ST. LOUIS — Sorry to be a poop, but this isn't the dawn of a new millennium. It's not the beginning of a new century or anybody's fin de siecle. When the clock ticks past midnight on Friday, you will still find yourself confined to the 20th century.
Deep down most people know this. But there's so much hype suggesting otherwise that it's easy to go Y2Krazy. The populace can't escape the daily bombardment of millennial news, millennial celebrations (London is the "millennial city"), millennial perfume - even millennial camping equipment and a Web site to nominate a millennial cat.
But don't despair. A band of number-crunching naysayers is pricking the millennial bubble with letter-writing campaigns and exposing it for what it is: hype without history. A few people are actually listening.
"I just want to educate people about it," says Jim Bergevin, general manager of a Slocum's Bowl-O-Drome in Ewing, N.J., and founder of the Real Millennium Group (www.realmillenniumgroup.com).
"They're creating their own history, and they don't have the right to do it," adds Michael Bucella, a 2001 holdout in Lima, Pa., who has written 150 letters to President Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and many others trying to set the record straight.
No less than Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science-fiction author, has weighed in on the side of Y2K+1. Of course, you might suspect the author of "2001: A Space Odyssey" to be a little prejudiced. But his math seems irrefutable. Since a millennium covers 1,000 years and the first "year of our Lord" started with year 1, the last year of the first millennium had to be 1000; the last year of the second, 2000. The same logic applies to centuries: Dec. 31, 2000, marks end of the 20th century.
Even officialdom agrees, if it would just stop waffling. For example, you'd think the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) would get it right. After all, it runs an official atomic clock that doesn't miss a second in 6 million years.
"It probably should be Jan. 1, 2001, because historically there's no year zero," says NIST spokesman Michael Newman. But "there's no one that mandates that [the millennium] ends on a certain date.... If you want advice from NIST: Have a party now and a party then."
The US Naval Observatory, which keeps the nation's master clock, also backs 1/1/01 on paper. But on Friday, it will host a party to celebrate the beginning of what it calls the "Millennial Year 2000."
Confused? Don't ask the scholarly Millennium Institute in Arlington, Va., for help. It offers three answers to the question: 1/1/01, 1/1/00, and "Now!" ("Whatever date you pick to celebrate, consider that we are already in a "Millennial Moment.")
So if your family has trouble picking its "Millennial Moment," don't despair. Families bickered about the centennial moment in 1900, 1800, and indeed, all the way back to 1300. Before that, so few people used this calendar it hardly made any difference. (Bit of trivia: No one cared a hoot about when this millennium began because almost no one knew it was happening.)
Today's 2001 holdouts realize they face an uphill battle. "A lot of people say: 'Why are you getting so excited? It's not important anyway.' I think it is important," says Hilliard Lubin, a date-stickler in Camden, Maine. "Think of the number of kids who are walking around thinking it's the new millennium!"
"If you don't know when you are, how do you expect to know who you are?" adds Mr. Bucella. For this New Year's Eve, "I tell everybody I'm going to watch a Peter Sellars movie called 'Being There.' I'm not going to read a newspaper because I know I'd be too upset."
Alan Dechert, founder of the Go2zero Committee (www.go2zero.com), wants to start a new calendar and name 2000 "Year Zero" of the "New Era." The Christian Right has criticized him for "zeroing out" Christ, but he claims zero would merely level the playing field for other religions. It would also defuse the coming brouhaha 100 years from now because Year 100 would indeed mark a new century.
"It seems like the calendar has always been this way," he says. But come Jan. 1, "I'm going to write 'Year Zero' on my checks."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society