My G-G-G-Generation


Last night while out to dinner, someone my age said that the generation entering the workplace these days has to be the “most selfish generation ever.”

Oh, really.

Before I respond, some perspective.   Let’s take a look at recent U.S. history. These are generally accepted dates and terms used in defining post 20th century generations.

Born 1900 to 1924: G.I. Generation
Born 1925 to 1945: Silent Generation (my parents generation)
Born 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers (my generation)
Born 1965 to 1979: Generation “X”
Born 1980 to 2000: “Millenials” (my children’s generation)

It takes a while for a generation to grow up and exert its influence on the world. Let’s say a generation’s sphere of influence occurs 30 years after its start date to 50 years after its end date. This, of course, means there are periods of overlap where two generations dominate the culture. A timeline of influence might look something like this:

  •                 G.I. Generation:   1930-1974
  •                 Silent Generation:   1955-1995
  •                 Baby Boom:              1976-2014
  •                 Generation X:          1995-2029
  •                 Millenials:                2010-2050

What this shows us is that the Baby Boomers, my generation’s, time is rapidly winding down, and we are approaching the middle of Generation X’s sphere of influence. The Millenials, the supposedly selfish generation, are just beginning to have their influence felt.

So to understand where we are, we need to look at where we’ve been, and where we’re going.

The G.I. generation endured the great depression and won World War Two, built the strongest economy and highest standard of living in the history of the world, initiated civil rights reforms, and saw the U.S. rise to become the undisputed world power. Pretty damned impressive!

The Silent Generation saw advances in science, medicine and technology, advancement of civil rights, victory in the cold war as the U.S.S.R. collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell. Not as impressive as the previous generation, but still, not bad!

As a result of the work and sacrifices of the G.I. and Silent Generations, U.S. Baby Boomers were born into the most prosperous time in human history. We had every advantage that our parents never had. And what happens to children who get everything they want? That’s right, they get spoiled. And boy, oh, boy, no generation has ever wanted and got more than us Baby Boomers.

We started out okay. In the sixties, raised on the promise of the American dream our parents had worked so hard to realize, we reacted strongly when we saw that dream corrupted. The civil rights and anti Vietnam War movements fused idealism with action, and through a violent and turbulent decade, the young baby boomers truly changed the world.

But somewhere along the way, spoiled children with short attention spans that we are, we grew tired, and decided that it was more important that we have everything we felt we were entitled to, which, it turns out, was everything. We had to have the new house in the suburbs, we had to have luxury or sports cars in the driveways, we had to have every toy imaginable, we had to have the prestigious career, we had to have the best of everything.

This lust for things bled into Generation X, too, and soon they were joining us in racking up obscene credit card debts and mortgages. In our need for more and more things, we plunged deeper and deeper into personal and national debt, we turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the destruction of the environment and the burning of the atmosphere. We gave away whatever power we still had to our corporate masters, and hung on to every crumb they left behind as they deserted our shores and replaced us with slave and child labor. We bailed out the banks that were screwing us, and we turned a blind eye to the ethical and moral transgressions of Wall Street and oil executives. We elected disingenuous and corrupt corporate puppets as our leaders, and waved the flag and cheered when they lead us into illegal and unfunded wars. All so we could make a quick buck, have that nice house, and drive that forty grand S.U.V.

Now, the next generation, the Millennials, my children, are left to clean up the mess my drunken sailor of a generation has left them with. They enter their time crushed by debt, in a worldwide economic crisis, teetering on the edge of environmental collapse, with limited access to effective health care.

Our parents left us the estate and we got drunk and burned it down.

We took the cake with open fists and stuffed our gaping mouths and bloated bellies, leaving nothing but crumbs for the next generation.

Boy, are they selfish.

Spring


It’s eleven degrees Fahrenheit outside, and the ground is mostly white with snow cover.  On my way to my garage, I have to navigate deadly patches of ice.

According to the calendar, it’s officially spring now.

Spring is cruel, at least in the beginning, because we all know what it promises and what it’ll eventually deliver.  Winter is long and cold and becomes an affliction, also known as cabin fever, and in the first warm days of spring we feel that fever breaking, only to fall victim to one last cold snap or heavy snow.  Slow though it might be in arriving, spring will eventually come.

Around here, in the southeast corner of Wisconsin, spring announces itself with water.   First it’s the snow melt, then the ice from the lakes, and finally the rains in April and May that put the final coat of green paint on the season.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite discoveries each year would be the day in early spring when a thaw came, and walking home from school, whether it was the old grade school off of State Street, or the middle school on the south side of town, or even the high school on highway 45 on the north side, following newly created rivers of melting snow water.  I have never outgrown my love of moving water.  The great thing about those days was that they were always unexpected but annual surprises, the time every year that the flat, boring town that had been stifled by the cold for so long suddenly warmed up and transformed, the streets that had been gray and dead now alive and flowing.  I’d drop something, usually a stick, at the headwaters of these new, great and temporary rivers, and follow its voyage to its unexplored destination.

The water that accumulates and pools in swamps and eddies gives birth to enormous quantities of wild life, from the dreaded hatching of vast armies of mosquitoes to the schools of tadpoles that so enthralled me when I was little.  A couple of years ago, on my property in northwestern Wisconsin, I discovered in the stray backwaters deposited by the swelling and contraction of the Chippewa River, hundreds of the little green guys swimming about, and I was just as captivated as I was when I was little, although these days I am more aware of the fact that just a percentage of them will make it to full grown frog-ness, as any number of predators is also captivated by their presence for altogether more practical reasons.

In my property up north, in the woods near the river, in early to mid spring, the forest floor becomes covered with white and blue wild flowers.  They last for a couple of weeks, a brief honeymoon period until the rest of the forest floor reignites into green thickness and overtakes them.

Spring is brilliant blue skies and whitsummere clouds, but it is also the ominous black rumbling skies of thunderstorms that move in from the west and bring hard rains that pound the hard and unyielding ground into the soft and fertile soil from which sustenance sprouts and grows.

Spring is a great time for wildlife viewing.  The supply of fresh water and the rebirth of vegetation provide an all you can eat buffet for a variety of species.  In the early spring, after a typical winter of snow and cold, as the snow melts, more deer can be seen than any other time of year.  In late winter, with food scarce and their defenses down, deer will herd up; obeying there’s a safety in numbers logic.  When the snow first melts, you can see what’s left of these herds in fields and meadows, picking through the holes in the snow for the best of the still brown and faded grasses.  Often times you can find large numbers of them out even in the middle of the day, so hungry that they could care less if they are watched.

There is a wide variety of species that awakes from hibernation in the spring.   Most notorious of these is, of course, in the northern part of the state, the black bear.  Bears are always to be respected, but especially in the spring, when they are hungry and their body weight is down from their long slumber, and when sows have young cubs to raise.  Over the past several years, near my cabin, we’ve had countless sightings.  Once, about five or six years ago,  on a spring day as I was walking down the dirt road in front of my cabin, I saw a bear get up from  about twenty yards from me and run off.  I didn’t think much of it until, after running about another twenty yards the bear changed direction and started running to the north, parallel to me.  At the long driveway of the property next to mine, it abruptly turned, and started running straight towards me.  Standing there with nothing between me and an adult bear running straight towards me was an unnerving sight.  It got to about fifteen yards away from me when I raised my arms and said “hoo hoo,” the first words that popped in my brain, my survival instincts apparently having been instructed that impersonating an owl is the best defense against a charging bear.  Much to my amazement, upon hearing my eloquent plea, the bear hit the brakes, its front paws digging in the dirt, and turned around and kicked it into high gear, running away from me at a speed I never imagined such a large animal could achieve.  It’s a good thing, too, because if the “hoo hoo”  hadn’t worked, all that would have been left for me to do was to soil myself.   Then I heard some noise in the woods to my left, on the other side of the road, and the best guess I could give is that my bear was a mother with cubs on the other side of the road, and I had gotten between them, the most dangerous place to be.  When the mother ran at me, she was trying to scare me (and trust me, she succeeded), my “hoo-hoo” calling her bluff.   This is all theory, though, as I didn’t stick around to fully investigate the sounds to my left and confirm that they were made by cubs.  Instead I made my way back to my cabin as quickly as my overweight, out of shape, rubber boots wearing body was capable of.

The best part of spring comes later, when you least expect it.  I remember sharing this observation with my dad a few years ago, and he agreed, he knew exactly what I meant.  Every year, there’s a sunny morning , in either late April or May, that the sky is a heartbreaking vivid shade of blue, and I become aware that seemingly overnight the world has transformed into a symphony of lush greens, the trees having leafed out, while the musical chatter of songbirds plays in the background.  It’s rebirth and renewal, it’s awakening, it’s life.   It always comes as a surprise, and it always takes my breath away.

On this cold first day of spring, with everything frozen and bare, I think of that day and what a wonderful thing it is that the world can still surprise and amaze me.    However long spring takes, the wait is always worth it.

A Slippery and Sloppy Slope


(Enjoy these short short stories for what they are – evidence that I have completely run out of ideas for posts)

A Ripping Good Time

Shortly after the table saw accident, Rip wrapped his ripped fingers around the sandwich wrap that had been wrapped in Reynolds wrap.  Rap played on Rip’s radio.  Rip gripped the wrap with his ripped fingers tight in the night and thought about the cruise he was scheduled to take.  Rip had never been on a trip on a ship, and it frightened him.   Rip was out to prove that he wasn’t lazy like people thought he was – Rip’s bum rep was a bum rap.   Others were hip to Rip’s trip on a ship, and through loose lips helped Rip come to grips with his fear of trips on ships.

 A Ham on Turkey

Experts determined that the antique cushioned footstool was Turkish in origin, from the 1300s, making it an Ottoman ottoman. Its owner was a man named Otto who was a direct descendent of Osman and was therefore an Ottoman man named Otto. The incident with the Ottoman man named Otto and his Ottoman ottoman and the axe was an accident, and while the axe may have left an indent in the Ottoman ottoman, the Ottoman man named Otto was cleared of any wrongdoing when it was determined that not only was the axe incident accidental, in the grand scheme of things the axe accident was incidental and thus not that important. Incidentally, this is the first known accidental use of an axe by an Ottoman man named Otto against an Ottoman ottoman on record, either accidental or intentional.

March Madness

Indiana was preparing to play Oklahoma in the NCAA tourney.  The two teams were so equal in talent that Victor had trouble predicting the victor. He grew impatient in his anticipation and called his aunt Faye, a lactose intolerant patient who the staff at Victory Memorial had lost patience with.  “Aunt Faye, it’s you’re nephew, Victor.  Who’s your pick for the victor between the Hoosiers and the Sooners?”  Faye said, “Do I understand, Victor, that you can’t pick a victor without knowing what your aunt Faye may say?  I and my fellow patients advise patience, you’ll know who your victor, Hoosiers or Sooners, is sooner than you realize.”   Victor replied, “I need to pick a victor sooner than Faye may say.  Though my aunt is a patient, the anticipation of who will be the victor is more than Victor’s patience can bear.”  At that point the nurses had become intolerant of Faye’s lactose intolerance.  It wasn’t just Faye, they’d lost patience with two other patients, too, dismissing their symptoms before dismissing them from the hospital.  Victory Memorial then developed a bad reputation as an institution with no patience for patients, and became known as an inhospitable hospital.

You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Norway

It was autumn. The Vikings were preparing to depart for America.  “Leif has to leave before the fall leaves fall,” Eric’s son said of Leif Erickson.

“If Eric’s son wants to leave with Leif Erickson,” an elderly elder replied, “then Eric’s Son and Leif Erickson will both have to wait until when Sven intends to leave.” Sven was the project planner in charge of planning the project.  All that had been provided so far was projections of when Sven projected the project to start.

“The ships need to be repaired first,” Sven replied.  “We have to wait for the parts before we can depart.  Not only is the date we depart dependent upon the parts, but we can’t forecast the date we arrive until we know the date the parts arrive.”

“Have the parts suppliers supplied us with the part of the plan when the parts are supplied to us?”  In other words, do we know when the parts suppliers will supply us with the parts?”  The elderly elder asked.

“I don’t know when the parts suppliers will depart with our parts,” Sven replied, “so I don’t know when we’ll install the parts the parts suppliers will supply us with, so I don’t know when we’ll depart.  Once the suppliers arrive with the parts, not only will we be able to determine when we depart, but the arrival of the supplies will supply us with what we need for an arrival date.”

“I just want to know,” Eric’s son said, “will Leif Erickson be able to leave in the fall, before the leaves fall?”

“Leave that to Leif Erickson, Eric’s son,” the elderly elder replied.

Not Anymore


I used to be a fidgeter, but not anymore.  I used to toss and turn in bed at night, before and after falling asleep.  Now, when I go to bed, I quickly find a position I’m comfortable in, and stay that way until morning.  More than once, my wife says, she’s woken up in the middle of the night to find me so still she has to check that I’m still breathing.

This afternoon I visited our vacation cabin for the first time since last November.  Our cabin sits in the woods on a dead end dirt road that in the winter is only partially plowed, up to and not far after my driveway.  It’s always very quiet here, but never quieter than in late winter.  There is literally no traffic on the road. When I got here today, it was cold out, and there was about a foot of snow on the ground.  I had to park my car in the street and trudge through it to my front door.   I opened up the cabin and found everything was how I left it.  My deer hunting coat lay hanging on the same hook, the refrigerator remained unplugged with its doors propped open, blankets remained neatly folded on the beds.   Everything was in its place. I started a fire in the wood stove and unloaded the things I’d packed and waited for the cabin to warm up.

This evening, I went out for a bite to eat and picked up a couple of things for breakfast and lunch tomorrow.  When I came in out of the dark and cold, the fire was still burning in the stove, and the cabin was bright and warm and quiet.   I started reading, but soon an “off” cycle hit me hard.  “Off” cycles are when my Parkinson’s disease medications wear off, about every three and a half to four hours.  When they hit, I take my prescribed dosage of Carbidopa / Levodopa and wait for it to kick in.   Most of the time, the off periods aren’t too bad, it’s a discomfort that I’ve gotten used to.  About twice a day, though, usually after I’ve eaten a full meal, they’re pretty rough, as the rigidity or stiffness that is my most prominent motor symptom makes movement of any kind very difficult and extremely uncomfortable, and if I’ve eaten a lot, they’re accompanied by severe nausea and acid reflux.   I’ve learned to eat less at dinner time, for example, but sometimes it still hits me.  About all I can do when these bad off periods occur is take my pill and find a place to sit or lie down and ride it out.   Usually after an hour, longer during the really bad spells, I feel the pill kicking in and gradually start feeling better, and about an hour later, two to three hours after the off-period began, it’s over, and I’m good for about an hour and a half until the next off-period begins.

I was alone in my cabin when tonight’s bad spell hit.  I took my pill and lay down on the couch and waited for it to kick in.  As I laid there it occurred to me that I wasn’t moving, not a muscle, and I looked around the silent cabin and saw all the things that were in the same place I left them last November, all of them still and unmoving. I thought of myself, lying there among them, just as still, and I thought of how I often find myself in the morning, in the same position I fell asleep in several hours before, just like the things in the cabin that remained unmoved since last November.

I used to take comfort in the site of my cabin being unchanged from how I’d left it, but not anymore.

Now it terrifies me.