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We were your basic titans of American manhood

(And as far as we knew, things were going to stay that way.)

Eric Mortenson

October 15, 2023

We were free and white, as people in our town used to say, and about five years out from being 21, which would seal the deal. As far as we knew, there wasn’t much to worry about, except the damn Russians and sometimes the Chinese. And things stayed that way for guys like us, for decades.

But things did start to change, over time, didn’t they?

I’m glad to see America turn, however slow and painful it’s been, before our time is completely over.

And our time should be over, except for any genuine wisdom we can pass along. You see the three of us up there? All three of us, Titus, Oates and me, are eight years younger than Joe Biden and five years younger than the vile buffoon.

Titus turned 72 the other day and I’m right behind him, with my birthday in November. Oates won’t catch us until next spring. On his birthday, I texted Titus and told him we still had time to make a presidential run. “No kidding!” he texted back.

The point is that Joe Biden — a good man — and the vile buffoon are both too old to be president again. Not to mention that the buffoon is a con man, a liar, a cheat and a traitor. Like I’ve said, I hope he dies alone in a prison cell, with the other cons laughing at him.

But seriously, it’s time for all of us boomers to step aside, politically.

I’m happy to oblige, although I do intend to keep babbling about various things and offering my opinion, should anyone care to listen.

The photo is from 1967 and was taken in Hood River, in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. The sh*t was about to hit the fan in America in 1968, that’s true, but most of it spun past us in rural Oregon and seemed to land elsewhere. I remember the three of us were playing three-handed Pinochle at Oates’s house that April night after the news broke that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered in Memphis.

Yes, we solemnly agreed as we played our trump cards, that was sure too bad for the Negroes.

We didn’t recognize, then, how bad it was for all of us. And how Bobby Kennedy’s murder just two months later, in June, was another vicious smack against everything we believed about America. Then the hammer blows of reality fell: Vietnam, injustice, ignorance, violence, casual and deadly racism, and the dirty crimes of the rich against the poor. We’d already had President Kennedy murdered when I was in sixth grade, and I still think that cracked us and cracked America, too.

We ducked when the sh*t hit the fan. I think a lot of guys like us didn’t want to look at it. We’d grown up thinking life in America was pretty damn great — and for us, it was. We Americans were smart and brave, we had the best of everything and the world was damn lucky to have us. We’d saved the world’s butt in World War II just over 20 years earlier, simultaneously fighting across two oceans.

We didn’t want anyone telling us otherwise. Didn’t want to hear it.

If you had told us, for example — when we were in that photo up there — that we were and would continue to be the beneficiaries of white male privilege, we would have scoffed in your face. Bullsh*t, we would have said. What privilege? Why…

We weren’t rich and our daddies weren’t connected and they didn’t completely pave the way for us. We had to work for it, too, all three of us, didn’t we? Hell, I was one of seven kids raised by a body and fender man and a part-time telephone operator. Don’t go telling me about any privilege and…

But I like to think we know better, now. Even our family, lower middle class that we were, started out a step ahead of so many other Americans. Just about every person of color dealt with vicious, demeaning crap that we didn’t have to. How many of the girls our age never broke clear of grabby hands and patronizing minds?

It’s funny. We came out of the 1960s and ‘70s thinking our parents were hopeless Neanderthals and we were the enlightened ones who would make the world better. Now our kids blame us boomers for how things are so messed up.

But things have changed for the better, over our time. Slowly, belatedly, painfully. Most of us boomers, I think, eventually came to realize that America wasn’t kind, hopeful and even-handed for many of our fellow citizens. Our kids know it for sure, and they plan to make it right.

I think it’s important to acknowledge how it was, then, when we were in that photo up there and thought everything was great.

At best, Black people were “colored.” My grandparents still referred to the long-abandoned homestead up the road from them as “the N-gger place.” We had a neighbor who named his small black dog “Nig.”

You might have to Jew somebody down to get a better price. The Indians? They weren’t doing anything with the land or the river when we got here, so… Not our fault what happened to them. Hiroshima and Nagasaki, well, that was war and we had to end it. No use thinking too hard about it now.

Anybody with a disability was a retard or a spaz, short for spastic. Guys called each other “fag,” “faggot” or “queer” as jovial insults. Our group of guys kept a “10 Most Want to F–k” list of girls we knew, even though we were f–king clueless, so to speak, about sex and wouldn’t get closer than wondering about it for several years yet.

And of course we never, ever gave girls their due in school or work, even though many of them were smarter than most of us.

But we grew up, took over from our parents and too many of us are still running things. We’ll have economic clout for years to come, but it’s time for us to step away from the political hegemony we’ve been inflicting on the country.

I hope Joe does the right thing and announces next year that he won’t seek another term, and throws it open to a young successor. I hope the Dems decide the nominee in a wide-open, energetic convention in Chicago, kind of like 1968 without the riots. I’d personally vote for Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s Secretary of Transportation.

The Republicans? Unless some of their candidates grow a pair and start telling the truth about him, they’ll be stuck with the vile buffoon and will lose again. Damn fools. This country needs a solid Conservative political faction to balance us wingnut Libs. Right now all the Republicans offer is idiots, criminals, cowards and cynical hypocrites.

Meanwhile, our time is over, politically.

I look at the three of us in that photo. We had a lot to learn, and I think we eventually did.

More than 50 years later, bemused titans. But we got it figured out. Didn’t we?

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