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by Rose Madeline Mula

Do you ever wonder where all the secretaries of the world have gone? They used to be ubiquitous in the old days. Businesses could not be conducted without them. For a while they were replaced by “executive assistants” (actually, just another name for secretaries — same duties, but a fancy title instead of a raise). Today’s executives don’t need assistants — at least not to type their letters. They do that themselves on computers. Yep, typewriters have also disappeared. Come to think of it, letters (the old-fashioned kind, printed on paper and mailed in envelopes) are also becoming obsolete. Snail mail is out. E-mail is in.

It also occurs to me that the secretaries have not gone alone into Never-Never Land. With them are all the blushing virgin brides of yesteryear. One of the advantages of the disappearance of that antiquated concept is that a couple’s children can now attend their parents’ wedding. Pre-marital pregnancies used to be considered shameful. Today they’re celebrated, with celebrities leading the way. Open any issue of People magazine, for example, and you’ll see photos of unwed starlets proudly displaying their “baby bumps” and accepting congratulations from one and all.

And when/if a couple do get married, should the promise to "forsake all others as long as you both shall live” still be part of the vows? It seems to me that it’s no longer a question of if that pledge will be kept but, rather, how soon it will be broken.

Remember the milkman who used to deposit your daily dairy supply on your back stoop, probably while the Fuller Brush man was ringing your front doorbell? (Come to think of it, how did the Fuller Brush man manage to make a living? How many brushes does anyone need?)

Then there was the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. Every family’s goal was to own an entire Britannica set to give their children a leg up with their schoolwork. Today Google tells us everything Britannica ever did and so much more — and, unlike the encyclopedia contents, all that Google data is always up-to-the minute.

Also disappearing are road maps, which are being replaced by GPS systems featuring a friendly voice which leads you, turn-by-turn, to your destination. However, if you don’t pay attention and make a wrong turn, the voice becomes less friendly and orders you to “make a legal U-turn when possible!” But that’s nowhere near as annoying as having to refold a road map.

And where has modesty gone? Today the woman who is not displaying at least four inches of cleavage (and no panty lines because she’s not wearing panties) is definitely overdressed.

Speaking of wearing apparel, when was the last time you ever saw a house dress or an apron? Or a woman’s hat? No, not a visored cap — a real hat with flowers, feathers, a veil… Or nylon stockings, for that matter. They were like panty hose, only in two pieces and without the panty.

These days, pay phones and phone booths are almost obsolete because of the proliferation of cell phones. I worry about where Clark Kent can change into his Superman suit.

And why do we still talk about dialing numbers on a phone when we push buttons instead?

Also gone are the old Mom-and-Pop grocery stores, along with their non-automated cash registers. Mom and Pop actually had to do real math and add up the total cost of the groceries you bought and figure out how to give you change from a ten-dollar bill. (Yes, you actually could buy a week’s worth of groceries for less than ten dollars in the olden days.) Today’s kids who work in modern super markets would be stymied if the power went out just after the computerized register said you owe $99.98. Hand them a hundred dollars, and they would have no idea how much change to give you.

Are you old enough to remember when gas stations used to be called “service stations”? Do you know why? Because you actually got service there. A smiling attendant would not only pump your gas, he’d clean your windshield, check your oil and water, and even kick your tires if you asked him to.

Kitchens aren’t what they used to be either — thank God. They now have dishwashers (not the lady of the house, but an automatic appliance), stoves with self-cleaning ovens, refrigerators instead of ice boxes, and counters that hold a variety of electric devices that mix, puree, chop, grate, peel, core, and cook entire meals with minimal help from a human. And they do all that while a robot vacuum cleaner sucks up dirt from all the carpeting in the rest of your house. All you have to do is press a button.

Unfortunately, I still have to clean my own toilets. Despite all the products available to make the job easier, I still have to apply some elbow grease to the brush. I haven’t found a robot yet that will go into the bowl and do it for me.

And what has happened to the bar soaps we used to have in our bathrooms and kitchens. Now our soap comes in bottles. I never saw that coming.

In restaurants (and in most homes) normal portions have given way to super-sized meals and snacks (how do you spell F-A-T). On airplanes, on the other hand, food has all but disappeared. They may still serve meals in first class, but how would I know?

Does anyone still have a TV with rabbit ears or a roof-top antenna? And does any home still have a coal bin? One of my early family homes had one (I’m really showing my age here); but before we moved out, my parents had installed an oil burner and cleaned and painted the coal bin and converted it to a basement bar. I’ll drink to that. Except I couldn’t then. I was too young.

Also on the endangered species list are film and the cameras that use it. Can’t say I miss them. I remember toting a bulky Kodak Instamatic, several cartons of flash bulbs, and three dozen rolls of film on my first trip to Europe, constantly worrying about keeping track of all the film and protecting it from the radiation of airport security checks. There were a lot of those, since I was on a ten countries in fourteen days trip. I was also very concerned about whether I was getting any good shots. With my tiny digital camera (with built-in flash), a postage-stamp size memory card takes a few hundred pictures. What’s more, I can instantly see the results of each effort and retake the unsatisfactory ones. I would have enjoyed my early travels so much more if digital cameras had been available decades ago.

I could go on and on. But I do have other things to do — like laundry. I have to traipse down to the cellar and get out the wash tub and scrub board … No! I forgot! I have a washer and dryer now!

Progress. It’s wonderful. Even if virgin brides had to be sacrificed to achieve it.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.


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