Then the hydrogen bomb exploded. And I don’t have to tell you the capitalist bastards were caught with pants quite down around pale little ankles, having not really come to terms with their souls and shit like that on account of all their monies. Also there was Irene H. Ronstadt in what was once Spanish Louisiana being fed commercial messages about vehicular homicide and Jolly Khadafy Goat Samwiches from the supreme comfort of a blue nylon recliner, and she didn’t have a goddamn clue what the TV was blathering about because she was a mere two days away from turning 100-years-old when fusion occurred and the thermonuclear sprinklerheads went shik-shik-shik-shik-shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiik! And why General Dunwoody, a man who might generously be labelled “unathletic,” found it necessary to bend over in the direct vicinity of a very important, very outdated electronic panel in one of a vast network of very important, very outdated undisclosed underground bunkers to go grabbling after the bottle cap he’d just spocked off the top of a fresh Bud with his lighter—the selfsame bottle cap, landfill-retrieved and recycled only three years prior, which was the culprit of another noteworthy tragedy, namely the rotten smoke that burst from Mrs. Anne deWitt’s Electrolux Model 30 vacuum when she slurped it right up off the chestnut shag and it got jammed in the drive train—well, that fateful impulse would always just remain one of life’s sweet unsolved mysteries. The general’s large trapezoidal posterior came into accidental contact with the arcane lever that lit up what one would be tempted to say was just about every flashing light in the place and made the crackly PA system announce (not totally unreminiscent of the great Robert Mitchum), “Launch, launch, launch,” subsequently initiating him into a lifetime of therapy, early-morning suicide prevention hotline dials, and unceasing guilt that was, in plain English, turbo-charged. Yep, great stuff. You could actually get a good view of the mushroom cloud from as many as two states over since most of the land in Middle America had got shaved flat for the Go-Kart track. I personally saw it through the glass walls of my usual breakfast spot, munching dead hog at the counter. Tanya looked up from her waitress pad at the distant swelling fire, said, “Shit, that’s just fuckin great. Tom and I had a whole fucking vacation planned, too. Being miles away from it all is supposed to improve your sex life.” I put a hand shaped like a phone to my ear, “Travis, cancel Ms. Sedbrook’s travel appointments. The fucking country’s in disarray.” Fifty years on, historians would instruct students that the bomb marked the end of millenials fitting the requirements of what marketing professionals categorize as “Idealist Targets,” entirely reconfiguring consumer messaging strategies for the market’s largest segment, which needless to say took some doing. But the whole thing started amounting into this colossal bummer. There was this story in the newsfeed titled, “These Pictures of the Inside of the Nuked-Out Branson Dinosaur Museum in Missouri Are So Completely Eerie You’ll Lose Your Shit, But Also They’re So Completely Heartbreaking You Will Burst Out Into Tears, Guaranteed” that trended and really affected everybody quite deeply. There was of course the possibility for public sentiment over the whole thing to get way out of hand on a whole bunch of different levels. What the economy precisely didn’t need was to stagnate during some big period of mourning and reflection, or for the people to get going with all their outraged political movements and traffic-stopping demonstrations and so forth, so the govt made a serious effort to get a jump on the situation, drafting every screenwriter, journalist, novelist, poet, essayist and blogger currently working into an unprecedented campaign aimed at “artistic and narratological mollification.” We were sequestered into what I can only describe as a Restricted Access subterranean ducentiplex of pretty much IMAX-sized theaters. General Dunwoody’s successor stood in front of the hulking black screen of my own theater, shouting into a microphone with military gruffness, “The American people need to make sense of this craziness! It’s pure chaos out there, ladies and gentlemen, people jumpin outta windows, shirking census forms! It exceeds my capacities to properly impress upon you all how dangerous these times are. So we’re taking the only reasonable course of action. You bodiless wordheads are gonna interpret all this senselessness for us. Static visual mediums won’t do the trick, too subjective, too difficult to analyze. And music is too emotional and abstract. We need language here, goddammit! We need the best and the brightest to insert meanings, wave away that hanging fog of ambiguity and integrate it all into the grand story of this, the greatest nation on planet fucking earth! It’s up to you, soldiers!” And then they started in showing us the aerial footage of the holocaust that decimated Missouri, along with significant portions of Illinois and Iowa, in a singular moment of bottle cap-retrieval gone awry, screening it for us approximately three hundred times so eventually I knew every bubbling scream and every plume of sulfur as readily as my own email password, and outside of constant rippling explosions, muted whups of helicopter blades, all my ears could pick up throughout the whole theater was the whispering of pencils against paper, everyone taking detailed notes, some even beginning to compose their masterpieces directly on the spot. After all, publication had been assured. A portion of my own notes read: “focus in on exact moment of explosion, freeze-frame the unsuspecting populace so the reader can wander leisurely through the paused moment just before total annihilation, let them observe fragility of life or some such crap in same vein, flirt-text Tanya, look up meaning of word admonish—to scold?” The guy next to me was fascinated the way some people are fascinated by streaming porn. He squealed, “This is our big chance to produce era-specific literature!” And I couldn’t help sharing his excitement somewhat, but nonetheless I was like, “But it seems like they want us just to regress back to bland realism when we could be furthering objectism.” He has no idea, so I explain. “You know, the new style of literature that brutally renders characters from the perspectives of inanimate objects with human-like personalities, typically culminating in the inevitable dissolution of all interpersonal human relationships in favor of a closeness with things. Post-post-post-industrialized nations’ preoccupation with consumer products, the way they’ve inundated the experience of humans, all that kind of thing.” He happened to let out an accidental belch, and it smelled like Skittles. Not until about ten months later did I first start noticing our literature had overwhelmed the market. I was in a fairly cheery downtown portion of Tulsa on business and saw everyone sitting at an outdoor cafe reading huge gleaming hardback copies of a novel called Groaning Towards July, which was stupid because the bomb exploded in November. I figured to myself, sure, I give you people an objectist novel narrated from the POV of the bomb itself, and this guy, H.Z. Arnitz, impresses you with a traditional realist-linear narrative anybody could’ve fuckin pulled off. What a stupid world. Exacerbating the problem were the frequent calls I began receiving in the middle of the night from the small percentage of readers who’d purchased my book, saying things like, “This storyline is didactic, contrived and nearly unreadable. Don’t you believe in Oedipal trajectory?” I’d bark into the phone, “It was an art story! I knew everyone was gonna eat up all that Oprah’s Book Club trash about bomb-as-a-window-into-spirituality, or all-causality-has-a-purpose! You fuckin seething mainstreamer!” And they’d say, “Hey, man, a million readers can’t be wrong—Arnitz is king. My wife wants to have his baby. Enjoy the black depths of obscurity.” So the only thing left I could really think to do was text a cry for help to Tanya, who’d been ignoring my advances for well over a year now on account of Tom was still treating her right, plus the fact I was a flat-out wacko creep. I’d tell her I was finally gonna blow my upper palate against the shower tile. I was incensed to discover she’d finally gone to the trouble of blocking my number. Though it didn’t matter because as soon as I put down my phone my body became frozen in time. Droplets of water that had been in the process of falling from the kitchen faucet hung mid-fall, the flies buzzing against the window frozen mid-buzz. I stood there, paralyzed like that, with the planted resolve to de-palate myself, and in walks some fuckin guy I’d never seen before in my life, wandering leisurely through my house, big laminated tag hanging from his neck with the word VISITOR laserprinted in Papyrus font. He got up close, scrutinizing my motionless figure from every angle with the most detached interest. “Fascinating—the moment right before total annihilation and he has no idea.”

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