Originally published in The New York Times (July 1999)
No publication should print another article that contains the word “millennium” until well into the year 2999. It is anxiety-provoking enough thinking about all the Y2K disasters waiting to happen – the bank will lose track of the $17 in interest I earned on my savings account last year; my favorite Chinese restaurant will cross wires with the trust and estates department at a major law firm. As a result, a codicil bequeathing my worldly possessions will be slipped under the door of every apartment with my telephone exchange.
Even more disconcerting are the entrepreneurial bandwagoneers who can think of no other name for their business than you know what. With six months to go until 2000, each day I pass Aida’s Hair Stylists on Third Avenue and see the sign “Prepare yourself for the Millennium with highlights a la carte.” Over on Second Avenue was the short-lived Millennium Diner, which closed months before the big day. These establishments offer no futuristic fare, no end-of-the-world mark-downs. They are just more reminders of the time-space constructs with which we are forced to measure our existence, even while getting a perm.
I respectfully request and exception to the “no Millennium article” rule, to formally protest the presence of Millennium countdown clocks. Their red analog numbers change with digitalized fervor – it’s almost here, it’s almost now, 341-20-08-05, 341-20-08-04-04, 341-20-08-03. Like an early-morning infomercial, they compel me, no matter how disgusted, to watch.
There’s one on the back of Bloomingdale’s, spoiling my new-found sense of purpose after a victorious frenzy at the “75 percent off” bra sale. My husband thinks the clock was placed on the store’s Third Avenue side so patrons leaving the Baronet and Coronet Theaters in a post-film stupor will be instantly charged with free-floating fear as they re-enter the reality-ridden streets. I saw another countdown clock on the bottom of the screen of a local TV news promo. Watching television and seeing a Millennium countdown clock pack a one-two wallop of self-doubt that can be mollified only by watching more television.
Outside Hunter College on Lexington Avenue, a Millennium countdown clock bears the logo “Are You Ready?” For what, I respond to the frantic ticks? Are finals being given on New Years Eve? There is no Millennium countdown clock inside Grand Central Terminal, a good thing to know in case you want to go somewhere to relax. Isn’t it enough that my crow’s feet and the second coming of John Travolta remind me that I am not getting any younger?
Should anyone harbor concerns about a “Soylent Green”-like apocalypse in the year 2000, rest easy. The Millennium countdown clock sponsored by Riese Restaurants on the southeast corner of 34th Street and Seventh Avenue assures the pre-prandial masses with the phrase “Feeding Manhattan for Over 50 years and Into the Next Millennium.” The certainty of a Dunkin’ Donuts Coolata can wash away the worries of the hungry, the tired, the serotonin-challenged.
The Korbel Champagne Countdown clocks in the windows of liquore stores around town are the only ones that bear some relation to the coming event. Alcohol and New Year’s Eve do go together, but my suspicion is aroused by the phrase “Official Champagne of the Millennium” in the cardboard frame. What agency or individual offers its imprimatur for millennial goods and services? The Pope? The Salt Lake City Olympic Committee?
It is possible to see two millennial countdown clocks at the same time: in front of Stuart’s liquor store on Third Avenue near 61st Street, where you can check the synchronicity of the Korbel and Bloomingdale’s sign (hand-held mirror required).
Did I mention that 7,000 post offices have Millennium countdown clocks meant to draw attention to this century’s stamps? And one of the 7,000 clocks happens to be at my local Lenox Hill Station. Mercifully, it has been placed on a wall that is not visible to customers waiting in line.
Perhaps, as a journalist, I’m bothered by the deadline thing. I would be more receptive to a countdown clock with a real purpose. Some suggestions: A Pantyhose Countdown Clock that tells how many more wears I can expect before I discover a run over my knee the size of a strip of bacon after an important job interview. A Politician Promise Countdown Clock that tracks the time until a campaign vow must be fulfilled. The Spousal Aggravation Countdown Clock that will tell unsuspecting husbands and wives how many more “Why are you always late/tired/upset/hungry?” jabs can be inflicted without a complete communication shutdown. The Toddler Countdown/Meltdown Clock. And the clock that would solve that great silent mystery that plagues all commuters worrying about those expiration dates: the Metrocard Countdown Clock.