Monday, July 15, 2019

#77 - Max Barton, Geologist

(Inspired by a couple recent California earthquakes, and several hours of live TV press conferences by smart and very sober geologists.)

Max sat at the bar, staring blankly down at the wood. His finger absently traced the wood grain in a circular motion. He picked up his shot glass and drained the whiskey.

He put his elbows on the counter and looked back up at the big screen. 4-3 Dodgers still. Max's head was swimming. He knew he was drunk, but he felt that delusional confidence that he was aware of everyhing going on around him, and if he needed to,he could stand up and walk out the door without acting too drunk.

"Anudder round, Jemma," he said.

Jenna, the bartender, looked over from the register. She didn't answer at first. She slowly walked over to him. "I don't know, Max. You've had a lot to drink."

"Gum on," he said. "I'b vine."

Jenna looked into his eyes, trying to decide what she should do. "I'll give you a beer," she said. "I think you've had enough whiskey."

"Jenma..." Max trailed off. This wasn't the first time. He was here often enough that they had done this dance several times before.

"What are you always telling me about your job?" Jenna asked. "You might have to work at the drop of a hat."

"I jus dalk about earthguakes," he said. "I don' drive dem. There's no ticket for 'earthguaking while drunk.' Besides, I'm secon' on de dodem pole. Julie is the head boss, and she doesn't drink."

"Here's your beer," Jenna said, setting a pint in front of him.

"You know what a subduction zone is?" He asked.

"Yes," Jenna said. "You've told me."

"Id's where two of earthz blates are pushed agazd each other and - "

Suddenly, as if shot from a gun, the bar lurched to the left, then the right. Max vaguely heard something he thought might be screams.

As the bar stool he was sitting turned into a ride at a theme park, it slowly dawned on Max that this was an earthquake,

Bottles fell from the shelves above the bar. Jenna was nowhere to be seen. Debris seemed to fly randomly in front of and behind Max.

Max continued to sit where he was. The world around him was coming apart violently. Max tried to lift the pint glass to his lips, but the shaking caused the beer to spill sideways out of the glass.

"This should have stopped by now," Max said to no one.

Eventually it did stop, a minute and a half later.

The bar was destroyed. Bizarrely, as if by some fluke, Max was untouched. He moved his legs delicately, making sure that they were fully under him, before he stood up. He wobbled a little, then found his balance. Slowly he walked toward where the door would normally be. Instead of a door, he was able to walk right through the big gaping missing wall. He stepped out into the street.


"Hey, Jenna, how'd you get out here so fast?"

"I freakiing RAN when the building started moving!"

Max looked down at his phone. "Damn, man, no reception. I guess I bedder go to work."

A few miutes later Max stumbled toward what would have been the California Geological Offices, a few blocks away from the bar. The building was demolished. Someone said something behind him, and he turned around. It was a reporter with a TV camera from KTLA News.

"Dr. Barton, you're live on the air. What can you tell us about what just happened?"

Max shook slightly. He tried his best to focus his eyes. He was trying to bring the image from one eye in line with the image from the other eye. It wasn't working and two reporters with two cameras stubbornly danced together in front of him.

"You're Dr. Barton, right? What can you tell us?"

Max felt ready to speak. "There was eardguake." Max stumbled seemingly over nothing, and was on the ground.

"We know there was an earthquake. Was this the big one?"

Max slowly made it back to his feet. "Da big one? Id was big,for zhur. That guake was some damn thing, huh?"

"Dr. Barton, what is the official position of the California Geological Office? Was this earthquake officialy 'The Big One?'"

"No," he said.

"No? Do you have a read on the earthquake's magnitude?"

"Oh...." Max was beginning to feel strange. He felt like he needed to throw up, but he did his best to keep everything together. "Oh, it waz magnidude alright,"  he said. "It's magnidude was freaging magni -"

The reporter looked at  Max. "Magni? Magni -what?"

"Okay, thank you. Bress conferenz is ober," Max said uncertainly, before diving behind a barely upright wall, and spilling the contents of his stomach onto the ground.

The camera still showed him, live on the air, as Max stumbled over fallen debris and broken things. He was walking away, so the reporter's mic couldn't clearly pick up what he said, but those who listened carefully could just make out the words, "Dat was great! I'm a good gee- ololo - jist. Good job, Maxy."

And then he opened the back door of a random car that was not his, climbed into the back seat, closed the door, and fell asleep.
Peter Wick
July 15, 2019