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[whitespace] Illustration The Alarmists

If it all really does come crashing down, who ya' gonna call?

By Mary Spicuzza

MY MOTHER WAS an Alarmist far ahead of her time. Back in the days before the word Y2K was cropping up everywhere from support groups to Nike commercials, she had already begun our private Armageddon stockpile.

It started out small enough, tucked away on the lower level of our basement food pantry. But over time the end-of-days collection of condensed milk and Campbell's soup cans took over the cellar and stretched out into the basement hallways.

When questioned about our private Book of Revelations-inspired stash, she usually responded with something like "Laugh now, but you will thank me when it's a choice between eating this and having 666 tattooed on your forehead to buy groceries."

While not a traditional Y2K prophetess, dear Mom had mastered the typical frenzy of a card-carrying millennial alarmist. For alarmists will not only head for the hills in the face of Y2K, but organize and obsess enough to have plenty of canned goods, dehydrated dairy products and a healthy supply of assault rifles ready for the trip.

While the most likely candidates live in Montana and can be spotted sporting heavy facial hair and plenty of plaid layers, alarmists come in all shapes and sizes. For every Freeman there's a vegan stocking up on soymilk; for every cult member there's a grandmother storing extra food for her cats.

All live by those chronically parental words, "Someday you'll see I was right."

So one would think that at army-surplus and thrift shops all over California, the state voted most-likely-to-fall-into-the-ocean, managers would be having trouble keeping the shelves stocked with survival gear like kerosene lamps and down sleeping bags.

But alas, sales have been, in the words of one, minor to meager. "It's not as much in sales as people first expected," says Roger Bonner, owner of Mt. View Surplus in Campbell. "With Y2K purchases, we're selling maybe 15 to 20 percent more than we normally would, but not two to three times as much, which is what we thought."

Customers, he says, are often quite chatty about why they're buying stacks of MREs (military-issue Meals Ready to Eat) topped off with packaged water and a space blanket. Other times, store personnel can just tell from the items in the basket: first aid kits, portable potties, water purification tablets, light sticks.

He says sales of survival items have been rising steadily as the date approaches. "People are definitely procrastinating," he says, "but it's not turning out to be what we and other people expected."

As Alarmists build their shelters and await catastrophe, perhaps Moderates will at least do a moderate amount of stocking up. But for now, marginalized doomsday prophets are still mocked by the media and viewed suspiciously by neighbors--at least once the weapons arsenal reaches a critical mass.

Still, Alarmists can rest easy knowing those naysayers down the block will be starved out long before any good, paranoid family. In the meantime they are helping the economy, boosting the market by creating a demand for new flavors of astronaut ice cream, and starting trademark '90s careers like Y2K consultant or millennial support group leader.

After all, our family never encountered any horseman of the apocalypse. But whenever canned-goods food drives came up at school, we beat the kneesocks off of our less millennium-minded peers with bags full of cream-style corn and chicken soup with stars. All thanks to old-fashioned alarmism.

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From the November 18-24, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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