Living in the Moment


“Why did they take the color out?” Jeremy asked, pointing to a black and white snap shot of his grandfather and grandmother on their honeymoon.

I closed the album, leaned back in the porch swing and looked across at our ‘baby’ expecting a sardonic grin. Hey, when you’ve raised three teenagers, you come to expect a little mouth. But Jeremy was dead serious.

“For the same reason they took the sound out of Charlie Chaplin movies,” I replied sarcastically.

Again, innocent inquiry played across my son’s face. He wasn’t smarting off.

“Color film hadn’t been invented yet,” I finally blurted out.

My son stared at the floor, his face screwed into a puzzled expression as I imagined him trying to grasp a world of black and white photos and movies without sound.

I tried to explain. “Think if you had a small computer that you could hold in your hand and it was a book. Then your son, like twenty years from now, looks at a regular paper book and says, why didn’t they just scan this into …”

“They already got that, Pa. You can download books into readers.”

“Okay. Okay.” I tried again. “What if this hypothetical kid of yours wants to know why we were so dumb as to try to record everything on hand-held camcorders when we could have had cameras all over the house and recorded everything 24/7?”

“They got that too, Pa. On the Internet. It’s called reality TV.”

I must be getting old, I used to be able to stay ahead of my kids but now I can’t even keep up. “Reality TV? You mean people sit and watch other people doing – everything?”

“Yeah. It’s kind of neat. You get to see this married couple walking around the house. Getting dinner. Cleaning.”

“You need the Internet for this? You watch your mother clean house all the time as it is.”

“Well, you learn things, you know. How other people talk. How they cook. What they eat.”

“You get too nosey – you find out things you wish you hadn’t. Take Neil Armstrong for instance.”

Jeremy rolled his eyes – a story was coming.

“You know that when he stepped on the moon, he said, ‘One small step for man, one large step for mankind.’”

Jeremy nodded, resigned.

“But not many people know he mumbled something else right after that. A reporter played back a tape recording and asked Armstrong what he meant when he said ‘This is for you Mr. Grabowski – bon appetit!’ Well, it turns out that when he was a boy, Neil used to play under the neighbors bedroom window and one morning he heard Mr. Grabowski say, ‘Honey, while you’re up, would you bring me a cup of coffee and maybe a piece of toast?’ Mrs. Grabowski shouted back, ‘When they put a man on the moon, that’s when I’ll bring you breakfast in bed!’”

My son groaned. That’s all I ever asked for from any of my kids – a moan of appreciation for a story well told. Then he defended himself. “Reality TV is more than just watching other people, Pa. It’s about noticing what’s happening every second of our lives. My school counselor says it’s about living in the moment, about learning to experience the here and now.”

“Counselors have to tell teenagers to enjoy themselves in the present without worrying about the future? That’s preaching to the saved. That’s how you define teenager, for crying out loud.”

“C’mon Pa. Just because it’s new to you doesn’t mean it’s bad. Or just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good.”

I always like this point in raising kids when they start lecturing me. It makes me feel like I’ve done a good job of teaching them to think on their own, to stand up for their own opinions. They’re almost ready to leave the nest.

“Take your duck tail hair style,” Jeremy said. “Just because it was cool in the fifties doesn’t mean it’s cool anymore.”

“Hey,” I interjected, reaching for my comb in the back pocket of my jeans. “Leave my duck tail out of this. We’re talking Marlon Brando, here.  On the Waterfront. Now that was a great black and white movie. Gritty. Dark shadows.”

“I wonder what it would look like in color.”

“Thank god they can’t change that.”

“Uhm, Pop. They can colorize old movies.”

“Oh man, next thing you know they’ll be showing the Wizard of Oz in color.”

My son opened his mouth to say something, then stopped. Looking at his wrist watch, he frowned, tapped it a couple of times, stood up. “My watch stopped. Can I have a couple of bucks for a new battery?”

“Why don’t you just wear my old wind up Bulova. It might give you something to do besides watching strangers brush their teeth.”

“Does that mean I have to roll up my T-shirt sleeve to hold a pack of cigarettes? Jimmy Dean. Rebel Without a Cause.”

Jeremy scampered down the porch steps and gave me a quick smile over his shoulder. Gotcha!