As I was growing up in Canton, Ohio, there was a boy in our neighborhood named Ronald. Ronald was our age but he seemed to have a bit more "bulk". He was stronger. He rode his bike a little faster than everyone else. He tackled a little harder in football and he seemed to hit the baseball just a little further than the rest of us. He was also, well, more mean than the rest of our friends. He was the kind of person who would catch a bug, take a magnifying glass, hold it up to the sun, and use the bright, hot rays to sizzle that bug right there on the concrete. Ronald was also the kind of person that you didn't want to fight. Once, for no apparent reason, he flipped me on my back, thrust his knees down on my shoulders, and proceeded to pound me, hard, on the chest. Repeatedly. Being the pacifist, I writhed back and forth and begged him to stop, but he continued to pound on me because he was....just a mean kid.
That same feeling that engulfed us in the old neighborhood when Ronald would show up is the same kind of feeling I've been getting lately with many things. It's a creeping, enveloping sense of dread, a kind of existential angst that permeates things, not unlike some mutant, toxic form of The Force. Robin Meade gives me the bad news about more job loss within our economy in the morning as I sip on my Teeccino. Clients tell me of cutbacks, and guys who once gave me instructions as Program Directors are now emailing me asking me if I know of anyone to whom they can send their packages because they've been down-sized. Disinterested voices from insurance companies on the other end of the phone inform us that they can't underwrite a policy for us because of pre-existing conditions. But the feeling of dread is more than just recurring bad news about the overall state of things. Perhaps the general malaise caused by double-digit unemployment and the health-care debate has allowed some of us to vent in unpredictable ways. And some of those ways have demonstrated behavior that has been, interestingly enough, quite mean.
I have found the health-care situation to be both fascinating and disgusting. Lately, we've been on the "front lines" of this debate. Our insurance premiums over the past two years have been stratospheric, similar to A-Rod numbers. So, Donna embarked on this long, drawn-out journey to do something about it. What we discovered is what most people already know, that insurance is: a) really expensive and b)intent on not covering anything. Because we have been between policies, we've also had to pay "sticker price" for some of our prescriptions. $246.00 for a 30-day supply? Are you kidding? That's a piece of studio gear. Or 7 cases of Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot. Talk about dread setting in.
But even though I'm absolutely aghast at the price-tag on one prescription, I couldn't bring myself to stand there in Wal-Mart and sling a profanity-laced tirade at the pharmacy assistant. That would have been pretty...mean. Not to mention fairly embarrassing to my wife. But that's what some people at town-hall meetings do. Some of the footage of irate Pennsylvanians standing there in front of Arlen Specter screaming at the top of their lungs and spraying him with saliva was simply unbelievable. It's as if our anger has given us carte blanche to say or do anything in the name of protest.
How about some of the signs at the rally in Washington, DC last week? Believe me, I'm the first to say that it's our duty to speak out against waste, hypocrisy, over-spending, injustice...or just plain political stupidity. However, I found some of the signs at that rally to be outright vile. I didn't vote for Barack Obama and I don't toe the line on all of his policies. And as Donna will tell you, I'm not the most patriotic person in the world. I'm much more quick to point out our country's faults than she is. But he is the President and he does deserve some modicum of respect. Call him a Socialist? Fine. That's your right. Super-imposing Obama's face, though, on to the body of some Islamic terrorist surrounded my machine guns and ammunition is just...mean. And this rally, and others like it, have given some a clean getaway on expressing their own racism. I saw the signs depicting Obama being hung from a tree with a noose around his neck. That's hardly a protest about the price of Prozac.
Perhaps that's the cause of my overall feeling of occasional angst. The freedom and the anonymity of the internet has allowed us to, in a way, say anything we want, whenever we want, and, more importantly, however we want. We've dispensed with the "nod and a wink" and have gone straight to the jugular. We've traded in the deftly-written op-ed piece for a expletive-laced burst on Facebook. And the cleverly-drawn political cartoon has been replaced with an anything-goes sign at a rally. It's epidemic. Robbers just don't take the money; they also have to shoot the clerk. It scares me sometimes, and it detracts just a little bit from the feelings I have about my own country.
I don't think I'm the only one who senses it. The other day, a cop pulled Donna over because Matt forgot to renew the license tags on the car. Now, $75.00 poorer, I journeyed to the DMV, which, as any red-blooded American will tell you, is the perfect storm for volatile transactions to occur. I had spent the better part of an hour waiting, and the woman who helped take care of the "Car Tags" department kept looking in my direction, seemingly sensing my growing impatience. I kept waiting to hear my name called from her clipboard. Finally, she got to me. I must have had that "I-could-spit-in-Arlen-Specter's-face" look because after explaining why I was there, she said, "Honey, you just look like this is the last place you want to be right now". I chuckled and so did she, and while she was retrieving my new plates I thought, "Hmmm....someone at the DMV not being...mean? That's a switch".
So, I thought of Ronald today. And though I don't spend a large amount of time anymore trying to figure out what made him so mean, I do give pause and reflect on myself and others. Somewhere amidst the chaos and uncertainty, I wish we'd step back and dial it down a notch. If someone at the DMV can be nice, isn't there hope for us yet?
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