a patient etherised upon a table


It now being December in your neck of the woods, here in the last month of the ’00s, can we at long last now say it? Can somebody just step forward, without disclaimers and sugar-coating, approach the lectern and give the formal announcement?


Sure, the ’70s were yucky, the ’50s were uptight, and the ’30s BLAH BLAH FRICKIN’ BLAH, but by any yardstick of human suffering, idiocy and shitty luck, this decade writ large has been just ghastly and we all need to pat ourselves on the back for having survived it.

Things are never that simple, even in superlative times. On a personal level, I have two aces in the hole, both formed in the ’00s, that bear mentioning: the Lulubeans and Tessa. My wife and I started dating in 2000 (after having met in 1987) and my awesome preciouspants daughter arrived five years later, and when I have two such beings in the world, really, I should just retire, bask in their glow, and never complain.

Also, we do well for ourselves in our job – not that you’d know, since I can barely mention in on the blog – but we happen to be in a business that is so weird that it bears little relationship to the world’s ecstasies and woes.

But I can also say this: in this decade, I breathed in the foul stench of my fellow dead New Yorkers mere blocks away from where they were murdered. I had to be basically hospitalized for PTSD, severe anxiety and depression, and get by on a carefully contrived mix of Celexa and Dexedrine.

Months before, I’d written and co-directed an independent film that was the worst production in the history of terrible film productions, a project so snakebit and low-rent that it will probably never see the light of day. We were lied to by our post-production investor for no reason other than his own sick fantasy life.

For years, I failed at pretty much every career push I tried, leaving me so encased in shit that a 3,000-mile move was the only thing that made sense, even though we left an amazing life of friends and family in the process. And in this decade, many of those people have now spread out around the country, so far away now that gathering them together for an event like my bachelor party seems laughably quaint, and logistically untenable. At this point, I feel lucky when Tessa wants to stay up late enough to watch the Daily Show.

Is that the decade’s fault, or just me getting older? My reply would be, in one’s emotional hindsight, what the fuck difference does it make?

As for this country, the ’00s gave America a thorough fisting. Two financial crashes, a hurricane wiping out one of the last interesting cities (and killing hundreds), an infrastructure collapsing, the worst terrorist attack in history, and the dawning horror that we torture people.

Mostly, this will be remembered as The Decade When Americans Got Too Fucking Stupid To Live, the tipping point when the herd mentality of the reptilian-based idiot faction finally overpowered the last vestiges of intellect, sensitivity and nuance. It was the decade when the National Discourse on actually important issues was debased so thoroughly by cynical neo-conservative vampires that we consider “okay, so we agree the earth probably isn’t flat” as a major fuckin’ victory.

Political punditry is over, CNN is done, Oprah is going home, and all I’ve got left is profanity. We elected an African American man as our President, and I HIT MYSELF IN THE FACE EVERY DAY for allowing myself to hope for a few minutes in January, for believing that we might be rounding the arc to moral justice. Instead, it’s only gotten worse. I live in a country that would rather keep gay people from getting married than provide health care to its children, and that, my friends, is a country that isn’t worth the debt notices it’s printed on.

When trashy produce-aisle, numskull, saviour-fellating dipshits like Sarah Palin are treated as serious contenders for the office once inhabited by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, you’re talking about a nation that has completely lost its sense of self.

I would never have thought those things before this decade. I posited before that this era should be called “Everything is Unprecedented” because we don’t just dip below previously-noted low-water marks, we shatter them. Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point that I’m amazed when water comes out of faucets.

Am I angry? Do I sound angry? I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled, but I know opportunity lurks in desolation. The tarot card of Death almost never means “death”, it means stripping bare, finding your humility and getting a shot at rebirth. The next decade could suck way worse than the last one, sure, but like most horrible things, you can’t count on it. In the meantime, I hunker down with my ladies and listen to them singing each to each.

0 thoughts on “a patient etherised upon a table

  1. killian

    I, too, have measured out my life in coffee spoons this decade, flavored with a similar rage. I thought it was about growing older, but your post makes me think not. Small comfort in your corroboration that things ARE indeed as bad as they seem.
    I hunker down with dancing, each to each.

  2. Anne

    I’m pretty much with you, Ian, although I’m a few decades older (I think — I just turned 58). Dubya, Cheney, 9/11… Two sons with ADHD and attendant miseries at school… My husband lost TWO jobs to downsizing/reorganizing and spent two years unemployed and we almost lost our house (and still could if even one variable slips in our carefully constructed financial situation); plus, he now lives out of state and I see him maybe 3 days out of 15 at most, which I’m not adjusting to very well. :-( The politics of polarization, the apparent legitimizing of racial hatred and race baiting, the general whack-ness of extremists in this country…. Can’t we all just get along? Apparently not. And this god damn recession…. the largest population cohort (baby boomers, and yes I’m one) is getting absolutely WHOMPED with losses just as we thought we could look forward to retiring, maybe traveling a little, etc. I’m reminded of that line in “Maus” when Spiegelman’s father says, as he pauses in a gruesome narrative of the Holocaust, “And that’s when our troubles REALLY began”. Not that we are suffering as the victims of the time did; not even in the same universe. But the irony… We worked hard, we excelled, we thought we were doing everything right, the “American way”…. and SLAP, there goes our money, evaporating somehow thanks to fat cats and crooked politicians and yes, our own blind optimism as well.
    That being said: On Thanksgiving, I could not have been more grateful for my family (most notably that day my in-law family; I won the in-law lottery), our children, and in general the good fortune that has blessed us personally even throughout the rollercoaster of the last decade.
    I wish all Americans could return to some form of personal security and not feel threatened and thus predisposed to judge, to fear, to condemn, and to control. May our democracy weather these storms and return us to integrity and compassion.

  3. herman

    The predisposition to “judge, fear and condemn,” Anne, was already well in place ten or fifteen years before the financial system had its recent collapse. It’s part of a deeper rooted cultural problem, and it’s taking root in other countries than the US, too. One might say it’s one of the more succesful US exports, by way tv shows and movies.
    So I’m pretty gloomy about at least the first half of the next decade, too. The only thing one can do is learning not to care (in between elections), since impotent anger is one of the essential ingredients of the disease.

  4. CM

    Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any other articles or blog entries reviewing the decade…and it’s about to end! Usually newspapers are all over that stuff. I guess it’s still to come.
    Prufrock is my fave poem, btw. Thanks for quoting it!

  5. Annie H.

    I tried to log in yesterday to say that this is one of those inimitably magical xtcian blogs. I got goose bumps.

  6. craighill

    you got married, had a great kid, traveled the globe, won 2 national championships AND got your guy in the white house, and the decade was a “horrible thing”?

  7. amy

    over the past few years, my bff and i have dubbed each year with a moniker of doom, best suited to how ridiculous each of those years has been…last year was “the year of suck”, this year has been “the year of hemorrhaging money”, for example. but upon reading this entry, ian, i realized i hadn’t seen the forest for the trees: it’s been the decade at large that has been so yuck. some amazing things have happened to me since the dawning of the “aughts”, but at the same time, so have things i never thought i nor my country would have to endure…a little “tale of two cities”, yah?

  8. John Galt

    “… National Discourse on actually important issues was debased so thoroughly by cynical neo-conservative vampires that we consider “okay, so we agree the earth probably isn’t flat” as a major fuckin’ victory…”
    That sentence, coupled with the vulgar, myopic, paranoid rantings that preceded it (and can be found in most every post on this blog) made me laugh out loud. So it’s the cynical neo-cons that are at fault?
    Actually, for those who didn’t have a full-on hate thing going on for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the decade wasn’t all that bad. For the rest of us who see things through a more reasonable worldview, there were some low points, to be sure, but being a “glass is half full” type of guy living in an area that wasn’t hit as hard as some by the recession, I can find some good to see, even on the national scene. Fer instance, we suffered only one major terrorist attack (only God and the Feds know how many more were averted). And although the market crashes were bad, and sobering, it could have been worse (and could get worse, which could help the next decade make the last look like a cakewalk).
    And even in the midst of these economic doldrums, you could take the tack of Mr. President and look at the stock market in the same way he views an opinion poll; that would certainly help you feel a little better, even if it doesn’t lessen the blow to your 401k. ;o)


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