Saturday, November 25, 2006

Small World: My cowardly Thanksgiving road trip to Disneyland

There are many brave things one can do in life. One can bravely face the horrors of cancer and chemotherapy. One can fight for democracy, play extreme sports, climb Mt. Everest or rescue babies from burning buildings.

There are all kinds of really brave heroes out there who do all sorts of courageous things but to me the bravest heroes of all are the little guys, the ones who grind away at life's LITTLE challenges day after day after day, year after year after year. They graduate from high school or college and get on with it, knowing that the dull routine of work-home-work stretches endlessly in front of them for the next 50 years. They know this -- and they do it anyway.

In the course of their lives, these mini-heroes bravely trudge off to work approximately 59,000 times. They change 3,650 diapers per kid. They cook 54,750 meals. They wash 5,220 loads of laundry. They do what needs to be done. And they do it day after day after day after day. These are the true heroes.

My father was a true hero like that. He worked for the post office all of his life -- and he only faltered once. When World War II was declared, he was exempt because he was too old and had two children. But my pop realized that ANYTHING -- even being shot at in the Pacific -- was easier than trudging off to sort mail every day and coming home to walk the floor with a crying baby (me) at night. So he BEGGED recruiting offices to let him enlist and finally the Navy took him in as an ensign on an LST-25. But other than that one desperate attempt to escape, my father did his heroic duty and never missed a day of work in his life -- although he never changed a diaper either. But that's another story...

My youngest daughter (she just turned 20) also knows that she is being called upon to step up to the plate, suck in her gut and take the first step down the long road toward becoming that day-to-day-grind kind of brave. Right now my daughter stands on the brink -- facing the reality of a horizon with nothing on it but years of nose-to-the-grindstone effort, stretching as far before her as her young eyes can see.

But instead of just screwing up her courage, being brave, taking that first step and just getting on with it, she and her friend Jordan -- a young man whose parents sent him off to various brat camps and "behavior modification" schools when he was a kid so that he would learn to "take responsibility in life" -- now live off the mis-placed largess of his parents and do nothing but play video games until 5 am every night and sleep really really late during the day. The two of them appear to be waiting -- waiting for the courage, the ultimate courage that it takes to start grinding out the next 50 years of LIFE.

So far they don't have the guts.

But frankly, I don't blame them. It really takes nerve.

When I was their age, I didn't have the guts either. But somehow I finally got it together, girded my loins, held my breath, took the bull by the horns and finally plunged in -- into the 24/7 heroics of raising my children when my dreams were sometimes elsewhere and paying the rent every month and putting food on the table and trudging off to work and going to PTA meetings. Doing this was the bravest thing I ever did in my life.

But boy was I glad when Thanksgiving came around this year and I got time off from work. Four whole days without having to face the tiger! Four whole days of being Jane-the coward! Works for me. I hit the road to Disneyland. It was great! I went down and back in less than 48 hours. Total act of cowardice. I loved it.

Once I got to Disneyland, however, it was really freaking crowded. I didn't last too long at Disneyland. Pushing my way through all those crowds was too much like work. But the Small World ride was nice. I could ride around on those little Small World boats all day. "It's a world of joy and a world of peace...." I want a world like that!

But even the Disneyland Small World had a jarring note of reality. There were approximately 12 dancing Dutch dolls, eight dancing French dolls, 30 or 40 dancing Latin American dolls and lots and lots of Asian, European, African and American dancing dolls. But the entire Middle East was only represented by one (1) doll on a camel and one (1) veiled doll on a couch. It appears that the Middle East has been decimated -- even at Disneyland!

On the road home, my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a cold turkey sandwich I bought from an Indian clerk -- sorry, Simpson fans. It wasn't Apu -- at a 7-11 just off an I-405 exit near Long Beach. It was wonderful. Then I topped my Thanksgiving dinner off with some pumpkin pie to go from Andersen's in Buelton. It was grand! And I spent Thanksgiving night in a Motel 6 outside of Lompoc. Hurray! And everywhere I went, I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of really nice people who were sacrificing their Thanksgiving dinner with their families in order to help me -- and being really smiley and friendly about it too. And brave.

So. This is my advice to my 20-year-old daughter. "It's time to gird your loins, suck it up, hold your nose, jump in and just start being brave." Sorry, young lady, but there's no way around it if you ever want to be able to look yourself in the face.

But then, every once in a while, you are allowed to commit small acts of cowardice -- like a 48-hour road trip to Disneyland!

PS: There ARE circumstances where the opposite is true -- where doing your job can be an act of cowardice rather than bravery -- such as when Donald Rumsfeld gleefully performs his job of torturing men and women who are trapped like animals in some dank foreign prison -- or sending American soldiers off to their deaths supposedly in the name of "Democracy" but actually in the name of Rumsfeld's Swiss bank account. Or when George W. Bush sits around the Oval Office, pretending to perform a job that he got only by stealing two elections and corrupting the U.S. Supreme Court. Or the Enron and Halliburton executives who earned their money by pickpocketing trusting taxpayers. Or like Dick Cheney, who neglected to perform the job he was being paid to do -- to give the order to our Air Force to protect America on 9-11. Or as Sam Smith said recently about Milton Friedman, "One of the best kept secrets of economics is that there are lots of systems that work --provided, that is, you don't care who they work for. Feudalism, for example, was great if you were a lord, not so efficient a marketplace is you were merely a serf."