Columns » Bob Lancaster




Do any of you remember the 20th Century?

I remember it a little, but the memory is fading fast. It already seems like a dream, and maybe a dream that somebody else dreamt.

Century 20 had a different texture, and different weather, and it went at a different ever-quickening pace, and it had phonies proud of their phoniness where Century 21 has imbeciles ebullient in their imbecility. It had ideologues to our soreheads. It had possum grapes and we don't. I was an idiot, with little evidence of the sage who pontificates so self-assuredly today. You were different too. For me, anyway, Century 20 was typified by people like Ed Bethune and his father-in-law George Douthit. I don't know why.

Just randomly —
Psychoanalysis, you might recall, was big in the 20th Century, even late in the century. There's hardly a trace of it now. It's regarded now with some embarrassment. Its few patients are mostly fictional Mafia dons, and its few practitioners include “expert” courtroom witnesses for criminals who otherwise have no excuse. Even its annoying nomenclature is gone. Nobody's neurotic now. Or has a complex. You treat psychic damage and psychic ailments with drugs now almost exclusively. If the drugs don't work, you try some different ones, and then some more different ones, and so forth. If you don't ever find any that work, you sweep the whole business under the rug as best you can. Or if you've got the money you can go on to gene therapy or gender swap. Or you can buy happiness in the form of a bunch of toadies. The 21st century approach has its plusses and minuses. Maybe more plusses than minuses because Century 20 had lots of bad shrinks.

I remember something from the 20th century that we called forests. You can still drive along the highway and see something lurking and looming out there that's called a forest, but it's just an illusion. It's just a big mural, a continuous screen probably not two inches deep, or some kind of giant YouTube trick. Those aren't real trees and those aren't real people out there fishing in the barpit. It's the power of suggestion courtesy of the big corps and cartels that let you see what you want to see and what they want you to see. You could shoot holes in the mural if you still had the spunk to stop the car and get out and do it, and if you went up then and peered through the hole, there'd be desolation as far as you could see. Just a great desolation, otherwise indescribable. Otherwise incomprehensible. We still see the remnants, the tatters of forest, because we can't bear to see the other.

We ate squirrels in the 20th century. They were made out of meat. Fried up right in an iron skillet, they did taste a lot like chicken. Century 20 squirrels were elusive critters. Got to be mighty scarce from time to time. You might squirrel-hunt all day long and never bag one, never even see one. When that happened, the upshot was often that your family went meatless the following day. It could get fairly grim after, say, a week. Their relative abundance — at least a dozen of them here in my yard on any given morning — is the main way you can tell that Century 21 squirrels are not the same animal. They too are some kind of mechanical trick being played on us for some hidden and probably nefarious purpose. Like these fake bones that you can get for your dog to chew on. Or plastic pink flamingoes to decorate your yard. With the “squirrels,” if you bean one with a rock as Jethro used to do in Century 20, metal springs and wheels and sprockets and Styrofoam stuffing will erupt into a pile of very Century 21 gore there where it was burying its mechanical nut. If your cat catches and eats one of these rascals, woe to your cat. Unless of course your cat is a Century 21 cat.

We had Mom and Pop stores in the 20th century. Mom was sometimes called Five and Pop was called Dime. Most Mom and Pop or Five and Dime stores sold what Century 20 people called “sundries.” You never ordered a sundry by that name but they were called that in the collective. And often, earlier in the century, they really did cost five cents or a dime. For example the comic books at the ABC Bookstore here in Little Bit, where Mom and Pop were Mary Lee and Joe T. Gartman, who were some very likeable Century 20 people. I remember Bob McCord telling me one time in the 20th century about a state legislator having told him this, in all seriousness: “If this bill passes, it'll mean the end of the Mom and Pop oil-well business in Arkansas.” And I guess the bill did pass because there are no Mom and Pop oil well businesses in Century 21 Arkansas. There are no Mom and Pop businesses at all. There's only one store, sprawling from town to town, run by that same squirrelly, neurotic, paper-thin X bunch that hung the forest mural.

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