Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where Has All The Pleasure Gone (long time, passing...)

Disclaimer: Before you get your Underoos in a twist about the following post, let me assure you that I KNOW all our current practices lead to S A F E T Y and H E A L T H Y L I V I N G. I know many of them have sprung from broken bones, cracked noggins, needless suffering and untimely death and blah, blah, blah.
I get it, okay? I'm just not convinced that life is worth living inside bubble wrap.


When I was a kid, polio was the scourge of every summer -- endless restrictions for kids and endless worry for our parents. Thank God, there's a vaccine for it now... and for almost every other common infectious disease. By the way, I contracted all of them but polio (including whooping cough), so I know the value of vaccines, honestly. Oh yeah, I also survived those illnesses.

No one chased us around with Neosporin spray and inhalers. We wore ugly, white Band-Aids with stinky adhesive as badges of honor celebrating our risky adventures, and we warded off infection with stinging unguents of one type or other. It's odd, but most of us still have all our limbs.

We got sunburned - on purpose, as it would "turn into a tan." We lay by the pool with baby oil plastered on our bodies, literally frying on the blistering hot pavement. Sun block defeated the whole purpose, which was to be the brownest kid on the first day of school. Oh yeah, we peed in that pool, too.

We stayed out after dark. Yes, we did. And our parents didn't always know where we were, which was the best part. We climbed trees without fear and played in slimy creeks teeming with creatures and bacteria and containing NO chlorine. Mosquitoes bit us and we bit peanuts - and still, we survived.

I remember actually riding in cars without being strangled by a seat belt. Sometimes we rode in the back of a pickup truck or lolled about freely in the rear of a station wagon. Yeah, so I fell out of a moving car when I was four and fractured my clavicle -- still, I survived.

Our death-defying lifestyle didn't stop there.

Many of our parents and most of their friends smoked -- inside, outside, in the car, in restaurants, in other public places -- everywhere, in fact, but actually in church, although the church porch was fair game.

We chewed gum WITH SUGAR. Sure, there were cavities and trips to the Torquemada Torturer dentist -- but most of us still have at least one or two teeth remaining.

We went grocery shopping with mom, sat in the basket (without a belt), rode the little bouncy horsey, and, oh my God, we didn't wipe down our hands, the cart and every object we touched with hand sterilizer, either.

We rode bikes, roller skated, scootered, played sandlot baseball WITHOUT HELMETS. That's right -- there was nothing between us and disaster but our hard kids' craniums. Whoa! Most of us survived, too.

When we were nine, we rode the (Reno) city bus to school. There wasn't a parent or chaperon in sight, save the bus driver who kept an eye on us. We loitered after school downtown, went to the movies by ourselves, stopped at the dime store or soda shop afterwards then rode the bus home -- and not one of us was ever abducted.

We grew up without knowing the existence of fat grams, cholesterol, omega-3 fatty acids or preservatives. Heck, we didn't even encounter a free radical until Berkeley in the 60's. Mom, the criminal, made food containing real butter and cream, and she dared to fry chicken that still wore its skin. No au jus for us -- we had real "country gravy" and even bacon (the pig kind, not the soy kind). It's hard to admit now, but we even ate white bread -- and we survived.

The other day in the grocery store, a bag of crunchy Cheetos held me up at gunpoint and demanded to go home with me. I didn't ask myself if I was hungry, or if I wanted the Cheetos. I considered its glycemic index, caloric and sodium content, fat content, including the nightmare possibility of trans and/or saturated fat, and the fact that it is probably made from devil-spawn white flour.

I've been so brainwashed by all the ten million ways to "live a healthy lifestyle" that I'd ram my car into a tree before stopping at a fast food restaurant. (Okay, I'll cop to one Carl's Jr. hamburger a year - seriously.) When reading a menu I look for the lowest fat, leanest, cleanest, purest and MOST BORING selections available. Price is no object, but good grief, don't eat anything that tastes good and might be the teeniest bit bad for you!

The part that annoys me the most about our pristine lifestyle is that much of it has been legislated by those determined to keep us SAFE. I know that many of these laws and guidelines have originated because of "premature death" or other tragedy. So I guess, by extension, that if we remove one more pitfall of daily living, we are that much more insulated and another day, week, month or year has been added to our lifetime. Hallelujah!

Except... if you believe, as I do, that our days are truly numbered by the Great Lottery In The Sky, the most that we're actually doing is enabling ourselves to feel a little better during the days we've been allotted. That's not a bad thing -- but doesn't it seem to you that we've reached the saturation point on staying SAFE?

Life isn't safe -- not one second of it is without risk -- and we only kid ourselves by thinking we truly control our personal environments.

Wouldn't it be hilarious if some Ph.D. candidate were this minute proving that the time we spend taking all these precautions is directly proportional to the time we supposedly add to our lives? Something akin to my theory on exercise -- you add 1/2 hour to your life by spending 1/2 hour exercising, so your net gain equals zero, except for the aches and pains you've acquired.

We've created such a "safe" world -- safe, and boring.

Oh yeah, I bought the Cheetos, and they were GOOD.
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