Back in my day…

I hate those four words. They reek of old fogey-ness. Outside of a few progressively less credible stories about how my father walked five miles to school in hand-me-down shoes, uphill both ways, in grueling heat with snow up to here (Seriously? In southern New Jersey?), I was pretty much spared that attitude growing up. And whenever I sense that “these kids today….” feeling building in me, I shake it off and try to remember some of the genius stunts I pulled at that age.

But the truth is, as you get older, the present does tend to compare less favorably with the past. Sure, it’s a sign of aging, but whether real or romanticized, there are things, attitudes, even foods that I really believe were better twenty years ago. It’s true items were built better. My first washer and dryer, bought in 1987, for half of what you’d pay today, are still going strong in my sister-in-law’s ex-cottage. Double stuff Oreos have roughly the same amount of cream as the original ones used to. Aluminum foil is noticeably thinner and weaker. And Popsicles, chocolate milk and cheese slices aren’t anywhere near as tasty as they were when I was a kid.

Most of the differences in taste can be blamed on the removal of the fat, salt, sugars, etc, that used to be in the foods that apparently should have killed us all before we got out of our 20s. Funny, to my aged and jaundiced eyes, most little kids these days look oddly pale and more than a reasonable percentage seem to have a permanent runny nose.

I guess we were all too full of preservatives, and artificial flavors and colors to be worthy hosts to germs. My favorite food at the age of ten was peanut butter Space Food Sticks, which were quite healthy, but incredibly sweet and had the look and texture of brown PlayDoh®.

Call it nostalgia or romancing the past, but now that it’s summer, the evenings remind me of the ones many years ago when all I had to worry about was getting home by the time the street lights came on. I suppose I’ve been moving away from the simplicity of my youth for decades, but it’s only now that I really feel the distance I’ve come.

I think the real clincher in my recognizing that this world is no longer a place I recognize came this week courtesy of a local story that has shocked my city, and much of the country and beyond. Three teen girls, a 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds have been arrested for human trafficking. They allegedly lured even younger girls to an address via Facebook or some form of social media, held them hostage, drugged them, then forced them to commit ads of prostitution.

Beyond the horrific nature of the crimes—and thoughts of the damage done to the victims, I can’t get past thinking what kind of a place this world has become if such young teens, children really, somehow got the idea that it was ok to sell other children into sexual slavery—that people could be bought and sold. Yes, kids are cruel, teen girls can be particularly so, but this goes so far beyond even the outside fringe of the worst that could be expected from young women of this age. It’s sad, it’s disgusting, and I fear that it’s an extreme sign of how complicated and ugly things have become.

Whenever there are conversations about excess, greed, plunging morality and that sort of thing, you can count on someone raising a comparison to the fall of the Roman Empire. With its corruption and sexual deviance, at least among the upper class, it was weak and ripe for destruction. I can’t help but wonder if the 2012 end of the worlders are taking a hard look around and simply hoping for a fresh start.

Because if this is the kind of evil that children are now capable of… it certainly doesn’t bode well for the future.

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