Friday, January 22, 2010

We're Not Going to Make it to 2012

In fact, our world has just about 15 months remaining. D-day falls in the spring of 2011, though I haven't taken the time to calculate the exact date. That will become apparent as time passes.

I can understand why you might be skeptical. There have, after all, been a lot of false alarms. And if you're inclined to believe in a doomsday prophecy, 2012 has a lot going for it. It's not just a trendy, flash-in-the-pan sort of end-of-the-world philosophy. It's been around for centuries, and has the (theoretical) backing of some pretty smart people (who aren't around to jump up onto soap boxes and take to the Internet yelling, "Wait...WAIT! That's not what we meant AT ALL!"). It even had a successful box office run.

But I have proof:


I know this probably isn't what you thought the Doomsday Clock would look like. You might have imagined it black, for instance. You probably thought it would be bigger. You may not have envisioned sticky fingerprints. And I'm almost sure you didn't expect it to be branded by a national test prep company. But be honest: haven't a lot of things in life worked out quite a bit differently than you'd expected?

Back in January of 2008, I went to work on a special project at Kaplan, a project that (I can now tell you, though it was top secret then) launched on August 7, 2008. Shortly after I started, I received the "countdown clock" you see pictured above. It was running backward, counting down the then (roughly) 200 days until our launch. And let me tell you, it ran fast. Nothing like watching the tenths-of-a-second spin backward when you're on a deadline.

I actually really enjoyed the countdown clock but, like all good things, it came to an end. August 7, 2008 arrived. All of the numbers on the clock hit zero. It flashed zeroes for a day and then, on August 8, it was a regular clock, running in the right direction.

Or so it appeared. Of course, I now know that it was simply dormant, awaiting the right moment to share its true message with the world. One morning I looked at the clock and it was running backward again, racing toward a new, unexplained date that hadn't been programmed in by some corporate project manager.

451 days.

Use them wisely.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Forks in the Road

This morning, I sat in the cafeteria of a small private high school my daughter might attend next year and stared--discreetly, I hope--at a man. It's happened to all of us, hasn't it? In some unexpected place, you suddenly spot someone you're 95% sure is someone from your past--someone who was once so significant that you wouldn't have believed you'd ever be unsure--but you are unsure. Unsure enough that you're afraid to speak, not because you're afraid that you're wrong, but because the question mark you'd have to attach to his name would be unforgivable if you were right.

We were both early. I had plenty of time to study him (discreetly, I hope) before the meeting commenced. I thought about walking in the snow with him, about eating rhubarb straight from the garden and blackberries plucked from a bush. I summoned up the one time I'd seen him with his wife and children, years earlier, and tried to remember exactly how he'd looked then, but it was futile. I could only see him refusing to dance with me under the first disco ball I'd ever seen, jumping to defend me during a basketball game in his friend's driveway, appearing at my side with a delicate, powdered-sugar laced Christmas cookie after some silly spat.

I come from a large family. I have cousins I've never met and cousins I've seen only once or twice in my life. I probably have cousins I don't even know exist. But this cousin, I loved. We played with Play-Dough and crayons together, imagined arctic expeditions in his back yard and went to movie matinees together every Wednesday in summer. It was to his house that I took my brand new Pong game and my handheld electronic football game; we made tattoos with marker and applied them to one another and to our younger siblings. I remember what I bought him for his ninth birthday, the day he brought his new puppy to my house, the first time I walked to his house alone. I even remember waiting impatiently for him to get up from his nap when he was still in his crib but I had achieved the lofty age of three.

And now I don't know what he looks like.

I sat in a room for two hours this morning and didn't know whether or not he was sitting thirty feet from me. And somehow, not knowing whether or not I was seeing him made me sad in a way that knowing I wasn't never did.