Well, we made it through the first week of the new year though apparently it wasn’t all that easy. But first I digress to a New Year’s greetings tradition that I find puzzling.

New Year’s is the only holiday that has such a long shelf life. It’s the seventh and people are still wishing me a happy new year. And of course one is obligated to respond in kind. Enough already!

Christmas gets a “build up” of weeks before the holiday where we wish folks “Merry Christmas.” But on Dec. 28 if you’re still saying “Merry Christmas” you’re basically admitting that you haven’t been sober for a few days.

Chanukah is a whole other story. I’m Jewish, and I have to go on the Internet to find out when it is. This year Chanukah began on Dec. 2 while I was still eating Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. In 2009 it started on Dec. 12. One word: meshugenuh.

I say Chanukah should be Dec. 20-28, period! That way we get a head start on Christmas and are still going strong when there’s those fabulous 50 percent off post-Christmas sales.

But back to the grim news in 2011’s first week. For starters, between New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky in Arkansas, dead on arrival so to speak. Four days later, another 500 more dead birds were found lying on a quarter-mile stretch of highway in Louisiana. Talk about the canary in the coal mine. This is 5,500 canaries and they’re still counting.

Biologists sent some birds to labs in Wisconsin to determine the cause of death. After examining the birds found in Arkansas, state officials concluded that they had died as a result of blunt trauma, possibly caused by flying into buildings after being startled by New Year’s fireworks. Those must have been some fireworks.

A day before, 100,000 fish were found dead in the Arkansas River. What the hell is going on in Arkansas? It’s being investigated but I’m willing to bet it had nothing to do with fireworks. Speculation centers on a deadly pathogen combined with a harsh winter cold snap. As polluted as many of our rivers are, I’m comforted that there were even 100,000 fish.

These bizarre calamities are music to the ears of “end timers,” religious folk who believe the world will end on Judgment Day. This will be when Jesus returns to Earth and only true believers will be “saved.” (At least this is what I’m told.)

In Raleigh, N.C., a movement of Christians organized by radio broadcasts and websites are predicting the end of the world will begin May 21, 2011. (I love the irony of the wording, i.e. “the end will begin” and of course, knowing the actual date is handy for those who like to plan ahead.)

To get the word out, the movement is using billboards, bus stop benches, caravans of RVs and volunteers passing out pamphlets on street corners. Cities from Bridgeport, Conn. to Little Rock, Ark., now have billboards with the ominous message of the imminent rapture. Outside the U.S., certain mission groups are traveling through Latin America and Africa to spread the news.

Harold Camping, 89, a retired engineer in Raleigh, says, “Beyond the shadow of a doubt, May 21 will be the date.” As I gather, believers will be taken up to heaven while everyone else will remain on Earth for a period of torment until the end of time. (Yikes!) Mr. Camping believes that will happen some time in October. If true, this could radically affect the rental market in Santa Monica.

Even the Hindus believe in a form of end times, though not quite as drastic. I’m just winging it so forgive me if I’m wrong, but they teach about the Age of Kali Yuga. As I understand it, this is a period of unimaginably horror here on Earth as a result of previous periods of spiritual darkness, violence and hypocrisy. I, quite naturally, immediately thought of the Bush administration.

In summary, during the first week of 2011, thousands of birds fell dead from the sky, a hundred thousand fish washed up on river banks, and there are billboards and bus benches throughout the country predicting the Earth will begin to end on May 21. (With an official closing date sometime in October, which will put a damper on Halloween if you ask me.)

On that cheery note, let me just say for the very last time, this year at least, happy new year everybody.

Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.

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