The barefoot boy stood in a lonely dusty road in the Mexican desert and regarded me suspiciously.
"Mexicano?" he asked tentatively. "Extraterrestre," I replied gently, not wanting to alarm him.
He shrugged and shuffled off with his three-litre plastic bottle of Coca-Cola. Clearly, he wasn't alarmed.
The Mexican government seems to take quite seriously the role of aliens around those parts. Last year, it announced it would be releasing arti-facts and documents proving extraterrestrial contact. There are said to be landing pads 3,000 years old in the jungle.
This month, when the world ends, as a lot of people believe the Mayan calendar predicts, the return of aliens is supposed to play a part.
I don't suppose there's any chance of persuading them to stick to that part of the world with which they're familiar. All of us on this planet seem to be for it this time.
Many folks who have studied the Mayan calendar say it runs out on Dec. 21, 2112 - at 11: 11 on the Universal Time Clock, to be exact.
I choose to write about this now for two reasons: People cutting marks in stone eons before Einstein understandably might have made a slight miscalculation, and some interpreters of what they depicted put its doomsday at 12/12/12 - three days from now.
Desperately optimistic scholars are arguing that Dec. 21 this year marks only the end of a "long count" period of the calendar and that another is beginning.
Felipe Gomez, the leader of the Mayan alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop, decries the "doomsday celebration" being planned in Guatemala City as "folklore for profit." He says sacred ceremonies should be held to mark a new Mayan cycle in which "harmony and balance between mankind and nature" will be achieved.
NASA has set up a website to pooh-pooh all the doomsday predictions, including a disastrous alignment of Earth, the sun and the approximate centre of the Milky Way, a dwarf planet speeding toward Earth and a sudden 180-degree rotation of the Earth's crust around its soupy core.
Folks who believe in conspiracy theories won't be impressed. They will think NASA protests too much, because it's obviously involved in chemtrails and all that.
This is by no means the first doomsday to threaten us. Halley's Comet, which was supposed to smother the Earth with toxic gas in 1910, didn't. The alien invasion through Heaven's Gate claimed only the lives of the cult members who committed suicide in 1997 to escape it.
The millennium bug that was supposed to wreak havoc with computers at the first tick of 2000 crawled away unnoticed. When the Large Hadron Collider was switched on in 2008, it created no black hole to swallow Earth, as some superstitious people feared.
What is the attraction of doomsdays for humankind? Why is it so fascinated by the prospect of universal destruction?
The dinosaurs likely didn't fret about their extinction before that meteor, or whatever it was, wiped them out. No lesser species calls on its members to repent before it's too late.
Perhaps our peculiar apocalyptic bent is based on our realization that we, unlike the gods, are mortal. We know, if we think about it, that the moment we're born we begin approaching the end of our days. If we dwell on this, it must make us feel insignificant, no matter what we have achieved or will achieve before decay sets in.
But if we persuade ourselves that, in the end - the Big End - all of us are in the same foundering boat, that humankind itself is doomed, we gain significance. And we, who must be so conscious of beginnings and ends, impose our superior consciousness on the world and everything in it and believe in Big Bangs and weak whimpers.
I'm not a physicist, but I'm not convinced that the physical world couldn't get on without us and outside the space-time frame that we have assigned it - and that it won't, some day.
Global-warming effects are future realities, but present fantasies. Predictions of sudden disaster aren't realized and new "last chance" dates are proposed.
We're staving off an apocalypse that may be only ours - today's extraterrestres.
© Copyright 2013