Hacking around? Trying to snow me?

Hacking around?  Trying to snow me?

You can try to paint an entire generation with the same brush, but we who call ourselves Boom Zero, those born between 1945 and 1950, have relatively little in common with Boom Lite, people born in the 1960’s, after I had started high school.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t spend hours listening to the Lone Ranger on the radio, didn’t buy savings stamps in school, didn’t wear coonskin hats, didn’t have to “duck and cover” in the classroom, didn’t play games like “Rich Uncle” or “Mystery Date”.

I’m sure their lives have been rich and full, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t really speak the same language.  They probably wouldn’t say they had it “made in the shade”, and I never felt even remotely comfortable using the word “groovy”.  Did their parents worry that their children would become “greasers”, “JDs” (Juvenile Delinquents), “hoods”?  Did they use Vapo Rub to make sure their DA (Duck’s Ass) stayed firm in high winds?  Did they use Vapo Rub?  If they were on the road to perdition, did they use a “church key” to open a Blatz, a Rheingold, A Piels, a Schlitz, a Ballantine, a Carling Old Style?  Did they go to “sock hops”?  Did they think Shelly Fabares and Paul Peterson were just dreamy?

We think not.

All of this comes to mind as my daughter, still horse-crazy after all these years, will be spending the afternoon doing what she likes best, riding a bunch of different horses to make sure they are exercised and generally pampered.  This job, if in her case it is a job, is called hacking.  Hacking is also used to mean something like pleasure riding, a perfectly acceptable, even gentlemanly, occupation.  In my earlier days however, at home and at school, hacking around meant acting without purpose, larking about, essentially goofing off.  Hacking around with friends was virtually all we had to do in a town that had an intellectually ambitious bookstore but no pizza place, movie theater, or Dairy Queen.  So, that was good hacking, but the term was used with different impact by my teachers who described lackadaisical, attitude impaired clowns in the classroom as  hackers. We hackers, we happy few, formed a band of brothers we thought forever branded by the term, and yet, the disapprobation appears to have disappeared almost entirely.

And then.

Say, one was committed to a life of academic lassitude, happily hacking around in mindless schoolboy distraction.  What to do when called to account?  How to survive the slings and arrows tossed by cranky teachers and coaches?  One, and you know who that one most certainly was not, might hang one’s head, vow to do better, and buckle down from time to time , just to stay out of the line of fire.  Or, counting on invention and charm, one could attempt to spin a tale so compelling that the admiring teacher was simply swept away, forgetting to drop the well deserved hammer.  A much less taxing enterprise.

We called that artful distraction a “snow job”, by which we meant that somehow the combined weight of charm and tangentially possible although certainly dubious information might bury the listener as if he had wandered into an Alpine avalanche.  We also used the term “snow” to indicate a semi-reputable con job, such as convincing a sucker friend to buy the car we knew to be near its sad end by touting features that had nothing to do with its performance.  “You’ll never see a car with a tint job like this baby again.”

The avalanche metaphor was also appropriate to the more genteel use of the word “snow” to indicate headlong, helpless, relatively sudden, and probably impermanent infatuation.  My recollection is that we were first snowed somewhere in the late middle school years and remained capable of being snowed into our college years, or at least, into my college years.  Being snowed was a more intense form of infatuation, more mature than puppy love and less creepy than obsessed.  I suppose there were instances in which someone who had experienced being snowed could become love-sick, but the first stage carried no whiff of pathology.  Being snowed was great with no real expectation of sustained relationship.

Have a crush on?  No, crushes were cultivated like courtly love, emotional but in the abstract.  Smitten?  Closer, but being snowed did include the sensation of being swept away.  It doesn’t matter now; that phrase too has been swept away.

There’s idle nostalgia at play here, obviously, and fun with words, but there’s also the recognition that language shapes experience as much as experience shapes language.  Kidspeak, slang, lingo, reveals something about the time in which it appears.  We were, I was, trying to differentiate our experience from those of the generation holding sway.  They had their words; we had ours.  There were a lot of us, seventy-six million born between 1946 and 1964, so our voices and our sensibilities probably lasted longer than those of previous generations.  And yet, we’d be appalled to hear the creaky phrases we used so happily a half century ago.  Yeah, and no one ever really said “groovy” with a straight face.







What Are We Celebrating?

What Are We Celebrating?

… today, I’m celebrating tumbling kids and guys with chain saws, and a small town that turns out to cheer those who bring hope.

I’m heading to the 4th of July parade in town.  It’s a wonderful jumble of marching Cub Scouts, amateur hula dancers, the 4H club, people dressed as butterflies chanting “Migration is beautiful”, yoga teachers, Shakespearean actors, softball teams, militant vegans, kazoo bands, mimes, and a host of other specialized and important enthusiasms.

It’s small town, and earnest, and kindly, and hopeful.  I love it.

But I’m also aware of how mitigated my fondness for the 4th has been by events and attitudes in the last two years.  I’m wearing red and white shorts and a blue shirt, have flags out at home, but I’m aware that the flag, like the anthem, has been weaponized, turned into a partisan body slam.

Patriotism has been hijacked by partisan politics for a very long time, but it is only recently that I pause before looking for my flag to wonder in flying it, do I put myself among those who think football players are “sons of bitches” for bringing attention to the shooting of young black men, do I put myself among those who think Muslims are dangerous, who think that people seeking refuge are criminals to be confined and separated from their children.

So, I stand in a shaded street in Ashland, Oregon, under two unfurled flags, captivated by the kids showing off their tumbling, and the guys on the fuel coop float waving chainsaws used to provide free wood in the winter to warm those who need help, and the guy dressed as a recycling bin, and the Booming Broadway Dancers, Baby Boomer Women striking Broadway poses with jazz hands as they march, and the dogs dressed as Uncle Sam, and the employees of the free clinic tossing toothbrushes to the crowd, and the bagpipers marching crisply as the temperature soars, and the several hundred music teachers in town to attend a workshop at SOU who sit on three separate floats playing perfectly, and Oregon’s Senator, Ron Wyden, greeting children perched on the sidewalk, and marching bumble bees representing Ashland, “Bee City”.

Rumor has had it that a great marching band and drumline has been practicing in South Ashland for a few days, so my son and I walk to the area from which the parade begins.  The Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps from Santa Clara, California have assembled at the end of the parade, waiting for the space to add a marching band, a drumline, drill team and flag tossers to the mix.  A single drum sounds clearly, and in an instant the entire group is marching, bugles and tubas sounding out the Star Spangled Banner, the Washington Post March, El Capitan as the drums roll, rifles fly, flags twirl.  At the end of the set, the band marches silently as the drums continue, playing a complex, and wonderfully funky, contrapuntal march, thirty drums of differing sizes and tones playing so smoothly that it seems a single drum is carrying the tune.

We walk back to the heart of town alongside the band, catching something extraordinary as they repeat their performance.  I stop at one point and realize I have goose bumps on my arms and legs.  For a moment I have my America back.  I am proud of the conviction and purpose the marchers brought to the day, I am moved by the statements endorsing peace and respect.

I completely understand the intention of the woman walking by us with a large sign asking, “What are you celebrating?”  I get it.  But today, I’m celebrating tumbling kids and guys with chain saws, and a small town that turns out to cheer those who bring hope.

I won’t go to the concert tonight or to the fireworks display; I am content to remember a 4th of July on a human scale.  I’ll make sure the dogs don’t get rattled by the neighbor’s small burst of firecrackers, and remember that we’ve come through tough times before.