|Photo: Andrei Pandele|
Come to think of it, maybe my English teacher in Romania was right. In my 30th year of teaching in the U.S. my supervisor gave me a pretty shocking evaluation possibly born by her total scorn for my conservative, anti-communist bad attitude. On a scale of 1-5, 5 being the best, she rated my ability to speak, read, and comprehend the English language as a 1. At the same time, one of my colleagues who hailed from a Central American country spoke very grammatically poor English, with students who struggled to understand his lectures, received a 5. He was sincere enough to brag about it.
It was hard to describe to my blue collar parents what an electric typewriter looked like and how fast we could type government-approved propaganda. To top it off, we learned short-hand just in case we were required to take dictation. I can’t say I’ve ever used short-hand except in college but I used typing constantly. It was probably the most useful skill the commies taught me. My daughter still remembers me practicing short-hand with my fingers in the air when she was a child. I have not forgotten the symbols to this day.
I could never see myself as a secretary, typing all day for a commie apparatchik boss because I could not sit still that long and I got bored easily, I needed intellectual stimulation, but that was the only option for the child of blue collar parents unless I could win one of the few seats available at the university. College education was free but numbers were limited and controlled. It was not that blue collar children were not smart, capable, or great achievers in school; the children of Communist Party members of the right pedigree received priority over the rest of us, the proletariat.
Today I get frustrated when something does not download fast enough or gets stuck in cyberspace. I have the world’s libraries and books at my fingertips. Very small children are adept at using and programming computers. Taking a trip one day in elementary school to the computing ministry was an experience I will never forget. The computer that I hold in my lap or in the palm of my hand today occupied then an entire building. I think my cell phone probably has more capabilities today than the building housing the data cruncher for the country then. Our car onboard computers are probably more sophisticated. They can self- diagnose, have a black box, can be manipulated from afar, and makes driving a comfortable breeze. Why would an against-the-people government with an environmental agenda want to restrict our freedom of mobility by taking roads out of commission, not maintaining them, not repairing bridges, and taxing us per miles driven? How is it better to go back to walking, biking, wagons, and horse riding? Who is going to benefit from reverting to less civilization?
Not long ago, when I did my doctoral dissertation at 28, I had to use computer-punch cards. One single search with carefully chosen key words produced an entire drawer of cards. They had to be kept in the right order for them to be properly read. All it took is dropping one bundle on the ground and the search work had to start all over again for $28 per search.
I never dreamed that one tiny cell phone in the 21st century would be my TV, computer, radio, calculator, game board, picture album, correspondence, file cabinet, friends chat, flash light, agenda, grocery list, scanner, camera, notebook, library, store, shopper, recorder, and compass. This global positioning system device comes in handy when I get lost and it helps NSA keep track of where I am, what I say wherever I happen to be, what I do, whom I am doing it with, what I think, and keep a general tab on my life. One ad was promoting on radio the idea that Utah should turn their water off and the spying would stop.
In the 20th century, the commies had to do hard work to spy on us – hire snitches, informers, detectives, plant listening devices in walls, bug personal belongings, phone receivers, interrogate us, open and read our mail – an entire army of employees on the payroll of the dreaded Securitate, a junior KGB arm. It kept people off the streets, “gainfully” employed, and meagerly fed.
Even a one-year old knows now what a remote control does. Back then we had to get up out of the uncomfortable wooden chairs we owned and switch off the channel by hand to the other channel. The president was on both channels spewing communist propaganda lies, but we had TV. Once a week, the entire block would gather to watch a movie or soccer game at one ground-floor apartment that had a black and white TV large enough for a big crowd. When too many showed up, the TV was moved outside which was a bit unfriendly on account of the nearby dumpster and flies buzzing around. But the cheap home-made wine and beer were plentiful. The stores were always empty of basic foodstuff but wine and beer were never in short supply.
We played outside in dirt, mud, and snow with total disregard for our heads. Nobody thought about buying us helmets or covering the one electric plug to protect a curious and investigative toddler who might stick a pin inside the socket. Two hundred and forty volts deliver a pretty serious and painful jolt but, some of us survived. I still remember the excruciating pain though. I was bored watching mom press clothes with her wrought iron with a handle, heated every so many minutes on the open flame on the stove. It was progress from grandma’s version that had a chamber filled with burning coals. It is not hard to imagine we wore clothes sometimes with the curious shape of the iron in a brown-burned outline.
We had one notebook, one pencil, one eraser, and one pencil sharpener when we went to school. It was really special if we had a pen or a nice fountain pen with black ink. Blue ink was much cheaper. A rudimentary quill was made of wood and the replaceable metal tips we dipped in ink to write with were expensive. No calculators to perform the most sophisticated operations in calculus. We had to use our brains and basic skills of computation, no Chinese beaded abacus.
Uncle John, studying engineering, had a slide ruler that made complex calculations. I never took the time to learn how to use it although I was familiar with the compass and other simple tools used in geometry.
Laundry was painfully done by hand with lie soap in the tub when water was available and the tub was not occupied with chilling watermelons and wine bottles. Those who could afford a fridge were hampered by its dorm size. In the country, laundry was done with the washboard and a wooden tub by the river. Today the old country has washing machines but everything comes out extremely wrinkled. Although available, driers are not used because the electricity to drive them is too expensive and EU rules mandate power use in such a way that it short-circuits the entire block if someone does try to use a drier in conjunction with another kitchen appliance.
I sit in the elegant and clean metro car ferrying Washingtonians to their bureaucratic jobs and I remember the crowded, overflowing buses, with bodies hanging out the open doors, filled to capacity with the stench of sweaty bodies mixed with Diesel fumes. They were building a metro when I left in 1978. I am told that it is extremely crowded today.
The comfortable and mostly on time VRE trains whisk Virginians comfortably on their daily commute to work and home. Every time I see one pass by, I still see in my mind’s eye and can smell the soot of the commuter train I took for three years to the university long time ago in another life. It was standing room only for 60 km. We knew each other by name and where we commuted. Once, a fellow passenger, a railroad employee, saved my life. The train had started to slowly move and people were still jumping on. I did the same, I did not want to miss the five o’clock but I miscalculated the iced steel handle. My hands slipped and I would have wound up under the train tracks had it not been for this man grabbing the fur collar on my green winter coat and pulling me up inside the train. Thank God I weighed so very little back then! I still remember the train’s whistle that day. I get nauseous just thinking about it.
I can get in my car and go anywhere I want today as long as I can find and have money to buy gas. There was always a longing to go places when I was growing up under communism. But we were only able to go on a small radius, as far as our meager salaries allowed, most of which was spent on food, rent, and utilities. No luxuries for travel or fancy clothes, just enough to cover our bodies and keep us warm. No designer shoes, no purses, no style changes every three months. Everyone got one pair of sandals and one pair of winter boots each year until we outgrew them or they wore out. It was an odd curiosity to watch the president’s wife carry a purse. Generally women carried a shopping bag. My first purse was a black beaded clutch Dad bought me for the prom. I still have it today. I could not stand to part with it no matter how many other purses I may own.
We get mad when our flights get canceled or delayed. We were so exploited and controlled by the commie elites, we could not fly anywhere. We were not allowed to go outside of our national borders and passports were refused for travel. Only exceptional athletes, musicians, translators, actors, ballerinas, and Communist Party members of the upper echelon could fly but each had a security detail and assigned tails at all times.
I remember gawking at an artistic display of fruits in Galleries Lafayette, on a trip to Paris as an American. They were selling cherries on Christmas Day for 80 euros a kilo. Nobody gives it a thought and takes it for granted how well most Americans live today. They’ve never had to suffer hunger or shortages of anything. They get annoyed if they have to stand in line to pay for their groceries. They should thank God for living in a country that is so successful and most things are abundant and available year around.
We take for granted the electricity in our homes and clean water. We expect lights to come on and water to flow out of the tap. It is a disaster when a storm strikes and these services are temporarily interrupted. Nobody stops to think what it would be like when electricity and water will be rationed because of the misguided push towards solar and wind energy, parasitic forms of energy that would never supply the power needed for our huge economy and swelling population.
Even the most decrepit hospitals in this country are considered Club Med in most countries and everybody, legal or illegal, gets free care in the ER. Yet progressives don’t think our system works, it is “socially unjust” just like our entire country, we must nationalize health care, ration it, and force the formation of black market medicine with envelopes stuffed with cash.
It is heaven how we live today but it is not good enough for progressives because spoiled brats have no point of reference or baseline to compare to and appreciate their windfall of prosperity.
Forgotten are the wagon trails, the pioneers who sacrificed so much in the 19th century, the early 20th century prospectors, farmers, cattlemen, businessmen, industrialists, miners, steel manufacturers, road and bridge workers, and other laborers who built such a prosperous nation while living in squalor, poverty, uncertainty, exposed to the elements, without light and water, on horse and buggy, or covered wagons, riding horses, riding trains that were often robbed, walking, suffering and sacrificing so that the brats of today can complain with a Starbucks latte in one hand and a smart gadget in another what a terrible country America is, how unjustly crony capitalism exploits the 99 percenters, and how ashamed they are of being American. I don’t know what’s stopping them from giving up their passports and moving to the socialist paradise of their choice.
They should be ashamed of their appalling ignorance of their own history and of their blind allegiance to foreign and domestic nefarious elements who are out to destroy our civilization that others before them had built with sweat and tears, never demanding “entitlements” they had not earned.