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Now and Later

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Now and Later

Memory’s an odd thing, a labyrinthine library in which you can get lost for better or worse.

 

Some unknown trigger just tossed a vivid memory into my own mind: an image of my kid sister, in the ’60’s, popping her beloved Now and Later Pills.  Carefully budgeted from her weekly allowance of fifty cents, these must-haves sent her straight to Nirvana and never once had my parents sticking their fingers down her throat or frantically dialing the Poison Control Center.  Now and Later Pills, you see, were not a prescription medication or an illegal substance; they were a treat from our neighborhood candy store. On the heels of this memory came daunting notions of what might happen today if parents caught their offspring downing something of the same name: the accusations, the lawsuits, the therapy, the appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show.  In protecting children from every potential slight, and in providing them with the best and latest that our society offers, have we, in essence, robbed them of their childhood?

 

Born on Halloween and fascinated with things that go bump in the night, as a child, I was allowed to watch the old ’30’s horror films: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy — in the dark.  Now, many parents, if not the ratings police, would deem these masterpiece films too horrific for youngsters.  Instead, kids are steered into carefully calculated money-draws such as Disney’s Monsters and Aliens, a de-fanged, high-tech animation flick that reduces such creatures to cartoons.  The children are missing out.  Not only did I survive the films with no nightmares, they bred my interest in quality literature.  The movies prompted me to seek out and read, twice each, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, which the latter wrote, on a bet well won, at the age of eighteen.  Beautifully crafted, both haunting stories are metaphors for and lessons in human behavior, including the need to take responsibility for the things that you create: knowledge that I never would have gained if denied access to the films.

 

Initially, I found both books at the library.  The Internet may have made the process of research instantaneous, but it has also reduced it to the acquisition of a few brief paragraphs on complex topics; it has robbed the experience of much of its richness.  The hurry up and grow up children born in front of a computer never have the pleasure of culling titles from the card catalog, selecting books from the myriad choices, and cracking them open to read them  — quietly — all the way through.   At the age of eleven, I went to Russia, India, and Spain on John Gunther’s Inside series.  To this day, I still remember a few words in Russian, the reasons why Indians do not eat with their left hands, and the choice words that Pablo Picasso had for a would-be protégé.   Now, libraries are coffee houses, live chat rooms of the first degree that just happen to lend books.

 

I rode my bike to the library.  In fact, I rode it everywhere, from dawn to dusk, with my friends. And it was not just an ordinary bicycle.  It was a spaceship, a time-travel machine, the Bat Mobile, a sports coupe in a race for my life against enemy spies.  Neither my parents nor my friends dogged us like Roman guards with vestal virgins.  They did not push us into multiple, questionable activities but left us to our own creativity and responsibility.  Now, parents chauffer children to and from numerous activities that allegedly enhance their physical and mental well being, activities that are supposed to encourage health competition.  But do they?

 

When I was a kid, a helmet was something worn by a motorcyclist, not a child on a bike or a pair of skates.  The only pads that kissed my knees were Band-Aids®.  I took my scrapes and once-blackened eye, cried, and moved on, having learned that it’s really not a good idea to take your hands and feet off your bike handles and pedals at the same exact moment … and leave them off longer than a moment.  Kids who engage in sports now are as protected as the Michelin Man® inside his inflated rubber suit.

 

As a bookworm, I was the last kid picked for any team.  The isolation hurt, but truthfully, just a bit, driving me further into literature and eventually, a fulfilling career in publishing and writing.  Now, everyone participates in sports; no talent needed.  I nearly fell over the other day when my sister-in-law informed me that my nephew was “only a winner” and not a “champion” in his karate competition, where “every kid is at least a winner.”  Well, reality says that they are not.  Each kid is different; each kid has his or her own interests and abilities. They do not all blend together, like ingredients tossed into a stew, simmering into a single, indefinable flavor.

 

Somewhere, some kid who can download a software “app” and use it a lot faster than I can get to the library is laughing his little you-know-what off at me.   The productive tyke is calling me a relic, if he even knows what that term means (doubtful, as the child does not read anything in depth).  He pities me.  He does not understand, for he was never given the opportunity, what it is to live with “the gloves off” — to take a risk, to go the extra mile, to do something unique.  And I pity him, for as David Bowie sang so eloquently and candidly in Young Americans:

 

“We live for just these twenty years.
Do we have to die for the fifty more?”

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