California Forum

On the lighter side: The marvels of an older generation

As I get older, and totter ever closer to the grave, I am occasionally reminded that my generation is being replaced by a collection of morons.

Make that “a collection of morons younger than me.”

This notion was reinforced the other day on Page 2 of This Very Newspaper. There was an item about somebody in Maine putting up an 1893 recording for auction. The writer, who I’m assuming is just about old enough to legally drive but too young to legally drink happy-hour beverages or come in out of the rain, reported the recording “can be played only on a cylinder player that was a predecessor to phonographs, which played flat vinyl discs (emphasis added).”

Hey, Sparky! Phonographs still do play flat vinyl discs! They’re called “records”!

Now, it is not entirely the writer’s fault. He clearly did not receive an adequate education, particularly when it comes to history. Schools were better in my day. I know this because I spent much of my youth in schools, and spend virtually no time in schools now. And I probably would if they were any good.

At any rate, it occurred to me that members of our generation have a duty to instruct, edify and generally wise up the snot-nosed punks who are by-and-large running things these days. So I have compiled a list of some things that younger people might not be aware ever existed, or have only a hazy idea of what function they performed.

VCRs. (This stood for “Video Cassette Recorders,” or “Very Crusty Rabbits,” I forget which.) These were machines that you hooked up to your television. Then you watched it blink “12:00” in green numerals for a few days. Then your brother-in-law came over and showed you how you could insert “videotapes” into the VCR, so you could see television shows and movies you may have missed while waiting for your brother-in-law to come over. The tapes were specially designed to record all but the last 10 minutes of the show you wanted to see. There was a variation of VCRs called “Beta.” Everyone smart enough to have bought a Beta machine was eventually elected to Congress or the Legislature.

8-tracks. This was a system of listening to music that became quite popular in the 1960s. It consisted of a metal box that you mounted to the dashboard of your 1965 Ford Falcon. Actually, you didn’t mount it. Your buddy who sold it to you (and who for some reason always had a bunch of 8-track players in the trunk of his car) came over and mounted it for you. Usually after permanently disconnecting your turn signals.

Once installed, you inserted an 8-track tape. This allowed you to listen to an entire Strawberry Alarm Clock album, with only four long interruptions while the machine changed tracks. Then the tape broke. This was no problem, since your buddy had 16 more copies of the same tape in his trunk.

The 8-track player required that you remove your car’s back seat to install the mammoth faux-walnut stereo speakers you borrowed from your sister’s high-fi system. But it was a small price to pay for the pleasure of driving down the street sharing your musical tastes with everyone else, including the deaf.

Telephones. Telephones were the forerunners of the modern cellphone. By comparison, they were primitive affairs. They were connected to a wall. You could not “tweet,” “blog,” “friend” or “follow” on them. Nor could you do calculus, read The New York Times, or find the quickest route to Amarillo, Texas.

Mostly all you could do is call someone, although there was a lady you could call to find out what time it was in case you didn’t believe the VCR. She was a lousy conversationalist. There were also vast herds of creatures called “telephone operators,” but nowadays you pretty much have to go to a national park to see one.

And there were things called “telegrams,” which to be truthful were before my time but which I’ve seen in movies. These apparently consisted of a machine clicking and clacking at a small office near the railroad station. After that, someone would come to your house or telephone you with a message that he almost certainly made up out of spite, or meant as a joke. Thank God we don’t have that kind of stuff on the Web.

There are a lot more marvels of our generation that young people don’t know about, and barely exist today. And if I remember them, I’ll let you know, by Pluto! Wait, I remember. That was a planet.

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