There’s an Internet meme going around lamenting that the days are gone where kids no longer play in the street, ride bikes without helmets, and have not known a world without personal computers, smart phones, or DVR’s. It’s true, there’s a lot I miss about those days. My two best friends and I thought nothing of going down to Lodi Community Park unsupervised and walking along the Black River, climbing the cliff wall that bounded the park on one side (I’m phobic about heights, and I swung on that cliff like a monkey up until I was 15), or, in fact, riding a bike without shin guards and helmets. Then again, I fail to see the nostalgia in cars without seatbelts and airbags. Having broke my nose sliding off the road in a snowstorm without a seatbelt, you may consider me a convert.
There are a lot of things I think kids miss out on today. The cartoons today, unless it’s, say, Family Guy or The Simpsons, are horrible. Most of them are gross-out humor. And while I loves me some Seth MacFarland and South Park, those shows are really aimed at adults. There aren’t any Looney Toons anymore, or even Tiny Toons or Animaniacs. Those were pure art. Bugs or Daffy could hit you with a zinger at five that you thought was incredibly silly, and then it would hit you again every couple of years when you realize the writers meant something else entirely. A lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons came out during World War II, and at 46, I’m still not sure I’ve gotten all the meanings yet. I’ll probably be cackling away at them in the nursing home as I get the joke all over again in a way I couldn’t when I was younger.
But there seems to be a lot of whining about safety. About seatbelts? Really? Your driving privileges end where my windshield begins. As I said, I broke my nose going into a ditch. The painful message was, “Don’t be a dumbass.” I buckle up. I like having an airbag under the steering wheel. Helmets on bikes. I suppose this one goes along with motorcycles. I do know a guy who refuses to wear a helmet even after hitting (and slicing in two) a deer on his Harley. No, he did not end up like Gary Busey.
Still, I think kids are missing out playing outside. Of course, in the 1970’s, I could tell you the names of the people next door, the people in the property adjacent to ours, and probably 3/4 of the people on all the surrounding blocks. And they knew my name and the names of all the neighbor kids. But was it really safer back then? If you’ve ever read Mystic River, you know very well that it wasn’t. We were warned not to get into strange cars or talk to strange people. Beware the stranger. So why do we hear so much about child abductions and the horrible things done to them now? Simple. When we were kids, Walter Cronkite had 30 minutes, part of which went to commercials, to tell you how that’s the way it is today. Now, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC have twenty-four hours to fill, and even to most idiotic political douchebag in your office can handle only so much of Keith Olbermann and Sean Hannity before they get a headache. So the news directors fall back on that old news standby: If it bleeds, it leads. The Internet only makes it worse, since mentioning my wife stubbing her toe on Facebook at 9 AM can, by noon, turn into a domestic violence bloodbath that causes several laws to be rewritten. Meanwhile, my wife has since iced her toe, popped a couple of Advil, and gotten on with her day.
But aside from that, kids simply don’t go out anymore. We used to roll big, fat truck inner tubes down a nearby hill and play in the park and play basketball at the elementary school, even when we had our licenses and could drive. Now? AJ never leaves his room. His best friend is often at our house, and he never leaves the room. Sure, he’s 18, but he’s done this since I married his mom. At eighteen, I still went out as much as possible. And remember, I was one of those pasty nerds who donned Star Trek costumes for a couple of years. So, yeah, even I wanted out of the basement occasionally.
It’s different now, of course. Where are kids have the Internet and gaming consoles, which are interactive, we had TV, which was passive. If you wanted to make Batman or Captain Kirk do something, you and your friends had to go out and do it in the backyard or the playground. TV was passive. Now you can be Captain Kirk or Batman or even The Joker and make things happen on your own.
So were ours the good ol’ days?
Not really. You could die of a lot more things back then. I still have a small pox vaccination scar. Broken bones meant plaster casts. Almost any surgery meant getting sliced completely open. Cars pumped lead into the air.
But I miss the monkey bars and the two-story slides.
And Walter Cronkite.