2008: Not So Great

George Bush isn't the only one who's been a lame duck for the last couple of months of 2008. I have, too. I think all Americans have been lame ducks. We've been in limbo. We've been waiting to see how the financial crisis will be resolved, waiting to see what's going to happen with the automakers, and waiting to see how things will be under President Obama. Like a lame duck, we've been treading water. And time doesn't fly when you're treading water.

I can't be the only person who feels that the end of 2008 has dragged on and on. It seems like 2008 will never end. Doesn't it seem like it's been the longest year ever?

One of the reasons, of course, was because we had an interminable Presidential campaign. And the war continued without any hints of a dramatic ending. And we kept hoping that the bad financial times would be over. So it certainly was not a year's end that zipped by.

And to make it even longer, not only was 2008 a leap year, but scientists added a "leap second" to it. Apparently, they do this every once in a while when they notice that the earth's rotation is slowing down slightly. In case you're interested, the leap second will be added onto December 31st. Let's all make the most of that extra second.

Things that didn't really happen that long ago seem like they happened ages ago. For example, can you believe that John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate only four months ago? Doesn't it seem longer? Were we really able to live our entire lives, minus four months, without Sarah Palin?

Were the Olympics really just this past summer? And were the John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer scandals really this year? They seem like something from a distant, more innocent past. Of course, they have been trumped by year-end scandals, but neither Blagojevich nor Madoff made the time pass more quickly.

Think your memory of 2008 is perfect? Who won the 2008 Super Bowl? Not a sports fan? Who won the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize? (Hint: it wasn't any of the football players from the Super Bowl).

Remember when gas prices were ridiculously high? Remember when houses sold ridiculously fast? Remember when I lost my cell phone? (Okay, that's a hard one).

Remember when the polygamists' ranch was raided? That really happened just this year.

This was a year when some things were all turned around. I don't know about you, but I can remember when people went to banks for money instead of the other way around.

And didn't you think pirates were a thing of the past?

One of the most outrageous Congressional earmarks was $50,000 proposed by California Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon. He felt the money should go to the National Mule and Packers Museum. And they say government doesn't support the arts.

Speaking of four-legged animals, a Norwegian equestrian was stripped of his Olympic bronze medal because his horse had taken a "banned substance." That's right. The horse didn't pass the drug test. With all the publicity about how harmful these drugs are, plus with every newspaper talking about how stringent tests are at the Olympics, how could a horse be so stupid and risk everything by taking drugs? What was he thinking?

The news story that defines 2008 has to do with Burger King. In the beginning of this month, the fast food company came out with a cologne – actually a men's body spray -- that smells like "flame broiled meat." "Who would want to smell like cooked meat?" But isn't this a perfect move for a company to make in 2008? People are worried about not having enough money to buy groceries, and they think that men are going to spend their hard-earned dollars so they'll smell like a hamburger? Maybe they're going for the burger bailout.

If "Flame" – as Burger King's cologne is called -- actually turns out to be a hot product, watch for the banks to follow suit. They could sell "Bucks," a cologne that smells like money. That way, Americans can walk around in 2009 with nothing in their pockets, but at least they'll smell like money.

And if the banks' cologne is successful, I'll bet other fragrances will follow. I just hope those in charge of that mule museum don't get any ideas.

Happy New Year, and have a great 2009.

What Now? A Tsunami?

Like most people these days, I've been trying to put on a happy face for the holiday season despite the war dragging on, the failing economy, the bailouts, the scandals, the non-bailouts, and my not being invited to the Inauguration. We all know that smiling helps us feel better, and it even helps people who see us smile feel better. Besides, we know that there are so many people who have it far worse than we do. Things aren't really that bad, right? That's what I was telling myself until I recently learned that I live less than a mile from a "Tsunami Hazard Zone." There's always something.

A few weeks ago, my son asked if I had noticed that there are new blue signs up that tell us that we're entering a "Tsunami Hazard Zone" as we drive towards the ocean, and other signs that tell us we're leaving the "Zone" as we drive away from it. I hadn't noticed them, but the next day I saw them, and I've seen them every day since then. I know the signs aren't actually very large, but because of what they say, they seem to be among the biggest signs I've ever seen. It's like they are dripping with danger and flashing with warning. Because of their implications, they would dwarf a Las Vegas billboard advertising Cher.

Some 90 signs have been placed in the area, and there are more signs throughout the state, dotting the 101 and the coast area. It's all part of the recommendations of California's Seismic Safety Commission. The Commission determined in 2005, that earthquakes can cause tsunamis, and they don't give much warning time. I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to come up with that startling conclusion.

Somehow, these signs are supposed to make us safer. I'm not sure about that. If I'm driving along the ocean, and then a tsunami starts up, how is reading a sign that tells me I'm in a tsunami zone going to make me safer?

I guess they'd reply that one should follow the signs that say, "Leaving Tsunami Hazard Zone" and go to higher ground. No kidding.

I tried to find out what we are supposed to do now that we officially live in a tsunami evacuation area, not far from a tsunami danger zone. However, none of the officials returned my calls. Maybe they were busy getting ready for The Big Wet One.

I moved into this neighborhood about 11 years ago, and I've loved living here. I used to think it was a good thing that we lived only a mile from the beach. So now am I supposed to worry every day, knowing that I'm uncomfortably close to the tsunami zone? And what is this going to do to property values in my neighborhood? Did the value of my house really need another reason to go down? Wouldn't you have second thoughts about buying a house a big wave away from the tsunami danger zone?

Since we're not in the "danger zone," but are around the "evacuation route," are we going to have special responsibilities if there is a tsunami? Are we supposed to open up our home to those who had to evacuate? Does that mean I need to get the house painted and clean up my home office? And what do you serve people who have evacuated a tsunami? I don't think seafood would be appropriate.

I assume that very soon, I'll employ the same psychological tactic I've used for years regarding earthquakes -- denial. Obviously, you can't live in this area and worry about earthquakes every minute. The same goes for tsunamis. So why did they have to put up signs to remind us of the danger?

I just didn't need something else to worry about. What are they going to do next, put up signs that say things like, "You Might Have Left Your House Unlocked," "They Know About That Book You Never Returned," or "You Should Have A Dermatologist Look At That Thing On Your Back?"

But I decided not to express all these feelings to the officials in charge. If I did, the next day they'd probably put up a sign in my neighborhood saying something like, "Entering A Neurotic Writer's Zone."