Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Simpler Times

Boulevard 3-3998. That was my telephone number in 1946. Our first phone and it was a party line. They weren’t available during the war years. If you wanted to chat you wrote a letter; two mail deliveries a day. If it was an emergency you might have called the candy store or corner drugstore where runners hung around and, for two bits, would dash up three or four flights of stairs and tell Mrs. Scarlotti or Mrs. Lipshitz that her uncle was in an accident and wouldn’t make it for dinner.

Certainly we have it easier today, blessed with all manner of technology yet life seems more complicated than ever before. Each of us has to master remote controls, a dashboard that resembles a 747 and command an assortment of computer prompts, apps and clicks. 

Life was simpler then. Or was it? Simple, perhaps, in that we knew our place and our limits, the terms of the givens and how to live within those choices. There were far fewer options. We also knew we were the good guys; we had just beaten the bad guys, Germany and Japan.

The double feature confirmed our values. Gangsters and cattle rustlers had grungy faces. The sheriff must have shaved three times a day and was humble in just the right measure. The clean-shaven got the girl and the scruffy got the chair.

I don’t know that I’ll ever know. Was it really a simpler time or was it only those child’s eyes I was seeing through? I never got around to asking my father what he thought. My guess is he would have yearned for 1910 when it was an even simpler time.

World history and personal history have a way of aligning in one’s mind. I like to believe that America came of age exactly when I did. The simplistic patriotism of the forties yielded to a more ambiguous post-war, cold-war decade just as I was ready to handle it. How convenient! Hollywood grew nuanced along with me. Suddenly the good detective had a back story. He was a recovering alcoholic or fathered a child he abandoned in Italy.

The broadcast-journalist, Tom Brokaw, called those men and women who endured unimaginable hardships both during the Depression, then later as G.I.s or on the home-front, as The Greatest Generation. If they were the greatest we would have to settle for being only the goodest. And we were good conforming as we did until the sixties when we un-conformed, got iconoclastic and less simple.

Socrates complained that the youth of his day had bad manners, contempt for authority and disrespected elders. I imagine he also longed for those simple times of Homer.

Simpler times may be another way of saying, those good-old days. A longing for youth itself along with the dread of being out-of-touch just as I feel when I pick up the entertainment section of the newspaper filled with apparent household names I’ve never heard of, performing their antics I have no interest in, at prices I can only wonder at.

One day I’ll ask my grandchildren if millennials think of these times as simple. They probably won’t entertain such thoughts till they reach middle age and look back having lost their simple child’s eyes. By that time mobile phones will have been implanted in newborn’s fingers at birth. It’s really a simple procedure.  

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