The coolest generation

“‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!”

One day not too long ago I wandered into a 7-11 store and hid my smile from the clerk. He appeared to be on the fringe of his “golden years,” rotund, gray and balding. He was the only guy in the place and had Jimi Hendrix blaring from his boombox behind the counter. I thought it was pretty funny that an old guy like him was digging Jimi. Then, what you have already figured out hit me.

That “old guy” was my age.

Something happened in the mid-1960s that suddenly narrowed all future generation gaps. It was a social sea change rooted in technology and nourished with an elixir concocted by a new breed of post be-bop musicians. Everything about them was radical, from their long, unkempt hair to their wildly-colorful disdain of fashion sense to their electronically amplified screams of youthful exuberance.

Our parents were apoplectic.

And we dug that, too.

“Yi-pi-yi-ay! Yi-pi-yi-o! Ghost riders in the sky…”

When my mother graduated from high school in June of 1949 the top-selling record of the day was Riders In The Sky by Vaughn Monroe. Twenty years later, June of 1969, I graduated high school and the number one song was Get Back by the Beatles.

So, what? So, this:

I’m not sure I have ever heard a Vaughn Monroe song but I’m absolutely positive I never owned one. On the other hand my son owns a nearly full Beatles collection and knows as much about the songs and the group as I do. He also loves the music of Creedence, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and other artists who made their impact years before he was born.

And it works the other way around, too. I believe my contemporaries and I keep up with cultural changes much more readily than my grandparents did. When I was a lad you wouldn’t find me sitting with Grandma in front of her Philco TV watching the Lawrence Welk Show but here I am, my grandparents’ age, parked in front of the big flat screen Sony for each new episode of American Idol.

And it’s not just music, either.

I’m pretty sure neither of my grandfathers would have been caught dead at Disneyland. I’d bet on it, in fact. My dad went there with the family on our vacation when I was a young teen but I don’t remember him riding the Matterhorn or Dumbo. He would never stand near Mickey Mouse or Goofy for a photo op. By the time I became a dad, though, Disneyland was a whole new ballgame. That’s not surprising since the park was born after I was and having grown up with the Magic Kingdom experience under my belt, enjoying it with my kids and grand-kids just comes naturally. In fact, Carolann and I have annual passes.

So, here’s the thing: While we always hear people bemoaning the loss of American family relationships I’m not buying it. When I was a kid, yes, we all ate dinner together at a single table, at the same time, without the TV. But frankly, I don’t recall it as being a particularly nurturing and bonding experience. I don’t remember it being anything at all except dinner.

So, while my son didn’t often have meatloaf at the family dinner table he did have me at his Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday parties and I like to believe he enjoyed that.

I’m no social scientist so I really can’t figure out what it all means, if anything, but that has never stopped me from reaching a happy conclusion and here it is:

If our parents are the Greatest Generation, as is the title applied to them in recent years, we are surely the Coolest. So far, anyway.

Copyright © 2010 by Dave Williams, all rights reserved.

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!!


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

The loving “ism”

Racism; deplorable. Sexism; unacceptable.

Ageism; adorable.

I recently annoyed some friends in an email chat group by expressing my irritation at the proliferation of jokes about old people. They think I’m overreacting. It’s no big deal, people have always made fun of old folks, right?

People still tell race jokes, too, but at least we know that’s disrespectful and wrong.

Look at what I just found at a website called “Old People Are Funny.”

If an old man falling on an escalator is funny to you, go ahead and close this window and go to that site, instead. It’s a damned giggle fest.

Black birthday balloons! Hoo-hah, how funny is that?

Look, I know it’s mostly in good, innocent fun and we should always, at all ages, be able to laugh at ourselves. It’s not that. No, what gripes me is the fact that many people, maybe all of us eventually, buy into the notion that getting old means we’ll be doddering, slobbering, laughable old fools. So, we simply assume the role, sit down in the rocking chair and watch the world pass by without so much as waving to it.

The jokes take us by the hand and lead us there

And, it’s not even the jokes that bother me as much as the allusions to how “cute” old people are.

I just received an email that had a link to a video of an elderly man and his wife playing the piano together. They weren’t doing anything amazing. They weren’t playing Flight of the Bumblee in rounds and different, harmonic keys. They weren’t playing the notes with their noses, toes, elbows and tongues. They were just playing a little tune together. Isn’t that cute!?

Why? What’s cute about it? If these people were in their thirties or forties instead of their eighties it wouldn’t be adorable. Nobody would have turned a camera on them in the first place.

I simply think we should treat old people the same way they were treated when they were young adults and middle-aged. Give them the same respect we afford people we take more seriously. Judge them by the content of their character and the wisdom of their years rather than the number of them.

And, by God, when an old person is being a pain in the ass, unload on ’em! Don’t give them a pass because of age.

It’s hard to text a sigh.

I know I’m being silly. Well, I don’t think it’s silly but I know a lot of people do. And certainly, part of my concern is personal and yes, I am offended at the idea I will soon be marginalized by stereotypes. Please don’t ever refer to me as a “senior citizen” or some other gentle euphemism. I will simply be old and wear my age as a badge of achievment, thank you.

I will laugh, I’ll converse as intelligently as I’m able and I’ll keep writing as long as I can. But I won’t be cute, okay?

© Copyright 2010, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

The mirror lies.

My blogging buddy, Anita, just posted one of her typically charming and smile-inducing pieces on the subject of aging, Fifty is the new forever. I suppose that’s what we do here whether we address the subject head-on or just obliquely, through our personal kaleidoscopic lives.

One of the things I love most about Anita is that aging never seems to give her a moment’s pause or stress. I, on the other hand, am borderline obsessive.

I look in the mirror only out of occasional necessity and all I see are lies.

I stopped growing older in my mid-thirties. It was a good age for me. It’s the age I chose to be for the rest of my life. So, as I push sixty (though I prefer to think of it as pulling fifty) my thirty-five year old spirit peers into the mirror at an old man and while I’ve never been especially attractive nor self-conscious it just doesn’t work.

I can’t feel like this and look like that.

I know the only option I have in order to re-frame myself is to give up and be my age because I can’t possibly look thirty-five again. That’s fine if I can figure out how to age without getting old. That’s really what concerns us, isn’t it?

Do I have to turn grouchy? Will I be forced to wear khaki pants and sensible shoes?

I’m going to work on this self-image thing because I don’t believe it much matters what anybody else thinks of my appearance as long as I’m clean and semi-tidy.

The thing is — at thirty-five this stuff never crossed my mind.

© Copyright 2009, Dave Williams. All rights reserved.

Of aging gracefully: keeping up or giving up

“When I look at the younger generation, I despair of the future of civilisation.” — Aristotle, 300BC

Not exactly an original thought, is it? Who among us over 40-somethings hasn’t worried about the future of the world because we just don’t understand kids today? And yet, if you’re like me, you are also annoyed that over the years you have apparently turned into your own father.

My father was a good, strong man in every way; he was a devoted and loving dad and a good provider. He could make me think, make me smile and he hugged me when I needed courage. But at some point he just stopped going along with all the nonsense in the world.

As he got older my dad used to rail against the collapse of American values, corruption in American politics and the loss of American jobs (to China, mainly.) When he whittled it all down he figured all the problems in this country started in millions of homes at empty dinner tables while moms as well as dads conducted their own lives outside of the house. He never expressed his disdain for women working outside the home but I think he felt it. Kids were left to raise themselves, he’d say, parents were allowing kids freedoms they weren’t ready to enjoy responsibly.

Life, my dad thought, had gone down the crapper. As he put it to me more than once, “I like people individually but as a species we’re not worth a damn.”

Sometimes I think that way, too. It annoys me, not because I’m channeling my dad but because it feels like I’m digging in my heels and giving up. I’m edging closer to the rocking chair and I don’t want to go there.

Yesterday the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. Newspapers across the country are losing their grip on the Information Age. There’s just too much competition from electronic gadgets and cyber sources. Nobody has time to read anymore. “News” is gleaned from short sound bites on television and radio. Broadcasting is a technology slipping into history

Nobody wants to talk these days. We’d rather text and tweet than actually have a conversation. Expressing ourselves electronically is easier and more efficient; it removes the inconvenience of having to listen.

As I watch the world evolve beyond my personal comfort zone I have come to understand why each succeeding generation eventually reaches a point where it can’t or simply refuses to keep up. We all fall victim to the inevitable grip of nostalgia and are given to wistful expressions of “Back in my day…” We long for a simpler time that probably wasn’t really simpler, we were just younger, more curious and more resilient.

We just get tired, I think. That’s okay but when we do that we have to accept a very hard truth: time is passing us by and our culture won’t stop to wait for us to catch up.

Whether that is aging gracefully or quitting, you’ll have to decide for yourself. I’m going to try to keep up for awhile.

(Copyright 2009, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)