So I’m in the same fetal position I’d crouched in 30 years ago, only it isn’t Time’s or Newsweek’s or CBSNBSABC news’ fault, but Walter the Weatherman’s. Crazy Walter the Weatherman ten years old. Baby-sitting the lad as a favor to his mom, who left him in my less-than-capable hands so she could work an extra shift. Christmas and all–she’s usually a prudent woman, but you know how things go and go and go until you’re in sizeable debt to those nice banks and credit card companies who send you checks for loads and loads of Holiday shopping liquidity this joyous time of year; but that’s not relevant to the weather. Is it?
Not relevant to why me and Walter cower under cob-webby stairs in the cold damp basement, waiting for THE END.
Anyway: Walter. Knows all about The Weather. His mother told me about how she bought him some kind of contraption lets him monitor the weather from his bedroom window. New fangled high tech barometer or something. But he’s also tuned in to all the weather stations on cable and a dozen sites on the Net.
Finally, the mother told me, she had to monitor his access, put in one of those chips that Clintonistas got all hot ‘n ‘ bothered about (and I’m sure the Bush-men would be spraying their shorts too they had testicles) in his computer or his head. Or maybe it was some “Save The Children” software provided by her snoopy ISP. Whatever, she cut him off. Not completely. Just put him under probationary Parental Guidance till he learned to handle his obsessions or the Ritalin kicked in.
“But it’s good for a boy his age to have a hobby,” his mother said. “If Walter doesn’t grow up to be a meteorologist, well, I don’t know WHAT.”
Well I can think of a few things. Turns out his bright young mind is a bit too inexperienced to distinguish between storms and tornadoes. Every time he hears a report of a storm coming he runs down to the basement and hides under the stairs. Thinks a twister’s on its way to carry him to Munchkin land.
My (unspoken) reaction to this briefing the mother gave me as she filled her thermos with black, black coffee and fixed the name-tag on her uniform was, “this kid’s got god on the brain he’s using the technology set before him to monitor the wrath of god the great mind of nature or the cosmos, not the crap they feed him in church or temple whatever religious hustle his mother’s affiliated with, some clergyman on the take jabbering about how 2000 years ago God or one of his harassed secretaries, scribbling prophesy for three shekels a day, wrote this or that and therefore DISASTER is going to occur in Jerusalem or Bethlehem or some other place about as meaningful to Walter the Weatherman as Pepperidge, Ohio–unless one factors in deviate precipitation patterns or temperatures of abnormally high or low degree.”
I thought of the young Einstein breaking his watch so he could see how Time really worked, or ten-year-old Percey Shelley leading his sisters in rebellion against the established order of DADDY’S HOUSE before they shipped him off in chains to Eton. Harmless enough. Though little Einstein, according to the folklore, seemed to be motivated by curiosity rather than fear, and Shelley (well, god knows what HE was thinking about).
But Einstein didn’t have asthma or receive daily updates of melting polar caps and perverse migration patterns and other behavioral freak-outs of fish, fowl and all manner of creepy-crawlers and flying things. Einstein didn’t have so called “meteorologists” (weathermen, usually overweight, buffoonish, ex-food critics in Network insignia sports jackets) telling him it’s going to be one helluva beautiful day with the Sun out and children playing and smiley faces all over his map of the US, only it’s December and this shouldn’t be happening; the smiley faces should at least be wearing hats and scarves. But often there’s a sad crying face on the map, which means it’s raining or going to rain, possibly for days on end, which again wouldn’t be such a bad thing except I remember last year (Fall 2001–Jun 2002) it was “November”–dreary rainy blah–from October to late May; then it was August–sticky gray-brown heat-mare–from early June until October. Luckily, it became November in November this year of somebody’s lord, 2002, and it’s even behaving like December in December. We had a “white Christmas,” albeit the whitest damn Christmas since 1969. Of course, it could all just be a fluke or…well do I really have to go over the same old shit everybody outside the Bush Administration knows backwards and forwards as they fill up their SUVs and prepare to “take out Saddam” and whoever else for more black gold?
No wonder Walter’s so messed up. He’s studying a “science,” in his own child’s way, only to learn, as he becomes more adept and involved, that either the science that so captivates him is a lie, or if the measurements are “accurate,” there’s no precedent for this kind of information, there’s no real pattern here except the kind of pattern ten-year-old brains aren’t yet wired to detect: CHAOS, DOOM, MEGA-DEATH.
Hell, I’d have headed for the basement too. In fact I did, and I was even younger. Eight, nine. Only I wasn’t hiding from the Weather, we had “regular weather” back then, I was hiding from the Russians, whose super duper commie firepower, both Time, Newsweek and CBSNBCABC told me, was going to fall soundless from the sky and blast me and everyone and everything I ever knew and loved to dust and ashes: a brief, drunken episode in the Cosmic Memory. Best forgotten, actually. Never happened. Planet? What planet? I don’t remember any planet. Bluish-green, you say? Nope. Sorry, Bud, never seen it.
Poor Walter the Weatherman. His mother never should have let him tune in, in the first place. Then again, these things can’t be helped. Sooner or later, even the youngest, most innocent among us are going to find out the TRUTH, or some small part of it, even if they can’t put all the pieces together, or understand much of what they do compile. Whatever message they manage to decode is going to tell them things that’ll drive them screaming to the basement, arms over knees in free-form “Duck and Cover” crouch, asking whatever “god” there is out there to please, please, please go away and leave them and those they love the hell alone.
“It’s not god,” I told Walter, passing him a bag of chips. “It’s The Man. He likes to fuck us up then blame god. Not the “it” or “energy” of Creation, but some vengeful, implacable, doom-fanatic god made in His image. Understand, little amigo? The Man is in your head and you gotta, like, EXPECTORATE him immediately, if not sooner. You ‘grock’ me there, pal?”
“Tornado. Bad Twister. Stay still,” said Walter. “Don’t talk. Don’t move. Shhhh.”
I’m not as young as I used to be. My back hurts. I hate to mess with the kid’s hobby, but I’m gonna have to get out from this cramped position under the stairs in this cold basement and walk like a FREE MAN and get some FRESH AIR. These are children’s games, after all, best played by children.
ADAM ENGEL and Walter the Weatherman are still under the basement stairs. Fortunately, Walter never goes anywhere, not even the basement, without a laptop and wireless modem. They can be reached — good news only, please — at firstname.lastname@example.org.