being there for one of the nor’easters that seemed to batter the coast more frequently every year. The following day, as we walked, the tides had scraped the beaches ten feel below street level, the asphalt dangling overhead, the dunes gouged away in cavernous chunks. It was frightening to see an island dissolving. I know Tim and Blaine were concerned.

I lost track of Tim and Blaine after I was forced to go underground during the Presidential elections of 2032 so it was good to hear from Mari. As is the times, her story is a sad one.  Berne Thau 2052

 

Boogie Boarding the Apocalypse

“…Hello Boston, this is WebRadio ANGS. Traffic, on this hot and hazy, crazy, lazy Friday before Memorial Day weekend, 2050 is light. Men get out your nano shorts and women your spray bikini developed in the world renowned laboratories of Angs Incorporated’s Sun Division and get ready to party, party, party. I’m yelling, do you hear me out there all you Morgan zealots? Trust me; these people know how to have fun. The job week is ending and it’s time for cool extracurricular profit parties so deal, deal, deal, drink, drink, drink, and party, party, party. Time can only be precious if you’re totally committed.

 

“The weather in Boston is partly cloudy and hot again with near record high temperatures. That’s right, folks, we’re chalking up another hundred plus hot and humid May degrees for our Boston, our Athens on the Bay. Watch out tonight, though, there’s a good chance of severe weather, lightning, high winds and damaging hail, but it should be all clear in tome for the Memorial Day fireworks. Get your tickets here. By the way, our sponsors at Angs Inc. want me to remind everyone that due to persistent flooding, the Symphony fireworks have been moved to even higher ground, way up on Prospect Hill. Make sure you map your routes, kiddies and Conducers because more than the usual roads will be impassable.

 

“In the unlikely event any Bostoners are traveling away from our lovely town, here’s the travel forecast brought to you by Weather Disaster Services, Inc. You’ll need us so become a member now before it’s too late. We’ve enjoyed a quiet first month of Hurricane season but the Atlantic is finally stirring. We’re tracking two storms that will affect Boston and what I affectionately like to call the New England coast and the remnants, thereof. Seriously folks, without our barrier Islands to deflect or absorb the blow, we’ve seen how storms have tracked closer and displayed some pretty amazing energy.

 

“Beowulf is the first storm we’ll be introduced to and she is projected to become a Category Orange which old timers know equates to a category two or so and there’s a hurricane right on Beowulf’s tail, so to speak. They’re calling that one Iago and it’s a category blue. Seriously folks, though the Weather Service won’t say it, our Weather Disaster Service is advising us that you might want to find a safe place, up high, to hide, put your head between your legs, and…listen to WebRadio Angs.

 

“Before we return to music, the owner and sponsor of our station, the company that stocks our shelves with goodies, USA Natural Grain Stuffs, Angs to its legion of customers, requires that I present some entertaining facts about their fine products. Here we go. This is WebRadio Angs and I’m Charlie Jackell. Have a prosperous weekend….”

“Mari,” JT yelled up the steps of their townhouse, “did you hear that?”

From the top of their three story condo, her reply returned garbled. He yelled up again. “The first hurricanes of the season are heading up the coast.”

“How far up?” was her shouted response. When he didn’t respond, she hurried down. “Oh, no, we have to work.”

“They’re your mom and dad. What do you want to do?”

“What can we do? They’re on the Jersey coast and we’re in New Hampshire. I tried last January when that horrible nor’easter hit but they refused to evacuate. They’re in their eighties, JT, for Morgan’s sake. I’m not going through this again.”

“How are you going to avoid it?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait a week wondering if they survived. I mean, it serves them right but…”

“Mari, they’re you folks. I never thought I’d be glad my parents are dead but with the economy and the climate… the refugees, well, I’ll do whatever you want.”

“I can’t help them from here. I have to go down…will you come?”

He knew it was difficult for her to ask. He had the law and work rules on his side but there was no way she could make it safely from Nashua to Gulf Shores, New Jersey without him and without her, well, he needed her income to prosper. Even with his help, it wasn’t a journey to undertake lightly. “Can’t we do a web conference?”

“JT, you know they have no power and Internet and phone service isn’t available. I can’t even get their address added to Federal Express routes. It’s unprofitable and far too dangerous.”

“So we’re going to the Jersey shore.”

Mari hugged him. “JT, I have to.”

“Okay, but I don’t think it will do any good.”

“Maybe I can convince them to come home with us.” He offered her a sardonic grin. “I don’t know. Maybe I can do something to help them to make it through.”

“The shore is their holy place. You always said they’re best there. Look, I like them but, as parents and even as adults, well, neither affliction is their strength. You told me what they were like and I’ve seen them in action.”

“JT, I have to try.”

You know how unsafe travel to the New Jersey coast has become. Tides have inundated the islands and everyone who can has abandoned the place. There’s no commerce, they have no tax base, no utilities, and they are without fire and police protection. Hell, if it wasn’t so bleak, more criminals would find refuge there. I’m not sure I can find a travel service to supply the latest directions.”

“That’s not true; the case is still pending in the Financial Supreme Court. Until it’s settled, every mapping sight is required to supply directions as long as they include safety precautions and contact information for local, private militia along the way. We could get trip insurance.”

“It’s not economically viable. Travel is cost prohibitive to coast locations and Jersey is worse than most. Besides, neither of us has that kind of credit.”

“I know you’re right. With the recession and all, we have to be careful.”

“How about I look into the logistics and economics? The harder part will be getting time off.”

“Oh, JT, that’s so nice of you. I can work from the car. I’ll rent a signal booster so until maybe past Newark I should be productive. For a fee, you can use it, too.”

“You’re okay with me taking a chance and asking for time off?”

She knew that if his wealth declined further, he was risking life everlasting and she’d be forced to end their partnership. “I don’t want to lose you, JT, but mom and dad, kind of raised me.”

“What happens if we get there? If they agree to leave, we don’t have space for much and when we return, we don’t have the worth to support them. They won’t like that. You know how Tim gets. Frankly, they and we are better off if they die. You know it’s true. I’m just saying…”

“Can we rent a trailer or something?”

“Sections of the Garden State will be hard going as it is. With a trailer…”

“I’m going, JT. The hurricanes are coming so I need to leave real soon.”

“You get ready and I’ll work up an itinerary and contact a Toller who can deliver a note to them to tell them where and when to expect us.”

“You know terrorists and they deliver?”

“There’s a group of Tollers near work. For money, they’ll do anything.”

“That’s so sweet, JT, thanks. Make sure the note’s specific. You know how angry Dad gets. Last time, he waited four hours in his canoe.”

JT nodded, solemnly. “He’s a tough man even when he’s not cross.

 

…Nights in white satin, never reaching the end;

Letters I’ve written, never meaning to send….

 

Tim Whittaker pedaled his stationary bike at a steady fifteen mile an hour clip under beautiful rose trellises on a secluded Zambian trail, lost in the experience he was pumping through his Post-Apocalyptic media center, his scrawny eighty-four year old legs pedaling for all they were worth to power the system.

Suddenly, resistance increased on the pedals and the sound and video cut off. Annoyed, he stopped and turned, his hand supporting his lower back to reduce the pain. “What the hell did you do that for?”

Blaine laughed as she twirled the cord she’d pulled from his bike. “Sorry, Timmy, apparently we have something of value. Mari and JT are coming to visit.”

“With the storms coming? Thankfully, it’ll be a short, god damned visit.”

“They’re coming to take us back.”

“Blaine, she knows. We’re not….”

“I know. Still…”

“We made a vow. This is home.”

He wanted to argue but there was nothing to argue about.“Calm down, Timmy, or you’ll be asleep before we finish our preparations.”

“Damn, I’m just saying…”

“We have to get ready. The courier who brought their itinerary was real nervous. He kept looking at the sky like a hurricane was going to drop a house on him.”

“Mari and what’s his name, her current investment will act the same damn way.”

“Mari wrote to expect them at the Gulf Bridge tomorrow late afternoon, that’s if they have the nerve to drive through. She said they won’t stay long but we’ll need food and fuel and something to drink. They only have that small car but they’ll offer. We’ll refuse, of course. You better get to Brad’s to pick up some stuff.”

“Raising her wasn’t burden enough; they could bring supplies.” She gave him that look so he stopped and then looked at the sky which was clear blue. “Okay, I’ll clean out the canoe. While I’m gone, finish the preparations and secure the Hobie in the garage like I drew it up. And cover the pool, too, just in case.”

She kissed him on the forehead. “My optimist. I love you.”

 

He was removing the last of his fishing gear from the canoe when she came down from the waterproof safe in the bathroom with cash. “It’s all we have, Timmy. Everything costs so much more with cash.”

“Christ, there’s no way I’m getting credit, not at thirty six percent rates. Besides, cash is safer.” With that, he groaned as he insinuated himself into the canoe. “I’ll be back by dinner.”

“Timmy, I waded out to Atlantic Ave and it was only up to my knees with some rolling waves, no breakers. Your trip should be easy. But don’t spend all day with Brad and don’t dwell over at the realtor’s.”

“They’ll get bigger.”

“What will?”

“The waves of course. I can’t wait.”

“I can.”

 

He rowed through the streets of Gulf Shores. At eighty-four, Tim was in great shape from years of lifting weights and running on the beach when there was still beach. He rowed past the flooded remnants of former neighbors homes before entering The Gardens where he passed the vacant homes of friends.

He remembered the exodus over fifteen years ago when the last homeowners gave up, gave in, and fled. Back then, even he and Blaine had panicked and tried to sell their dream but by then it was too late. With no buyers the decision to stay was easy. As he rowed by, he laughed as he remembered how competitive the homeowners had been. Goaded on by desperate, over zealous realtors, sellers tried every imaginable scheme to entice buyers but with no financial institution willing to commit to thirty years and no insurance company writing property insurance, no prospective buyer was willing to risk financial death so the market shriveled up and died. Hopelessly trying to make a market, giveaway offers became so competitive that many sellers offered outlandish enticements that fortunately, they had no chance to deliver on. The American home owner knew the jig was up, that the once fabulous ambience of shore living was a part of history and no one invested in history unless it was going to appreciate.

Homes and mortgages were the first to go underwater and it was hard on everyone. Some, the lucky few, some said, though Tim didn’t agree, faced the economics, gave up their homes, left their belongings except what they could carry, and fled inland leaving Tim and Blaine to revel in their hard earned paradise.

Though Blaine warned him not to, he stopped at Dino Smith’s Real Estate office, an abandoned stone building surrounded by a low brick wall, now a barrier against ocean detritus. He tied up the canoe and stared at the window where faded, yellowed photos of homes curled. In the lower corner was a water-stained photo of their North Street home.

He loved the house and though the picture was weathered it showed home thirty years ago in its prime before brutal winter nor’easters tore into it and hurricanes, torrential summer storms and torrid days stripped it bare. He smiled as he remembered the community protests Blaine organized – what a terror she was. Under her leadership, five hundred dissident residents bussed to Trenton and then on to Washington to compel the government to continue to finance the pumping of sand from the ocean floor to restore the dunes and protect their beautiful beaches. In Washington they were joined by countless citizen groups and realtor associations from up and down the coast. But the outer banks were gone and the Government was broke so no funds could be made available to the Army Corp of Engineers in their hopeless war with Mother Nature. After conceding her one great cause, Blaine was disconsolate for months.

He labored over the wall and placed his hand lovingly on the window above the faded photo, caressing it. There was no one now but them now to admire it. In reality their beloved home had become an obstruction to the wind and waves, doomed to disappear from human memory. He stared fondly at the two-level garage he built early in his retirement to protect his Hobie Cat once the beaches disappeared. He smiled at the raised swimming pool, hiding behind a now unnecessary privacy fence. The parties they hosted turned good times into great times. In those days when value was determined by location, location, location, he loved his home more than it was ever worth.

Regretfully, he returned to the canoe and pushed off from the wall with his oar. As the ocean gently rose and fell, he steered down familiar streets until he entered the turtle grass maze under a decaying bridge. From there, he followed a path to the bait shop.

When he arrived, the owner was boarding it up. “Yo, Bradley,” he shouted, “that won’t help. You’re not bailing out, too.”

“Afraid so, Tim. Old habits are hard to break. I have to leave this time, this one’s going to be a doozy – a two banger – and besides, there’s not enough business anymore to justify the risk. I’ve got kids in Philly I want to see before I die.”

“Will they take you in?” Bradley didn’t answer. “I’ll miss you, Brad. What’ll I do for supplies? There’s nothing between here and the old Fort.”

“You and Blaine be smart. Go while there’s time. There’s always coastline somewhere and maybe the oceans will finally settle. All I know is soon enough, there won’t be much standing here. Mari has a place up north, doesn’t she? She’s a good kid. Even with the new laws, she’ll take you in. You should go.”

“They’re coming down tomorrow.”

“You’re a lucky father. That’s quite a commitment. I wish my kid was like that. I miss… What did we do wrong? Life has become so selfish and cruel.”

“We did nothing wrong. We have our paradise and we’ll never leave. You should stay. You’ll regret leaving, you know you will.”

“I’ll add it to all my other regrets, I guess. If you’re staying, be careful.”

With Brad’s help Tim loaded the canoe with supplies and began the journey back. It was hot and still and in the distance clouds reconnoitered the horizon.

He stared into the setting sun as it bled yellow gold onto the rippling dark green water. On the horizon was the narrow land mass beyond which was the great Gulf of Delmarva, created by the rising tides of melting polar ice caused by man’s foolish fidelity to fossil fuels. They had tried to ruin paradise. He wiped tears from his eyes.

He arrived home too tired to eat but Blaine prepared a nacho salad from her rooftop garden and she had an ocean cooled beer ready. He missed drinking it cold.

The following morning, Blaine woke him and they rowed to the boardwalk for their morning constitutional. They wandered through the amusement park, the rusted steel remains of what once caused children to squeal with joy. At the water park, now home to so many species of bird, Blaine insisted on pausing to watch. At the party pier, they squeezed through a rusting chain fence and walked to their favorite bench. They sat watching their ocean as it prepared. Further on, they avoided rotted sections until they reached the end of their walk, an empty place where planks of South American hardwoods that should have lasted forever had been stripped off by desperate residents. Far below, waves rolled in against the pillars, forcing them to adjust their gait to the swaying. They walked hand-in-hand staring into empty shop windows that, during the great tourist times, they refused to frequent.

“We need to get back, Timmy, if we’re going to be there when Mari arrives.”

“You can’t go. I need you to gather driftwood for a fire. I’ll be back by dinner.”

She pulled on his sleeve. “You haven’t changed your mind.”

“Not for a minute, have you?”

“This is home.” He thought to kiss her but instead squeezed her hand.

Before he departed, he watched her traipse, knee deep, through the streets in search of homes with dry wood. When she entered one, he struggled into his canoe. The trip to the bridge was shorter than to the bait shop. He canoed past abandoned bait shops, watercraft rental stores, motels and condo signs, the remnants of shore enterprise that were once the demarcation between island and bay. It was sad to see the empty creosote darkened piers that jutted Daliesque from the water. Up ahead, the bridge marked Ninth Street. It was cooler so he stayed in its shadow to the other side.

The bridge was tall, noble and unnecessary, its access roads disappearing into the depths. It had replaced an ancient low-slung drawbridge that opened to sailboats and caused great delays for shoobie traffic on busy summer weekends. He had loved that bridge. Many times, when they were young and drunk they would stagger single file over it after an evening partying at the dance bars.

On the other side, he anchored his canoe in shade, put his feet up on the thwart and stared at the decaying buildings, each with a sad story to tell. He smiled. Their life would be a far better story. He took out a bottle of Jack and waited, patiently.

He didn’t know they’d arrived until he felt a soft kiss on his cheek. He awoke, startled, staring into blue eyes so like Blaine’s he smiled. He reached out to his Mari and hugged her close and long. When they separated, he stood, stretched in pain and stared at JT who would be satisfied with a handshake.

“Good to see you, again, JT. I have netting in the canoe in case you forgot some.”

“Thanks, don’t need it, Tim. Our directions instructed us to chain the car securely. I’ve done that and covered it with the recommended camouflage tarp.”

“Still gullible I see. Did they sell you tarp that made your car look like an abandoned highway or maybe some dilapidated home.” Tim laughed.

“Stop it, Daddy,” Mari whispered, “please, be your relaxed self.”

When JT rolled luggage past him and onto the canoe, he didn’t offer to help. Then they sat in the canoe carefully rebalancing until it felt right and he shoved off.

“So, princess, how’s the job. Did you make president yet?”

“No, daddy, work today isn’t like when you built your career.”

“It’s the same ball and bat, sweetheart.”

“But you were merely building a career, Daddy. I’m a Morgan, now. If I can fund it, I’m building a personal corporation to last forever. There’s quite a difference.”

“So you’ve joined a cult.”

“It’s no cult, not since President Crelli, himself, converted. Daddy, it’s more relevant than Christianity and so much more profound than Secular Humanism. It’s unbelievable. Soon everyone will be a Morgan. JT is working hard to qualify so we can make our relationship legal, even have enough worth to spin off offspring. You had a great career, Daddy but career success is so last generation. With Morgan and medical technology, it’s all about having a great life, everlasting, here on earth.”

“That’s a hell of a marketing approach. Morgan sounds like capitalism on steroids. Anything that can keep you from dying is a winner in my book. Where do I sign up?” He paused and allowed the canoe to rock over some swells.

“Daddy, Morgan isn’t for people your age unless you’re ungodly rich. It takes a lifelong commitment to live forever. I’m sorry.”

He ignored her comment. “Your mom’s waiting and the tide is against us. We’re a bit overloaded so nobody breathe. I’ll stay in the shallows just in case.”

It was silent as he paddled. Finally, Tim broke the silence. “JT, you should have seen this place just thirty years ago. We had beaches, sand beaches and you didn’t need a damn canoe to get where you wanted to go. The fool Government did this to us.” He noticed his daughter signaling JT not to respond.” Damn it, Mari, if you’re investing in him, he should be man enough to have his own opinions.”

JT took the bait. “What do you want me to say, Tim? I’m sorry for what your home has become but it’s not this Government’s fault. What President Crelli believes should be right up your alley. He’s a staunch Republican, a libertarian, really.”

“That’s bullshit. He’s a damn Socialist. They’re all Socialists, Obama, Parrington, Crelli, every one. They think by playing Robin Hood and stealing from those who work hard to give to lazy bastards that it’s their ticket to re-election. They do it for their cut. They’re Socialists, the whole damn lot, always were and always will be.”

“Sir, you’re wrong about Crelli. He’s no Socialist. In fact, he hates everything about it. You should have heard his inauguration speech, he’ll change everything. He’s the one to finally tighten up Government. He’s going to balance the budget and pay down the National debt. Give him time, you’ll see.”

“Great, is that all he’s asking for? Time is the one thing I don’t have, besides property and money, that is. Those thieves in Government stole it from us. All my life, I did everything right. I followed the laws and rules, worked my job so Mari’s mother and I could live and retire here. I could have had better jobs, built a better career, but our dream was to be here, not this here, of course, the old town, before the ocean won. I was better than everyone I worked with. It was embarrassing but I shut up and did my work for this. Look what it got us. My pension’s gone. I have no health care, no Social Security or Medicaid and worse, no sand. Crelli’s like the rest of them. He’s milking the fucking cow from a different direction, that’s all.”

“Sir, I think you’re wrong. What happened isn’t your fault but Crelli is on your side. You don’t get much news down here.”

“Damn I don’t. I crank my radio and listen to Reverend Cavanaugh every day at noon. He tells it like it is. America was stolen from the hard working people like me. Stolen, god damned it. You work your whole life following the rules and doing the right things and they steal it out from under you in the name of mercy. Well, fu…”

“Daddy, stop it.”

“I’m just saying.”

“Sir, the Reverend speaks the truth. You just need to have faith. President Crelli will eliminate waste. He’s a capitalist, an old guard, Ayn Rand style Capitalist. You’d really like him. He speaks the truth, too.”

“Nobody speaks the damn truth. They only speak their own truth. That’s why you have to know what’s right so you can translate their truth into the lies they truly are.”

“You’re wrong about Crelli. He’s a true Libertarian. He’s even announced he’s going to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service as soon as the country’s economics are streamlined. He believes in a cash and carry Republic, you do what you can afford, individually and in Government.”

“What’s he going to do about all the poor and the stupid corporate subsidies?”

“He’s promised to eliminate all waste. Everyone knows America is declining but he’s a stand up guy who’ll revitalize us.”

“Authentic Government gibberish. How’ll he eliminate all that? Where will the poor go. He’s telling the truth you want to hear, that’s all. I’ve seen that trick before in Socialist politicians. They promise whatever to get elected and re-elected.”

“Daddy…”

“Stay out of this Mari. Let your boy talk.”

“Sir, I’m sorry you feel this way but it’s understandable. Mari tells me you’re one of the good guys. You worked hard all your life but unfortunately, the aged, the poor, the disenfranchised, they’re the groups President Crelli calls a dying breed. He says America will be stronger once he solves those issues once and for all.”

“JT!” Mari screamed as her father lifted his oar. “Daddy, no!” She screamed. But Tim swung, hitting JT’s shoulder. Tim lost balance and leaned and the canoe slowly tipped, finally capsizing, throwing everyone and everything into the shallows.

 

When Tim left, Blaine busied herself knowing anything could happen to him, his heart, his back, even terrorists. She was in the rooftop garden when she saw the canoe turning onto North Street. She screamed but they couldn’t hear her over the wind so she ran to the front porch and waited patiently until Tim guided the canoe onto the ramp. She ran to embrace her daughter.

“Mari, JT, you’re soaking wet. What happened?”

“Blaine, it’s nothing, we’re fine. The car ride from New Hampshire was hell though.”

“You had directions, didn’t you?” Blaine asked.

“Of course,” JT seemed angry. “Everything was fine through New York but we lost the signal just south of Newark and had to rely on outdated stored files for directions. Near Paramus, the road was so bad, we almost lost a tire. A large tree had grown through the highway and split the road almost in half. It was rough but the car held up. Somewhere in the Oranges, we were chased by boarders. They’re kids mostly who skate up and down the concrete ramps, trying to get cars to crash. We saw some wrecks. But Blaine, the worst, I mean the god-awful worst was when we reached the Garden State Parkway. It should be called the Garden State Marshway. For much of it, we were driving on a few inches of water with God knows what underneath. Our car was losing power and whenever I moved the joystick too quickly, it swerved out of control. We didn’t think we were going to make it and I dread going back but that’s okay, we’re here and that’s what’s important.”

“Mari, I think you’ve invested in a Nancy boy.”

Mari began to cry and Blaine hugged her close. “Timmy, please. Mari, sweetheart, we’re together now. Leave your tears at the door.” They went inside. “If everyone pitches in, we can take turns pedaling Tim’s bike to keep the fan working and it’ll be quite comfortable. How long are you staying?”

Mari looked at JT before answering. “We have to leave in the morning, Mom, early. The storm’s expected to hit late tomorrow and we want to be as far inland as possible before the first strike.”

“Yes, it wouldn’t be safe.”

“Mom…”

“It wouldn’t, honey. Daddy and I are fine, we are. I’ll show you the improvements Daddy made to secure the second floor bathroom. You know how thoroughly he plans, even if I have to finish all his projects. We did a good job. We can ride out anything in there.”

Mari started to cry again. “Oh, Mom, can’t you come home with us?”

“And Daddy, too?

“Of course, Daddy.”

Blaine laughed. Even though, in her way, Mari meant it, how could she accept? “Your father and I decided long ago that no hurricane or Nor’easter would scare us from our home. How can we abandon it? It’s our life. We had the most fun here, met the best people; it was always interesting… and the beach and ocean…” She started to choke up but quickly recovered. “We’ll always have ocean and sunrise, it’s the beach we miss, but Mari, we’ll never leave. Life is too important to give it up to memories. I don’t want to picture this I want to be it. To lose this… it would make me too sad.”

“I know, Mom. I just wish….” Mari fought the tears. “Do you have your files and photos and everything you… you know…”

“It’s ready for you in a box in your bedroom, honey.”

“Thanks, Mom.” She put her head on Blaine’s chest and hugged her.

“We’ll be fine. Your father and I are pros at survival. We’ve ridden out worse.”

After Mari retrieved the family memorabilia and JT secured it in the luggage, they ate a white fish dinner that Tim cooked over an open fire. When it was his turn to pedal to keep the fan working and the lights on, Tim argued but Mari refused to allow him. Instead, she insisted that JT double shift. Later, Tim brought out his sipping whiskey and Blaine told of happy days when Mari was a child, accompanying Blaine when she led nature walks on beach for tourists. They laughed when Tim shared stories of when they would ride waves as a family. Too soon, with Tim asleep on the couch, Mari and JT retired for the evening, Blaine climbed to her garden where she watched through the broken windows of vacant nearby homes as the moon shimmered across black water. With an ache in her throat, she covered herself with mosquito netting and fell asleep.

In the morning, Blaine served tea and muffins and remained proudly stoic as Mari offered her tearless goodbyes. It was only after they left that she cried, but with the wind picking up, she sensed the urgency and carried Tim’s list of supplies to the second floor bathroom sanctuary. She checked the mattresses and placed the hand cranked radio/flashlight/siren/cigarette lighter/cell phone/walkie-talkie in the bathtub of the small reinforced room. When preparations where complete, she wrapped Tim’s Post Apocalyptic Media center in plastic if only so Tim wouldn’t have to do it when he returned. Finally, she opened the door to the garage and checked to see that the Hobie was secure on its side on a raised pallet. Then, she carefully selected the yellow and silver board for herself and the blue and black one, Tim’s favorite, for him. The work done, she cried again. To keep busy, she climbed to the garden and picked ripe tomatoes, peppers and a few wisps of fennel. She sat, crying softly, waiting, as the wind drove clouds nearer and ripped the crest off white caps.

By the time Tim arrived, the waves had grown. He looked tired and sad. Silently, they helped each other into their wetsuits and left the house, boards in tow, smiling at the eminently ride-able waves. They paddled through the streets toward the boardwalk, working their way to their favorite spot.

She picked a wave and stroked into it, soaring on the breaker, three feet above calmer water with Tim riding along side, laughing, gleefully. As the wave broke over another to become a double, she winced at the jarring and maneuvered to avoid a house, soaring over a rusted metal fence and between two dead trees. He dipped in behind her, laughing as he tugged at her feet, twisting her until the drag spun her and as the wave petered out they rode it in a sideways sixty-nine position, laughing.

He paddled out, hesitantly. He turned and she smiled. She was always game, that was what he loved most about her. He returned the smile and together, they caught another wave. This time, Tim whooped and hollered as they avoided rusted out cars and large, soggy piles of seaweed and trash. They lived for this and like their love, it would never die. They wouldn’t let it, couldn’t let it. So together on ocean that was once real estate, they took their wave, their victory over sedentary ways and dying slowly, he her best fun and her, his. They surged past so many memories until finally the wave broke into gentle foam and brought them home to water lapping at their front door.

In younger days they would have fought the undertow for yet another forming wave, but not now, not this time. Nursing aches, they stood looking longingly at row after row of breaking waves until one crested and broke over them and began to suck them out to sea. Her legs buckled, but he held her firm.

“Great rides, Blaine, you were perfect.” She smiled. “They’re forming great, but I’m tired. That wave… that wave was it for me.” They both knew what that meant.

She seemed relieved. “Timmy I’m going to… to miss it so much.” She hugged him close and allowed him to wipe away what could have been tears. “Oh Timmy….”

He stared at the approaching clouds. “It’s time to hunker down.”

The wind was raging but fortunately it was blowing toward home. When they reached the garage, she yelled. “Timmy, I’m old and tired but this was special. He kissed her eyes, tasting the salt. “Thanks Timmy.”

He opened the garage door and they waded past the Hobie. Before putting her board away, she kissed it but she hesitated to unfasten the strap. He kissed her wrist and gently pulled at the Velcro. Hand in hand, they waded to the door to the house, opened it and climbed the stairs to dry off one last time. The rain was intense, driven by a howling wind that tossed oversized objects past their windows. They labored out of their wet suits and into other, oversized dry ones before checking each window to make sure they were secure but vented.

The light faded, turning an odd green. They followed fluorescent tape to the stairs. She hugged him as they climbed. In the bathroom, he lit the lamp and surveyed. Everything was in place. She climbed into the tub first, getting as comfortable as she could on the mattress. Before getting in with her, he took the hand crank radio and put out the lamp. He nestled behind her before sliding the second mattress over them.

They listened in the hot dark as the house battled the storm. Walls creaked and groaned in a scary orchestration accentuated by windows shattering and the eerie screech of things hurrying across tile.

“Timmy, do you remember when we met?” He did. “I was in line with my girlfriends at the book store. We were having laughing, having fun. That’s when I saw you, tall, dark, you were kind of a brooder, you still are. You were staring at me behind dark, inscrutable eyes. My girlfriends were still laughing but I got serious, immediately. You were gorgeous, those eyes. I fell in love with you that instant. There was something… I don’t know, maybe controlled danger, it was so exciting. You’ve been my life ever since. You, an accountant, for god’s sake, have given me so many thrills, even though you plan too much you were so spontaneous, that’s you, brooding spontaneity. Timmy, thank you for our life.” He hugged her close and they listened to the onslaught of their nature.

One particularly loud wind shriek caused everything to shift and she screamed. He held her tight and she laughed, nervously. “Wow, what a rush, the whole house moved.” He squeezed her again.

As the storm raged on, he zipped down the back of her wetsuit and then his. He wriggled out of his as best he could and they made love, or tried their best. For a while it seemed as if the world quieted for them and then it really did. All was silent except for brief gusts. In the silence, the house shivered. She screamed and then laughed. Then all was quiet again until with a groan the house shifted starboard and she screamed again. He held her tight as a heavy weight pressed down on the mattress above them.

Tim cranked his flashlight and tried to force the mattress up but could only make enough room to sit up before meeting resistance. He pointed the light toward the back wall. It was slanting menacingly toward them and water was trickling through the now severely buckled bathroom door.

“Wow. Are you okay, Blaine?”

“I felt the earth move, if that’s what you meant. You should have worn protection. I hope you didn’t knock me up.”

He laughed, but then got serious. “Can you crawl out?”

“How will that look to the neighbors. First you shag me, and now you want me to crawl away.” He crawled out and offered his hand. “Easy, my hip hurts.”

He pulled her out, gently, and together, they crawled to the door. He found the saw and hand cranked it. When it was ready, he cut his way through and pointed his flashlight at the top step to the ocean greeting them. “We’ll need to swim underwater to the garage and then its up ten feet for air.” She nodded, gamely.

Before starting, he turned to her. “I was a loner until I saw you with your friends. God, Blaine you were beautiful, tall and tight, like a volleyball player but that smile, Jesus, it was all I could do to keep cool. Your smile was, is magic. You smile and everyone around you is happy. You are unlike anyone I ever met. You brightened my life, that day and every day since. It’s hard work being with me and I’m sorry, but you made me so much better than I ever thought I could be. You’re my angel.”

Before she could respond he took a deep breath, held his nose and sank under the water. At first, she was so taken aback by his words, so unlike him in sixty years of marriage, that she panicked when he disappeared, like he was gone forever. She wiped away tears and descended, fighting the pain in her hip and the ache in her heart. She swam down the steps, through the basement hallway and the door to the garage. With the pain in her hip almost causing her to take a breath and with her lungs bursting, she kicked toward the surface. She broke through, gasping and sputtering and a mere six feet from the garage roof. She looked around frantically. He was working his way to the Hobie but he turned and smiled.

“The tide’s rising. We have to get the Hobie out now. I’ll pull, you push.” It was difficult work at their age but soon the Hobie was outside and floating upright. They prepared the sail which immediately found wind and then speed. They were off. As a peace offering, the sky had turned baby blue, the color of her eyes.

“Let’s do this.” She saluted as the Hobie darted over the swells. He steered the craft past the remaining houses and then out to sea. She turned and stared back. Their island paradise was gone, now just rolling swells steamrolling gables and roofs. Sadly, she her blew her former world a kiss. He pointed out to sea and she turned again. Framing blue sky like the minions from hell or Mordor, were huge dense gray-black clouds on the horizon and rising to the heavens.

They embraced each other as they scooted over the roiling ocean, past their boardwalk. He tied a rope around them, securing it to the mast. The Hobie bounced from swell to swell and neither could mask their pain. His poor back was taking a horrible beating. Crashing over one large swell, the shock from the hull transferred to her hips and she screamed.

Ahead, at a sandbar, waves formed, rising up in tighter and tighter curls. “Oh, Timmy, this is it, Timmy, I love you.” Grim faced, he assessed the curls.

A large wave curled to concave and loomed over them. He adjusted the sail as the Hobie rose. “Hold on, honey, here we go.” They climbed to almost vertical and as pressure forced them back to stern, their legs slipping perilously from the canvas, the rope tightened. He held her with one hand and controlled the Hobie with the other. They crested and the pressure eased as they soared over the top of the wave and down the other side. There was new and different pressure on the other side and they slid over the bow but the boat leveled and he glimpsed the next and bigger wave.

He strained to bring her hand to his lips to kiss. “What a ride, Blaine, I love you.”

“I love you, too, Timmy,” she mouthed for she was too exhausted to speak.

The boat darted down a trough and then labored up the side of another wave. Goaded on by the shrieking wind, they clung to each other as the Hobie jetted to the crest of a gigantic wave. Once again, they were almost vertical and she screamed into the wind but Tim’s joyous smile calmed her, his eyes, like always showing the joy of danger. The Hobie vibrated as it wavered at the crest of the wave, their hold on life, precarious, the way they always loved it.

 

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What is the Joad Cycle

The Joad Cycle is a series of dystopian speculative fiction novels set in our America from 2032-2084 after a Constitutional Coup has brought to power an extreme Right Wing, Christian, Libertarian Entrepreneur who is the leader of the new Entrepreneur Party. In this America, business interests rule, government has been marginalized. and the poor and the middle class no longer exist, the result of a massive economic genocide. To survive, every citizen lives to create wealth and should living cost more than they can generate in value to the economy, they are executed. Mostly, this is an Anti-capitalist Love Story.

$$$ How to Read this Site $$$

This site is mostly fictional and it supports the novels, providing backstory and additional related short stories that take place within the world of the Joad Cycle.

The site offers a Blog and Journal from the perspective of one main character, the hero of the first book, The Golden Rule . This character, Bernie Rosenthal who is very liberal politically, works as Chief Financial Officer for U.S. Angs, a multinational multibillion dollar private corporation owned by Tom Gorman and Tom Morgan, the Toms, who represent ultra Conservative Koch brother types. Bernie is humbled by the tyrannical Toms during the day and finds a release journaling his job frustration. Meanwhile, Bernie's future self, Berne Thau, adds to the blog entries with his perspective, more than 30 years in the future, after money, greed, and the Right Wing revolution end the American Republic .

We are living in trying times. According to Berne Thau, they will get much more difficult.

Why this curmudgeon wrote this story

Every generation, parents tell their children that life was better back when they were young… and the children always scoff.

But now that I have qualified to pass judgment on that age-old warning, now that I’ve been both young and old, I have come to realize that the old have it right and children scoff at their peril though in the ways that American society has been taught to measures success, every generation since maybe the turn of the twentieth century anyway, has had it better.

But with age, and career experience, I have learned that those ways are deceptive and worse, they are wrong. Success is measured based on wealth, conveniences, and life expectancy issues when it should be evaluated on what we hope to be as individuals and what we become as people—the expectancy of life.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been successful enough. For most of my baby boomer life I was comfortable middle class interspersed with a few years of unfortunate decline towards impoverishment, never quite getting there before bootstrapping back to comfort.

For a time, I was a certified member of the 1%—in income though not in wealth. The 1% is a class of people who rule their part of the world and have a lot of confidence that somebody they know rules the rest of it. I wasn’t a one-percenter for many years, but it was a good life until my associations made me believe that I just didn’t want it anymore. I apologize to my family for what I had become and these novels are my penance.

People congratulated me for the success I’d earned as if those less and least successful earned that lack as well. And with the memory of a manufacturing facility in a small, rural, one-employer town in out-of-the-way Northern Maine near the Canadian border closed to improve a bottom line somewhere else, with an American town murdered for earnings per share, I signed off and began to write the The Joad Cycle.

In my research, I came to fear for my family that grew from the narrowest and shallowest possible family tree to three generations deep and two wide. My family is important and so I wrote these novels for them, for their future, for what I dread we have taken from them and will continue to take, long after we are dead.

I live in the Midwest and my friends are good people and I value them. They are conservative and most are Christians and somehow, we argue over unions as if union members aren’t patriotic Americans, too, and besides, what is to be gained by condemning workers in a country of workers. And we disagree on the poor? Social Safety Nets may not be working as well as they could (But how would we know if these Safety Nets are working? It is not as if some brave politician will stand up and precisely define what a win looks like in the freest, richest country in the history of history—and seriously, doesn’t free-form Capitalism deserve the bulk of the blame with its all-encompassing goal of creating winning humans and losing humans).

And discussions on life and death with my conservative friends, life at the very beginning and the very end, and guns and gods…forget about it. But unlike politicians and the media, we are friends so we work around the discomfort and the dislike for the greater good.

My friends are the current version of the salt of the earth and all of us abide by family values above all, even if we can’t agree on them. Good people like us accept a society where too many of our children are handled by strangers during the critical formative years. And in the twilight years too many parents and grandparents are handled by strangers until their money runs out, like sand in an hourglass, their lives extended only so far as Government security or private insurance will grant.

And when Americans finally expire after insufferable pain and embarrassment and to the sighs of sad but relieved loved ones, it reveals the immaturity of the vast majority of the American people who won’t resolve; once and for all, when God’s reason ends life and so they leave that to for-profit resolution. Can’t it just be in the fading twinkle of an ancient woman’s eyes?

But all of this pales to the legacy of GREED! Greed, that race for wealth that is ingrained in us all from television at a too early age that drives us to become economically viable so that with something extra in our paychecks at the end of the week, we can indulge ourselves with gifts, with palliatives, to relieve the pain and discomfort that we feel for doing what we must do to earn what wealth we cab. Greed is the satisfying of artificial and constant cravings.

And those who are considered the best of us, majority stockholders, officers of corporations, politicians, and celebrities all at the top of their respective food chains, they earn their way into the 1% and possessing this true wealth, they gift themselves truly extraordinary palliatives in order to compensate for something deeply unsatisfying within that was once more human, what they lost in the dog-eat-dog world that we all live in.

This is the world that we pass on to our children and our grandchildren. This world is what will own them someday like it owns us today. They are truly greed’s legacy. That too is the basis for my cautionary tale of America’s future, The Joad Cycle.

But I still idealize my youth. I remember what it felt like when I was a boy and so I wrote a grand love story, too.

 

Gary Levey

05/01/2012