When the world ends, I’ll be ready.

I keep a notebook and a pen in my backpack at all times; that’s my Apocalypse survival kit. Most of society ambles casually through the day completely ignoring the fact that our time on this planet could be up at any moment. On the other extreme, some predict it’s coming and prepare for it. I have a couple of survivalist friends who stockpile weapons and ammunition and wait for the day that the zombies attack. When it comes to the “when and how” regarding the end of the world, there’s an infinite spectrum of theories. Some think it will be earthquakes or asteroids or something else God makes happen in his big cosmic game of Sim City. There are others that believe Xenu and the Thetans are out there. Some know every Nostradamus quatrain by heart. Nobody has been right so far, though.

Charles Wesley thought it would end in 1794. Montanus failed to predict it in the 4th Century. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have tried way more than once, incorrectly throwing darts at 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. Scientists jumped into the mix, thinking Halley’s Comet would end it all in 1910 as the tail swept past Earth and poisoned us. Then there was the Jupiter Effect, and Y2K, and the Hindu’s Kali the Destroyer. Hale-Bopp made an entire cult of people commit mass suicide so that they could escape Judgment Day and go ride on a big ship that was soaring through space behind the comet. And then there’s the guy on the corner with the sign and the beard and the milky eyes that has been wrong about it every day for as long as I can remember.

And now we have 2012. I’m proud of the Mayans. As a comedian, I’m even jealous. It’s the epitome of good writing and patience and timing. Clearly the early Mesoamericans were just making stuff up on a goof. I personally love the idea that they were simply screwing with us. “C’mere, Tlacolotl. Hahaha! This will be hilarious one day! What if we just stop it right there? Hahaha! That should freak someone out one day.”

A 5000-year-old punchline. The ultimate call back. It would only be funnier if it ended on April Fool’s Day.

Anyone that puts stock in 2012 as global stop time is giving far too much credit to a civilization that was convinced that the world was created in 3114 BC. They are actually dumber than Sarah Palin in that regard. Still, it makes for a lot of fun speculation. What happens if they’re right? Are we ready? I think I am. Assuming I survive whatever cataclysmic event destroys civilization as we know it, life for any human that remains is going to be quite chaotic, that much is certain. How are things going to be on this little ball of rock and water if the sky does coming tumbling down?

I have to start with the supposition that everything I rely on will be gone and that I won’t have the knowledge to rebuild it. I don’t know how anything works. Nothing. I basically live a life of faith. I have faith that my car will start, that clean water will fall from the wall when I need it, that somehow electric energy will be waiting for me at the little plastic socket when I shove something plug-shaped into it, that the artificial winter I keep locked in a box in my kitchen will keep my food cold, that by somehow hitting a series of buttons I can send a message across the world in less than a second, that I can toss a pill down my throat and destroy any bad microscopic bacteria that may be affecting me. It all might as well be witchcraft as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t know how an engine works or how to make paper or how to create a solar cell. I’m dumb, or I will be in a post-apocalyptic world, anyway. So what exactly makes me think that I’m ready?

I think that the world is going to be run by the fringe. The unaccepted of today’s society will be the only hope for the future. Archaic jobs will resurface. The computer engineer will starve to death while the girl that makes homemade dragon candles in her mom’s basement to sell at the Renaissance Festival will be rich. I don’t know how to make a candle. She’s going to get my business. You know what I won’t need? Access to the Internet from my useless, unpowered laptop.

We live in an age where huge, hulking robotic machines do all of the un-fun stuff. They strip meat from the bone in massive factories and shape metal and cook our food in mass quantity so that all we have to do is heat it up. In the future we’re going to need the butcher and the baker and the aforementioned candlestick maker. Hopefully they’ll be too busy rebuilding the world this time around to spend their days hanging out in a bathtub together.

The nerdy thirty-year-old that taught himself how to make chainmail so he could live-action role-play with his friends; that guy will be a millionaire. He’ll be the next big thing. Only a handful of celebrities as we know them would make it though. Bobby Flay and Bob Vila will probably be fine. You know who won’t? Snookie. The Situation. Perez Hilton. Someone will eat them.

All my musician friends should be okay in the new world, too. With no mp3s or iPods, the Minstrel will flourish again. We got lazy and forgot about him. Somewhere along the line we traded tradition for the reliability and convenience of digital files. Today, in the age of technology, any song you want is just one illegal download away. Post-Apocalypse, however, you’ll have to wait for a Minstrel to wander out of the forest with a lute. And what if he’s a crappy Minstrel? What if he has a bad memory?

“Sing that song I like!”

“She was a fast machine, she kept her la la la la la la, something, something, hmm hmm hmm that I ever seen…”

“You suck”.

“I- I- I- Wait, wait! I know ‘Brown Eyed Girl’!”

“Every shitty Minstrel knows ‘Brown Eyed Girl’. C’mon, Tom. I told you we should have gone to see Metallica at the castle.”

All my hopes lie on the resurrection of certain jobs. That’s where I find myself becoming optimistic. I’m honest when I say that I don’t know one single thing about survival. I can’t cook, I can’t start a fire, and I don’t own a gun. I do, however, tell a damn good story. When there’s an opening for Bard or Jester, I’m in. I’ll trade my tales around a campfire in exchange for deer meat or protection or sunglasses like in The Book of Eli.

That, or someone will make a jacket out of my skin.

I really hope they like jokes in the future.

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SLADE HAM is a stand up comedian. He has performed in 52 countries on six continents, a journey that can be followed in his book, Until All the Dragons Are Dead. One day he hopes to host a travel show and continue to trick the world into paying him to do the things he loves to do. Slade is also an Editor for The Nervous Breakdown's Arts and Culture section. He keeps a very expensive storage unit in Houston, TX.

59 responses to “When the Sky Comes Tumbling Down”

  1. In a post-apocalpytic world, I will make my riches as a juice harp player. Also known as a Jew’s harp or jaw harp. Depending on what part of the world you’re reading this. Ever since a 1st grade field trip to Williamsburg, VA, I have been a master of the juice harp. I’ve always wondered when my big payday would come. I thought it was American Idol. Wrong. Then Nashville Star. Wrong again. By reading your story, Slade, I now realize it is post-apocalyptic America. Why? Because minstels need sidekicks and you can make also make a fire for Bobby Flay by striking the juice harp against a rock hard enough.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      this is weird. i just met a guy in a pub who plays the jew harp… he said noone ever mention it… i agreed… freaky shit…

      • I’ve been known to mesmerize audiences at Christmas dinner with my rendition of Jingle Bells. With that said, I’m fairly certain in a post-apocalyptic age this would equate to my security and well-being by my keepers. My keepers being those who worship my skills as a juice harpist. I would also be fed grapes by my own personal whores.

  2. Slade Ham says:

    I have a feeling that there will almost certainly be a shortage of Jew’s/juice/jaw harp players. Maybe we can work something out, the same way Mitch Hedberg had Chuck Savage play bass in the background on “Strategic Grill Locations”.

    Find me when it all hits the fan?

    • Will do. Should you see a line of hypnotized evangelical southern baptists barefoot stretching the continental United States, there you shall find me. He played Jingle Bells. And it was good.

  3. Gloria says:

    Oh man. Where do I start?

    First of all, I have a confession: I bought into the Y2K thing. In my defense, I was 23 on December 31, 1999 and I hadn’t yet perfect the art of Thinking For Myself. Which is why, when instructed, I went out and bought a book called The Hippy Survival Guide to Y2K, which sounds like a joke but was actually written by a man who also took the whole thing seriously. Even though Y2K didn’t happen, I still have the book on my bookshelf because, believe it or not, it’s surprisingly good and quite useful. Not only does Oehler give you permission to eat salt with abandon, but he also explains an idiot-proof way of building shelter with a few boards and a hole in the ground. Seriously – you should own this book.

    My other comment is also a book recommendation. If you want to be a jester in the Zombie Apocalypse, you really, really need to read Fool by Christopher Moore (also the author of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal and several other painfully funny books.) Fool retells the story of “King Lear” from the perspective of the Jester, Pocket. Seriously, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is heinous fuckery most foul.

    This post is wonderful, and I’ve already shared it with my friend Riley, who is a comedian in Nashville. You’re a crack-up, sir.

    • Gloria says:

      For the record, “and several other painfully funny books” should not be in italics, because it is not a part of the book title. In case that wasn’t clear. 🙂

    • Slade Ham says:

      I was 23 as well when Y2K reared its head. I was totally broke and had nothing to lose, and I was kind of pulling for it a little bit. The chaos sounded like fun, hahaha. I have to go find that book now, as well as Christopher Moore.

      And you’re not talking about Riley Fox by chance are you?

      • Gloria says:

        I am, indeed, referring to Riley Fox. 🙂 I love this small, strange world.

        • Slade Ham says:

          We only know each other digitally. From MySpace I believe, though I think we’re on Facebook now, too. Say hi for me?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          more weirdness. just the other day I was urging JMB, a nashville resident, to check out Riley Fox. who I also now from myspace… the world is small… and weird…

        • Slade Ham says:

          Wow. Now if Riley plays the jew harp…….

        • Riley Fox says:

          Oh man, I’m being discussed! I’ve finally hit the BIG TIME! HI, MOM! [frantic waving]

          I’m afraid I’m no good at the Jew’s Harp, but I can play the hell out of a Presbyterian’s Bagpipes. Literally. (I have no idea what any of that even means. I just liked the phrase, “Presbyterian’s Bagpipes.”)

          By the way, Slade, this is a fantastic piece. The section on the Minstrels of the future is hysterical.


        • Slade Ham says:

          Well heya, stranger. I’ll have to swing through Nashville and say hello. I’m off to Google “Presbyterian’s Bagpipes”.

        • Riley Fox says:

          Haha. If my information is correct, Presbyterian’s Bagpipes date all the way back to the early 21st century, when I pulled them out of my ass roughly an hour ago.


  4. Thomas Wood says:

    I am satisfied that, after the apocalypse, all the DJs of the world will have to find jobs.

  5. Anon says:

    Just from gleaning some of the TNB stories of the past few days, I can envision a screenplay about a post-Apocalyptic world in which I use discarded dominatrix equipment to manage my stable of captured jester-minstrels, driving them from place to place in an armored Greyhound bus (or perhaps school bus, in a tip of the hat to Erika Rae and Marni), forcing them to perform in various dumps in exchange for food and ammunition. When they stop being entertaining, I’ll sell them to local cannibal tribes as food after first relieving them of their luxurious back-hair pelts.

    Eventually, of course, they’ll be freed when I’m slain in some spectacularly brutal fashion by Zara, as played by Lucy Lawless.

  6. Slade Ham says:

    Hahaha, I’m certain we can find a screenwriter on here… Save me a seat on the bus.

    Now I have to go catch up on my reading. Clearly I’ve missed a few.

  7. Richard Cox says:

    This is great. You really hit your stride with the “I have to start with the supposition…” paragraph. Love especially the line about the artificial winter.

    End of the world cults and stories are goofy. Why the hell is everyone so excited for the world to end? I like the way it is now. There is no such thing as the good ol’ days. The good days are now, and tomorrow. Modern technology is great. Imagine how great it will be when someone finally invents the holodeck.

    However, the most interesting EOD possibility is one like you describe. Where we’re all still here, but nothing works. The only way this is likely to happen, which you probably know, is from an electromagnetic pulse. An EMP wouldn’t physically hurt anyone (unless you have a pacemaker or some other kind of electronic life-saving chip in your body) but it would render useless any machine with a microchip in it. The power grid would shut down almost immediately, and almost no cars would work (though antiques would). American society would quickly crumble mainly because the food supply would stop. People would fight over food stores (imagine if you lived near a Wal-Mart distribution center). Eventually we could probably get the power back on, but it would take a long time. Automobiles would be almost impossible to produce because their computer-controlled factories would all have to be rebuilt with old technology. Even with ample food, life expectancy would go down dramatically because we’d lose all the high tech medical equipment we’d come to rely on.

    Last week, an ice storm was forecast for Tulsa and the grocery stores were decimated by people who were afraid they wouldn’t have bread for a couple of days. Imagine what it would be like if the ice storm went on forever?

    I think, instead of food, we should prepare by stocking up on recreational drugs. If it ever actually happens (which it won’t), just get yourself all kinds of fucked up and go out in style…

    • Anon says:

      Thoroughly geeking out here but it would make for an interesting sociological study. As I understand it – and I gladly confess my ignorance here – you would need a pretty significantly high-altitude burst to generate an EMP that would cover the entire nation and the greatest effect would be in direct line beneath the explosion. Given that this would be the Heartland where there is a larger segment of society somewhat more accustomed to interruption of modern conveniences as well as a lower population density, it might not be quite so horrible as, say, on either highly urbanized and population-dense coasts. I would not want to be in, say, Newark and have the lights go out for good. Not that I would want to be in Newark at all but that’s neither here nor there.

      Of course, I have no desire to see for myself how things would turn out. I like my soft life much too much these days.

      • Richard Cox says:

        You’re totally right. I’m tinkering with this as a novel idea, and if I do it, I’m going with the distant supernova idea, one that is too far away to burn up the Earth but that could possibly decimate society with an EMP. It’s extremely farfetched, but once you accept that it did happen, the story would be in the reaction to it. And not in the disaster movie way but in the individual and human responses.

        Last year’s novel, One Second After has the same premise (that jackass stole my idea!). But it was more of a jingoistic, right-wingy, preachy defense of Christian values than it was a human story. It gets the point across, though. If it happens, we’re screwed.

        • Anon says:

          Interesting! I wonder (not that you couldn’t tweak the science for the sake of fiction) if a cosmic burst would affect only the portion of the planet facing (think “flashlight shined on basketball”) it or if it would actually warp around the contour of the planet (think “ham radio signal”) and hit everyone. It would be interesting to see if China and India become (remain?) superpowers in such a world out of sheer population – back to the old school of backs working the fields and wave assaults acquiring territory. The tribe with the most members wins.

          I have a handful of manly-in-their-own-minds friends who will occasionally opine “I wish I could go back to the 1800s”. I tend to get disinvited from the conversation when I respond with things like, “Yeah? Hope you don’t step on any rusty nails.”

        • Slade Ham says:

          I’d be more curious to see how the United States would react if all of the other “super powers” were suddenly eliminated… if China/India/the Middle East no longer were viable competitors. Would we really be this wonderful country full of ideals and morals that we claim to be, if we didn’t really have to be?

        • Anon says:

          Oh, quite the opposite, I think! Having an enemy gives one an excuse to be heartless. If the rest of the world were to collapse, we’d feel obligated to “help our lesser brethren” until we devolved into the muck along with them. Then again, I’m already a heartless, selfish bastard so…. 🙂

    • Slade Ham says:

      It is staggering how unprepared we would actually be if it did happen (which, like you said, it won’t). I am hardly prepared for things that I KNOW will happen, much less a hypothetical. I don’t even know it’s a holiday sometimes until I check the mail and it’s not there. Nobody can expect me to be ready for Armageddon when I can’t remember Veteran’s Day.

      And I enjoy the prospects of progress myself… not a throwback to archaic times. I so desperately hope I am around for the Holodeck.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Oddly enough, yesterday I was driving past the site where the wrath of an EMP descended on me (and others), in 1958.


      Teak and Orange were less than 4 MT, and there would have been little or no solid-state equipment anywhere around. I do remember, at about that time, buying one (that’s 1) transistor to fool with. I can’t say whether it was destroyed or not.

      When I was in my Bougainville village, End Of World predictions were fairly common.

  8. I did a whole project on making recycled paper for my 5th Grade Science Fair. Very ahead of my time for 198%, too. Paper’s easy my friend.

    What isn’t as easy, is a brilliant set-up and knock-down of the Butcher, the Baker and the Candlestick maker.

    Bard, Jester, Fool – you’re hired. 🙂

  9. Ducky Wilson says:

    I can fillet fish. And sing songs. But even though I am one, I don’t know Brown Eyed Girl. Is this a prerequisite for the Apocalypse?

    • Slade Ham says:

      Only if you want to be in the really bad cover bands. I’m hoping originality will fight it’s way to the front though. I’d let you in on your cooking skills, assuming you know what to do with the fish once it’s filleted. (I do not, hence your job security.)

  10. Greg Olear says:

    I am a human karaoke machine. I can fudge my way through most of the rock hits everyone knows. So I can hang out by the fire — until the guitar strings break, and then I’m doomed.

    My greatest fear about this sort of thing — I’m not really afraid of it, but I think about it when I read a post like this — is losing my glasses, like Piggy in “Lord of the Flies.” Man, that would suck.

    This was really funny, Slade. The ending in particular. And good call on the Jehovah’s with their dart-throwing. If one comes to the door now, I need only say, “1914.”

    • Slade Ham says:

      Pointing out the missed prophecy is a helluva lot more fun than being quiet until they leave. And we may starve to death, but it’s starting to look like our campfire would definitely be the one to hang out around.

  11. Brilliant, funny stuff. I’m always amused by the people who predict the end of the world, and a little afraid of those who believe in it… The burying food and stocking up guns thing freaks me out. Those don’t seem like the actions of a person who’s responsible enough to wield a weapon.

    And the Mayans were very patient with their prediction. I don’t think I could wait that long to see if I was right. When I place a bet I like to see whether I won or lost.

  12. Slade Ham says:

    I tend to agree with you on the people that stockpile, but I have to admit, I’ve been more than surprised by the intelligence level of some of these folks. I guess intelligence doesn’t necessarily negate the possibility that they’re insane though. I realized that as I was typing it…

    And that is EXACTLY what makes the Mayan joke so brilliant.

    A comedian – I cannot for the life of me remember who – joked about how everyone made a big deal about the end of the world happening in 2012 because that’s when the Mayan calendar ran out.

    “Hell, if that’s what marks the end of the world,” he said, “MY calendar runs out at the end of THIS year.”

  13. Matt says:

    I know how to start a fire, build a shelter, navigate with only a compass, and kill a man in six different ways with only the first three fingers of my right hand. Plus, I survived Hurricane Katrina, which sure as hell seemed like the goddamn Apocalypse. So when the real thing happens, I know exactly how I’m going to seize power and establish my kingdom.

    That’s right, bitches. I’m gonna go Mad Max on your asses.

  14. Slade Ham says:

    I survived Katrina as well. I take that back. I survived the influx of permanent refugees that are still hanging around Houston, hahaha. I had a few friends in Louisiana though that made it through that, and I sat through Rita in Beaumont and Ike in Houston. I cannot imagine things being like that indefinitely.

    “I am the Nightrider. I’m a fuel injected suicide machine. I am the rocker, I am the roller, I am the out-of-controller!”

    I love that movie.

  15. Amigo, I absolutely promise, should the Apocalypse come, and you die, I’ll celebrate your life by making you into a Ham sandwich that will keep me alive a little longer.

    I’m sure you’ll be delicious.

    C’mere, Tlacolotl. Hahaha! This will be hilarious one day! What if we just stop it right there? Hahaha! That should freak someone out one day.”

    God, I hope this was how it went down.

  16. Zara Potts says:

    Gee. My only real talent is in folding dollar bills into pixie boots. I hope I survive.

  17. Angela Tung says:

    great essay!

    the whole time i was watching “the road,” i thought, would i survive? i decided probably not and had a better shot if i were stranded with my boyfriend, who was in the military and knows martial arts. i’d make him train me every day because there’s no way i’m going into some dark basement or tunnel with god knows what on the other side.

    i might survive with lip balm. lots of it.

    • Slade Ham says:

      Lip balm will a luxury item owned only by queens and kings post Apocalypse. You should trade in the martial arts/military guy for some royalty in order to secure your lip balm supply.

      …Unless he reads this and wants to kill me, in which case I take back everything I said. Martial artists are the kings of the future 🙂

      • Angela Tung says:

        haha, you’re so right! maybe i should learn how to make lip balm. with that, in combination with my guy’s martial-arts abilities, i will rule the post-apocalyptic world! mwahahahaha!

  18. Slade Ham says:

    … And now you’re ready.

    I feel like I’m running my own little Survivalist Think Tank. Just remember where you got the idea when the Dark Times come. I’m going to be looking for a couch to crash.

  19. Very funny!
    I have always said I’d have been the first one eaten in the Donner party. I’m bloody useless. In any kind of disaster, I’d be sold as scrap parts or something. I would not even survive a season on Survivor, much less anything real. There’s a certain freedom in just accepting this, or so I tell myself . . .

  20. […] SLADE HAM would probably get his ass kicked, if he were one of the survivors of whatever catastrophic event wi…. […]

  21. Carl D'Agostino says:

    I’m ready for the post appacapplicktic world. Think. You have to have something important, that others need to enhance your stature in the the PAW world. How much could you save or have from the Pre PAW on a moment’s notice for a cataclysmic, catastrophic, catastrophe? Something unique that no one else would be able to duplicate. So I am keeping a three inch magnifying glass in my pocket at all times. It could very well be the most important thing to have in the PAW Era. With a mag glass you can make fire. An inexhaustable device. And you could trade the fire making for anything else you needed or wanted on the planet. Matches would have run out so will lighters having been used up trying to get high on mattress stuffing or cactus seeds. I would be the most important man in society, THE PROVIDER OF FIRE. I will be a God ! All for this for a little item from the dollar store.

  22. […] I figured I’d just look for stuff about the end of the world, like this humorous piece by Slade Ham, about his lackluster survival skills, or this more circumspect gem from Ronlyn […]

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