September 2010: The nice police

I don’t know why we sugar coat things these days.

For some reason the word “cripple” is distasteful so we now say “disabled.” Frankly, I don’t see how that’s any better. I guess the nice police figure it implies strength within infirmity. It excuses us from our physical and mental shortcomings though it doesn’t help us overcome and live with them. It helps us pretend we are not less than complete; we cripples are just as good as anybody else, even though we are, admittedly, “disabled.”

In the words of my Wyoming coal-mining cowboy grandfather, that is horse hockey.

I’m crippled. It’s no shame. I had an accident, that’s all. My feet don’t work well but my brain still does. I suffer a bit but I make do and live with it. And by the way, the accident was my own fault. I need to remember that so please don’t take it away from me.

Don’t call me a senior citizen. It’s cute but condescending.

Nobody is old these days. We’re “senior citizens.”

Puh-leeze. It’s cute but I’m not a big fan of cute except in babies and puppies. You can be a “senior” if you like but don’t call me that, okay? I’d rather be “old” or, better yet, not defined by my age at all. Don’t make me cute. I’m more than that.

I think all this social nice-nice has less to do with respect for others than our own desire to seem caring so we can accept our own imperfections.

People don’t get fired these days, they get “laid off.” 

I remember when “laid off” meant you could expect to be rehired in the near future. Not anymore. The fact is you’ve been fired, canned, kicked to the curb. The company you worked for just doesn’t need or want you anymore. But, it’s supposed to be somehow less painful to say you were “laid off.” Being “fired” is terribly, terribly personal.

It’s not your fault, nothing is.

And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Nobody is at fault and nobody is to blame for the ups and downs of what we used to just call life.

My grandson’s soccer league doesn’t keep score. They don’t want any losers.

I don’t have to explain to you why that’s so horribly twisted. Most of you are old and wise like me. You remember when your parents and grandparents watched you fall, waited for you to cry and picked you up to wipe your tears, clean your wound and say, “I told you so!” Touching a hot stove is the only way to learn to never do it again. Losing is the only way to learn to win.

It used to be, anyway. These days being on the losing side of a soccer game is considered the death of self-respect.

The only thing that seems to matter now are our fragile egos and manufactured self-esteem.

I can’t change the culture but I still have something to say about the raising of my own sons and grandsons. Here’s what I’d like to say to them:

–You will curse your mistakes and failures. I will quietly celebrate them because they’re lessons I can’t give you. You are a winner and, at times, a loser. Deal with it. You’ll be happier for it.

–You will suffer emotionally and I will try to love you out of your pain but then I’ll have to go home and leave you to sort it out for yourself. Can’t help it, that’s the way it works.

— There is not enough time in my life or yours for us to completely share our hearts. Try to be grateful for every moment we have together, especially the ones that seem unimportant at the time.

Thirty-some years ago while in the depths of my personal despair my father, my hero, told me — in these exact words, which I will never forget:

“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”

And now, I have finally reached an age where I am qualified to add to my dad’s life-defining revelation:

You don’t love yourself for being good, that’s a given. You love yourself for falling down, getting up and living better for what you have learned.

Making reservations for the cackle factory…

For some inexplicable reason I awoke this morning at 4:48 with this song running through my head:

There’s a hold up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights!
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights!
There’s a scout troop short a child,
Kruschev’s due at Idlewild!!

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU??!!

If you never heard those words, it doesn’t matter. Move on and have a great day!

If you do know what this is about, you’re already shaking your head and thinking, “Oh, my God…” 

I awoke this morning with the theme song from a 47-year-old TV sitcom running through my head, a song I haven’t heard in at least 35 years.

My working theory is that at some point in life our mental filing cabinets start to get too heavy and the little wheels in the drawers break down. Those little folders collapse and some old piece of useless memory crap spills out all over the floor.

That’s what I’m going to tell the doctor.

I’m making the appointment right now.

© 2010 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Surviving childhood

One of the things we aging boomers love to talk about is how much safer the world used to be when we were kids.

It was in some respects. Mostly, though, I wonder how we survived.

As kids in the 1950s and 60s we were allowed to roam our entire neighborhoods from sunup to sundown free and unfettered from fear of death or abduction. Nobody was ever snatched off the street. That possibility never even crossed our minds.

We didn’t have drive-by shootings. Hell, we didn’t have drive-thru hamburger joints. Back then if you wanted to buy a burger or shoot somebody you had to park the car and get out first.

It was a simpler, more forgiving time. But it was also a daily horror show we never imagined.

Cars didn’t have seat belts until the mid-sixties and by then they seemed silly to those of us who grew up literally bouncing between the back and front seats everywhere our parents drove us. They didn’t mind in the least as long as we didn’t start fighting.

 

We had house fans with no protective cage to keep little fingers out of the whirling steel blades. If you had invented the electric fan doesn’t a protective cage over the front just seem like a natural piece of the big picture? How did they not think of that?

I never heard of a single injury.

I could go on and on…

The heat in our homes came up from the floor through metal grates that got hot enough to sear a waffle pattern into tender toddler feet and butts.

Everybody smoked cigarettes, cigars and pipes everywhere. I mean everywhere: on buses and trains; in grocery stores, movie theaters, restaurants, churches and in every room of every home in America. That’s where this attachment to “fresh air” started, you know. Think about it. No matter where you live these days, big city or wide-open spaces, the air is no fresher outside than it is inside. But you still say, “I need some fresh air,” and then you step out of a filtered, air conditioned room into downtown San Bernardino.

Dogs ran free when we were kids.

You let the dog out of the house and he was gone, who knows where, until he came back to the porch and demanded re-entry. That might be the next day or the day after that. If he bit somebody while he was out you never knew about it. If he tangled with another dog you’d see him trot back into the house at dinner time, tongue and tail wagging happily, with one bloody ear and a mangled eyeball. You didn’t take him to the vet unless he’d been hit by a car and even then if he could hobble out of the street on two of his four legs Skippy was good to go.

We had killer toys. 

When I was a kid we would choose up sides and have wars using toy guns that were nearly as deadly as real ones. We had air-powered BB-rifles and pistols that allowed us to fire tiny steel balls with enough velocity to embed them under the skin of another kid, a dog or a cat. It stung but we loved it. This is where we first heard the sentence, “You could put an eye out with that!” Nobody ever stopped us from trying but the warning was issued occasionally and apparently it was heeded. Nobody ever lost an eye to a BB-gun assault.

If there weren’t enough BB-guns to go around, we’d just throw rocks.

Seriously, rock fights. And worse…

We had toy bows and arrows. Oh sure, the arrows had rubber cups on the end. You just took those off and whittled the wooden shaft into a pencil-sharp point.

And mind you, this was all going on shortly after World War II ended.

We had firecrackers. We made bottle rockets out of wooden match heads cautiously jammed tightly together into glass aspirin bottles. If you weren’t as careful as a brain surgeon they became instantaneous bombs, igniting in hand and shooting shards of red-hot glass dozens of feet in all directions.

I’m not making this up!

One idiot kid I remember used to lie down on the ground and have the rest of us drop a huge rock — say, the size and weight of a bowling ball — right over his face.

We weren’t very tall, maybe four feet. He’d always roll out of the way before the rock hit the ground. He never failed.

We climbed trees, great cottonwoods, scampering twenty or thirty feet above the ground. Once I fell, skinning my bare back as I slid down the trunk of that great tree, landing hard on its exposed roots. My grandma sprayed Bactine on my injuries and gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Wonder white bread. I watched Popeye on TV and felt a lot better.

We jumped off the roof of my grandparents’ house with completely ineffective home-made parachutes.

One of my goofy uncles used to bounce on the roof on a pogo stick.

And we wondered why Grandpa drank.

Nobody died. We seldom cried. And now we worry about our own kids and theirs.

They missed so much.

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.