Thursday, December 27, 2012

Goodbye D̶a̶r̶i̶n̶ N̶i̶c̶h̶o̶l̶a̶s̶ Mr. “Shark Fear, Shark Awareness” Johnson

As of November 28, 2012, the guy on the far left of this photo is dead. Specifically, he is no longer in possession of his head, which he removed with a shotgun.

If that sounds terrible, it is. (Trust me, I miss him very much.) But it’s also the sort of crisp, clear writing that Darin Nicholas Nick Johnson would have appreciated. Here is the exact moment when I knew that he had a gift:
It was the middle of the afternoon. A man lay on his back in the middle of the hallway. He was barefoot and wearing no shirt.
“You’re sure you’re okay?” I asked as I passed the guy in the hall again.
“Eventually you will make a mistake,” he said calmly.
I shrugged and went to my room, where I curled up under the covers and started to fall sleep. Before I did, I groaned and climbed out of bed to lock the door, in case he had been talking to me.

That’s from a mass email he sent to friends while working in Antarctica. Those emails became the basis for his book Big Dead Place, which I highly recommend.

I recently went through my email archives, but was only able to locate a handful of emails from Darin/Nicholas. Here are two. The first is from 2001. I asked Darin why he stopped sending mass emails about his adventures in Antarctica. Here is his reply:

From: Johnson, Darin
Subject: RE: hey!
Date: 12 May, 2001 7:31:45 PM EDT
To: Ryan Bigge

Hi Ryan. Yeah, I tentatively decided mass emails are gross. I can't quite put my finger on it, I like to get them but when I send them I just feel cheap. So I rarely correspond at all! With anyone! I should get a job as a consultant for Negative Solutions Inc.

I'm writing a book called "Big Dead Place" about Antarctica. I don't know yet if it will be a travel account or a nonfiction story using themes and literary devices. The idea is that Americans conquer Antarctica but that spiritual corruption conquers Americans. (Maybe it's a human story, but I only feel qualified to go for the jugular of Americans.)

Yesterday I heard that in July it's traditional to have a holiday called "Christmas in July". Christmas trees. Egg nog. Candy canes. Listen, one Christmas a year is already too much and these zombies want to have two.

I must go eat waffles.

Take care of yourself.


This second email, from 2003, was in response to a question I had about where Nicholas was now living.

From: Nicholas Johnson
Date: 27 June, 2003 7:11:39 PM EDT


Are you still in Toronto? I don't remember why, but I gathered you found Toronto an improvement over Vancouver; still true?

I'm back in Seattle. I'm subrenting an apartment in a real honest-to-god neighborhood. No more eating at the gas station, and I don't have to sneak around in the alleys looking for a dumpster for my trash. There's birds, and a garden in the back. Kind of creepy, but oh well.

I spent the last week pissing in cups and bleeding in tubes for my employer at this place called LabCorp in the suburbs. The gal who works there wants to become a nurse. There were six copies of TV Guide on the waiting room table, though the TV was playing an in-house video touting a pharmaceutical company. I went in one day for a drug test and she sprayed blue stuff in the toilet and told me not to flush the toilet and not to wash my hands or I would have to retake the test. The top of the toilet was taped down with some tamper proof red tape. When I came out she told me about people who have snuck in with bags of other people's urine hidden on their person. But it's usually too cold (chilling on the way to LabCorp) or too hot (from the microwave that they heated up in before they arrived). "Then I have to call their company and tell them their employee tried to cheat," she said.

Though I have been reduced to a hollow shell of the correspondent I used to be, thanks for all the emails you've sent my way. A while ago you sent me one from about a guy on the ice who wrote some shitty article comparing working in Antarctica to being on "Survivor". I later found out that that guy was so good at poker that he had taken a bunch of people for about US$6,000 over the course of the season, not cheating, just playing. So even though he had a very low-paying dishwasher job, he made some good money down there. That story is far more interesting than anything he wrote about, yet it is nowhere to be seen.

That article about the guy reporting from the DMZ was hilarious.

Speaking of hilarious, I'm reading your book. Besides laughing though, I am happy to finally learn what that whole cocktail craze was all about. The way you explain it gives it perfect meaning, rather than just being another retro fad to fill the void. You did the same thing in tracing the emo/indie thing. So I'm reading and alternating between laughs and "aaaaahhhh, so that's what that was..."s.

Working on anything now?

I'm trying to get all my pictures together and a glossary for my book, which I just sent off to Feral House for the first round of publisher edits. It should come out sometime while I'm at the Pole, where I have a year contract starting in October. It is difficult to imagine that anything can be worth the miserable year of hell entailed in writing that accursed book whose publication is to me like excising an inflamed tumor, but I suppose it will be interesting to see if there's any fallout while I'm there. In any event, I learned a lot in the course of the project. One time you said to me, "These emails are good. You should write a book about this." Though I can say with absolute authority that those emails were mostly ego-driven dogshit, thanks for the support. It helped.

I hope you're well.