`Me First' generation inspired our drug woes The boomers are to blame for country's drug epidemic Boomer hedonism spawned drug culture

May 10, 2000|By GREGORY KANE

THE FOURTH installment of HBO's "The Corner" -- the six-part miniseries directed by Baltimore's own Charles Dutton -- aired Sunday night. Some charge that the drama paints a picture of Baltimore that is too grim and gritty.

There are lessons to be learned from it, nonetheless. The most obvious lesson is that the baby boomer generation is almost solely responsible for America's drug nightmare.

"The Corner" follows the addiction of Gary McCullough and his ex-wife, Fran Boyd, and shows how their plight affects their 15-year-old son, DeAndre McCullough. Gary McCullough and Boyd grew up in the 1950s and 1960s. In one scene, Boyd reminisces about the get-high parties she attended in the early 1970s. Years later, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Boyd and her friends and siblings are still getting high. That's inevitable when a generation elevates taking drugs to a near cultural imperative.

Yes, we did it. With our music, with our literature and with our movies. We did it at our campus parties in the late '60s and early '70s, when someone inevitably broke out a joint.

Most of us tried the joint and then went on with our lives. But the Fran Boyds of the world, seeking a better high, moved on to harder drugs. As a group, we may have been the most hedonistic generation this country has ever had the misfortune of spawning. The leadership of the country is now in our hands. If the nation survives us, it will be a miracle.

Look at America's first baby boomer president. It's significant that we had no one better to offer than William Jefferson Clinton. He's conducted himself like a true boomer. Others in his generation heeded the call to get high. Clinton has never failed to heed the screeching of his loins. He had a White House intern perform sex acts on him on our time, in our White House, and then misled the country about it. After he was impeached amid accusations of perjury and obstruction of justice, he didn't even have the decency to resign. He stayed in office, assuring us his conduct was no big deal.

Boomers, true to our calling, embraced the idiot. What Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky, we insisted, was his own business. Once again, we boomers genuflected at the altar of Epicurean revelry.

Compare Clinton's conduct to that of an earlier president from a different generation -- the one that grew up during the Depression and went through World War II. Richard Nixon's sins have been well documented. But when a constitutional crisis loomed and impeachment was imminent, Nixon refused to let the country go through it. He resigned. He did what was best for the country. Clinton has never failed to do what's best for Bill Clinton.

David Simon and Edward Burns, in their book "The Corner," which inspired the HBO special, tell the tale of yet another man who came of age during the Depression and World War II. The story of Gary McCullough's father, William M. "W.M." McCullough, may or may not be told in the miniseries. But it is instructive. The elder McCullough came to Baltimore at the age of 14 with only $1.40 in his pocket. Within a day, he had a job at an iron foundry on South Charles Street. That was in 1942.

W.M. stayed 12 years at the foundry before landing a better job at American Standard, a plumbing fixture manufacturer. Soon, he and his wife, Roberta, bought a house on Vine Street, where they raised 15 children. The ravages of the Depression didn't defeat W.M., nor did the backbreaking work he did at the foundry and American Standard. He saved his money and steered clear of drugs and booze while building a stable home life for his family.

It was some of his children, like all too many in their generation, who took to drugs. William Jr. got hooked in the early 1970s. Gary, after some success as a businessman, fell in the mid-1980s.

The generation that came after W.M. McCullough faced no Depression -- and racism and other social oppressions are no excuse for self-destruction. We lived in relatively prosperous times, which may have spoiled us. We became the country's premier "Me First" generation, devoted to the joy of pleasing ourselves.

"Can the war on drugs be won?" Dutton asks a cop in a scene from "The Corner."

"No comment," the officer answers. A better answer might have been this: "Only if we place all baby boomers under house arrest."

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