We never did come up with a definitive name for the first decade of the twenty-first century, though “the aughts” or the “oh-oh’s” seem appropriate. We ought to have done a better job managing our lives and our finances, we ought to have avoided a poorly conceived war in Iraq, we ought to have foreseen that a city built 12 feet below sea level would flood during a hurricane. Oh-oh, we accidentally elected George W. Bush president.
It was a mistake-filled decade, one I keep hoping some great replay official in the sky will declare as a “do-over.” What if that could happen? What if I tossed a red flag onto the field of life, the referees huddled around a monitor that displayed the passage of the years 2000 through 2009, and emerged to throw their arms in the air and wave off the last ten years?
“Upon further review, the last decade will not stand,” comes the announcement. “Let’s try that again.”
I’d like to imagine an alternate history that wasn’t as devastating as the reality turned out to be. How could that have transpired? Let’s check the timeline of what might have been.
January 1, 2000 — The Y2K bug turns out to exist after all, but its effect on computers and the Internet worldwide is that they can only be used for good. Productivity increases dramatically, education is available to everyone, and healthcare information is at our fingertips. Time-wasters like Facebook, YouTube, the blogosphere and Twitter are technically impossible to invent. Just to be on the safe side, a young computer geek from Massachusetts, would-be founder of Twitter “Biz” Stone, is accidentally electrocuted while trying to program a workaround.
November 7, 2000 — Al Gore is elected forty-third president of the United States. Thousands of confused retirees in Arizona who thought they were voting for Wile E. Coyote accidentally selected Gore instead, putting him over the top in the Electoral College.
September 10, 2001 — Within a one-week period, three airline pilots are discovered to be drunk, another crew accidentally overshoots a destination by 150 miles while discussing their schedules, and a third squad falls asleep at the controls. The FAA orders the entire American fleet of passenger jets grounded for two days, demanding that airline personnel “shape up or go back to your jobs at the convenience store.” Flights resume on Sept. 12, including one that carries a frustrated contingent of Saudi travelers back to the Mideast.
September 4, 2002 — Kelly Clarkson narrowly defeats Justin Guarini for the title of first “American Idol.” However, results are overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court five weeks later, which declared in a 5-4 decision that the singing competition was “stupid” and installed Dick Cheney as the winner.
April 9, 2003 — President Al Gore, having completed his landmark negotiation of a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, thereby permanently settling the once-troubled region, travels to Baghdad for a well-deserved vacation. Long-time friends from his college fraternity days join the president for what they term a “shockingly awesome blast of massive proportions,” and paint the Iraqi capital red.
January 11, 2004 — The first legal marriage of a same-sex couple occurs in the U.S. It is totally gay.
May 1, 2004 — The largest expansion to date of the European Union takes place, extending the federation by ten member-states, including Slovakia, Slovenia, Slomotion, Sloeginia and Wal-mart.
April 2, 2005 — Pope John Paul II dies. The entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church goes into deep mourning for its loss, but then the Guy at the top remembers, “Hey, wait a minute, that’s him right over there.”
August 29, 2005 — The Katrina and the Waves Summer of Fun Tour stops in New Orleans, where concert-goers greet performance of the group’s hit “Walking on Sunshine (Tryin’ to Feel Good)” by staging a massive riot that guts the Louisiana Superdome. Survivors gather in the streets outside, spelling out “HELP US” with discarded souvenir tour t-shirts, but aren’t rescued by the National Guard until six days later.
October 9, 2006 — North Korea performs its first successful nuclear test, scoring an 86 and getting a “good point but remember that punct. counts” comment on the essay portion of the exam.
March 2, 2007 — Shiloh Jolie Pitt, daughter of actress Angelina Jolie and actor Brad Pitt, is introduced to the world. The world pretends to get an urgent cell phone call and has to step outside for just a minute, then sprints off across the parking lot.
May 2, 2008 — Cyclone Nargis makes landfall in Myanmar, causing massive flooding and widespread destruction. A butterfly displaced by the storm sneezes, causing a tiny atmospheric disruption that slightly raises the humidity half a world away. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain detects the change, and somehow interprets it as a sign that he should pick Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be his running mate.
September 14, 2008 — A collapse of Wall Street is narrowly averted when city engineers detect a faulty beam in the subway platform beneath the New York Stock Exchange and repair it just in time. Grateful investment banks thank the American taxpayers by subsidizing a nationwide “Merrill Lunch” on Sept. 30, during which anyone who buys a small order of fries from a fast-food outlet gets a free upgrade to a medium.
November 4, 2008 — Following two successful terms working closely with President Gore, Vice President Joe Lieberman is elected forty-fourth president of the United States. That butterfly in Myanmar commits insecticide.
June 24, 2009 — South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford is the latest in a continuing parade of politicians who call a press conference to acknowledge loving their wife and family, and being unable to imagine life without them. Women nationwide ask their husbands why they can’t be more like that, while the men pretend to get an urgent cell phone call.
June 25, 2009 — Texas State Senator Mike Jackson (R-District 11), delivering a five-minute routine of jokes and other humorous stories to fellow legislators gathered with him at the Galveston Olive Garden, dies when nobody laughs.
November 23, 2009 — Golfer Tiger Woods crashes his Buick into a Nike shoe outlet, apparently distracted by his AT&T phone and a bottle of Gatorade he had spilled in his lap. He checks his Tag Hauer watch to note the time of the accident for the police report, then calls Accenture to ask what the hell they do, so he can screw that up too. Fortunately, no endorsement deals are jeopardized.
December 30, 2009 — About 100 readers of an obscure, excessively wordy blog find something way better to do with their time.