A decade ago, when the anticipation of Y2K was giving the First World visions of burlap sacks and huddling over trash cans burning with floppy disks, my dear, computer-literate, NPR-loving, middle-class parents caught the bug. They never really expressed any concern about the impending digital apocalypse, but they started quietly stockpiling obscene amounts of the four staples they imagined would sustain us in the post-binary world: Perrier water, organic fire roasted tomatoes, Pinor noir, and dog food. The first three are arguably vital—shit, who wants to drink Sauvignon blanc at the End of Times? But dog food? Our golden retriever had died five years before. I guess they imagined that we should have a last resort when all our bubbling, fiery, wine-infused Puttanesca ran out, something we really, really wouldn’t waste.
As irrational as these actions seemed at the time, in the nine years that have passed since that anti-climactic New Year’s, I’ve turned into one of them: a sea-rising, apocalypse-anticipating, Ebola-fearing hoarder. I live alone and yet I don’t buy a few cans of black beans on my daily trips to Trader Joe’s. I buy all of them. My freezer is filled with bags upon bags of grains and a year’s worth of left-over chili. Every time I open the door to that frozen bounty, I feel a quiet sense of satisfaction. Now this, I say to myself, is thinking ahead.
It’s not just food. While filling a prescription for Penicillin due to a mild case of strep throat recently, I had the cloud-parting realization that even though I wasn’t actually planning to take the drug, preferring to nurse my swollen glands with salt water and ginger tea, I still wanted it—was happy to have it, even, despite the uninsured cost and well-documented risks of bacterial evolution. Why? Because each little pill adds to the already-stocked cabinet of antibiotics I’ve purchased over the years, prescriptions I’ve dutifully filled and then hoarded away in a back-of-the-mind fear of the second coming.
I also realized that my two principal hobbies—memorizing edible plants and running—are not simple pastimes like weight-lifting or knitting or watching the season finale of Lost through your landlord’s window because your electricity got shut off. No, I’m calculating the fiber content of grass and training for the day when all that burning cardio will pay off in a foot race against a pack of zombies. It’s no way to spend a Saturday. I want to be like the rest of the country, happily, blindly strolling through the mall, gazing at statues of children at play in forged iron Adidas and Nikes. My hobbies are more symptoms of the sickness, of hoarding, of silently counting the minutes until 12/12/2012, the day the Mayans predict will be our last.
This is no way to live. Constantly preparing for death means constantly thinking of death. And constantly thinking of death means constantly evaluating life. Am I choking every ounce of experience, of pleasure, of pain, from my short existence before my body is nothing but dust and bones? The answer, inevitably, is no.
And this would all be fine if I actually believed those Left Behind movies where the saved are yanked out of their clothes and handed a gratis ticket to the clouds. That scenario actually appeals to me. Finally being rid of everyone who believes I deserve a really bad, lingering sunburn because I prefer fish tacos to meat and potatoes? What could be better? Streets littered with the leftover goods of the Christian population? Think of all free things we’ll get. An extra large tee-shirt with the face of God’s son airbrushed in soft pastels should be worth something on the black-market.
But I don’t actually believe in the predictions of anyone who thinks the earth is 6000 years old. No, our demise will come the old-fashioned way, when the planet we rest our heads on sickens of our plastic homes and steaming cars and lays over and waits for us to die. There will be no zombies, no parting of the clouds. There won’t even be anyone left to marvel over the new landscape with. It’ll just be me and the other hoarders in our separate bunkers, burying our Tupperware in the snow, counting our cans of black beans, paging through our edible plant books, and wishing someone, anyone, was left to join us as we wait for it all to end.