There we were, three chicks with dyed black hair, getting ready for
the end of the world.
“I’m getting two knives,” Polly says.
“I’m getting a water purifier,” Louisa says.
“I’m getting carsick,” I say.
Polly, Louisa, and I were en route to the appropriately named Ft.
Washington, Pa., along with Jason, Polly’s boyfriend, the sweet gentle
long-haired Goth-rocker who was driving his classy relic of a clunky
gunmetal gray car with the gray parachute grazing our heads. Our
destination is the Preparedness Expo, a kind of traveling Y2K
vendeteria, a whole different branch of the Paranoia Industry,
capitalizing on folks’ ultimate fears and fantasies of being vulnerable
to terminal dismemberment, disaster, or death.
I felt a bit like I was surrounded by a covey of Chicken Littles:
“The sky is falling down! The sky is falling down!”
How I came to be there is one of those odd tricks of journalistic
fate. Last winter I literally bumped into Polly on a Philly street
corner and she said she and her new boyfriend were attending gun shows
lately and that I could come along to one. They were an interesting
couple. She’s a physics consultant, film freak, and computer buff from
whom I had taken a thankfully brief class in the numerology of the
Cabala. He’s a talented but dark local musician I once profiled for a
magazine. Louisa was his friend and co-worker. I had never met Louisa
before. None of us had ever been in each other’s houses. The three of
them could be denizens of that movie “Pi.” If you’ve seen it, you know
what I mean. If not, don’t worry.
Everyone in the car is wearing black, except for me. And Jason has
one of those WE ARE THE NRA baseball caps on. At least he wasn’t wearing
it the way all the dorks do — backwards — what I call the duckbill
platypus fashion statement.
“Are you ready?” asks Polly, our tripmeister, who had zealously
planned this outing for six months.
I was not.
I was not prepared.
I was not prepared for the Preparedness Expo.
Louisa was. And how. “I have three wood stoves,” she proudly
proclaims, dotting her blemishes with cover-stik.
On the way up in Jason’s car, they play some “preparedness mood
music.” First, a CD by Rammstein, the grim guttural preternaturally
terrifying German group. “This,” Polly says dryly, “is the official
sound-track of the Columbine Massacre.”
You Hate Me.
Maybe that’s what folks mean by alternative music. I guess
alternative means when you consider that the alternative could be “I
hate you I hate you,” this might actually be a refreshing switch. Can’t
you almost imagine Woody Allen lip-synching the lyrics?
Next — I am not making this up — they play a CD of Hitler SS
calisthenics music, Nazi marching songs. I consider leaping from the
moving vehicle, but decide against it. You think you know people. Boy,
this surprises me. Big time. Polly, besides being my former Cabala
teacher, works at a Jewish community center. Her mother is even Jewish.
Sure she has a few tattoos on her arms, which I always thought was some
weird Holocaust solidarity on her part, and she has that strange ring
with a human eye in the mouth of a silver jaguar.
Uh-oh, maybe my buddy Sluggo IS right about the Cabala being demonic.
I start sweating. When the CD gets to “Lily Marlene,” the first song I
recognize, I do NOT heave a sigh of relief — I knew I disliked that
song for some good reason, the lugubriously saccharine number they
anesthetize you with before they cut off your head. No, I am definitely
NOT a Satanist. Or any other kind of “ist.”
As for Louisa, all this militaristic music seems to inspire her to
punctuate her sentences by using still more cover-stik on her deeply
pocked, pale complexion. Her lipstick outlines a layered scarlet
“Are you gonna get bars for your windows?” Polly asks. “Ours are
“I’ll be up on our roof-deck with a loaded shotgun,” says Louisa.
“Are you buying any ammo?”
“I might,” says Polly.
They make a few weak jokes about revolution, then a nodding reference
to the recent series of armed U.S. military maneuvers in a Chester, Pa.,
housing project. “Style note to these groups wearing camouflage in the
middle of a city — you’re a moving target,” Polly says archly. What
movie is this?
After you pay your $8 and they stamp your hand at the door, they film
you as you enter. No permission, no releases. You are not sure if you
are being “shot” by the FBI, the CIA, the BATF, the DEA, your last
lover, or merely an over-zealous expo management that wants a record of
all potential shoplifters, pickpockets, shills, and shysters. If you
weren’t paranoid before this, you will instantly become so.
You pick up a catalog, and the beckoning rustic golden
wheat-field/blue sky/green mountains/cover says “Preparedness Expo 99 –
Peace of Mind in Our Changing World. Emergency & Disaster Supplies.
Self-Reliant Living. Home Security & Self-Protection. Survival Gear,
Wilderness & Camping Supplies. Alternative Health Products. Freedom.”
What they’re really selling is self-sufficiency. How to have safer,
healthier, more independent lives in the face of an uncertain future
which may include political unrest, economic instability, natural
disasters, and other threats to personal freedom, health, and
well-being. This is a definitely pro-active subculture, those who are
not waiting for the numbed-out “wisdom” of the heads-in-the-sand
mainstream which shrugs and coos, Oh, what’s to worry about a few
computer glitches, we have candles, we loooooooove candlelit dinners.
Preparedness Expo 99 would
bring together the militia-minded, hard-bitten survivalists, those of a
New Age persuasion, outdoor camping aficionados, canny capitalists, and
calculating opportunists — was there a difference?
It would showcase everything from the sincerely patriotic songs of
Steve Vaus, a terrific performer familiar to many WND readers; ways to
bypass banks by getting investment portfolios of precious metals; five
pound bags of minced freeze dried chicken bits and other bulk food; the
Anarchist’s Cook Book; water filtration systems, first aid kits, power
generators, portable stoves and heaters, emergency blankets, kerosene
lanterns, emergency candles, solar and hand-crank radios, camping
supplies, gas masks, bullet-proof vests, lightsticks, sun ovens, grain
mills, how to get rid of your glasses, snakebite kits, clustered water
(TM), homeopathic remedies you shouldn’t leave home without; ancient
Chinese techniques of tongue and pulse diagnosis; herbal remedies for
surviving the Millennium; plus the usual array of macho weaponry. I
didn’t see any guns.
Interestingly, the local Philadelphia paper had decried the expo in a
front-page story, that very morning — my friends said, supposedly,
hate-watch groups were “concerned” with the gathering’s incendiary
With good reason, as it turns out. Bo Gritz, that great American,
burned a U.N. flag. I saw him do it, its sky-blue-and-white logo doused
by lighter fluid, flaming the stage. His dramatic outcry against the
dread New World Order.
Jason, Polly, and Louisa are combing the aisles for must-have
products. Someone mentions John the Baptist, Prester John, Genghis Khan.
“Got my beef jerky,” someone says in the aisle. “Never trusted what
that stuff might really be made of,” observes Polly, the philosopher
Louisa eyes the dart blowguns. The salesman demonstrates by scoring a
bull’s eye. Louisa buys one of the dart blowguns — a folding model
resembling a blind-person’s cane. Then she gets a box of darts. Then, a
long black canvas carrying case that would also be good for a rifle, a
back scratcher, or a pet Anaconda snake. Next, Louisa is interested in
“Do they sell curare here? Wouldn’t that be neat?” she says.
I hope not. I want a hot dog.
You’re gonna use that thing? I ask her? Sure, she replies; when they
storm her house, she’ll be ready.
Who are “they”? Who is everybody worried about? THEM. It always comes
down to THEM, doesn’t it? Someone not like us. Someone who’s after OUR
stuff. Someone who wants what we have.
Speaking of “stuff,” if you’re into weirdly unpredictable
merchandise, these places are a consumer’s paradise. Jason gets a book
on raising and butchering ducks. “Fatty meat,” Polly warns. Polly gets
a cultish mega-conspiracy book. Louisa purchases some water-purifying
pills instead of an appliance. The pills are under $5 and can be used
anywhere. Polly considers the knives, but thinks the selection seems
small, and they are too expensive. I look at a hand-held laser device
that the nice lady claims you just wave it over your food in several
counter-clockwise circles, either two or four, I forget which, and the
tiny red light cancels out all your food allergies, sensitivities, and
reactions, only $125, a bargain at twice the price.
Riding home, I realized I should have gotten that super-sexy $15
Posse Comitatus T-shirt. Too bad. Too late. Next time. … If there IS a
Recognizing the enemy is not always easy. The following day, a
philosophy professor of my slight acquaintance shows up online — let’s
call him Gavin Ostrich.
MrOstrich: How was your weekend?
MLP: I went to a preparedness expo Saturday
MrOstrich: Preparing for?
MLP: Preparedness — survivalists, millennialists, etc., stocking up
for the end of the world. Y2K.
MrOstrich: For an article?
MLP: Not entirely. Anyway, friends went to buy guns and knives. One
girl bought a poison dart blowgun. One girl was looking for knives. Fun
MrOstrich: You have different friends than my current set.
MLP: These aren’t really people I hang out with.
MrOstrich: Did you get anything?
MLP: No. I didn’t go to buy.
MrOstrich: Was it interesting?
MLP: A bit depressing actually. And eye opening. American ingenuity
and the profit motive redux.
MrOstrich: Seems like it would be. Death for sale — violent
MLP: Well it’s not exactly about death, they say, but life!
MrOstrich: How life?
MLP: Survival, preparedness. Being prepared.
MrOstrich: Planting flowers, feeding people, hugging is life, for me.
MLP: Exactly. FOR YOU.
MrOstrich: Violence, being prepared for it, is to commit it for me.
MLP: But during Y2K if there is a military takeover you will be
squashed like a bug.
MLP: It could be like Road Warrior.
MrOstrich: Paranoia and control are already dead, tuned out.
MLP: And all these rabid people will be fighting the Next American
MrOstrich: No way! A few things will be delayed, or a few bills will
MLP: Actually you are not right. There may be a major initiative
planned that the federal government may use as an excuse to impose
martial law. So we will see. Mr. Clinton does not want to leave office.
That is known. And they have been doing military exercises all over
America, shooting up housing projects, terrorizing the citizens all over
in the country in various places, Texas, Pennsylvania, etc. It’s been in
the newspaper. It’s connected to Y2K. You think I am totally crazy, I
MrOstrich: Well, Mr. Clinton is more normal than most and certainly
not a power monger in that sense — I know you’re getting into playing
this role, but … anyway … it’s my dinner time and I’m really
MLP: Excuse me, I am not in any role. That’s rather condescending.
Please come down from your Ivory Tower.
MrOstrich: Then I live in an Ivory Tower. I like it here and wish all
could try it, a world of beautiful ivory structures dancing in the air.
MLP: That’s a dumb thing to say to a stranger, ‘Oh, that’s a role you
like,’ I mean, really.
MrOstrich: Sorry, if you are really into fighting the Millennial
struggle — I think the struggle is the everyday one to be more
feelingful and caring, in whatever ways one can manage it.
MLP: Whoa!! I said I went there. I didn’t say I was necessarily into
it. But I do believe we will face political changes. Based on media info
derived from various sources.
MrOstrich: Right, which is why I said you were riffing — and then
you came down on me for noticing you were playing.
MLP: I wasn’t playing at all. I am totally serious about that
MrOstrich: OK — well — I can’t take the scenario seriously.
Get ready!! If Gavin Ostrich is any indication, America is in
trouble. Big trouble. Ready or not, here they come!!!