Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
Though it was nice to have the father of survivalism as a friend, it wasn’t getting me any closer to learning how to save myself in an emergency. Even his books, when they arrived, were just compendiums of information, invaluable for reference but useless for beginners like myself.
Most survivalists had an advantage over me. Maybe they were born on a farm and knew about crops and livestock. Perhaps their fathers had taken them camping or hunting or fishing. Maybe they’d even had experience at an early age with woodworking, engine repair, or electrical wiring.
But I was raised in urban apartments. Up on the forty-second floor of our seventy-two-story building, we not only had no backyard and no pets, but no fresh air: we were so high up that our windows wouldn’t open more than a crack. Repairing things meant calling building maintenance. And dining at home meant that Dad picked up takeout food on the way back from work.
The only useful survival skill I had, thanks to researching a form of persuasion known as neuro-linguistic programming for The Game, was the ability to try to talk people with practical knowledge into helping me out. And now I also had a stack of books from Saxon filled with cool plans and diagrams, but no skills or tools to actually use them.
I asked Katie one morning whether she’d learned any survival skills while growing up. “I don’t know how to make food,” she began. “I can’t sew. I can’t drive. I can probably talk someone out of killing me. That’s the only thing I can do, baby.”
Between the two of us, then, conversation was our only survival skill. Perhaps we were a perfect match.
I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote “Survival To-Do List” across the top. Then, since Saxon hadn’t been much help getting started, I tracked down Bruce Clayton—or Shihan Clayton, as his website said he was now known since achieving his sixth-degree black belt in Shotokan karate.
Oddly, like Saxon, Shihan Clayton started the phone call by telling me there was nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps it was a reflex from years of being pilloried in the media. “I’m not particularly frightened by the terrorist thing,” said the author of Life after Terrorism. “They’re an out-of-control street gang with grandiose ideas. There are bigger and tougher organizations cruising the streets of Los Angeles.”
When he realized I wasn’t calling to challenge him but to learn from him, Clayton began to open up. “There are a number of directions problems can come from,” he said, finally. “One is, what nasty surprises can al Qaeda come up with in the United States? The second direction is that Iran will get nuclear bombs, though they’ll be sorely divided on whether to drop the first one on Tel Aviv or Paris. The third danger is that China and Korea are getting better at building bombs. They can reach the West Coast now, and soon they’ll be able to reach all of the United States. So we’re looking at another Cold War there. And with rising gasoline prices and ethanol affecting the price of corn, we may be looking at an economically difficult time in the United States.”
The fears of Americans change over time. In late 1999, we feared the collapse of our computer system. Then it was terrorist attacks. Then it was our own government. Then it was global warming. Today it’s economic collapse. Fear, it seems, is like fashion: it changes every season. And even though threats like terrorism persist to this day, we eventually grow bored of worrying about them and turn to something new. Ultimately, though, every fear has the same root: anxiety about things we take for granted going away.
“The truth is,” Clayton continued, “in terms of riots or terrorist incidents, the threat zone is going to be pretty limited. You can walk out of a threat zone, typically. So all you need for the basics are nice shoes and an urban survival kit.”
“What’s an urban survival kit?”
“Three things: a cell phone, an ATM card, and a pistol.”
“I have two out of three. But I’ve never fired a pistol in my life.”
I’d only had firearms in my house once. When I wrote a book with Dave Navarro, documenting the rock guitarist’s addiction to heroin and cocaine, I’d removed a handgun and a shotgun from his house because I was worried he’d kill himself. But I had trouble sleeping at night knowing such dangerous weapons were sitting in my closet. Any thief who broke in would know how to use them better than I did. So rather than return them to Navarro—and be responsible if anything happened to him—I gave them away to a friend named, appropriately, Justin Gunn.
“The first requirement in using a gun correctly is not shooting yourself with it,” Clayton was telling me. “It’s a martial art, and you have to take it seriously. It’s not like learning to change a tire. I went out to the Gunsite ranch in Arizona. In a week, they can teach you to be damn dangerous with a gun.” He paused and reconsidered. “Actually, the guy who buys the gun and puts it in his pocket, he’s dangerous. Gunsite graduates aren’t dangerous—they’re deadly.”
And so I added the first item to my survival to-do list: learn to shoot.
I heard the voice of Spencer Booth gloating in my head as I wrote those three words down. I had crossed over to the other side.