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Tucson Weekly Armageddon Tired of All This Crap

It's the end of the world as we know it -- and I feel fine.

By Jeff Smith

MAY 26, 1998:  UP UNTIL LAST Tuesday morning I'd about given up hope.

For the better part of three months I've had bouts of the two-step, urinary tract infections, Greco-Roman wrestling with my HMO, malign neglect from the health professionals in Tucson. My shrink left town and didn't even say good-bye: His fill-in returned my emergency call four days later from her car-phone and said she was really really busy, but would phone in a scrip for another anti-depressant, one that might work and wouldn't give me the drizzling shits. It didn't but it did. I gave up and bought a case of St. John's wort at the Price Club instead. Then I got this weird deal where exposure to sunlight or water--hot or cold--or pressure makes my hands and arms feel like a thousand razor cuts, or maybe bee-stings. I thought it was a reaction to the last round of antibiotics (which didn't knock the infection, by the way) but the doc said he didn't think so. If you've got any idea what it is, e-mail me.

Anyway, I've been worn-out and bummed-out and if it sounds like I'm sniveling, you win a free kitten. Come on over and pick one out; I've got three litters to choose from.

But then I picked up The Arizona Daily Star yesterday morning and read where those folks over on the Indian sub-continent have branched out from the back-road motel business and begun a renaissance in nuclear weapons development...and I laughed and said to Mona, "There's hope for this old world yet."

She glanced over briefly and went back to licking her hind end. Mona's no more politically engaged than my first wife.

The news got even better the following morning when CNN was full of hand-wringing concern and righteous indignation from Washington and Berlin, where responsible adults were reacting to the prospect of the Third World having something more potent than sticks and cow dung to hurl at their imperialist oppressors, and Bill Clinton had to interrupt his tête-a-tête with Helmut Kohl to verbally spank India for screwing up what otherwise would surely have been the end to war, for ever and ever, amen. Right.

The richness of ironic humor that accompanies this geopolitical surprise washed over me in a flood of disparate images, kaleidoscopic, seemingly conflicting, and yet each and all fitting the jig-saw puzzle that is experience, that becomes awareness, that melds into a seamless, unpuzzling whole that is knowledge. Jesus. Anyways, the soundbite that emerged from this cacophony is this:

"Those who do not learn from the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them." Or something like that. Those who do not learn the precise words as they appear in Bartlett's are doomed to misquote them. You get the point.

Or do you?

Wet Willy was carrying on about how dumb and unfortunate it was that India had gone ahead and blown up some kind of atomic bomb underground. Like, didn't they remember all that stuff about the Cold War and mutually-assured destruction, and Lyndon Johnson's TV ad about Barry Goldwater and all that nuclear winter stuff? As though test-ban and non-proliferation treaties shoved down the world's throat by the superpowers was actually going to bring "peace in our time."

So here's Clinton saying those who don't are doomed to repeat, while at the selfsame instant being the very prototype of He who will not learn, repeating. Like 99.9 percent of the rest of us.

And that most critical thing that we have not--indeed seem not capable of--learning (and are thus doomed to repeat, ad infinitum): Repetition is universal, constant and eternal, whereas learning is ephemeral. And getting more so. You can thank television, even in India where the folks don't have TV sets.

The folks don't; but you can bet your ass the guys in nuclear physics do, and they watch reruns of Three's Company whenever they aren't in the lab building the nuclear equivalent of the blow-gun, and as a consequence have developed such a short attention span that they've totally spaced the fact--proven globally just the other day--that having The Bomb doesn't make you any safer; it only guarantees the Pakistanis are going to get The Bomb, too.

Which is fine with me. In fact, it's the best news I've had in years. Faced with the depressing news of AIDS and global warming and assaults by Oprah and the bird-watchers on the cattle ranchers, and Maureen Dowd coming out against guns, and just generally watching all the fun stuff fall from favor with the Eastern Intellectual Elites, and facing the prospect of dying slowly of some wimpy, wasting disease like psoriasis or something, I had begun to lose hope that any real, robust, kick-ass scourge (like nuclear war) would ever come along to flush this festering, over-populated toilet of a planet, and give life a fresh five gallons of water, a dose of that blue, Tidy-Bowl stuff, and a new lease on life. (Because life on this planet, in this universe, is indeed a lease: You may hold the deed, but you do not own the real estate.)

Now I'm encouraged in the hope that we may not have to sit around suffering and sniffling and scratching at some new and undiagnosable skin rash, dying by inches (or millimeters, in this new, metric world order) and shelling out eight bucks for a ticket and four for a box of popcorn, to while away a couple of hours watching Deep Impact while waiting for the real thing...

...to deliver us from Evil.

Cheer up: Everybody dies. You may be one of the lucky ones to do it sooner--while the world still offers the chance at a gallon of gasoline, a .45 automatic and a rare steak--rather than later.

Or you could pray to Vishnu that the Indians will give us all a ticket to ride.

Have a nice day.

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