Jewish World Review Dec. 30, 2003/5 Teves, 5764
We're all supposed to be dead
Nobody addicted to TV news dares
order a steak unless he has made out
his will, and there's a new outbreak of
SARS in China. Here we go again,
The good news for the ranchers is
that somebody will find a poison carrot
or a toxic cabbage sooner or later to
quiet the vegan cheering, and for the
rest of us the only hopeful news is that
'flu is likely to get us before SARS
does. The rest of the news is scary.
The terrorism alert is at Code Orange, a
new infestation of bedbugs has
swallowed Manhattan and is believed
headed south, Paris Hilton is still
employed, and Howard Dean is about
to be the Democratic nominee for
Begone, wicked and malevolent
2003, and good riddance.
This is the season for applying
meaningless superlatives to the
calendar, for picking the Top Ten
stories, personalities, events, diseases
and curses. On the other hand, there's
nothing new about fires, earthquakes,
plagues, mudslides and presidential
candidates. The year now ending is no
worse on balance than a lot of other
years, and 2003 has been considerably
better than some. The fevers and
plagues of yesteryear are dreadful on a
scale unknown in modern times. That's
why at the beginning of every winter we
of the media dust off the scary
accounts of the Great 'Flu Epidemic of
1918, when even the flies were dying
Not just disease, either. Those of us
old enough to remember World War II
and the smaller wars in its wake can
recall years that were very, very bad.
My grandfather, who died many years
ago, regarded Yankees as the standard
of evil to measure the Japs and the
Huns against. (Before he died, he had
begun to think well of the Japs and the
Comparisons are but thin
consolation. If you have one foot in a
fire and the other in a bucket of ice, a
statistician could tell you that on average, you're warm. But
we must take comfort wherever we can find it, and an
anonymous Internet correspondent reminds me that some of
us shouldn't even be here, given the givens. As Groucho
Marx (the distinguished Dr. Hugo Z. Quackenbush) famously
told his patient, as he was taking his pulse: "Either my watch
has stopped, or you're dead."
Here's what my Internet correspondent reminded me of
(and if you see it on the Internet, it must be so):
"According to today's regulators and bureaucrats, those of
us who were kids in the '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s probably
shouldn't have survived. Our mothers put us in cribs covered
with bright-colored lead-based paint.
"There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors
or cabinets, and when we rode our bicycles into traffic (bike
paths were unheard of), we had no helmets. If we didn't feel
like pumping a bike up the hills, we could always hitch a ride
with strangers. There were no seat belts or air bags. Riding in
the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was particularly
"We drank water from an old garden hose, not from a
bottle. One bottle of bellywash could be shared with up to
four friends, drinking from the bottle, and no one died.
"We gorged on cakes, pies, candy, bread and butter, and
anything we could find with lots of sugar in and on it, and we
were never overweight because we were always running
through the 'hood.
"We never heard of 'play dates,' and left home in the
morning and played all day, and the only rule was to get
home before the streetlights flickered on. No one could reach
us because nobody had a cell phone.
"We spent hours building go-carts from lumber and nails
scrounged from neighbors' garages and raced them down the
hill to discover only at the bottom of the intersection that we
forgot the brakes. Running into the bushes was good
"We fell out of trees, played with BB guns until we got a
.22 rifle on our 12th birthday, fought "war" with dirt clods,
broke bones, lost teeth, stepped on nails and caught
fishhooks in noses. Nobody's daddy had a lawyer.
"We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate
worms, and most eyes survived intact (the worms didn't).
"We walked into our friends' houses whenever we felt like
it. We chose up sides for ballgames, and if somebody didn't
make the team, he learned to deal with it. There was nobody
to counsel the losers (who would have felt insulted if there
"The generations that suffered these deprivations made
the best of it, producing the explosion of innovation and
ideas that transformed the world.
"Kind of makes you want to run through the house with a
pair of scissors, doesn't it?"
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