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James R. Stout

It's No Circus Either

            When I was growing up my father had two responses that he would give if we complained that something wasn’t fair. The conversation might go something like this:

            “That’s not fair!” I complained.

            “It’s no circus either.” Dad replied.

            “That’s not fair! I complained.

            “Life’s not fair. Get used to it.” Dad replied.

            The implication was pretty clear. Dad was making sure that we knew that life is indeed not “fair” with respect to what we believed was fair. I don’t have to look far to find someone who is richer than me or someone who is poorer than me. Someone who is more attractive than me or someone who is not as attractive as me. Someone who is taller than me or someone who is shorter than me. Someone who is fatter than me or someone who is thinner than me. But none of that means it’s unfair. It’s just the way things are.

            Another saying that we would hear a lot was, “They’re trying to keep up with the Jones’s.” I remember we had these neighbors that my parents didn’t much care for. Why? Well, when Dad went and bought a new lawn mower, a simple push lawn mower, but new nonetheless, our next-door neighbor went out the next week and bought a self-propelled lawn mower. When my parents bought a 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 demo with 3,000 miles on it our next-door neighbors immediately went out and bought a new 1962 Chevrolet Impala with all the bells and whistles. When my mother bought her first new winter coat in several years, a J.C. Penney’s special, the lady next door bought a new fur coat. But you know what? My parents weren’t in debt up to their ears. Our neighbors ended up losing their house and that Impala because they couldn’t pay the bills. Mom and Dad didn’t try to keep up with the Jones’s. Yet when I got a used bicycle, one that my Dad tuned a couple of pianos so that I could have a bike at all, Johnny got a brand-new Sears bike with a horn, a basket, and little red and white streamers on the handgrips I complained it wasn’t fair. Dad set me straight. He worked half a day just so that I could have that used bike. I should be thankful just to have it. I felt ashamed which was completely appropriate. Dad did the best he could for us and that was more than fair.

            So, all this stuff about what’s fair and what isn’t fair has really gotten out of hand these days. Life isn’t fair, but then it shouldn’t be. Not if it means taking something from someone who worked hard to get it and giving it to someone who doesn’t work at all or is satisfied with just getting by. You want to know what’s not fair? Socialism and communism aren’t fair. We all understood that very clearly 50 years ago. But now we’ve got a significant portion of our society, and you no doubt know who I’m talking about, who believe that it’s fair for a government to take from one person and give it to another. In other words, they think socialism is the answer to all our woes. The worst part of this is most of those people have more now than I could have ever dreamed of having when I was their age. When’s the last time you met someone who didn’t have a cell phone that does everything except cook dinner for them? Some people still drive old clunkers, but most of the people complaining that things aren’t fair drive cars that are far nicer than anything I had for most of my adult life. Old clunkers were about all I could afford until I was in my late 30’s and even then, when I did buy a new car, I couldn’t afford to buy what I really wanted. But I was glad to get a car that had a working AC unit, a radio of any kind that didn’t quit working when I hit a pothole, that had a paint job that didn’t resemble a car with leprosy, or that I worried wouldn’t pass the state inspection. I also had the completely fair monthly payment for 4 years. It was MY responsibility to pay for the car – not someone else’s.

            Another thing is the insanity over TV’s these days. Every Christmas all the stores are trying to get you to buy some gargantuan wide-screen TV with a surround sound system. And what the heck is 4K? My old flat-screen TV that was about 10 years old gave up the ghost last year. The darn thing just quit working. Which also begs the question, are there TV repairmen still? I doubt it. I went down to the Walmart to get another TV. For crying out loud. There were all kinds of TV’s and I can’t even begin to tell you what some of them do. Some were curved and some were whatever that 4K thing is. I just wanted a darned TV that I can see. Well, they had 28”, 32”, 35”, 36”, 39”, 40”, 50”, 55”, 60”, 65”, 70” and they even had one that was 80”. The deal was you could find a 32” TV that cost more than a 55” TV. What’s with that? Oh, I suppose the 32” would turn itself on and off and you could just tell it what channel you wanted, and it would take you there. I don’t know. But I have no problem pushing in a couple of buttons on a remote (something that I didn’t have until sometime in the 90’s) to get my channel. So, I bought what is likely beneath most of our younger crowd. I got a 55” behemoth that didn’t cost much. And maybe someone out there can explain to me what Hulu, Sling, and Vudu are. On second thought, don’t tell me. I don’t watch enough TV for it to matter. BTW – I’m not a technically illiterate “Old Fogey”. I know my way around a computer well, I am proficient with several makes of professional digital cameras, and I have all kinds of musical instruments and software programs that go with recording. It’s just that I believe that a TV should be pretty basic. Oh, and the furthest that I ever got with video games was Nintendo. The 8-bit variety. As far as I’m concerned, they should have quit while they were ahead. Super Mario Brothers 3 is as good as it gets.

            I apologize for digressing. Back to my point. What’s fair and what isn’t fair. The fact is life isn’t fair. Some of us are born pretty and some of us are born pretty ugly. If you think that’s unfair, then take it up with God. But you know what? I bet none of us are ugly in His eyes. It’s completely normal and OK to want to do better and achieve goals. To move up the ladder of success as long as we don’t kick someone else off the ladder while we’re doing it. The deal is we have a couple of generations now that believe they are owed things. They feel entitled to things. I don’t know how that happened. I really don’t. I’ll leave figuring that out to the experts. Things are all twisted up today. I’m retired. I worked hard for over 40 years in jobs that I didn’t particularly like. I paid into Social Security, with no choice, I might add, and now that I have reached an age where I can see some dividends from paying in all of those years and all of those years of hard work, there are younger people telling me that my paltry dividends (compared to what I paid in) are an unfair entitlement. That’s nuts! Some of them look at me and see that I have a paid off house (however humble it may be), a paid off truck, and that I am enjoying these years that I worked so hard to get to, and they think that is unfair. Well, it’s no circus either! These people don’t want to work and invest in their future or have to wait until they are old to enjoy the benefits. I’ve got news for them. Being “old” isn’t a party. A lot of my peers didn’t make it. They died before they got here. For many of us who have made it this far we wake up every morning in pain. We have ailments that go with being older. You know what? I’d take feeling young again in exchange for all of my “entitlements”. But guess what? Life’s not fair. As the old man on the front porch in “It’s A Wonderful Life” said, “Ahh, youth is wasted on the wrong people!” There’s wisdom in those words.

            The point is things are all turned around. But the fact is that if these younger generations live long enough, then they will finally understand what my generation knew all along. There’s a natural order in life whether you think it’s fair or not. Remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper? The ant works hard all summer long in the heat collecting food and storing it up for the winter and he works on his house making it better to withstand the coming winter. The grasshopper plays all summer and doesn’t do any planning for the winter. Then the winter comes. The ant is safe and warm with plenty of food to get him through the winter, but the grasshopper has nothing and ends up dying from the cold and from starvation. When I heard that story as a child, I understood what it meant. I took it to heart. Even so, it took me a few years as a young adult to start doing the work needed to make sure that when I reached the winter of my life I would survive. Some of the younger generations today want to play and not work hard enough make sure that they will be OK when they get old. For crying in a bucket, boy they are going to think things are really unfair when they have to figure out how to work at 75, with all the ailments that come with it, in order to survive the winter of their life.

            Don’t get me wrong on something here. I love many of the people in those younger generations and many of them have their heads screwed on right. But too many don’t. I don’t want to see them have the hardships that I know will come their way unless they change their attitude. I wish I could wave a magic wand, and everybody has perfect health, plenty of the things that we all need, and were filled with love for one another. But wishing won’t make it so. Sooner or later we have to understand that life isn’t fair. But we can do things to make our lot in life better. We can plan, work hard, care about each other, and help each other without being unfair to each other. What I would like to see is an America that is a beacon of light for other nations instead of seeing the light go out. Because then there’s only darkness. Let’s all be like Motel 6 and keep the lights on for each other.

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