Joe Six Pack


"Joe Six Pack." That's how we used to sarcastically refer to the working guys who left home early every morning, metal lunch bucket in hand, to toil in my home town's many factories. The young people of my generation ridiculed them, thought they were stupid, and believed their lives to be humdrum nothingness. They were Joe Six Pack, their wives were Jane Six Pack. It didn't make any difference that they were our mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers; we believed them to be yardsticks of an unworthy life. We were going to change things, rearrange the world, tear down the ancient edifices of America and replace them with a shining new truth.

The truth was we were stupid, not them. We were a pack of immature brats weaned on crackpot schemes and hare-brained ideas and a healthy dose of shame for America's largesse. We were going to make things better, bring democracy to the rest of the world, pull America's poor up by government bootstraps, and most of all we were not going to be our parents.

To put it politely, we didn't know jack and yet we managed in the interim to render asunder the very foundation that ensured America's prosperity and greatness: the American family. I remember holding endless conversations (usually while stoned out of my brains as were my companions) that we should have no-fault divorce, that grubby factory jobs should be replaced by more esoteric and intellectual pursuits and America should surrender much of its great wealth to the world's less fortunate nations and most of all how silly it was to have a single partner in your emotional life. Sounded good at the time, but then tomfoolery usually seems logical while in the eye of the storm.

This all would have been harmless youthful garbage had not we persisted in these infantile attitudes and actually set the legislative ball in motion on a lot of these immature and destructive concepts once we assumed power in the land. Look what has happened to America in the last four decades. Declining wealth and declining world prestige. Our former enemies now hold our markers and therefore the key to our prosperity. We have become a people soured on the future, with an electorate parsed so deeply that our political parties now operate in armed camps and savage the country between them and do it with our blessings. We, in our inimitable desire to better ourselves, destroyed the American family and used one of the titanic achievements of American history to accomplish the dastardly deed: the public schools. They became not only the educators of children but the feeders of children, the emotional crutches for children, the social network for children, the dispensers of mind-altering and mood-altering drugs and the arbiters of what constituted proper behavior for the nation's children. Our classrooms are now dominated by a 'sit down and shut up" philosophy and a "teach to tests" ethos that sours young minds and suffocates youthful idealism. Public schools have become America's de facto parents, and as the American family has come unraveled there is no one powerful enough to speak out against education and its taxpayer-funded trillions and therefore the destruction continues unabated.

I never thought it would come  to this. That I would speak out so vociferously against that which I had vociferously defended scant decades earlier. Now that Joe and Jane Six Pack have pretty much disappeared and their workplaces replaced with weed-infested empty lots the evidence of the devastation is everywhere. The saloons that once occupied every other corner and catered to the working class with shots and beers and the ubiquitous Friday fish fry have been decimated, the neighborhood grocery stores which sold their sustenance and carried them on the books wiped off the map, the school lots where kids played baseball and football and jumped rope and hopscotched are now bereft of youth, and the family that regularly sat down together for supper in the evening has been replaced with a goofy mishmash of second and third marriages or loopy boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that confuse already confused children. Knowing this who can honestly say that we have made things better? Now, I like some of the polish we've put on America. I couldn't pen this column or post it without the benefit of this computer and the bully pulpit of the internet. We've gone a very long way in advancing the civil rights of formerly disenfranchised Americans. Who would have thought forty years ago that today's President would be black? My own daughters can now aspire to be doctors, while my sisters could only aspire to be nurses. Good things, all. But weighed against the absolute ravaging of our jobs base and the anchor of the American family we have gone backwards, not  forwards, in our pursuit of creating a better and greater nation.

We argued for utopia and instead begat dystopia. I will admit it here: I was wrong. We were wrong.

Unfortunately there is no way to turn back the clock, and the future is dark, and uncertain.

As Miranda spake in The Tempest:
O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind 
is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!

Lenny Palmer 7/23/2011


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