Reading Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague has me thinking about my Armageddon Team.
Written in 1912, the story takes place in post-apocalyptic California in the year 2063–sixty years after the “red death” wiped out civilization and most of humanity.
London’s protagonist, Granser, is an old man who lives at the mercy of his grandsons, the “savage progeny of his loins:”
“Sometimes the memory of the past is very strong upon me, and I forget that I am a dirty old man, clad in goat-skin, wandering with my savage grandsons who are goatherds in the primeval wilderness.”
Before the outbreak, Granser was a professor of English literature; but his refinement and education are useless in the new world order.
I have often imagined myself in Granser’s predicament.
When Armageddon hits, you’re going to want people around you who can cook, mend, farm, scavenge, hunt, haul, navigate, and fight.
I have none of these skills; I’ve got no game.
It has occurred to me that if I end up in a line-up waiting for some team captain to pick me, I’ll be left out like the baby sister in a neighborhood game of kickball.
I mentioned this recently to a friend over brunch. She objected sweetly, “Oh that’s not true. You’d make a good person to have around in the apocalypse.”
When I pressed her for specifics, she thought hard and finally said “You’d make a good priest.”
Hmmm. That’s kind of her to think so. But when it comes to picking teams, the chosen ones will be scrappy and resourceful, not contemplative. Players before prayers.
So I started thinking about fielding my own Armageddon team.
I observe people’s skills and behaviors and make mental notes about where they will be useful to me when all hell breaks loose.
One of the requirements to be on my A-team is that I must know you in real life. I can’t just pick some Alaskan prepper I saw on a reality show and say “I choose you.”
I need to be realistic and work within the limits of my social capital.
With that in mind, I started building my mental roster with people in my own neighborhood:
B & D. He’s a rocket scientist who builds guns in the garage. She’s a doctor with good sewing skills. They are both inventors. And they have a boat. C, who knows meats. S & C, electrical engineers who will be handy in generating power. C also is a woodworker.
There folks on my Amegaddon Team who I no longer encounter day-to-day, but whose assets have made an indelible impression:
V., a casual friend who is a master gardener with acres of fruit trees and vegetables. K., an event planner who can command a room of 2000 guests and hundreds more workers, orchestrating food service, entertainment, and security, all while wearing high heels. She’s also awesome in an Escape Room. C, a former co-worker whose skills I noticed in the aforementioned Escape Room. She didn’t take command, but she patiently fished a key out of a fishbowl using only dental floss and a paperclip while the rest of us were tearing the room apart and bickering at each other. L., my friend who is an ultra-marathoner. Good for scouting and communications. D, my former personal trainer who used to be in the navy and can carry barrels of fuel up several stairs to the flight deck. K, a pharmacist who does pyrotechnics on the side.
I am banking on being able to recruit quite a few people from my family:
My husband, S. He cooks, is strong, and has a tremendous track record as a provider. My brother D, a botanist and keeper of the seeds. My brother T, who can sail. My brother K, who can hunt with bow and arrow. My nephew J, who can mix and transport fertilizers. Assorted other nieces and nephews who can hunt and shoot.
I definitely want my mother-in-law on my A-Team. She has collected nearly a century’s worth of sundry items that “might come in handy someday:” Blankets, coins, Tupperware, a Japanese sword collection, beer steins from Germany, decks of cards from every cruise she’s taken, and a bopping hula girl for the dashboard. She keeps it all remarkably accessible and inventoried in her 90-year-old mind.
There are loved ones who have not yet been tagged for my Armageddon Team. I won’t leave them behind, of course. I’ll make provisions for a “traveling team” comprised of my sentimental favorites.
Hopefully, I won’t ever need to call up my Armageddon Team. But I admit I’ve been thinking a lot more about it in 2020 than before.
As a dystopian story, “The Scarlet Plague” calls up eerie correlations to what we’re going through today: global pandemic, political upheaval, and major technological and industrial shifts.
It’s amazing to realize how much London was able to project about the future, even before events happened like the Spanish Flu, World War I, the Crash of 1929, and the Great Depression.
As Granser muses at the end of The Scarlet Plague:
“All things pass. Only remain cosmic force and matter, ever in flux, ever acting and reacting and realizing the eternal types—the priest, the soldier, and the king. Out of the mouths of babes comes the wisdom of all the ages. Some will fight, some will rule, some will pray; and all the rest will toil and suffer sore while on their bleeding carcasses is reared again, and yet again, without end, the amazing beauty and surpassing wonder of the civilized state.”