The Mayans Were Such Downers (or 2012 Is Bright and Wonderful)
In many ways, tourists are a lot like zombies. Both wander around in confusion, their paths in large part determined by instinct and vague memories of where they’ve been before. Tourists, like zombies, usually travel in packs or large swarms that can be overwhelming. Also, in both cases, people you love and thought you knew instantly change; traveling with your girlfriend, like having her transform into a zombie, will likely make you want to shoot her in the head.
One might say that zombies are different because they eat human flesh and tourists, in stark contrast, prefer to eat overpriced ethnic cuisine at outdoor cafes. Personally, I disagree – I have a theory that zombies aren’t necessarily cannibals, they’re just really, really hungry. I’ve seen a million zombie movies, and people always react the same way towards them, running from them or hitting them with something or putting a bullet through their brains. But never, not once, have I seen someone try to feed them. If zombies were to someday run rampant, while others reached for their shotguns, I would instead fire up the grill. I would have all the zombies line up as orderly as they could, and I would pass out cheap Styrofoam plates of Ballpark franks and potato salad. And if they got a little feisty while waiting, I could hold them over by distributing free baskets of nachos and salsa.
But enough about zombies. The Spanish Steps, located in the quietly beating heart of Rome, were certainly tourist-infested on the day that I went. It was a bright and sunny day and I was by myself, watching the tourists run around, eating gelato or snapping off photographs. It was a good scene, with a nice vibe to it, everybody so happy, couples snuggling up together on the steps, families not yelling at each other, police officers looking lazy and bored. I felt happy too, listening to music on my Ipod and reading a book. I looked out at everyone, the hundreds of tourists grooving and doing their thing, and then I started thinking about zombies, and then I started thinking about the Mayans.
Could the world really end in December of this year, as the Mayans famously prophesized? A newly married couple ascended the stairs, he in his black suit and she looking gorgeous in her white dress; they stood on the steps and posed for pictures and one could easily sense that they were glowing, that they were in love and this day was the peak of that; when they touched each other there was an incredible amount of warmth, so much so that nearly everyone sitting on the steps watched them and had thought bubbles shaped like big red Valentine’s Day hearts pop up over their heads. I watched them and I thought about how the world wouldn’t end, ever. I felt in that moment that I knew, as clear as contact solution, as true as the photographs all the tourists would later post on Facebook, that the world would always keep going, no matter what.
Yes, I felt I knew better than the Mayans. Were they really that much smarter than me, anyways? Sure, the Mayans invented a language and a calendar, and sure they studied geometry and astronomy…I watch subtitled movies and occasionally add in my head. Okay, fine, maybe the Mayans had me in terms of intelligence, but does that make any difference when it comes to predicting things? Sports analysts can’t seem to pick the winning teams, political pollsters can’t seem to get accurate data, and economists never seem to know what the hell is going to happen with the stock market. These people study their subjects endlessly, they’re brilliant and young and sexy (I imagine), and yet their conclusions are about as reliable as my girlfriend picking the winner of the Super Bowl based on which team has a prettier uniform. No, being able to tell the future has nothing to do with being smart. Look at fortune tellers, those ladies with the cards and the crystal balls who, although not taken seriously, have been around forever…we’re not talking about a bunch of Harvard graduates here. When someone goes to a psychic, they’re not going to find a PHD diploma proudly displayed on the wall. Likewise, our authority on predicting the upcoming change of seasons is (drum roll) – a groundhog. And, as bizarre as it sounds, the groundhog actually gets it right more often than not (according to WikiPedia, various groundhogs have, all their predictions combined, been accurate 75-90% of the time).
What the hell did the Mayans know? I looked out at all the people around me. Did the Mayans know that an old couple would wobble up the stairs together, and that the old man would hold his wife’s arm so that she wouldn’t fall; did they know that a guy in a baseball cap would ask an older Asian man, a complete stranger, if he would like him to take his picture on the steps, and that the Asian man would agree and then stand there with a stoic look on his face, thinking of God-knows-what, while the camera flashed; did they know about espressos or slices of pizza with tomato and mozzarella; did they know short men would wander around with roses, trying to sell them to couples, rarely succeeding, although when they did, they would, if only for a moment, be inserted into that couple’s love life, like a short footnote in a romance novel; did they know about tank tops or sunglasses or pretty girls in summer dresses; did they know that I would look out at all this and that I wouldn’t be able to stop tears from coming to my eyes and that I would cry at how beautiful it all was, and then I would laugh and wipe the tears off my face because there were people sitting close to me and I felt silly?
Nope. Let’s face it, the Mayans knew a lot, but they didn’t know how great the world would be by the time it reached 2012 – this place looks damn good for its age, doesn’t it? In my heart, there’s no apocalypse that will ever come and wipe everything out, no horsemen will ever ride, no ice caps will ever melt like gelato on a warm September day, no zombies will bite me while I hand out nachos. I close my eyes and I know. There will always be memory. There will always be words to write. There will always be now.