Under The Big Top

If you could pry the cell phones out of their hands, or the headphones from their ears, many people would be surprised to hear that, not so long ago, basketball players shot with two hands. Before Hank Luisetti a one-handed effort was considered showboating and bought you a quick seat down at the end of the bench.

These folks would also be amazed to learn that entertainment centers were once located on the outside of houses. A big house might have them along every side, while simpler structures usually fronted one, but they were all porches, where families gathered to talk with each other and their neighbors, to play music, and watch the world and weather pass by.

Circuses and carnivals were common entertainments too, before televisions began to lure people back inside. Who could resist a bearded lady, a fire-eater, or a pinhead? I have a friend who went to our local fairground one morning at 3 a.m. to watch a circus crew set up The Big Top. For her the sounds of canvas coming to life before dawn were a living memory. But it’s also a fading memory: I can’t recall the last time a circus came through town, and anyway the Freaks have moved on to the little screen.

You also won’t see anyone shoot a basketball two-handed today unless they’re about six years old, or tall and on their way to dunking the ball.

Porches have come upon hard times, too. Few of the new homes in the Sunday ads have anything comparable to the wraparound versions I remember. Hot tubs, designer huts for indoor gardening, and outsized garages for RVs are more popular. Probably, too, more useful, as we talk less frequently with our neighbors.

And it has to be asked, do we actually need to know our neighbors? It would surely take time, and everyone has less of that these days. How would you work them into your schedule? And here’s that bottom line, what are they good for? When you want to know the weather forecast, or the fortunes of the local sports team, or the latest gossip, it’s all right there on television and the internet. Besides, if you did want to ask the neighbor about something, they’re never home.

It’s likely we wouldn’t agree with anything they said if we did talk to them. Blue States, Red States and proud of it is the new mentality, where loudness is too often mistaken for substance. Have you noticed how hard it is to hear when everyone in the room is shouting?

I think I know why the Romans fell by the wayside: long before they lost their civilization, they misplaced their civility.


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