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Posted Aug 3, 2012, 10:45 am
August 1 was my birthday. I heard they also had a big, stonkin' bigot party at Chick-fil-A. I spent the day at home with my exceptionally smart trophy wife and my two clever and funny children. There wasn’t a homophobe in the room.
This birthday got me thinking about my 18th, 39 years ago, and of what I thought the world would be like by the time I was pushing 60. One thing I never imagined was that bigotry, racism and sexism would still play such outsized roles in our public life. But they sure did back then.
To give you some idea of how much other things have changed, in 1973 I used a newly available “correcting electric typewriter” to write something. After going through the five step process to change an errant “s” to a proper “a” – I remember thinking to myself “Wow, it can’t get any better than this!”
It has been a wonderful life. I’ve skydived under old Korean War surplus parachutes, crossed the Continental Divide on a motorcycle during a snowstorm, been lured to Arizona by a cult, and been rescued by good friends. I came to love the West and its people, most of whom aren’t racist like Joe Arpaio or dumber-than-a-cactus like Jan Brewer. I was just in Tucson last week. So even the cult experience had an upside.
But my history precedes even me. My Pop, Henry, saw electricity, the telephone, and the automobile arrive at my grandparents little family farm in Capitol Heights, Maryland. He lived through the Great Depression and always feared we would make that mistake again. I thought he was being silly.
The Vietnam draft ended June 30, 1973, just one month before my 18th birthday. Before that, draftees were chosen by “lottery” drawing from a glass jar, then shuffled envelopes then a rotating raffle bin. If your number was picked early, you simply prepared to go. Lottery Day always felt like a national day of mourning. Mothers agonized and cried.
After living through the upheaval of Vietnam, I never imagined we’d attack another country in a pointless exercise of American imperialism. We’d lost so much by destroying Vietnam and losing the war. And we damaged so many tens of thousands of our young men. I was sure we’d never forget the cost of our foolishness.
Having witnessed the correcting typewriter, I was kind of expecting big things to happen. And they have. I’ve lived through the birth (and now death) of the desktop computer and the emergence of the Internet as our new town square. Automobiles have gone from lasting about two years to lasting 10. Clothes, which used to be expensive, are now cheap. And gas, which used to be cheap, is now expensive.
I also came of age during a time of both introspection and birth control pills. There was a lot of sex; a lot of sex. I wouldn’t call it “casual” but it was friendly. And it was liberating. I don’t know anyone who was damaged by it.
I remember saying I’d quit smoking if the price ever got to 50 cents a pack. Of course, by then I was hopelessly addicted, so I ended up quitting quite a few times. I didn’t quit for good until a miracle drug, Chantix, came along. It blocks nicotine receptors. Back in 1973, we wouldn’t have understood the brain well enough to even head in that direction.
A few problems continue to haunt us. We still haven’t figured out how to keep rich guys from using their money to tilt democracy in their favor. If anything, we’ve gone backwards, what with Citizen’s United and all.
The other thing that really hurts my heart is our incomplete progress in ending bigotry and racism. Of course, we’ve made significant progress. But when I was 18, I believed that intolerance would end when the old rednecks died. Instead dumb, uneducated rednecks raised dumb uneducated children, who continue to hold dumb, uneducated views about black people, and Muslims and women and Hispanics and people who love the same gender.
This brings us back, I suppose, to Chick-fil-A. They’re “Christians” they say. So much bigotry and hate these days is endorsed by one religious group or another. And we now have something called “Prosperity Theology” that teaches that God speaks to you through profits.
Still, we’re heading in the right direction. My 19-year-old daughter encounters only a minority of bigots her age (mostly men she says.) My 9-year-old son recently explained to a friend that “gay” is not an effective insult. It was his only experience with bigotry so far.
I wonder what things will be like when those kids are pushing 60.
Jimmy Zuma splits his time between Washington, D.C. and Tucson. He writes the online opinion journal, Smart v. Stupid. He spent 5 years in Tucson in the early ‘80s, when life was a little slower, swamp coolers were a little more plentiful, Tucson’s legendary music scene was in full bloom, and the prevailing work ethic was “don’t - unless you have to.”