And the wisdom to know the difference

By Chuck Sigars | Sep 18, 2013

I hide on Sunday nights these days. In a very specific 21st-century sense, I drop off the face of the planet, although so far no one has really noticed.

I remain corporeal. My neighbors still see me, still wave as I haul the trash down to the curb. My son still tries to con me into making his favorite meal, my wife still tells me about her day. I still breathe and occasionally make other noises. I’m still here.

But beginning around 7 p.m. on Sunday nights, I stay away from other human beings who wander through my online life, the ones who entertain me with pictures of their afternoons at the beach or the funny things their pets do.

The social media world, where everyone is famous to 15 people and anyone can pretend to be an expert on anything, and commentary is alive and well, is off limits on Sunday night, just in case one of my friends, or “friends,” spills the beans about Walter White.

That AMC show, “Breaking Bad,” that everybody seems to be talking about? I know that show.

Along with roughly 5 million other people in this country, or maybe more, as this haunting, morally compelling television show comes to an end over the next couple of weeks, my Sundays contain secrets finally spilled.

But I watch the show on Mondays, usually. I don’t have cable anymore, so I pay for the episodes and watch them online when available, usually beginning around 3 a.m. on Monday, although I usually wait until daylight.

So it’s a challenge to avoid hearing details about the latest episode until I can get my own heart racing on my own schedule. Stay alive, Jesse.

I could be an expert on “Breaking Bad,” I guess. I know the characters and episodes well. You might be an expert on “Sons of Anarchy” or that show about the duck people.

In a country of roughly 315 million men, women and children, diverse and drawn to different things, even the most popular TV show, song, or movie is seen by a tiny portion of the population.

There are possibly more passionate stamp collectors in this country than “Breaking Bad” fans. It’s the nature of a niche culture.

It’s also the nature of our culture that anyone can assume expertise just by hitting the Enter key at the end of a (with luck, punctuated) sentence.

Twenty or maybe even 10 years ago, if you held a passionate opinion and wanted to share, it might require some time and a sandwich board with stenciled letters, probably less than 140 characters. Now it’s easy.

Too easy, maybe, although I’m generally in favor of democracy. Still, there was a time when public opinion expression was considered a commodity, something with worth, with some assumed experience and education on the part of the opinion expresser.

Now people I went to high school with who were once challenged by locker combinations have firm opinions on our Syria strategy.

I am, on the other hand, an expert at practically nothing, my son’s feelings about my macaroni and cheese notwithstanding. This is an awkward position to be in if you write a newspaper column, unless you stick with pasta.

But it’s occurred to me lately, with the imminent arrival of a grandchild (still imminent as of this writing, check end of column), that in my new role as a member of the senior generation, I might be expected at some point to have something to say, based on my many years of staying alive.

My own grandparents, underappreciated by me at the time, were repositories of history and experience, something that looks in retrospect suspiciously like wisdom, and this makes me anxious.

How do you recognize wisdom in yourself when you remember all the non-wise stuff?

How are you expected to look a small, developing human in the eyes and give him the benefit of your years, when you remember vaguely a night when you were 16 that involved malt liquor and a barbed-wire fence?

Sure, we’re supposed to learn from mistakes, that’s got to be a part of wisdom, but if I were listening to an old man spin tales of his wild youth, including a night that involved (a) alcohol once again, (b) yet ANOTHER barbed-wire fence, and (c) a permanent scar in an unfortunate spot, I have a feeling I’d start looking for someone else to listen to when it came to life lessons.

One of my grandfathers was a farmer, for example. He did many things in his life, but he never lost the education he gained from growing things, from hard work, from care and planning, from the business of creating crops.

His conversation was peppered with farming metaphors and lessons learned from understanding nature, things I remember to this day.

As opposed to me, who can tell some pretty elaborate stories, I suppose, about the days of MS DOS, or how there were two Darrins on “Bewitched” and everybody pretended not to notice.

I already feel sorry for this kid. I hope his other grandfather is prepared to carry the load.

I’m working on it, though. I’ve made a list of things I know that might be valuable, although currently it’s mostly about how to get just the right al dente texture with rollatini. Any advice is welcome. I’m sure you all have opinions.

Still imminent. I’ll keep you updated.

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