Sunday

December 17th, 2017

The Village Idiot

How lazy can we get?

Jim Mullen

By Jim Mullen

Published Jan. 7, 2015

An old maple tree blew over on our lawn during the last storm, and I've been chopping it up with a chainsaw. After an hourlong session, I sat down completely exhausted and not close to being finished. How did they ever do this in the old days with handsaws and axes?

How did our ancestors ever get anything done without all our modern technology? How did lumberjacks get through the day without massage chairs and hot tubs? How did Julius Caesar conquer Gaul without the benefit of rehydrating power drinks and One-a-Day vitamins for men? How did the cowboys of the Old West ever get by without sunblock and Cialis? How did Dolley Madison save the White House furniture without being able to put it on Facebook and then tweet all about it?

I spoke to a friend who works in a big office in the city yesterday, and she said that 11 people in her office were out with things like chronic fatigue syndrome, carpal tunnel and workplace allergies. Everyone else is on Prozac. Can pushing around a computer mouse all day really be more stressful than, say, having to spin your own yarn and weave your own cloth? Or having to kill, clean and pluck your own chickens for dinner?

How did we humans ever get through all those years before there were power tools, Wal-Mart, KFC and "Downton Abbey"?

Today we complain about driving to work in a nice, warm car while listening to Pandora and drinking a Starbucks latte. Our great-great-grandfathers would have had to saddle a horse and hitch up a buggy before even thinking about going to town. A 15-mile trip there and back would eat up an entire day. The luxury and comfort of one of today's least expensive automobiles would shock him.

"Bucket seats? Well, I'll be durned." Wait until he finds out the seats are heated. And that we use power steering and power brakes.

Would he be sympathetic if I tell him I'm coming down with Remote Control Hand caused by the repetitive motion of changing the TV channels over and over? Or that I have Pop Top Finger from opening too many beers in one weekend? Or that I suffer the agony of Texting Thumb?

The amount of physical work our ancient ancestors had to do would surely kill most us if we had to do it today. Try to imagine life without a dishwasher, a vacuum cleaner, a water heater, an air conditioner, a refrigerator, a freezer, a TV, a cellphone. Whoops, did I say "ancient"? I meant a single lifetime ago (if you're really, really old. Like 55).

Remember Princess phones? When they first came out, there was a big debate about the wisdom of letting teenagers have their own phones -- in their own rooms! The end of the world was predicted several times over this apocalyptic event. So let me ask: Do you even know a teenager without their own phone today? Even grade school kids have them.

All the cooking shows on TV talk about dinners you can make in 20 minutes or less. None of their recipes start with things like "churn some butter" or "fire up the cook stove" or "collect six eggs from the coop out back." It is within living memory that no kitchen had a fridge or a freezer, a microwave or a food processor. Or running water.

How'd you like that hot shower this morning? Nice, right? We're so used to indoor plumbing, to running hot and cold water, that we can't imagine life without it. But it's a very new thing. I saw an aerial picture of a town taken around a hundred years ago. There was a little white building standing in almost every backyard, and it wasn't the garage. Try that in the middle of a dark, cold winter night.

And remember, no flashlights.

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Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo."

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