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Gathering guns and gold 

January 1, 2000 was the date, you’ll remember, when the world, as we knew it, ended—or was supposed to. And even though I swore I wasn’t going to become part of the mad rush to “prepare for the worst,� 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 something—we never were sure exactly what—BIG happened.

There had been incessant warnings that the world’s computers wouldn’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 realized—to my horror—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 other—presumably wearing a stout hobnail boot—way out in the boonies someplace.

Doyal goes through life seeing “the end� in such ominous developments as bar codes, the United Nations, and the welfare program.

But to get back to December 31, 1999— I woke up that morning and checked my email. There, in giant red letters, was a note from Doyal reading, “GET READY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE! I will be in your neighborhood this afternoon with my Y2K checklist.�

I thought Doyal was just being himself—paranoid, scattered, harmless. I didn’t know that since I’d seen him last, he’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 Doyal’s life the news media agreed with him. TV and radio were rife with speculation over the world’s lack of Y2K readiness. Even Newsweek and Time featured scary end-time frescoes on their covers.

It was dusk when Doyal’s battered pickup squealed to a stop outside my house.

“Drop what you’re doing,� he panted. “I want you to go to the store right now and get the following: matchsticks, flashlights, batteries, eight tanks of propane…�

“Eight tanks of propane! Are you serious?�

“Yes, I’m serious!� he said. “In a few hours there’s going to be no gas or water or electricity!�

“And get a case of canned vegetables, a case of dried soups, a high powered rifle...�

“A rifle? Doyal! We’re talking about an outage, not the Gaza Strip.�

He glared at me. “And don’t forget ammo,� he said, “at least 500 rounds.�

“Doyal! You could fight off the whole east side with that.�

Doyal returned to his list. “Get a first aid kit, a case of coffee…�

“Wait a minute,� I said, “How are we going to make coffee if there’s no water?�

“Easy,� he said. “Just build a fire and boil the water in your hot tub.�

Now I really laughed. “You’d have to boil that water till Y-THREE-K to make it drinkable.�

Doyal ignored me. “And don’t forget to get some cash, and if you can get some gold dust and a scale that’s even better.�

I winked at my girlfriend Angela. “What is this? Dodge City?�

“OK, laugh,� Doyal said, “but if this blackout lasts more than a week, IT’LL BE GUNS AND GOLD TO LIVE!�
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.

“What’s in the box?� I asked.

“A battery backup for your computer,� Doyal said. “It’ll keep your data safe when the outage comes. Now get going. I’ll have it installed by the time you get back.�

In the miles between my house and the market, my mind went dark with the pros and cons of Doyal’s apocalyptic scenario. My intuitive side, which we’ll call my Higher Self, recalled all the false alarms over the years—the duck-and-cover drills in anticipation of nukes that never came; frantic neighbors digging a bomb shelter during the Cuban Missile Crisis; “The Jupiter Effect� when the planets were to align causing the Earth to split in two; then it was 1984; then it was Halley’s Comet; now it was Y2K.

My logical side, which we’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 wouldn’t know watercress from a thatch of poison oak.

A state of restrained panic dominated Von’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 didn’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. I’d no sooner announced, “Mission accomplished,� when the lights suddenly dimmed and the power went dead.

“This is it!� Angela said.

Except that it wasn’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.

“Well,� he said, putting on his hat, “I’ve done what I could. Right now I’ve got to get on the road. If we live through this, and the phones still work, I’ll call you in the morning.� 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 hadn’t. In fact, Y2K came and went and absolutely nothing happened anywhere except at my house.

It’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 hadn’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, I’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 dean.opp@cox.net

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