11-21-12 The World is Ending, Again

We all know that the Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, the day of the winter solstice. Many people have read much significance into that. On one hand, given that calendars can be extended on towards infinity, and the Mayans had no computers or printers to conveniently print out calendars for future years, as we can, having rather to engrave them in stone tablets, perhaps Mayan government funding for calendar calculation and replication was cut due to some Mayan governmental oversight committee charged with eliminating government waste. On the other hand, the calendar manufacturers may have gotten a government contract to do something more useful than make calendars that ran a millennium or more into the future. Maybe the owner of the Mayan Calendar Company, LLC, just decided they had no more funds to focus on research and development and laid off everyone in that entire department. Maybe the guy charged with carving them in stone simply retired when he reached the age to draw his pension and they saw no need to refill the slot. Maybe they decided carving stone with stone was just too difficult and they had enough future calendar calculations to last a while. There is no telling.

If you talk to Harold Camping (remember him – The Family Radio Service founder that predicted the world’s End?), he would say that the world was already supposed to be ended and that the Mayans were obviously wrong. Or is he now going to reappear and say that they were right?

Predicting the world’s end is apparently an easy thing to do. People do it all the time. None of them, so far, have gotten it right, nor do they seem required to. Except, perhaps, for Camping, whose own world-end theory morphed into some spiritual/invisible era change where one world ended unnoticeably while another spiritual/invisible world, equally unnoticeable, began. It’s hard to tell for sure…these unnoticeable things, I mean. I can’t have much confidence in them, but that may just be me. I have the sneaking suspicion that when the world ends, lots of folks will notice it, though there may be no one around to report on it, or no one around to read the reports if they were indeed reported. This whole world-ending business is just too complicated for me. Remember, I am from Mississippi. If one were not careful, one might think I was from Missouri, instead.

“I seem to have gotten the math wrong,” said Camping of his faux pas. Well, is he a mathematician or a prophet? The qualifications are not necessarily the same. If he is a mathematician, he needs to practice some more. If he is a prophet, then he needs to have his prophecy license revoked. Marshall Applewhite (You simply MUST remember him and the Heaven’s Gate cult) voluntarily surrendered his prophet’s license, though it was on the harshest terms for him and his followers. I sincerely regret the choices they made. It was certainly a world-ending tragedy for them.

This brings me to my real point.

Between now and December 21, 2012, the world will end for lots of people, for reasons as varied as any manner I am capable of imagining, and some unimaginable. None of them I can think of at the moment seem likely to be desirable or admirable, though some may well be. It seems a personal world-ending event is much more common than a general world’s end, predictable for some, but mostly unpredictable. A personal world-ending event is not a question of if, but when. I find it extremely regrettable, but folks have been experiencing their own personal world-ending events for a long time now, and there seems to be no let-up, just a sort of faux postponement. Funeral homes are popping up like Dollar Generals.

Nearly every Junior and Community College now has a Mortuary Science school. I’ve even known a few people, now retired, who went and took the classes and became certified morticians because they were bored. A couple have since opened up funeral homes. Just yesterday, on a drive over by the Tombigbee river, just across the state line in Alabama, mind you, I saw one of those flashing signs despised by municipalities everywhere, declaring, “Bubba’s Bait Shop and Funeral Home.” It was simple metal building, gas pumps out front, and a Bud Light sign on the window. This was your one stop shopping place . . . one of those country stores that had a little bit of everything, the usual canned goods and groceries, some light dry goods, a few plumbing supplies, horse feed, a bit of hardware, beer coolers and more beer coolers, live bait, and a hot-food counter where they served bad fried chicken and those things they call burritos which are filled with some spicy ground-meat resemblance, wrapped in biscuit dough and then deep fried in cottonseed oil which has been continually scorched beyond its “best if used by” date. There were several tables and chairs in the back for patrons to eat their food, beyond the merchandise, but situated before the live bait tanks. I have seen many places like it. There are few things as pleasant as enjoying a tube of Rolaids after eating one of their burritos, all while listening to the soothing sound of chirping crickets in the cricket cage and the aerators in the minnow tank; it just brings one to a close, personal communion with nature that is unattainable nearly anywhere else. The scenic wonder of our national parks takes a back seat to the natural, earthy fragrances, sounds, and atmosphere of a place like Bubba’s. To be completely fair, though this was in Alabama, it was just a few hundred yards over the state line, so about half the folks in there, like me, were from Mississippi, and I noticed a couple of Tennessee tags on some pick-up trucks, too. There was not a single car, but all 4-wheel drive pick-ups, some of them jacked up as tall as a shotgun house on stilts.

It was hunting season, so Bubba’s was filled with a combination of fishermen and hunters: the hunters were all in camouflage outfits so they could not be seen by wary deer as they were sitting in their insulated and heated shoot houses. The fishermen were all dressed in rubber boots and overalls, most of them also camouflaged, apparently so the fish, looking up from the murky depths of the river, would mistake them for shrubberies of various sorts. No one ever said that fish were very smart. I was the only one not dressed in camo. I felt nearly naked as everyone looked me up and down.

“You must be here for the funeral,” said Bubba.

“No,” I replied. “I am here to get a coke and a bag of potato chips.”

“Are you sure you’re not here for the funeral? We’re gonna bury ol’ Clyde. Everyone liked him. We’re likely to have a big turnout,” Bubba told me.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know Mr. Clyde. I regret to hear of the passing of your friend.”

“Yep,” said Bubba, shaking his head slowly as a tear formed in the corner of his left eye, which looked like it may have been glass . . . I couldn’t be sure. “Ol’ Clyde was a good’un. He never missed a day of fishin’ and huntin’ right up ’til he had the big one. He’d hunt all day and fish all night, or fish all day and hunt all night. It never mattered much to ol’ Clyde. He was a sportsman’s sportsman.”

“He was fortunate to have so many admirers,” I said, setting my coke and potato chips on the counter.

Bubba looked me up and down, twice. I couldn’t tell which eye he was looking at me with, but one of them, certainly, was peering intently at me. “I cain’t sell you them right now,” he said.

“Well, why not?” I asked.

“’Cause ol’ Clyde’s funeral starts in about fifteen minutes, and by law, I can’t sell no food items a quarter-hour before, or a quarter-hour after the funeral. It’s a hell-uv-a bad law, if you ask me. But they say since ol’ Clyde’s laid out out back, when we bring his remains in here for the funeral proper, I can’t sell no food or beverages. That’s why we’re so busy right now. Ever one’s done stocked up on what they needed before the funeral and now they’re a-stayin’ ’til it’s over. Some of ’em missed the deadline and’ll have to wait now. If you’re a mind to, one of them feller’s over there will give you a beer to tide you over until after the funeral’s over.”

“You’re having the funeral in HERE?” I asked.

“Yep. We do it all the time. Them chairs and tables in the back ain’t only our eatin’ area, it’s our funeral chapel. You might as well go on and stay. Ol’ Clyde’s widder will be glad to meetcha. You can just tell her you knowed ol’ Clyde from way back . . . that y’all’uz ol’ fishin’ buddies. She’d like that. She won’t never know no differnce.”

“Thank you . . . Bubba, is it? But I reckon I need to get back on the road. I’ll stop in again, sometime when I’m down this way. Perhaps you’ll be able to sell me my coke and chips.”

“Yeah, I’m Bubba. Shore hate you cain’t stay. We’ll have a hell-uv-a good time sending ol’ Clyde on off to his re-ward. The law says I cain’t sell nothing right now, but folks done bought all the beer they’ll need for the funeral. The law don’t say nothing about eatin’ and drankin’ during the funeral, just about me sellin’ it,” he explained.

It looked like to me the funeral party had already started. Bubba said, “You be shore and come back, now.”

I nodded as I headed for the door. Already, six men in camouflage overalls were wheeling ol’ Clyde’s casket out into the eating area/funeral chapel. To the sight of dozens of camouflaged men standing at attention, I heard a synchronized popping of Bud Light tabs. “Schhhhh-took,” cried the beer cans. “Slurp,” was the sound echoing from the simultaneous sips of those gathered for Ol’ Clyde. “Chirp-Chirp-Chirp,” cried the crickets in the cage. “Whiz-a-wiz,” cried the aerators in the minnow tank. And “Chusssshhhh, crackle, crackle, pop, sizzle,” shouted the deep fat fryer as a sweaty, consumptive, hair-netted woman wiped her brow with one hand while putting biscuit-dough burritos in the deep-fat fryer with the other. I wondered if she was Mrs. Bubba. Apparently you couldn’t sell them during the funeral, but you could have them hot and ready for those who developed a lustful burrito hunger precipitated purely by their prohibition for a short period.

I wondered where ol’ Clyde’s women were, but they were pulling up in a black Jeep stretch-limousine as I approached the door. The stylized gold-leaf lettering on the side of the limousine said, “Bubba’s Bait Shop and Funeral Home. 24 Hour Service. Call (205) 555-5555. Ask for BUBBA.”

The last thing I heard as I walked out the door was Bubba telling the cook, “You know, ol’ Clyde sure loved them burritos. We need to put one in his casket along with a box of crickets. That’d be a nice touch, don’cha thank?” She said nothing, just shaking the fry basket, getting the burritos nice and golden brown as she continually wiped her forehead, this time, I noticed, with the same hand she put them in there with. It was a bit comforting knowing that they would be too hot for either hand when she took the out of the oil. A lot of things can sure pass through a person’s mind in a short time.

I picked up a flyer at the door. It read, “One Month’s Free Bait With Pre-Need Funeral Arrangement. Just Ask Bubba!”

The world certainly ended for ol’ Clyde. He will be missed by his many friends.

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