|Moonday, Jesterary 10, 40
song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself
among women, although puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture."
Sir Thomas Browne, quoted by Poe at the very beginning of his
Murders in the Rue Morgue"
In my idle moments I sometimes enjoy contemplating those aspects of reality
which are impossible to ever really know for sure. You know, things
like how many people might be eating spaghetti at this very moment, whether
or not Martin Luther ever woke his wife up with deliberate pig noises,
who's the oldest person in China alive today who has ever yelled "Yo Momma!"
at a passing babe - things like that. There are definite answers
to these questions, we'll just probably never know what they are.
Somehow I manage to live on in my ignorance.
In my more whimsical moments, my thoughts turn to advanced alien civilizations
and what one-word term they might have for the entire body of knowledge
we mere humans have managed to accumulate up to this point. I'm betting
it's something that more or less translates as "Erm" even though part of
me is convinced that it really translates as "Puke!"
Yes, I probably do have too much time on my hands.
Although I realize that I'll never achieve the status of a small Latin
American country let alone the status of an entire advanced alien civilization,
I recently took a stab at reducing 20th century America to as brief a set
of typographical characters as my little mind could manage. Here's
what I came up with:
That's it. Just 32 characters in all - one set for each decade.
TR, of course, stands for Teddy Roosevelt. The first president known
by his initials, a charismatic celebrity who used his office as a Bully
Pulpit, the youngest president until JFK, he not only dominated the first
decade of the 20th century but foreshadowed much of what followed
up to and including Tom Selleck's mustache.
WWI - "The War To End All Wars." Which of course gave rise to one
of the hallmark phrases of the entire last hundred years: "Never mind."
KDKA - The call letters of the first radio station and a symbol of our
explosive love affair with technology. In 1922, only 60,000 families
had radios. By 1930 no fewer than 13,750,000 did. It was a
story repeated between 1950 and 1960 when TVs invaded every home and again
in the '90s when computers did the same. If home security systems
had been invented first, all of these appliances would still be out on
the street begging passers-by for any attention they might be able to spare
in between phone calls.
WPA - The Works Progress Administration. A symbol of The Great Depression,
the federal government's rapid expansion in response, and the beginning
of our national addiction to acronyms (which many experts now say serve
as gateway figures of speech inevitably leading to abbreviation abuse,
career-killing clipped phrasing, and the final horror of Reader's Digest
WWII - You know, Pearl Harbor, Hitler, the discovery of the concentration
camps, the atomic bombings. It was mentioned at least once in all
the better papers.
ICBM - Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. The most terrible weapon
of the Cold War, it cut the time between now and Doomsday from six weeks
on a slow boat to twenty minutes sitting in the comfort of your own self-righteous
nationalism. Although in the end it wasn't used for anything more
terrible than sending the ashes of Gene Roddenberry into outer space, few
kids realized that yet in the late '50s as they practiced ducking under
their desks to protect themselves from 20 megaton warheads.
LSD - Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, which many people in the '60s attempted
to use to expand their minds. Gary Grant was one of them. Really.
Which just goes to show, words alone can blow your mind if you know what
order in which to apply the letters to your eyes.
WIN - Whip Inflation Now, President Ford's utterly inane attempt to solve
a genuine national problem with a would-be catchy slogan printed up on
buttons. That's really what the '70s were all about.
BMW - The star Yuppiemobile in a decade-long parade of greed. More
sensitive souls should feel free to cut out the letters "MTV" and paste
'em over these if that's what it takes to avoid suffering a permanent blush.
WWW - World Wide Wait. Opps, sorry - I mean World Wide Web, of course.
Whatever could I have been thinking?
So that's it. The entire American Century summed up in just 32 characters.
Not quite equal to what even the most developmentally handicapped alien
could do, I'm sure, but until he, she, or it commits his, her, or its wisdom
to an online journal, you'd do well to shut-up and take what you can get.
Maybe tomorrow I'll share my thoughts on what song the Syrens sang, or
maybe what name Achilles assumed as he hid among the women.
Can't wait? Here's a hint: It sure wasn't "Satisfaction" or "Howard