The Doppler radar looked like a corner man’s towel in the ninth round.
Three slashes of red cut across Georgia and western South Carolina, each one more pronounced as they stepped south toward the Florida panhandle. I eyed the storms in motion on my computer screen and cut a quick glance at the Colts-Jets game on TV. We were going to get beat up. The satellite signal was holding, but it wouldn’t when the big rains fell.
The stubble on my face was showing its gray, and it looked even lighter against my shirt. I was eating nachos and watching my son practicing his one-handed catches across the living room. He stepped over his baby brother, nearly destroyed the eleven-year-old blind dog, and caught the football with one arm against his purple #4 Favre jersey. He turned with a smile. There was a warrior’s pride there.
Brett Favre is–no matter what anybody else thinks of him–our hero. We stand unashamed in his corner and root for him no matter where or how he plays. He is a warrior and has heart and grit rarely seen in 2010 professional sports. He would lose this night, and it would happen in a way that would make people mutter and shake their heads for a long time. He would still be our hero the next morning. We knew none of this yet. We only knew the storms were coming, the Jets were falling apart, and we were about to be out of nachos.
Hope is a funny thing. It sits seamless with hopelessness. In the face of the pending floods, a Manning in the Superbowl, and a decided lack of snack food, we smiled. Our game was still to come. The boy could catch with one hand. Life in suburbia was good. Damn the rain, we still have salsa.
With five minutes left to go before the kickoff of the Saints-Vikings match-up, the rain started hitting the windows in big drops. Five minutes later, the TV screen froze. A static image of the Superdome held on the screen. I sat alone while the kids got a peremptory bath. Our entire day had been planned around watching the game. I changed the TV source to antenna, but I knew in my heart I would only see a blank screen. We’d never purchased a digital antenna. It was a failure of proportions I’d only understand later. My wife appeared at the foot of the stairs with the older boy just feet behind her. Their faces were as still as the screen. In their unmoving mouths, I saw what I was feeling.
“Grab your coats, kids,” my wife said. “We’re going to a bar.”
I jumped from my chair in a motion I hoped would appear valiant. I grabbed my shoes and shoved them over my bare feet. I left my cell phone on the table and bolted from the house. To an outside observer, I could’ve just as easily been retreating. I was, in fact, heading toward my destiny.
I pulled the family car out of the garage and into blindness. Moses himself couldn’t have parted the water on the windshield. The reasonable, responsible thing to do would’ve been to pull right back into the garage and save myself the danger. Instead, I bounced across half my lawn and into our cul-de-sac, the suburban warrior’s last vestige of fortification. With the gear in drive, I drove sightless into the rain. I counted on fate and instinct to guide me. My family was going to watch the football game, even if they were watching it from my hospital room.
By the time I reached the CVS pharmacy, the water was ankle-deep in the parking lot. I felt the cold rain slip down inside my shoes and around my bare feet. This was the stuff of legend. When I walked back in my house holding the digital antenna I intended to buy, my wife would wrap me in her arms, dry my feet, and tell her sons to gaze upon my warrior hypothermia in deference.
The CVS was empty. The checkout girl was missing. No doubt the tornado warnings and flash floods had tipped people to their inevitable end. I was prepared to ignore the conventions of paying for goods and services if necessary. I went to the Audio/Video aisle and reached where I simply knew a digital antenna would be. I came up with a spool of CDs.
“Who uses CDs anymore?” I asked no one and reached again. Was that a Beta tape or a printing press? Is this 2004? Where were the digital-effing-antennas? Where was the checkout girl? Where was I?
It hit me then that I had been too slow. There were other men–better men–out there who had looted the store before I arrived. The digital antennas were all now in the homes of more competent fathers, and their children were eating nachos and watching Brett Favre play. I ran from the empty store in shame. I stood in the rain and let it cascade over my face to hide the tears. Then, like a bolt of lighting from wall clouds in the darkness, it hit me.
“Radio Shack!” I screamed with a maniac’s laugh, and dove into my car.
I made the trip to Radio Shack in less than five minutes. I only ran one car off the road and only put myself in mortal danger three times. The rain fell in blankets and made me believe I wasn’t actually seeing a dark building.
“I give them my zip code when I buy coaxial cable and they can’t stay open past 6:30 on a Sunday?”
This was screamed as I pulled my car back into the rain and stomped on the pedal. Everything else was open. The KFC was bright. So was the Krystal and the Asian massage parlor next door. But Radio Shack was shuttered.
I was going 60 miles-per-hour through the driving rain when I realized the only light on Pleasantburg Drive was my headlights. The Home Depot was open but as dark as the end of the world. The traffic lights at Rutherford Road were dark. The few cars on the road were engaged in a game of, “You go! No, you go! No, I’m a southern gentleman. YOU go.”
I flipped them all a Mad Max middle finger and hydroplaned through the intersection. Because, I knew that when it’s all going to hell, when everybody else is dead, when the cockroaches are shrugging, there is one place that will be the cherry on the ash sundae. There is one place that will stand as a monument to our capitalist arrogance.
Motherfucking K-Mart, man.
A boat would’ve done as well getting me into the parking lot. The survivors stood on the sidewalk outside waiting for Armageddon to pass. I ignored them and ran toward the back of the store. A kid with wild eyes carried a big box on his shoulders. The looting had started. I scanned him for digital antennas, but apparently his arms weren’t big enough to get it all in one trip. There was one digital antenna left on the bottom shelf. The box was written in Spanish and French. I cursed myself for only remembering how to say haricots verts and grabbed the box anyway. It would have to do.
There were five total customers in the whole K-Mart and every one was standing in line at the only open cash register.
“Who buys ribbon and clearance Christmas items when the world is about to end?” I asked no one in particular, and when I spotted the looter in line behind me, I didn’t tell him he was doing it wrong. I hoped he would get tired and leave his box of booty behind.
While I waited, I noticed the Enquirer was reporting John Edwards was having another affair. By the time I reached the clerk, I had decided that we all should’ve known. The sign of the apocalypse is not locusts, or blood streams, or the seventh seal getting broken. It’s John Edwards. And we missed it. Served us right.
“Would you like a five-year warranty and service plan for $4.95?” the woman mumbled.
I looked at the $30 antenna. I looked at the woman’s doughy face and hollow eyes, and I didn’t say, “Woman, it’s the end of the world out there. And this is fucking K-Mart.”
Even if we survived the apocalypse coming out of the sky, the K-Mart wasn’t going to last another five months, let alone five years of service on my $30 digital antenna.
I grabbed my purchase and ran back through the dark river, an end-times stallion with fiery eyes. I drove through black traffic lights, water that crested up over my windshield, and the flashing blue lights of the few brave law officers who remained on the road.
I walked into the house, soaked, wet, cold, and victorious. I held the antenna above my head and waited for my family to take me in their arms. Raindrop tears of victory streamed from my eyes. My family would now be able to watch the game.
“The standard def channel is working,” my wife said.
“The Vikings scored a touchdown, Dad,” my son said.
And they turned back to watch the game.