Monday, May 31, 2010
I listened to all of Billy Joel's studio albums today at work-starting out the day with "She's Got A Way" on 1971's Cold Spring Harbor, and ending it with "Famous Last Words" from 1993's "River of Dreams. I do that when I'm distressed. The reasons for my distressal are largely better left unsaid, but at least part of the reason is that my company has decided that Independence Day is no longer a holiday-we're going to be working our regular hours, and if you wanted to do something silly and wasteful like be with your family, that's just too damn bad.
Now, that's a mistake on a couple of different levels. First of all, we have never had enough business to support being open that long, so it's a waste of resources that can be better devoted to other times of the week. Second of all, it engenders bitterness, because it's just another reminder that they own you. You don't have a family, or personal life, or hobbies. You thought maybe you did, but you don't. They own you. But it's not up to me, so who cares what I think?
It's Memorial Day today, and you'll probably find dozens of blog posts and Facebook entries and tweets giving some maudlin tribute to soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. And there's nothing in the world wrong with that-if that's how you feel, you should do that. And certainly, as Chris Rock once memorably said, I don't care if there's a Russian tank on Flatbush Avenue-I'm not fighting. So I certainly owe gratitude to those who did, from Saratoga to Kabul.
One of the lyrics to Allentown is:
"Well we're waiting here in Allentown/
For the Pennsylvania we never found/
For the promises our teachers gave/
If we worked hard/
If we behaved/
So the graduations hang on the wall/
But they never really helped us at all/
No they never taught us what was real."
Do you remember a time when holidays were, you know, holidays? When there was NOTHING open-the police station and the fire station and the hospital, and that was about it? Gradually, during my lifetime, we've lost that feeling that holidays were special-America's one true God, Mammon, demands sacrifice, so Memorial Day, and Independence Day, and soon every other holiday is just another way to move cars, and sheets, and hot dogs, and big screen TVs. Just another day to move merchandise.
What gets lost in this convenience first, business uber alles world is that there are real people who are working these holidays, missing their families, and they're too scared to ask for time off because they might get that day off, and all the rest of the days too. It's okay to ruin people's lives, as long as Mammon is fed, and as long the body being fed isn't mine.
My generation, and my parents,and my grandparents, were made an implicit promise-if you worked hard, and if you behaved, things would work out for you. You'd get a place at the table. Not the biggest place. Not the same place as everybody else. But a place. Increasingly, it seems that promise is being violated and forgotten about. We've been sold down the river, by Democrats and Republicans in thrall to campaign cash, to a point where business calls the shots, and you have to scramble like a madman just to stay where you are, never mind actually gaining any ground.
I don't know how to fix it, but everything seems hopeless, and broken, and wrong, and it seems deeply immoral to suggest to anyone younger than me that it's worth fighting for anymore.
Phil Nugent, as usual, said it much better than me here.
(Phil does use an occasional naughty word, so if that sort of thing bothers you, don't read it.)
From his final paragraph:
"America is a great country with a great past and remarkable possibilities. If our future doesn't measure up to where we've been, the blame will lie less in those trying to make the government work to move us forward and improve the lives of those on the bottom than in the kind of people who get very excited about the idea that a war that will be great fun to watch on CNN will renew our national fiber and bring American-style democracy to all the Middle East but who roll their eyes when they hear the suggestion that maybe we could cut back a little on our energy use or experiment with alternative energy sources that won't do much to enrich the people who are rich now from oil field revenues or even find a way to get the salaries of CEOs and the people munching sandwiches in the break room, not in the same ballpark, but just in adjoining stratospheres. Where do these people get their ridiculous, crackpot notions? Some of them came from our own past, before people born since John Kennedy died started peddling books explaining that Franklin Roosevelt f**ked up the country and equating universal health care with Hitlerism. Hell, a lot of people even fought for a country that they thought embodied such ideas, fought for it while wearing American uniforms."