As 2012 takes its plunge down the sewer of our memories, it may be instructive to note that 2012 isn’t only going to be last year; it was supposed to be the last year. We all know that the Mayan calendar was bound to shift gears on Dec. 21st, and we all knew it was a hoax, and we all (and this time, I really mean I) had a little pair of fingers crossed deep in our reptile brain that maybe, just maybe, we were all gonna get it in one fell swoop. It wouldn’t be the rapture; that would offend my democratic principles. We were all going to burn, that was that, and I’d be off the hook for not buying all those Christmas presents I still hadn’t got or filling out applications to those jobs I didn’t really want or scrounging up the money to pay the rent or worrying about adulthood — the dreaded future. It didn’t have the kick of giving my life to save a busload of toddlers; then my student loans would be off my shoulders and my survivors would forever speak of me as if a halo hovered about my head. I was willing to settle for a quick, painless, impersonal absolution — extinction as inevitable as that which came to the civilization that augured it.
But, as you can tell, I was shit out of luck. And, you know what? I got a job I actually kinda wanted, and I’ll be able to hand off my rent check with pride. (I never bought the Christmas presents, but that’s another story.) The larger point is that we’ve been beckoning the end-times for a while now. So much of it boils down to numerology. In the Talk of the Town section of the Dec. 30, 1939 issue of the New Yorker lies the forgotten profile of a “tall, nervous friend” who ruminated on whether his descendants would refer to 2001 as “two thousand and one” or “twenty hundred and one.” From Eustace Tilly’s monocled point of view, the “forlorn years to come” have a “fictive and implausible look,” with a “bleak and disheartening B.C. quality to it,” shrouded in the “heavy clouds of Wellsian prophecy [that] cling dolorously about the coming century.” Their — the column was still written in the first-person plural — friend jotted down some dates, presumably on a bar napkin next to a puddle of rye. He averred that a date like December 31, 2012 has “such an alarming phonyness” to it that it will “surely fall down of its own unwieldy improbability.” This phantom prophet of jaundiced newsprint is a great example of how one doesn’t need to be a futurist to project the gloom of one’s own time onto the future. But at least our friend, drinking away the fears of yet another world war, believed there would be a future.
Maybe our desire for an instant-gratification Day of Wrath has something to do with the fact that it’s slaked by an instant-gratification media. A zombie invasion or a nuclear fallout or a declaration of martial law is much speedier and more cinematic than climate change, even if we keep being told we’re frogs in a pot that’s coming to a boil. We sublimate valid if slow-going doomsdays into ones that bring us a quick McCatharsis. A TV show like Doomsday Preppers is entertaining but awful; these are the same folks that the NRA is admonishing to arm up against encroaching government power — not to mention their fellow man. It ducks the real issues that confront us and foments violence and distrust. (And I don’t mean to sound like I’m blaming the preppers themselves; they’re catching the same paranoid vibes we all are, and doing that very human thing of making what’s complicated seem nice and simple.) The thing is: A lot of apocalyptic shit did happen in 2012 — crops in the Midwest dried up and New York City was underwater, and that only scratches the surface — just not the capital-A Apocalypse itself. People want to get it over with already because that’s a hell of a lot easier than dealing with it.
But, hey, there’s a silver lining to this cloud of ozone. Let’s say that, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, we pretend that we really did have a close brush with oblivion on Dec. 21st. The Mayans shot a meteor at us and it hopscotched off our atmosphere and went to harass an alien civilization light years away. (And let’s be really positive — these aliens are spared by laser cannons that incinerate the offending iceball.) We’ve dodged that bullet and now … now … we’re living on borrowed time. It’s so much more precious when it’s borrowed, right? You’d rather total your Camry any day than dent your father’s Porsche! 2012 could’ve ended with a bang and left 2013 whimpering, but, the scaling of any fiscal cliffs aside, January’s going off without a hitch. Job, yeah. Rent, ugh. Global warming, oh fuck. Honey Boo Boo and Hunter Moore are still around, but at least they’re not two of the Four Horsemen. Here’s our second chance. Let’s make it count.