JEFREAKSUS! Sometimes you go away, even for a short while, and when you come back, some small shift signals that your world has fundamentally changed, but everyone around you is carrying on as if has been normal forever. I thought he was joking. I was in a hurry and five dollars for a real coffee was a stretch on this week’s budget. I could smell the real stuff in my brain, like when you could really taste the that-shit-is-good in their sandwiches, in the days before T.S.I.G. became a chain. So I had to ask the guy.
“They’ll all be selling it soon.”
“So you get the caffeine that’s extracted from de-caf, and inject it into the used grounds?”
“No! We don’t inject it,” he said, “It’s more like the grounds imbibe it.”
That’s okay then. Come back chicory, all is forgiven, but I had already committed my dollar seventy five.
Subtle though it is, everywhere I look, I sense the disparate threads of future nightmares assembling into the increasingly cloying present. A world that was both more mundane and more callous, like dark atoms quietly combining in the shadows into a reality that is simply more uncomfortable than the imagination’s projection of it. Like we can feel the atmosphere building, but we don’t yet know we are trapped inside the pressure cooker. Like we are unaware of source of the heat that makes the jumping bean jump, but nevertheless we are compelled to jump.
Manhattan 2025, the lull before the storm. A reverie? A hallucination? Or like waking up to the hangover of our parents’ spectacular disconnection. But New York was real and rock-solid, like a lighthouse beaming its light around the world, to maintain the fantasy, to fuel the dream, to sell the lie, that the values and aspirations of excess are not only alive and well, but are still thriving in the richest city in the world. So is this a vision that masks an advanced state of denial, or a mirage that will dissolve at any moment into the dementia that is surely just around the corner?
Don’t get me wrong; I love this city. And at heart it remains the raging torrent of creative juices it has always been, a bubbling gene pool, an overflowing melting pot, where ideas, those anti-body defenders of the soul, wrestle daily with the nemesis-tic invader parasites of Capital. This is normal and so in many respects seems unremarkable, and it is only when you take a moment to cease from the frantic pace, to take a deep breath and take in some element of the raw creativity that abounds, that you see the city’s living, breathing, transformative soul. Like the graffiti, this morning there on The Wall, poetry probably already cleaned off by now, but remaining etched in my brain:
This is the ambulance at the bottom of the hill
This is the failure of imagination
This is the invisible war coming home
This is a wall you stupid fucks!
The Wall! The obviously new and concrete sea defenses which scream the word, that everyone in the ‘public discourse’ seems desperate to avoid at all costs: WALL! The crippling 2022 San Francisco Earthquake had pointed the way, and boy were the Born Agains having a field day with that one, counting down the days to Rapture. But there would be no slew of conversions here in New York, rather a conviction that instead of sinking underwater as much of now impoverished San Francisco was destined to do, Manhattan would rise to the challenge.
Mooted by President Clinton, that is Chelsea, in an election year, and put on the front burner by her replacement Bush, that is Jenna, in just one of a series of PR opportunities, that had more than a scarcely concealed smack of rubbing the noses of the defeated in the dirt of inter-generational revenge.
If you have not seen THE WALL up close, then let me elucidate. The first newly completed sections are disguised on the inside as a series of arcades (read MALLS), where every available space is colonized by marketing messages designed to shut out the weather, and conversations about the weather, and where discreet surveillance and security continues to maximize the conductivity of the business of selling. Disguised on the outside by imported shrubbery and foliage, with every raindrop singing self-congratulation for the Manhattan elite, of being world pioneers in the field of sea hedge construction. The English hedgerow as smart lie, and surely even the most disconnected of us know that the flora is just waiting to be ripped out when the Big One hits.
Because yes in 2025 the East Coast has its own natural disaster waiting to happen and cars still couldn’t get it up enough to manage 50 miles a gallon.
Welcome to the world of the auto-catalytic vortex which is brewing in the warming waters of Atlanticana, with catastrophic inevitability as the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere rolls relentlessly onwards and upwards to 450ppm. So the super hurricane bubbles and threatens, but has not quite yet erupted into perfect storm, the likes of which has not been seen on the planet for millions of years.
Still don’t believe in global warming? Get this then, hot off the European newswire: last year annual deaths attributable to global warming and carbon economy pollutants exceeded ten million for the first time, a rate that is more than double what was predicted only ten years ago. That is a city the size of the five boroughs of New York wiped off the planet!
I took a sip of my shadow coffee and winced before heading out into the street making for the Spring Street subway. For the brief moments I was in the open air the sky belched with a very twenty-first-century summer storm. Longer lasting, more ferocious and with more rain. It was what anyone over forty might have called a super-size storm —though everything super-size was banned in New York— so in this warming world of the 2020’s it is the new regular. But the real super hurricane would come. This year? Next year? Not if, but when.
I had a date, which was a hopeful way of saying I was following a lead. Aside from the iris-scanning technology at the gate, the subway looked and smelled pretty much like it had for the forty years I’d lived in this imperial city. I travel and I was used to being scanned in airports and at immigration, but coming back to being mapped in my own city, as I went about my daily business always messed with my head. Whether it was messing with anyone else’s just now, I couldn’t tell you. The frantic underground hustle was almost as normal as the sun rising every day.
I know, I know, the dystopian views of everyone being implanted with computer chips never played out as sexily as it had in the graphic novels we read as teenagers, but the effect was the same. I had it on good authority that they had begun road-testing implanted technology, but for the masses you simply had to look into the unobtrusive glass screen as you passed through the gate. Like the physically unimposing scanners that quietly and methodically mapped everyone entering the city or leaving by the bridges and tunnels, our every underground move was recorded in binary and available for replay, should it ever be needed. To deter terrorism, you understand? Dreamt up by Homeland Security, put in place by E-Zed Pass, of course, reducing Manhattan to a gated community, in quietly policed anticipation of a passbook culture not seen since Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall.
So let us for once be completely clear about this wall business. The wall was not simply being built to protect against the rising seas, but also to keep the privileged in, and to keep the streaming hordes of refugees out. Not only from the poorer four other boroughs, but from further beyond as well, for who wouldn’t want to escape into this city of dreams? Who wouldn’t want to mortgage their imagination for an extension on the world our parents knew and took for granted? Who wouldn’t want an excuse to defer the reality that the gutting of the corporate planet was systematically transporting homo sapiens back to the dark ages? And who wouldn’t want to be along for the ride as Manhattan emerged as an essential link in the chain of city-states, which wrote vertical class distinction large across the re-drawn map of North America? That was the lead I was following. A map and the numbers that held it together.
The 4-train took me up to 33rd with minimal stress. One block north on Park, two blocks east on Madison and enough rain to start soaking through my outer layers. Inside the girl behind the counter gave a twenty-something smile at my impression of a wet dog shaking. I momentarily longed to be tasting that smile, and what old dog would not be attracted to someone half his age but so vibrantly in command of the knowledge and resources that surrounded her.
“Sybille of S.I.B.L,” I said, “like the Lady of the Lake holding aloft a book in place of a sword.”
She blushed and smiled some more.
We had met before of course, during my not infrequent trips to the Science, Industry and Business Library.
“I bet everyone makes that joke,” I said, meaning the wordplay on her name.
“No,” she said. “Most people who come in here wouldn’t know Viviane if she jumped out of the water naked and thwacked them on the ass with her sword.”
“Thwacked?” I smiled. “Sounds like something from a Batman comic before you were born.”
“You mean something Catwoman would do to Bruce Wayne!”
I knew the flirting could never lead anywhere but I liked it all the same, and could have danced the literary tango with her all day long, had the phone on her desk not started ringing. Picking up and putting her hand over the voice piece she said, “Let me know if you need help finding anything.”
I nodded and moved off back into the reality of the friendly walls of books.
There were the requisite number of computer terminals, but this was still very much a library. After the Information Crash of 2023 I didn’t trust online sources so much, and with good reason. The collapse of the virtual world had been complete, but short-lived. Like during a natural catastrophe, the web-blackout enabled people to discover each other, and enjoy a respite from the hooked-up, wired-in world in which we live. People fell easily and joyously back into instinctive communication skills honed over 200,000 years of recent evolution.
There was chaos and lots of things were lost and it became an election battlefield, but two years on the crash had already been relegated to the mists of fading memory and now seemed little more than a blip or an inconvenient interruption. And, like the neat trick of the human brain saving space and using shorthand code to rebuild memories only when called upon —rather than storing every last literal detail— culture took the best bits and simply reinvented itself in its own image. And always spectacularly so in New York City. History did not fare quite so well. That was the problem. On the surface things seemed to fall back into their proper place, but if you were paying attention to detail, all was not as it seemed. Some of the history that reappeared did so in an abbreviated, if not manipulated form.
So along with the ambiance and the pretty girl with whom I shared the nerd gene, that is why I preferred libraries. There were still a few, a very few print journals, but mostly my information came from city planning applications, feasibility studies and local and federal government reports which were still filed in hard copy form. Maybe they kept printing this stuff because of some outdated notion of democracy that citizens might want to keep the right read them and raise objections accordingly, knowing that no one would ever read the? But like the exception that proves the rule I read this shit. The map, which was where I knew it would be, added a welcome splash of color amidst the black and white and blue of printed detail.
Manhattan was the southern-most city on this new map of America. Behind closed doors the federal government fronting the corporations, which had long since made their home in Manhattan, had offered the city fathers a deal. Make and approve plans on the basis of those deemed necessary to ensure the city’s survival, or abandon ship and drown. What choice did they have? Manhattan had never produced much of its own basic subsistence needs, and the map showed it in detail. A beating heart connected to a network of arteries stretching west and north. And in order for every ounce of sustenance to continue to be imported, from the hinterlands and beyond, those territories would in the near future have to be quietly subjugated to accommodate the city’s appetite.
Contrary to the popular opinion, or should we say in stark contrast to the manufactured-for-the-public news, it was not the Wethepeople bombing campaign which had de-railed the southern tentacles of the Keystone XL pipeline. Rather, it was another thread of the secret resource wars, leaking from the war with Iran to the North American continent itself. It was the strategic need to keep tar sands oil in the north. Old Civil War wounds are too near to the surface as it is, with the open secret that people are migrating northwards from the new dustbowl states, but the fact that the northern arm of the pipeline, routed to Portland, Maine, is now soaking a disproportionate share of the financial muscle will, when the story eventually hits, open up another Hornet’s nest in the President’s abandoned back yard.
And there on the map in front of me were the dotted parallel lines of the proposed tributary, and wholly underground pipeline, from west of Portland all the way directly under and up into Manhattan. And get this, either they will level a few blocks of one of the poorer neighborhoods to accommodate the oil plant on the receiving end or they will just go ahead and put it smack dab in the middle of Central Park.
I switched the screen on, of course, and glanced at the NYT. The swish and cut of Tallulah Lee’s dress at the premiere of Space Detectives took center stage, but the main story was an update on the re-location of polar bears. Polar bears were all set to go the way of the North American Grizzly until the President personally intervened. The last vestiges of the Arctic bear population were being tranquilized and transported from the last remaining islands of ice, to the Antarctic, in front of the full glare of the world’s media. Seeding the southern wilderness with polar bear friendly summer flora aside, many questions remained, though not much voiced in the NYT, as to whether this “single greatest act of conservation in history” would actually save the polar bear, or simply defer its demise. Cuddly toy sales soared and in the time-table of presidential agendas it was great PR for Jenna Bush, but who knows if the inter-generational clock of evolution will smile benevolently of the bears and deliver to them the adaptational tools they will need to survive?
Flicking through the rest of the online news I marveled at the degrees of obfuscation. Looking back at the map again I could see the siege mentality, which was transforming Manhattan into a fortress, a city-state which is both sanctuary and a window on the decaying world. Living here was like being inside the looking glass, where the taste of re-caf revealed the long engendered insanity that is bringing the habitable planet to the teetering brink. And now that folly and was being cast in yet more concrete, as an island castle with sometimes still gleaming spires.
They were extending Manhattan’s shelf-life, because like with the polar bears, they could … and because they commanded the obscene wealth needed to bankroll it. And presumably, when the atmosphere warmed above the dangerous 2-degrees-centigrade level, they would just bolt a roof on to the existing walls, turn the air conditioning up, and combine Connecticut and Massachusetts into an all-new two-for-one Garden State.
Reading between the contours on the map, the border with Canada whilst publicly fractured with tension was privately porous if you were related to a certain portfolio of wealth. Mixed marriages, between US citizens and Canadians, have never been higher, with most of the happy couples, if their joint incomes could afford it, choosing to live north of the border. The think-tank plans for the belated extension of the Monroe Doctrine to all lands north of the border had progressed from neo-conservative nut-job wanderings, to the ‘menu of options’ at the Pentagon. The plans had been drawn up. Beginning with a series of pincer movements, in the far north from the Beaufort Sea, from the west out of Juneau, Alaska, and to the south from what was still regarded as the wild west of northern Washington, US forces would quietly absorb most of Yukon and take British Columbia. And whilst there would be some initial “fuss’ in Vancouver, it “will,” (my emphasis) the planners assure us, “be short-lived.”
Another map, which I have not seen yet, but which exists somewhere, depicts a whole chain of city-states stretching westwards and northwards across the newly extended United States. Remember the Green Zone in Baghdad, anyone? Toy-town compared to the citadel which is currently being built as an ”oil terminal,” on top of “area 1002” by the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Ten billion barrels of oil could last a city a long time. So while we smirked when Barbara Bush, “the President’s sister y’all,” re-married into the Palin clan, if you connect the dots, as whole teams of planners in the Pentagon are currently doing, the Beaufort citadel, will complete the exodus from Texas to DC to Alaska. And when climatic needs dictate, Beaufort will be the new seat of the US government and the new business address of Exxon Mobil, and to silence the gossip of a secret affair, State and Corporation will finally be joined at the hip in another lavish royal wedding laden with holy MATRICIDAL-MONEY!
A cough interrupted my runaway train of thought and I looked up. My date had arrived. Mezzula Jones, or History Boy, as Vervona liked to call him, walked over to my table. You wouldn’t know it, but there in his boyish grimace was the face of the revolution. Throw his teenage hormones and the unseen evolution that was already at work into the mix, and there would be plenty of fireworks before the planet was done with homo sapiens.
Danbert Nobacon is currently writing a young adult novel called History Boy and Hot Girl set in New York in the year 2025