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  • Welcome To The 21st Century
  • Written by Pierre Berton
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780385258180
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Welcome To The 21st Century

More Absurdities From Our Time

Written by Pierre BertonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Pierre Berton

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The monarchy, the movies, and everything in between is lampooned in this humorous retrospective of twentieth-century follies, foibles and fads from Canada's preeminent popular historian. Berton even ventures a look into the future, when in 2021, Chicago and New York launch the first 22-lane highways: they are designed for a speed limit of 100 mph, but traffic is so congested the limit has to be readjusted — to 15 mph.

Following the success of A Farewell to the Twentieth Century, this new volume reflects Pierre Berton's knack for knowing just what will tickle the funny bones of his diehard fans.


I Dreamed I Was Superman In My Maidenform Undershirt

I had a curious dream the other night, which recurs from time to time. I dreamed that I was a reporter on the Toronto Daily Planet and my name was Clark Kent. Well, that wasn't really my name; actually, my name was Superman. I came from the planet Krypton, see, and I had super-vision, super-strength, super-everything. Instead of underwear, I wore a natty Superman suit in blue and scarlet under my normal threads. I was dedicated to fighting crime in the Big City.

Whenever I heard of a mastermind controlling the underworld I would tear off my clothes in an alley or a phone booth and dash off into the sky crying "This is a job for Superman!" But if you read the comic books you know all about this anyway.

Well, in this dream it was a busy Tuesday morning on the Daily Planet. In my role as Clark Kent I had just turned in a three-paragraph story dealing with flower arrangement classes at the museum. My next assignment was the upcoming TTC meeting to decide on the new chairman of the transportation commission. I had my hat and overcoat on when my eye happened to catch the duplicate copy of an item turned in by my beautiful colleague, Lois Lane of the women's department. The story read as follows:

A master criminal of incredible cunning and avarice appears to be the Mr. Big behind the bootlegging of thousands of pounds of coloured "spread" into local grocery stores, police said today.

It is believed that all of gangland is held in thralldom to this fiend incarnate whose infiltration of the butter market here is said to be one of the most callous criminal acts in history.

Thousands and thousands of farmers, unable to sell their butter, are destitute as the result of the machinations of this monster whose product, tinted a deceptive yellow, is selling for as little as fifty-two cents a pound.

It is believed that the gangland king has thousands of housewives in his employ colouring by hand pound after pound of brand-name margarine, which is then repackaged and bootlegged to the trade.

Police admit they are baffled in this case.

"It will take superhuman powers to bring this devil to justice," Inspector J. Harvey Grebe told the Daily Planet.

Fortunately, there is a private alley behind the Daily Planet, used mainly by delivery trucks. I slipped down at once, removing my overcoat, scarf and hat and piling them in an obscure corner. Then I took off my newly tailored three-piece Ivy League suit, folded it neatly and placed it on top of the overcoat. I removed shirt, tie, tie clip, cufflinks, socks and shoes and laid them in the alley, too. Then, costumed as the Man of Steel, I headed for Roncesvalles and a small grocery store with a mighty bound. It was here that my super-senses told me I would find the key to the riddle.

The trouble was I kept worrying about my suit back there in the alley. It had started to rain and I wondered how I would look covering the TTC all rumpled and muddy.

The TTC! I had forgotten my assignment, and the deadline for the Three Star Edition was only minutes away! I bounded back into the alley, leaped into my sodden clothes, assumed the role of Clark Kent and took the subway to Davisville, just in time. I phoned the story in to rewrite and then searched about for some place to change my clothes again so I could reassume my role of Superman.

First, I went down to the Bi-Way and bought some of those folding coat hangers that travellers find so useful; also a clothes brush and whisk. I then searched about for an obscure telephone booth since I recalled, in my dream, that Superman in the comic books was always removing his clothing in obscure telephone booths when he was not using unfrequented alleyways.

I first stepped into one of the phone booths in the Park Plaza Hotel, but this proved impossible. A lineup of people formed, and one of them began hammering on the door, so I got out of there and headed for Exhibition Park; the phones there do not work except at Exhibition time. I carefully removed my outer clothing and hung it neatly on the coat hangers. I was glad to get out of it since my Superman suit had got damp in the rain, and I was starting to itch.

Then in another mighty bound I headed back to the innocent-looking grocery store on Roncesvalles.

I took up a position on the roof and waited for one of the mastermind's spies to make an appearance with the illegally coloured margarine. Unfortunately, I could not wait too long because at 2 p.m. I had to interview a man who was roller skating around the world. I left my post shortly before the hour to retrieve my clothes in the telephone booth, but somebody had stolen them, so I was forced to go home and get a new suit. I was beginning to see the problems facing Superman. Fortunately, I had twenty-seven new suits hanging in my closet for just such an emergency. I figure Superman goes through about three a day.

I interviewed the champion roller skater, wrote the story and turned it in to the city desk. I had scarcely finished when Lois Lane burst into the women's department crying that the margarine fiend had struck again!

There was no time for hesitation now. Our own alleyway was jammed with delivery trucks loading Final Editions, every phone booth was in use, and so in desperation I decided to use Pearl Street, a one-way alley directly north of King Street. I was just pulling off my trousers, trying to avoid creasing them, when a society columnist for the Globe and Mail, slipping out the back way for a spot of sherry, uttered a piercing shriek. Several policemen arrived, and I was taken off and charged with indecent exposure in a public place. Oh, the shame of it!

Unfortunately, my own newspaper would offer me little protection in court, since I had scarcely been seen around the office for days. One of the Crown witnesses at the ensuing trial-a newspaper delivery driver-testified that on several occasions he had seen me removing my clothing in the alley behind the Daily Planet. I was taken off to prison where, as luck would have it, my cellmate was the Margarine Fiend, who was apprehended the same day as a result of clever police work by Toronto's finest.

And that is the end of my dream, which, incidentally, was in wide screen and colour. Wonder what's showing tonight?
Pierre Berton

About Pierre Berton

Pierre Berton - Welcome To The 21st Century

Photo © Martin Tosoian

Pierre Berton was one of Canada’s most popular and prolific authors. From narrative histories and popular culture, to picture and coffee table books to anthologies, to stories for children to readable, historical works for youth, many of his fifty books are now Canadian classics.

Born in 1920 and raised in the Yukon, Pierre Berton worked in Klondike mining camps during his university years. He spent four years in the army, rising from private to captain/instructor at the Royal Military College in Kingston. He spent his early newspaper career in Vancouver, where at 21 he was the youngest city editor on any Canadian daily. He wrote columns for and was editor of Maclean’s magazine, appeared on CBC’s public affairs program “Close-Up” and was a permanent fixture on “Front Page Challenge” for 39 years. He was a columnist and editor for the Toronto Star and was a writer and host of a series of CBC programs.

Pierre Berton received over 30 literary awards including the Governor-General’s Award for Creative Non-Fiction (three times), the Stephen Leacock Medal of Humour, and the Gabrielle Leger National Heritage Award. He received two Nellies for his work in broadcasting, two National Newspaper awards, and the National History Society’s first award for “distinguished achievement in popularizing Canadian history.” For his immense contribution to Canadian literature and history, he was awarded more than a dozen honourary degrees, is a member of the Newsman’s Hall of Fame, and is a Companion of the Order of Canada.

Pierre Berton passed away in Toronto on November 30, 2004.

  • Welcome To The 21st Century by Pierre Berton
  • October 10, 2000
  • Humor
  • Doubleday Canada
  • $9.95
  • 9780385258180

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