January 1, 2000 was the date, youâ€™ll remember, when the world, as we knew it, endedâ€”or was supposed to. And even though I swore I wasnâ€™t going to become part of the mad rush to â€œprepare for the worst,â€? I got caught up in it anyway, believing that the only means of escape was to stock my house with dry goods and stand watch as somethingâ€”we never were sure exactly whatâ€”BIG happened.
There had been incessant warnings that the worldâ€™s computers wouldnâ€™t recognize the year 2000 and that when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999, everything attached to them would crash, burn, malfunction, or explode.
I had only recently realizedâ€”to my horrorâ€”that my entire life was enmeshed with my computer. Not only were my bank accounts, correspondence, taxes and photos all floating around inside an unstable-looking gray box, but also I was becoming increasingly dependent on a string of computer techs to keep the damned thing running. That meant a growing dependence on oddballs, no matter how difficult they turned out to be.
Doyal Cripton was the exception to the rule. He was amiable, skillful with repairs, and willing to go to any length to help you out of a jam. The problem was that Doyal was also a survivalist, one of those perpetual paranoids with one foot in society and the otherâ€”presumably wearing a stout hobnail bootâ€”way out in the boonies someplace.
Doyal goes through life seeing â€œthe endâ€? in such ominous developments as bar codes, the United Nations, and the welfare program.
But to get back to December 31, 1999â€” I woke up that morning and checked my email. There, in giant red letters, was a note from Doyal reading, â€œGET READY BEFORE ITâ€™S TOO LATE! I will be in your neighborhood this afternoon with my Y2K checklist.â€?
I thought Doyal was just being himselfâ€”paranoid, scattered, harmless. I didnâ€™t know that since Iâ€™d seen him last, heâ€™d switched from innocuous eccentric to the foremost prognosticator of Armageddon since Nostradamus. Not that it was entirely his fault. For the first time in Doyalâ€™s life the news media agreed with him. TV and radio were rife with speculation over the worldâ€™s lack of Y2K readiness. Even Newsweek and Time featured scary end-time frescoes on their covers.
It was dusk when Doyalâ€™s battered pickup squealed to a stop outside my house.
â€œDrop what youâ€™re doing,â€? he panted. â€œI want you to go to the store right now and get the following: matchsticks, flashlights, batteries, eight tanks of propaneâ€¦â€?
â€œEight tanks of propane! Are you serious?â€?
â€œYes, Iâ€™m serious!â€? he said. â€œIn a few hours thereâ€™s going to be no gas or water or electricity!â€?
â€œAnd get a case of canned vegetables, a case of dried soups, a high powered rifle...â€?
â€œA rifle? Doyal! Weâ€™re talking about an outage, not the Gaza Strip.â€?
He glared at me. â€œAnd donâ€™t forget ammo,â€? he said, â€œat least 500 rounds.â€?
â€œDoyal! You could fight off the whole east side with that.â€?
Doyal returned to his list. â€œGet a first aid kit, a case of coffeeâ€¦â€?
â€œWait a minute,â€? I said, â€œHow are we going to make coffee if thereâ€™s no water?â€?
â€œEasy,â€? he said. â€œJust build a fire and boil the water in your hot tub.â€?
Now I really laughed. â€œYouâ€™d have to boil that water till Y-THREE-K to make it drinkable.â€?
Doyal ignored me. â€œAnd donâ€™t forget to get some cash, and if you can get some gold dust and a scale thatâ€™s even better.â€?
I winked at my girlfriend Angela. â€œWhat is this? Dodge City?â€?
â€œOK, laugh,â€? Doyal said, â€œbut if this blackout lasts more than a week, ITâ€™LL BE GUNS AND GOLD TO LIVE!â€?
His words thundered across the living room and echoed briefly in the heater on my back wall. There was a discernible shift at that moment and I could see that Angela was suddenly taking him seriously. It was two against one.
â€œWhatâ€™s in the box?â€? I asked.
â€œA battery backup for your computer,â€? Doyal said. â€œItâ€™ll keep your data safe when the outage comes. Now get going. Iâ€™ll have it installed by the time you get back.â€?
In the miles between my house and the market, my mind went dark with the pros and cons of Doyalâ€™s apocalyptic scenario. My intuitive side, which weâ€™ll call my Higher Self, recalled all the false alarms over the yearsâ€”the duck-and-cover drills in anticipation of nukes that never came; frantic neighbors digging a bomb shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis; â€œThe Jupiter Effectâ€? when the planets were to align causing the Earth to split in two; then it was 1984; then it was Halleyâ€™s Comet; now it was Y2K.
My logical side, which weâ€™ll call my Lower Self, took stock of my survival skills. I had once been a Boy Scout, but not a very good one, and I knew that if it came right down to it and I really were forced to grub for food in the wilderness, I wouldnâ€™t know watercress from a thatch of poison oak.
A state of restrained panic dominated Vonâ€™s by the time Angela and I arrived. The produce section had been stripped clean and two old women were arguing over the last carton of milk. But we got what we needed and what we didnâ€™t, and headed to the parking lot. Loading our huge piles of supplies into the car, I dislocated my shoulder.
Back at home, the groceries spilled out of the kitchen and into my office, where Doyal was hunched over my computer with a soldering gun and a pair of wire cutters. Iâ€™d no sooner announced, â€œMission accomplished,â€? when the lights suddenly dimmed and the power went dead.
â€œThis is it!â€? Angela said.
Except that it wasnâ€™t. As it turned out, it was a blown fuse in my electrical main. Apparently, when Doyal hooked up his battery backup to my computer, it caused some kind of static discharge, which tripped the fuse box, which in turn activated the battery backup, which sent a surge of juice into my computer, which melted the motherboard, which somehow burned up the hard drive. By the time we got the power back and a fan turned on to clear out the smoke, Doyal determined my computer was toast.
â€œWell,â€? he said, putting on his hat, â€œIâ€™ve done what I could. Right now Iâ€™ve got to get on the road. If we live through this, and the phones still work, Iâ€™ll call you in the morning.â€? With that, he disappeared into the night.
At midnight, while the rest of the nation watched the ball drop in Times Square, Angela heated up the first of what would be many cans of generic chili while I sat on the kitchen counter, my good arm clutching a pair of binoculars, to see if my religious-zealot neighbor had been raptured out of his easy chair. He hadnâ€™t. In fact, Y2K came and went and absolutely nothing happened anywhere except at my house.
Itâ€™s been too painful to reveal before now, but apparently I have the dubious distinction of being the only person on the planet to have experienced a true computer meltdown during Y2K. It might have been newsworthy if it hadnâ€™t had more to do with panic than anything else.
And even though my shoulder still throbs on rainy days, and I have enough leftover candles for high mass at the Vatican, Iâ€™m happy to report that my animosity towards Doyal has dissipated. I even had him over for dinner recently, though I freely admit it was all I could do to resist the temptation to serve him a large cup of hot-tub coffee. ?
Dean Opperman knows a good meltdown when he sees one. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org