"What puts the musk in muskrat? Courage!" Thus sings the great Bert Lahr in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Courage. In what short supply is this emotion in our country today. My wife and I just finished watching the HBO miniseries JOHN ADAMS. How brave our founding fathers were. And their fellow colonists as well. Children were not coddled. They learned at their parents’ knees that life was hardscrabble and nothing came easy. Freedom was worth fighting for. Divine Providence was what they relied on, but they knew that God demanded that they do their parts. No sense of entitlement, just hard work, struggle and fighting for what you wanted. And if it didn’t come, no whining, just rolling up of sleeves and starting over.

When at the age of ten I was sent to summer camp, the rule was no phone calls to or from parents. The separation from home was to be complete. I remember the boy in the bunk underneath me, Mouse Taylor, crying for his mom the first few nights. The counselor, an eighteen year old Norwich student and the first grown-up we came to worship, was unmoved. Growing up was what we were there for. At the end of the summer, Mouse and I had tears in our eyes as we parted forever (we had become fast friends) but that was the only crying we had done for all of July and August. Recently in the New York Times, a piece ran on how summer camps today have to hire specialists to deal with anxious parents calling sometimes several times a day to see how junior is doing. Kids are given cell phones, sometimes two in case the first is confiscated. We are raising a nation of sissies.

As fear of God and his righteous wrath is removed from the public arena, our bodies become what we worship. And with what terror do we attempt to protect them. California recently became the first state in the union to ban all trans-fats from restaurant cooking (New York City had already done so). Smoking is outlawed, of course, even on the beach. Billboards everywhere remind us to eat our vegetables and fasten our seatbelts.

Remember the seesaw? You won’t see one in a public playground today. Jungle Gyms are rare. Anything that could hurt you. Not just your bodies but your feelings. In public schools in Massachusetts nobody wins at (competitive?) sports. The score is not kept. More and more universities decline to have a valedictorian address the graduates. The second smartest kid might feel bad. Remember when you invited a few of your best friends to your sixth grade birthday party? No more. The rule, at least in the public school my grandkids go to, is that the whole class has to be invited or else no party. The celebrations become huge and meaningless.

Mothers Day cards were recently banned in one Manhattan school I read about because some kids don’t have mothers. For a while no peanuts were served on airplanes because nine kids in the country were allergic to them. (That one has become academic now since nothing is served). Children are promoted whether they can read or not. Their self-esteem might suffer. Won’t their self-esteem suffer when they can’t get a job? You can receive a ballot to vote here in California in Laotian, as well as thirty two other languages.

When I was a boy, high tech communication was two tin cans and a string. It took most of the afternoon to find the cans, soak off the soup labels, punch the holes in the ends and knot the cord. What fun it was at four o’clock when you pulled the string taut, stood at opposite ends of the vacant lot and tried to figure out if you were really hearing anything. Now you don’t see even the poorest kid without a blackberry or a raspberry or a dingleberry or whatever permanently attached to his ear. God forbid we should not be entertained for one second of the day.

We can’t drill in ANWR because some moose might be inconvenienced and, God forbid, the oil companies make more dough. Personally, I could go for candles and a bicycle. But shouldn’t we have the option? What the hell are we afraid of? That third world countries will hate us? Their people are all dying to get in here. There’s no illegal alien problem in Ethiopia. The great American work ethic is being kept alive by foreigners. Mexican guys hang out in front of the lumber yards looking for a days’ work. I say let them all in here. Inside of a generation, they’ll be adding to the GNP and voting Republican.

Alright, I know I’m rambling. I’m old. I used to walk to school through eight foot drifts of snow. But I love this country so damn much and I can’t stand the way people who don’t love it, even though they pretend to, are harming it. So we’re not perfect. Perfect is the enemy of better. And better we are, not just than any other country on earth but any other country in history.

Orson Bean's new book M@il For Mikey is published by Barricade Books


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