Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I'm Afraid Of Massive Seismic Deathwaves

(This post originally appeared in Fighting Talk - back when I wrote for them, obviously - and has been resurrected to capitalise on what the author feels is an elevated period of tectonic activity.)

Above: Fear factory.

At primary school, my teachers had two goals, and I'm not sure which was the more urgent one: the molding of me into a prosperous, healthy contributing member of society, or the scaring the living shit out of me by all means necessary. I think it was 50/50.

Mostly they'd scare the living shit out of me by telling me about The Earthquake: they'd sit me down on a mat and tell stories about the widespread terror that Wellington, and uniquely Wellington, faced in the VERY IMMEDIATELY INEVITABLE FUTURE at the hands of cruel relentless Nature and her fickle ways.

But sometimes, for a special treat, they'd take me to special centres, like the Civil Defense headquarters, where trained Living Shit-Scarers would show a filmstrip that was the exact reason the Heavy-Handed Parody Filmstrip has become such an hilarious comedic trope.

This filmstrip, and the accompanying stern Civil Defenders, would explain the multi-pronged attack Nature had planned for us. See, here's how an earthquake (which, let's remember, is IMMINENT) will hit Wellington and uniquely Wellington:

Pre-Credits Gambit: The Earthquake

A low loud rumbling (possibly similar to the opening bars of Massive Attack's Angel) will build for some time. This is all the warning we will have, AND IT WILL BE CRUEL AND PRECIOUS LITTLE.

And then the shaking will start.

Buildings and rooms will be split in twain; your best friend, or the girl you get on really well with in a sweet-innocent-primary-school-kissing-with-mouths-closed sort of way, may well fall down a bottomless crevasse screaming never to be seen again. You'd be best to get under your desk, but don't be a damn idiot little shit thinking this will do any good. It'll improve your chances, but you'll still probably be brained by a flying television or decapitated by a fishbowl or fall into the aforementioned chasm.

Or, of course, be ripped to shreds by the razor-sharp shards of bulletlike flying glass.

First Act: The Razor-Sharp Shards Of Bulletlike Flying Glass

Wellington, as we're aware, is a city with many towering glass towers stretching as high as the eye can see. (As long as the eye can't see past the top of the Majestic Centre, and don't even start that built-on-higher-ground bullshit with me). We have erected a sprawling monument to the ability of people to make big buildings and put glass all over them. WELL WE WILL PAY FOR THIS HUBRIS WITH OUR LIVES AND ALSO WITH THE INTEGRITY OF OUR DEAD AND HUBRISTIC CORPSES. You see, when the earthquake hits, every pane of glass is going to bend, splinter, crack, and EXPLODE WITH THE FEROCITY OF GUNFIRE!

This will turn every building in the city into a towering battery of flying-razorsharp-glass-guns. People will be ripped to shreds where they stand, sit, or cower. Inside or outside, it matters not. Which will be followed nicely by the roaming clouds of fiery death.

Second Act: The Roaming Clouds Of Fiery Death

Windy. That's what Wellington is. Windy, and having many streets lined with tall buildings (which, as we've just learned, are really just batteries of flying-glass-deathguns waiting to happen). Also, we foolishly believe that having built a city on a faultline and lined it with high buildings, that we can further harness nature's chaotic energies for our own means, and we have gas mains all over the show. O Lord, what fools these mortals be!, that we can take something whose defining characteristic is that it likes to set itself on fire and be very hot and explosive, and channel it so as to only be afire at our behest! Well, the chickens will come home to roost when the earthquake hits, AND THEY'LL BE ON FIRE.

The gas mains - and probably natural gas reservoirs in the earth just for good measure - will all be violently split open, spraying gas about the place, distributed far and wide by the cold uncaring wind. Which would be bad, but when you factor in the flying snakes of electric searing horror, we're really fucked.

Everywhere you look, there will be flying snakes of electric searing horror, as the bus lines who once benevolently allowed our transportation and the telephone lines who benevolently shifted our porn and the power lines who benevolently gave us cancer come detached from their moorings and whip in the air crazed and mad and charged with violent whipping electrocutionary fervour.

It's not addressed exactly whether, once the Roaming Clouds Of Fiery Death roll around, the Unendying Random Aftershock Terror will really matter; because it's more important, in these education sessions, to address exactly how you will personally be fucked up seven ways from Sunday by whatever effect we're discussing.

Third Act: Unendying Random Aftershock Terror

Aftershocks, according to the experts asked for the purposes of my education, can be as big as - if not worse than - the actual quake itself. They can also go on for days, weeks or months.
This has the confusing effect of making one wonder what exactly makes the actual Earthquake the big heavy-hitter, if it's followed by earthquakes greater than it. It's okay, though, because it instils in the young child a feeling not unlike that when you wake up in the night and upchuck copiously out of nowhere, and you're filled with this dread knowledge that whatever yucky-ass shit just happened, you have no way of predicting whether it's over, but given how horrible you feel, the worst is in all probability yet to come.

Only when it's vomiting, it's just vomiting, but if it's a hypothetical earthquake with all the above effects, telling a kid that aftershocks "can go on for weeks or months and be worse than the actual quake itself" is like pushing him over then kicking him in the nuts.

Final Depressing Post-Credits Epilogue: Survival Horror

Above: Wellington.
Wellington, having had all the above happen to it, will then, we're assured, be Fucked for a very long time. Because in addition to our foolish putting a city on a faultine and our Icarean drive to line the streets of a hill-flanked area with huge man-made wind-tunnels and the ludicrous insanity of our lining the underground with explosive gas and the overhead with thousands of volts of raw coarsing electricity such as are commanded only by the Gods and select divine horse-creature-thingies, we have gone and put our city between the sea and a whole lot of steep pathways to Nowhere At All.

The only ways in or out of Wellington are through hilly passes on elevated motorways which - you better BELIEVE! - are going to crumble like so much sandstone in the face of a grand earthquake. And, you will recall from the above, we're going to have no telephones, because all the phone lines are going to have turned into - that's right! - waving tentacles of electric fury. So if we've survived the earthquake and the razorsharp death and the flying immolation and the snaking whips of electrocution, if by some freak quirk we're still standing, we will then be all alone at the tail end of the North Island and there'll be no getting in or out. And probably, given the tone of my education, this is when the Government will turn us into slaves for their salt-mines.

At the end of all this, we'd go home and lie awake in our beds thinking just how inevitable was violent death. Luckily the memories of children are short and frivolous, filled with gumdrops and penny-whistles, so it wouldn't be too long before our nightmares of electric flame in a shaking hell alone all alone were replaced by wondering what was going to happen on tomorrow's Thundercats.

That's when they'd sit us down and tell us about the Bomb.


harvestbird said...

As I recall, in Standard 3 we had to write a short story about what it would be like to experience a massive, deathly earthquake while we were in class. Mine received praise for the number of people who died. Many were scalded by exploding radiators.

Not too long after this I developed such high anxiety around disasters that my mother wrote a note asking that I be shielded from this part of the curriculum. It didn't work.

ontic5 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ontic5 said...

That sounds scary as shit.

When I was young, THE big threat was nuclear war. It was made quite clear what it would mean for us to be unlucky enough to survive the explosion and then die from the radiation.

Luckily enough, that wasn´t presented as inevitable. There was always the slim chance that the stupid leaders of the SU and the US might not go to war with each other.

But this outlook was bad enough for me.

Homage said...

Oh we had nuclear war too. Mostly they'd tell us about the terrible slow agonizing death we'd die over weeks of nuclear winter, but one time they mixed it up by taking us to see a performance artist who gave us a music-and-narrative, sort of Prokofiev-esque, explanation of what would happen if an American sub were to steal into our waters and fire the Bomb at us.

Man, fuck my childhood.

someonefromsometime said...

wow, first off, im sorry but it's really tough on my concentration to read such a long blog.

second,it is really interesting, though i'll have to finish it later :)

third, i remember when i was a child that we would do all sorts of "nuke drills" but i mean that was in the 90's.

some cool views on the nuke aftermath are
-"my brother in the earth" robert swindell( i think thats what its called, I sadly read it in spanish but it was great just the same)
-Jericho(shut up! i liked the message they tried to deliver not the bullshit storyline)
-mad max( it's a classic)

and just so you think i really dumb i aslo include:
-the postman
(both Kevin Costner flicks, and highly criticized but again, i like their views not the movie particularly

did i leave anything good out??

stay safe,

Homage said...

@SfST: Raymond Briggs' When The Wind Blows was always a suicide-inducingly effective piece of work to us Colonials raised on Gentleman Jim.

ontic5 said...

Sweet childhood memories...

Jo said...

I am SO GLAD you ended with The Bomb. That was the one they hit us with.

maryyeahok said...

Up there with the conspiracy videos, for sure. I will have to watch them again.

Also, as well as this I remember being terrified of the inevitable burglars who were going to come into my room at night, and unless I stayed deadly silent and still, they would notice I was there, and come and rape and murder me (and probably my family). I used to sleep with the curtains open so I could see what was coming.

Homage said...

Msry, I remember when Gulf War 1 broke out and Saddam was the big bad gy all over the news, you asked John if he was friends with the burglars.