As I See It: Turning the holiday tables

Type “Louisiana map comparison images” into a search engine, and you’ll soon see one with two black outlines on a light blue background. 

Like most everyone, I refrained from all political talk at holiday tables.

Instead, I enjoyed hearing of family and travel, adding accounts of grandkids in California and a pilgrimage to Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s Berkshire home.

Well, I’ve been plagiarizing him for 45 years, so I finally made amends by checking off my entire Christmas list in his gift shop.

Not sure what my daughter and son-in-law will think of having their 5- and 3-year-olds in T-shirts that say, “I would prefer not to,” but that’s now their problem, not mine.

Though we all preferred no political talk, many at those tables live well inland and know that I live on a glorified sandbar that’s in a long, losing argument with the North Atlantic.

They ask about erosion as if asking after my health, and I assume — or maybe hope — they are changing the subject.

A few years ago, they saw Plum Island on the nightly news, losing cottages to a roaring surf, and to this day I patiently, if warily, remind them that I live on the marsh side and I’m up on a hill.

“The Beatles wrote a song about me,” I quip, hoping to end that line of questioning. They laugh while their kids and kids-in-law look quizzically at each other.

“OK, Boomer!” I thought one might say, but none did.

First heard that expression last month. Full segments on two NPR shows that very day, soon followed by numerous references on social media and cable news.

My immediate association occurred in a Newburyport coffeeshop one December afternoon some 25 years before the expression was coined.

Two tables away, five caffeinated teenagers percolated over the imminent return of friends from Los Angeles.

Eavesdropping I was not, but excitement carries, and geography always grabs my attention. When I heard “Oklahoma,” and then, “Where is that?” followed by silence, I called over an empty table:

“It’s halfway across the country, just above Texas.”

What happened next is seared in my memory: Five blank stares but not a word in return. Five seconds, maybe six, and then they looked at each other and resumed their talk.

Like I wasn’t even there, like I didn’t exist. OK, Boomer!

“OK” is, coincidentally, Oklahoma’s postal designation, and it was just eight months earlier that a federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed, 168 lives lost, 700 more injured.

Yes, it did — and still does — amaze me that any American teenager wouldn’t know where any American state would be, especially that state in the year 1995, but I didn’t press the matter.

Strange to think they are now in their early 40s, or about the age of half the folks at my holiday tables.

When, in some other harmless context, one of the latter cast a joking, “OK, Boomers!” at us elders, we all laughed, and I didn’t spoil it with any reminder of any of Oklahoma’s many Booms.

Not the land rush, not the musical’s title track, not postwar oil, not Tornado Alley, not the Murrah Building, not even the recent “earthquake swarms” — yes, a real geological term — inflicted statewide by “fracking” for natural gas.

However, I did describe LA — the state, not the city — when asked about erosion, and may have stumbled onto something that may prove useful to anyone trying to convince skeptics that climate change is real:

Type “Louisiana map comparison images” into a search engine, and you’ll soon see one with two black outlines on a light blue background.

Without using the words “Louisiana” or “map,” show the outline on the right by itself. Ask what it is.

If they don’t know, show the one on the left. Ask again.

If they recognize it, a sudden realization that the first is the same, but adjusted for rising sea levels as of 2016, could wake them up.

If they don’t recognize the short, thick boot formerly known as Louisiana, you’ll know what I felt in that coffeeshop 24 years ago.

Politics aside, climate change and civics education are subjects we can no longer prefer not to discuss in what we trust is good company.

Fool on the Hill Jack Garvey was among the readers of the 24th annual Moby-Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Jan. 4 and 5. Harpoon him at hammlynn@gmail.com.

Recommended for you