As I sit here staring at my computer screen I am presented with a conundrum. I have a column due, as I do every week. My editor even hinted that if I got it in early, say on Friday, it would make his holidays a little breezier. It never hurts to curry favor with an editor, and I am certainly not above this, but the Friday in question is not just any Friday, it is Friday, December 21, 2012, the end of the Maya Long Calendar and, some would have it, the end of the world.
And so I am faced with several conundrums. For one thing, I don't entirely understand. Yes, the Maya Long Calendar -- which began in 3114 B.C. and is divided into approximately 394 year long periods known as Baktuns -- ends on or around December 21, 2012. But I have often operated without a calendar and the world has proceeded along just fine, although it is true that certain business associates and other anal-retentive types may have experienced a certain degree of chaos due to my calendar-less state. The other problem is obvious. If the world is going to end, why turn in the column at all?
But I am diligent, steadfast, and can be counted on to deliver in any situation (in case my editor survives to read this), and so I am writing this column, although my wife has advised me that I ask to get paid in advance. I love my wife dearly, but anyone who is a freelance writer knows that the world will end before freelance writers are paid in advance.
And so I type these words, the black pall of the world's end hanging overhead, which, if you are reading this, skipped over us again, thrilling sellers of underground bunkers and disappointing the mystics and New Agers who will now have to pay their utility bills.
Whatever happens/happened, I will say that this particular End is much more interesting than most (Y2K struck me as little more than a massive electrical short.). The cataclysmic menu is impressive. The poles will shift, causing earthquakes, mega-tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and other natural taffy twists and upheavals. Solar storms will knock out the North American power grid, upending us in chaotic darkness. Another scenario calls for the Earth to fall into a black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Since the beginning of the Maya calendar, only Richard Nixon has taken such a beating.
I find the debate equally fascinating. Another closing curtain possibility is a collision with the rogue planet Nibiru. Is there actually a rogue planet named Nibiru? No, if your go to source is NASA. If such a planet existed, say NASA scientists, by now you'd be able to see it with your own eyes. Now that you've returned from the window, NASA scientists also point out that Nibiru never showed for a predicted May 2003 cataclysm. However if your trusted source regarding Nibiru is "The Twelfth Planet" by Zecharia Sitchin, then the collision is a given. Many people are very worried about Nibiru. Sitchin, however, is not among them. He passed away two years ago, avoiding the world's end and a host of late night television appearances.
So many folks are worried about the end that our government has stepped in, posting a blog on usa.gov telling readers "The world will not end on Dec. 21, 2012, or any day in 2012" (Note to conspiracy theorists; they did not mention 2013.). Reassuring, but with all due respect, not always the most trusted source.
With the world's end looming, people's reactions are also fascinating. Here in Ventura County it is relatively quiet, although I am aware of several parties ("Party Like There's No To-Maya" is the best party motto) and a mild upswing in the purchase of canned foods, although the latter may be accounted for by our school district's annual Holiday food drive.
Elsewhere in the world, the reaction is decidedly more focused. As I write this, thousands of New Agers are milling about in the tiny farming community of Bugarach, France. Here, extraterrestrials will emerge from deep inside the local mountain, whisking the faithful to the safety of outer space. To those prospective passengers, I would only recommend a quick reading of Damon Knight's "To Serve Man".
With the end of the world potentially imminent, I reached out to a handful of friends whose wisdom I respect, although, regarding their wisdom, you must also factor in that they are friends with me. Since there wasn't much time (I didn't tell them this -- in my journalistic experience, people don't respond accurately while panicked.), I kept the questions short and simple. One question, actually. If the world is going to end on December 21, what will they do? I pointed out that the column was due on December 21, yet almost all of them responded, leading me to believe that all my friends are optimists, or not very careful readers.
Their responses were poignant, philosophical, and, in a few instances (not printed here), rude and crass. My friend Ed, an avid runner, said he was going to run 21 miles, although it struck me that running was not a very sophisticated means of escape. My brother-in-law Tim, an inveterate moviegoer, planned on queuing up a string of apocalypse movies, then gathering his family, dog, and rabbits and heading to the beach to watch the end together, perhaps to see if Hollywood finally got it right. My friend Scot wanted to know a little bit more about my column. "Is KCET a cable channel like HBO?" he wrote. "If it's a regular G-rated channel then I can't really say...."
Women, of course, are less shallow and more detail oriented, so I was doubly curious to see their replies. My friend Donna said she would eat a donut with French toast, while across the table her husband JT (to the end, women are always thinking of others) inhaled steak and chili cheese fries. She said they would do their best to see their daughter up north in college, but that her daughter would only have about five minutes for them because she would want to be with her friends regardless of whether the world was ending or not.
Being a woman, Donna also posed a question of her own, one that plunged to the very roots of family and relationships. "Is this answer based on 100 percent certainty the world is ending?" she asked. "Because if it's not 100 percent, our families won't have plans to see us, and even if it is 100 percent they still might not want to see us."
My friend Rowan divided the end of the world into her own Baktuns; or, in her case, Rowanuns. If the world ended in the morning, she would hug her son and her dog (if her son reads this, I hope he notes the order) and get in touch with family and that would be that. If the Maya gave her a full day, she would make the most of it. She would go out to lunch and definitely order dessert, and then she would go shopping "and buy the most expensive Coach purse and possibly add to my boot collection." She would also get a pedicure, "'cuz I'm not going down with ugly toes." Lovely toes splayed before her, she would finish with a movie, possibly the "Wizard of Oz" because then she could click her new boot heels together and go somewhere else.
Should cataclysm come, I will go to my own end firm in the belief that women are wiser than men.
I also received an interesting response from my good friend Carrie. She said hoped that this end just meant a transition to a better, more peaceful way of life.
Carrie isn't alone. On December 22 the Center for Spiritual Living in Camarillo optimistically plans on hosting "Evolve Ventura County," an event designed to begin "a new era of humanity and a sustainable planet". Think about it. No more fiscal cliff standoffs. No more self-interest. No more have and have nots. No more plastic garbage patches twice the size of Texas in the ocean. No more war.
If we're reading this, let's get started.
Ken McAlpine is a three-time Lowell Thomas award-winner. His most recent book is "Fog," praised by one critic as "one of the most intelligent, richly detailed, deeply felt and evocative novels I've read." He writes weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog about Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.