The Extinction Show: Live! One Night Only!

Fiction by Manuel Gonzales

From the headline

“Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace”

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Manuel Gonzales: The Extinction Show

Who knew extinction could be the hottest ticket in town? Manuel Gonzales, the author of...

It’s not that they expected there to be a huge crowd, certainly not African Grey Parrot–sized (which had been 30,000 people, easily; they’d had to rent out Fenway Park for that one), or Mary River Turtle crowds (nearly 19,000 people, but that wasn’t too surprising; any turtle, no matter what kind of turtle, put butts in seats), or even Broad-Billed Hummingbird big—well, and, let’s be honest, no one expected the Broad-Billed Hummingbird crowd to be as big as it was. Originally, they’d booked a five-hundred-seat venue for that job thinking they’d be lucky to fill half of it, because who even knew about the Broad-Billed Hummingbird except for Kevin, creeping in the back of the office with all his North American bird books, but then all five hundred tickets sold out in forty-five minutes, so Geri worked her magic, canceled the smaller venue, booked a theater three times the size across town, and that sold out again in another half-hour, not to mention all the pay-per-view tickets they sold once the rest of the birding community got wind of the event.

“All this for a fucking hummingbird,” Geri said, shaking her head at the weeping, the sobbing, as the last bit of life eked out of that last hummingbird. “Just think how much money we’d have made if we’d done this sort of thing for the goddamn Amur Leopard. Or, Jesus, the Asian Elephant? We’d be fucking retired if we’d done this with the Asian Elephant.”

But still, here they were, in a black-box theater in Queens (“Fucking Queens for Christ’s sake,” Geri said, practically spitting) with a capacity hovering at right around one hundred bodies, the four of them watching the very last American Burying Beetle on this, the planet Earth, breathe its very last breath (“Do fucking beetles even breathe?” Geri asked), and you could count the number of people in attendance on two hands.

“I told you we should’ve done my thing,” Kevin whispered.

“Shut up about your thing,” Geri said. “Turn down the lights, cue the soundtrack.”

‘All this for a fucking hummingbird,’ Geri’d said, shaking her head at the weeping, the sobbing, as the last bit of life eked out of that last hummingbird.”

The problem was, most of your crowd-pleasers had already died out. Add to that an oversaturated market? You get six people plus staff sitting in an empty theater in Queens waiting for a bug to kick it. Back when they’d started out, no one was working Extinction Witnessing events. Now there were a hundred companies doing the same.

Kevin’s thing had been simple enough. Don’t sell tickets to witness the extinction of just one bug.

“Nah, nah, boss,” he’d said to Geri, even though Geri wasn’t anyone’s boss. “You gotta make it big, make it flashy. Gather up a bunch of bugs, right? Rent a warehouse. Let them all loose, right? It’s like a big party, you pay to get in, there’s a cash bar, we rent out muck boots, call it, like, the Killing Fields? You’re not just witnessing extinction, you’re causing it? It’ll be huge.”

It probably would’ve been huge, bigger than this, anyway. A competing outfit across town had done something similar. Gathered the last of the North American rockcresses—your Smooth, your Green—and thrown in some variants of sweetgrass and milk vetch, and Geri scoffed. “Who’s going to pay money to watch a fucking plant go extinct?” But then they rented out a big space and four flamethrowers and protective gear, hired some off-duty firefighters, and for $50K a pop, you could torch the place.

Last week, Kevin sent them his résumé and the Killing Fields idea, not to mention some other ideas he’d been cooking up.

The lights went down, all but a spotlight on the stage, lighting up what could have been—from this distance—any goddamn bug. Then Enya’s Watermark piped in over the crappy speakers.

“Enya.” Geri closed her eyes. “Always gotta be fucking Enya.”

Further Reading

  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

    By Elizabeth Kolbert • Henry Holt and Company • 2014

    Five times the earth has been decimated by a mass extinction. Kolbert makes a persuasive and bracing case that we may be living amidst the sixth. It’s an utterly terrifying book—which began as a 2009 New Yorker article—but also one we can ill afford not to read.

  • The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

    By David Wallace-Wells • Tim Duggan Books • 2019

    A half decade later, David Wallace-Wells—in another magazine piece that was expanded into a book, this time from New York—writes evocatively about what happens to humans after global warming: biblical flooding, water scarcity, famine. Again, it’s a sobering work that’s hard to stomach and hard to ignore. But, just as essential, it contains a thread of hope that we may yet summon the political will to avoid the seemingly inevitable.

  • Striking a Balance Between Fear and Hope on Climate Change

    By Jared Diamond • The New York Times • April 15, 2019

    Which brings us to Jared Diamond’s argument for optimism and outreach, encapsulated within his review of Bill McKibben's latest book, Falter: “In my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause?” Amen.