Recently, I bought a stuffed banana for each of my dogs. (Despite significant differences in both age and intellectual ability, they like to be treated as equals.) To my surprise, my older, saltier dog developed a rather tender and heartfelt attachment to her banana. That’s puzzling because her typical preference is to field dress any and all stuffed toys she’s given, removing their eyes and squeakers with surgical precision, gutting them of their filling, and then draping the pelts across the apartment like Colonel Kurtz settling in for the long, unauthorized occupation.
Not so with the banana. Even after a few days in her possession, its yellow velveteen exterior remains curiously unmolested. It occurs to me that she might not see it as the typical dog toy. It has a cartoonish mouth and eyes embroidered on it, which paired with its proportionate and lifelike shape and heft, make it deeply unsettling to encounter. The banana’s forlorn expression suggests that it might have once been a human, perhaps a human child, who at the very moment he realized the world is not good and people are not kind, was suddenly frozen for eternity as a fruit by a wicked sorcerer. Its eyes peer up, doe-like, from above a nervous half of a smile, as if to say, “My God! How will I ever forget the things I have seen?”
My senior dog loves this kind of grim psychological shit, and as such has taken to leaving the banana in places she knows only I will find it, in the moments when I am most vulnerable to its cursed energy. Propped in the doorway at sundown, the banana’s mournful, questioning eyes were the first to meet mine in the dusk as I clicked out the lights before bed. I walked into the bathroom early this morning and after steeling myself for another day, I looked down to find it laying in front of the sink, studying me expectantly. A soft crunch beneath my feet as I went to make the coffee, and where I lifted my foot, the banana recoiled and looked deeply into my soul, as if mouthing the words, How could you?
About twelve hours into this campaign of emotional abuse, I made the mistake of reading a New York Times report about how the nights are getting hotter and how this particular climate change KPI is driving a brutal uptick in American mortality, particularly among the poor and infirm. Well, reading the article wasn’t so much as a mistake as reading a thread full of reader responses to it was. Just a string of doom-pilled individuals, one after another, vacillating between bemoaning the folly of humankind and bleakly speculating on what the world will be like when our species inevitably goes extinct and the planet evolves into its next iteration without us. I can tell you the exact moment when The Doom gripped me personally, and it was when I read a comment which I have only slightly rephrased to protect the privacy of its author:
“We’re the dinosaurs now, idiots. Just buckle up and make the most of the ride to annihilation, okay? See you in hell, everybody.”
It put me in such a pit of despair that I had to, at eight o’clock in the morning, go and put on the loudest, zippiest Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass record available (!!Going Places!! obviously) and give myself some shock mariachi therapy. Revived from the edge of brain death, I shut my laptop and went for a long walk through the humid, coastal woodlands. I tried to imagine a world before any of us existed.
Zevon said it best: don’t the sun look angry through the trees? Especially now, with less ozone to filter its hostile glare. Bleak shit, bleak shit everywhere. The pundits all predicted a roaring 20s-type rebound as the freshly vaccinated hominids emerged from their quarantine caves, but I think that’s just the sort of naive, wishful, white-people thinking that inevitably follows any great period of disaster in North America. No, what we’re really seeing in all this weird, aggressive, nihilistic behavior is the tide finally going out on a year’s worth of accumulated bad brains. Of course climate change is very real and the prognosis ain’t great, but this type of Rust Cohle-adjacent “let’s walk hand in hand into one last midnight” shit in the comments thread of a single New York Times article is less a rational response to the state of affairs and more the expected product of a mass depressive episode.
Who has the energy to be rational anymore? As the foam recedes and the last crabs scuttle for cover, only the flotsam and jetsam of our damaged psyches now rots before us in that too-hot, too-close sun. I suspect that we may not know in our lifetime the full scope of what this kind of scourge does to a species (if, of course, our species survives), but some clues are already there. I see them in the weird and bleak dispatches from my dad, who like some type of Don DeLillo character has been steadily forwarding me YouTube predictions about the death of the planet, podcast episodes about the looming collapse of democracy, and lengthy speculative preprints from various medical journals on the preponderance of the Delta variant. I’m not saying he’s wrong to be concerned, but I am a little unsettled by how the doom has become such a dominant (doominant) theme that intelligent and otherwise interesting people have simply given up at some level and are now awash in the misery, slathering themselves with it on Twitter like a bunch of feral raccoons in a dumpster full of rancid pudding.
But can I really blame them? As the billionaires jet off into space and the Gulf of Mexico bursts into flames and the reclaimed swamplands of Florida devour entire condominiums, it is admittedly hard to keep one’s stick on the (rapidly melting) ice. It does understandably feel hopeless. But it doesn’t necessarily feel over. Is everyone just gonna bail? Is that it? A wrap on humanity? Fuck this, it’s over and there’s no point? This is no way to live, just glazed over with smarm and ennui. There must be some joy. There must be some purpose. There must be, somewhere, in all of it, a green little flicker of hope that’s worth nurturing. There must be, because this is no way to live.
This is no way to live, I say to myself, over and over, gazing into the still, cold eyes of the banana, which has appeared now as I type this, in my peripheral vision, drawing itself closer and closer, and as I press my eyes tightly shut, hoping it will go away, I hear it, inching ever nearer to me.
The banana says, “Shhh. I know what happens next.”
And then it all unfolds before me, like the big bang. A star crashes into another star, and from prehistoric oceans, sea monkeys evolve into upright, land-dwelling cable news anchors. The dinosaurs shrivel up in the fallout of the meteor blast, their bones picked apart by venture capitalists who will grind them into longevity supplements. But only just then, an Amazon delivery drone accidentally pierces the space/time continuum. It folds in on itself like a weird quantum mechanics origami, and everything that we have ever done or said or thought becomes totally meaningless. It is all revealed in that split second: the mysteries of time and tide, the great void from which all this emerged and the colorless, silent, dark to which we all one day must return.
“Don’t be afraid,” the banana whispers. “This won’t hurt a bit.”
From her shadowy corner, I hear the dog whisper: “The horror. The horror!”