Generation perturbation

I suppose it’s my age, but I find I just can’t keep up with all the generational names. In the Old Days, I seem to remember that all we had were just the ‘children’, ‘us’, and the ‘old people’; nobody was particularly special -well not special enough to deserve a special name at any rate. Actually, I simplified it further: us and them -easier to remember. But nowadays, even the apps that purport to specialize in these types of pooh-bah names disagree amongst themselves on the timespans. For the longest time I was accused of being a ‘boomer’, but one source online said no, I’m from the ‘silent generation’ (perhaps in recognition of our declining memories); another charted me as simply ‘post war’ although it revealed an abysmal knowledge of when the war (WWII, I assume) actually ended.

Perhaps, however, I am more confused about the traits that seem to be glued to the members of each group -as if they never changed their clothes- but few of us still wear what we once did. I’m reminded of the apocryphal Viking ship whose rusting nails and rotting timbers are gradually replaced over the years in the museum where it is stored; at what stage is it no longer the genuine article: the genuine Viking vessel? Surely the generational groups are slowly changing and adapting as the years roll on as well. So, apart from having something to write on the social media profile, just how useful is the gen-name? Even the boffins probably wonder -at least Fred did, anyway.

I saw Fred just the other day when he wandered over to my socially distanced table in the Food Court at the mall. I don’t think he was looking for me, or anything -he just seemed to be killing time. Fred is younger than me he says, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he dresses. He was wearing tan-coloured Bermuda shorts with long white socks that reached to his knees and somehow stayed there, a coloured shirt buttoned all the way up to the top that only partially concealed his plucked-turkey neck, and a straw trilby hat worn at what he no doubt considered a rakish angle on his head.

His face was usually clean-shaven but on that day there were patches of untamed fuzz on his chin and above his lip. I suppose he had decided to grow a Van Dyke thing, but it was still in the patchy stage and his cheeks had never been particularly well-endowed with hair at the best of times. I could tell he was upset because as soon as he saw me he hurried directly towards my table and sat down on a vacant chair without so much as a smile. Of course, I suppose we were never particularly close friends; we’d just sat beside each other for a while in high school until he was switched to another class for acting out. He was an angry kid then; now he was an unhappy adult. I don’t think I’d ever seen him laugh, and he never joined me if I happened to be sitting with anybody else. For that matter, I don’t ever remember seeing him sitting with anybody

“Why am I not like all the rest of the people in my generation?” he asked nobody in particular, as he stared off into the depths of the Court. I wasn’t sure if he was bragging or complaining -with Fred, it was often hard to tell.

I had to think about that for a moment, on the off chance the question had been directed at me. “Which generation is that, Fred?”

He glared at me as if I should know things like that. Then, slowly, his face relented. “My friends told me I’m a real-life Boomer, so I looked it up… But I don’t act like a Boomer, you know.” At this point, his eyes switched from a glare to a glance -approbation requires careful handling. “I certainly don’t watch as much TV as Boomers do, and I even have a phone with apps.” He paused briefly for a breath, his eyes gleaming proudly after his short burst of braggadocio. “And I cancelled my membership in the Reader’s Digest years ago -my parents used to leave copies of it in the family bathroom…” He examined me for my reaction. “I even pay some of my bills online -my friends don’t trust computers for that- and I only use Facebook because it reminds me of things like birthdays and anniversaries.” He lowered his eyelids prophylactically. “I never post messages on it, though, and I don’t trust using it for news or anything.” He suddenly remembered something else: “Oh,  and I seldom push the blue thumbs-up icon to ‘like’ something I happened to skim through…” he added to prove his point. “Boomers do, though.” He wound down his incredibly childish jeremiad with a glance around the room at this point. He seemed desperate to disassociate himself from the label; he didn’t seem at all embarrassed at his puerile list of ‘I don’ts’.

I have to say, I was still wondering what the criteria were for Boomer-ship, so I could only nod my head to show I was still listening. “But why is it so … embarrassing to be called a Boomer?” I asked, being careful to italicize the word like he kept doing. “Is it an old thing?”

“It means you were born just after the War, G! And yes, it means Old.” He was beginning to get annoyed again.

“And…?”

“And therefore Boomers think the old way, dress the old way, do things like the old people do…” He shook his head angrily at my innocence.

I tried to smile at his expression, but he continued to glare at me. “So what’s wrong with acting your age, Fred? I mean even the younger generations are going to get old and in turn won’t fit into the profile attributed to their kids…” I sighed at the thought of the ever-turning wheel of years.

I think Fred took the sigh as a dropped gauntlet, though. “You were always so damned clever, so bloody full of pride in school, G! It’s no wonder you turned out like you did…”

Actually I took that as a compliment, although I know he didn’t mean it as one. But nevertheless I was curious. “Fred, why did you come all the way over to my table just to complain?”

His eyes suddenly enlarged like a frightened deer in the woods that had thought it was well hidden.

“I mean, why not have a cup of coffee and a doughnut with me, so we can discuss it like adults?”

He stared at me suspiciously for a moment, as he thought it over.

“My kids used to accuse me of things like that when they were younger,” I continued. “Now they talk to me as equals. It’s what Time does to a generation as it matures…”

He looked down at the table as if he suddenly saw a pattern on it that he recognized.

“I’m sure you’ve seen a change in your kids as well,” I added, hoping he would share some of the history that had made him so insecure -the history which he had kept hidden from me all these years.

He shook his head slowly. “My wife left me before we had any kids,” he answered, with a shrug. “But I’ve often wondered what kids would have been like…”

His eyes turned hopeful and rested for a moment on my cheeks, as if I might shed some light on an experience he would never have.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to say. “They’d probably tell you they liked you just as you are, Fred; that you have nothing to prove to them… Mine even laugh when they call me a Boomer -like it was a joke to them. ‘You’re just dad,’ they say…”

A wistful smile slowly lit up Fred’s face and he pushed back his chair and stood. “Can I get you another coffee, G? I think I need a doughnut…”

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