Back in this prehistoric age, a mailman could support a family. A trash collector could buy a house. The cashier at the local supermarket -- one of the few jobs a woman could hold -- made $50,000 a year, which bought her a house and spared shoppers from hearing conversations like, "Hey Cristi, is this a beet or a carrot?" and "I swear to God, if you call me once more I will pull off your dick and hit you with it."
Their back-up plans were better than our career choices. "Well," they'd say, "if things don't work out as an architect, I could always be a flight attendant, fucking my way around the world and making $75,000 a year." Or "If by some horrible happenstance I don't make it as a doctor, Uncle Mike can get me a job as a
fireman and I'll earn $70,000 a year for saving people, getting three meals a day, and showering with in-shape guys."
So it's a little surprising seeing how these dudes act like heroes today. They act like it was tough being employed before the word "productivity" was coined, when every office building was dark and empty at exactly 5:01 p.m. Now they're all offering endless streams of advice despite the fact they worked at their dad's factory for thirty years and called in drunk for half of them.
Life isn't working out? Just work hard and you'll get to the top, they say, blissfully unaware that an hour's work at minimum wage will buy you half an onion today. Want a promotion? Just ask your boss for more responsibilities, they say. Yeah, that'll work. Your net worth will skyrocket when you're suddenly in charge of french fries. Get there early and stay there late, they advise, clueless that getting any kind of employment means swearing there's nothing you love more than working unpaid overtime and giving white guys a foot massage.
Luckily, I don't see many overprivileged white dudes these days. I don't go to church. I don't read Time or Fortune. I ignore ads for brokerage firms that say two million dollars isn't enough for retirement. So I was surprised to spot a few at the Budapest airport when I was catching the first of two flights home. You know you've messed up when you get somewhere even before the old people show up. They're supposed to be the early birds, allowing enough time for traffic, six trips to the bathroom, and snapping a hip or two.
As I sat there eating a Starbucks sandwich, an old couple in pastels -- let's call them Carter and Connie -- wheeled their luggage over and plopped down across from me. I winced: these were the kind of people you'd overhear telling waiters things like, "In America, restaurants have ketchup." I catalogued the differences between us: I was in 501s, not khakis, and a Fred Perry polo instead of Ralph Lauren. I wear contacts rather than glasses that come with a guarantee from Sears. Okay, I had some gray hair, but it was premature.
Carter whipped out something called Good Old Days magazine and started flipping through it. I Googled it on my tablet and was stunned speechless. It was an endless scroll of white folks ass-kissing dead relatives in heartwarming stories like these:
Dad's Dots and Dashes: "Morse code was his favorite language." I'm not sure how this'll turn heart-warming, since all I can picture is Dad screaming, "Until you kids shut your freakin' yaps, I'll be in the basement."
Grandma's Machines: "It was a good description for all those newfangled whatchamacallits." This little summary made my jaw drop. Really, in fifty years we've gone from admiring a woman who called blenders "whatchamacallits" to "Your tablet only has 32 gig of memory? Why the fuck do you get out of bed?"
A Day at Candlestick: "It was an unforgettable trip for a boy and his dad." Uh, let me guess: a bunch of white men watched another bunch of white men hit balls and run around bases, but somehow a boy learned something other than, "Life sure is good for us white folk!"
Home Remedies -- Feeling Rosy: "Roses -- they're not just for Valentine's Day anymore!" I'm honestly kind of curious if this startling expose will run toward "You can also buy them in October!" or "Did you know in a pinch you can use them as a breath spray?"
Sundaes Every Thursday: "Her mom's small gesture made a tremendous difference in her young life."
Yes, believe it or not, a mom who makes ice cream sundaes for her kids every Thursday will be a better role model than those stupid bitches who work.
Sim's Lessons: "He couldn't read or write, but he taught his grandson a thing or two." Fingers crossed this is a "Work hard" or "Do your best" kind of lesson rather than "Mexicans stop picking strawberries if you don't give them water every four hours or so."
Carter and Connie sat there quietly for a few minutes until another elderly couple -- let's call them Dick and Debbie -- approached. "I checked this weather at home this morning," Debbie said to Carter and Connie. "Ninety degrees. [PAUSE] Of course, it's always ninety degrees at home. Ha!"
They all chortled as I rolled my eyes. It's her last afternoon in Budapest and she's checking the weather in Bag O' Pretzels, Wyoming? Weather that never changes? Besides, what difference did it make? If it was twelve degrees there, would she wear a parka and ski boots on the plane?
Connie started laughing. "Debbie was so funny this morning, Dick," she said. "We were standing on the deck, and she realized she'd lost you. She just started going up to people and saying, 'I'm looking for a man with silver hair.' Maybe the fourth person she approached said, "Sweetheart, EVERY MAN ON THE BOAT HAS SILVER HAIR.'"
You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to put it together. A couple of days earlier, a Viking Cruise Ship had moored in the Danube directly in front of my hotel. These folks must have been passengers. Judging from the commercials on PBS I'd always thought a Viking Cruise would be fun, so a close-up look at their passengers was a bucket of cold water in my face. As a seemingly endless stream of pastel-clad elderly wandered up and joined the four, I x-ed out the option with a Sharpie marker in my head.
When we finally boarded the plane, there had to be twenty of them. The men were all in Ralph Lauren and pleated khakis and the women in high-waisted pants, pastel blouses and gigantic jewelry made out of shiny rocks. They hoisted carry-ons into bins, settled into seats, exhaled hard and fell asleep.
After a couple hours I got sick of sitting and watching old sitcoms so I got up and went for a walk. I passed forty rows of sleeping seniors before I ran into the obligatory hunky flight attendant. I don't think I imagined our connection: flight attendants always do a lot of friendly touching but their hands don't usually linger on your chest. "You look like a whiskey drinker," he said, gesturing toward a crate of tiny bottles. "Help yourself."
Actually I hate whiskey, but I hate alienating handsome men even more. "Thanks," I said in a low but still possibly believable voice. There was a small age gap between us, but the more we talked the more the years melted away. We were both attractive and energetic. We were both handsome and fun and free. Conversation had ceded to serious flirting when Dick and Debbie barged in. "Can we get some water?" Debbie asked Mike. "Otherwise we're gonna be tough as beef jerky when we finally get to Houston."
Mike looked at me and smiled. "Houston, huh?" he said. "I get out to Houston occasionally."
It took a second for my mind to catch up, and I nearly laughed. It was crazy, his linking me with these old farts. It was silly. A minor distraction, a tiny error. Wasn't insulting at all.
I grabbed a handful of tiny bottles to take back to my seat and said, "I'm looking for a man with silver hair."