I was living in Nebraska when it all happened. Despite what you may have heard about Nebraska, which I guess isn’t much, considering no one talks about it much, the people of Nebraska are a genuinely nice group of people. Happy, I’d say, in an old-fashioned sort of way. That is, they don’t much concern themselves with happiness, and might not even realize that they’re happy, but, as we all know, those are always the happiest sort of people. They just do what suits them, and that’s all there is to it. Nebraska has an inordinate number of such people.
Except for the young folk. But, then, it’s an indisputable rule of life that at a certain age, every human being must go through a stage of stubborn unhappiness, regardless of time and place, and all of that stuff. Any exceptions, as always, just go to prove the rule.
I hadn’t meant to end up in Nebraska. It was just one of those life things that happen to you, which I have an annoying habit of letting happen to me. I was going across the country to see a friend, who had a job for me when I got there. I’m not, as you can probably guess by now, from Nebraska. I grew up in a little town in North Central Indiana that was known, among nothing else at all, for once being a somewhat important railroad hub in North Central Indiana, which is more than most towns in the area can say. The local diner is well-known for its food poisoning.
I threw together the belongings I needed, quit my crappy job, told my parents very little, and hopped in my 1989 sky-colored Toyota Camry. By sky-colored I mean light gray with a slight hint of blue. The only thing that really mattered was that the air-conditioning still worked.
When I left, it was one of those days where you feel like you’re under the glass lid of one of those pot roast cookers. Pretty much every day between June and August is like that in the Central Midwest. Hotter with the windows down than with them up. I headed northwest towards Chicago, hopped on I-80, and headed across the dazzlingly gray, hot, and hazy Midwestern United States.
Being on the road always seems like the best thing to be doing in the Central Midwest, because it gives you a clear sense of purpose. The cornfields and soybean fields become a friendly and consistent green blur. I’d say it was beautiful, but that’s a little much. Pleasant, certainly, and maybe even serene, if you can manage to ignore all of the other cars on the road.
So I got all the way across Illinois, and Iowa, and I almost got out of Nebraska. I was going to Grand Junction, Colorado, which sounded good enough to me. Instead, I ended up in a little town called Ogallala. Not a bad little town. Except it was hot as hell in the middle of July.
I accept the fact that lots of places are hot as hell in the middle of July, and lots more are hot all year round, or at other times of the year. You know how it works as well as I do, hemispheres and the sun and all that. But my car didn’t care about any of that, and it most certainly didn’t care where we were when it decided that it had had more than enough of the heat and was ready to leave well enough alone. It didn’t shake, sputter, smoke, cough, or rat-at-at itself out of life. It just died.
I was, in perhaps the strangest coincidence in a life filled with very few coincidences strange or otherwise, right in front of a TravelCenters of America. It was quite a grand name, but it was not the junction I was looking for.
Before I could reach the TravelCenters of America, which was a few hundred yards away, across the eastbound traffic lanes and some windswept patches of dirt and grass, which I looked at forlornly from my slight perch on the side of the interstate, I had the pleasant and unavoidable misfortune of having to have my completely dead car towed. That’s how I ended up standing in front of my dead car, in the dirt parking lot of a truck stop in western Nebraska, $100 poorer and with nothing to do except take a coin shower and eat some taquitos. Which I did.
I mentioned already that the people in Nebraska are inordinately nice, in a very genuine way. It’s worth reiterating. The people in Nebraska are inordinately nice, in a very genuine way. By the time I had finished eating my taquitos (beef, if you’re curious), I’d already made half a dozen friends, landed a part-time job, and found a room to rent out. I called my friend in Grand Junction, who, owing to the fact that we’d been friends for a very long time, didn’t seem to care too much about my situation, or whether or not I’d be able to make it out there. I found his lack of concern reassuring.
One of my new-found friends gave me and all of my stuff a ride to my new home in Ogallala. I settled in for the night, ate a wonderful home cooked meal, and prepared myself for the next day, which, little did I know, was going to be a very momentous day for 99% of the world. But it was just another day for the good people of Ogallala.
No one is entirely sure how the chemicals, or drugs, or whatever you want to call them, were administered to the vast majority of the world’s population on July 25, 2016. I have it from a good source that the chemicals had been placed in food, drinks, and toothpaste across the country, and that we’d been consuming them for quite a while. Due to some bizarre chemical process that was beyond my capacity to understand, and beyond my source’s capacity to explain, these chemicals didn’t take effect until July 25.
Now, I don’t know if that’s what actually happened. Maybe there weren’t any drugs at all, and it was just the fact that the full moon was in the house of Leo, or whatever. What we do know is that on July 25, the brains of 99% of the world’s population were flooded with a shitload of serotonin, and for the next three days, everyone felt fucking great.
I, and everyone else in Ogallala, were, for unknown reasons, unaffected by this. I don’t know if it was too hot, if we weren’t eating the right food, if we weren’t brushing our teeth, if the drugs didn’t affect us for some reason, or if the world just didn’t really care enough about Ogallala to let them in on the party. Whatever the reason, Ogallala continued on as normal, while the rest of the world held hands and sang Kumbaya.
I woke up to a bright, scorching hot day, and headed over to my new job as a short-order cook at the local root beer stand. I didn’t know if it was a normal day in Ogallala or not, since I’d never spent a day there before, but it seemed awfully normal to me. Almost oppressively so.
Locals came and went, talking about this and that, and were generally just friendly and interested. Interested in other people, in the little things that had happened to them. Not very many people these days are interested. I hadn’t been for a while, but suddenly I was. It felt great.
A few out-of-towners came in around lunch time. They were all in a hurry. They came in, ordered their food, paid, ate their food, and left. That’s it. No hellos, no goodbyes, no “it’s awful hot out there today, isn’t it?”s, just money, food, leave.
It’s not clear when it happened. I’m guessing around 1:30 central time. Or maybe we were on mountain time. Whatever.
Passers-by started to come in who were legitimately friendly. Very, very friendly. Friendly in a sort of way that made you think they weren’t used to being friendly, that they were having a novel experience. Lots of talking and laughing, and even a few unsolicited hugs. I could tell the locals were quite bewildered, but went along with it anyway, because, what the heck?
About an hour after that, our little root beer stand was full of out-of-towners, but I noticed that no one new was coming in. The people who were there had been there for a while, had finished eating, and were just hanging around, talking to each other, laughing, and giving each other shoulder rubs. That seemed nice. But I knew something wasn’t right. It’s an indisputable rule of life that if things seem really good, then something isn’t right.
Sure enough, around three o’clock, the local tow-truck driver/mechanic/plumber/electrician came in full of busy energy. He said that all of the traffic on the interstate had stopped. As in, everyone in their cars had just suddenly stopped, gotten out of their cars, and had started milling around aimlessly. An impromptu drum circle had been formed in the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the interstate. Some people, apparently, had wandered off into the fields. Others were standing in little groups, talking to one another, and generally having a grand ol’ time. Some of them wandered to local businesses to make friends with whoever they could.
The locals all found this very strange. I could tell it was an unwelcome intrusion into their quiet contentment. One of my co-workers mentioned it was very strange that everyone would be this happy all of a sudden, that it wasn’t a good thing to be this happy, that you should just be sort of happy every day. He went on to explain, as slowly and with as few words as possible, that if you’re sort of happy every day, it adds up to a good life in the end, but if you’re really happy for any period of time, it’d come back to bite you in the ass. I told him I thought that was a really good way of looking at things. He just shrugged, and said “that’s just the way it is!”.
I turned on the radio to see if I could find out if this was an isolated phenomenon or something that was happening elsewhere. It turned out that lots of people all of the world had suddenly become inordinately happy, excessively cheerful, and obnoxiously out-going. A lot of the reports were late, incomplete, or almost completely non-existent, owing to the inordinate happiness of those doing the reporting.
Lots of genuinely good things happened between July 25 and July 27. Wars were suspended, enemies reconciled, jilted lovers made peace with one another, cats hung out with dogs, and much of the silly bullshit that makes up our modern world was suspended for a period of 72 hours. Sports games were played, but without consequence. No one wanted to win, they just wanted to have fun, which seems decidedly un-American.
Of course, no one went to work, no one cleaned out the garbage cans, no one scrubbed the floors, no one turned off the lights at the end of the night, no one locked the safes, no one drove the taxis or the busses or the trains. No one cooked food for anyone else, no one helped the patients at the hospitals, no one delivered babies, no one cleaned any diapers, no one called up their grandmas to make sure they were doing okay. Everyone was far too happy to bother with any of that silly stuff.
Also, no one slept.
The good people of Ogallala continued on as normal. Except for the fact that they did what they could to feed and accommodate all of the strangely happy out-of-towners that had shown up during lunchtime on July 25. They didn’t mind that aspect of it, of course, because helping people comes naturally to people who are happy, but only sort of happy, all of the time. They didn’t really like having to stay engaged in conversation for hours at a time, but, bless their hearts, they did their best.
Any sort of news reporting pretty much ended by the evening of the 25th. For the first time in most people’s lives, there was a total blackout of information. Not that any of them noticed. I noticed, and maybe a few other people in Ogallala noticed, but they were quite content with only receiving information that had to do with their lives, and the lives of the people they loved, so it didn’t make much of a difference for them. Bless their hearts.
So, the whole world was inordinately happy for three days, or about 72 hours, during which time they resolved all of their problems, settled their differences, gave everyone they could a nice backrub, and generally solved all of the problems, all at once, that people should have been solving all along.
Now, tradition says that God loves us and wants us to be happy. This was, between July 25 and July 27, the common explanation amongst the good people of Ogallala as to the strange happenings the world had been experiencing. Now, having grown up in a small town in North Central Indiana, where happiness is neither common, expected, or accepted as a legitimate state of being, I knew that they were wrong. It’s an indisputable rule of life that if things are really good, they’re about to take a turn for the worse. And it’s going to be just as bad as it was good. I don’t make up these rules, mind you, I just have to follow them. You know how it is.
The other shoe dropped on the morning of July 28. All of the out-of-towners had fallen asleep the night before, and were beginning to wake up. It was extremely unpleasant.
We had it pretty well in Ogallala, from what I heard. We fed the folks, comforted them, helped them find their cars, and then let them go off on their not-very-merry-at-all ways. Had we known better, we would have forced them all to stay in town for a few days, but we didn’t, so we didn’t.
I’ve heard that a number of people were found, quite dead, in the fields of Nebraska, having wandered off from their cars on the 25th. I can only hope that they died on the 26th or the 27th. I just hope they died happy, is all.
The rest of the world, all 99% of them, were far less fortunate than the briefly way-too-happy souls who ended up in Ogallala on the 25th. They were not lucky enough to be surrounded by good people who were only sort of happy all of the time, people who would help them, and usher them back into a state of only sort of happiness. Most of the people in the world were surrounded by people just like them, who had been inordinately happy, sleepless, and wholly unproductive for 72 hours, and who were now miserable, tired, and lacking the basic means to survive for more than a few days.
Which, I guess, is the nature of our system. Rude Goldberg would be proud.
I suspect this is when people went off to find their guns. People who are unhappy have an unfortunate habit of wanting other people to share in their unhappiness, which they try to share with these other people in crappy ways. It’s bullshit, but so are a lot of things. You know how it is.
The best way to deal with unhappiness is to try to make someone else happy, but no one who’s unhappy gives a shit about anyone else, which is why they’re unhappy. I’m pretty sure it’s a Catch-22. You know what I mean.
Well, long story short, the world went to shit over the next three days. No one could handle the fact that they’d been so damn happy and now they weren’t, and they didn’t know how to be that way again. Which is sort of the point. No one knows how to be happy, people just are happy. Or, more often than not, they’re not.
I won’t go into the grizzly details, but it wasn’t pretty. Whatever problems were solved between July 25 and July 27 came back with a vengeance. Wars were resumed, prejudices were reforged, differences once again become more important than similarities, and a bunch of really tired athletes went out and started beating the crap out of each other again for no reason whatsoever. You know how it is.
I was okay, and so were all of the other residents of Ogallala. They moved the abandoned cars off the road, helped out whoever was still around, and went back to their only sort of happy, but entirely fulfilling, existence.
Me? I scored a brand-new BMW and got back on I-80 heading west towards Grand Junction. I’d talked to my friend. He was doing fine. He’d had a blast from July 25 to July 27, and then he’d gone home, slept for 24 hours, smoked some weed, and went on with his life, just happy enough to get by. But not too happy.