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The BigEye Blog

Cogitations from the Home Front

Stewart Ogilby,
Editor of BigEye.com & NewsWatch.org

November, 1996

Hey, Wait a Minute!

SARASOTA, FL 1996: I like hearing good news as much as the next person. But from the unenviable vantage point of having lived in this glorious commonwealth around seven decades, and still owning my own gun (no thanks to you, Mrs. Brady), I find myself unable to repress exclaiming, "Hey, wait a minute!"

It would be wrong to dismiss my scepticism out of hand as the nostalgia of a sexigenarian (that isn't what you fear it is, Mr. Falwell) for "the good old days". I want to tell you some of the little things that bother me about the official pronouncements when I look at them from a personal perspective. Oh, I know that the government has all the good statistics, and that any recollection of my personal experience needs to be viewed with the highest suspicion. It is simply not statistically relevant and is, at best, annecdotal and likely to be heavily skewed by personal bias. But I want to tell you a thing or two anyway, just for what it's worth.

Perhaps I ought to feel guilty for not having grown up in extreme poverty. You see, I can remember only one short period of time when my father was at home in the daytime during the work week. It was when my brother and I brought chicken pox home from school and Papa discovered that he had not acquired an immunity to it. If I remember correctly, he was home for three or four days. I remember this because he was unable to shave and he looked quite unusual. As soon as he was able to use his beloved straight razor again he was back on schedule, arriving home at precisely the same time Monday through Friday. He never made a great deal of money, but his steady income supported a growing family quite satisfactorily. Sure, we had split-pea soup, kidney pie, ground beef (I still have the old grinder), lots of ground up fish, home-grown veggies, and home-canned stuff, but we did not go hungry.

We and the bank owned our own two-story single-family house with a large porch which ran nearly all the way around it, and there was a 1936 Ford until my parents bought one of the earliest Fords made after the war in 1946. That is the first and last new car they ever purchased, my father having acquired a fondness for aged Cadillacs until his death in 1978. Oh, by the way, my mother never worked (outside of the home, as is said today) a day in her life. She never considered herself "un-liberated". If fact, that concept would have amused her immensely.

Neither of my parents had a college education. They both valued language and vocabulary, wrote well, shared an interest in good books, loved to read Walter Lippmann daily, and, in short, had somewhere acquired an education. I wonder if schools were better in their day.

Let me (try to stop me) tell you about my brother and me. Were we "poor"? Well, we sure didn't have much (if any) loose change in our pockets, right up until our first jobs. I have to admit, my brother was more enterprising than I at an earlier age. He loved to own things (oddly, I have never been much for owning stuff) and he figured that the way to acquire things (one of his earliest toys was an English MG-TD sportscar) was to earn enough money to buy them. He "moonlighted" in a local machine-shop when in high-school.

Other than lifeguarding (if you call that "work") in the summers, and a half-dozen part-time jobs during college, I didn't get a "real" job until the day after graduating from college. My brother and I were both able to inexpensively go to college and get four-year degrees. He spent a few years working following high-school, progressing from the machine shop and reading mechanical drawings to becoming a competent mechanical draftsman. His employer sprang for a college education in exchange for his agreement to work for them a couple of years or so (I never knew the exact details) after graduation. Unlike me, who squeeked by financially, Bob sailed through undergraduate school quite comfortably. Working paid off early for him. In fact, following his indentured term he returned to college (in style) and went on to get a PhD in geology, an interest of his since childhood.

If I recall correctly, my cost to attend Ohio State University from 1951 to 1955 amounted to between sixty-five to eighty-five dollars per three-month quarter, or around $225 per academic year. That did not include personal living expenses. My goal each summer was to save five-hundred dollars. Had I been more frugal, I could have done that, but the reality was that I never saved the full amount (I had a lot of fun in the summer). By the third quarter, the part-time job was critically important. However, I generally worked part-time (including Saturday) throughout the school year. I must be one of the very few OSU alumni who has never entered the football stadium. If they had been more considerate of the working student, and held games on Sunday, perhaps I'd have become a football fan. Then again, perhaps not.

Why am I telling you all this stuff? Hey, wait a minute! Think about it. My brother and I were not exceptional in our experiences. My friends from the small town in Ohio who went on to college had similar lives. But what have I just given you a glimpse of? The "good old days", if you will. Two boys who grew up on a family farm supported by the modest supplemental income of an employed father, both financially able to acquire college educations through their own resources.

How many families can survive today on a single modest income? Can kids without cash get college educations today without going into debt? Was it the best of times? I almost forgot -- they tell us that "the U.S. economy has never been better". I guess that is right, figures don't lie, do they? Maybe they mean it for people who have money? Hey, wait a minute!

There's more! The U.S. corporations were standing in line to hire kids who got college degrees. There were all sorts of enticements to get on their payrolls. There were "career days" when the corporate recruiters competed with one another for recent graduates. Because I wanted to go to graduate school (although I was, naturally, completely broke after a full year at college) I took a full-time job with a respectable company within walking distance of the campus. They even paid a portion of my fees for part-time graduate courses. Within seven months I had earned and saved enough money to return to school (with a graduate assistant teaching job) full time. And when I decided against an academic career, a single phone call landed me a job with a major corporation, a company car, a generous expense account, and more annual income than my father ever earned.

It's been over forty years since my own college experiences. Have things changed very much from an employment standpoint? They say that the U.S. economy has never been so good. Maybe they mean it for people with money in the stock market? Hey, wait a minute!

Race is such a touchy subject today, perhaps I should leave it alone. I do know that we had a few (what do we say today, Afro-Americans, Blacks?) students in my high-school class who lent racial diversity to an otherwise lily white student body. Speaking of diversity, there seemed to be more of it in certain ways then than today. For example, the top tenth of the class socialized with one another, both at school and in one another's homes. It was sort of a "we" and "they" situation. We got good grades; we went on to college. They struggled academically; they seemed to have other interests; they did not go to college. But it was not racially determined. Among the "we" was one of my best friends, Willie Johnson (Negro). I won't pretend that he or I was unaware of differences. I do know that our strong friendship and the fun we had together was (unbelievable today) untouched by racial prejudice and political awareness. Maybe we ought to have had some sort of "sensitivity" training? Hey, wait a minute!

Willie's younger sister was beautiful. In fact, at Ohio State she ran for May Queen (in the 1950's -- forget what you have been told). Any one of us would have loved to have taken her out to a movie, except it was widely believed that "old man Johnson" would be likely to shoot any white boy who showed up with his daughter. I wonder, given the climate today, whether such strong and easy friendships occur, unpoisoned by political mantras. One of my closest friends in college and house-mate (in the 1950's -- forget again what you have been told) was a brilliant Negro law-student (Fred loved to talk, was addicted to old movies, and could get his book work done in what seemed like seconds). I am sure that situations in what we called "the deep South" were deplorable. But when I hear that "we" have come such a long way, I protest (to myself, very quietly), "Hey, wait a minute!"

And there was Maurice, the hairdresser with long red hair, makeup, and who loved to wear gaudy capes and scare the hell out of freshman college boys. I don't know that I had ever heard the word "gay", but we all knew that Maury was a homosexual (wasn't hard to figure that out). He was petulant around straight young men (whose company, oddly enough, he seemed to favor) but he never jeopardized a friendship by sexual aggressiveness. He was a wonderful friend to have. Having won many national competitions and awards for hair-dressing, he would work his magic on the hair of any girl that I, or any of his other friends, was dating. He charged only for supplies, and his art was greatly appreciated and rewarded in many ways. Maurice knew about homophobia in the 1950's first-hand. His flame burned brightly nevertheless, and he didn't think very much of closeted fags. I wonder what he would say today (he died years ago - alcoholism played a role) about our progress in politicizing sexual preference. I think I can almost hear him exclaim, "Hey, wait a minute!"

Tomorrow or another day soon the government will release the results of yet another study to prove that we are experiencing the best of times -- that the U.S. economy has never been better -- that much progress has been made. . .

Hey, wait a minute!



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