Now here they were again. Probably those black helicopters, too. It was a good sign. It meant something bad was happening, or was about to happen. On the radio next to the bed, news readers were sounding a bit too calm about the resignation of Boris Yeltsin, and about his handing over the nuclear football to a former KGB operative.
Yes, I thought, as I lay there, everything's falling into place nicely.
An hour later, well-bathed and out on the sidewalk, I listened hard, but the helicopters were gone. There were no sirens to be heard, either, and I smelled no smoke in the air. That was okay. It was early yet. I strolled down to the bank, where a very minor run of sorts seemed to be taking place. I stood in line behind a policeman, and when my turn came I deposited a check and took out a few extra bucks. I didn't have to worry?I'd slowly been building up a stash over the past few months in preparation for a time when paper money would be of no use at all.
In the grocery store, the aisles were quiet?not like the day a few years ago when the Nor'easter swept through town. I had to step around fistfights in the store that day, as people fought over mustard and rolls of paper towels. Today, though, with the End Times really upon us, there was nothing like that. Despite earlier radio reports, bottled water was plentiful. I ignored the water, bought beer instead, took it home.
That afternoon, my apartment well-secured behind me, I took an empty train into Manhattan. Midnight had already come and gone in several developed countries, and New York was still here. New Zealand hadn't accidentally lobbed any missiles at us or anyone else. I was beginning to feel the first tickles of doubt and disappointment slipping in around my belly.
Morgan and I had some lunch, drank a few beers, wandered around the East Village a while before heading back to her place. There we opened some wine and turned on the television, but kept the volume low so we could talk and drink and play games. Every once in a while, I'd glance up at the screen. So long as people were still smiling, I figured the world was still a boring place. I was right. Even the man who let his tongue slip for a second and announced to the world that three missiles had been launched in Russia quickly backpedaled, refusing to say anything more about it. The reporters at the news conference pestered him about his little fuckup for a few minutes, then gave up, satisfied to ask him empty questions about his celebration plans.
The night passed quietly. Midnight came and was gone. Nothing happened. People on the television looked like they always do.
We had been well-prepared. We had water, and food, and battery-operated lamps, and whiskey and wine. We were set to do drunken battle with the C.H.U.D.s. It quickly became obvious, though, that there would be no C.H.U.D.-battling that night.
As the hour passed, the world outside Morgan's window in lower Manhattan was silent. Five minutes into the new year, some guy walked by with one of those big plastic horns. He tooted it once, then kept walking. Even the traffic was quiet.
A demented friend of ours who lives on the Upper West Side reported the moment like this: "New Year's Eve: I'm home alone, flying on Hawaiian trip weed, sucking down the last cigarettes of my life, tv on Times Square on mute. Midnight hits, I hear explosions in the near distance, some guy in the alley below me begins playing 'Amazing Grace' on bagpipes. For a brief, stoned second there, it was all coming together. Then I realized the explosions were the fireworks in Central Park and nobody in Times Square was melting like at the end of The Devil's Rain. So I watched four hours of the Three Stooges."
"That was pretty anticlimactic, wasn't it?" Morgan said of the Apocalypse, as she turned off the television. Nothing more needed to be said.
When I awoke the next morning, I was still clinging to a distant hope that as we slept maybe?just maybe?the world had been transformed into what I'd seen in Herzog's Lessons of Darkness?nothing but pitch black, punctuated by mile-high pillars of flame, the soundtrack nothing but Mahler and Wagner.
Instead, there were only a few extra, chilly puddles of vomit on the sidewalk to avoid. That wasn't even close to what I was hoping for.
It was strange, talking to people over the course of the next couple of days. Almost everyone?even people I didn't expect to react this way?seemed vaguely disappointed that there was no chaos, no mayhem, no widespread carnage. We were all waiting for something. Something bad, perhaps, even deadly, but something to knock the world out of its rut. As we had expected, though, deep in all our hearts, nothing came to save us. My dreams, once again, had been dashed upon the jagged rocks of banality.
To make things worse, I still had a 25-pound sack of rice sitting in my kitchen cupboard. I don't even care much for rice, but it seemed the thing to do. Morgan suggested that we could go around town, from wedding to wedding, throwing rice at 100 different celebrations. I suggested that maybe instead we could leave the bag sealed, go to one wedding and ruin the whole day for everybody.
The next day I gave my folks a call. I didn't express my grave and heartrending disappointment to my dad, but I didn't have to?he knew me well enough.
"You newspeople are all the same," he started in. "Nothing terrible happened, so now you're mad. You don't know what to do with yourselves."
My dad's never been a real big fan of the press. Not that he wasn't right.
I still had a little flicker of hope, though. As I'd been telling folks in the days preceding, if these terrorists the FBI was all up in arms over had half a brain between them, they'd know that New Years' Eve was out of the question?everyone'd be waiting for them. The surprise was gone. No, the thing to do is wait a few days?maybe even weeks?and then do something. The crowds will still be there, if not as compact. The buildings will still be there too, the infrastructure still waiting to be shut down.
But I guess we'll see about that.
Thing is, I think my own, personal disappointment was so great only because I'd been looking forward to the turn of the millennium for such a long time. When I was a youngster, I worked out the math. I'd be 34 in the year 2000. I'd be an old man. At least old enough to take advantage of everything that was offered.
When I was a kid, 2000 was the year. That's when everything was supposed to happen. The silver jumpsuits and teleporters and weekend trips to the moon and contact with the space aliens and the end of the world. It was always supposed to represent the end of the world. Now here we are in the future, we hit that goddamn magic number, and things are pretty much the same as they were five, 10, 15 years ago, more or less. Music's worse. Television's worse. Clothes are funnier. Bars are the same. More theme bars maybe, but I stay away from those. And the world's still here.
Perhaps I'm not making the point strongly enough. Thirty years of anticipation turned to dust in a matter of seconds. All those childhood visions of attacking spaceships and cities on fire and super-death-rays turned into just one more mild public spectacle. Woo-hoo.
What is there to look forward to anymore? Oh yeah, there will be personal things to look forward to, there's no denying that. But on a global scale?
Now I know how all the members of those doomsday cults feel when Jesus neglects to show up on the date prophesied. What do you do then? Give up? I've done that too much as it is.
I suppose it is harder for those religious people, in the end. In my case, I can just head back to the bar and pull those smokes back out of my shirt pocket, hoping to avoid those vomit puddles along the way. Sometimes that's all you can ask for, all you can hope for and all you really need. Sometimes, that's plenty enough.