My Old World

May 8, 2009

I want my old world back. I want simpler times.
   I want things to stop changing so much for the worse. And I’m only forty-something! The changes you older people have seen…it must break the heart on so many levels.
   Oh, the police reports tear me to pieces. Juvenile arrest after arrest. Breaks the heart, because in my day, my father had one sage piece of advice on the subject of juvenile delinquency: “You don’t have to be scared of the police or the judge, boy, because you mess up you ain’t gonna live long enough to see either of them.”
   Don’t sass the teacher, either, because the teacher was gonna apply a length of pine plank to your backside, which was only a practice run for when you got home and the real production began. Teacher was always right, too, even if they were wrong.
   I want back my world. The real world, not this concocted one drawn out on legal-sized paper and stamped and filed. I want back my world, where conversely kids didn’t get hauled to the police station for smoking a cigarette in hiding, they told their parents and the pine planks came off the hook again. I want a world where ADD or ADHD or whatever the tarnation you call it isn’t thrown around like a catch phrase for kids that never saw a pine plank, and labels are put on them that follow them for the rest of their lives. Yes, I know there are legitimate cases of attention disorder, but if there are as many as are being “diagnosed” then that’s a pandemic that makes swine flu look like a radar blip.
   Now that I’m done condoning child abuse, as some will certainly shriek, I want my kids to be able to go out and abuse wildlife, too, and PETA can take a long walk on a short pier. I want the world Mike McIntosh described, because it was a world I knew as well as he: “In that time, which lasted through the years when I was a kid, a guy could tie his rifle or gun to the handlebars of his bike, pedal all the way through town, and go hunt squirrels or rabbits or quail, pot starlings or whatever was in season. Nowadays a kid with such innocent yearnings couldn’t get three blocks without being surrounded by police, sheriff’s deputies, highway patrol, FBI and a patrol of soccer moms. And we think we’ve created a better culture.”
   I want my world of little neighborhood schools around which communities centered; I want a world where “progress” was a goal, not a mandate, not some Nirvana or Milton-esque paradise, sure to be lost.
   I want my world back, the one where we rode horses in the cane fields and the farmers didn’t care because they weren’t so worried about some jackass suing them if he went and broke his leg in an armadillo hole. I want my world back in which all my banks were local and you had to drive to Lafayette to shop a department store of which there was more than two in the world.
   I want my world back where there was stuff to watch on television that made sense; when the only good-looking, scantily clad women running around trying to survive were Charlie’s Angel;. when “reality shows” were Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or were hosted by Allen Funt and Art Linkletter.
   I want to trade all the Anderson Coopers, Shep Smiths, Bill O’Reillys, Katie Courics and every other national news “personality” in existence for one, just one, Ed Murrow. Just one, and let him do all the news, everywhere. I want my world back where the Marlboro man made TV commercials and nobody – but nobody – would advertise Enzyte, Valtrex or Girls Gone Wild.
   Yes, I want all that back. A world where violent crime was certain but rare, and you left your car doors unlocked at the grocery store or downtown. When paying taxes was just what you did, and it was fair, not something to be furious about because of its horrid inequity. When it was unthinkable that anyone would take away your guns, that you’d have to register a stupid pirogue with the state if you put an electric motor on it and a fishing license costs $5.50 just for freshwater. When it was beyond comprehension that “MADE IN ___” couldn’t have said anything but “USA” in the blank.
   I want the days when my grandfather walked into Norwood Chevrolet to buy a new Caprice Classic as he did every few years and wrote a check, and the new salesman said he’d have to clear it with Mr. Pete…who told the salesman, “Emile Stouff? Sell him the whole damn lot if he wants it.” Not that my grandfather had the money for the whole lot, but he knew Emile Stouff was good as his word.
   I want back the days when the backyard was alight with fireflies; when the fields flush with game birds; when the smell of a pot roast wafting from the flung-open windows and pulled through the house by an attic fan were greater than any fortune; when Christmas was relaxing, not hair-raising; when they had those Coke machines that the green bottles hung on racks and after you put your money in you slid it out and through a catch-latch then popped the cap off on the side of the machine; when my mom would pull up her old Ford Galaxy to Chapron’s in Baldwin and, in addition to a fill-up, get the windshield cleaned and the oil and tires checked, and we knew how to say “sir” and “ma’am”.
   Certainly I’m not denigrating modern medicine, modern conveniences and modern accesses of many kinds. But I miss the things in my world that were matters of principle, honor, justice and right.