So at last we come to the Ultimate New Year's Eve, and I don't mean the advent of The End.
It's been a thousand years since the chronometer last rolled over three zeros, and back then there weren't any chronometers. On Dec. 31, 999, there were no watches, no clocks and the sundials didn't work very well at midnight, but the Christian world greeted the millennium anxiously contemplating the state of their souls and quivering in the face of the Final Judgment.
Fast forward to Dec. 31, 1999. We calculate time in nanoseconds, and what are we anxious about? The state of our technology. Instead of worrying about the apocalypse, we're worrying about computer eclipse. Instead of fessing up sins, we're backing up disks. Instead of worrying about the devil, we're talking about the demons of international terrorism.
Lord knows, we owe a good deal to New Year's Eves past. Where would we be without them? What percentage of our ancestors got married, so they'd always have a date on a medieval Eve?
Nevertheless, all those who predicted that we'd "Party Like It's 1999" have discovered that we're partying like it's Y2K.
Never mind that in New York plastic surgeons are reporting a rush on last-minute liposuctions and in Los Angeles, baby-sitting services are charging up to $300 for the big night. A Yankelovich poll shows that 75 percent of Americans are going to be at home when the ball drops.
I have, of course, long been ahead of this trend. A born path-blazer, I have spent many New Year's Eves decked out in festive flannel, cozy in down-home comfort, not to mention down comforter. Through a massive effort, I stay awake until the very first citizen of Reykjavik has blown his horn.
From my vast experience, therefore, allow me to offer six prefabricated fabrications for newcomers to the over-worked, over-parented population of Americans who are not yet ready to admit the simple truth: We're too pooped to party. This set of answers to the question -- "What are you doing for the millennium?" -- will also aid those whose annual aversion to forced hilarity is multiplied a thousandfold every thousand years.
Excuse 1: "I have to work." This is particularly handy for single people. It positions you as a Very Important Person, who must sacrifice her own happiness and beat off the requests of endless attractive men in order to save the world or the workplace from a Y2K crash. Never mind that you're a teacher. Or that your "job" will be monitoring the hot water in your bathtub.
Excuse 2: "We were planning to be in Galapagos but decided not to fly over the First." This is the phrase, uttered with the proper panache, that describes you as someone with an IPO, not a credit card limit.
Excuse 3: "We feel we should be home just in case." This engenders all sorts of images of your state-of-the-art, high-tech trophy house, replete with sophisticated equipment that must be protected.You don't have to explain that you have to be home "just in case" your face falls into the soup at 9:30.
Excuse 4: "We're actually Islamic, Zoroastrian or Buddhist" (choose one). This is a multipurpose, multicultural excuse, since 2000 is actually 1421 on the Islamic calendar, 2390 for the Zoroastrians and 4698 in China. Trust me, no one will ask.
Excuse 5: "We've decided to welcome the millennium in our own spiritual way." This is the morally superior answer, but it does not mean that you will have to read "Chicken Soup for the Soul" or listen to a CD of waves breaking on the shore of Maui. You can borrow my mantra: ZZZZZZZ.
Finally, if all else fails, I offer Excuse 6: "We're not celebrating, because the millennium is really next year." This immediately relegates you to the killjoy ranks of those who insist accurately and obnoxiously that this isn't really the Year 2000 anyway. This has an added advantage. It guarantees that you will never have to offer another excuse, since no one will ever again ask you to celebrate.
In the meantime, I unabashedly announce my own plan to be asleep when the clock strikes midnight. After all, this millennium's gonna be around for a while.