Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who Decade?

I was never a fan of the decade sandwich. The previous two I existed in, the eighties and nineties, were more conglomerates of toys, music, movies and the highs and lows of growing up. There were more instances in a year that any type of trend. For example, my entire memory of 1980 consists of “The Empire Strikes Back,” nothing more. I was six years old, what can you expect? My memories of 1990 revolve around the Minnesota Twins losing a ton of baseball games, video games like “Maniac Mansion” and the general disappointments that come during adolescence. Before the age of the internet (at least as we know it now), we had to rely on significant events, handwritten notes and pictures to document our existence in that period. By the time 2000 rolled around and gave us an election few cared about, (I remember this because I chose not to vote) there was the beginning of email, internet research and a general desire to put things into a larger perspective. Perhaps this was because of age, me being the big two five at the time. Or was the 2000’s the beginning of something else that many of us felt coming. Although hindsight generally gives one the vision of Burgess Meredith at the finale of the classic Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough,” many events occurred suggesting that we as a society are indeed running out of time.

Before the 2000 election, I had always voted and was proud to be a part of the political process. Anyone who has known me for a fair amount of time can vouch for my incessant desire to pour over newspapers and do my best to disseminate facts from fiction. There are many reasons I didn’t vote in 2000, the foremost being I thought Al Gore and George W. Bush were idiots. Turns out, I was right on both calls, no matter which side of the political spectrum you reside. As the debacle of the election recount unfolded, I seriously wondered who was in charge of this mess we live in. The second reason I didn’t vote in 2000 was I just didn’t think I had the time - meaning I came home from work at 6PM and just did not care. Like many Gen-Xers, I was becoming dissatisfied with my job and opportunities were shining on the horizon everywhere I looked. Even though I was disgusted with the actual rules of the electoral process, my thoughts still focused on job-hopping. I had a good job at the time, probably one of the best I’ll ever have, but there was so much to criticize when everyone else is offering you something supposedly rosier than what you have now.

2001, the crash of the dot com odyssey. Remember all those ads on every station known to God? This dot com, that dot com, my Grandma sells you time-shares dot com? When all those plastic companies exploded in their own hubris so did the yellow brick road of employment. Unfortunately, I did make a change in employment, not expecting bigger will not mean better. By the time I left the new job it was August 2001. The dot com recession was in full force and there were few opportunities available besides becoming a human tool. I chose to do what any red-blooded American would do in that situation: move back in with Mom and Dad and pick apples. Getting back to nature and forgoing corporate culture was just what the doctor ordered. When 9-11 happened, we stopped working and watched. The people I was around were shocked, as we all were. But there was some semblance of inevitability in the air. It was unspoken in many places in the world, but silence speaks volumes. Rocky Balboa loses. Luke Skywalker gets his hand hacked off by his father. Kurt Cobain commits suicide. The fallacy that we live in a fortress of solitude was broken. People can blame whomever they want for the attack, but anyone with a good grasp of mathematics could theorize something would happen, sooner or later.

After the season apple-picking gig ended, I worked with a friend roofing houses, a far cry from running a music store in Edina, Minnesota a year earlier. Honestly, I don’t think I was great at it but I learned to bust my ass and got to know people in a way I never would have before. Taus taught me more than I can ever repay him for. While we were roofing a house in St. Michael, MN, I noticed half of the houses in the cul-de-sac were unoccupied. They were built but unsold. I thought it peculiar. These gigantic houses without a tenant. So perfect I wanted to buy one except they looked like every other house on the block. I wondered if I lived there, would my neighbors know where my stuff is? I spent the next year drifting, dissatisfied with my life and occupations (or lack thereof) until I chose to make a complete break with everything that was making my life suck. I bounced back into the parents’ house after barely being gone and a good friend was kind enough to offer me a job and with it, stability.

Over the spring of 2003, I decided to “get back” to whatever it is I liked about my life when I thought it likable. I went to baseball games, began reading extensively and started going to concerts on a regular basis. I did not have a lot of money – even as I sponged off Mom and Dad, but I was happy. I started realizing happiness is a far better trait than anything monetary. No matter if it was a good or a bad day, when I went to sleep, I did so with a leap and a smile (I was way into Donnie Darko at the time). On Sunday, July 13th, I went to see Blur at First Avenue with my concert-going friend. I remember about the first five songs, through maybe “Boys and Girls.” After ordering a beer at the bar, I was tapped on the shoulder. “Where did you get that shirt?” asked a tall woman with a big smile. “Suns,” I replied. “Hunky Dory is my favorite David Bowie album,” she said. We began a long talk about music and the greatness of the Blur show became quickly distant. She changed subjects: “Do you like “Doctor Who?” My nerves and doubts quivered at the question, which had been the geek kiss of death on more than one occasion in my life. I overruled myself, telling apprehension to go screw itself. “Yeah,” I smiled. She smiled (although I think both of us were smiling nonstop at this point): “It’s my favorite show. Who’s your favorite Doctor?” Again, shoving conventional wisdom in the subconscious garbage, I replied “Patrick Troughton.” “Mine too! I dressed as Patrick Troughton for a convention once.”

We talked for the rest of the evening. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Beatles or Nirvana with a zombie Kurt Cobain was playing. The only sounds were heard were each other. Eight month later, we were married at the Mall of America, featured music by Kate Bush and Guns and Roses. As I think about the last decade, I have little, if anything to complain about. I watched two wonderful babies born into this world and saw a precocious four-year old become a world-ready pre-teen with enough smarts and sense to skip a math grade. What’s to complain about? I read all these self-centered tirades by media types thanking their stars the decade is over. To them, I ask one basic question: What in your life sucks so bad that you want to forget an entire decade?

According to the almighty media pundits and pontificators, we should all hate the era of 2000-2009 because of terrorists, war, natural disasters, the economy, job security and “Gigli.” Anyone who wants to travel in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine or the TARDIS can find similar problems in any decade in modern history. Take your pick. The nineties had Iraq Part One, Columbine, a recession brought on by the S & L scandal, a lying head of state and at four movies starring Pauly Shore. Similar results are evident if one studies the previous decades as well. It’s all a matter of perception. If your life is better than it was ten years ago, then the “aughts” aught not to be taken with such sadness and despair. If your idea of a successful life revolves putting your investments and lifestyle in front of your family and kids, stop reading right now. Please step away from the computer. Find the nearest toilet. Insert head. Flush. Repeat.

Through the magic of Facebook and older means of communication such as talking, I have seen my friends go through good times and bad. They may have lost a job but I don’t know a single soul who chose to give up on their family or themselves. Their attitude in the face of adversity is stronger than bad guys on Wall Street or terrorists fastening bombs in their underpants. Pictures do not lie. Most of us have gotten married to someone they truly care about. Many have had children and are experiencing the joy, wonder, frustration, exhaustion and love they bring. The greatest of these, of course, is love. I see it every day. In pictures, videos and status updates. I see it in those who are taking their layoff time as an opportunity to spend with their kids. I see it in those who celebrate a party like they were teenagers but put their family first every day. I see us growing up, growing older but still being themselves. Despite the despair shoved down our throats by the media, I see nothing but positivity and hope. When I asked a good friend how he felt about having another child in the face of job loss, he answered: “I’m just lucky.” We should all feel that way. Every day, every decade.

Before we kiss off 2000-2009 into the wind, let us all think about how lucky we are. For one, we’re still here! We have friends and family we care for and care about us. That’s a stronger bond than any job, recession, war or Megan Fox movie could sever. Sure, there’s always things to complain about – it’s just our nature. However, what is good should outweigh the bad. If that equation doesn’t add up, it’s not too late to change the math. There’s a line from an old Jesus and Mary Chain song, “Head On” which states: “The way I feel tonight, I could die and I wouldn’t mind.” It’s the song that went through my head after I met my wife. If you are truly happy, you can feel yourself touch the cusp of heaven. Maybe these moments are memories or something you’ve just experienced. Like it or not, we’ve all had great moments in the last ten years and we are capable of so much more. Forget about the people and things bringing you down. We are so much bigger than all of it and - dammit! – we are better than our adversities. If our history has taught us anything, it is that human desire, ingenuity, passion and love will triumph if we are true to ourselves. The new decade has begun. Let’s blow the stars from the sky.

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