Musings on genre writing, waterfall wandering, and peak bagging in the South’s wilderness areas.
And a couple of times I had what I can only describe as weird experiences. It’s said by many that humans still have some basic senses that they don’t acknowledge on a conscious level, but have retained from those ancient days when we were still relatively helpless herbivores traveling through grasslands and forest, ever on the lookout for predators who could kill and eat us. Perhaps it’s just an amalgam of the senses we know which, combined on a subconscious level accumulate to give us a pulse of a warning to make us alert for danger that we cannot pinpoint with any one or two of our five senses. Thus, the prickling of the skin for no observable reason, or the tickling of the fine hairs on our necks and arms when we cannot see or hear anything definite.
The first time I had such an experience was when I had decided to hike alone to see Mooney Falls in the Nantahala National Forest one very late summer afternoon. I had already done several miles of hiking elsewhere and on the way back to my campsite at Standing Indian I pulled off the Forest Service road to take the brief hike to see and photograph the waterfall. I figured I could easily do it before nightfall. And I did that, but barely.
Here’s the thing. On the way back to my truck I paused to take some photos of gnarly old birch tree that everyone who hikes the trail notices. I figured to capture some images of it on my way back and stopped there to gather those shots. And as I got my camera out and began to record the images all I could hear was the rushing of the creek, and all I could really see was the close press of the green trees and woody rhododendrons that pushed in all around.
But I had the distinct impression that I was being watched in the swiftly failing light.
That’s right. I felt that someone, or some creature, was peering at me through that luxurious mass of trees and flowers and shrubs. Why was I feeling that way? I have no idea. As I said, all I could hear was the rushing water, and all I could see were limbs and leaves moving in the slight wind. But the feeling was so strong that I stopped taking photos and looked all around me, trying to spot anything that might be giving me this very disturbing and very creepy sensation.
But I couldn’t see anything that might dictate danger. Just that feeling. So, I took a few more photos.
And suddenly all of the hairs on my arm went up. And the fine fuzz on the back of my neck was standing to attention as gooseflesh made pimples up my spine and down my arms.
It was at that point that I just made a quick 360-degree examination of my surroundings, jammed my camera back into its case, and hauled ass down that trail as fast as I could without actually running. After all, doesn’t running trigger a chase response in big predators? I didn’t want that. But I will tell you that I closed the last circuit of that particular hike in quick order and found myself hustling up the slope of the trail to the parking spot where my truck waited. It was pure relief to open that door and close it solidly to create a hardened barrier between my mortal flesh and the perceived threat that I never actually saw or heard–merely felt.
Well, that was then. Some years back.
On my hike last week in the Big Draft Wilderness Area in West Virginia I had a similar experience. I had decided to do a five-mile loop in the wilderness that would take me from the campground at Blue Bend Recreation Area and back to my campsite. So I did exactly that and soon found myself deep within that wilderness and its rich forest of recovering hardwoods and hemlocks (but mainly hardwoods).
When I began the hike I startled a couple of whitetail deer who, upon seeing me, scattered and thrashed the woods with their fleeing. I watched their tails bouncing through the green screen of limbs and leaves like flags of white vanishing in the distance. We surrender. We surrender. We surrender. After that it was mainly just bird song and wind blowing and the laboring of my breath as I gained the ridges of Brown Mountain.
Along the way, at a wide curve in the trail that took me through a cove, I discovered a particularly ugly Turkey vulture watching me. This vulture–for some reason–seemed fascinated by my presence and it followed my progress into the wilderness, flying from tree to tree, branch to branch, to watch me as I hiked along. I thought it was curious, but they’re very intelligent animals, I have learned, and not much that they do particularly surprises me. After about a quarter of an hour it finally lost interest in me, and I lost sight of him.
Around that time I noticed a pile of bear scat in the middle of the trail. Not terribly old, maybe dropped since the last rain. I am never startled to see bear crap in the forests because they seem to be just about everywhere in the southern high country, these days. I rarely see the bears, though. Now and again as they’re racing away from me when I startle them.
The higher I climbed on the mountain, the more obscure the trail became. Until I realized that few people were using this trail and it began, at times, to vanish into vigorous growths of all types of low, green plants; including stinging nettle which pricked at my bare calves and made me miserable for several seconds every time I brushed against those nasty, poisonous leaves. All I could do was plunge ahead and make good guesses where the trail should be. And each time I was right.
In no time at all I had achieved the summit of Brown Mountain. At the top, I paused to take some video and photos and.
I got that old, creepy feeling that not only was something watching me…it was also following me.
My breath held in my chest as I strained to hear anything that was not…well…normal. But there were only bird calls and some slight sighing of wind among the trees. Nothing moved that should not be moving. Nothing called out that alarmed me in any way.
That feeling of being watched and followed.
Once more I pushed on, knowing that I would soon come upon a trail shelter in the wilderness. Most wilderness areas do not have things like trail shelters and bridges and such. They are, after all, supposed to be wilderness. But in a few minutes I came to that shelter. It stood there in the shadows and dappled sunlight of a mild summer day and looked as if it had not been used by anyone in a very, very long time. As I had realized since I’d begun the hike, not many people walked into this wilderness. I was very much alone. At least when it came to human company. Still, that feeling of being watched and followed continued to dog me.
I saw some brightly colored mushrooms on the ground near the shelter and decided to photograph them. And it was then, crouching on the forest floor to get a good point of view, that I heard something cracking what I knew were very large, very dry dead limbs on the ground. Something relatively close–perhaps forty or fifty feet away.
I stood up and looked in that direction, and didn’t see anything; but did hear some more limbs being cracked underfoot and then some lighter sounds as of something retreating from me through that decaying leaf litter.
I had been right. Something had not only been watching me, but apparently also following me. Or maybe it was someone. I have no idea.
But feeling even more a sense of dread than I had before, I put my camera away, pointed myself down the trail toward Blue Bend, and made haste to get back to the campground and my waiting wife.
Sometimes, I know, those feelings of being watched, of being followed, are not passing paranoia. Sometimes they are spot on.
|About where I scared the deer.|
|Hello, Mr. Man. What are you doing here in the deep, dark woods?|
|Death in the midst of so much life.|
|I’m still here. You are, too, I see. Hm.|
|Where does a big bear shit? Anywhere he wants to.|
|Sometimes the trail vanished under depths of stinging green.|
|It looked like it had not been used in a very long time.|
|Pretty colors to distract me….WHAT’S THAT NOISE??!!|
|Nothing there! But I think I’ll leave, now.|
|If the forest will let me….|
Here, then, are a few groups of people who work harder than any cocksucker sitting in the penthouse, and fully capable of someday storming those palaces, tearing the occupants out of their fucking beds, and slitting their leech throats. (Remember what was done to the stinking Romanovs, you rat bastard thieves.)
That steelworker part reminds me of one of the few truly lazy fuckers I ever knew. For a bare few months of his oh-so-precious life he worked in a steel mill. It was frankly the only time he ever worked in his entire worthless fucking Nazi life (that’s something else–later on he became a Nazi). He was one of those fortunately rare pieces of shit who gets a woman to support him while he lies around at home. At any rate, because he worked for a few weeks in a steel mill between terms in college (which his mommy paid for), he claims to be a laborer. Yeah. Seriously. He claims to be a laborer because he worked for a few weeks in a steel mill. Before that brief sojourn earning a paycheck, and since, one woman or another has supported him–either his pathetic mama or his long-suffering wife. But he’s “a laborer”. The hilarity.
At any rate, laborers are the reason this nation exists and has flourished. Strong, hard-working men and women who were either wage slaves, or just plain slaves built this country. They hacked it out and hammered it together. At some point we’re going to take control of it, and the blood of the leeches who have exploited us is going to grease the wheels of a new kind of society. I wish I was around to splash some of that elitist crimson lubricant onto those gears.
|At some point, the bill will come due and payback will be Hell. Count on it.|
Based on a series published by Wildstorm/Dynamite, The Boys features a storyline in which a group of normal humans set about to try to kill and/or socially neutralize the superheroes who have appeared in the midst of US civilization. The small group who band together to do their utmost to take down the “supers” are various guys whose lives have been negatively influenced by their interactions with the hyper-powered people who exist like gods and actors/rock stars amidst all of us who are just normal people.
But how does one go about destroying that which is invulnerable? Therein lies the brilliance in the comic book and the TV series.
I have to admit that I have never read the comic. I only became aware of it some time after the publication of my superhero novel, WORKING CLASS HERO. The comic was conceived and written by long-time writer Garth Ennis. My previous exposure to his work was based solely on PREACHER which I found to be rather more nihilistic than I like, but oddly funny for all of the gross shit he tossed about in that particular book. The guy is very talented and is a skilled storyteller. Now that I have seen (and enjoyed) the TV series I will have to seek out the collected comic book series and give it a go.
Thus, all of my comments here concern themselves with the TV series and only that.
Okay, first of all it is based on the now-silly premise of what the world would be like if superheroes were real. As if no superhero comic that appeared between 1938 and today was about that same thing. As with titles like Miller’s Dark Knight and Moore’s Watchmen, we deal with the minute details of how the presence of god-like humans walking around lowly mortals might play out. I can dig it, and the theme has been used to decent effect in some past attempts.
The supes in The Boys are treated as extreme celebrities, generally based on the level and importance of their abilities. At the top of the heap is a super-powered team called “The Seven” who work out of a vast skyscraper in an urban area (New York? I can’t recall that it’s ever mentioned where the story takes place.). The Seven act kind of like the Justice League or The Avengers in that way. They scan the city looking for crime to bust, and do so on a pretty much daily basis.
If you’re looking for a model for these seven heroes, I would assume that they’re based on DC Comics JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. At the top of the pyramid is a particularly scary fellow called Homelander. He is, for all practical purposes, Superman. He can fly at supersonic speed, is invulnerable, strong beyond all reason, and has laser-vision eyes, can see through walls (except for zinc), has super-hearing, etc. He’s Superman. Next is Queen Maeve who has all of the basic powers of Wonder Woman. Then The Deep who can breathe underwater and talk to fish–yeah, Aquaman. There is A-Train who acts as The Flash, able to run at speeds exceeding 1,000 mph. Translucent is a man who can become invisible and, while in that state, is invulnerable. A character called Black Noir (yeah, I know) who never speaks, wears an all-encompassing suit of solid black and whose powers are never spelled out (but we do see super-strength and blinding agility). And Starlighter, a young woman who is nearly invulnerable (she is hit with high-caliber bullets and is merely knocked to the ground), heightened strength (she can punch through brick walls) and can generate extremely powerful beams of light accompanied by shock waves. So there is some minor originality with the supers who don’t actually correspond to familiar comic book super characters.
The series opens with a young couple in love whose lives intersect briefly with that of A-Train who, moving at better than 1,000 mph, runs into the young woman, reducing her to errant bits of scattered flesh and bits of bone and gallons of blood. He paused to briefly acknowledge what he has done, and then speeds on his way. Left psychically scarred is Hughie Campbell, her surviving boyfriend who has to deal with the fact that A-Train’s killing of his love is considered mere “collateral damage”.
After that, we soon discover that the supers–especially those who are members of The Seven–are immune to prosecution and don’t even have to deal with negative press. Everyone is supposed to adore them and anyone who is terminally caught in their wake are just supposed to take it in stride and go away to let the superheroes do their jobs.
Hughie Campbell is soon approached by a man named Billy Butcher who has an insane hatred of superheroes and who talks Campbell into helping him place a spy device inside the hq of The Seven. And thus the adventure begins.
There are a number of things that I quite liked about The Boys. First and foremost, I enjoy fiction that is socially and politically subversive. The Boys is certainly that. Superficially, the supers seem to be just more silly damned comic book superheroes. But Ennis and/or the show writers have used them to stand in as foils for police officers and soldiers. Both police and soldiers routinely get away with mass murder and, as we are shown vividly, so do the superheroes. If you accidentally get killed by them, or even if they intentionally kill you, that’s just part of the price we pay to bask in their glory. Each time I watched a super slaughter a human being I thought of the innocent people murdered by police officers, or shot and napalmed by our brave soldier boys. Just as with the cops and the soldiers, superheroes never have to face the music for their war crimes and brutality.
So there was that.
I also liked the commentary on the slavish devotion to the supers by the public at large. For every Billy Butcher or Hughie Campbell who hates superheroes, there are tens of millions of people who adore them and absolutely refuse to hear anything negative about them. Kind of like supporting the police or honoring the troops and fuck you if you don’t.
From what I have gathered, the TV writers have pared down the comic book series considerably and hacked away quite a bit of extraneous plot and have focused on a more narrow storyline. There are actually things that you can get away with in a comic book that you just can’t do on a screen, even the TV screen. But the writers here seem to have made excellent choices (from plot differences that I’ve read) to create an exceptional story based on the original yarn.
The writing is, frankly, excellent. Even the dialogue is wonderful. So my hat’s off to the writers, even if I don’t know who any of them are (other than Ennis). Additionally, the direction is very good, the cinematography exceptional, and the special effects are pretty much the equal to what I would expect in a theatrical film.
But the best thing about the series are the acting performances. Everyone seems perfectly cast and I cannot complain–at all–about the jobs any of the actors have done in creating the various personas. This is some major-league great acting. Especially considering that it’s all just a silly superhero movie.
Karl Urban, Jack Quaid, Elizabeth Shue, Colby Minifie, Chace Crawford, Simon Pegg…damn…everyone does it right. But to me, two of the actors stand out. First, there’s Laz Alonzo, who is a man named Mother’s Milk, one of The Boys. He just has a great presence and I appreciate good timing when it comes to delivering lines–and he’s really good at that. The other performance that rises above most of the others is by Anthony Starr who plays Homelander. He is Superman as he probably would be if such a person existed–completely fucking insane and drunk with unlimited power. The guy can do anything he wants to do, and almost everyone else on Earth is just a flimsy bag of blood to him. I always thought of Superman that way, and it’s what we get with Starr.
“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Homelander! (Oh, please, God. Don’t let him notice us!! PLEASE!!!)
Anyway, it’s really good. If you’re too sick of superhero shit to watch it, I understand and that’s cool. But if you’re not sick to death of superhero crap, give it a look. It’s really cool.
Oh. And the last scene in the final episode of the first season (yes, there’s going to be a second season): it’s freaking great. I did not see that one coming.
The campground is a classic site created and developed by the old Civilian Conservation Corps, that finest of mildly socialist programs instituted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. That organization did so much to provide the USA with excellent recreational sites. Many decades after its demise, we are still enjoying the campgrounds, trails, lakes, dams, pools, picnic areas, and playgrounds those hard working citizens toiled to make for the generations that have come and gone since those days.
Weather-wise, we couldn’t have had it better. Some of our more recent camping trips have been tough due to the rain and inclement weather we have suffered. But this vacation was perfect in that regard. It never rained, rarely even clouded over, and we left the hideous heat and humidity of the Charlotte area behind to find high temperatures in the mid to upper 70s and lows in the 50s every night. We had perfect sleeping weather and with the fresh air blowing in through the screens each evening I dreamed vividly. Two days back, and I already miss that place terribly.
Carole and I both got in some good hiking. I climbed the mountainsides in the Big Draft Wilderness Area which lies across the creek from our campground (via a swinging bridge), and Carole joined me on shorter, developed hikes on extremely well-engineered trails at Cranberry Glades Natural Area, the Falls of Hill Creek, and at Beartown State Park.
We had a blast!
Carole prepared her usual five-star camping meals. We did not lose any weight. She worked on some new Dutch oven recipes that were all excellent, as always. Breakfast, lunch, and supper were all feasts, each day.
I’ll try to post some details, either in text, or photographs, or video–or all three–in the coming days.
|I took this from a viewpoint on Brown Mountain in the Big Draft Wilderness Area looking down on a farm that abuts the wilderness.|
|Our campsite, which was enormous.|
|Carole, standing on the swinging bridge that allows access to the opposite side of Anthony Creek.|
|A selfie I took deep in the Big Draft Wilderness Area on a five-mile loop hike.|
|A shot I took from a picnic area at over 4400 feet above sea level on the Mountain Scenic Highway. All of the peaks along the drive and around us were over 4,000 feet above sea level. Lots of dark spruce trees cover the peaks and ridges here.|
We picked up the Casita from the RV service center where we have been taking it for whatever ails our beloved travel trailer. This latest problem was with the refrigerator which stopped working while we were on our last trip (to Fort DeSoto Park in Florida). We had fears that the fridge would have to be completely replaced, but a $111 part did the trick (plus labor). So we only faced a bill of a little over $200 instead of over $1000 for a completely new refrigerator. That was a relief!
At any rate, only a few more days of preparation and we’ll be heading off to take it easy in a National Forest campground where we’ve never stayed (but have visited).
|The Casita just home from RV Pros where they fixed the refrigerator. Works like it’s supposed to!|
|The high country, not far from where we’re going to be camping next week.|
Anyway, here’s an extra YouTube video that I created from the skipped images.
|The Caudill Cabin just before I shut and latched the door and took my leave.|
Finally, I made my way down to Longbottom Road and began to trek toward the trailhead. But I managed to pass it by about three miles and had to turn around. By the time I got to the parking area it was almost 10:30.
According to the map and directions I had the hike looked to be about 4.5 miles each way with about 1600 feet of elevation gain. One descriptor I read said that there were seven creek crossings. I ended up discovering, though, that all mileages were off by at least a mile each way; and there were, in fact seventeen creek crossings! Seventeen! Add to this the fact that the humidity levels were off the scale and I ended up being put through the wringer on this hike. It was horrible!
The first 1.7 miles or so is on the Grassy Gap Fire Road which apparently is a jeep road that has been used for fire suppression and to get equipment farther into the forest for trail maintenance. It’s a slow, steady, easy climb along Basin Creek. This is all National Park property. It forms a big pie shaped wedge of land from the Blue Ridge Parkway down to the parking area on Longbottom Road. There are over thirty miles of trails on over 7,000 acres of land. Most people see only the part of the Park directly adjacent to the Parkway. But most of it is very different from these open meadows and it is, in fact, very heavily forested by recovering stands of hardwoods and white pines. This is what you hike through as you leave Longbottom Road and head up toward Caudill Cabin.
I was extremely impressed with the forests here. They are not composed of vast, ancient trees, but they are still imposing. Some of the stands of white pines are rather grand, but it is the groves of various hardwood species that are the most stirring.
All of the two trails that I used to access the Caudill Cabin site are adjacent to rushing streams. But it is when you reach Basin Creek that you find yourself in classic, southern Appalachian landscape. Trees tower over you, rhododendron blossoms are all around, rocks abound, and the sound of water crashing against polished stone is everywhere. This is indicative of the great blue wall of the mountains that rise up from the Piedmont so abruptly here in my native South.
The climb to the cabin was pleasant in many ways, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult for me. The route is steep, and the seventeen creek crossing took a toll on me whenever I’d encounter one that was too deep to rock-hop and had to take the time to remove my boots and socks and then put them back on once I’d reached the opposite shore. In high heat and humidity, minor things like that take a toll. By the time I got to my destination I was as drenched as if I’d been doused by gallons of water, but it was all sweat that had soaked through my clothes. Yeah, it was pretty miserable in that respect.
As you climb you pass through what had once been the old Basin Creek community. Not quite a town, it still held a population of farmers who lived along the banks of the creek, farming the land and earning livings enough to support large families. That all came to an abrupt end one day in 1916 when a flood came roaring down the tributary washing away most of the houses and killing most of the people who had lived there. The community never recovered and in the 1930s the National Park Service purchased this large plot of land that is now Doughton Park.
The principle reason I went to hike there was to see the historic Caudill Cabin, the last remaining structure from the days just before the flood. But I also went to enjoy some solitude while I hiked, which has been missing from most of the outdoor trips I have taken recently. And it paid off. I did encounter one group of ladies who were coming down the mountain just as I was passing a large waterfall, and they asked me to take a group photo of them with their phone cameras (which I was happy to do).
Even though the hike did me in, I had a great time, suffered some hamstring cramps when I got home, but physically did okay compared to what I suffered through from some other more recent trips tromping up and down the steep slopes of the southern Appalachians.
|The trail map for Doughton Park. As I have said, most people only see the strand of land adjacent to the Parkway road. But journey into the trail system and into the forests and you will find a completely new world.|
|This is the only part of the buildings at Doughton Park that is still being used as a visitors center. It was closed when I got there.|
|Typical groomed lawn along the Parkway.|
|Basin Creek as I hiked along.|
|Rhododendron in full bloom.|
|The following few photos are the ruins of farms that once lined the creek. Many were killed in the 1916 flood.|
|The waterfall where I met the nice ladies hiking down the mountain.|
|My initial view of the Caudill Cabin as I emerged from the deep forest.|
|This one-room cabin once served as home for an entire family.|
Hell…as I get older, I think Laura Riding may have been right all along.
I’ll be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning to travel to a National Park site to plunge into the wilderness and find my way to an isolated historic site. I’ll let you know what I find.
|Great Blue Heron, Mountain Island Lake, two miles from my front door where I go kayaking often.|
|Broadwinged Hawk, Hillsborough River, Florida.|
|Osprey with Speckled Sea Trout prey. Fort DeSoto Park, Florida.|
|Alligator on the Hillsborough River, Florida.|
|Abandoned farm building. Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina.|
|Stone Mountain, Stone Mountain State Park, North Carolina.|
It ain’t a livin’. But it doesn’t need to be. Gas money and lodging to my next journey–that’s what it amounts to, so far. I’ll take it.
Which, I suppose, was part of the plan.
Mention the term to your average shmoe and you’ll get a blank stare. And that’s a shame, since your average shmoe is awash in it; is, in fact, drowning in it. Quite actually drowning.
Most people seem to while away their days sitting in a bathtub full of pop culture execrate. I’m not being too judgmental here, because I once did the same. Maybe not to the extremes as most other people, but I must admit that I had my own love affair with vacuous music, literature, art, and what passes as theater in the form of television and movies. (But no midget versions of the Great White Way down here in the small towns of the southern USA.)
However, I stopped watching our pop culture delivering a false message of immortality some time back. Now, I look for what the more religious among us call signs and portents. In their cases they’re searching for indications that the anti-Christ is coming, that Armageddon is looming, that the Bible-defined end is nigh. Frankly, I can dig their attitude, even if my own curiosity for the end times comes from more technical locations and emanating out of sociological sources and not prophetic texts featuring Moses and his progeny.
I see humanity’s termination coming in other ways. There is the inexorable march of extinction as our fellow travelers on this spinning globe vanish into the black hole we have dug for them, thinking that by filling it with all of those sacred creatures we are somehow hiding the fact that we have, in all actuality, carved out our own final resting place. We’re just tossing our animal buddies in the tomb preceding us so that we won’t go alone, as if we’re some kind of multi-headed pharaoh. Every few days the news is there. Some other wonderful animal that has tread the planet for millions of years is no more. Maybe it’s a precious species of rhinoceros. Or a type of gazelle. Or maybe some long-skulled gavial, or a blind dolphin that used to ply the muddy depths of a silt-laden river eating a shrinking population of fish.
Those who walk about with their cloak of hubris don’t see it. Feh. Some stupid critters went out of style. Who cares?Humans will go on without that fucking rhino as if it had never existed. Or so they think. They’re so wrong. They don’t know how wrong they are, but that doesn’t prevent them from being so very, very wrong.
I don’t mention the web of life to these people. There it goes, another strand missing, the weight of Homo sapiens hanging onto the weakening filaments that bind what remains cohesively. I can see the anchors straining away, trying to hold up our collected mass of almost eight billion naked asses extruding shit as we eat every goddamned thing we can grab.
Hell, we even consume the crust of the planet, gouging it out, pouring it into the seas, despoiling the aquifers that we need for fresh freaking water.
Hubris. Frack that bitch. Get that oil. Draw out those metric gigatons of natural gas.
Sociologically, we are a horrid mess. I have watched as even the edges of our popular culture have withered and curled and become desiccated waste that is about to go up in flames. And no one cares because that very culture is throwaway and was intended as such and has already been tossed aside for the next big thing. The beauties of older days are forgotten and been rejected for the latest and greatest pussy du jour.
I recall times when bookstores were a given. If you lived in a town of even modest size there was a bookstore where you could go and shop. Yes, it was likely to be packed with insipid romance novels and silly potboilers and goofy fantasies. But there were always good books mixed in with the escapist fare where one could find them. And in the smaller towns you had libraries. Even in the tiny burgs where I sometimes lived I could go to a library and while away the day searching through books of geology and history, fiction and fact.
But now bookstores are fading. Even the vast factory chains that were supported by investors pouring billions of dollars into those brick and mortar walls are going away, company by company, chain by chain, location by location. Poof. Mr. Hubris grins stupidly. The stellar constant stares into the knowing void while we yammer away, thinking ourselves as persistent as being. Alas, nope.
If you’d told me when I was a kid wandering around the shelves of my parents’ bookstores that there would be a time when finding even a used bookstore would be difficult, I’d have laughed at you. Are you loony? You should be bouncing around a cartoon cel with Daffy Duck!
A few days ago I saw that Mad Magazine is effectively ceasing publication. Once the most successful magazine on the planet, it was closing up shop. Yes, it always was a crass, crude, working class kind of silly pop culture. Why should I mourn its passing? I suppose I could spend tens of thousands of words educating you as to why it bothers me, but then I’d be as guilty of hubris as those who never saw that coming. So I’ll boil it down for you:
It was, to a couple or three generations of US citizens a constant. It was always there, on the newsstands. Alfred E. Neuman staring out at you with that misshapen ginger face. Mad Magazine for all of its crude sensibilities had spawned an occasional blip of brilliance. Harvey Kurtzman created it. Wally Wood gloried in it. Don Martin swam through the pages. William Gaines profited from that glorious thing like crazy.
It was everywhere and permeated US society without really advertising itself. It was self-evident and mildly subversive. It may not have spawned revolution, but it presaged its coming. In a nutshell, it taught kids and overgrown adolescents that grownups and society lie to us constantly. And in that simple lesson it thrived and was–as I said–everywhere.
Well, until now. Now, it is gone.
Bill Gaines probably saw it coming when he emptied all of those mint condition back issue EC comics from his storage bins. When he sold off every page of original art that he’d ever published. (Yeah, he kept all of that art, that forward thinking capitalist bastard!) I think he saw it coming when he foisted off the magazine upon a corporate behemoth and shuffled his own fat ass into retirement, chuckling gloriously all the way to the bank, maybe not thinking too much of Harvey Kurtzman as he fled this mortal coil.
What does Mad Magazine have to do with mass extinction and the coming end of Homo sapiens? Frankly, I’m not sure myself, except that one got me to thinking about the other. And of that musty, ancient idea that those instigators of western thought came to term as hubris.
A world without Mad Magazine? A society that doesn’t even know who Alfred E. Neuman is? You must be daft!
Our own existence is pop culture. Homo sapiens is just Earth’s latest fad. We’re the trilobite frozen in shale, the dinosaur locked in stone, the rotting mammoth carcass being vomited out of the melting permafrost.
Someday–and it will be soon–we’ll follow Mad Magazine and that rare type of rhino down into the sucking black hole where existence ends. We won’t terraform Mars and flee to that dead, toxic ball of frozen rock. We’re not going to build starships and travel the galaxy. To paraphrase a certain pop-culture villain, the Universe expects us to die, Mr. Bond; and that’s an expectation that will be fulfilled.
Hubris, or not, we’re goin’ down.
Don’t say we weren’t warned.