• Otter Views: The world is scheduled to end again

    by Tom Stevens

    The world is supposed to end a week from today. This is ordained by an ancient Mayan calendar which on Dec. 21 will conclude a 5,125-year cycle called the “long count.” What happens next is unclear. Does the world end? Or does a new count simply begin?

    Either way, I’m not overly worried. I’ve lived through two ends of the world already. If I’m lucky, I’ll survive a couple more.

    The last end of the world before this one occurred in 1988. It was foretold by the numerologist Edgar Whisenant in his volume “88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be in ’88.” Hopeful evangelicals made the book a best-seller, but the year came and went un-apocalyptically. Dismayed, everyone settled in to wait some more.

    I was already dismayed, having lived through an even earlier end of the world. That was in the summer of 1968, and I took it very seriously. Those were serious times.

    My fiancée and I were living and working in Manhattan when we got the news. The city was supposed to slide into the Atlantic on some exact date – June 25 or 26, if I recall. This would start the end of the world. We read about it in the underground papers.

    We decided to flee for our lives. Stuffing our meager possessions into her Volvo 544, we said goodbye to stubborn New York friends one sticky afternoon and sped westward across the darkening continent. We hoped to reach Illinois, where her family’s home had a root cellar.

    I checked the rear-view mirror as I drove, expecting the land behind us to fall away suddenly like a biscotti dipped too long in coffee. We also listened for telltale signs from the east – the grinding of tectonic plates, the roar of 400-foot tsunamis, or the fanfare of celestial trumpets. Nothing.

    We tried the radio, but the Volvo’s aged crystal set couldn’t pull in New York. Instead, we got a staticky, mid-continental crossfire of AM night radio: the Shirelles warring with hog belly futures, zydeco from New Orleans, used cars in Omaha, cowboy songs from Calgary.

    Driving all night, we reached Illinois without incident and staggered up to her parents’ door sometime before dawn. We were road-weary and totally buzzed on No-Doz, but still in this world, as far as we could determine. We rang the buzzer.

    “Why, what a surprise,” my fiancée’s mom yawned, patting her curlers.

    “Is it still there!” I almost shouted.

    “Whuun there?” her father asked. He had managed to sleepwalk down the stairs but was not yet ready for the end of the world. His hair sprang from his head like coils from a burst couch.

    “Is what still there?” the Mrs. inquired.

    “New York!” I cried, my eyes jumping. “New York is gone!”

    “We fled the city, Mom,” my fiancée explained. “It was supposed to fall into the ocean during the night. We tried to hear the news on the radio but we could only get Hank Williams.”

    “Gone?” her dad grunted. “Shucks. The Cubs were supposed to play the Mets at Shea Stadium today. I’ll have to wash the car.”

    The logic of that escaped me for the moment, but I had more pressing concerns. “May we stay in your root cellar for a few days?” I asked.

    “Of course you may, Dear,” the Mrs. said in soothing tones. “Our root cellar is your root cellar. But have you had breakfast? How about some nice Pop-Tarts?”

    “Pop-Tarts!” I snapped. “How can I think of Pop-Tarts at a time like this? The world may be ending even as we speak! New York may already be gone!”

    In fact, even as we spoke, ominous red streaks appeared in the eastern sky. In the dark elms overhead, birds awoke and chirped in alarm. “Suit yourself,” our hostess said, scanning the new morning. “Just looks like another nice summer day to me. But if the world is ending, we should have a good breakfast.”

    Soon we were all in the kitchen eating Pop-Tarts and scrambled eggs. Radio and TV carried no news of the Manhattan disaster, but our host called Shea Stadium just to be sure. The ticket office was still closed, but he managed to reach one of the groundskeepers. “Shea’s still there,” he told us, his hand over the mouthpiece. “He says the Cubs are taking batting practice now.”

    “But Shea’s in Queens,” I said. “Ask him if Manhattan’s still there.”

    “He says the last time he looked it was, but he hasn’t been there in years and doesn’t care to go back.”

    I haven’t been back, either, but I hear through the grapevine that New York’s still there. Or at least it will be until Dec. 21. Have a good week.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on December 14, 2012

    Topics: Otter Views

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