FORGET AN APOCALYPSE starring machine guns and robot wars and silly things like that. A store that opened this winter in Portland takes supplying citizens for the impending collapse of civilization seriously, stocking its shelves with seeds, how-to books, and sturdy water-filtration systems. Clearly, the apocalypse is not a laughing matter.
"I talk about the real zombie apocalypse," says Alex Ansary, who runs the new Portland Preparedness Center on NE 72nd and Glisan. "Not the joke-joke hee-hee one."
Portland Preparedness Center is lined with the no-joke apocalypse essentials. The boxy, fluorescent-lit shop, reeking of sage, was a toy store until Ansary took it over last year, and shoved aside the playthings to make room for 40-pound barrels of wheat, canned cheese, manuals on DIY medicine, and simple self-defense weapons like a "spring baton" that Ansary, 30, exuberantly demonstrates. Soon, Ansary hopes to offer workshops and become a sort of community center for those who are devoted to planning for the worst.
The money to start the peculiar shop was put up by a dealer looking for a storefront to advertise shelters built to withstand earthquakes and bombs (individual price estimates available upon request).
The way Ansary sees civilization crumbling goes like this: In 2013 or 2014, increased solar flares and a string of disasters will knock out electricity worldwide, disrupting the global economy and stranding billions without resources. Desperate bands will form, turning to zombie-like cannibalism, while the smart humans, the ones who stockpiled their wheat and canned cheese, will form a new society.
Ansary races around the store, grabbing books and pulling clipped and crinkled news articles out of a plastic sack to prove a particular point. He's not overbearing about the inevitable collapse of civilization, but intensely enthusiastic. Every one of his sentences sounds like part of an ever-forming manifesto.
"I think apocalypse is a big part of pop culture because we have this inner knowing, like an elephant who can feel an earthquake coming," says Ansary, his dark eyes burning. "What I'm trying to do is take something that people think of as extremist and make it more Portland... I believe this is more of a spiritual mission I'm on. Preparing for me has come from helping others."
A Portland native, Ansary fell into drugs in his 20s and says he spent five years bouncing between Craigslist living spaces, shooting heroin, and working odd jobs. His police record shows the trouble: an arrest for criminal trespass and possession of a controlled substance in January 2001, followed days later by an arrest for forgery. He went to rehab, but it wasn't until he became politically active—ranting about the New World Order, 9/11, and war on his own cable-access show—that he got off the junk.
"The moment I got into this stuff, the desire to use was lifted," says Ansary. "Disease and addiction comes from not doing what you're supposed to on this planet."
Ansary's show, Outside the Box, is still broadcast live every week. And his YouTube channel is equally prolific, with about 400 videos and nearly 250,000 views.
"A lot of what my show is about is walking up to Portland cops and saying, 'Are you ready for what's coming?!' I think there will be a day in Portland when all the good people have to come together," says Ansary.
The new Preparedness Center is just another outlet for his flood of energy—he staffs the store and keeps it open five days a week, even keeping the doors open on Christmas Eve because he had no other plans.