2000 Notebook: Transition I

1 January 2000
Last Millennium or Next?
The Jewish calendar says today is 23 Tebet 5670; for Muslims it's 24 Ramadan 1420; it's the 5119th year of the Mayan great cycle; and, according to the Gregorian calendar, today is 1 January 2000, the first day of a new millennium.

Or maybe it's not.

It seems the pope who signed off on the calendar was inflammable when it came to matters numerical. Since the calendar goes from 1 BC to 1 AD, here's the rub: 1 BC = -1 AD, but -1+1=0. What this means in practice, I'm told, is that the new Gregorian millennium won't really dawn until 1 January 2001.

I'll probably be dead before the fourth millennium, so I can't afford to screw my timing up on this one. To be prudent, I began celebrating last night, and shall continue to do so for the next three hundred and sixty-six days.

You can't be too careful when it comes to millennia.

2 January 2000
Underwater Banquet
I saw an amazing thing while I was diving off the coral reef at Koh Ngai. That's to be expected, of course, since the coral reefs there are amazing places. The object I discovered fascinated me because it was quite useful: a waterlogged package of ramen.

I was about to swim past the garbage, when I remembered a story Simon told me about a Red Sea trip. A diver in his group dined on pasta with too much to drink and/or food poisoning the night before, and became suddenly ill at twenty-five meters below the surface. Simon said the fish-feeding frenzy at the reverse-peristalsis banquet was one of the most spectacular underwater sights he'd ever seen.

I opened the package of ramen underwater and spread the noodle pieces all around me. The fish and I had a great time.

3 January 2000
Diving Safety Tips
A lot of my fellow divers seem unduly worried about shark attacks. Well-traveled divers worry more about candirus than sharks, but since the nearest wild candiru is ten thousand kilometers away, everyone's going on and on about sharks. I suppose it didn't help that a snorkeler was just killed by one not far from here.

"Don't worry about sharks," I said. "There are only two things you need to do to avoid ending up as a shark's lunch."

I then went on to repeat the nonsense about the "buddy-system," and added that one should always carry a diver's knife in sharky waters.

"That's it?" asked another diver.

"Sure," I replied. "If you see a shark, just slash your buddy."

Everyone laughed, nervously.

"You think I'm joking, don't you?" I asked as I strapped on my stainless steel diving knife with the ten-centimeter blade.

My lecture worked. Everyone kept far away from me the rest of the day; I had a very pleasant time by myself.

4 January 2000
A Simple and Rational Pail
This may be one of those little cultural miscues, but Thais seem to be quite fond of small plastic household accessories. An American friend who lives in Bangkok says that it's true, although I suspect our perception may be unduly influenced by the trillion small shops that sell such wares.

The small, blue, handleless pail with two gold stripes near its base, the one in my room, provides an excellent gloss as to what's really going on. The manufacturer has placed a black label on the side with an explanation (in English only) of the five-liter bucket's role in the scheme of things.

    Keep In
    Interior Pail

    This is goods for those who wish to enjoy simple and rational lives

    Planning and products by Rearngwa Standard

On the bottom of the bucket, Rearngwa Standard has stamped the product number, No 9072, along with something that's almost a priori knowledge: "made in Thailand."

5 January 2000
Drunks versus Alcoholics
I sat next to a portly French businessman on the flight from Bangkok to Paris. After he'd had quite a few bottles of the vile red wine Air France serves, he asked me if I knew the difference between a drunk and an alcoholic.

"Of course," I replied. "Alcoholics go to meetings."

The man was confused; that was not the answer he was expecting. I then had to explain the punch line, that alcoholics who join the organization Alcoholics Anonymous go to regular meetings in an attempt to control their addiction. I explained that drunks are under no such compunction. It wasn't very funny to begin with, and it wasn't funny at all by the time I'd explained the life out of it.

"That's clearly not the answer you were expecting," I said. "Tell me, what is the difference between a drunk and an alcoholic?"

"An alcoholic has a job!" he answered triumphantly as he handed me his business card.

He was a regional sales manager for an industrial tubing company based near Marseilles. I imagine it took a lot of cheap red wine to make industrial tubing at all interesting.

6 January 2000
Editorial Truism
I was whingeing about the latest editorial travesty, when Adrian put things into prospective with one of his little truisms.

"Editors: can't write with 'em, can't write without 'em."

7 January 2000
Another Birthday
Another fifty-first birthday. I waited for something to happen, but it never did.

8 January 2000
A Ride to the Liquor Store
Alicia gave me a ride to the liquor store.

"Thanks!" I said after she dropped me off back at the lab.

"It's a pleasure," she replied. "The liquor store's one of the few places I can take you."

9 January 2000
Small Gardening Shed Fire
I read an article in today's Guardian about a fire in a gardener's shed. According to the story, a retired civil engineer had gone to his gardening shed in his back yard to get a screwdriver. He left his burning cigarette there, which apparently ignited some turpentine-soaked rags. The fire department quickly extinguished the blaze, but the shed and its contents were beyond salvage.

Ordinarily, such a story would not interest me. I believe, however, that this is the first story I've read this year that only talked about events in this so-called millennium: the writer did not compare this fire to other gardening fires of the last decade, she did not put this fire in perspective by talking about fires of the twentieth century, and she did not use the fire as an excuse to write about fires of the last two thousand years.

I hope the trend--if it is one--of talking about current events continues.

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©2000 David Glenn Rinehart