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Saturday, January 29, 2011

When I was your age...

I turned forty-three today.  Forty-three.  What's special about forty-three, other than that it's a prime number?

Well, when you're forty-three, you're a quarter-century older than when you were eighteen.

I was eight during the Bicentennial, when the United States celebrated its two hundredth birthday.  Two hundred:  eight quarter centuries.  Six third-of-a-centuries.    Now it's 2011, another third of a century plus a year and some months later.  Seven third-of-a-centuries plus change.

I was thinking of doing a post on what life was like a quarter century ago, so all those young whippersnappers who just turned eighteen could see how easy they have things.  Well, easy, no.  The economic outlook is pretty bleak, bleaker than it was in 1986, which was still pretty bleak, unless you were a Yuppie or some other moneyed member of the avaricious class, which still didn't make things entirely easy, because they were always worried about who they would have to stab in the back to get their next line of coke.

But there are so many things that eighteen-year-olds have today that we didn't have then.  The Internet, at least not in anything resembling the form it is today.  Computers and portable phones were playthings for rich kids, mostly, or tools for institutions.  All the forms of social networking that exist today: back then blogs were kept on paper in diaries, connecting with other people generally involved meeting them face-to-face or using the telephone - and most telephones didn't have caller ID or call waiting or answering machines that would take messages when you were already on the phone. And text messages? We called those "letters." Or sometimes "notes," passed in class.

When I turned eighteen, twenty-five years ago, I had just completed my first semester in college.  Just a few months earlier I had met many of the people who would become my lifelong friends.  And I had to stay focused and keep my nose clean to maintain the scholarships that allowed me to go to college.  That was another thing that wasn't easy.

I had just had my first Winter break from college.  Intersession, it was called, when full courses would be crammed into the four weeks between New Year's and the beginning of Spring Semester.  I opted not to take any.  I don't think my scholarships covered them.  So I had spent the month in idleness, making phone calls and writing letters and reading from the books for my second semester.  In the end I decided to uphold an old tradition and make a mid-day pilgrimage to my alma mater.  I hiked the few blocks to the high school, chatted with some teachers, and went home.

While I was at the school, the Challenger exploded.

I've written about that already.  Six years ago.  The first January after I started my blog.  And this year I forgot about it until yesterday, when I was thinking about today's post, and the blogosphere was flooded with memorials.

So that's how I spent my eighteenth birthday.  Watching TV, watching the news for any piece of new information, rather than the constant replaying of the moment Challenger stopped being a rocket and became a collection of loosely-connected non-aerodynamic pieces that were moving far too fast to stay together.

Eighteen-year-olds:  when I was your age, that was what was going on.

1 comment:

Ace said...

Happy Birthday!