It's coming on New Year's
They're hoarding gasoline
They're burying time capsules
And singing songs of joy and peace.
Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on.
(with apologies to Joni Mitchell)
The New York Times is burying a time capsule with artifacts for the year 3000. It'll contain the great wisdoms of Our Time. Taco Bell commercials. Versace ads. An apple pie recipe. Video games. And of course a copy of the Times magazine. I suspect the perfume on the pages will have a half-life longer than nuclear waste.
Inexplicably, the People of the Present are just dying to drag our detritus into the next century to impress the People of the Future. What makes us think they want to know?
I have already met the People of the Future. I saw them on Star Trek. They will be great bodiless brains floating in support bubbles. They will probably see the Taco Bell ad and say, "What's food?"
Our nuclear waste dumps will be one long lasting legacy. We've even spent a couple extra million developing signage that the People of the Future will readily understand to mean, "Keep Out! Come back in a million years." I think one symbol is a little stick figure ducking and covering under his desk and kissing his behind good-by. Another is a stick figure running like the Dickens away from Yucca Mountain.
A cadre of Californians wants to bury a 10,000 year clock in eastern Nevada. Deep in the bowels of some mountain it will tick every 100 years and chime every 1,000 years. I don't know if there is a cuckoo involved.
You too can be part of this millennial mania for burying the present. You can visit the New York Times capsule on-line to suggest ideas for its contents.
What would you include from Our Fair City? The last wandering skipper butterfly? A shellacked sundae cone from the deceased Penguin? A drink token from the Nugget's Wheel of Fortune?
Better yet, you can turn your house into your very own time capsule. But the real secret to starting a home-time-capsule is dump, don't hoard. Throw stuff out.
You don't have to be rash about it. After all, it's your life. Look carefully back over your stuff. Think about what's important to take along. Pretend you're getting on a ship bound for the New World, as your great-grandma might have done 100 years ago. Only this time you can take a houseful, not just a few boxes.
Then unload the rest. Trash the old photos. Clean out the closet where the mice play. Toss the moth-eaten sweaters. Recycle the moldy files. Give away the extras. As you plow through, you'll remember a lot about yourself. You can even make yourself over for the next go-round.
I've been looking back. Eleven years of marriage. Eight years of kids. Twenty years of work. East Coast, West Coast, overseas, Nevada. Pinenut festivals, balloon races, dried up Washoe Lake, casino workers, Indians, cowboys, family. I've kept the best. But hundreds of boring, useless photos and papers will soon go to the dump (another kind of time capsule - for the stuff we'd rather not remember.)
Mind you, it ain't easy streamlining your time capsule during the final shopping days of 1999, when the People of the Present seem more like the People of the Presents. Out there it's open season on buyers. Everybody's selling something. While you sleep, Madison Avenue is dreaming up new ways to sneak onto your computer and into your wallet.
In self-defense, I have taken to hiding my kid's mail. Don't tell the ACLU or the Just Pretend people. But I've decided my kids don't need to know about the Magic Cabin Doll ($99) with her old fashioned jumper ($20), flannel jammies ($15) and velour party dress ($20). Not to mention the rest of her clan and their wardrobes. In the next millennium I'd like my kids to view life as more than a massive smorgasbord with themselves as empty plates ready to pile high with stuff.
During my photo purge I came across a picture of old Frank Temoke of Ruby Valley holding his lasso. I remember his wish that they bury him with his rope, and his definition of the sweet hereafter: "Plenty of chokecherries!"
It's a nice vision of the future. What do we see for ours?
Kit Miller's new book, "Inside the Glitter: Lives of Casino Workers," is available from www.greatbasinweb.com, and should definitely be included in a time capsule.