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Bigger or better

Jumbo. Super-size. Extra. Gigantic. Huge.

The Lizard of Fun is writing a list of adjectives in the dust on my car window. We’re sitting in the parking lot of Costco, debating whether to renew our warehouse store membership for the continued privilege of shopping for megapacks of brand-name snack foods.

"We’ll have more Goldfish crackers and Froot Loops than we can possibly consume before the millennium," I protest.

"But imagine that Y2K is really going to happen," says the Lizard. "We’d be the only ones on the block to be able to enjoy a delicious, fruity treat for breakfast on New Year’s morning."

I shake my head. "There’s nowhere to put it. I’m not going to build an extra room onto the house just to store your junk food hoard."

"Well," says the Lizard, "Nothing exceeds like excess."

And we’re definitely in an age of excess. Some say it’s because the economy is booming, others speculate that we’re squirreling away goods while we still can.

Or maybe, since bigger things exist, we feel we deserve them. Hell, if there’s a choice between a grande latte and a venti one, why not go for the bigger buzz? And why not shop at warehouse stores, where you get a whole lot more than you need, but you only pay a little bit more than you would elsewhere? Just saying "super-size it" is so simple, it’s a wonder we don’t do it with every purchase. ("I tried that last time I bought underpants," says the Lizard. "The saleslady gave me a funny look.")

There’s no question we’re in an era of big, bigger, biggest. Only the biggest keeps getting topped by the even biggester. Bigger vehicles, for example. We’ve all heard the quip about sport-utility vehicles being the auto industry’s response to big-city problems – people want towering, bulletproof, tanklike machines to protect them from the scary other people out there in the big city. Never mind that the Explorer looks like a refrigerator on wheels, or that the Ford Excursion hardly fits into the standard parking spot ("Not to mention it has the same aerodynamics as a 7-Eleven," says the Lizard). The logic is, the bigger the vehicle, the safer you are.

"That’s it," says the Lizard. "Next time I’m feeling intimidated by the kid next door, I’ll go out and buy me a sport-utility subway."

Of course, if we were rich enough, we’d also go out and build one of those monster houses that are all the rage in certain suburbs across the country. Thousands of square feet, dozens of extra bedrooms, storage rooms, bathrooms, game rooms, kitchens and four-car garages.

The Lizard gets dreamy-eyed. "We’ll have our own millennial fortress," it says in a Homer Simpson-sees-a-doughnut voice. "When Y2K rolls around, we’ll never even notice."

"Until the power goes out and we’re trapped in the walk-in refrigerator," I say.

"Would there be beer in that refrigerator or not?" the Lizard asks, cagily. "Maybe we’d better start stockpiling now, just in case."

But if we go by the relative non-event that Nines Day (9-9-99) became, the Y2K crisis is likely to be a bigger snore than this fall’s television season. That still doesn’t stop some folks from poking their heads up above the cloud of premillennial hysteria to say, gee, maybe we should think about a few lifestyle alternatives.

"The guys in combat fatigues with a year’s worth of rations in their basements?" asks the Lizard.

"Nope. Not them. The sustainable living people," I explain. "The ones who say instead of stockpiling beer, it’s smarter to figure out how to make it ourselves. Or install solar panels instead of worrying about whether the electrical system will work."

"Yeah – like the main reason nobody noticed when the millennium turned over last time: They didn’t have computers."

"Exactly," I say. "The point is, the simpler your life, the less impact this kind of thing will have."

A Sioux City, Iowa-based organization calling itself Alternatives for Simple Living, has a Web site with dozens of suggestions for scaling down our lives so we’ll be less vulnerable to the potential loss of our electric toasters, cappuccino machines and televisions.

"Let me guess," says the Lizard. "They say chuck all the electric stuff, and we’ll get through Y2K just fine."

"Sort of," I say. "But they also suggest we learn to do more with less, and build stronger communities to help us get through any crisis that comes along. They even sell a bunch of books and resource guides about how to do that."

"Great," says the Lizard. "They’re telling us to cut down, and then selling us more stuff?"

"But this is important information," I protest. "It could become as vital as Froot Loops on New Year’s morning."

"Maybe," says the Lizard. "But I’m gonna wait. If I need it, I can always read it online."

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