Search View Archive

The Accidental Oracle

Dear Oracle:

We let a drifter do some yard work and sleep in the metal shed out back for a few nights – and now we can’t get rid of him! If we give him money, he spends it all on alcohol, and the nicer we are to him, the worse he gets.

We’re so desperate we even considered paying a trucker to pick up the shed one night when he’s asleep, and drop it off in Nevada.

What should we do?

– Matt and Nadine (Last name withheld), Martinez, California

Dear Matt and Nadine:

I feel for you; nothing is more depressing than dealing with those who resist help.

Just last week I gave a local “street person” what used to be my best suit – a full outfit in fact, including freshly starched “skivvies” – in the hope it would inspire him to find work. Then a few hours later I saw him drinking from a large bottle of wine as he pranced about the sidewalk in all but the trousers – I believe he sold them for alcohol!

I think you know that hiring a trucker is wrong. For one thing, it is a federal crime to transport someone across state lines without their consent, even someone who might not notice for a few days. And for another, you would be wasting a perfectly good shed – it’s like throwing out the bathtub with the baby!

There is a better way to resolve your problem: from the evidence I’ve seen in apocalyptic urban action films, running a gauntlet of roving gangs, drug fiends and wild dogs can be just the thing to get someone who “needs a push” over the hump to self sufficiency.

So get him good and drunk late one night, and put him in the car. Drive to the most desperate neighborhood you can find – where addicts haunt the shadows and vice is served at the curb – and gently shove him out the door. Back up, frame him in the headlights, and honk the horn until a crowd begins to form, then speed off into the night. When you get home, turn off your phone and go to sleep.

By the time you wake up, he will have either learned a valuable lesson, or disappeared into the tattered fabric of urban decay, perhaps returned to the bosom of Mother Earth in a vacant lot overgrown with fragrant vines and flowers, and found contentment in becoming part of something larger than himself.

Either way, you get your shed back.

(I’m reminded it’s the third anniversary of the disappearance of Maynard, my ex-wife’s mixed up brother. If you’re out there somewhere, never forget that we love you “Bud,” and that there’s always another bottle here with your name on it…)

- A. O.

Dear Oracle:

I’m an airline pilot, and even from 39,000 feet things look very, very bad.

Suburbs consume the earth like a flesh-eating virus; acrid white winds scream across black mountains of smoking trees; and hungry pagans stranded at desert festivals line phantom runways with torches at night, hoping to lure unsuspecting airliners to their doom.

The way things are going, the world will be lucky to last another 5 years. Sometimes, when the moon turns the clouds below into silver pillows and the rest of the crew falls asleep, I get a terrible urge to jettison the cargo hold, crank up the engines and head for space.

I can’t sleep anymore, and I am so despondent…

O Oracle… what hath The Fates in store for us the Scurvied Crew (and for the Queasy Steerage Moles too) of this distressed rusty bucket, this Starship Earth, nay now hardly afloat… awash and a-smack the barnacled crags, cataclysmic suds and tentacled undertow of that Great Salty Sea that Laps the Shores of Eternity?

- “Captain Jean” (Real name withheld), Pilot, United Airlines

Dear Captain Jean:

(I don’t want to intrude – I’d guess you were a little “worked up” when you wrote this, perhaps after a few too many tiny airline bottles of liquor, on a too-short layover in one of those suffocating airport hotels – but have you had a flight physical lately?

I can only imagine the stress borne by an airline pilot, what with all those lives behind the cockpit door, random strangers who saved every penny they could on the fare, then sit there sweating in a giant iron lung hurtling ahead of gravity, trying not to wonder if the airline with the lowest fares buys its parts from the lowest bidder, so they’re about to land on recapped tires with fatigued cores scavenged from a decommissioned B-52 and glued-on tread ready to fly off like dried mud the second they hit the runway, squealing.

But then, I always was a worrier.)

To answer your question: the earth will last another 5 billion years before the sun gets old and bloated and turns Idaho into a baked potato. Humanity, on the other hand, may have only 20 years to go.

Fortunately that does not mean the end of intelligent life on earth, as tunneling insects and worms living near nuclear and chemical facilities are evolving at “warp speed.”

These creatures should be able to read soon and, given all the computers dumped in landfills, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are super intelligent before long.

Just imagine our intellectual descendents: blind from birth but raised reading magnetic bits from our computer disks, enjoying tales of mythical beasts…...grown upright to live on top of the world, naked to the elements, to sparks dripping from metallic clouds grinding across the sky and particulate spittle flung from the lips of black holes and borne across the galaxies. There the strange beasts survey distant phenomena through jellied orbs, admiring the plowed dirt, windbreak trees and levied rivers that scarify the earth with patterns that extend past the slow hazy fade of landscape into the ether to throw a net over its squirming infinities and suggest that this was all their idea, built to cradle a precious heart pumping celestial blood.

Granted, an underground future seems farfetched. But it already exists in a way: just imagine Vice President Cheney in his bunker, a psychic white worm reading intelligence missives through his forehead, their details and implications as clear and obvious as things he already knew.

Imagine his sensitive, spotted skin’s relief to be hundreds of feet underground, safe from the sun’s pounding rays, and from terrorists fated to act out the script he’s authored with all the foresight of a god-king, one who tolerates the most heinous nonsense from the very subjects he’s charged with protecting, not to mention the anti-oil fanatics too shortsighted to see that the more oil we pump, the more room there will be down there for us.

Imagine Mr. Cheney, modified by countless operations to excel underground, as he tunnels back and forth through the dark soil outside the bunker, happy as Pac-Man. And when bunker fever strikes, he shoots cross country, leaving a raised dirt welt like a cartoon gopher, and shows up at the homes of long lost enemies, smartasses who mocked the draft deferments that – like an invitation to train at the feet of a legendary kung fu master – helped him prepare for battle with legions of terrorists who make the Viet Cong look like Cub Scouts in pajamas. There he roils the earth until their homes crack and they taste the fear he has given his life to protect us from.

Or he shows up at desert festivals, where he pops out of the ground – a huge white-worm walrus teetering on its tail, making nasty respiratory sounds as the crowd of stoned pagans marvel bug-eyed at his rippling translucent flesh – and starts chomping through them like popsicles, biting off a foot at a time until he reaches the ground, spits out their sandals and turns to start on the next one, as the rest of the crowd giggles and mumbles “Dude… this is making me hungry! Let’s light some torches and make a runway… I’m dyin’ for some airplane food!”

Just imagine.

So you see there is little reason to worry about the future; the only real issue for you, Captain Jean, is that there won’t be much need for airplane pilots in an underground world.

In case the future arrives much sooner than I’ve predicted, have you considered applying for a position with New York City Transit? I understand they are always looking for subway train operators who enjoy life underground and can stay awake for a full eight hour shift.


Kurt Strahm


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2007

All Issues