Dropping Out of the Digital Age

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I’ve decided to drop out of this century. I realized I am hopelessly out of date today when I completed a survey for my local library. When asked about digital materials and library resources, not only did I have no use for them, I’d never even heard of most of them. No, dear library, I don’t want ebooks or audiobooks or apps on my phone. Just give me an old-fashioned paperbound book and a cup of tea, please.

Then I noticed articles in my newspaper about the gig economy, and I don’t even know what that is. Also, states like Alaska and Vermont are offering to pay people just to move there and work remotely for a company in another state. What is that? Whatever happened to the kind of job where you get up, get dressed, and drive or take the train or bus to an office/school/restaurant/store and work there for 8 hours?

My daughter’s schools and camps now insist that all documents be scanned and uploaded to their websites. No more mailing or even faxing! No wonder my postal carrier looks glum these days. Online classes and bill payments, electronic grade reports, medical MyCharts. Sure, I feel totally secure having all my personal medical information on the web -NOT!

There is some evidence that I’m not alone in my discomfort with runaway technological progress. A recent report indicates that a large majority of people aren’t comfortable with the idea of owning or riding in a driverless vehicle. Ironically, all the titans of tech in Silicon Valley send their kids to schools where use of technology is verboten.

I admit that I like the convenience of ordering online, Googling, and even playing games on my phone in doctors’ waiting rooms. The digital age has even made it possible for me to share these curmudgeonly thoughts with a wide audience.

But I lament all that has been lost as we focus on our phones and other electronic devices. Face to face conversation, cursive handwriting, letter writing – they all seem to be facing obsolescence. Let’s face it. Anyone under 40 is incapable of balancing their checkbook by hand. (My kids don’t even know what balancing a checkbook is.) Call me crazy, but I would rather order my broccoli cheddar soup from the Panera cashier than punch a bunch of buttons on a machine and make my lonely way to a table, where soon, no doubt, a robot will deposit my food.

So I am dropping out of the digital age. You will find me at the library reading real books and writing in my paper journal with a pen. And if you see me, please stop by for a face to face chat. I’m still doing those.

 

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You’ve Been Bullied, Charlie Brown

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The other night I watched back-to-back Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day specials. It had been years since I had watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with my kids, and I was in the mood for a bit of nostalgia. Imagine my surprise when I found myself slightly disturbed by the stories in “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Valentine.”

The gist of the plot in “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” is that Charlie never gets any valentines from friends or classmates. He sits forlornly by his mailbox waiting for the impossible: that someone will like him enough to send him a heart-shaped missive. I’ve always known, of course, that the whole persona of Charlie Brown from Charles M. Schultz’s comic strip and TV specials is that of an unpopular loser. His classmates openly make fun of his attempts to direct a Christmas play and his choice of a spindly little tree that is like a kindred spirit to Charlie. He’s clumsy and glum and never seems to catch a break.

But something in these Valentine’s Day specials really struck me as hard and mean-spirited. First of all, from today’s perspective, it is horrifying that kids would be allowed to bring to school valentines for some, but not all, of the children in their classes. Charlie stands there empty-handed while Schroeder publicly hands out all the valentines. Of course, there are none for Charlie Brown.

On top of the humiliation regularly heaped upon Charlie Brown in these cartoons, the other kids are openly hostile to each other. When Charlie’s little sister Sally pesters Linus about getting candy or a card from him, he shouts at her and tells her he’s not getting her anything. Ditto with the exasperated Schroeder dealing with the ever-persistent Lucy. Even Charlie himself is no Galahad as he spurns the advances of both Marcie and Peppermint Patty in “A Charlie Brown Valentine.”

The world of Charlie Brown is perhaps meant to signify the meanness of adults as seen through the eyes of children. Or maybe modern society has evolved into insisting that children treat each other better, at least on the surface. Imagine a modern elementary school that would allow kids to openly exclude another child from a valentine or an invitation to a birthday party. Maybe we have turned into a kinder, gentler society after all.

My sense of nostalgia definitely was not awakened as I watched the lovelorn world of a Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day special. When you really think about these stories, an apter title for them all would be “You’re a loser, Charlie Brown.” Next time I’m in the mood for nostalgia, I’ll pick something more wholesome, such as “Psycho.”

The Disney Experience

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My husband, daughter, and I just returned from a weekend soccer event at Disney World’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. It was a warm, sunny weekend, our daughter’s team played well, and a good time was had by all. My only regret was not having time to visit one of the many theme parks that make up the World according to Disney.

Being close to the “happiest place on Earth,” however, reminded me of the many times we have taken our children to visit Disneyland and Disney World over the years. While I am an unabashed fan of all things Disney, my husband has always been a grudging participant in our visits.

On one of our first trips to Disneyland in California, we were in line waiting for a ride when we overheard a child in full meltdown, red-faced and wailing. My husband turned to me and drily quipped, “That’s the Disney experience.” From that time on, we referred to the many tantrums and outbursts that are an inevitable part of dragging young children around a theme park in the sun as “the Disney experience.”

The world created by Walt Disney and his successors is a strange one indeed. There is a certain Stepford Wives quality to the perfection of an imaginary Main Street and the many other fantastical settings created within the parks. Everyone acts as if it’s normal to line up behind a figure in a giant costume and wait to get Mickey Mouse’s autograph. Mind you, these are not just children jostling to get close to the world’s most famous rodent.

Within the world of Disney, unseen voices sweetly, if a bit eerily, encourage guests to “please move to the center of the row” in a given attraction over and over again – to the unthinking and perfect compliance of the guests. And inside these dimly lit fantasy worlds, animatronic figures go about their business in a not-quite-lifelike manner.

There is an entire unseen, underground apparatus that runs the Disney theme parks. When I learned this, I imagined cartoonish jail cells where unruly guests might be confined for, say, throwing their jumbo drink cup on the ground or taking cuts in line. One gets the sense while at Disney that there is no possibility of allowing misbehavior to go unchecked.

In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the Disney experience. It’s unreal, true. But we all get enough reality in our day to day lives. It’s nice to go somewhere where everything is shiny and perfect and have some good old fashioned fun. The jokes are corny and the songs sometimes a bit saccharine. But there’s no denying the sense of magic in the Magic Kingdom.

And notwithstanding the toddler meltdowns that are part of “the Disney experience,” it may just be the happiest place on Earth.

 

Fashion Backward

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Every morning my 16-year-old comes down the stairs wearing short shorts and an oversized sweatshirt or fleece pullover that makes it appear she is wearing no pants. This attire is worn irrespective of the weather and seems to be the new school “uniform.” At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old scold, I find this and many other teenage fashions mystifying, unattractive, and even a bit silly.

This morning while dropping my daughter off at the high school, I saw a girl wearing jeans with a large hole in each knee and a gigantic flannel shirt that would fit Paul Bunyan. In another context, I might have mistaken her for a panhandler. And just when I was getting used to girls wearing form-fitting leggings and tiny tops!

The new trend seems to be “working man chic.” Lumberjack shirts, chunky work boots, and ripped jeans are all very well on someone out chopping wood, pounding nails into the frame of a new home, or doing other forms of tough manual labor. But I can assure you that despite the over-sized blue work shirt my daughter wears, she is not performing any heavy duty physical tasks.

The style harks back to the Nineties grunge era, when bands like Nirvana reigned and people loved TV shows set in the rugged Pacific Northwest. I used to tease my older daughter about the ugliness of her “Kurt Cobain shirts,” as I referred to the shapeless, dull plaid flannel shirts that were a mainstay of her wardrobe. Isn’t life depressing enough, I would think to myself, without dressing like an extra in Deliverance?

Of all the styles that are popular now, though, the worst is the faded, ripped-up jeans that young women are wearing. In my day, a tear here and there in a pair of jeans was the result of many months or even years of loving wear and washing. Those rips were earned, by golly. Nowadays, girls spend beaucoup bucks on brand new jeans with dozens of meticulously made rips. The only way those rips would occur naturally would be if Freddy Krueger came through and made several swipes at them.

I must admit, though, the new styles are reminding me of my own fashion faux pas from years gone by. I too loved sporting oversized shirts and had a penchant for men’s white Calvin Klein undershirts tucked into my stone-washed, waist-high jeans. Come to think of it, I wore even more embarrassing styles – like gaucho pants! I had a pair of yellow ones that I paired with a brightly-colored, striped t-shirt. I’m pretty sure I looked liked a toucan.

I guess every generation despises the styles of the ones younger than theirs. Still, ladies, if you want your jeans ripped up, come on over and I’ll do it for free.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

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IMG_1465One of my sisters, who loves to shop for home decor, has a pet peeve: decorative wall hangings, plaques and wooden blocks that feature sayings such as, “Be Happy,” “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” or “Always Be Humble and Kind.” Her problem with these signs? They’re a bit bossy.

Everywhere you turn – on Facebook, in advertisements, and now even on the mantel of a friend’s home – are directives: “Live, Laugh, Love;” “Believe;” “Have Faith;” “Just Do It.” I’d never noticed the phenomenon until my sister shared her annoyance on a shopping trip one day. “I don’t need to be told what to do!” she complained, half laughing.

There is a sort of relentless cheerfulness about these signs that can grate on a curmudgeon like me (or my sis). So I’m thinking of starting a sign company with my own jaundiced take on these inspirational sayings. Here are some ideas for my new venture, Unhealthy Plaque:

  1. “Just Don’t”
  2. “Go Nuts and Give Up”
  3. “Choose Selfishness”
  4. “Be Your Worst Self”
  5. “Belittle”
  6. “Dance Like You’re on You Tube”
  7. “Always Be Hungry and Clueless”
  8. “Eat Prey, Loaf”
  9. “Find Your Blister”
  10. “Sweat It All”

And my favorite sign of all would be: “You’re Not the Boss of Me!”

Still, there’s one popular saying with which I must say I heartily agree: “Life is uncertain: Eat Dessert First!”

Creature Feature

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meadow-micePeople who say they’d never hurt a fly are lying. When I see one of the six-legged disease carriers salivating on my kitchen counter or, worse, my food, I have no compunction about hauling out the swatter and ending that creature’s already short life. The same goes for other bugs who have the nerve to invade my house. Sure, I’ve been known to trap the odd spider in a cup and usher it back into the great outdoors. But for the most part when it comes to vermin in the house, my policy is “No mercy.”

There are, however, many distasteful critters that are protected wildlife and not so easy to rid oneself of. For instance, a hapless vole (a tiny version of a mole) made its way into our basement. I’m sure we completely freaked it out with our screams of terror. When I summoned the exterminator, he informed me that he could not kill said vole. Rats and mice were in his purview but not, apparently, voles. So my husband gamely caught it in a shoebox and took it to the woods where I hope it lived a long and happy life.

Recently I noticed that the exterior of my house looked as if I had started to decorate for Halloween. There were huge spider webs in every nook and cranny, in the corners of the windows, and dangling from the light fixtures. So I got out my broomstick (I’m a good witch) and started knocking down the diabolical insect traps wherever I found them, sending giant, monstrous arachnids scurrying into dark corners.

At the corner of my porch, I noticed that something had been digging a hole underneath the steps and immediately suspected the mother raccoon and her babies I had spied one morning moseying around in our backyard. I found a company called Critter Detectives, which came out and set a humane trap at the mouth of the hole. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I found a huge raccoon lounging in the trap. My critter detective came out, removed the trap, and set a new one. A few days later, Rocky’s friend also succumbed to the bait that looked like marshmallows, and it too was caught in the trap.

This seemed to solve my raccoon problem, as subsequent traps yielded no prisoners. But in our backyard we had an old wooden shed I had long suspected of harboring unwanted wildlife. So I called a landscaper and asked him to have his workers come out and dismantle both the shed and the 23-year-old wooden swing set that has been a lawsuit waiting to happen.

No sooner had the crew opened the doors of the shed but a huge and very pregnant skunk came waddling out. I have to give the workers credit for their bravery, as they gave the critter a wide berth but continued to dismantle the wooden structures. Mama skunk wandered away but kept returning to figure out what had happened to her cozy nest. I must confess that I felt a little guilty evicting her in her delicate state.

I recognize that we share our world with many types of creatures and need to respect their roles in the circle of life (even the flies). And while I’d never be named PETA’s Woman of the Year, I would also never needlessly cause an animal pain. I’ve learned that even exterminators have soft spots. Years ago when I found that a mouse had been making a nest in our outdoor gas grill, I called one of the big pest control concerns. The man they sent out opened the grill cover and saw that the mother mouse had given birth and that there were now about a dozen baby mice nesting there. His reaction was to leave them alone rather than obliterate them. “After all,” he reasoned, “they’ll be on their way as soon as they are big enough to travel.”

While my husband teased the “big, bad exterminator,” we acquiesced and allowed those critters to hide out in the grill for as long as they wanted. (Needless to say, we didn’t have any barbecues for a while.) I just hope those mice didn’t become someone else’s critter problem later on.

 

Class Act

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I just finished the hilarious Kevin Kwan trilogy that began with Crazy Rich Asians and ended with Rich People Problems. In the satirical series, all kinds of filthy rich people jockey for social standing and look down their noses at others who might have billions but lack class.

There are the old money Singaporeans who disdain vulgar displays of wealth such as gaudy jewels, Rolls Royces, or opulent ball gowns. This old guard is considered the creme de la creme of society. Then there are the nouveau riche billionaires from mainland China, some of whom don’t care at all what others think of them while others spend billions of dollars searching for acceptance into the upper stratosphere.

Class consciousness has been part of all societies for millennia, even the so-called egalitarian country in which I reside, the United States. Having money is part of that equation, but how one acts in public, one’s manners, and one’s taste in everything from fashion to art to wine often determine one’s social standing.

The Crazy Rich Asians trilogy humorously skewers social climbers whose atrocious behavior belies their desire to be thought well of in society. Their religious and philanthropic activities are not genuine but come from an effort to position themselves among the “right” sorts of people. Without giving away any spoilers, I enjoyed the comeuppance many of these phony strivers receive by the end of Rich People Problems.

In his novels, though, Kwan shows that real class has no socio-economic boundaries. His main characters, Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, are level-headed, intelligent, warm, and caring people whose views of others and themselves stem not from how much money or possessions someone has, but from how that person treats others. Rachel, the daughter of a single mother, has never known great wealth, yet she is rich in family and relationships that sustain her. Nick, born into the utmost wealth and privilege, is mystified when his family turns up their nose at his “common” girlfriend, Rachel. To Nick, Rachel has far more class than most of his well-bred, English-educated family will ever have.

Like other great satires, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians and its sequels expose the hypocrisy behind people’s efforts to think of themselves as better than others. He proves that true class cannot be bought or bred into us, but that it comes from an intelligent and open-hearted effort to view individuals according to their innermost merits, not their stock portfolio or the family into which they were born.