IT’S AT WORK THAT I FEEL IT MOST — a strange disconnectedness, the sense that I’m peering into an aquarium filled with fish of an exotic new species. When did people start putting smiley faces on routing slips, or cheerleading in what used to be routine e-mails: “This month’s issue looks great!!!”? This is a workplace, not the land of Hello Kitty. How am I supposed to take colleagues who do such things seriously?
And yet I have to. They keep getting hired, these peculiar young folk, these grown men who warm up Lean Cuisines for lunches, these women who accessorize their workspaces with pillows and beads and inflatable orb-chairs. What’s more, they keep monkeying with office culture, making me change my habits; they want me to plot my vacations on CommonOffice, schedule meetings on an iCalendar, wrap up the workday in time for them to hit the gym. There’s a weird reversal of roles here; aren’t they supposed to learn from me?
Not likely. They’ve got nothing but contempt for my generation, for the big bubble of boomers they trailed into the world. We can’t figure out how to update our browsers. We eat corned beef specials. We still drive SUVs. In their eyes, I’m a dinosaur, bloated from squandering their birthright: cheap oil, open land, clean air and water, Social Security.
We’re not used to being resented, you know.
In fact, we’re used to being celebrated, our every milestone examined in painstaking detail by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek: our Dr. Spock childhoods, the rebellious teen years, our marriages (or non-marriages), the era when we were young parents, the dark days when our children left home, and the darker, recent days when recession sucker-punched us just as we should be joyously retiring. We’ve been the center of attention all our lives. Which is why it’s so strange, not just that we’re being supplanted, but that the generation coming up behind us despises us and can’t wait to shove us aside.
Every generational shift is seismic. And it only makes sense that a shifting of the biggest generation ever would be more seismic than most. Before we get out of Gen X’s way, though, I’d just like to point this out: We were right. We were pretty much right about it all.
IT’S NOT LIKE WE ASKED to be born all in a lump like that. We just came to be, in Levittown houses with white picket fences, and then came of age rattling around in un-seat-belted station wagons, and duck-and-covering beneath our desks. Our father was Frank Rizzo, jackbooted and threatening, sweetmeats tucked into his belt when he hit us. Our mother was Grace Kelly, lovely and distant and cold. We were afraid of him, and we alternated between loving and hating her, with her chic hats and bridge club and Pall Mall cigarettes. They never showed affection for each other. She kept the house very clean and practiced casseroles on us.