There are times I miss being a television news reporter; last week was not one of them. I am glad I was not reporting on the Boston bomb blasts, that I did not have to witness the blood of the dying and wounded and hear their screams of pain. I’m relieved that I did not have to stand in front of a live camera for hours on end, tap dancing to fill airtime. There was legitimate news breaking, but in the space where there was nothing new to report, the media resorted to speculation and rumor-mongering.
As a result, there was reporting that was just plain wrong and in some cases, slanderous, painful for families whose loved ones were singled out, inaccurately and unfairly, as potential suspects.
From a North Korean madman to the terror in Boston to the Texas fertilizer plant explosion, it seems the news is too much with us these days. This week it’s the foiled plot by Al Qaeda-backed terrorists to derail a Canada-to-New York bound train. This kind of story affects all Americans, but especially those of us who live in a commuter town where so many of our loved ones — mine included — ride the rails every day.
Ugh. Enough said about these stomach-churning events. I am now turning to a lighter tone for my column. I’ll start with a Facebook post last Saturday from one of my Facebook friends, clearly a joke since the poster was way too young to even think about doing either: “Considering that today is 4/20, I formally invite all of you to smoke some beers and snort at least 5 shots of marijuana with me.”
How bizarre, I thought. Then there was this admonition from Molly as we drove off her college campus for a weekend visit home. “Mom, be careful not to hit anyone. There are lots of kids walking around who are really out of it and they might walk in front of your car.”
“Why on earth would they do that?”
“Because they’re probably high. Don’t you know that it’s 4/20?”
“Huh? What the heck is 4/20?”
“4/20, Mom, it’s kind of a national holiday,” said my sweet baby girl. I suddenly had a “generation-gap” moment, affirmed again at the dinner table that night when I asked Will if he knew what 4/20 was all about. The 14-year-old did.
For those of you who are as baffled as I: Seems that 4/20, which started out as a code phrase for marijuana (credited to a group of northern California teenagers in the early 1970s) has evolved into something of a counterculture holiday in the United States, a day that is devoted to the celebration and smoking of the happy weed. I was somewhat gratified to discover that Bill was just as much in the dark as I was. Cluelessness loves company.
I have the special distinction of being out of touch in not just one but two cultures. I realized this at my Korean dry cleaner’s when I referred to Bill’s slacks as “suh-bong.” She looked at me quizzically, telling me that she had not heard that word in — like forever — that today, they were called “baji.” Only old-timers call slacks “suh-bong,” she explained, since it is a word from the Japanese colonial days.
My parents both grew up under the Japanese occupation of Korea, forced by the conquerors to speak Japanese in schools and in public. My Korean language had not evolved with the times; it was frozen as I had heard it in my childhood.
This was reinforced when I was out to lunch and got a blank look from my young Korean-American acquaintance when I asked if she wanted me to order some “dak-guang,” Japanese radish. Our dining companion, a Korean gentleman of my generation, told me that “dak-guang” was the Japanese word; the correct Korean name was “dan-moo-ji” — literally sweet radish root.
I had another experience of being behind the times with language, though this time, in English. I was shooting Will’s lacrosse game when I realized I was running out of space on my movie camera.
“I’m almost out of tape,” I declared, to the surprise of another dad. “You still use tape?” he asked, incredulously as if he had discovered the last of the Mohicans. “Uh, no, not tape,” I corrected myself. “Uh, let’s see, I’m just about out of … uh … uh … disk space.”
I also find it difficult to stay “PC” — politically correct — with language. Some of the fuss today is just ridiculous — moves to scrub holidays like Christmas clean of any religious references, for example.
I have personally experienced the switchover from being identified as “Oriental” to “Asian” in my own lifetime. My favorite explanation comes from Mae Ngai, a Columbia University historian who explains that the word Oriental is not a slur, but happens to be a Euro-centric description of a population of people who live east of Europe, which is why it has fallen out of favor. “You should call people by what they call themselves, not how they are situated in relation to yourself,” she explains.
Now there’s a brand new movement afoot, this one in the residential real estate business, to erase the term “master bedroom” on the grounds that it is offensive — both in gender terms of sounding masculine and sexist — and in conjuring historical images about the master/slave experience in America. The preferred phrase many builders already are adopting is “owner’s suite” or “owner’s bedroom.”
The last thing I want is to be labeled out of date and out of touch. Given all the bobbing and weaving I do just to get through every day, it seems I’ll have to keep on doing so if I want to keep up with the times. Sigh. Sometimes, I do declare, it’s all very exhausting.