Off to a Ricky Start


When I think of the youth of America, and how they are destined to one day run this great nation of ours, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of dread and foreboding, such as one might imagine the wicked to feel on Judgment Day.

For while many of today’s teens are bright and mature, many others seem to have their heads in the clouds, if not someplace more inappropriate altogether.

For example, I recently encountered an 18-year-old girl who is very pretty and possessed of a charming personality, but who many of us supposed would fail the “rocket scientist” test (that is, we doubted she could spell the words “rocket scientist”).

As a means of proving this, someone asked her who the vice president of the United States currently is. Her response: “I don’t know. I don’t really follow politics.”

Now granted, there are probably many among us who don’t know the correct response to that question (correct response: “Who cares?”). Indeed, there are probably days when the vice president himself wishes he were not vice president, such as when he can’t enter the Oval Office due to the president having tied a handkerchief on the doorknob as a “signal.”

But listen to what happened next. As a follow-up question, this same girl was asked, “How old is Ricky Martin?” Without hesitation, she said, “Well, he was born in 1971, so….” We didn’t allow her time to do the math, which may have provided more embarrassment anyway; the hypothesis had been proven: This girl’s horizons were not very broad.

A limited perspective on life is one of the hallmarks of teen-hood. I recently saw a current copy of my old high school newspaper. Ah, how I enjoyed writing for that newspaper! It was back in the halcyon days of my youth, when I, a barefoot boy with cheek of tan, would protest with great First Amendment fervor whenever the principal would refuse to let us publish one of my semi-libelous editorials. This happened approximately once per issue, and each time it did, both I and my parents’ stomach ulcers grew angrier and angrier.

(Some would argue that my writing has not become any more palatable since then. To which I offer this clever rejoinder: Shut up.)

Anyway, I was looking at a current issue not long ago. It was mostly opinions and columns, as those are much easier to write than real news, and one of them dealt with Matthew Shepard, the homosexual young man who was killed in Wyoming last year.

The writer went on for a long time recounting the facts of the incident, and then he made this statement: “This is a tragedy like none the world has ever seen.”

Like NONE the world has EVER seen. Wow! Now, I readily admit that Shepard’s murder was a tragedy, but it seems like the world has probably seen worse tragedies. For example, a time when TWO people were killed. Or three. Or many. Any of those, numerically speaking, would be a greater tragedy than this one.

But to this young fellow — and I’ll give him credit for at least being aware of current events — this was a “tragedy like none the world has ever seen.” I’m sure his perspective will change. Give him a few years, and he’ll see that life has much worse to offer.

Like being vice president, for example.

I want to state up front that I do not think this is exactly the greatest column I have ever written. The shorter format -- about half the length I was given at The Daily Universe -- was still difficult for me, and I was still adjusting.

The girl referred to in this column, as I understand it, was a good sport about the taunting that ensued after the above-described debacle. I think that's good. If you're going to place more emphasis on flash-in-the-pan popular singers than on national politics, it's probably best that you have a sense of humor, too.

The reference to being a "barefoot boy, with cheek of tan" is from a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) called "The Barefoot Boy." In it, he recalls with great wistfulness his own days as a carefree child, and he encourages the child to whom he is speaking (assuming the kid is actually listening, which I doubt) to enjoy his youth while he can. I included the line here for absolutely no reason other than that I find the quote amusing. (You can read the whole poem here if you really want to. It's not bad, as poems go.)

Well-memoried "Snide Remarks" fans may recall that I once tried in vain to make a harmless reference to Matthew Shepard in a Daily Universe column. Not that it's been a major crusade for me or anything, but I was glad to be able to refer to it here unfettered, especially since the guy's reaction to it -- "a tragedy like none the world has ever seen" -- is so funny.