Back in the Day
My 50th high school reunion has got me thinking back to a totally different world. It was a simpler, more innocent time. Writing was done on manual typewriters, and you had to use a round gray ink eraser with a brush on one end. There wasn’t espresso, Americana, carmel machiatto, mocha, or latte, there was just coffee; a cup of joe. Your razor just had one blade, and when it got dull, you put in a new blade. You didn’t throw the whole razor away; that would be idiotic. If you wanted to hear the new hit by your favorite musician or group, you had to buy it at the record store, either a 45 rpm or an LP. Then came a big technological breakthrough, the 8 track cassette — wow! Way back then, sunsets were still in black and white. I think they began colorizing them in 1957.
Back in the day, TV was in black & white. Besides the power switch, there was vertical hold, horizontal hold, brightness & contrast. And the programming was all live, which was really exciting at times. The stations would usually sign off at midnight, with the national anthem. In those antediluvian days, people still wrote letters or postcards. Yep, back then the latest Boeing was the 707. All automobile tires had inner tubes filled with air. When you had a flat, you repaired the tube with a patch kit, put it back into the tire, then used your hand pump to fill it with air again. I remember how I laughed when tubeless tires first came out. Those will never last, I scoffed.
People did their laundry by scrubbing everything on a washboard in those old machines, then fed each piece through a wringer by turning a crank handle on the side. That completed, it was hung out on clotheslines to dry in the sun and wind. No, really. Teachers wrote with chalk on blackboards. In those 12 years from first grade to high school graduation, we must have breathed tons of chalk dust. Milk was delivered in glass bottles, right to your door. As he delivered the milk, the milkman would pick up the empty bottles set out on the porch. Ice cream used to contain both ice and cream; now it’s just some kind of frozen fluff. Coffee was terrible in those days, after having the crap percolated out of it, along with most of the flavor. Commercials for the new freeze dried coffee used to make fun of poor housewives who couldn’t please their husbands: “No, Betty, it’s not that you’re frigid or anything; Jim just doesn’t like your coffee.”
Back then you bought jeans for durability. When they eventually got holes in the knees, you patched them with needle and thread. No one would have ever considered buying new jeans with the holes already in the knees. Only a moron would do that. If you were traveling, you used paper map you had to unfold, then refold (the tricky part). Telephones were no longer fastened to the wall with a crank you had to turn to get the operator, to have her call your number. Science had triumphed again, with the new rotary phone (“Dial M for Murder” still has a resonance that “Press M for Murder” falls short of). You didn’t even have your own phone line then; you shared a “party line” with other families, and you had to wait till the line was open before making a call. People could listen in on others’ conversations, just like the NSA does now. Those were the days, also, that when you called someone or some company, the phone was answered by another human being. You weren’t shuttled from one recorded menu to another.
Time was when football was played outdoors, on a grass field, in the rain, snow and muck. It was truly a great game. The symbol # usually meant number, before it became the “pound sign.” Now it’s called a hashtag, useful for narrowing search topics. Guys used to wear belts, so their pants didn’t fall down to their asses, and they wore baseball caps correctly, too. The bill goes in front, nimrod.
Yeah, those were the days. Congress actually passed legislation back then, can you believe it? Republicans were decent people you could have an honest debate with. I know, it does sound implausible. And Democrats stood solidly behind unions and working people. That was way before so many of them betrayed their ideals. TV news was really news, then, not a series of puff pieces about baby pandas and the latest former child star entering rehab. These days both Congress and TV news seem more like a modern Punch-and-Judy show.
I remember a time, before Ronald Reagan, when a single wage earner made enough to support the family, take a yearly vacation, own a home, send the kids to college, and buy a new car every few years. Two wage earners can’t hope to do that today. Back then, you could apply for a job without your prospective employer peeping at your Facebook page, or otherwise rummaging through the underwear drawers of your private life. Why in hell would you ever want to work for someone who would treat you with so little respect, before they’d even hired you?
Do you remember farms? You know, little family farms that would go generations back. They produced almost all the food we ate, and it was pretty healthy. That was before Big Agribusiness put them all out to pasture. I really miss family farms.
There were real Christians back in those days, good people who helped those less fortunate. They would never have yelled “No, dammit, you can’t have more food stamps! In fact, we’re going to cut your food stamps — shared sacrifice, you know.” Christians then would never blame the poor for being out of money. Okay, this one was a trick. There are still real Christians around today, they just don’t advertise their piety on their sleeves, but do their good works quietly, out of view.
I remember when reality was good enough, and people didn’t have to create some virtual fantasy world to feel real, and actually prefer that world. That is tragic.
There was a time when the banks were required by law to hold your money for you. And back then, they paid you interest. They weren’t allowed to gamble away your life savings or pension. In those bygone days, America held out an open hand to immigrants, who came here to find a better life for their families. If you didn’t like the way a company or government agency did things, you could go out and protest. You didn’t need a permit to protest back then; the First Amendment was your permit. And the whole damned country was a free speech zone!
Finally, I remember when Americans felt like we were all in this together, which is what a society is supposed to feel like. It was an entirely different feeling than the hatred and xenophobia we see today. I miss that most of all, I think.