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How My Definition of Being "Cool" Changed

By Kevin Collins

Off the top of your head, name 5 people you consider “cool”. You watch them and you say to yourself, “Man that is one cool cat, I wish I was more like them”.

Okay I know “cool cat” dates me pretty badly but let’s not nit pick here, you know what I mean.

When I was young it was people like Sky King, Nat King Cole, The Kingsmen ( of Louie Louie fame) and Martin Luther King ( maybe not in that order, but all undeniably cool.).

Later on I thought George Carlin, Richard Prior and the kid in the eighth grade who drove to school and smoked cigars were all cutting edge( I think that kid was 16 years old in the eighth grade! In hind sight I may have confused cool with a learning disability). As things progressed it was Paul Newman, Van Morison and my football coach. Skip to Don Johnson in Miami Vice, Randy Newman and the guy who stood in front of that Chinese tank.

Sadly, as of the 1990’s, famous people stopped being cool altogether. Michael Jackson? The Back Street Boys? Dr. Ruth?

Give me a break.

By default, Fonzie was still being held up as the epitome of cool for God sake. My friends were all having children. “Baby On Board” stickers were, and still are, decidedly uncool.

Believe it or not I am getting to the point here.

When I moved to Ajijic 17 years ago I got exposed people in their 70’s.

Frankly, back then if you didn’t hang out with people in their 70’s there was no one to hang out with except people who spoke Spanish. Nothing against Spanish speakers mind you but it has always felt to me like it’s some kind of foreign language.

The thing I noticed about the older generation was that, for the most part, they had a cool I was unfamiliar with.

They neither “walked the walk or talked the talk”. They didn’t have to. Many had seen action in World War 2 and or Korea. I never met one who called himself a “hero” or felt he should remind you that if it wasn’t for him we’d be goose stepping down Main street or compared himself to Audie Murphy. In my experience they were reluctant to even talk much about their experiences. “We all believed in what we were doing, I just did what I could. It wasn’t really even a conscious choice. ” summed up the war years for them. They had a quiet confidence that said “I know who I am and you my friend are on a need to know basis”.

They weren’t all goodie goodie two shoes but they still had a politeness and a practiced graciousness in dealing with social situations. Swearing in front of women was frowned upon and making newcomers feel welcome was a priority. To a man they lamented the passing of doing a business deal on the strength of a hand shake.

That generation is now in their late 80’s and we’re losing them one by one. The “greatest generation” is disappearing from our midst and I’m feeling a genuine sense of grief.

Last week we lost Buzz Wilhelm. He was a golf buddy of mine here in Ajijic, Lake Chapala, and by any definition, the coolest person you could have ever met.

I’m not going to write his obituary because I am no where near qualified to do so. I just found out his real name was ‘Harold’ yesterday so I will leave the task of trying to explain his remarkable life to someone else. What I will say is that his passing compelled me to write this inadequate tip of the hat to those of a certain age that defined what our society use to be. Recently, there has been a concerted effort to thank them for their unbelievable sacrifice during the war but it goes beyond that. They tried to teach the younger how to be cool by example but somehow it was lost on us. We decided to adopt the self-absorbed, loud, in your face, I got mine attitude.

An attitude that somehow has made Donald Trump and his ilk not only acceptable but maybe even, God forbid, cool.

How sad is that?

The next generation ( my grandkids) won’t ever get the chance to see actual “coolness” and it worries me. We had Buzz and his friends to light the way. They’ll have Lady GaGa and Homer Simpson.

The world is going to be a very different place.

My definition of cool has unquestionably evolved.

Hard to believe that the people who wore nasty old fedoras and heavy “make do and mend” woolen skirts would now be the ones I hold up as the coolest people I have ever known. Please take your time in saying goodbye, hopefully there is still time to teach us your secret.

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