What if …?
Waiting at the checkout line at Whole Foods, texting with my mortgage banker (Brandon) to draw from my home equity line of credit to finance my non-gluten, non-GMO, non-cruelty, non-tasty, non-edible and other hyphenated groceries, I perused the magazine rack.
The happy, healthy life periodicals that make normal people feel bad about our lives, such as Hangry Vegan and Unrealistically Simple Life (featuring helpful tips and ads to buy more stuff to de-clutter our lives), did not tempt.
I almost reached for Painful Yoga just to see cruelty my groceries did not suffer, and Paleo Kale Delights because my liberal arts degree and life in general have taught me that ironic juxtaposition can be even more delicious than probiotic red quinoa that Neanderthals subsisted on to avoid evolving and also “leaky gut.”
Embarrassed to confess, I did furtively leaf through Pethouse magazine and linger over the saucy Peekapoo centerfold until the emaciated vegan in line behind me glared, offended by my human weakness. Or maybe her look was just the grimacing rictus that attends starvation. Or perhaps I failed to put the little plastic bar between my planet-hating foods and her planet-respecting.
What truly fascinated me — enough to inspire the 10 minutes of writing this Medium piece — was a “bookazine” on the rack titled, “What if … Book of Alternative History.”
Yes! It boggles the mind even more than Boggle. What if neither Lincoln nor Kennedy had been assassinated? What if Napoleon had won at Waterloo, Hitler had invaded Britain, the Soviets had won the space race, and the South had won the Civil War?
Imagine! We might have no iPhones! Or we might have even better German-Russian-French-Tuscaloosa-invented iPhones!
Even more intriguing: What if the Jacobite uprising had succeeded? Or if Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon had had a son? Wow. Insert mind-blown emoji.
Actually, I have no idea who most historic people were or why they mattered. During public-school history I mostly furtively read Mad magazine.
So all I can tell you about the Cold War is from Spy v. Spy, or, according to cartoonist Don Martin, the sound made when Rapunzel lets down her hair (flibadip) or when putting money in a Vend-o-Hair machine one day at the bus stop (clink, cloink, bzzt).
However compelling the “What if” bookazine might be, I’m afraid it fails to ponder the alternative history that really matters to me.
1.What if Ben hadn’t met Jerry? Or Tom hadn’t met Jerry? Or Newman hadn’t hated Jerry? What about Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin? Rowan and Martin? Martini & Rossi? Ruinite and ice, which anyone raised in the ’70s knows is nice?
2.What about Simon and Garfunkel? If they hadn’t met, would we still be haunted by, “Hello darkness my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again?” What if Garfunkel had defeated Simon instead of vice versa?
What about Garfinckel’s, the legendary Washington, DC, luxury department store that catered to a clientele of wealthy consumers but lost many because it did not welcome or permit black people to try on clothing?
And what if Simone de Beauvoir hadn’t had amour with Jean-Paul Sartre? Would we still mumble their names at our brunches and literary salons given how only a few fortunate Americans can confidently pronounce any French properly, including œuf, œuvre, Louvre or œmelet?
Most important, what if Britain’s Simon Cowell hadn’t begun deciding which Americans had talent? Would America still have talent? Who knows?
3.Not to get political, but what if nobody really liked Ike so much?
Or if the conspiracy theorists have been right all along, that John F. Kennedy and the Deep State at the time had elaborately faked his assassination so he could escape the Kennedy legacy — and brother Teddy — to run off with his true beloved, Norma Jean Baker? And now aged 101 and 97, respectively, Jack and Norma live, love and sweetly dodder about together in the small, remote, seaside Irish village of Fanore on the northwest coast of Clare astride the soaring Cliffs of Moher?
And what if Richard Nixon had invested the long hours and daily practice necessary to succeed in his first love: performing disturbing Weimar cabaret?
Fast forward, what if Bill and Hillary had done a Freaky Friday every other Friday? What if Al Gore and Mitt Romney had opted for then-emerging experimental surgery to remove the long, rigid sticks from their alimentary canals?
And what if Dick Cheney had enjoyed a protein-rich, nutritious breakfast every morning instead of just picking the marshmallows out of his Lucky Charms and heading to the Pentagon falling off the blood sugar cliff? What if Barack Obama had been white, Irish, gone to Georgetown Prep and Yale instead of Harvard, and been named as a Kenyan youth, “Bart O’Kavanaugh”?
What if “Everyone Loves Hillary,” starring SNL’s Kate McKinnon, had been a smash-hit sitcom?
4.How about technology?
What if Henry Ford had not invented the Model T and paved the way for the American automobile, the exploding Ford Pinto, the sinuous, sexy Taurus, and the “crazy fast” F-150 SVT Raptor full-size pickup powered by a 450-horsepower twin-turbo 3.5-liter V6 engine with a 10-speed automatic transmission? Just in case a less-endowed yet high-testosterone Texan needs to outrun an ornery steer or fellow oil lawyer in a Porsche 911 GT2 RS?
And what if computers had invented people, instead of vice versa, like in confusing sci-fi movies? Maybe they did! (Insert double mind-blown emoji.)
Or, what if Bill Gates had not made Microsoft Word the dominant document system and most f***ing goddamn frustrating way to put bullets into memo the boss wanted two hours ago? What if Gates had made bullets do what we want, like the NRA does?
What if the complex yet brilliant Steve Jobs hadn’t come along to create a burgeoning market for children’s clomipramine, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, sertraline and other high-volume prescription medication to treat their iPhone-advanced OCD? And also inexplicably make us wait 24 hours or indefinitely for Apple Watch to update?
How about Mark Zuckerberg? Imagine if Zuck had enjoyed regular and satisfying conjugal college dorm relations. Facebook might not exist for people to share family and friend updates, get in touch with high school classmates, have bitter political arguments, and be pranked by Russian trolls and bots to vote for Trump.
So without Zuck, Hillary Clinton might have been elected America’s 45th president in November 2016, and the first woman president.
Then shortly after her inauguration, she would have been indicted, convicted, jailed and hung by the neck until dead before the rousing cheers of the non-liberal angry mob.
5.As for global culture, let’s start with: What if “Seinfeld,” like “The Simpsons,” were still running after 30 seasons? Talk about yadda yadda yadda!
6.Finally, what about President Trump?
What if … aggghhh. Never mind. I’m tired. It is what it is.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer