I was thinking of something from a couple years ago. The alternatives are thinking of the present, or worse, of the future. But you know how it is. You read something and then you go and remember it. It spoils the fun of re-reading the thing. But it’s no longer possible to re-find a thing you once read anyway. Once you glance away, it’s gone. You can subscribe to our fun newsletter but you’ll never find it again.
So this is as best I remembered the thing. It was in Russia and like a decade ago. They were having this problem with groups holing up in bunkers and things and waiting for the end of the world. And, like, sure you understand that now. But this was like 2010, when all the Internet was furious about was how Apple sent everybody a U2 album. But there were enough groups holing up waiting for the end of the world that they had an office to deal with this. And that’s what I keep coming back to.
Because I try to imagine working for that office. I’d go out, find a group of people who are in a bunker or a cave or an abandoned factory or something, waiting for the end of the world. And then … what can I do to get them out? I assume I’m trying to get them out. If I weren’t, why would I even leave the office? Maybe there’s a good restaurant nearby I’d wanted to try for lunch. That’s not likely. I’m not an adventurous lunch-goer. It took me six years to try the Big John’s Steak and Onions sandwich shop. It’s like a mile and a half from home and I pass it every time I go anywhere. And that I had to approach slowly, feigning like I was going to the jewelers’ next door and peering at the menu while the cashier looked upset with me.
So grant that I’m there to talk them out. I have a reputation among my friends for being diplomatic. This is because they don’t know about the time I could not convince my love that I was not upset about making the asparagus with sweetened condensed, rather than evaporated, milk. It’s been years and neither of us has suggested having asparagus since. So you can see where I’d fall short handling this. What can negotiations be like?
“Come on out,” I’d probably say. “The world’s not ending anytime soon.” You can see why I have this reputation for diplomacy in my social circles.
But I haven’t made my case. “No,” they’re sure to say. “The world is coming to an end very soon and we’re going to hide.”
“What are you hoping to get by hiding, though?” Here I’m figuring that all I want is them out in the world. It’s fine if they figure it’s ending soon. “Did anything you didn’t like ever go away by hiding? Did school go away by hiding?”
An answer. “I never hid from school. I liked it, except for this algebra teacher in eighth grade.”
“You too?” I’d say. “I didn’t understand a word from my teacher that year. The only thing I ever learned was this two-week stretch we had a substitute.”
And here we have recognition. “She taught this little tic-tac-toe board thing? Kind of a weird magic square for factoring quadratic polynomials?”
“Exactly!” And now that seems good. The person has said something kind of friendly to me, so now I’m bonded. Experience indicates I’ll now take fifteen years of their berating me before I acknowledge we’re not friends, but we could be if they showed more consideration. So that’s all great. I have someone new I can get e-mails from that I’ll never answer because I feel too bad that I haven’t answered them already. But it hasn’t done a thing about getting the holed-up group out, or getting me in. I don’t see how this makes any progress.
And then another thing, if this is a group in Russia like I had read about. I have to trust someone in the group understands English. Someone has to be helping me along there. Oh, wouldn’t that be my luck, if whoever spoke English in the cave wanted to mess with all of us?