SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Half a century.
I don’t feel half a century old. I feel … twenty-nine, at most. Except for when I inventory my medications, then I feel fifty.
They say you’re only as old as you feel. Well, when I look at my actual age I feel old, and I felt even older when I got the idea for this column. What kind of changes, I thought, have happened in the world since my birth? After all, in the cosmic scheme of things fifty years is but the blink of an eye.
A really big, very slowly blinking, ancient eye.
The year I was born was 1962. Yeah. In 1962, Decca Records rejected a potential new band with the comment that “guitar groups are on their way out.” Later that year that group, the Beatles, had their first modest hit in “Love Me Do”.
That same year a group of guys got together to form another group, which they named The Rolling Stones. That explains my abilities with music: The year I was born, all the talent was being divvied up elsewhere.
In 1962 the US Navy established a new, elite group of fighting men, the Navy SEALS. I’m sure people made fun of the name, with that first group. With the second class, I’m sure nobody did.
The first James Bond movie, “Dr. No”, came out. The original name had already been taken by an adult movie: “Dr. Yes”.
President Kennedy had the wild idea of landing a man on the Moon. The earliest memory I have is of that dream being achieved.
The first Wal-Mart store opened. Yes, there was a time before Wal-Mart. The first K-Mart opened the same year. Yes, there was such a thing as K-Mart.
Houston plastic surgeons did the first silicone breast implant.
On an unrelated note, Marilyn Monroe died.
The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, but most people knew Fidel Castro couldn’t last long.
Things were a bit cheaper, back then. You could buy a house for $12,000, go to Harvard University for $1,520, have a new car for $1,400, and get a gallon of gas for 28 cents. No, I didn’t leave out any zeroes.
They were better times, huh? I mean, except for the whole Cold War/race riots/dead Marilyn Monroe thing.
A simpler time, certainly, at least in some ways. For instance, our entertainment choices back then were, shall we say, easier.
We had three TV channels – four on a good reception day. When the President gave a speech, he was on all of them. Twenty-four hour news cycle? Try half an hour of national, half an hour of local. We’d throw a party when odd weather conditions let us pull in a fuzzy fifth station carrying old Western reruns. Cable was what went up to the antenna.
Every Easter, I’d take the colored cellophane from my Easter basket and hold it up as I watched TV – miraculously, the screen became color. One color, but still. If you had to leave the room the best you could do was crank up the volume and listen to what was happening, because our television was the size of an Apollo space capsule.
I didn’t get my first color TV until the mid-80’s, and a few years later I bought my very first VCR, which was wide as the aforementioned space capsule and twice as heavy.
A cell phone meant you were in jail for something. Otherwise portability came when you had a cord long enough to reach halfway across the kitchen. I grew up out in the country, where you had to very quietly pick up the receiver before calling, to make sure someone wasn’t already on the party line. Stealth was also useful in eavesdropping.
The closest thing we had to a cell phone was the communicator Kirk carried on Star Trek.
That was also the closest we had to a computer. Some did exist: They were the size of large rooms, and required a team of technicians to keep the vacuum tubes changed while they made the calculations we can do on our cell phones today.
You can also take pictures on your cell phones today. Back then you could take pictures, then wait for days until the prints came back from the developer. I remember what a miracle the first Polaroid camera was – a picture you could see within minutes!
I got my first computer, a Mac Performa, around 1990. Only a few years before that I was still whacking away at a manual typewriter to produce my columns and soon to be rejected short stories.
That crazy internet thing? In a way, it was born with me: In 1962 the US Air Force began working on a way to decentralize communications systems, in case a nuclear war destroyed command and control systems. Yep, the world wide web started as a military operation, and I was already nine years old when somebody came up with the idea of something they called electronic mail. It wasn’t until 1991 that Al Gore officially invented the internet.
Lots of stuff was invented after I was born: The audio cassette; video games; Doppler radar; DVD’s; Google; and let’s not forget Viagra. Some say Viagra is the greatest invention in the last half-century, but that’s a stretch.
Meanwhile, lots of stuff we thought would be around forever is going fast. Phone booths, typewriters, film cameras, VCR’s, video arcades, common sense … some stuff has come and gone in my lifetime. Anyone want some old floppy disks?
Makes you wonder what will be around fifty years from now. Hopefully not flying cars – imagine the road rage problem.
But me? I’ll be around. This is the year I start counting backward, so fifty years from now I’ll be born again.