2005-08-04 / Sam Bari

Congratulations! You’re still here

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

Congratulations! You're still here
You can't beat a system you can't understand

Last week my brother-in-law retired and we reminisced about the last half-century. "The Times They Are A-Changin'" hasn't been more true during any other period in recorded history.

That's why I'm dedicating this column to those of us who endured childhood before the 1970s. By today's standards, we are apparently lucky to be alive. We must indeed be a hardy bunch.

In those days, every household had at least one smoker, so breath-ing second-hand smoke was an everyday occurrence. Smoking was not only in vogue, it was advertised on the radio and in print. A celebrity was rarely pho-tographed without holding a lit cigarette or cigar in his hand.

Cribs, swings, seesaws, wag-ons, scooters, and highchairs were finished with lead-based paints. Many of our toys were also made of actual metal, but we played with them anyway. We didn't know they weren't safe. However, to the best of my knowledge, nobody died from it. I'm sure today's young parents find that hard to believe.

We rode our bicycles and roller skates without wearing helmets. And we rode in cars without seat belts. Air bags weren't even on the inventor's computer because personal computers weren't invented yet.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck with several of my buddies is a fond memory. While we rode, we passed around a bottle of the popular soft drink of the day and each of us took a drink. Oddly, none of us contracted unspeak-able diseases.

A girl I knew was riding in the back seat of her aunt's car with several of her cousins. The youngest cousin, who was 3 years old, dropped her doll out the win-dow when the aunt stopped at a traffic light. Without so much as a second thought, the little girl got out to retrieve the doll. Her cousins were making so much noise giggling and squealing, as little girls are prone to do, that the aunt didn't hear the car door open and close. She drove two blocks before she realized one of her passengers was missing. She was mildly annoyed because she had to pull to the side of the road and wait 15 minutes for the kid to catch up. This is a true story. I didn't make it up.

If the same incident happened today, lawyers would be salivat-ing over the case. They'd be suing the car company for being irresponsible by not providing a "one kid missing from the car" alarm, or something to that effect.

We did many other things that would cause today's parents apoplexy. Before the age of 12, every boy I knew had a BB gun, pellet pistol, a real bow and minimum six-inch blade. Big bowie knives were the most cov-eted. I don't know anybody who was shot, stabbed, or wounded from misusing any of these cher-ished items of boyhood.

Our fathers taught us how to use weapons and tools properly, and we learned to respect them.

We had sword fights with sticks and nobody put anybody's eye out, although our parents did warn us repeatedly.

We used to eat bags of candy, drink gallons of soda pop, and stuff our faces with every imagi-nable sugar-coated starchy white-flour recipe known to man, and none of us was obese. Why? Because we went outside and played. We rode our bicycles until the tread on the tires was nonex-istent. We wore out three pairs of sneakers a year. We hiked, explored, went fishing, and camped out.

Every one of us thought we were Huckleberry Finn.

Meeting friends on computers wasn't even in the imagination of the science fiction writers. We had to meet friends by walking to their houses and actually visit them face to face. Kids do that today only on special occasions, and usually somebody drives them. I believe they call these play dates.

Despite the drawbacks of ill-fated childhood, this generation, the kids who grew up in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, invented the com-puter world we have today. They sent the first man to the moon, made the television industry, Madison Avenue, and the Internet.

They had imagination, cou-rage, and an insatiable thirst for adventure. The last half-century was one of the most innovative periods in recorded history. The people who made these things happen didn't understand the meaning of the word "can't."

That's pretty cool.

Now the next generation is making its mark in history. Thirty years from now, some columnist will write about growing up at the turn of the twenty-first century. It should be an interesting moment in a system that we have yet to understand.

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