From The Asian Reporter, V27, #21 (November 6, 2017), pages 6 & 8.
When Iím sixty-four, oooh
Pretty soon Iíll be sixty-four. Thereís a fun Beatles song about this. About
how abuelos like me can still be "handy, mending a fuse when your lights are
gone." And thatís true. I still can.
Pero whatís also true is how ó in neighborhoods rich in Native- and
Spanish-speaking Americans; in cozy households from all over Asia, from Father
Russia, from Mothers India, Africa, and China; around family tables from several
Pacific and Caribbean island nations ó at sixty-four, folks like me finally get
some Respect. With a cap R.
They say weíve earned some perspective. We can see above housetops and
treetops, and across borders supposedly separating peoples and places, over the
immediacy of time rushing by you and me.
And looking back, over the relatively short time our familia has lived in
this otherwise kind and creative country, hereís an astounding fact: the United
States has warred fifteen times. Thatís a lot. Thatís five decades of our
government crushing families where they sleep and school and work; where they
shop and sit down for coffee or tea. All that awfulness, on the premise that
weíre killing some very bad people. Threats to you and me.
Whatís evident to me now ó and I say this with a grandpaís great love for
America ó is what actually allows our policy leaders to war on faraway
communities like that, is the same emotional and moral segregation thatís
killing you and me in Ferguson, in Baton Rouge and Baltimore. In short: Weíve
become a nation of consumers. And what we consume, disconnects us. The nation ó
once our achy earthís expression of participatory democracy, of an idealistic
people pitching in, shaping our world ó is today a very passive place.
When America meant it
Hereís what I mean: When I was a squirrelly krotjong, our elders spoke
fondly of slim and polite soldierboys nicknamed Red, Brooklyn, and Ski. Earnest
Yanks who sent our enemy, Imperial Japanís brutal army, running. Then they
rebuilt our schoolhouse. They made us a seesaw and a swing set from construction
leftovers. We shared Lucky Strikes and Hershey bars. Our grandparents and
parents cried, these boys cried, when they sailed away, longing for their own
moms, wives, and girlfriends.
Ultimately, we sailed away too. To here. Thank God. But unlike past era
migrants who had to break with their elders and ancestors, my generation of
newcomers participate in a robust circulating systems of peoples, products, and
ideas. We jumbo jet, Facetime, and ATM round and round. This connectedness
matters a lot.
In quiet conversation with any New American from any of those energetic
communities mentioned earlier, itís not uncommon to hear about a time she was
sharing a bad or a beautiful moment she has lived with her settled American
co-workers, and have them turn that conversation to a Huffington Post article or
a New York Times bestseller. The disconnect startles us, every time.
Instead of worldliness, our settled neighbors and co-workers seem locked into
much smaller universes. Sworn to newsy networks. Stuck among agreeable Facebook
friends. Sure, theyíre less exposed to sorrow, to joy and our inevitable loss of
it. But thus disconnected, they seem so vulnerable to curators of niche
knowledge. To distributors of shallower experience. And containers of narrower
What results is a shared narrative thatís so intellectually and emotionally
affirming that actually acting in a dissonant world of "others" becomes
unnecessary. Indeed, unlikely. This outcome is bad for Afghanis and North
Koreans, both homogenous folk locked into small, poor countries. This is really
bad for Americans.
How we got so small
Stanfordís best MBAs are on it. Theyíre on to us, every time your peepers
touch your iPhone. About 80 times per day. "Like" someone or something and
tightly tailored commerce closes in even more. Their rapid cycles of research,
development, and distribution are making real time (painful familial or
communal or national history) irrelevant. Their products, like clichť
characterizations of rural Republicans or un-understandable Islamic clerics,
make real people unnecessary. The truth of real places
(unthinkable Ferguson or unjust East Portland) donít matter. Website hits and
And herein lies the possibility of a heartless nation. You and me segregated
into tight consumer communities. Trending news, films, fashion, people.
Disconnected from the "other." You never have to talk to him. You wonít hear his
mom wail. Cops and prosecutors will deal with cross-town others. Our awesome
Navy Seals and our stealthy Air Force will handle those over the horizon.
"Will you still need me, will you still feed me," Paul McCartney sang
sweetly, surely to his lovely Linda, "when Iím sixty-four, oooh" ó a sassy
clarinet flourish finishes his line. That Beatles album was released exactly 50
years ago. Today, Iím feeling it too. Pero itís not a grumpy opaís grievance.
Really not. Itís an American believerís hope that weíre just taking a little
break from a world of hurt. And our role in all that.
Itís me wading through red leaves on S.W. Fifthís autumn sidewalk, knowing
that Red from Rosebud Rez and Ski from Polsk North Portland and Brooklyn from
Paisan Brooklyn will soon round the corner. Sharing smokes and chocolate bars.
* * *
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