Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Keep Off My Grass

When I was growing up at 1235 Longfellow Avenue in South Bend, Indiana, we had the nice neighbor to the right and the cranky neighbor to the left. The nice neighbor was Clara Haller, a former secretary at Studebaker who lived alone with her dog, Michael, had an amazing collection of antique lighters, chained smoked cigarettes and taught me how to read, spell and play gin rummy. The mean neighbor was Estel Brockus, a man who seemed to do nothing but yell at his wife, yell at his dog and yell at the neighborhood kids to keep off his grass.

I'm turning into Estel.

It's not that I give a rip about the grass. Despite my intense training mowing Estel's lawn in his later years (a time when I actually heard the words, "You missed a blade"), I've never developed that romantic attachment to tiny vertical shafts of greenocity so endemic to others in my species.

I'm more a crank about the pathological self-absorption of most people under 30 years of age. "Making fun of self-absorption when you're writing in your stupid blog?" you might say. Fair play to you. But seriously, there is something to this "Real World" generation thing. I accept informational interviews with people who presumably want jobs but don't ask any questions. It's as if they're waiting for me to ask about them. "So how are you feeling today? Still a little depressed from that thing that happened on the way home yesterday? Yeah, it's hard, isn't it?"

Then I realize something: It's a fact of life that each generation thinks the next is lazy, ignorant and self-possessed. And there's good reason for that perception. It's true. I've noticed that my parents (and my friends' parents) spend significant parts of their retirements actually serving the community. They join associations. They volunteer. I imagine my retirement as a time for traveling to every continent, reading every book, seeing every movie and learning every instrument on the planet. I don't see running for the city council. I see building a music studio in my basement.

The next generation? They'll be too in debt to ever retire. But if they ever do, they'll probably spend it all writing their autobiographies.

Note: BBS will be on vacation for the next week... unless I can find a nice Internet coffee shop on Nantucket Island.

1 comment:

Vegas Gopher said...

Is this trend progressive or cyclical? What I mean is, did your grandparents do even more in retirement than your parents and their friends? Perhaps it says more about the economic atmosphere in each generation's time of retirement.

When our grandparents' cohort retired, "normal people" didn't travel the world, and they didn't grow up with the idea that public service was vital (at least in a United Way, Peace Corps kinda way), because the way you served the public was to raise your kids the right way, pay your taxes and keep your lawn looking nice.

Our parents grew up in an "ask not what your country can do for you" world, so it seems logical that they'd maintain some of that outreach ethic in their dotage.

As for us, we grew up in the "Me Decade" of the 80s, and our Gen X/Y friends are being asked to serve the country by shopping ("but buy American!"). So maybe this, too, is instructive.

I'm just hoping it swings back, that when we awaken from our Bush hangover we'll install leaders who actually lead, who ask the country to help their neighbors, who build hope instead of walls. Or something like that.