I started out life as a youngster. Granted that was in prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the great state of Missouri. As a youngster, it seemed to me that the years that were given to us were sturdy and rugged and were intended to last for more than 100,000 miles. In those days, the months were prolonged and had a feeling of sturdiness about them. When the last out in the baseball World Series was accomplished each October, a period of semi-gloom settled around us but it could be handled.

After the baseball season was consigned to the record books, there were Notre Dame football games which absorbed my attention and lasted through the Fall. On January 1, there was a national college championship game played in the Rose Bowl, which ended the football season. There was sturdiness and reliability about the Fall season. But once the calendar turned to January, a cold gloom settled over my young frame.

It was cold and damp as I walked the three miles to the public school that I attended. Inevitably, when I expressed the thought that I could not wait for Friday to come, my elders would tell me, “Boy, don’t wish your life away.” January and February were months of gloom and despair, and they seemed to never end. This is another example of how they used to make years in the old days. My best scientific estimate is that January and February and perhaps the early part of March lasted at least seven months. There was no baseball season at that time of year, of course, so time dragged endlessly. But no matter how you cut it, those extended months contributed to the thought that they don’t make years like they used to.

St. Louis lies below the confluence of the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. When summer arrived in May, these two major rivers contributed toward an exceedingly humid climate. It lasted through May, June, July, August, and September. Those months took at least nine months to complete. There was however the fact that baseball was played in those months, which tended to make life go a little easier.

The net result of what I am saying so far is that in the old days, when I was a youngster, they made years that went on forever. Now, however, I am an oldster. Believe me, if you have a choice between being a youngster or being an oldster, always opt for the youngster category. As an oldster, it seems to me that the years go lickety-split. The term “lickety-split” occurred to my mind for the first time in perhaps 65 or 70 years. But as we grow older, there is no denying that the years fly by. Last year, I blinked my eyes, such as they are, blew my nose, and the year 2007 was gone. It all goes to demonstrate the immutable and infallible fact that the years these days are not made as they used to be made. The years these days are meant to be like Kleenex. They are to be used once and discarded almost immediately.

In former days, the years were bolstered by timbers of sturdy six-by-six oak and mahogany and even pieces of iron. As time went on, we could find the years being bolstered by a steel framework. Ah…, but those days are gone. Now it is a disposable society. It is a case of “use it once and then let us proceed to the next story”.

I suspect that part of the problem may have to do with imports from China. Lou Dobbs, the television commentator, always refers to imports from China as coming from “Red Communist China”. Dobbs may have something there in view of the fact that the toys sent us by the Chinese are tainted by lead and the toothpaste has an ingredient that may well kill you. So I am suggesting that part of our problem may be the imports from China. But no matter how you look at it, current years are not constructed in the old fashioned, wear like iron mode. The years these days are not supported by sturdy timbers of oak and mahogany, but by plastic or recycled pressed paper and cardboard. No one can expect years supported by plastic to last 100,000 miles.

In my humble estimation, the fundamental and basic problem lies in the bumpers that once adorned our automobiles fore and aft. Those of you with longer memories may recall that until about 1965 or ’70, every automobile had two sturdy bumpers to protect the grill as well as the back side. In addition, those bumpers had a use for helping others. In former days, it was not unusual to see a person whose battery was run down and whose car would not start without a push. In that case, the front bumper of the pushing car would be engaged with the rear bumper of the stalled car and it could be pushed until the car started. In other cases, when a car fell into a ditch, very often it could be yanked out by attaching a cable and a winch to the front or rear bumper.

During those years when bumpers were a standard part of the basic automobile, we were introduced to bumper jacks. If a tire went flat, the bumper jack could be placed under the bumper and with several strokes of the pumping mechanism, the car could be raised and the tire could be changed. The bumper jack came with the auto and was always carried in the trunk of the car. This may seem like a routine operation but as an old filling station attendant, I can tell you that it was not without its perils. There were occasions when the jack had lifted the car to its full height and then, as the lugs were being removed, the car would lurch toward the missing wheel and catch the person changing the tire in the arm or hand. In my case, I never changed a tire without having the spare immediately available. It goes without saying that when the bumper jack was extended to its full height, accidents of every sort could and did happen.

Well, in any case, the manufacturers of automobiles decided that they would integrate the bumpers into the exterior of the car. So for the last 20 years perhaps, there have been no bumpers at all any more. If one were to take a modern automobile and attempt to shove it against another car that would not start, damage would result to both the pusher and the pushee. This of course causes your insurance rates to be terribly inflated, all for the lack of a bumper. Obviously, the automobile manufacturers are in union with the insurance companies.

I have spent several hundred hours studying this matter having to do with the unsturdiness of the years that we now find inflicted upon us. I have gone to my attic, where there is silence and where I may experience the coldness of my youth. I have talked to scholars such as the man who delivers the newspaper and the attendant at the grocery store who rounds up the carts in the parking lot. My ultimate conclusion is that the construction of the years started to deteriorate when bumpers were removed from cars, which clearly accounts for the lickety-split situation that afflicts us today. As hard as I have tried, I cannot escape the conclusion that when the automobile manufacturers decided to jump into bed with the insurance companies, it meant inevitably that the years were not made as they used to be made. There may be scholars who will argue with my conclusion, but until a better reason comes along, I am going to stick with the bumper theory and doctrine. If Albert Einstein were alive, I am certain that he would subscribe to my infallible conclusion.

January 5, 2008
Essay 281
Kevin’s commentary: Oh man oh man. First off, welcome to 2008. It’s technically 2014 now but it’s 2008 in Ezras Essays time, dammit. And if Pop doesn’t like that years go by too quickly, now he gets to do 2008 again, in some small way.
Secondly I couldn’t ask for a more standard old fogey essay if I wanted to. I mean that in the most loving way possible. But seriously, when you ask most people how a typical old person story starts, it is invariably “back in my day, I had to walk five miles in the snow to school.” It’s a trope. Look, it’s documented right here.
However, I feel like most old people are not nearly as well spoken as Pop and they don’t do things like make neat car metaphors run through their stories. Which is why you should keep reading Ezras Essays instead of talking to your own grandparents. Even when mine are telling the oldest of stories, they do it better.

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