“I am out with lanterns, looking for myself.” E Dickinson

Just like that—Y2K  turned 23…but by 2069 people had used so much toilet paper, they wiped themselves out

The rights of women is the unfinished business of the 21st century Hillary Clinton

Time has no divisions to mark its passage, no thunder roll or trumpet blare to announce a new month or year. But a new century begins and mortals must ring bells and fire pistols. Thomas Mann

Death that leap filled year resembled birth. Having partaken in the mystical act what seemed like a millennium ago, I knew once the cervix dilates, there’s no stopping a baby’s arrival. A portal opens, et voila. It’s the reverse with death. First the portal appears, and again, nothing can stop its sucking action from taking us in the opposite direction. Similarly, when a parent dies, and you realize you’re next in line; that also sucks.

Y2K, the year, not the bug, found me mourning several deaths while congratulating a sister for giving birth on New Year’s Day to a beautiful red haired being. An old friend died New Year’s Eve while I was riotously celebrating the birth of a new century. I was asked to give a eulogy. The Washington weatherman was predicting a blast of cold air and more snow. Was it time for my own emotional weather report before I summarized another’s life?

My scientific and nerdy engineering colleagues were still awaiting the birth of the first child of the crypto-electronic age—a fully functional AI robot. Many were hopeful—the first Robot Olympics had been held in Toronto in the early 90s. What was coming—George Jetson self-driving cars, robot vacuums, smart phones and TVs…something much more interesting than a Radio Shack barking dog or blow up doll to keep one company?

Was it time to take a beat or a lifespan tally—number of jobs, places visited/lived, lovers, friends, bank account… Better not, my bank account resembled a leaky, dented tin can, and what was that expression ‘I can count all my lovers on one hand—if I used a calculator.’ So now what?

Y2K (the bug) brought out geeks, religious zealots, survivalists, thrill-seekers, techno-wizards, and clueless politicians. Those that didn’t care if clocks and computers might stop searched for clues in Prince’s song 1999, or just danced, or hunkered down to await 2012. I’ll admit I speculated a cosmic or virtual shoe might drop, or a translucent, plastic & flesh digesting worm might run amuck. A Terminator AI bot could… Nope, Rise of the Machines (2003) and Terminator Salvation 2009 would assure us someone/thing from the future would save us from ourselves. Would we heed Sarah Connors words, “no fate but what we make?”

There were many ‘gen’s’ to sort through that year. My parents were part of the lost gen; my brother and I were baby boomers; a sister was a cusp kid who’d just had a Gen X baby. What good does it do to label a group, a pattern, a trend anyway? Many born in the lion roaring 20s never even meowed; not all the beats beat on bongos.

In 95, I’d moved to the burbs, to a (north Virginia) DC bedroom community. Work and special events drew me into DC monthly. The survive the city vibe I’d tried to master in 1970 returned. This time, I was in tune with its predator tempo; this time I would thrive. Sounds of the street wore a sombrero. Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony, and Enrique Iglesias all released their first English-language hits. Santana had something new to say, as did Jen Lopez, Selena, and Louie Bega. I increased my Spanish vocabulary from 25 to 100 words, adding El que se fue a la villa perdio su silla (snooze you lose); no saber ni papa de algo (you haven’t a clue); plus a few new cuss words, which came in handy during trips to Nogales and Tecate.

Otherwise, music, IMO, was in the crapper…with the Thong song, Bbbye, Oops I did it again… what else circled the necessary room? Analog devices were heading there, physical car keys, a boatload of suddenly deemed unnecessary jobs, Montgomery Wards, mobile phones as large as a bread box, and stores that sold rental movies. Coming soon to a future neighborhood near you, purple ketchup, must have home security systems, avocado toast, oat milk & soy lattes, smart phones and watches, selfies, and the opioid ketamine version of Leary’s tune in, turn on, drop out.

Whereas the 60s was a decade full of lightbulb moments: first kiss, spy crush, orgasm, funeral viewing, severe parental unit smack down; first presidential assassination, moon landing… 2000 was, in retrospect, like those hastily recalled Firestone tires that caused over 50 fatalities in 2000. It was something that might hold, might shred, might explode.  I had survived a childhood of soap in the mouth, wooden spoon smacks, lead paint, no car seat/belt or bike helmet, margarine, cocoa puffs, warring siblings, statewide moves, and mercurial Irish/Scot and Welsh American parents. In the theatre, I watched Mission Impossible II and nodded yes, that’s what life is—a fire breathing chimera, a hybrid, a genetically modified experience.

The Sex in the City girls and I were knocking down Cosmos and Apple Martini’s, chased with top shelf Tequila shots, salt & lime. Although, when I escaped to my favorite Italian gangster restaurant, my drink of choice was a Deano, an extra dirty martini up with three fat, olive hued olives. They only played Rat Pack and 60’s crooner tunes; the odor of garlic and anise wafted through the room where I sat in my corner booth with a view. I paced myself to ensure there was room for Tiramisu.

Sometimes I indulged in two martinis—in remembrance of Dean and Frank; dad, gran, gramps; Bill and Mike; Clara; Bear; Laura; Sean… My first solo visit in Y2K, I asked for black olives.  I was mourning my friend’s death. A tumor they said, in his head, diagnosed three months earlier, dead by New Year’s Eve. So many others for whom to grieve, the dead in Kosovo and Chechnya, those on flights 4590, 431, 006; JFK Jr. and wife, and Judith Exner, JFK’s old flame. As if on cue, Peggy Lee warbled ‘my old flame, can’t even recall his name…new lovers all so tame…attempts at love, only imitations of…my old flame.’

When the waiter brought the 2nd martini, he said I could keep the engraved glass. “Here’s to you Joe DiMaggio, Mario Puzo, Scatman John, and Dusty Springfield,” I mouthed aloud. Dusty, do you know what to do with yourself now? Adieu and thanks Shel Silverstein, who I’d said hello to in old Key West, whose poems my daughter loved. He ‘tripped on his shoelaces; fell up…which got him so dizzy, when he looked around, he got sick, and threw down.’

The 90s, I mused, had its fair share of disasters: earthquakes in the Philippines, LA, and Japan; Galveston hurricane, as well as Andrew (FL), Bertha (NC), Gordon (FL), and Irene (FL)… detecting a pattern here? Not to mention the murders of Tupac, JonBenet, OJ’s ex and Ron Goldman, Gianni Versace, Phil Hartman, Dahmer’s last victim, and students at Columbine. lst World Trade Center bombing seemed a set up for what followed: Oklahoma City bombing in 95; 96 summer Olympics, Atlanta bomb; IRA & Brit forays; Embassy booms…FEMA being rolled into Homeland Security, and emphasis on preparedness.

I confess, I was in my 40s before I assembled my first emergency survival bag. I did keep an overnight bag in the trunk (unexpected business trips/weekend getaways), a few road flares, and a blanket. My new emergency backpack contained a portable lst aid kit, fire blanket, crank powered flashlight, swiss army knife, a can of fix a flat, and other indispensable stuff (including handcuffs) I’ve never used (never say never).

By Y2K I’d made a few enemies, and there was my widowed mother—we held each other at bay. She’d sold the South Mountain house and land, and moved into a gated community nearby. Money was tight; I helped when I could, full knowing money doesn’t buy an ounce of gratitude. Because of a few misogynistic bosses, I’d changed jobs, and filed an EEO lawsuit. In 2000, I actually had a boss I liked, held in esteem. That didn’t keep me from imaging a different sort of life, one without summoning cell phones and pagers, bumper to bumper traffic, and certifiable nutcases driving cars, pontificating in boardrooms, and protesting in the streets (like I once did).

I’d taken a few defense classes, and after my car was key scratched and I was nearly run off the road (twice), I traded in my smallish sports car for a larger, compact crossover SUV, and bought pepper spray. After watching Fight Club and the Matrix, I even considered joining a gym to improve my fitness level but was cured of the notion after rewatching Life is Beautiful.

Phil Hines magical Chaos books and Rowling’s Harry Potter was bewitching readers. Star Wars struck again with Phantom Menace, and there were talks of peace in N Ireland and Middle East. Or was that more science fiction? An ex was a huge scifi fan. He often quoted descriptions by scifi writers regarding imagined, predicted dystopian or extraordinary future times. He said Henlein wrote about coming nuclear weapons; Jules Verne described future people as being obsessed with technology, navigating the globe in submarines. An early Muslim feminist, in 1905, created Ladyland, a utopian world where men were locked up and women invented solar power, weather control devices, and flying cars. Orwell’s 1984  totalitarian state and Big Brother didn’t sound very scifi anymore. What was coming round the bend? What shape would it take? Where was that crystal ball?

I was still rereading/digesting a book I’d read in 94, the second and final book by Robert Pirsig, Lila. It spurred 100s of questions and notes for a future book, a draft of which was recently finished on this blog (Interpretation of Death). One of the questions I’d scrawled was What Rules the World? Not who or why but what. Was it dreams and dreams denied, money, passion, technology, old or reconstituted gods, magic…? Would it help if we knew the time of our demise? Or if we knew we were all just one big tribe?

Being nearly half a century old at the infancy of the 21st century was not optimum. I began paying attention to those older than dirt jokes, how 50 was the youth of old age; that it was a time, per Erica Jong, which resembled flying—‘hours of boredom, seconds of terror, and moments of ecstasy if you renewed your membership in the mile high club…’ From now on, when asked, I would state I was not old, merely electroencephalographically challenged. My task, poetically rendered, was to allow the self to mend—what the self allowed to be torn apart by love. Realizing the catch was that the cure allowed the heart to be torn—again, and again.

It was time for a new attitude, a time to look back and be grateful Tiny Tim didn’t run for (or tiptoe) through Congress, the person that named walkie talkies was stopped before he named pregnancy kits maybe babies; stamps lickie stickies; and bras breastie nesties. I was thankful for having survived childhood, a few scary trans-continental flights, five husbands, and knowing the difference between knowing your sh#$ and knowing you’re sh#%.

This was the start of a new millennium; though we can’t make brand new starts half way through life, we can craft new endings. ‘A new day starts in darkness’ writer Michael Ventura intoned. A new century, I improvised, commences in chaos, smeared in the amniotic fluid of yesterday’s & tomorrow’s affairs—wrapped in a caul not unlike the one in which I was born, nearly half a century earlier. If only the statement ‘what’s done in the dark always comes to light’ were true, I mused.

If only I knew then what I know now about how little new centuries resemble babies, except for the screaming exiting the birth canal. Many have weighed in on what century 21 would resemble and got it wrong. Scifi writer Heinlein thought meat might go extinct, and while vegans can order a plant based burger oozing with red beet juice, we’re still carnivores. Others thought the alphabet would shrink and letters C, Q, and X be eliminated. Nope; and you can still buy a vowel from Vanna on a certain game show. Tesla thought we’d stop drinking coffee, however, alcohol would continue to be the elixir of life. I’ll drink to that and ask if anyone’s beaten my record for drinking 17 Irish Coffee’s in one day?

If only…instead of buying a B&B in 2003, I opened a placed called Resolutions; it’s a gym the first two weeks in January; the rest of the year it’s a bar. If only, during my trip half way round the world, I just kept going. If only our crystal balls weren’t out of order on 9/11, and in 2005 when Katrina struck New Orleans and London’s tube was bombed, and all those many other times when lives were lost. If only in 2015, voters…If only my GPS hadn’t told me, at the cemetery, I’d reached my final destination. If only I hadn’t drank all that invisible ink, you’d see …….

So what now? Where to next? How about a year filled with sex scandals and death, 1963?