1980 -- the year that almost wasn't

Quite frankly, the Chief Tracker of the National Trend Center felt a bit of panic. Here it was, the last few days of 1980, and he didn't have his annual report on the year's trends ready. To tell the truth, he hadn't even started it.

Only two nights ago his wife had heard him muttering in his sleep: "What ism 1980 saying? What will the '80s say?"

It wasn't that way, back in the '60s when he was young and keen at trend-tracking, like the pushy new lads at the center just waiting to take over his job today. In the '60s every year practically named itself, from the Year of the New Frontiersman to the Year of the Hippie.

How they had applauded at the center when he came up with the Year of Up-Against-the-Wall! But that had been so long ago.

The '70s, everybody agreed, had been a mean, dull decade. Nobody had blamed him, nobody had held him responsible. He had done the best he could with the obvious -- announcing the Year of Watergate. After that it had all been downhill.

The '70s everybody dismissed as a transition period. But now there was this new decade, and people were looking to the trend-trackers to tell them the transition was over, and something was happening.

But what?

For the life of him the Chief Tracker could not say.

When his wife woke him from his muttering two nights ago, he had confessed: " 1980 seems just like the '70s to me. I can't tell the difference."

He had never felt like that before.

Peering out his office window at the gray December sky, he thought of gray titles for 1980.

The Year of the Neoconservatives?

Too vague.

The Year of the Hostages?

Too depressing, though the idea had its symbolism. We were all hostages, he thought, waiting to be let out of the '70s -- waiting for the next decade to happen.

1066 -- now that was a year. And 1492. And 1588.

But 1980?

They didn't make years the way they used to.

It was funny, the Chief Tracker thought. The old trend-trackers went by hundreds, even thousands of years. The Middle Ages justified the plural -- Ages -- by lasting from 400 to 800 years, depending on your historian. You could stick with the Renaissance as your trend for a couple of hundred years after that.

Trends went on for so long that nobody realized it was a trend. Everybody thought it was forever.

Then trends began to come rather neatly by the century. The 17th century, as everybody knew, was the Age of Reason, which nicely modified itself in the 18th century into the Age of enlightenment. But the Zeitgeistm was still moving as decorously as a stately minuet.

The chief Tracker sighed. Trend-trackers weren't supposed to be nostalgic. But those were the trendy days. After the 19th century everything fell apart. The 20th century could be considered as a unit only if you thought of it as the Age of Fragmentation.

Man and boy, the Chief Tracker had seen trendtracking turn into an ever madder scramble.

No wonder even the young were hanging onto flotsam and jetsam of the past for dear life.

The Chief Tracker knew it was far too late to dub 1980 the Year of Nostalgia. And yet here, in the final month of 1980, the world was involved in mourning John Lennon, greeting a full-length movie of "Popeye," and refusing to let Frank Sinatra retire.

What did that mean?

Lazy little snowflakes floated down past the Chief Tracker's window, as if probing for the proper course to take.

The Chief Tracker remembered the first rule of trend-tracking: Never try to be more clever than your times. Very well. He would drift with the drift -- like a snowflake.

Then it came to him, the tentative title of a tentative time: The First Year of a Decade Still Trying to Land.

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