My wife, Debbie, and I were invited to a small dinner party last fall, to be held on an outdoor deck in the North Bay. Our host had assured us that he was COVID-compliant, but it turned out he was COVID casual, greeting us without a mask at his front door before ushering us to the deck. As smoke from the LNU Lightening Complex and Woodward fires intensified he waved us inside, towards a dining table. We were soon joined by another couple.
Debbie and I looked at one another in discomfort, unsure of the right protocol for dinner guests threatened by an invisible virus indoors, toxic ash outside. We stayed in our seats.
The outdoor miasma darkened, like the sky was in a terribly bad mood. Inside, with all windows closed, a similar mist seemed to drift around the table. I felt like I was suspended in an aquarium that needed to be cleaned, droplets bobbing in the air, filled with ash-encrusted virus. Our host and one of the guests, middle-aged males, former masters-of-the-universe, traded stories of their celebrity-aided efforts to forestall the end of the world, like overpaid environmental lawyers peacocking their knowledge of how, precisely, the apocalypse is revealing itself.
Alongside California, they boasted, the Amazon was burning. In case we didn’t know, tribes that’d hidden in the jungle were contracting deadly diseases distributed by gold miners and cattle ranchers searching for the next El Dorado. Worldwide water supplies were laden with discarded microplastics and industrial chemicals, leached of all healthy minerals, as chlorinated as an outdoor pool. Leonardo di Caprio could save the day, but he was busy in his well-appointed bunker, waiting out the latest storm.
The space grew increasingly warm. Debbie stared off into the middle distance, wearing an expression on her face that I knew meant she was bored, irritated. Both of us attempted a few witticisms, which wilted against the men’s relentless mansplaining assault.
Soils have been scrapped of nutrients by the agricultural-industrial-complex. Food was so contaminated with human hormones we may as well be cannibals, eating the flesh of pigs and cows that tasted, little did we know, like drug-enhanced athletes. Plump chicken breasts were manifestations of our preoccupation with implanted boobs, which inevitably led to cancer. Smartphone radiation was altering human cells; talking on a mobile was little different than playing Russian roulette. The infotainment pulsated on its waves has turned our children’s brains into gelatinous mush. Icebergs were rapidly melting. A well-produced TED-talk could save the day, if only a sufficiently attractive studio and compelling background music could be secured.
Debbie and I leaned against one another, stupefied by the bloviating onslaught of dire warnings. It was if we were chip-less at a poker game in hell, bolted to our dinner party bubble as the two main contestants one-upped each other on impending doom.
Finally, our host signaled, with a barely suppressed yawn, that we could politely take our leave. We staggered outside into the gloom, the smell of burning dreams drifting like ghosts in the night air. Silent, we got into our fossil-fueled car. As I turned the ignition the radio, tuned to a news station, popped on. A sonorous voice sternly announced the latest threat to democracy. Debbie closed her eyes. We drove home in the darkness, the fog so thick that visibility extended no further than the length of two vehicles, searching, anxiously, for some light.