Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part IV. SURVIVE
My house had completely transformed.
My yard was no longer a place to get a suntan. Instead it was filled with a fire pit, a tracking box, a debris hut, shovels, stacks of wood, piles of debris, and newly planted vegetables and fruit-tree saplings.
My basement was no longer just for storage. With Mad Dog’s Museum of Early American Tools book as my guide, I’d started building a rudimentary workshop.
My closet was no longer for fashion. Cargo pants, wool hunting jackets, ghillie suits, and tactical belts swung from the hangers. The floor was littered with boxes containing flashlights, rechargeable batteries, bullets, gun-cleaning kits, night-vision goggles, and half a dozen folding and fixed-blade knives, along with sharpening rods and stones.
In my garage, there was barely enough room for my car between the Rokon and the boxes of emergency supplies. And the rear seat of my Durango was no longer a place for passengers but a shelf for my bug-out bag, first aid kit, and CERT uniform.
Even the walls of my house were no longer intact. With my early American tools I’d built a hidden panel, behind which I’d stashed my pistol, rifle, shotgun, and metal-detector-proof knives. In the backyard I created a trapdoor with a hidden crawl-space, which was big enough to hide not just supplies but, if necessary, me.
I’d clearly gone off the deep end, and I had no intention of stopping. Not when I was so close to slaying the demon of Just in Case.
Just in case of nuclear attack, I’d bought potassium iodate tablets online to lessen the effects of radiation poisoning.
Just in case of chemical attack, I’d gotten a friend on the Survivalist Boards to send me DuoDote injection pens to stop the symptoms.
Just in case of an armed attack, especially while trying to escape on the Rokon, I used a connection of Mad Dog’s to purchase an Enforcer concealable bulletproof vest from U.S. Armor.
Just in case Katie or I became ill WTSHTF, I’d driven to Mexico to stockpile antibiotics (though some survivalists prefer to get them from feed stores instead).
Just in case I needed to evacuate from L.A. by water, I’d contacted the American Sailing Association to take their Basic Keelboat Sailing 101 class.
Just in case of Just in Case, I’d learned to tie basic knots, grind grain, bake bread, catch fish, sew clothing, smoke meat, make preserves, and can food.
All my life, I’d never had to do anything practical. If something in my house or apartment didn’t work, I called a repairman or landlord. If my car broke down, I called AAA. If I was hungry, I had food delivered. If I needed something affordable, I bought it online. If it wasn’t affordable, I used credit. My tools were the telephone and the Internet, which instantly summoned the services of other people.
But as the world of survivalism opened up, I began to realize that I’d been rendered completely helpless by convenience. Maybe the instructors at Tracker School had a point. Life was more exciting now that I was learning to handle just about anything that came my way without having to depend on anyone else. Two decades after puberty, I was finally becoming a man.
As my obsession with figuring out how to do everything myself intensified, I drove to a self-sufficient community called the Commonweal Garden outside San Francisco that was part of what’s called the permaculture movement. I wanted to learn how to design a completely sustainable life from scratch. On the roof of one of the houses there, for example, there was a rainwater catchment, which fed water into a shower below. The runoff from the shower filled a pond, which supported ducks. The ducks ate bugs off strawberries in the garden, which were served for breakfast. The leftover breakfast scraps were dropped into a bin of worms, which were used to feed fish that maintained the balance in the pond. And the worms’ waste was used to fertilize the strawberries.
It was a perfect, closed, interdependent system, a microcosm of planet Earth. I stuck around for three days, trying to learn all I could from the people who ran it. And I discovered, much to my distress, that if I wanted to be a more long-term-minded survivalist, rather than killing Bettie for meat, I should have learned to breed and milk her.
“It’s bad that you killed a girl goat, because she could have had babies,” Katie had told me at the time. “Guy goats can’t do that. There are guy goats with sperm everywhere.”
So as soon as I returned home, I went to the website goatfinder.com and began researching the possibility of raising a female goat, much to Katie’s delight. Good thing I didn’t kill a whale.
In college, I’d seen a documentary called The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, about a Japanese director trying to find out what happened to two soldiers from his regiment who disappeared while serving in New Guinea during World War II. Eventually he tracks down their commanding officers, and after much badgering they admit that the platoon was trapped without food, and at least one of the missing soldiers was killed and eaten so the higher-ranking officers could stay alive.
Watching the film triggered an old fear I used to have as a child, ever since being forced to watch movies like The Day After in school and learning about historical aberrations like the Donner Party. I wondered: If I were part of a group that was stuck somewhere with no food, would I be the eater or the eaten?
And I was forced to admit every time, sadly, that I would be one of the eaten. As a student, and then as a writer, I possessed no skills that would be useful to a starving group. Unless, of course, they needed a music critic.
But now everything had changed. My training was making me eligible to lead that group. And as leader I would decree that nobody get eaten—because there’s enough lamb’s-quarter and cattail and dandelion out there to keep us all alive. And if there isn’t—because, say, the earth is scorched—well, if there’s a tasty-looking music critic in the group, I can show them exactly how to butcher, skin, and gut him.
What was wrong with me? I was turning into Mad Dog.
I thought of all the postapocalyptic movies I’d seen: The Omega Man, Things to Come, Mad Max, 28 Days Later, Night of the Comet, The Matrix, Twelve Monkeys, Waterworld, The Day After Tomorrow, The Last Man on Earth, Day of the Dead, A Boy and His Dog, I Am Legend, Doomsday, and on and on and on. And what did almost every one of them have in common? They took place primarily in a city. And the few that didn’t were set in a desert wasteland, with only a little shrubbery to gnaw on—or, in one notorious case, in a water wasteland. There wasn’t a lamb’s-quarter or cattail plant in sight, let alone enough debris to make a shelter or sticks to make a hand drill or natural resources to sustain a permaculture community.
I may have thought I was ready to survive World War III, but there was one major flaw in my thinking. People like Tom Brown, the primitivists, the naturalists, and the permaculturists lived by certain rules. One of those rules was that anything that grew in nature was good and anything made by modern man was bad. But that wasn’t reality.
In a real-life SHTF scenario, it will be hard to avoid the detritus of society. A sharpened bicycle spoke will probably make a better weapon than a stick. A length of electrical wire will make stronger cordage than a yucca leaf. And foam padding ripped from the seats of an abandoned truck will provide warmer insulation than debris. Wilderness survival was good for the forest. But what about the urban jungle?