Wednesday-- March 27, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 197
What Happens After People?
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City,
Mar. 27--"What happens after people, G-Pa?"
Matt's Voice cut through the din of
the city as we walked eastward, vermiculating our way through the snaking
mass of people who crowd the So-Ho district of New York City, a depository
for the avant guarde in art and fashion and funky stores.
"What do you mean, Matt?"
He was riding on my 6-foot-four-inch
high shoulders, prince of the sidewalk, ferried by his 270-pound
former-Marine grandpa who, like any oil tanker, forced those heading
toward a collision to sidestep and make way for the three generations
bearing down on them.
"I mean, G-Pa, if there were
dinosaurs and no people. Then the dinosaurs died out. And
people came. Then when it's time for people to die out, who
will come and replace them, like people did the dinosaurs?"
As I weaved and sidestepped those
with their heads down, unaware of the Titanic's potential collision
course, the plastic bag from the Evolution store we had just visited
whacked against my face, blinding me momentarily.
"Hold the bag to the side, Matt," I
requested, trying to juggle the five-year-old forty-two-pound inquisitor,
his back pack and my hip pouch slung over my shoulder so we didn't knock
down old ladies and old men and blind people who had not time or ability
to duck or weave as we did.
Matt is a dinosaur aficionado.
He can rattle off the genus and species of tribes of ancient beasts, and
delineate the difference between an alligator and a crocodile so clearly
you never wonder again what the difference between the two is.
alligator is green," he told the lady in the Evolution store who was
showing him the skulls of saber toothed tigers and ancient shark's teeth
over 50 million years old. "It hides in the reeds and waits to eat
things. And a crocodile is brown because it hides in dirty
water and mud waiting to eat things. They are living
dinosaurs, you know," he added.
The young So-Ho dressed lady who probably
had a Ph.D. in paleontology nodded to Matt. "You're very smart,
young man," she said.
"I know," Matt replied, not being truculent
in his answer, but rather stating a fact that just about everyone with whom
in contact affirmed. "That's a neat Allosaurus claw," he said,
pointing to a shelf a foot above his head. It boasted the foot of one of the
most ferocious meat eaters in dinosaur times.
not as neat as a...." and he went on to explain to the lady his knowledge
of a more ferocious competitor of the Allosaurus, confirming to yet
another stranger the kid knew his stuff.
The Evolution Store is a anidivulean retail
outlet stocked with dead
things. It sells both prehistoric bones and teeth and
fragments of the past, as well as casts of ancient creatures' heads and
feet, all replicas rendered from actual molds of their skeletons. If
you want the real things, they are available too, at a much higher price.
For a kid like Matt, or any child, the
Evolution Store on Spring Street near Green Street in New York City is a
Natural History Museum you can walk into and touch and feel and even buy
things millions of years in age or their likenessness.
I took Matt there after school to let him
drool over his ability to touch and feel and smell the ancient and old
that he read about and, I assumed, dreamt about. A few weeks
earlier I had purchased a 65 million year-old fragment of a dinosaur egg
for him as an Easter present, a far cry from a Peter Rabbit egg, but
nevertheless, my contribution to his hunger for knowledge of the past.
"G-Pa? Are you going to answer me?"
We made it through the thick crowd and were
walking up a narrow street not as riddled with humans in motion.
"Well, Matt, the only thing I can tell you is
that something will surely follow people, whatever it might be, because
that's what evolution is all about--everything changes to adapt to its new
"Yeah, maybe another asteroid the size of
Mount McKinley will hit the earth like it did 65 million years before,
G-Pa, when the dinosaurs went away. And maybe something else
"I'm sure it will, Matt. I'm
sure it will."
Just then the bag he was carrying flopped
into my face again. "Matt, the bag?"
"Sorry, G-Pa. But the alligator's
hungry!" Matt laughed.
Inside the plastic bag was an alligator
head with its jaws wide open. It was about eight inches from
the tip of its snout to the back of its neck. They were on
sale for only $12 and I couldn't resist, especially after Matt hammered me
about buying his sister the Hello Kitty Grammy doll a week earlier.
As we walked, we talked about creation and
evolution. I told him what I believed, that nothing died, it
just all recycled. Like maybe in the past he might have been
part of an Allosaurus, or I might have been part of a rock, or a drop of
rain. And when we died our bodies went back to the soil, and we
became part of the earth again, to grow into something else.
"Yes, G-Pa...that baboon back at the store is a
relative....part of us...that's what my teacher said."
"Everything is a part of everything in some tiny
way, Matt," I said. "There's nothing new."
Matt exclaimed. "People invented that--a guy named Edison--that's
why my teacher said," he bragged.
"Well, he just harnessed it, Matt.
Lightening has been around since the beginning of time, and that's
electricity. People don't invent anything, they just rearrange
things that exist to make them work better."
We talked some more until it was time to
find a pizza slice. Suddenly hunger, the primitive first stage of
survival for man and beast, took command of the conversation.
"I'm hungry, G-Pa!"
We got mushed in a narrow, crowded line on
Mulberry Street at the fringe of Little Italy where it seemed the entire
city of New York was waiting for their food. We got a couple
of slices of pizza and went across the street to a park where Matt played
and ate his pizza, pretending to leap over a moat filled with alligators.
I scratched my head as I sat on a bench watching
him. I had never thought about what "happens after people?"
Like so many arrogant humans, I assumed we were
the top of the food and intellectual chain, the nirvana of all, the
highest order of intelligence. But Matt's simple and profound
comment, "what comes after people" didn't presuppose that humans had tied
the Gordian Knott in the evolutionary ladder. Quite the
contrary, his innocence and perspicuity made it clear that there might be
something far more advanced than what we call humans on the horizon.
Since he was a student of timelessness--living in
a world of prehistoric times where millions and millions of years were
traveled with each page he turned, his mind was free of the arrogance of
the human species--that it is the final exclamation point in the
I began to chuckle to myself.
I was, a pseudo intellectual in my own right, assuming I had this vast
knowledge of so many things, only to be trumped by a five-year-old's
question--"what comes after people?"
I knew there was an answer. I knew I
couldn't tell my own blood that people were the pinnacle of evolution, or
that we had evolved as the final answer to nature's changing seasons.
I was fearful if I did a bolt of lightening might strike me.
Complacency would have suggested I give Matt a
lecture about how brilliant human beings were, and how advanced they had
become. But to do so I would have to face the fact that
humans are the only creatures who kill other creatures for no good reason.
Humans, except in rare cases, don't even eat those they kill!
Such an insult to nature, I thought.
Worse, this pinnacle of evolution--the
human being--has corralled the power to kill all living life on the planet
through the indiscriminate use of nuclear and biological warfare.
This behavior would not suggest the highest evolutionary marks for human
kind, neither would it imply nature had finished her cycle of creating and
recreating, for man's and woman's role on the earth was not to enhance the
world for other creatures, but to selfishly take their world away to make
room for their own kind.
Vigilance meant in this situation to simply
agree with Matt's profundity. "Yes, Matt, something will come to
replace humans. Everything has its day in the sun."
"But if we were alligators, like this one,"
Matt tapped the bag, "we would survive. Alligators last
I smiled. Yes, the smartest of
the ancient beasts was indeed, not man, but the alligator, at least that
was the opinion of the "little giant" riding on my shoulders!
Note: Anyone interested in visiting a
wonderful store full of history of the past, and mystery questions for the
future, here is the address and website of the Evolution Store--