Isn't it awful about the millennium? Not the fact that it's coming, but the fact that it's not coming.

No, this won't be one of those really irritating rants by people who believe that the millennium actually starts Jan. 1, 2001. They're wrong too and, worse, they need to get real lives. But here's when the millennium starts. It starts never. It doesn't exist.

This is because the millennium is a function of time and time doesn't exist, at least not palpably, not realistically, not as stuff or a thing. Allow me to point out that time is a human construction limited to our imaginations. It only exists because we do, and only then as a metaphor.

Say what, Mac, you say? Is that a watch you're wearing? Okay, if time doesn't exist, how comes it you're wearing a watch, huh, chump?

Here's the answer. The watch, while extremely handsome (I like watches; this one's a Breitling, very smart) and eminently practical when dealing with other watch-wearing or clock-watching humans, isn't really measuring a thing called time at all. What it's measuring is the tightness of its own mainspring as it yields on the tension.

It simply charts the ever-so-slow de-torquing of a piece of exquisitely crafted metal in its innards, placed there amid a nest of gears, wheels and pins by little Swiss gremlins who've been happily doing the same for hundreds of years. But the universe doesn't know that it's 3:11:55 post meridian 17 Dec 1999 as I write now. Nothing off earth says that's what time it is. We only "know" because we agree to accept the delusion as a convenience of order.

If you're wearing a quartz watch, then what you're measuring is the vibration of a crystal when zapped by mild electricity. Since it's a little more precise in its organization of the nonexistent, its wearers can all agree that it's now 3:12:34.054 post meridian 17 Dec 1999, and therefore plan tonight's date, tomorrow's interview, Saturday's visit to the folks and so forth and so on.

And on to the matter of 0000 1 January 2000: It happens to fall roughly two weeks hence only because all those Gregorian monks all those years ago were trying to construct their elaborate fantasy of a calendar on a certain day in a certain year, the death of Christ, to them the single most important date in the existence of the universe.

But they really weren't too sure, so they just picked something. If Christ had been crucified one year later, say, then the millennium would have been next year.

The whole apparatus is wondrously arbitrary, a convenient fantasy of some enterprising holy men that has had the effect of making us all a lot happier and giving the Swiss something to do.

But is the universe wearing a watch? Does God have a Benrus? Has Allah got a Rolex?

Does the universe somehow know that this second, being a thousand years older than that second, is somehow special and different?

No. It's quite human, rather nice; it's what we do, which is tell time, because time is a fiction, a story, and can only be told, never proven.