There Was A Time

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is an essay, the substance of which began to take form over 40 years ago, when I was in high school. The content as I have developed it is original to me, now and was then. It comes from living my second decade in Chicago, IL, and due to circumstances spending some evenings with adults moving about the north side of Chicago, especially on the near north side and the Gold Coast area. Only in today's world are answers really coming to some of the posed questions. In 1964 one very famous late night TV host in that city heard me question as a teenager what was the "holocaust" as discussed then under the description of what happened and who was involved, and a cursory explanation that did not seem complete. I said I understood the description, the perpetrators and victims as described but what really "was" the holocaust about? He remarked that as long as he was alive, he would answer that question to anyone who asked as best he could, and I believed he made it a theme of his subsequent productions.

Submitted: August 23, 2016

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Submitted: August 23, 2016

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There Was a Time

(Recited over intermittent jazz piano chords)

There Was A Time when a generation of Americans listened to voices of statesmen, and scribes, and to memorable speeches, and historical debates, and climbed upward past one social breakdown or another; and upon each interruption they caught their breath and focused upward again. 

Their society doubled back on them, jolting them with an economic depression.  They labored to restore that economy.  Believing in themselves they proffered their life’s blood fighting a war described as “Great.”  Leaders eventually disillusioned them, yet they believed and understood they could advance for every diversion placed in their path.  They knew they were a class, not at the bottom, nor maybe at the top.  They may not have put words to it but they were making and designing their own class, not knowing they would mark the U.S. apex. 

Perhaps they may be called the Progress Class.  They may not have achieved the independence they originally anticipated, but by the end of the war they aimed to hold a solid job, obtain some financial security, and a pension.  Pensions were important to them.  They did hold their jobs, and they did finish the race.

Advancement was their word, more so than success.  After the war they conformed in order to sustain.  They did not pay a lot of attention to who was actually drawing the blueprints for their society; they didn’t want to.  Neither did they always accept promises on face value.  Perhaps this fueled skepticism in their children.  They worked to provide and to have some of the comforts of the world.  If they had their cigarettes, TV, vehicle, and could help their children to something “better,” they would settle for that ­ they had survived conditions not of their making.

Then Congress passed legislation making retirement mandatory at age 65, supposedly successfully lobbied to help executives to move up in their own companies, and modernize them on their terms.  Perhaps this was an inside job too.  Union cohesion was assaulted and threats to cut civil service jobs filled the air at election time.  Among themselves, many allowed that they could not start again should it come down to it, or if they had to they would, but wouldn’t like it.  They were beginning to think that, if they did have to retire, advances in medicine might increase their life span for a time, or despite neglect of their bodies, they might avoid disease; or they might just not retire at all.  They continued smoking. 

Generally, they were schooled to articulate with confidence, work with commitment, read fiction with respect, and understood that any cultural entertainment offered them on radio or in movies would meet an unquestioned standard of morality, and decency.  They had pretty much been accustomed to a society of courtesy, literacy in sharing information, and an honor that simply represented respect for one’s parents.

On the other hand, writers were published who seemed to challenge those standards in the name of creating an uncensored style.  People asked what that meant, and where they might be headed if such weren’t reigned in?  The issue faded as society became less censored.  Then there was Mickey Spillane, who spun yarns of busy, fast talking detectives and the burdens of urban life at night.  In fact, shadowy, rainy, fast life crime fiction was a heavily tapped vein for venturesome reading as the elevated trains, or the night whistle of the old 9:27, rumbled beyond the lamplights of home.  The ‘50s and ‘60s were the ‘20s and ‘30s with peace but the film was fast becoming grainy.  Television grew from the ‘50s.

They worked, and labored.  They wore suits and ties all the time even to walk downtown on Saturday.  They also dressed up as if it mattered.  They drove through the city, pride and self-esteem their strengths.  That generation remembered what honor-bound meant too, but was it being driven from memory by loosening public standards?  They were without a scintilla of awareness that all the while they were being had by those who bought off the country’s leaders.  As the saying now goes, even then they were being “gamed,” as were we all.

You say?

So they kept any memories or present doubts under wraps as they moved under the streetlamps, while their pulse still beat to the exigencies of war.  Turned from past memories, except in their dark rooms, noting a hardened sky, they denied any claim of defeat, but kept on keeping on, and kept silent.  In the summer, before air conditioning was commonplace, they might sit on a porch or stoop, catch a breeze, and take comfort in the status quo but with a growing sense they were growing away from terms they recognized.  Political bells jangled.  As one set subsided a new set triggered louder warnings.

Better to disregard occasional flares in the night signaling world intrigues that might draw them down again.  Generally, they chose to disregard the Cold War discussion.  They were more concerned with protecting their new cars from city vandals.  Some wondered what civil rights legislation would mean; would it cost the status quo, take away advancement already made?  Wary, but not marshaled; they scheduled the usual social parties.  Economic indicators reflected increasing return for their labor, so there they dropped anchor.

Later, interest rates would begin a steep trajectory offering them a quick investment for heady returns.  They were the generation that would treat their natural environment as if they barely noticed it; believing it would be available to them when they did.  They hadn’t yet heard of an eco-system.

Delusion….Illusion…

You, too, know war, yes, but you were raised in insulated housing, with easy to prepare meals.  Other hand, soon began the losing of mature political discussion argued against a significant sense of history, using pointed, but never profane, language; oh, how the difference is missed!  So what, you say?  Within the query is the point.  In turn, their children made promises to them!

Sensing they may, in fact, have essentially seen the world already except for a China, closed now, that they had anticipated would help them during WWII, and didn’t, “We kept waiting for them to come in; we were looking for them.” they uttered.  They made sure they flew, sensing it might be too late soon for any sightseeing.  Fearing an economic depression again, they sensed they were dancing with time, but would not talk about it.  “Come fly with me!”  They sped under the sphinx of the lights of the city at night, remembering a world they had anticipated.

Despite the war, the concept of tragedy eluded most except for those who realized there had been a holocaust of ­ its boundary yet to be identified, but in their psyche, its broadest meaning, the portend of it, they did not want to think about.  They thankfully had put aside their uniforms.  They did not claim an unfair world but they did not want to look back.  They remained silent.  The Holocaust was tragedy, but individually they little chose to explore its terms beyond what seemed apparent.  There was an imperative in its morbidity that it meant something to be paid back, a thought they put off.  In truth, they, themselves, were war wounded.  They turned from tragedy, thinking it an ancient play that would not draw an audience.  They wouldn’t say it, but they had little interest in challenge.

At night the lights played on the busy streets, some continued to dance, the snow fell, the pavement iced, they hibernated while the military industrial complex increased its grasp on their young.  Free days passed away.  In the spring, fewer returned in fits and starts to the lights of the city at night.  Their society slowed as the protest roars grew louder. 

“Delusion,” proffers the Greek Chorus.

“Illusion,” answers the piano scat man.

There was a Time when altogether no one paid homage to simple and older things.  This generation had depended too much on them during the Depression, then they suffered rationing.  They preferred to buy retail, pursue brightness.  Continuing to do so was their prerogative against the encroachment of a world targeting them for increasingly extravagant profit.  There Was A Time they bought new vehicles every three years.  The point to all of this was that the colors changed.

Delusion…Large fins.

Illusion…the width of the whitewalls.

Television entertainment, hilarious to begin with, and baseball games, diverted them, while their children obtained diplomas and degrees, and entered upon a treadmill of work. 

Delusion…pursuit of the pension for which so many worked.

Illusion…that they really would obtain that pension.

There was a Time family meant the immediate one, but it had been breaking apart since their childhood through choices made beyond their rural or immigrant families.  For, oh, so brief a time, they might argue over where the world was heading, but when their labor peaked, the death knell rang anyway in the slog of Viet Nam.  Sophistication had spread among the masses for a time until their children’s choice for simplicity and authenticity denied it.  This generation sensed they had what they were going to have.  In Washington, in time, deaf ears turned.  Then they tried both to honor their brothers fallen in their “war,” while worrying whether their children’s number would come up, or they would dodge the draft to Canada.  As death notices were published, the sphinx echoed less activity under the evening lights.

In the war foisted on their children, they grimly turned their backs on their disheveled streets, and abandoned them for suburbs.  They sought new towns and new turf.  They took vacations.  They didn’t stop taking vacations.

In their current dreams came the question of the meaning of war.  Their children’s answer was in creating the Viet Nam resistance turmoil.  How did their children know their parents’ post war status was not substantive?  They heard from musicians that their parents’ leaders defended delusions. 

They did not put themselves at risk.  They turned from politics after Viet Nam, a society of tired people, not unaware now of how the ambitions of the mighty, by wealth and stealth, were taking over their government, and blueprinting a dying society for their descendants, and not just economically.  Steadily they modeled a future in a society of suburbia and doubt.  They would be content with a house, and a green lawn, and would be satisfied to be left alone.  That raised even more ire with their children.

You say?

Their children created their own illusion.

A larger than life, increasingly decadent, directionless film entertainment of spectacles whose point was unclear, permeated the plaza.  Meantime two generations of living legends of performers and entertainers, who defined quality entertainment, often went begging, as the saying goes, by this generation’s children, on a bender to reject almost everything respected by their parents.  It still felt safe to be out on the streets; but the lights of the city reflected one generation, sober, focused visages, sensing an end without joy, and the other embracing its gutters and sidewalks as a base from which to raise themselves, evidently signifying theirs to be an effort from the ground up. 

There was a Time it manifested to that generation that their enemy was their government, or maybe it was themselves…but not them, individually; somebody else codifying themselves.  They did not talk about it.  Their children plunged forward into a future they could not perceive, hoping they could sculpt it into a statement of respect for all people.  Their children’s revolution was to be in the doing, whose future became an exercise of school and work.  Their feet shuffled under the movement of a larger body, formatting a new reality.  Their favored music rationalized drug-taking for cultural entertainment.  This set up was another inside job, though they did not want to believe such.  Their children committed to feed the hungry, build huts in Africa, and attempt to perform substantial deeds, hoping it would pan out politically.  Cu-lummy!

Later, the Russians showed the backdoor intrigue when their leader in the ‘80s, Gorbachev, talked about looking forward to one day meeting with our intelligentsia, and we laughed.  The President then hastened to pull him back, saying it was not the time yet to talk publicly about the level of cooperation in place behind the scenes to blend the two countries as one. The deal had been struck 50 or 60 years before that the U.S. would prop up Russia through the Soviet revolution, and, if the Leninist method was effective, it could surreptitiously be layered over unaware Americans ­ say it isn’t so, Mr. Smith, by destroying our school system through eliminating critical courses and transforming the children to sheeple, ignorant of their history and rights, all the easier to deny them the same as time went by, while reworking local police into swat team Gestapo armed with mechanized ammunition and tanks.  Of course, sheeple had to be compliant.  Then their grandchildren’s schoolteachers taught them to be computer savvy serfs, leaving them to discover, or not, what was snatched from them of rights, freedoms and liberty. 

This generation did not recognize the assault from within; it was subtle; or if they did, some figured they would be gone before it was. 

There was a Time was not a song, but it ended in cacophony, the concluding bars wrapped around gas pumps labeled an international fuel embargo.  There Was a Time when accumulation of money had quickly become spending your way home, as credit cards arrived, taverns on the corners closed, and the businesses were sculpted into chain store sameness.  The lights flickered.

Do you know the lights of the city at night?  Do you know the sphinx in the lights of the city at night?  Hopes and dreams congeal in the night lights, and melt into hearts.  The ‘70s fallout was labeled the time of women and children’s rights.  Nonetheless, the sense they were losing their country was palpable even as recognizable broadcast voices, left, then returned to the air, their warnings, appeals, lost amongst the choice of channels.  It became easier and easier not to think.

They accepted their children dancing disjointedly.  Had their children listened to the language of their parents?  Would they exercise language or forfeit it?

Their children charted their course and learned to drink killer cocktails and chase speed without a rationale or logic.  Government agents wove through their crowds.  The deal was transparent - the children were to be thrown away in less than 30 years from the Big One, WWII, with a military action in Korea used to confuse and soften Americans’ sense of boundaries.  Clever.  Viet Nam began one long police escort to Hell.  The children, themselves, called that getting wasted and sought it.  Murder is an inside job.  The ‘70s and ‘80s.  There was a Time this generation was unwilling to see devitalization advancing on the inside from a country that they had protected and preserved with their lives.  All the while, there had been that other time, when much was set up.  The people tried to talk love of country back into their hearts, not wanting to see the treason done them.  Then, in silence, they stopped.

Self-delusion…ever percolates.

Illusion…hovers.

Have you walked under the lights of the city at night?

There was a Time.  It’s when you’ve been in an adventure that was hard, trying authentically to survive.  You remember others, they may remember you.  Maybe at times you ponder long, replaying old tapes within your mind.  Memories that are come by the hard way don’t end harmless.

Delusion…confuses.  Illusion…suffuses.  They both contain faith, and then maybe just hope.

There was a Time when the dreams of Mom and Dad went their way in quiet and silence; the children not near by.  This generation was loyal too.  It sensed the work of their lives might not end redeemable to their children.  The political landscape was changed on the inside, by insiders who didn’t listen to them.  They sat in the dark, or stared at the ceiling in silence, and chose not to call it sabotage.  The world wanted to know, when they bounced their grandkids on their knees, what they were thinking?  They shrugged.

The sphinx mesmerizes in the evening of small flickering lights.  Do those flickers represent a world become too small, or one too populated, to have learned how the apex fleshed out the Great Experiment?  This generation danced soberly, thoughtfully, but never disjointedly.  The swirling globe bounced light off their slippers and swirled on.  People sank back into their sofas, listened to duos and trios sing simple songs, lacking any pretense to sophistication, the pretense now was to simplicity.  The people heard little or nothing to amuse except what was simple but rarely sharp.  Some voiced they had wasted their potential.  They began to yearn for anything other than this.  The home fires flickered low and lower.

The ancient skies moved, and was heard the song of heaven.  People carved the sphinx in order to hear a reverberation.  It remained silent.  There was a Time man learned the order and logic of heaven.  Man sailed the seas and then flew.  Insidiously a few others, believing they could feign enough power, deigned to rope the sovereign beaches, rope the people who sailed, and their descendants, leaving them in a haze and daze, paranoid and passive, constantly talking about the system.

Delusion was that the pretenders who were wresting their country from them, into another system, would stop.

Illusion was that someone they elected would save their legacy from within the system.

The cities turned vacant with little or no safety in place, and the silent sphinx, the lights of the city at night, echoed.

Copyright

END


© Copyright 2017 S. Pearce. All rights reserved.

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