Saturday, March 12, 2005

Immediate Gratification

Spending five days in Chicago gave me a renewed appreciation for the winter weather in Florida. Just yesterday, I was watching the snow fall for the second day in a row. I couldn't venture out without a coat and the heat cranked up in the car. Today, after a two hour flight, I am sitting in front of an open window, reveling in the sunshine and the pleasant breeze. Outside, it's warm enough for kids to be playing in the East Village pool. Coat? What's a coat? I am perfectly content and comfortable in my t-shirt and shorts. In Chicago, I forgot some house plants in my car until evening, and the poor things all froze and died. In Celebration, I just came home with two hanging pots of flowers for my backyard.

It's a real treat for me now, but I can't help wonder whether I will become jaded over time. Soon, warm winter weather won't be something to marvel at; instead, it will be what I expect, and I'll grouse when the mercury dips below 60. I'd like to think that will never happen, but I already take my proximity to Disney World for granted. Once upon a time, a vacation with the Mouse was a once or twice yearly treat. Now, it's just another one of a long list of activites that I can indulge in any time I please. If we go to the parks and they are too crowded, we just turn around and leave because tomorrow is another day.

I realized just how used to immediate gratification I have become while I was chatting with my co-workers. While I was in Chicago, I stopped at the office to join them for lunch. Someone asked if I had been to Disney World lately, and I replied that I hadn't been to the parks in weeks because I've been so busy. I added, "But we have made it over there for dinner a couple of times."

To me, the idea of dinner at Disney World is just as natural as breathing. It's the equivalent of driving over to the mall in Chicago to go to Red Lobster, T.G.I. Friday's, or Olive Garden. Now, instead of the chains, we just drive to one of the Disney hotels and dine at Jiko, Ohana, or the Cape May Buffet. Or, if we're feeling really ambitious, we slip into one of the parks to eat at Morocco or Canada at Epcot or Brown Derby or 50's Prime Time Cafe in the Studio.

But to someone who lives 1200 miles away and considers Disney World a vacation destination rather than the big tourist trap next door, I guess that sounds rather odd. It would have sounded that way to me once, too, but now it's just the way things are. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it, but I supposed that being able to indulge my Disney fanaticism whenever I please has rubbed off a little bit of the pixie dust.

Of course, that's not limited to living next door to Mickey and friends. More and more, I see patience and waiting giving way to immediate gratification. It's not just true of me, but of the whole world around me. On one hand, it's nice to have easy access to the things that you love. On the other, having to wait makes them somehow more valuable when you finally do get them.

Case in point: I grew up long before the era of DVDs, and VCRs did not become popular until I was out of high school. Before that (believe it or not, youngsters!), I had to watch what the original three networks cared to put on, and too bad if I missed a show that I really wanted to see. That was before cable, so the pickings were pretty slim in the first place.

For movies, the two big options were 1) See it in the theater; or 2) Wait forever and then see the badly mangled, commercial-laden network premiere that might come years later.

From today's cable-Tivio-DVD perspective, it might sound like I led a miserably deprived childhood. Now, you can record programs without a second thought and get just about anything you want at the local video store. You don't wait years to see a favorite movie after it's theatrical release; at most, it will be a matter of months. Complete collections of your favorite television shows are as close as your local Border's or Barne's & Noble, unless you prefer ordering from

But there was a certain pleasure in being denied that immediate gratification. Having to wait made victory so much sweeter when a favorite show finally graced the airwaves. Probably the best example of this is the plethora of Christmas specials that were broadcast every holiday season.

I grew up with those scary but beloved Rankin-Bass classics like "Rudolph," "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," and "The Year Without a Santa Claus." Sure, like every child, I looked forward to Christmas for the bounty of presents, but that was only a small part of it. Once the Thanksgiving meal was over (yes, back in those days, the Christmas season didn't start the day after Halloween), I knew that it was time to start snapping up the new T.V. Guide every Sunday. Soon enough, I'd get to see my old pals Snow Miser, the Bumble, and Burger Meister Meister Burger on their long-anticipated yearly visit. And of course there were the lesser luminaries of the Christmas cartoon season, such as the clock-dwelling mice in "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and Frosty the Snowman vs. the evil magician who owned the magic hat.

There were some B-rated shows, too, like the abysmal "Rudolph's Shiny New Year," with the Dumbo-eared Baby New Year, and "Nester the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" (someone at Rankin-Bass must have had a large-ear fetish). I watched those if nothing better was on, but they weren't no-misses like the others.

There is a saying that anticipation is greater than realization, and I believe it's true. Seeing the shows was great, but the delicious build-up was so exciting. It was an integral part of my childhood Christmas season.

There were other non-seasonal shows that inspired that same excitement. Every year, the "Wizard of Oz" would be shown with great fanfare. It was almost always sponsored by Singer sewing machines. Other movies that I waited for with baited breath included "Yellow Submarine" with the Beatles, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" with Don Knotts, and "Gay Puree," an obscure cartoon about cats in France, with main characters voiced by Robert Goulet, Judy Garland, and Red Buttons. Now, I own them all on video or DVD, either purchased or taped from a cable channel.

And of course I own all of my holiday favorites on DVD. I can sing along with Snow Miser and his mini-me minions any time I please. I buy my favorite movies as they come out; I am counting the days until "The Incredibles" is released later this week.

It's great to be able to have all of my favorite movies and shows at my fingertips, but something is missing. I'll never have that warm feeling of excitement when I come across a gem in the T.V. Guide or that excited buildup to Christmas with those seasonal cartoons as a big part of it.

Immediate gratification is nice, but maybe us humans weren't meant to be indulged in every little desire. When you have to wait for something, or work for it, it has more meaning and you have more appreciation. I'm sure that those who grew up in generations after mine can't imagine what it's like not to have movies and t.v. shows at their fingertips. They don't even have to wait until they get home to view 'em. Now, there are portable DVD players and entertainment systems built right into cars.

Just as those kids can't relate to what my long-ago anticipation was like, I supposed it's inevitable that I'm learning to take things for granted that I once viewed as special. Warm weather all year 'round, with no more blizzards and sub-zero temperatures? Not special anymore, just par for the course. Heading over to Disney World on a whim, catching a few rides at the Magic Kingdom before hopping over to Epcot for dinner at Morocco? Not a yearly treat...just another ho-hum day in Paradise.

As much as I hate returning to Chicago, maybe it's good for me. It will be a regular reminder that once upon a time those things weren't part of my everyday life, and I should count myself very lucky that they are now.

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