Does anybody really know what year it is?

Hello, it’s me again, and I am in the midst of Y2K with the rest of you. For better or worse, it inevitably came — and, curiously enough, it didn’t kill anybody I know. Toaster ovens and blenders did not run amok, like in a Stephen King story (damned shame — that would have made a hell of a column). Yep, there were probably a few problems, but nobody I know ended up dead. In fact, the only thing that seems to have a limited horizon is the acronym Y2K itself.

We love our acronyms (if that’s what you call them — this is where editors earn their bucks). I could go through a litany of them: FBI, CIA, IRS, WTO … but Y2K will soon be a loss. Damned shame. Just how many other acronyms had a number in them? I will buy a cup of coffee at my favorite coffee shop (Richard’s) for the person coming up with the longest list of alphanumeric acronyms. Only beautiful young females with loose morals need apply (and if they say MI5, that qualifies).

So Y2K’s advent is history — thank God, Krishna, or whoever is on duty. It was more exciting than Gerald Ford’s swine-flu vaccine (the cure for no disease), but by me, not much more. Everybody I know is still here (and, in some cases, that is a crying-ass shame). So it goes.

It does bother me, however, that nobody much asked the existential question: “How do we know it is Y2K?” Or, even more profoundly, “Where did time come from, anyhow?”

Luckily for you, I am here with some answers. Everybody (except my lady friend and my attorney) knows that I have answers. (To their credit, though, they both keep me out of trouble for stalking sheep. Never mind that: The sheep wouldn’t testify, anyway.) But back to time. Many among us go with the Bible, which I refer to as The Manual — instructions for this life, given by the Maker. A great book, if not the greatest. (After all, it’s the best-selling book, ever. Gutenberg was nobody’s fool.)

It’s a damned shame that folks don’t read and follow The Manual. Even we Buddhists like it, though it is redundant to us. The Manual begins with creation — and, with that, time. However, things are rather sketchy, if you read the beginning of The Manual aloud. I prefer the Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, as my copy of The Manual. Why? Be true to your school[s]. Oxford was where I ran out of degrees to get, and Harvard (where I did my master’s in theological studies) gave me the opportunity to get to know Helmut Koester and George McCrae, two of the crew who did the work on the Revised Standard Version. My colleagues were no slouches — one, a German theologian; the other, a Jesuit. Those are two cats you don’t mess with. Besides, most Christians will give the RSV at least a nod. Even if you don’t like Helmut or George, their work is still in line with the King James Version, authorized by James the Second (hence, the name). Frankly, I never much liked Helmut — but George, rest his soul, was cooler than Italian ice cream.

To the point! In all versions of The Manual, it takes God two days to create light, the heavens and earth, and make day light and night dark — and all this in the space of seven verses.

Who was counting? If your answer is, “God said so,” you are reading the wrong column. If you go read your Manual, you’ll discover that time, as we earthlings conceive it, is a malleable concept. Don’t let that hang you up. God, after all, is a bunch smarter than us … and if you read all of The Manual, you will learn that it is not terribly clever to go pissing off God.

And all that was to demonstrate that time, as earthlings understand it, is something earthlings derived.

How? Lucky you: I know this part. From history, we know that the ancient Babylonians adhered to a mystic numerology based on the number six. (Hmm … that could give radical fundamentalists pause, considering the number of the Antichrist. But let us leave them there). We haven’t a clue when this was, since our version of time did not yet exist. But trade did, and through commerce, word of this got to the Egyptians, who had tried to figure out this time thing, themselves.

The Egyptians had scoped things out by observing the Nile River and seasonal changes, and had come up with a year that was 360 days long. The smart move seemed to be to have 36 weeks a year, with a week being 10 days long. (These were called decands, by the way.) But as you all know, that left five-and-a-quarter extra days, which were designated for worship of the Pharaoh. Guess whose idea this was — the Pharaoh or the slaves?

The Babylonian numerology didn’t do much for the Egyptians — but the Egyptians did have trade relations with the Greeks. So the Greeks got wind of Babylonian numerology, and already knew about decands. Greeks! Now we got trouble.

One of the Greeks (Euclides?), thought it over, slammed the ideas together, and decided that a year could be divided into 360 equal parts. The rest is, literally, history.

Other smart-ass Greeks figured out that the world is round — a circle/sphere — and decided that 360 was a good number to chop chunks out of it.

OK, folks: You do the math. What’s 24 times 12? Presto! The 24-hour day. Clocks may be a topic for another column. But, in any case, the Greeks invented the measure of days as we understand it.

Clever lads, the Greeks. Pete Apostolopoulos, owner of the Mediterranean Restaurant downtown; Joe Ferikes, a local attorney; and Dino from the East Village Deli (Greeks all) have kindly given me lessons in poker for some time. Not at the same time, mind you, and they will vehemently deny this. All for funsies, mind you.

Everybody loved the Greek idea of hours in a day. Everybody bought in. Weeks, months and years became a matter of cultural accommodation — hence, different calendars sprang up. They have been revised to accommodate the ubiquitous quarter day (even the clever Greeks couldn’t sell that one), and finally, we are here today.

Are you certain this is Y2K?

[Alan Wilcox lives in downtown Asheville. His commentaries sometimes grace the pages of Mountain Xpress.]

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