Author: Zuniga, Nancy

Rantings of a Grumpy Old Woman

Like most folks, I occasionally fall into a bit of a funk, but if I happened to be in a negative frame of mind when it came time to compose my monthly column for this web site, I've fought the temptation to use this pulpit to vent my frustrations. Up until today, I've succeeded in restraining myself from “going negative” and have instead focused on other topics. However, I've decided that today, I'm just going to express myself and let the chips fall where they may. I do promise a tiny smidgen of bluegrass content toward the end of the column.

When I was a kid, I sometimes heard my elders pining for “the good old days” and repeating the cliché that “things ain't what they used to be.” I suppose it's a normal part of the aging process for persons of every generation to wax nostalgic for the way things were in their younger days. I think I've reached that stage. Here is my list of gripes about some of the changes...not for the better...that I've seen come about in my lifetime:

1. Changes in the American vernacular: Some years back, people joked about how the trash collector (aka the garbage man) was now to be called a “sanitation engineer”. Over time, there have been thousands of changes along these lines; for example, teachers' aides are now called “educational technicians”, the unemployment office is the “Department of Human Resources”....well, I could go on, but you get the picture. I'm certainly glad that it's no longer socially acceptable to use offensive slurs to describe groups of people, but I wonder if we haven't carried political correctness to a ridiculous extreme. I miss the days when we could call things and occupations by names that described what they really were.

2. Graffiti on boxcars: Call me a romantic, but there's just something about seeing a freight train barreling across the landscape that conjures up visions of the American frontier, or maybe some characters out of a Steinbeck novel catching a ride out west during the Great Depression. That is, freight trains did conjure up that high lonesome feeling for me back before nearly every boxcar in America became covered with huge cartoon-like letters revealing the nickname or gang affiliation of the social misfit who painted those letters. It's bad enough that there are no longer cabooses on the trains; The garish graffiti that now defaces nearly every boxcar serves as a final insult to the railroads which I once found to be an inspiring part of our landscape.

3. Automated voice commands: It used to be that when I needed information from a company, I could dial the customer service number and hear a real live human being on the other end. As an added bonus, said human being was nearly always someone who had an actual working knowledge of the company I was calling. Now, of course, I have to listen to a recording with commands instructing me to “press one”, “press two”, etc. for various departments. Oftentimes none of the choices have anything to do with my reason for calling, but I'll pick the one that comes closest, and then will have to go through another half-dozen or more commands before I can get through to a real, live person. When I am finally able to connect to an actual human being, it's usually someone in a faraway land reading from a list of scripted responses. Don't get me wrong; I'm well aware that those folks are just trying to earn a living and that their job is a thankless one, having to deal with irate customers half-a-world away. That said, I do miss the days of personal and local customer service which will most likely never return, at least not in my lifetime.

4. The misappropriation of the name of one genre of music by an entirely different genre of music. For example, years ago, there was a type of music called “Country” that was characterized by a twangy guitar, pedal steel, fiddle, and simple song lyrics. Nowadays, there exists a style of music that is characterized by blasting electric guitars, pounding drums, and wordy convoluted lyrics. And it's called “Country”. How did that happen? Then there's R& B, which to me will always bring to mind artists like Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Dinah Washington, and Otis Redding. The singers had great voices, and the songs were lyrical and singable. Over the last twenty years or so, there has developed a type of music characterized by little or no melody and a type of monotonous emoting that seems indicative of a drug-induced stupor. Inexplicably, like that other style of music from a bygone era, it's also called...”R&B”. As with “Country”, I wonder why promoters of the new “R&B” were so lacking in imagination that they couldn't come up with an original name. And then there's a style of music called “bluegrass”....(Well, I did promise you a smidgen of bluegrass content....) Assigning the name of one type of music to another style is completely unnecessary; Take, for example, the musical genre dubbed “heavy metal.” While I've never cared for heavy metal, I absolutely respect that its purveyors didn't have the audacity to label it “rock-and-roll”. I have no desire to squash the creativity of anyone who wants to invent a new type of music, but please, follow the example of the heavy-metal folks and give it an original name rather than stealing one that is already in use.

I acknowledge that, in the grand scheme of things, everything I've mentioned here is “small stuff”; nothing on a par with war, diseases, or other real tragedies. I also acknowledge that modern advances in science, technology, and medicine have vastly improved the quality of life for most of us. Even so, I still at times long for “the good old days”. I'm not sure whether or not this rant has made me feel better. On the one hand, it does feel good to vent. On the other hand, I believe that by expressing these views, I have hereby proclaimed in this public forum and to myself that I am now officially OLD.

Posted:  11/5/2009

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