A giant ball of fire ascended into the sky near my Las Vegas home on a recent morning. I heard the fire trucks and police sirens; I saw thick, black smoke rising over rooftops a few streets away. Rather than stay inside and safely mind my own business, I walked over to check it out—was this The End? I’d been reading about doomsdayers predicting a giant meteorite strike this summer, possibly prompted by cosmic disappointment in U.S. election-year behavior. So if this was It, I wanted my selfie with the apocalypse. I wasn’t alone in this—a zombie-esque crowd walked toward the fiery scene from all directions, all holding up cell phones to record video as they marched.
The ball of flames was still burning in the sky above a massive hole in the street. As we got closer, layers of extra heat ratcheted up the already insane summer temperature, confirming my suspicion that we’re hell-bound. Police roped us back with yellow crime-scene tape, telling us the gas-line breach would burn until the gas got turned off, but I was still thinking apocalyptic meteor shower. When I held my phone up high to get a better shot of the crater in the street, a guy behind me barked, “Hey, move it! You’re not the only one here, you know!” And there you have it: We stood on the brink of extinction and argued about our view.
Southwest Gas workers turned off the gas supply, the fire department put the fire out and we all lived another day.
But I still had my suspicions.
According to a June political poll, 13 percent of American voters would prefer “a giant meteor hitting the earth” than the election of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. “The Meteor is particularly appealing to independent voters,” explains the summary by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling. Among independents, there’s “functionally a three way tie: 27 percent [for the meteor] to 35 percent for Clinton and 31 percent for Trump.”
“This has given rise to the ‘Giant Meteor for President’ movement,” the summary notes. Indeed it has. I did deep research on this movement and learned that I can buy a red, white and blue bumper sticker reading, “Giant Meteor 2016/Just End It Already” for $6.50. This seems like a thoughtful, entrepreneurial response to the incessant absurdity we’ve brought upon ourselves. Plus, it makes a handy epitaph for this 240-year experiment in freedom and self-governance. So I bought one. But I don’t plan to put it on my car—Commitment! Blah! Bumper stickers! Ack!—but I did follow the Sweet Meteor of Death campaign on Twitter, #SMOD16, along with more than 25,000 other people I don’t really feel comfortable joining.
A few nights after the gas leak/meteor crash in my neighborhood, quite a few Las Vegans witnessed a mysterious streak of light in the dark sky, prompting news stories and astrological inquiries and still more doomsday talk. Was it the beginning of an apocalyptic meteor shower? A UFO? A missile attack?
The official explanation? Fragments of space junk. Apparently, an unmanned Chinese rocket had re-entered the atmosphere, and most of its 6-ton body was burning up in the sky, visible only in the Western U.S. I had my doubts.
Then, across the continent, piles of poo started randomly exploding in flames. “Manure piles spontaneously combust in upstate New York,” read the headlines, which, inexplicably, did not get that much attention. You may have already known that micro-organisms in poo generate heat that can, in extreme environments, spontaneously combust. I did not.
I had managed to rationalize fluky fireballs and the bumper-sticker campaign begging for extinction, and was even trying to accept flaming chunks of space trash. But randomly exploding manure leapt over the boundaries of my capacity for denial. Clearly the universe is trying to tell us something. I hope it’s not too late to listen.