A letter written in the sky in December 2016, concerning truths, lies, seafaring, and the apocalypse.
Greetings from row 44 of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 35 from Phoenix to Honolulu. Would you be surprised to learn that I can see the Space Needle from here? You should be, because that is an unbelievable and untrue lie. The Space Needle is too far away to see. We saw the islands off the coast by Santa Barbara, but they’re behind us now. We’re out over the ocean.
Mandy keeps looking over to read this letter, so I guess I should talk about how beautiful and kind she is. Truly she looks radiant today and the goodness of her heart is unmatched by anyone in the world. Furthermore, her hair smells terrific.
I know that you and I have both thought a lot about what to do in the event of an apocalypse, and I know that we have both looked toward the cover art on sci-fi novels for wisdom and guidance. It’s helpful to see how other visionaries have imagined the future. “Lookin’ real good today, Wasteland,” we would say to no one in particular, surveying our domain from the roof of a quasi-functional Isuzu Trooper.
But what if there was another option? A viable alternative? I’m speaking, of course, of the post-apocalyptic future envisioned by the makers of Waterworld, starring Kevin Costner. What if you just lived in the ocean on a goddamn boat? “No land again today,” you could write in your journal. “But the weather is nice and I made friends with a fish.”
Think about it. Instead of standing on the roof of your truck, you could stand on your boat. “Master of all I see. Master of the ocean.” Suddenly, an old tire floats by. “I can use this to breed mosquitoes for food! My, how the tables have turned — it seems the hunter has become the hunted.” Technically the mosquitoes will not have become the hunted; they will have become a domesticated food animal, but such distinctions matter little when you’re living on wits and bugs in the middle of the ocean. “Why did I make friends with a fish? I should have eaten it instead.”
On the North Rim of Grand Canyon there’s a little outcrop of rock with a fence around it like the bow of a ship. I once told someone that James Cameron visited that very spot and shouted, “I’m the king of the world!” and that was the inspiration for the famous line in the movie Titanic. It wasn’t and I can’t bear the thought of sending visitors away with false information. So I quickly explained that I had lied.
Anyway: Come on out to Grand Canyon. I told Mandy you were considering a trip out here, and she was very excited to hear that — she really wants to meet you. Please feel free to lie to her about how courteous, polite, and mature I was in my mid-twenties. Good talking with you the other day. Wishing you continued success and lots of babies soon.
What follows is excerpted from pages 150 to 152 of a very long letter to an extremely patient friend.
Hey, you know what else? Man, sometimes it’s fun just to write stuff. Here I am getting all up in my own head about the what and the why, when there are also lots of good reasons for writing that don’t require a lot of reflection. Forget reflection! Forget self-knowledge! ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE AND BAN THE BOMB! Simple as that.
“Oh, I know, let’s all spend a bunch of time pretending we’re serious people.” Nay. A thousand times, nay! Ghostride the whip and fuck the status quo always and forever! All whips should always be ghostrode all the time. I defy you to find a counterexample. An example of a whip that should be corporeally ridden.
But here’s the thing: Ghosts — not real. Such is the paradox of our being. We must ride our whips corporeally. Also, I don’t even know what a whip is.
One time, there was this whip up in Canada, and everyone thought a ghost was riding it. But then some scientists came in and found the truth. “You guys, no ghost is riding this whip; the whip is old and squeaky and these high Canadian winds merely create the appearance of a ghost rider.” All minds were blown and Canada was finally able to join the United Nations.
For you see, the United Nations’ articles of organization contained a very specific and powerful clause prohibiting the admission of ghost nations. Ghost nations, unlike ghost people, are real, and the League of Nations had been undone by its inclusion of Genghis Khan’s empire. So there was a natural concern that if Canada was harboring a ghostridden whip, the ghost rider could have been e.g. an ancient Greek city-state, a druid confederacy, or even an unrecognized ghost micronation located on an offshore drilling platform or defense structure claimed by insane gold-hoarding libertarians.
“Welcome to the United Nations,” Boutros Boutros-Ghali told Canada.
Canada was like, “Our whips are pure and our membership is legit.”
Now here’s another thing. A lot of of people these days are talking like they know what whips are, but really they don’t. My basis for this assertion is that life is better when the very nature of the whip remains ambiguous. Is the whip our darkest fear? Or our wildest desire? Well good luck finding out. What if you were the whip? How would you feel about ghostriding then? Because this is the other thing. You can never know. And not knowing explains so much. “What’s a whip?” Nobody knows. Billions of people — this is how we get along, united, friendly.
Now here’s a thought experiment. What would happen if the whip was a thing we all agreed upon? If ghosts were real and we could ride it. Well, for one thing, you would know how this thought experiment concludes. Because right now: impossible to say.
Set all this aside. Take a moment to look inside your own mind. Clear your mind of ghosts, whips, and the clouding influence of ambition and resourcefulness. These things are the enemy. The truth is real, and it is set before you. Oh shit, wait, there’s a ghost nation. Clear that too. Ghost nations aren’t even an actual thing, I gotta confess, I made those up. Boom. Focus. The letter is over.
The letter is over. And yet life goes on. The world turns and daily new ghosts are imagined to be riding even newer whips. Welcome to the secret cabal. To the inner circle. The secret, my friend, is this: Mankind is both ghost and whip. This is our burden. This is our burden forever. Carry it well.
5:15 am: Wake up with the sun.
5:16 am: Begin drinking.
5:20 am: Brew cowboy coffee, extra strong. Joke to hired man that “I’ve got a case of the zactlies.” Even though you’ve told this joke every morning since he started working here, he’ll still ask, “What’s that?” Reply: “It’s when you wake up, and your mouth tastes ‘zactly like your ass.”
5:25 am: Bowel movement.
5:30 am: Eggs.
5:45 am: Some kind of cowhand work.
11:00 am: Corn whiskey, neat.
11:06 am: Throw empty bottle at Cookie’s head; cuss him out for falling asleep before making lunch.
11:07 am: Write first poem of the day, “Cookie is a good-for-nothing layabout.” His sloth is emblematic of America’s long-term decline from greatness, for which this poem is the obvious antidote.
11:45 am: Take call from lawyer re: next week’s custody hearing.
11:52 am: Send embittered text messages to estranged wife using busted-ass, circa-2006 Nokia T9 phone.
12:35 pm: Finish texting.
12:36 pm: Write second poem of the day, “Cookie, I deserve better.”
12:53 pm: Truck.
1:05 pm: Eat the lunch that Cookie finally finished preparing. Constantly refer to it as “dinner,” not as an insult to Cookie’s tardiness, but rather because “dinner” is a regionalism that means “lunch.”
1:30 pm: Third poem of day, “Cookie, you done good.”
1:45 pm: Lament lost way of life, drink to excess.
2:35 pm: Drunk drive to post office.
3:15 pm: Black out in McDonald’s parking lot.
5:00 pm: Don’t know.
7:00 pm: Don’t know.
10:00 pm: Don’t know.
Bonus cowboy poem!
I remember Dad’s windmills.
And Grand-dad’s windmills.
They looked like windmills should.
Standing proud, like oil wells
with oscillating fan hats.
Not like today.
The windmills are too damn tall!
Global warming is a myth!
What ever happened to our way of life?
- “I like to run Lotus 1-2-3 on my IBM Selectric.”
- “How come write? For why?”
- “I bet you never need to use an eraser.”
- “Hello, my name is PJ O’Rourke.”
- “Try this new alphabet I invented.”
- “How much White-Out can you drink?”
- “Please stop writing forever.”
- “We should start a text messaging club.”
- “It’s like Uber, but for writing.”
- “Do you ever just write, like, a bunch of vowels?”