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Dec
18
2012

Armageddon

The end may be near, but Tom Schreier feels fine.

 

It’s the end of the world as we know it/

It’s the end of the world as we know it/

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine

REM – It’s the End of the World as We Know It

***

Hey everyone! Why the hell aren’t we all freaking out?

The world is ending on December 21!

The Mayans predicted that we would all perish on that day in a crimson display of fiery doom. And, man, it’s not that far-fetched. Everyone has tried to warn us, from Al Gore to Chicken Little.

Let me tell you, they are on to something: it’s only snowed in Minnesota twice this winter. Twice. Sure we got dumped on in early December, but I have also driven through rain recently. That’s not supposed to happen.

I haven’t seen a true winter out here since I was an underclassman in high school.

Let me make this clear: the sky is falling! Armageddon is immanent!

Sure, Kid Cudi may not be worried at all, but he’s so high he thinks he’s on the moon right now and that Martians are invading. For all of us that are sober, this news should be incredibly frightening. There are only two options: grab a bong and take a massive rip or get on your knees and pray for forgiveness on Judgment Day.

Just kidding!

The world probably isn’t going to end, but if there’s something I’ve learned from watching countless hours of The Simpsons and Family Guy, it’s that there is money to be made if you can convince the masses that Armageddon is coming.

There are a couple of Simpsons apocalypse episodes, but the one I’m referring to is “Lisa the Skeptic” where the city of Springfield is building a new mall on an area where a large amount of fossils have been found. Lisa demands that the city does an archeological dig and ends up finding a skeleton with wings.

Convinced it is the body of an angel, the people of the city gather near it on top of a hill. At sundown they hear it proclaim “Prepare for the end…of low prices” and the angel, which is connected to a giant rope, is lifted off the ground and placed in front of the giant Wal-Mart style shopping center. At first the people of Springfield are upset that the owners exploited their most profound beliefs, but cannot resist the discounts offered at the mall and shop there anyway.

In the Family Guy episode, named “April in Quahog,” the local news reports that Stephen Hawking has discovered a black hole at

Don't trust the media.

the edge of the solar system and that earth will be destroyed within the next 24 hours.

Anticipating that the end is near, protagonist Peter Griffin steals a lion from the zoo, says the “you-know-what” word in a black neighborhood and tells his wife Lois that he hates spending time with his family. Immediately after confessing this news in front of his own children, the local news anchors announce that the black hole was just an April Fools joke.

In summary, if you give people too much prescience in an apocalyptic situation, anarchy will result and regrettable decisions will be made. This is unfortunate, of course, because a warning of Armageddon is typically just a ploy to profit from people’s fear either by getting them to shop at a mall or increase a local news station’s ratings and you end up the poor sap that made an ass of yourself.

My goal here is not to make a profit off of you or entice you to do something stupid. Trust me, journalism has gone through an Armageddon of its own already and nobody (except for Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly) is making any money right now. Furthermore, I’m not savvy enough to fool even the most gullible people.

My goal is to pay tribute to one of my former professors at Santa Clara, Dr. Phil Kesten, whose influence was monumental in my development as a writer.

Before I get into who he is and how I met him, let me just offer you a copy of the first assignment I turned in for his class:

 

Scientists have space exploration backwards. Instead of looking for life among the stars, let them visit us. I mean here, on earth. Hell, I’d invite Marvin the Martian, a childhood hero, over for dinner (assuming he eats).

Space exploration can only take us so far. A voyage to our moon was a monumental expedition in history. It showed that we were capable of exploring, first-hand, an object in space and proved that Americans were superior to Russians, which was confirmed 21 years later on an ice rink in Lake Placid.

However, what we found was a giant rock object that was hardly inhabitable.

I don’t mean to downplay the event, it was monumental in American history, but it was just our moon. We haven’t even visited other planets in our solar system. What happened to the neighborhood watch program?

From what we’ve gathered Mars seems like an inhabitable planet at one time. Shouldn’t we go visit it and have humankind witness first-hand what is going on out there? Wouldn’t that give us a better idea of what happened?

Perhaps we migrated from Mars. Maybe millions of years ago it was a green planet—and by that I mean it had grass and trees, not hybrid cars—and inhabited by countless humans who did what we do on earth today. Maybe my great ancestors enjoyed the same things I do today—professional sports, comedies, and social gatherings—just a few miles farther away from the sun.

It’s not far-fetched to think that humans exhausted the resources of Mars and decided to bounce before all hell broke loose and the planet turned into the bright orange lifeless sphere it is today. That’s what we’re doing right now. Who knows? Years from now British Petroleum and Hummer may turn our planet into the next Mars.

Embrace the Martian, embrace the Martian.

This is what we should do: instead of worrying about visiting whoever is out there, let them come to us.

Don’t misinterpret what I have to say. It’s great that people are curious about what is surrounding us. The more we know about our surroundings, the better. If tomorrow I run into a Romulan on the way to class I’ll be able to ask him if he is really related to any Vulcans and, if so, if they celebrate holidays together.

Speaking in more practical terms, let’s say tomorrow I run into a beautiful woman from Fomalhut b. I can ask her if her planet is really 25 light years away and why there is a ring of dust surrounded by her planet. It would be a great icebreaker.

I’ve heard rumors that life as we know it will end in 2012. I don’t really believe it, but to be honest, I’m more concerned on surviving my 21st birthday.

There is some merit to this scuttlebutt, however. The Mayans predicted that death will come by fire and this could happen in two very practical ways: a) nuclear war, which has been thrown around now and then, or b) BP drills another hole in the ocean and someone drops a match.

I’m not too worried about that happening though. There is life much more intelligent than me out there. It’s just logical: There are millions of stars and I’m not too bright.

If someone out there is watching us, they’re probably not going to just let us all die whether if it comes in 2012 or sometime down the line when we run out of natural resources trying to power our SUVs. They’ll come and help us out.

If we can show them that we know how to make the best of what we have here, they’ll want our advice to help them out. After all, if we build a great American empire here, who says we can’t make life great for them out there?

If not, we’re the most intelligent life form we know of, right? We’d figure out how to get out before Armageddon. Worst-case scenario: we draw straws to see who saves us all.

I pick Bruce Willis. He doesn’t know how to fail.

 

Okay, a couple things you should know here.

First of all, I had just watched Armageddon, the 2001 Michael Bay film, with a couple of my housemates during dinner. This was the Fall Quarter of my junior year and I had just moved into a house with seven other guys, half who were my age and half who were seniors. This was the first year all of us juniors had moved off campus and, in fact, it was the first “family dinner” where all of the guys in my house had eaten together.

Secondly, I chose to take Physics of Star Trek in order to complete one of two math courses required to graduate from Santa Clara*. I’m not much of a Trekkie—I’m a Star Wars guy at heart—so I was really just taking the course to ensure that I would get a four-year degree. This means that when I first got my paper back, I saw I got an A (I had to do a double-take), and stuffed it in a folder.

*The other course, Math 6, was also monumental to my career as a writer. If you’ve read my earlier writing, you’ll recall that it was during my studying for the class that my friend suggested that I become a sports journalist.

A week after I got it back, Dr. Kesten stopped by my desk and asked, “Did you read my comment on your paper?” I was

I don't want to close my eyes. I don't want to fall asleep...

embarrassed. By that time I had developed a routine for reading comments: I’d read what the teacher had to say on the first assignment, which is usually ungraded or not worth many points, and gauge whether it was worth reading the comments on the rest of the material I turned in.

Because the first written assignment in most classes is typically an introductory and informal, I would explain that I planned on pursuing a career in sportswriting after college and included a little humor to see how each instructor responded to it. Without exception, every paper came back with one of two responses:

 

  1. This is pretty funny. Good luck! I hear its tough out there.
  2. Let me remind you that you will be expected to write in a formal tone for the remainder of class.

 

Both responses were to be expected. Most teachers were not expecting humor in a student’s paper—it goes without saying that most academic papers are supposed to be, well, academic in tone—and, more pertinently, I was one of very few Communication majors that knew what they were doing with their degree after college* so I drew interest simply because I was an outlier.

*To illustrate: During a Communications course I took during the fall of final year at Santa Clara and the professor asked his class of approximately 40 students, the majority of whom were seniors, to raise their hand if he or she knew what they were doing after college. Not if we had a job lined up, just if we had an idea of what we were going to do.

Two of us raised our hands.

Kesten’s response fell in line with the first model: “I really enjoyed this,” he wrote. “Come see me after class.” Typically when I got the “Did you read my comments?” question, I’d have something written on my paper that included the latter phrase, but somehow was missing the former.

Fair to say, I felt bad that I hadn’t read the comments. It was no bother, he said, and we scheduled to meet later that week.

When I told my housemate Mike, who was a Mechanical Engineering major, that I was meeting with Dr. Kesten he scoffed, saying that he didn’t think the physics professor would give me the time of day. Kesten had much more important things going on. The man had a degree from MIT, a doctorate in High Energy Particle Physics from the University of Michigan and had been part of an experimental collaboration at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory that discovered a top quark in 1994.

He also had multiple awards to his name, including California Professor of the Year (2005), and co-founded Docutek, an

A Quark...but not that quark.

information database used by the university. “Catch him while you can,” another friend of mine in the engineering department told me. “I have no idea why he’s still here at Santa Clara.”

The first time I entered Dr. Kesten’s office I remember being nervous as hell. I shook his hand, thanked him for taking the time to meet with me, and then sat speechless before him. It’s not like he was a sage old professor that was balding and had a grey, unkempt beard. He had a full head of dark hair, was clean-shaven and dressed in a suit and tie.

Noticing I was reticent, he began the conversation by saying that he really enjoyed my writing and as a former editor for Modern Dad magazine and felt he could help me out.

My first thought was, Get the hell out of here. Engineers aren’t supposed to know how to write! That’s the one thing I’ve got on you guys!

In that first meeting he not only offered a couple of suggestions on how to improve the piece I included above, but gave me the name of a couple of radio personalities and writers that he enjoyed and introduced me to William Safire’s rules for writers.

In subsequent meetings he would sent me an article to read and then ask me to send him one of my works and a piece from another writer that I particularly liked. He would offer suggestions on how to improve my piece using techniques from the two other articles.

He kept his advice simple: minimize the use of “however,” write three words before using a comma, divide quotes after the first sentence, et cetera. For more advanced corrections, he would pull up an article off of his computer to illustrate how another writer conquered a roadblock I was facing.

This was the only time in my four years at Santa Clara that I had somebody sit down and discuss fundamental writing with me at length. I always felt it was unfortunate that that wasn’t his job—let me remind you that he was a physics professor—because I wished I could have taken another course with him. I wanted him to read what I had written, to sit down and go over countless articles with him while picking his brain on how to improve my own writing.

Dr. Kesten is one of many people that have helped me on my endeavor into the world of sportswriting. If the world ended tomorrow, I can honestly say that I was on my way to something big and his instruction is a major reason why.

Tom Schreier writes for TheFanManifesto. He can followed on Twitter at @tschreier3. Email him at tschreier3@gmail.com.

The entire FanMan team can be followed on Twitter at @TheFanManifesto, or liked on Facebook by clicking here.

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