THE NATION ENTERS CHAPTER ELEVEN(Third in a five-part series)
The era immediately following World War I came to be known as the "Roaring Twenties" and with good reason: Each of the years had a "20" in it, as in 1923, 1925 and so forth. Also, there was a lot of wild and zany activity, with "flappers" going to "speakeasies" where they would listen to "jazz," dance the "Charleston" and drink "bathtub gin" until they "puked" all over the "floor." It was a very exciting time, but it also made for an exhausting lifestyle, which is why you will notice that any people who happened to live through it tend to look kind of elderly.
But there was more to the '20s than mere hilarity. Many important breakthroughs were being achieved in the field of culture by giants such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, who, in 1924, after years of experimentation at their laboratory in Menlo Park, N.J., successfully tested the modern American novel, which is still in widespread use today. Poets such as T.S. Eliot and e.e. "buster" cummings were producing a new type of "free-form" verse designed to prove that a poem did not have to be long to be boring.
On the West Coast, the motion-picture industry was producing "talkies" featuring such stars as Douglas Fairbanks, Edward G. Robinson, the young Joan Collins and numerous twitching pieces of film lint magnified to the size of boa constrictors.
No achievement symbolized the spirit of the Roaring Twenties more than that of a tall young American aviator named, simply, Charles A. Lindbergh. Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in this era of modern commercial aviation, where air travel is extremely safe, thanks to advanced safety procedures such as making the airports so congested that airplanes hardly ever take off, can little appreciate the courage it took for Lindbergh to climb into the cramped cockpit of his single-engine plane, The Heidy-Ho IV, and take off into the predawn gloom over Roosevelt Field, Long Island, towing a banner that said, simply, TAN DON'T BURN WITH COPPERTONE.
It was not an easy flight. Because of air turbulence, there was no beverage-cart service, and it turned out that Lindbergh had already seen the movie. (See footnote 1.) Nevertheless, he persevered, and 33 hours later, on the afternoon of May 31, he arrived at an airfield near Paris. An instant hero, he returned in triumph for a motorcade ride in New York City, where millions welcomed him, in typical "Big Apple" style, by covering the streets with litter, much of which can still be seen today. But little did the cheering crowds realize, as streams of ticker tape fluttered down from office windows, that within just two years, the falling paper would be replaced by falling stockbrokers.
SEVERE ECONOMIC BUMMERHOOD
The day the stock market crashed - Oct. 8, 1929 - will forever be etched on the Etch-a-Sketch of the American consciousness as "the day the stock market crashed," or sometimes "Black Tuesday." For on that fateful day, the nation's seemingly prosperous economy was revealed to be merely a paper tiger with feet of clay living in a straw house of cards that had cried "wolf" once too often. Although this would not become clear for some time.
Oh, there had been warning signs. Just a few weeks before Black Tuesday, there had been Mauve Wednesday, which was followed, only two days later, by Dark Navy Blue with Thin Diagonal Yellow Stripes Friday. But most Americans paid little heed (see footnote 2) to these events, choosing instead to believe the comforting words of President Herbert Hoover Dam, who, in a reassuring nationwide radio broadcast, said: "Everybody STAY CALM because there is NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT! Do you HEAR ME? NOTHING!! HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA (click)."
What were the underlying causes of the crash? To truly understand the answer to this question, we must examine:
THE UNDERLYING CAUSES OF THE CRASH
The stock market of the 1920s was very different from the stock market of today. Back then, the market was infested by greed-crazed slimeballs, get-rich-quick speculators with the ethical standards of tapeworms, who shrieked "buy" and "sell" orders into the telephone with no concern whatsoever for the nation's long-term financial well-being. Whereas today they use computers.
Another big flaw in the stock market of 1929 was the practice of "buying on margin." To illustrate how this worked, let's take a hypothetical example. Let's say Investor A had X amount of dollars that he wished to invest in the stock market. He would pick up telephone B, dial 123-4567, and tell stockbroker C he wanted to buy stock "on margin" in Company D. And the stockbroker would sell it to him, even though Company D did not really exist. We just made it up, for this hypothetical example. (See footnote 3.)
Clearly this kind of thing could not go on, and on Black Tuesday, it did not.
It soon became increasingly apparent that the Roaring Twenties were over, and that a new era had arrived: an era of unemployment, poverty, social turmoil, despair and - worst of all - Shirley Temple movies. And thus began what became known, following a highly successful "Name That Era" contest sponsored by the New York World Herald Journal Telegram-Bugle and Harmonica, as:
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The Great Depression was horrible. Ask the people who lived through it. Or, don't even bother to ask. Just stand next to them for more than two minutes, and they'll tell you about it.
As the federal government began to recognize the seriousness of the situation, it swung into action with the historic enactment, in 1930, of
THE HAWLEY-SMOOT TARIFF
Quite frankly we have no idea what this is, but we think it has a wonderful ring to it, and we just like to see it in large bold letters: THE HAWLEY-SMOOT TARIFF. And yet, as the weeks dragged into months and the economy continued to founder, it soon became clear that some economic "medicine" even more potent than THE HAWLEY-SMOOT TARIFF would be needed to get the nation "back on its feet." This paved the way for the historic election of 1932.
To oppose Hoover, the Democrats nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt - or, as he was affectionately known, "J.F.K." - who ran under the slogan "Let's Elect Another President Named `Roosevelt' and Confuse the Heck Out of Future Generations of Students."
After winning the election, Roosevelt began immediately to combat the Depression, implementing a series of bold and sweeping new programs that came to be known, collectively, as: THE HAWLEY-SMOOT TARIFF.
No! Sorry! We can't control ourselves. The programs implemented by Roosevelt were of course called the New Deal, which consisted of the following:
1. Bank protection - A major problem during the Depression was that people kept trying to get their money out of banks. To put a stop to this kind of thing, the government instituted modern banking regulations, under which:
-The banks are never open when it might be convenient.
-The customer is never sure what his bank's name is, because they keep changing it, usually from something like "The First Formal Federal National State Bank of Savings Loans and Of Course Trust" to something like "InterContiBankAmeriTransWest-SouthNorthCorp."
2. Job creation - The government instituted a massive program of public works, under which tens of thousands of men and women were put to work strewing barricades and traffic cones on all the major roads in America, then using red flags to give half-hearted and confusing signals to motorists and sometimes waving them directly into the path of oncoming traffic. These projects are still fully operational today.
3. The infield fly rule - Under this program, when there is a runner on first or second base and there are fewer than two out, and the batter is the son of the runner's first cousin, then the batter and the runner are legally considered "second cousins."
Not surprisingly, these programs had an immediate impact on the Great Depression. But the bottom line was, things were still not going well. The only really positive aspect of the situation was that at least the nation was at peace. Yet at that very same moment, across the dark, brooding waters of the Atlantic, there was growing concern. Clearly this did not bode well for the next chapter, which would see the outbreak of the most terrible and destructive event in the history of Mankind:
THE HAWLEY-SMOOT TARIFF
1. You know how on the evening news they always tell you that the stock market is up in active trading, or off in moderate trading, or trading in mixed activity, or whatever? Well, who gives a --?
2. Is "Big Apple" a stupid nickname, or what?
1. "The Poseidon Adventure."
2. "Little Heed" would be a good name for a rock band. Also "Short Shrift."
3. Although as of yesterday it was up two points in active trading.
-From the forthcoming book "Dave Barry Slept Here," by Dave Barry. (C)1989 by Dave Barry. Reprinted by permission of Random House Inc. Distributed by Tribune Media Services.