Prognosticator — Special Fin De Siècle Edition

The Outside Seer closes out the millennium, bringing us early news from the worlds of politics, exploration, and a saucy Ukrainian minx


Talk Show Hits Road, Headliners Lose Heads, Guests Grilled

The grave of Merton Gustafson, father of three from Edina, Minnesota, is a hurried affair: a mound of freshly packed earth marked with a simple cross of two branches lashed together with snake hides. An Oprah! mug filled with wildflowers is the only tribute to a life lost so far from home.

Yes, having locked up the female demographic, Oprah is going after men — and this jaunt through Brazil’s interior, the maiden voyage of Oprah’s Expedition Club, is proof. Studio audiences — they are not told beforehand — are escorted to Oprah’s private fleet of G-5s, given brief in-flight wilderness training, and flown along with Oprah and her celebrity guests on four-week excursions through the world’s most treacherous locales. Emotionally reticent men find their days of trekking interspersed with relationship advice and the opportunity to confront psychological and spiritual issues with some of the most renowned experts at work today.

As with all expeditions of this size — there are 416 people in all — mishaps can occur. Noted self-help author Dr. Andrew Weil, for example, was carried away into the jungle by agitated tribesmen, despite the brave intervention of Olympic darling and 12-step veteran Oksana Baiul. There have been other setbacks as well: A Louisiana couple was lost early in the trip when their dugout canoe overturned near Pôrto União, and poet laureate Maya Angelou continues to lead the search party for missing writer Kathryn Harrison, who has yet to return from searching for tubers.

But it is plucky Lou Thyre, a 49-year-old guidance counselor from Rutabaga Flats, Missouri, who best embodies the spirit of Oprah’s adventurers: “My brother, whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years, was waiting on the other side of a small rubber-tree grove. We were going to be reconciled after he had stolen my wife, burned my house down, slipped me a Mickey Finn, and sold me into white slavery — and also made me a real enabler in his pathological relationship with snack foods. But before Oprah could bring him out he was overrun by a river of red army ants. They just ate the cheeks right off his face. Everything else, too. But I’m glad to know he was sorry. And I’m having a wonderful time. Thanks, Oprah!”

It’s Goodbye Half Pike, Hello Crack Pipe! IOC Takes High Road in Drug Dealings

Olympic gymnastics hopeful Corinna Snyder clutches Milo, her good-luck teddy bear, a bit tighter, trying to hold back the tears. She has just stumbled coming out of her vault, a double Keith Richards with a half-twist, and this slight misstep on her dismount might just cost her a place on the U.S. team for the Sydney 2000 Games. The emotion overwhelms the 11-year-old, and soon tears course down her face, tracing their paths through the rather dense stubble of her jaw and down past her prominent Adam’s apple. Her enormous shoulders heave as she sobs. In frustration, she rips Milo’s head from his body in one swift motion. A burst of stuffing wafts slowly to the floor like a gentle snowfall.

Her coach, Hunter S. Thompson, knows well enough to let her have this moment to herself. “They get so moody when they’re flying on a cocktail of amphetamines and anabolic steroids. It would take a whole fistful of roofies and a bottle of chardonnay to even get her to listen to reason, and I’m saving those for her floor combination tomorrow.”

Welcome to a new generation of competitive sports. Fed up by widespread noncompliance with antidoping regulations, the International Olympic Committee hopes its new “anything goes” policy will level a playing field that up until now has been so in name only. And already the IOC is reaping benefits: $20 million saved on random drug screening and a new image as a “cool” organization that’s “down” with the youth of today. And it doesn’t stop with the IOC. Andy Marks, senior vice-president at Talent Partners International, says, “Before, I might have spent weeks on damage control, trying to preserve an endorsement deal when a client got messed up. Now, when an Oksana Baiul, for example, runs her car into a snowbank, or a Ross Rebagliati drops trou at a strip joint and slugs the bouncers, we can just say they’re in training. Hell, we could put it on a cereal box! My job has gotten tremendously easier.”

Ah, Sweet Youth: Shredders Shed Off-Putting ‘Tude, Say Tiddlywinks Is “Da Bomb”

With his bleached dreadlocks, tracts of tattooed flesh, multiple piercings, and grass-stained knees, Andy Bauerfein calls to mind Marlon Brando’s immortal answer to Mary Murphy’s question in The Wild One: What are you rebelling against? “What’ve ya got?” It’s difficult to remember that this boy is some father’s son and that less than a year ago he was engaging in wholesome activities such as sky-surfing, street luge, and bungee jumping.

Andy has just returned from an afternoon of rolling down neighborhood hills and he is, in a word, pumped. “It always goes like this,” says his grim-faced father. “He comes back from some escapade, and not 10 minutes later I get a call from the neighbors saying that he either rolled right over their philodendron or they saw him on their swing set. It’s too much.”

Andy Bauerfein’s father is not alone in his distress. His son is just one of legions of former extreme-sports enthusiasts who, fed up with the relentless product placement and corporate sponsorship that their pursuits attracted, are now turning in their snowboards for the latest fad: milding. Badminton, horseshoe tossing, nature walking — all are part of the committed milder’s repertoire of low-impact, restful activities that claim the hearts and minds of the nation’s youth.

“That little drip Oksana Baiul crashing her car or taking all those drugs or whatever? And then it got so you couldn’t jump out of a plane without some idiot trying to paste a logo on your ass. If that’s what passes for living on the edge now, then include me out,” says Andy.

The nation’s marketers will not be eluded for long, however. Already, Ocean Pacific is introducing a line of Ping-Pong wear, and Coca-Cola is relaunching its beverage Fruitopia in time for the Shuffleboard Slam, taking place at Rehoboth Beach later this month.

But for now it’s still just the purity of youth doing what comes naturally — and hopefully pissing off their parents in the bargain. “Dude, I am so fuckin’ psyched for fall, man,” yells Andy, his fist raised in a crypto-revolutionary salute. “Leaf-jumping!”

Tri-State Area Imports Cool New Neighbor, Unhappy Export Delaware Left Out in Dark

New York Senator Charles Schumer is laughing so hard he can barely spit out the words “knock it off, you guys!” as he tries to sprint away from New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg and New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who are using him for snowball target practice. Immediately thereafter, the three are seen racing toboggans.

This time last year, no one would have believed such good-natured bipartisan horseplay was possible, let alone that it would take place on an icy Memorial Day weekend. But this is only part of the surprise that is SnoPark USA, a wonderland formerly known as Iceberg A-38, which now occupies part of the continental United States — the part previously occupied by Delaware.

“This is really a triumph of both technology and the electoral college,” says Schumer. “When I first heard about A-38 calving off the Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica, I didn’t think anything of it. It was only when Frank Lautenberg called to tell me it was the same size as Delaware that I got to thinking, ‘Hey, this could be a perfect way to provide endless winter-recreation opportunities for Tri-State residents.’ You know, a weekend in Stowe is simply out of financial reach for most working New York families. But the sheer size of SnoPark — over 2,500 square miles — means affordable winter vacation is as close as your nearest PATH station. And in May, no less.”

Residents of Delaware, meanwhile, have gotten over the initial shock of waking up to find their state cut loose from the North American landmass. Despite being pushed southward by an armada of supertankers, business at Fuel, a coffee bar in downtown Wilmington, continues to boom. And at the Coat Factory, an outlet store across the street, merchandise is flying out of the store. Indeed, anything resembling warm clothing doesn’t stay long on the shelves of New Delaware.

With their first Southern Hemisphere winter slowly setting in, Delawareans are trying to make the best of the subzero temperatures, the scant hours of daylight, and the exorbitant cost of long-distance calls to once-nearby Philadelphia. “But we still have the lowest corporate taxes in the country,” says Jim Bourning, chairperson of the Brandywood Chamber of Commerce, the optimistic lilt in his voice competing with the chattering of his teeth. “And that charming Oksana Baiul relocated here to train, and to flee extradition!”

When asked about the hasty decision of the larger Eastern Seaboard states to place their winter recreation needs above those of other voting members of the Republic, Mayor Giuliani is typically pragmatic. “Listen, David was an aberration. Most of the time, Goliath wins. We have to ask ourselves if that’s always such a bad thing. And I think in this case,” he says, pausing to take a sip of hot chocolate, “the answer is a resounding no.”