Well, it’s here. A new year. 2006. We have now reached the second half of the first decade of a new millennium, and still we don’t have a moniker for this 10th of the 21st century. Obviously it’s not the ’90s. (That was an easy one to name.) It’s certainly not the ’70s. (Thank heavens. Any decade that encouraged men to wear leisure suits and puffy satin disco shirts is best forgotten.) And it’s clear by the size of our TV screens (big) and computers (small) that it’s not the ’50s — though, apparently, there are people in the White House who want it to be.
Jo Sabel Courtney, a public relations and marketing executive with the Stowe Area Association, suggested this decade is the “aught” decade. Or, she added, “blank, bottom, cipher, duck egg, goose egg, nada, nadir, naught, nil, nix, nullity, zilch, zip, zot.” Her favorite? “Zot.”
My college pal Adam Turteltaub recommended the “double zeros.”
And Andrea Wolga Freeman, an electrical engineer, told me she wanted to title this decade the “ought naughts,” because “there are a lot of things we ‘ought naught’ to have done.”
Freeman, however, might not be the best person to name anything involving a new year — much less a new decade. She and her husband once had a New Year’s Eve party in Stowe that ended around 10 o’clock. When one couple showed up at 10:30, she and her husband and their two little boys were already in bed. Freeman’s defense? (And it’s actually pretty good.) She had invited lots of people with small children.
The truth is, New Year’s Eve is often anticlimactic. We expect to comingle Bacchanalian revelry with a zeal for self-improvement, and so I think it’s inevitable that we wind up a little let down. And, of course, there’s that whole mortality thing going on in the backs of our minds: Another whole calendar can be thrown away.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that some people feel that our current decade has had a particularly inauspicious first half. When I was asking folks what they would call this period, no one suggested we call it the Roaring Aughts. Or the Space Aughts. Or the Wonder Aughts. Even the most forgiving and lenient grader has to admit that history isn’t going to smile on the last six years.
Now, my goal this morning isn’t to make anyone’s New Year’s hangover any worse than it already is. Some of you, alas, already feel like bobblehead dolls with legs.
Rather, I want to remind us that we still have roughly a half-decade left to turn this epoch around. Can we stop a tsunami? Unlikely. Can we rebuild the levees in New Orleans so they can withstand a serious hurricane? Well, if we’re going to have a city below sea level, I certainly hope so.
One of the many reasons I love Vermont is that we’re a small state. (Other reasons? We’re not Florida. We don’t have a bodybuilder for a governor. And we don’t have drive-up windows at our liquor stores.) That means that we are capable, on occasion, of accomplishing things here that make other states drool. To wit: Our children have health care.
So, today I am not making New Year’s resolutions. I’m making Half-Decade resolutions. Just for the record, I should note that I have never in my life actually kept a New Year’s resolution. But that isn’t going to stop me from at least approaching the next half-decade with hope, fervor, and inspiration.
If we all work together, can we actually make the world a better place? Probably not. But with a little luck, a little sweat and a really big thesaurus, at the very least we can come up with a name for this decade that won’t leave us feeling blue. None of us, after all, want our grandchildren to look back on this period as the Loser Aughts.
Happy New Year.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press, January 1, 2006.)