by Joshuah Bearman it was the turn of the millennium, gateway to the year
2000. The night when civilization would realize the promise Prince had made some two decades earlier on the title track of his fifth album. Or the night it would collapse for good: This New Year's was the one marred by the abbreviated terror, Y2K. Technology, we'd been warned, might fail us. The grid would go out. Planes would fall from the sky. All because some engineers forgot to add a couple digits to the nation's computer clocks.
My girlfriend, Ronni, and I live in Los Angeles, and we prepared for this cataclysm by renting a house in Palm Springs. Three friends, hand-chosen for their potential as survivors, joined us. Peter was mechanically minded; he had a theory that duct tape would become the most valuable commodity in a post-Y2K hellscape because it has such versatile applications. "Today's duct tape," he liked to say, "is tomorrow's gold." Dier-dre, an artist, would perhaps create a new culture from the ashes of this one. Our childhood friend Tuesday is a waif and a lush and therefore offered no tactical advantage, but it seemed appropriate to have at least one wild card.
We arrived at the house on New Year's Eve day. It was big, filled with marble tile, linen closets, and a glass bauble chandelier in the foyer as big as a ship's wake. We stocked the vast pantry with survival provisions: a can of unsalted peanuts;
several bags of Flamin' Hot KC Masterpiece Cheetos; and a few bars of Scharffen Berger chocolate (82 percent cacao).
Out back was the pool and the adjoining Jacuzzi, an amenity that is perfectly suited to the desert winter, with its cold nights and clear skies. Whatever chaos lay ahead, we resolved to greet it with champagne in hand, floating blithely in the jet-froth whirlpool of that Jacuzzi. "Let 'er rip!" Ronni said, and flipped the switch on the heater.
Content with our mode of retreat, we whiled away the afternoon. Dierdre and Ronni made tribal masks from discarded beer boxes, sure to be of use in the New World, while Peter and I watched what we thought might be the world's last Peoples Court marathon. After a few hours, Tuesday wandered out back and discovered a problem: The Jacuzzi was not heating up. "We have to do something!" she shouted at no one in particular, before chugging a margarita from a coffee mug she'd found in the dishwasher. We gathered at the Jacuzzi's edge and stared at the bubbling, lukewarm water.
"We're screwed," someone lamented.
"I didn't touch it."
"I saw Tuesday in there earlier. She probably broke it."
Tuesday downed her margarita and swayed indifferently. I noticed the text on her mug: I'm the grandpa-and you're the dickhead!
"Let's take a look at the controls," Peter said, snapping into action. He found the Jacuzzi's pipe and heating assembly behind a stand of birds-of-paradise, investigated, and pronounced it all sound. Then he lifted the drain cover to reveal a fistful of decomposing Cheetos floating in the well.
"Wasn't me:" Tuesday volunteered without being accused. Half her fingers were stained with a deep orange dust.
But the waterlogged Cheetos were not the problem. The cause of our troubles, it turned out, was a fundamental imbalance. Like all built-ins, this Jacuzzi had a tile-topped membrane with a small trough for excess hot water to spill harmlessly over into the kidney-shaped pool. In our case, Peter observed, the osmosis was reversed: The waterline of the pool was too high, meaning the two bodies of water were joined. And the little heater's work was no match for the sheer volume of water in the pool, which probably measured about thirty feet long by ten feet wide.
"Looks like we have to figure out how to get about six inches of water out of the pool," John said. A quick calculation showed that this was, well, quite a lot of water. After an instinctive frenzy with buckets from the garage, we fell onto the grass, panting. Bailing was clearly not an option.
"Maybe we can use duct tape," John said weakly, realizing his theory was in tatters.
It was Tuesday who discovered the eventual solution when she tripped over a fifty-foot garden hose coiled up next to the house. As she got up and stumbled forward, brushing dirt from her legs and yelling at the hose for its insolence, John's face lit up. "Maybe a siphon would work?"
Yes! We would use the hose, in combination with a slight altitude differential across the backyard, to solve our problem. With gravity and atmospheric pressure on our side, the siphon would allow us to drain the water over an intermediate high point (the edge of the pool) without the aid of a pump. We lowered one end of the hose into the pool and surveyed the
POOL WATER "COLD"
FLOWING INTO HOT TUB
POOL WATER "COLD"
FLOWING INTO HOT TUB
yard's topography for the best discharge position. Behind the garage was a ditch that ran to the curb, perfect for draining a half foot of pool water into the street.
Let me tell you, it takes tag-team sucking to get a fifty-foot siphon started. We almost gave up until, almost miraculously, a trickle dripped from the hose. Glorious water! We renewed our efforts, brought the siphon to full flow, and carefully arranged the hose for maximum gravitational pull.
Mt. San Jacinto was just starting to turn pink by the sunset when we left the physical laws of the cosmos to do their work. Around eleven-thirty, the Jacuzzi again became its own body of water, a discrete little lake that the heater quickly churned to a near-boil. Just in time, our survival plan restored, we piled in.
Poolside placards in hotels say that hot tubs and liquor don't mix, but I can assure you they mix very well in Palm Springs on the eve of destruction. We turned the TV so that we could see it from the Jacuzzi, where we soaked for hours, our fingers becoming too pruned to grip our margarita mugs. Only Tuesday managed to hold on to hers as the countdown came and went, followed by the world continuing to exist. No bedlam, no skeletons rising from the grave, only the steam floating quietly around us. Tuesday lifted her mug to make a toast. "To the future!"
Joshuah t3earman has many theories, most of which are based on little or no data. A contributor to the L.A. Weekly, McSweeney's, and The believer, he recently compiled an entire volume of writing on the Yeti. He lives in Los Angeles.
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This is common knowledge that disaster is everywhere. Its in the streets, its inside your campuses, and it can even be found inside your home. The question is not whether we are safe because no one is really THAT secure anymore but whether we can do something to lessen the odds of ever becoming a victim.