Okay, let’s get this part out of the way… It appears I’m old. I never really think of myself this way, but I deduced this is true from what I see going on around me lately. I don’t understand what the fuck is going on anymore–this is a symptom, right?
Maybe today it just got to me.
Must be my perspective, because if I think of it any other way, then the gods help everyone in my generation when we become enfeebled and will have to depend on the progeny we’ve unleashed upon the earth.
I did not evolve out of the cell phone or even the DVD generation. I was hatched out of the 60’s. I watched the first moon landing sitting on my mother’s lap, was nurtured and fed by the flickering images of Vietnam on the news, the milk man still delivered milk and bread to our front porch when I was in kindergarten, knew computers couldn’t fit in your pocket, because they were the size of a building and I took a course in high school called Business Machines that included the care and use of such exciting pieces of equipment as Dictaphones and Gestetner machines. In grade school, we still had grammar lessons and spelling drills and played games about vocabulary and how fast we could look up words in the dictionary and thought that was a fun time.
In my universe, no one got an award for showing up anywhere and there were most definitely winners and losers. We learned if you ever wanted to get somewhere in your life, you learned what it meant to lose. We learned how to lose with grace, because that was almost as important a life lesson as winning since you couldn’t always win and learned to push yourself toward excellence, so you could win. No one got handed anything without you putting in some effort and even then, you often wouldn’t get it, just to teach you to try harder next time.
We had lawn darts with weighted, pointy metal tips that we all had enough sense to not get in the path of, because they would kill you. We were encouraged to bring soccer balls and baseball bats and hockey sticks and skipping ropes to school for recess where we actually enjoyed playing games and making up games and no one considered any of those items deadly weapons that we weren’t intelligent enough not to turn toward dark purposes.
If anyone got hurt from an accidental slap shot to the nads, you fucking walked it off like a man. You didn’t consider suing anyone over it. It was never meant in rage and we weren’t full enough of ourselves to think that anyone would be that out to get us, because we all knew the difference between reality and a movie which we were quite aware we didn’t live in.
The first time you decided to take a shortcut across the baseball diamond when you were too young to know any better and got in the way of the backswing of someone at batting practice and took it to the temple hard enough to drop you, the guys on the diamond would yell at you for getting in the way and not the guy with the bat. When the stars stopped twirling around your scrambled brains, you knew you’d just learned another valuable life lesson and never did that again, but didn’t tell your parents, because your mom would just freak out about how you could have almost died when you knew you weren’t even close.
No one took anxiety medication or went to counselling and when you were freaking out over something, you hunkered down behind the portables and talked it out with your friends who always had your back, even when you did the stupidest things and who would defend you even to the cost of getting their own asses busted by their parents when they hadn’t even been involved in whatever dumb-ass thing you did. When the school bully decided it was your turn to get kicked around? They would be there, too, and stand with you shoulder-to-shoulder even when you all weighed sixty pounds soaking wet and knew he was going to kick the shit out of the bunch of you.
We road our bikes down steep inclines at breakneck speed without a helmet and with our eyes closed and didn’t give a shit if we crashed at the bottom of the hill, because that was the risk you took, the payment for the thrill of going that fast with your feet off the pedals and flying like Superman. And then that day when you bent your bike up against a concrete curb, because you hit it so hard and took the skin off your forearms and your face, it was your buddies who walked you and the twisted Canadian Tire special you got last Christmas back to your parents’ house, so they could patch you up and your parents would yell at you for wrecking your bike and not at your friends for letting you do something that dumb and no one called the cops or put it up on YouTube or made a federal case out of it.
When did everything get to be so bloody complicated and need an emergency national moratorium?
In between everything else I do, I also work in a large place where the average employee age is about twenty-five and where I am supposed to be moulding these guys into something approaching independent thinkers and leaders and the next generation at the top level of the company ahead of when the rest of us get too tired to keep going and decide to step out. Now, I have the privilege of being directly involved in hiring–interviewing and making the ultimate decision to bring new ones in and I have a knack for separating the wheat from the chaff. But I can tell you, pickings are getting pretty slim out there. I only bring in the best of the best and even with that, the calibre has changed. On the one hand, more well-spoken and articulate thanks to social media and a generation of instant communication while on the other hand, can’t construct a complete written sentence, have never used punctuation, are incapable of making an independent decision and get frustrated and loudly indignant when they don’t get promoted to management in two weeks from their entry-level position.
I’m also a big user of public transit both because I’m eco-conscious and because Toronto’s a big city and the roads are mess, so the subway train is most often your fastest travel option. As a result, I am often subjected to herds of these same guys who don’t have cars, because they haven’t been able to force themselves to keep a job long enough to save enough money to buy one. As a writer, I’m an observer of human nature, so can’t help but study them with intent, because everything is fodder for the creative machine, after all. I pick apart everything with clinical fascination–cadence of speech, vernacular, mannerisms, habits, interpersonal interaction, facial expressions, clothing, accessories, nervous behaviour…. Everything. That’s a fun time to me. And yet, even in the midst of that mindless, amusing intake on my part, my brain will kick in and give me another “What?”.
Some recent examples…
In the span of one week, I saw two infants, children so young they couldn’t walk and were being ferried around in a stroller sucking on a pacifier while their parent held the bottle they were still small enough to use, both using a tablet and whipping through the menu options faster than the IT department at my day job. I’m not exaggerating–these kids couldn’t even talk yet. What?
I heard the phrase “Yo-yo homey, step the fuck off or I’m gonna bust a cap in yer ass” coming out of a blonde, roughly thirteen-year-old throwing up pretend gang signs while he spoke and who was from an obvious Scottish heritage background and born in Canada. Now, I’ve known people in actual gangs, so know the difference between a poser and the real deal, so excuse me if this strikes me as ridiculous. The ensuing conversation from he and his “homies” went on at a higher-than-average volume to ensure they could validate themselves by the attention of as many other people as possible, because it was obvious they weren’t capable of doing so on their own. I’m sorry, I find it amusing when children think they’re living in East L.A. when they weren’t born there, but they’ve seen it on t.v., so believe that makes them part of the Crips and the Bloods. News for you, Homeslice, that distinction is earned and at a price you won’t be willing to pay by play-acting at being a punk. Again, what?
In a series of recent interviews, when I asked candidates if they could recount for me a real world example of a time they put a customer first to their detriment and what was the outcome, I got multiple blank expressions and the inevitable follow-up question “Um, well, can I use something from a group project at school?” or “Can I skip that one? This is my first job”. These are twenty-somethings. I don’t know about you, but I was working part-time since almost the beginning of high school and have never been self-absorbed enough not to put myself out there for people, because sometimes it’s just the right call. And how have they been paying for their daily trips to Starbucks and laptops and iPhones and iPods???
Okay, so what’s the consensus? Old, right? Cool. Because you know what? I think I’m okay with that today.