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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO….?

by Rose Madeline Mula

I sometimes feel I was born in a previous millenium. So many things I grew up with no longer exist.

Remember pin boys at bowling alleys, for example? Before automated pinsetters usurped their jobs, they sat on a perch at the end of the alley and then swooped down to replace any pins that had been knocked over. I was a rotten bowler; I made their job a snap. One reason I did so badly was that the cute pin boy made me self-conscious. The harder I tried to impress him, the worse my performance.

Speaking of cute boys, a big attraction at the movies back in my girlhood were the ushers in their tight navy blue jackets festooned with brass buttons and gold braid (I’ve always been a sucker for a uniform) who showed us to our seats in the palatial movie palaces of yore. Today we fend for ourselves in stark, unadorned screening rooms. And when the ushers disappeared, they took with them the movie projectionists, who I often felt must have been very bored running the same film every day and evening for a week. Did I say “film”? I should have said “films” because every theatre always played a double feature. Today we see only one movie, powered by a robotic projector; and we no longer get any free dishes or cutlery with our tickets.

Joining those ushers and projectionists in the unemployment line are all the former strict housemothers at women’s college dorms who would never allow a “gentleman caller” upstairs. Today, co-ed dorms with unisex bathrooms are not unusual. Soon all same-sex dormitories will disappear, along with non-digital cameras and film, and rabbit-ear antennas on TV sets.

One thing I don’t have from the old days — and don’t miss — is luggage that you needed a forklift to haul up off the floor. How come we sent men to the moon before someone came up with the brilliant, but simple, idea of wheels for suitcases?

And do you remember the cars of yesterday? All had running boards, some had rumble seats, and none had automatic transmission, power brakes, electric windows and door locks, cruise control, or power steering — parallel parking in a tight spot in those days took muscle. Cars back then didn’t have electric turn signals either. You had to crank open your window and stick your hand out (in balmy weather, monsoons, or blizzards) to indicate that you were going to make a turn. The old Ford, Chevy and Chrysler also didn’t have heaters or defrosters. It was a toss-up as to whether you’d succumb to frostbite before your windshield would freeze over. And in the dog days of summer no air conditioning. Just hot wind and exhaust fumes from passing cars blowing through your open windows. But these inconveniences were offset by the fact that gas cost about 14 cents per gallon.

If you were lucky enough to own a washing machine in the good old days, it had no spin cycle — just a hand-operated wringer that you fed the clothes through. No dryer. We hung our laundry, summer and winter, with wooden pins on something called a “line” — a length of rope stretched from tree to tree in the back yard. If it rained on washday, we strung the wash on a line in the cellar — an unfinished basement, probably with a dirt floor. Downstairs playrooms, dens, or family rooms? Not back then. We didn’t need them. We had no TVs or computers to accommodate. (How did we ever survive without CNN, Oprah, Leno — Google, MapQuest, e-mail?)

When we wanted to phone someone, we didn’t dial. An operator would ask, “Number please?” and connect us; and we spoke on a “party line” that we shared with nosy neighbors who eavesdropped on our conversations. Furthermore, everyone in the family made do with just one telephone (no extensions for every room); and that one phone had a wire that secured it firmly to its station. If anyone had told us that one day we would have cordless instruments in our homes — and that we’d even carry with us everywhere tiny portable, wireless phones (that could even take pictures!), we would have called the men in the little white coats to come and whisk that kook away to the nearest asylum.

Remember spring and fall cleaning? My mother used to dismantle every room in the house, twice a year, and disinfect, scrub, polish and vacuum every inch of furniture, walls, floors and fixtures and then change the curtains and bedspreads to complement the season. Does anyone still do that? I hate to admit it, but my beds and windows wear the same clothes year-round; and I shudder to think what may be hiding behind my cornices and under my sofas.

And whatever happened to propellers on planes, pre-microwave cooking, single-speed bicycles, galoshes, cloth diapers, typewriters, trolley cars, Stella Dallas and other radio serials, and songs with beautiful melodies and lovely lyrics you could actually understand?

I do know what happened to after-supper games of Red Rover and Kick the Can; they’ve been deposed by TV and computer games. News flash: Fiddling with a remote, keyboard and mouse doesn’t constitute aerobic exercise.

All these changes have come about in my lifetime. Granted, I’m not a kid; but, though some may disagree, I’m not ancient yet either. I can’t imagine what the next fifty to one hundred years will bring. Old folks then will probably be reminiscing about their long-gone plasma TV sets (which most likely will have been replaced by three-dimensional systems that totally immerse viewers into the action) and their intercontinental jet tours, which will have been supplanted by interplanetary travel.

I might even live to see it all since every day medical researchers are discovering miraculous ways to lengthen our lives. Part of me thinks it might be fun to rocket to Venus to celebrate my 150 th birthday. The rest of me, though, would rather stay home and have my family and friends surprise me with a birthday cake (homemade, from scratch) and a sing-along around the piano — Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin…

Venus? Not me. Let’s send all the rappers there instead. 

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com 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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