While sitting in line at the drive-thru at a certain to-remain-unnamed “fast”-food joint in town, waiting for the cheese to cure I suppose, it occurred to me how time plays tricks with you.
The other day, my son’s face dropped in shocked astonishment when I told him I could remember a day before iPods, even a day before CDs. He actually started getting woozy when I described to him the ancient use of magnetic tapes — some with up to eight tracks — and vinyl disks with little bumps that made scratchy music when you dragged a needle across them. I started describing the covered wagon I came to Tooele in when my daughter pleaded with me to stop. I was starting to scare her.
Every year I get an e-mail or two that has been passed around the Internet describing the ignorance of our nation’s new crop of college freshmen.
“Most freshmen entering college this fall,” it says, “think Ronald Reagan was a Founding Father.” A particularly ignorant-looking freshman with some sort of jewel hanging from her right nostril asked, “Isn’t he that guy on the nickel or something?”
I remember when “The Sound of Music” being aired on television was a national event. These kids today have no concept of not being able to record or watch a movie or TV show whenever and virtually wherever you want. As a child I actually had to go play outside when the single episode of the “Donnie & Marie Show” was over and there was nothing good (speaking in the relative sense) on the other two channels our rabbit-ear antennae could pick up. We had to flip a coin when my bother and I wanted to watch “Gilligan’s Island” and my sisters wanted to see “Bewitched” because they both aired at the same time. Now my kids watch the 24-hour SpongeBob Squarepants Channel and can pause or record any episode when they absolutely have to do something physical, like go to the bathroom.
Back in the day, when a movie left the theaters, it was gone — for good! You might be able to find it at a classics theater in L.A. or New York, but the real reason my friends and I went to see “Star Wars” 6,412 times was because we knew we may never get the chance to see it again. VCRs were out by then, but they were about the size of Volkswagens and cost the year’s salary of the average middle class laborer. The family of one of my friends were the owners of the only VCR in the St. George area. I think they had to widen the door to their living room just to get it in. I remember watching “Winnie the Pooh” a dozen times or more at their house even though I had far outgrown it, simply because I was completely mesmerized by the concept of being able to stop, rewind and see the same show over again.
The thing that’s really disturbing to me about all this is that I don’t think I’m that old. OK, so my knees creak a little and the gray hairs on my head just won a plurality last week and promise to run riot over the colored minority soon (some of the persecuted hairs are migrating to my nose and ears in response), and I can’t always remember what I had for breakfast this morning, or where I was going with this sentence, but time has a way of alienating you. Actually experiencing the slow evolutions in technology and culture makes them seem they are natural and stuff that everybody knows. My kids were laughing at the huge size of a cell phone they saw in a “classic” movie last week but then switched to awed reverence for the ancient when I informed them it was the latest and greatest model the year their mother and I were married. I have a campaign button from the Bush/Quayle campaign (that’s Bush senior, remember him?) that my children think belongs in a museum.
Victor Hugo said that your 40s are the old age of youth and your 50s are the youth of old age. I started to get the premonition I’m now in the old age of youth when the model year of the cars that came out when I was born started increasing in value. Security almost had to forcibly remove me from a car show a while ago when I saw a shining “restored” 1969 Buick Skylark.
“This ain’t no classic!” I protested. “I remember riding in a brand new one growing up! I think my dad traded in our mule for it.”
These are all things we aging ones think nothing of. I’m typing this on a computer using a word processor that I would have wet my pants in excitement to have seen when I was 15! That was the year when I thought a “mouse” on a computer was a superfluous toy — a gimmick created by Apple to sell more of their fancy computers with their ostentatious five-inch monochromatic screens. That was still in the era when we had to actually learn how to spell. Not that it ever took with me — you wouldn’t be able to read this without my trusty spell-checker.
But, all of this evolved over time, a step at a time. When my kids plopped into this world they started at a totally different reference point. Computers, DVDs, indoor running water and freedom from socialism are all simply a given. When you bring up an era when someone had to write with a pen instead of a hand-held keypad, or deal with a numskull president dispensing double-digit inflation and cowering under the threat of Islamic fundamentalism — hmmm, maybe some things don’t change — they just give you a blank, uncomprehending stare, much like the one the pimply face of the drive-thru attendant had at that “fast”-food joint when I told him that “In my day, there was this thing called… Hey, get your eyes off that text message and look at me when I’m talking… there was this thing called ‘customer service!’”
Oh, great! Now I’m turning into my dad.
John Hamilton, creative director for Transcript-Bulletin Publishing, is venturing into the world of punditry and riches beyond imagining.