August 19, 2018

The Way It Used to Be

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Easy is getting harder every day. –Iris Dement

Shopping frenzy like some great storm is blowing across the land, generating time-consuming lines of ill-behaved citizens, lords and ladies, poets and divines pawing the fresh black asphalt in front of mammoth box stores; vast resource-sucking monoliths peddling products that didn’t exist a few decades ago and likely will end up in refuse cans before the spring melt or hopefully at Sedona Recycles.

“It’s not like the good old days,” a grizzled actor murmured into his Jack on the rocks once upon a time in a notorious Hollywood saloon.

“And they never were,” mumbled another old actor, nursing an ice-cold Bombay Gin martini–not his first.

Oh yes they were, particularly around Christmas time, let’s say before 1945. Facts be known, if one was born before 1945, that meant you arrived on the planet before TV, frozen food, plastic, Frisbees and the Pill.

Oh yes they were, because all the things that today we take for granted (and need fixing) didn’t exist: dishwashers, clothes driers, robot vacuums, electric blankets, computers, CD players and artificial hearts.

Dylan wrote “The times they are changing.” What did he know?

Before 1945, a “chip” was a piece of wood and hardware was found at the hardware store. You didn’t go shopping for an iPhone at Christmastime because it didn’t exist. And you didn’t visit aging friends and relatives in nursing homes and day care centers because they didn’t exist, either. Nobody had heard of frozen yogurt, pizza, McDonald’s or Starbucks. Fast food was what church goers ate during Lent and designer jeans were only made by Levi Strauss. If one was birthed before 1945, as this wandering pilgrim was, it was before house-husbands, computer dating, dual careers and commuter marriages. Truth to tell, meaningful relationships meant getting along with your weird cousins during holiday gatherings.

Back then, the concept of “timeshare” meant togetherness, not condos. What’s more, anything labeled “Made in Japan” was junk and “making out” had to do with how well you did on the final exam–not what happened in the old rumble seat. Believe it not, if you were born before 1945, people smoked in a restaurant, “grass” was what kids mowed to make enough for a nickel candy bar and “crack” was something you avoided if you didn’t want to break your mother’s back. When you went to the movies, “heroin” was the female hero, “rock” was what one’s visiting grandmother did to baby sister and “rap” was what your mother did to your Christmas present.

Believe it or not, if you were born before 1945, there were 5 & 10 cent stores that actually–yes Virginia, actually–sold items costing five and ten cents. If you happened to be born in Los Angeles, which this scrivener wasn’t but he heard about it, a nickel bought one a ride on a street car or a phone call, or a Pepsi, or enough stamps to mail one letter and two post cards to old girl friends. At war’s end, you could buy a new Chevy coupe for about $600, but people said that was still too much–too much to be easily afforded. Even though the price of leaded gasoline was rising, it was still 11 cents a gallon at the local station, which didn’t sell hot dogs and hamburgers, beer and T-shirts. Moreover there was a petroleum surplus that threatened to drive prices still lower.

Now imagine this: people got married before they lived together and women thought they ought to have bread-winning husbands before they birthed a baby and new mothers left work to nurture their children. Will such simple days ever return?

These days optimists are defined as citizens who say we have attained new heights of civilization and prosperity, while pessimists tend to exaggerate how good things were back in those days before 1945. As for now, those nay-saying pessimists say that if our leaders don’t start connecting the dots and begin to resolve such issues as poverty, the finiteness of fossil fuels, global-warming, maybe we’ll all find ourselves back in time, and be working on farms again as we once did trying to resolve the ancient struggle between man’s potential for savagery and the desire for transcendence. But then again who is paying attention to those “nattering nabobs of negativism” who ask what farms? If not us, then who?

No matter what, there will always be Christmas. Have yourself a merry one!

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