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Man About Town

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It's hard to write about a decade when there's no name for it. These first years of the 21st century pose just such a problem. "The Zips?" Nah. "The Double Noughts?" Only for Jethro. So I propose "The Zeroes." How better to describe what is fast becoming a truly idiotic time?

This cockeyed optimist can't help feeling a little coldcocked. Layoffs and reduced earnings projections pile up like kindling. Yesterday's business warriors look pale and wan under the scrutiny of CNBC's money jocks. A once-vibrant president has retreated to rewrite history via a 28-acre library cum amusement park and a startling, tell-nothing memoir. The only news about his vanquished sidekick is that he grew a beard.

Terrorists have hijacked TV with their "reality" shows, and "artificial intelligence" is what's behind this summer's crap movies. Who's covering all this? Certainly not "the news." Not when one anchor makes news himself for refusing to cover the Gary Condit mess (I don't know if that's good or bad) and another disappears for the longest vacation on record, leaving a raccoon in his place. (Note to Brian Williams: Honey, you look like Donna Mills. Ease up on the bronzer, or get out of the tanning bed.) Meanwhile, the 24-hour news channels seemed determined to drive viewers away altogether.

Without much editorial purpose, pundits ponder the comings and goings of drooling idiots. Swimming with sharks was once a business phrase. Now it's either a dangerous sport or a lifestyle. To wit: A crowd of Florida surfers was outraged-outraged, I tell you!-after a recent spate of shark attacks. Why? Because the mean old lifeguards closed the beach. "We're not gonna let 'em scare us away!" chanted the mob.
Idiots.
You'll spot these geniuses on Jay Leno's extraordinarily vile Tonight Show, too. Boy, Jay's not wasting any more time emulating Johnny's affable style, is he? The endless parade of imbeciles on his "Jaywalking" segment-not to mention those in his guest chair-has made the program ground zero for The Zero Years.

"Jaywalkers" are everywhere.

A "specialist" told CNN that if fighting continues in the Middle East, it might turn into a regional war. (Really? No way!) And on the front page of The New York Times, my worst nightmare: an article tracking the shocking increase in new AIDS cases. Some in the gay community, it seems, are tired of using condoms. One newly HIV-positive guy said he was so sick of being safe that he was "relieved" to finally be exposed. Congratulations, Idiot Deluxe.

So how is our industry dealing with this excess stupidity? We're all over it, of course-sometimes with unintentionally hilarious results. Like, what's with the women in the American Express Travelers Checks ads? "I threw a purse full of money out the window of a speeding cab!" "I had 500 bucks and my husband's wallet sunning on my unattended beach blanket and now it's all gone!" "My briefcase stuffed with unmarked bills was on the baggage carousel just a second ago! Get it back now!"

Other ads try hard to be funny, and the results are sad. Staying at Holiday Inn Express makes you a genius? Are they kidding? A Bissell vacuum cleaner or a glass of Minute Maid orange juice turns an oaf into Mr. Mom? Give me-or, should I say, all women-a big break. And don't get me started about Fleet's wince-inducing mini sitcoms featuring a resoundingly unfunny comic and a few rude, know-it-all baseball stars. Carrot Top for AT&T? Have mercy.

Beware! This is all coming to a head, and I say it's time to retreat to the bomb shelters. C'mon! The signs are all there! People actually believe Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz are an item! Hell, they believe she's a movie star! What more do you want?

But the real mark of the beast is just around the corner. Anne Heche was due to release her startling, tell-way-too-much memoir next year. Unfortunately, she polished it off in six weeks, and Call Me Crazy is now bearing down on us. The sexual-identity-adventuress/pixie/Ecstasy enthusiast's opus hits bookstores next week. A legion of promotional zombies are conspiring (as we speak!) to assume control of all print and broadcast outlets. It'll soon come to a full kooky boil when Ms. Heche visits Barbara Walters' lair.

It may be too late for Ellen DeGeneres (this all comes on the eve of her new sitcom's premiere), but it's not too late for you! Don't go see American Pie 2! Don't tune in for Michael Jackson's waxworks 30th anniversary party! And don't make any more ads that celebrate idiocy!

For the love of God, don't just sit there giggling. Save yourselves! Get smart!