So has Dan Fogelberg and, it goes without saying, Grandma. At this point it’s worth asking the same question that grounded observers asked as Qaddafi was being battered in the Colonel’s Original Recipe: power hates a vacuum, so what now will fill the void?

Answer: Baby Boomers. Lord have mercy, we’re fixing for some shrill times. Nay, we’re already living in a time of much bitching and having of snits. To quote Mister Mister, “Kyrie eleison down the road that I must travel;” like it or not, everyone’s along for the ride.

My question, then, is whether I can take Greyhound if the family caravan turns into too much of a hot mess. Answer: not metaphorically. Besides, if I take the real Dirty Dog I’ll still have mom and dad helicoptering over me by cell phone to make sure that the bus didn’t plunge down an embankment, and maybe that I didn’t get butchered and eaten by a crazy Chinaman. I don’t know what other horrible things they expect to befall me. There are precedents for both outcomes that I mentioned, but one rarely hears about Greyhound’s much larger number of nonfatal, cannibalism-free runs. It’s not like I’m using some fly-by-night casino charter service that never changes the tires, or the San Fernando Valley division of Metrolink.

In a sense, the family has lost its adult supervision. Grandma needed a lot of supervision from the kids and grandkids in her last few years, but that was mainly to safeguard her physical safety and welfare. Until just before the end, Grandma’s very presence served as a powerful form of asshole abatement. The family abrasives still caused trouble, but they usually toned in the hell down around Grandma out of a sense of decency. Grandma set a high tone, and no one really wanted to make an ass of himself around her. The contrast would have been stark, like Don Rickles calling Fred Rogers a cheap Scotch Presbyterian bastard; no surprise who would win hearts and minds in that debate.

Mind you, the teacher didn’t always control the classroom. Grandma suffered, usually stoically, more rudeness and malice on the part of her descendants and their spouses than a person of her abiding graciousness has ever deserved. She was rarely the target, but she was often present when the Boomers dug into their trenches for another infernal round in their culture wars. As at Verdun, no one gained any ground, but a good time was had by all who enjoyed mustard gas and shitty mud holes.

The great mercy was that the combatants were a lot quicker to reach an armistice when Grandma was present. That Verdun reference was overwrought, too; everyone knew that Grandma was a deeply pious Christian who walked the walk, so playing really dirty was out of the question. Ad hominem attacks and George Carlin’s Heavy Seven were off the table, and most of us respected the Lord’s name at the dinner table as a way of respecting Grandma, although not so much the coarse-grit abrasives. Devout, old-school Nazarene that she was, Grandma didn’t partake of the bounty of the family winery. That old-time religion frowned on demon drink, and it was sometimes a shame that the modernist elements didn’t follow Grandma’s example as a way of keeping things from getting ugly drunk.

When Grandma went into home hospice care, it took less than a week for the F-bombing of Dresden to commence at the dinner table. We wouldn’t have talked like that around Grandma, but her deathbed was well out of earshot, so the more vulgar elements wasted no time getting the upper hand and abetting a positive feedback loop of mostly gratuitous shitdamnfuckchristalmightygoddammit.

“Mr. Holland’s Opus” had reached its teary-eyed ending, and the opening credits were running for “American Pie.” Adult supervision, a tenuous notion in the best of times, had flown the coop. No one was there to even chastise us for being mean, or to snap a baton in half and thrust it on the ground in anger because we were fucking up the score. (I had a band director do that. And slam down a music stand inches from a stunned flautist, a guy who was usually an immature goofball but in that instance was trying to ask a completely legitimate question. And get on the PA system when the peanut gallery broke into applause for some broken dishes during his lunch duty, angrily and tearfully yelling at a cafeteria full of middle schoolers, “if you did that at home, your mothers would cry!” He definitely had the most entertaining career fugue that I’ve ever witnessed.)

With Grandma on her deathbed, the center was not holding. Not a day went by without a coquettish, eye-batting reference to some novel use of a flute that was discovered that “one time at band camp.” Actually, that’s a gross understatement. Meanwhile, the sneering clarinetist with the bad teeth and the terrible #1 reed was honking some atrocity that vaguely resembled the score, and there was no way to kick him out of the band on account of the no-cut policy. Again, I understate things.

You may have noticed that Boomers don’t exactly play well with others. If you haven’t, take a quick look at Congress. If we can’t resolve abortion policy to the satisfaction of every rabid screecher in the land, at least we can add it to the arsenal of pretexts to make family dinners insufferable. It is widely considered rude and inappropriate to discuss politics or religion in company that is mixed in terms of either subject, and wisely so, because putting these topics off-limits is a very effective form of asshole abatement. Unfortunately, in my family, declaring these topics off-limits at times of rising assholiness would merely stir up a nasty fight. It would be like a military first strike on Iran, great in principle, but in practice the province of children, the institutionalized, and Neoconservative chickenhawks. In other words, stupid, because this is the adults’ hour.

Well, I’d like it to be. The old-time hippie aphorism held that one should never trust anyone over thirty. That would theoretically be problematic for today’s Boomers, but more than a few of them deal with it by acting like they aren’t a day over four.

This state of affairs is only good for the self-absorbed and the abrasive. It certainly isn’t good for the family aliens. Whom do you expect to be kinder to the feckless: Grandma, or a bunch of dueling hippie gossips newly liberated from Grandma’s adult supervision?

Some stories are less demoralizing when they’re told by Dan Fogelberg.

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