Today's teens have found their Vietnam — in Florida

Today's teens have found their Vietnam — in Florida
Crosses and flowers hang from a fence near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

We had this thing going on the other day, Peterman and I, where all he wanted was regular cream for his coffee, and all he had to choose from at the diner were little plastic depth-charges of Irish cream or peppermint caramel.

Peterman, who was raised in the Dairy State, asked the server for regular cream, and she chirped, “Yes, of course,” then forgot to bring it.


Flavored coffee, flavored cream, fussy craft beer that tastes like lilacs. It’s all too precious, if you ask me. It speaks to a preoccupation with senseless things, but I guess we all need our stupid little comforts.

Strange times call for strange columnists. And I am certainly that.

Lately, I think I suffer from too much living. I remember when movies cost a buck and Britain was great, and there was a phone booth on every corner. It was a better time for superheroes, that’s for sure. Superman wore Vitalis, a hair tonic made from lard and old motor oil.

There were only four car companies and four channels on television, and you had to get up off your fanny to change the station.

Hard for today’s youth to imagine such indignity, I’m sure. You’d click counterclockwise, three for NBC, two more for ABC.

In Chicago, where I grew up, we also had WGN, two more counterclockwise clicks to Cubs games and the greatest children’s show ever, “Garfield Goose.”

The channels were 2, 5, 7 and 9. Channel 11 was public broadcasting, but no one but schoolteachers really watched. Everybody knew who anchored the network news and which Beatles song was No. 1. The local anchor wore a bow tie.

American children no longer have only four channels to click through. They click through the cosmos and some crazy, disturbing stuff.

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We never wondered why there were no channels in between those main channels. By the ’80s, there would be. Not better channels, just more channels. America is ferocious about going big, giving you more-more-more till you can’t even afford TV anymore, which is what’s happened to the millennials.

Investment and development have no soul. For every family diner that shuts down, three fast-food outlets spring up. The air in America smells like fries instead of grass and trees. To me, it represents a gradual yet significant dimming in our quality of life.

Freud believed that all behavior links to some sort of sexual ethos. I believe all behavior is linked to our childhoods — whether we were mothered well and our fathers were reliable and resilient. I think that sets the stage for everything in life: confidence, peace of mind, a decent job.

We talk a lot about achievement in this country, but not so much about contentment. We talk a lot about elite colleges and STEM programs.

Tech! Tech!! Tech!!!

Meanwhile, we brag about our daughters’ travel teams. We pull our sons from football, fearing concussions, yet let them tear up their elbows with 12 months of baseball or play soccer till they rip apart a knee.

Increasingly, youth sports walks the fine line of child abuse. Do the kids complain? No, because they don’t know anything else.


American children no longer have only four channels to click through. Without moving an inch, they click through the cosmos and some crazy, disturbing stuff. Some dolt wrote the other day that he thought the internet was a grand place for his children to learn all about sex.

Compared to what, pal? A strip club? Mardi Gras?

If Freud was at least a little right, and I’m a little right (which I occasionally, almost accidentally am), then what kids are going through right now will shape their lives in significant ways – their relationships, their success, the amount of sleep they get when they turn 30.

For kids, there will always be plenty to fret about. Remember, of course, that our parents and grandparents survived the Great Depression, when there was nothing for dinner, and we survived a Cold War when annihilation was a hissy fit away.

Then in the ’60s, we found that when American teenagers are shot up for no good reason, there’ll be hell to pay in the streets.

As there should be.

Sometimes, without any perspective at all, our children do know better. Sometimes, their lack of patience is their superhero strength.

They are reacting that way in Florida now, and on high school campuses across the land. Without realizing it, they have found their Vietnam.

And they are doing what their parents and politicians refuse to do – insisting on a common sense approach to their everyday safety that even a drunk walrus could figure out.

These teens, despite all the ridiculous pressures we put them under, are making a grand stand for our two greatest human values: contentment and peace of mind.

Good on you, kids. You show more wisdom than we do.

Twitter: @erskinetimes