That Booming Sound

Normally, I’m against the concept of membership. I was never a Scout, Young Republican or Pathfinder1. I’ve never joined a labor union or the Neil Diamond Fan Club. I don’t lunch with Rotarians or run with Elks. I didn’t sign up for the Book of the Month. I won’t even eat a club sandwich, for fear there’s a joining fee.

Perhaps I’m just shy. Perhaps it’s the dress code. Perhaps, along with Groucho Marx and Alvy Singer2, I’m not interested in belonging to any group that would tolerate me as a member. Whatever the reason, I avoid them, with one prominent exception: my charter membership in the largest, most powerful club in America—the Baby Boomers.

It was founded in 1946, when an extra half million or so Americans came into the world3. That sudden increase in the birth rate has been attributed to the elation of World War II victory, the large numbers of returning military males, and allowing men and women to sit together in Columbia Auditorium.

Whatever the reason, the next 18 fertile years produced about 78 motley million of us. Michael Jordan, Bill Gates and Madonna are certified club members. Al Gore thinks he invented Boomers. The Donald hopes to replace the word Baby with Trump and sell the rights. O.J. Simpson is searching for the real Boomers. Our President is a Boomer, though there’s no evidence he ever showed up for Boomer training. And let’s not forget the most important Boomer of all—Oprah.

But it’s not just who we are that makes us so special. It’s the things we’ve seen, the deeds we’ve done. Most of us witnessed the tragic deaths of two Kennedys and Dr. Martin Luther King. We advocated racial and gender equality, suffered through Vietnam and Watergate, and introduced the world to blue jeans, rock music and irony. But our most important contribution to the planet was us. At every life stage we’ve defied categorization, and we’re still turning the eyes of marketing weasels into dollar signs.

For those of you who aren’t Boomers, it’s natural to be envious. After all, we’ve experienced so much, and have led such rich lives. With us around, you probably feel like the youngest child in a very large family. You don’t get any attention. It’s “Boomer did this,” and “Boomer did that.” No one cares about your achievements, your challenges.

It can’t help that we seem to be the last peer group to be given an actual name. Previous generations were called Lost, Silent or Greatest. After us, they’re just using letters—like Generation X or Y.

Clearly, whoever labels these things stopped trying after we came along. I feel bad for my daughter. She and her peers will probably be reduced to a punctuation mark. Gen &, or perhaps just ^.

Admit it. You’re jealous. And the truth is, we Boomers don’t make it easy for you. We like ourselves. We like talking about ourselves and reading about ourselves. Sometimes we like to write about how we like to talk and read about ourselves. It has to be annoying. You’ve noticed, too, that we’re not bound by the laws of nature, or by the actuarial tables that have hampered other generations. We have no plans to actually age or die, so you’re going to have us around for a long, long time.

And that’s exactly what my fellow Boomers and I are worried about. As we enter our time of non-retirement and anti-aging, we’re going to lay waste to the land like a cloud of locusts. Unless you do something, fast, we’ll be breaking the bank on Social Security and Medicare. We’ll be expecting miracle health care procedures and expensive potions, and spurning nursing homes for private home care. We’ll be loudly demanding the personal services we’ve earned and think we deserve, but that you Xs, Ys and ^s don’t seem to yet have the will, money or numbers to provide.

Do you want that to happen? Of course you don’t. Do you really want 78 million of us running around acting all grumpy and entitled? We didn’t think so. That’s why we’re glad we had this talk, because it’s good to communicate
honestly and openly about these things, to share clear outcome
expectations.
Oh, and sorry you can’t be in our club. Really we are, but rules are rules. On the bright side, by 2010 there will be plenty of service positions available, so we’ll get to see each other a lot. You’ll take care of us, won’t you? Won’t you?

1Though I do have my Wild Edible Plants honor.
2The mousy hypochondriac in Annie Hall.
3Newsweek, November 14, 2005.

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Last update on November 7, 2007