Old Roads, New Stories: Down Here on the Cold, Cold Ground, by Rob Carney

Down Here on the Cold, Cold Ground

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series 

With the New Year not so long ago, and in the spirit of resolutions, I plan to spend a minute each morning hating the guts of Vlad Sitnikov. He’s the project leader of this startup called StartRocket, and what he wants to do by 2020 is steal the night for himself and sell it for ad space.

This is true. A student at Utah Valley University named Elijah Williams sent me a note with a link to an article in something called Futurism. When I read it, I figured it was satire, like The Onion. Either that, or a hoax. Not according to Media Bias/Fact Check, though; I checked. Futurism is legit. So that means Vlad Sitnikov is real, and his words and rationalizations for sending up cube satellites to glow logos at all of us from space are real too. There’s even a little Vimeo to give us the idea: a logo in the way of the aurora borealis; another floating over Paris (the City of Lights, for God’s sake); and that crappy KFC lettering in front of the stars above the Utah desert, over places like Capitol Reef that have been designated International Dark Sky Parks…. Anyway, Vlad Sitnikov. You should hate him too.

About why he ought to get away with this, and with charging whichever corporations whatever gobs they’ll pay, he said, “We are ruled by brands and events.” He said, “The economy is the blood system of society. Entertainment and advertising are at its heart.” All of which is wrong. I don’t just mean unethical and empty; I mean incorrect.

People are the heart of society. We might put up with ads, or become numb to them, or get influenced or not, but if ads are the heart of society, then no amount of Peloton sweat and GEICO harassment and Arby’s creepiness and Verizon flunkies can ever defibrillate society back to life. “Corpsed” is all that is. “Corpsed”: I’m borrowing the expression from Beckett’s Endgame, a play about nihilism so brilliantly put together that you can’t help feeling more alive, somehow affirmed, because there are people so good at making things—existential plays, books, dinners, lesson plans, fast-break alley-oops off the dribble, music (I’m looking at you, Tom Waits), chess moves, well-timed funny remarks—people so good at making things that you’re glad you’re alive just to notice them.

And people are the blood system too. The economy could be anything—goats, rum, seashells—and has been. So the hell what? I’d rather have transactions of kindness. I’d rather bank on ethics, education, creativity. I’ll value the purring of cats, and the possibility of seeing a mountain lion, and the way it smells in summer after it rains: almost new, but also dusty. I’ll take all of those, plus memories and the taste of just-picked peaches. They seem a lot more like lifeblood, at least to me. I mean, if the Renaissance were just a period of mercantile capitalism without literacy, cathedrals, and art, then who would care?

As for being “ruled by brands and events,” I don’t know what Sitnikov’s talking about, though admittedly reading “This Startup Wants to Launch Giant Glowing Ads Into the Night Sky” (Jon Christian, Futurism, 8 Jan. 2019) has kept me busy writing this for hours. I guess you could say getting Elijah’s email was an “event.”

But here’s the bigger story: It’s been a few semesters since Elijah took my class, an honors course called Modern Legacies. Our focus was “Futuristic Fiction: Paranoia or Prophecy?” As part of it, I asked students to bring in or email articles that seemed relevant to the ideas and warnings in works by Bradbury, Orwell, Welles, and Huxley, etc.—things they found that were interesting enough to share with me and with each other. Disturbing things, or heartening things, either way. The point was to connect our present time to either 1) dystopias, or 2) better alternatives with less pollution, less economic haves vs. have-nots, smarter food and energy production, smarter conservation and transportation, less T&A-driven shallowness, more wildness and wild animals, less veering toward demagogues and oligarchies, and all of them did. And some, like Elijah, have kept on doing it. Not because they’re “ruled” but because they’re interested. Sitnikov might call that the UVU “brand,” but not me. To me the language of business is like stepping in gum.

Not that there aren’t brands I like. I do. I like Häagen-Dazs. I buy Community Coffee. I get all my shoes from Fluevog’s. If somebody asked, “You want a Foster’s?” I’d say yes and drink that beer. Maybe there’d be a stereo too. And a stack of CDs to look through. Maybe Camper Van Beethoven’s Key Lime Pie.

And then Tom Waits singing “Cold Cold Ground.”



Rob CarneyRob Carney’s new book The Book of Sharks is available now from Black Lawrence Press. Previous books include 88 Maps, Story Problems, and Weather Report.
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Header photo by NaughtyNut, courtesy Shutterstock.


Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.