What Do You Want From Life
by Jake Block
“What do you want from life
Someone to love
and somebody that you can trust
What do you want from life
To try and be happy
while you do the nasty things you must…
Well, you can’t have that, but if you’re an American citizen you are entitled to: a heated kidney shaped pool, a microwave oven–don’t watch the food cook, a Dyna-Gym — I’ll personally demonstrate it in the privacy of your own home, a kingsize Titanic unsinkable Molly Brown waterbed with polybendum, a foolproof plan and an airtight alibi, real simulated Indian jewelry, a Gucci shoetree, a year’s supply of antibiotics, a personally autographed picture of Randy Mantooth and Bob Dylan’s new unlisted phone number, a beautifully restored 3rd Reich swizzle stick, Rosemary’s Baby, a dream date in kneepads with Paul Williams, a new Matador, a new mastodon, a Maverick, a Mustang, a Montego, a Merc Montclair, a Mark IV, a meteor, a Mercedes, an MG, or a Malibu, a Mort Moriarty, a Maserati, a Mac truck, a Mazda, a new Monza, or a mo-ped, a Winnebago–Hell, a herd of Winnebago’s we’re giving ’em away, or how about a McCulloch chainsaw, a Las Vegas wedding, a Mexican divorce, a solid gold Kama Sutra coffee pot, or a baby’s arm holding an apple?”
— What Do You Want From Life (The Tubes)
I got a call from a very old friend named Jim Youngblood, that I served with in Vietnam. We spoke for about an hour about nothing and about life and about why we continue to participate in a life where we seldom, if ever come out on top. He told me that now, in his 70th year, he was finally “retiring”and had spent the day, beer in hand, wondering with his wife of 40 years, “Is this all we get for all that we give?”
I listened for a while and then asked, “Jim… what did you WANT to have at this point in life when you made your plans to attain it all those years ago?”
I wasn’t really surprised when he said, “I dunno, Jake. I just kind of did what we were always told was the way life worked; got a job, raised a family… you know… I just lived.”
Those of my generation might answer that way quite often. We would be called “baby boomers,” and those assumed to be destined for the great middle class simply by virtue of having a father who survived the war and being born into a post war economy. We were urged to go to school and get that high school diploma, as it was almost a sure thing that you would be able to make a living and probably be able to enjoy your assumed wife and two point five American children. That’s the way most of our brothers and sisters, children of the fifties, lived. Once in a while one of us would break the mold and get a college degree, but that was to become a mark of success over a decade later when that generation would return from yet another war and spawn a generation of their own.
People began to expect more as the generations passed and felt discriminated against if they didn’t get every damned thing on their wish list and a few more things beside… and it had to be THE BEST because they deserved it because they were, after all, themselves. Now, you notice that I didn’t say that they put in any sweat equity in obtaining all of their expectations. I mean, that would require EFFORT… that would require COMMITMENT. Why should one have to bust his ass to have more in the land of milk and honey? So, what’s a self-centered and pampered “Me Generation” to do when all there is is barely enough to go around, and those who have it worked their asses off to attain it. Well… in the words of the Crowned Prince of Guthy-Renker’s self-improvement series, Tony Robbins, they learned to “Fake it until they make it,” and tell themselves that “Second place ain’t all that bad. Beats third.” His $500 course would show you how.
Along with the expectation of success without effort came the whole attitude of entitlement in the face of ample evidence that in the greater scheme of things, the universe cares nothing about the individual for good or ill. For the cold-heartedness of time and space, the individual simply is, and is subject to complete oblivion at the capricious whims of the universe. But then, so too was the universe itself, in the harshness of its environment where billions of galaxies spun in a cosmic game of bumper-cars, smashing into one another, absorbing them, with the remnants of destroyed stars simply fuel for new ones. The idea that entitlement could exist in such a totally hostile and endlessly obliterative environment was ludicrous at best and spoke to insanity.
You all know the history here. We went from the good old days that were only “good old” in the hazy visions of memory, when the sun shone every day and the air always smelled like a freshly mown lawn, to the times when wars took the best and brightest, leaving the rest to cope and mourn the loss of good old days that their sons and daughters would never have lived to remember. There there were times of economic booms, economic slumps, greed that led to a burst of an unsustainable economic bubble, loss, rebuilding, more wars, more bubbles, more debt. When a president proclaimed America a “shining city on the hill,” we all stood proud, looking up at it and making our way as best we could, but it now seemed that the closer we got, the less it shone. We stood at the door, hands out, like some expecting kid awaiting his treat on Halloween, only to be told, “Go away kid, there ain’t no more candy,” the single porch light dark. We’ve all stood there hoping, at one time or another, listening to the party inside, while we stood there in the dark.
The words of the old Billie Holliday song from 1941 played somewhere in our memory.
God Bless The Child
by Billie Holliday
“Them that’s got, shall get
Them that’s not, shall lose
So the Bible said, and it still is news
Mama may have, and papa may have
God bless’ the child,
That’s got his own
That’s got his own.
Yes the strong seem to get more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don’t
Ever make the grade
As mama may have
And papa may have
God bless’ the child
That’s got his own
That’s got his own.
And when you got money,
You got a lots of friends
Crowdin’ ’round your door
When the money’s gone
And all you’re spendin’ ends
They won’t be ’round any more
No, no, no more
And rich relations
May give you
A crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don’t take too much
Mama may have
And your papa may have
But God bless’ the child
That’s got his own
That’s got his own
God bless’ the child who can stand up and say
I’ve got my own
Ev’ry child’s, got to have his own!”
Ok, we asked, that’s all well and good for those who “got their own,” but where the hell is OURS? Why don’t we have it? Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? The children whose parents grew and prospered inherited their wealth and were able to add to it and take from it until the time when they would die and bequeath all that we had gained to those who we had brought unto the earth in their billions, each expecting a large piece of a pie that simply couldn’t sustain the ever growing hungry masses of the planet. We’ve always been told that hard work and effort will return to us as a comfortable life with a few luxuries to enjoy. We made money for “THE MAN,” and now it’s time for him to bleed… bleed for US, and we don’t really care if it means that we’ll bleed him dry until the jobs are gone and the man himself gives up and moves on to try to make it elsewhere.
So now, here we are, expecting our laundry list of goodies that surely is the birthright of anyone who draws their first breath, but faced with the sad reality that the days of entitlement are over, if they ever really existed at all. It’s disheartening to some of the “youngers” that the economy is volatile enough that they can’t count on being wealthy as easily or as quickly as they would have liked, or at all, and that’s the truth.
Jim Youngblood, like all or us who took the attitude that our generation couldn’t fail, are simply coming to grips with the reality that ANYONE, any generation, any nation, any species can and often does fail to achieve the standards that the more successful of their society or culture have set. But in having reached the heights of wealth and control, those elevated few are simply employing the true “Golden Rule:” “He who has the gold makes the rules.” That doesn’t mean that we have to accept their definitions of success or abide by their limitations, either.
Today in America we hear a lot of talk about the 1% and how they hoard their wealth while the 99% serve and suffer. The truth is that the imbalance of wealth as an economic phenomenon has ALWAYS been with us, and there has always been a small class of the extremely wealthy, with a number of subsets of the economic swale, roughly and colloquially seen as the middle and lower classes. So what’s different today? The difference today is that you are constantly reminded of it on TV, on the radio and in omnipresent programming ubiquitously on the “world wide web.”
In earlier generations we had high unemployment and we had working poor and we had the chronically unemployed. And I’ll tell you something. If those of yesterday saw the way that the “poor” of today live, they would look at each other and then look at us and chortle, “Hey, QUITCHERBITCHIN’!” In my youth, if you were “poor,” you didn’t have personal luxury items and high-cost disposables. Cell phones were not yet invented, but you can bet your poorly deprived ass that we couldn’t have afforded yakking away on a $700 iPhone, or have a computer in our homes or NETFLIX or ROKU, Sling or any other add-on entertainment services. Hell, boys and girls, there were times in my family that we couldn’t afford that basic dial-up phone. We ate tuna casserole, or government subsistence foods. We didn’t have food at school and if your parents couldn’t afford a bologna sandwich and a few chips for their kids, you went hungry at lunch after a bowl of corn flakes for breakfast.
My father and mother both worked, and we as kids learned to take care of ourselves when they were not at home to take care of us. When you were twelve, you were expected to babysit the younger kids, learn how to fix simple meals, and still get your homework done, the house cleaned up and in return you got your small (and I mean small) allowance for your candy bar and maybe a small Coke to go with it. There was a farmer’s co-op and grain store about a mile from my house where little glass bottles of Coke were a nickel and there was a guy named Ferd Winkler who brewed his own brand of cola on the other side of town. He only charged three cents for a small bottle of his cola, IF you turned in another bottle as a deposit.
We used to ride our rickety bikes down Douglas Hill which was the biggest hill in town, but the fastest way down to Swansea. Other kids made fun of me because I rode my sister’s bike, but it had a basket, so we could load some Ferd Winkler’s soda in it to take with us back up Douglas hill. Hey! Cola at 3¢ a bottle? Even kids recognize a bargain when they see it, so we drank A LOT of Ferd Winkler. I wish I had kept some of the bottles. They go for over $15.00 each now on EBAY.
In my parent’s lifetime, they saw the economy waiver several times, and even lived through the stock market crash in 1929. There were seriously poor people who were reduced to standing in long lines for a bowl of watered down soup and a few crackers to keep body and soul together. Door to door salesmen tried to earn with small household necessities from pencils to shoe strings earned pennies a day, but pennies were better than nothing, especially when without them, you HAD nothing.
An interesting factoid about the “great depression” is that more millionaires were made during The Great Depression than in any other era in U.S. history. … It is important to know that the Great Depression actually started a few years before the 1929 stock market crash and lasted until World War II brought the country out of the Depression.
Today, we concentrate on the things we don’t have, rather than the things we can achieve, because there is a serious doubt in the minds of many that we CAN achieve. This is not because there is no possibility of achieving things, but that our (society’s) tendency toward entitlement emphasizes that the government, national birthright and indeed, life itself owes us something as part and parcel of our assumed “covenant” with life. We’ve been sold a bill of goods that tells us that we CAN have it all, but we really don’t have to work that hard to get it. In my experience, if anything, we have to work harder and smarter to get what we desire based, if nothing else, on the increased number of participants in the race to get that gold.
A few years ago, I read that this generation was on track to be the first generation of Americans that must face the distinct possibility of not being wealthier than our parents by the time of our retirement. But if that is our motivating factor in life, perhaps we are all laboring under the false impression that happiness is dictated by the number of zeros on the bottom line of our bank statements. We need to moderate our cultural drives of acquisition and align our expectation more with the lip service we give to the platitudes we often spout relative to “money isn’t everything.”
Be heartened in the knowledge that even today, millionaires are being made on a fairly regular basis. Of course, a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. And you know, on a hot day, an ice cold Ferd Winkler cola was just as refreshing as an ice cold Coke, AND you can put the extra few cents you save in to a savings account, or buy mutual funds.
The Orders of The Sect of the Horned God