By Hunter S. Thompson
Page 2 columnist

I was going to write a treatise on the Meaning of Life this week, but I put it aside at the last moment when I got a tip that this might be the last chance I'll ever get to write anything about the XFL except an obituary.

The doomed league's TV ratings slipped another 25 percent for the weekend -- down 71 percent in the four quick weeks since Opening Day -- and that steep a slide is fatal.

If the Dow Jones Index plunged that many points in four weeks, the sidewalks of Wall Street would be littered with the broken bodies of Stockbrokers. Five-hundred people a day would be leaping to their deaths off the Golden Gate bridge.

The horrible reality of suddenly being stone broke and homeless is more than most people in this country can handle. They will literally seize up and go mad. Your everyday Nervous Breakdown is nothing compared to the hopeless Craziness of a man who woke up in the morning as a Prince and went to bed as a Toad.

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That is a guaranteed overweening shock to the Central Nervous System; if you don't go insane from suddenly having to see everything in the world from a point only two inches high, your brain will be churned into cream by having to crawl, head-first, with your eyes open, down a muddy hole in the ground, just to have a place to sleep.

Nobody could handle a situation like That. It is Unacceptable. It is worse than any dream that ever happened in the worst and most tortured hallucinations ever suffered by the most pitiful LSD victim. ... I spent a lot of time with Allen Ginsberg, and I have swapped gruesome tales over whiskey at night with William Burroughs, and neither one of them ever even mentioned a vision so horrible as being instantly changed from a rich and powerful human like Donald Trump into a common leaping toad.

Yet that is exactly what happens to people in this world who lose 71 percent of their customers in four weeks. They seize up and go crazy.

The weird thing about the XFL is that nobody except Vince McMahon was anxious to see it born, and nobody except the cheerleaders will miss it when it's gone.

Out of personal loyalty to Jesse Ventura, I tried to watch the XFL "clash" on Saturday, but by halftime my heart was swollen with Hate. It was like watching a Festival of Shame taking place in a blinding rainstorm. Some fool from NBC appeared to have smeared Vaseline on the Camera lens to make it waterproof. It was like watching a game under water and never really knowing the score.

A running back would appear on the screen for an instant, then disappear in a mass of mud-caked bodies. A long pass would vanish into a fog-bank and never be seen again. There was no way to tell the officials from the players, except when a yellow flag was thrown and you could see who finally stooped down to pick it up.

The weird thing about the XFL is that nobody except Vince McMahon was anxious to see it born, and nobody except the cheerleaders will miss it when it's gone. There is no way to explain why it ever happened at all, except that some cluster of corporate thugs in the TV business figured they were in desperate need of a tax writeoff. It was not even good entertainment, much less good football.

Not even a drastic rise in the Lewdness Level can save the League now. That might have worked a few weeks ago, but not now. The sudden appearance of live sex orgies and murderous gang-fights on TV every Sunday would be too much for the public to accept all at once. Not even the Clinton White House would have tolerated it, and Bush would call out the National Guard.

There is something far out of whack in a nation that would banish a low-rent spectacle like the XFL from its TV screens, but eagerly looks forward to a public execution at high Noon the next day. It raises disturbing questions.

Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, The Proud Highway, Better Than Sex and The Rum Diary. His new book, Fear and Loathing in America, has just been released. A regular contributor to various national and international publications, Thompson now lives in a fortified compound near Aspen, Colo. His column, "Hey, Rube," appears each Monday on Page 2.