Thursday, January 21, 2010

Comeuppance

Here we are in the last week of January of the new year, and I've written nothing at all for the entire month. I hope you can forgive my negligence; my absence hasn't been for lack of desire. (I feel the loss more now that so many of you have told me you enjoy these meanderings and miss them when new ones aren't around. The conscience is a bit easier on you when you think nobody's paying attention.)

Coming down the homestretch of house construction is a busy time. Since so much detail work is being done now, we are needed on hand to decide what pieces of trim go where, how high bathroom lights need to be, etc., etc. It's all the little things in a home that you take entirely for granted in daily life, mainly because they work. Well, they work for a reason. There's an art to the placement of mirrors and lights.

We've also been busy with more clearing, this time of the waterfront. That job has been especially satisfying because the water view was what brought us to the property in the first place. By now we've cut everything down that needed to be, so that when the water returns to the beach we will have only cat tails and native aquatic flowers to look at. Not bad for a few hours' slogging through the mud. If you're interested, here are the pictures of the waterfront (you only need to look at the last 20 or so), and these are of the construction. (Don't let those 300+ construction photos scare you away. Just go immediately to the last page to see the latest.)

For once, I'm thinking today of something that has nothing to do with housing. It was planted in my mind by an encounter with one of our neighbors-to-be, though, so it is a result of our being here.

It has been dawning on me over the past while that we early Boomers, as much as we'd like to think we changed the world back in the 60s, were really not the monolithic presence we were given to believe by all those Time and Newsweek covers that etched themselves into our brains. The times, our laureate told us, they were a-changin'. The girl pleading for help as she knelt by her injured compatriot at Kent State was a symbol for all of us righteously angry young folk.

But take a look at the reality of 2010. Have the times really "a-changed"? It doesn't seem to me that they have, or if change has occurred, it isn't the kind I, for one, had in mind. We may have created a temporary craze for bellbottoms in crazy colors and loosened the nation's sexual and drug mores. We and those just before us, those born in the late '30s to early '40s, also produced incredibly good music, both lyrically and musically. The Age of Aquarius definitely dawned, but sunset came early. The wonderful new world we thought we were creating has not appeared.

What happened?

I'm beginning to think maybe our number wasn't so great, after all. True, the politically liberal among us were the ones who garnered all the attention back in the day. (The outrageous always steal headlines from the run-of-the-mill.) It could very well be that the media made us legends in our own minds and no one else's. Others of our cohort, the quieter ones, were busy doing what 20-somethings usually do: getting married and having children, maintsreaming themselves. They were taking their places in suburbia, identifying with their elders. The politically active among them joined YAF (Young Americans for Freedom), wore coats and ties to class and kept their hair short. They saw what was happening on their campuses and in their streets and were either unfazed by all the hoopla, or angered by it, or just didn't understand it. Their own worlds were as fine as they'd hoped they would be; they were following the paths set down by generations before them, and they weren't interested in anything else. To make a gross generalization, they are now the Boomers who are fine, thanks, with their own health care and therefore see no reason to change anything for anyone else. They are today's Republicans. Which brings me back to our new neighbors.

The overriding impression we have had of the people among whom we will be soon be living is that they are as nice and as kind as the day is long, but not very interesting. They're all about our age, but seem older--I'm 64 and I liken them mentally to my parents. They are all white, all straight and all in late middle-age. At a Christmas party, Steve and I fell into a conversation about movies with one of the women from the neighborhood. She mentioned that she had just discovered "a movie called Harold and...and..." ...she couldn't remember the whole name. "Maude! Harold and Maude! I love that movie," Steve and I both exclaimed simultaneously. And at the same time we were saying how much we liked the movie, she was saying how weird she thought it was, how she just didn't understand it at all. It was a bit awkward. This nice lady, with whom I'm sure I'll be exchanging recipes, is my age or younger, and had never heard of "Harold and Maude," a movie iconic of its time. Moreover, once she finally saw it, she quit it mid-way because she didn't get it and evidently had no desire to. This is a reaction I would have expected from either one of my parents, who were born during the first decade of the 20th century. It was something of a comeuppance, however, to see someone of my own generation reacting in the same way.

We've been aware for a while now that we will have to make it a special project to find people who are like us as friends once we are settled down here, and, ironically, that the phrase "like us" really means "nothing like us." As a couple, Steve and I have never lived in such homogeneous surroundings. Our little street in Arlington, Virginia, was a cross-section of that diverse county. We were one of two long-settled gay couples. There were young and older straight married couples who were American black, Hispanic, and African. Columbia Pike, a 5-minute stroll away, offers literally a world of food, almost too much choice. While I lived in Arlington, I worked at the Peace Corps, the most comfortably liberal sliver of the federal government that could be imagined, even when run my conservative administrations. All those years, I was content to believe I was in the mainstream. Now, however, I'm beginning to believe it may have been nothing more than an echo chamber. I was happily surrounded by people who thought the same way I did, and extrapolated my cozy little world to the bigger one at-large.

Now I look at the current American political scene, at Massachusetts replacing a Kennedy of 40 years' standing in the Senate with a Republican, and I look at my kind-as-can-be new neighbors and I have to wonder. Did so many of my fellow 60s idealists backslide? Have they been bought out by middle class prosperity? Or were there just fewer of us than I thought?

19 comments:

Zoey and Me said...

There are fewer of us Ralph, welcome back to blogging and my God, that neighbor . . . it's time to move back to DC my friend. You give me some bad vibes on that graph. Who said, "Woe to me, misfortune is my name"? Call that guy. My take on Massachusetts is simply that Mr Hopey Changey is on his way down the drain. You know how DC can eat a person alive. Well . . . it's politics as usual. Ask yourself why Bush could get things done for the worse with 17 less Senate votes and Obama can't get crap put together with 59. Excellent thoughts today, glad you're back.

Ralph said...

Z&M, we intend to festoon our house with a rainbow flag and pink flamingos and give these people an education. We basically like them, they're just...boring. But I'm open minded to what we'll find as we peel various onions.

Obama's problem: he's pathologically the un-Bush. He will not allow a unitary presidency on his watch, he will not shove things through Congress they way Bush-Cheney did. And what does it get him? You're right, chewed up.

Zoey and Me said...

LOL . . . I can't wait to see that . . wish this subject came up when we were together as I would love to tell about some of our experiences with these dumb clucks down here. And racists? Jeebus. And stupid? OMG. South of the VA line and we are all in Teabagger heaven.

nan said...

I think there are fewer of us non-boring than there are of them. I have some theories. Whereever you are will be home, and your friends are not that far away -- they may just feel far away at times like those...

By the way, anyone who doesn't get Harold and Maude? God help them. Or as they say down south, "Bless their little hearts."

Ralph said...

I'm keeping an open mind, Nan, and I can even get along on a certain level with somebody who doesn't get Harold and Maude. It's just obvious that person won't be a bosom buddy. But like I said to Z&M, you never know what you'll find as you dig deeper. They're all decent, nice people who have done us no ill.

nan said...

I am reminded by the "niceness" comment of a video by Shakti Butler called Mirrors of Privilege I recently saw. It is on recognizing "whiteness" (not the same as "caucasian-ness" -- but the concept of "whitness" relative to racism). There are, of course, parallels to recognizing power and privilege relative to any of the "isms" or oppression - including white-upper middle class-hetero privilege. Many nice, nice people... and yet --

You may want to watch this 10 min. clip (a segment of the video) and see what you think. I think it is very powerful and moving.

Segment of Mirrors of Privilege

nan said...

I just realized you may have to copy and paste that URL into another browser window in order to be able to see the full screen. Within the comments area of certain browsers, you can't expand the window to the larger frame...

Mark said...

Ralph - I just thought about it...you are right! It's not that a lot of us sold out (and never would), but, rather, that a lot of people went for the Nixonade right off the bat and never stopped drinking from that barrel!

Ralph said...

Mark, Richard Nixon was despicable in so many ways, from the "Southern strategy" to the Laos invasion to his tin ear when it came to the anguish of many of the young people of his time. But he and other Republicans of the day must be put in context. Richard Nixon started the EPA. He wanted to rationalize health care along the same general lines as are being attempted today. Betty Ford was for womens' choice and the ERA. She said she would expect her children to live with partners outside wedlock. These were what we now call progressive attitudes, anathema to today's Republican party. I can remember a time when elections were boring because mainstream Repubs and Dems had hardly any light between them. Nixon created a Frankenstein's monster with his Southern strategy. It loosed the moss-covered bigots and the Falwell crowd on the Republican party and changed the Party of Lincoln into something unrecognizable. The nation suffers for it.

Mark said...

Nixon had some decent points, and by comparison with his son, so did Bush the Elder, but I can't get past the cynicism and paranoia of Watergate. I admire you for keeping perspective!

Ralph said...

Oh yeah--Watergate! How could I forget that? One more reason to revile Nixon. Still....EPA, health reform....different party today.

Jeff said...

Ralph - just got into this...some broad questions you ask.

All I can say is what I say to my wife when she screams at the news...

The world is not all the one you think you live in.

I'm swinging towards independent these days...not that it would matter...

- J.

Ralph said...

Interesting, Jeff, coming from one who was so hopeful about the new administration and viscerally caught up in the election. You've been through some kind of political evolution over the past year....

Kat said...

Ralph,
To narrow the changes from the 60's to, "...a temporary craze for bell bottoms in crazy colors and loosened the nation's sexual and drug mores, " is to ignore all of the now accepted norms which had their difficult births during those times. Look at women today. The sixties were the start of the freedom to make choices, to delay having children, to work completely outside the home, to chose to be married or unmarried or married to another woman. All of the baby steps women took came out of the sixties. There is so much more but you get the idea. Do not despair.

Don't make judgments based on where you now live. If you do, you will always be disappointed.

You are right about the horror of Kennedy's seat being taken by a republican, but I know why. People hoped for change and expected it quickly. When it didn't come, they chose to make a change themselves.

If cynicism is indeed the last refuge of the idealist, I know how I got here.

Ralph said...

Glad I finally wrote something that evoked a response from you, Kat! I take your point and hope you realize I was writing in over-broad terms to make a bigger point; that the promise of the 60s in terms of making a better world for everybody in so many ways never came to fruition. It's true many surpressed segments of the population took their cues from the black liberation movement and started demanding their own places at the table, and that's been a good thing--but even it is a two-edged sword, having segmented us and changed the "melting" pot to more of a simply "integrated" pot. Again, there's both good and bad to that. It's good that we become aware of our differences. It can also be bad, depending on what some may do with the awareness.

And I'm not really taking my cues about society as a whole from our new neighbors. The Harold and Maude episode merely confirmed an idea that's been a-borning in my head for a long time: that the 60s headlines with which we so identified went right past a huge segment of the cohort we (or at least I, myopically) thought of as monolithic. Some of us never did seek change and those 60-somethings of today are just fine, thanks, living with the same values as their parents and their parents' parents.

But it's never too late to teach old dogs new tricks and I intend to have some fun doing just that with our new friends.

Kat said...

Ralph,
I get notified when you have a new entry so I hurry over to keep up with you. With your getting the house ready to sell, packing, leaving, building and clearing, you needed to be preoccupied so any postings were diaries keeping track of the changes for us. I figured they didn't need a comment, but I should have let you know I have been a constant though silent observer.

Ralph said...

Thanks, Kathy. Oddly, and à propos of nothing, your I.P. is coming in from Dover, New Hampshire these days for some reason.

We hope to get your room painted within the next couple of weeks!

Kurious said...

Ralph, your strokes were broad but I think Kat is right that despite appearances the country and the world has changed significantly due to the efforts we made in the 60s and early 70s. Americans don't do well with sudden change, but important seeds were planted back then which slowly are bearing fruit. Who ever thought that military generals would publicly state their support for gays in the military?

We are country that generally hews to the middle of the road. When we have had enough of change we elect those who favor conservative values. When we detect regression and stagnation we elect a progressive and move a little to the other side of the road. We are like a drunk swerving left and right but in general we drive right down the yellow line. With 60% of the country thinking we are on the wrong track, one has to realize that 30% of them think we aren't moving toward change enough and the other 30% think it is too much.

I am very interested to see how we deal with this extreme partisanship we are experiencing now. I think we are heading toward some major shift as this can not last. What it will be I have no idea.

Despite those like your neighbors (a large part of our population) I still believe that our efforts so many years ago are bearing fruit. Those who fear change are resisting mightily but will lose in the end, I hope.
Jim

Ralph said...

Kurious, I'm assuming you're Jim Hoopes and I'm savoring every word you write, reminded of what a talented writer you are. You've established a blogger profile--now take the next step and start writing. You owe it to yourself.

I know about the old pendulum swings. I'm just shocked that the country has swung this far to the right before a veer in the other direction, if one is coming. We didn't go as crazy left in the 70s as we are now going crazy right.

And there's a scary quality to the latest rightist manifestations, a Know-Nothing populism, exemplified by Sarah Palin and her millions of fans, that's beyond irritating and downright dangerous in my opinion. I'd almost say that they've decided to cede the gay issue in favor of bigger fish to fry. Who knows, but heaven help us all....