Fourteen or Fight from Wild in the Streets
Sorry Albert. I’ve seen this “movie” before.
It was called Wild in the Streets, and yes, that’s Richard Pryor on drums in the first clip and screaming, “Amend, amend, amend” in the gallery in this second:
The premise of Albert Brooks’ book 2030 is almost the same, except his young folks become terrorists and start shooting and blowing up the old folks with makeshift bombs.
But there’s another big difference. Brooks, who is also one of my favorite actor/filmmakers, is such an erudite guy that his futuristic fantasy is based on some facts which, for many, are too abstract to fathom. He takes what’s going on in our country and especially our economy today and stretches it to some pretty logical limits as if to help us understand what they really mean.
It’s a very noble attempt. But I had a hard time finishing this well-intentioned tome—in fact, I still haven’t after several months. Not surprising—I don’t usually like best sellers.
My idea of a “good” read is something like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, which uses our bloody and bizarre frontier past to explain our bloody and bizarre present and future.
It’s Dances With Wolves on steroids AND crack. And when I finished it the first time, all I wanted to do was go sit in a corner and suck my thumb for a while. Maybe…after a hot shower to cleanse body and spirit. Mistah Cormac, he crazy…
Brooks’ book is a much easier nightmare to deal with. It was like a paper a clever college student might write to impress his profs and business major friends, and to prove that he’d grasped the concepts so fully that he could make them comprehensible and compelling to people who might otherwise be completely disinterested.
I'd give it an “A” for the comprehensibility factor. Compelling…maybe a “C.”
But some truly important alarms did go off as I read it, because he connects those esoteric dots so well. And also because I have a daughter who is trying to become a tax paying adult in the middle of one of the worst economic crises this country has ever faced.
She’s moving back home because she’s discovered what so many young folks have over the past few years. Supporting herself on her “just out of college” income has left her exhausted and discouraged. She wants a break, and some time to save up and pay off some of those loans, before sallying forth into the fray again.
She’s not angry with us Boomers yet. But she sometimes looks at me wistfully, and asks me if I realize how lucky I am.
I do. Believe me.
If you’ve been reading me at all lately, you know that my teens and twenties were full of the kind of mad adventures most Boomers experienced back in the 60s and 70s. At that time, it was all about the “Youthquake.” We had money, we had loud voices, we had our music and our whole “counter culture” to play with.
Like my daughter, I started working in high school. Unlike my daughter, I started working mostly to be able to play harder. I was even able to get a job right out of college that let me play some more whenever I felt like it, even when I paid my mother a little bit to augment her meager salary.
My baby girl is working to pay rent, bills, student loans and try to pay for her first brand new car after the old one finally began to cost her what a down payment for a new car would, every time she took it in for service. Those are, of course, the kinds of emergencies that arise and require “discretionary funds” to address.
She took a job that left her no wiggle room financially or otherwise. It’s not her calling. She’s just finding out what her calling is and is going to have to get a second degree, now that she knows, before she can get a job in that field.
TWO sets of student loans, she’ll have. And she’s not alone.
That, too, is something new to me and most of my friends. We knew what we wanted to do from a very early age and we went to college to make sure we got to do it.
College, for my daughter and many of her friends, was just something you did to make your parents feel successful. She had no idea what she wanted to be when she went and crossed the stage on graduation day looking rather like the proverbial deer in the headlights with that, "What do I do NOW?" look in her eyes.
In fact, when my daughter needed her diploma recently to apply for a job…she couldn’t remember where she’d put it! (Bin under the bed. Seriously.)
Clearly, this is not the JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you,” Peace Corps, protest march world. This is the, “WTF just happened?????????” world, where the whole economy may be brought down so that some people who don’t like the president can make a point that frankly…probably isn’t the right point to be making just now given the pain and danger we’re in.
That’s the world she’s trying to become an adult in. A world that looks like it’s going to implode any minute. And in a country now undeniably in decline.
She’s rightfully scared. Even I don’t feel as invincible as I did back in my day. And she probably never will, either. In fact, when the last space shuttle landed this week, and all the laments about the end of an era began…I felt that even more acutely.
I grew up in a “Can do” era. We went to the moon, and believed that we could change the world. We even sent a record into space with all of our languages and cultures and scientific notations on it. “Ain’t we somethin’?” it seemed to say. In a touchingly sweet, almost playful way.
Ann Druyan’s heartbeat is also on that record, and that heart is racing a wee bit with a newfound love for her soon-to-be husband, Carl Sagan, at whom she was gazing at the time. That’s one of my favorite stories about that whole mission, and she loves to tell it.
That’s what we were like back then. It was all giddy and yes, deluded, “peace and love.” With ourselves and our country and its potential.
We were proud of ourselves, too. We just knew we were the baddest kids on the block and we strutted our stuff without shame.
I still remember the day they pulled the fire alarm at the high school I was teaching in so that we could see the space shuttle pass by over our heads, piggy backed on top of a huge jet from one of the bases close to our campus.
The shuttle had made a rare West Coast landing the one time, and they had to get it back home. We were right on their flight path, and the only way to make sure we all got to see the thing was to pull that alarm.
You should’ve seen the faces of those kids that day. Thugs, class clowns and scholars for once were “one” in wonder—the entire campus fell silent ‘til it passed…and then a deafening cheer went up. It was a beautiful moment.
They were soooo happy to have gotten a glimpse of that symbol of…so many things. To feel what those days were once like, watch this amazing video about the moon landing—it’s imcredibly thrilling and incredibly sad at the same time, given recent weeks’ events:
That’s all over now. No more space experiments. We’re just trying to survive.
And it’s getting harder for a twenty-something to do even that. There are a few good jobs out there. But as my daughter learned through a customer service position at a famous insurance company, they can be soul-sappingly regimented and stressful.
At that company, Big Brother watches and reports your every move and you’re rewarded or punished according to your “efficiency” ratings. She got raises, promotions…even time off—or not--based on stats that she could check via computer.
If she was sick…that rating fell, and the “perks”—even the basics like more sick or vacation days--grew farther and farther out of reach. Never mind that she wasn't “at fault” for being sick. She wasn’t there and that’s that.
A college job she had required her to find a replacement herself , no matter how sick she was or what emergency came up. When there was a death in our Hopi family, she spent the entire 6 hour drive to the rez frantically calling other employees and begging them to take her place for the weekend.
She got someone to do it, but she was completely stressed out by the time we reached the rez—this added to the grief was almost overwhelming.
Now, all this may come as no surprise to many of you, but I’m used to a whole different set of procedures and benefits protected by contracts that included mandatory sick, personal and emergency leave and other benefits that made me feel safe, secure, and respected for the hard work I did everyday.
I have my father to thank for this. I am truly, truly grateful for the day he drove through the tunnel that runs right under the main post office in Chicago and advised me to work for The Government when I grew up. He worked for that post office. He'd deliberately chosen to work there.
Daddy had watched many of his friends lose their Great Black Migration jobs when the stores, restaurants, offices, factories, railroad passenger routes and even the almighty steel mills shut down while he sailed on into a supervisory position according to time-honored and well-protected government protocols.
But his friends watched him retire at 55 with a pension to die for and enough vitality left to enjoy the money. He’d worked odd jobs to augment his salary, and with pension and savings he went to New Orleans, countless beloved fishing “holes” and the Caribbean every year and also managed to leave me enough money to pay for the house I live in today.
I divvied that up between my mom and his long time lady friend and settled for a down payment in the end--to be fair to all three loves of his life. But when I first saw what he’d left me…I gasped. For a black man born in near the beginning of the 1900s…he’d done ‘way better than “well.” I will leave my daughter that house and ten gorgeous acres of land, but I’ll never be able to top what Daddy did.
Today the government is not a safe bet. After my Sun Times years, as an educator, I was able to ride that last wave to retirement bliss a year or so ago almost as he did—teachers work for the state here. On the rez, we used to work for the Feds, too.
Now, I didn’t leave with the kinda bank he stashed away, but…I made it. Just before the bottom fell out for many of my friends, who found themselves being RIF’d a few years before they would’ve reached the age for early or full retirement benefits.
This year, some of my friends who got booted out of their positions a while back may find jobs. But the benefits and protections they had back in the 70s are severely diminished. And there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to keep those jobs, given the deep cuts still being made to education spending.
My friends in the private sector…have been through hell. As an example, one of my very best friends since grade school was laid off twice, only a few years before she might’ve been able to retire, with no safety net of any kind.
She’d worked for educational publishing companies in positions I envied with reason, at a time when school districts seem to be made of money. She lived in a prestigious high-rise apartment complex in Chicago, dressed to kill from head to perfect pedicured toes and bought sumptuous fur coats to keep out the notorious winter winds—I had a little trouble with that, but, still. Her cars? Big, beautiful things leased by the company for her use. No payments.
My daughter thought she was the most elegant, extraordinary black woman in the world—Oprah-esque, in her eyes. Today, after being laid off twice, she’s sold the furs and sent that gold jewelry off to those places you see on TV. And she’s driving an old boat of a car that her elderly aunt has had for decades. When it runs.
She’s my age, so getting hired at a comparable salary proved to be all but impossible. When her unemployment ran out, she had the good fortune of being able to fall back on the teaching certification earned but refused to use back in the 70s. And a school near her house has fallen in love with her and calls her nearly every day. So if the car doesn’t start she’s within walking distance. But when summer vacation comes…she has to pinch every penny.
I cry a little after every conversation we have long distance now. I’ve told her that if things get really bad, she should come to me, the way we used to run to each other’s houses as little girls. Arizona’s definitely different. But she wouldn’t miss those furs so much out here, maybe.
Sometimes the layoffs lead to miracles and rebirths. A brilliant friend who worked as a pharmaceutical researcher and in the banking industry is now a musician—which is what he yearned to be all along.
He’s the big exception. Most of the others, and the youngsters like my daughter, are not being “liberated” by their experiences. Quite the contrary. They feel like slaves.
There’s some good news. My baby girl has already got a new job in the accounting department at one of the tribal casinos out here—their style of management is “tribal,” too. At the first interview, her prospective “boss” let her know that she was not the kind of “boss” she was probably used to. They were just going to talk and get acquainted.
And during that conversation, one of the first things the “boss” said was, “Never be afraid to ask for time off. Sometimes…we just need a break.” A true, “Don’t worry, be Hopi” moment. The tribe doing the hiring isn’t Hopi, but she got the job because she’s an enrolled member of her father’s Hopi tribe, a tribe admired for its Zen-like behavior. It’s hard to be Zen-like right now, but…it feels like a very safe “bet,” pun intended.
I keep wondering where that recording of Druyan’s heart has got to. And whether we’ll still be here if some alien civilization finds and listens to it, and decides to drop by to see if we’re as hot as we think we are.
Right now...I’d say if the tension of our various issues, domestic and international, continues to rise, and we lose the optimism and imagination that inspired that recording so many decades ago completely…the odds ain’t good.
Jeez, thanks a LOT, Albert.
No, really, thanks a lot, Albert. Thinking is good. Could lead to understanding. And understanding…can lead to all kinds of great stuff.
Sounds like that Neil Armstrong, “One small step for a man…” thing we used to believe in, doesn’t it?
Okay. I'll finish the book now.