Count me among those who, in my youth, shuddered and looked for escape every time some warbling gray-hair would start a verbal stroll down memory lane, trying to drag me along.
As a kid, there often seemed nothing worse than bearing witness to the insufferable games of “remember when” — when you had to have ration tickets for sugar, when chocolate bars were a nickel, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and among all of us.
But there was worse. The worst were the long lectures about “kids today” and how America is doomed to repeat its mistakes because the younger generations know nothing.
And here I am, better than six decades into knowing it all, only to cluck my tongue and shake my head like millennia of geezers have before me, perturbed about what kids today don’t know. At my age, kids include anyone and everyone well into their 40s.
And like generations before me, they must listen to my daily laments about their ignorance of some critical cultural icon that would honestly solve some appreciable world malady, if only younger generations were aware.
Like Richard Burton. Out of an entire newsroom of twenty-and-thirty-somethings, no one had heard of Richard Burton. A couple had some idea of who Elizabeth Taylor was, but Burton might well had sold sofas on late-night TV.
Channeling my boring father and all the boring fathers that ever came before, I pronounced that civilization was clearly coming to an end that such an iconic and critical part of humanity had slipped the public zeitgeist in but a couple of years of his demise. OK, maybe a couple of decades. Alright, it’s been almost 40 years since Burton died, and many say he died years before his body gave out, but this was the universe’s Mark Antony to America’s very own cinematic Cleopatra. Of course when I really think hard, I’m pretty sure that movie bored me deeply.
My rant, like so many, was no more impressive to the young staffers in the newsroom than my having recited best practices for making Cream of Wheat. Cruelly, millennials are capable of yawning with their eyes.
I cannot, however, let it go. Each week, I observe some new leaf that has fallen from the tree of human knowledge as America tumbles toward intellectual winter.
Observe: No one had even an inkling of what the world’s most famous and influential “three hour tour” led to after “the weather started getting rough…”
Gilligan’s Island, people. These kids don’t know about Gilligan’s Island. I learned about Shakespeare, trans-Pacific telecom cables, volcanoes, drag shows, and giant spiders all from encyclopedic episodes of this American standard.
I’m sorry to report that so much is lost already, America. Now sliding fully and rapidly into my golden years of indulgent senility, I regularly query everyone under 60 about past vice-presidents, old soda pop brands and tires before they became tubeless.
Here are some of the more dismal items I am loathe to say have departed the American soul:
• The “Saint Crispin’s Day” speech by King Henry V, according to The Bard. While I don’t see how anyone could escape the mass production of “we few, we lucky few, we band of brothers,” apparently the band won’t be getting back together on this one.
• No one other than my wife recalls the famous King’s Food Host and their fabulous Cheese Frenchee. With this culinary giant of deep-fried, egg-battered pleasure gone from our national palate, we are forever less.
• Even people my own age forgot about the immutable law of Graduated Length Method ski education, or GLM. Before we applied actual science to ski technology, we applied pseudoscience, which resulted in suckers like me sporting skis as long as a car before hitting the slopes, several trees and few other skiers.
• Suntan Lotion. We have a generation of adults who no longer understand that capitalism isn’t about the quest for Audis and affordable health insurance rates. It’s about making billions on the misery of your fellow Americans. We used to promote cancer in this country, for gawdsake, and we liked it. Nobody even knows that Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch or that Salem’s were springtime fresh as they soothed your lungs into emphysema and death by chemo. Kids don’t know to trust Big Corpa and a government that to this day permits the sale of cigarettes and all the guns you want.
• “If it says Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s …” Newer generations of Americans never had to suffer endless insidious TV and radio jingles. I am determined to not let them get away from it. Younger Americans are weak because they’re able to fast-forward through any and all commercials or simply mute the commercial message for anything they want to watch on demand. I am resolved to make them understand that the best part of waking up is the world’s nastiest coffee in their cups for the rest of their lives.
We are unhinged now as a culture since we no longer responsibly pass down important icons to those who will invariably, although shallowly, carry on after us. Gone is the sniveling threat of Spiro Agnew, the brilliant comedy of Ruth Buzzi and Artie Johnson, the multiple entendre of NOW. We are forsaken without understanding the supreme wisdom only Imogene Coca could impart, that on Sunday nights, “It’s about time, it’s about space…”