My building had a dank, fetid smell. The flood had engulfed the basement, where mold was rampant. My apartment was without heat or cell phone service. I threw every blanket over me and shivered through the cold night. Early the next morning, I was picked up by a chauffeur-driven SUV. The car gathered up a small group of fashionable Burners - photographers, event planners, stylists. We headed out of town to a small nearby airport.
I had never flown on a private jet before. To my surprise, there were no security checks before boarding. We didn't need to remove our shoes, get bombed by malevolent millimeter waves, or throw away forbidden tubes of lotion and canisters of hairspray. Any one of us could have been carrying an assault rifle strapped across our chest and a suitcase nuke. Nobody would have checked. This was a gentle reminder that our world works a bit differently for the super wealthy compared to everyone else. According to the Net, the mogul was worth close to a billion. He owned boats, private islands, as well as tequila companies and jets. Of course, he also contributed to many nonprofits. They all do.
On a world plagued by so much unnecessary suffering, we might consider extreme wealth - and the entitlement and insulation it brings - a spiritual disease. Most of us are prey to outbreaks of it, on much smaller scales. I admit - in this regard and many others - I am no better than most.
When I was in my twenties, I got my first good-paying job as an editor at a magazine - a crass competitor to Vanity Fair, called Fame. Suddenly, with money in the bank, I felt far less sympathetic and compassionate than I did when I was poor. Where previously I would give money to homeless people, now I would scoff when I walked past them sprawled out on the sidewalk, wearing my new double-breasted Armani suit. I wondered why they couldn’t pick themselves up off the ground and find a career.
Now for a far more embarrassing admission: Just a few years ago, I received a sizable grant from a foundation. When I had an influx of funding, after years of feeling poor, grumpy, and cash-starved, I sought to redress what I saw as old wrongs. I felt I “deserved” a taste of the luxury lifestyle enjoyed by my many wealthy friends with their endless skiing vacations, boating trips, and spa treatments. Instead of using every penny to fuel the social and cultural revolution I believe is necessary, I upped my lifestyle in various ways - fancier suits, better restaurants, a trip or two. I felt it was my due.
In some ways, it is easier to be poor. One has less choice and less responsibility. I am sure, at the mogul's level of wealth, there is powerful peer pressure, among CEOs, to throw the best party, buy the coolest island or vintage car collection or whatever. Sitting on the private plane to Mexico in 2012, I wished I could find a way to speak to my host, to convey to him the pressing needs of our moment - what might happen if his genius for building companies could be channeled, used to liberate the masses from the mental prison the media has built around the human mind. But I knew my views would mean nothing to him.
We landed. I dropped my bag in my hotel then wandered through the mustard-colored streets of the colonial town, appreciating its baroque facades and vibrant street life. A massive stone cathedral presided over the elegant central square. Locals, as well as expats, were costumed as skeletal phantasms. They wore tuxedos, evening gowns, white gloves. Delicate traceries of black ink decorated their bleached faces. Altars made of flowers, papier-mache tombstones, and giant sculpted skulls were set up all around town.
This extreme journey - from Hurricane Sandy’s urban wipe-out to the private jet to the elegant ghost world of the Day of the Dead - seemed a garish presentiment of what humanity may be rapidly approaching: an abrupt passage between worlds. It was just one year after the end of the 13th Baktun, completing the Mayan Calendar’s long count, the focus of my second book.
It could be the case that the "dimensional shift" that many mystics speak about, which the visionary philosopher Rudolf Steiner described as different incarnations of the Earth, and indigenous cultures like the Hopi call a transition from one "world" to the next, requires our total annihilation. After all, even for those of us who believe in great mysteries and subtle realms, we really know nothing about the workings of the invisible, occult dimensions. Death remains the ultimate question mark. Maybe we all need to croak together, in one massive methane eruption, biospheric cataclysm, or Dr Strangelovian plunge into nuclear winter, to work our stuff out on the astral plane.
Hurricane Sandy had revealed vividly to me the fragility of our instruments and our dependence on the grid. If the blackout had gone on past a few days, the bow and arrow would have seemed futuristic.
After Sandy, city agencies and volunteers from the Occupy movement banded together to rebuild those sections of the city that the storm had decimated, like Rockaway Beach and Red Hook. This was a noble effort. But it also seemed a doomed one. All of the evidence tells us climate change is intensifying. Why restore beachfronts and barrier islands if they will soon be abandoned in any case?