January 1, 1999
Back again, and looking backward and forward
Okay, okay OKAY! Man, you go silent for a few little months, and before you catch your breath, the voices inside start shouting louder and louder to get out, until the echo is almost unbearable!
Every little thing, every object, every event and experience, is a Clever Comment reaching out to be embraced, a timely witticism, an ironic observation. For example, here's one:
These days we're confronting a Parade of Paradigm Paradoxes in Paradise. Everything we thought we knew about what's important, what should draw us into gratified bliss, is being challenged, shown to contradict itself. Hence, a neat alliterative phrase.
Well, that one was from last September 17. A good 4-1/2 months ago. Was it worth the wait? You see, I haven't really been on vacation -- on the contrary, I've been working harder than ever -- but I've neglected you, my audience, and me, myself (which are largely one and the same), by not publishing any of the rambling and bizarre mental Flashes that continually bombard me. For that, I apologize. If you want some further insight into this little hiatus, and its determined termination, check out the little essay on The New Beanstalk. In a nutshell (or even outside of one), I've renewed my commitment to publish this madcap journal regularly, consistently, predictably: every Monday morning, without fail, come hell or high water or a new Millennium (commitment subject to change, not valid in Nebraska or New Jersey, all rights reserved, including the right to screw up).
For this first resumption of duties, I had two choices: cough up some of the various belated commentary that has been cluttering my journals for the past few months, or give you something Brand New. For the New option, I could provide an update on my New Year's Resolutions from last year. Or, I was considering a Year in Review column, with emphasis on the exploits of Bill and Moni--
Right. I thought you'd prefer the old stuff.
Okay, so here's another partial set of thoughts, from even earlier, in June:
You know what nobody does any more? Drinks.
With due sympathy to the many alcoholics and relatives of alcholics out there, simply nobody seems to drink booze any more. Supposedly, and I'm only going by hearsay on this, there was a time when grownups came home from work and relaxed by sipping a dry martini or a scotch on the rocks. Or two or three, maybe.
There were cocktails for nearly every social occasion, with a whole body of etiquette -- not to mention distinctive glassware -- to support the choice of drink for the right occasion. It didn't have to be a big party; just having a friend to dinner was excuse enough. Heck, if you believe the movies, a business meeting in the afternoon was sufficient reason to break out the sherry, or even the single malt. When dining, you had an aperatif to whet your appetite, of course wine with dinner, and then a cordial or other after-dinner licquer to polish you off.
And then there was also something called a "nightcap": an alcoholic beverage before going to bed.
Can you imagine all of this? Never mind two or three beers on a Sunday afternoon during a football game. We're talking weekday evenings, afternoons, several times a week! Just picture yourself having three strong drinks on a Wednesday night and trying to function the next day. Try it just once, see if you can even handle the kids and the bills and the work you brought home and trying to catch a glimpse of the news on TV, all through the haze of partial inebriation. What kind of a world did these people inhabit?
The fascinating part is the universal self-deception of drinkers that they were doing it for the "taste", or for some snooty high cultural imperative. Wrong! They were putting a buzz on, simple as that. Dad would come home from a hard day at the office, and would imbibe a couple of stiff ones so he could deaden some nerve endings and float his way through the evening. (Moms did it, too.) The "nightcap" was just what it sounds like: something to cap off the evening's high, either to stimulate some frolicking under the sheets, or just to knock them out rather pleasantly. Maybe it made Johnny Carson funnier, too.
We hear all the time these days about how much harder life is for working couples. There's so much divorce, so many demands on family time, so much financial stress. Yet we don't, most of us, drown it all under liquor any more. I wonder why? It's not like we're a generation of squeaky-clean teetotalers. We Baby Boomers and beyond were weaned on pot and stronger drugs, and had our run-ins with binge drinking in our high school and college days. Some of us, indeed, fell by the wayside due to overindulgence. But the great majority, those of us who are now functioning reasonably normally in our 30- and 40-somethings, have pretty much set aside the habit of daily mild intoxicants. And here's a more provocative question: is that such a good thing??
Okay, so much for that one. I could take it in a lot of directions, but I didn't, so you can process it any way you like.
You want one more? Remember, I'm going to be coming back with these columns every week, now. No more 6-month missing persons files. No more mass e-mails from my fan, begging for new columns. Don't trust me? Starving for something to get you back in the swing? Well, okay. How about this, in the spirit of New Year's:
The OTHER Y2K problem:
The chaos has begun. Yesterday (Jan 3, 1999), a bunch of cultists were arrested in Jerusalem for planning to shoot policemen, to hasten the arrival of Armagedden. Around the world, people who couldn't tell you what DOS, RAM, or even IBM stand for are worried about the "Y2K" computer "bug". It dovetails so perfectly with apocalyptic Christian paranoia that you'd think the programmers who were responsible for using 2-digit date formulas back 10 to 15 years ago did so just to have the fun of seeing the world go nuts next December 31.
By the way, for the best insight and perspective on all things Millennium, I highly recommend Stephen Jay Gould's book, Questioning the Millennium. It'll take you 2 days to read, and you'll feel so much better informed. For example, how many of you realize that 2000 is a Leap Year? But 1900, 1800, and 1700 were not. Nor will 2100 be. I wonder how many computers are properly programmed to include February 29, 2000. Gould also gives us all ample reason to be amused, but not concerned, about such burning issues as whether the new Millennium begins on 1/1/2000 or 1/1/2001; and the fact that, since Christ was most likely born before 4 BC, the world should have already ended by now. He doesn't, however, talk at all about the Y2K bug, all the more reason to read his book.
But none of those topics is what I'm worried about. I'm worried about an entirely different end of century crisis, that has amazingly escaped virtually all notice in the media. This is the flood, the veritable deluge, of excess paper that will have to be thrown away and replaced after next January. What do I mean? I'm talking about all those pre-printed forms that have partial dates on them, where you're supposed to fill in the year. You know, like:
Date: Month: _________ Day: ________ Year: 19____
These things are everywhere: bank receipts, job applications, tax returns, insurance documents, mail-in response cards from free offers for Modern Transvestite Magazine (or so I've heard). Do you see the problem? All of these items are now going to be obsolete! How can you have a date form that begins with the number 19 if the year is actually 20-something? It would confuse the heck out of everyone, including the people who fill out the form and those who have to read it. Worse, the form might get thrown away, as the clerk who receives it might think it's out of date, and then your loan or your job or your subscription might never come through at all.
So naturally we've got to get rid of all of these forms, and produce massive supplies of new ones. This means untold extra paper refuse, which will overflow our inadequate recycling capacity and simply pile up on the sidewalks of our cities and towns, creating both a fire and a wind hazard. It also means the further devastation of our forests, with subsequent soil erosion, loss of atmospheric oxygen, and fewer places for birdies to sleep. And if you've ever been to Livermore Falls, Maine, or any other paper mill town, you know that more paper production means more nauseating air and water pollution, which is not only bad for our health but also kills the tourist trade.
So there you have it: chaos, confusion, danger, natural destruction, pain, suffering, and economic devastation. All at the turn of the Millennium. So the doomsayers may be right, after all.
Well, if that all doesn't start the year off on the right note, I don't know what else might. Rest assured, there will be more forthcoming, if I have to forego sleep, work, and sex to get it to you, every Monday from now until 1900, and beyond.
© 1999 David N. Townsend
Library Time (6/17/98) Travel trivialities (5/27/98) Grade School grades cool (5/7/98) The theme of this writing is reading. Ms. Kelly is retiring this week after more than 30 years as a librarian. . . La Paz. Here we go again. Precisely 72 hours after coming in, I'm heading out of Bolivia . . . One thing I am not inclined to do is to put down or ridicule public schools or teachers. But . . .
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