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On the outside, looking in

Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

6 months 13 days 19 hours ago |8 Views | | | Email | Print

I once said that one day, when I grow up, I was going to become a scientist, like those I saw on the TV and in the movies.


But then as I grew up here in the hometown I developed other interests, although I still retained a soft spot in my heart for science.


So I looked forward in particular to science classes in high school, where I could get into some real science.


But when I got there I found no science lab. No beakers with colorful, bubbling fluids, no strange contraptions to demonstrate the laws of physics. We didn’t even get a frog to dissect.


Then came word that they were going to build at the high school a science lab. Beakers, frogs, all kinds of fun were in store, I thought.


When did they finally open the lab? My senior year. Right after I had finished with science classes.


I did manage to take a peek one time, though. The new science lab was empty, but I stuck my head into the darkened, vacant room with rows of new tables and cabinets.


And I wondered what might have been.


Soon after came journalism school Down East, and I was a bit amused when I learned that they had what they called a news lab. Finally I was going to get into a lab.


There were no beakers or frogs, but the lab did have typewriters, the only classroom in the school with them. Young people, you can look up typewriter on your internet.


The lab also had an old Associated Press teletype machine in a recessed space near the door. A teletype was a big typewriter that would type out stories sent by the AP via phone line.


So for news-editing class the professor could flip a switch on the teletype, it would start typing, and we could get actual, breaking news stories and could practice rewriting and editing and producing our own, dummy newspapers.


It was no cutting up a frog, but it was still fun.


The word was out then, in the mid-1970s, that computers would be the future. Someday, we were told, we would perform all our news editing by computer. Now printing the ‘paper, that would still require a printing press.


But some day we would write and edit and design a newspaper all on a computer screen instead of using a typewriter, ruler and plastic cement. Drawing an outline of a newspaper page on a computer screen, now that was the idea that intrigued me most. The computer mouse was not out yet.


Honest. In those days in the news lab when we wanted to move a paragraph in a story, we would rip the paper with the straight edge of a ruler and glue the strip of paper with the paragraph into its adjusted position on the sheet of paper. I am not making this up.


So learn about computers, we were advised. We were going to need it.


Wow, did that prophecy ever come true.


Then came word that the school news lab was getting a facelift – including the addition of computers. Finally, I was going to learn about computers.


They opened the lab … again, in my senior year. Right after I was finished with news editing.


Curses, I had missed out again.


I did manage to take a peek, yet again. This time I had to go around back of the journalism school building and look through a window at the locked, darkened, vacant lab with rows of computer screens.


And I wondered what might have been.


So now I’m on the far end of my lifespan, and with the passing of yet another birthday the next big thing to come along for me appears to be retirement.


It’s going to be great, with more time at home and more time to do some of the things I’ve not been able to get around to do. I can attend to some neglected matters, not the least of which will be taking better care of myself.


Retirement will be made possible in part by the government retirement programs of Social Security and Medicare. All my working life I’ve paid good money into my accounts in these programs, and now I’m trying to peer out over the horizon and finally look ahead to cashing in.


But in a flip of my earlier situations, instead of wondering whether new school labs will be built for me in time, now I’m left wondering whether the key retirement programs of Social Security and Medicare will last long enough for me to join in. Or will the programs be jerked away from me at the last minute.


And leave me wondering what might have been.


Medicare, which would provide my health insurance in my retirement, will go broke in 2026, according to this year’s official estimate, though earlier estimates have named dates as soon as 2015.


Social Security, whose monthly payments would provide my groceries and pay my monthly bills, will go broke in 2033, they now say. That date keeps inching up sooner, not later.


Warnings about the programs’ defaulting trends have been deafening for decades now, but no president, no presidential candidate, no national leader has stepped forward with any idea on how to improve the deteriorating situation.


We’ve had Social Security since 1935 and Medicare since 1965. My elders have lived pretty good lives in retirement because of these programs, and the programs have become ingrained in American society.


But with default looming and with all the debate about these programs, I and my peers must wonder whether the programs can survive, or whether I and my peers will have to make do with some inferior replacement.


As I hear the bad news coming out of Washington these days, I’m left wondering if someday, once again, I will be on the outside, looking in.


Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

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