Marc Mason is a freelance writer based in Tempe, AZ.
HAPPY NONSENSE: POP CULTURE CONFIDENTIAL
Friday, May 02, 2008
FLASH FICTION FRIDAYS: APOCALYPSE NOW?
The thin, balding man smoothed the creases in his shirt and sat down on the sofa. He loosened his tie, quietly sighing relief, and removed his loafers. Running his hand across his forehead, he realized he was sweating, so he reached for the box of tissues on the desk across from him, the man sitting opposite sliding the box towards him. Dabbing at his forehead, he removed the perspiration as if drop-by-drop. When finished, he took a deep breath and slumped his shoulders.
“Afternoon, Bob,” the man across the desk said, smiling at his patient’s attention to manner.
Bob shifted his rear end on the sofa, trying to sit up a bit straighter. “Hello, Charlie. How’s business?”
“Always good,” Charlie replied. “It’s always good in our business. After all- even…”
“Shrinks need shrinks!” the duo said in unison and shared a laugh.
Charlie leaned forward on his elbows and took off his glasses and began to clean them. “Rough week in the office?”
Bob nodded softly. “Oh yeah. I had another session with… him… again.” Charlie perked up and began rummaging through his notes.
“The court-ordered guy, right? Arrested for assault, conspiracy…”
“That’s him,” Bob said, shaking his head wearily.
Charlie leaned back in his chair. “As I recall, your first session with him was quite a whopper. He claimed he was a deep cover operative for the government and started telling you how we were already living through the apocalypse and we didn’t really know it.”
“Right,” Bob nodded. “That certain powers that be had worked to create the Biblical apocalypse through economic means, rather than nuclear or biological weapons. The creepy thing was just how plausible he made it all sound.”
“That’s what makes the difference between a raving paranoid and a functioning one. This guy easily sounds sane enough to face trial. He’s at least fueling his fantasies using something tangible.”
Bob ran his fingers through what was left of his hair. “So today was his second session, right?”
“And it got… weirder. Much, much weirder.”
“How so?” Charlie asked.
Bob leaned back into the couch. “He said he wanted to ask me a question, so I told him that I couldn’t guarantee an answer, but he could ask.”
“What was his question?”
“If you wanted to destroy a civilization,” Bob paused, “how would you do it?”
Charlie smiled. “Intriguing question. What was your response?”
“I told him I’d never thought about it, but I supposed large scale weaponry was probably the best way.”
“And how did he respond?”
“He laughed at me, Charlie. Laughed. Told me weapons were obsolete and unnecessary and that I wasn’t really thinking about things very clearly.”
“This should be good,” Charlie said, suddenly deeply interested.
Bob coughed and took a bottle of water from his briefcase and began to drink. “He told me to look at American civilization right now and think again. I did, but I was still baffled,” he took another sip from the bottle, “so he said he would lay it out for me. He called it the anti-Renaissance.”
“Fascinating term,” Charlie said.
“Here’s how he explained it. Weapons of mass destruction destroy the infrastructure, the farmland, leave bodies around to pollute the water. So you destroy a civilization by rendering it ineffective and moot. You attack the culture, destroy it, make sure it shows no progress that isn’t backward.”
Charlie jumped in. “And he believes this has happened here?”
Bob nodded. “God, yes. He told me that years ago, agents from terrorist nations began slowing buying their way into American newspapers, magazines, and television networks. They began shaping the agendas of the media. And rather than focus on positive, affirming people and news, they began shaping coverage of what we see in a different direction.”
“So essentially, there isn’t a liberal media bias? There’s an al-Qaida media bias?” Charlie asked, skeptical of what he was hearing.
“Precisely,” Bob said. “His point was that our culture has become so dumbed down, so inanely pointless, because it’s a plot to destroy us. That Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, the Simpson sisters, Brooke Hogan, Tila Tequila, and THE HILLS and the rest of it including the seriously creepy parents involved are all part of an over-arching plot to destroy this country culturally and render its citizens globally stupid and impotent. That VH1, US Magazine, MTV and their ilk are controlled by forces deliberately attempting to destroy us.”
Charlie laughed. “Well that sounds a bit more far-fetched than the apocalypse stuff. You must have gotten a good laugh out of it.”
“I did. At first. Then…”
“’Then’ what?” Charlie suddenly began to worry about his friend.
Bob stuffed the used tissues into his empty water bottle and threw it towards Charlie’s trashcan. “Then, I have to admit, I could see what he was talking about.” Charlie’s eyes popped open in shock. “I mean, look… Britney Spears gets more media coverage than dead and wounded soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. THE SIMPLE LIFE ran for something like five seasons. Lohan’s mother got her own reality TV show. One of the girls from THE HILLS was on the cover of one of my MAXIM issues recently. Six million people watched the finale of Tequila’s show. And how many of those people is going to educate themselves on the issues and go to the polls and vote this year?”
Charlie looked befuddled.
“I’m just saying,” Bob continued, “that I could see it. Clearly. We don’t prize real musicians anymore, but samplers get Grammys. True artists are ignored, while the stars of JACKASS get rich for injuring their own genitals. ‘Popular’ and ‘quality’ are dangerously close to being exclusive terms. The Beatles would never have become the Beatles in this era- they’d have struggled to get their music heard through MySpace, and if they were lucky, maybe a single might have gotten airplay on some shitty show on the CW network.”
“Jesus Christ, Bob…”
Bob stood up. “I know, I know… it’s bullshit, right? It can’t possibly be a conspiracy. Our society has deteriorated on its own. It has to have, right?”
Charlie swallowed hard. “Right, right. To believe otherwise…”
“Is batshitinsane, I know,” Bob jumped in. “But as I listened to him talking… he just sounded so… so sure… and it was, for a moment, very, very credible.”
“Remember, Bob, he is an accused criminal.”
“I know,” Bob exhaled. “It just… it shook me, that’s all. These two sessions… he’s not your classic paranoid delusional nutcase.”
“He seems to be much more, that much is certain,” Charlie agreed.
The two continued talking for a few more minutes, shifting the topic of conversation to more mundane topics, such as Bob’s marriage and his affair with another therapist sharing office space in his building. Finally, their time drew to a close.
“Thank you, Charlie. I really appreciate your listening skills, especially on days like this.”
Charlie chuckled. “That’s why you pay me the big money, Bob.” The pair shared a laugh, shook hands, and Bob left the office. Charlie sat back down at his desk and wiggled the mouse on his computer so that the screen would activate. As it did, he checked his favorite news site and was immediately struck by the top headline: “Miley Cyrus shocked by sexual nature of photographs she posed for.”
Stunned and curious, he clicked on a link for a slideshow of the pictures and came across one of her draped across her father’s lap in disturbing fashion. Suddenly, his head began to throb, the beginnings of a migraine starting to settle in. He gingerly picked up the phone and paged his secretary.
“I’m not feeling well. At all. Please cancel my appointments for the rest of the day.”
“I’ll take care of it, Charlie. Sorry you aren’t feeling well.”
“Thanks. And Janeane? Can you call my therapist and see if he has any open slots for an emergency appointment?”