Written by Dale Suderman Wednesday, 16 May 2007 08:09The second oldest joke in America goes like this. A young boy is taken to the barn and shown an 8-foot high stack of manure. He immediately takes a pitchfork and starts digging into it frantically.
When asked the cause for his energetic digging he says, “Well, with this much manure, there must be a pony in there someplace.”
This lad stands in sharp contrast to the grumpy old men who daily place their bets that there is no pony.
“Yup, not only is there no pony, but tomorrow there will be another pile of manure, even if you clean that one up today,” they lament.
And they sip their coffee and chortle on about the naive idealism of the kid.
Grumpy old men wager every day that each and every new idea, concept and lifestyle will not work. And mostly they win their wagers. Indeed, for centuries they won their argument. They were right, heavier than air machines cannot fly—until the kids from Dayton, Ohio, proved them wrong.
They are kin to the follow who proposed closing the United States patent office at the turn of the 19th century because all the important things had already been invented.
Grumpy old men are not true conservatives. Conservatives try to preserve and utilize traditions, pass on old values and tell the story of old times.
Grumpy old men do not contribute to historical preservation societies, they do not pass on memoirs, they do not participate in folk festivals.
“Probably not much use in trying to talk about the past parts of the old days,” they say. “These younger folks wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.”
Nor are they progressives looking to create change. They just make bets that no new idea, product or concept might have value. For them the future is doomed to fail and the past wasn't much better.
Probably if they had their way, we would still be living in trees, afraid to come down and hunt game, plant crops and build cities.
So eventually the kid leaves town to seek his pony elsewhere. He crosses the Rio Grande at night. He leaves Warsaw and Krakow on a visitor visa and sleeps on his cousin’s couch until he finds a job in Chicago. He packs up his stuff in his car and leaves rural America—and heads to New York, San Francisco and Chicago to seek his fortune or die trying. He skips out of the plantation system in Mississippi, where there is no future in picking cotton.
With few skills, no street smarts and sometimes not even Basic English, admittedly many don’t survive. But nevertheless, the immigrants who have fled the realms of grumpy old men have very often been the infusion of hope in their new worlds.
This is not a new phenomenon. For example, my friend Ben Hartley did historical research and found that an amazing number of the new churches and religious institutions in Boston were started after the Civil War not by native born Bostonians—who were perhaps too prim and proper to risk new stuff. Rather naive immigrant idealists from Iowa and rural Canada and Ireland began them.
This spring some grumpy old men will watch commencement ceremonies and slap their knees and laugh at the pony seeking kids marching across the stage.
“Well they sure ain’t gonna make it in the real world.”
They may fail to note that fewer kids stay in rural America after they graduate.
When grumpy old men are wrong they are really wrong. And sometimes the kids looking for a pony where there should be no pony are on to something.