Simple Pleasures- Hold the Guilt

With the recent war on the Big Gulp and other sodas of their size by Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, perhaps it is time to reflect on the importance of simple pleasures in life. After all, smoking has been severely restricted, trans fats have been outlawed, when, where and how dogs can be exercised have been regulated, etc., etc., etc. Most of these restrictions are government done, but usually at the insistence of those who know what’s good for us all. But, do they really?

Back in my undergrad days, when I was ‘learning’ about teaching, [not learning how to teach or be a teacher cause that is learned in the classroom after years of experience], we watched a film titled, The Things I Cannot Change [NFB, 1967]. It is a heartbreaking documentary about the life of a lower income family living in a lesser district of Montreal. After viewing the film – in which the already oversize family has yet another baby, the oldest boy makes weekly runs to the local church for stale bread handouts, and the father ‘makes a living’ watching a guy’s car, gets into a scuffle, and gets arrested – we ‘future teachers’ were asked for our observations and possible solutions. I was in my usual seat at the back of the room doing my usual keeping my mouth shut and observing my classmates so as not to put my foot in my mouth. First, most expressed sympathy about the family’s plight. Whoopie! ‘Three cheers for the poor!’  Then they got down to ‘fixing the situation.’ “Why do they have so many kids?” “Did you notice how both parents smoked. If they quit they could save a lot of money.” [At that time a pack of smokes cost about 40-50 cents.] In the extremely honest smoking scene the mother and father are discussing their financial situation at what served as their kitchen, well only, table. “They give their children a sugared cereal every morning. If they bought the cheaper, no sugared type they could save money.” Maybe.

As I sat in the back listening to these West Island raised white breads, one of whom was the son of a McGill Professor and went on to be a doctor not a teacher, I reflected on similar moments in my own childhood, my own working class neighborhood. There were families with upwards of 8 kids because they were good Catholics forbidden to practice any reliable method of birth control. Many people smoked because that is what people did then, and the ‘smoke break’ was a means of escape from the hard life. In my own home I did have the luxury of those multi-pack cereal boxes, where you can just open the individual box and pour in the milk. In mixed packs of ten, each came with two boxes of Raisin Bran. I learned to save those two for last, for two really ‘good mornings in a row. When I crowed about this to some of my friends they made it clear that I was lucky that I even got breakfast cause some of them did not. No wonder they liked to hang around my house, a single child family, especially at lunch time when my mother might break out the cream cheese, peanut butter [to which no one was allergic], and saltines. That lunch for us was a real simple pleasure. To the family in the film these ‘solutions’ would take away the few joys they had.

Sometimes on the morning news shows we are scolded about how bad certain foods are for us. The announcers then confess or admit to their own guilty pleasures as if eating a Hostess Twinkie –now on the endangered species list- a fresh Twinkie dunked in whole milk then pressed between the tongue and top of the mouth –[oops, I need a moment]- should make us feel guilty? To be healthy in our 24-7 society more than ever, people need their simple pleasures, their little escapes, their health breaks, even if that means a date with Lady Nicotene. The other morning as I was walking along the lake front I saw a man of maybe fifty with his Golden Retriever in the park. The man had his dog there after 10AM and the dog was running free – both against local regs- and the man was smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. As least the caffeinated beverage was still allowed. They did seem to be having fun, however.

This scene reminded me of another one of the simple pleasures of my childhood, my every third week visit to the barber shop, where my friend Eddy the Barber would delight me with stories of his camping trips –to this day I swear by Coleman products just as he did,- and enlighten me- he taught me how to spell Mississippi, for example. In the summer I would often be his first customer. I’d be waiting outside the door, the shop was in the lower rear of his house, as he’d open for the day. With coffee hand he’d usher me in and get me set up in the chair with that little bit of tissue paper around the back of my neck and that green sheet protecting the body from the dangers of cut hair. He’d light up and L&M, sip from his coffee and start in on my head. About halfway through these early morning cuts, he’d excuse himself and head for the ‘head.’  The sound of a hearty flush would signal his return, toweling off his washed hands and resuming his artistic masterpiece that was my fresh haircut. In his words of wisdom he explained his absence, “Nothing better to get you ‘going’ in the morning than a cup of coffee and a smoke.”

Those who’ve come up with all these restrictions on our simple pleasures are full of ‘going.’ They
need to relax with a Big Gulp . . . .  Liberally dosed with Ex Lax.

–Just My Two Sense

[For the record, the author enjoyed his last cigarette on November 9, 1975, does not have a dog, hasn’t seen a Hostess Twinkie in decades, cuts what is left of his own hair, eats plain bran flakes with raisins sometimes added, and has never had a Big Gulp in his life]

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No More Leave it to Beaver

Girl: “Hey Johnny. What are you rebelling against?”

 Marlon Brando, as Johnny: “What d’ya got?”

 —The Wild One, 1953

 With Bill 78 the Charest government continued along the theme of Father Knows Best, which apparently he does not any more. This is not to be for or against Bill 78; this is to suggest it was unnecessary and as the past two weeks have shown, unenforceable and crowd provoking to boot. Quebec already had sufficient laws on the books, like the good old Essential Services Board which could have been used to keep the damn schools open [and to keep the CEGEP ‘teachers’ in their classrooms instead of collecting their paychecks while helping to keep students from getting into those classrooms] way back when to ensure the finish of this school year for those who wished to attend. If homework is an essential service as it was declared c. 2004, then school is more so.

As well, to date, even in the face of Bill 78, the Montreal police in particular have shown remarkable restraint, or an admission that they are overwhelmed by the whole mess. Sure, they can handle [kill] one guy with a knife when there are three of them, they can handle [kill] a homeless guy and an innocent bystander, and they can handle [shoot two innocent LaurenHill High School students while stopping, c. 1996] a bank robbery. Bill 78 served to make the police official escorts of the ‘declared illegal mob.’ Wonderful,  just wonderful.

But what to make of these youths who have, are and apparently intend to continue to defy, ignore, scoff, and/or laugh at just about any and all laws? Why are the usual authorities helpless and why are the students so unafraid? The authorities, like most of the adults who are upset by the students’ actions are from a very different generation, one is which ‘father did know best.’ As part of the famous Baby Boom generation, they learned something very quickly, as Landon Y. Jones pointed out in his book, Great Expectations, 1980,  – patience. The world was singularly unprepared for their arrival, and they kept on coming for 18 years.  Most of that generation had to wait for just about anything. Overcrowded schools went to two a day sessions with one group of students in the morning and a second in the afternoon. Dedicated teachers toiled through both sessions. Churches, back when people went to church, held masses on the hour from 7AM through 12 Noon every Sunday. Even television, in the dark days of Black and White a lot like the world back then, had but a few networks and maybe a few local channels. True, eventually these institutions expanded to meet the growing need, but it was those who followed who reaped the benefits of these spoils as the Boomers moved into the adult world where, once again, they waited- for colleges, jobs, raising families and now to retire. But, they did have their ‘causes.’ As their institutions evolved, so did their world view and things like racism and the Vietnam War came under attack. Perhaps no generation before or since has ever had such idealism and had helped to enact such significant change.

This current generation, the one that so delights in marching through the streets nightly, now with their new ‘musical touches,’ is at least two generations removed from the Boomers. They were raised by those who benefited most from the expansions made to accommodate the Boomers, and the world welcomed this current generation with open and ready arms. They grew up in the age of technology. From the time of their birth they have been surrounded by things that the Boomers could only partially imagine. Cable and satellite TV, the internet, cell phones, smart phones, instant messaging, MP3, er, MP4, Facebook, Twitter were all part of their upbringing. While this must have been extremely entertaining, it could also be troubling, because of the simple question, “What next?” Hard Harry lamented in Pump Up the Volume, [1990], as to how all the great novels had been written, the important ideas already thought, the best inventions made. Imagine how this current crop of young people in Quebec must feel, in light of all that has developed since 1990? The question then becomes, ‘What is there left for us to do?’

What seems left to do is to take a simple dispute over a tuition hike freeze, justified or not, and to define it as the crusade for this generation. Throughout the ‘negotiations,’ the student leaders refused to budge one cent on the possibility of any increase. That is why the talks broke down this week. To them who have been raised surrounded by wonder, there appears one thing missing – a potential legacy. What is left in their world to change? So this has become ‘about democracy,’ the ‘Quebec spring,’ ‘about free education,’ ‘the government’s fault for not negotiating,’ [well, actually for not understanding what the student leaders meant by ‘negotiating’ as in giving them what they want with no bending on their part.] These new world Beavers have dammed themselves up in newly defined lingo which the older generation does not understand. In his criticism of Bill 78, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE actually wondered what would happen if someone died opposing this law. Quite a stretch from and an insult to those who have died, and still are dying, in the ‘Arab Spring,’ to suggest someone bite the bullet over $1700.

Every youth generation of the 20th century had its ‘cause celebre,’ by which it defined itself and left its mark on the modern world. In the 1920s it was a hedonistic rebellion/celebration after WWI that led to changes in styles, music and the arts. Those of the 1950’s had the Beat Generation, the Cold War and Jack Kerouac a rejection of traditional values. The Boomers had Civil Rights, the Peace Movement, the Space Race, and in Quebec the Quiet Revolution – all rejections of traditional practices and limits. Even the oddly named Gen Xers had the beginnings of the technological revolt which expanded communication and knowledge.

What cause, then, is left to this first generation of the 21st century, these well endowed ‘rebels’ but to walk the streets each night, without even a predetermined course, safely escorted by police, and accompanied by their own ‘marching band.’ Quite a legacy, indeed.

“And that’s all I have to say about Vietnam,” Forrest Gump, 1994

–Just My Two Sense

[Previously on this Topic]