Memorial Day 2011.
I remember my father (OBM) crouching over a flimsy tin barbeque grill that wobbled on spindly, wire legs. The coals ignited in a “whoosh” when he touched a match to the napalm he squirted from metal can. After what seemed like an eternity, the coals finally turned chalky white and Dad pronounced them “ready” for the chicken or steak he had purchased for our Memorial Day feast.
Aside from the parade earlier that morning, there were no vulgar displays of phony bravery and pseudopatriotism. There were no “Support the Troops” magnetic ribbons adorning the bumper of this year’s crop of cars parked in the driveway. A few of Dad’s coworkers would show up after the steak or chicken had been devoured and they would sit and talk about their military experiences and not to mindlessly chant “USA!” like their grandchildren would, some fifty years later.
“We” were going to be different than our parents. We were going to shun the materialism of our parents.
And so we are.
We now refuse to buy those little, tin grills manufactured in some small, rural town in the South. Our meat sees nothing less than the Chinese-built, twelve-burner, stainless steel behemoth we bought at Wal Mart. The cans of my Dad’s blue-collar Pabst Blue Ribbon have been replaced with tall bottles of imported vodka or microbrewery vanity ales.
“We” sang the anti-materialistic Monkees song, Pleasant Valley Sunday or Pete Seeger’s, Tiny Boxes in the ironically identical, fenced backyards of our parent’s, modest suburban (all-alike) homes. Our accompaniment was a five-dollar transistor radio with a tinny, two-inch speaker.
Today a three hundred dollar, all-weather sound system blares those songs over our all-weather decks through Bose patio speakers hanging from custom-made brackets carefully painted in “our” palette.
See, we are different than our parents.
Our parents saw to it that we were educated.
We sweltered in schoolhouses and, if we were alphabetically lucky, we had a seat near one of the tall windows that admitted an occasional waft of cool breeze. At the end of the day we raced down the steps of the school’s exits, holding onto railings made of painted heavy pipe. By the sixth grade, we had read and digested Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.
We, likewise, encourage our young toward education.
Our grandchildren sit in hermetically sealed, climate-controlled classrooms and, by the sixth grade, struggle with Dick and Jane, on a computer monitor. We proudly tell our elderly parents, “The kids are already learning computers!”
At the end of the day, our grandchildren race down the steps grasping magnificent sculptured aluminum handrails. Instead climbing of monkey bars (also constructed of spare pipe) erected over rock-strewn playgrounds, the grandchildren gaze longingly at the multi-million dollar high school sports complex across the highway.
There will be time to learn how to read when they get to college. A community college degree now costs the same as a baccalaureate degree from Harvard or Yale fifty years ago…minus the requirement to understand the calculus.
Time brought changes to the enemies our national leaders use as excuses for fortune and empire building. To ensure the survival of the national bureaucracy, we need to replenish our enemies with new ones.
We no longer fear “Charlie”, the “dinks”, “gooks”, or “slopes”. Today, we cheer the American soldier grandchildren of Southeast Asians as they march off to deal with “Haji”, “towel heads”, or “terry-wrists”.
We grew up and ripped down posters coated with Max Ehrmann’s Disiderata and quotes by Thoreau. We replaced them with soccer ball stickers on the back glass of Chevy Suburbans we purchased for multiples of the cost of the suburban home where we grew up.
We remain acutely aware of want and hunger. The back bumper of our SUV proclaims our outrage at poverty, and our grandchild’s status on the honor role.
We take action!
We rally our like-minded and socially conscious brethren and lobby our representatives to levy higher taxes to pay for social programs combating hunger and homelessness. After all, if we pony up our own money do deal with social injustice and hunger, there would be no money left to buy that mega-grill…the one bearing our imported Kobe beef steaks.
Unlike our materialistic parents, we do not pull our latest possessions into the driveway or onto the front lawn to display like scalps hanging from our lodge poles. We post photos of them on Facebook and wait for our “friends” to click on “like”.
We support social change, like marriage equity, by frequenting gay bars to proclaim our open-mindedness…but cringe at marching in a Pride Parade out of fear that the owner of the cubicle-farm we toil in might see us.
Never mind that the gay patrons of gay bars are so annoyed by our straight presence that they show gay porn on the television over the bar to discourage us from parading our “tolerance” for the gay lifestyle by our self-seen courageous act of drinking a beer with gay men.
We are certain to mention our African-American, Jewish, or Muslim friends whenever discussing social issues in a group whenever there is no African-American, Jew, or Muslim present. The mention of our friendships with minorities are surrogates for the bigger possessions which we cannot drag into a trendy bar or restaurant.
Last night, before I drifted off to sleep on the eve of America’s annual festival to war carnage, I watched a beautifully choreographed bit of patriotic music. It was the kind of music national leaders use to inspire young men and women to abandon all thoughts of self-preservation in favor of the glory of service to the Empire. While listening to the martial music of war, I contemplated what Sophie Kerr had to say about it:
“If peace…only had the music and pageantry of war, there’d be no wars.”
We really are different than our parents.
I sat looking at the old photographs of war protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Millions of long-haired “hippies” joined together with grey-haired “hard hats” to protest the insanity found in marching to the other side of the globe to kill neo-savages who somehow threatened industrialized America from their rice paddies.
The old hippies have moved to the suburbs, donned their blue jeans and Polo shirts, lit their stainless steel mega-grills, and self-righteously cry for “unity” and disparage dissent for its “disrespect” for the men and women of the armed services…while listening to a cookie-cutter radio station playing Four Dead in Ohio.
They climb over each other to display lapel-pin patriotism as they send forth the imperial legions to deal with neo-savages who, today, threaten industrialized America from poppy fields in Afghanistan.
Our generation accomplished so much.