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nostalgic for 19
december 3, 1999
I'm getting nostalgic for "19".
Throughout my entire life, I've filled out forms that for the year gave the given of 19 followed by two dashes, as if 19 were the wet, grey rock we'd never leave.
But now we're about to. 2000 is space-agey, but has a hand of boredom to it, maybe because it lacks the sexiness of an odd number. The first rule of landscape gardening is that you plant specimens in odd numbers, to make them look "natural". 3 and 5 are always going to get a lot more looks than 4 and 6. In mathematics, except for 2, every prime number is odd.
But even though I associate 19 with classroom sunlight, officialdom, Life magazine photographs, slaps of romance, and the slippery stepping-stone passages of aging, I look forward to 2000, despite its inherent numerical blandness.
Certainly, whenever we speed helplessly, face forward, hair whipped back, into a new century, there is a certain self-created anxiety, and that's all the more present now because we're dropping behind us not only a 9 but a 1.
Each revolve over into a new set of numbers causes a lot of us to cringe, and there have been all sorts of direnesses expressed about how we're about to end (even though we've actually entered, Gregorian-wise, the new millenium already: most scholars now agree the basis of our calendar, the birth of Christ, is off, Christ having actually been born around 4 to 6 B.C., meaning the millenium actually happened around 1994 or 1996, around the time of the Spice Girls and Clinton's blow jobs).
What's most amazing about this millenium though is that the real danger for the first time in history is not celestial, but man-made. What we're worried about under the roofs of the world is not that God is going to descend in a cotton candy elevator to judge us, but that everything electric will stop working because of Y2K. Is this a presentiment of where our problems will originate in the years and decades ahead? Probably. Having conquered the world through heroics and lime juice, we're now set to conquer ourselves through slip-ups and laziness. The sea monster has wriggled into a contagious e-mail worm (and who the fuck ever decided to take something as wondrous as world communication and degrade it with a man-made problem it never needed to have?).
Will the world go mad January 1? Will your toaster not pop up, and patients die, chests ratcheted open, under the yellow circles of K-Mart flashlights held aloft in white gloves? Probably not. But as Mary joked to me, when 2000 does happen, and the world is at its gravest danger, midnight on December 31, the big, bright ball descended, half the world will be drunk.