I just got an invitation to my high school reunion. It ends with an “O” and I understand, that makes it somehow more important. I had a 25 second discussion with Pamela, trying to decide whether to go…or not. Long-story-short, I decided to pass on it, mostly because of one fact: The person typing this article has essentially nothing in common with that squirming larva I was back in the Pleistocene Era. I wouldn’t even recognize myself from way back at West Morris Regional High School. How could I expect anybody else to?
So far, no big story here. Everybody changes in some way. But then… I took a second moment to think some of those long-ago friends, classmates, girlfriends and something much more interesting sprang to mind.
The subject is pigeonholing. Back then, there was just a handful of labels, pigeonholes to stick people in. There were the jocks, the smart kids, shop class, the popular kids, and the not so popular. That pretty much covers it. But then, I began playing back scenarios, itty-bitty vignettes and I began to realize big things. In retrospect, some of my friends were gay; half a dozen or so were Jewish, Hispanic, Italian, etc. and none of it ever registered on my radar. How naive can you get? Apparently pretty naive…or maybe I just didn’t care about the differences.
There was one guy with fire-red hair who was smart though in a weird sort of way. He always addressed the rest us as part of the bourgeoisie and proletariat masses. He quoted Stalin and Lenin and Nietsche. We’d all laugh, mostly because no one knew what the hell he was talking about. I wonder where he is now. The point of this is, nobody that I know of really cared about any of that. Yes, we were naive, but we were also pretty happy. We played football, flirted with girls and made stupid jokes. None of the other stuff mattered. What our dads did for a living never entered the conversation, nor did any comparison as to who had more money. We were all the same…16 years old with essentially no money whatsoever…without our mommies and daddies.
Later, in college, things divided up a bit more sharply, more distinctly. The Vietnam War was going on then and the country quickly divided-up harshly between those in favor and those against. And yet, it still seemed to be a magical time…The Age of Aquarius was our anthem and we had high and serious hopes that our special generation could truly change the world. Well…we did. Looking back, in many ways we went way past our expectations, just not in the directions we’d intended.
We became…Baby Boomers, a truly nauseating term, a term which has simultaneously evolved and de-evolved over time. Even now, my mental image of our generation is little pink babies being shot out of a cannon. Not terribly appetizing. And now, a good heaping handful of the newest generations hold their breath waiting for us to just die so they can move on with their lives and not have to listen to the Beatles for the one millionth time. I can dig it. If I had to listen to Justine Bieber one million times I’d probably go a little crazy, too. But then things begin to get interesting:
WWII: The Greatest Generation: We Boomers are constantly being accused of being arrogant, self-complacent, spoilers for future generations, all-of-the-above, contrasted against “The Greatest Generation” (you can thank Tom Brokaw for that term) and for some reason, that term set wheels in motion inside my brain. I wondered for about two and half seconds whether there was something in the water, when the Greatest Generation was born, some vitamin or quality to the air that generated this greatness? Were those people just inherently that great? I don’t think so.
The only thing that the greatest generation had in common was the time period. WWII was going on and it was necessary for the Americans, Brits, and yes, even the Soviet Union to come together to fight against Nazi Germany and Japan. In truth, there wasn’t a lot of choice in the matter. Fight or die or become slaves. Pretty easy choice……as it would have been for the Boomers, or the Millennials, or the X generation, or any generation for that matter.
VIETNAM: Plop any generation down into any other era in our history and they will adapt. Yes, Gen-Xers and Millennials, you would have had a BALL, at Woodstock, toking-up, listening to the first iterations of what became known as Rock and Roll. It really was pretty good. You, other generations, would have had a ball…except of course, for that Vietnam thing, and nearly getting blown to bits by the USSR. The point is: you plop anyone who would have been a boomer into another time period and they would have become something else. In short, all of these pigeon holes are convenient, snide, and completely pointless.
Iraq: ……notice anything about the last three pictures? Over the course of a year, a decade, or a slew of decades, all of us, whatever pigeonhole you want to use…are still people. Any of the people in these three photos could be swapped into the other.
Addicted to Pigeon Holes… It Gets Worse: Somewhere along the line, seems like the last 20 years or so, maybe more, something really sour and dark started taking hold in our country. The pigeonholing began spreading like an invisible cancer. New words began springing up, yuppies, guppies, fruppies. I think I made up the last one, but you get the idea. And then there’s trans-sexual, metro-sexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, asexual, transvestite, lesbian, and finer divisions of sexuality that truly defy logic.
Same with our politics: America went off the deep end, down the bunny trail, into LaLa land with its political, religious, regional, and class hatred. What’s weird is you can have a buddy, have a great friendship which could potentially last forever, but then one or two buzz-words pop-out…and that’s it. You’re a Republican? …….What kind of Republican? I need to know so I can know whether to hate you or not. Democrats aren’t any better.
I throw every religion into this category as well. I’m not picking on any one religion, every single one that I’ve studied is a religion of exclusion. The equation goes something like this: We are fine. We are going to heaven. You are different so…you are going to hell.
What religion did you say you are? Creationist? No? You say you believe in science? Oh…. Well, we’ll pray for you because YOU are going to hell.” Assuming there is a God, I have a funny feeling he or she would not be terribly happy with this situation as it stands. Just by the numbers, no matter what religion you were to choose, the vast majority of mankind would be spending eternity in hell, because they didn’t have your particular church in their town. Wow…That’s tough love!
The pigeonholing goes on and on. There are Porsche people and BMW people, Ford and Chevy, Apple people and Droid people, blue collar and white collar…and corporate people. It gets finer than that. Are you a CEO? ……Oh? You aren’t? Uhmm…well, this table is for CEOs only.
Like most folks now, I keep my head down and avoid…well…whole slews of topics. I don’t really mind being pigeonholed if it has some basis on truth. Trouble is, pigeonholing has gotten really sloppy: A handful of days ago a mad man, yelling Heil Hitler, entered two Jewish Centers, pulled out his gun and killed some people whom he assumed were Jewish. He actually killed three Christians who just happened to be standing there. No matter who he killed it would have been equally heinous, hideous, and horrific. As it was, he was all those things plus sloppy and stupid.
Unthinking hatred in America is growing like a fast-spreading cancer. Are all Republicans Enron CEOs intent on taking ALL the money? Are all Democrats lazy bums who just have their hands out? Are the scientists really wrong about Darwinism? Are all skeptics and agnostics going to hell? Is your religion (fill in the blank) the only one that’s true? C’mon. Really???
There was some really neat guy way back when, who suggested a cool idea. Love thy neighbor. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Little ideas like that. Funny thing is, there wasn’t just one person who preached these words. There were several and in different continents, different races, different religions. Do your homework. It’s true. Perhaps God is more open-minded than we are…
I’m going to finish with a quote from another individual. See if you can figure it out. Hint: He wasn’t from this planet. “The beauty of humanity…is in its infinite diversity.” That, my friends, was Mr. Spock, a fictitious character on Star Trek. Yeah, I was a Trekkie back then, still another pigeon hole to stick myself in. Boy, he was smart though…
P.S. One thing… We really did have the BEST music of any generation…not because we were so great. The time was just right for the birth of Rock and Roll. Whatever generation you are, you would have loved it!!! The Doors, The Beatles, Stones, Who, Beach Boys, Iron Butterfly, Led Zep, Rascals, Santana, Spoonful, Chicago, Doobie Brothers, Aretha, CCR, Steppenwolf, CS&N, Temptations, Presley, Four Seasons, Four Tops, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Dave Clark Five, Mamas and Papas, Simon and Garfunkle, Sly and the Family Stone, Boston, Cream, Dylan, Grateful Dead, Fifth Dimension, Kinks, Heart, Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd, Buffalo Springfield, Steely Dan, Jimi Hendriks, Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, Moody Blues, Hall & Oates, Clapton, ELO, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Boston, Bread, Hollies, Jay and the Americans, and HUNDREDS more!!!
Glad that I did something (the invite) that triggered your article.
Sorry that you are not planning to attend.
Glad that you gave us a “playlist” of groups from which the music can be chosen for the reunion…
As always, great story — and really so true… I sincerely do NOT remember anyone being gay, different because of race or religion or anything else… We pigeon holed in areas like does she like me, can he catch/run fast/hit, will his mother drive us to the movies, etc… I really feel bad for kids today because they are forced to recognize all the pigeon coops primarily by their parents and the media (not news, but everything media related.)..
Again, great story.. hopefully you might want to have a beer one of the nights we’re there and just sneak up and give me a call…
If there’s a nose-count going on, sign me up on the side that asks, “When did everything get so nasty?” Tolerance and whoever wrote Spock’s speech in your last paragraph really hammered it. We’re supposed to be different, not all the same. That’s the fun.
Did someone mention beer? I’ll have to rethink all this. Thanks for confirming my memories. It really was a kinder, gentler…simpler time. My first car (a ’46 Plymouth tank) cost me $40. The electronic “key” that goes in the ignition of my current car cost over $300.
Good article, but that wasn’t what got me so much as those three pictures. Soldiers from three different generations, all willing to lay down their lives. We’re different, but down deep we’re the same. Thanks.
Small minds delight in pigenholing others. The mere process makes them feel superior which I believe is a smoke screen for their own short comings. People who are productive (interpret as genuinely busy) don’t have time to waste putting everyone they know into a category…such as, he’s arrogant, too ivory tower, only interested in his career, or for women, constantly critiquing outfits, weight, makeup, etc. It is shallow pasttime, akin to gossiping. When you have a passion or true interest in life, there is very little desire to stuff us in a box with a label. Let’s just all do our own thing…life is short, and your opinions should stay private.
You really described the years past in a enjoyable manner. I enjoyed those years as well.
It seems sometimes that you are writing from my mind, and I thank you for that.
I read and appreciate all of your articles as soon as they are in my email. If you give me permission I will try to translate some of them that match our society, into Persian language.
Say my best wishes to dear Pamela.
Long and happy life my friend.
Thanks for your comments. As the world becomes smaller and smaller, I hope that man’s ability to control his emotions and egos matches the great strides we’ve made technologically. Right now, it feels like we, as a species, are even less mature than we were a hundred years ago. How is that possible?
Yes, that’s how it was for me, too, except that I was on the edge of “the greatest generation”.
I had a different reaction to those guys that you did. They were a few years older than me, and I just naively went to school, played basketball, ran track, came home to see the latest headline in the newspaper. Who was killing more people, the starving children in Europe, turning down the thermostat, and doing all the things I could to support the war effort.
I brought my defense bond book with me to school, and bought 10 cent stamps to stick in. But, hey wait a minute..we ALL did that.
What is it that changed the country, our relationships with each other, our neighbors? When I went to the gas station to get air in my tires, sometimes I went in to get a nickel coke only to look on the wall at all the pictures of the guys in the neighborhood who went to war. Hey, where are these guys? When are you coming back? What more can we do to help you guys?
Our Moms and Pops did the volunteering,,,knitting hoods for the sailors to wear on the cold sea..I wanted my neighbors back…
What about the Moms whose sons didn’t come back? One family I knew…the Rostrons lost 4 sons. So, there was a change that was a product of the greatest generation….the community was transformed into a “we” community, not you and me, and everyone for himself…Where has that gone? I am obviously still a dinosaur because I still hold on the that belief system. Now there is a far more potent enemy, and we don’t even recognize it. We don’t need any soldiers, not do we need to bear arms…we are missing the answer that is right in front of us with just a two letter word: WE.
Thanks Henry…You are a treasure.
Amen to your summation. Two damned letters… WE. Don’t know where that concept went. Not sure how to get it back. I suspect a contributing factor is the human nature fact that people tend to listen and watch what they agree with. If you get a steady diet of people telling you who to hate, who to like, who to distrust, it’s like building a fire…the bad type. When you have a situation where you have lots of different types of people coexisting, you get more tolerance. Thanks again, Bill!