April 10, 2020
ONCE HOT, NOW NOT
One of the nice things about getting old is having been a witness to how things used to be and how they are now.
The older you get, the more you realize that what used to be cutting edge and cool, is now passé. Here are some things that people used to think were so cool, that now are terribly dated.
Did you ever try to get up from a bean bag chair after you’ve had a few drinks or perhaps been indulging in other substances that in the past could get you a shared cell with a biker named Bruno?
The bean bag chair was, and is, a completely useless piece of furniture, except maybe for kids. And yet, as a young man, I thought bean bag chairs were quite bohemian and cutting edge – not unlike beaded curtains, macramé wall hangings, and home-made sand candles.
It wasn’t just the young and stupid who defined the fashion of the day. Style was also defined by those old enough to know better.
If you ever lived in a home with a sunken living room, you know it was really an accident waiting to happen, especially if you had been indulging in alcoholic beverages. That was even more likely, because a sign of success was having your own well-stocked wet bar with stools, a stock of various liquors, and beer on tap.
We lived in a home at one time, in which the living room was one step down from the dining room. We worried all the time that a dinner guest would push his chair back to get up from the table and take a tumble onto the white shag carpet, one six-inch step below the dining room floor.
The television set used to be a giant box that sat prominently in the middle of an open-faced “entertainment center” that also featured stereo speakers, an AM-FM tuner, a turntable for records, a VCR and later a CD player for watching home videos or featured films, all stored on a side shelf, usually behind etched glass doors. Waterbeds in the 60s weighed hundreds of pounds and had heated pads so you didn’t freeze as you sloshed through the night.
And don’t get us started on the combination appliances – the stove, microwave, toaster oven, kitchen clock/timer all in one giant piece that required a major kitchen overhaul or replacement if any one of the elements went bad or became obsolete. And then there were the colors. Refrigerators used to be white, then for a period, avocado and gold became the kitchen colors of the day, before returning to white again and now stainless steel.
Those were the good old days. Or were they?
Remember mini-skirts, afro hair styles, tie-dyed shirts, bell-bottom pants, caftans for entertaining at home, fruit boots, business suits for women with linebacker padded shoulders and a blouse that featured a giant loopy bow instead of a tie. There were perms for men, big bouffant hair for women, and tight leather pants and fanny packs for both.
Many of these fashions – like all past passions – are still around, still embraced by folks who got stuck in a fashion time warp. Guys who are still carrying their cigarettes rolled up in a sleeve of their t-shirts, and old men and women still wandering around in tie-dyed shirts and shooting each other peace signs.
Fashion used to be dictated either from where you lived – such as overalls, cowboy hats, and bandanas – or sometimes from influential designers in Paris who developed a following and dictated the latest look. It was an industry built on conspicuous consumption. The more expensive the line one wore, the bigger the boost in one’s status.
Since Henry Ford started producing the Model T in 1908 – making automobiles available to the common man – Americans have been in love with their cars. There is nothing better than the open road, the sound of an internal combustion engine coming to life, and power available just by pushing down on a gas pedal.
A car isn’t just transportation. It is adventure; it is style; it is the freedom to go where you want, whenever you want, at the speed you want. You don’t have to sit on a bench waiting for a streetcar or bus, or at a train station platform waiting for a ride to take you to your destination. You jump into the car, turn on the key, and away you go.
As cars grew more elegant, each had its own style. White-wall tires, fender skirts, fancy hubcaps, gleaming hood ornaments that sparkled in the sun and lots of chrome, on the front and the back and down the sides. Lovely, flashy, dangerous Detroit steel, destined as time went by to become the boxy automobiles of today – fiberglass and plastic bodies designed with an eye toward safety and fuel efficiency.
The family station wagon, the sensible, safe, and boring version of the family sedan, was replaced by the mini-van.
Now the burning public desire for power and fossil-fuel muscle has been taken up by the big pickup trucks – some of them jacked up so high that you need a step-stool to get inside.
And yet, the love affair with the cars of the era lives on.
Much of what used to be family road trips to explore the highways and byways of America has been replaced with airplanes. Air travel was once exclusive and exciting. People dressed up to get on a plane because not everybody could afford it.
Now it has become a default way to travel, replacing buses and trains. What once was luxury has become agony with seats jammed as close together as physically possible and in-flight meals that are tasteless and expensive. Unless passengers are willing to pay big bucks for first class, they are lucky to get a bag of pretzels and a can of soda to ease their journey.
Before the internet, people used to read newspapers, books, and magazine articles printed on paper – both slick and pulp. They were able to do so because they were literate and had been taught at an early age to read and write.
Every big city had news and magazine stands with publications from around the world and book stores full of fiction and non-fiction works. Lovers of the printed word could gather for hours, looking at what selections were available and rubbing shoulders with other bibliophiles.
Almost every literate person had at least one daily newspaper delivered to their home.
The family would split up the sections, reading the National and International news, the Local news, the latest Sports scores, the Wall Street stock market tables, and the Society pages. Even if you had never been to a major league game or owned any stock or were not included in the hoity-toity world of debutante balls and country club affairs, you would read about them in the newspaper. And there were always the recipes for cakes and cookies, other homemaking tips, and an advice column that provided readers with sneak peeks into other people’s frustrations and fears.
Then there were the movies. In an effort to compete with television, Hollywood tried to offer something more. There were three-dimensional movies that would give flat-screen entertainment a new depth, as long as you wore the special Polaroid glasses. There were also Cinerama screens, which used a large curved screen with three synchronized projectors to put the audience in the middle of the action.
There were also the multiplex cinemas that offered a number of different movies on smaller screens at one central venue.
Let us not forget the art movie theaters, with soft-core nudity and sex of the Russ Meyer’s category, which soon evolved into hard-core sex films in movie houses such as the Pussycat theater chain, founded in the 60s and defunct by the 90s. Porno movie theaters, like the Pussycat chain, were replaced by rented porno video tapes and now the internet. Today any enterprising 10-year-old can learn first-hand about love, sex, and perversion without having to endure the awkward birds-and-the-bees talk of the past.
The changes in what once was and will never be again go on and on. Rotary-dial phones, typewriters, answering machines, beepers, beauty contests, food stamps, 8mm home movies, Kodak and Polaroid cameras, and pictures made on film.
Some of these institutions – such as beauty contests – are still around, but they’re generally campy, dated, and valued mainly for their nostalgic appeal.
The problem with nostalgia, is it’s very selective. It remembers the good times, the good music, and the good friends. Nostalgia, by definition, is a fondness for the past. It overlooks the evilness of past times.
Was the past better than the present day? There are two answers to that question and they are both correct.
Yes and no.
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