SALT LAKE CITY – “Plane Crash Kills 9 Returning From Skydiving Trip”

It’s the kind of perverse and macabre headline Norm MacDonald could’ve used on “Saturday Night Live,” except Norm got axed for talking smack about a murderer named O.J. Simpson. Still, I can imagine how Norm would’ve handled the punchline – “… investigators also claim that it wasn’t the impact of the plane that killed the skydivers, rather the plane’s sudden stop.”

Alas, the story of the seven skydivers killed in a plane crash is true. I read it on The Associated Press wire Monday and instantly recalled another absurdity involving a skydiving woman who leapt to her death from Half Dome, Yosemite. She was going to be part of a political commercial on the safety and fun of BASE-jumping. When her chute didn’t open, she plunged to her death, and the commercial became a snuff film that ran on the evening news.

As a veteran journalist and news junky, I’ll admit I chuckled guiltily at both stories. They redeem my faith in the Lord’s sense of humor. For what else but a strong faith in cosmic jokes and heavy sedatives can prepare man for the AP news wire or any news source these days? When you can click on something like plunging skydivers or a story about how AIDS will make orphans of the next 300 million North African children, your only option is to chuckle and mutter, “good one Lord.”

Suppressing the guilty chuckle is a threat to your sanity, and craziness is a growth industry. Here’s another absurd news brief:

Roughly 300,000 seemingly sane Americans are statistically guaranteed to freak out this year. Enough Americans to fill 15 Staples Centers will go insane in 2001, and the number climbs every year. Think about it. For the sake of the children and slow-moving office workers, I hope they have bad aim.

Of course, the cause for America’s increasing rate of mental illnesses is broad and obvious, but I think one fact should be stated repeatedly – the 21st century is absurd on a very fundamental level, and many frontal lobes will not survive. This year alone, 15 stadiums’ worth of people will throw their hands up in the air and admit to the deepest part of themselves that none of it makes any sense anymore.

I can relate. Due to the current energy crisis, this column must be saved every five minutes. And the reason is that Edison hasn’t paid $40 million to a Houston power company. How can our electric company fail to pay its electric bill?! Why does an electric company even have an electric bill?! It makes no sense, and I have the sneaking suspicion that it never will.

For absurdity that hits a little closer to home, ponder the act of locating and renting a home. My own tedious and cruel search for housing began today, and already I feel a kinship with the residents of Isla Vista’s parks. I have no home this summer, and the keys to my next place involve many hours of walking, begging, pleading, signing and payment.

Hoping for some magical list of cheap, spacious I.V. rentals, I checked out UCSB’s very own Community Housing Office, but the best thing they could give me was the advertisers in their “survival” handbook.

“I don’t need to take a roommate evaluation quiz,” I told Jacky the CHO lady, “I need a really cheap apartment.”

“Well, fair market prices these days average around $450 a month,” Jacky said.

“How is that price fair?” I enquired, already fearing Jacky’s answer.

“Well, um, basically, one property management firm raises their rents, and then all the other ones raise theirs to match them.”

“That’s absurd! So, the price of my place has nothing to do with fairness? Or actual market value?”

“Technically, no. But, wait, where are you going?”

“To write a column about all this absurd nonsense,” I told her as I threw open the door and began down the stairs, “and then I’m going to buy a parachute I won’t use.”

She tried not to stare at me as I ran off babbling to myself. Just another one of those crazies, you know.

David Downs is the Daily Nexus Features editor and Daily Friday editor. This morning at breakfast he went coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.