Sunday, June 14, 2015

Is that macaroni under your scalp?

I had the great American brain food for dinner, macaroni and cheese. You know, the tasty dish that looks like the brains that illustrate magazine articles like “The Pea Diet for a Pea Brain.”

A momentary slippage of the brain cells makes people laugh at each other, no matter how hard they try to keep a straight face. There wouldn’t be any “America’s Funniest Home Videos” without prats in free fall.

Anybody who laughs too soon risks realizing, too late to call back the comic decibels, that the lady who slipped on the ice is a pregnant impoverished amputee recovering from a brutal mugging.

Reaction will be as quick as a scared cat and as lingering as a cat-o’-nine-tails, especially if a cell phone lens took it all in for sharing on the Internet, where rush to judgment goes supersonic. Some of us remember public school lessons about the shame of intolerance, and the Statue of Liberty as a welcoming symbol of a nation united, a melting pot won by Americans in the Revolution, the Civil War, the World War and more.

Americans had a right to think what they wanted to think, even when almost everybody thought they were wrong. There was a tolerance for bad jokes. Sally and I once moved into a circle of folks who assumed we shared their non-Roman religions. We heard lots of anti-Catholic jokes, and we laughed to ourselves about dumb jokes, dumbly told. That was tolerance, letting people exercise their right to make fools of themselves, while looking for ways to defrost their fears and prejudice. By the way, Sally and I knew more, and better, anti-Catholic jokes than any of our prejudiced pals.

That was a long time ago. The emphasis on national unity has become an emphasis on diversity. The tolerance of diverse ideas, cultures and lifestyles has yielded to insistence that nobody be allowed to say anything that offends another.

When I was a kid we had not yet fought World War II, and we had not lost wars in Asia and the Middle East. The population was about 123 million when I was a first-grader in 1930. Since then it has grown by nearly 200 million. In 1930 there were no TV programs, no jet airliners, my only encounter with air conditioning was at the movies, high speed communication was via Western Union telegraph and its boys on bicycles. People admired cops, even as a Jamestown  Sunday School teacher kept boys as attentive as disciples when he talked about the exciting sins of John Dillinger and other Most Wanted headliners.

Doctors worked hard, but didn’t know a whole lot about curing diseases. No hearts or kidneys were replaced and medical offices had ashtrays. Kids in art classes made ashtrays for their dads. When adults chatted while children could hear they spelled c-a-n-c-e-r and other scary words.

I’ve lived during the most interesting 90 years the planet has known. Have you noticed how interesting the people are?  

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