By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Like any good impending disaster, Y2K has made a lot of people rich. Just think about the millions being spent to millennium-proof office and home PC's. With sensational images of haywire jets and Summer of Sam blackouts, who can blame anyone for playing it safe? Then again, when Chicken Little says the sky is falling, the smartest people aren't buying umbrellas; they're selling them.
Which brings us to the inevitable fallout of doomsday economics: tchotchkes. In auctions and e-commerce sites across the Web, intrepid marketers are pawning off the next generation of nerd toys. More disturbingly, people are buying. Imagine what this does for the morale of office techies: After staying up all night trying to exterminate the bad, millennial code, they've got to walk past the cube of some nimrod who's lined his shelf with Y2K bean-bugs. No wonder they write viruses.
Nerd toys, of course, are nothing new. ComputerGear, a company in Redmond, Washington, has made a cottage industry out of the stuffpeople like to balance on office dividers. For the past seven years, they've been running a store devoted to nerd toys within spitball distance of the sprawling Microsoft corporate campus.
Every day, Bill's minions wander the aisles looking for the latest successor to the Koosh ball. Sure they can get a Circuit Board tie or a Computer Water Globe. But if they really want to be the envy of the gang, they should shell out $99.99 for the Lego Mindstorm Droids Developer Kit. This savagely dorky bot comes with over 600 Lego blocks that they assemble around microcomputer-controlled motors and light sensors. After an hour of assembly, their very own 10-inch R2-D2 can be rolling under the skirts of unsuspecting colleagues. (Strategically placed mirrors optional.)
With such sales expertise, it's no wonder the marketing whizzes at ComputerGear have now set their sights on Y2tchotchKes. "Everyone knows someone who works with a computer," says spokeswoman Terry Powers, "and Y2K is the ultimate glitch." And gift, she hopes. Powers says one of the more popular items online in their Y2K Shop (www.computergear.com/computergear/y2k.html) is the Y2K Beanbag Bug ($7.99), a stuffed insect, which, the site promises, will "keep you company as you face the trials and tribulations of the new millennium." And you were worried about spending New Year's Eve alone.
Some toys at ComputerGear provide an outlet for pent-up human aggressions. The Y2K Voodoo Pillow ($7.99) is a soft, cushiony PC designed specifically to be stabbed with sewing needles. If that's not comforting enough, the fashionable set can stab themselves with multicolored Millennium Bug Pins (oops, cancel thatat press time, the pins had completely sold out and were not being restocked). And nothing complements this accessory like a pair of $19 gold or silver Millennium Bug Cufflinks, available from a British company called The English Channel (store.yahoo.com/rf/beetlecuflinks.html). Okay, the cufflinks may not sound funny here, but they're knocking 'em dead in York.
Of course, nothing's funnier than those zany Y2K survivalists. There's no shortage of novelties inspired by them. ComputerGear's ultimate Computer Back-Up System ($14.99) isget thispads and pencils. Or there's the perfect gift set, called the Y2K Survival Kit ($16). Packaged in a camouflage box, the kit includes sunflower seeds for food, a squirt gun for protecting yourself through Armageddon, and a twig to divine the necessary water.
Needless to say, not everyone gets the Y2K jokes. Sally Strackbein, a veteran computer programmer in Virginia, has been stocking up on Spam and Charmin for the possibility of a 2000 disaster. Though she says she can "take a little ribbing," she's dead serious about her Y2K Kitchen (www.y2kkitchen.com)a cookbook ($20) and accompanying site that asks, why should postapocalyptic dining be unsavory? If you've got a can of vegetables and a package of Chinese noodle soup (chicken preferred), Strackbein will show you how to make a mean ramen casserole (courtesy of a visitor to the site named DarkWolf the Ravager). And you thought only stoned college students ate this stuff.
Should there really be a global meltdown, though, not only will it be difficult to find food, it'll be almost impossible to buy rubbers. That's the warning cry behind Y2K Safe Sex (www.y2ksafesex.com), a site that urges you to buy up its low-cost LifeStyles Condoms (100 for $35). If the computers go down, you might as well too.