2006-01-19 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Remember when life was fun?
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Yes, it’s true. I can remember the good old days, when life was fun. You know, back when gasoline was more expensive than water. Aww, come on — it wasn’t that long ago. It’s not as if I’m talkin’ about when it was in vogue to smoke, or before television, or anything like that.

However, I must admit to being shocked when I learned that the new standard for gauging old age is if you own a cassette player or can remember before we put a man on the moon. Yeah — I’m not making this up. I heard this from my son, Roman, when he was talking with a couple of his friends.

“Dad was around when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Just ask him,” he said. “Wow — I learned about that in history class,” one friend said. “It was way before I was born,” said another.

From there, the conversation took a serious downward turn. My son said, “Dad remembers before computers.” To that, I stupidly responded, “Computers? When I started writing, we used typewriters.” That sent them over the edge. “You gotta be kidding. Say it isn’t so,” they said as they laughed hysterically. The only place they ever saw a typewriter was in the movies. Unfortunately, they weren’t finished with aging me yet.

My son, who is a music fanatic, asked the following question: “Dad, back when rock ‘n’ roll first started, did you ever hear of a group called the Beatles?” I was speechless. How could he? My own flesh and blood actually uttered those words.

I took a deep breath, regained my composure, and reminded myself that patience is a virtue, and nothing positive would result from being upset with my sadly misinformed offspring.

“Son, the Beatles were still wearing diapers at the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll. They had nothing to do with the birth of this beloved musical idiom. How you passed history without knowing this is most disturbing.

“Rock ‘n’ roll started with Bill Haley and His Comets when they recorded “Rock Around the Clock” in the early ‘50s. The Beatles recorded “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Johnny B. Goode,” after learning those songs by listening to Chuck Berry records. The founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll were musicians like Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, and a couple of dozen other original rock ‘n’ rollers. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones would never have existed if it wasn’t for them,” I said in exasperation.

“You mean they were before the Beatles?” he asked. “Yes,” I sighed, “Long before the Beatles.” I was getting the impression that they didn’t think music existed before the early ‘60s. I prayed that it wasn’t so.

However, that wasn’t the most unusual question he ever asked. When barely of grade school age, he arrived at my doorstep with a half-dozen or so of his closest friends. They looked very serious and earnest, as if they were on a quest for the answer to the meaning of life. He looked me square in the face, and with as authoritative a voice as a 6-year-old can muster, he asked, “Dad, back in the old days, did you know Jesus?”

Without a doubt, that one caused me pause — but not for long. “Fortunately for you, I still do,” was my response. I forgave them, for they were young, and their perception of time had yet to develop.

Their questions made me reminisce about my youth and an earlier definition of fun. I concluded that this day and age offers modern versions of what once was, and kids have just as much fun now as they did in my generation. The truth of the matter is, today’s youth is probably healthier, better informed, and has the opportunity to have a wellrounded education much earlier in life than when I was young.

As I remembered fun times, I could not help but reflect on the past year. This writing marks the first anniversary of “You Can’t Beat a System You Can’t Understand.” I find it difficult to believe that 52 columns are already in the archives. We’ve talked about everything from Pookie Grossberg (age 8), stuffing a caterpillar up Darlene Saunders’ (age 7) nose because he “liked” her, to the perils of reading directions when assembling furniture, and dreaded visits to the periodontist.

It was a fun year, Jamestown, and I thank you. Your kind words, letters, and encouragement are very much appreciated. You are a wonderful audience.

If all goes well, I believe we can squeeze yet another year of writing out of the many things in our system that we just can’t understand.

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