It took time and careful planning, but this buff South Beach club kid had tanned himself the color of a third-place medal. He pushed his green H2 northwest through a stalemate on I-75, and over his "Greatest of DJ AM" playlist, yelled his half of a dialogue into a Blackberry:
"Dude, I can't believe we'll never go to Skybar again."
"Glass, Tantra, Snatch. All underwater."
"Yeah, dude. Even Gucci."
Tears filled the bronze kid's tastefully mascaraed eyes.
"I know. All those beautiful shirts. Just floating away."
Few are the born worshippers in a noontime Midwest bar. On this day, the regulars were joined by a congregation of coastal refugees: pepper-haired Hamptonites who kept going outside to dust off their classic Aston Martins; a few Bostonians who elected not to sit in Fenway Park screaming "Fuck the Yankees" as the tide took the upper deck; classmates from Vassar who'd abandoned their pursuits of advanced degrees in The History of Loose Leaf Tea.
Together they hunched over glasses of Bud, watching what CNN had titled "Earth on Ice: The Great Crumbling."
Wolf Blitzer paused his narration of hillocks of ice tumbling into the sea to wave his hands at a rug-sized touch screen and summon an infographic.
"CNN's Internet Operatives tell us that since the Great Crumbling began, the most commonly searched term has been "exact geographical center of the United States." The results of which give us..."
Wolf did a wax-on, wax-off thing at the touch screen.
"39°48′38″North, 98°33′22″ West. A town of 303. A town named Lebanon, Kansas."
The richest man in the bar dropped his beer and ran out the door.
In the wake of Wolf Blitzer's proclamation, the town of Lebanon, Kansas, whose economy was completely dependent on a roadside gas station, came to represent the promise of gold that ignited this country's last great rush: a scuttling inward of citizens who left their homes to huddle on the last spot the water would swallow.
One of the more pleasant revelations of this movement was an historically unprecedented influx of corporate cash. CEOs in private jets were the first to arrive, and they threw open every coffer they had in exchange for topographically favorable plots of land. Standard issue for Lebanonites were DVR boxes from Comcast, iPhones from AT&T, cost-free sessions with cognitive behavior therapists from Kaiser Permanente, and season tickets to the Lebanon Cowboys, whose stadium Jerry Jones ripped from its foundation in Texas and flew north attached to a fleet of V-22 Ospreys.
Lebanon's formerly stark skyline was now spiky with modular buildings in which boards of directors slept. To accommodate the needs of a more affluent clientele, the longtime owner of the gas station had expanded, surrounding the station with a steadily rising number of double wide trailers filled with rare single malts and sets of Ferrari luggage.
It was this one-story metropolis the kid from South Beach now saw in front of the H2's cowpusher. He thumped into the gas station, popped the collar of his imitation Versace, and hopped out of the truck.
"You know where can I buy some boardshorts and a flat iron?"
The gas station attendant looked up from a page in the Robb Report devoted to luxury submersibles.
"Nice shirt. We got real ones on aisle 9."
The H2 rolled through the cattle guard at Lebanon's border spitting smoke and sputtering, a zombie version of the thing that once lived, once roared and chewed highway like something starved. Ka-thunk, ka-thunk over the metal grate. What sprawled in front of the kid from South Beach was the wealth of the world's richest nation squeezed into an area less than a square mile by the fuzziest guess. Hand stitched calfskin loafers painted in mud, lace trains of couture gowns clotted with waste dripping from plastic tubes that poked like snorkels from each shanty's bottom. But no homeless, no cadging. The finest makeup, the worst face.
Everyone was walking toward a squat building at Lebanon's North end. The kid fell in, spent his first tour of this new home with a head like a hyperactive periscope, inventorying the hand painted signs: Little Texas, Little West Virginia, Little New Mexico. Stepping carefully over the chalk lines that jig-sawed the town. A different smell from each, a different set of colors flown. And yes, finally, here it was, Little Miami. The kid absently touched the H2's key in his pocket. There was Dwayne Wade, a dance club. Everything smelled like Cuervo. Everything smelled like home.
And at the North end, the Lebanon town hall. A little building with thin, high windows and stucco veneer. People pushing inside, then a gavel.
"Alright, everybody, let's just calm the fuck down. The Lebanon City Council doesn't condone folks speaking out of turn."
The chairman of the Lebanon City Council waved an agenda.
"We need to figure out how to slice this pie so everyone gets a piece. If you got ideas, you'll get a turn to talk. Ok, let's see who's up first."
"Excuse me." A voice like cream being poured into a glass. "My name is Oprah Winfrey." The stacked mounds of her body wrapped like a gift in tailored Chanel, her shirt printed with an Escherish pattern of tiny orange owls.
"This place. Given the opportunity to build a new nation, you made the same one again, dirtier, smaller and meaner. I know it's easy to cling to the familiar when you're in a crisis. But I can bring you peace. Look under your chairs."
Under each was a square-topped metal key.
"That key starts a jetski, one for each of you. And tomorrow, we will break ground on a factory I've designed to convert waste into non-perishable astronaut food. How's that sound, Mr. Chairman?" Oprah turned to the dais, palms up.
"Shit, I think I might faint."
The kid from South Beach looked out Oprah's bedroom window at the town gridded by new roads, at the laughing kids shooting down tall slides into the sea.
"Come over here."
The gills she'd grown made Oprah's words sound like she was speaking from behind the door of an empty room. Changed, unrecognizable, yet calling, always calling for her chosen bronze-colored boy.
"Get back in this bed. And bring me some astronaut ice cream."
The tide rose four inches that day.