“It’s the big one, Elizabeth!” The immortal words of Fred Sanford begin what could be my last column for the last ever edition of the Weekly Newspapers published on the last day of Planet Earth.
For those who have remained blissfully unaware of our impending doom, as portrayed in one of the worst movies John Cusack and Danny Glover ever made (2012), we are all going to die. Today. In a havoc-wreaking cataclysmic event that will erase all evidence of humanity’s existence, save for the few souls lucky enough to secure passage on the top-secret Techno-Arks the government built to ensure our survival.
If you’re actually reading this column, chances are that none of this actually took place. The excitement and fear expressed as we’re leading up to the end of the Mayan calendar’s 13th Baktun is virtually nonexistent compared to the ginned-up end-of-days hysteria that accompanied the approach of the Year 2000. Why aren’t people running around like complete ninnies, convinced that the Absolute and Final End is upon us?
To answer this seemingly relevant yet ultimately inconsequential question, I booked a research trip to the Yucatán peninsula on the Weekly’s expense account. Between 900 and 1500 A.D., the Mayan civilization was at its peak in the Yucatán, with some of its major cities being Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Tulúm, and Cobá. The entire Keys Disease staff (of one) plus our wonderful support crew actually visited Ground Zero for the Mayan Apocalypse – the Temple of Kukulcán at Chichén Itzá. This is the famous grand pyramid with the serpent staircases that turn into slithering serpents every equinox (those wacky Mayans!). Actually, they don’t turn into real serpents. As the sun goes down and casts a shadow from them pyramid’s edge onto the side of the staircase, the visual effect is eerily similar to seeing a Hyundai driving over the hills of the West Virginia Turnpike.
After an extensive search, our crew was able to find no signs of the coming End of Days – no fissures in the earth belching smoke and steam, no astronomical signs in the cosmos, no threatening jungle animals, no flaming meteors falling from the heavens. In fact, there is only one thing I saw that just might really steam the clams of the old Mayan gods.
This special place, this holiest of Mayan cities, this archaeological treasure and New Wonder of the World – is cram-packed with thousands of Mayan descendants selling souvenirs and tchotchkes to the thousands who visit this sacred and historic site!
There is not a single area at the entire location where one can escape the sound of “hand-carved” birdcalls, jaguar noisemakers, or the plaintive native chant of “almost free” or “just one dollar, señor.” There are “authentic” Mayan calendars made of everything from wood to plaster to glued marble pieces. There are replicas of the pyramids in marble. And there are “authentic” Mayan chess sets carved from marble in the exact same way the original Mayans carved them hundreds of years ago to sell to the visiting Spaniards.
I’m not exactly sure what kind of arrangement these vendors have with the Federal Government of Mexico and the State of Yucatán. What I do know is that visitors go in through the main gate and are required to buy two admission tickets (one for Mexico, one for Yucatán). The vendors just seem to appear from the surrounding jungle and set up shop wherever they feel is appropriate on the historically significant land of their ancestors.
If the serpent god Kukulcan does show up on the Mayan Apocalypse, he might be angry enough to wreak some holy havoc. What’s far more likely to happen is that the calendar will flip to the next day, the 14th Baktun will not herald some new age of enlightenment (no matter how much we might pray that would happen), and people will still be their horrible little selves. Happy Holidays.