Adding to all the other uncertainties of modern life, people have increasing difficulty telling what year it is. Budget stories are to blame. Newspapers now bulge with dissertations on spending in fiscal 1982 (which began in "calendar 1981" and will be replaced by fiscal 1983 during "calendar 1982") and the deficit in fiscal 1985 (which takes effect before the 1984 presidential elections). Who can keep track?
Only Washington, of course, could succeed in generating confusion about something as simple as a year. Why, I wonder, do fiscal years exist at all? They are exactly as long as calendar years, and are used for the same purpose (marking the passage of time). What would be so strange about having the 1982 budget start on Jan. 1, 1982, and end on Dec. 31, just like taxes and Academy Award nominations? Probably that it wouldn't be complicated enough.
But if it's going to be 1983 in Washington while it's 1982 everyplace else, why stop there? We could have fiscal months, for instance. February could be changed to fiscal April, hastening the arrival of spring. August would become fiscal September, ridding the city of its worst climatic liability. Fiscal days would be another possibility. Mondays, of course, are wretched, and Wednesdays are duller than anything except road ash. Both could be transformed into fiscal Friday. "TGIF" could become "TGIFF" every day of the week.
Such metaphysical manipulations would not be without precedent. After all, we already fiddle with the clock every summer and fall in order to "save" daylight. (Good luck trying to withdraw your daylight savings should you ever need them.) So why not have fiscal time, too? Every dinner could be held at fiscal 8 o'clock, making even the most mundane tuna sandwich seem like a fashionable occasion. Best of all, no one would ever have to rise before fiscal 10 a.m.
Of course the fiscal year is not the only chronological system designed mainly to confuse. The Chinese celebrate their new year in the winter, and the Jewish new year comes in fall. Detroit released its 1982 cars in late 1981, and some 1983 Fords are already on the road. My April issue of Playboy arrived Feb. 26. (Don't worry. I never read the articles, I just look at the pictures.)
There seems, in fact, a spreading inclination to find ways to obscure the obvious. During the last few (calendar) years the "wind- chill factor" has become popular. The purpose of the wind-chill factor is to convince you that you are much colder than you actually are, because what it feels like is more important than what it is.
This advanced concept apparently strikes a chord. In part, the wind-chill factor is successful because it creates news (or at least what feels like news). A temperature of 28 degrees doesn't give the TV weatherman much to talk about, but if somehow he can wind- chill it down to minus 40, that makes good copy. This year's Cincinnati-San Diego NFL playoff game was worked all the way down to a "factor" of minus 59 degrees. If it had actually been minus 59, instead of just feeling like it, the players with nothing on their arms would have elt like they were dead. But the chill factor made for great melodrama.
At the same time, wind-chill figures appeal to the human weakness for self-pity. Having an electronic authority figure announce that it's okay to feel worse than the situation justifies supplies just enough depression to get many people through the day. The modern fretter is always anxious for something new to brood over, be it negative ions, role reversals or the weather; and those who would be complaining anyway at plus 28 are in their glory at minus 40.
Hard on the heels of the wind-chill concept is a new entry, the humiture. Humiture is a summer system which combines humidity and temperature (instead of wind velocity and temperature) to make it seem hotter than it really is. Eighty-degree days get inflated into triple digits with ease. Between the wind-chill factor and the humiture, we may never again know what the temperature really is. But we will always be appropriately impressed by the forecast and have reason to feel deliciously sorry for ourselves.
As use of fiscal time and factored weather is on the rise, our systems of similar nature seem likely to follow. What will they be? Here are a few candidates:
THE ANNOY-A-DEX: People (present company excepted) generally tend to be rotten, but some days it bothers you more than others. If the relative impact of careless behavior could be predicted, the Annoy- A-Dex would become a staple of television news. "People will be only moderately peevish today, but atmospheric conditions and domestic stress will make them feel practically insufferable. An Annoyance Advisory has been issued for all travelers and waitresses."
THE CALOR-ATURE. Sometimes hearty eating seems to have no deleterious effects, while other times the first tortilla chip goes straight to the waistline. Predicting the daily significance of calories would be a valuable public service. "Today bacon cheeseburgers will feel like broiled fish, so have second helpings. Tomorrow, however, the outlook calls for one Snickers to hit you like a five-pound sack of confectioner's sugar. The Calor-ature will rise sharply through the night and may reach a record high of 1,000 (one bite equals one inch) by dinnertime tomorrow."
THE FEMININE CHILL FACTOR. Predicting, of course, whether women are likely to be in the mood. Trends in the Feminine Chill Factor will probably be about as bleak as those in the Consumer Price Index, but the system can't be faulted for the evidence. "Women are averaging a normal 98.6 degrees today. Don't get your hopes up, however, because they're going to feel like about 40."