a plan for the future

IMG_0600Should I have the privilege of living to a ripe old age, I anticipate having to work until 70 before tapping into retirement benefits that may or may not exist by 2040. If I continue making my living by writing, that means another 24 years spent sitting at a desk, staring at a lighted box and type-type-typing the day away.

This is assuming my mind stays sharp, and someone is willing to pay me for whatever it is I’m writing about.

As jobs go, I’m pretty lucky. I love words and have always been a writer. But sometimes I have the fantasy of freedom. Of selling everything, getting a rolling home and moving from one beautiful state or national park to another with James and the dogs, picking up odd jobs that keep gas in the tank and food on the table.

Even in this fantasy, I know I’d find myself craving a home rooted in the ground. A place with a bathtub. Something with a view and room to grow food and flowers. But I wouldn’t want to be saddled with a 30-year mortgage, so I’d need to take a non-traditional approach to finding a permanent place. Which I think I’ve figured out.

A commune.

But not just any commune.

A special one.

Here’s the appeal of the commune concept. A group of like-minded people pool their resources to buy a big piece of land upon which they each have their own small home. They share chores–like keeping the garden, tending to the chickens, feeding the livestock. If there are children (which there won’t be in this scenario because we’ll all be old), the adults share parenting responsibilities.

This all sounds idyllic and lovely to me except for one thing–all those people. Can’t you just hear the screen doors creaking and slamming all day as people come and go in each others’ homes? The chortles of laughter in the garden since it’s weed-pullin’ day and everyone participates? The good-natured ribbing about how Jeremy doesn’t know how to make good coffee from people standing around on his porch holding their mugs with both hands as little puffs of coffee steam rise in their faces?

It’s not that I don’t like people. I do. I just don’t want to be around them all the time. Which brings me to the way this commune will be different.

It’s a commune…for introverts. A non-communal commune.

Same deal as described above. Garden. Screen doors. Coffee. Porch. The difference is, no one really hangs out at each others’ houses or shows up unexpectedly. There’s one communal area where you can go when you want to be social or need to discuss who’s not pulling enough weeds, but other areas are treated like a typical urban neighborhood. A friendly, non-committal wave in the morning, maybe a comment about the weather, then go back inside.

Anyone interested? There will also be wifi.

 

we need to talk about a pressing issue

Gas.

Gut punching, your butthole is Alcatraz and it wants to escape on a handmade raft, hurdy gurdy gas that puts you in a panic because you live in a small house with another human being. A person with whom you still hope to share a little mystery in life. Someone you don’t have an interest in subjecting to your private emanations.

An example. It’s bedtime. You’re tired. But there’s a bit of a rumble, and you’d like to settle things down before getting horizontal. Your significant other is in the bathroom brushing his teeth when you have a brilliant idea: a quick pop into the bedroom closet. It has a little window that’s always open, thanks to the high humidity of living near water, and neither of you ever goes in there right before bed. It’s foolproof.

Only it isn’t. Your peppermint-breath partner comes into the bedroom, pulls back the covers, then remembers something he needs to get out of the closet. If he senses a disturbance while in there, he doesn’t say anything, but you’re glad the light is off so he can’t see your flushed face.

You wonder how people who live in those tiny houses do it. Each story you read follows a similar format. A (usually white) couple gets tired of the citified rat race, cashes in their big fat 401(k)s and buys/builds a 150 sq ft home on wheels. They talk about simplifying, getting back to the land, rising and falling with the sun. But they never mention the gas.

You do a little medi-googling to see if perhaps there’s something you can do to address this issue, which wasn’t such a big deal when you lived in a bigger house. You find that gas is the natural byproduct of a healthy digestive system. In fact, the average person farts between 10 and 20 times a day. Then you read about a poor soul, a 32 year old with excessive gas.

The patient maintained a meticulous recording of each passage of rectal gas over a period of months, which showed a frequency that usually exceeded 50 times/day and occasionally reached values of 129 times/day (see Fig. 1).

Suddenly you don’t feel so bad about things. It could be worse. You could be recording every fart in a spreadsheet.

catastrophe jackassery

bug-out bag: A portable bag that contains essential items to help you survive the first 72 hours of a disaster, whether you shelter in place or head for the hills. Typical items include water, dehydrated food, energy bars, fire-starting tools, first aid kit, hand-crank radio (ideally with a cellphone charger built in), duct tape, hatchet, poncho, etc.

Living in hurricane country most of my life, I usually had a small stockpile of bottled water, canned food, candles, crackers and granola bars. The only time I ever tapped into it (other than raiding supplies when there was no other food in the house) was during Hurricane Ike when we were without power for a week. Compared to the people who were flooded out of their homes and lost everything, our week without power was a slight inconvenience. A technology vacation that saw us getting together with neighbors each night to grill what was left of frozen steaks while we drank wine by candlelight and listened to night noises usually obscured by air conditioners and other comfort machinery. You don’t realize how much a city buzzes until it stops making noise.

Here in earthquake country, we have a shelf full of Mountain House dehydrated food, a propane stove and propane, water, candles, batteries and a few other items. Where the San Andreas fault runs right by San Francisco, it goes inland when it passes the central coast, and our house is a couple of blocks up the hill from the tsunami inundation zone. If we lived closer to the forest and had to worry about fires that drive you from your bed in the middle of the night barefoot and running to your car, I’d probably keep photos and other irreplaceables in an easy-access container near the door. But for now, I’m comfortable with the minor level of preparedness we have.

I think bug-out bags are an interesting concept, but I haven’t felt the need to actually put one together. In Houston, there’s no place to bug out to–the mass (and needless) evacuation for Hurricane Rita showed there’s no escape from the fourth largest city when everyone’s trying to leave at the same time. And here, there are a lot more wilderness options, but unless we also have a tent and other supplies too large to fit into a big backpack, I don’t think a bug-out bag’s going to do it. If we have to shelter in place, we’ll grab the stuff from the cabinet as we need it. Having it in one bag wouldn’t make a difference.

Which brings me around to this: the Prepster, a “luxury 3 day survival bag.” It comes with the usual bug-out bag items, only in “luxury” form. Like grapefruit face cleanser and cilantro hair conditioner. I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been driven from my home due to some horrible disaster, I’m not fucking around with split ends. And who wouldn’t want their hair to smell like cilantro, am I right?

You can even get the bag monogrammed, bringing your grand total to $420. I’d love to know who their target demographic is. All I can picture is a tanned woman with a yoga body and long fingernails crying as she tries to rip open the packaging around her dehydrated “astronaut” ice cream while her boyfriend is cranking the radio in hopes of charging his cellphone as they sit on the small spot of grass in front of their townhouse. Their manicured dog keeps inching further and further away, unnoticed, and their neighbors are watching through the curtains to take a break from their own drama. What are they going to do on day four when their bag is empty? Smell their cilantro hair and hope someone saves them?

asdf
A bug-out bag wouldn’t have helped clear our driveway of tree limbs, post Hurricane Ike. Beer and whiskey did that trick.