Generations

dino ash tray

Apparently there’s a meme eruption ongoing on Twitter about how Gen X reacts to both Boomers and Millennials, sandwiched as Xers are between those two large and influential generations.

“Just remember, ” says the caption to a still from the Breakfast Club (“Brat Pack”), for every Boomer that hates a Millennial, there’s a generation in between that hates you both.”

There are reminders of Boomers trying to squash heavy metal music (remember Tipper Gore and Dee Snider?) and GIFs of Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller subtly smirking.

I’ve never determined exactly which generation I identify with, or as. Technically, I’m supposed to be a Boomer, but I’m at the tail end of that very broad generation. I’m told I’m “Generation Jones,” exhausted by the sheer mass of the older Boomers (my eldest brother’s cohort) scorching the earth ahead of me, and leaving me with…the late ’70s. Feh.

I also identify with older Xers – the John Hughes movie generation, like Molly Ringwald as the kid whose birthday was forgotten because all the focus was on an older sibling. The in-between feeling has always been there: I remember exactly where I was when John Kennedy, John Belushi, Kurt Cobain, and Chris Farley died. Where does that put me on the generational spectrum?

Like Jonesers or Xers or whatever I am, I tended to keep my head down, and just got on with it. My older brother’s cohort made so much noise that there just wasn’t any point to it by the time I was old enough to vote. My absentee ballot arrived in Oxford, England, where I was on a program of study abroad, after Ronald Reagan had already been elected. I rode my bike to the Old Bodley (Bodleian Library) in tears that day.

I got good grades, did what I thought would make my parents happy, and went to an exceptional liberal arts college with such an eclectic student body that I graduated with only one friend, since vanished from my life. I went on to make a lot of choices that delayed gratification, put me on a painful career track that was all wrong for me, and left me as the “on call” adult child for parental care giving (with the notable exception of my Mother’s last year of life, when my eldest brother stepped in because, even though I was closest, my own responsibilities made it impossible for me to be there daily for her.)

But something interesting has happened with the younger Millennials/older Gen Zers, (who make up a large portion of my work colleagues.) I’ve felt very little generational tension, if any. Sure, when the “question of the day” comes up around 2:30 in the afternoon as a brief break in a relentlessly busy day, my answers are often recognizable to my coworkers as something their grandparents might say, but nobody ever gives me grief about it. The only reaction I get is one of genuine interest, appreciation, or non-judgmental curiosity.

Of course, I’m clueless about a lot the the stuff they’re into – I know nothing about multiplayer videogames, and I’ve usually never heard of the cartoons, TV programs or toys they remember fondly. But I jump in with an answer that is generation-specific. Favorite cartoons? Why, Looney Tunes, of course–the Bugs Bunny show!

“Overture, coit-an lights!
Dis is it, da night of nights!
No more re-hoising, or noissing a paht!
We know every paht by haht!”

(the Mel Blanc-voiced, Brooklyn-accented Bugs!)

Road Runner, Yosemite Sam, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha! Thanks to YouTube, maybe some of my colleagues will discover these older cartoons, from the era where Saturday morning cartoons were uproariously funny, full of double entendre for parents who were watching (“I’ll unhorse thee, Sir Loin of Pork!” “I’ll run you through, Sir Hosis of the Liver!”) and much too violent to get by today–but hey, they were cartoons!

One question last week was about the relative coolness of particular dinosaurs. I was not among the generation of children who became obsessed with dinosaurs. We were more obsessed with astronauts–and my interest stretched from Flash Gordon to Star Trek to Star Wars. But I was able to offer a little quiz with a photo of the object pictured above. Identify the company and the business it was in, and bonus points for what the object was. Of course, Google solved the riddle almost immediately, and one of my colleagues even found a picture of a gas station with a giant green dinosaur mascot on a lawn next to the pumps. These places are gone in my area, but apparently still exist out west. Who knew?

Did you come of age feeling sandwiched between generations? Tell me your story.

Until then, I remain,

your generationally confused, but not particularly worried about it,

Ridiculouswoman

Tree for Two

Mike used to make us wait to the second week of December to get a tree, but Angelic Daughter and I went to fetch one from the big box hardware store early on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Double masked and distanced, I motored in to the outdoor section where the Christmas trees were. Since Mike died, we’ve been getting smaller trees that don’t require me to get up on a ladder to do the lights or the tree topper. Falling and breaking a hip or an arm would be, erm, …. non-optimal.

I went straight for the 6′-7′ section, grabbed one of the shortest trees, gave it a cursory once-over and decided it would do.

Self-check out, and I stood back a good 20 feet while the chain-saw guy cut a slice off the end so the tree could absorb water better. Asked him to chuck it over the chain that separated me from the saw area. Picked it up off the floor, stuffed in the back of the Subaru, and off we went.

The annual Christmas tree fight Mike and I used to have about the tree originated mostly from our inability to use our tree stand correctly. It has a foot pedal in its base, and a separate piece you attach to the trunk of the tree.

You’re supposed to fit the tree, with the separate piece attached, into the base. Then you depress the foot pedal and waggle the tree around until one of you pronounces it straight.

The problem was, we rarely remembered that the piece attached to the trunk is supposed to snap in to the bottom of the base.

For 17 years, we waggled the tree, pronounced it straight, and pushed the foot pedal back into the base, which was supposed to lock the tree in place. It rarely worked, and we settled for teetering trees in danger of keeling over.

This year, I got the tree stand to work the way it’s supposed to after just a few tries. I got the “click” I needed when I lopped off a few more branches to get the attachable base high up enough on the tree.

Minor waggling, and it was straight. Push the pedal in, locked!

Then for the lights. I tested the strings before I started. Predictably, when I got lights around the entire tree and plugged them in, the top half didn’t light up.

Sigh.

My old self would have spend a good 15 minutes swearing and yelling. This year, redoing the lights seemed like a minor inconvenience. Second time around, they lit up just fine. I probably just hadn’t plugged them together tightly enough. Sigh.

We used to put the tree in front of the bay window in our “library” room. I turned that room into a dining room that could seat six. It’s kind of a combo library/dining room with a clubby atmosphere – reading chairs in the window, and another in a corner by the bookcases. I love it, sloppy paint job and all.

The front room, where the fireplace is, to me has always been a more natural habitat for a Christmas tree. My idea for that room was a kind of pseudo-eighteenth/nineteenth century parlor, where guests have conversation before dinner, and the ladies retire after dinner to sip and chat, while the gentlemen enjoy their brandy (but no cigars, not in this house) in the clubby dining room.

I went overboard. Too much furniture. I’ll find another place for four chairs, or sell at least two of them. I liked two I bought online for their eighteenth century shape and animal pattern. Online, the background had appeared to be a lovely gold color.

It turned out to be a pucey- green, which I don’t like, and which doesn’t go with the room. They’re in my “budoir” now. My mid-century looking plum velvet chair is in the basement, all to make room for the Christmas tree. I’ll switch it all back after Christmas, and figure out what to do with the ancestress rocker, as well.

All this talk of excess furniture and guest-worthiness is meaningless until vaccines are more widely available and enough people have taken them, sometime around the end of the third quarter of 2021.

There will be no happy guests and lively conversation this year. It’s just us, with a tree for two.

I got an email from a friend this week, bemoaning the loss of our annual holiday brunch with another friend. But we’re in it to win it, being as careful as we can. We’re hoping to be around next year for a mimosa-saturated good time.

By then, maybe this house will finally see the dinner parties with friends I had hoped to host.

Until then, I remain,

Your double-masked-with-filter-inside, hand-washing, diligently distancing,

Ridiculouswoman

Widows and Germ Freaks

By definition, a pandemic affects everyone on the planet. Synchronicity has been powerfully present – scarcity (toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, food, money, jobs) and distractions (sourdough bread, home improvement, sports with cardboard fans, political vitriol) afflict us all. As I was ruminating on a post about how we’re all widows and germ freaks now, the New York Times published a piece about declining social skills caused by isolation. Synchronicity.

People are still dying, behind glass, while their families helplessly watch on tablets, speaking final words through phones held by brave and compassionate nurses. This plague makes new widows and widowers every day. There are coronavirus orphans, and babies born during this time are dubbed “coronials.”

I hear fewer people using the phrase “back to normal” lately. It’s sinking in now. After a pandemic, there is no “back to normal.” In that sense, we’re all widows now. Doorknobs and light switches, the sound of a sneeze, offices with sealed windows, crowded concert halls – none of these will ever feel “normal” again, even after a safe, effective and adequately tested vaccine emerges. We’re all germ freaks now. I don’t expect consciousness of sources of contagion to go away for anyone who has measured their relationships in 6-foot circles, or washed their hands for two rounds of Happy Birthday, umpteen times a day. Who of us will ever hear that birthday song the same way again?

We’re all widows now, too, in a sense – grieving for a life that was supposed to be, but has vanished. School will never be the same. “Learning pods” may become permanent for those that can afford them. Those that can’t must send their kids, wearing masks they’ll never be able to keep on over their noses for a full school day, into classrooms where they’ll be seated at desks spaced 6 feet apart, surrounded by plexiglass. What kind of learning is that? Learning that laughter and singing and holding hands with your friends are dangerous? How are these kids going to carry that message into their future lives? There is grief for play and joy, displaced by sterile, lonely, fearful childhoods.

Grieving young adults behave wantonly, in total denial, feeling cheated of their “right to paaaartay!,” risking each others’ lives by packing themselves into illegal or unauthorized gatherings, resulting in colleges and universities reporting thousands of new cases. Dorms shut down, classes go back online. College isn’t what it was supposed to be, and may never be whatever that was again.

I take no solace in knowing that so many people now understand the permanence of grief. In my case, it’s carrying the weight of memories of Mike, the good and the bad, every minute of every day. There are triggers everywhere, especially at home, where we’ve been holed up for six months. It’s not that I think about him all the time – I don’t – but the “presence of absence” hangs around me like a shawl.

The “Lost Generation” emerged from the horrors of World War I only to confront a pandemic of their own, one hundred years ago. They were also faced with a president, Warren G. Harding, who was was pro-business, anti-international organizations, and anti-immigration. Three years into his presidency, Harding died, and his administration was revealed as the most corrupt in American history, up to that time. Harding appointees sold government medical supplies to private contractors, and benefited from loans and gifts in exchange for directing oil leases to cronies in the famous Teapot Dome scandal. The echoes are deafening. Harding campaigned on returning to “normalcy.” He succeed only in proving that there are some kinds of “normalcy” we could all do without. No wonder so many of the lost generation writers decamped to Paris.

Will this present generation, a century later, robbed of innocence by 9/11 and of proms and graduations and big happy weddings by a pandemic, turn into another “lost generation,” living for the moment because they expect the next moment to be worse?

I hold on to examples of these young adults’ resilience, leadership, and compassion. Their zeal for justice, equality, dignity, and environmental responsibility is undeniable. They give me hope.

We widows and germ freaks can’t recreate the “before” in whatever our “after” is going to be, if we survive. But we can learn from all this to be kinder, to respect integrity, to appreciate competence, and to be humble in the face of irrefutable scientific facts. We can move forward together with decency.

Naked Emperors, living in houses of cards, always eventually crumble. In the ashes of the chaos they created, those they duped and those whose worst fears they realized are left to clean up the mess together, and move on.

Hunkering with hope, I remain,

Your masked, sanitized, socially distanced, trying-to-stay-positive-while-grieving-with-Angelic-Daughter,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by Daniel Langezaal from Pixabay