Monday, January 18, 2010

Things I Don't Miss About 'The Good Old Days'

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.


Anonymous said...

Good points.

But actually, outside of missing the Internet and a few other things like halfway sane Civil Rights Laws, I would vastly prefer the good old days. Here's a few reasons why:

1. Music that doesn't suck. Popular music today is probably the worst it's ever been. Give me an era any day where you could turn on Top 40 era radio and hear the likes of prime Dylan, Stones and the Beatles.

2. Movies that don't suck. U.S. cinema today is probably the worst it has ever been in history. Give me an era where I could walk down to the local theater and actually have decent odds of finding a worthwhile film.

3. Sane CEO pay. Back in the 1960s, CEO pay averaged around 40 times what the rank-and-file worker earned. Today, that multiple is around 500 times.

4. For that matter, a more egalitarian America. For what I long for, one doesn't have to look to the Nordic nations. You can find it right here in our own nation's history. From around the 1940s to the 1970s, America was downright egalitarian, compared to today.

5. Sane tax policy. In the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the rich actually had to pay their fair share of taxes. That's a million light years from the steal-from-the-poor, give-to-the-rich system we have today.

6. The Fairness Doctrine. Enough said.

7. The "Can-Do" nation that America once was, back in the days when the American Dream was real. Back in those days, we really were the "good guys," at least on some issues. These days, frankly, we're not. If anyone is the "good guys" these days, I'd have to say it's the Europeans. No, Europe isn't a utopia, but they're way ahead of us on all the issues I care about, from fighting global warming to universal health care to workers' rights.

Manifesto Joe said...

Can't disagree with much here. In any era, one seems to have to deal in trade-offs. The gist of this was to point out that things could be worse now, and even have been in the past, in certain ways.

And, bear in mind that the "good old days" I'm talking about were mostly pre-1965, from childhood memory for me. Pop music seemed to peak circa 1964-74, and Hollywood movies arguably around 1969-1980. I credit the Boomers for having enough taste to be the audience for that era of pop culture.

Jack Jodell said...

I'd say I agree with both of you guys. To that list, along with Red Skelton, I would have to add Bob Hope: totally predictable jokes, unfunny, and a mile-long arrogance and conceit. As for today's items I'll never miss, I would say Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Fox "News", most post-1990 pop music, most modern movies, "reality" TV shows, and the ever-increasing amount of disgusting TV commercials, especially the erectile dysfunction, pharmaceutical, and investment-broker ones. YECCCCHHHHH!!!!

Manifesto Joe said...

Again, I think we're talking trade-offs. I can remember watching some awful movies way back when, and listening to some terribly cheesy music on Top 40, largely because of the limited number of media outlets there were in those days. There wasn't anything else to watch or listen to. Now, on the Internet, I can stream music according to my tastes on Pandora or, and with Netflix I can get almost any film I want, without worrying about starting times.

The right wing didn't have as many media outlets back then, but they were certainly there. I have a small collection of their old paperbacks and such ("None Dare Call It Treason", etc.) And, it seemed like left-leaning political and/or religious leaders were constantly being murdered. JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, RFK. It was a dark time in many ways. Let's not gloss it over.

Manifesto Joe said...

PS for Jack:

I actually thought of Bob Hope after putting up the Skelton video, but didn't want to make the post too long. Yeah, I agree about Bob. I think his popularity had much to do with wartime nostalgia. My old man would always be glued to the TV every time a Hope special came on. I think it's because he remembered that Hope was almost the only entertainer who would enter a combat zone (my dad was in the Pacific in 1944-45) and bring USO hotties like Jane Russell and Carole Landis with him. There was an emotional bond with Hope and the WWII vets, so I guess it didn't matter to the vets how cheesy his comedy became.

Anonymous said...


Manifesto Joe said...

I'd almost forgotten about those. I think my grandmother wore one until she got too old to care about her figure.

Marc McDonald said...

I agree with Manifesto Joe's points, but I would like to touch on something that I haven't seen mentioned in this debate.

There is something very dark and sinister going on in America right now.

It's difficult to put my finger on it, but it scares the hell out of me. What I'm talking about is the atmosphere of hate, bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance one sees at the Tea Bagger rallies.

One also hears it on Fox News, the wingnut blogs and on talk radio (and here, I'm talking about the extremist radio hosts who make Rush Limbaugh sound like an intelligent voice).

I'm aware that there have been similar voices of hate throughout America's history. But I'd argue that it's worse than ever today. After all, in the past, the KKK and the Birchers didn't have nationwide, massively-funded radio and TV networks to spread their message.

It's ugly, it's scary----and it's growing by leaps and bounds. I'm not sure where it'll all wind up---but I'd bet money that it'll take America to a dark, sinister place that will make us nostalgic for the George W. Bush years.

It's going to get real ugly in the years ahead folks. Mark my words. I don't claim to be Nostradamus, but I did predict the 2008 economic collapse years ago on my blog. (Oh, and on that note, I'd like to make a further prediction: the economic collapse has only begun).

Tom B said...

Well, my "good old days" go back even farther than yours do... and while I agree with about 99% of things you don't miss, there were a lot of things I DO miss about a life that was a lot simpler and easier to deal with on a day to day basis than they are now.

When you look at the "good" things... according to one's own perspective, of course... that we have today and would miss if we suddenly returned to those "thrilling days of yesteryear... the fact is that you wouldn't really miss them at all since you would never have had them in the first place.

I'm from the 40s and 50s and one thing I have to laugh at is when someone who wasn't around back then tries to tell me how bad people had it.

Again... remember that I'm not talking about the political or racial issues that Joe tried to leave out of his post and which, as a matter of fact, we're still dealing with (poorly)today.

But I enjoyed being a working stiff in the days when a working stiff was held up as the shining example of what it mkeant to be an American and our heroes weren't money grubbing politicians and CEAs and steroid swilling multimillionaire sports figures.

Jack Jodell said...

Yeah, Bob Hope's wartime troop entertainment shows were a good and kind gesture on his part, but he's still never been funny! And you're right about all the leftists being killed, and the smaller, but ever-so-wacky right wing contigents back then (John Birch Society, KKK, etc.). Every age has its extremist wackos, but nowadays it seems like they're crawling out of the woodwork...