If the end comes, don’t count on me

The toil of rebuilding civilization will expose me for what I am: a completely useless man
(Photo illustration by Maclean’s)

Given the choice, I’d prefer we don’t have an apocalypse. Sure, on some level it would be cool to live in a dystopian hellscape in which man is pitted against beast and one’s very survival depends on staying a step ahead of the ruthless hordes of flesh-ravaging mutants, but then again I already spent two years working in politics.

Despite being a human male with my very own testosterone, I am afflicted by a number of great fears: heights, tight spaces, unicorns (that pointy horn isn’t for show, little girls—what do you think caused Care Bears to go extinct?). But my greatest great fear is the unfolding of a scenario under which the vast majority of humanity is wiped out in an unspeakable cataclysm . . . and somehow I remain alive.

You’d think the prospect of improbable survival against absurd odds would bring relief, even joy. Perhaps for you and the resulting zombie king. But the toil of rebuilding civilization will inevitably expose me for what I am: useless. Completely useless. Skill-lacking, mistake-making, job-avoiding, thumb-hammering, handyman-calling useless. This is no false modesty: 40-plus years into my existence, I cannot be relied upon to construct anything more complex than an enchilada.

And there are others like me. Many others. We use BlackBerries but can’t grow blackberries. We can’t hunt or saw or fix. We’re the only people who read The Road and went away jealous, wishing we had the talent to carve a flute from roadside cane while walking to our bleak and inevitable demise.

At first, our uselessness won’t matter. Everyone will be so excited about not being dead that for a couple of weeks we’ll probably all just make out with each other and ridicule Al Gore for being wrong about global warming causing humanity’s near-demise*. But eventually some high-maintenance yahoo is going to casually mention how it would be nice to have a roof or a rudimentary form of sanitation or clothes of any kind. And that’s when things will get awkward.

In my nightmares, I picture it. We’re gathered around the campfire. The talk turns to divvying up jobs.

“I’ll tend to our medical needs,” says one person.

“I’ll draw up architectural plans for permanent shelter,” says another.

It’s my turn now. Everyone looks to me. “If I work hard and really concentrate,” I tell them, “I may be able to remember all the words to Sussudio.”

If I’m lucky at this point, the apocalypse will have obliterated all crickets. Otherwise, this is their cue.

Frankly, it’s a bad time to be useless, especially on this continent. According to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, nine out of 10 Americans live in a place at significant risk for some kind of disaster, be it hurricane (Florida, Louisiana), earthquake (California) or pestilence (Charlie Sheen’s bedroom). Yet the new head of FEMA says the agency is reforming its mandate. No longer will citizens be treated as victims—instead, they’ll be expected to pitch in as “crucial first responders.”

Ladies and gentlemen of North America: trust me on this. If I am your first responder, arriving at your side in a moment of epic crisis and life-threatening peril, you are going to want to do one thing and one thing only: you are going to want to wait for the second responder. I’m not very good with broken bones and, um, is that a drop of blo . . . [Faints girlishly.]

Believe me, I’ve given this a lot of thought: I have no idea what I could do to help my species get back on its feet. I suppose I possess the ability to teach but—unless the Macarena becomes a useful element of military defence—I lack any skill worthy of teaching. In the infancy of humanity’s rebirth, the remnants of civilized society will surely judge me a burden and either feed me to their Hadean bear-dogs or sacrifice me to whatever deity is in fashion at the time, such as the Volcano God or Oprah’s Skull.

Could I be a doctor? No. A nurse? Double no (I lack medical training and scrubs don’t flatter my curves). An engineer? Oh dear Lord, no. My kids won’t even let me near their Lego since I “helped” with their Jedi starfighter (it ended up looking like a Jedi 7-Eleven). Scientist? Nope. Carpenter? Nooo. Mechanic? Ha, you’re funny. Woodcutter? No, but if you give me $8 I can overpay for prepackaged kindling at a hardware store.

Could I be a guy in a hockey mask who rides on top of a post-apocalyptic vehicle swinging a machete as part of a marauding gang of bandits that kills for gasoline? Maybe. I mean, it sounds doable. I think I could handle—[sound of me decapitating myself].

Better to stick to what I’m good at. Attention roving bands of scavengers: do any of your fledgling societies require someone to take an afternoon nap?

* Void if global warming caused humanity’s near-demise.