The Time When!

Whether you’re 25, 46, 71 or only 15, some days you wake up and just feel old.  You look at the world and realize today is not the day to play because the game of life has gotten too damn complicated.  You remember a simpler time when things were straightforward and you knew all the rules.  A time when the days were long and bright and the nights romantic.  I time when – well, you get the idea – a time when it didn’t seem like an endless fight just to be alive.  Don’t get me wrong: I have no desire to turn back the clock.  The good old days are a myth propagated by grumpy old people who can’t figure out why they aren’t cool anymore.  (Maybe it’s cuz they use words like cool?)  However, on a bright autumn morning when the coffee’s really good and there’s jam for the toast, there’s nothing wrong with being nostalgic.

Here are a few things, from a more elegant age, that I remember.

When people dressed up for important events like wedding, funerals and court appearances.  Women wore their breasts inside their clothes, and men looked like they’d taken a bath – recently.

The days when you could see the pictures in an art gallery and not the backs of a bunch of cell phones and the half faces of morons taking selfies.

When the lyrics to popular songs didn’t prominently feature body parts, sexual positions, robbery, obscenities, weapons or murder — and you could actually sing them to children.

A time when people didn’t scold each other for the sport of it.

A time when young people had all the questions, not all the answers.

The sweet satisfaction of slamming the phone down in some asshole’s ear.

The days when the relationship between men and women was not adversarial.

Irony, satire and wit.

When you could order coffee without reciting the recipe, and you got to drink it out of a real cup.

A time when ladies and gentlemen acted that way.

Lunches that didn’t come wrapped in paper and look like they’d been run over by a truck.

When gluten wasn’t the scariest thing on the planet.

A time when you could ride public transportation without being forced to listen to somebody else’s one-sided telephone conversation – 7 or 8 times.

When the truth was not a moveable feast.

A time when transgender was real and not just trending on Twitter.

When people could disagree like reasonable human beings not rabid animals.

A time when Hallowe’en was for kids and adults had better things to do than hijack a child’s harmless fun to further their social/political agenda.

The days before Jell-o Journalism (I’m looking at you, Oprah Winfrey) when reporting the news was an honourable profession.   

A time when cheating in professional sports was retail, not wholesale, and the people who did it weren’t stupid enough to get caught.

And finally:

The days when you weren’t constantly looking over your shoulder for a politically correct ambush.

Everybody Works (2022)

Everybody works.  Some work harder than others, some work smarter than others, but as each of us wanders along life’s incredible journey, we all have a relentless series of jobs to do.  Just to clarify – I’m not talking about gainful employment; I’m talking about all those nasty little tasks that haunt our otherwise leisured existence — everything from filling out income tax forms to assembling a Fridekgloben bookcase from Ikea.  This is the work that torments our souls.

Having survived on this planet for – uh – a number of years, I’ve done my share of personal chores and, without bragging, I’ve gained some valuable experience.  Here are just a few bits and bobs from what I’ve learned along the way.

1 – Every job takes longer than you think.  No matter how simple it looks or how comprehensively you’ve prepared, the task at hand is going to eat up more minutes than you bargained for.  (See items 4, 5, 6, 7 and sometimes 8 for a detailed explanation.)

2 – The rule of quarters.  No matter what you do, the first 75% of the job takes 25% of the time and the last 25% takes 75% — or more.

3 – Do as much as possible before lunch — cuz after lunch, you’re going to be useless.

4 – Something you need isn’t going to be there.  Whether it’s a particular medical receipt, a pinch of coriander, an account number or an oddly shaped one-use-only tool, there will be one item, that’s absolutely necessary to the task, which you either don’t have or can’t find.  This means you have to stop, search or go buy it – no other choice.  And, BTW, this never happens at the beginning of the adventure but always more than halfway through — when you’ve got everything torn up, half assembled, disassembled and/or spread out all over hell.

5 – There will be an essential piece of information missing.  Assembly instructions are notorious for this – the placement of Lock Washer #3 is a mystery known only to God.  Meanwhile, the Federal Government will not accept your tax return without an entry in Box 906a even though its purpose is a bigger secret than the contents of Area 51.  But the very worst are online forms that demand an encyclopedia of personal information and, after you’ve entered it all, flash the big red “Error” warning at you — while slyly refusing to tell you where the error occurred.

6 – The thing that’s supposed to fit … won’t.  Carpenters and plumbers know this and are skilled in Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, but the rest of us are utterly stunned when the last bolt’s too big, the connecting rod’s too short or the brand new muffin pans don’t fit in the oven.  The result is an extended period of swearing and weeping.

7 – The experience you gain from one task does not translate to anything else.  What you learned trimming the hedge doesn’t help you buy car insurance online.  Painting the porch and making a soufflé are straight chalk and cheese.  Every task demands a particular expertise, so whatever you attempt to do (unless you’re a poly-skilled professional, or spend your life watching YouTube) you’re going to waste a lot of time reinventing the wheel.

And finally:

8 – You can’t get there from here. – This doesn’t happen all the time, but it happens regularly enough to be included here.  Basically, there’s always a danger that the first touch on any project will set off a chain of disasters, each more expensive and time-consuming than the last.  The leaking faucet that eventually becomes a $5,000 plumbing job.  The birthday cake that ends up with a new stove.  The computer upgrade that resets your Netflix account to Serbia and your banking information to Good Shepherd Savings and Loan in Azerbaijan.  Seriously, I have a friend who tried to buy a paper shredder and is locked out of Amazon forever.  (Even they don’t know why.)

Yeah, we all have jobs to do, but I’ve discovered that only paid professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists get anything out of these mundane tasks.  The rest of us just have to grit and bear it.

1984 or Brave New World? (2022)

It’s been several decades since George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984.  It’s considered one of the pivotal books of the 20th century, and if you haven’t actually read it (in the 21st century, most people haven’t) you certainly know what it’s about.  It’s a complicated tale, but the Twitter version is we better watch out or Big Government is going to go power mad and control (read “enslave”) us all.  Orwell lined up the usual suspects – censorship, disinformation, propaganda, surveillance, informants and fear – to create a pretty scary Stalinist view of the future (read “the present.”)  In fact, it’s so convincing that many of the terms Orwell invented — like NewspeakDoublethinkRoom 101 and Big Brother — are now part of our language.  The problem is George may have got it wrong.  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Some computer in California is probably reading your text messages and can pinpoint your location, anywhere on planet, but – uh — so what?  Quite frankly, if the CIA, MI5, FSB or the Chinese MSS want to know anything about you, all they have to do is log into Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., and they’ve got all the information they need.  And that’s the crux of the situation.  Who do we have to fear – our government or ourselves?

For my money, if you want a scarier version of the future (read “the present”) take a look at Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, published in 1932.  Huxley’s view is deeper and darker and a lot more prophetic.  Huxley’s says the future won’t be bleak and hungry but actually rather happy – too happy.  Huxley’s society is just as closed and lock-step conformist as Orwell’s, but the difference is nobody cares.

In 1985, Neil Postman published a book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and part of it is a comparison of 1984 and Brave New World.  Here are a few of his observations.

Orwell said that, in the future, many books would be banned.
Huxley said there would be no need to ban books because nobody would read them.

Orwell said that information would be strictly controlled and distributed by the government.
Huxley said that there would be so much information no one would pay attention to it.

Orwell said the truth would be concealed from the people.
Huxley said the truth would be irrelevant.

Orwell warned us about the dangers of the Cult of Personality.
Huxley warned us about the Cult of Celebrity.

Orwell saw a joyless, sexually repressed, poverty-stricken society that had lost its soul.
Huxley saw a drug-soaked, sexually promiscuous, consumer society that didn’t have one.

Orwell feared a manipulated culture.
Huxley feared a trivial culture.

Here, in the 21st century, the future is now, and Big Brother might very well be watching you — but personally, I think the bigger problem is … he doesn’t need to.

I wrote this in 2019 but it bears repeating!