2021, we need to talk

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“2021! How are ya now?”

“Good, an you?”

“Oh, not so bad. Hey, can we have a talk? I think we need to clear the air a bit. Your big brother left a bit of a …stench in the air.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. Grab a coffee?”

“Is there a place where we can drink it outside?” An awkward pause, as we both search our phones to see if any local coffee shops have outdoor seating open in January. Starbucks does, but the one nearby closed due to a covid-19 breakout. “Um, I guess we could get a snack at Sonic? They always have outdoor tables, and if we sit in the sun, it won’t be too cold.”

With two cherry limeades and some tots between us, I look for an angle in. “I know it’s not fair to judge you based on a relative, but… 2020 did so much damage, right down to the final days, that everyone is really nervous about you showing up right now. I can’t blame the year itself for a virus, but you know how people tend to simplify and look for someone obvious to blame. Your brother had the biggest name around here, so the rap’s been pinned on him. And he didn’t help himself by kicking off the year with such a bad slate of theater releases. I mean, seriously? Bad Boys 2 is the top-grossing film of 2020? Come on!”

2021 shifts a bit and squints before answering. “I don’t know that it’s fair to blame the theater release schedule on the calendar year. It’s not like we could control what the studios do. I heard you say 1917 and Birds of Prey were both good, and you laughed at Jumanji 2.”

“OK, fine. But to be fair — “ *pause to harmonize a chord with myself* “— we always associate good or bad films with the year they released. The Oscars reinforce this. And you’re the ones who bring all of these things to us! We can’t stop the flow of time!”

“Not yet.” 2021 smirked a bit, like he know something and was proud of knowing it. “I can’t talk about the future, of course. Goes against The Code.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I found the cherry limeade to be a bit sweet at the finish. Haven’t been out to Sonic since at least 2018, and I’ve tried to abandon nearly all soda except Coke from Mexico made with cane sugar, a must-have accompaniment when we order takeout from the local Mexican place.

I decided to take a different tack. “Look, the bar here is quite low. 2020 was so goddamn awful, just such a complete dumpster fire, that you can’t fail, 2021! You just have to NOT suck. Just don’t give us a political coup or a horrible natural disaster. Don’t burn down half of Australia! Bring us the vaccine, and give us a Biden/Harris administration interested in rolling it out faster. Let the bureaucrats settle into their expertise and start repairing the infrastructure the Trump thugs bashed in last year.”

2021 didn’t like the political tone of the conversation either. “Hey, I can’t control what you ridiculous Americans do with your crazy two-party system. Seems to me like it’s custom-built to lead to plutocracy, oligarchy, or — at best— dysfunctional ‘democracy’ thwarted by the gridlock inherent in your structure. You all were super excited when 2020 rolled in with an election in its wake. It’s not my fault or his fault what y’all decided to do in 2016.”

“Hey, man, I’m not here for a fight. I’m here for a a negotiation of terms. You don’t have to treat 2020 like some bar to top. Let’s think of it rather as a nadir and leave it behind. I’ll be thrilled if you can help us get people vaccinated so I might have a snowball’s chance in the bad place of leaving my house. … Like I said, the bar, she is LOW.”

“I had no other intentions.”

I hate to bring this up, but I figure honesty is best here. “You’re going to catch a lot of flack in the spring when people realize the election didn’t solve most problems, and virtual / hybrid classes still absolutely suck.” I notice 2021’s face darken. This isn’t going well. I don’t want to antagonize him. I rush on. “But hey! There’s good news too — we’re all a lot more hopeful than we were even a week ago! It’s genuinely possible we might be back to ‘normal’ life, at least somewhat, by the time school resumes in the fall. I think a lot of people will be willing to let bygones be bygones as far as the classroom is concerned.”

“Sure, but …. even I know I can’t bring back the people who died on my brother’s watch. That’s what it means to be a year — you watch. Time pours through our hands, but we are powerless to stop it. This is one of the Deep Magiks of the universe. Do you think he enjoyed seeing people run around and spread a disease to their neighbors and families? No.”

2021 seemed to have found his voice. His tots sat untouched in front of him, bone cold now in the chilling January sunlight. “Do you think 1918 and 1919 get the place of honor at the annual reunion? No. They’ve been quiet for more than a century now. Only 1349 and a few other years will hang out with them. Do you think my brother looks forward to being associated with 300,000 Americans dead, koalas dead, hurricane victims dead, derecho houses destroyed, a worldwide pandemic? No. The climate change happening right now? A lot of that is you guys. The virus spread in America? Mostly you idiots. Even 1918 and 1919 had the excuse of a world war for their pandemic. Y’all are just dumb.” His eyes glittered.

Well, this wasn’t really going as planned, but I could try to bring us back to common ground. “I know we both want the same thing: to exist for the next year, to see interesting things happen, to enjoy the notables and tolerate the bad things that come in any year. I’m just asking, on behalf of us who have to live through the next 365 days, could you put in a word with …whomever you work with? We don’t need much. Just be …. ordinary.”

2021 got up and extended his hand. “I am ok with just being ordinary. I’ll do what I can.”

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