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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Enchanted Island

I had a wonderful time with the kids watching the fireworks competition at the park beside the Casino de Lac Leamy on Saturday night. Four countries were showcased in the grand finale, the culmination of three weeks worth of entries from various nations around the world.

We watched breath-taking displays from China, Portugal, The United States and Germany. Germany, set to the tune of Amazing Grace, won the crown this year.

As we walked back from the beach toward the park, extolling the wonder of the pyrotechnics we had just witnessed, a disco band took the stage and the kids ended up dancing and jumping around to tunes that were cheesy when I heard them the first time, in 1978. Still, they were having pure, unabashed fun without the aid of alcohol or narcotics and they seemed to marvel at the fact that this was possible and that they were having more fun than those vices afford without the headache or empty wallet the next morning.

So, it was fun to see them having fun. If “Disco Inferno” taught them that valuable lesson, I will have to concede… finally… begrudgingly… that disco had a purpose.

We ate hot dogs that cost a buck (oh yeah! Thanks for not gouging us!) and helped locate the owner of a set of lost keys that we found under the picnic table where we were eating.

And then, it was time to go to… The Enchanted Island.

We were beside the casino, its superfluous row of fountains spewing out enough water to hydrate The Congo, lights changing the water purple, pink, red and yellow. Limousines pulled in to the grounds. We saw Porsches. We saw Bentleys. We saw any number of cars that cost more than the entire year’s budget for the homeless shelter. Valets waited on these people like they were royalty and that is part of the whole fairy tale, isn’t it?

The kids wanted to experience the casino. I didn’t want to go that badly, but being there would keep them from doing something foolish with their money and would also make sure they could get home as they didn’t seem to think ahead enough to figure out that transit stops at midnight. Like Cinderella’s coachmen, they turn back into mice… or something like that.

So, we went in and they tried slot machines and poker machines and the bells chimed and the buzzers whizzed and the lights blinked and it was all very awesome-looking and mesmerizing at first. Here we were on The Enchanted Island where money floats in the people’s heads like the dance of the sugarplum fairy. And like the sugarplums, the money is a dream too.

We saw reams of money coming out of the wallets of desperate gamblers thinking that maybe if they play one more time, this will be the big one. Another group of singers were murdering ‘The Beatles’, smiling even though people were gambling all around them and paying them absolutely no attention.

Then, after a little time passed by, my daughter, in her wisdom, pipes up. “This is boring, isn’t it? How do people do this every day?”

Well, my Darling, it’s the enchanted island. It seems magical. It seems like another world. It promises big things, but you walk out feeling small and when the spell wears off, and you go back to sweeping the cinders, you just feel like a fool.

I couldn’t have given them a better lesson in life if I tried. They came. They saw. We left a little less rich, but so much wiser.

False hope. You liar. You hold so many people in your clutches and they are so taken with the lights and the bells and the magic that they don’t see the dead men’s bones strewn about the entrance to your lair. Broken families. Weeping souls. You leave nothing but a bitter taste and destruction in your wake.

Turn off the music, Sweetheart, and strip off that gaudy makeup. You’re wasting your efforts on me.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Letter to the Lost Generation - The Love Rant

Dear Lost Generation,

I apologize on behalf of my generation. We have failed you miserably.

When I was young, love was patient and kind. Now, love is nothing more than kissing, groping and bruising each other with little or no clothing on MTV music videos. It’s who does who and how sexy you look and then it’s over as quickly as a summer storm.

When I was young, love was not selfish and didn’t insist on its own way. It sacrificed for the greater good, for the wellbeing of others. Now, love is money and how much a person spent to buy that ring/car/video game/insert shallow material product here.

When I was young, a movie told us that love meant never having to say you’re sorry. We already knew better than that. We knew that love means saying sorry… often. It also means saying “Forgive me” AND “I forgive you.”

When I was young, love was not arrogant or puffed up. It humbly served, happy to do so because hey, when you love someone, you want to serve that person and do wonderful things for their benefit. Now, love means coming around and being all sweet and wonderful… until you get sex. Then it turns off like a tap. It’s instant like microwave food and then cools off just as quickly.

When I was young, love would never fail. It would sail rough seas. It would even argue sometimes. It would get rough, but in the end, when the dust settled, love was still there. Now, it’s cheap, “Made in Taiwan” plastic, but don’t worry. There will be another season of The Bachelor in a few months.

When I was young, love bore all things, believed all things and endured all things. We believed in those we loved. We knew they weren’t perfect, but we gave them the dignity and respect they deserved and we naturally knew that was the right thing to do when you love someone. Now, love lasts five minutes and after it’s over, you murder the character of the one you ‘loved’ on Facebook or, if you’re lucky enough to get interviewed, you do it on Dr. Phil.

When I was young, there was no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. Now, we don’t love our friends enough to lay down carpeting for them or lend them a hand or even a buck. It’s all me me me and if you fall down, I’ll step over you, “Friend”, and be on my way.

When I was young, God was love. We were grateful for sunrises and sunsets and trees and flowers and beautiful things in creation. Even those who were a little naughty among us – you know, that drank a little too much or got into mischief, even those ones would acknowledge and thank God for their daily food and knew He was loving. Now, God isn’t love. He isn’t even there. Apparently, all this stuff happened as a weird, ridiculously impossible accident and, due to Christopher Hitchens’ legitimately negative experiences with religious people and politics, not only is God not love, He isn’t even great.

When I was young, love conquered all and covered a multitude of sins. The person we loved might be an utter jerk, but they were our utter jerk and they were accepted, fed, cared for solely on the basis of the fact that we loved them and could overlook a few faults. Now, love is for those who can afford Botox and Jenny Craig’s diet plan. One ounce or wrinkle this way or that way, and the umpires on America’s Top Whatever scream, “Yooooooooou’re out!”

When I was young, love was a commandment. Love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself. Sometimes the love was sappy and huggy and sometimes it was a kick in the pants to set you back on the straight and narrow, but either way, it made you a better person. It was a prescription to ward off heart-sickness and loneliness. It meant laughter and squabbles and having to buy an extra box of popsicles so that every kid in your back yard (who are all these kids playing with mine anyway?) got one. It meant sometimes having to have the kid on your ball team who couldn’t hit the ball worth a darn. It meant sharing and lending. It meant helping to build the neighbour’s barn when it burned. It meant making a casserole for the neighbour who just had a baby or lost her husband.

Yes. Lost Generation. These things really existed. They aren’t myths like Big Foot and the Loch Ness Monster.

Of all the things that have gone extinct, I think I miss real love the most. It wasn’t some weak, flighty, passing craze. It was rough, tough, gritty and sweet. It’s what we need to stop all these kids from shooting up their classmates, doing drugs and committing suicide. It’s a companion to faith and hope, which we forgot to dole out to this generation too. We threw those things out when we decided our parents’ way of doing things wasn’t cool.

Can we get it back? You betcha. And I look forward to seeing a new generation of dissatisfied youngsters rising up to say, “Enough of this crap! I want something real!” Enough of this fluffy froufrou "love". The tingly feelings are great and they’re an expression of love, but real love starts on the days when those feelings aren’t there. The feelings come and go. They go up and down. They depend on moods and stress and hormones. They can wax and wane like the moon.

Love is a decision. Love is an act of your will. It rides out the low tide knowing that the high tide will return.

If we want it back. If we want the real love that goes the distance, it will cost us nothing and it will cost us everything.

How do we get it back? It starts off small. An act of kindness here. A good word there. A pat on the back. A smile. A prayer. The setting aside of grudges. Letting somebody else have a turn. Taking a second to stop and think that the guy who just cut you off on the highway might have just lost his job or received news that his wife's got cancer. Just cutting each other some slack instead of flipping the bird or letting the f bomb fly every time there's the slightest irritation.

It’s not that simple, you say. I say. Oh yes it is. The sooner we realize that each of us are not all by ourselves living in individual little bubbles, the sooner we can go back and find where we dropped the axe head. It will come floating right up to the surface of the water where we can scoop it up and start back where we made the mistake of throwing love away in the first place.

Will we do it?

I hope. Oh… do I hope!