Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Tales of Rebelry

No matter how you slice it, some of us were just born old. Whatever your cup of tea - fundamentalism, pantheism, transcendentalism, Marianne Williamsonism, whatever - you've likely met, and probably know, at least one person who was born old. You might call them "old souls" if you're a Hindu; "old codgers" if you're an existentialist; "old dirty bastards" if you're a rap musicologist, or just not call them at all if you're a Trappist. The point is, everyone (including English majors, who annoyingly turn their noses up at single-syllable adjectives like "old," preferring the fancier "anachronistic," instead) knows someone, or is someone, who was born old.

But does everyone know someone who started out generically enough, someone who, as Freud would've observed, cooed in all the right places, delighted in all the wrong body parts, believed hers were the only feelings that got hurt, etc., then, wham! Suddenly got old when everyone else her age was getting braces and/or their first French kiss?

If not, permit me to introduce myself, a gal who was too dumb to do anything dumb when she should've, i.e., when she could've gotten away with it.

This isn't to say colossally or dangerously dumb, no sir. Nothing on the order of joining the SLA ; I was, in fact, offended by several of my fellow junior high school students' "Right On, Patty/Tanya" T-shirts, seeing as how I'd already decided Ms. Hearst was sorely misguided BEFORE photos of the Hibernia Bank job surfaced. And nothing so stupid as drag racing, either; cool as all those rebels without a cause looked, it was their era, what with its "I like Ike" buttons, roller-skating carhops and picture-perfect TV families I longed for, not their Porsche Spyders-cum-coffins.

Nope, I mean the regular dumb things that are the province of minors. Like questioning authority. Indeed, youth are expected to question authority, even if it's just for the sake of it (what we old codgers refer to as "mouthing off.") And the best part is, no matter how serious the consequences are for doing so, they're never all that serious. I mean, how permanent is that almighty "permanent record" when you're under 18?

But try questioning it when you're a bona fide grownup. Worse, a grownup who'd spent most of her childhood nostalgic for an age she'd never known and all of her adolescence repelled by disco, the advent of the "A Twinkie made me do it" defense, and words like "herstory." A grownup who then spent some 20 irascible years wishing people would go back to keeping their problems in the closet where they belong, and who is only just lately, at the halfway-to-old mark, no less, trying to recover from a fairly staid, largely misspent, youth. On second thought, don't try it.

The IRS doesn't care how upstanding a citizen you've always been; attaching a photocopy of your middle finger to your tax return will earn you a lifetime of consequences, er, audits. And telling the Jury Commissioner that you won't report for duty until Leonard Peltier is freed all but guarantees you two days' lockup and at least four frivolous, "he said, she said" trials in the bargain

Trust me, no one sympathizes, much less empathizes, with your condition. "Curmudgeonly before your time? Never heard of such a thing. But even I had, it seems to me there'd be better ways to treat it than pressing one's aging buttocks against the window of our office." (There were, of course, but I, alas, hadn't yet learned how to vent my frustrations by letter. Or subpoena.)

And if you're thinking of giving the highway patrolman who pulled you over that, "yes, I've got my current registration sticker right here; see? I just forgot to slap it on the old bogus license plate before going off on this here crime spree. It's a good thing you stopped me, though, Officer. If you hadn't, I'd probably still be right behind those two drunks up the road, and that was sort of scary, tell the truth," speech, well, I've two words for you: think again.

So what's an extremely late bloomer - okay, okay, immature clod - to do?

Anything that doesn't come with any serious consequences, that's what. For instance, I'm planning on tee-peeing my friend's house this weekend. She shouldn't have told me she's going out of town.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Roamin' Holidays

When I was much younger - oh, don't look that way; it could've been worse. I came this close to adding another "much," and then we would've been here for who knows how long?

Anyway, when I was much younger, all I wanted from a vacation was a deep, dark, George Hamilton-esque tan, the kind of tan that said, I was sunbathing in some tropical locale during Spring Break and you weren't. The kind of tan you could wear to school in September (these were the days when school started in September) and admire in the reflection of your locker (remember lockers?), where you'd loiter a bit too long the first week (the better to answer all the "wow, where'd you go's?" that the kids whose tans had already faded or who'd spent Labor Day weekend shopping for school clothes would stop to ask.)

In my college days, a period lasting, oh, fourteen years or so - and, no, I'm not a doctor - I wanted a little more from my vacations. A tan, melanoma and wrinkle scares notwithstanding, was still part of the criteria, but now I wanted to get them in places that offered a pretty stamp on the old passport. I figured that, what with tanning beds available at every hair salon or quickie mart, a rained out trip to Jamaica or the Portuguese Algarve wouldn't be so much of a vacation sourer.

With the birth of my first child, I got even more demanding. Though I'd crossed tans off my list (you would, too, if you'd ever mistaken yourself for Ethel Kennedy in the bathroom mirror one early summer morning), I now insisted on ground level lodging and significant child discounts at area attractions. Extra points for any chain of hotels or airline that employed the kind of staff who stopped to coo or say, "aw, isn't he darling" at my little darling.

Child number two grew in direct proportion to my list of vacation needs. Woe betide anyone who wouldn't honor an advertised two-for-one tour of the French Quarter by pack mule coupon; knocked on the door and said, "checkout was fifteen minutes ago, ma'am;" or asked for the five-dollar-a-pop headphones back. ("These are OURS, thank you very much. And just where do you sanitize those rental sets, anyway?") By the time child Number Three came along, my list had become downright unmanageable. No rooms with a view of any people who actually looked good in a string bikini. No cabin stewards who can't fold the towel into a cute little bat for the baby. No elevator attendants who asked, "what floor?" with their palms out. And absolutely no visits to Graceland - where, if you can believe it, the King's artifacts are set behind thicker Plexiglas than that which guards the Mona Lisa, yet still aren't allowed to be photographed - despite how much Child Number Two wanted to go.

Vacationing a'la me got a bit easier when casinos got kid-friendlier. Now I didn't mind button pushers asking for tips as much, and would, in fact, tip just about anyone who'd point me in the direction of the casino's nearest video arcade. "Have fun, lovebugs!" I began trilling with a cheer I'm not known for. "Mommy will see you at dinner!" During this period, I visited more Indian reservations than Custer, and many a good, educational vacation was had by all.

I look back on these as my vacation honeymoon years, years when everyone in the family could find something to please them in one locale. A so-called "golfing vacation" in St. Andrews, for example, meant castles in Edinburgh for me, men in kilts for the youngest to laugh at, haggis for the oldest to gag at, the liberal telly for the middle kid to marvel at. But ever so slowly, things changed. It got so one of us was always out of sorts, then two, and so on. Finally, I gave up my list entirely, spending a few days of a few vacations snarling, "next trip I take, you're staying with Granny."

Though I think everyone pretty much knew that this was an idle threat (Granny spends nearly every weekend in Las Vegas), it seemed to keep the snarling from getting out of hand. And, at some point, the family came up with its own list of what it wanted out of a vacation, then proceeded to shoot for just that. As for me, I'm just happy to finish the book I invariably pack on these junkets. And guess what? This summer, I finished two. I'll worry about all the UV rays I inadvertently caught while finishing them next vacation.

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Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Richly Deserving

Most of us, especially those of us who don't keep our life savings under the mattress, aren't all that shocked by the flurry of post-Enron exposes about corporate hi-jinx. Disgusted, yes; shocked, no. It may indeed be a sad state of affairs, the masses responding to all this handcuffed Armani with little more than a suspicion-confirming snort, but no sadder a state than, say, the back end of the 90s, when the masses couldn't care less about corporate hi-jinx, particularly the commander-in-chief's. "Yeah, so what if the CEO takes too many 'meetings' in the executive washroom? Our bankbooks never looked better."

Funny how obscene money looks in another person's pockets. In fact, once it started leaving ours, we began developing a sixth sense. That's right: we saw rich people. Sometimes they scared us, but more often than not, they disgusted us. Some of us were both scared and disgusted, and, as scared-disgusted people sometimes do, began making sweeping generalizations. Not that one currently sweeping the nation - that the rich are an evil lot - is anything new. Remember "down with the Establishment?" The decade that began at filthy rich JFK's helm ended with that tired old notion, just as the Great Depression, led by filthy rich FDR, began with it. Heck, blaming the rich for all the world's ills was a fashionable colonial pastime, enjoyed by even filthy rich Jefferson himself on occasion.

Interestingly enough, this exceedingly unoriginal thought has begun making the rounds in Ojai, a place known more setting trends than following them. The not-so-great Depression we're in? Blame filthy rich GWB and Co. California's woefully mismanaged budget? All Dubya's fault. The Taliban, the Titanic, grandpa's tinnitus? No doubt the work of the current crop of Washington fat cats.

As always, it isn't the masses leading the revival but the upper end of the middle classes. And just how do I know that? Easy; the people on the lower end of the economic spectrum are too busy struggling to keep a Dodge in the garage/their place on the Sycamore Housing development to set trends, even tired old trends. As fun as a round of flay-the-rich sounds, who has the time to play?

Glad you asked. Because the urge to jump on the bandwagon, be part of the in-crowd, get jiggy with it, etc., is a powerful one, and should you succumb to it, it's important to know how the game's played, as everyone has different rules.

It's like this: the higher the tax bracket, the harder, even dirtier, a person plays. It's highly likely, for instance, that a guy who says he's been 'disenfranchised' (a fancy way of saying he's mad about not getting his way) will also say he blames the rich for all the world's ills when, in reality, he only blames the rich he doesn't like. Find another teammate if this makes you uncomfortable.

Take the letter I read last week, in which the writer brought out a favorite chestnut - the 2000 election, stolen by the filthy rich - to "explain" all this bad behavior we're seeing in big business. He closed his screed by chastising the masses' lack of outrage, its subsequent lack of embarrassment.

Lack of outrage? Friend, I spent the twilight of 2000 in a perpetual state of outrage, an outrage so intense that, whenever that OTHER filthy rich camp (see Dun & Bradstreet on the Gores of Tennessee) made like Bolsheviks with its "will of the people" whine, I'd quite unwillingly pop a vessel.

And embarrassment, well, you don't know from embarrassment. That uncomfortable compassion you have for people whose act is bombing? Magnify that discomfort some hundred times and you'll know how I felt when I heard, "no controlling legal authority;" "vast right wing conspiracy;" or, "if that man wins, I'm leaving the country." (Note to Alec Baldwin: Here's your hat, what's your hurry?)

Or how humiliated I was by the presidential pardon of a billionaire fugitive, the "Room for Let, Quaint Lincolnesque D├ęcor" ad that ran in Variety for eight years, and the U-haul a certain New York senator backed up to the White House when she thought no one was looking.

To say nothing of the embarrassment I feel for people who snarl, "yeah, well your mother wears army boots" or some other non sequitur whenever they don't get their way.

See, if I were to play flay-the-rich, I'd need to know if my teammates counted failed presidential candidates with millions of dollars in stock in Occidental Petroleum, a stake in a zinc mine, thousands of dollars in support from Adelphia, WorldCom, even Enron - stuff like that. If they didn't, I doubt I'd want to play.

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, "people who hate the rich are different from you and me."

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