Hundreds of thousands of years ago, America was very different. There was no civilization: no roads, no cities, no shopping malls, no Honda dealerships. There were, of course, obnoxious shouting radio commercials for car dealerships; these have been broadcast toward Earth for billions of years by the evil Planet of Men Wearing Polyester Sport Coats, and there is nothing anybody can do to stop them. But back then, you see, there was no way to receive the commercials, so things were pretty peaceful.
The only inhabitants of America in those days were animals such as the deer and the antelope, who were engaged primarily in playing; and the buffalo, or "bison" (see footnote 1), who mainly roamed.But all of this changed 20,000 years ago with the construction of the Land Bridge to Asia, which was completed on Oct. 8 (see footnote 2). Suddenly, the ancestors of the Indians and the Eskimos, clans who called themselves "The Ancestors of the Indians and the Eskimos," had a way to get to North America. Eventually they arrived in an area very near what we now know as Kansas, and they saw that it was a place of gently rolling hills and clear flowing streams and abundant fertile earth, and they looked upon this place, and they said, "Nah" (see footnote 3). Because, quite frankly, they were looking for a little more action, which is how come they ended up on the East Coast. There they formed tribes and spent the next several thousand years thinking up comical and hard-to-spell names for major rivers.
SPAIN GETS HOT
Meanwhile, in nearby Italy, Christopher Columbus was forming. As a youth, he spent many hours gazing out to sea and thinking to himself: "Someday I will be the cause of a holiday observed by millions of government workers." The fact that he thought in English was only one of the amazing things about the young Columbus. Another was his conviction that if he sailed all the way across the Atlantic, he would reach India. It sounded pretty good when Columbus explained it to the rulers of Spain, Ferdinand and his lovely wife, Imelda, who agreed to finance the voyage by selling 6,000 pairs of her shoes.
And so Columbus assembled a group of the hardiest mariners he could find. These fellows were so hardy that, had the light bulb been invented at that time, it would have taken at least three of these mariners to screw one in, if you get our drift. On Oct. 8, 1492, they set out across the storm-tossed Atlantic in three tiny ships, the Ninja, the Pina Colada and the Heidy-Ho III.
THE AGE OF EXPLORATION
When Columbus returned to Spain with the news of his discovery of India, everybody became very excited and decided to have an Age of Exploration. Immediately, a great many bold adventurers - Magellan, da Gama, de Soto, Chrysler, Picasso and others - set forth on Voyages of Discovery. And soon they had made some important discoveries, the most important one being that what Columbus had discovered was not India at all, but America, which explained why the inhabitants were called "Native Americans." In Mexico and South America, the Spanish also discovered highly advanced civilizations, which they wisely elected to convert into ruins for use as future tourist attractions.
ENGLAND STARTS SOME FUN COLONIES
By the 16th century at approximately 4:30 p.m., England was experiencing a Renaissance. This took the form of Ben Jonson and, of course, William Shakespeare, the immortal "Barge of Avon," whose plays continue to amuse us to this very day with such hilarious and timely lines as:
What dost thine flinder knowest of thine face?
The weg-barrow canst not its row'l misplace!
(see footnote 4)
This Golden Age in England was called the Elizabethan Era, after the queen, Elizabeth Ann Era, who was known as the "Virgin Queen" because it was not considered a tremendously smart move to call her the "Really Ugly Queen." She inspired many men to leave England on extremely long voyages, which led to expansion.
Another English person who existed at around this time was Sir Walter Raleigh, who went to an area that he called Virginia, in honor that it was located next to West Virginia, and he established a colony there, and then - this was the darnedest thing - he lost it. "Think!" his friends would say. "Where did you see it last?" But it was no use, and this particular colony is still missing today. Sometimes you see its picture on milk cartons.
Still the English were undaunted. "Who needs daunts?" was the English motto in those days. And so a group of merchants decided to start another colony, which they called Jamestown (later known as "Jimtown," and still later, "JimBobtown").
The typical lifestyle in the early colonies was very harsh. There was no such thing as the modern supermarket, which meant that the hardy colonists had to get up before dawn and spend many hours engaging in tedious tasks such as churning butter. They would put some butter in a churn, and they would whack it with a pole for several hours, and then they'd mop their brows and say, "Why the hell don't we get a modern supermarket around here!" And then, because it was illegal to curse, they would be forced to stand in the stocks while the first tourists took pictures of them.
But life was not all hard work in the colonies. Culture also was starting to rear its head, in the form of the Early American Novel. The most famous novelist of this era was Cliff, the author of the famous Cliff Notes, a series of works that are still immensely popular with high school students. The best known, of course, is "The Scarlet Ladder," which tells the story of a short man named Miles Standish, who lived in a tall house with seven people named Gable, only to be killed in a sled crash with an enormous white whale. This was to become a recurring theme in colonial literature.
But little did the colonists realize, as cultural and economic developments were taking place, that they were about to become involved in a revolution.
THE BIRTHING CONTRACTIONS OF A NATION
What caused the American Revolution? This is indeed a rhetorical question that for many years historians have begun book chapters with. As well they should. For the American Revolution is without doubt the single most important historical event ever to occur in this nation except of course for Super Bowl III (see footnote 5).
One big causal factor in the Revolution was that England operated under what political scientists describe as "The Insane Venereally Diseased Hunchbacked Homicidal King" system of government. This basically means that for some reason, possibly the food, the English king always turned out to be a syphilitic hunchbacked lunatic whose basic solution to virtually all problems, including humidity, was to have somebody's head cut off.
This style of government was extremely expensive, especially in terms of dry-cleaning costs, and as a result the kings were always trying to raise money from the colonies by means of taxation.
In 1762 the king attempted to respond to the colonists' concerns by setting up a special Taxpayer Assistance Service, under which colonists with questions about their tax returns could get on a special toll-free ship and sail to England, where specially trained Tax Assisters would beat them to death with sticks. But even that failed to satisfy the more radical colonists, and it soon became clear that within a short time - possibly even in the next paragraph - the situation would turn ugly.
THE SITUATION TURNS UGLY
The Revolutionary War began with the famous Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, immortalized in the well-known verse:
Out of the bed and onto the floor;
Fifty-yard dash to the bathroom door!
Whoops! Our mistake. This verse comes from the famous song "Midnight Attack of Diarrhea," which used to absolutely slay us when we were campers at Camp Sharparoon (see footnote 6). The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere also is very inspirational.
Against all odds, the colonists won the war against England; now they faced an even greater task: planning the victory party. Also, extreme factions in several states felt that there should be some kind of government.
THE FORGING OF A LARGE, WASTEFUL BUREAUCRACY
And so the leading statespersons from all 13 states gathered in Philadelphia for a Constitutional Convention. There, over the bitter objections of conservatives, they voted to approve the historic Fashion Statement of 1787, under which delegates were required to wear knee pants, tight stockings and wigs accessorized with ribbons. It was a radical pronouncement, and the delegates paid a high price for it - nearly half had to purchase completely new wardrobes. They also had to come up with a bold new designer look for government.
But there was much disagreement among the delegates about exactly what this look should be. Some wanted a weak president and a strong legislature. Some wanted a smart president and a dumb legislature. Some wanted a very short president and a deaf legislature. The New York delegation, typically, wanted a loud president and a rude legislature. Day after day the delegates argued, but eventually decided that it was time to ratify to U.S. Constitution, and so they did.
THE ELECTION OF THE FIRST PRESIDENT
The leading contender in the first presidential election race was George Washington, who waged a campaign based on heavy exposure in media such as coins, stamps and famous oil paintings. This shrewd strategy carried him to a landslide victory in which he carried every state except Massachusetts, which voted for George McGovern.
And thus it was that on Oct. 8, the newly sworn-in president stood before a large cheering throng of his fellow countrymen and delivered his famous inaugural address, in which he offered the famous stirring words, "We cannot (something) the (machines? birds?) of (something) will never (something). As far as I know." Unfortunately, there were no microphones back then. This was only one of the problems facing the fledgling nation, as we shall see.
1. Did any of your ancestors come over on the Mayflower? So what?
2. How come, in the famous oil painting by Emanuel Leutze, it looks like George Washington has a group the size of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in his rowboat?
1. Meaning "buffalo."
2. AUTHOR'S NOTE: You will notice that we have tried to make all exact history dates as easy as possible to remember by making them all start with "Oct. 8," as in "Oct. 8, 1729," or "Oct. 8, 1953." We chose this particular date after carefully weighing a number of important historical criteria, such as (a) it is our son's birthday.
4. From "Antony and Cleopatra IV: Return of the Fungus People," Act II, Scene iii, seats 103 and 104.
5. Jets 16, Colts 7. This historian won $35.
- 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.
Background on the author
Editor's note: Dave Barry is known to aim his irreverent, out-of-the-blue, off-the-wall humor at most anything, from world affairs to giant mutant crickets attacking Peruvian villages. In his forthcoming book, "Dave Barry Slept Here," he zeroes in on American history. The Deseret News publishes Barry's weekly column every Sunday, but on each Friday during June our readers will be treated to a special series derived from the new book.
Barry won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for commentary for columns he wrote for the Miami Herald, where he is a staff writer. In 1986 he won the American Society of Newspaper Editor's Distinguished Writing Award for commentary. The Washington Journalism Review's 1989 Readers' Poll named him as the best humor columnist in America.
Barry lives with his wife, Beth, and son, Robby, in Coral Gables, Fla.
The illustrations for the series are, by the way, produced by another Pulitzer Prizewinner, Jeff MacNelly, who also draws the comic strip "Shoe," which appears in the Deseret News.