Freudian Slips: Dear Great Grandchildren

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Location: Irony, New Jersey, United States

Life takes us many places. It's a box of chocolates and a Hansel and Gretal trail of candy wrappers. I have filmed as an actor in The Happening, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, The Bounty Hunter, The Greek American, Bazookas, Limitless, TV's Its Always Sunny in Philly, Outlaw, New York, The Warrior, The Nail, Game Change, Cold Case, & commercial work includes The Philadelphia Eagles, Septa, Coors, Turbo Tax & Carnival Cruises. Freudian Slips spotlights irony in short story format.

January 06, 2006

Dear Great Grandchildren

I previously posted a rough draft of my short story called Dear Great Grandchildren. After meeting, consulting and teleconferencing with my ‘senior editor’ for many hours, I realized how rough of a draft it was. Thanks mom for the countless hours of constructive criticism to improve the trimmings of the story. Where you made my ears ring, I now feel proud to be able to leave this as an heirloom to my great grandchildren.
Dear Great Grandchildren,
As your late great grandfather, Joseph Tornatore, I am writing you this letter at the age of forty three. Even though people live longer with each passing generation, I expect to be ashes thus missing out on our opportunity to meet. If that is God’s will, I wish to describe the world during your great grandfather’s time because it’s changing at such a spellbinding pace that I barely recognize yesterday.
In 1962, I was born in the commonwealth state of Pennsylvania, United States of America, arguably the greatest country on the planet. My arrival occurred during an era heralded by space exploration and tribulation over the civil rights movement. Ergo human beings enigmatically lack the unwavering commitment to fix things on Earth before branching out into outer space. I never understood the objection of unilateral civil rights in a free country but once upon a time abolitionists staunchly opposed slavery. The plight of human beings is the reason your great grandpa became a persona non gratis social worker and why I never looked to the stars as an astronaut.
My personal arrival on the planet coincided with the public outcry over Marilyn Monroe’s fatal drug overdose and the mourning of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Martyrdom aside, no generation has solved either the rampant drug problem or the ramparts of violence. A Just Say No slogan sounds imbecilic but it remains our nation’s iconic advertising campaign to combat the war on drugs. It seems illogical to teach abstinence in the depths of addiction because most people can’t say no to chocolate. The cycle of violence in our society forces rogue street gangs to organize in order to stay in bloody business. Gratuitous vats of violence miserably dwarf gracious acts of kindness. The nightly news reminds audiences that life is tenuous for everyone and not just movie stars and Presidents.
In 1973, our nation passed the Endangered Species Act to protect vulnerable animals. The American bald eagle, an emblematic creature for our country and currency, topped the list of creatures in danger of extinction like symbolic crimson stain on our nation. As entire species disappeared forever from planet Earth, homemakers became endangered too, as they started hanging up their aprons for work outside the home. Gender roles became convoluted but the women’s liberation movement isn’t defending the caveman and home economics can no longer afford the luxury of stay-at-home-moms. After each working parent brings home the bacon, somebody must cook it. Although parents delicately balance priorities with quality time, childrearing is now graded with an inherent learning curve. But what happens in the cave thankfully stays in the cave unless the government has enacted laws for the greater good which infringe on personal freedom.
Try to remember your great grandfather as a dreamer. I once envisioned that the greatest invention of my lifetime would be the digital picture frame. It eventually arrived but not before the birth of microwaves, remote controlled television sets and cordless phones. I watched video cassette recorders and bulky seventeen pound camcorders fly off storeroom shelves of now defunct department stores. The standard of living has vastly improved for most Americans but the rich and poor have never been further apart.
Meanwhile, theologians and scientists cannot agree on uniform standards for the inception of life. I’m not the smartest man alive but maybe life from the beginning was never fallible man’s argument. Alas, man now creates seedless watermelon and it manages to reproduce. As I chew on the origin of the species, will man’s infinite wisdom remove both the chicken and the egg from the argument? In 1986, the first test tube baby arrived via in vitro fertilization. Scientists experimented by cloning farm animals like sly wolves making sheep’s clothing. Stem cell research is in its embryonic state but the moral and ethical considerations resemble a Roe vs. Wade crucible for the 21st century. I don’t know where we are headed but I deduce that left to our own devices, it is with these devices we tinker. As I feel the rising and falling of my breath, I speculate whether the miracle of life is losing its awed reverence in the swill of the beaker tubes.
In 1986, our beloved Statue of Liberty celebrated her 100th anniversary but she needed a facelift. While Liberty stands still, America is getting her own make-over. A liberal interpretation of the law of eminent domain is reshaping the landscape under the political guise of progress. Eminent domain is no longer enforced solely for the expansion of roadways, airports, or schools. Mom-and-Pop stores and farmhouses owned by multi-generational families are being seized under the pretense of the public’s good. The names of sponsors should be painted on the wrecking balls because the destruction they rein becomes a façade for corporate gain. I looked up eminent domain in the dictionary and what I found sounds awfully like imminent domain. I wouldn’t be surprised if we insert a team picture of Native Americans next to the expanding definition.
From Native Americans to the blind man crossing the street, I have instilled in your grandparents to respect all walks of life because the truism that all men are created equally isn’t always evident. We could all stand to love thy neighbor with more spoonfuls of sugar from Gaylordsville, Connecticut to Nigtown, Texas to Frankenstein, Missouri. This recipe of goodwill calls for inspecting the similarities while respecting the differences. Once upon a safer time in America, idle homes could be left unlocked. We now live with a false sense of security and poor judgment undermines even leaving automobiles idling in broad daylight. Some houses need iron bars for protection all within a country with nary a barrier for border.
Convinced that we live in a precarious place, I started to bring children into this world in 1990. Securing affordable single family housing in New Jersey became a monumental undertaking. I managed to keep a mortgaged roof over our heads but soon owning prime real estate anywhere in the country became my generation’s gold rush. Right before real estate prices skyrocketed, moguls and entrepreneurs capitalized by stockpiling property like cardboard Monopoly deeds. The mortality of the middle class may face an impending doom if the American dream of land ownership fizzles. If more people looked beyond their backyard, we have succeeded in going forth and multiplying from sea to shinning sea. The world is expanding at such an alarming rate that we may eventually exceed the resources to support its occupants.
This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land became a folk anthem but the lyrics remind me of seven billion consumers playing hot potato with a pirated globe. New Jersey became the first state in the country to mandate a recycling program. Environmentalists applauded burgeoning conservation measures but I wondered what took us so long to simply drag another stinking trashcan to the curb. Maybe all the empirical data is in now but our best scientists are still debating global warming as if it were water cooler conversation. Industrialized nations rely on gasoline powered cars beyond the availability of comparable technology. If not for the depleting ozone layer, hybrid cars might still be in our distant future. There is complacency regarding environmental issues as if we are waiting for either a revelation or revolution. Perhaps only apocalyptic locust storms or sunbathing Polar Bears would reverse our wayward course.
The calamitous weather alone should invoke lighter footprints on the planet. Recently, a half million people drowned in a catastrophic tsunami in Southeast Asia. When the ground trembles, an earthquake is almost certainly swallowing unsuspecting human beings. Every decade Mother Nature unleashes hundred year floods on the land and her subjects. Befuddled weathermen recently exhausted the list of hurricanes names and had to resort to using Greek letters. Venice, Italy has been sinking for hundreds of years but Hurricane Katrina forced New Orleans underwater in a day. Destructive tornados are no longer confined to Tornado Alley as they now barrel through unexpected locations and the Midwest right up until Thanksgiving dinner.
Children are our most precious planetary asset yet they clutch to their bosom a sense of entitlement without appreciation for family or the ways of the world. When planning parenthood, couples seek genetic testing to identify DNA markers to fingerprint the family tree. In my younger days, couples actually started families without genetics. People sewed their wild oats before newspapers gave print to an opportunistic sexually transmitted disease that incestuously kills its host. HIV AIDS still ravages millions across every continent because there is no cure for this insidious disease. Without a cure, AIDS has the potential to abolish humanity and make the Black Plague look like a runny nose. I retain highly irrational fears of sitting on public toilet seats yet I am reminded by potty-mouthed children it is they who shall inherit the world.
A dear child long out of the cradle asked me why nobody plays wire ball anymore. I barely had the heart to tell the youngster of an antiquated sport needing telephone lines on the poles in a world that had yet to go wireless. A great majority of America’s youth won’t play ball without a team uniform. Meanwhile, idolized professional athletes are breaking unthinkable sports records. Nobody can officiate the re-writing of the record books in the wake of alleged steroid use by athletes. Performance drugs are altering bodies in ways I cannot be sure God truly intended. The violent velour of football has replaced perennial baseball as our national pastime. Baseball remains a game of storied tradition but I wonder about the egocentric moniker World Series when nearly every country in the world has made a habit of beating our best Little Leaguers.
As a sports-minded boy, my summer times were enjoyed outdoors. I could wander unsupervised far away from the house from breakfast to supper. The outdoor activity kept my body strong and allowed me to eat without weight gain. A study in contrast, I’m met with passive resistance from your grandparents coaxing them off of the couch or away from the computer. Not surprisingly, Americans are losing the fight against obesity. Fast food chains and all-you-can-eat buffets have become convenient staples in the saturated American diet. The Surgeon General warns that our health is being compromised. Instead of taking responsibility for our lifestyles, we turn to the local pharmacy to keep us alive on a litany of prescription drugs. If the abundance of food and advances in medicine in our society sound remarkable, then it must undoubtedly be indigestible for the emaciated people in third world countries; those dying of starvation and lacking basic medical care. In kindergarten we are taught to share with others, but as a grownup, I learned that the distribution of wealth mostly begins and ends at a country’s border.
The technological revolution continues to revamp modern life. As a boy, I was enamored with a Fisher Price View-Master which offered a slideshow through cheap plastic binoculars. While the View-Master defies logic as a commercial toy 65 years later, two billion people tote hand-held futuristic style voice-activated global positioning communication devices that can screen calls or take messages, produce streaming video, pixel perfect photography, organize life, play games and surf the net. I can only imagine a future that makes our times appear prehistoric. Similarly, I confess to my purchase of a battery operated desktop Rolodex for my first professional job following college. Powered by six fresh D cell batteries, its only function was to scroll paper index cards to the corresponding handwritten phone number. If you find this gadget unbelievable and cumbersome, then you can imagine my disbelief when my parents used to spout outlandish tales of walking to school before buses came along, emptying the outhouse latrine, and cooking on a wood burning stove if there was food available. It is to be remembered that people once entered the workforce without the assistance of computers, internet browsers, email, facsimile transmissions, scanners, palm pilots, and jump drives. Now the technological revolution has made everyone so damned conditioned and dependent to the ease of electronics that nobody can work…or live without them.
Thus, we are forced to change with the times or be left behind because even state-of-the-art electronics products become tomorrow’s obsolescence. The first computer was a monolithic structure that had to be warehoused in a large building. Now the same sized building can be filled with thousands of lightweight personal computers and the life events of a centenarian can be impersonally stored on a DVD disc in seconds. Consumer Report magazine rates functional products I never knew existed! In 1995, Google was born as an internet informational search engine on computers. Google evolved into an able resource tool of the trade, a verb in our language, and a public company able to be traded on Wall Street. Completing even a cursory Google search, you might identify the name of Rosa Parks’ bus driver or locate the descendents of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves. Ebay is a perpetual on-line yard sale where you can buy anything anywhere in the world from raccoon excrement to a grilled cheese sandwich resembling the Virgin Mary. Great Grandpa has no fascination with animal waste and I remain a Doubting Thomas that virgins on fried food are sacred. Nevertheless, the Internet and the dot.com boom accomplished bringing the world closer together without anyone ever leaving their homes. The only tangible cost to us seems to be the virtue of our privacy. It is euphemistically apropos that we now publicly view private life through transparent Microsoft Windows founded by Gates.
With all of this intercommunication convenience at our fingertips, not even Nobel Peace Prize winners have figured out a foolproof way to help keep peace in a troubled world of competing interests. There have been no World Wars in my lifetime but Vietnam and the Gulf wars interrupted peace. Foreign countries hosted our atrocities and they did not invade The United States of America for decades. As a matter of fact, I almost reached my fortieth birthday before terrorism squarely hit our soil with the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Considering our topnotch armed forces and intelligence agencies, most Americans felt disbelief over this tragedy but terrorism may have adopted a new home. We are not adored by many countries yet the fiber of the United States of America is a melting pot of all cultures. Despite our superpower status, never before has our nation become such an international target. Our sovereignty as a nation is objectionable for unfathomable reasons to those that do not covet freedom as an inalienable right of every human being. Without a lid for borders, the stew in the pot stirs to a slow boil. Brothers now resemble enemies and profilers must envy early retirement.
If this were my last breath before becoming a particle in the light, I humbly report no formulary in circulation to cure society’s ills. Nay Sayers predicted a doomsday scenario that the world would end at the turn of the previous century. Even with a swiftly tilting planet, we are five years into the new millennium and the world has not ended but evolved for better and worse. So children, my advice is salt of the earth. Honor God in whatever religion you choose. Thank the stars above for the wondrous miracle of life never letting the present moment be a passing thought. Love your parents. Understand that charity makes one richer not poorer. Live a purpose-driven life in order to leave the world a better place.
If NASA ever discovers a habitable planet and declares eminent domain for the purpose of colonization, shuttle a copy of my letter on the next flight out. If the world has got to change, let it change for the better…with one giant step for man, in space, the final frontier.
With transcending love, Your great grandfather, Joe Tornatore joetornatore@comcast.net

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