Thursday, December 31, 2009

What once loomed large and now seems almost quaint

I think it was Calvin Coolidge who said that if you see ten problems coming down the road to meet you, the likelihood is that nine of them will fall off in a ditch before you ever have to deal with them. Fifty years ago tonight, I was at the home of my grandmother in Memphis, watching the TV news announcer count down to 1960. A few days before, President Eisenhower had announced to the nation on TV the severing of diplomatic relations with Cuba over Castro's increasing closeness to the Soviets. We worried that Russia would bomb us and had drills at school where we huddled under our desks.

Forty years ago tonight, I was at my church's parsonage in Newark with several high school buddies. Back then, we earnestly debated when the Second Coming of Christ would occur (we were all quite sure that it would be long before now) and whether Paul McCartney was really dead (as seemed to be indicated by mysterious clues on a Beatles album). The United States was still fighting in Vietnam, and I and my friends were just short of draft age.

Thirty years ago tonight, I had gone to a bar in Memphis that once stood on the site of Zinnie's East and played classical music and had been invited home by a group of people at the next table. I went with them and sat up all night talking and engaging in a singalong with two people who played the guitar. The Iranian hostage crisis had erupted just over a month before. As I did some last-minute Christmas shopping at Target, I saw footage of the poor hostages bravely singing "Silent Night" in their confinement, as a clergyman of some Orthodox jurisdiction had been allowed in to hold a Christmas service for them.

Twenty years ago tonight, my ex wife and I had a late supper at the Peabody. The Food and Beverage Manager was our next-door neighbor, and as we dined in the old Dux restaurant, just off the lobby, he stopped by our table to greet us. The United States had recently deposed Manuel Noriega, the drug-connected President of Panama. It was my son's first Christmas. The mercury in Memphis had been around 0 on Christmas Day, and the pipes had frozen beneath our kitchen sink. The Berlin Wall had fallen a month or two before, and there was intense debate as to whether this really heralded the beginning of the end for the Soviet empire (a surmise that was confirmed just 2 years later, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist on Christmas Day of 1991) or was merely a retrenchment.

Ten years ago tonight, I sat at home recovering from the flu and nervously looking at news reports online to see whether the countries where it was already New Year's Day were suffering from the anticipated effects of Y2K. I was not one of those who thought civilization would collapse, but I did think that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 representing major disasters, we would suffer a 5 or 6. Having spent most of a technical writing career working in information technology environments, I fully believed in the severity of the problem and had almost no confidence in the likelihood of it being fixed in time.

Tonight, my worries are about Iran once more, climate change, Afghanistan, and the future of the Republican party.

© Michael Huggins, 2009. All rights reserved.