The Baby Boomer Story
Becoming Your Son's Rotary Club

“What I’m about to tell you will be shocking.”

So warned marketing consultant Chas, pronounced “Chaz,” whose last name escaped me when he was introduced at my Rotary club breakfast as a speaker on the topic, “How to Attract Young People to Your Club.” 

The definition of young people was anyone younger than 50, a number based on a show of hands which revealed 135 of 139 people present were 50 or older. Of the four exceptions, only Goldie Whitehead was a club member, and Goldie’s claim to being 49 was suspect because for a decade her locks had matched her last name not her first. But then, truth be told, most of us were older than 60, let alone 50.

“As we all do, everyone here lives their lives believing that certain truths are absolute and unchanging,” said Chas. “Truths such as the earth orbits the sun. Or nothing is faster than the speed of light. Or the French love Jerry Lewis. Well, I’m here to tell you that you’ve lived with a lie. The French do not love Jerry Lewis.”

Gasps, grunts and mutters spread through the crowd. At my table, the tip of Old Roy Huckabee’s cane loudly punched the floor. 

“Don’t believe it!” snapped Old Roy. “When the yellowbelly Frogs wouldn’t follow us into Iraq and Congress changed the name of French fries to freedom fries, Dick Cheney himself said, ‘What do you expect from people who love Jerry Lewis?’”

Conservatives at our table nodded; liberals rolled their eyes.

“Believe me, I’ve encountered the same skepticism from every Rotary club I’ve spoken to,” said Chas. “But the truth is, sometime about 60 years ago a few French critics liked Jerry Lewis’ first movies. Somehow this morphed into an idea that persists today among Americans your age that all Frenchmen love Jerry Lewis. Last year, the Gallup organization in Europe polled Frenchmen younger than 50 and found that only seven in 100,000 even know who Jerry Lewis was. All of which serves to introduce a theme that will run throughout today’s presentation. To attract younger members, you need to discard baggage between your ears dating back to the Eisenhower Administration.”

Old Roy’s cane punched the floor. “Eisenhower was a damn RINO if you ask me!”

Conservatives at our table nodded; liberals rolled their eyes.

Chas now asked the three “young guests” to raise their hands. One of the three was my nephew by marriage, Aiden Zumwalt, a 37-year-old unemployed personal trainer. Chas now asked Aiden—and Aiden only—to stand. The scrambled eggs in my stomach spoke of why weekly Rotary breakfasts since the Eisenhower Administration helped make Old Roy what he is today.

I had brought Aiden here after exhausting every alternative to honor the club president’s request that members bring younger guests to complement today’s program. It was a request that, unlike most members, I was expected to honor as chair of the Bowl-a-Rama fundraiser committee, which was a steppingstone to the club’s presidency. Aiden could not say no because he owed me money.

Driving to the meeting, I told Aiden that under no circumstances was he to tell anyone that he was unemployed. I then said I might introduce him to our table as an undercover FBI agent who was prohibited from discussing his job or even his personal life. I was joking, of course, especially because Aiden was far from the nondescript image of an undercover agent, beginning with his flaming red hair that would have made him stand out in any crowd of 1,000, let alone a crowd of 136 gray and skin heads plus three.

“I won’t ask your name,” Chas now told Aiden. “We’ll learn that shortly. What I need now is the Rotarian who brought you here to please stand.”

I stood. Chas asked my name and I gave it. Chas said: “I assume, Randy, you introduced your guest to your table.  I’d like you to introduce him again, but this time—so it’s spontaneous—why don’t you introduce him to this table next to you.”

Aiden and I moved to stand by the other table. I said: “I’d like you to meet Aiden Zumwalt. He is . . .”

At this point my brain short-circuited or, as my wife believes, I suffered a mini stroke. 

“Aiden is an undercover FBI agent in town,” I said.

Behind me Old Roy’s cane punched the floor. “How come you told us he is a personal trainer?”

“I am!“  Aiden blurted. “. . .Part-time.”

“Is that your cover?” someone asked Aiden.

I interjected: “No! No! Look . . . the FBI prohibits Aiden from talking about his job or even his personal life.”

“But he can tell everyone in town that he is an undercover agent in town,” Old Roy boomed. “Some Code of Secrecy! Just what I’d expect from an FBI overrun by liberals!”

Conservatives nodded; liberals rolled their eyes.

“People, please, we have to move on!” Chas said. “Randy, you need to introduce those at the table to Aiden. Could you do that, please?”

“Okay, well, Aiden, I’d like you to meet Dick . . . Bud . . . Skip . . . Woody . . . Gert . . . Kathy . . . Chick . . . Dick . . . Buzz . . . and Gus.”

“Excellent!” said Chas. “Now Aiden, suppose this table were occupied by people your own age. How many do you think might call themselves Bud, Skip, Woody, Gert, Kathy, Chick, Buzz, Gus or—last but not least—Dick?”

“Uh . . . none,” muttered Aiden.

“None people!” Chas exclaimed. “None!” After gesturing for Aiden and me to resume our seats, he said:

“This brings us to step one of how to attract young members to your club. I call this step, ‘Nix the Dicks,’ the idea being younger people are more comfortable with people whose nicknames resonate with them.  Dick and Dick, both of you need to start calling yourselves Rich or Richie, Rick or Ricky . . . Gert, there are better nicknames for Margaret than Gert, such as Maggie or Margie.”

“But my name is Gertrude!” said Gert.

“Same difference. And you, Gus . . . What’s Gus short for?”

“Gus.”

“Then change your name.”

Dick Toomey sprung from his chair. Or, I should say, he rose like a baking 300-pound cake. But rise he did and risen could not be ignored.

Chas said to him, “Wuzzup Ricky?”

“Ricky, eh?” Dick said. “Okay, sure, I could call myself Ricky. But that won’t mean squat when kids meet me. ‘Who you tryin’ to fool?’ they’ll say. A Dick by any other name is still a Dick.”

“An excellent point and a perfect segue to my step two!” Chad enthused. “Thank you, Ricky!”

Dick’s scour expressed regret for expending so much energy for nada.

Chas meanwhile told his audience: “People your age should be keenly aware of the wave of retail stores, large and small, that have gone out of business. The reason? Young people prefer to shop online. So how enthusiastic can they be about waking up two hours early, dressing for work, driving to a Holiday Inn, paying for cold scrambled eggs and schmoozing two hours with—let’s be frank here--what they consider geezers and biddies?  All of which points to the urgent need to change your meeting model. Your meetings, people, need to be skyped online. Only members who would occupy a meeting’s head table need be seen on webcam. Everyone else could participate on the electronic device of their choice and do it anywhere they please. Members in the audience would be heard but not seen. No one need ever see that Ricky is a Dick.”

“Young man!” snorted Gert. “Clearly you haven’t a clue as to what the mission of Rotary is. Our meetings are part of a process to organize and stage fundraisers and events that benefit the community. Talk is cheap. Talk alone doesn’t get things done. Not when you chair the committees that plan our Bowl-a-Rama or Gary Crosby Memorial Golf Tournament. Rely on talk alone and your volunteers will flake out. To get things done, you need to confront each committee member every week, face-to-face, and remind them that they need to do this or that. You need to look them straight in the eye in a way that tells them that if they flake out, you’ll hunt them down and cut off their cojones!”

Old Roy’s cane punched the floor. “Don’t let Gert spook you, sonny! Gert is one of those feminist liberals who believe all sex is rape.”

“It is if it’s with you!” Gert fired back.

 “People! People! People! . . .” Chas implored as he gestured with his palms outward. “You’re losing sight of the prize.”

As the audience quieted, Chas collected himself by sipping a large Starbuck’s coffee. The Starbuck’s cup underscored his credibility because, never having attended one of our meetings, Chas had had the foresight to bring his own coffee. Someday some visionary would bring his own eggs.

“There are two critical points I need to make,” Chas said. “First, it’s not surprising that returns from your Bowl-a-Rama and Gary Crosby Tourney have been declining in recent years. Bowling and golf? Hello, people. The popularity of bowling and golf has plummeted among people younger than 50. Why would young people want to work on such fundraisers, or even invite their friends to them? Plus, both these events are labor and cost intensive. A new cutting-edge direction is needed.”

Chas sipped his coffee stoking our anticipation. None burned hotter than mine. Perhaps he might broach an idea that we could actually use—an idea that might liberate me from Bowl-a-Rama to chair a fundraiser that promised a big return for little work and attracted pre-menopausal women. Pre-menopausal women alone would make me a cinch to be the club’s next president-elect!

 Chas said: “The fundraiser I propose combines two big post-Boomer passions. I would call it ‘The First Annual, First Ever Cannabis Comic-con.’ Think about it, people. First, pot growers are itching for a farmer’s market, but need a sponsor like Rotary to legitimize it to the community. Trust me, if you sponsor pot growers and arrange for a venue—a park offers the lowest overhead—the growers will do the rest. They’ll create booths, provide drinks and munchies, sell tickets, man ticket booths, attend to parking, so on and so forth. Comic-con, on the other hand, will let young people dress up as their favorite comic book superheroes. Trust me, even people in their forties love dressing up in costumes. Today as many costumes are sold to adults as they are to children. Plus, those nervous about being seen buying pot can do it disguised as Batman or Wonder Woman. And here’s the cherry on top: Ricky can mingle without anyone realizing that he’s an old double-chinned porker. Or at least, that he’s old and double-chinned.”

Silence.

Sitting at the head table and facing the audience, club president Miles Bunt would later describe the audience as a throng of mute wide-open mouths whose pulsating lips reminded him of a school of trout.

A buoyant Chas breezed on: “Now Maggie claims that talk alone won’t get this done. ‘Talk is cheap,’ she says. Well, maybe in your day talk was. And by your day I’m not referring to the 20th Century alone. I’m talking about the time since Guttenberg invented the printing press. Before that, talk was action. No one doubted that prayers, incantations, chants, prophesies, decrees, spells and curses got things done. The Greeks even believed that the afterlife depended on people speaking your name. With Guttenberg and his Bible we see the idea emerge that only published words are important.  History is moved by writings like the Declaration of Independence, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Das Kapital, the New York Times. But the worm turned with the 21st Century. Talk radio, 24/7 cable news, and the Internet make talk action again. In this millennium, talk gets things done. Reading and writing are now passé except for tweets, but only insofar as the tweets inspire talk. Written words longer than three sentences, including imogees, are too many. Internet news is ignored unless delivered by voice-over visuals or talking heads.”

Jane Peabody’s frail hand pumped up and down rising no higher than her chin. Normally Jane went unnoticed when she did this, but today she was in a seat front and center of the speaker. Chas pointed a finger at her.

“What about universities?” Peabody peeped.

“What about universities?” Chas said.

“I believe that reading and writing remains central to the profession of university professors, “ Peabody peeped.

Old Roy’s cane punched the floor. “What’d she say? Speak up!”

“She says reading and writing are still what university professors do,” Chas said.

“Reading and writing liberal propaganda, if you ask me!” Old Roy said.

“No, I disagree,” said Chas.

“You do, do you?” Old Roy scoffed. “That’s what I’d expect from a hippie like you!  Bull feathers to all your hippie ideas! Next you’ll be telling us to promote free love!”

“It can’t be free if it’s with you!” sneered Gert.

Jane Peabody sprung to her feet and screamed, “Both of you grab a banana and climb a tree!”

Silence.

 Jane Peabody raised her nose to the world and daintily resumed her seat.

“Yes, well . . .” said Chas. “It’s true that professors read and write. But read and write what? That is the question. Today, the professors in demand read and write mathematics and/or computer programming languages. They teach the subjects that the best and brightest look to for successful careers. Algorithms are the new great treatises. Humanities and social science professors are dinosaurs soon to be extinct. But even if this weren’t true, consider this about universities: Only three out of 100 people employed by an average university are professors. The rest are administrators and staff. Many, including staff, earn well over six figures.  All enjoy benefits and retirement packages second to none. And for what? Eighty to 100 percent of their time is spent meeting with one another to achieve the imperative of university administration—consensus. You think talk is cheap? Ask the millions of college graduates mired in student loan debt.”

Silence. Then Old Roy’s cane punched the floor.

“We’ve got to look at the greater good,” Old Roy proclaimed. “America needs college football.”

Everyone nodded except for Jane Peabody who rolled her eyes.

Copyright © 2019 by Randy Bechtel

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Email Randy Bechtel at rb@thebabyboomerstory.com