This blog is for everyone over 50 who remembers and everyone under 50 who wants to know. So for everyone over 50, Richard is going to remind you of the way things were and revel in the ironies of what we have become. For everyone under 50, he is going to give you some insights into the past and prepare you for some of the inevitabilities in your future.
Baby Boomers were the first generation to grow-up with television. (Which is probably one of the reasons we’re so screwed up.) But TV then was nothing like TV now. So much has changed since those days. We didn’t have nearly as much to watch but, as a result, we were watching it together. A television show could capture the hearts and minds of the entire nation and unite us in cultural conversations.They called them “water cooler shows” because that’s where everyone supposedly gathered to talk about them at work. Which is stupid because I don’t think I ever talked to anyone around a water cooler, other than to ask them to change the bottle for me.
These days, TV audiences have been fragmented by too many program choices, time shifting technologies and on-demand options. Now when somebody asks me if I’ve seen some great new show they’re watching, my frustrated response is usually, “I never even heard of it.” These “water cooler shows” have become an endangered species and, like any endangered species, I think they’re worth saving. If we can’t save them then we should at least remember what it was like when we had them.
The popular shows of my childhood sparked lively intellectual discussions. We enthusiastically debated the burning questions of our time like who’s hotter, Ginger or Mary Ann? If the Professor can build all those complicated contraptions, why can’t he patch a hole in the side of a boat? Why does a hot dog make Patty Duke lose control? What exactly is she doing with them? But there was never any debate over who was the better Darren.
There was a time when we all knew the words to our favorite show’s theme songs. Classics that spelled out the premise in under 90 seconds like Gilligan’s Island,The Brady Bunch, and The Beverly Hillbillies. All these years later, I still remember the lyrics to those songs. I just can’t remember where I put the remote control. Some of these songs even became Top 10 hits like Secret Agent Man, Welcome Back, Kotter and Hawaii Five-0. It’s been so long since a TV theme song made the Top 10 that, the last time one did, you could listen to it on a cassette tape.
There was real value in our commonly shared culture. It bonded us with people who we might not have anything else in common. In my old neighborhood, we used to gather on summer nights on our front stoops and re-tell plots from old Twilight Zone episodes, like we were telling ghost stories around a campfire. You could only see The Wizard ofOz once a year, so when it was on every child with a TV set was watching it. Can you imagine telling a five year old girl today that she can’t watch Frozen for another twelve months? And once we were old enough to stay up late, we all watched Johnny Carson before we went to bed. His frequent guests like Don Rickles, Burt Reynolds, Carol Wayne and even Robert Blake (he was a lot more fun back then) were like favorite relatives who would tuck us in at night.
In those days, a series like Roots reached an average audience of over 80 million people an episode (while raising the social awareness of the nation). Approximately 83 million fans tuned in to find out who shot J.R. on Dallas (while lowering the collective I.Q. of the nation). More than 106 million of us watched the final episode of MASH (which still holds the record for the most viewers of any scripted TV episode, and probably will forever). But recently they made a big deal when the Game of Thrones series finale got less than 20 million viewers (which now holds the record for the most disappointed fans). These days, the bar for what qualifies as a “hit show” has been set so low that even Peter Dinklage can get over it.
Shows back then spawned a slew of catch phrases that we constantly repeated and thought just kept getting funnier every time we said them. Show’s like Get Smart had us giggling over “Would you believe…”, “Sorry about that, Chief” and “Missed it by that much.” Star Trek had us regularly quoting “To boldy go where no man has gone before”, “Live long and prosper” and “Beam me up, Scotty.” The grandfather of all catch phrase shows was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, which introduced many seriously silly one liners like “Sock it to me”, “Here comes da judge” and “Veeeery interesting, but stupid.” Most of these classic lines would just sound like nonsense to anyone who didn’t grow up with them but for those of us who did, they’re like secret passwords that get us into an private club.
Every generation had its own shows that gave them a slew of memorable catch phrases like Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons and Seinfeld. Until this generation, where there has been a significant dearth of them. Even The Big Bang Theory, which was the most popular sitcom of the past decade, could only squeeze out one pathetic catch phrase in its 12 year run. “Bazinga!” And I never heard anyone outside of that show ever repeat it. President Trump has actually had more famous catch phrases than any TV show in the past decade with lines like “Make America great again”, “Fake News” and “Mexico will pay for the wall.”
Perhaps the most glaring difference in the way we used to watch TV then and now is evident on the news. We used to get the news from trusted and objective anchormen like Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace. These days we get conflicting facts from biased and partisan anchors like Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow. It’s not like we were ever all on the same page, but now we’re not even reading the same book. If you only watch the right wing programs you would think Trump is the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln. If you only watch the left wing shows you would think Trump is the worst president since the last republican president.
When I was a kid, my parents used to call me a “TV junkie” and I’ve been happily addicted ever since. But these days I feel like I’m OD’ing.
I used to watch anything and everything. (Except for the Real Housewives franchise. Those shows are the TV equivalent of chalk on a blackboard.) But even I can’t keep track of all the new shows anymore. It’s estimated there will be over 500 new scripted programs this year and nobody can count how many reality shows there are anymore. At this point, it’s like keeping track of the national debt. You might as well just have a giant digital clock where the numbers are constantly running up.
In my lifetime, we’ve gone from eight broadcast channels to hundreds of cable networks to online services that now have, literally, millions of channels. YouTube alone has over 23 million channels, which I am afraid to look at for fear of what of what I’ll find there. (BTW – that’s mostly what your grandkids are watching these days.)
How do TV critics have the time to watch all the shows they have to review? How do Emmy voters possibly see each of the programs competing for awards? How can a TV junkie like me know which are the shows I’d most like to see and where I can find them? Why do I keep asking all these rhetorical questions that you couldn’t possibly know the answers to?
Since people now watch their shows on different media platforms and at different times, “spoiler alerts” have become a major source of contention. They have been known to spark anything from verbal abuse to physical beatings. If you don’t want to know what happens on your favorite program before you get around to seeing it, you’d better not watch TV, listen to the radio, or go anywhere near the internet. Don’t go on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Instagram and don’t even think about picking up your smartphone. Better not talk to any friends, enemies, colleagues, casual acquaintances or - just to be safe – any strangers. Basically, you’ll just want to just go live in a cave until you can binge watch and catch up.
One of my favorite lines from the play Inherit The Wind is “Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it.” Ironically, the price we pay for this new Golden Age of Television is the death of television as a mass cultural event. In these times, when politics has divided the country and technology has replaced human interaction, the unifying effects of our national TV obsessions are sorely missed. We've already forgotten the lessons of Archie Bunker, who taught us how a family with different political views can live together. Now we can't even discuss politics at Thanksgiving dinner.
There are so many advantages to this era of “Peak TV”, as they like to call it now. We can watch whatever we want, whenever we want. The audio, the picture quality, the special effects, the budgets and the talent are improving exponentially. The sheer multitude of shows offers a mind-boggling array of niche programs aimed at audiences that have long been underserved, while creating unprecedented opportunities for diversity in both the creative arts and business sides of the industry. But perhaps the greatest achievement of all is that nobody will ever again utter the words, “There’s nothing good on TV tonight.”
I feel fortunate that I shared the unique television experiences of my generation. Future generations have gained a lot, but they will never know what they missed. “Water cooler shows” may never happen again, but at least the old shows will live in reruns forever.
My father, Lou, was a very wise man. He wasn’t highly educated but he had what we call “street smarts.” Which is to say that he didn’t have a college degree, but he knew how to survive living with my mother. He taught me a lot about life, but he never sugar coated it. Even when he probably should have. I don’t ever remember a time when I believed in Santa Clause or the Tooth Fairy or any government officials. But Lou did teach me to believe in myself. And he taught me a lot of other valuable lessons that I would like to share with you. But please don’t judge him by today’s overly-protective, every-kid-gets-a-trophy, shield-them-from-the-truth style of parenting. He was more of a walk-it-off, throw-him-in-the-deep-end, you-might-as-well-know-the-truth-now kind of dad. Just remember that I didn’t turn out so bad. Depending on who you ask.
Lou and me in 1964.
When I was a little boy and would misbehave, Lou sometimes spanked me with his belt. I know that sounds cruel and it might even be illegal these days, but back then it was as common as pregnant women drinking alcohol. But before my father pulled out his leather strap, my mother always pretended to try and stop him. I cowered in fear while they went into their good cop/bad cop routine.
Lou: That does it. I’m getting the belt.
Muriel: No, Lou. Not the belt.
Lou: Oh yeah, I’m getting the belt.
Muriel: Please, Lou. Don’t hit him with the belt.
Lou: It’s too late, Muriel. He’s got it coming.
Muriel: Alright. But please…don’t use the buckle.
Lou: Oh yeah, I’m going to use the buckle.
Muriel: No, Lou! Not the buckle!!!
He never used the buckle. But this might explain why I’m the only person I know who wears suspenders.
As a young man, Lou lived through the Great Depression and like so many others of his generation, he carried that value system with him for the rest of his life. Nothing drove him crazy more than wasting money, food or products. When our family would go out to dinner, my father wouldn’t order anything for himself. He knew that the rest of us wouldn’t finish everything on our plates. So he would wait patiently until we were all done. At which point he’d declare, “If you’re not going to eat that, give it to me.” Then he’d gather all our leftovers and make a smorgasbord for himself out of everyone else’s food. This earned him the loving nickname, Leftover Louie.
The only fights I remember him having with my mother were over the phone bill. She frequently spent several hours at a time on the phone talking to her long distance relatives, to an extent that bordered on child neglect. While my sister and I clamored for her attention, Lou never seemed to mind. I think he actually enjoyed the time to himself. Until the phone bill came. Then the yelling got so bad you’d think you were watching a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. If they’d only had unlimited long distance calling plans back then, the only thing they would have had to fight about would have been which end of the belt to hit me with.
At some point in my childhood, I remember him calling all of us into the bathroom for a family meeting. Apparently, we were all being very wasteful by using excessive amounts of toilet paper. (Which was true in my case because I used to wrap my hand in TP until it looked like a boxing glove.) After regaling us with his favorite depression-era story of how he couldn’t afford TP and instead had to use the wax paper they wrapped fruit in, Lou proceeded to teach us the most efficient and economic way to wipe one’s ass. It was actually fascinating to watch this demonstration of his patented method where you could get four wipes out of two squares by repeatedly folding them over and over again. I shit you not.
Lou was never one for coddling his children or for protecting them from the realities of life. Especially when it came to sex. While I don’t remember ever having “the talk” with him, he did educate me about sex in his own way. I was 11 years old when the MPAA rating system began and the first R-rated movies came out. This system was designed to protect young and impressionable minds like mine, but that didn’t stop my father from taking me to see them. I think movies like Barbarella and Carnal Knowledge were his idea of sex-education films.
At around the same age, during the late 1960’s, I have a vivid memory of my father cruising around 42nd Street with me in the car. You have to remember that this was before Times Square became a family friendly tourist attraction in the 1990’s. These were the days when peep shows occupied most of the store fronts and prostitutes aggressively solicited their customers. It was like Sodom & Gomorrah with bumper to bumper traffic. (God, I miss those days.) But, since we lived in New York, Lou thought this was an area that I should be familiar with. So he slowly toured me through mean streets of Manhattan pointing out all the notable points of interest, “That’s a hooker. That’s a hooker. That’s a homo. That’s a hooker…”
I moved to L.A. when I was 22 and a few months later Lou drove across the country by himself to deliver his old car to me. During this visit, he took me and my roommate to dinner at a nice restaurant and entertained us with a few stories from his youth. Specifically, he told us tales of when he was a teenager and ran away from home and rode the freight trains to the west coast with the hobos. (We didn’t call them “homeless people” back then because “hobos” made them sound much more lovable and a lot less like a socio-economic problem.)
Mind you, I had heard all of these stories before. So Lou was directing most of his anecdotes to my roommate. But then he got to an episode that I’d never heard, about the time he had no place to sleep and was befriended by a legless man. It started as a nice enough story of loneliness and friendship and charity, as the legless stranger offered him a place to stay. Until he got to the part when the man asked my dad if he could perform oral sex on him. Remember that, at this point in the story, Lou isn’t even looking at me. He’s telling it to my roommate in the most matter-of-fact of ways. Had he been looking at me, he would have seen my jaw crash through the table and hit the floor. So, after reminding us that it was either sleep in the street or let the legless man go down on him, Lou summed up this sordid tale with a shrug of his shoulders and a lesson for us all, “And that’s when I learned…a blow job is a blow job.”
My father had a lot of insightful sayings that I will never forget. He was full of wit and wisdom, often in the most rude and crude ways. Here are some of my favorite and most famous of Lou’s aphorisms.
“There’s only one crime in this country…getting caught.”
“The happiest person in town…is the Village Idiot.”
“When it comes to women’s breasts…you’ll never need more than a handful.”
“You should never be prejudiced, because there are good people and bad people of all races. There are blacks and there are n-words. There are Jews and there are k-words. There are homosexuals and there are f-words…” Of course, he used the actual words.
Lou didn’t say, “I love you” very often. (Although he did say, “fuck you” a lot). He was never one to show his emotions. (His idea of a “tear jerker” was getting a painful hand job.) And my father wasn’t big on talking on the phone. (Probably because my mother was always on it.) After I moved away, my mom and I used to talk once a week, usually at great length. If Lou happened to answer when I called, he would quickly hand the phone over to her. Every once in a while he would call me, ask how I was and after I told him he would say, “Your mother wants to talk to you.” Which meant my mom had him call me so she could, however briefly, insert him into our conversations.
One day, when I was 24, Lou called me and asked how I was doing. And after I told him, he just kept talking. After a few minutes I asked where mom was, and he said she was out. I was stunned. This was the first time he had ever called me without her prompting and then he wanted to hang on the phone with me. I have to admit that I loved it. Over the next couple of months, he did it a few more times and we had some really nice conversations. Then, without warning, Lou suddenly passed away. I never knew for sure but, looking back, it seemed like he somehow sensed the end was near and wanted to spend a little more time talking with me.
I suppose some people might think it’s not right for me to write about my father this way, to reveal his intimate personality traits and tell such personal stories. I’ve noticed that when most people write about their parents on social media they usually do it in the most glowing terms where they appear idealized or even canonized. Which is really sweet. I, on the other hand, choose to commemorate my mother and father by telling stories about them and loving them just as they were, with all their glorious strengths and weaknesses. To be less than brutally honest would be to forget one of Lou’s most important lessons, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, fuck ’em and say it anyway.”
To say that my mother was a neat freak is like saying Jeff Bezos makes a good living. I know that most mothers nag their children to clean up their rooms, but mine took it to a whole other level. Let me give you just a few examples, and remember that none of this is made up or even exaggerated. These are all true stories about my mother, Muriel. They even have a chapter dedicated to her in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not books. (Okay, that’s not true. But they should.)
If cleanliness is next to Godliness then Muriel is up in Heaven right now sitting in God’s lap. She frequently walked around our apartment with a roll of paper towels in one hand and a bottle of Windex in the other, like a gunslinger looking for his next shoot out. Spraying and wiping every surface in her purview, there was no smudge too slight, no crumb too microscopic and no crevice too crevicey to escape her sanitizing insanity. My mother made Felix Unger look like Oscar Madison.
When I was growing up, we had a cleaning woman come at least once a week. I don’t know how much we paid her but it wasn’t enough. Muriel cleaned alongside her all day long, teaching her the ways of the master. All the other housewives in the neighborhood lined up to hire this woman because they knew she had been trained by The Dirt Whisperer.
Muriel could frequently be found vacuuming the floors at two in the morning while the rest of us slept and our downstairs neighbors cursed at their ceiling. She used to clean under the plastic finger wheel of our rotary phones with a Q-tip to get at every speck of dust that we never knew was there. She’s the only person I ever heard of who carpeted their garage, because it bothered her that the concrete floor always looked dirty.
My mother would get frustrated with us for leaving fingerprints and smudges all around the kitchen. So she kept a dishtowel hanging on the handle of the refrigerator door and made us pull the towel to open it. Then she tied little ribbons around all the cabinet knobs and we were only allowed to pull the ribbons to open the cabinets. If she could have, she would have made us where gloves all the time. We didn’t have a name for obsessive compulsive behavior in those days. We just called it, Muriel.
My older sister was raised in a room where she was never allowed to wear any shoes. If she forgot to tell her friends to take their shoes off then my mother would come in and yell at them, as if they were misbehaving. Which, in her mind, they were. All because, for some unknown reason, Muriel chose to put a high maintenance floor that was easily scuffed and scratched in a little girl’s room. So my poor sister spent her entire childhood virtually walking on eggshells.
My mother, my sister & me, circa 1967. In my sister’s room. Presumably without shoes.
One day, when I was a teenager, Muriel called me into the bathroom and when I got there I could tell she was upset. To the best of my recollection, this is exactly how that conversation went.
Me: (Already annoyed.) What?
Muriel: (Pointing to the floor.) What’s that?
Muriel: Around the toilet.
Me: (After studying the floor around the toilet.) I guess it’s piss.
Muriel: How did it get there?
Me: (Trying to be funny.) Well, when the urine from my penis hits the water in the bowl it creates a chain reaction that causes the displacement of the two combined fluids to rise into the air and then, due to the forces of gravity, they are sucked back down onto the floor where they settle around the outside of the bowl. It’s just science.
Muriel: (Not amused.) So why doesn’t that happen when I pee?
Me: Because you sit down when you pee.
Muriel: (Completely serious.) Well, from now on, I want you to sit when you pee!
She also kept a plexiglass trash can in that bathroom that she wouldn’t allow me to throw trash in. I would ask, “What’s the point of having a trash can that I can’t use?” She would explain, as if it made perfect sense, that it was a “decorative trash can.” So I would ask in my snide way, “Then what am I supposed to do with the trash, eat it?” After a brief pause where I think she seriously considered this option she’d reply, “Throw it in the kitchen garbage can.” This made perfect sense to her. But, being the rebellious teenager I was, I stubbornly refused. So I just ignored her and threw trash in the can, as any normal person would. But it was the weirdest thing. Every time I went back into that bathroom, the trash can had been mysteriously emptied and cleaned. I don’t know how she knew it was dirty. It was as if she could hear the sound of tissue hitting plexiglass from any room in the house. And I never actually saw her remove it. Somehow, she stealth fully extracted it like an OCD Ninja. When I think of it now, I picture her like Tom Cruise being lowered from the ceiling on wires, snatching up my dirty tissues just before I entered the room, where I failed to see her dangling above me.
This became the source of an ongoing battle and a symbol of our frequent power struggles. Even years later, when I would come home for a visit, she never stopped nagging me about that damn trash can. When she passed away, there weren’t many of her personal belongings that I wanted. My sister rightfully got most of them. The only thing I did want, and did get, was that trash can. To this day, it sits in my bathroom. And it’s usually filled with trash.
The infamous trash can.
Another one of our never-ending debates was about cleaning the glass shower door. She would insist that I squeegee it after each time I showered. Of course, I refused. My argument was that I would work up such a sweat cleaning it after I showered that I would need to take another shower, creating a never ending cycle of showering and cleaning. (While we’re on the subject, why is it that with all the modern technological advancements science has made in my lifetime, no one has ever invented a clear glass shower door that water doesn’t stain? Water doesn’t stain my windshield. Why does it stain my shower door? But I digress…)
One particularly hot summer’s day, I came home soaked in sweat and couldn’t wait to jump in that shower. When I got there my mother was cutting up fruit, preparing for her friends to come over to play mahjong. (For those who don’t know, mahjong was to old Jewish women, what Grand Theft Auto is to teenage boys. Only the women put out a much better spread.) She saw me heading for the bathroom and immediately forbid me from using it right before she was expecting company. I explained my desperate need to wash the day off my body. So she suggested I ask our neighbors across the hall if I could use their shower. But I barely knew the Hartstein’s. I wasn’t going to ask them if I could get naked in their home and mess up their bathroom because my mother won’t let me mess up our bathroom.
This escalated into one of our biggest fights ever. We yelled at each other, for I don’t know how long, until she was exhausted and finally ready to give in, “Fine! You use the shower!” Then she looked down and noticed the large kitchen knife that she had forgotten she was holding was now pointed at me and realized the power she held in her hand. At first, her voice got very soft and then slowly built to a blood-curdling crescendo, “But so help me, if you make a mess in that bathroom…I’m going to stick this knife in your chest!” As my mother threatened my life with a lethal weapon, I ran from the room screaming something about her being a crazy person.
As I write this, I realize how harsh and frightening that sounds. But you had to know Muriel to understand her. She would never have killed me with that knife. That would have been way too messy. She might have snuck into my room in the middle of the night and smothered me with a pillow, but she would never stab me with a knife.
This is not my mother, just a reasonable facsimile.
Many years later, when I was an adult, Muriel came to visit me in my first condo in L.A. I was apprehensive, to say the least. I knew what I was in for. I knew my apartment would be subjected to an inspection that would make Marie Kondo cry. So I prepared for weeks and I brought in a housekeeper the day before she came. I explained the situation, paid her extra and cleaned alongside her for an entire day. When my mother arrived, I proudly walked her into my new home, foolishly confident that I could receive her highly sought after Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. But, I swear to you, her first words to me were, “Uch! I don’t know how you live like this.”
I couldn’t believe it. I should have expected it, but I couldn’t believe it. “What?” I pleaded with her, “What are you talking about? This place is spotless.” At which point she marched over to the sliding glass door to the balcony, flung it open and pointed down at the exposed metal track. “Look at this! It’s disgusting.” So, for the first time in my life I looked deeply into the metal track beneath a sliding door and, sure enough, there was a bunch of dirt and gunk in there. Mind you, I did not previously see her inspect this area. It’s as if she knew it was filthy by some sort of weird antiseptic sixth sense she had.
The irony in all this is that, despite all of my resistance and rebellion, I have turned into my mother. Now I squeegee my shower door every day, I clean the tracks under the terrace door regularly and I always sit when I pee. I don’t know if it’s a genetic disorder, a form of brainwashing or a family curse (my sister has it, too) but my mother would be proud.
My mother, my sister & me, circa 1990.
But I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. My mother was much more than just a Cleaning Nazi. She was a larger than life character who had her flaws but she was spirited, independent, kind, loving, generous and funny in mostly unintentional ways. I loved her very much and even though she’s been gone for over 20 years, I still miss her and I know that feeling will never go away. She taught me a lot about how to be a good person...and a great housekeeper.
It’s fun to remember the way things used to be. Especially the little things like fads, jargon and culture. Some changes are for the better. Others…not so much. This is a short list of just a few of the more obscure and humorous differences I’ve noticed in my lifetime. They may seem silly to you but I think they should be documented for future generations to ask, "What the hell was up with that shit?"
Remember when snapping your fingers was cool? Practically all of the singers and swingers in the '50s and '60s did it. Performers like Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin practically raised it to an art form. It was a hip way to move to the music if you weren’t dancing. Much more satisfying than tapping your foot and much less annoying than humming along. Finger snapping peaked in the late '50s and early '60s when beatniks appropriated it to replace hand clapping at the end of a performance. It was an interesting attempt to be non-conformist but it never caught on because it didn’t offer the same gratification as enthusiastic applause. You could never really give someone a thunderous round of snaps.
I suppose it became obsolete when rockers like Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley started putting their whole bodies into their music. Since then, you could say that singers have had to dance for their supper. Now, it is primarily used as a rude way to get the attention of a child or an underling. Personally, I miss it. And I think it’s time to bring back finger snapping as a musical accompaniment. I could totally see Rappers getting into it. Then we could start calling them --wait for it -- Snappers!
Remember when going to the movies was like seeing a live play? They would run in grandiose theaters with balconies, and you could buy a program as a memento of the occasion. It was like seeing a two dimensional Broadway show. They used to make epic films like Lawrence of Arabia and Oliver! that were so long they had to stop in the middle just to wake everyone up. The intermission was a welcomed breather where you could revel in all that you had just seen and build anticipation for what was to come. More importantly, it was your only chance to pee for about three hours.
Now, we watch most of our movies on TV sets. And when we do go to the theater it is rarely to see the kind of epics they used to make. Now, the big-budgeted, star-studded, blockbuster equivalent of those cinematic classics are mostly superhero movies. Dr. Zhivago has been replaced by Dr. Strange and The Music Man has been replaced by Ant Man. Which is kind of like replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump. Only a lot less dangerous.
Remember when airline stewardesses were hot? Back in the '60s they were every (straight) man's sexual fantasy. Second only to Playboy Bunnies. In those days, stewardesses had to be a desirable height, weight, and age. And, of course, they had to be attractive females. But then gender equality, anti-discrimination and political correctness ruined all that. Now they hire middle-aged women who wear support hose and sensible shoes that remind me of every waitress who's worked at the same coffee shop for over 20 years.
Of course, they’re not called stewardesses anymore. They’re flight attendants now. Because now they have to hire men. Although, I’ve never actually seen a male flight attendant who wasn’t gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.* (*Seinfeld – Season 4, Episode 17)
In spite of the fact that the airline industry has come a long way in changing the image of the stewardess, the advertising companies they hire don’t seem to want to go along for the ride. They still know the effectiveness of selling sex in the skies, as evidenced by these recent ads.
Remember when white-wall tires were a thing? I never understood what the big deal was, but they used to sell them like they were going out of style. Which, of course, they were.
Don’t settle for boring old black tires when you can have boring old black tires with white stripes on them!!! That’s right!!! They don’t do anything, we’ll charge you extra for them and they’re a pain-in-the-ass to keep clean!!! But we’re convincing everyone else to buy them, so you should too!!!
For some inexplicable reason white-walls were a status symbol that remained popular, on and off, into the 1970s. Having no other function, they were perhaps the best example of the power of marketing over the mindlessness of the masses. At least, until the Pet Rock came along.
Remember when people wore dickies? Not only was this a poorly named fashion accessory but it was a really silly one, too. Kind of like clip on bow ties for the sweater set. They covered your neck but left your arms and lower torso completely exposed. They looked like turtlenecks for people who couldn’t afford to buy the whole sweater. So who thought that was a good idea? And why did I have so many of them?
The intention was to wear a shirt over it so it looked like you were wearing a sweater underneath. But why not just wear a sweater? Who were you fooling? And why were you trying to fool them? There was no way to look cool once you took your shirt off. You looked like a giant baby wearing a bib with a high collar. While they were briefly in-style, they were never stylish. Which explains why they are the one of the few fashion trends that never made a comeback.
Remember when people used expressions like…
Nookie (meaning: having sex) These days it is the name of a clothing line. I would have liked to have been at the meeting where they came up with that name.
Boner (meaning: a man’s erection) Now it just means - a stupid mistake. It’s saddens me to think that nobody gets a boner anymore.
Old Maid (meaning: a single woman who’s passed her prime) Today it’s mostly thought of as a family friendly card game. Not a woman who will probably never have a family.
Dummy (meaning: a politically incorrect way of referring to a stupid person) But when Don Rickles used the word, it was hilarious. His biggest album was called, Hello, Dummy.
Cockeyed (meaning: not seeing things clearly) The dictionary defines it as “crooked or absurd”. Unfortunately, we also used it to describe people who were cross-eyed.
Pizzazz (meaning: a glamourous or charismatic quality) It’s a great word whose meaning hasn’t changed. So why doesn’t anybody use it anymore? People need more pizzazz in their lives.
Your Mother Wears Army Boots (meaning: originating in WWII, it could have meant your mother was butch or a hooker or a butch hooker. This was never really clear.) In the early ‘70s this maternal insult was shortened to the equally vague, “Yo Mama”. These days it would probably be a compliment meaning that your mother is a strong woman who serves her country in the military.
Shove It Up Your Ass, Blow It Out Your Ass, Play Grab Ass and the ever popular, Get Your Head Out of Your Ass. (I’m ass-uming you know what these mean) I’m not sure why we were so obsessed with asses back then but we sure did use the word a lot.
Sometimes, I still use dated expressions like Beauty Parlor instead of Salon or Pocket Book instead of Purse or Ice Box instead of Freezer. Just because the world keeps forcing changes on me, doesn’t mean I can’t stubbornly cling the way things used to be. I guess I’m just a cockeyed dummy with a lot of pizzazz.
There have been many scientific studies on why the older we get, the more we forget. Apparently, we can decelerate the process, but there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. Contrary to popular research, it seems to me that the longer we live, the more crap there is to remember and more things we’re going to forget. It’s just simple math.
For example, I have trouble remembering anyone’s new phone number (including my own). I can still remember my childhood phone number, but a few years ago my head hit its maximum occupancy for that sort of information. Computer passwords have become the bane of my existence. Most of us have multiple online accounts now and each one needs its own password. (Remember when you only had to remember your mother’s maiden name?) Just thinking about every password, phone number, address, bank, alarm, and security code that I have to remember makes my brain want to throw up.
I take comfort in the fact that this is not strictly an older person’s problem. Plenty of younger people I know suffer from bad memories, too. At least we have decades of stored information (along with drug and alcohol abuse) to blame it on. What’s their excuse?
While we’re on the subject, what are the odds that Alzheimer’s disease (which usually effects people 65 and older) would sound so much like Old Timer’s disease? That would be like if chronic diarrhea was named Schittitis or erectile dysfuction was called Zoffdick disorder.
How often do you walk into a room to get something, but by the time you got there you forgot what it was? Did you ever mean to tell somebody something that you can’t remember if you actually told them? Worst of all, have you ever had someone tell you something you said that you have absolutely no recollection of saying? This seems to happen to me a lot. It frightens me when people tell me I told them something years ago that they never forgot because it was so profound and meaningful or because it was so upsetting and hurtful. No one should ever hold onto anything I say. I’m usually just talking shit. I don’t mean half of it and apparently I don’t remember most of it.
Sometimes I am reminded about someone I used to know years ago but have completely forgotten about, until I happen to run into them. This can create some very awkward situations. Especially when they remember me like it was yesterday. Sometimes these are people that I liked a lot and was friendly with for years. We might have worked together or had mutual friends or even had sex, but because it was so long ago I had completely forgotten they ever existed. How could I forget whole people like that? What else have I completely forgotten?
It’s one of the few things that I envy about people who have grown up in today’s smart phone driven culture. Young people (I hate calling them that because it clearly positions me as the opposite) always have a camera on them these days and can always take pictures of everyone they meet and every place they go. (Not to mention every meal they eat, every item they buy and every pose they make.) Granted, it is a double edged sword in that they often miss the moment they are living in while trying to capture the image that will remind them of it. I guess it’s like the old expression, “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too”. Which, by the way, I never understood. What’s the point of having cake if you can’t eat it?
All I have are a few tattered old photo albums that sporadically chronicle my life through my forties (with virtually no pictures from my teenage years) and a bunch of photos on my computer that start in my fifties. There are absolutely no home movies or videos or even audio recordings of me, save for one reel to reel audio tape that my sister has. It’s a recording of us playing together as children when we get interrupted by my mother, who obviously had no idea the tape recorder was on. Here’s an actual transcript from that conversation.
My mother: Whadya want for dinner?
Me: Whadya have?
My mother: Nothin’!!!
Me: How about pizza?
My mother: We’d have to send out for it.
My sister: You’re not supposed to have that if you’re on a diet.
Me: But I’m not on a diet.
My sister: I don’t want pizza. What else can we send out for?
Me: Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!
My mother: We might have a TV Dinner left.
Me: Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!
My sister: What about Chinese food?
Me: Pizza! Pizza! Pizza!
My mother: Come on! Make up your minds!
Me: Let’s get a large pie!
My sister: No!!!...We can get a small pie.
Putting aside the disturbing glimpse into my childhood this gives you, my point is that this is the only memory from those days that I can be completely certain of because of that recording. I have learned that everything else I remember is questionable. Not because I have a terrible memory, but because I am human.
I kept a journal (some might call it a diary but I think that sounds girlie) from the time I was 19 until the time I was 49. I hadn’t looked at it since I was 50. So on my 60th birthday I decided to read it again. It was over 350 pages long and I was surprised by what I found in it. There were so many things I had completely forgotten and there were several things that I remembered completely differently from the way they apparently happened. This taught me a very valuable lesson. I can no longer be 100% certain of anything I think I remember. I don’t think anyone can. Now I find myself frequently using the expressions “Not that I can remember” and “To the best of my recollection”. As if I were under oath all the time.
Did you know that we all have false memories? (It’s an actual thing. I looked it up.) Especially as we get older. There’s even a famous quote from Stephen King that says, “Passing time adds false memories and modifies real ones.” I have had arguments with my sister where she claims that something I remember happening to me as a child, actually happened to her. At first, I thought it was really strange that she would hijack my memories like that. Until I heard of it happening to other people and realized it was fairly common. So now I’m not so sure. Maybe it did happen to my sister. Maybe I just imagined the whole thing. Maybe the world in my dreams is real and the real world is only a dream. Or maybe I’ve been watching too many old Twilight Zone reruns.
Salvador Dali said, “The difference between false memories and true ones is the same for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.” So, if you think that your memories are always accurate then think again. I’m not saying that we all need to question everything in our pasts but, if someone challenges you, don’t be so sure about it. Admit, at least to yourself, that you could be wrong. Some people are very good at rewriting their history. Whether it’s inadvertently (as with false memories) or on purpose (to make themselves sound better or more interesting). Either way, the more you tell a story, the more you are going to believe it. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.
After enough time passes all memories, even our happiest ones, become bittersweet. I used to enjoy going through old photo albums with my mother. She would tell me stories of times before I was born and we would share fond memories together. But, when she got older, it started to get a little depressing. She would flip through the pages, pointing out various friends and family with her finger of death, “Dead. Dead. Dead. Dying. Dead.” Eventually, I asked her to stop doing that and suggested she only point out the ones who were still alive, since that would be a shorter list. The funny (and sad) thing is – I now find myself doing the same thing when I look at my old photo albums.
Dead, Dead, Dead, Dead & Me.
As we get older, we depend on our memories more than ever. They become more precious with time. When we can no longer relive the experiences or revisit the people and places we love, all we can do is remember them. So hang onto those memories in whatever way you can. I strongly urge you to write them down, take lots of pictures and tell your stories to anyone who would like to hear them. Because your memory can be like a bad employee who you think is doing a good job, while they’re really lying and stealing from you the whole time.
There was something else I wanted to say on this subject…but I can’t remember what it was.
My name is Richard. People sometimes ask me if I mind being called Rich, Richie, Rick or Ricky. I don’t. In my lifetime I have been called all of those names, and a lot worse. The only version of my name I object to is Dick (for obvious reasons). I could never understand why, considering that the name Richard offers more variations than most other names, anyone would choose to be called Dick. Of course, there have been many famous Dicks. Like Dick Clark, Dick Cheney, Dick Van Dyke and Piers Morgan.
Some Dick’s have tried to defend this choice by explaining that it was a nickname they were given as a child. Fine. I get that. But you’re a grown man now and you don’t have to continue the cycle of abuse from your parents. You can choose to change that anytime you want without even having to fill out any paperwork. I suppose if you’re middle aged and you haven’t already changed it then it might be too late. But if you are a young man who is just entering college or starting a new job then it’s not too late to change. You don’t have to be a Dick your whole life.
A lot of people are given funny names by their parents. We’ve all known some. We would never openly tease them for having this birth defect, but many of us would laugh behind their backs. I’ve done a little research into real people with hard-to-believe names and here are some of my favorites: (I swear I didn’t make any of these up.) Bud Light, Donald Duck, Wendy Wacko, Brock Lee, Tahra Dactyl, Chris P. Bacon, Dixie Normous, Mike Litoris, Jack Kanoff, Willie Stroker, Jack Goff, Justin Sider, Phat Ho, Peter Bonerz (A familiar actor from the ‘70s), Sue Yoo (Of course, she’s a lawyer) and Dickie Head (Really? You couldn’t go with Richard?) I once worked in an office where three of my co-workers were named Neil Dick, Christa Schmuck, and Sue Oraphus. (I shit you not.) Together, they sounded like the cast of a porno movie.
Certain names are fine for most people, but if you personally knew someone that you couldn’t stand with that name then it can ruin it forever. When I was a kid I used to know a boy named Matthew. To most people this is a perfectly ordinary name, but everything about this particular Matthew was gross. He picked his nose, he chewed with his mouth open and when he passed gas it smelled like a skunk crawled up his ass and died. So now, that name always makes me think of him in all of his disgusting glory.
Sometimes this can happen on a global scale. I doubt many Muslim Americans will be naming their kids Osama for a while. A lot of Hispanics are named Jesus, but you don’t come across too many
named Judas. And just forget about Adolf. Hitler ruined that name forever. As well as a mustache style that nobody has worn since WWII. (Except for that guy from the band Sparks back in the ‘80s. And you notice you never heard from him again.)
For some reason, a lot of celebrities have a strange compulsion to give their offspring really weird names. I’m not exactly sure what that’s about. Is their goal to give them names that absolutely nobody else in the world will have? Or are they subconsciously passing along their insatiable need for attention to their children?
Here are a few of my favorite stupid celebrity kid’s names: Moxie Crimefighter (magician Penn Jillette’s daughter), Pilot Inspektor (actor Jason Lee’s son), Zuma Nesta Rock (singer Gwen Stephani’s son), Speck Wildhorse (singer John Mellencamp’s son), Bronx Mowgli (“singer” Ashlee Simpson’s son). Actress Mia Farrow named her son
Satchel. (He later changed it to Ronan.) Actor Rob Morrow named his daughter Tu. (Get it? Tu Morrow?) And Frank Zappa named his three kids Dweezil, Moon Unit and Diva Thin Muffin. (Also known as The Trifecta of Bad Names.)
These kids are just lucky that they will always lead privileged and protected lives. If they grew up in my old neighborhood they would have gotten beaten up all the time. Honestly, I even feel like kicking their little asses.
A tip for all parents-to-be: Don’t give your kid a name that nobody has ever heard and won’t know how to spell, or a name that everybody has heard but is spelled differently. You are dooming them to a lifetime of correcting people. Case in point; my wife’s name is Ronni. The female version of that name usually has an “e” on the end. So she is constantly having to explain how her name is different. I’ve known a few people whose names are spelled atypically and, after years of confronting their misspelled names, they can get very angry about this. And believe me, you don’t want to make my wife angry. This has been a public service message for the naming impaired.
Of course, bad names are not limited to people. There are plenty of companies and products that have been given unfortunate names, too. You’ve probably seen some of them. Aydswas a popular appetite suppressant in the ‘70s, until the Aids epidemic of the ‘80s became the world’s scariest appetite suppressant. Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific was a fragrant shampoo, but was probably where the expression “too on the nose” came from. Nips is a delicious chocolate candy but, aside from the abbreviated anatomical reference, it is also an ethnic slur for Japanese people.The Athlete’s Foot is a successful chain of shoe stores, even though the name is also a contagious skin infection caused by the ringworm fungus. It’s like these companies are daring you to buy their products. They should come up with a bug spray called Fuck-Off & Die.
Many poor-choice product names come from foreign countries where something obviously got lost in the translation. (Again, these are all real.) Like Starburst Sucks Lollipops, Tranny Honey Transmission Fluid, Shovit Chocolate Milk Powder, Vergina Beer, Shitto Pepper Sauce, Cemen Dip Spread and who doesn’t love Barfy Burgers. (Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.)
A popular hard candy in Hungary.
When I was 19, I got my first big corporate office job. I had just started when someone mentioned the name Dick Stubby and I inadvertently giggled. There were several people around who just looked at me like, what’s so funny?
I said, “Dick Stubby?” But they still didn’t get it.
So I said, “What happens when he has to fill out a form that says, last name first?”
There was a brief pause where I could see the lightbulbs going off and then they all started laughing.
Apparently, what I didn’t know was, this was a very important and high level executive in the company. So important that nobody even dared to see the humor in his name. I felt kind of like the boy in The Emperor’s New Clothes. The moral of this story being, if you’re going have a funny sounding name -- you’d better become really important in life.
Shakespeare asked, "What’s in a name?" I answer, "A lot." It can influence an individual’s personality or how others perceive them. It can make the difference between success or failure for a business. Or it could turn a person into a punchline for life. So if you’re thinking of a name for your child, your pet or your product, please don’t try to be too cute or too clever or too anything. Because, in the end, it says more about you.
I thought I should have a Celebrity Deaths Part 3 because they say that celebrities die in threes. That's not really true but, like so many other urban legends, it sounds good.
Remember Jerry Mathers who played Beaver on Leave It To Beaver? (What can I say? Those were much more innocent times.) Several years after that show went off the air, there were rampant rumors that he had been killed in the Viet Nam War. It was probably started as anti-war propaganda because, the fact is, he’s still alive today. In the ’60s, there were many rumors and clues that proclaimed Paul McCartney was dead. One such clue would supposedly be revealed if you played the song Strawberry Fields Forever backwards. Then you would allegedly hear John Lennon’s voice saying, “I buried Paul.” Some people swore it worked, but I could never figure out how to play a vinyl record backwards without scratching the hell out of it.
Every so often a celebrity passes away that most people didn’t know was still alive. Harry Dean Stanton recently died. I thought he was dead. Monty Hall recently died. I thought he was dead. Chuck Berry died last year. I thought he died several years ago. What confused matters even more was the fact that Chuck Barris (of The Gong Show fame) died just three days after Chuck Berry. So conversations about these two similar sounding celebrity deaths often played like an Abbott & Costello routine.
Did you hear that Chuck Barris just died?
I heard that a few days ago.
No, that was Chuck Berry.
Then who’s Chuck Barris?
You remember, he hosted "The Gong Show".
Oh yeah. Didn’t he sing "My Ding-A-Ling"?
No, he wrote, "Palisades Park".
I thought you said he hosted "The Gong Show"?
Yeah, that was Chuck Barris.”
Then who sang "My Ding-A-Ling"?
That was Chuck Berry.
Did you know he just died?
There were some celebrities who should have died sooner than they did. I mean, as far as their legacies go.
Imagine if Orson Wells had died right after making Citizen Kane. He would have been remembered as the most brilliant filmmaker of all time, struck down before he could show the limits of his artistry. But no, he had to live long enough to become the fat old guy who did those wine commercials. (Remember “Paul Masson will sell no wine before it’s time”?) The first time I saw Orson Wells was on The Tonight Show where he was doing cheap magic tricks for Johnny Carson. I was not impressed. It wasn’t until a few years later when I discovered his old movies and realized that he was once considered a genius. It was like seeing a Bible movie before finding out it was based on a book.
As Citizen Kane As Moby Dick
Joe Paterno missed it by just a few months. After becoming the most winning coach in the history of college football, his legacy was shattered by the Penn State sex abuse scandal. Not only was he abruptly fired but they also took down the statue of him as if he were Sadaam Hussein after the fall of Iraq. Poor Joe had the bad timing to pass away just two months after they fired him. I think it’s safe to say that if he had died just a year earlier, they would not have dragged his name through the mud and they never would have punished him. That’s because most people don’t like to speak ill of the dead. But as you can tell, I’m not one of them.
Perhaps most notably, there’s Bill Cosby. Few entertainers are as accomplished and were as beloved as he was. While they can never take away his accomplishments, they certainly can take back the love. If he had died before 2014 then comedian Hannibal Buress would probably never had made the joke about Cosby being a rapist that went viral. Then all of those women would not have come forward and all of us would have been spared from seeing the overexposed Gloria Allred, yet again. Some of those accusations were already a matter of public record, but the public didn’t care. If he had died before that joke went viral, they probably would have continued not to care. He would have been remembered as one of the best, instead of one of the worst.
Some celebrities make you wonder, how are they still alive? Take the Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards, for example. His decadent life style and excessive drug abuse are legendary. He admits that he didn’t give up cocaine until he was 62. He's 74 now but he looks like an extra on The Walking Dead. And you’ll never convince me that if he wasn’t a rock star, he’d ever get laid again.
Academy award winner Olivia de Havilland is over 100 years old. She’s probably the only surviving cast member of Gone With The Wind, with the possible exception of the baby that Butterfly McQueen didn’t “know nothin’ about birthin’.” In fact, she is currently suing the FX Network over the way she was portrayed in the TV series Feud: Bette & Joan. So she’s not just still alive – she’s still kickin’!
And what about Valerie Harper? The TV veteran who became famous playing Rhoda on The Mary Tyler Moore Show was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer back in 2013 and was given three months to live. God bless her, she recently turned 78 and I’m sure she’s been an inspiration to many people. I don’t mean to sound insensitive but, let’s be honest, she parlayed that diagnosis into a career comeback. At first, it got her a lot of attention on the entertainment news shows, which led to her becoming a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. Considering that show runs for ten weeks and she was given less than 12 weeks to live, she was cutting it kind of close. But that led to later appearances on Two Broke Girls, The Simpsons and Hot In Cleveland with her old co-star Betty White (another one who defies death on a daily basis).
So I ask myself, how are any of these people still alive? What is their secret? Is it their drive for fame or their need for attention? Is it sheer determination or outright stubbornness? Or is it just good genes and dumb luck? Whatever it is, I want some.
Valerie Harper on Dancing with the Stars
It’s true that sometimes humor and jokes about death can be “too soon”, but I believe that nothing is sacred. If you can’t eventually laugh about something then you’re probably having a problem dealing with it. In the end, it’s all gallows humor. We’re just laughing in the face of death even though we know that death gets the last laugh.
So, apparently you share my interest in celebrity deaths. Good, then I don’t have to feel so weird about it. As you probably know, there have been many stories and books written about the most infamous Hollywood mysteries and scandals. Most notable among them is Hollywood Babylon and its sequel. Many of those stories have since been disproved or debunked but they still make great legends. I am more intrigued by the sometimes lesser known stories of celebrities who died as victims of irony, coincidence, or just bad timing. Uh-oh, I think I might have just made it weird again. Let me give you a few examples.
One of the strangest and most famous coincidental deaths was between Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon. There were several small similarities between their tragic circumstances. They both died suddenly as young men, they were both working on their fifth feature film at the time and they both achieved their greatest fame after their deaths. But there were even larger connections that turned their true story into an urban legend.
Bruce Lee suspiciously died from an unusual reaction to a pain killer he took for a headache. After his death, the producers of the film he was making decided to rewrite the story to salvage the footage they already had of him. The story they came up with was about an actor who is shooting a scene for a movie where his character gets shot with a gun. In the movie, a real bullet is intentionally placed in that gun and almost kills his character. Brandon Lee suspiciously died while shooting a scene for a movie where his character gets shot with a gun. In real life, a real bullet was accidentally placed in that gun and actually killed him. The plot of Brandon’s last movie was about his character’s ghost coming back to get revenge on those who were responsible for his death. The plot of Bruce’s last movie was about his character coming back to get revenge on those who were responsible for his death. These creepy coincidences give new meaning to the expression, “Like father, like son”.
An interesting side note to this story is that both of these movies needed to hire stand-ins for their deceased stars in order to complete filming. In Brandon’s movie, The Crow, this was done seamlessly. In Bruce’s movie, Game of Death, this was done so sloppily it bordered on racism. The producers must have figured that “they all look alike” because they used an Asian stuntman who bore only the slightest resemblance to Bruce. They didn’t even bother to shoot around his face half the time. Click on the picture below and check out this funny scene from the film where they cut back and forth from Bruce and his (I hesitate to use the word) double.
Game of Death fight scene:
Some celebrities have had the bad luck to pass away at the same time as a bigger star. This always makes me think how ticked-off they would have been if they knew. These are people who spent most of their lives in the pursuit of fame. If they were looking down from heaven and saw that somebody stole their last moment in the spotlight, they’d probably be really pissed. Assuming you can get pissed in heaven. Which you probably can’t. Because that would be weird.
There are many examples of celebrities who had to posthumously compete for our attention. Like when Jimmy Stewart's death trumped
Robert Mitchum's, Robin Williams' demise eclipsed Lauren Bacall's and Mother Teresa's passing was overshadowed by Princess Di's. (In hindsight, that nickname really was a bad choice.)
The example I remember best was when poor Farrah Fawcett died. She didn’t even get a whole day to herself before Michael Jackson upstaged her. Under almost any other circumstances, Farrah’s untimely death would have dominated the headlines. She was a pop culture icon in the ’70s and her erratic behavior and tumultuous personal life kept her in the gossip columns long after. Michael died on the same day but he’d been a star since the ’60s and was the King of Pop since the ’80s. His weird behavior and scandalous personal life constantly made international headlines. It’s sad that it had to become a competition for coverage between the two of them, but it did and Michael won. He was a much bigger star and was even more bat-shit crazy.
Then there are performers who died in the line of duty. Redd Foxx was a successful stand-up comedian who became a TV star on the series Sanford & Son. One of the catch phrases he popularized on that show was part of a re-occurring bit where he pretended to be having a heart attack by clutching his chest and calling out to his deceased wife, “I’m coming to join you, Elizabeth!” Years later, while rehearsing on the set of another sitcom, Redd was struck by an actual heart attack. Unfortunately, no one there took it seriously at first until someone finally realized he wasn’t joking and they were all laughing at a man who was dying. That must have been an awkward moment.
Which brings me to, what I consider to be, the ultimate final curtain. Dick Shawn was the definitive “off-the-wall” comedian. He is most remembered for his supporting roles in movies like, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the original version of The Producers. While he was never a huge star, I was always a huge fan. Dick pushed the boundaries of comedy and his audiences never knew what to expect. There was nobody else quite like him. I saw him perform live only once in the mid ’80s, in the latter part of his career. He took the stage to thunderous applause and strolled from side to side as he milked it for all it was worth. He waited for the applause to completely subside, which probably took several minutes. A beat after the sound of the last clap faded, he abruptly vomited all over the stage. It wasn’t real vomit, of course, it was actually Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup that he held in his mouth the entire time. Funny side note; I was on a first date with a girl who did not find this funny at all. Okay, so he wasn’t for everyone. That was part of what made him so great.
He was only 57 years old when he performed for the last time. As the story goes, he was doing a bit about the end of the world when he had a heart attack and collapsed on stage. Unfortunately, given his unique brand of humor, no one took it seriously at first. They all laughed. Supposedly, he laid there for a full five minutes before the laughter eventually died down (so to speak) and a doctor came to the stage and started performing CPR. At this point, the audience didn’t know what to think. An announcement was made and everyone was asked to leave the theater. Many of the attendees that night went home not realizing that they had just watched Dick Shawn literally die on stage. Many of them didn’t find out what had actually happened until they read about it in the newspaper the next day.
There is a poetic justice to his death that I find astounding. A man, who spent his life working to make people laugh, died in front of an audience while he was making them laugh. I always wondered what was going through his mind in those final moments. Could he have possibly been at peace, accepting that this was his time and this was the perfect way for him to go? Like a cowboy dying with his boots on or a soldier giving his life for his country? Or was he freaking out as he tried to signal for help thinking, “No! Wait! I’m really dying here! Stop laughing and call an ambulance! What a bunch of schmucks!” While we will never know, I choose to think it was the former.
Since celebrities usually live differently than the rest of us, it only makes sense that they should sometimes die differently, too. For their fans who need closure, it can be important to put their passing into perspective. Just like we are fascinated by how they lived, it’s only natural to be fascinated by how they died. Especially when they do it in such weird ways.
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Along with millions of other people on this planet, I turned 60 years old this year. It made me smile when I realized I was a sexagenarian. Even though I’m an old man now, sometimes I still have the sense of humor of a 12-year-old boy.
My generation was labeled Baby Boomers. This always sounded to me like we were infants who liked to blow things up. Which, figuratively speaking, was kind of true. The dictionary defines us as, “the demographic group born during the post-World War 2 baby boom, approximately between the years 1946 and 1964”. I am part of the group labeled Late Baby Boomers, born between 1957 and 1964. This is an important distinction because I consider that we Late Baby Boomers were born at the best of all possible times.
Think about it. We were the first generation raised on rock ’n’ roll. Our formative years were filled with social and cultural changes that our country has not seen the likes of since. It was cool to be anti-establishment and to rebel against everything the older generations believed in. It seemed like everyone was fighting against every kind of authority. Disobeying your parents wasn’t just accepted, it was expected.
We thought this was how the world was and always would be — filled with rebellious behavior and revolutionary changes that promised and promoted freedom and equality. The music and colors that surrounded us were loud and wild, as rock ’n’ roll and psychedelics influenced our art, fashion and design. Life was like the movie Yellow Submarine — an acid-trip-inspired cartoon with a rock ’n’ roll soundtrack. It was a magical time to be a kid.
The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War played in the background while we played with our toys. We weren’t protestors or soldiers or part of the establishment, but our brothers and sisters and parents were. Everyone we knew and everything we saw taught us to stand up for what we believed in. These were among our first lessons in right and wrong. They inspired us to make the world a better place. We grew up with slogans like, “We shall overcome” and “Make love, not war,” which set a powerful tone and ambitious goals for us while we were growing up.
Through-out most of America’s history, sexual attitudes have been unnaturally repressive. Sure, people were always having sex and there were always sexual perversions. But most kinds of erotic behavior were as closeted as J. Edgar Hoover’s cross-dressing and were considered as kinky as an R. Kelly kiddie party. The 1960’s were a time of open sexual abandon that the world had not seen since the Roman Empire. It all started when the FDA approved the first forms of birth control, which gave women more sexual freedom than at any time in modern history. Phrases like “The Sexual Revolution” and “Free Love” were popularized and became rallying cries. Feminism and Women’s Liberation exploded onto the streets and into our homes and workplaces as revolutionary movements. Women started wearing miniskirts and bikinis, going bra-less and standing up for their rights all across the civilized world. And all of this was happening at a time when my generation was reaching puberty and would soon be able to enjoy the benefits. It was the best possible time to be a horny teenager.
Many men in the Early Baby Boom generation had to fight in the Vietnam War. For others, anti-war movements inspired them to burn their draft cards and run away to Canada. This moral dilemma created a looming fear and dangerous crossroad that divided our country even further. But, as further proof of how lucky we Late Baby Boomers are, the draft ended just as we became eligible. Seriously. Men born after 1954 didn’t have to register for the draft, for the first time since it was instituted. As Maxwell Smart used to say, “Missed it by that much.”
The ’80s and ’90s were a mixed bag for my generation. Our country continued to fight its wars but now did so with a volunteer army. The economy rode out several minor recessions, but we managed to avoid another depression. The AIDS epidemic was horrible, but we had reached the age where most of us had settled into monogamous relationships. The quality of our arts and culture may have waned, but that’s really a matter of opinion.
In 1998, Viagra came on the market. Are you kidding me? At almost the exact moment when Late Baby Boomers are experiencing their first signs of erectile dysfunction, they invent a pill that cures it! Hell, we didn’t even know there was such a thing until they found a way to fix it. It was just accepted that when men reached a certain age that they wouldn’t be able to get it up anymore. This is a condition that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time. My generation was the first to receive the gift of ageless hard-ons for the rest of our lives. I believe, that alone positions mine as the luckiest generation. Well, at least for the men.
And now, as my generation approaches retirement, we hear a lot of rumblings about the Social Security system running out of money. Estimates are that, unless the government makes the necessary reforms, Social Security will not be able to meet its obligations beyond 2034. We Late Baby Boomers will be in our 70s by then and can still expect to receive the bulk of our benefits. Besides, according to research at Berkeley, the average life expectancy for people born between 1957 and 1964 is between 72 and 73 years old. This will probably not come as good news to most of you in that age group, but I find it strangely comforting.
Which brings me to my final thought on the subject. In each generation, it seems that most older people see their world as falling apart or going to hell in a handbasket or whatever apocalyptic metaphor they choose to put on the times they are living in. That being said, it certainly does seem like that now.
In addition to the problems we have always lived with — racial injustice, never-ending wars in the Middle East and increasing nuclear proliferation — we are now faced with an ever increasing list of seemingly insurmountable troubles. There are more homeless Americans since the Great Depression. Life expectancies are going backwards for the first time since the AIDS epidemic. Our government and our populace are more divided than any time since the Civil War. Budgetary cutbacks are being made on environmental causes. Millennials are the first generation to statistically earn less money and to be less likely to own homes than their parents. And (this one blows my mind the most) the number one cause of death for people under fifty in America is opioid abuse. So, as a 60-year-old man with no children, I often take comfort in the thought that this is a good time to be old and childless.
We Late Baby Boomers, like every generation, are members of our own exclusive club — much like religious and ethnic groups, celebrities, athletes, soldiers and cops. We share a unique history and common experiences that bind us together. None of us should ever feel truly alone, because there are so many of us who have lived through the same things. We should have a special handshake or a secret signal or at least a knowing look that we share whenever we meet.
After all, each of us is just a product of our times and I am grateful that I was produced when I was and that I got to live through everything I did. I truly believe, it was the best of times.
As I’ve said, one thing you can always count on is change.
Remember when smoking cigarettes was not only common and socially accepted but was actually considered cool? Even people who knew better and didn’t smoke thought it was cool. Everybody did it everywhere. Now hardly anybody’s allowed to do it anywhere. If you smoke cigarettes, you are shunned, treated like a pariah and probably smell like a dirty ashtray to everyone around you.
Full disclosure: I used to smoke a pack a day. In my defense, I grew up watching old movies with stars like James Dean and Humphrey Bogart, who not only smoked but looked really cool doing it. I recently watched an old rerun of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. His guests were casually bumming cigarettes from each other and smoking throughout the show. You never see that on TV anymore. We’re so down on smoking now, I’m surprised they’re even allowed to show it on old reruns.
When I was a kid, they taught me how to make ashtrays in arts and crafts classes. Can you imagine teaching kids that today? It would be like teaching them how to make margaritas. But I remember sloppily molding clay and unevenly gluing tiles into crappy looking little bowls that my parents were forced to keep on display because I made them. It didn’t matter if they smoked. Every home had to have ashtrays because, sooner or later, somebody who smoked would be coming over.
Not long ago, cars had ashtrays and lighters in them. I miss those things. Even if you didn’t use them for cigarettes, it was very convenient to have a small trash receptacle and red hot electrical burner at your fingertips. They came in handy if you wanted to throw away a chewing gum wrapper or torture someone into ratting out a friend.
People smoked in large, open venues like theaters and restaurants. They smoked in small, confined spaces like offices and elevators. It's hard to imagine now but airplanes used to have smoking sections which were separated from the nonsmoking sections by absolutely nothing. There wasn’t a dividing wall or even a curtain. I remember there being a small plastic card attached to the top of an aisle seat, separating the two sections, and they would move it to accommodate more or fewer smokers. That was it — as if that card had a magical force field that people could pass through but smoke couldn’t.
The smokers were usually grouped in the back of the plane right behind the last row of nonsmokers. But it didn’t matter where you sat because the entire fuselage would fill with smoke. Now, you not only can’t smoke on an airplane or anywhere in an airport, you can’t even smoke within twenty feet of the entrance. Which made me think of inventing a lighter with a tape measure that comes out of the bottom of it. That’s my idea. Don’t steal it.
In some places, like parks and beaches, you’re not allowed to smoke outside anymore. Soon, we probably won’t be able to smoke in our own homes or cars. Did you know that in some states it’s illegal to smoke in your car if there’s a child in it? Of course, there are some social circles where smoking is still prevalent (like Cigar Clubs, AA meetings and the Girl Scouts of America), but for the most part smokers are a dying breed. Pun intended.
Our attitudes toward smoking evolved due to increased awareness but some things that changed were much more subjective. In the 1960s, fashion was turned on its ear when the “mod” look and psychedelic colors came into vogue. Women started wearing their skirts shorter while men started wearing their hair longer. Aspects of those styles have influenced generations ever since, as do most past fashions. But back then there were basically two styles to choose from. You were either hip or you were square. There was no in-between. You either had long hair or you had short hair. You either wore bell bottoms or you wore straight leg pants. All of which was all really code for: You either did drugs or you didn’t.
These days, all styles coexist and anything goes. Which is liberating and wonderful. You can have a gigantic afro or a completely shaved head or anything in between. In the ’70s, the only leading men with bald heads were Yul Brynner and Telly Savalas. It was such an unpopular look that most bald men wore toupees. These were usually obvious and often ridiculous (see Burt Reynolds and William Shatner below), but it was still considered better than being bald. Now, men who have full heads of hair often choose to shave it off because it’s a popular look. Along with every other hairstyle you can imagine. I see people wearing everything from Mohawks left over from the punk rock era to military style buzz cuts. Short hair no longer signifies square. The man bun is fashionable, no matter how much we make fun of it. The Nazi haircut from the ’30s has even made a comeback. Hair can be dyed any color now, including gray. I hope that the irony of young women dyeing their hair gray is not lost on all the older women dyeing their hair to hide the gray. Maybe we should change that old expression, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” to “The hair is always grayer on the other person’s head.”
Who wore it worse?
And while we’re on the subject, why do so many men refuse to change their hairstyles as they grow older? (Not that this phenomenon is exclusive to males but females tend to submit to style changes more willingly.) I’m sure you know people like this. Old hippies who keep their hair long, sometimes wearing it in a ponytail. Or comb-overs that are meant to simulate the hair they once had but aren’t fooling anyone. There are many famous examples: Willie Nelson, Donald Trump, Ted Koppel, and both Lewises — Jerry and Richard. I’m sure these men have been asked, told and pleaded with countless times by their friends and loved ones to change their hair styles. I know I have.
You see, I am one of the men who are guilty of the same stubbornness. I basically have the same poufy haircut that I did in the ’70s. I’ve never been able to bring myself to slick it back. This is probably because one of the first commercial jingles that ever got stuck in my head was “The wet head is dead” for Gillette’s The Dry Look. It seeped into my subconscious at an early age and haunts me to this day. Damn jingles.
“The Dry Look” Commercial:
The first supermodel I can remember was Twiggy in the late ’60s. She became the ideal female body type and changed the way women wanted to look in and out of clothes. Suddenly, every woman was supposed to be impossibly skinny. She was an unrealistic and unhealthy role model who spawned generations of body dysmorphia issues. Today we have gone from one extreme to the other — from Twiggy to Kardashian (see below). Now, instead of wanting to look like an undernourished boy, women want body parts that look like floatation devices (see Nicki Minaj and Amber Rose). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just ass backwards from the way things used to be. The unequivocal answer to the age-old question, “Does my butt look fat in these jeans?” used to be, “Not at all.” Now I believe the correct answer is, “Yeah, baby.”
I’m not saying things were better before or are better now. Obviously, that cuts both ways and is a matter of opinion. It just never ceases to amaze me how much things have changed in the relatively short span of my lifetime. When I look back, it’s like those movies where someone travels into the future and is shocked to find out how much the world has changed. It doesn’t seem so dramatic to us because the changes were gradual. But if you compare the way things were then to the way things are now, it’s like every day is Opposite Day or we are all living in Superman’s Bizarro World.
There have been more changes in my lifetime than I can recall. My memory isn’t what it used to be (and was probably never as good as I like to think). So please, remind me of some of the funny or interesting changes that you remember.