Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beware the Blob

The gang I ran with is on the seventy side of sixty.  Most of our dreams either came true, didn't quite make it, or split the difference.  And maybe the time is near to pull the plug on those that didn't.  While comfortably basking in those that did.  But age and dreams aside, I like to think about those freckled, sunburned, sweaty, jeans-clad years of my youth.   In fact, I have a friend that, every time we get together to chew on the past,  remarks how great it would be to have a do-over,  just one day, to relive a snapshot out of times gone by.  Just a day to go back and wallow in all that was, without a solitary thought of all that wasn't or would be.  One more visit to the old neighborhood and find ourselves astride bulky, single speed Schwin bikes, dodging the familiar cracks and faults in the sidewalks and maneuvering around the rare pedestrian.  Trudging one more time with bats and balls and gloves to the vacant lot that was the nexus of our neighborhood to deposit another pint or two of blood, sweat, and tears into the ragged soil of that hallowed ground.  Or gather in a gang after supper and choose sides for Kick the Can or Capture the Flag and dash between fireflies and clotheslines in the thick, watery air of a magical July evening.

It's okay to say that those were the "good old days" because they were our good old days.  Days when the 'hood was a town block, four quiet, small-town streets creating a perfect square of modest houses on tidy lawns.  Days when homes were slung open to drop-in company every morning and remained unlocked at night, screen doors slamming with the traffic of neighborhood living, and curtains dancing slowly to the breeze slipping through wide-open windows.  Days when all mothers were your mothers, all fathers were equally respected and feared, and friends were more like brothers and sisters than just...well...friends.

Days when calls to supper echoed across lawns and slipped through the shade of enormous elms and oaks and mulberries.  Days when dogs ran free and gobbled their meals at whichever house they had flopped down near at mealtime.  Days when bike crashes and errant rocks brought mothers bustling out of their houses and into the streets armed with towels, bandaids, and mercurochrome.  Days when mile wide front porches were oases from the heat of the summer,  a sweaty glass of ice water was a indescribable delight, and heaven was sipping a chocolate milkshake at the drugstore counter the day the latest Superman comic came out.

And in these current times, these difficult times of division, polarization, and raging battles of differing preferences and perspectives,  I can't help but recall the odd excitement of the presidential election years of my youth.  When the candidates were both good, solid, trustworthy folks and they talked about what needed to be done to make sure that our country did the things that showed respect and garnered respect nationally and internationally. Things that improved the lives of all Americans.  Things that manufactured hope for the future.  They kissed babies and shook hands, even with each other, and instilled a sense of safety, security, and prosperity even in us snotty nosed kids.  And when our parents and neighbors talked about their preferred candidate, they did it quietly and with respect.  Mock elections were held in school (I think Nixon held a slight edge over Kennedy) and I don't remember a single case of yelling or screaming or fighting or even a modicum of anger, regardless of who came out on top.  Election nights were stay-up-late nights, black and white television coverage with totals written and erased and rewritten on chalkboards, truly unbiased anchors reporting the results of each state with a mixture of excitement and solemnity.  And the next morning, the sun rose, bottles of milk and cream appeared on back porches like magic, folks headed to their jobs, and we had a new president.  And everyone went back to living and working and striving to be good neighbors and upright citizens.

So when my friend talks about getting a do-over, just one more trip back down memory lane,  I nod and agree and say, yes, what a great thing that would be.  And we sit there with our own thoughts and remember those days and those things that still bring us great joy.  And make us smile.

Times were simpler.  Weren't they?

You know, they say that "the good old days" are constantly changing.  That all the past eventually becomes "the good old days."  And I can't completely disagree with that.  Or, at least, I couldn't until recently.  Until the last several months when it seemed you could hear the fabric of this great country of ours sickeningly rip.  When it became painfully evident how polarized we have become as a society.  How anger and hate has bubbled its way into our lives like the Blob did in that movie of the late fifties.  Some of you remember The Blob.   It starred a wall of disgusting gook that grew larger every time it consumed someone or something.  It ate houses and farms.  It devoured everything in its reach.  At one point, it became such a huge mass of destructive gunk that it appeared it would eventually destroy the entire nation...maybe the entire world.   Thankfully for us wide-eye, popcorn-crunching and gum-popping adolescents, Steve McQueen discovered that cold stuff killed the Blob and a group of kids armed with fire extinguishers bravely faced it down and froze it. The Air Force flew it to the Arctic and dropped it in the middle of that icy wilderness.  The movie finished with a typical "The End," but, this time, it was followed by a question mark.  Leaving us all to wonder if maybe one day it might, Lord forbid,  return.

Is the Blob back?  And is it this universal accumulation of hate and rage that we see every time we turn on the television or boot up a social media site?  And is it consuming everything in its path and growing to gargantuan proportions?  Were these movie makers actually prophets?  And, if the Blob was a prophetic warning, can we stop it?


If we can, it will take more than a group of kids with fire extinguishers, but I do believe that the end to the Blob begins with the kids.  Well, actually it begins with us adults ceasing to act worse than kids that know no better and providing them with the appropriate role models.  It starts with us taking charge of our individual lives and not being influenced by negativity.  It starts with us saying "no more" to each and every faction that wishes to influence us in such a way that is derogatory to us as a peaceful society and a great nation founded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It starts and ends with us refusing to be devoured.  Refusing to be sucked in by this ravenous monster that disguises itself as the "new norm."  And if we can do that, then maybe, just maybe, the current generation can overcome all the raging divisiveness that we are handing them and have a shot at  their "good old days."

And maybe that's what my and my friend's do-over is all about.  It's not about us being able to go back and live a day in that utopia we so fondly recall.  It's about doing what it takes for future generations to have their moments in the sun.  It's about giving them something equivalent to all the goodness of the days we were blessed with.  It's about giving them a chance.  It's about giving them something better than a frosty soda fountain milkshake and the latest edition of the Superman comic.

Hold on a minute, though.  That might be a little tough.  Because when I really think about it,  I'm pretty sure that there could never be anything better than that.

But we could certainly try.