By Manifesto Joe
Today, every left-leaning blogger and their dog is posting reverently about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement and how we, of course, still have a long way to go toward losing racism in America.
As has been my lifelong custom, I'm going to be the odd man out and post on something mostly nonpolitical.
Recently, I posted on the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation, the often spoiled beginnings of the Baby Boomers, and how those generations' later years, perhaps justly, are being marked by equally sharp contrasts of prosperity and poverty.
To make amends to Boomers, here's a small salute to them: The '60s and '70s brought many changes that I appreciate. Here's a litany of all the things I definitely don't miss about "the good old days" of the Greatest Generation.
-- Hair oil/tonic. Brylcreem (A little dab'l do ya) and Vitalis seemed to be the leaders in this market. Brylcreem at least didn't smell a lot. But it was plenty greasy (I've speculated that this was Elvis' choice). ("Use more -- if you dare!... She'll love to run her fingers through your hair.") Hell, as a kid trying that stuff out, I hated to scratch my own head and get my fingers oily. Then there was Vitalis -- less greasy, but with a stench that they must have searched the world over for. Perhaps it's my own peculiar sense of smell, but it always reeked of rancid alcohol base to me. Around 1967-68, when longer hair and "the dry look" came in where I was living as a kid, it was a big relief.
-- After-shave. As late as 1978, as I was starting out as a newspaper reporter, I was assigned to attend functions in which I would meet with older men, pillars of the community, and interview them. Of course, I had to shake their hands, as is the custom. Damn. Many of them used sick-sweet stuff like Aqua Velva in the morning, and it was their habit not to wash their hands after splashing some on. So they shared it with everyone they touched. After shaking hands, I'm like -- ugh. I've been slimed. My hand smells like a French whorehouse.
-- Old-fashioned barbershops. For two big reasons that I don't miss them, see items 1 and 2. But also, there were the traditional barbers. My experiences with them weren't very positive. One in my hometown was an alcoholic who would habitually drink before cutting hair. One time he cut off a small piece of a kid's ear. Then there was a skinny little guy, nicknamed "Hippo," who turned out to be pimping on the side. He shot himself in the head just before local cops were about to arrest him.
-- Heavy makeup and weekly beauty parlor visits for women. I confess that, after 30 years of looking at sheepdog permanents, floppy ties, androgynous fashions, short hairstyles, etc., as a red-blooded American male I miss the old Vargas girl look of the 1940s. But -- no thanks to rouge, or foundation. And the last time I had to enter a traditional beauty shop, on assignment around '83, I almost asphyxiated on the fumes. You still see an older woman now and then with one of those once-a-week hairstyles. I feel like asking, "Who does your coif? Brillo, or SOS?"
-- Segregation. OK, I'm going to get a little MLK-Day preaching in after all. When I was a kid going to the local cinema for Saturday afternoon matinees, it was as wide-open there as the Wild West, except for one thing. The few black kids who lived in our town had to watch the movies from the balcony. The theater owner was some fossil who lived in a nearby town, and this was his edict. I found it strange that, as a racist, he didn't care whether Hispanic kids sat down in the prime seats. And in our town, Hispanics were the majority. (I strongly suspect that was why he tolerated them. He realized that he had to get the asses in the seats -- absolutely no pun intended.) He had singled out blacks. And this was around 1968, a few years after this practice had been outlawed. There were holdouts in states like Texas, for years. I certainly don't miss seeing that sort of injustice.
-- Black-and-white TV, with two or three channels. This was all I saw until I was 16, when PBS started a UHF station near us. Not that TV is so great now, even with 100-plus channels courtesy of cable or satellite. And color and screen size are cosmetic/aesthetic -- content is a little more important to me. But I remember the boredom of Saturday and Sunday afternoons home from school, and having to choose from among wrestling, bowling, mediocre old movies, Marlin Perkins' Wild Kingdom (sponsored by Mutual of Omaha) and local polka bands. And that was absolutely it. I suppose it was good for childhood fitness. It encouraged kids to go outside and play.
-- Box fans, with no air conditioning. Here in Texas, summers are brutal. I've never gotten used to them, even after decades. When I went away to college at age 18, I lived in a dormitory with AC. It was my first live-in experience with it. Going home summers was miserable after that, until my mother finally decided that the family could afford a couple of window units.
-- Cigarette commercials. 1970 was the last year they were on TV. I confess, I was once an addict, and I have unmodern compassion for the holdouts. They seem almost like an oppressed minority to me. But the commercials, I didn't miss, even when I was still chaining Camels or Marlboros in the '70s. I especially loathed the ones with those imbecilic jingles. ("You can take Salem out of the country, but ..." And then, the Virginia Slims feminist pitch: "You've got your own cigarette now, baby! You've come a long, long way.")
Is it too obvious to point out that George Harrison died of lung cancer?
-- Red Skelton. A rather unfunny, clownish TV comic who was always laughing hysterically at his own stale gags.
But Heartland America adored him.
To wrap up, with all due respect to what's left of the Greatest Generation, "the good old days" weren't all that friggin' good in my memory. I've come to love much of the music of yore, much more than I ever thought I would. But I wouldn't trade my living conditions now for most of it back then. Here's a little salute to my fellow Boomers, who take some of the changes for granted, thankfully.
Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.