January 2000
s m u g
by Todd Levin


Remembering The Has-Been Millennium

As we usher in the new millennium in with appropriate revelry, crouched low inside our makeshift living room bunkers with a loaded shotgun fixed on teenagers and other potentially dangerous neighborhood malcontents who might loot our precious hidden stores of smoked fish, this is a great time to take one final look over our shoulders at the past. Don't literally look over your shoulder, as a single moment of distraction could mean sudden death; look metaphorically. The last thousand years have been unforgettable, from Black Death to a cure for Polio. Two world wars fought and one shark jumped by Fonzie (on water skis, no less!), all in the same century. It's mind-boggling.

While history may provide lessons for the next thousand years, there is an equally rich alternate series of events folded inside every important milestone from the last millennium. What about the "almosts" that never made it into our history books, the hidden parallel history that could have drastically reshaped our rich, Western lives? What if, say, the Axis powers were victorious in World War II (as they conceivably could have been) or if Fonzie had not successfully jumped that shark? What then? It is said that to know the past is to know the present. Or the future. Or one's self, I think. But to know the past that could have been, is to conceive of the present that we can never have. Or something. Just read this.


1000-1200 - All of Europe farms enthusiastically, while all of Asia fishes. Nothing of great significance occurrs.
Did you know?
In 1045, the first game of "punch buggy" began, but didn't conclude until 900 years later, when the first Volkswagen Beetle rolled off the production line in Wolfsburg, Germany.

1242 - English scientist Roger Bacon records the formula for gunpowder. While Bacon originally intended to keep the formula a secret, fearing ominous consequences, the formula was circulated and, by the middle of the 14th century, had been harnessed for military purposes.
Did you know?
Roger Bacon cursed himself for entrusting the gunpowder formula to his assistant - a young, Irish boy named Tattles McBlabbermouth.

1347-1351 - The "Black Death" bubonic plague which originated in India more than a decade earlier, kills an estimated 75 million people.
Did you know?
Abraham Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and John F. Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln? While this has very little to do with the bubonic plague, it is nonetheless eerie.

1455 - Johann Gutenburg's movable-type press makes printing and mass communication easy and practical. By the end of the century, over 35,000 books with approximately 10 million copies have been printed in various printing offices throughout Europe.
Did you know?
The first book printed on Gutenberg's press was the Holy Bible, which Norman Mailer dismissed in The NYT Book Review that year as "derivative", "highly implausible" and "kind of gay". (Although he did find the character of Jesus Christ to be "the quintessential christ figure".)

1547 - French astrologer Nostradamus makes his first prediction.
Did you know?
That prediction: "I'll bet you 3,000 francs that I lose my virginity before high school graduation." Sadly, this prediction was off by over 12 years. Fortunately, Nostradamus had the good sense to lie to his friends, claiming he'd deflowered a deaf-mute girl in the village after the Sadie Hawkins dance, three weeks before graduation. Had it become known that Nostradamus' first effort at prognostication been a failure, it might have tarnished his reputation forever.

1687 - Isaac Newton publishes "Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica," explaining the basic laws of the universe. It is perhaps the most significant work in the history of modern science.
Did you know?
This was originally published as a pop-up book.

1814 - Francis Scott Key pens "Star-Spangled Banner"
Did you know?
Before writing "Star Spangled Banner" Francis Key Scott had almost given up songwriting completely, when his previous national anthem efforts - "God Will Smite the Dissident" and "The United States of Poontang" - were instant failures.

1828 - Noah Webster publishes ''American Dictionary of the English Language.''
Did you know?
When Webster's first edition dictionary was published, the literacy rate in America was still so low, many of the words contained within the volume were not part of the common experience. As a result, Webster's editors and researchers often resorted to lazy practices. Here is the original Webster's Dictionary definition for "Sauerbräten":

n. a braten possessing or embodying the quality of sour. e.g. "Sauerbräten!! Sauerbräten!! Here, Sauerbräten! Who's a good Sauerbräten?"

1866 - Ku Klux Klan founded in Pulaski, Tenn.
Did you know?
A committee suggestion to embroider members' names on the back of their uniforms as a way of identifying other Klan members was vetoed immediately.

1885 - Statue of liberty shipped to America, including Emma Lazarus's unforgettable inscription: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Did you know?
Literary critics and politicos felt this inscription was an enormous improvement on her original draft which read, simply: "No Mexicans."

1888 - First recitation of "Casey at Bat", followed by first spontaneous public beating of an entertainer.

1903 - Marie Curie is first woman to win Nobel Prize (with husband Pierre and scientist Henri Becquerel) for her experiments with radioactivity.
Did you know?
Marie Curie actually had no scientific contribution to this team's work in the field of radiation; she simply made delicious cookies for her husband and Becquerel and occasionally polished their research equipment, which she endearingly referred to as "science doo-hickeys".

1907 - Boy Scout movement founded, as millions of pederasts rejoice.

1921 - James Joyce's manuscript for ''Ulysses,'' is declared obscene by a U.S. court.
Did you know?
It was only after Joyce agreed to remove a 200-page section detailing a sorority house panty raid that Ulysses became regarded as one of the most important 20th-century novels in the English language.

1924 - Little Orphan Annie comic strip appears, as millions of pederasts rejoice once again.

1939 - Hitler invades Poland, marking the beginning of a second World War.
Did you know?
Hitler was advised to invade Poland by his German Shepherd, Sauerbräten. This was a closely guarded secret kept between Hitler and his dog. Hitler's generals followed orders, ransacking Warsaw and returning the spoils -- 300 tons of beef bones -- to Nazi Germany.

1944 - More than 165 killed and 175 injured in Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus fire in Hartford, Conn.
Did you know?
Miraculously, the entire fire and all of its victims were contained to a single clown car.

1970 - Beatles disband.
Did you know?
Ringo Starr, apparently completely opposed to the group's breakup, released his vitriol at their press conference, saying, "I truly hope John gets killed and George is stabbed in the chest several times, non-fatally." Also, Paul McCartney had a secretary named Lincoln and a publicist named Kennedy. Eerie.

1994 - Lorena Bobbitt is placed on trial for allegedly cutting off the penis of her husband, John Wayne Bobbitt, with a kitchen knife.
Did you know?
There is nothing funny about this. This was a very serious crime. We musn't make light of such things. That's just my opinion.

1999 - Britney Spears, 'N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, and Christine Aguilera all have top-selling albums. The President of the United States of Poontang declares the past thousand years "The Pedarast Millennium".

We prefer not to think about the ugly or confusing consequences of alternate paths in human history, but it is not the journalist's job to be "pretty" or "idealistic" or "anti-fascist" or "kind to the elderly". It is the journalist's job to report. And to fake receipts for reimbursables. And sometimes to pander to publicists or celebrities in return for a false sense of earned status among the celebrated elite. As you prepare to look forward again (slowly), you should experience a sense of how very different the world might be if you climb the weaker branch on your decision tree. So, deep within your home military fortress, with your crosshairs set to a kill zone on that shady looking toddler in his stroller, before you squeeze (and please remember to inhale deeply and then squeeze, don't pull) that trigger, consider this: if you let that urchin live to see another day, he or she may grow up to be President. Or possibly even the Fonz.


What do you imagine would be a fitting slogan for the next 1,000 years?




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