And there it is — another giant stride toward the land of the ancients. Soon, I'll be making old-person noises when I rise from a chair. Any day now, I'll be napping at noon.
So, I'm riding in my car along with my niece, who's — I don't know — somewhere between 5 and 12 — and she's complaining because she can't get some game on her hand-held gizmo.
I jumped right in. Didn't stop to think about what I was saying. Just started yammering, probably in a voice five times louder than necessary.
"You kids," I said, ear hair growing longer by the minute. "You don't know how good you've got it."
And there it is. Once you've uttered the line, there's no going back. Complain once about a younger generation, and you might as well take your teeth out and retire to the porch to whittle. The good people of AARP have super-sensitive monitors to pick up lines like that and now they have your number.
Not that I wanted to take back my comment. It's a valid point. If you're 20 years old or younger, you don't remember a time before the Internet. You don't remember having to spend all night looking for the M volume of the encyclopedia so you could look up the capital of Montana. You don't remember having to call a radio station a half-dozen times — using a slightly different voice each time, you sly dog — to request that song you've been dying to hear for weeks.
If you're too young to drink in a bar, you're too young to remember what it was like to hold a thought all day until you had a chance to share it, usually by speaking to someone standing in front of you.
You never had to run all over a strange town looking for a phone booth. You never had to fumble with a map 10 feet tall and 5 wide while driving through an unfamiliar town. You never had to race home and then fight your older brother because there was a good movie on television and there would be only one chance to see it. You don't remember when television actually ended for the night. What you got around 1 a.m. was the national anthem and a test pattern and then you were on your own.
You may not even remember busy signals, calculators or address books that were actually made of leather and paper. Surely, you never had the experience of waiting a week for your film to be developed. Remember when Polaroids were the height of technology?
Of course you don't, whippersnapper. Bill Gates and company really hooked you up good.
Not that I begrudge you the advantages of the cyber age. God, no. I'm not one to give you a half-baked line about how waiting for photos and movies and phone calls will build your character. Look at me! I had to endure all those hardships and I don't have any character at all.
What I do have is a desktop computer and a smartphone. I have a camera that automatically uploads my photos to the Web. I have a program with which to download any music I want at any time and then store it in neat play lists in a place called the cloud. I have a Google engine that I can speak to rather than wasting precious time actually pecking in my commands. I love the technology. I salivate over things like ROM upgrades and open source.
It's just that I'm weirded out by the notion that full-grown, legal adults are walking the planet who don't remember a time before email and text messages, GPS and street views on Google Earth. They don't remember stashing magazines under their mattresses or writing letters in ink and then dropping them in a mailbox. They don't remember instant coffee that you made at home and which came in one flavor, which was coffee.
Cassette tapes, remember when those came out? And how we all bought stereos with dual cassettes so we could — prepare to have your mind blown — actually duplicate our favorite tapes or even record songs off the radio!
We thought cassettes, once they came along, were here to stay. Same with VCRs, answering machines and Nintendo. But every time we got caught up on the latest and greatest, something new came along to wow us. Compact discs, car phones, dial-up Internet with Alta Vista. The changes kept coming faster and faster until the next thing you know, you wake up and there's a fully loaded, portable computer in your hand and you don't think that's weird at all.
My mother remembers when they listened to the radio at night and never even dreamed of such a thing as a television. Her mother would have remembered a time before automobiles. And on and on into the past until you reach some hairy guy blown away by the invention of fire and who will rant into the night about how lucky kids were to be born in the time of the wheel.
And unless the Mayans got it right and we're one year from crashing and burning, it will just keep happening. You marvel now over things like Bluetooth sharing and photo software with face recognition, but just you wait. Just wait until we all have chips implanted in our heads so we can download music, books and information directly to our brains. Just wait until the quantum guys get a handle on teleportation.
Just you wait, Missy.
So, yeah. It was a long rant and the cost was high. Three liver spots, a thousand white hairs and a wart with a hair growing out of it on the end of my nose. Once you utter those lines about the generational divide, you own it. There's no putting those bullets back in the gun or those Doans back in the pill bottle.
So I wrapped it up, winded and ear-haired, hoping my niece might have learned something about age and experience, gratitude and graciousness.
And you know what she had to say, that little dickens who used to think I was the coolest because I could make up a song any time, anywhere, about anything? Including magic cookie bars and people who smell like poo? She just rolled her eyes, put on her headphones and without even looking at me said: "You're old."
She's lucky, my niece. Back in the day, I could have dropped her off at an orphanage with no questions asked. That's how things were done back when men wore hats, women wore skirts and it cost you just a nickel to go see a motion picture show.
Those were good times. Better times. I think I'll go watch a video about them on YouTube.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can send information on male menopause to firstname.lastname@example.org.