My Autographed Photograph Of Virginia Wade—1
This is Toni looking cool upside-down on the swings at McKinley Park.
It looks like kind of a peaceful scene, right? But Toni’s friend Jeanette is standing just out of frame screaming at the top of her lungs, “Smile, Toni! Smile! Oh, Toni, you never smile for the camera!”
But Toni was too cool for that smiling stuff. She and Jeanette were always laughing the way kids do, but whenever I would raise my camera Toni would instantly get into a kind of proto-supermodel mood and assume almost blank expressions that were much more cool and more evocative than simple smiles.
Toni’s parents owned a neighborhood store not far from the tennis courts at McKinley Park. After playing, almost everyone from the tennis club would walk over to the store and get trail mix or cherry slushies (brain freeze!) or some such stuff.
Back in “T. J. Pughe, Chip-Making Fool” and its introduction I talked a little bit about the way neighborhoods have changed over the last few generations. There are no more neighborhood stores. Now there are ‘convenience stores’ but they’re not the same as neighborhood stores. I’m going to tell a story about Toni later that never could have happened in a modern convenience store.
But first I want to talk about the topic of young people in general.
Yesterday I talked about how some things always change and some things never change. I wonder how young people fit into that polarization? Are young people today the same as young people three generations ago?
I used to think youth was youth and young people didn’t change. But lately I’ve been thinking I might be wrong. I wonder if young people might have what Ayn Rand called their “sense-of-life” more-or-less instilled in them by pop culture at large:
Long before he is old enough to grasp such a concept as metaphysics, man makes choices, forms value-judgments, experiences emotions and acquires a certain implicit view of life. Every choice and value-judgment implies some estimate of himself and of the world around him—most particularly, of his capacity to deal with the world. He may draw conscious conclusions, which may be true or false; or he may remain mentally passive and merely react to events (i.e., merely feel). Whatever the case may be, his subconscious mechanism sums up his psychological activities, integrating his conclusions, reactions or evasions into an emotional sum that establishes a habitual pattern and becomes his automatic response to the world around him. What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.
... A culture, like an individual, has a sense of life or, rather, the equivalent of a sense of life—an emotional atmosphere created by its dominant philosophy, by its view of man and of existence. This emotional atmosphere represents a culture’s dominant values and serves as the leitmotif of a given age, setting its trends and its style.
“Sense of Life” from the Ayn Rand Lexicon
In the 60s and 70s there was a great deal of hypocrisy and exploitation. But at the same time there was energy and hope and respect for individuals creating their own path. There was ambition, in the largest sense of the word—people striving to fulfill and express themselves both as individuals and as part of the world-at-large.
When I talk to young people today I do not see much of that energy. I do not see much of that ambition. I see, mostly, a kind of free-floating, predatory meanness built around an American Idol/Survivor sort of zero-sum thinking where kids seem to believe some people are almost destined to randomly win while causing others to lose.
About five years after I took that photo of Toni on the swings I was nineteen or twenty and getting ready to move away from McKinley Park. Toni was fifteen or sixteen. We went out to lunch to say goodbye. I think we went to Burger King.
When we talked over burgers, fries and shakes, Toni told me what she had done the weekend before.
Her parents had gone away for the weekend. So, Toni and her friends had locked up the store early on Friday and had a party. They’d eaten the junk food right off the shelves and poured vodka into the slushies machine.
I said, “What are you like fifteen or sixteen?! What the hell are you doing drinking vodka?!”
But Toni just laughed and leaned across the little table and kissed me on the cheek.
This is one of the experiential differences between young people from generations back and young people in the modern world.
When I used to talk to Toni—for instance—even when she said stuff that freaked me out, like her vodka story, I always enjoyed our conversations, I always sensed in Toni a tremendous energy, a tremendous sense of promise, a tremendous hope for the future.
When I talk to young people today I don’t feel much energy, hope or promise at all. In fact after I talk to many young people today I often feel drained of energy, hope and promise.
It’s the opposite of the way things should be!
It’s the opposite of the way things used to be . . .
However, on the topic of things that do not change, I am going to end this post on the topic of beautiful women and little dogs.
Some people nowadays might think that Paris Hilton ‘invented’ the whole little dog schtick. But that is not true.
Back in the mid-70s, after my friend Wally and I got our driver permits, any time we could get a family car we would drive up to Lincoln Park and just walk around taking pictures.
Before Paris Hilton was even born, beautiful women—for some reason!—were hanging out with little dogs. That is one of the weird things, apparently, that never changes. I don’t know why and I don’t know what it means, but I saw it with my own eyes and I have the photographic evidence to back up my memory: