Here’s a late-breaking bulletin on the end of the world: According to a seemingly innocent press release issued by the Times Square Business Improvement District, the ball that will be dropped on this most momentous New Year’s Eve is in the form of a crystal seven-pointed star. It will descend a 77-foot-tall pole. The global spectacle will be shown on “seven large Panasonic Astrovision screens.” The production will cost $7 million.
Seven. Think about it.
In the Book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, the prophet John is told by an angel to write of “he who holds the seven stars in his right hand who walks among seven lampstands.” Then John is led through the open door that cannot be closed to stand before the crystal throne of God, which is surrounded by seven torches of fire, encountering the seven angels who blow seven trumpets and allow him to bear witness to the opening of the famous seven seals, which contain the seven bowls of wrath.
Seven. Like Dylan says, it is a fool who does not take what he gathers from coincidence.
Times Square = End of Times Square: It was something to think about trudging through this bright and blaring intersection, where giant clocks have been counting down for what seems the better part of the past benighted decade. Tick, tick, tick – this many days, hours, minutes left until the instant that is almost Now. Something to think about, all right, because things are getting pretty damn eschatological out here, especially since that guy from France got sick all over the window of the Disney store. It was like time stood still, what with all those tourists watching the sheen of vomit slide down the plate-glass window, Mickey and Minnie smiling, waving, and wishing everyone Merry Christmas all the while.
’Tis the season to be apocalyptic. It’s been like that for weeks, ever since they brought out the “seasonal recordings” over at the Virgin Megastore, Clint Black beside Bing Crosby, Dwight Yoakam with Bobby Vinton, and “Candle in the Wind 1997” in heavy rotation. Candle in the Wind, Candle in the Wind. Been like that since that 300-pound guy in the Hawaiian shirt started sitting on a crate in front of the Chase ATM selling matted-fur tarantula hand puppets. “Good for cats, made in Poland,” he intones repeatedly. “Good for cats, made in Poland, good for cats, made in Poland.”
Been like that, really, since the day after Thanksgiving, the so-called Last Biggest Shopping Day of the Millennium, when the skate punks and squatters ran through here, screaming of the World Trade Organization. “WTO equals NWO,” they chanted, dissing Hulk Hogan and Henry Kissinger alike, handing out Chinese fortune cookies as they marched toward Bryant Park. repent, said the little white slips inside. GLOBALIZATION GONNA GET YO’ MOMMA. To mark the Last Biggest Shopping Day of the Millennium, they declared a “Don’t Buy Anything Friday.”
The apocalypse is a surreptitious thing in New York these days, not seething and palpable as in the Dinkins and Koch times, when Charles Bronson ran rampant and the whole place played like a “Taxi Driver” back lot.
“No shopping?” asked a startled passerby, carrying a bag from Thomas Pink. “That’s really the end of the world.”
Down 42nd street, the new Arnold movie, the cannily timed and titled End of Days, is at the brand-new Loews thirteen-screen “E Walk” theater. Once upon a not too distant past, this street, and the movie theaters formerly situated here, sticky-floored, semen-smeared dumps like the Harris, Selwyn, and Liberty, invoked their own kind of post-apocalyptic landscape. One could watch Bruce Lee coil his coil of doom and hear a scream from the balcony: “You’re sorry? You piss on my date and you say you’re sorry?!”
Now it costs $9.50 to sit in a “highback airline-style chair” to watch Arnold, ever the alpha and omega male, butt-whip the Devil and keep the creaking treadmill of history safe for future IPOs. Too bad End of Days bites the bone, especially compared with such other New York-based apocalyptic sagas as Rosemary’s Baby, where pre-Woody Mia Farrow bears the satanic child on the Upper West Side, and Larry Cohen’s grand, subversive God Told Me To, in which a Christ-like demon prompts serial killers.
But then again, the apocalypse is more a hidden, surreptitious thing in this town these days, not seething and surface-palpable as in the Dinkins times and the Koch times, when Charles Bronson ran rampant and the whole place played like a latter-day Thomas Hardy-Taxi Driver back lot. Rudy, ultimate Scrooge, even ruins the End. The art directors are hard up; all the “hellish” subway scenes in End of Days take place in mid-seventies-style cars covered in graffiti dating back to Taki 183. Not that anyone in the audience, many of whom likely took the spanky-clean A train to the theater, seemed to notice, or care.
There was, however, some nifty bit of postmod frisson in that the climax of the picture took place in very near and exceedingly familiar time and space – namely, just a few days hence (December 31, 1999) and several yards up the street (at the erstwhile Times Building). The final scene played thus: The Devil has taken possession of the Arnold body and commanded him to screw ingenue Robin Tunney on a church altar, an act that if consummated by midnight will usher in a 1,000-year Luciferian Reich. This is intercut with shots of the aforementioned seven-pointed ball slipping down the 77-foot-tall pole on the Times Building. Not to wreck it for you, but Arnold’s lapsed faith kicks in, Robin Tunney’s underwear stays on, and Satan – curses, blueballed again – is thrown back into the fiery Pit of Hell.
Later, even if it was agreed that End of Days didn’t nearly cut it compared with Predator, some of us Arnold fans convened outside the theater on 42nd Street to discuss the prophetic proximity of it all. Only hours earlier, on the way to the theater, stopping at a deli for a coffee, I’d seen workmen up on the Times Building, arranging the lights and cameras, preparing for the Big Night. Even now, approaching midnight, the 77-foot flagpole was visible, illuminated by the blinding logos (logos that become Logos?) of multinational corporations that surround the vast intersection.
Rob, a guy in a FUBU jacket from Mill Basin, Brooklyn, thought it wouldn’t be so bad if the world just blew up when the ball dropped, “like three, two, one, contact … some terrorist deal … you know: Screw the IRS, screw Con Ed, ef ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” If they wanted to bring back Guy Lombardo and all his Royal Canadians for one big, last auld lang syne-off, that was okay with Rob: “Won’t be nothing to me. If the world blows up, someone will have to wake me up and tell me about it, because I am going to be dead, dead drunk!”
This was a common sentiment. “No end of the world gonna spoil the party,” seconded Shondra of 109th Street and Amsterdam, who had given thought to coming to Times Square for the evening but after “some strange things that have happened” has decided instead to stay home “hiding under the bed with the police lock on.” Richie, originally of Haiti, found End of Days “too stupid to be sacrilegious” but did report once having an insane girlfriend who said there was “no use going steady when the earth is about to explode.” Someone joked about being put out by the world’s possibly ending on December 31, since he had tickets on the 50-yard line for the New Year’s Day Armageddon Bowl at the Meadowlands.
Who knew? Maybe the dot of dot-com really was the Mark of the Beast, not 666, which was just another address on Fifth Avenue. If so, would any mortal being come to the fore as a world savior, as Arnold did in End of Days? “Wouldn’t be Giuliani, cause he’s Satan himself,” said Deborah of Whitestone. Wouldn’t be Clinton either, said Ralph of the Bronx, at least not in the context presented in End of Days, ” ‘cause Clinton couldn’t keep his dick in his pants even if the world depended on it.”
No, only God could save the world, just as it said in the Good Book. Faith was our best weapon. Yet as a scriptural discussion arose, pertaining to End of Days, the weary pilgrim wondered about the depth of that faith. According to Arnold, Chapter 20, Verse 7 of the Book of Revelation says, “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison.” Was this the correct wording? someone asked. The answer was as close as the Bible in my briefcase. I keep it with me all the time now; finally, after so long, it speaks to me. But when I pulled out the book and ran my finger down the page, past the mention of the angel holding in his hand “the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain” (an obvious reference to the Times Square ball, I noted), my fellow moviegoers exchanged uneasy looks and faded into the night.
All of which goes to show that the hour is never too late to be shunned, even by Arnold fans, and left standing on 42nd Street, just one more religious nut, agog and magog, shouting of the End.