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Reflections upon a strange couple of decades

CURMUDGEON

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language, and next year’s words await another voice.”  — T.S. Eliot

The 21st Century is only a couple of decades old, but already it’s acting middle-aged and cranky. Although, on reflection, that could just be me.

Recently someone reminded me that walking is an act of controlled falling, which could just as easily be a metaphor for life itself. As soon as the walking part ceases to be controlled, well, that’s when we start on our inevitable fall.

So, come fall with me as I mention a few things I’ve noticed about the first two decades of the millennium.

No more spooning

Where have all the spoons gone in restaurants?  I was having breakfast at an excellent restaurant in Escondido over the weekend and, once again, I noticed that they didn’t bring a spoon, and that I once again had to ask for one. Please, someone who is a restaurant owner, or who works at a restaurant,  explain to me why restaurants hide their spoons the way innkeepers hide their teenage daughters when outlaw bikers arrive for dinner?

And another thing! Restaurants promote self-service as though this was an amenity rather than an imposition. Hey, customers, here’s an added value when you come in for breakfast or dinner. You get to get your own coffee and bus your own dishes. And don’t forget the tip!

I know why they do it, of course. California’s rising minimum wage requirements mean that service industries are required to cut back on staff, so if the customers can be persuaded to get their own coffee—and they will accept that it’s part of the ambience, they can afford to stay in business.

In the next decade I expect to see restaurants where, if you want to wash dishes and scrub tables, you can eat a great meal! You get an even bigger discount if you help do prep work. Maybe you’ll be able to pay for the pleasure of cooking your own food, too. Oh wait, someone already does that. It’s called Mongolian barbecue.

Life Under the iPhones

I have a friend who rarely, if ever answers his cell phone. Generally the only time you talk to him on the phone is when he calls YOU. “I refuse to order my life around a phone!” he declares, which, of course, forces other people to order their lives around his phone habits.  I, on the other hand, am happy to welcome my smartphone overlords. I keep my entire life on my iPhone. I do interviews on my Smartphone. I watched TV on it. Recently, my doctor suggested that I get a colonoscopy. I said, “Why bother?” Mark Zuckerberg has been peering into my colon and all my other orifices now since he dropped out of Harvard. He probably knows what my favorite colors are better than I do. Or he would if I drank paint.  Given all of the “What is Reality?” movies that I’ve watched over the last twenty years, such as “Matrix”; I’m willing to at least entertain the possibility that I am living in a very convincing zoo. If that’s true, I wish my keepers would change my water a little more often. 

Which bring up a corollary to my colonoscopy. Since Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both think billionaires are evil, but should be kept alive and milked until they run out of money, here’s a thought: let’s force everyone to get a college degree. It can’t have escaped your attention that most successful billionaires, like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg, never finished college. If we really want to destroy wealth and entrepreneurs, just force everyone to spend four years getting a degree they won’t use and which they will spend a good percentage of their productive life paying for. That’s not to say that a college education is a waste of time. It’s only a waste if you want to be very rich. Why? I think you know. Rich people invest the money they would have spent on college on starting up businesses.

Those of us of a certain age need to be reminded that anyone born after 2000 has been raised by cellphones, just as my generation was raised in front of a black and white television set, watching Howdy Doody, Sky King, Captain Kangaroo and Bonanza. Now here is where I have provided a blank space for Millennials to declaim with maximum snark “OK Boomer.”

I asked another friend of mine what was the most influential event he can recall from the last two decades. It was 911. “I’m from New York City,” he said. “And I saw the Twin Towers fall.” He had friends who were firefighters, and some of them died from the effects. It made a profound effect on his outlook from then on.

For another friend, this one in his 40’s, the most profound impact was made by the hubbub over Y2K, and the possibility that airplanes might fall out of the sky and computers go crazy because of the built-in bug that was due to arrive with the turn of the Millennium. 

Every generation seems to have gone through a traumatic experience that has shaken his or her worldview to the core. Once again, my own generation’s existential trauma was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For the next generation the biggest shake-up was the fall of the Soviet Union the beginning the of Digital Age.

No more nudes

When I was younger, almost all the movies that adults went to had nude sex scenes. But never television. Now, most movies eschew shots of the unclothed form, but we are treated with scenes where bodies are torn apart, blown apart into a million bloody pieces. On the other hand, television, at least cable TV, is more uninhibited than film ever was. This is what is known as progress.  

The other development of note is that movies can now get a PG-13 rating if someone smokes. A quarter of the population is relegated to triggering a rating that used to require foul language, nudity, sex or violence. Now there’s inclusiveness and diversity for you.

Raising children

As a child, I was invited by my mother to get lost until it was sundown, and then I’d better run like the wind to get home by dark. What I did in the meantime was pretty much my business as long as I didn’t steal anything or set anything on fire. I used to like to hide inside of a stand of bamboo and read books. Or lie down on a hill and look at clouds. Or play with a bottle of mercury that an old handyman gave me. I know, that explains a lot.

Now parents are hauled off to court by Child Protective Services if they leave kids unsupervised for more than an hour at a time. Today’s helicopter parents schedule every free moment of their children’s lives and we wonder why an entire decade of offspring are still living with their parents into their 30s while using their health care until they are 26. If only this would lead to longer lives. But alas, no sign of that yet. Just longer childhoods. 

Talking politics

During the last two decades political discourse has taken a decidedly dark turn. It used to be fun to engage in political debate with friends and near friends. Now, one is best advised to keep one’s political opinions to oneself or be prepared to lose friends and risk having someone try to get you fired from your job or even be the brunt of some violence. We must attribute certain aspects of Satan to those we disagree with. Except that  would be to admit to there being such a thing as evil—and we can’t say that.

We certainly rushed some frontiers. We elected the first black president and ended racial strife along with causing the oceans to recede and the planet to heal. Well, maybe not, but good intentions have to count for something. The first woman to be nominated for president hit her head hard on the glass ceiling, and is still confused as to who actually won.

We also elected the first reality show president. How’s that turning out? Depends on who you ask, and whether you want to devote several hours to hearing the answer. Bad intentions have got to count for something. 

Well, you might say, just avoid talking politics in polite society. This is certainly an option, however, politics is insinuating itself into practically every pastime. You can’t play a video game, listen to a sporting event, or talk about the weather without political ramifications. There is a very committed group of people who take particular offense at how you choose to live your life, however you choose to do it. If you compliment someone, you take your life in your hands. If you indicate you are attracted to someone, that could be inviting dismissal from your job or a lawsuit. 

If you turn on the television, you risk driving yourself crazy from having so many channels to choose from that you will need therapy.

And eating!  Make a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and you risk killing someone near you who has a peanut sensitivity, or an allergy to gluten. Eat a steak and be accused of animal cruelty. Eat a tomato instead and get a lecture on GMOs.  Buy someone a nice gift and be insulted because you didn’t buy fair trade. 

And don’t get me started about splashing on a little after shave.

Twenty years ago, life was so much simpler.  And thirty years ago, all we had to worry about was being vaporized in a nuclear holocaust. Oh, for the good old days.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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