Columns » Bob Lancaster

No toadfrogs, no churns


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I think I'm going back to the 20th century and let you guys have this one. I don't like it. For 10 years now I've been looking for something good to say about Century 21, and that page in my notebook is still blank.

I don't think this is merely another case of the nostalgia that usually attends superannuation — I think the 19s really were a better time than the 20s to bogart resources and take up space — but if I'm wrong about that, well, there's a first time for everything.

The 20th century had better farms and back roads. It had more and better places to see UFOs. It had new houses that weren't all medieval ugly and too big. It had stupid likeable yard art and not a single boxcar lacking indecipherable graffiti or theater floor without at least an inch of stick. It had more and better palm readers and cheap motels.

Even as the sun set on it, it still had thickets where you could pick wild blackberries, and slithy toves wherein to gather cypress knees to make lamps. It still had bullfrogs, bees, and about 10 times as many different kinds of birds. Except right at the end, it didn't have ATVs or people who can't function unless they spend 18 hours a day on a mobile telephone.

Its occupants still had jobs, houses, pensions, nest eggs and there weren't yet enough weasels, or the weasels hadn't yet been sufficiently empowered by the imbeciles, to plunder that marvelous legacy, or squander it, or threaten it.

It had its share of kooks (these weren't the weasels or the imbeciles) but you knew which ones were the kooks. And the kooks themselves seemed to suspect. There were Republicans then who actually weren't kooks, and weren't cowed into acquiescence by the blowhards, and there were some yet unemasculated Democrats. Really, there were. You wonder what happened to them. What the extinction agent was.

The Imbecile Party has taken over American politics in Century 21 — just about all the presidential candidates, and all but six members of the current Congress — and the Imbecile Church has jacked the country's so-called religious life. The Imbecile Church has a creed:  Comfy now, snug forever — just don't ask any questions.

In the 20th Century there was a House of Dominoes open for business, where the essential questions were mulled, debated, answered by the derelict and luckless — too bad there weren't minutes, or a log. They were imbeciles, too, but small-i imbeciles, and weren't insulted if you called them that. Didn't take it personal. You could agree to disagree.

The 20th century had clouds that looked like clouds are supposed to look. Can't quite put a finger on it, but there's something foreboding, something grotesque, about a great many of these 21st century clouds. Clouds like out of El Greco, or Hitchcock, or "Macbeth."

The 20th Century had news; Century 21 has something else. Chat, maybe. What the spooks call chatter. Something that involves posturing, spin, groupthink, rodomontade, bullshit, slovenly construction, graceless expression. Something reminiscent of the Ten Minutes Hate sessions in "1984." Thirty Minutes Hate? More like Thirty Minutes Incoherence. Thirty Minutes Jerking Off.

Century XX movie monsters had their dignity and integrity as individuals, Kong or Nosferatu as opposed to Century 21's transformers — or Century 21's zombies, which of course are merely Century 21 Imbeciles once removed. Home sound, think Klipsch v. the latter-day CD skreek. Yellow '35 Doozie up ag'in any of the Asian rolling coprolites of Century XXI. Compare homer football columnists — Orville Boswell v. the Dog-Peter Gnat.

The 20th century ended child labor, and who not crazy would sign on to bring it back? Three guesses. The 20th Century had GE College Bowl while Century 21 features "Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" where the answer 99 times out of a hundred is no.

The funny papers peaked in Century XX, and probably before the Sopwith Beagle and "The real reason dinosaurs became extinct."

The 20th Century homestead nearly always had a shed, or several, full of interesting worthless stuff that was in transition from quaint to reliquary. There's an American history lesson in just about every old shed. Century 21 abjures sheds, favoring either nothing or one of these prefab outbuildings that you trailer in preassembled rather than build. Nothing interesting in one of those. No history. No anvils. No toadfrogs. No churns.

The 20th century had apricot fried pies cooked in iron skillets, which had the very gods gnashing their teeth in envy of human taste buds and alimentary canals. You still see an occasional laughable pathetic imitation, but the authenticity dog barked and that particular caravan moved on. Momma took the secret with her. Or Lindsey's did.

The 20th century developed an environmental conscience that became pretty formidable toward the end, but Century 21 exorcised it, lobotomized it, flung the regs down in the toxic dust and danced on them. Bring back DDT. And uninspected meat. Apologize to BP for having said anything critical about that lurking blob the size of France.

The 20th century had youth, and lacked dysfunction, entropy. Weep for it. Many other comparisons, contrasts.

At the risk of serial redundancy, the 20th century had tomatoes that were fit to eat.


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