75 days in, this new decade is shaping up as the worst ever

We’re less than 75 days into the Twenty-teens, and already it has become my least-favorite decade since the last one. The idea that we may be in for 10 more years of cascading lunacy makes me want to keep my bags packed, with no particular place to go — although lately I’ve been thinking that Plymouth, Devon isn’t so bad, flyblown little city out there on the edge of nowhere, where you can hide and stare out at France without the many complications of actually having to be in France.

My source of my jaundicement (which isn’t really a word, but ought to be), is two-fold: Chat Roulette and Pancake Puppies.

I’ll repeat that phrase, because it represents everything that’s wrong with our current era, and also because it sounds like the kind of band you’d find playing the Holiday Inn lounge in Hamburg, N.Y.: Chat Roulette and Pancake Puppies.

Chatroulette.com is on my computer screen right now, and only a kind of transfixed horror prevents me from making it go away. It’s bound to be the next big thing in social networking, since it seems the perfect product for an age of ennui, in a nation of strangers. All you do is plug your webcam into your computer, and dial up the URL. Bingo: Your own sorry image is placed in the bottom left corner of your monitor, atop which sits a video stream of a random real-time parade of ever-changing fellow geeks and dweebs staring back at you. If this doesn’t give you nightmares, you may be afflicted with a new pathology not yet listed in the DSM-V.

If you don't like the person you're looking at in Chat Roulette, that's OK: they'll be gone in 15 seconds

You can also use your computer’s headset to converse with these iridescent heads, but there is usually nothing to say. The strangers’ faces come and go every 15 seconds, which doesn’t allow for much of a detailed exchange of views on the complex subjects of our time, such as the state of the Grecian economy, or who put the bomp. Just as well. Many of the passing crowd don’t seem to be accomplished conversationalists. Mostly they just stare, which is fine, because I find myself doing the same slack-jawed thing.

The minds responsible for Chat Roulette must have been intent on proving Andy Warhol erroneous in his prediction that one day everyone would become famous for 15 entire minutes. Warhol died back in 1987, an antediluvian period when leisurely social discourse between adults was conducted in the living, breathing flesh. Warhol was strictly P.I.T., or Pre-Info Tech. Consequently, the poppa of pop art couldn’t have imagined the nutty popularity of Twitter and its fevered exchange of 140-character missives, so he could never have foreseen the 15-second meet-and-greets of Chat Roulette — unless his vision was ignited by some truly righteous blotter acid.

My newfound pals served up on this cyber-turnstile are a motley crew, mostly male, pale, and far from hale. My current guest, who is blinking as I scribble this, is a lad with horn-rims and a hoodie, who looks like either of the brothers in the Scottish band, the Proclaimers — except that he’s keeping his mouth wide open for some unimaginable purpose. His predecessor was a kid with Brillo-pad hair and an apparent case of acromegaly, like the young Andre the Giant. Before that, a teenager was picking his nose. Last evening, a young woman of Far Eastern extraction was scowling. In all, everyone has been pretty mute, except for the occasional sound of keyboard fiddling, or, in one case involving a kid wearing a Twisted Sister T-shirt, the emission of some short unpleasant screams. Through my current session, I see my own image, that of a wincing middle-aged fellow who seems to be working himself into an enervated state over something. Time to shut down the screen.

Fade to black. It’s hard to say which of the following Chat Roulette most closely resembles: Hell, or an evening spent at a dinner meeting of a pharmaceutical industry trade association.

For all its awfulness, Chat Roulette is not the worst tableau I’ve encountered so far this week. That distinction belongs to the Denny’s chain of coffee-shops, where I downed my morning egg at a Miami location earlier this week. Denny’s is known as the purveyor of so-called Grand Slam breakfasts, a range of platters which each provide the consumer with at least 800 calories, along with a heaping helping of fat, salt, carbs, cholesterol, and other contributions to the declining state of North Americans’ health. Despite which, I really don’t mind Denny, and I defend his excesses to those who mindlessly criticize his fatty cuisine and his down-market sensibility. I’ve always liked to sink into his orange-and-purple Naugahyde booths with a copy of the Springfield Advertiser, and knock back as many cups of that watery Denny’s coffee as it takes to invoke palpitation.

But this time our old friend Denny has gone too far. Not content with the rate at which the obesity epidemic is progressing, Den has introduced what he calls, with capitalized urgency, THE WORLD’S FIRST-EVER BREAKFAST APPETIZER. These would be Original Pancake Puppies®, served with warm syrup.

Denny's 21st Century Invention: The Breakfast Appetizer. Someone call the Nobel committee

To be clear on what Denny is sug-gesting, he thinks you might enjoy a half-dozen deep-friend donut-like items before you tuck into your artery-clogging entree. If that prospect doesn’t cause you to smack your lips, here’s something that surely will: the same item with blueberry and white chocolate chip filling (available, mercifully, for a limited time only.) The nutritional data for Original Pancake Puppies® is inexplicably missing from Denny’s web site, but a best-guess would put them in the 500-calorie range. Add that to your Grand Slam, and it’s no everyday miracle that the First Lady of the USA, Michelle Obama, has taken up fighting obesity as her cause celebre.

At a time when North Americans are becoming ever sicker, fatter, and poorer, what murderous impulse might lead Denny and his managers to encourage them to gobble down something as manifestly unhealthy as an additional course of shortening-dough-and-goo at breakfast? According to the US Centers for Disease Control, Americans are now dying of coronary heart disease at the rate of one per minute. There is no kind way to put this, but the most vituperative haters of the USA, including Osama bin Laden himself, could only dream of achieving that result. (Of course, we’ve never been advised of Denny’s last name. You don’t suppose…)

An age of ennui, and a nation of strangers. Fleshy faces of the multitudes, flashing past your face four times every minute. Hearts clogged with cheap schmaltz, souls suffocated in childhood. Please: Can we step back from this Twenty-teen scene, and return to the less-awful Aughts?

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