I scrolled through empty AM static, searching for something to calm my mind, seeking the familiar chatter about politics, class warfare, freedom, traffic and weather together and buy gold now. But I could not find a signal.
Somewhere in East Texas
Spent a strange and terrible week at the bottom of Texas and I felt sick in my bones as I sped home to New Orleans with the dark waters of the Gulf on my right. Dramatic infrastructure lit up the night. Hulking refineries, burning power grids, controlled fires. My hands shook and a light rain fell. Nearly midnight and I’d been driving for ten hours straight. I scrolled through empty AM static, searching for something to calm my mind, seeking the familiar chatter about politics, class warfare, freedom, traffic and weather together and buy gold now. But I could not find a signal.
At the top of the dial, a robot’s voice appeared in the white noise. “Report. Report. Chapter 32. It is unclear if they want the invasion of Iran to commence during a U.S. presidential election year. Regardless, World War III is already upon us. Will enough people wake up, throw away their egos, cry for a couple days after accepting their whole life is a lie, and prevent this New World Order from coming to complete fruition? Report. Report. Chapter 33. The Rockefeller Foundation is already speaking of the bombing of the 2012 London Olympics in the past tense—”
The robot’s voice was one of those old text-to-speech programs with presets that had names like David, Sam, Howard, or American Male 3. This was probably Howard. The station fuzzed out for a moment. Billboards for casinos, adult superstores, and Jesus Saves scrolled by. The power lines screwed with the radio signal.
“—you will see a great upheaval in Washington DC, you will see turmoil that will shake our political process to its core. Watergate will look like a picnic. You are going to see a military confrontation that will make Americans lose heart. This will no longer be the home of the brave and land of the free. You are going to see the dollar collapse to such a degree that even the gold and silver standards shall become nothing—”
The robot was abruptly replaced by a country preacher panting in the night, screaming “calamity upon calamity, tragedy upon tragedy, evil upon evil, destruction upon destruction shall be visited upon this place! We’re not going to get through this year without great woe in every corner of the land. The Lord wants me to tell you that you have until August to repent because great darkness is knocking at the door. You’ll have no more time to get your house in order. I’m not holding your hand any longer. I’m not sweet-talking you any longer. The warning time is over—”
Static overwhelmed the rabid sing-song. I clicked the dial down a notch and heard another voice, this one sweaty and frightened: “I’m alone in Idaho where it’s just me and God. And I’m a human, I’m a normal guy, and there are times when I get tired and I say ‘God, how much longer do you want me to do this, to keep telling people about your judgment?’ And the Lord tells me I have until the end of August. Say it again and again: I have until the end of August. I have until the end of August. I have until the end of August to be prepared physically for—”
What drives these men? What has gone so horribly wrong in their lives that they’re on the radio telling everybody the world’s on fire?
A few miles west of Lake Charles
Bottle rockets screeched overhead. It was the Fourth of July, fireworks boomed, and it felt like the end of the world. Looked like it, too, with the glowing petrochemical refineries of PPG Industries, ConocoPhillips, and Citgo Petroleum shimmering on the horizon.
A low creepy voice rattled across my dashboard, saying “I’m gonna bring judgment upon this nation. I’m gonna bring doom. I’m gonna make you nothing. Your power as a military might, your power as a political player, your power as an economic engine shall be nothing. I’ve prepared a table for your enemies and I will smash that table and place you into their hands and they shall take charge of thee and I shall see that you are damned.”
Bill Cosby and Merle Haggard headlining the Players Island Casino & Resort. Get your free reverse mortgage now. A gun and knife show at the Lake Charles Civic Center. Kids under twelve get in free.
A furious old man growled in the summer dark. “I’m gonna give you a time-frame for the destruction of America. The tornadoes that will be released upon this land shall be horrifying because when God judges a land, the mountains melt like wax, the seas roar, and the winds howl. This land will be peeled apart! Plowed over by the hand of God! Believers across this nation are seeing the same prophecies and we’re not stealing each other’s visions — no, no — this is a message, this is a spiritual 911. America will not listen until her cities are laid to waste. But there’s no remedy for America. Not anymore. Her shepherds are corrupt and God has had enough!”
Why did I keep listening? For one thing, it’s difficult to change the channel on a man who is promising you the apocalypse. For another: I went down to the bottom of Texas to finish writing my book and lost my mind. Maybe I wanted redemption, too. I listened closely to the preacher, monitoring his verbals tics and searching for clues in the background noise, trying to understand how a grown man could possibly believe he will be spiritually redeemed by fantasizing about cosmic violence.
The New Orleans skyline appeared on the horizon and I felt damned grateful to be returned to a city where there are people who love me, people who will look after me tonight.
Here’s a recording of some of what I heard on the radio that night. First off, the sound quality is awful because I forgot to roll the windows up. But if you stick with it until the end, you’ll get to hear me make a left onto Rampart Street, shut off the car, and open the door. Second, I did not edit any of this: the transitions between speakers really were that random and abrupt.