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Give Me The Simple Life

by Rose Madeline Mula

Is it my imagination, or is life becoming increasingly complicated every day? Didn't everything used to be a lot simpler?

Remember telephones, for example? They came in one model only-a black, clunky two-piece job. No decisions to make. No choice of models or colors. And all were connected to our homes or offices through a network of cables. Only Dick Tracy had a wireless phone (in his wristwatch, as I recall), but that was strictly science fiction. None of us actually believed that some day we would be walking around with tiny cell phones, calling home from the car or from the toilet paper aisle of the supermarket to ask if we should buy the brand that's on sale, or the expensive, super-soft rolls. As a matter of fact, back then, we didn't have supermarkets. Just the corner grocer. And he didn't have to ask which brand of tushy tissue we wanted. There was only one.

And remember telephone operators? When you wanted to make a phone call you'd lift the earpiece off the hook of the old black phone, and a friendly real person would ask, "Number, please?" Then she (never he) would connect you directly to the party you were calling. After a few rings another friendly voice would reply. Again, an actual human being-not a recording offering you a dozen menu choices from which to select. It was amazing.

Even more miraculous, when you phoned your doctor, you could actually speak to him (seldom her). I could even call my doctor at home at 3:00 AM back then. Not any more. Today I reach a Voicemail system and eventually a secretary who relays my concerns to the doctor and gets back to me in a day or two with the doctor's response. At least that's what I'm led to believe. I sometimes wonder if my doctor actually exists, or is this whole message relay business merely a scam to give me a false sense of security? Maybe the secretary just goes on the Internet, does a Google search on my question, and then calls me back with her own advice. Of course, I do see my doctor in person when I go for my annual physical-or do I? For all I know she could be a computer-programmed hologram.

As for all the medical insurance paperwork, what's that about? We never used to have to get tangled in miles of red tape. And how come though we have all kinds of expensive insurance coverage, we still end up coughing up tons of additional money for every visit, procedure, and prescription?

Then there's the automobile. I remember three auto makers in my childhood-Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler. Each manufactured only two or three models in two or three colors. The only place you could buy a foreign car was in a foreign land — which really wasn't an option since only a handful of Americans had enough money to travel abroad. Today, of course, we can choose from a staggering number of automobile manufacturers, domestic and foreign, each of which turns out a multitude of different models in myriad colors. A smorgasbord of expensive excess.

Repairs are another modern nightmare. Before, when the old Chevy, Ford or Chrysler didn't work right, Joe, the mechanic down the street, could tell immediately that the thingamajig connecting the whatchamacallit to the whosiwhatsit was broken. He'd replace it for a few bucks and you were back on the road. Today you must bring your car to a state-of-the-art facility where you wait interminably, sipping cappuccino, while a dozen specialists consult and conduct diagnostic electronic tests to determine which computer chip is malfunctioning; and you're obliged to take out a second mortgage on your house to pay for the repair. Speaking of houses, my parents bought a beautiful home when I was a child for one-third the price of my last new car; and my car doesn't even have indoor plumbing. I wouldn't be surprised if that's coming next.

Another aspect of modern life that is definitely more complicated today is raising children, especially when they become adolescents. It's not their fault. Apparently Congress passed a law when we weren't paying attention that requires kids to become obnoxious at the onset of puberty. They absolutely must rebel against their parents in order to "separate," the psychiatrists tell us. It's a rite of passage. Really? How come my generation managed to make it to adulthood by remaining docile through our teens? Nobody told us we were supposed to rant and rave, pierce our navels, nipples and noses, dye our hair purple, tattoo our bodies, and hate our parents. Yet we survived. Furthermore, we didn't rebel even though we were cruelly denied designer clothes, a closet full of hundred-dollar sneakers, and our own cars at sixteen. Hey, even my parents didn't own a car when I was sixteen. We walked everywhere-to school, to the movie, to shops, to church. Consequently, we were in much better shape than most people today, even though expensive gyms and personal trainers were unheard of.

Furthermore, when I was a kid, the only labels on my clothes said "Irregular," and my shoe wardrobe consisted of a pair of cloth Keds for play, a pair of loafers for school, and a pair of Mary-Janes for Sunday school. Such deprivation would probably be considered child abuse in this "enlightened" age.

Remember when we'd get together with the neighborhood kids after supper (one that Mom actually cooked — not a Happy Meal) and played Red Rover, Kick the Can, and stickball? Kids don't do that any more. Their "play" is now rigidly structured and competitive. They go to gymnastics classes, they vie for starting positions on school soccer and basketball teams, and they struggle with little league baseball — too often with coaches and parents on the sidelines loudly exhorting them to excel. They have to be stars. They're pressured to prove they're smarter/faster/more talented than all the other kids. Simply having fun is no longer an option. Stress has become the name of the game. Come to think of it, no wonder they rebel when they grow to be tall enough to intimidate their parents. Maybe I would have had my tongue pierced, too, if my mother and father had led me to believe I was worthless because their friends' daughter, Susie, was a tennis phenom and I was a klutz.

Boy, I'm glad I grew up when I did! A stud in my tongue? Yuk!



Rose's new book, The Stranger in My Mirror and Other Reflections is available by special order from most book stores, or on the web at www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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