A short list of magical items for sale

Listen: just like you, I have boxes in my basement that haven’t been opened for years. Stuff taking up space and time, and if you let it, all that junk will play some Marvin Gaye and start multiplying until you can’t walk down the hallway without tripping on a violin from 5th grade.

So I have things to hock, and I am a motivated seller.

Vorpal Typewriter of Infinite Weight

It’s an Underwood from around 1930 that used to live in my office in a mini-shrine to word machines of all kinds. Like a relic.

The keys no longer work. The ink is dry.

That doesn’t matter, because what you do is place a blank piece of 8.5 x 11 paper on top of the Vorpal Typewriter of Infinite Weight, cut your thumb as a blood sacrifice on the keys, and words begin to appear as long as your blood is O-positive.

The typewriter has specific tastes.

It isn’t portable, unless you have a F350 with the extra tow package, because at the heart of the typewriter is a miniature black hole, pulsating with power.

Thor once lost his hammer, Mjölnir, which nobody can pronounce, and he tried to pick up the Vorpal Typewriter as a temporary replacement, but he couldn’t lift the thing.

Today, the typewriter lurks in the basement and to plot its revenge. It will not be ignored, though it will serve as a boat anchor if necessary.

Price: $50 or a pint of O-positive blood.

Matched Pair of Professional Bongo Drums

Admit it: you’ve always wanted to play the bongos. Real ones, not those cute little drums they sell at tourist traps for thirty bucks. Those are toys, and you are not a child.

These are four-foot-tall monsters. If you have musical talent and technical expertise with amplifiers and such–as you should if considering playing professional bongo drums–you could hook these things up to speakers and shatter windows in a three-block radius.

Metal bands are old and busted. The new hotness is heavy ska, and you can’t do that with a traditional drum kit. You need ginormous professional bongos, my friend. YOU NEED THEM.

Price: $100 or a working manual transmission Yugo.

Note: technically, these are conga drums, but technically, I don’t care.

Ginormous and Powerful Nikon D3100

It hurts me to say this: full-frame digital cameras with mirrors and such are too big and bulky. They’re great, and take wonderful photos. I just hate lugging them around when there’s a slim little device in my pocket at all times that takes pretty damn good photos that automatically upload into the cloud and such.

This Nikon is amazing. It’ll do your taxes and turn a random man in a mustache into Tom Freaking Selleck.

But, my old beautiful camera, you are too large and bulky. It’s not you. It’s me. I found somebody far lighter, huggable, and modern, a Sony A6000, and we are planning to stay together forever and ever.

Price: You can’t put a price on memories.

Update: SOLD.

Portable Typewriter that Actually Types Boring Words

This isn’t an heavy and adorable antique. No, this typewriter is portable, comes with its own carrying case, and actually works.

You need ink and paper and quick fingers to make words on this machine, doing the job it was designed and built for back in the 1960s, despite it being the 2020s. The portable typewriter abides.

Kinda boring, really. I like you and all, Portable Typewriter, but you’re too competent and normal to be interesting. Give us some drama. Grow little mechanical legs and scurry around the garage preying on mice or something.

Price: Whatever, have fun typing away.

Starplus Command Module

This relic has strange wires and indecipherable buttons. My current theories are (a) Strategic Air Command used it the ’70s to launch nuclear bombers, or (b) alien visitors with a hankering for antique human tech used this to let their starship commander call down to engineering and such. “Bring us back to that delicious Waffle House, warp seven!” Hell if I know.

Price: $5, unless you know how to work it to launch nuclear bombers or summon alien ships.

White Monolith of +10 Paper Consumption

This beast has a huge internal stomach meant to hold paper and a thin maw where it feeds. There are no teeth, so I believe it ate pages whole and had a method of digesting them. It has a tail that ends in a wide head packed with tiny metal teeth, like a snake.

The control buttons include a lightning bolt to summon Thor, a down elevator, and a smiley face without eyes, which is creepy. There’s also a symbol of power–and upside triangle inside a circle–and an emergency rhombus button, to bring forth the helpful rhombus fairies.

Price: A cheap bottle of bourbon or an expensive bottle of gin, which I will use to trade for a medium-priced bottle of bourbon.

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 3—Getting Around

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

As a huge fan of zombie, Mad Max and apocalyptic movies, I had to ask the question: what would actually be smart, cheap and sustainable?

Read the first two posts here:

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 1—You’re Doing It Wrong

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 2—Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends

This chapter is about traveling, which you’ll need to do since hunkering down, bunker or no bunker, is a terrible option.

Most apocalyptic and zombie movies feature some sort of vehicle—Mad Max is packed with them. Though it would look amazing to ride a Harley through the wastelands, you would only look amazing for a week or two before that bike ran out of gas or attracted dozens of enemies with its insanely loud exhaust, advertising your exact location to anyone within a half a mile.

There are serious problems with relying on any sort of vehicle, no matter how cool it looks when Tom Hardy is driving it.

Though you can count on having to walk, hike, trudge and climb, are there any decent alternatives? In the end, I found three good options.

To get there, let’s talk through the problems and solutions for getting around without zombies going nom-nom-nom as you’re trying to siphon gas from a wrecked Ford Expedition.

Problem #1: Running out of guzzleline

Any serious, long-term apocalypse would mean nobody’s filling up the local Chevron anymore. Fuel would run out within weeks.

There are complicated ways of getting around this, such as using diesel engine and making your own biodiesel. Except that’s pretty involved even today, when you can do it in the comfort of your garage and can get new parts from the local hardware store.

Making your own fuel isn’t practical when you’re trying to survive in a wasteland. Neither is setting up Bartertown just to gas up your rig. We all know how well that worked.

Solution: Whatever options we pick need to be sustainable, and preferably not rely on any sort of fuel.

Problem #2: Roads and highways will be dangerous messes

You won’t be cruising along I-5 at 70 miles an hour—wrecked and abandoned cars will clog up the roads. Smart scavengers will also use obstacles and roadblocks to ambush anyone who does drive through.

A related issue is the fact that highways generally mean civilization, which should be avoided. They’d be trouble in an apocalypse, with millions of people streaming out from big cities and crowded suburbs to look for food. Looting the Safeway is not an original idea. Everyone will head there first with a can opener in their pocket.

Solution: Good options need to travel off-road, and this includes water. WATERWORLD may have been terrible, but a sailboat isn’t a bad idea at all.

Problem #3: Insanely equipped and armored vehicles are also insanely expensive

We’re shooting for cheap and sustainable here. A real military Humvee, armored personnel carrier or RV decked out with steel plates and spikes would cost a lot of money to buy and modify.

It’s also not smart to invest everything into a single vehicle.

Economists have a concept called “opportunity cost” that’s useful here. A plain vanilla RV can easily cost you more than $100,000. Armored cars will cost a lot more. If you can buy a good hiking backpack for $80 and fill it with the essentials for $300, you can equip all your friends, neighbors, coworkers and those college kids down the street with what they need to survive for the same price as that one vehicle.

Solution: Anything that makes our final list has to be cheap, or readily available as you wander around.

Problem #4: Breakdowns would be fatal

Say you have a great vehicle, and it goes off-road just fine. All your food and gear is happily stowed inside.

Any sort of mechanical breakdown would put you back on foot. And there would be breakdowns, since oil changes and mechanics would no longer exist. Even if you’re a trained mechanic, finding parts and tools would be tough.

Solution: This means adding “easy to fix” to our list.

Problem #5: Going to the air is completely nuts

A helicopter could get you in and out of trouble and a dirigible could stay safely above the fray for weeks or months.

And yes, a gyrocopter looks amazing. Combine a Carver trike with a gyrocopter and even James Bond would get jealous.

Fuel isn’t your real problem here, though. You won’t have to come down to the ground just for gas. You’ll need food and supplies, too. And that means landing. A lot.

Every time you land, that beautiful flying machine is sitting there, completely vulnerable. Zombies will swarm it, aliens authorities will confiscate it or scavengers will steal it.

Solution: We’re sticking to ground and water options.

Our three best options

Motorcycles would seem like a much better option than heavy, gas-guzzling RVs, Humvees and M-1 tanks stolen from the National Guard depot.

They’re nimble and could get around wrecks. Even better: dirt bikes, to easily cruise through logging roads, mountain trails and deserts.

Though this is appealing, fuel is still the sticking point. However: dirt bikes do lead us to the first smart, sustainable option.

Great option #1: Mountain bikes

Cheap to buy and equip.

Easy to fix.

Never need fuel.

If your mountain bike gets mangled, you can scavenge another. They’re everywhere.

There are even fat-tire mountain bikes, overbuilt for sturdiness rather than speed, with giant tires meant to go through mud, sand and snow.

Great option #2: Sailboats

A sailboat is a great idea. You can actually pick up small, used sailboats for pretty cheap.

They’re sustainable and have a built-in shelter, letting you snooze out of the elements. A sailboat also means an easy supply of fish.

You can anchor the boat far from shore to stay safe, or use it to set up a series of island bases as you follow the seasons and migrating animals. A sailboat also gives you the ability to carry a lot of friends, food and gear with zero penalty in terms of fuel, since all you need is wind.

A decent sailboat gives you all the benefits of a bunker with none of the drawbacks.

There will be other people with the same idea, and therefore avoiding other boats is smart. But if you know how to work sailboats, and teach your friends to sail, you can liberate marinas along the way and get an entire fleet of boats.

Calling yourself the Dread Pirate Robers is optional.

Great option #3: Horses

If you know how to deal with them, though, this is a smart, sustainable way of getting around. Horses can travel over tough terrain and make it easy to escape trouble.

Since you’ll be traveling in a group as a Nimble Nomad with Friends instead of a Lone Wolf in a Bunker, a group of horses is even smarter because they can feed themselves and reproduce, two tricks that mountain bikes and sailboats still haven’t mastered.

Once again, Kevin Costner has a great idea in a terrible movie.

Bottom line

Despite the fact that Kevin Costner should never again star in an apocalyptic movie, he nailed two out of three best options: sailboats and horses. Well done, Costner.

Next week: Chapter 4—One Backpack and a Pair of Hiking Boots

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse: Chapter 1—You’re Doing It Wrong

Fitness Tips for the Apocalypse

If you live long enough, something bad will happen. The question is how bad, and whether you’re ready for it.

Here are seven easy ones:

  1. Rising seas from climate change, possibly leading to WATERWORLD (Kevin Costner is optional)
  2. An big, nasty asteroid decides to plow into our planet when Bruce Willis is otherwise engaged
  3. MAD MAX doesn’t seem much like fiction after a reality TV star starts a nuclear war with (a) North Korea, (b) Russia, (c) China or, for variety, (d) all of the above
  4. Aliens invade to enslave the human race, making us all mine unobtanium 20 hours a day after their home planet totally runs out
  5. Zombies—slow, traditional and terrifying
  6. Fast zombies—which tell you this film is full of CGI and no good at all
  7. Say hello to our robot overlords

Even if nothing truly terrible happens, it’s a good idea to be prepared for emergencies, be they tiny or huge. Public health folks have brilliantly latched onto this idea, using zombies to get people to prepare for earthquakes and hurricanes.

Plus it’s just fun to think, “What if?”

However: The traditional—and heavily advertised—ways of being fit and prepared for any sort of apocalypse aren’t all that smart. At all.

Rethinking fitness

The ideal of fitness today means (a) looking great in a speedo or bikini, (b) winning athletic contests or (c) looking great in a speedo or bikini while winning athletic contests.

It also means being highly specialized.

Yet all the tools people use to be fit today—gym memberships, Olympic weight sets, $400 running shoes and protein shakes—won’t exist in any sort of long-term emergency or apocalypse.

And being extremely fit and specialized, by today’s standards, would actually be a problem.

  • Giant muscles require a massive and steady amount of calories to maintain, along with all kinds of free time and gym equipment, none of which you’ll have in whatever flavor of apocalypse you favor.
  • Extremely low bodyfat makes you look great on a beach, yet nobody will see you on a beach during the apocalypse, and zero body fat gives you zero margin of error when it’s freezing at night or you can’t find food for three weeks.
  • Being highly specialized in one game or sport isn’t helpful for survival purposes, where you’ll need to be pretty good at a ton of different and random things.

So that’s what this series of posts will be about—researching and experimenting to find the smartest, cheapest ways to actually prepare for some sort of disaster or apocalypse. And the emphasis will be on cheap.

Each post will look at four different options for whatever we’re talking about, rating them on weight, price and practicality:

  1. Grizzly Adams: absolutely free and crafted from whatever you can find in the woods
  2. Scavenger Special: free or truly cheap, taken from recycled material, stuff you find in a junkyard or can buy today for almost nothing
  3. Best of Both Worlds: great quality for a great price
  4. Crazy Billionaire: the absolute most expensive option and top of the line, just for the sake of comparison

Next week: Lone Wolf in a Bunker vs Nimble Nomad with Friends