Friday, July 19, 2013

A Different World

It's so hard to convey what life was like in the Fifties because the world has changed so much since then. If you were born after 1970, you have seen advances in technology that we never dreamed of. The developments in space exploration, medicine, communications, computers, transportation, even household appliances have been mind boggling. Picture an existence without the Internet, personal computers, microwaves, cellphones, spaceships, lasers, video games, and a host of other developments. Television was in its infancy, yet those wavy images in black and white mesmerized us when we first saw them, probably in a neighborhood store window.

Technology was not the only thing that was customs were a world away. Women were still rare in the workplace; those who had jobs were eyed suspiciously because they weren't housewives doing for their families. They were considered the fairer (but weaker) sex, not fit for the work done by men. Women who went to college were also a rarity. High school girls were taught home economics to prepare them for the life they were expected to lead; housewives. Girls who were unmarried by age 25 set tongues wagging. Couples married young, had a few kids, and the cycle repeated, as it had done for a hundred years.

If you can believe it, race relations were even worse than then they are now. People tended to live in neighborhoods with those of their own race, and even more specifically, those of their own ethnic ancestry. You could almost identify the groups who lived in an area by the kind of stores on the main streets. Italian neighborhoods featured food stores of all kinds, German areas were full of bakeries, black sections by barber shops, fried chicken joints, and storefront churches. Please don't be offended by any perceived negative stereotypical references in this statement; it's just simple fact. Men's social clubs abounded in all neighborhoods where working class stiffs sat around in their undershirts playing cards.

Before television found its voice, people listened to the radio and went to the movies for entertainment. Radio was very different than today. Regular radio programs came on every week with sponsors who understood the power of this medium. Comedy shows, quiz shows, soap operas, sports, adventure and cowboy offered the whole gamut. Families would gather around the big console radio in the living room to listen together to their favorite programs. As a boy I would retreat to my room to listen to my personal heroes on the radio...The Lone Ranger, Superman, The Shadow, The Green Lantern and Gene Autry. For a half-hour at a time I was lifted out of my Brooklyn world to join the adventures of these wonderful characters.

Movies too were a much different proposition. Each neighborhood had its theater, the Colonial in my case, where for a quarter you could see two full-length features. The Saturday afternoon special, for the princely sum of fourteen cents, bought you not only two features, but 21 color cartoons and a chapter in one of the ongoing serials like The Thunder Riders or Flash Gordon Goes to Mars. Then there was "dish night" on Mondays, traditionally a slow day for ticket sales. Theaters would give for free to all ticket buyers a piece of china like a dish or cup. Over a period of months, if you went every Monday, you could collect a whole service for eight. Sounds pretty lame now, but those dishes found their way onto many a poor family's table.

For those who didn't live it, our existence might sound a bit threadbare, but I can assure you it was not. We were happy in our circumstances because all around us shared them. There was more interaction among people at all levels before the electronic distractions of today substituted texts and tweets for conversations. At the rate we're going, people of the future will sit in one air-conditioned place, a food tube hooked up to keep them alive, and never take their eyes off that smart tablet for a moment. They will assume Jabba the Hutt-like proportions, never setting foot in the fresh air to go for a walk or swim in the ocean. If you want to talk about a threadbare existence, that sounds like one to me. 



Children's Craniofacial Association


seashmore said...

Spot on about which is the threadbare existence.

Jim Pantaleno said...

I hope I'm wrong, but I won't be around to find out.