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Time's Out

Here in Rocky the Leprechaun's converted Evergreen garage, Mark Speck has reached ground-zero for his Y2K doubts. He eyes the display of thirty No. 10-sized cans of Mountain House freeze-dried foods. Rocky looks on.

"I only carry main dishes," says Rocky.
"Mmmm. Chocolate," says Mark, before turning his attention to the entrees. "I think one case is good enough for me."

"How many people in your house?" Rocky asks.
"Just me and my son."
"A case oughta be good," Rocky agrees. "Now, you're buying stuff at the store, too, right? How long are ya thinking?"

Speck pauses. "I'm thinking a month. But I guarantee you my neighbors will be knockin' down my door."

Rocky nods and pats a bowling-ball-sized can of freeze-dried chicken and noodles. His two Super Bowl rings catch the light. "This is long-term stuff," he explains. "You won't dive in right away. This'll be after the first month. You'll be looking to your refrigerator and freezer in the first month.

"Look over the main entrees here," he adds, handing Speck an order menu. "If you see something you like, check it." Then, helpfully, "with your Hearty Beef Stew, that makes 36 servings. That'll take you and your boy quite a ways."

Glen Brougham officially became Rocky the Leprechaun in 1983. "I had a chance to work with the Colorado Lottery," he recalls. "The first scratch game was called Pot o' Gold. The promotion company wanted to take a big pot of gold around Colorado--with leprechauns and everything. And I got the job." The "Rocky" part came from Brougham's childhood nickname, given for his hobby of collecting rocks, which he still does.

At the time, Denver had a second football team, the Denver Gold. Rocky, who is a marketer by training, sensed synergy. "I went to them and said, 'Hey, where you find gold you'll always find a leprechaun.'" The Gold agreed, and he became the team's official mascot. When the Gold withered with the USFL, he turned to the Broncos, with which he enjoys an unofficial, though high-profile, relationship. Each year he purchases one ticket for each game, and leaves his seat soon after the game starts to wander the stadium and pump up the crowd.

"The Broncos know I'm there, and they have an unwritten thing where The Barrel Man and I can go around where other people might be told, 'Please find your seat and sit down, sir,'" he explains. "It's a kind of respect. And it makes the world a bigger place.

"I've honed it to the level where I'm an actor doing a role," he adds. "And I have some talent for getting cheers going."

The idea to help citizens prepare for the approaching Y2K disaster came between games last season. "I was in Oregon, wanting to mail back some pinecones to Colorado"--in the winter Rocky sells Christmas trees and other holiday decorations--"and I found out this company also was supplying five-gallon buckets to seal grain in. And that's where I got the idea that I, personally, wanted to do something. Later, I came to find out there was nobody in Colorado who inventoried Mountain House No. 10-sized tin cans of freeze-dried food. I knew from when I was in the camping business"--Rocky, who is 48, owned three outdoor supply stores in Missouri in the late 1970s--"that they have an excellent menu of basic survival foods."

"In any kind of stress situation--and if Y2K isn't a stress situation, I don't know what is--the simplest food to prepare is freeze-dried. And Mountain House makes the best. Like the Beef Strogonoff. They take a completely cooked beef strogonoff--it's your mother's best recipe, just off the stove, steaming hot, ready to eat-and then flash freeze it. That's why the astronauts use it.

"I'm not so much a survivalist as I am into preparedness," he concludes. "The slogan that I came up with is, 'Your lack of preparedness does not make us kooks.' Isn't that good?"

Rocky, who looks the same off the field as he does on, has turned a room off his garage into a Y2K sales and information center. On one wall, a selection of No. 10-sized cans of Mountain House freeze-dried foods is displayed on a shelf. Nearby, a VCR plays a compilation tape that Rocky made of news shows warning citizens to prepare. Next to that is a poster: "Y2K list ideas: plastic sheeting. Kerosene lamps. Matches. Heater. Women. More women." ("I am single," says Rocky. "I am looking for a woman who is ready for the next millennium.")

A "days-left" calendar shows 176 days remaining in 1999. A brochure Rocky picked up at a Y2K convention is pinned next to it. "Y2K Paradise," it advertises. "Y2K in paradise has been established to help you and your loved ones relocate to the South Pacific Islands."

At a right angle to the food display is a black futon couch. "I'm trying to make this a real personal thing--a real quiet thing," he explains. Customers hear about his business mostly through word of mouth. "Everybody who's doing this is extremely sensitive."

As a result, Rocky sells No. 10-sized tins of Mountain House freeze-dried foods by appointment only. Speck's appointment was at 4 p.m. After studying the selection, he decides on one can each of the beef Stroganoff, the noodles and chicken, the chicken and rice, and the spaghetti and meatballs. "My kid's a picky eater," Speck says. "This is stuff I know he'll eat."

Rocky nods. "But this is all main entrees," he points out. "What do you do for breakfast?"

"We eat mostly fruit," Speck says.
"Well, there might not be any fruit."
"That's true," Speck acknowledges.

"We got eggs," Rocky notes. "They're not powdered, either. They're freeze-dried."

Speck considers this, but decides against it--"We're not big egg eaters"--and Rocky disappears into his garage/warehouse to fill the order.

"I'm not 100 percent worried," Speck says. "But you gotta understand that we're dealing with the government. It's like dealing with a bunch of monkeys. They don't know anything. And if they did know, they wouldn't tell you anyway."

"We're out of spaghetti," Rocky calls from the garage. Speck looks over the menu and decides lasagna will work just as well.

"People are going nuts over this," Speck continues. "I'm a contractor, so I see a lot of it. I've been getting a lot more customers looking for generators. I know these three families from Aurora, they sold their houses and moved out to the eastern plains. They've bought guns and surrounded their house with wire. They're home-schooling their kids.

"I'm moving slow." He pauses. "I guess a generator could be down the line."
"I do have a generator I'm selling," says Rocky, who has returned with Speck's order.

Speck considers the box. "It's a lot of food," he says. "But this way, if nothing happens, everyone can come to my house for the Super Bowl and have a freeze-dried party."

Speck continues, "I know this guy who turns off his electricity one day a month to practice. He's also buying lots of cigarettes. He doesn't smoke, but he's thinking he can use them to trade.

"And another thing is water," he adds. "Up here, we'll be able to get it--we don't have a big, complicated system like Denver's. But it's going to be contaminated. You'll have to figure out a way to filter it."

"This is the one I've decided to go with," says Rocky, patting a stainless-steel appliance that looks like a tall coffee percolator. "The British Berkfield. It's got four ceramic filters."

"The thing that's going to kill us is not the big bomb," Rocky explains. "It's going to be the small things--the computer chip in the coffee pot, stuff like that."

"Everything is computerized these days," agrees Speck, shaking his head. "Twenty-five years ago I moved from Chicago and let my insurance lapse. Then, two weeks ago a cop pulled me over and said there was a problem with my insurance. From 25 years ago! That's what I mean: They're a bunch of monkeys."

"People are either squirrels, ants or grasshoppers," explains Rocky. "The ants pound away everything they can. The squirrels put away for the winter, and the grasshoppers don't give a shit."

"And the monkeys don't know anything," says Speck. "Did you see the movie on TV last night, The Net?"

"Yeah," says Rocky. "Sandra Bullock loses her identity. If they want to find out anything about you, they can. Whoever 'they' are."

On January 2, Rocky's favorite pastime will collide with his biggest--currently, anyway--fear. That's the day the Broncos play the San Diego Chargers in Denver, the day after the Y2K bug explodes--or doesn't. "I'll have a ticket for it," says Rocky. "We'll just have to see what happens and hope for the best.