When the world goes plunk

You’ve heard about bolts from heaven. This was a lug nut. It pierced the windshield of my parents’ Nissan Pathfinder and slammed into the passenger seat where my mother had been sitting a short time before. Dad pulled over to the side of the road and looked back — there’d been no overpass. The only other vehicle on his side of the freeway was a Winnebago a quarter-mile ahead.

The guy at the shop said sure, that could’ve spun off the wheel of an RV. Just bad luck that it happened to come down right where you were. No — I said when I heard about it — it’s good luck, excellent luck! If Mom had still been sitting there, she could’ve been killed.

This is the kind of logic by which a sailor who loses his leg to a shark gets nicknamed Lucky Pete. It might mark me as an optimist, were it not for the fact that my dour realist side tends to get the last word: Luck had nothing to do with it. There’s no way Mom could’ve been there, since the purpose of the drive had been to deliver her to a conference, which Dad had already done when the incident occurred. And in any case the whole notion of luck represents an absurd attempt to project consistent, self-centered narratives onto chaotic, impersonal events. Unless, of course, you believe some kind of divine conductor is running the show, in which case the language of luck would be even more inappropriate, and you’d better get right with Jesus/Allah/whoever right now if you don’t want to be S.O.L. come Judgement Day.

*

That happened several years ago. The lug nut from heaven may have missed my mom by a mile — several miles, in fact — but as a fervent environmentalist her faith in the apocalypse remains unshaken. Just last night, in fact, we were talking about the old manual typewriter I keep under my writing table Just In Case. Mom said she thought that was an excellent idea. “At least when the world goes plunk,” she said, “we’ll be able to keep writing!”

“Wait. What? When the world goes plunk? Are you telling us that the sound the apocalyse makes is PLUNK?” My brother and I cracked up. “Yeah, you know — plunk!”

O.K., maybe it was more of a descriptive thing than straight onomatopoeia, but I like it either way. There’s such finality in it. It’s a quarter hitting the wall, dice hitting the table, a poker hand being laid down. It’s the sound of the clock running out on the game, or the numbers sliding into place on an old, pre-digital scoreboard at the ball park. It’s the sound of something small and ordinary landing in a totally unexpected place.

And when the world does finally go plunk, that machine-gun sound you’ll hear next, punctuated by bell-like dings? That’s my mom, continuing to type.

*

Don’t forget to check out qarrtsiluni’s Journaling the Apocalypse issue, now in its last ten days of publication. We won’t be posting anything tomorrow or Thursday, so this might be a good time to catch up.

15 Comments


  1. I still have my 1970 Christmas present, a lovely manual Adler. (German engineering!) However, I haven’t been able to find typewriter ribbon for it, or I’d still be using it. Darn that apocalypse.

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  2. It’s always been reassuring for me to hear my mother and her generation refer to apocalyptic matters. My parents are in that G.I. and Silent Generation period, and their belief in progress and in America’s resiliency is close to total. The end of the world is no match for them. I, on the other hand, tend to see the end coming any number of ways. My parents’ faith in things continuing on as they always have either awakens me from my nightmare or lulls me to sleep, depending on, you know, how things turn out.

    Maybe it’s not generational. Maybe it’s just because they’re my parents.

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  3. I tossed my IBM Selectric into the community dumpster last year. That was as antique as I got.

    The sound of the spinning silver ball smashing into the ink film was like gunfire. It frightened me with every letter.

    I don’t believe in the Apocalypse. I think we’re going to live far too long and continue to do so-called irreparable damage that will be repaired by lousy technology, which also gets repaired, and we are doomed to spend the rest of our days trying to fix the fixes. That’s bad enough.

    And even if there were an Apocalypse, it’s going to sound like an IBM Selectric. Not a plunk.

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  4. Go, Mom! I’ll keep an ear out when I crawl out from under.

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  5. I love that image of your mom typing away madly whilst everything else around her collapses. Maybe I should dig out our ancient typewriter, see if I can get a ribbon for it and put it under my desk. Might be a fight with my kids over it when the plunk hits.

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  6. Give me a P. Give me an L. Give me a U. What’s that spell?

    Yes, it’s true. The Price Look-Up code was the beginning of the end.

    Give me an N. Give me a

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  7. Thanks for the comments. I was reminded today that in Dr. Seuss’s story “Yertle the Turtle,” when the would-be turtle kind falls into the mud, the sound he makes is “plunk.”

    Rebecca – I’m surprised. Somehow, I would’ve thought all that stuff would be available on the internet. Especially with the growing interest in analog technologies among hipsters these days.

    Peter – My parents are maybe a bit more cynical and/or radical than yours, I’m thinking. Which is not to say they weren’t idealists back in the day.

    Leslie – I don’t believe in the apocalypse, but i think we’ve shown we’re quite capable of perpetrating horrors that make the visions in Revelation look mild by comparison.

    marja-leena – I presume you’re already well prepared with manual print-making equiptment, though, right?

    greentangle – Thanks for stopping by.

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  8. You mean a printing press? I wish. I go to a printmaking studio for that. I have used the old wooden spoon trick on small linocuts sometimes.

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  9. “At least when the world goes plunk,” she said, “we’ll be able to keep writing!”

    yes, well, the world as i know it did go plunk.
    i’m not sure that a manual typewriter would
    get me back writing again,
    but it’s a thought.

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  10. I like ‘plunk’ for the last day because it doesn’t sound too final. After one plunk comes another plunk and then it’s drip drip drip til the end of time.

    Hope you’re having a mellow and cheering end-of-year, Dave, with good fooze and bood and even better company.

    All good wishes to you and yours.

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  11. Lori – Very cool. Thanks for sharing that.

    bev – Yes, you’ve been there, haven’t you? It must be the hollowest of sounds…

    Natalie – Same to you! Though I haven’t posted anything Christmasy (except at the photo blog), it’s been a very good Christmas here.

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  12. I love that “plunk.” Indeed, like dale, I’ll keep my ears cocked for the sounds of typing after the big plunk! Of course, I am just hoarding pens and pencils, just in case….

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