The Maya, whose civilization collapsed 1,200 years ago, were obsessed with time. Their calendar makes ours look like a Mickey Mouse watch with a bad mainspring, even if it does lack Columbus Day, Fourth of July, Christmas and Easter.
But the notable feature of the Mayan calendar is neither its accuracy nor its missing federal holidays. It's that it pretty much finishes up on Dec. 22, 2012. Our calendar gets a little more out of synch with the cosmos each day, but with periodic resettings it's able to take a licking and keep on ticking. Our future goes on and on, and you can do things like calculate that if you had a million dollars, and you spent a dollar a day, you would run out of money—provided you lived in a country where the government provided health care—within a few days of May 11 in the year 4749.
Apocalypse junkies cite the Mayan calendar as evidence the world will end in five years, but that's placing a lot of faith in Mayan chronologists. It's hard to think the Maya would have overpopulated themselves, exhausted their natural resources and submitted to a series of horribly vain and incompetent leaders if they really could have seen the future.
No matter. According to serious students of the end times, late 2012 will see a planet-destroying asteroid, a killer cosmic-ray bombardment, the sun exploding, aliens landing and turning humanity into the alien equivalent of fish-meal, and nuclear war. Also a civilization-destroying plague, The Rapture, and—not least—the appearance of a luminescent spiritual entity and eventual world ruler named P'taah.
So you may want to put off buying that season pass for the 2012-2013 ski season, although I'd recommend sparing no expense for a Halloween costume in 2012, heading for the Ketchum bars, and partying like there's no tomorrow. I'm going as P'taah, myself.
That is, if Ketchum bars still exist in 2012. You may think that bars in Ketchum are a constant in the universe—that even after a rogue star smashes into our solar system and blasts it into fragments, one of those fragments spinning off toward Andromeda will be the Wood River Valley, with its own bit of sun and a remnant of atmosphere and ski lifts to ride and bars to go to. I suppose on a beautiful fall day here, with odors of cooling ashes drifting in from beyond the confines of the valley, there's nothing to indicate that such an event hasn't already happened—except that lately I've been trying to go in, sit down and have a quiet beer at the bar in Slavey's.
Slavey's is gone. Poof! Vanished. Taken out by a stray meteor, maybe. I'm afraid to even look for the Casino Club.
Still, I'm getting my P'taah costume ready—it might take five years or so to sew 900 little glow sticks together into a one-piece jump suit—and at dusk on Halloween night of 2012 I'm going to overcome my fear. I'll head for the Casino Club, whether it still exists or not.
If I find it, I'll look for the nickel-a-song jukebox with the little mechanical violin inside its glass, and I'll expect to see Dora Werry sitting at the bar. I'll look for Stan Tappan and Posey DuPont, and then maybe I'll walk up the street and find Slavey's, the real Slavey's, where the Steel Band is playing "Mr. Tambourine Man" at the insistence of the large and beautiful Canadian bartender. I'll keep an eye out for Les Jankow, the town marshal, who might try to arrest someone staggering around in a suit made of glow-sticks. Maybe I'll go across the street to the Alpine Cafe and hide out in one of its vinyl booths and order a T-bone steak dinner that will cost me most of a $5 bill.
Sitting there, I'll tell myself that worlds don't end. Time does not grind everything to dust beneath its wheel. The end of one Mayan cycle is the beginning of another. The Apocalypse won't happen this year or any other. Things, in general, will keep getting better and better.
Thus comforted, I'll pay my bill. I'll wonder at the astounding ability of time to occasionally run backwards. Then I'll walk out into the darkening Halloween night, glowing against the darkness—me and P'taah—for as long as the glow sticks hold out.