Gone are the days when suburbanites responded to a simple, "How are you?" with a heartfelt, "Fine. And you?"
Ask a typical suburbanite that question in today's modern world, and you are likely to hear a heavy sigh followed by, "Busy. Really, really busy."
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Remind that person to "stop and smell the roses," and she will launch into a tale of how she was too busy to water the garden so all her roses shriveled away during one of our many hot and dry spells. Our summers still are hazy, but we lost the lazy. Who saw that coming?
In 1930, famed economist John Maynard Keynes worried not about how busy and overwhelmed we'd all be by now, but about how we would fill all those lazy leisure hours.
"Thus, for the first time since his creation, man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem -- how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well," Keynes wrote. "There is no country and no people, I think, who can look forward to the age of leisure and of abundance without a dread. For we have been trained too long to strive and not to enjoy. It is a fearful problem for the ordinary person, with no special talents, to occupy himself."
Last week, during my family's annual vacation to Fountain Park Chautauqua in my Hoosier homeland, I occupied myself with simple pursuits: family, friends, sweet corn, pie and euchre interspersed with more serious quests to solve the problems of time zones and find plastic baby doll arms for a project with the sole purpose of mild amusement.
Fountain Park, a bucolic circle of 73 rustic cabins and one historic hotel on the outskirts of Remington, Ind., is this magical place that comes to life for only two weeks every summer since it opened in 1895. It features an art colony, church services, modest daily entertainment in the tabernacle, the Tri-Kappa food stand that sells Kappa Burgers, homemade pie and Farmer's Sodas (the rural version of root beer floats), and an accompanying candy stand slightly larger than a phone booth that features one window hawking penny candies to kids thrilled by the freedom and wherewithal to make their own dietary and financial decisions.
Fountain Park offers the simple life, until it comes to matters of time. Due to the quirkiness of Indiana's time zones, Fountain Park runs on "fast time," which is what the locals call Eastern Standard Time. My nearby hometown of Goodland and many of the other neighboring hamlets go by "slow time," or Central Standard Time. This gives Mom the ability to stay up after midnight helping us win the annual euchre tournament against the Fritz family and still rush home in time to catch all of the 11:35 p.m. Olympic TV recap. But living on a time-change border confuses our cellphones. Utilizing the same technology used by big-city newsrooms, our porch wall now boasts three large clocks, featuring the time in Fountain Park, Goodland and London.
Our quest for plastic baby doll arms requires a dose of serendipity. Back in the late 1970s, my little brother, Bill, invited his high school buddy John to stay in our family cabin. In gratitude, John, who apparently had been doing well in wood shop, made us a sign reading, "Constable Arms." There is a "Constable Arms" public house in the village of Sproatley, north of London, but we never quite knew what to do with the sign until this year, when my brother-in-law, Bob, suggested we find some arms to hang from it.
So I go shopping. The Remington True Value hardware store doesn't stock plastic baby doll arms. The Homestead Buttery & Bakery, an Amish-style bulk food store and eatery, carries pickled beets, old-fashioned licorice and sacks of barley, but no plastic baby doll arms. I feel some suburban pride when I discover the historic water tower was built in 1897 by the Challenge Wind and Feed Mill Co. of Batavia, but I remain unarmed when it comes to finding the desired doll parts.
Waiting for the kids to finish lunch at The Homestead, I wander into the nearby Mini Measures Antiques store. I am at the register buying old political campaign buttons for Hoosier hero Dan Quayle's 1980 Senate race and a "Go Forward With Stevenson Sparkman" button featuring likenesses of the 1952 Democratic presidential ticket when I spot two plastic baby doll arms hidden among the antique glass and collectibles. I return to our cabin $2 poorer than I planned but rich in the admiration historically bestowed on all men who return from a successful hunt.
I am thankful for the small joy of accomplishing a seemingly impossible task while lazing about Fountain Park. I only wish I could be that productive during all those busy hours I spend in suburbia.