Saturday, May 28, 2016

In Defense of Us Old Fogies

Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

- Mary Hopkins

I have to admit, I never really liked that song by Mary Hopkins. It just wasn't my style. I was always more of a rock 'n roller at heart, with an infinity for R&B and alternative rock. The harder the better. But the older I get, the more I've come to appreciate what this song is actually saying; indeed, the more I realize just how autobiographical it was and is.

My 20s were, shall we say, an interesting period in my life. I pretty much was a lone wolf; a hard drinker and, even then, quite the poet laureate. I was opinionated and had no problem sharing that opinion with as many like-minded people as I could find. There was no such thing as social media, so I was limited to college campuses and, yes, bars. You'd be amazed how much pontification goes on in between pitchers of Budweiser at the local tavern. I was a regular Friedrich Engels. I subscribed to The Nation, Mother Jones and Socialist Review. My mother, rest her soul, was convinced that the FBI was going to break down the front door and carry her off to prison for harboring a subversive.

Like the above song said, I really thought those days would never end. It was wonderful being young, bright and brash, even if I was living rent free in my parents' house. I had my own wheels, enough cash in my wallet and the world was my oyster. What a life.

So what happened to change all that? Well, I grew up, sorta. As I entered my 30s, I started to realize that maybe life was a bit more complicated than I had originally thought it was. I found a girlfriend, moved in with her and got married. For the first time in my life, I was paying, or at least contributing to, rent. I learned what an electric bill was, along with the cable, phone and a host of other of life's little annoyances. Going to work was no longer something I did just to be able to put enough gas in my car, albums to throw on my turntable or booze in my stomach; it was now a means to a more productive end.

Over the next few years, my wife and I managed to save enough money to put a downpayment on a house of our own. At the ripe old age of 42, I was a homeowner. Holy shit! The guy who thought that chipping in $20 towards my parents' utility bill was making a substantial contribution, was now on the hook for a $1500 a month mortgage payment, along with $7000 a year in property taxes, not to mention a boat load of other expenses, like heating oil, homeowner's insurance and the like. Momma's little boy had grown up alright.

And as my wife and I move through our 50s, we are preparing for that inevitable day when we hang it up and retire. 401k accounts and annuities are our focus, along with paying off the mortgage. I still write a lot, and as you can no doubt see for yourself, I'm just as opinionated as I was in my 20s. But I've learned a thing or two over the last couple of decades of living that have altered my perception of the world.

I've been called jaded, but really I prefer to think of myself as being pragmatic. I still love a good fight, but I pick my battles more carefully. Having been is sales for the last 20 years, I've become suspicious of people who promise the moon but can't get off the launch pad. There's an old saying among salespeople: never bullshit a bullshitter. If you want my money, you'd better give me a good reason to part with it.

Much has been written about how well Bernie Sanders is doing with voters between the ages of 18 and 30. In fact, in some states, Sanders got as much as 81 percent of that vote. That isn't just impressive; it's other-wordly. But little has been written about how well Hillary Clinton is doing with voters 40 and over. My generation, it seems, prefers her to Bernie by a wide margin; maybe not as wide as the under 30 crowd prefers Bernie, but wide nonetheless. Why the disparity, you ask?

Well, for starters, I don't think it has anything to do with glossing over her shortcomings. I'm not blind or ignorant. I know Hillary has problems. She's a flawed candidate, running in a - yes, I'll admit it - rigged system with all the pitfalls that entails. Growing older hasn't dulled my perception of her or the world for that matter, but it has given me some perspective on how to understand both a little better. My conclusion: the world isn't perfect, nor are the people in it. That's not an excuse, but rather an explanation.

I do not expect seismic changes to occur in the political system; if anything I am suspicious of people who propose them, regardless of their ideological leanings. If the Tea Party has taught us anything, it's that high-minded people of principle and ambition often bite off more than they can chew. They thought they would transform Washington into their own image. Instead, they screwed up the political system of this country so badly it might well take years to recover from the damage they've inflicted.

When I look at Bernie and his supporters I don't see a political revolution in the making; I see a giant clusterfuck in the works. I see a carbon copy of the Tea Party, with guns a blazing, waiting to take on the world, and I instinctively reach for my wallet to make sure it's still there.

I listen to him rant against Wall Street and I think, "Okay, maybe a lot of those bankers should have gone to prison for what they did to this economy, but I still have my retirement savings to consider. How will that be impacted by his proposal to impose a large tax on investment firms?" When I hear his proposal for Medicare for everyone, I think, "Yeah, everyone should have healthcare coverage, but do I really want pay an extra five grand a year in taxes to make that a reality?" When he talks about making college tuition free for all students, I think, "Well that sounds good, but do I really want to foot the bill for some kid to go through four years of college so he can get drunk on weekends and fail his midterms?" You see, I remember those good old days of throwing up on my self after an all-night bender.

One of the things you learn as you grow older is that pollyanna thinking is just that: pollyanna. This doesn't mean I don't want a better world; it just means I'm realistic enough to know that it takes time to achieve that. You don't go from A to Z. Life doesn't work that way. People my age - the baby boomers - know all too well that progress is often measured in inches, not yards. It's nice to dream, but dreams don't pay the mortgage or put the kids through college.

When I was a sales manager for a computer company a number of years ago, I was interviewing several candidates for a sales position. Two of the applicants were young and enthusiastic. I asked each of them why they wanted a job in sales. The two younger applicants talked about the challenge of selling hi-tech products in a growing and competitive industry; one even said he was looking forward to helping his customers with all their technology needs. But there was one applicant who stood out and was very matter of fact: "I enjoy making money and I'm very good at it."

Guess which one I hired?

Did the other two applicants have good qualities. Without a doubt, yes. In fact, the second one would've made an excellent tech-support person and, had I been looking for such a person, I would've hired him. I wasn't, so I went with the candidate that best filled the need I was looking for. By the way, he was one of my best hires.

I don't profess to be an expert when it comes to judging people. Heaven knows I've made my fair share of mistakes in the past. And I am fully aware that there are older people who support Bernie Sanders, just like there are younger people who support Hillary Clinton. If I've learned anything about sales, it's that there's no such thing as a hundred percent close ratio.

But I suspect that the main reason so many older people prefer Hillary over Bernie, is because they've been around the block enough times they can see every crack in the sidewalk. And in their eyes, Bernie's got a lot of cracks. When they hear him, they hear their kids or, as might be the case, their grandkids. They know what a fad looks like, even if the majority of younger people don't.

They don't see Hillary Clinton as some kind of savior or deliverer, as so many of Bernie's supporters see him as. They're just as concerned about global warming and equal rights as the next person, but they also know all too well what happens when unqualified people have been thrust onto the national stage. They wither and die, along with the hopes and dreams of their supporters. Somehow growing older has given us an innate ability to cut to the chase and see the real from the unreal; the workable from the unworkable.

The first time I heard Sanders speak, I was impressed. The second time, no so much. By the third time, I had him figured out. Nice man, novel ideas, a train wreck waiting to happen. So I dismissed him. Apparently, an awful lot of people in my age bracket did the same thing.

I guess that makes me an old fogey who doesn't want a better world and is in on the fix. Who knew I was Dillinger incarnate? But, the thing is, I kinda like being an old fogey. I like listening to my old Smokey Robinson and Led Zeppelin songs on my iPhone, though I confess, it's a little unsettling to hear young people refer to R.E.M. as an oldies band.

But the good news is that the young people of today will be the old fogies of tomorrow. And when that happens, they too will get the chance to figure out what so many of us already know: that super heroes are fictitious people we go to see in the movies, not people we vote for in primaries; that incremental change is not a sellout but a practical reality; and that youth, just like rock concerts, eventually comes to an end.

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