Nothing Changed from Yesterday, Volume XXVI

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Travel removes us from our own cocoon and broadens our perspective. Typically though I don’t associate that perspective changing with my trips to the Midwest since I grew up there. But this time I took care of my sister’s children for several days. Briefly I left my LA life as gay man without children and traveled to the alternate universe of life with children in America’s so-called heartland.

No passport was required. Nor were any special vaccinations needed despite the high risk of exposure to infectious diseases. I didn’t pore over restaurant reviews and the shopping on this trip was at decidedly more mainstream stores. Everyone spoke English or some rudimentary version of it. Nevertheless, like foreign travel, I returned with new understanding

For example, here in LA I see restaurants offering neither Coke or Pepsi, a big shift from the past. Since we imagine California as the vanguard, I imagine that change cascading through America because soda is not popular anymore. Articles like this reinforce that notion. But then I watch my three-year old nephew Teddy demand a two liter bottle of orange soda as his special New Year’s treat. And, frankly, all four of my sister’s boys guzzle soda like it’s a drug every time an adult let’s them. I am suddenly reminded that, whatever its problems, Coca Cola had $46 billion in revenue in 2014.

The McDonald’s two blocks away from me in downtown Los Angeles closes, presumably because it couldn’t adopt to the gentrifying neighborhood. I imagine an American shift to healthier foods and the slow demise of the Golden Arches replaced by the so-called fast casual restaurants. But don’t tell this to my seven-year old nephew Jack because he loves the chicken nuggets at McDonald’s. And really, who’s to say that’s any worse than e-coli infested Chipotle?

Politicians decry the stagnation of the middle class. I imagine enormous social disruption born out of anger. But then I drove my sister’s minivan. The television screen folded down from the ceiling in back. I pushed a DVD of cartoons into the player and sipped my Starbucks coffee. All four of the boys watched the cartoons, mesmerized and safely strapped into their car seats. Remember this: our parents’ generation drank nasty coffee from a gas station, fumbled with the radio dial or cassettes and endured an endless steam of “Are we there yet?” questions.  Whatever else the statistics may say about stagnating standards of living, I assure you middle class parents today live in a Golden Age of Short Trips with Children.

Months ago after reading this story about the decline of Chuck E. Cheese and it’s so-called millennial problem, I think to myself that I would never go there. Then, on the first day of my babysitting I began with an open-ended question. “What do you guys want to do today?” Without a pause, my five-year old nephew Charlie answered that he wanted to go to Chuck E. Cheese. I’ve always been convinced that the role of the uncle without children is to indulge nieces and nephews, so we soon packed up the minivan and went on our way through a Wisconsin snowstorm. I used to think Chuck E. Cheese was for people too cash-strapped to take their children to a real theme park. Now I see that for approximately $35 a parent can feed their children, keep the house clean by virtue of removing the children from it and have a pleasant car ride to and from the Chuck E. Cheese. It seems Chuck E. Cheese doesn’t have a millennial problem, they just need a new slogan. Chuck E. Cheese: Cheaper than a Maid.

A Whole Foods opens near my loft and, again, I imagine a shift in this country to healthier, whole foods. I see a future with less processed sugars and fewer packaged food products. My two-year nephew James taught me to moderate these expectations. At Target while sitting in the cart seat, he suddenly lunged the whole of his little body towards the shelf repeating the word oreo, oreo, oreo. I looked over and saw a wall of the familiar blue packaging. Please bear in mind that while trying to imitate adults who call him “James-ie” my nephew refers to himself in the third as person as “Nay-Nay.” Thus, it’s only slight hyperbole to say that he could recognize and demand Oreos before he could properly speak his own name.

I suppose that nothing in this article is really surprising and it was my visions that were off base. Young boys, when indulged by adults, love sugar, video games, cartoons and junk food. Duh. Mondelez International had a convert in young James before kale ever got a chance, despite my sister’s Herculean efforts to the contrary.

Still, it’s a reminder of a certain form of consistency that is perhaps needed right now. The financial markets have been in a near panic. Even Wall Street darling Apple has taken a beating. Stocks have tumbled because of weakness in China and fears of political instability. Borders have tightened throughout Europe. Oil prices have collapsed. An especially divisive Presidental primary in the Republican party causes us to question whether our own status quo is actually so.

But with all of this, are things really changing?

The media over-reports change because it sells. Huffington Post can hardly attract clicks with the headline “Nothing Changed from Yesterday.” Such a headline would at once usually be truthful in the greater sense and almost always false in the smaller sense. For something always changes, but what’s lost is in our dialogue is that, largely, things remain the same.

And it’s true in our own lives. Now that we’re two weeks into the new year, if you’re a writer of resolutions or even had the smallest of intentions about your life this year, you already know that things remain largely the same. You may already be giving up on those resolutions. Making change is tough.

But don’t confuse the permanence of human life with your own. In the words of Bowie, the time is running wild. In a generation, it’s a sure bet that two-year olds will still demand Oreos, but it’s uncertain that you’ll be here to see it.  Make 2016 count.

Los Angeles, California

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