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The Reluctant Consumer Redux

My father was an anarchist and didn't know it.  When the Connecticut State Police first made the announcement that "driving is not a right, it is a privilege" sometime around 1960, he fumed and grumbled.  He spat.  He got in the green '49 Ford and drove to the Oasis, his favorite bar, and got drunk.

This was also around the time when JFK was the young, handsome new president with the preppy-collegiate haircut and severely fashionable wife (who was a graduate of Miss Porter's School for Girls, where daughters of the very rich learned to act and speak just like Jackie Kennedy, and was right there in Farmington Connecticut, where we now happened to live).  The president's famous statement "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," failed to excite my father into a patriotic frenzy.

I can't say exactly when Jack Costello first realized something was wrong, but it was too late by the time he did.  His brain had been co-opted in World War Two, when as a young electronics whiz he was exempted from the draft to work as a civilian technician for the Navy at the Chincoteague Island, Virginia radar installation. After the war, he moved the little family north to Hartford, Conn. and worked for various government contractors, designing electronic circuits.

In 1954 we moved again - to Farmington, 12 miles west of Hartford.  This is where we attained the "American Dream" and things began to deteriorate.  Our new house was one of four or five hundred ticky-tacky boxes in a development called The Highlands.  My father was now a commuter, driving nine miles a day to a new job at Anderson Laboratories in West Hartford.  My mother, having given up her job as a bank teller, now lived the empty life of a suburban housewife.  My father was drinking more and more.

One night he told me exactly what did at Anderson Labs.  I was only nine years old but he thought I should know.  "I design delay lines for guided missiles."  He poured another drink.  Well, that sounded pretty important to me.  Why did he seem unhappy?  I started bragging to my little friends.  "My father designs parts for guided missiles."  The usual response was something like "My father can beat up your father."  I was learning about human nature.

All the fathers in the Highlands commuted to work.  I don't know what they all did, except for Kenny Weedal's dad, who worked for Traveler's Insurance.  A very important job.   All the mothers stayed home and tended the younger kids. They didn't seem very happy about it.

As a boy of twelve my father had seen through the deceptions of the Catholic church, and escaped with his mind intact, but now he was realizing he hadn't escaped completely.  His circuit designs were being used in missiles carrying nuclear warheads, aimed at the Soviet Union, while his nine year-old son was being taught the "duck and cover" method of diving under a desk as protection from a hydrogen bomb blast.

Ask not what your country can do for you.  Driving is a privilege.  The rigid conformity of the suburbs.  The promise of the American Dream.   Even the simple act of voting was submission to the petty vanity of would-be authority figures. It was all a big lie and he had bought the package.  He lived to age 54 and died of complications from alcoholism, ironically in a Catholic hospital.

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