Breaking up is hard to do 

You have enough problems.

Your computer has so many breakdowns you're considering putting it on Prozac or Remifem. Your car is making noises like an old man early in the morning. Your back is killing you, you have enough unpaid bills stacked up to wallpaper the bedroom, and on your way home to a longed-for oasis of peace before it all starts again tomorrow, you realize that your stomach is making growling noises like Linda Blair did in "The Exorcist." You stop at the grocery store.

While the woman in front of you writes a check with more laborious care than it took to pen the Constitution, you have a moment to distract yourself with what will hopefully be some fluff on the magazine rack. There you spot Time magazine, the cover of which reads, "How the Universe Will End."

Thanks, Time. Thanks so much. You know, nobody likes a drama queen. We so needed some bad news on a cataclysmic scale to cut through the sugar of the usual fires, floods, death, corruption, mayhem and futility that is already sprinkled through our daily diet of information. Those who fancy themselves "serious" may despair at the pretty, meaningless face of Britney Spears twinkling out from every periodical on the shelves, but I for one will be forever grateful for every Back-street Boy or cup of Martha Stewart's homemade caviar flan that I see on every glossy cover from now on because at least it wasn't brought to me by the Lone Editorial Board of the Apocalypse. Note to self: See if Time is owned by a company that also manufactures any brand of anti-depressants.

Time heals all

When one has to struggle hard enough to overcome dinky problems, one would prefer not to come face-to-face with the specter of Woody Allen's Dead Sea Scrolls parody, "Whoever shall not fall by the sword or by famine, shall fall by pestilence, so why bother shaving?"

Those of us who thought the end of the universe happened when Dubya was installed have got it all wrong. Woody, though, is mentioned by name.

The Time book of revelations recalls the scene from Annie Hall in which Allen is shown as a tiny little depressive of about 10, obsessing over the way the world will end: "The universe is expanding and one day it will break apart and that will be the end of everything." Time says he wasn't that far off the mark. From what I could gather from the story (and please recall that my days in science class were mostly spent doodling really bad pictures of David Bowie on the backs of binders), the universe hasn't gotten all the energy from the Big Bang quite out of its system yet. Galaxies continue to sprawl ever outward, just much more slowly than they did at first. They will do so until "planets detach from stars; stars and planets detach from galaxies," and eventually the whole thing just disintegrates.

Maybe I'm just hungry, but the universe, it seems, is like popcorn: you have a kernel that contains everything but is small, then there's a buildup of everything and a big BANG wherein it explodes to create something bigger, lighter, fluffier and more buttery than before: our universe. Someday it's going to get chewed to a million pieces.

This isn't going to happen for "10 trillion trillion trillion years" (and remember, this is Time talking, not a 5-year-old describing how long church seems to last), so unfortunately for you there's still plenty of time to do some yard work, ruin your credit rating, grow old, whither and die.

Survival instincts

And speaking of the end times, it is hot in here, it's not just you. In addition to the slow-motion bang that will break up infinity, the sun is getting brighter and "in about 1 billion years its energy output will increase at least 10 percent." To save us, scientists have considered changing the climate of Mars so we could set up housekeeping there, or simply altering the orbit of the Earth so as the sun heats up we gradually get a little farther away. It won't stop the Earth from eventually breaking up, but it will help us survive for a while before it does.

What this means is that there are scientists out there who are seriously considering meddling with the very orbit and climate of whole planets while you've had jobs where they wouldn't let you work the cash register. Other than that, it isn't going to have much impact on your day-to-day life. At one time it may have helped humans to figure out what would make it all end ... so they could coax the gods out of it. Now that we see an inevitable end a trillion trillion trillion years in the future, we've accomplished ... what exactly? As Peggy Lee sang, "If that's all there is, then let's keep dancing."

Well, maybe one good thing comes out of this news. Now you know that breaking up really is the end of the world.

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