SO WHAT HAPPENED? What we never thought would: We got older. We found out that if anything, we hadn’t been suspicious enough. Nixon was the tip of the iceberg; everyone was in cahoots. Dot-coms dropped dead. The towers toppled; were terrorists coming for the Liberty Bell? Banks tanked. Manufacturing moved overseas. Our houses turned to albatrosses. Our kids couldn’t get into Penn. Suddenly that white picket fence and the bridge club didn’t look so bad.
We hunkered down with what we had left: our children. And if we over-loved them, it was only because we remembered all too clearly what shits we’d been to our moms and dads. We were shell-shocked survivors clinging to what remained, our trajectory interrupted. It was not, needless to say, the future we’d imagined. Our best efforts brought on Armageddon, not Aquarius.
We saw neighbors walk away from their dream homes — walk away! Leave them empty! We watched proud men, hardworking men, lose their jobs and have their confidence crushed. We cringed as our pensions disappeared, our savings withered, Social Security buckled, as the safety net we’d trusted frayed, strand by strand. And the monsters we thought we’d slain — racism, sexism, bigotry, jingoism — reared up again, insatiable and fevered, to rage from the pulpits of talk radio and TV.
Local institutions crumbled: Both Bookbinders closed! South Street went corporate! The Phillies won! There weren’t any more record stores, because there weren’t any records. We got jerked along by technology, movie houses to VCRs to DVDs to Blu-ray. Something happened to TV; we were supposed to care about real housewives and toddlers in tiaras and Kardashians. Instead of Willard Rouse’s beacon, we got the blue haze of Facebook, with its faux bonhomie.
We were fully prepared to go quietly, to work for one company till the end of our days, to make a little money on the stock market, to balance the upheaval of our youth with quiet elder years. Instead, we got the rug yanked out from under us as new, ever-younger CEOs brought in efficiency experts and mergers-and-acquisitions guys and slick managers for whom loyalty was a joke. We were downsized, replaced with cheaper, more pliant workers, told that the skills we’d spent our lifetimes acquiring — law, journalism, ironworking, auto-making, surgery performed with our own hands, without the damned robots — were no longer relevant. We have to be tethered 24/7 — that revolting shorthand noose — to a bewildering array of Bluetooths and iPads and iPods, all designed to get us MORE FASTER NOW when we already have more than we can use.
But what really irks us, what truly gets our goat, is the way Gen X and Gen Y get all self-righteous about going green and globally aware and socially active and giving back, like they invented the concepts. Greenpeace, Habitat for Humanity, PETA, Friends of the Earth, the EPA — they all date from our heyday; we brought them into being. Boomers give much more to charity than the Greatest Generation did at our age, and more than Gen X or Gen Y or anybody else does. We have the highest volunteer rate in the nation; we’re the ones heading to Haiti, circling school tracks for cancer, teaching little kids to read.