Sunday, June 27, 2010


I was always under the impression that the typical generation ran twenty-five to thirty years. That was attributed to the basic breeding cycle of the human animal. A couple would have their first child around that age, and said child would do the same the same number of years later.

Grandparents, parents, children. Thirty years at a pop. The math worked well until teenage parenting became all the rage, and then it seemed that the generations sped up. Really, though, such early procreation has never been more than a small amount of the population. Most folks were able to restrain themselves until they had a high school diploma, or at least a job that paid more than minimum wage.

What I couldn't account for was the seeming onslaught of generations since I have become an adult. I was born at the tail end of the Baby Boomers, but no sooner did I reach the legal drinking age (while simultaneously commencing my third year of drinking) that a bunch of names were flying around. Names that sounded like people really weren’t trying very hard.

Generation X, Generation Y, and eventually the Millennial Generation just because the world didn’t come to a crashing end on December 31, 1999. Otherwise they might have been Generation Last. Regardless, children having children has not lowered the number of years in a generation. It turns out that there is a difference between familial generations and cultural generations.

Who knew!

Baby Boomers were so named because of a cultural event, that being a baby boom following World War II. It’s nice that our valiant warriors were willing to come home and set about immediately fomenting a population explosion. Baby Boomers have been a force for good, but first they were just a bunch of babies. It took until about 1980 for the term to be coined.

A little research shows this has been the case for as long as we the people have been preoccupied with labeling everything within reach. The Lost Generation, known as the Generation of 1914 in Europe, included those who fought in World War I. They became known as such sometime in the 1920s or 30s. In other words, when time and perspective gave credence to the moniker.

The G.I. Generation is better known as the Greatest Generation. They might as well be known as the Patient Generation. They waited nearly seventy years for Tom Brokaw to dub them the greatest.

Every twenty years or so we westerners group all babies born in a certain time period and identify them by something they have in common. Or at least most of them. Certainly there have to be some members of the Greatest Generation who are real losers. But most of them are great! And the name sticks. The losers just have to deal with the shame that they aren’t really living up to expectations.

The lazy naming I have identified seems to begin with Generation X. It might mean the unknown generation, because no one knew how disco, Iran-Contra, and videogames would affect them. But at least the name wasn’t coined until 1991, a full ten years after their ’61-’81 run. I can deal with that.

Now it is all going just nuts. Following Generation X is the cleverly named Generation Y, because apparently the officials in charge of nomenclature could do nothing but go along the alphabet. How ridiculous! If Generation Y doesn’t sound familiar, don’t worry, because they are also called the Millennial Generation, Generation Next and the Net Generation. Depends who you ask. Actually, it depends who you ask if you ask someone who has too much free time on his hands.

The fact is that the birth years for Generation Y are approximately from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. We are just now getting to the point that wise folks can look back and do a little analysis to come up with a name that makes sense. We didn’t have to start calling them Generation Y while they were still in kindergarten. We could have waited a bit, at least until they had formed personalities.

Even worse, the group that would supposedly follow Generation Y. In other words, the group of people born beginning in the early 2000s. Hello? We are still in the early 2000s! The end of this generation hasn’t even arrived and it has been named already: Generation Z. Again with the alphabet. Wonderful.

A little online research finds this claim about Generation Z: “Relatively little is firmly established about its composition, character, and even name.”

Oh really, relatively little is firmly established? Perhaps it is because THEY ARE STILL BEING BORN! Why are we so concerned about the cultural generation in the midst of which we currently find ourselves? They are babies, for goodness sake. They drool and they wear diapers and they do what they’re told (at least for a few more years). What’s with the preoccupation with who and what they are?

Ahh, unless it is strictly for the purposes of marketing. That bastion of twentieth century American capitalism. We need the label to properly create false consumer need in products and services. To make money, especially for those members of previous generations still alive and running the marketing machine. The more labels the better, which is why they are also known as Generation I, the Internet Generation, and the New Silent Generation.

This is who we are and how we do things, I suppose, but the names being set in stone are stupidly vague because no one wants to wait five minutes and discern one that makes sense. The rush for market share doesn’t allow for perspective or judicious consideration.

If the Greatest Generation could wait a handful of decades to be identified as such, perhaps we can slow this all down a bit and be patient for our youngest citizens. I’m sure a better name than Generation Z or its alternatives will come up if we just wait.

Can we wait?

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I have worn my share of pointy hats, a few of the “dunce cap” variety. I acted the dunce in elementary school on occasion, but I was usually out-dunced by some goof named Mingo. By the sixth grade Mingo was getting involved in recess fisticuffs and I was all but forgotten as a behavior issue.

The only other pointy hats that have decorated my head were worn as the cake was cut or the presents were opened or the song was sung: “Happy birthday to you, happy bir . . .”

I’ve got to stop there or pay some ridiculous royalty. When you sing it at home to your least favorite aunt (visiting from Wichita and with a hairy mole on her chin) there is no fee, but use it in a commercial enterprise—such as a stunningly brilliant and financially successful humor blog—and you’ve got to pony up the cash. That silly song rakes in about two million bucks a year. For someone other than me.

Happy birthday, indeed.

Anyway, I no longer wear pointy hats. I do continue to sing the happy birthday song, at family gatherings and around whatever few friends and colleagues remain in my inner circle. At times my voice is light and bright and enjoyable, but in a few rare instances it slows. Beat by beat, word by word, it is like watching a slow motion video of an out of control car bearing down on an abandoned baby carriage. Baby included free of charge.

These requiems started as a competition between my brother and me. At some unfortunate soul’s birthday party—with Scott and Matt, the Baxter Buffoons in attendance—we finished the song some few seconds after the rest of the assembled guests and with a dissonant tone. We probably were given a few warning glances and looks of disdain, but that just made it funnier to us.

So the next time we had the opportunity, we sang it even slower. Each time thereafter we stretched out the words a little longer, and sang them a little lower on the register. Eventually we might only be at the end of the second “to you” as everyone else finished the entire song. We’d still be singing as the cake was parceled out to the plates, and in the most extreme cases the last syllable might be drawn out until the guests began to leave.

It became known as the Baxter Birthday Dirge: the same words but different music. Horrible, plodding music, full of lament. It sounded like we were mourning the passing of another year, and yet we really were just trying to celebrate the special day for that special someone . . . sitting there in the birthday chair and staring at us with loathing.

It was the best part of birthday parties for many years, at least for Scott and me, but lately we have had to alter our songfest a bit. You see, my wife has become a member of a professional choral group. They sing the birthday song to each other on a regular basis, sans the pointy hats. Kristin recently heard her own birthday song, once at home as a dirge and once with her singing friends. She is in a perfect position to offer a cogent analysis on what is wrong with the way my brother and I sing birthday praises.

“When our group sings,” Kristin says, “it is full of sunshine and joy. It is the sound of butterfly wings tickling your lips and an overwhelming sense of love.”

“Makes sense,” I respond. “Go on . . .”

“Your little song, well, that might not be the right word, but let’s go with it. Your ‘song’ is more like a broken sewer line. It is decay, and mistrust, and an overwhelming sense of loss.”

“Makes sense,” I respond again. “Go on . . .”

She has made her point; I am just too daft to get it. Once again she leaves the room and allows me to ponder my future. I pull down the family calendar from the kitchen wall to see whose birthday is on the horizon.

There will be a few opportunities to try to sing nicely, for some nice people. Mother, sister, niece, and others. I will do my best to inspire, rather than to suffocate, because they probably deserve it. They have put up with my shenanigans for a long time.

But I will save my most grief-riddled dirge for September 26, because that is Scott’s special day. And I am determined to make it the best ever. Or the worst ever.

Depends on your perspective.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I got run over on my motorcycle back in the summer of 1982. Actually, she didn't run me over, she lurched out from behind a stop sign and then slammed on her brakes when she was right in front of me. A panicked reaction, I suppose, to seeing me bearing down on her.

There was no stop sign in my direction, hence I hadn't stopped. I stopped pretty quickly, though, when I ran into her right front fender, followed by a graceless landing on the hood of her car. My only injury was a sprained ankle caught on the handlebars as I flew over. Pretty lucky, all things considered.

Her insurance company was happy that I settled for a new helmet and a new motorcycle. I never gave much thought of trying to bleed someone dry just so I could become an instant millionaire. My mama didn’t raise me that way. A lawsuit is fine when warranted, but too many people want to turn it into some sort of lottery.

Take, for example, the lady pedestrian from Southern California who got hit by a car in Utah earlier this year. Drivers must always be diligent and avoid running over humans, of course. It doesn’t matter who has the right of way, it is just a matter of flesh vs. steel. Flesh will always lose.

Hence, our victim has a legitimate complaint against the fellow who was driving the car that ran into her. Her medical bills ought to be fully paid for, and even perhaps a little for pain and suffering. Not enough to finance her for the rest of her life (being in her mid-20s after all), but something to make sure she gets back on her feet and back to work after being medically cleared to do so.

Oh. Wait. She was unemployed. Maybe we should say “on her feet and back to her couch,” where she could play video games all day and eat leftover pizza.

I wonder if that's why she might be trying to turn this unfortunate incident into a windfall. She claims she was advised by Google Maps to take this particular path between two points in Park City, and it turned out to be a dangerous street, and she was hit, and so she is owed something. She is suing the guy who hit her, which makes sense. That should cover the basics.

But she is also suing Google, probably because they have the deep pockets. No doubt her lawyer encouraged her to do so, what with the astronomical legal fees that will be generated during the case. Photographing sidewalks that don’t exist, interviewing potential wildlife witnesses, and coming up with new and clever ways to blame the blameless. It’s a big job for the lawyer!

Usually when you get walking routes on Google Maps it says something like “use caution – this route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.” Our hapless victim claims it didn't do so on the particular technological toy she was using. Even so, how stupid do you have to be?

When the street looks dangerous, you don't walk down it. If you do, you do what you can to avoid a problem. If there is a problem, the right people have to be held accountable.

In this case, that isn't Google.

Makes me think of the “never again” claim. Every time something bad happens, the ones with the ridiculous lawsuit cry “never again!” They’re not doing it for the money (they say); it is the only way to get the attention of the evil and corrupt corporations and other evil and corrupt entities. It is the only way to protect the little citizen-people.

In this case, our pummeled pedestrian and her attorney are trying to prevent anyone else from ever getting run over after following Google Maps’ walking directions, and they claim that the punitive damages will help. They don’t know how much that will be at this point, because the poor woman continues to suffer physically and emotionally from the trauma of being run over while walking on a highway.

As soon as they have a price, I’m sure we’ll hear of it. And it will be obscenely large and, if won in court, will certainly help the plaintiff’s lawyer buy a new vacation home (maybe in Park City, Utah!). To a limited extent it would help the plaintiff as well (maybe she could buy a car and stop being such a foolish walker). Hopefully, though, the case will be laughed out of court by a laughing judge.

But even if she wins and Google has to write her a check, you can be sure that some time, somewhere, it is going to happen again. You just can’t prevent the stupid people from doing something stupid.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


For some it is a simple V for Victory. Famous person Winston Churchill helped popularize the V-sign with his first and second fingers during the World War II years, and later that clever man-about-town Richard Nixon would wave it with both hands, even though he was disgraced and humiliated.

Apparently there can be a bit of irony in such a victory.

Others of a later generation would brandish the bi-digit greeting to signal hippie feelings and good vibrations. “Hey, man,” this two-fingered salute would say if it could talk, “turn on, tune in, and drop out. Right on, man.”

To this day, counter-culture absurdists continue to acknowledge each other with the peace sign. It permits instant membership into their little clubs, where they sit around and complain. “Well, at least I’m not going to work for the man, man,” says the goof who is too turned on to get a job. “Hey, man, pass the medicinal herb.”

The only use that our youngest citizens had for this particular gesture was when they were supposed to be posing nicely in a group setting for a family or school picture. At the very moment of the flash, the ne’er-do-well in question would make bunny ears behind the head of the kid in front of them. The photographer would shout, and adults within reach would cuff the culprit on the side of the head.

The photography would commence again, this time without the mockery.

There appears to be a new use of the V-sign, particularly around elementary school campuses, and it is really annoying. At least to me. But then again, so much annoys me it might be hard to determine exactly how annoyed I am. Let me explain:

In classrooms and school auditoriums the peace sign is being used as a tool for quieting an assembled group. Or at least it is being used in an attempt to quiet an assembled group, because I can tell you from personal experience it is not terribly effective. It is supposed to be a quiet way to get the attention of the masses and prepare them for the exciting lesson or lecture or assembly to come.

There are two things very wrong with this theory.

First, when the brown-nosed goody two shoes is flying the salute to her chatty classmates, the clueless one talking to his neighbor or shouting at a friend sitting two groups over has no idea the V is meant for him. He doesn’t even see it happening. He is too busy to notice.

The other dilemma is that on certain occasions the talkative individual is the very one waving the peace sign. “I’m holding up my fingers,” she says, “why are they still talking? Stop talking!” Despite her loud voice and wild gesticulations, the room doesn’t quiet. Certainly she doesn’t.

The irony is palpable. Kind of like Nixon grinning maniacally from the steps of his helicopter. But I digress.

I don’t know when this tradition took hold in modern public education. I know forty years ago we were quiet just because we should be. There was a blurt out every once in a while, and I was known in elementary school for not knowing how to whisper particularly well, but it was a kid or two at a time, not half the class.

And a look from the teacher quickly quelled it.

Now elementary school educators need bells to ring and rain sticks to shake and two fingers to raise to get the attention of their students . . . and loud voices to be heard over the droning of the class when nothing else works. And when things are really going nuts, you can rely on a bunch of oddball students to wave two fingers in the air as if that is going to silence their more rambunctious classmates.

By rambunctious I mean, of course, rude. Impolite. Discourteous. Uncouth. Offensive. And whatever else my thesaurus can throw at them.

They haven’t learned manners, like listening when someone is speaking, so we will wave a peace sign and hope everything works out. Just like it did for the hippies.

Yeah. Good luck with that.

And be careful, boys and girls, that you don’t let that pointer finger wilt, or you’ll be offering a salute of an entirely different order.