Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
His voice was cold and gruff. “Are you interested as a dilettante, or do you really want to learn how to use a knife?”
“I want to learn it as a survival skill and as a life skill.”
“Good.” He seemed strict, with little patience for error. “You’re going to thank me when you get two flat tires in the desert and you’re trying to figure out how to skewer a rabbit with only a pocket knife, two rubber bands, and some twine.”
Once again, curiosity and the power of the odds seemed to have led me to the right person. After scouring the Internet for a knife tutor—only to find cooking classes—I’d visited a store called Valley Martial Arts Supply. The owner, Rafael, had recommended getting in touch with a man in Arizona famous for making the toughest, most effective combat and survival knives in the country. The man was known as Mad Dog.
Mad Dog lived near Prescott, Arizona—the home of not just Gunsite but also the survivalist author Cody Lundin, the shooting instructor Louis Awerbuck, the combat handgun trainer Chuck Taylor, the shotgun manufacturer Hans Vang, and a fringe militia Timothy McVeigh had visited for advice. Depending on who you were, Prescott was either the safest place in the world or the most dangerous.
“It’s a good idea to bring your gun with you,” Mad Dog advised before hanging up, “because shit happens.”
While waiting for my week with Mad Dog to begin, I wrote a meticulous schedule, listing a different survival skill from Tracker School to practice each day after I received my knife training. In the meantime, I began finding ways to build my resistance and embody the motto of the Survivalist Boards: “endure—adapt—overcome.”
At night, no matter how low the temperature dropped, I never turned on the heat—unless Katie complained. In the daytime, no matter how hot it got, I never turned on the air conditioning—unless Katie complained. When it was dark in the house, I left the lights off as much as possible to develop my night vision—unless Katie complained.
Eventually, we agreed that I would spend as much time as possible in my small backyard, while she lounged in comfort indoors. “Girls just don’t like sweating,” she’d say whenever I tried to get her to join me outside. “It’s sticky and it smells.”
So while I worked in the yard, she watched movies like Saw II and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on cable TV. I wasn’t sure whether her taste in cinema was a subconscious attempt to face her fears or collect new ones.
Though she admirably tried to join me as I slept under the stars one night, her dread of mosquitoes biting her arms, spiders dropping in her mouth, and ants crawling on her skin soon drove her back inside.
I was turning into a nightmare boyfriend. But I was determined to stop sniveling, to toughen up, to become a man. And gradually, without my climate and clothing regulated for maximum comfort at all times, my tolerance began to grow and my skin seemed to thicken.
In the meantime, however, Katie started to get depressed sitting around the house most of the day with no job, no school, and no driver’s license. So, in an attempt to get her out of the house and more involved with the obsession that was consuming my life, I invited her to take Mad Dog’s knife class with me.
To my surprise, she actually accepted. “He’s probably like a violent, mean guy,” she said. “But I’ll come and learn how to be a Neanderthal with you if you want.”
Either she didn’t get the importance of having a backup plan, or she understood it better than I did.
While booking her plane ticket, I realized it had been months since I’d heard from Maxwell in St. Kitts, whose bank account I’d perhaps gullibly filled with money. So I e-mailed him to find out if I’d been approved yet.
He replied that he was still waiting to get the title to my apartment from the land registry so he could forward it to the government as evidence that I’d bought the required real estate. So not only did I still lack a passport, but without a title, there was no proof I even owned the apartment.
Concerned that I was being scammed, I called Spencer for advice. But he was in equally bad shape. “I’m getting so frustrated with the whole St. Kitts thing,” he sighed. He still hadn’t filed for citizenship because the negotiations for the house he wanted had broken down. “You can’t get answers from anyone. They’re always on holiday. I’ve been down there so many times, it’s become the bane of my existence.”
“So what are you going to do now?” If he had a good backup option, I thought I might try to get my money back from Maxwell and join him. But his plan was way out of my league.
“I was thinking, with a bit more money, I could get an island,” he said. “If it’s at least forty-four acres, I could have it managed by a caretaker, who would basically just be a farmer. Then I’d use half the island for agriculture and meat, and have the bulk stuff ferried out once a month. I did some research, and it’s a four-year enterprise to buy it and build it. This way, I’ll always have an out.”
It must be great to be rich, I thought. When no nation will give you a passport, you can just buy your own country.