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KEEPING A DATE WITH THE NEW YEAR

In the beginning were the ancient peoples, who tracked their days with sundials and big rocks in the ground. How primitive! What in the world did they give each other for Christmas?

These days, we track our days with goofball cartoons, photos of cuddly animals and quotes from Star Wars. Nineteen ninety-nine promises to be a banner year for calendars. Talk about off the wall (or off the desk, as the case may be).

Calendars make great gifts. Everyone needs one, if not two or three. Here are a few warm, fuzzy numbers to choose from.

Inspirational

Maybe you tried Kahlil Gibran, and that didn't work. Then there was Dr. Deepak Chopra, but his New Age blatherings got on your nerves, and you've had it with Dr. Ruth. There's nothing left but "The Wisdom of Star Wars," a Cedco desk calendar. Here, at your fingertips, are cheesy gray sketches of Star Wars characters, and quotes like "Don't worry, she'll hold together. You hear me, baby? Hold together!" (Han Solo) and "You can't win. But there are alternatives to fighting" (Obi-Wan). $12.95 for this?? As Princess Leia says (July 6), "I don't know where you get your illusions, laser-brain."

A better Star Wars option is the colorful "Star Wars: May the Force Be With You" wall calendar. The inside is a graphic riot, full of purples and blues and stills from the '80s flick. In case you're not over it yet.

Speaking of stars, may we present the Cosmopolitan Bedside Astrologer 1999 Calendar ($12.95). Full of print, this wall number loves the word "stud," as in: "Come June, heartbreaker Saturn flexes his muscles in your romantic sphere, so expect more duds than studs." Haha. That's Capricorn, not me. My confidential: "You live up to your fickle-faced rep trying to decide between staying with the dependable but dull boyfriend or accepting a party invite from the office stud." Whoo-hoo! 1999 is going to be a good one!

If common sense is more your bag, there's the wisdom of George Carlin. A year's worth is packed into "Braindroppings: The 1999 Calendar," a little tear-off-a-page-a-day goodie from Hyperion ($10). There are Some Favorite Redundancies: "true fact," "revert back," "original copy," etc. And truths: "If you fall asleep on a couch in a house where a woman is present, there will be a blanket or coat covering you when you awaken." "People love to admit they have bad handwriting or can't do math. But they never admit to having a poor sense of humor or being bad drivers." I liked that one.

"Make the Connection: A 1999 Day-by-Day Calendar," by Bob Greene and Oprah Winfrey, flaunts a picture of Thin Oprah wearing a pink bathing suit. (It has a dated look; at first, I thought it was someone out of the '60s.) Every day bears a self-help quote and faint lines, presumably for our meditations. "It is important to shift our focus away from what others tell us about our bodies," we are told. "Take responsibility for all that you are." "Becoming self-aware can be a difficult process." Lightweight, this one, in more ways than one. From Hyperion, $10.

Hyperion really cares about our mental wellness! They also bring us "The 1999 Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . And It's All Small Stuff" desk calendar ($10), based on the best seller. Me, I can't buy this. Take this (April 7): "Have you ever thought about how little eye contact most of us have with strangers? Why? Are we afraid of them?" Heck, yes. Try meeting a stranger's eye and see what happens. Another gem: "The more patient you are, the more accepting you will be of what is, rather than insisting that life be exactly what you..." Zzzzzz. On the other hand, the pink pages, the lines for our own writing, and the nice type style make this an attractive gift.

Cute critters

An animal a day keeps the funny farm away -- or something like that. The little pictures are wild and woolly in "Wildlife of the World," a desk calendar for the World Wildlife Fund. But the one-sentence captions aren't catchy by any means, and grammar-wise are sometimes a riot. ("Producing only a single calf every two years, the manatee's low reproduction rate and docility combine to make them vulnerable to human disturbances.")

I know the World Wildlife Fund is a charity, but couldn't it have found someone to do a decent job on this? The world is full of starving writers. The animals deserve better. So do we. Plus, no room to write anything! What's a desk calendar for?

Cat people inhabit a universe all their own. The rest of us won't see any appeal to "Cat a Day" and "Puppy a Day" ($12.95) wall calendars that -- stay with me here -- have a color picture of a critter for every single day of the year! That's one in each square of the calendar. Too much, I say. Too cluttered. More to my liking is the Cedco World Wildlife Fund "Mothers and Babies" ($12.95) a more sanely designed wall calendar with a single picture a month. Magnificently frowning leopards, cuddly polar bears, a tiny deer (hey, great gift for your pal in Amherst), etc. Awwwwwww! Admit it, even Pol Pot probably liked baby animals.

Baby humans take the spotlight in the Anne Geddes 1999 Wall Calendar. There's something creepy about this one. Some pictures are simply white-and-sepia photos of newborns, coiled in comfy positions -- but others show the babies dressed up, against backgrounds of flora and fauna, as -- oh, let's see -- angels, trolls, gnomes... Eeeuuuw! There's also a picture of an ominous black hand holding a white baby. What is this supposed to imply? From Cedco, $12.95.

Animals have their fans among the famous. We can prove it, with the Purina 1999 Celebrity Pet Calendar. There's Wayne Gretzky with his dog Clyde, Graham Nash's cat Frogurt and Cameron Diaz with her cat Little Man. There's also golfer Greg Norman and his Maine-Coon, whatever that is, called Telegram Sam, or TV's Leeza Gibbons with her mutt Alex.

And more

Don't like self-help or baby animals? What are you, some kind of weirdo? Well, let's see what else is out there.

For the two-track mind, Those Magnificent Trains has 12 great photos of those nostalgic big engines that used to crisscross the country before their freight was turned over to trucks. Those trucks! Without them, imagine how easy driving on the interstates would be!

Talk about heavy. On the cover of The Rolling Stones 1999 Calendar, there are all four Stones, haggard as life. Inside: all kinds of stills of these warbling fossils: Jagger at the mike, etc.

American Scenes of the 20th Century, $15.95, is a two-year wall calendar full of nice-quality black and white photos of history. There's a photo of the Hindenburg exploding, Lindbergh standing triumphantly next to the Spirit of St. Louis, battleax suffragettes on the march, Apollo 11 landing on the moon -- and all kinds of other stuff that is going to make your crabbed little meetings and dinner dates and dentist appointments look pretty darned insignificant.

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