Once in a Sydney shoe shop with an Australian colleague, having completed my purchase I looked up to see my friend at the counter beckoning furiously. I trotted over whereupon he whispered, "too late, tell you later". It transpired that having lots of cash on him, he'd tendered three $100 notes for his $299.99c purchase. The young male halfwit assistant had then produced a calculator, entered $300, then minus $299.99c.
Regaling that incident brought amusement for three decades but today, well, I doubt it. Awe-inspiring stupidity is just too common now and everyone can recount similar experiences.
I know it's an eternal older generation complaint but seemingly many of the current generation have regressed in general knowledge compared with yesteryear. Consider this. My 14-year-old daughter asked to see our company's Wellington private gymnasium, a PR exercise provided solely for our buildings' lessees' staff free of charge, including the services of male and female personal trainers.
It's not the normal gym with an American music racket but instead, soft classical music. There's no muscular system charts on the wall, rather an eclectic array of several dozen framed items to peruse in breaks.
These include a set of 1900 Wellington street scene photographs, an oil painting given to me by Ron Jorgensen, who to the distress of many members joined the New Zealand Party ("It stands for freedom doesn't it?" he explained to bemused journalists), a map of central America, a large framed poster of Anna Kournikova's posterior which replaced a smaller version after an artistically unappreciative female public servant gym-user had the gall to complain about it, and much more.
Inspecting this gallery we came to the stock oil painting print of Lenin of which literally billions were produced, whereupon a retardee in his 30s lifting weights nearby asked "Who's that photograph of?"
Claudia collapsed, muffling her giggles in 14-year-old girl fashion but I was dumbstruck. "Are you telling me you can't tell the difference between a photograph and an oil-painting and that you don't know that's Lenin?" I demanded.
He stared at it. "Never heard of him," he declared. "You'll be from X," I suggested, naming a large corporation lessee, filled with drones computer processing invoices and such-like, and he duly confirmed this.
Soon these jobs will be replaced by technology and it's inconceivable what other employment these dullards could do. More important, how's it possible to live for more than three decades and not recognise, let alone know of, the father figure of the most momentous social experiment in human history?
Back at the office I asked three girls bearing BA degrees in ballroom dancing and the like. Lenin? A mystery! George Bernard Shaw, Belgium, Mussolini, Muldoon, anyone, anything at all, what bloody day it is? - all a gigantic puzzle.
The following day I heard Kathryn Ryan interviewing an American woman heading an organisation promoting young people to vote. Apparently most don't. It's an ignoble goal, for it's sensible to leave the disinterested out of the equation.
Discussing this with an academic friend she suggested nothing has changed, rather these degeneratis' (my invented word) forebears were probably just as ignorant, only out of sight in factories and the like.
Having worked in numerous factories in my late teens I disagreed as back then literally everyone read newspapers, but I added accusingly, "You're giving them degrees." She rolled her eyes and sighed. The explanation is the irrational total preoccupation with cellphones, texting and Facebook, but mostly in not reading newspapers, let alone anything else, all reflecting a total absence of curiosity.
That's the sad thing for apart from other ramifications, world events, history, politics, etc, are so fascinating and these folk are enormous losers. Few young people now read newspapers which lies at the heart of the matter.
A dozen years back, ensconced in the Dominican Republic, I called my secretary. "What's happening" I asked.
"Don't be ridiculous. Things are always happening."
"Well, nothing has."
"So what's Helen's [the PM] response to the outbreak of World War III?"
"I'm not sure."
Apart from other consequences all of this has led to an extraordinary gullibility with many young girls. Naivety may be nature's ploy to ensure the continuation of the species.
But for the numerous amazing developments in technology, commerce and science, all the products of curious minds, one could believe we're on the cusp of a new barbaric Dark Ages. One totally explicable outcome is the growing gulf between rich and poor, attributed by lightweight commentators to manipulation of the system. It's not. Rather it's the inevitable consequence of the abyss between wilful ignorance and pursued knowledge, the latter the direct result of a curious mind, which fortunately still many young folk possess. Learn and earn should be a mantra preached to all children.