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Who wrote the book of love?
Media General News Service


December 30, 2005

WASHINGTON - The buzz about baby boomer decrepitude finally sent me back to the gym.

It was empty, a pre-New Year's lull, and the radio played classic rock. The music was good, mostly. I knew the words. I forgot about advancing age.

Two 20-something guys came in. One was recounting the plots of obscure - to me - '80s sitcoms. Then they started imagining what they'd do if they won free shopping sprees in a music-video store.

"I'd go straight to the '90s music," the first declared.

The TV buff said he'd head to the television DVDs, because "there's such a rich field there."

Neither was even a little embarrassed to be talking like that.

I couldn't remember a thing about '90s music - except that maybe Eric Clapton had a hit during the decade. Offhand, I couldn't conjure one TV show from the '80s I'd want to watch again, let alone own.

Suddenly, I heard the music on the radio differently. The tunes I loved must have sounded to those guys the way Bing Crosby or Perry Como sounded to me in the 1970s. That made me smile.

They didn't notice, of course. Gen X and Gen Y don't see baby boomers, the oldest of whom turn 60 today. Yes, I'm in the baby boom generation, and, no, I'm not turning 60. In fact, my mother is going to be mad at me for admitting I'm a boomer at all. The youngest boomers are a ripe 42 this year, hardly in the blush of youth.

But let's not obsess about it.

The Census Bureau calculates that 7,900 boomers will turn 60 each day of 2006. That's 330 every hour. .

"People, get ready, there's a train a-comin'..." - Curtis Mayfield.

My generation likes to claim it invented sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, TV, Woodstock, hair, the counterculture, Rolling Stone and Dave Barry. And then we created sushi. OK, we didn't do all that.

But we witnessed it. The trees that fell in society's forest made noise because we were there to hear them. The great questions of our youth were: "Who wrote the book of love?" and, for the historically minded, "Who put the bomp?"

We're not even a little embarrassed to talk like that.

We grew up. And, naturally, life didn't turn out the way we thought. We didn't change the world. War, poverty, discrimination - all the things we marched against - are still with us. We didn't save the planet; we made it safe to spend $4 on a cup of coffee.

But since there are so many of us - 78 million, says the Census bureau - it's always about us.

Now, in the words of the philosopher Bruce Springsteen, "We got one last chance to make it real..."

We can reinvent old age.

I'm sick, frankly of the whole boomer birthday bit. But we are the age we are.

Democrats, Republicans, red staters and blue, we're all marching inexorably into the next phase of life. It doesn't have to mean early bird specials, naps and worrying about wrinkles. We have choices.

Our first baby boomer president, Bill Clinton, and our second, George W. Bush, are both turning 60 this year. They can lead the way. Lord knows, each could use more of a legacy than he's got so far.

We in the news media make a mistake by lumping boomers together as if they're all the same. Everybody in that generation wasn't a hippie. George W. Bush was a cheerleader at prep school.

We were individuals in the 1960s and '70s, and we are now. We each have talents and, yes, gifts we can use in the years ahead. There will be plenty of calls for our time and our expertise.

We can rise above the jokes and make a difference. It's late, but it's not too late.

People blame boomers for being self-indulgent and self-centered. Pretty soon, they'll be blaming us for more pollution and global warming from all those birthday candles.

We can't turn back time. But who wants to, really?

I'm pretty sure I heard those guys at the gym change the radio station after I left. I would have too.


Marsha Mercer is Washington bureau chief for Media General News Service.
E-mail mmercer(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns

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