I want death to find me planting my cabbages." These words, by the cranky 16th-century thinker Michel de Montaigne, are no less poignant for the fact that Montaigne never planted a cabbage in his life. What the philosopher meant, of course, is that Life Goes On. This past year, with death hanging over us like a chad, many of us took Montaigne’s apothegm to heart, going about the business of our daily lives — shopping at the mall, paying bills, trawling Internet porn sites — in the face of constant threat.
Lately, though, there have been signs that war-induced jitters are beginning to take their toll. A woman gets a pimple on her ass and the CDC comes a-running. A man spends a little too much time in the tanning salon and he’s rounded up and shipped to Yemen. The government announces plans to go through our trash looking for E-Z Anthrax kits and detonator fuses. North Korea ships a few harmless Scuds to Iran and suddenly it’s a rogue state. And it’s only going to get worse.
In 2003, the most banal activities will be tinged with existential dread. Every bristling mustache will call to mind VX stockpiles. Every missing eyeball will bring with it unhappy thoughts of the Taliban. What would Montaigne say? Possibly something like, "A wise man sees as much as he ought, not as much as he can," or "There are defeats more triumphant than victories." Eventually, we’d get sick of him and tell him to get back to his damn cabbages. And that, perhaps, is what we should all be doing.
1: Boston’s First Night festivities are marred by concern over a possible biological attack after scores of revelers become drowsy and disoriented. A team of health experts later determines that the afflicted celebrants were just bored.
3: Responding to news footage of heavily bearded internees being led into the Guantánamo Bay detention center, Attorney General John Ashcroft confirms the recent arrest of 3000 secret Santas.
7: A violent storm dumps four feet of snow on the Boston area, wreaking havoc on roadways and causing power outages that affect thousands. As the local death toll climbs to 17, Governor Romney holds an emergency press conference, hailing the "excellent" skiing conditions.
14: The Mugar Omni Theater presents the world’s first-ever pornographic Omnimax film. Critic Roger Ebert gives Journey to Labia Minora "three thumbs up."
19: The world reaches the brink of war as weapons inspectors in Iraq encounter a locked room at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. Tensions subside when it becomes clear that the room contains the Iraqi leader himself, who is in there taking a crap.
21: The Hubble Telescope, trained on the distant Barbon Galaxy, gives astronomers a glimpse into the Centralis Arterios Projectium, the largest black hole in the known universe.
24: The Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera announces it will concentrate more on the youth market, then airs Wild on Karachi, hosted by Brooke Burqua, in which teenagers are shown baring their ankles and wrists, and waving their Kalashnikovs suggestively.
28: Style maven Martha Stewart finds herself in more hot water as UN weapons inspectors discover a secret Iraqi biological-weapons site equipped with sophisticated dried-apricot-and-parsley air purifiers.
3: Former vice-president Al Gore announces he will host a new chat show on NBC. In its first week, Policy Matters scores the lowest Nielsen ratings in television history. A defiant Gore claims that "Americans are starving for substance" and demands a recount.
6: In a Movieline interview, Journey to Labia Minora narrator Leonard Nimoy threatens to sue Omnimax, insisting that he was told the film was about whitewater rafting in Morocco. "I was fooled by their double-entendres," he says, citing his frequent use of such terms as "wet," "wild," "hot," and "ball-gobbling frenzy."
9: Rumors that Bernard Cardinal Law was spotted playing three-card monte on the Boston Common remain unsubstantiated.
15: A Maybelline manufacturing plant in Little Rock, Arkansas, explodes, sending a lethal wave of Maximum Lash surging through surrounding neighborhoods. The incident, in which more than 750 people perish, is immediately dubbed "The St. Valentine’s Day Mascara."
17: President George W. Bush threatens to use nuclear weapons on the city of Reykjavík, saying Iceland’s prime minister, David Oddsson, "looked at me funny."
20: IFC Films follows up on the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a darker sequel, in which the heroine (Janeane Garofalo), having been raped by her brother (Macaulay Culkin), really does stab herself in the eye with a red-hot poker. In its first weekend, My Big Fat Greek Tragedy out-earns Jim Carrey’s much anticipated Al Qaeda–basketball comedy Islam Dunk.
26: President Bush declares Iceland a rogue state, saying it has joined France and Spain in the "axis of irksome."
2: Presidential hopeful John Kerry, in an interview on 60 Minutes, comes very close to smiling.
6: Director Peter Jackson denies that his Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers cashed in on the 9/11 attacks, noting that The Two Towers was in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original title. He goes on to say that the next installment in the trilogy, Lord of the Rings: Showdown with Iraq, will have "absolutely nothing" to do with current events.
8: Al Jazeera airs its new reality-based TV show, The bin Ladens.
11: Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly irks his White House colleagues by calling President Bush "a complete fucking imbecile" and the potential war with Iraq "all about the oil."
15: As war with Iraq looms, Vice-President Dick Cheney negotiates in Saudi Arabia, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice consults with the emir of Kuwait, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rallies US troops in Djibouti, and Colin Powell visits a colostomy-bag manufacturer in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
19: A US Navy frigate intercepts a North Korean cargo ship carrying 120,000 Björk CDs.
25: The Academy Awards descend into turmoil as Eminem, picking up a Best Actor award for 8 Mile, gags on his gum. As Moby leaps on stage to perform the Heimlich maneuver, the stricken Detroit rapper yells a homophobic obscenity and bludgeons the electronica star with his Oscar, which, along with Winona Ryder, goes missing during the melee.
30: Boston Public Health commissioners vote unanimously to ban drinking in area bars.
1: Senator Joseph Lieberman holds a press conference to announce that he believes he has an "excellent chance" of winning the presidency, adding, "April fools!"
3: Under fire from gay-rights groups, a contrite Eminem tells reporters that he was misquoted after the Academy Awards disturbance. "My client actually called Mr. Moby a ‘maggot,’ " remarks the rapper’s attorney, Gib Schnitzel. " ‘A cock-sucking maggot.’ "
4: As the US moves closer to war with Iraq, the international community presses for evidence that Iraq has violated UN agreements. In an unprecedented press conference, the White House presents a "reliable source," her face obscured, to announce, "Saddam, he cahn’ fool me! Wat ya tink, Miss [deleted] playin? Pick up yer credit cards nah an sen he devil-weapon mahn a message!"
7: Former Massachusetts governor Jane Swift causes controversy when she sends an aide to register for her unemployment benefits.
11: Los Angeles International Airport is evacuated when a security guard discovers a suspicious suitcase in the men’s room. The crisis subsides when the suspected dirty bomb turns out to be luggage containing actor David Caruso’s socks.
17: Besieged by financial problems, John Henry Williams, son of the late Ted Williams, starts selling off his father’s toes.
23: Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh publishes a 19-page New Yorker piece, in which he claims that Homeland Security Adviser Tom Ridge is actually Barbara Bush in disguise. "The physical resemblance," Hersh writes, "is conclusive."
28: Two hundred people are taken ill aboard a Carnival cruise ship. Concerns about the Norwalk virus abate, however, when it is confirmed that the widespread vomiting and nausea aboard the ship were the result of a musical set by Mariah Carey.