Shopping – A Lost Art

Do you remember the thrill of wandering the aisles and displays in department stores?  Even if you couldn’t afford it, it was exciting and fun to touch it and dream.  One of my most favorite places in the world as a kid was SEARS. 

You name it, SEARS had it.    

Of course, there was the classic SEARS Christmas Wish Book, which accounted for huge sales numbers come the holidays.  We’d explore the Wish Book hot off the press, smell the sweet aroma of fresh ink, then, take our imaginations to SEARS for a closer look at the real thing.  What a rush it was to touch something you saw in the catalog on display for the touching. 

Sometimes, the real thing was disappointing. 

Then, there were always moments when we were distracted by our parents who wanted us to try on shoes.  The darned things were always too tight.  The same could be said for clothing that was either too loose or too tight followed by, “Awe Honey, you will grow into them…” or “I think you will like this…” when you hated it with a passion.  No kid wants to try on clothes.

I believe I was an old soul trapped in a kid’s body.  Most kids looked at toys.  Me—I was always in the home improvement department looking at plumbing fixtures and kitchen cabinets—dreaming of home ownership as a grown up.  I loved anything to do with home improvement.  I got high off the smell of fresh cut lumber.  I also had a thing for lighting, electrical hardware, and Christmas lights.  The colors and types of bulbs were enchanting to me.  In those days, there were so many types.

Young people these days want to know how we even survived without video games and electronic media.  I’ve carefully explained to my teenage son in those days we had our imaginations.  We had no idea what a video game was because they didn’t exist.  I did enjoy electric toys.  You flipped a switch and they sprung to action with motion and flashing lights.  I loved those tin battery-operated airliners with lighted cockpits and navigation lights.  There were plastic propellers that whirled around.  They roared around the floor, stopped, loaded and unloaded, and went on their way. 

If you had a dog, motorized toys drove them crazy.

I’d walk into SEARS and head for the bicycles.  I was nine and I wanted one badly.  Christmas Morning 1965, there it was in gleaning red and chrome, leaning on a kickstand amid our living room.  I couldn’t wait to attach it to my backside for a spin around the block.  It had working lights and baskets.  I later added a generator lighting set with a headlight and red taillight for battery-free performance.

Online shopping is certainly convenient as witness the success of Amazon and other online retailers.  SEARS could have been Amazon given vision and the application of technology.  CEO Eddie Lampert didn’t see the point.  SEARS is all but dead.

However – the memories are not.

There’s no substitute for the touch and feel experience of brick-and-mortar shopping.  How many bad online purchases have you experienced because you couldn’t touch and shake it?  The shipping is too expensive to send it back, which leaves you stuck with it.  I say let’s get back to brick and mortar shopping when the stores are quiet and you can see and touch what you’re buying.

If you’re retired, avoid the crowds—take a weekday morning and go browse the stores just for the entertainment value and dream factor.  Chances are good you will find what you’re looking for and experience the thrill of touch—and spending.   

The Miracle of Space Travel

Do you remember how we marveled at space travel growing up?  In the early 1960s, we gathered around the TV to watch the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo launches in our quest for space supremacy over the Soviet Union (Russia).  In school, we watched together in auditoriums and in classrooms to behold these launches and take in mankind’s first real footsteps in space.  For young impressionable baby boomers, it was awe inspiring.  It was a big deal for us.    

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy spoke before 35,000 Rice University students – which inspired us to get to the Moon before 1970. When he was assassinated November 22, 1963, it bolstered our determination to get to the Moon.

“We choose to go to the Moon. We choose to go to the Moon…We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy inspired a Nation.

Space travel, no matter how we choose to minimize its relevance today, remains a dangerous business and not for the faint of heart.  Only a few aeronautical professionals have been in outer space. Yet, if you ask the average American the names of these courageous few, not many even remember their names. This is how routine space travel has become – for those who’ve never been in outer space nor experienced the rigorous and exhaustive training it took to get there.

How many are up there now in the International Space Station? Human lives in space orbiting the Earth 24/7/365 making our world a better place – yet – who notices? They pass overhead largely unnoticed. Once we’d landed on the Moon, Americans lost interest in space.  The Apollo launches went unnoticed until Apollo 11 when it was time to land on and stand on the surface of the Moon.  The entire world chimed in to watch America’s greatest feat.

We’ve gotten careless with our greatness. Sloppy… Have we come so far that leaving the surface of Earth has become no big deal? I think of the Space Shuttle missions, and others, that built the International Space Station enabling us to do extensive research in a zero gravity environment in the life-threatening world of outer space. Missions in space have brought us technology we’ve come to take for granted. Every time you pick up your cell phone, sit down to a PC, or use your GPS, the space program contributed to these conveniences.

In the entire history of space travel, the United States has lost 20 astronauts, which is remarkable when you consider the very dangerous nature of space travel over more than 60 years of leaving the surly bonds of Earth. How many of you can identify these lost astronauts by name and mission?

I thought so…

I cannot name all of them either.

Shuttle Challenger disaster in January 1986 where seven were lost. Shuttle Columbia, the first in space, was lost years later in a reentry accident where another seven astronauts died.

I think of those lost in our space program who risked their lives for the advancement of mankind. The greatest risk was to space pioneers like John Glenn and Alan Shepard who took great risks into the unknowns of outer space. These men survived to see space again and again. Others, such as the Challenger Seven, weren’t so fortunate who never even made it into space when failed SRB seals ignited the shuttle’s main fuel tank at 60,000 feet. All were lost. Shuttle Columbia years later would fail upon reentry due to missing tiles, killing the seven souls on board.

Apollo 1 crew White, Grissom, and Chaffee.

Apollo 1 in 1967 with astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee never made it into space. During a systems test, there was a short circuit in a 100-percent oxygen environment that touched off an immediate flash fire killing the three.

My son, just 13, has no interest in watching a rocket launch. He’s never known a world where we had not yet been in space. He’s never experienced the thrill of a rocket launch into the mysteries and unknowns of space. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, watched with great fascination as we ventured into space for the first time. We were hyper focused on that journey to the Moon and couldn’t wait.

It is high time we get young people interested in space travel and make this a mandatory part of their education. They need to get excited about space as we head for Mars and back to the Moon. The journey must continue.

Practicing Gratitude on Thanksgiving

A buddy of mine of many years, the late Marvin McAfee, who passed at age 87, said no matter how bad things might look at the time, they can always get worse.  I think what Marvin meant was – when it seems bad, take heart, and embrace the devil you know.  In his own way, he was trying to tell this young buck to count my blessings. 

True…things can always get worse. 

I am also of the belief they can get better. 

It is important to take an accounting of your blessings no matter how rough things are.  Give thanks for the good blessings you’ve been handed no matter how small and work on making things better.  Do your best to be strong and overcome the struggles no matter how overwhelming they seem. 

Never, ever give up. 

Whenever I ask myself how I may help others, paying it forward, the blessings open up and I feel more optimistic about life. I’ve found I get exactly what I project.  If I perceive things are going to get worse—the universe “hears” my pessimism and rewards me accordingly. 

Things get worse. 

By contrast, project the positive and believe in better things and you will learn the value—the energy—of positive thoughts and beliefs.

You will be rewarded.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to give thanks for our good blessings.  Never miss the chance to give thanks, clasp hands, and open your mind to the miracles all around us.  They really do happen every day all around the world—they just don’t always happen for everyone.  I am not a religious man.  However, I do believe in “God” and the endless energy of that belief—the power of belief and faith. 

This is not about religion.  I speak of the universe that gave each of us life.  We didn’t just happen.  I don’t believe we come from nothing and I don’t believe we just die and that’s it.  We are all an integral part of a greater energy than we will ever understand because we are not supposed to understand why we are here.  

This is why faith in our creator is so important.

Each morning, I awaken and say— “Thank You, Father…”  It is my way of thanking the cosmos for the life I’ve been handed.  Behold the sunrise, the sweet aroma in the cool air, the dog licking my face, my son telling me he loves me, a friend reaching out to check on me—endless reminders that I am alive and loved.  Still alive to give back and to help others—the grand opportunity to pay it forward. 

If you are feeling emotional or physical pain, it is a reminder you are still alive to feel.  By the same token, you are also alive to feel the euphoria—the pleasure.  When you’re amid the pain, it is impossible to feel optimistic about anything.  You then need to slowly vector toward the pleasure in baby steps.  Find reasons to keep on keeping on.  Pay attention to the love you have from others.  Count on setbacks—those bad days where it’s hard to even want to be alive. 

Fake it until you make it—and you will get it. 

Walk the walk of optimism and avoid the pessimists.  Close your ears to anything that’s going to drag you down.  I speak from experiences because I was raised in perpetual doom and gloom—“Oh my goodness, I don’t know what you’re ever going to do…”  Optimism and gratitude take work—real work—where you must keep pressing toward the mark regardless of how tough things are.  If you’re suffering from a terminal illness or have lost a loved one, you have to find the means to keep going—and remember there are those who love and need you.  They need you to be positive and alive.    

As we crest yet another Thanksgiving holiday, rejoice in the loved one’s around you.  If you are feeling very much alone, go where people are and be a part of it.  Ask what you can do to give back and marvel at what will come back to you.    

Did Boomers Screw It Up?

Baby Boomers like to blame millennials and even our parents for the mess we are in today.  We perceived our parents as “The Establishment” and gave them a hard time when they were trying to keep us straight and level. We perceived them oppressive when they didn’t give in to what we wanted.  That’s sure something coming from the generation that has gotten whatever it wanted. 

I wonder if we’ve ever paused to thank them for their sacrifices. 

Boomers have a lot to answer for. The Greatest Generation handed us a healthy stable economy—in fact the healthiest in modern history.  They made it easier for us than they had it growing up.  They knew how to do more with less considering The Great Depression and World War II.  They handed us a debt free government.  They were quick to remind us they had it rougher than we did and wanted us to have it better than they did.  These were good lessons for impressionable young boomers from a responsible generation who raised us to do the same.  However, I’m not always sure we put much of it to practice.

We’ve been careless with what was handed to us.

Boomers like to blame millennials for the state of the nation and the decay of society. However, not so fast.  Who raised millennials?  We did.  What kind of example have we collectively set for millennials and what kind of a mess are we handing them?  We’ve always wanted what we want when we want, which is why we have more debt than our parents had—and millennials have. 

Millennials, watching us struggle under a mountain of debt, repossessions and foreclosures, do not want to travel down that path.  Banks, of course, are baiting millennials with easy money.  Easy to borrow.  Easier to get into debt. 

Bad logic…

Smart millennials aren’t taking the bait.  The banks be damned.

Baby Boomers inherited a healthy economy rich in jobs and careers.  However, we’ve taken advantage of what’s been handed to us.  As politicians, we’ve slashed taxes and continued to put the country deeper into debt without grasping the consequences of fiscal irresponsibility.  As a result, millennials are inheriting a huge fiscal mess not to mention social unrest. 

We’ve continued to put off critical infrastructure upkeep over the past five decades to where we will never catch up on what needs to be fixed.  Roads and highways continue to decay.  Water systems and electrical grids are falling apart.  The bridge collapse in Minneapolis years back is a good example of the repair work we haven’t been mindful of. People died in that collapse. Flint, Michigan’s water system is yet another example of our recklessness. It is believed there is at least $4 trillion worth of infrastructure repair and upgrade out there to be accomplished.

President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” campaign doesn’t even begin to touch it, but it is at least a start. We have a lot of work ahead of us. The state of education in this country is disturbing when educators are grossly underpaid, must purchase their own school supplies, and even have to pay out of pocket for substitute teachers to fill in for them when they need time off.  School systems don’t have the budget. 

How absurd is that? 

College should be easier to get for young people to get.  Instead, it has become beyond reach for most. Young people are refusing to get into student loan debt.  School administrators are paid outrageous sums of money while teachers and their families go hungry.  We’ve left young people to fend for themselves. 

And we have the audacity to be critical of millennials.

Boomer and GEN X politicians have been reckless with out-of-control spending and little accountability for where the money goes.  Billions just thrown to the winds—void of any accountability.  We buy our friendships around the world. I have to believe there’s a money trail in that. Those who benefit and those who don’t. 

The U.S. Supreme Court took the cap off campaign contributions sending corruption to new heights. Stunning isn’t it?   How do people of modest means get elected, go to Washington, and retire wealthy while expecting the rest of us to do without?  They forget what they were sent to Washington to do.  It isn’t about the country anymore or and element of duty, it is about their own lives and careers.  It is entirely about catering to the dark money that put them in Washington.

Education, as already stated, has taken a huge hit in the past 50 years because our priorities are misplaced.  Education is what makes a society.  When it falls off a cliff, so does society.  We’ve become Trash TV for the world to see.  We’ve forgotten how to act.  No wonder the world—and millennials—have little faith in us. 

Despite the negatives just mentioned, Boomers have also worked tenaciously to make the world a better place. We’ve taken a long look at racism and racial injustices. We still have a long way to go when it comes to addressing our differences. Climate Control has become a paramount issue. We’ve made great strides in healthcare and disease control.

Being a baby boomer has been a lengthy learning curve of knowing what works and what doesn’t. We’re constantly evaluating our mistakes and failings – determined not to make the same mistakes again.

Boomers have one last shot at making the world a better place before we collectively file off this apple.  What about that?

The Precious Gift of Laughter

There’s no equal to the love of a great friend. They know all your secrets and would never tell a soul. They hang with you with no expectations outside of just being in your company. A true friend is someone you live to spend time with. Life has blessed me with a wealth of great friends and acquaintances—loyal committed friends and family I value beyond words.

I just received word from back home a lifelong buddy and cohort in mischief passed from heart failure. I read his son Johnathan’s words in a text and sat there and cried.

Raymond Francis Hinson and I met in a junior high school Social Studies class in 1968.  Our meeting had to have been pure destiny—extraordinary chemistry like no other at the time.  We had a mutual mindset—to wreck as much havoc as we possibly could during school hours and act like we knew nothing about it.

We were certifiable stinkers it seems everybody remembers.

Ray and I connected with precision on Day 1.  We made eye contact and it was all over but the crying.  We’d make sounds where no one knew where they were coming from.  Then, it was, “Who’s making that noise?!”  from our Social Studies teacher.  Ray and I would trade glances and try to hold back the laughter.

When we were seated in quads with two other poor slobs, we always managed to get the entire table in trouble. Seasoned educators saw us walk into a classroom and knew it was going to be the worst day of their lives.  Teachers would catch on to our antics and promptly separate us.  I’d be in front of the class and Ray would be relocated to the back. Sometimes, we were told to go stand in the hall.

That didn’t work. 

I’d hear Ray giggling 30 feet away and get a fit of the giggles.  I just couldn’t stop laughing. Of course, we never meant any harm with our mischief yet always did as much damage as possible.  One of our most favorite places was the school lunchroom.  And – you had better be wearing a raincoat at lunchtime whenever we were in attendance in front of the cafeteria.

Vegetable soup was always good for entertainment, especially wet soggy carrot chunks placed in a soup spoon used as a launch pad for these projectiles.  Ray would place the carrot chunk strategically in the spoon and launch it with great accuracy toward a table full of young ladies. This strategy was always good for drama.  The corresponding scream meant Ray’s carrot hit the target. 

I would innocently ask Ray why they called the side salad a “tossed” salad and he would calmly reach over and toss it all over the lunch table.  You couldn’t bowl on a league with Ray with any precision because he’d make a hysterical comment, flatulate, or belch in the middle of your delivery to break your concentration.     

After school when the building was empty, we’d find a nice quiet restroom in which to continue mischief.  Ray’s goal was to stop up all the toilets and urinals to overwhelm the floor drain.  Sometimes, the flush valve would stick and it was time to run like hell because the flow of water was not going to stop.  In a room full of Sloan Quiet Flush valves, there was always at least one that decided to stick. 

I am quite sure there were custodians at Samuel Ogle Junior High School who hated us with a passion because we always left them a huge mess to clean up.  While in summer school in 1969, we decided to stop up all the toilets including one where someone had been decidedly ill where its contents ran all over the floor.  Two custodians marched in and we were cold busted.  We were nearly expelled from summer school and managed to flunk 7th grade at the same time.  It was rough explaining to the principal why we chose this path of visible and destructive vandalism. 

Even tougher to explain to the parents. 

Son Johnathan, wife Cindy, and Ray on the right.

Ray and I repeated the 7th grade together and nearly flunked a second time!  And—and how did we manage to survive Vice Principal Arthur Lakin?  Lakin came out of the District of Columbia school system and was a U.S. Marine.  We watched him bounce students off the walls in utter astonishment wondering why we were still alive or not severely maimed ourselves. 

Ray and I moved on to high school in our hometown of Bowie, Maryland.  As time passed, Ray and I finally grew up and apart.  In time, we lost track of one another.  Ray moved way down into Virginia’s hill country, met and married his lovely good-hearted Cindy, and raised a family.  I went in the United States Air Force and migrated to Oklahoma.  After that, my career efforts took me far and wide all over the United States.

In time, I began to wonder whatever happened to Ray.  I’d ask around.  No one knew where he was.  On a lark, I decided to look up his siblings in Facebook.  I found his baby sister, Debbie.  She remembered me from long ago and connected me with Ray.  When Ray and I hooked up after decades of wondering where each of us was, it swiftly became one of those relationships where we picked up right where we left off in the 1970s.  That was the kind of friendship we had.    

Just such a friendship is as rare as the Hope Diamond.  Ray and I were diamonds in the rough to be sure.  Our very nature was to make each other laugh and marvel at the mischief we always knew how to get into.  Throughout our long-distance discussions, we spoke of having a reunion at our junior high school but were never able to get together.  Between my living in California and Ray in a very remote part of Southwest Virginia a continent away, we were never able to get together.  And, Ray, suffering from heart disease, struggled to travel anywhere as his health deteriorated. 

At 3 am on a Saturday morning, Ray, with just 20-percent heart capacity, passed as his son Johnathan, tried to revive him.  No one deserved a better send-off than Ray.  He passed from this world surrounded by the love and affection of a great family.  What I know about Ray is, he possessed a huge heart and worked very hard all his life.  He took good care of his family and friends, and always knew how to make people laugh.  He delivered a great sense of humor and managed to keep a smile on his face despite adversity. 

Raymond Francis Hinson—you, my friend and soulmate—will be forever missed.            

Do You Have Pauresis? (Toilet Phobia)

I was toilet trained at age 2.  At that age, I found toilets to be decidedly creepy.  At age that age, I was short—with my face located down close to a toilet bowl to where it looked ominous and life threatening.  My mother would hit the lever and matter in the bowl (poop, pee, and toilet paper) would whirl around the bowl and vanish down a passageway never to be seen again. 

That scared me.

No use explaining to a two-year-old how sewers worked and where poop and pee went. All I knew at that age was it was all gone forever in a matter of seconds.  Some toilets were user-friendly in my little mind while others were intimidating.  Darned if I was going to place my posterior on a creepy, intimidating toilet. 

Would you? 

American Standard’s Water Saving Cadet toilet long before “Low-Flush” was so popular.

Do you have toilet phobia? If so, you’re in good company.  Some forms of this emotional phenomenon are well publicized and typically not far from our own homes. Oftentimes they’ve existed in our homes, with a child who won’t go to the bathroom anywhere but home. Perhaps you’re married to such a person.  Archie Bunker of “All in The Family” fame didn’t like using a “strange” bathroom.  His wife, Edith, with all the wonderful innocence of a child, shared that with us and because she never knew when to keep her mouth shut.

“Private – Edith – private…”  

I have a neighbor who admitted he had an anxiety about using any toilet besides the three in his home.  I was rather surprised when he shared that because it is such an embarrassing subject people never talk about.  When asked why he had such a phobia, he didn’t have an answer.  Toilet use is such a personal thing. 

The man-eating Kohler Bolton toilet.

For me, it was the creepy dynamics of the way toilets were designed back in the day.  The trapway was intimidating to me.  It consumed what we flushed away—gone…  Trapways have always had a variety of strange shapes, which begs the question who designs toilets? I mean – who actually grows up thinking, “I want to design toilets?” Where do they school in such a subject? 

I’ve never met a toilet engineer or stylist in my whole life.  I have, however, known a Kohler toilet tester from Wisconsin.  His job was to—well—test toilets. Imagine a job testing toilets. What would you use as a medium for flush testing?  I don’t think they use the real thing – do they? I suspect my friend is one of those people who forgets to flush the toilet at home.  

In some Kohler and American Standard ads, they like showing all of us just how many ping-pong balls you can flush down their latest 1.28gpf (gallons per flush) toilet.  That would have gone over big in Captain Kangaroo’s Treasure House where ping-pong balls were popular with Bunny Rabbit, who liked raining ping-pong balls on The Captain, making kids laugh hysterically from coast-to-coast.  The best to you each morning—right after a nutritious Kellogg’s breakfast. 

Right, Kids? 

The high-end American Standard Luxor Quiet-Flush low-rise squatty potty.

Why do some low-flush modern hoppers have such an efficient flush with good bowl rinse while others just horribly lack?  You have to flush the darned things twice.

How am I saving water flushing a 1.28gpf toilet twice? 

Kohler’s classic monster mash budget “Bolton” toilet was a simple reverse trap design found in thousands of homes, apartments, and businesses when we were kids.  You could flush a grapefruit down the Bolton with its huge 2 5/8-inch trapway and five gallons of water. The darned thing was a beast. Washdown toilets, with their traps toward the front of the bowl, were outlawed in the United States in the mid-1960s because fecal material would stick to the front of the bowl. It was unsanitary for there to be remaining poop stuck to the bowl.

I get that…    

Low Rise “Quiet-Flush” high-end toilets, by contrast, have never employed a great flush.  Their flushes are sluggish and quite lame considering what the wealthy pay for them.  American Standard’s Luxor “squatty-potty” is one example.

The best toilets were inefficient and consumed large sums of water, however, you didn’t have to flush them twice.  I see them for sale in the online auctions all the time.  Old school American Standard “Cadet” and “Compact” toilets of the fifties and sixties were attractive and they were thorough. The Kohler Wellworth and Eljer Orlando were also good examples.

As a child, the deal breaker for me with toilets was the “creepy” factor.  Did a toilet give me the creeps or was it something I felt comfortable strapping to my backside? 

Sometimes, I just had to hold it until I got home.

Dreaming Then, Dreaming Now…

It is a chilly November night where I live on Southern California’s high desert 60 miles north of Los Angeles. I am as far away as you can get from my hometown of Bowie, Maryland without winding up in the vast Pacific.

Tonight, I am reflecting upon my childhood memories.

I like to lie on the bed, close my eyes, and enter a journey back to the mid-1960s, remembering the sweet childhood moments that yield the happiest memories.  I think my greatest childhood memories were the times I spent alone in my bedroom in our suburban Washington home gazing out into the night sky, watching the streetlights come on, feeling the cold frosty glass, fogging the cold glass with my warm breath, listening to Herb Alpert on the phonograph – dreaming of the future.

Do you remember being a kid and daydreaming of the future?

Ironic, isn’t it?  Back then, we dreamed of the future.  Today, we dream of the past. I was 12 years old and couldn’t wait to be grown up.  I’d look out my window into the darkness and wonder what was out there. There was a huge world to be discovered.  My perception of the world then was decidedly different than it is now .

As a kid on a warm and humid summer night, I’d watch the lightning and hear the approaching thunder outside my bedroom window and await the rush of an incredible thunderstorm.  I’d see the lightning and wonder how far away it was.  The dark squall line would appear on the horizon ahead of the storm signaling its arrival.  Then—that first close lightning strike within a mile punctuating the raw power of what was about to unfold. The rush of downdrafts and gusty winds, then, the downpour and drama to follow.

A thunderstorm was like a symphony to me.  

As a kid, I watched the seasons pass – the trees would turn colors and be bare as we headed into cold dark winter. I’d watch them bud and come alive in the springtime. Spring was a welcomed awakening where I felt alive again.

Living in California, I think of my Maryland roots often. Washington will always be home regardless of what direction I take. I think suburban Washington out in the sticks remains a wonderful place to live and a place where kids can grow up and feel safe. Kids growing up in Maryland today won’t have the same experiences we did 60 years ago when we were so isolated from Downtown Washington. 

My faraway hometown in the East has become an old-old friend I’ve returned to time and time again to pat on the back and say hello.  Yet, as much as I fantasize about back home, I’ve found you really can’t go home again. 

Rarely is “back home” the same place. 

While you were away, “back home” grew and changed.  The friends you had as a child.  The adults who were your mentors.  The innocence of place in those days.  It has all faded deep into the past.  Your friends moved on both physically and mentally.  There are also friends who are no longer with us.  Our parents and mentors are largely gone now.  Our schools are different.  Businesses we frequented have closed or have changed hands.  The fields where we played are now condos.  The Mall where we hung out on a rainy day closed years back and is now a high-rise office building.  Where you and your friends used to bowl is long gone along with a lot of gutter ball memories.

Keep in mind life sits still for no one…yet, despite the progress of civilization, you are free to relive the memories time and time again.

Distraction – A Social Blight

“Driving While Distracted” has become a popular catch phrase in recent times.  The cell phone zombie who walks into a fountain or out into traffic to become roadkill.  The lonely soul in a diner with a lunch companion engrossed in their cell or laptop.

And then there are divorce courts full of the lonely – abandoned by an electronically obsessed partner.

Game over.

Parents with kids in therapy trying to wean the entitled little tike off of video games. I am of the belief it cannot be done.

I will get to all of this in just a moment. 

Distractibility transcends everything I’ve just mentioned and here’s why.  I have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  Distraction just comes naturally for me.  I have the attention span of a gnat and always have. Stay with me – stay with me…  When I was growing up back in the 1960s, educators could never quite define why I had such horrible grades, was daydreaming in class, kept staring out the window, was playing with my ruler, twiddling my pencil, getting up out of my desk to annoy others, and failing to pay attention in class. 

Oh look—a squirrel!!!

Distractibility makes people crazy.  When you have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), anything that distracts is the kiss of death.  You come off the rails and never return to what you were doing.  Yeah…another abandoned project.  The beauty of ADHD is creativity.  You’re always coming up with a lot of fresh ideas, however, your follow through could use a tune-up.

Easier said than done. 

You’re always starting new projects—and can never see your way to completion because you’re always moving on to something else. It has become cliché with ADD/ADHD types.  Your friends and coworkers laugh.  You have this great idea, and they chuckle when out of earshot.  Your great idea will fall flat amid distractibility.     

Distractibility has become epidemic.  Seems ADD/ADHD is affecting everything from doctors’ offices to fast food to auto repair shops.  However—the real news on distractibility is worse. Real worse.  We are endlessly distracted by electronics.  Can’t go anywhere or even function without our cell phones and laptops.  What did we do when the only option was a pay phone or snail mail?

You’re in a restaurant with a friend and they’re wrapped up in their cell phone.  “Gotta answer Joe…hang on…” “Oh look, can you believe this news story?”  “Oh wait…something just happened in New York…” 

And the ad nauseum response of, “What?” or “Huh?” 

My 13 year-old asks me, “What did you guys do when you had nothing to do?!” meaning how did we entertain ourselves without electronics? Well, we had this thing in our heads called imagination. We played games, engaged in cards, read books, walked through the woods, visited with our pets, and hooked up with friends. We knew no different because these distraction gadgets did not yet exist.

Imagine – had there been all of this hand-held technology in the 1960s we would have never made it to the Moon. NASA engineers would have been engrossed in X-Box or Play Station instead of getting to the Moon. “T-minus 15 seconds and counting, 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2…hold on a minute…gotta finish this game…”  

We’re so engrossed in electronic devices that there’s no time for living.  Virtual reality…  Whatever happened to reality?  My son has one of these “Oculus” devices you strap onto your head equipped with handheld controllers that takes you into a virtual world yielding all kinds of experiences in the comfort of your family room.  You can fly high over New York or get into a virtual reality trip of anything imaginable.  Oculus calls it, “No wires. A world of experiences. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen…”

Yeah…unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  I agreed to it knowing it was a terrible idea. 

We have dents in the refrigerator, items knocked off shelves, and self-inflicted injuries from smashing into furniture while engrossed in this imaginary world that doesn’t exist.  It’s all make believe—and we continue to get sucked into it.  You need approximately an acre of land when you strap the Oculus Quest onto your cranium.  How many try this head game in the front yard only to wander into the street to be hit by a real car? 

How’s that for reality?

I feel like a dinosaur in a world full of distracted people – lost in the silent vacuum of abandonment. It’s like that IHOP commercial from long ago. Some poor guy walking through the city streets yelling “Where is everybody?!!” Another lonely guy walks up, “Sale….at IHOP!” I feel like the guy in that commercial – lost and alone. I never got into video games for the same reason I never got into drugs – I was afraid I’d like them a little too much.

Distractibility via electronics has become the Zombie Apocalypse.  The world has become so addicted to electronics and virtual reality that nothing else exists including reality.  I know married couples who chat with each other via text from different rooms. 

You know you’ve done this!    

A buddy of mine was at dinner at a friend’s home.  When dinner wrapped up, he expected to sit down with her and have a nice visit before heading home.  She wandered off to the next room without a word and sat down to her laptop.  He sat there for quite a while wondering where she went.  He checked on her to find her completely engrossed in a video game.  He quietly slipped out the door and went home.  She was unaware he even left nor did she ever mention it.

For such a connected society, we’ve become decidedly disconnected.

What to do about this social phenomenon?  Not much.  We will have to learn miserably much as we have everything else.  We will have to suffer the agony of cold turkey withdrawal when there’s a massive electrical grid failure that shuts down the power for weeks or even months to where people are forced to actually talk with each other.  They will have to sit down face-to-face and conduct a conversation or even play a game of cards or Chess. Or – heaven forbid – engage in their imaginations.

In case you’re interested in chatting, do share your Zombie Apocalypse experiences with me and I will weave them into a future Boomer Journey.

Huh?        

What’s All The Noise About?

Do you remember the war on noise pollution back in the day?  The big push for a quieter world?  The police used to hand out repair orders for noisy exhausts on hot rods when we were young—so called “Fix-It” tickets.  That’s what I remember most from when we were young and first got our drivers licenses. We were foolish teenagers with glass pack mufflers and loud exhaust pipes. 

Because airport noise was intolerable for airport neighbors, jet engine manufacturers have worked tirelessly to come up with cleaner, quieter engines and they’ve done a good job.  Today’s modern jetliners are considerably quieter than their predecessors of the Jet Age.  Power and fuel efficiency without the noise and smoke.   Airlines and Air Traffic Control have come up with noise abatement procedures for pilots to follow to reduce the spread of noise.    

Virtually every type of consumer product imaginable promotes quiet operation.  I’m talking quieter dishwashers, garbage disposals, oscillating fans, lawnmowers, power saws, sanders, automobiles, motorcycles, snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, hairdryers, bulldozers, semi-trucks, bathroom fans, and a host of others. 

Whatever happened to the war on noise? 

I live on the high desert 60 miles north of Los Angeles.  Twenty years ago, the high desert was a quieter place.  You could open the windows on a summer night and bask in the peace and quiet with a light balmy breeze coming through the window. 

Desert quiet has since given way to outrageously loud exhaust systems and offensive home invading subwoofer sound systems.  You know—these ridiculously powerful $10,000 sound systems installed in worn out beat up $500 sport compacts.  These clowns would rather buy the ten grand sound system than have a vehicle with working brakes and decent tires with tread on them. 

Subwoofers wouldn’t be so bad were the noise confined to the interior of the automobile.  Instead, this low frequency, low octane mentality “boom” is forced onto those forced to live with it throughout the community. There doesn’t seem to be any real effort to stop it.  It is impossible to go anywhere without your bones being rattled at a traffic light.  I consider it an intrusion into my vehicle’s inner world.  There’s no escaping the low IQ racket. 

Some Southern California communities have chosen to outlaw subwoofers.  If you’re pulled over for disturbing the peace with a subwoofer sound system, the police impound your sound system along with a hefty fine.  This approach has been effective in some communities.  Enforcement works.  Unfortunately, few communities enforce noise ordinances because there are not enough cops and the masses are forced to live with it. Defund the police? Are you kidding me?

  

I was born into the rock and roll era like most of us were.  We have a solid appreciation for loud music and ear-busting live concerts.  That’s why so many of us are stone deaf today and in need of hearing aids.  Our parents warned us about loud music and what it was doing to our hearing.  We weren’t listening and it was no big deal—in 1968.  How naïve were we?  We are paying dearly decades later.  When conversation becomes impossible in a restaurant or on a road trip, we are reminded of our foolishness as young people 50 years ago.  We can no longer hear nor understand human voice.  We are frustrating for the people who live around us.

I speak from experience.  My audiologist defined my hearing loss as “profound…”  “Profound” hits home whenever I listen to period pop music or classical music and it just doesn’t sound the same.  The higher notes cannot be heard and the music goes flat.  The richness and crispness are gone.  I watch young people doing the same stupid stuff we did a half century ago and I want to warn them—but what’s the use?  Like us 50 years ago, it just doesn’t apply to them.

In a high-tech world with noise-canceling headsets and soundproof automobiles, it is remarkable how bad noise pollution has become.  Jets are quieter—Main Street is not.  Young bucks with these buzzy sport compacts, monster trucks, and modern day muscle cars shatter the peace and quiet with their high decibel rides.  I am about a mile from the freeway and I hear them jumping on at wide-open throttle. This is not only annoying – it is dangerous.

I love Harley motorcycles, however, they’re the biggest noise offenders out there with straight pipes and a concussive exhaust tone.  When bikers have a get together, typically to raise funds for good causes, it is an unending roar—sometimes for hours.  It is their legacy as bikers on Harleys.  Unfortunately, they pay with critical hearing loss that cannot be restored.  The rest of us pay with lost sleep and the inability to hear the TV.

Sound is measured in decibels. Sounds 85 decibels will do significant hearing damage. Power lawn mowers, as one example, reach 90 decibels. The roar of traffic on a busy street reaches 90 to 115 decibels.  Those rock concerts baby boomers love so much are 110 to 120 decibels.  Jet engine noise rates even higher still. 

The message here is—protect your hearing while you still can.

What’s more, protecting your hearing is also protecting other parts of your body.  Loud noise causes high anxiety, which leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, lost sleep, and additional stress.  Children exposed to loud noise struggle with all kinds of mental and physical health issues.  And, did you know loud noise can affect your pets the same way mentally and physically? It puts them on edge. 

I don’t know how to solve the issue of noise.  Law enforcement is tapped thin and there just aren’t enough police officers. They have bigger fish to fry – like homicide and other violent crimes.  Noise Pollution doesn’t even come up on the radar when it comes to state and local legislation—and even if it does, it will never be enforced.   

A Real Need For Grace

Baby boomers, depending upon how you were raised and where you grew up, remember common decency—the simple time proven practice of grace—being respectful even if you don’t agree with someone.  Even if you cannot stand them. 

Remember that?

Do you remember the political discussions our parents had back in the day?  They disagreed and they argued.  At times, it got heated.  However, they held their tongues and their tempers.  They didn’t abandon relationships.  They didn’t throw punches. 

They treated one another with dignity. 

My grandparents and parents taught me to respect the dignity of others and that “Greatest Generation” rearing never left me.  I still practice kindness and respect with others because that’s how I was hard wired t begin with. 

Do I always practice these elements?  No…  However, when I am being an ass, at least I understand that I am and render an apology for my reaction.  I tend to become combative when someone is being rude and insulting. An equal and opposite reaction—which is not the way to handle conflict.

 

So—what has happened to us?  How did the United States of America become the Divided States of Jerry Springer? The “trashification” of America where The People have become subhuman?  When did we deem it acceptable to be so rude and insulting with one another?  When did it become okay to punch out a flight attendant or belt someone in line at the grocery store? And—since when was it ever acceptable to assault a school teacher, police officer, or an ER nurse?

Whatever happened to common decency? 

It has become socially acceptable to buck authority—to defy the orders of a law enforcement officer, assault an educator, disobey a flight crew member, hit a neighbor, road rage another motorist, and shout obnoxious words to a community leader in a public forum.  Every time I think I’ve heard and seen it all, it gets worse.  The news is never short for shocking stories of what people do to one another.

We are an angry divided society from sea to shining sea. 

Is this what we call freedom?  I call it barbaric.

Former President George H.W. Bush spoke of a “kinder, gentler America” back in 1988.  It remains to be seen just how kind and gentle we are.  We’ve been through a major terror attack and a succession of struggling presidencies and sessions of Congress.  Little has been done by government to improve the quality of life in America. Boils down to priorities. Washington doesn’t care about you. It cares about itself and getting your vote at election time. 

The top 1-percent is living well while the rest of us are at each other’s throats.  I think that’s the way they want it.  Gives them control. “Let Them Eat Cake…” is alive and well in government at all levels. Politics wins out over common sense.  

America’s civil divide is at its worst since the Civil War more than 150 years ago.  The right/left political divide.  The race divide.  The science/politics divide.  And even the divide within the two political parties. The divide today is more complex than it was in 1863.  The Dems can’t seem to get it together despite two pending elections where they stand to lose it all.  The GOP has a quest for absolute power and dictatorship. 

People are on edge and society has become violent. Intolerance has become epidemic. We want what we want when we want.

We’ve lost touch with how to respect a differing opinion in this country.  We don’t know how to listen to what another has to say.  We’re in an atmosphere of complete intolerance.  We apparently don’t know how to shrug it off and just let it go.  Petty superficial situations, such as being asked to wear a mandated mask on an airplane, bring out the worst in people. Flight attendants don’t initiate these policies – government and airlines do. Yet, flight crews get the brunt of it.

The way I figure it is simple.  We don’t have to agree.  I believe I can learn something from someone with whom I disagree even if it’s a tiny grain of useful information.  However, that’s not how the general population thinks today.  It’s either my way or the highway and people walk away.  Long standing friendships have ended over differing political opinion. Are you kidding me?  

This isn’t about simple disagreement – this is an “all or nothing mindset” that causes societies to fall—which should be a powerful message for Americans.  We are the longest standing democracy in modern history.  This should demonstrate just how fragile democracy is.  We’re at a turning point in American history.  We’d better find a way to get along or we will surely fall.