Mentioning, as I did, our kids, by the way, how would you grade us? As parents, I think, we’ve mostly been worse than our own. This explains allowing our children to think war was so many special effects and/or a video game. Who hired the television as babysitter, nanny, guardian, schoolteacher, and PBS child psychologist, anyway? I include myself here absolutely. My own near-sociopathic impulse toward immediate gratification is, on a twisted level, a state only attainable for those born into that particular corner of time and space — 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s America. I have a grown son with a severe mental-health disability, which I, after some years now, have come to consider as my kid’s eminently sane response to the world my friends and I handed to him.
“I hope I die before I get old!” the Who sang in 1965 or ’66 (making me 14 or 15), and I shouted that line louder than anyone. Twenty years later I was wincing a little, thinking, It’s a figure of speech. A little rash there, maybe. We were kids, whaddya gonna do? Twenty more years, and Katie Couric or someone is telling us that 50 is the new 40 blah blah, and I know it’s bullshit. I’m thinking, Damn right, Daltrey or Townshend. You guys were right the first time, because I’ve had bypass surgery and I’m packing a pacemaker, and I’m up six times a night because I’ve got a prostate the size of a cannoli.
It’s everywhere now, and we saw it coming, didn’t we? We are the demographic that moved like a tectonic plate of cooling lava through the decades into a cyber, cable, satellite, cellular microwave — liquid crystal plasma in hi-def display — virtual version of our own global Lawrence Welk Village. Only instead of Welk and Eddie Albert and Sinatra and Arthur Godfrey (c’mon, if you’re with me this far, you remember him), June Allyson and Doris Day and the Lennon Sisters, we have Bono (I think we can be okay with that) and Sting, a crotchety Letterman and Steely Dan (was it Dennis Miller who said, “They [Fagan and Becker of Steely Dan] look like Ben & Jerry fresh out of rehab”?), Denis Leary with Alzheimer’s, and Cher and Hillary. Oh, and Dennis Miller is singing in the shower these days to an old John Lennon and Yoko Ono tune: “All we are saying, is give the surge a chance…”
I have the “Five Friends Package” on my cell phone. Two of them are CVS and the Rite Aid pharmacy, one is my cardiologist, the others my orthopedic guy and an editor. My grown son doesn’t rate in terms of sheer minutes. As for girlfriends? Give me a break. I have a “lady friend” with whom I’ve kept company for ten years, but I forgot her phone number. Almost everything I love to wear, they don’t make anymore. Everyplace I used to love isn’t what it used to be, and as time has revealed, it probably never was.
I don’t hate our generation, and I don’t feel sorry for us either. We’ve had our time; we just can’t remember a lot of it. We still have Springsteen and Dylan, though (any day Bob’s going to come out with a depressing-ass song and video like Johnny Cash doing “Hurt” — just wait), and Obama’s going to show us that his “hope” was no big favor after all. I can see a remake of the series All in the Family, with our version of Archie and Edith (I see maybe Peter Coyote or John Mellencamp and Jane Fonda or Joni Mitchell) opening the show at the piano, singing “Those Were the Days” with revised lyrics, like, “…Brother, we could use a man like Abbie Hoffman again.…”
Here in Southern California, in San Diego, in the shadow of the Beach Boys, Fabian and Annette, and the Mamas and the Papas, we will only see more of the people we’ve been seeing for ten years in Ocean Beach and PB; people springing up through cracks in the sidewalks from cracks in the system. I’m talking about those guys in gray ponytails on skateboards and bicycles with beef-jerky, whip-thin bodies like stretched shoe leather and weed-worn, ’shroom-sautéed, melanoma-riddled clusters of brain cells between wire headphones; batteries long dead but somehow still playing “Stairway to Heaven” on an endless refried loop of tired neurons. They’ll be in the 7-Elevens buying Ensure with food stamps and Depends with their $18-a-month Social Security checks. Their old ladies will be back at the assisted-living pad or the shelter, taking the rectal temperature of their 18 cats, boiling pinecones for next week’s granola, listening to John Denver on the eight-track, and firing up Love Story on the Betamax.
Advantages to codgerhood, dotage, etc., are many and well known, but ours may be the first generation to create new ones. Who knows more about entitlement than we do? And spin? We invented it. Everyone has known for millennia that the elderly can get away with much more in the way of “speaking one’s mind” than youth or middle age. We have not only co-opted self-expression but truth itself — or whatever remains of that concept after Vietnam and then Iraq and Watergate and then the 2004 election fraud. Truth, as we were quick to discover, is whatever works on camera, or whatever we need it to be at the moment. Ask any of us baby boomers to define truth, and don’t bother staying for an answer.
What I’m saying is, we’re already saying anything we damn well feel like, as long as we follow it with, for example, “I’m just being honest.” We may have delivered the most unfounded and diabolically sadistic, devastating pronouncement on the most innocent of recipients, but if we shrug and claim honesty, we’re home free, even admired (by ourselves). Same goes with the backlash to political correctness. We’re doing this kind of thing more all the time in the media, in Starbucks and in our wine-and-tapas bistros. We’ve found a way not only to continue but refine and render more deadly, hate-fueled fat jokes, fag jokes, race jokes, religious…in short, whatever we want. The idea is to present some slur against, say, “dot-heads,” “rag-heads,” and “camel jockeys” as patriotism. It’s easy enough. As for fat jokes or gay jokes or race jokes, we have created such a resentment against what has been termed politically correct — our invention, mind you — that now violating the heart and soul of human rights and tolerance with any semblance of humor comes as such a relief to the listener that we again come off as rebels, honest, and cutting edge.