Doomsday Dalliances

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What to Do When the World Is Ending

By Jeanne Martinet

Just to set the record straight: In spite of what the characters may say in my novel Etiquette for the End of the World, I myself do not believe the Apocalypse is happening this week. But end of the world obsessions do intrigue me. There is obviously a reason people like to toy with the idea of “the End.” Whether this human tendency is related to our fear of death, our fear of change or just an inherent addiction to fear itself, it certainly seems to be eternally seductive. Perhaps it’s not so much a fear of change as it is a wish for change, for a shake-up. I mean, why would everyone be so focused on the end of the world if we didn’t secretly wish something would happen? Maybe we want a do-over. An erasing of the blackboard. After all, times of change are when we grow and learn, even when it is painful.

I believe New Yorkers are more practiced at dealing with endings than most folks.

Things change so quickly here. Our favorite restaurants and stores are always disappearing (for me, the hardest was Docks on the Upper West Side, where for years I took my houseguests for lobster and martinis). We are always saying goodbye to something in our city, in our neighborhoods. CBGB. Tavern on the Green. H&H bagels. Lenox Lounge. I recently heard the Stage Deli has closed, and there are rumors that the Ziegfeld Theater may close soon. How often do we walk down the street and think, “Wait, wasn’t there a wonderful mom-and-pop sandwich shop right here? Where did it go?” It seems to happen in the blink of an eye. As New Yorkers, we are always saying goodbye, grieving the loss of memory-filled parts of our environment.

A couple weeks ago I read in the Times that Steinway Hall on 57th Street might be shutting its doors, because of the building being sold. And so (happily, as it turned out) last week I decided to take the time to go there. I was struck at once by the beauty of the building itself—a Beaux Arts landmark, featuring a 19th-century Viennese crystal chandelier and a high ceiling decorated with allegorical scenes of lions, elephants, goddesses and nymphs. The atmosphere is hushed and solemn, the gleaming pianos made more thrilling because of the expectation of sound they can produce. I was meditating on all this magnificence when suddenly a man seemed to “apparate” from behind a door.

He was wearing a crazy clown tie, one that stuck out stiffly into the air in front of his chest and was twisted like a corkscrew. This person, it turned out, is the amazing “Lynx,” the visual artist-in-residence at the Steinway factory, who paints abstract paintings on pianos—textured finishes that utilize a technique he calls “Atmospheric Refractionism.” Lynx gave me a personal tour of some of the back rooms, and explained how he paints to music, imbuing the piano with the notes as he works. It was a magical encounter. It put me in a good mood for two days.

If this particular “ending,” the closing of the Steinway showroom, had not been looming, I probably never would have gone there that day; I would have missed this wonderful adventure. The moral of the story is that endings often present opportunities—if not for new beginnings, at least for new experiences. This is a concept that is in fact much closer to what the Maya actually believe about 12/21/12—that this year’s winter solstice marks a time for renewal, the beginning of a brand-new 5,125-year age.

On the other hand, there’s still time to purchase a $48,000 steel and fiberglass survival pod from Chinese farmer/inventor Liu Qiyuan. Do you think he’ll take MasterCard?

Jeanne Martinet, aka Miss Mingle, is the author of seven books on social interaction; her latest is the novel Etiquette for the End of the World. She can be reached at JeanneMartinet.com

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