Monday, November 15, 2010

The Good Old Days

By Alan Caruba

It started with a haircut in the morning. I sat in a barber chair I had sat in initially around the age of five. In those days, the 1940s, four Italian gentlemen cut hair and it cost 25 cents for a kid and $1.25 for an adult. Same shop, but my haircut cost $16.00 not counting the tip. Except for the owner, some lovely gals cut hair there these days.

When my parents moved to an upscale suburb of Newark, New Jersey in 1942, they paid $11,000 for a three-bedroom home with a stand-alone garage. I sold it for many multiples of that and it was essentially the same house with a few improvements. I sold because, in 2000, the town had reevaluated the property and literally doubled the taxes. Ten years later, a second reevaluation was deemed worthy of an article in The Wall Street Journal.

My parents put two sons through college on the earnings of my Father, a CPA with vivid memories of the Great Depression. He was a liberal, a Democrat, and advocate of the United Nations. Starting in the 1950s Mother taught gourmet cooking in the adult schools that sprang up after the war, earning enough to purchase the family cars and otherwise contribute to the budget. They remained married for over sixty years. He never learned to drive.

After the haircut, I topped out the gas, a little under a half-tank, and paid $21 for a mixture of gasoline and ethanol, the latter mandated by the government and heavily subsidized. The cost included state and federal taxes. I can recall when gasoline in the 60s and 70s was around 60 cents a gallon. I can also remember long lines at the pumps in both 1967 and 1973-74 when the Saudis, angered by the U.S. support for Israel, implemented oil embargoes.

A visit to the supermarket these days is a carnival of sticker-shock. The price of food has been rising thanks in part to the increase of the cost of energy to produce it and the diversion of corn to produce ethanol that reduces the mileage you get from the gas you purchase and likely harms your car’s engine. Corn is a major feedstock so the cost of a steak is rising too.

During WWII, the milk was delivered to my home by a horse-drawn wagon. Before refrigeration became widely available, we kept it in an ice box that required the delivery of large blocks of ice. There was radio, but no television. If you wanted air conditioning, you had to go to the local movie theatre. Price of admission, plus popcorn cost a kid about twenty-five cents. I saw my first television program in the 1950s. Within no time, everyone had a TV.

When I attended elementary, middle and high school there was zero talk about illegal drug use because there was none and I cannot recall any mention, let alone the teaching of heterosexual or homosexual sex of any kind. The school day began with a pledge of allegiance and a prayer. We did not have a politically correct curriculum or have to listen to fantasies about the planet heating up.

We did not recycle because everyone knew it was just the garbage.

It was the rare child who came from a family that had experienced divorce or who was being raised by a single parent. There was no segregation in the north, but my high school was almost completely white. That ratio has been reversed.

The Draft ensured that every able-bodied young man would serve a minimum of two years in the military learning the arts of warfare. We had all been born early enough to have passed through World War Two as very young children. This was followed by a conflict in Korea in the 1950s when we were teens. By the time the Vietnam War came along it was a new generation of conscripts fighting it. After that, the military became entirely staffed by volunteers.

The biggest scandal of the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower involved a vicuna coat his chief of staff had accepted as a gift. It would take Watergate to stain and end Nixon’s presidency, an ugly sexual dalliance to undermine Clinton’s, and a parade of congressional felons that constitutes a non-stop perp-walk these days.

Since I was a lad the government added a Department of Education, a Department of Energy, a Department of Homeland Security, the Environmental Protection Agency, and others I cannot recall. Regulation of everything has exploded. Borrowing and spending has exploded. If anybody had told me back then that the government was broke, I would have thought he was crazy, but the debt ceiling kept being raised until there is, in effect, no ceiling.

In my memory, American society began to shift from traditional values and patterns in the 1960s. The century-long failure of the South to rid itself of the aftermath of the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, eventually found expression among blacks, but it also caused riots in U.S. cities.

In time, gays in New York would rebel against police harassment and a whole new movement would be sparked, culminating in the demand for same-sex marriage, along with an end to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the military. The lives of women changed with the advent of “the Pill” and demands for more equality.

Sex, drugs and rock’n roll became the order of the day. We have gone from Frank Sinatra to Lady Ga-Ga. Later generations than mine share a more chaotic vision of society and a far more costly one in which to live.

It has taken the emergence of the Tea Party movement to capture and focus the independent voters who have seesawed back and forth between the comfort of Eisenhower's conservatism to the free-spending of Lyndon Johnson, the conservative values of Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama’s effort to force European-style socialism on America.

In my life, we have gone from the Great Depression to an era in which whole nations have discovered that a highly centralized government inherently cannot function without bankrupting its citizens whether they live in the U.S., the United Kingdom, Portugal, Greece or in the former Soviet Union.

As international organizations have flourished, from the United Nations to the European Union, the more unwieldy, corrupt, and grasping they have become.

We live now in the Age of Terrorism. No one in authority seems to want to acknowledge the source, the threat to civilization called Islam. Few Americans knew anything about Islam before 9/11. Now you can’t get on a plane without a full body scan and search.

If your grandpa or grandma say they miss the “good old days”, keep in mind that in many fundamental ways, they really were good.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


Dave's Daily Day Dream said...

Nicely written Alan. This will garner many reminiscences so here's the first.
The most shocking thing that happened to me in high school days was that time someone put a condom in my jacket pocket and I realized what it was as I was writing an exercise at the black board in Latin class.
They were "banded" then and came in a box of twenty four. No mistaking.
I will never forget the rush of embarrassment and my haste to get rid of it. How things have changed! (FYI, Class of '56)

Alan Caruba said...

@Dave: Presumably, you are no longer a virgin! :-) And, yes, things have changed and I am not keen on most of it.

LarryOldtimer said...

Same here, Alan. Adults and we children back then had little in the way of material goods, but were far, far happier.

cmblake6 said...

Agreed Allen. I'm not quite your age, but I'm closing rapidly. I remember gas being 25 cents a gallon for Amoco Gold. 130 octane! Sunoco 260. 130 octane. I remember high speed limits and very few Interstates. I remember that miserable freaking 55 being imposed. Last time I went through Virginia they still have it now. I well remember Mom filling the station wagon with groceries for $5-10. I remember the .25 matinees, and Rocketman, and The Phantom reels. Sigh.

Southern Indiana Civil War Roundtable said...

The biggest change I recall is walking to school. While living with my grandparents near Pittsburgh while my father transitioned back from Germany and out of the military to begin a new career, I would walk to school. I even walked the ten blocks back and forth for lunch. Later, in high school, we could not leave the campus for lunch, but you were special if you could drive a car to school. Now the school parking lots are full of cars, kids are not permitted to walk a block to school, but the buses run half empty.

TexasFred said...

I remember making $1.60 an hour... Got a raise to $2.00 an hour and had more money than I knew what to do with...

Ron Snyder said...

Excellent post Alan, thanks.

Rich Kozlovich said...


The ladies really looked like ladies. I always thought America's women of the 50's were absolutely fabulous. They knew how to dress and how to walk....and knew how to talk. The language coming from women today is startling to those of us who grew up believing that women should be treated with respect.

Things have changed, and I haven't liked anything since 1965. These negative changes are a direct result of a deliberate effort by the left to undermine society’s values starting in academia and ending up in the home.

If you read about the lives of Margret Mead, Alfred Kinsey, the Frankfort School characters and that whole lot who had such a major influence on society it is clear that they had some serious emotional problems. They ended up making their derangements acceptable; or at least, not to be judgmental about.

Is it any wonder why it is impossible to find leaders who can say this is right and that is wrong and face the consequences? They clearly don’t have a clue either.

Funny thing though. Per ratio to dollars available for corruption politics may be less corrupt than in days gone by because of the internet. Per ratio to dollars available that is, and they have to work harder at it and are far more clever now.


Alan Caruba said...

@Ron. Thank you.

@Rich: Yes, the women of the 40's and 50's were classy.

TheJollyGreenMan said...

Alan, in the 50s quite a number of atomic bombs were exploded on the US mainland as part of the test programme. People used to drive to viewpoints on the outside of the test area's to watch the spectacle.

Did you perchance had the luck to see and witness one of these tests?

If you check on Wiki, the number of atomic tests are listed, more than 3000, and you the present generation is scared of building nuclear power stations!

Alan Caruba said...

@Jolly. I never want to see a mushroom cloud except in vintage news films.

I suspect, however, the world shall see them again in the near future.

As for nuclear energy, the US could be virtually independent if it had fully adopted it.

Secret Gardener said...

Perhaps these were the good old days, but I wonder if they were truly good, or if people were just better at pretending--at keeping their mouths shut. Admittedly, I'm a youngster, yet I've always had a deep fondness for the past. I dress myself in tweed suits and stockings and high heels and gloves. But I am glad to know that the choice to dress myself this way belongs to me, and not a societal norm that I am pressured to abide by. I am glad, too, that if I do not abide by it, I will still be a woman who deserves respect.

I do so long for a simple life, not so caught up in new technology and materialism. I ride a bicycle, grow vegetables, listen to records, and read the newspaper. Yet, I cannot agree that sweeping conflict under the rug is a better life. The 1950's were about looking good, even if you were being abused by your husband, even if you couldn't go to college, even if you had to stay at home cooking and cleaning all day. Moreover, in the 1950's, homosexuals existed but were mocked, persecuted, and excluded. So were people of color, people who were different, people whose mistakes were visible. So, while I am delighted by the old styles, and the old ways, I wonder if we can really call these "the good old days," at least not for most people. Somehow, though, I do understand longing for the past. though.