Five men were drinking coffee together in White Hall on a recent morning and the conversation turned to Christmas shopping, not the most common subject for men.

Five men were drinking coffee together in White Hall on a recent morning and the conversation turned to Christmas shopping, not the most common subject for men.

One is a CPA, another a retired educator and businessman, the third a retired railroad employee and the fourth the owner of a retail store. The store owner left early to open his business when he observed the direction of the conversation.

I once worked for a man who habitually began his Christmas shopping at noon on Christmas Eve, maintaining the stores were less crowded then. Being a multi-millionaire helped when it came to buying a present for his wife. Their two sons were collectors of art – portraits of famous Americans on large denomination bills – which eliminated that problem.

I just listened to the conversation, having not purchased the first present to go under the Christmas tree at our home. In years past, my shopping was usually completed by Dec. 1, but some folks believe the world is scheduled to end Dec. 21.

While some people will use any reason to put off Christmas shopping, I don’t believe I will receive advance notice on our planet going under. Ills and chills have kept my focus elsewhere.

The Mayan calendar, which ends Dec. 21, has been studied by nuts and scientists with advanced degrees, not degrees of fever.

A long list of events has long predicted the end of the world, including:

— The 1910 appearance of Halley’s Comet;

— The year 2000 (don’t forget Y2K);

— Planetary alignments I don’t understand; and

— Natural disasters, including floods, earthquakes and tornadoes.

Iben Browning, a climatologist, received tons of free publicity and notoriety for his irrational prediction that a major earthquake would occur on the New Madrid Fault about Dec. 2 and 3, 1990.

His prediction was widely reported in the media and caused considerable concern among residents of the Mississippi Valley. No major earthquake occurred in that area on those dates.

Fortunately for us, none of the infamous predictions have proven true, and I hope Dec. 21 is no different.

The curiosity surrounding the date involves the Maya civilization, and its Long Count calendar that ends on Dec. 21. It was backdated, with the starting point of the earth put at Aug. 31, 3114 B.C.

Enough concern has surfaced for Washington to downplay any worries on the website. That’s the scary part. There are enough nuts running around who might view the Mayan calendar as solid science since our government says don’t worry.

Perhaps that explains why Republicans and the White House don’t seem overly concerned about the pace of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

I’ll trust tea leaves over prophecies issued by individuals and ancient cultures down through time, with Nostradamus and the Mayans fans claiming the most disasters foreseen.

I observed the panic created by Iben Browning’s claims in Northeast Arkansas. Thousands prepared home disaster kits and made arrangements to take their children out of school so families could be together when the quake of all quakes hit.

People are easily frightened. There were some pretty bodacious earthquake parties in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri on Dec. 2 and 3, 1990.

To paraphrase a Las Vegas promotional slogan, we could throw a Mayan last-of-the-world gathering based on the theory that anything that happens here ends here.

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Larry Fugate is a veteran journalist and former editor of The Pine Bluff Commercial. He can be reached by e-mail at or at (870) 329-7010.