Tue, July 23

Seven things a bunch of us share

Linda Anderson of Clarkdale in her Baby Boomer childhood.

Linda Anderson of Clarkdale in her Baby Boomer childhood.

Are you a Baby Boomer? Is your parent? Do you know what a Baby Boomer is?

In the U.S. alone, there are about 78 million of us. Every forth person you see at the dentist, carwash, or leg waxing salon is a Boomer. This means that (1) we still have some of our own teeth, (2) we may drive around aimlessly, and (3) some of us grow hair where we don’t want it.

Boomers lived through both good times (man on the moon) and bad (mooning cars). We survived the gas shortage of 1978, and now manufacture our own intestinally. We survived the Cold War, and now endure frequent colds.

What shapes a Boomer’s thinking? Can all Baby Boomers still think? Do you really care?

You really should care. Because – unless we run out of retro music – one or more of us will run the world for the next 25 years.

Understanding us

Here’s a personal story. It’s the early 1960’s, and we’re sitting in elementary school. Around 10 AM, the school bell suddenly blasts three-and-a-half times.

Three rings means a tornado, and four signals an air raid. (Definition of “air raid”: A nuclear attack followed by desperation, radiation, and vaporization.)

Because we’re not sure if we heard three or four rings, we don’t know what to do.

In a tornado, we’re taught to open windows and doors. If it’s an air raid, we’re supposed to close them.

So, we stumble over each other into the school hallway. If it’s a tornado, we’re supposed to sit against the lockers.

If it’s an air raid, we put our heads between our knees, and cover our scalps with our hands. (This technique was known as “duck and cover.” How it protects from nuclear explosion is a mystery to me.)

Somebody asks, “Is this a tornado or an air raid?” But the teacher doesn’t know, so we just kill time until the principal tells us it’s a false alarm.

And that’s what we’ve been doing these last four decades…killing time between personal storms and false alarms.

We’re still not sure if the next news event is simply hot wind or glowing, radioactive cinders. But after surviving this long, we figure that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. (Well, fear and TV reality shows.)

Lesson #1: We’re pessimists by nature, but we bounce back quickly from defeat because we expect it.

Davy Crockett, Annie Oakley, and Superman

No, these three are not some 60’s folk group. These people – actually two people and a Kryptonian – became major heroes to the Boomer generation.

Davy Crockett was a fabled American frontiersman, Congressman, and defender of the Alamo. Boomers remember mainly the actor who portrayed Crockett in a television series which later became a very popular movie.

The television Davy Crockett, this writer believes, appealed to Boomer boys for five reasons:

1. He spent a lot of time riding and fighting, and very little time talking to girls.

2. Lots of people hung around him, did everything he said, and told him what an awesome adventurer he was.

3. He wore a fringed shirt, buckskin pants, and moccasins, setting a fashion trend that flourished in the 1960’s.

4. After the show ended with Crockett’s death at the Alamo, the public wanted even more features about him. So the character was revived to star in two sequels about Crockett’s earlier adventures.

Next, let’s look at Annie Oakley. Not the real one who toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, but the TV Annie with that form-fitting leather skirt.

The television Oakley appealed to Boomer girls for five reasons:

1. If a guy gave her trouble, she sometimes wounded him. Women who do this today might face up to three months’ jail time.

2. She had a boyfriend/sidekick named Lofty, who agreed with pretty much everything she said. (My wife would term this a “reasonable male.”)

3. She could run, fight, or shoot, yet her hair never got out of place.

4. She had a kid brother named Tag she could also boss around. And like Lofty, Tag never talked back because…hey, she’s Annie Oakley.

5. She didn’t appear to work, but she always had plenty of money.

Finally, let’s examine Superman. He’s a guy who attracts both genders because:

1. He can fly. How cool is that?

2. He’s really good-looking and gentlemanly, and how many guys can get away with a cape?

3. He’s immune to human disease, pain, and suffering (like many politicians). The only thing that affects him is Kryptonite.

4. He’s surrounded by dummies. He puts on his glasses, he’s Clark Kent. He yanks them off, he’s Superman. But nobody in Metropolis can figure this out. Duh!

5. And don’t forget he can fly. Far. And fast. And upside down, if he wants to.

These are the heroes who shaped our childhoods. We modeled our behavior from theirs. (And a few of us actually tried to fly. These deceased individuals are called the Fall-Down-Go Boomers.)

So, whenever you find a Boomer in a tough situation today, expect that person to sing, dance, saddle a horse, or put on a cape.

Lesson #2: We believe that if given half a chance, we can achieve great things.

A Day of Boomer Childhood

To comprehend the adult, you must first know the child. (Some guy said this at my “fulfillment” workshop. I’m pretty sure it means that when we grow up we stay the same, except we buy bigger underwear.)

A Boomer’s elementary school day started early, when he sat down for breakfast with the family. Back then, mid-century kids ate food cooked on a stove, or right out of a cereal box that contained a prize. The “microwave” was a small hand gesture used to greet neighbors you didn’t know.

Unless you lived far from school (50 miles or more), you walked or rode a bike. Sometimes one kid pedaled the bike, and another kid sat on the metal book rack behind the seat. This explains why some of us could not reproduce.

The school day contained six hours of classroom work interrupted by two recess periods plus a lunch. Many younger kids opted for the “plate lunch” (one meat and two certified vegetables) plus a small carton of white or chocolate milk.

There was one teacher-supervised recess where children played kickball, volleyball, or any activity with an inflated round object. Unsupervised recess allowed “free play,” but those who played too freely – with car radiators, schoolyard animals, or that whip brought to “show and tell” – won a trip to the principal’s office.

Lesson #3: Independent by nature, we are still traditionalists by nurture. We have positive motives, but ask that you leave us alone to solve problems.

Additional Education

The average Boomer spent at least 12 years in school. Over 20% spent over 16 years. A few Boomers are still going to school. If they time things right, they’ll collect a diploma and Social Security simultaneously.

Some researchers – many of them also Boomers – brag that we’re the most educated generation in history. Why?

1. We are the children of Depression-era parents who stressed education as a door-opener to higher paying jobs and a more affluent life.

2. Many of us grew up during a time this country used a “military draft,” which meant that males 18 and over could be called into military service.

3. Many of us also came of age during the Vietnam conflict, when military service could mean an all-expenses paid trip to a war zone.

4. Many of us could delay military conscription by requesting the popular “2-S” deferment, which meant we were full-time students.

5. A few of us found we could maintain a student status after college graduation by attending graduate school.

6. Stepping into another classroom was infinitely safer than stepping into combat.

7. Therefore, many Boomers now hold more degrees than a meat thermometer.

Lesson #4: We are the most educated generation in history. We believe in learning and new technologies, and pass those lessons on to our children.

A brief look at the 1950s

It’s not fair to ask Boomers about the 1950’s, because many of us weren’t born. Most of us remember parts of the 1960’s and 1970’s, even though some of us were either very young or very stoned.

If you didn’t experience these important decades, we’ll share the big events with you. And if you were there – but for some reason don’t remember – we’ll refresh you.

Think of the 1950’s as an episode of “Leave in to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.” It was a time of tranquility, a time for sharing family values. Also, most of it was in black-and-white.

Nearly everybody wore some sort of suit to identify his profession. Business people wore coats and ties. Tennis pros wore white shirts and shorts. Crazy people wore straightjackets, and rarely ran for public office.

During this decade, the Baby Boom grew exponentially. Young adults moved to the suburbs when homebuilders completed huge housing developments. Once settled into new homes, couples started families because (1) they wanted several children and (2) there were few late-night talk shows to delay procreation.

Because there were so many of us, states quickly constructed schools to contain us. Educators also developed scholarly “film strips” to help instructors explain complicated concepts.

Film strips were like slide shows. Each was accompanied by audio. The teacher moved to the next slide every time the audio “beeped.” (One time this kid in our class made random beep sounds. The teacher raced through the slides, leaving us several minutes of mind-numbing audio about hibernating snakes.)

Did you ever see a film strip? Did anybody in your class die from boredom? My two favorite film strips were “From caterpillar to butterfly” and “Mr. Gorilla learns to drive.” (Actually I made that last one up, because I never saw a film strip about a gorilla driver, especially one who could pass the written exam.)

Lesson #5: We are the first generation to be educated visually via TV, movies, and now computers. We first must see something to comprehend it, and expect reinforcement from both audio messages and others’ feedback.

Welcome to the 1960’s

The first part of the decade brought this country a new, young President, John F. Kennedy. The end of the decade ushered in hippies, drugs, and free love.

The questions you should probably ask are: (1) What happened to the middle of the decade? (2) What are hippies? (3) How much did love cost before it was free?

(1) Most of us don’t remember what happened during those middle years because we hit puberty. It’s long been suspected that a person cannot hit puberty and retain useful information simultaneously.

(2) Hippies were children of the 60’s who focused on love, peace, and music. A few also focused on recreational drugs, which they used until their eyes unfocused. They wore outrageous clothing, headbands and long hair. Many also removed their bras (some of these were female).

But seriously, illicit drugs played a big role in the decade. Take LSD, for instance (and many did).

This potent hallucinogen was also called “acid.” The substance caused users to “trip out.” Sadly, a few of them took a permanent trip to the hereafter, and are now taking the “dirt nap” we mentioned earlier.

Lesson #6: Much conservative thought today has been seeded by our fear that we might repeat liberal missteps of 40 years ago. However, history reminds us that progressive thought to correct social injustice is what made the country grow.

A glance at the 1970’s

Boomers who did not grow up in the 1960’s grew up in the 1970’s. At least they became adults. A few, of course, never grew up. In 30 years, you will see them in retirement homes overdosing on laxatives and staging walker races to the toilet.

The 1970’s are remembered for unique fads like leisure suits and streaking.

Leisure suits (shirt-like jacket and matching slack) dominated men’s wear. Guys hoped this fashion – which didn’t require a tie – would replace business suits. Those men who chose leisure suits gave away all their ties, and today may be banned from financial meetings (but rarely sales conferences).

Leisure suits came in bright fluorescent shades, colors not found in nature. However, men could generally find an open-collar shirt to match those suits. You’ll see many of these outrageous outfits at garage sales today, often priced at “Make me any offer.”

To understand streaking, one must first understand that the 1970’s reinvented male nudeness. Before this decade, men appeared naked only in locker rooms and physical exams.

But during the 1970’s, nakedness became fashionable in dramatic presentations. Many men – and women – thus assumed that public nakedness was acceptable in short bursts, especially if everybody else was wearing a leisure suit.

“Streakers” were men and women who removed all their clothes and sprinted through public areas dressed in birthday suits, even though it was not their birthday.

To hide their identities, several wore masks. This made absolutely no sense, because nobody looked at their faces.

Lesson #7: As a group, we tend to be image conscious. We are willing to spend large amounts of money for discretionary purchases if marketers can give us a reason to rationalize the purchase.

Unless you lived far from school (50 miles or more), you walked or rode a bike. Sometimes one kid pedaled the bike, and another kid sat on the metal book rack behind the seat. This explains why some of us could not reproduce.