It was 11 degrees on the outside thermometer this morning. It is two days after my 65th birthday, December 8th. If I had known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself. I’m actually not complaining. I’m really lucky to be here. It’s Grace, my friends, Grace.
I was born in an era that was so much slower than it is today. It was a big deal when my parents bought our first television set. I can remember when we picked up the phone and, instead of a dial tone, an operator would ask us what number we wanted.
Do any of you remember what a party line was? It wasn’t someone directing you to a gala throw-down, it was when you shared a phone line with a number of families. Each family had a certain type of ring-tone so you would know if the call was for you or them.
Plenty has changed in just a few decades. I have a magazine with old ads in it. It shows a young couple sitting together on a hillside, she’s leaning towards him while he lights a cigarette, and it says “Chesterfield—Blow some my way.” Hmmm.
I was reading the Boston Globe, as usual, and someone is suing a cigarette company for handing out free samples to kids in the neighborhood. I’ll tell you, it really happened and not just in poor neighborhoods. I grew up in North Arlington, New Jersey until I was 10 years old and I remember a car would drive around and give us little packs of free cigarettes with four to six butts in a pack. I moved from North Arlington to Livingston, New Jersey when I was 10 1/2 years old and I was already a smoker.
Camels, if you please. Sometimes Lucky Strike. Before the time of Joe Camel. In this magazine I’m looking at, they are showing a Joe Camel ad—the camel is dressed to the nines, has a pool cue in his hand and by his head it says “Smooth Character.”
Right below that ad, it shows Joe in a hospital bed, hooked up to an intravenous bottle, and next to him it says “Joe Chemo.” The magazine is called AdBusters and it is filled with good stuff like that. I can’t find it right now, but there was another ad in the magazine that shows good old Ronald Reagan smoking a cigarette, and it says something like “All you’ll ever need.”
In this era, we are bombarded with advertisements. If you are watching a show on television, when it breaks for the ads, you will see at least eight ads before the show you are watching goes back on. When you are waiting in line at Shaw’s supermarket, there is a TV by the computer register so you can watch non-stop ads while you wait.
You do wait much longer in line now then when I was young. I worked in a big grocery store called Shop-Rite when I was in high school and a cash register just totaled the numbers up like a manual adding machine. The faster the checker went, the sooner the customer would get out of the store.
Now, the reason it takes so long is that you, the customer, wait while the computer takes inventory for the store. A person used to get paid to walk the store and count the stock. The computer put that person out of a job.
I refuse to use the self-checkouts. Each self-checkout puts another person out of work. It’s much better for the company. No health benefits to pay, no employee to deal with, another person on the breadline going to the food pantry.
I hate the computers that answer the phone for all the major corporations. It takes a long time to get to a real person and the computer doesn’t have that flash of understanding that a real person on the line would have. By the way, that computer represents another person out of work, on the bread line, at the local food pantry.
Medical care has changed quite a bit too. It is true that we have made major medical advances and many people live through illnesses that would have killed them years ago. But I remember when we were sick and didn’t have to travel to the doctor; the doctor came to us. Another change was that the doctor knew us; we didn’t have to see a different physician every time we went to the clinic.
One devastating change that has taken place is that now insurance companies determine the type of care we get. In many instances, the physician’s hands are tied, and he or she has to go along with the pellet counter at the insurance company. We’re forced to leave the hospital before we should if the insurance company says so. And it usually does.
Everything is HIGH SPEED now also. From the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep, the majority of our time is structured by the complexity of the networks we must deal with. If the billing company that is hired out by the hospital makes a mistake—it takes hours of frustrating time on the phone; jumping from computer to computer, calling one number to the next, and sometimes winding up back at the first number we called while the problem persists.
We live in a time of miracles, but we also survive through twisted times. Our civilization is now globally linked; everything is connected and because the people who make the most money trade in commodities but don’t produce anything of value, many of the countries of the world are going bankrupt.
If I owed my credit card company the type of debt the United States is now carrying, I would be in deep trouble. Hmmmm. We are in deep trouble. And why is it that schools, health care, and other social services come last in priority, but the war budget is never lacking? Right now, our government is arguing about our budget but no one is talking about how much the war is costing our civilization.
Then there’s the Earth we live on, or should I say, the Earth we live off of. I know we recycle, and that’s good. But just think of how much we throw away every day—just think of how many toilets flush waste into our precious water systems every day—just think of how much poison flows out of exhaust pipes of cars, trucks and buses every day into our limited atmosphere—just think.
Well, maybe we better not think. It’s the holiday season and we all want to have a good time. And doesn’t having a good time mean consume, consume, consume, buy, buy, buy, don’t stop to think, don’t stop to think, don’t stop to think, you don’t have time for that because our time is really running out if we don’t change our ways.
Hey, who’s in charge here anyway? I don’t think anyone really knows because of all the secrecy in big business, big government, and big war espionage.
Look, I’ll tell you what. You and me, we’ll just stick our noses to the grindstone and when we get home we’ll sit and watch advertisements on television that will tell us what to buy, and then we’ll go out and do it. I’m not going to cop out; I’m part of the problem too.
Let’s just stop and reflect a while on what we can do to make this a better world. Who can we help? What can we do to make someone else’s day a little better? What action do we need to take to stop the war machine?
I’ll tell you what. I don’t care what you call your God; He/She/It is all right with me. Just don’t hurt me or the ones I love and I’ll do the same. Can we break bread together and make this a better world? I’m ready for the change. Maybe you are too.
Let’s do it!
Marc D. Goldfinger is a formerly homeless vendor who is now housed. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org