Generation Gaps Have Always Needed Glue!

by Tom McBride
From time to time we get letters from fans about their own problems with the generation gap. We offer the best advice  (or glue) we can. We ask that fans not address us as Ron and Tom but as ROM (a blend of Ron and Tom and an acronym for Really Old Men). If you have a question or comment for ROM, write us at tommcbride15@yahoo.com
Here’s our most recent correspondence: 

Dear ROM,

I recently read an article about how members of the current generation, unable to get a job even after college, were forced to stay with their parents instead of moving out of the house. But, the piece on, this also meant that they had become quite close to their parents. This so-called intimacy was offered as a compensation for the fact that the kids couldn’t get work. Do you buy any of this argument? Drucilla Fronk, Saddle Hills, New Jersey

Dear Ms. Fronk,

We don’t buy it. This is just “making the best of a bad job,” as the British might put it. Only the most pathological of these parents would prefer that their children, jobless, stay with them indefinitely; and only the most neurotic of the college graduates would wish to do so. The current unemployment rate among college graduates in the nation is only around four percent. This suggests that in time these graduates, too, will get work. But for now some of them cannot; they must therefore depend upon their parents. And both parents and children are trying to claim these compensations of newly energized relationships.

But while we recognize these sentiments as rationalizations, we don’t want to say that they are “mere” rationalizations. After all, rationalizations have always gotten the human race through times of unpleasant objective facts. It is easy to make fun of this human practice, as Voltaire did in Candide, but the “silver lining in every cloud” is a useful way to cheer oneself up.

When we were in our early twenties our parents wanted us out of the house for good. We had not always gotten along, so it seemed best to get a sort of divorce. Fortunately for us, the job market was quite good back then, so split we did. In time our parents decided they actually missed us and longed for our return. Perhaps they imagined the same sort of warm exchange that Gen Y is supposedly enjoying with their parents. We would come for visits from time to time, and they would upbraid us slightly for not coming more often. We were clever. We would state that we came infrequently because our doing so would stress the quality, not the quantity, of our visits. They seemed to accept this excuse, and thus they proved our point about the incessant power of rationalization. Rhinos in the room that cannot be banished are best ignored.

 

Dear ROM,

My grandmother told me the other day about the time when you had to wait for the TV or radio to warm up before it would turn on. I could see how that might be true, just as a computer has to boot up before you can use it. But she seemed to think this old warming up period was some sort of virtue. She said it promoted patience. Can you explain this a little further? Estelle Edwalds, El Dorado, Arkansas

Dear Ms. Edwalds,

No doubt your granny is speaking of that great bugbear known as “instant gratification.” This is something we are not supposed to get in life because, it is alleged, such immediate pleasures will spoil us. We will come to expect it. We will think life is like this all the time. We will lose patience and minimize our dedication to goals.

The irony is that your generation has to wait longer for a cup of fancy coffee than your grandmother’s generation ever did. It often takes a computer longer to boot up than it ever took a radio to begin broadcasting. Your generation tends to live in urban areas more than your grandmother’s generation did, so your generation is more used to auto traffic and the need to be patient within it. Granny only needed to drive to the general store, maybe ten blocks away on an open road.

This is not to say that there weren’t advantages to a radio or TV having to warm up first. For one thing, you could feel the top of it and see whether or not anyone had been watching or listening to it recently. Many a night our parents came home late on a weeknight and felt the top of the television set in order to determine whether we had been watching “Liberace” or doing our homework. We felt as children that they had no business going out on a weeknight in the first place while leaving us to struggle with gerunds and litotes or whatever arcane term we were forced to learn by our unreasonable teachers. Naturally our resentment led us to surreptitious TV watching, though in those early days of television we rarely watched “Liberace” (on occasion we’d falsely confess that we had; this bothered them less because they thought we were at least hearing some classical piano music). Instead, we’d watch old movies, such as “Cat People” or “The Seven Little Foys.” We were suckers for horror movies and sappy musicals. They struck us as far more interesting than gerunds and litotes.

Anyhow, Ms. Edwalds, we knew they’d be coming home soon, and like detectives would be feeling the top of the set, so we turned it off early and then placed ice cube trays atop it in order to cool it down faster. This rarely worked, so we’d have to say that there must be something wrong with the set and that the picture tube could explode at any moment. This excited our parents and brought the TV repairman to the house; he could find nothing wrong, and as my parents paid him and bid him farewell they would often give us a reproving look and, after he had left, they would ask us if we had ever learned what an infinitive or participle was.

Tell your grandmother that the warming up process did not promote juvenile patience. It promoted pre-pubescent mendacity.

 

Dear ROM,

The other day my grandchildren showed me a computer print out of their trip to Europe. It included where they’d stay, where they’d go, how they’d get there and so forth. When my wife and I first went to Europe years ago, we had a guidebook and then wrote the bed and breakfast places requesting a reservation. We’d send the requests off via overseas mail and not know until we got there whether or not these hostelries had received them. On occasion they had not, so we’d have to make other arrangements. Thus was travelling an adventure. We didn’t have everything “printed out.” Don’t you agree that this computerized age has taken the fun and adventure out of travelling? –Herbert Gosling, Winsome, Rhode Island

Dear Mr. Gosling,

We can recall sending off those requests, too, and yes, there was a certain dramatic tension in going to some isolated mailbox, putting the letters into it, and then waiting a month to see if the hostelries had received them and had room for us. But we can’t agree with your view that the absence of such drama has taken all the adventure out of travelling. There are other adventures to be had.

For example, just because you know you’re staying at a bed and breakfast doesn’t mean that you can anticipate everything about it. The landlady may insist on being paid in cash so as to avoid the tax collector, and you may not have any cash. The landlord in the next room may snore. Your room may be on a busy street, down which drunks parade at 3 in the morning whilst singing “How Dry We Are.” No computerized planning can eliminate every aspect of the unpredictable.

Or travelers can invent adventures. They can climb onto the outside of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or pretend to throw themselves off the Walter Scott Tower in Edinburgh. This sort of shenanigan can run the risk of falling to one’s death. There is no reason why we must allow computerized print outs to bore us to death. We can always choose death another way.

Years ago a New Yorker writer was given an assignment to write about Venice. When he arrived, he sent a telegram to his editors: “Streets full of water. Please advise.” Had the writer had the Internet, of course, all that water would not have surprised him. This seems to support your point, Mr. Gosling, until you realize that the writer was kidding. Of course he knew that Venice was all canals. He’d read about it on the back of a matchbook. In fact, more trips have been ruined by information on the back of matchbooks than by all the computers combined. No wonder people don’t smoke any more.

Dear ROM,

When I was a teenager I had a secret diary with a lock on it, and only I had the key. I would write my private thoughts in it all the time. Not only does my granddaughter not have such a diary; she doesn’t seem to care about privacy at all—is on Facebook constantly. What gives? –Keely Hofstader Hadlicek, Swamee, Ohio  

Dear Ms. Hadlicek,

Times have changed. Your granddaughter, for starters, rarely writes anything—at least not with a pen or pencil or by hand. If she keeps a diary it’s a private blog on the Internet, and just as only you had the key to your diary, only she has the password to her blog.

But we can’t be sure—nor can you be sure—that she has any sort of private anything. So you’re right: this generation seems to lack concern about privacy. There is one big reason: the current generation just doesn’t fear parental intrusion. You (and we) lived in a world where it was we as individuals against our parents. We didn’t have the generational solidarity of ten thousand Facebook friends. If we had a spat with our parents, we couldn’t use our smart phones to text or call one of several million friends our own age. We were alone, sent to our room, doomed to our diaries. We didn’t have our own TV sets (or laptops) on which to watch shows just designed for us. We had to watch TV with our parents. If we wanted to watch TV, and December Bride was on (this was an old sit com), then we had to watch December Bride. No wonder so many of our girlfriends back then decided to give December Bride a miss and write in their secret diaries—about how much they hated boring old December Bride and the boring old parents who thought December Bride was actually amusing.

But now a member of this generation thinks that her “gang” is always with her. There’s no need for privacy: every member of the tribe now agrees that parents are boring, so why keep private from others opinions that are so widely shared? And there’s no need to fear parental intrusion. Everyone knows that parents are outnumbered.

When we were kids, Ms. Kadlicek, we often wished for friends who would share with us our considered opinion that our parents were stiffs. In fact, we wished for friends, period. If only we’d had an I-Phone, we could have acquired a few, maybe as many as three or four. But given our luck, our friends would have been the three or four in the entire school who were addicted to watching December Bride every week.

 

Dear ROM,

My eighteen year-old niece told me a story the other day that disturbed me. She said she was at the driver’s license bureau getting her photo shot and didn’t like the result. So she asked the lady behind the desk if she could use her smart phone to upload a Facebook photo instead to use. Naturally the clerk would not and could not allow this, but I’m chagrined that my niece would even consider the matter. It’s as though these young people today don’t have any common sense at all. Marthia O’Donovan, Suffolk, Massachusetts

 

Dear Ms. O’Donovan,

 

Perhaps because she is not our niece, we find the story more fascinating than embarrassing. The whole point of getting the photo taken at the bureau is to document that your niece is your niece: that she looks like she looks in the photo and that she was present on the day and hour the photo was taken to get her driver’s license. It’s a matter of what we used to call “public record.”

 

Today’s young people, however, have grown up with all sorts of ways to make “the public record” malleable. Not only do they know Photoshop, in which you can turn a photo of yourself into metallic blue if you want to, but they are also uploading photographs of themselves on Facebook—perennially, we suppose, looking for that perfect image, or perhaps just the image that suits their whim at the moment. The idea of “fixed images,” which is what the driver’s license bureau clerk, needs, is foreign to Generation Y.

 

In a way this is dismaying. We oldsters like to say that sometimes in life there are just no “do-overs,” and that sometimes you are stuck with who you are, what you’ve done, and what you look like. For us this is both realistic and wise. But as children we didn’t always think so. As kids, when we were made to pose in family reunions, we often looked cross and hateful. Then the Kodak photos would come out, and our parents, as they pasted them in scrapbooks, would chastise us for looking like a blend of Baby Face Nelson and Mr. Hyde. They’d then remind us that this was it: this was how we were going into the family photo album–there to stay forever. We were stuck with our own sour and savage visages. No Photoshop for us!

 

We felt regretful right away, and then began to feel sorry for ourselves. If only we hadn’t been made to listen to old family tales, about the time Uncle Monroe threw a dead rattlesnake at Cousin Hattie because she called him a slimy salamander, for the eighty-first time, we’d have managed a much more beatific look for the camera. It would have been phony, but it would have been beatific. Lacking Photoshop, our generation was not manipulative. We were merely insincere.

 

Dear ROM,

I am now in my early 60s but recall quite well the days when we used to say, as teens, “trust nobody under 30.” Now I sense that younger people think I’m so old as to be freakish, but I wonder: does this generation also not trust anyone over 30? Or is it just no one over 60? Alphonse Iniguez, Fort Collins, Colorado

Dear Mr. Iniguez,

We have never heard any member of Gen Y say that they don’t trust anyone over 30. It’s not surprising, as that famous phrase came out of your generation, which thought was uniquely young, different and rebellious. This was tribal thinking; anyone so old as to be over 29 was not in the tribe. This was the boast of a generation (yours) which thought history had started all over with them. Gen Y has no such illusions.

In fact, Gen Y may not have a coherent generational identity at all, but that’s another subject. Meanwhile, we have no doubt that they think of older people as strange. We find this particularly true when we tell them about our own long ago experiences, of coming in first in the local pogo contest or placing crayfish in empty salad dressing jars and then setting them atop the toilet to frighten our mothers. Frankly, Mr. Iniguez, these young people think we are just downright weird. Why, we cannot imagine.

Nonetheless, they are too nice to ever say, aloud, “Never trust anyone over thirty (or sixty).” Unlike your generation, they know that they have to work with us. They have no delusions, as your generation did, about is autonomy. They may say, “Never trust anyone who boasts of winning pogo contests and of scaring Great Mothers with crawdads.” But this just doesn’t quite have the same snappy ring as “Never trust anyone over thirty.” But what do we know? When we were their age, we grew up in a world in which teen-aged girls most wanted to marry Eddie Fisher and President Eisenhower, in that order.

 

Dear ROM,

 

I think I may have upset my parents recently when I told them that a young woman today might go for a deejay rather than a guitar player. They’re old 60s types, so naturally they were puzzled. I went on to explain that a guitar player can only play single notes and chords while a skilled deejay can program music so that a song could be blended in many, many ways at once. A friend of mine, on whom I have a sort of crush, explained to me recently that he could program songs “in 4/4 time so that they’re in waltz time while also making them both rap style and harmonious.” I’m not sure what all this means, but it sounds impressive. How do I make sure my parents aren’t too bothered by this development? By the way, my dad always dreamt of being one of the Everly Brothers. –Andrea Mutter, Muddy Falls, Ontario

 

Dear Ms. Mutter,

 

The only thing we can suggest is to convince your parents that there are all kinds of creativity. But add, when you speak to them, that all creativity involves new blends. Thus a creative guitar player blends chords and rhythms in novel ways, while a deejay programmer really does the same thing—except that the deejay, with an array of pre-programmed musical apps to work with, can produce even more impressive sounding results. The analogy might be a fine pianist versus a fine organist. The fine pianist can do dazzling things on the keyboard, but only the organist has trumpet, flute, bassoon and tremolo sounds. The guitar player is like the pianist; the programmer is more like the organist.

 

If your parents remind you, after all this explanation, that the guitar player and organist actually learn to play their instruments, while the deejay needs to know nothing other than which apps to add, then immediately change the subject and tell them about how you were listening to the Everly Bros the other day and how much you liked them.

 

We must admit, Ms. Mutter, that this is all a sore subject for us. Our parents insisted that we learn to play the piano, and we did. They gave us lessons. If they’d given us guitar lessons instead we’d have made and lost millions of dollars, performed angrily before thousands from Victoria to Vera Cruz, made obscene gestures between grungy chords, and been arrested by the local constabulary. We’d be on Lists instead of writing them.

 

Dear ROM,

 

I teach part time at a small college and find that my students tend to leave the classroom briefly more and more. While I admit that I’m not always scintillating, this is a new trend for me over the past few years of teaching. My colleagues agree that this has become a bad habit of today’s generation of students. To what do you attribute this tendency? Is Gen Y a generation of weak kidneys or something? –Audrey Goosebuckle, Blount, Vermont

 

Dear Ms. Goosebuckle,

 

We doubt it has anything to do with kidneys or bowels, though it may be true that Gen Y feels it has a right to obey the call of nature whenever it pleases—and whether or not its members are sitting in a college class. But we wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t step out of the classroom just to get a swig of water or to send a quick text message. The question, you ask, is why.

 

We think it’s two different things in combination. Gen Y is not used to classes being formal. They have been instructed over the years by teachers putting chairs in a circle for very informal discussions or even by teachers who place them in small, collaborative “work groups” for private discussions of issues. Given such informality it’s no wonder that they see a class as a sort of drop-in/drop-out place.

 

And then there’s something else: This is a generation that rarely has the experience of missing information. If they leave their laptops for a while, they can be secure in knowing that the same website or email message will be waiting for them later on. To be sure, Professor Goosebuckle, your classes are not the same. But once such a habit is acquired, it tends to spill over into everything. Perhaps they are confusing you with a website. Maybe this is a compliment, but we must admit it is hard for us to see how.

 

Yet in another sense none of this is new. As children we often left the classroom, though we admit we always asked for permission first. We’d ask, “May I be excused?” Then we would head to the restroom, where we could overhear Mrs. Grace Spain feverishly insulting the members of her fifth grade class and congratulate ourselves on having gotten the much more kindly Mrs. Zudie Richardson. Or, later on in school, we would ask to be excused so that we could take some extra time in the men’s room to memorize the dates of the Peloponnesian Wars for our world history test the next hour. On occasion we boys would also gather surreptitiously in the men’s room to put a hex on our next football opponent. This involved sacrificing a couple of sheets of toilet paper, placed on the stone floor, to a burning match. (Results were impressive: the paper burned a hundred percent of the time, and we won forty percent of the games.) If we were you, Professor Goosebuckle, we would announce that students may exit your classroom at any time, as long as they certify they aren’t carrying any means whatsoever for making fire.

 

Dear ROM,

 

I take some objection to your statement that for our generation “a coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.” I have two reasons. First, it’s not just any old coffee but often a fine Italian or French mixture of ingredients. Second, coffee is much better for you than a milkshake is. What do you have to say for yourselves? –Veronica C. Winston, Pacifica, California

 

Dear Ms. Winston,

 

You are one hundred per cent right of course. Please note that our tone in the Mindset List™ is always one of being bemused, not critical. We were simply remarking upon how, for your generation, a coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake; that this is a fact of life for your generation; that you regard this fact as normal. Please don’t be mad at us or, even worse, ashamed of us.

 

Our generation had very different priorities. We longed for thick and complex chocolate malts (the dangers of which we were indifferent to) but would even drink instant coffee (the benefits of which we were ignorant of). For us it was the shake that needed to be slow and the coffee that needed to be quick. For us the basic necessities, such as coffee or water, were straightforward, whereas for your generation it’s almost as though both coffee and water has needed to be custom-designed. For us, only expensive things needed to be custom-designed, such as a Buick Roadmaster Automobile.

 

When we were kids Buick had four models: the Roadmaster, the Super, the Century and the Special. The latter was bottom of the line. Our parents had Specials, which meant that our family wasn’t special at all. A Buick Special meant that your were “specially insignificant.” Today we can recover from this childhood trauma by waiting, as you do, for our very own, truly special, cappuccino. The more costly the Buick model, the more engine holes it had on the side. Specials had only three miserly holes. A cappuccino is as close to a Buick Roadmaster as we’re ever going to get. A milkshake is more like a Chevy Corvair, and we have just signed a petition that says milkshakes are unsafe at any speed or size and should be banned. We did so while waiting in an endless Starbuck’s line for a “tall” decaf. Aren’t you proud of us?

 

 

Dear ROM,

 

Recently I went into a prominent and fancy department store only to find banks of computers surrounded with a sign that said “Customers Only.” What on earth are such things doing in a department store? Must we be “wired” just everywhere? Is this some sort of sop to younger customers who just can’t stand, ever, not being on line? George von Ascombe, Darien Hills, Pennsylvania

 

Dear Mr. von Ascombe,

 

These computers are probably for customers to look up items for sale in the store. We’d guess that they are set only for the store’s website and that customers cannot use them to surf Yahoo, Google, or menwholooklikekennyrogers.com—our own favorite website. Today’s customers are very aggressive, sir, and are always looking to catch out the stores with charges of misinformation. These customers go online in order to find what the stores claim they are selling and for how much and when these items are available. If they discover that the store “on line” does not match the store “on shelves,” then they can claim to have been misinformed and negotiate with the stores to give them a bargain. We have even heard of younger customers—yes, you are right about the younger part—finding, on their smart phones while in the store, better deals for the same items at other outlets and then telling the store manager that they will only buy from this particular store if the manager matches the lower price found at another store.

 

In sum, Mr. von Ascombe, while stores and customers have always been in a tug of war, the new era of mass and quick information is now giving the customers an advantage. This may be good or may be bad: seems good for customers, but the effect on our gross national product has yet to be measured. We wish we’d had this sort of massive data when we were kids. We could have said to our parents, “Timmy Willis’ parents only grounded him for a day when he stole a bike. You’ve grounded us for two days. So reduce the sentence or we’ll become Timmy’s brothers and move in with the Willises. Worse yet, if you don’t diminish our punishment, we’ll steal another bike, and this time we’ll hide it until we can sell it on the black market to Troy Humbert when he gets out of reform school.”

 

 

 

Dear ROM,

 

My wife and I are recent retirees who occasionally visit big cities. There, especially in the warmer climes, we can’t help noticing how common tattoos are now, even on women. The men will sometimes have something like an art show from their hands all the way up to their biceps. The women are somewhat more modest, but even so….Are we just a couple of old fogeys? This stuff really bothers us. –Dewey and Louise Madole, Glorietta, Georgia

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Madole,

 

You are a couple of old fogeys, but that doesn’t mean you should feel bad or ashamed about it. Years ago college students used to say that while they may have gotten Fs, that didn’t mean they were F persons. And so it is with old fogeys, who are still A persons. And so it is, Mr. and Mrs. Madole, with you.

 

Fashions do change, but those of us who liked things the way they were can hardly be blamed for disliking the way things are now. Being plump and untanned was once a mark of wealth and distinction. Now one can’t be too rich, too thin or too tanned. Plump and pasty-skinned people are ridiculed as typically poor Wal-Mart shoppers. We can recall when our uncles, in a moment of hasty bad judgment, got tattoos during their military service and then paid for expensive surgery to remove them after they got older and wised up. How quaint that seems today! But the young and restless today will be the old fogeys of tomorrow. It’s too bad that we won’t be around to laugh at them. We will be taking our dirt naps by then.

 

You and we can both recall (can’t we?) when the vulgar Groucho Marx sang a song about a “tattooed lady,” in which one of her tattoos was Lady Godiva “but with her pajamas on.” Even the uncouth Groucho drew the line: the notoriously naked Godiva was clothed for a change. Today (or 2day as the text messages put it) anything goes. The other day we saw a young woman with a deep purple tattoo that was meant to be the mark of punctuation known as a dash. But a dash is made up of two hyphens–whereas she had only one. There are, it appears, no standards left—none!

 

Dear ROM,

Recently my husband and I were watching an old episode of the Western “Gunsmoke” and were amazed at how long the scenes were. On “Law and Order” no scene is longer than about a minute or two, yet these 1960s “Gunsmoke” scenes must have gone on for five! Don’t you think this is a sign of the times: that our young people today are growing up in a world with a much shorter attention span? Hilda Summerfield, Willow River, Texas

Dear Ms. Summerfield,

Yes, we do agree. We have much more information aimed at us than ever before, so it’s no wonder that we have less tolerance for looking long and longingly at particular information sets (such as the scene on “Gunsmoke”). We have all those websites, apps, and cable channels. Once you could go into a bar and find nothing other than smoke and gin-soaked customers. Now you have more TV sets than customers.

This may not be all bad. We see no particular reason for believing that looking longer at one thing is better than looking shorter at many things: it’s a matter of depth versus variety. The truth is, no one really knows whether the new information tsunami is good or bad. Were it water, it would be bad. But it isn’t water.

We can just imagine that scene in “Gunsmoke.” Marshall Dillon and Deputy Chester are getting ready to head up a posse when Doc Adams comes in to complain about his bunions and about how Otis (or is he from another show?) won’t pay him for pulling his teeth out (didn’t Doc double as a dentist?). Then Miss Kitty arrives to ask Doc how his bunions are and whether or not Otis has paid him yet. She then gives Matt, Chester and Doc a full recital of how business over at the Long Branch is doing but how sad she is that Sam (the bartender’s) wife is ailing and how Doc should really take a look at her, because Sam, unlike Otis, will pay him promptly. The next thing you know, Ms. Summerfield, five whole minutes have gone by, and we can congratulate ourselves on our long attention spans.

Dear ROM,

I can do nothing with my seventeen year-old daughter’s room. She won’t clean it, or even tidy it, up. A trail of crackers has been on the floor for so long that I feel it’s become a health hazard. When I upbraid her about this, she simply smiles and says, “Well, Mother, times change.” What does she mean? What can I do? Margaret Blow, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

Dear Ms. Blow,

We often hear that “our” generation kept its room clean while “their” generation did not. And we are frequently asked why that is so. We have a simple answer: we were made to keep our rooms neat and clean. This generation is not. The fact is, today’s young people are exposed to so much more influential information, to the point where the words of Mom and Dad are easy evaded and ignored. You and, if you are married, your husband are just one more website or app, at best. And there is one other factor as well: today’s young people live on line, where nothing is messy, where everything is well-designed, where there is no dirt, save maybe a bit of dust on the computer screen. So it’s easy for them to ignore the crackers on the floor and the three-month-old apple core that still lurks indifferently beneath the bed.

Our generation would never have cleaned our rooms either if we had not been made to. So, Ms. Blow, the answer is simple: Make your daughter—let us call her Katrina—do it! How, you may ask, can you do that? Here we are beyond our scope. We therefore refer you to a specialist, whose name we have somehow forgotten.

Dear ROM,

Yesterday my parents told me that if I ever needed help from a distance I should call them and “reverse the charges.” I didn’t know what the term meant, and they’ve made fun of me ever since. This makes me feel both humiliated and infuriated. Perhaps you could advise me. Just because I didn’t know that term doesn’t mean I’m dysfunctional or stupid. Mary Gladys Fiorello, Red Fish Bay, Maine

Dear Ms. Fiorello,

Of course it doesn’t mean you are stupid or dysfunctional. When we were your age, we didn’t know what the “Ford Fracture” meant—our parents referred to it all the time when they spoke of old autos—and we weren’t stupid of dysfunctional either. We still don’t know what the Ford Fracture was. To be sure, to their dying day our parents thought us stupid and dysfunctional, but what did they know?

We would like to know if your own parents ever explained what “reversing the charges” meant. Drop us a line and tell us. For future reference, just in case, it means calling someone long distance and requesting that the operator ask the called persons if they will pay for the call. We’re not sure it’s even possible to “reverse the charges” any longer. With cell and smart phones it hardly seems necessary.

Hence, it is probably your parents who are out of date—not stupid, you understand, but perhaps a trifle dysfunctional. We think you should tell them that while you and they don’t necessarily speak the same language—as the “reversing the charges” example proves—there could be much greater disparity between you. For instance, you could be so utterly off their wavelength that when you come home from college that you might herd squirrels into your room and perform loud exorcisms on them. You don’t do that. Do you? Tell your parents they are lucky. Gently suggest that they shut up.

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