On the wrong foot 

There are horses called closers that get out of the gate poorly, then take their sweet time about it but usually make the big redemptive late run, and that’s about the only reason I haven’t already given up on the 21st century.

Seventy-five, eighty years from now, its closers might start their kick.

God help us if they don’t, because Century 21 is off to the worst start of any century since the 14th, a worse start than this season’s Razorbacks. It has kicked our butt at every turn, turned us every way but loose. It has delivered over our mutual and personal destinies to the stewardship of imbeciles and mediocrities, to ideologues who don’t even have ideos to logue. It has loosed upon us Muslim fanatics who want to kill us all, including themselves, and Christian fanatics who aren’t going to be satisfied until they’ve chiseled the Ten Commandments into the foreheads of each and every one of us.

The 20th century scourged us too, but compensated. It cancered our nads with chlorinated hydrocarbons, but it gave us refrigerators, “Casablanca,” the Salk vaccine, Thurber dogs, men on the moon.

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of one good thing that Century 21 has given us as payback for all its crud, and I’m stumped.

It hasn’t produced a single worthwhile country song.

It hasn’t brought out a movie that we’ll be able to look back fondly on like “The Wizard of Oz” or “Dr. Strangelove” or “Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

It hasn’t had a memorable new book, building, cartoon character, sandwich, article of clothing or footwear, work or style of art, dance, vice, gardening tool, ism, ology, personal grooming aid, or athletic feat untainted by steroids.

It hasn’t marketed one good-looking new car.

It hasn’t grown one tomato that wouldn’t have been put to shame by a hundred million of the tasty pinks that were happily grown and consumed in the American Southland in the third quarter of the 20th century.

It hasn’t debuted an interesting new toy, or fad, or therapy, or diet, or pastime, or flavor of ice cream, or recreational pharmaceutical, or theological quibble, or conspiracy theory, or means of self-mutilation. It hasn’t unveiled a new slogan, or motto, or message T-shirt message, or bumper sticker witticism that’s even in the same league with Keep On Trucking or Shit Happens or Fergit Hell.

It hasn’t seen a scientific leap or medical breakthrough, perhaps because of the low morale in the scientific community, the thinking community, from the unrelenting hassling by all these evangelical hooligans and their political enablers who want equal time and recognition in the biology classrooms for their phantasmagoria, and love offerings, and prayer poles, and an extra “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Those are just a few of Century 21’s sins of omission. What of its sins of the other kind?

Well, it introduced Beer Pong.

And the “personal beverage vendor” that saves couch potatoes between-inning Old Milwaukee trips to the kitchen.

And talking toilet paper that smarts off at you in the voice of Gilbert Godfried as you sit all broken hearted.

A pet elevator for Rover’s convenience getting into and out of the van.

It has made a folk hero of the vice president, especially among the televangelists, for having elevated partisan debate to a new piquancy with his GFY to Sen. Leahy.

It’s given the Jim Bob Duggars four or five more mouths to feed. (“Why, Lord, do they just keep on a-comin’?”)

A century so far fecund with hurricanes and dead chickens. One in which you can almost feel it in the air, in the still of the night: that the Really Big One is coming, on the way, gathering the big mo, and we don’t have a prayer in hell, we’re just screwed — our government being one so mired in cronyism that its best and probably its only suggestion at crunch time will be to wrap up with duct tape and visquene. Again.

A century in which the pencil-necked geeks have just about taken over.

In which the public discourse became just gabble and staging.

In which journalism as we knew it for three generations crawled off and died.

In which the home of the free and the brave started starting wars instead of ending wars another bastard started.

In which education became just the mad pursuit of higher collective test scores.

And so on. I don’t mean to piss and moan so. Maybe I’ve already wailed this exact geezer wail in this space, and maybe several times. I’m getting of that age.

Anyhow, I was thinking Einstein had bedazzled the 20th century by this time, and Beethoven had ennobled the 19th.

A hunnert years ago, we had trustbusters who took on the robber barons and subdued them, while here in Century 21 we watch the gas station gouge-meister jack another dollar onto the per-gallon unleaded marquee and we flinch a little, and whimper a little, but that’s about it.


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