I have always been fascinated with time and history, particularly 20th century history. Everyone lately has been speaking grandly of this century that is ending. I know that the millennium is ending too, but that just a little too heady for me. I mean, I don't have a great interest in the dang signing of the Magna Carta or anything that ancient. My interests tend to be more modernistic. The following is my 2 cents worth on the upcoming turn of the century. In just a few days, this whole essay may sound like ridiculous rambling, but here it goes anyway...


December 27, 1999

Yep, it's almost over. This Friday night is the big night. What will happen? The anticipation is high to say the least. This past year, with all the Y2K scare stories, and just recently stories of possible terrorist events on top of that... this Friday night has the potential of being the biggest surprise party in history... or the biggest sigh of relief ever felt. Even though I have to confess that a catastrophic event would be morbidly interesting to see, I vote for the sigh. I mean, I still want to enjoy refrigerated milk, showers, and cable TV. I'm fairly confident that the Y2K chaos probably won't occur. Come Saturday morning, after months of hoopla, paranoia, and what ifs, we'll finally know for sure.

I envison a 100 foot, no, 300... 1,000... let's make that a 2,000 foot wall of flame sweeping through Times Square at the stroke of midnight, consuming everyone and everything in its path. Also, at the precise moment the clock counts down to the year 2000, giant killer robots, dormant in underground bunkers in New Jersey since the 50s, will come to life, blast themselves out of their top-secret lair, and will accompany the wall of flame, rampaging across the country vaporizing everything that moves with their death rays that shoot out from their slightly rusty metallic foreheads. I will be ready for them, sitting on my front porch in my underwear and houseshoes with a shotgun. I will fire at the wall of flame until I am out of ammo, and in true classic sci-fi film fashion, I will then throw the shotgun at the wall of flame, attempt to run and then twist my ankle and fall down. Someone will rush up and try to drag me away from my approaching doom, but it will be too late as the wall of flame engulfs both of us as we scream like saucy French ballerinas at the top of our lungs. Probably, none of this will happen, but hey, that's just me.

Where was I? Oh yeah... In a week or month from now, December 27, 1999 may probably already sound antiquated... a date that sounds like it's from the distant past, just as the year 2000 at this time still sounds a bit futuristic. Once the reality of the year 2000 has sunk in, it's going to be odd to refer to past years as '97, '98, or past decades as the '40s, '50s, '60s, etc. A year with two zeros at the end of it will be hard to refer to. What is the rule here? There is no problem with 2000 as it looks written out, but how will we tend to pronounce it orally? Will we say Two-thousand? Twenty-oh-oh? Will we refer to the years following as Twenty-aught-one, Twenty-aught-two... as our counterparts did just after the year 1900? Let's just agree right here and now to NEVER refer to the zeros as triple or double goose eggs, OK? Thanks. Even further on in the future, it will still seem odd to refer to past years as Twenty-ten, Twenty-eleven... We will feel weird saying "We were married in '13." It won't be until we hit 2022, when we can at last casually abbreviate the years and comfortably say, "Yeah, I remember back in '21..."

You may consider these next few days to be the last days of the 20th century and the millennium, or you may be of the technical die-hard group that considers this time next year to be the true end of these time periods. I don't want to get into that argument, so if your thinking is the latter, just pretend it's the end of the century. Work with me here...

I think that a lot of people are taking the end of the century too casually without much thought as to the significance of it. Sure, when you get down to it, it really is just going to actually be another new day after midnight this Friday, but I think that this past century was quite unique, exciting, and unlike any other segment of history before it. We should take the time to reflect on it and remark about it in some way.

What a century! And I mean that both positively and negatively. The century began with horses and buggies and ended with space shuttles! We started this century with modest weaponry and graduated to atomic bombs less than halfway through it, and this same weapon continues to exist and menace us still. Hooray for us! In the 50s, for the first time in history, our planet had to actually fear its destruction at our hands. And still amazing to me, but I'm sure ho-hum to some, just under three quarters through this time, men traveled to and walked on the moon. No other period in mankind's history has produced such a dramatic and accelerated progress of technological achievements as well as great spectacles of destruction. In this century, when things happened, they happened BIG.

Just what was going on before this? Why this sudden explosion of ingenuity? It would seem on the surface that our predecessors in the previous eras were slackers, running around in togas, powdered wigs and frilly waistcoats, laying around eating grapes and spouting poetry (hey, maybe it wasn't so bad after all). I am far from being a scholar (as you can surely tell by now), but I can suppose that the persons living in the centuries before this one established the building blocks of knowledge, created the theories, discovered the elements, and conducted the experiments that opened the door to the advances of the 1900s. In other words, they did the advance work for us. Understanding how to control and use electricity in the late 19th century was undoubtedly the main key to the successes of this century... we finally had the physical means and power to put those past centuries of thought, formulas, and theories to practical use. Whoa! I'm starting to sound like those old science movies I used to sleep through in school!

Personally, I think that the best product of this century was the advancement of the means to record the century's own events and participants. I'm referring to photography and sound recording. Even though both were originally invented in the 19th century, this is the only era where events, people, and places have been fully and exactly documented during the entire century, from its start to finish, using a medium that didn't rely solely on recollection, storytelling, opinion, or rendering by artists. Image and sound made the history of this century more real. Rather than just static pages in a history book, we can actually view our century move as it progressed.

Technology aside, people haven't changed that much and aren't likely to change in the next hundred years. We're still pretty basically human with all our faults and virtues. We still kill each other for stupid reasons and have a hard time remembering what is ours and what isn't. We still persecute each other, proclaiming what one group believes in is better than what another group believes in. We still do awful things, but thankfully, overall, it seems that the good guys still outnumber the bad guys.

I wonder how our counterparts in 1899 felt at this time... what their imaginations envisioned for their upcoming new century and how it has actually measured up since then. I'm sure that if they could be here now to review the 20th century, they would be amazed at many things and quite disappointed or horrified by a few, too. Of course, I also wonder if our future counterparts in 2099 will be wondering the same thing, that is, our vision or predictions of the future. I also wonder what they will think of us and our times as they look at images of this century (just as we look at photos from the 1800s and wonder about those people and their culture and lifestyle so long ago). I'm also wondering what I will have for dinner tonight.

Changing the subject for a moment, I laugh at all of the authors and publishers that, in their rush to make a buck, came out with all these big voluminous books in the past year and a half chronicling the 20th Century... before it was over! They were so arrogant to think that everything that was to happen had already happened. They missed out on quite a few news items such as; the Clinton-Lewinsky affair and the resulting impeachment; the death of JFK Jr.; the extreme weather of El Nino; the war in Kosovo; the too long list of shootings at schools and workplaces; the long-elusive first non-stop crossing of the earth by balloon; the explosive growth of the Internet; and the actual end of the century itself and the potential chaotic results of the Y2K computer bug; plus, of course, the Pokemon craze and Livin La Vida Loca. When I buy a book about the 20th century, it will have to be published around June of next year.

I feel lucky to have experienced 40 years of this century. I will miss it. To me, it has the same feeling as when one graduates from high school. OK, I can hear a few of you out there snickering and giggling.There is a certain sadness, but at the same time, an excitement for what the future may hold. Still, there's no choice but to move on. I'm glad to be alive at this time to witness the turn of the 1900s into the 2000s, if not for anything else but the novelty of it. I hope I can see quite a bit of the 21st century. The 21st century... man, that sounds like Star Trek or something.

Here's a thought... there will still be rednecks in the 21st century.

I regret that too many of the people that we shared this century with didn't make it as far as we have to experience this event with us. Personally, I would like to be sharing this time with my father, who I think would have enjoyed all of this reminiscing of the past century, imagining the possibilities of the future, and even all of the Y2K silliness. I especially feel regret for the people who have passed away this year, this month, and those who will die in the next few days... they were so close.

In closing, you might want to pause a moment or so to take a good look around you at this time, at the people around you who will be sharing this experience with you, at the familiar places you know. It will help you remember how it was at this time in history. This time, this turn of the century... for whatever its value or meaning is to you... is an extremely rare thing and most of the people on earth alive at this moment won't see the next one. That's something to think about.

You also might want to keep a fire extinguisher near your bed this Friday night... just in case.

I wish you luck, love, and prosperity, and plenty of laughs for the future.

- Mark Longmire


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