Saturday, December 5, 2015

Melting Pot, Conclusion

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What follows will make more sense in you read parts one and two.

'Tis the fall of 1966 and our unsophisticated little inner-city refugee finds himself in a suburban school. He is, to put it mildly, pleasantly surprised.

Being a relatively normal 13-year old hormone saturated male with relatively normal teenage insecurities I had picked up on the fact, within about two seconds, that this sea of strangers I had just been introduced to all seemed to be better coiffed and clothed than I was. Not good.

However, a kid named Ed, whose desk was next to the one I had been assigned to had, without prompting from our nun/teacher, or any other grup for that matter, had appointed himself my guide to all things eighth grade, smart class. There was ample time for information exchange as we were assigned our textbooks (and this years catechism text) and briefed on the policies and procedures of my new school in general, this class in particular.

He was handsome, perfectly coiffed blond, and fit. He wore a bright red, crushed velvet, v-necked pullover shirt with leather laces in the V. I would describe this particular shirt as tacky and pretentious if I saw it today, but hey, it was the sixties. I was a, um, not handsome, slightly portly, product of the working class with a "regular boys haircut" from the Sou-side barber school. You know, the one up the street from Antknees fodder's shoe repair shop. I had a lazy eye. He treated me as though I was as pretty as he was.

Sister whatever her name was (sorry s'ter) sent us outside at midmorning for recess. No carefully engineered for safety, lawyer resistant playground equipment. No equipment at all, just a grass covered field. This was a nicer, and larger, version of the tiny, asphalt coated, no equipment schoolyard I was used to. The only equipment we had, in either case, was our imaginations. Of course, grass stains were preferable to road rash, but mum wouldn't have any grass stains to deal with, well, not from school anyway (I wasn't a total nerd). In either case, when it was too cold, or the schoolyard was covered with snow, we spent recess in the same classroom we were caged in, with the exception of lunchtime, for the rest of the day. No gym, but no obesity epidemic either, go figure...

At this point, Ed introduced me to various fellow classmates, all of whom, every single one of them, had divided into a handful of groups that were standing around talking to each other. Not a single one was playing at something. Several had remained inside. Some were already studying, some were reading novels, some were just talking, as we who liked to get out of the building were. I didn't have to engage in various games that held no interest for me to prove my manhood? I could, instead, just stand around, talking, or participate in a group walk around the block, while talking? This was quite popular for some reason though there were no vaguely sleazy hangouts with pinball machines in the back room to visit, just suburban homes.

What was all the talking about? The war (Vietnam), folk masses, Bob Dylan, the war, was it true that the rock group called the Monkees had been created out of thin air (sacrilege!) just to make money by evil corporate types? the war, hippies, the pill, the civil rights movement, the war, the meaning of the lyrics of the song "Mellow Yellow," the war, the Beetles, who was "going" with whom, singles (99 cents), albums ($2.99), groups (rock artists) and their songs...on and on and on. There was a soft revolution going on and the goal was nothing short of utopia. There was surprisingly little talk about sex, but this was a much more innocent time, at least for young Catholics raised to believe any form of sex outside of marriage was likely to get you sent to hell. Getting pregnant was a disgrace and got you sent to a facility for fallen girls so the world didn't have to deal with you. Divorce was the exception, not the rule. And for some reason, Agatha Christie mystery novels were all the rage in the smart eighth grade and paperbacks were traded like playing cards. And talked about of course.

By a decade or so later, everything had turned to crap. Disco was here, AIDS was just around the corner, and no shortage of pop culture icons were addicted, dead, or debased.

What happened?

While attempting to build a utopia, with an unrealistic timetable and poorly drawn blueprints, we tipped over the melting pot and set the consensus on fire.

The fire, fueled by hubris, historically unprecedented prosperity, the birth of the information age, mind-expanding drugs, and the manic pace of modern life, science and technology, that continues apace -- didn't destroy the consensus, it reduced it down to it's component parts. We became the culture of unbalanced factions James Madison warned us about.

The USA was carefully crafted to be a democratic republic, a representative form of gubmint, ruled by law -- as opposed to a democracy, a direct form of gubmint, ruled by the majority. This was because it was/is/should be obvious, that in a democracy, well-meaning/not so well-meaning (and no shortage of freaking crazy) people can band together and 51% of the folks can legally decide to behead the other 49%.

Or, decide that free speech is not permitted when a given majority decides that the words of a given minority constitute a microaggression, are politically/morally/intellectually/_______ly incorrect, or even just cause a severe case of the vapors.

Houston, we have a problem.

Have an OK day.                                                                                    

©Mark Mehlmauer 2015


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