Honeycrisps fill the bottom drawer of the fridge, skis rest in the corner of the bedroom, and the West Coast is burning. The smoke turned the sky dystopian last night: yellow haze and a screaming, bloody sun. The fires burn. Containment whispers. Helicopters buzz water across the freeway like a few tired locusts bringing thimbles to a dying man.
Wildfires scorch Canada to Montana to California, and we lie on the couches with fantasy novels and a folksy singer on the sound system. The house doesn’t have AC. Woe, woe. I’ll have trouble sleeping tonight. I can sleep through the Kims and the Kochs, with Houston underwater and Irma on a warpath. Wars and rumors of wars. I should buy some bottled water, just in case. Text a guy on Craigslist about a case of MREs. Is a $70 prep lazy, optimistic, fearful, or privileged?
A proposal for a new website requires an understanding of the client’s preferences, familiarity with industry standards, a few gambles that the promised features can be learned and delivered, enough bullshit to sound professional, and the moxie to put a price on it. Friends need care and understanding: talking every day after work, no matter the introversion. Remembering things. Learning to see how they care back. I didn’t donate to Harvey. I put a website deposit into my checking account and bought Will a 1970s pamphlet about marijuana. Woe, woe.
The West Coast is burning, and life goes on. The cranes in Seattle keep building. Families argue and eat together. Co-workers gossip and children grow up. Wildfires ravage and Irma bears down and nuclear tests keep happening, and I am heavy bored. A sulking, simmering bored. A moody pot of boredom in a dark, sulking kitchen, waiting to boil over. Still, still, still simmering. I could have stayed in D.C. and enlisted into the worst form of government, except for all the others. I could have been an ambassador—damn the qualifications—or FEMA, or a paramedic. And the Army, they say, takes anyone. The excitement! The rush! The simplistic animalism of killing or fighting or boiling in one furious direction against something.
Against something, for something. The boring part. The unglamorous importance of comfort and growth. Against fires, for our lives and our homes. Against floods, for working and growing up. Against nukes, for honeycrisps and skis. Not to shout mine, but more. It’s non-zero-sum, after all.
Peace talks put soldiers out of work. Building codes mean fewer firefighters. And in their absence—in reply their unfair and inescapable “Earn this”—the importance of living well. This is true patriotism: not some watered-down flag-waving or partisanship like a tailgating sports fan, but the for virtues. Canoe rescue missions to save asshole neighbors. Paying taxes to fund evacuations, housing, and rebuilding. Collapsing the twin-horned left-right scale into people with stomachs you can feed and hands you can hold. Steady, quiet self-sacrifice, as vital to America as the scrappiness of the wagon train pioneers.
The West Coast is burning, and the haze obscures the skyscrapers. The mountains have disappeared, and so has the coastline. A ferry emerges from the smoke, a slow wake behind. The waves are small in the Puget Sound, and you can buy buffalo wings and a vegan wrap onboard. The ferry drops off its cars and people and returns from where it came, into the smoke it can’t fight and can’t stop, but can only endure. I turn away from the window and go downstairs, to honeycrisps in the fridge and friends on the couches. It all depends on this.