Outside her window the Atlantic sparkled. She almost forgot about the garbage and buildings it surged through. Bed-stuy used to be a dangerous neighborhood. Now the only danger was drowning and dehydration. When Hurricane Donald came in the Fall of ’48, the levies were clobbered and the city was flooded. Some people stayed behind, some of those people gave up, some probably starved to death, but Angeline persevered. She had a roof-top garden and plenty of seeds and know-how. Not that it was easy. There had been a rat infestation that almost left her cropless. She almost caught Pneumonia last Winter. And she probably had scurvy due to lack of vitamin C. If she’d had some seeds, it was warm enough to grow oranges.
Angeline Lee creaked out of bed. Her bed creaked, the floor, her hip, her ankles. (She was only 63, but the procedure had aged her prematurely, and made Rejuvenation less effective.)
The eggplants were scrawny this year. Angeline would send her bucket down on the pilfered belaying rope (It was Harold Perkins’ in 17E) and drag up water for her solar stills each day. Her shoulders were strong, but the joints felt weak.
The rains weren’t coming when they should’ve. But it was cool, and cloudy. Used to be that was just a crummy day, but the stills were barely working and her Winter surplus was long since drunk.
She thought back on that first year. It felt like a year of mourning, but there was also a lot of hard work that helped her forget the life she had lost. She gathered building materials, water, food. Dammed up the 16th floor in case the water level rose again. Built the plant beds out of bed-frames, trellises out of curtain rods. Pilfered someone’s solar generator, made a still. Angeline had spent any free time playing guitar, reading, and teaching herself how to draw. She could’ve watched tv in her unit but she didn’t want to waste energy she might need in an emergency, anyway she liked the quiet. For the first time in years she was alone with her thoughts, was forming new opinions about the world, had an active imagination.
An octocopter. That unmistakable hum. The grey water ruffled like molting pigeons. For a second Angeline hesitated, then ran down to her apartment to hide like usual. In her living room she stepped on a lego. She had to stifle a scream. ‘How were there still pieces in the carpet after three years?’
The copter passed over. She regretted hiding immediately. There was always a twinge of longing to leave, but this time she knew it was wrong. She needed water or she would die of thirst.
3 years ago she was like everyone else, telecommuting, or taking the new sky-trolley to work (the subways were abandoned in ’35 when the levees were installed, along with everything below sea level). She liked her job, or at least accepted it enough to imagine sticking with it 10 more years until retirement. She was on a tinder date when it happened. No alarms or sirens, just the smell of panic, the twisting of faces, as people got the message on their in-ears. Wait-staff, cooks, patrons all pushed and shoved their ways into the street.
There was still sun in the sky, with gray here and there. But through the building, darkness. Transport boats were lined up at every port. Her tinder date had screamed, “Hey! Where are you going?” Angeline swiped left, down Bedford Avenue.
When she had shut her door behind her locking the deadbolt she thought to herself, ‘This is where I belong. I don’t care what everyone else does, this is my home.’
Now she was forced to reevaluate that thought.
The stills were made of thick plastic that she’d bought to build a greenhouse on the roof. The co-op board voted her down, and she didn’t have any plastic left over so they still got their way. Angeline took apart the bone dry stills and plugged her iron into her solar battery. She crimped the plastic shut, trapping a pocket of air inside. She filled it up the rest of the way with a bicycle pump and plugged the hole with duct tape. Hopefully it would keep her afloat. Hopefully she didn’t get swept out to sea. Hopefully the storm she’d been praying for didn’t come at exactly the wrong moment.
With the raft, a backpack full of sad-looking vegetables, a few tools, and a makeshift paddle, Angeline belayed down nine and three quarter stories to the Brooklyn Ocean. It was Monday morning. The tide was going uptown. She paddled between the buildings, imagining Biggie Smalls going by in a Venetian Gondola. Every few minutes she’d hit a traffic cones or a nalgene bottle with her paddle, interrupting her groove. She was out of breath before she started.
Williamsburg. Then Greenpoint. The sun was a gray-yellow disk in the middle of the sky by the time she made Queens. The Manhattan skyline and the bridges were more beautiful than she’d ever remembered them being. They seemed less oppressive. The South Bronx was mostly ocean. Crossing the former East River into Harlem, Angeline craned her head to see the sun taking a dip, blushing.
It was almost night when Angeline reached The Cloisters, that absurd medieval castle on the hill looking onto the boogie down Bronx. She dragged the raft onto dry land. As Angeline got above the tree-line she had her first view of the North. White Plains used to be a modest city, but from there it looked like a futuristic mega-city. Cranes silhouetted the horizon. What looked to be a more modern take on the Empire State Building loomed over everything.
The Cloisters was probably the only museum in the city that hadn’t lost its art to water damage. It had been long evacuated or pillaged by now, but it at least someone was enjoying it somewhere. How many masterpieces had been lost? Tens of thousands, probably.
Angeline gathered leaves and twigs into a little hill at the edge of the parking lot near the castle. She took out her lighter and set it ablaze. Then she added plastic bottles. Threw the smoke she saw a small drone blink. Then three others. She knew they were reporting her back to someone.
She woke up on her raft about two hours later to the increasing hum of an octocopter. It descended into the lot as if lowered on a string. A man and a woman stepped out. Angeline started to cry.
“Hey, hey, everything’s okay now. We’re here to help.” The man had impeccable posture, and sounded like he really meant it.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying, it’s just been so long…”
“How’d you get out -”
“You look thirsty.” The woman handed her a ceramic bottle. She had green and red hair. She shot the man a look that was both stern and playful, and then smiled, all warmth, at Angeline.
After finishing off that and two more bottles, Angeline tried to answer his question, and ask a few of her own. It turned out Treya and Karlos, that were her rescuer’s names, lived in White Plains, where about half of New York City moved to.
“Do you like it there?
“It’s okay. It runs way more smoothly than New York ever did, but with half of the soul.”
“Yeah, and it’s pretty sad. People don’t have to worry about flooding anymore, so they don’t care about the warming.”
The new parts of the city looked wildly out of place, the architecture garish and unsympathetic to the extreme. There was one building where magenta tendrils made of some material changed its texture erratically. Karlos said it was a library. A new public housing sector between the Downtown and Old Mamaroneck looked like a city in its own right. The layered, leaf shaped buildings were all connected at several levels by thin, arcing tunnels. It reminded Angeline of a giant metallic artichoke.
“Check out the VR Rhomboid.”
“That giant asymmetrical complex. It’s devoted to Virtual Reality development, production, and people come just to rent their state of the art nerve-induction pods. They have the most advanced sensory simulators available for public use.”
“Great, just another way to avoid facing the problem at hand.”
“Exactly,” Treya interjected snarkily.
“Yep.” Karlos seemed more resigned about things. They were quiet for the rest of the ride. Only just before they descended did Angeline’s heart start pumping adrenaline. Her nerves went away almost as suddenly as they arrived.
On her first day back Angeline met up with some old friends for lunch. The sushi place they went to, Dream Catcher, had no fresh caught fish - too expensive since ocean acidification. Most of ‘fish flesh’ was grown in labs, or substituted.
They filled her in on all the boring gossip, and sad news. Naima’s son was all grown up now. Jeanine was divorced and remarried already, to a game developer no less. Sherry was just the same as before: in an open relationship with her cats.
The next day she went to The Kanye Museum. They had an exhibit on holographic street art that was pretty cool (except for the 7 Kanye murals.) Most of all Angeline spent a lot of time in her hotel bath-tub. Her room was being paid for by the Victims of Donald Benevolence Fund so she ordered room service for most meals.
Angeline met up with Treya at a café that serve cute little 3D printed vegan muffins in complex geometric shapes. “We found a great apartment for you up in Hartsdale!” All of the towns were now neighborhoods and Boroughs. It took less than 6 months for the city folk to impose their infrastructure onto Suburbia.
“I’ve been thinking…”
“What? Anything we can do for you...”
Treya’s jaw practically dropped.“I want to go back to Bed-Stuy.”
Karlos dropped her off in a cargo-copter. It took them a few hours to unload all of the supplies. The water purification system. The solar stove and shower. Two new solar generators. A satellite data hotspot. He promised he would visit and bring friends out to visit whenever she wanted. She gave him a hug and thanked him. And then it was almost as if she’d never left.
He was at the park with the sitter while she was on the date. She used to think maybe he’d been rescued. Then a week after the collapse she remembered his tracking tag. She looked him up on her emergency tablet. His tag was far out to sea, shifting with the currents. But part of him was still here with her. More importantly, she was still herself here.
I’m tired of the constant debate of Science vs. Religion. Science isn’t better than religion because they’re not two boys competing at Super Smash Bros Melee. Religion does some things better than science, and vice versa. Both attempt to explain the world, but their motivations and methodology are different. Science and Religion perform unique, but equally valuable services.
Science is a bad-ass. It be like, blam! You got robots. Blam! We found an earth-like planet. Blam! Superposition of electrons and shit. Science is just trying to figure out how the universe works, and how to apply that knowledge. Scientists, unlike Saints, describe reality mathematically. Math-addicts say, their language is the most precise at describing universal laws (Math-heads would say that! That’s like a poop salesman saying we can only understand the world by building models out of poop.)
On the downside, Science is like an H-bomb or an eccentric-yet-brilliant fart - sure it’s powerful, but it’s indiscriminate in its aim. Science is working on robot doctors that won’t make you feel awkward when they touch your junk, but those same robots may eventually grab your junk and rip it mercilessly from your quivering, ‘idiotic body’ (robot’s words, not mine). Science doesn’t really care about how happy you are. Sure, certain scientists do but, like corporations are all about profit, science is all about truth. Certain ethical guidelines steer science away from dangerous experiments on humans, like Facebook. Those guidelines do not protect against weapons development (read, the ease of manufacturing bio-weapons, or weaponized AI).
Religion is like your Grandma: at times she makes you feel all warm and fuzzy when the world seems dark and cold, and sometimes she’s a racist, sexist, jerk. Yes, religion can help bulk-up your happiness lats, but can it also make you dumber by encouraging less rigorous thinking. If you believe there’s a “‘“‘“god’”’”’”””” watching out for you simply because it feels right, you’re more likely to look for other convenient truths.
Is the tradeoff of truth for happiness worth it? Probably, but only at an individual level (and herein lies the adobo seasoning). Once large swaths of the population start believing what’s easiest, the few can easily manipulate the many (like they do now). BUT, let’s not throw the baby Jesus out with the Watergate.
Prayer (as in a conscious strengthening of will and motivation towards goals, not as in, “Dear God, please let my neighbor get his dick lopped off by his lawn mower,” meditation, and a sense of community are all things religion provides that are key to a balanced society. There has to be a way of promoting compassion, and community, and introspection, while not overlooking the benefits of scientific epistemology.
Like the Hermetic and Vedantic traditions, we need to find a happy medium between science - which doesn’t give a shit about your feelings - and religion - which is sloppier than a gymnast with diarrhea. We need to take the math, technology, and experimental methods of science and combine it with the humanism and respect for subjective experience of religion. The result will be as beautiful as a bi-racial underwear model. What will we call this new cultural behemoth? I nominate, Sriligence. Or, Human-Sauce.
Happiness is all about having the right amounts of certain chemicals in your brain. No, not two shots and four beers! I’m talking about dopamine and serotonin, the Venus and Serena Williams of emotional tennis. But we can’t measure our levels yet, so we’ll have to get creative to remedy our deficiency. What comes to mind? Money? Yes! Sex? Yes! Thick, juicy relationships? Of course! Don’t wait any longer to patch things up with your Mom, Dad, friend, or wife’s ex-lover.
Are you eating like crap and crapping like shit and shitting like diarrhea? Stop that. And exercising will also help your happiness because there is nothing more pathetic than accidentally eating your remote because you spilled so much melted cheese on it that you HAD to eat it.
Okay, I’m assuming you read the first two paragraphs a week ago, and that you’ve completely overhauled your life by the time you’re reading this paragraph, because now it’s time to go deep. It’s time to get spiritual. Sometimes the only way to find happiness is to ask yourself some tough questions. Why do I always leave the cheese out of the fridge? Why do I have friends who keep bringing me to rehab, but won’t give me a ride home halfway through? Why haven’t I finished my novel - Catcher in the Rye 2: Pitcher in the Oats?
It can be very difficult to figure out what you want to do in life. Being motivated isn’t easy in a universe that keeps expanding and expanding until it will ultimately spread out so thin that all energy is depleted and life can never exist again… but you can re-motivate yourself by finding a 4.5 star shaman on yelp, have him take you on a vision quest, and ask a 7 dimensional alien-ghost-faerie what you should sell on your website.
When you get home from Namibia, after realizing you are both an individual, and part of a larger organism, most of your old comforts will seem as hollow and joyless as everything else once did. Don’t worry! You can forget everything you learned and start to believe you enjoy bad sex, food, and TV again! You might even rekindle your taste for remote control au gratin, if you’re lucky.