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Nancy Reagan Had It Right -- In A Way

By Philip Greene  Posted by Philip Greene (about the submitter)     Permalink
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I’ve had a bad series of days lately.  The used car I had purchased a week before and had to immediately put in the garage because the brake lights went out, decided to lose power to the wheels while I was on the highway during the hour’s drive to nearby Columbus to see some friends.  Needless to say, it is right back in the shop – this time for probably rather expensive repairs.  Fortunately, it happened at the very beginning of the trip and the tow charges were not high. Last night, I was awakened by a noise I can describe only as sounding like someone stomping across the downstairs floors.  I got up and investigated, and, of course, found nothing.  Nothing, that is, until this morning when I went to the basement to feed the cats.  Then I found that the suspended ceiling in the basement, which my elderly mother had used to hang some laundry on sine the weather has turned cold, had given way and collapsed.  Somehow, in turn, it disrupted one of the electrical circuits to the kitchen and left us without wall outlets there, including the ever-necessary microwave. Finally, checking my online credit card payments, I found that one of the cards I had paid off completely had not registered the payment I credited four days before.  Doing a little more investigation, I found that it had scheduled --- all by itself – the payment to not take place until December 17, more than two weeks away. Finally, rushing to work – because of all the issues listed above – I found that I was scheduled in a room where I do not know the curriculum – Nursing – and that that teacher was leaving the school, without anyone being hired to replace her yet. All this started me wondering about something I have always heard called the “quality of life.” Is it that we truly believe that our lives are better and more fulfilling now than they were a generation or more ago, or is it that we have been fed a line of propaganda which we have bought hook, line, and sinker? Before World War II we lived in communities where neighbors were an extended family.  We had our basic needs met and, if you were of moderately comfortable means, you had convenience appliances like washing machines, a couple of radio sets, and a few other things of the same ilk.  The laundry was hung out to dry in the fresh air, we used our imaginations to “see” the Green Hornet or The Shadow get the bad guy, and we cooked our meals over a gas flame with fresh ingredients from the local grocer who, if local enough, actually delivered them to our doorstep.   In fact, even up into the 1950s, we could have bread, milk and eggs brought daily to our door by the different deliverymen working their routes.  Every house had a “milk box” outside the front door in which the commodities would be placed. A typical evening out would take us to a movie – for a dime – maybe to the local eatery for a meal afterwards, or possibly we would go to a Chautauqua show to see someone of national importance.  Community festivals were just that: small celebrations where our neighbors and friends baked pies, cakes and cookies, probably to raise money for their church or some other civic organization, and where the games would be simple and fair.  Once or twice a year, the community might pay to bring in a carnival with rides and sideshows – truly a treat!  Now, they are not even thinly veiled excuses for cities to make money off of selling vendor booths that have nothing at all to do with the theme of the festival and little entertainment or cultural value.  A couple of years ago, for instance, I attended a “Maple Syrup Festival” in a area community only to find that there was not one single thing there that had anything at all to do with maple syrup; not even a table set up to sell bottles of it!  There were, instead, all sorts of gimcrack and chintz whose cost far outstripped their value or their contribution to my “quality of life.” Today, we fight with technological “conveniences” that have an active life of maybe four years (the standard life expectancy of personal computers, so I am told by people in the business) whereas the purchase of a single appliance 60 years ago could be expected to last the lifetime of the owner and then some.  I remember the old double-cylinder washing machine my grandmother used since the 1930s, was still used weekly until the day she died in 1962, and was still in working order then. It used to be, if we wanted to pay a bill, we walked it downtown to the utility or store where we had our account and handed the statement and cash to the clerk – or, if we didn’t want to do that, we could put a stamp on it and mail it cross town overnight. But now, we have to schedule payments.  Our banking and economic systems have become so complicated that it has taken an entire year to discover that our nation ahs been in recession for a year now, as just announced on Dec. 2. Now, we can debate the fact that nearly all of we working people who actually manage our own money and pay our own bills have known for that entire time that we were just such straights.  We can also discuss whether or not the Bush Administration was also aware of this and simply choose to, Pollyanna-like, ignore it in favor of pretending to be an effective government. But to discuss those things would be to become distracted from my actual point, which, since we are not tachyons and cannot travel backwards in time to reverse these events, would be useless. I was recently offered a position that, to me, seemed just this side of Paradise.   While at a festival at an historical pioneer village, I learned that the park was in search of a resident caretaker.  The person would live there on premises surrounded by little, authentically period log cabins circling a commons area, and flanked by a replica Indian village a short walk through the woods.  The caretaker would be responsible for mowing the grass and other minor upkeep chores, and would work on his or her own schedule, being mostly his or her own boss, and spending a fair amount of time outside in a peaceful, quiet, remote setting. While the caretaker’s house did have electricity and centralize heat (I was somewhat disappointed to find a window air conditioner in full view of anyone walking by the house, spoiling the whole context of it) these were rather basic and provided only the minimum of power requirements. Naturally, because of care for my mother, I could not accept the opportunity.  But, when I mentioned the wonderfulness of this job to my mother and her friend, their reaction was one of astonishment.  How could I want to forsake the wonders of modern life for such a primitive existence? To me, it was no choice at all. I do not romanticize the past.  Being an amateur historian, I am familiar with the problems and hardships of previous days as well as their attractions.  But one thing I have discovered in my travels through time is that we have increasingly made things more difficult for ourselves while obfuscating the things that really matter. I have, in another column, spoken in no uncertain terms of my dislike of marketing and the capitalistic fervor for accumulation, so I will not dwell on them here.  But what I will speak of is the fact that we, as individuals and as a society, have bought into the whole flimflam game.  We talk about how frustrated we are with things as they are, and yet, we do more and more to make them even more that way.  We actually believe that those new techno toys that we find offered on nearly a monthly basis will get us “connected” and “bring the world to us” as though in some triumphant conquest. My question is, why do we want to be connected or have the world brought to us?  I have gone through a significant period of my lifetime not having the ability to bother other people with my personal phone calls or have them bother me with theirs.  I have spent long years in pleasant ignorance of what is going on in the stock markets or in world events or anything else outside my personal sphere of experience, and it has not adversely affected me. A few days ago, a student was on a computer in my room and went searching on MySpace.  She asked if I had a page there and I told her I did not. You would have thought that I had been standing in church shouting “God is dead!”  Every student in the room was in complete disbelief.  How could I NOT have a MySpace page?  Surely I must be the most antiquated, most out-of-touch, most old school antique in the whole world!  My reply that I had not intention of having a page on MySpace or any other networking site, other than professional, didn’t help matters. I tried to explain that I had not real interest in putting myself on display for the entire world to see, and certainly did not want to put anything remotely personal in any place that it might be misused.  In addition, I told them that I actually preferred having only a small circle of people who know me and that I called these people “friends” and “family.” It all, of course, fell on deaf ears. So we have not only bought ourselves into a quagmire of complication, we have allowed – even promoted – it on our children. As I write this, I realize that I have on my hip a cell phone, ready to play the haunting phrases of Fleur de Lys the moment anyone wishes to get hold of me.  But, in my case, the number of people who are able to use that number is limited to only four or five and all of those understand that it is for emergency only.  I can count on one hand the number of times in the past month that it has rung. But, I do notice a disturbing trend in my own behavior; I noticed that I will be at the store and call home to see if we need anything or to check the price on a dozen rolls of toilet paper. I have also noticed – and this is extremely disturbing to me for reasons of safety as well as privacy – that I will think of something I need to ask or say to someone and, rather than wait till I get home to call them or speak to them in person, I take the phone out of its holster and dial – while I’m driving. The disease is an insidious one, conquering by sneak attack and with subtle, almost invisible weapons. How to defeat it then?  How to free myself from the idiocy of techno slave connectedness and modern life convenience complications? I think back to the 1980s and the Reagan Administration; the advent of the War On Drugs. We made a lot of fun then of Nancy Reagan’s solution to teenage addiction: “Just Say No.” In that instance, it was an oversimplified, naïve approach and, as the intervening years have demonstrated, completely unworkable. But as I reach into my holster and switch off my cell phone, I can see how it might just be the best solution to another form of addiction.   

 

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