May 22, 2007

If 40 is the new 20, we're screwed

Clearly I've seen too many commercials and watched too much retro navel-gazing TV: the ads say 40 is the new 20, and I say, I wouldn't want to be 20 again for all the proverbial tea in China. Were I to rerun the movie of my life, I would scratch 1980, for numerous reasons. The most obvious is political: the first presidential election in which I voted got us Reagan. And that was a highlight.

Sure, I had a great, no-maintenance-necessary body. More brain cells than I could addle despite drugs. But the strum und drag? The illicit rendez-vous, the intrigues, the betrayals, even my first love -- all that energy expended, only to wind up lovesick and on antidepressants. No, not my year. 40 as the new 20? What that says about our collective emotional maturity, I hate to imagine.

I wouldn't mind having the body, still, but the rest of it? Thank you, I've handed in my homework, have a couple of degrees behind me, and already recovered from a run-in or two with the age of grief. In the 25th reunion book I edited, one of my friends answered the question, what would your 1982 self be most surprised about about your current self? She said, "menopause and retirement -- looking forward to both."

The PBS two-hour celebratory "documentary" called The Baby Boomer Century made me want to hurl sharp inanimate objects at its host, narrators, writers, editors, and producers. Do we still believe we're going to change the world? Yeah, we're going to outlive our resources, drain Social Security, and live in a anti-smoking, anti-drinking, follow-your-bliss-off-a-cliff society. Sounds like a plan to me.

Women, incidentally, aren't necessarily in the work force by choice. Since 1973, it has been considered impossible to support a middle-class household on one salary. According to the documentary, we have had a "civilizing effect," on the work place. Seems a dose of Emily Post followed by a chaser of Miss Manners could have done the job for us.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote of a character in a short story, "The Dead," in 1980: "...Ilena thought it wisest to avoid complete mental alertness. That it was an overrated American virtue." I couldn't agree more. That baby boomer in the White House, lousy poster boy for cocaine rehab and a highly suspicious return to God, has demonstrated that this is not the time to pay attention. What we see, we would prefer not to. What we know, he refuses to admit. Iraq is this century's Vietnam, but no one is talking. If we were really the 20 of the baby boom years as portrayed on TV, we'd be shouting.

Or so I'd like to think. The much-touted longevity we can apparently anticipate is not something I'm looking forward to. 25 years out of college, the physical damage is done. I've already buried several of my friends, and at least one is terminal, another so close to a psych ward it terrifies me. I think it's the Gen Xers who took to the gym with a vengeance.

My generation (or at least I) went kicking and screaming. (That's about as much exercise as seems dignified.) My mother walks to keep her bones from crumbling, bored by every minute of it. I take calcium and Fosomex. The part of my generation that isn't "in recovery" does, after all, believe in "better living through chemistry."

Telling us smoking is bad is not new information. It may have been new to our parents in 1964, but now? Not so much. Yet now, in Wonderland, cigarettes must be fireproof, meaning if you don't puff in a timely fashion, the cigarette will extinguish itself. Evidently we are too old or stupid to remember Smoky the Bear's warning: "Only you can prevent forest fires." In Wonderland, I can scarcely see a tree for the 30-story condo. I wouldn't worry about the forest and me. Nature and I simply are not on such close terms.

Give me the tropics in winter, the mountains in summer, but give me the hotel, not the canvas tent; maid service, not roll-your-own-sleeping-bag; room service, not freeze-dried ice cream to be reconstituted over the campfire -- if indeed campfires are acceptable and not considered eco-terrorism.

I haven't been camping since I was old enough for "no, thanks," to become a complete sentence. (Besides, as last reported, I talk in my sleep, loud enough for an entire campground to hear me yell "fuck!") Three years ago our tents in Africa had carpets on the floor, 24-hour electricity, full mosquito netting, and complete indoor plumbing. That's as much of the outdoors as I have grown to prefer without a guide taking me to tour the wide open spaces.

Don't get me wrong: I loved our safari, adored swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands. My safari companion was 80; my Galapagos companion, 70; both are healthier than I ever will be.

However, I want to leave wild life in the wild. Wonderland's idea of wildlife is cockroaches, the invincible creatures of our era who dwell in our walls. Thank you, I'll take an exterminator's visit over scurrying roaches or the mouse who has taken up residence in my apartment. This would be Minnie, who searches here in vain for food. She (or he, could be transgendered) doesn't know where to find the menu drawer, my primary source for nutrition.

I'm hoping that Hannah Arendt's observation is correct: "Wisdom is a virtue of old age, and it seems to come to those who, when young, were never wise."

I have it on good authority that I was never wise.

Labels: , , , ,

May 16, 2007

A quarter century in the "real world," II

The 25th reunion book is at the printer's, out of Alice's hands. 21 days and counting to the Big Weekend. Alice would like to look 10 years younger and 10 pounds lighter, and have forgone the past 10 years of angst, remembering instead only what was fun and interesting. It is a pleasant idea, but Alice lives in Wonderland, home of 9/11, and knows too many Republicans, so she does not trust that she can pull it off.

First, Alice's final words in her capacity as reunion co-chair (i.e., for public consumption), pre-Weekend:

Editor’s note:
“Only connect,” wrote E. M. Forster in Howards End. That is, in essence, what has brought us together this June, a quarter-century post-[college], for Reunion. For once, we are face to face.

If we choose, here we can ignore the huge technological and telecommunications innovations that have, for better or worse, revolutionized our lives. (Pharmaceutical discoveries, however, never take a holiday.)

The class autobiographies that form the center of this book show classmates both surprised and blasé about where we are and what we’ve become. Almost everyone has expressed the feeling that it is only after leaving [our college] that we truly appreciate the experiences and opportunities our sojourn there afforded us, whether academic or otherwise.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to this narrative, offering us a glimpse into his or her life. As Joan Didion wrote: “we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be…”

Most of us cherish our [college] connections, however sporadic. We are linked by a landscape that includes the Pub, tea at the Main Living Room, daffodils by the Lake, and Art 105, not to mention the days of free beer and sudden romantic interludes.

That was then; this is now. It’s time to celebrate who we are.



Now, the text Alice couldn't provide for public consumption:

Alice is tired. She has put in more than 60 hours gratis on this reunion book alone, and if the alumnae/i organization remains consistent, she will receive thanks equal to her payment for services. In other words, none. She would like to kick in the ass every classmate who signed up to help with Reunion, then vanished when a specific request was made.

She is not sure she even wants to go. The planning and preparation have been absurdly complicated, in no small part because the alum office reunion coordinator just got promoted into her job this year, and Alice and her co-chairs have born the brunt of her learning curve. One more conference call, and Alice would pretend she lacked a telephone.

Clover's Companion, Alice's once-upon-a-time lover and current best friend, graduated a class behind Alice and will not be in attendence. The Croquet Player has RSVP'd, and Alice is nervous about their meeting at the scene of their initial encounter. They both behaved badly there, and Alice is hoping they won't regress to their teenage selves.

As for the daffodils, Alice does not ever remember seeing any bulbs in bloom.

Alice spent the latter three years of college stone-cold sober, and kept a nightly journal. She knows where the bodies are, if not buried, have encountered one another horizontally. She can't remember what she ate for dinner last night, but who slept with whom 25+ years ago? She's right on it. She has been known to have inconvenient recollections pop out of her mouth.

She has also been known not to alter her language or behavior due to the appearance of small children, for she remembers when you were trying your damnedest to avoid procreation, not to dwell on it.

As for her "career," Alice just laughs. What an overrated concept. Her college sends out its fair share of coffee-achievers, but, honestly, Alice turned in that assignment before graduation. She has worked with enough idiots to change jobs and find that regardless of her occupation, she flunked or never took the course in the patience required for real life.

She is hoping to cheer up in a very short period of time and that a good haircut, much-moisturized and pampered skin, and a decent bra will draw attention to the parts of her that have remain closest to her 21-year-old self. Her penchant for sarcasm has not changed.

Alice can only do so much to stop aging, not that she's complaining publicly about waistlines, wrinkles, and grey hair. She's just thinking it. That, and the fact her eyesight is shot; she has orthopedic problems and a crumbling bone structure. Fortunately, gravity is an equal-opportunity leveler.

Everyone who answered the questionnaires thought the Internet was the best thing since sliced bread -- the technological orgasm of our time. Alice, not so much. When it's good, it's very, very good. When it's bad, it really, really sucks. It operates at a much faster speed than Alice, who fears some connection got lost in the cyber translation, and she's never going to find it.

Oddly enough, even the gay couples didn't consider the fact that they are happily and publicly partnered to be one of the most significant changes in the last quarter century. Alice would put that way before the Internet in her list.

No lesbian considered it that significant that she could, on her own, have a baby, without being consigned to be a social pariah. Now, the lesbian mom gets points for diversity if she's looking to place her kid in private school.

After reading through her classmates' replies, Alice is confounded by their lack of creativity. She and her cohorts are baby boomers, albeit on the young side, but they did love sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, and now all their talk is of money and technology.

While the class of 1982 was never out to save the world, Alice thought it had more of a social conscience and interest than it has demonstrated in the reunion book. She has also been surprised that in 25 years, no one has learned to meet a deadline.

Maybe she shouldn't be. Maybe at this point in our lives, it all does come down to whatever-gets-you-through-the-night, and that "you" is very personal. Alice understands that, really. Her favorite innovation/invention over the past 25 years the first S.S.R.I. to roll off the assembly line in the late 1980s.

Labels: , , ,

May 14, 2007

Sex! Violence! Smoking?

(This post has not yet been rated)

From a recent press release:

"Los Angeles – The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) today announced that the rating system is enhancing the amount of information provided to parents on the issue of smoking in films.

In the past, illegal teen smoking has been a factor in the rating of films, alongside other parental concerns such as sex, violence and adult language. Now, all smoking will be considered and depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of an historic or other mitigating context may receive a higher rating."

Pardon me while I go fire up a cigarette in front of a six-year-old....or perhaps I should set fire to a flag while buildings implode around me, and guns kill thousands in real life.

I can't imagine explaining to a child how cigarettes, drinking, and all manner of non-PG behaviors show up in films from an earlier era, and ours still sanctifies violence on the small screen. Think Law & Order. CSI and its spin-offs. Any film set in the wild, wild West. Six times a day, minimum, several well before what used to be called the "family hour." Even parents on the Disney channel sleep (horrors!) in the same bed.

How will the child learn to appreciate The Thin Man? Since when did Nick and Nora become poster adults for debauchery personified?

Labels: ,

May 05, 2007

Field trip: to the Wizard off Wall Street

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas, not now, not ever.

We are, however, one state over -- a vast plain known for cattle and corn and for capitalism. Alice came to hear the Wizard off Wall Street, capitalist par exellence, the second-richest man in the U.S., the majority stockholder in Capitalist, Inc., a well-known company in which Alice and her mother a own large portion of a fraction of a share.

The Wizard has announced plans, upon his death, for a nonprofit foundation founded by the richest man in the U.S. to receive his shares of Capitalist, Inc., as his own offspring are already well provided for. Making money, good; inheriting it, apparently not so much. Alice has been known to sing a different tune.

Less that half a share was the price of admission, so Alice decided to land in the midst of flyover country (can't get there from Wonderland without at least one change of plane, unless she were to charter a share in a Capitalist, Inc.-owned fractional-airplane-share firm) to see why others make this pilgrimage yearly.

She planned to hear the great man speak and see the wares owned by Capitalist, Inc., some of whose wholly owned subsidiaries offered discounts during what some call "Woodstock for Capitalists" -- the annual Capitalist, Inc. shareholders meeting.

There was no tie-dye, no mud, no drugs, but plenty of port-a-potties and shriekingly wide, bright, casual-clothing-for-the-millennium at this Woodstock. (Black is the color of Wonderland.) The only music was a bad cover band at a reception, blessedly rendered mute by the Wizard's melodic and well-harmonized melodies at the following day's meeting (or circus-tent revival?).

Alice wouldn't want to see most of its invitees naked under any circumstances; still this is Wizardville, a place that shares only a vague semblance of a common language with the inhabitants of Wonderland, and no commonality of place or space. Here, the Wizard's guests amble; none whiz through these flyover country grounds.

The only guests who appear at all like Alice -- those speak who a different language, have a different religion, are conversant with a multitude of cultures, wear the clothing of their home country, walk at a brisk pace without taking up the entire road -- are the international ones, who get their own special reception. Given that Wonderland is off the coast of America, Alice thinks she should be invited as well.

Toto, Alice knows she's not in Kansas. We are in Wizardville. The whole town has tarted itself up and welcomes us with open arms (the better to whisk away our credit cards) for Capitalist, Inc.'s annual festival in this location. Alice has heard that the home state of the Wizard has, in its entirety, fewer than the number of people who inhabit the island of Wonderland. She is convinced all the natives congregated just to see the Wizard, if only on a jumbo-tron outside the main arena.

Here to see the Wizard, and Alice forgot one just one characteristic about herself: she hates crowds. Stays as far as she possibly can from them in Wonderland itself, yet she flew -- door to door -- almost six hours to an incoming crowd of 25,000, which itself takes up all the hotel space in Wizardville, Flyover Land, and fills its Civic Center Auditorium with other shareholders who wish to hear the great man speak.

During the three days during which the crowd descends annually, the Capitalist, Inc.,-owned jewelry store does more business than it does throughout the Christmas season; another subsidiary, Capitalist, Inc.,'s home furnishings extravaganza, sells more of its wares than in any two-month period.

Beside the Civic Center is an Exhibitors' Hall, several football fields of space, where Alice could have purchased anything from discounted auto insurance whose best-known spokesman is a lizard, to cowboy boots, to a books from a store whose selection belies the Wizard's modesty, to some discounted-for-the-occasion children's clothes. Alice dares not send these to her niece, imprinted as they are with the Capitalist, Inc., name.

Last week Alice mailed a T-shirt from her college, considered by Alice and her mother as enough irony to last a 3-month-old baby girl quite a while. Kayanna is less likely to inherit shares of Capitalist, Inc., than she is to go to the brand-name, prestigious college from which Aunt Alice graduated. Kayanna's father is sophisticated enough to understand this slight, although his wife, from Tiny Town, Slow Southern State, is probably not that cosmopolitan.

There were discounts on an encyclopedia Alice remembers from her childhood, or, rather, remembers its overlays of a frog and a human being, with all parts named. (More parts are given names on the human in the 2007 edition than in the one 40 years its predecessor, which Alice owned, and which she was meant to update annually, with "See update, page 123," stickers. The stickers went by the wayside long before the annual updates stopped.)

Then there were genuine Ginko knives, which Alice thought had vanished into TV advertising heaven, but they were slicing and dicing and for sale in sets of eight knives in a wooden block. In addition the floor was filled salespeople peddling all manner of equipment for folks in middle America -- from RVs (sorry, manufactured homes, awnings sold separately) to home-party kitchenware to a $1300 vacuum touted as an "investment."

If the vacuum came with its own operator, 7 days a week, one who also did windows, laundry, changed linens, and shopped, cooked and cleaned up after making dinner, then Alice would give it a call.

Alice knows no one who would buy these items -- neither precision machining equipment nor rug shampoo cleaning products makes her must-buy list, nor does either make the lists of anyone Alice knows, but she is right pleased these middle-Americans, homeowners in flyover country, take such a strong financial interest in her welfare with their purchases.

Not owning a car, she is not sure what Lizard car insurance can do for her, either, but if it can make her a profit without undue harm to the planet, she is too cynical to care much about other aspects of the product. If Gigolos R Us did a land-office business, Alice would look into their stock as well.

The Wizard gives off an "ah, shucks; all my pal and I did was look for the right businesses at a discount to pull together this company here for all of us" air to those awaiting his special secrets. Guess what? He didn't get to be where he is by being any one's fool -- the only way we share in his secrets is through purchasing Capitalist, Inc.'s stock.

Make no mistake: the Wizard is genuine, and Alice will tag along on his coat tails for as long as she's getting a great ride. Toto can tug on no curtain to reveal the Wizard, for he is no con artist. Some call him a Seer; others, the Princely Prognosticator.

The Wizard's successors have yet to be named, but Alice figures, if the Wizard, age 76, anoints them, he will find the best available talent from sea to shining sea and beyond, leaving them to seduce him with their knowledge and business acumen, to follow in his place as Seer of Capitalist, Inc.

About too close to Kansas: strong tornadoes are forecast, on stations available only on local TV news and radio. The Weather Channel does not even mention whatever the largest city is in this state as a place for which to issue a forecast. Saturday night's two-hour thunder and lightning storm, complete with jagged forks of light and thunder to shake the hotel bed, barely makes the news, and doesn't register for anyone who is not trapped in it.

In Wonderland, such a storm would be, at the very least, worthy of a crawl across the bottom of the TV screen. Alice believes she is in the largest city in this state adjoining Kansas: still, its weather is of no consequence or interest to anyone beyond its boundaries, nor, apparently, within them.

Flyover City does yield some surprises: steak prices that would do a New York restaurant proud, albeit with considerably less overhead and considerably more proximity to the animals. If there were a steak sauce praised by the populace, it would A-1, not Bordelaise, Bearnaise, or other popular Wonderland offerings.

Alice couldn't help observing a restaurant salad bar, circa 1971 in the state where Wonderland is situated, circa 2007 in the state next to Kansas. Nor can she avoid mentioning that no lettuce other than iceberg has been seen within the state's borders, and vegetables are what they feed to the animals, not what they consume or attempt to use in the derivation of fuel.

There is novelty for Alice: in strip-mall city, the "coffeehouses" are drive-thrus, which seems to defeat the purpose of their names, unless caffeine is Flyover-City fuel, and even then, Alice thinks self-service has gone too far. Perhaps that concept with the "manufactured" housing, the house paint, the carpet- and floor-covering making companies and its cohorts at the Capitalist, Inc., revival sales hall.

(The Wizard's cohort -- akin to a co-chair -- suggests feeding the corn to the people, not turning it into fuel, in the interest of starting at the beginning. It is a feeling Alice shares, though she had not heard it so succinctly elucidated previously.)

However, Alice does not own a car, and she doubts the trucks that deliver nutrients to Wonderland would be eligible for an ethanol subsidy. Feed 'em first, then sell the cars and fuel and insurance and upkeep. Otherwise, the size of the carbon footprint will remain in the double digits, Alice suspects. She herself wears a size 6.

Alice has owned common stock since shortly after she was born in an L&D room in Hell's Kitchen. Yet this is the first time she has taken sufficient interest to see what a shareholder's meeting is all about. A solid 98% "yeas" for what the directors recommend and less than 2% "yeas" on any shareholder resolutions. She's not surprised. She just hopes the Wizard will keep subsidizing her expenses, and, with that, she is off to sleep.

Labels: , ,