The end of civilization as we know it

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Last weekend my band appeared before the Northern California Association of Children’s Librarians in a big room at the Fremont Library. It was the group’s annual showcase of entertainers who are looking for jobs entertaining children at public libraries.

We have worked up a fair amount of kids material during our years of playing farmers markets. Children love our fancy drugstore cowboy duds and lots of them have never seen a banjo or a string bass or particularly a resophonic guitar before. We’ve learned that if you can hook the kids for a tune or two, Mommy or Daddy is likely to drop a dollar in the tip bucket.

When I was baby-sitting our young grandson a lot last year I would take him to story hour at our local library and usually sing a song or two in the middle of the hour. One day there was a puppeteer there, who obviously was being paid. By then I was acquainted with the children’s librarian and I asked her how this fellow got hired and she tipped me to the annual showcase of performers. So we signed up.

It is amazingly well organized, as one might expect from a bunch of librarians. Each act gets eight minutes to do their thing, and there is just a minute or two allowed for setup time, so a bunch of acts get looked at. Each one submits a flyer with contact information, which is stuffed with all the others into a folder that each librarian gets.

There were singers, science demonstrators, magicians, storytellers, even a guy with frogs and snakes. I have never seen or played before such a “live” crowd. If an act wanted people to clap along, clapping occurred. If they wanted people to stand up and dance, it was done. Whistling, check. Singing, check. It reminded me how much I love librarians. Our eight minutes seemed to go well, and since Saturday three libraries have called to book us, so things are looking good.

Saturday was Barbara’s and my 46th wedding anniversary. We had celebrated the night before with a fancy dinner with my son and daughter-in-law. But after the showcase we didn’t want to go home and cook so we decided to drive south ten miles to Milpitas to the Great Mall and eat at Fresh Choice, the giant salad bar vegetarian restaurant. Cheap and nutritious — just the thing after Friday night’s expensive and fattening dinner.

After we ate we decided to stroll through the Great Mall. We had been there a few years ago; it’s a really big place and it was crowded. The parking lot was so full we had almost given up on finding a spot when I lucked upon a pair of lit-up backup lights and we took a place that was being vacated.

We found ourselves outside a place called Dave & Buster’s, and that’s when we discovered The End of the World as We Know It. D&B’s is a giant combo burger joint and video game parlor. It is huge. And it was full, I mean full, of people putting money in loud, clangy machines, firing off machine guns and “driving” race cars and motorcycles and even “playing” fake guitars, even though the general cacophony made it impossible to hear the music one was trying to follow.

And right nearby there were barstools full of people eating giant burgers and milkshakes and fried onion rings and other stuff. I can’t imagine how any talking was going on amidst all the noise. And the light was low, except for all the neon and flashing lights of the games. It was a bit like a casino, except no gambling and way louder.

And I thought to myself: God, I am a Very Old Fart.

Young people actually pay to do this stuff! Kids save up their allowances or their mowing lawn money or baby-sitting money and they come here and stuff the money in slots and they grab the “handlebars” of not-real video motorcycles and tear around not-real racetracks, and they place bets on not-real horses, and the “play” not-real guitars until all their money is gone.

I fear the next generation is circling the drain.


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