Jumping into 1999 - on schedule

In today's world of megastores and choices galore, the search for the right, simple calendar leads from Ziggy to Dilbert.

All I wanted was a cheap 1999 calendar. Something vinyl and small, like the $2.79 number I used to buy at Woolworth's.

For years, this was my ritual. Once the dental and eye appointment cards for the new year began stacking up on my desk; once I had no place for the little slip of paper with the hand-scrawled phone number of the man selling the cool 1964 truck my husband and I spotted in the Home Depot parking lot, which we're saving in the unlikely event we have any money left after Christmas; once all these things began clogging up the available space in my brain and my trusty TimeLineWeekly Appointments book - that's when I would head to Woolworth's to buy my new calendar.

But this year, it was not so simple. Woolworth's is gone. Woolworth's, of grilled-cheese and vegetable-soup lunch-counter simplicity, and Woolworth's, the store where the clerks never failed to comment on what you were buying - even it has been replaced by another Wal-Mart. Not that I blame these megastores for their excesses. Occasionally it's convenient to buy milk, weed killers, and pantyhose under one roof. It's just that every place you go these days offers too much choice, stimuli, and way too much stuff.

My calendar search began at the new CVS drugstore in a nearby strip mall. There I stood, facing an entire aisle of Franklin Planner knock-offs - the leather-bound organizational systems that manager wannabes were seen toting everywhere a few years back. Where I used to work, people even bought how-to-Franklin cassettes for their car stereos and went to Franklin training seminars so, obviously, the Franklin was the ultimate time-management device.

The CVS version started around $15.99 and came with an address book, family photo slots, a coupon collector, and an alarm clock. Nowhere in the overkill was there a simple calendar that would fit into my purse.

I headed for the nearest bookstore, where I found an entire room full of pet calendars and Ziggy calendars and calendars featuring those claymation cool-cats, Wallace and Gromit. Don't get me wrong: I would run backwards in a snowstorm for a new Wallace and Gromit video. But I don't think it's necessary for them to populate the pages of my calendar.

My calendar is my sanctuary. I work mainly at home outside the realm of time cards and memos and scheduled meetings. My calendar helps me separate my paid work from my home duties. It represents that part of life I pretend to control; I don't need Garfield in there drooling over lasagna.

After a week-long search, I finally drove to Wal-Mart with my husband, who used to resist all things scheduled, except tee times, his birthday, and naps. For years I had given him calendars as stocking stuffers, hoping he would take the organizational hint. For years he never even took them to work. Then, this year, a company he does business with sent him a complimentary pocket-sized calendar.

He never leaves home without it. This calendar thing can change your life, he says, as if he discovered the Gregorian formula for charting time. And so we bonded, my husband and I, in the Wal-Mart calendar aisle. I found a simple 5-by-8, a Dilbert Day Runner, for $5.97. It has ample space for my writing deadlines and the classes I teach part time. But here's the hitch: It's full of cartoons about corporate politics and team-meeting repartee - the very things I'm avoiding by working on my own at home.

I've decided to live with it through 1999, though. By the time the new millennium strikes, I figure I'll have returned to the structured corporate grind. Or, I'll have given up scheduling things altogether. I wonder if they sell a calendar for that?

* Beth Macy is a freelance writer and a writing instructor at Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.

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