We thought we’d survived too soon.
The first thing most Americans heard when they groggily faced the first New Year’s Day of the pseudomillennium was the happy chattering of talking heads across the nation, as they faced microphones and cathode ray tubes whose faint glow told them that yes, everything was still streaming electrons, othankyoulord.
Indeed, contrary to the predictions of the survivalists and national magazines, space satellites and airlines did not go crashing to Earth; pallets full of Pampers were not delivered to vegetarian restaurants, and the power grid did not collapse. Yet sure enough, Y2K had done its work in a far more mysterious, terrifying and unforeseen way.
It happened, sort of, like this. Somehow, untold millions of old Intel computer chips packed into Florida, the nation’s geographic phallus, somehow resonated right at zero hour on 1/1/00 in a harmonic convergence with the force field of the Bermuda Triangle. That had the eventual effect of sending a secret, unseen and undetected virus racing through the World Wide Web and eventually affecting the neural nets of its users, disrupting thought patterns throughout the nation and even the world.
But the epicenter of weirdness was in Florida. Throughout the year, activity sparked by irrational brain waves radiating from that bipolar peninsula vibrated across the nation, in a sort of collective madness not seen since the Saint Vitus’ Dance phenomenon of the late Middle Ages.
The first hint of the gravitational center of the chaos came when first Florida, then everybody in the nation with too little to do, was consumed by an irrational fixation on a 5-year-old Cuban boy named Elian Gonzalez who had been found adrift at sea.
Everyone with an IQ above 32, including even some Republicans, knew he ought to be sent home to his father, who desperately wanted him back. But somehow half the world went insane, including Al Gore, who has been to Harvard.
Eventually, President Clinton defied his own VP (don’t bet on George W. trying this) and sent the FBI, the Florida National Guard, and a cavalry regiment to liberate the boy April 22. They succeeded, and Elian (Spanish for “Chad”) went home and was never seen again, except when he returned briefly to vote on Nov. 7.
By that time, however, the entire nation had turned nuts. And there was no turning back. Here’s a brief recap of what happened when:
January: America Online, which couldn’t afford an ad in the regional edition of Time Magazine 10 years ago, bought the company, which had earlier bought Warner Bros. The media, with its usual depth, represented this as a merger, as they did Daimler’s consuming of Chrysler. That night, Steve Case merged with a filet mignon to celebrate. The Federal Trade Commission later said all this was a fine idea.
Meanwhile, on New Year’s Eve, Boris Yeltsin turned over the keys to the Soviet — oops — Russia to Vladimir Putin, a former high-ranking KGB man who, at year’s end, restored the Soviet national anthem and ties with Fidel Castro. The media, packed into Florida to cover the running of the chads, mainly ignored all this.
February: Hillary Clinton, who has never lived in New York, decides its people want her to be their senator. They later overwhelmingly agree. A New York jury finds four policemen entirely innocent of any crime after they fire 41 shots at an unarmed black man, Amadou Diallo, who did nothing wrong. Reportedly a lone juror held out for a littering charge. Florida-crazed hackers disrupt eBay and amazon.com.
March: Picking a presidential nominee, Republicans have to choose between a) an intelligent war hero with a solid legislative record and a streak of independence and b) a spoiled rich twerp with an admitted alcohol problem who is proud of his general ignorance and anti-intellectual biases. Naturally, it isn’t even close.
April: Ecuador, afflicted by the spreading madness, adopts the U.S. dollar as its currency. Everybody else watches incessant replays from Florida of the liberation of Elian and the screaming of insane Cuban exiles.
May: New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani pulls out of the New York Senate race because of his prostate and his mistress. His wife holds a press conference to claim his main mistress is not the woman he said. This really happened, and you can look it up.
June: Gasoline prices go through the roof for a good reason: The oil companies want more money. Consumers understand.
The government, which took five minutes to approve AOL’s buying Time, announces they have finally concluded there was no evidence of a conspiracy to kill Martin Luther King in 1968! Thrilled blacks rejoice. Meanwhile, Elian quietly slips out of Florida.
July: A Florida jury fines big tobacco companies $144.8 billion in punitive damages. They try to stall paying until the Bush administration. In Washington, the government, on a roll, announces there is no evidence U.S. agents did anything wrong at Waco in 1993. Uncooked Branch Davidians are reassured.
George W. Bush chooses as vice president the man his daddy sent to help him find one. The media decides Dick Cheney’s paper-thin heart is not a story.
August: Bush-Cheney are nominated in a convention hall filled with rented Negroes and Hispanics. Two of these, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, actually vote for him and later receive cabinet appointments after the election is stolen.
Striking back, Vice President Algore.com chooses an Orthodox Jew for vice president. Commentators worry that America is not ready for a major-party nominee with morals, wit, intelligence and personality. Gore kisses wife.
September: Bush kisses Oprah. Indiana University Basketnazi Bobby Knight is finally fired for beating up a child, this time one, by an amazing coincidence, with an influential father.
Government drops charges against Los Alamos nuclear physicist and apparent non-spy Wen Ho Lee and ends the Whitewater investigation. Rumors are that Washington will soon conclude that Benedict Arnold acted alone.
October: Bush scores devastating victories over Gore in presidential debates, as American public becomes deeply offended that the Democrat knows a lot about government and the world. Though they still agree with Gore on the issues, millions vow, lemminglike, to back Bush. New York Yankees purchase World Series.
November: Confounding pollsters, election swings to Handsome Al in the closing days, as even stoned voters realize Bush is probably too stupid to be potty-trained. Though Gore really wins by just a narrow victory, it is blocked for weeks by Floridians who use messed-up voting machines, granite-chad punch cards, and a ballot only a drunken caterpillar could connect with in heavily Democratic Palm Beach County.
December: Alarmed at a rising tide of birth defects linked to viewing Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris on television, the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes to steal the election for Bush, just as Strom Thurmond is preparing to take office. Dick Cheney assures Strom that the Alamo will be fortified and that his Confederate Army pension is guaranteed.
Al Gore departs for a Caribbean vacation, to soak up rays and the vital essence of irrationality close advisers tell him he is missing.
Later that week, Bush is informed that he has become president. Mindful that in past wars blacks have been disproportionately sent to do the dying, Dick Cheney decides to bring back the Cold War (“good for business!!!”) and put African-Americans Powell and Rice in charge of organizing it.
“I hope I can get everything in shape for W. before I die of another heart attack,” said Cheney, who was never pressured by the press to release his medical records during the campaign. “It would be nice if he didn’t have to bother his dad.”
That’s the way it was at the dawn of the false millennium. But we have every reason to believe it was only a prelude. The real millennium is upon us, the barbarians are inside the gates and Mr. Bill will shortly have been paid in full. Keep your heads down, your hands on your lap, and stay tuned for 2001: A Shrub Odyssey. It should be quite a ride.Jack Lessenberry is a contributing editor to the MT. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org