often than some people like to admit, but I'm not one to complain. Death has turned out more fascinating than I could hope to explain. But that's off point. I've been asked by the Department of Immediate Post-Corporeal Affairs to "catalogue my last hours in existence for inclusion in the Apocalypticism Omnibus." It's some database of worlds' endings studied by intellectuals in the great beyond: an eschatological examination of what matters in the end -- I'm reading off the brochure.
I suppose I'm being included in the Omnibus because I witnessed The End. Although, that isn't saying much. At least a few million people witnessed it. It was pay-per-view after all.
My buddy Glenn offered to go half in, and I'll confess to a morbid curiosity. We planned to throw a party around the whole event. Glenn rented this mammoth flatscreen -- I think half the Titanic could have been saved on it.
For months Dr. T. Peenemünde had been running advertisements. Commercials screaming from TV's, "I'VE HAD ENOUGH, AND I'M TAKING YOU WITH ME!" The ads were paid for by Raymond Rosenthal. Rosenthal had made billions in a business he called cultural adaptation. Essentially, his corporation,Universal Adjustments, helped companies alter products to help them fit into various foreign markets. When a certain brand of cookies didn't sell in China, Rosenthal was hired. He retooled the creamy center between the chocolate cookies, making it less sugary and green tea flavored. A Taiwanese energy drink failed abroad until Universal Adjustments refurbished the product, marketing it with vodka in the United States. Since beef didn't go over well with Hindus, in India Rosenthal steered burger chains to chicken sandwiches. Raymond Rosenthal liked to say, "You don't sell Eskimos ice machines. You sell 'em brick makers." In Dr. T. Peenemünde, Rosenthal saw a chance to influence culture instead of just reflecting it.
A month after the Peenemünde commercials started, other curious ads soon ran. Outdoors stores pushed post-apocalypse
equipment, which looked like ordinary camping gear to me. Groceries advertised their abundance of canned goods and readymade meals. During the Spring, gun ads ran between baseball games. By the summer, whole businesses (franchises quietly connected to Universal Adjustments) cropped up around the country selling survivalist packages: everything you needed to live your Mad Max fantasy. Commercials for pharmaceuticals added terms like "end of the world anxiety" and "inevitability depression". Kids shows even devoted time to showing how to start a fire... before
commercials pushing Lil Survivors Kits.
Glenn and I found shit like this hilarious, and some of it was enjoyable. Like the Armageddon Burger, available for a limited time only, three all beef patties glued together by sharp cheddar smothered in barbeque sauce, mined with jalapenos, bacon, and all on a sourdough bun -- "Make your last meal epic." We ate it up, no pun intended.
The weird thing is that it all went from being unsettling to common place. In a few short months the apocalyptic commercials, especially Peenemünde's, became the same background noise all ads were. The static of everyone's life. Whether at a bar, home, or pumping gas, the ads yammered on regardless of how much attention anyone paid; and though we ignored them, our awareness of them was constant.
Looking back, Peenemünde made the strangest transition. His ad features him in an extreme close up, staring straight into the camera and seemingly out the TV. He looks sweaty. His jaw moves as he grinds his teeth. Eyes cracked red and bulging, his head starts to tremor and then without warning, he bellows at the top of his lungs, ""I'VE HAD ENOUGH, AND I'M TAKING YOU WITH ME!" It frightened me the first time I saw it. Not badly, but enough to wonder, What the hell was that? But as time went by, he became like a crazy uncle. If the ad didn't run during a stretch of commercials, you found yourself wondering, worrying, "Is Peenemünde gone?" Then a sigh of relief during the next
break as he screamed.
Sometimes, out at the bar, people would yell along with him. Cheers and bottles clinking. Laughter. The Mad Doctor is
Five months went by before the Peenemünde ads began featuring a sonorous voice over. After the doc had his say, the screen filled with details read by what might have been Alan Rickman, "On May 17, 2013, Dr. Thomas Peenemünde will end the world. Make the most of the time you have left, but should you wish to stare the Abyss in the eye... The End will be televised." Then info on ordering accompanied by ominous music.
That's when things really got crazy.
There may have been some people who believed it all outright. I can't say. As for myself, I figured it was the most elaborate publicity event of all time. Most of my friends agreed. With seven months to go, it sounded like the build up to a movie. Then a report ran on CNBC.
Closing Bell, a program about the stock market, featured an interview with the head of Universal Adjustments. Raymond Rosenthal beamed on screen, talking about the steady rise of his company's value over the last few months. Maria Bartiromo asked a few pointed questions about links to Peenemünde and the growing survivalist/apocalypse craze. Rosenthal couldn't contain himself. He went on about discovering this man, this urban legend of the Fortune 500s. According to Rosenthal, the story went that Peenemünde would burst into board meetings, screaming about redemption through annihilation, and demanding money to build a doomsday device. When asked how he got past security he claimed to have teleported, stating as much in way that suggested a person was an idiot for not believing him. He became a kind of corporate bogeyman, occasionally mimicked as a prank. But when he burst into a meeting at Universal Adjustments, Rosenthal didn't have the doctor thrown out.
When Maria Bartiromo pressed if Peenemünde's doomsday machine existed, Rosenthal simply said, with a glint in his eye, "You'll have to pay to see."
Like most folks, I saw the interview long after it aired. I watched it on the web when the Peenemünde craze peaked, about a month prior to the apocalypse's air date. It made me curious, so I went around online. Since the beginning of the Peenemünde ads, a website had been active, thanks to Universal Adjustments, where fans could donate money to the doctor's research. A streaming list ran across the bottom of the screen displaying names and donations: Gretchen Ennis - $0.25, Toby MacBride - $5, Chum-A-kik-kik-putt - $52.75, Delta Theta Omega - $100, ImmortalEviseracion32 $1.20, the Johnsens - $1,000... I couldn't believe it. By April 2013, the grand total came in at 1.02 million dollars.
That's about when Glenn and I decided to throw our party. We just had to see how it would all pan out. Of course, the odd thing is, looking back on it now, nothing short of the actual apocalypse would have been satisfying.
The anointed hour arrived. Glenn turned the lights off as we all huddled around the TV. I'll admit I felt like a little kid... a little kid with a gut full of whiskey but a little kid nonetheless. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been so excited to watch something on TV. To hope it would make me smile.
Raymond Rosenthal came out from behind a black velvet curtain. He opened his mouth -- the bang of a gun and a red halo appeared around Rosenthal's head. He collapsed, the halo turning into a leaking dot on the curtain. Symbiotic, the camera turned with the camera man, for moment making it all seem a part of the plan. Peenemünde stood at the controls to a massive machine. He looked the same as ever, but the madness no longer felt as cartoony as it had become. He held a smoking gun in one hand and nodded constantly, as if agreeing with a voice in his head. He spoke rapidly, "What did
he have to say? Really? What does it matter? No matter. I've seen tomorrow; I've had enough, and I'm taking you all with me."
Then he punched a button and... the end.