On the occasion of the dredging of the Gowanus Canal

It started with the rats, I guess. Well, not really. God knows when it really started, down there in the goop at the bottom of the most polluted body of water in the United States. For centuries, every kind of human waste, from shit to whole bodies, got dumped into the Gowanus Canal, along with every chemical known to humanity. Somewhere down there, some molecule got bent out of shape and then met some fucked up protein or something. Probably just sat for decades, minding its own business deep in the ooze, gobbling up the occasional passing amoeba.

Maybe it became some gothic amoeba legend, the patch of muck that amoebas didn’t come back from, or, if they did, came back strangely changed, terrorizing the other amoebas until a wash of flushed antibiotics from a sewer outflow killed them off.

Anyway, one day people got it into their heads that it was time to clean up the Gowanus. Most likely because gentrification was pushing property values through the roof, and it’s easier to fill a new luxury condo building with trust fund babies if it’s not beside a bubbling superfund site.

So, they started pulling out all the crap that had fallen into the black waters of the canal — big stuff like shipwrecks and cars and art projects and a couple of skeletons the FBI got real excited over. And lots of just plain garbage — wooden boards, and shopping trolleys and tires. They had big plans for how they were going to handle dredging the mud at the bottom of canal, with all sort of toxic hazard precautions, but meanwhile all this regular garbage was piling up on barges on the surface, and some of it had been stuck pretty deep in that mud.

Everything seemed fine, if a bit smelly, until folks who lived or worked near the canal started reporting that the rats — already pretty ballsy — were getting aggressive. There seemed to be fewer of them, but ones that remained were coming out and attacking anything that got close. A few folks got bit, but at that time the city’s emergency rooms still had meds, so the bitten got loaded up with antibiotics, and everything seemed fine and the pest control folks started making out like bandits. Except that poison didn’t seem to work anymore on these critters. The only thing that seemed to kill these rats was to catch them in a trap and then bash their heads in with a shovel. Normally a regular trap would break a rat’s spine and kill ’em, but the pest guys would come in the next day, and these rodents would still be wiggling and snapping.

But it was all part of the rich tapestry of life in the Big Apple, confined to a few paragraphs in The Daily News. Then the dogs and cats in the area started acting weird, and that’s when the New York Times picked it up. People take their pets real serious, after all.

Around that time, the hospitals started reporting antibiotic shortages. Lots of people were getting bit by Fido and Mrs. Paws. And not just near the Gowanus either. All over Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan — pretty soon, reports started coming in from New Jersey and Connecticut.

Once the antibiotics started running out, more and more people started acting strange, biting their Tinder dates and what not. Pretty soon the subway was a ghost town, but people were still mostly holding it together and making awkward zombie jokes until that Facebook Live video of straight up cannibalism in Prospect Park.

I figure maybe that racial memory can go both ways — forwards and backwards, y’know? Like we have all these flood stories because we remember all these real floods from after the last ice age. So I think that the reason all those zombie movies and books and TV shows got real popular the last few years was because we were all kinda picking up on what was going to happen. Whatever, everyone was an instant goddam zombie expert. Which would have been fine if we’d just stood our ground and remembered the stuff about quarantining people who got bit and taking out the head of anyone who seemed into biting, instead of freaking the shit out in anticipation of a total apocalypse. Kind of the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy, right?

So nearly eight million New Yorkers make for the exits, and it’s a total shit show. Basically ends up just being a wave of zombies rolling up and down the Eastern seaboard until the army blows up every bridge over the Delaware River and every pass through the Catskills. The Canadians got real pissed about that because they were afraid the zombies would all move north after being bottled up to the south, but zombies turned out to be dumb fucks and just shuffled around where they where when they couldn’t move forward. The Canadians managed well enough with what they did get by clearing out some free-fire zones, digging some moats, and building enough fences to make a Minuteman cry.

On the West Coast, enough infected folks had taken redeyes to kick the zombie plague off in San Francisco and L.A., but it turns out that a huge chunk of California is one big valley that turned out to be perfect for containing zombie hordes. Clean up on both coasts involved a whole lot of flamethrowers wielded by smug Texans and mid-westerners, with the occasional Chicago hipster thrown in for good measure.

Chicago’s home to the U.N. now.

But New York is still here, for those of us who stuck it out. On our block, out of maybe two-hundred apartments (six units to a building) about ten apartments stayed put, sometimes because they had a family member who was too sick or too young or too old to walk out, sometimes out of sheer denial, but mostly out of stubbornness.

So we boarded up all the basement and ground floor windows and doors facing the outside of the block and pushed down the fences and walls in the back yards to make a couple of reasonable-sized fields, which we planted with whatever garden vegetables we could find: tomatoes and peas and potatoes and the like. (Yes, we went full Martian and composted the place with our own crap). No electricity, but thank God for New York’s water system — gravity fed all the way from the reservoirs upstate, it kept on running, although we did boil the shit out of it on the basis that who knows what was falling into those reservoirs. Of course, with no power, and not enough water pressure to get up more than a few storeys, all the high-rise residential neighborhoods emptied out completely, but given a lot of those buildings were full of empty apartments owned by Russian or Chinese kleptocrats looking to park some money anyway, it didn’t make that much of difference.

Some assholes tried to do the whole Mad Max warlord shit, but the remaining population density was just high enough that word would get around, and even when you’ve got a bunch of assault rifles, it turns out that, unlike at the Canadian border, it’s really hard to get a clean field of fire in the city. So sooner or later somebody would drop some Molotov cocktails into whatever little compound they’d set themselves up in, at least until the Ohio national guard came in with their hazmat suits and set up some, more traditional, law and order.

We’re all in pretty much permanent quarantine now, because the government is terrified some of the survivors may be latent carriers or there’s still some sort of zombie animal reservoir. Most of us make a living helping nervous recovery teams pack up the contents of New York’s museums and government offices and so on. I got to help move a bunch of suits of armor out of the Met last week myself, that was pretty cool, but mostly it’s just boxes and boxes.

It’s pretty quiet these days in New York City actually. But at least the rent ain’t too damn high anymore.