Friday, December 18, 2015

Republican Debate, Nostalgia

Two takeaways from the Republican debate last Tuesday.
1. Donald Trump is nothing more than the kind of low-information blowhard you see in every break room who thinks he wins political arguments because he’s louder than everyone else. Trump didn’t say a single substantive thing all night and made painfully ridiculous faces unbecoming of a potential commander-in-chief and head of state. Also, there was a sort of popular-kid-dumping-on-the-nerd thing going on between Trump and Bush that made me uncomfortable.
2. The number of outrageous cheap shots taken at our president and Hillary Clinton made me dizzy. Apparently, the reason why you got a paper cut on your finger yesterday was because of the failed and fraudulent policies of the Obama administration. And Hillary, of course, was directly responsible for the San Bernardino shootings.
A blogger friend of mine brought up the subject of nostalgia and made an interesting point: were you ever conscious of a potential “good old day” while it was in progress? I suppose that all depends on what your definition of what a good old day is. For many, high school and college may count as the chiefest among good old days because of the friendships, the fun experiences, and a life generally untouched by the harsh realities of the workaday world we all must eventually enter: you know what I mean, that world of mortgages, fractious relationships at work and home, responsibilities, death, ruin, despair, hopelessness . . . whoops, reel it back in . . . just the day-to-day grind that so often marks the human condition. We were all spared that up until a certain point.
In the movies, you see the prosperous couple in the midst of a troubled marriage looking back wistfully to a time when they were poor but happy. You hear the cranky geezers in the coffee shop recall how much easier and uncomplicated things were before all this insane explosion of media, and the newfangled contraptions that do nothing but get in the way, and the damn civil rights causes that went on to make problems where there weren’t any in the first place. People hark back to a “much simpler time,” when there was civility and decency, when you could leave your door unlocked, when the milkman came on Mondays and Thursdays, and gas station attendants wore snappy uniforms and offered to check your oil.
When people talk about nostalgia, they usually mean a romanticized, sentimental view of the past with the rough edges sanded off, but when I look back to my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood, I mainly remember a lot anxiety and worry, and I can more easily recall awkward, embarrassing moments instead of the joyful, uplifting ones. In fact, a lot of personal memories make me want to travel back in time like Biff did in “Back to the Future” to slap my young self upside the head. To me, when I think of truly good old days, I see these good old days mainly as snapshots, not epochs: random, usually unremarkable moments. Here’s one example. I’m 12 or 13 years old, walking home in the winter. It had snowed recently but the sidewalks have all been cleared and it’s not too cold. It’s dinnertime and already dark. Everybody seems to be home by now except for me. I walk by a house just outside my neighborhood, so there’s a feeling of foreignness about the place, and the aroma of what I imagine to be pot roast with roast potatoes, gravy and green beans permeates the air. It’s the best smell I ever smelled in my life. I can picture the inside of the house, all warm and welcoming in an Irish Catholic kind of way, and kids my age are just coming to the table. Then I am jarred by the realization that tonight is probably fish sticks night at my house. I walk a little slower. No need to hurry.
That’s it. A good old day moment — admittedly soured a bit by the fish stick thing, but still a pleasant memory. I have a million of those. The question is, did I know then that it would be a good old day moment? Absolutely not.
I think it would be interesting, as an exercise, to try to identify good old day moments as they happen. Perhaps a good old day moment could even be manufactured. Are either of those two possible?
That is all.


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