“There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”  
— Buffalo Springfield

That roar down the street, is it thunder or the pounding of feet? Is it a helicopter I hear, or is it a tank? Is it static I hear or a tap on my phone? Was that a bird overhead or was it a drone? Is that ticking a bomb or simply the clock? Is it real turtle soup or simply the mock?

Questions. It’s the age of questions. Always questions, be they from committees or subcommittees, fact finding boards or panels. It seems that life in the new world is becoming one long midterm exam, or are we in the finals?

“How are you?” has been replaced by, “What do you know and when did you know it?”

The questions of my generation were simpler, cuter:

“Where have all the flowers gone?”

“Can you still get tickets to ‘Cats’?”

Rachel Maddow tells me that if I leave my cellphone at home, “They” can’t trace my movements. Who are they, and why do they want to trace my movements? What’s so interesting about my movements?

Do they really want to know if I’m at Starbucks choosing between 75 different roasts of coffee or in the mall looking for summer pants? Which brings up the subject of surveillance in social media and market place. Who is that woman wanting to friend me on Facebook? Better question. Why am I on something called Facebook?

I hear that a string of smart cameras are following me from Macy’s to the Gap to Williams-Sonoma, and watching my eye movements to track what I touch and what I choose, and then making a list to track my tastes.

This, I’m told, is so that when I go to Kohl’s in Augusta, there will be a rack full of similar choices waiting for me as I enter the store. That cute checkout clerk behind the counter smiling as I walk in, she seems to recognize me. OMG is she one of “them”? Another clerk hands me a shirt and with a smile, whispers “You’ll like this, it will look great on you.”

Did I imagine her saying, “This is your favorite color”?

When I walk away, did I hear her whisper, “They’ve got your favorite sneakers in men’s shoes”? OMG. Did she say, “Sorry Dave, I can’t let you buy that”?

I have my own questions. What happened to the older clerks that used to be there, the middle-aged guys in the dumpy suits, the women in practical shoes and 1950s glasses and hair tied up in buns.

Where did they all go? Have they been relocated to a “farm” where they’re being “re-educated” and reshaped?

Television news is suddenly full of talk panels with bright, young attractive pundits asking questions of each other. Some on the panel appear to answer them, but their replies always end in another question.

And why are they all so young and cute? What happened to those brilliant old guys we used to get all of our answers from: Bill Buckley, Pat Buchanan, Bob Novak?

The smartphone generation, I’m told, doesn’t want to watch old bald men in tinted glasses and women with tucked up faces who reminisce about sleeping with one Kennedy or the other.

You know that hit television show “Mad Men” that everyone watches? Why, when it’s purely soap opera and should be of no interest to the madding crowd, is it such a hit? It’s because, they say, there are subliminal messages buried in the script. That’s right. We’re hooked. We need those messages.

We need to know which color to select, which food to eat.

Checking out at Hannaford. The clerk’s eyes widen. “Oh, Mr. Devine, you’ve changed your brand of wine.”


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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