If anyone was capable of doing it—causing such mayhem and destruction, that is—it was an American. No other nationality was ever going to get the “job” done. A job that Naples had spent the past century or so believing it had miraculously “contained” by sheer force of “hoping for the best.” Because, you know, if you can believe it you can achieve it, the power of positive thinking—and all that sort of cazzate. Italians—excuse one, Neapolitans—knew better than to subscribe to the Spice Girls philosophy of “all you need is positivity.” They knew, in actuality, all you need is a fucking miracle. And those were hard to come by despite all the effigies of Jesus and Mary that one would think could help provide a greater frequency of such supernatural phenomena. Not so, and not today.
Mark Smith—about as American of a name as there could be—saw to it that even Jesus and Mary wouldn’t be able to assist in preventing the aftermath of his stupidity. All sprung from that decidedly American quality of stinginess. Which was ironic when considering their race was the most pro-capitalist. How you gonna promote the most money-centric religion on Earth and then tighten the purse strings when it comes to paying a “toll” to enter a natural wonder? Oh wait, that’s actually totally on-brand with what capitalism is. None of its acolytes think Nature is much worth a damn. And Mark certainly didn’t. Yet he still wanted to mount Vesuvio badly enough to take a gamble with his life. A risk he didn’t fully realize he was taking in all his arrogance and determination to get “the perfect selfie.” Which doesn’t actually exist, as everyone’s mug is fucking ghoulish in selfie format, showing their true essence as a member of the inescapable narcissist culture that social media furnishes.
Like many Americans there that summer, this was Mark’s first time, and he felt endlessly special for “daring” to go “off the beaten path” to somewhere like Naples. So “grubby,” so “uncouth.” Tourists like Mark always felt they were self-superior for deigning to show up in Naples instead of sticking to the conventions of Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Milan or even Amalfi—which, as close to Naples as it was, seemed like another world. Mark was planning to go there next, after bagging his selfie. He also had delusions of bagging a rich older woman on one of the beaches of Amalfi. As though he had the looks, in his gawky, freckled state, to make any kind of impression on this sort of woman. A woman looking for, at the bare minimum, tanned and muscular in her archetypal cabana boy. Not pale and untoned. But such was the bravado of an American, and especially an American male. Making the grandiose assumption that they were “a gift” to anyone they bestowed their attention on. They were not. In fact, they were something of a curse. But what Mark hadn’t bargained for was that, after sneaking onto the blocked-off route leading up to the summit, the Vesuvio had its own curse to bestow. That’s what Mark would get for trying to “cut costs” and not pay to go on the sanctioned path.
He also had no idea how seriously the Carabinieri’s Comando unità forestali, ambientali e agroalimentari took such violating acts. For Italians, to the surprise of many who stereotype the South as being a mecca for garbage in the streets, had a certain respect for Nature that many other nationalities did not. After all, one doesn’t grow up in the most beautiful country in the world and not understand something about the majesty of Mamma Natura. Mark understood nothing about it. He was from a place whose peak of architectural prowess was the Mall of America. What could he understand about true pulchritude? Him in his tan cargo shorts and solid-color green shirt. The picture of basicness, the portrait of lacking personality or refinement. He was not worthy of the Vesuvio’s splendor. The volcano itself could feel it as it was mounted against its will.
Although Mark heard a strange grumbling as he approached the top, heaving and panting in his out-of-shape state (he had what could be called “video game-playing body”), he ignored it entirely. He was on an unstoppable mission now: get that muhfukkin’ selfie. Reaching the crest, he positioned himself on the opposite side of the crater from where visitors were actually permitted. So it was that he set his bag down, took out his phone and raised it up to capture the precious photo he wanted. It was American mediocrity infiltrating something truly special at its finest. As he stepped slightly back to get a better angle, he lost his footing. He careened slowly toward the hole at first, but then it was as though an unstoppable gravitational pull sucked him in as he tumbled inside the crater. The grumbling he had heard from before started to pick back up again at a stronger pitch. The volcano seemed to be working up to some giant burp. Or rather, an all-out eruption. It was angered by this insolence. This lack of care for how it felt about being trodden upon, day in, day out. Mark was merely the sacrificial last straw.
Some men need to fall to Earth literally in order to do so metaphorically. To have their ego checked. To be cut down to size and forced to comprehend that they are nothing in the face of the elements. That day, Mark’s American breed of entitled swashbuckling was what finally prompted the Vesuvio’s elements to respond. It had been so long since it had let it all out. Practically a full century. It was time to remind Mark and everyone else what it was made of. What it was capable of.
So you might say that erupting just as Mark’s body hit the crater was its activating trigger. That the man who fell to Vesuvio’s earth was the last catalyst it needed to say, “Fuck all y’all, I’m doing this.” And it did. Pompeii’s ruins would be nothing compared to what Vesuvio had in store now. The only difference was, the victims of this lava-overtaking would all keep trying to snap photos as the disaster ensued. That’s why Mark’s body was later found in the classic position of arm raised up in front of face.