Near me today all the movie theaters are jammed together into structures called “plexes” of some sort or another. Basically this is a large building with a ticket seller at the entrance, food in the lobby and 10-20 small movie “theaters.” Clearly there is nothing theater like about these partitions. They are simply rooms with tiered seating and a large screen in the front. Two exit signs mark the fire escape routes. The movies are run by computer controlled by one “projectionist” hidden somewhere in the place.
Going to the movies was once an event to be savored. Theaters themselves were extravagant displays of over the top decoration. Heavy velvet curtains hid the screen until the start of the movie when they were opened with a dramatic flourish. A uniformed usher showed you to a seat using a flashlight if the film had already begun. One of my friends in college paid for her room and board by ushering in a Boston movie theater.
Decorum dictated behavior once you were seated. If anyone was disruptive, the usher would appear and escort the miscreant out of the theater. It was acceptable to glare at anyone talking around you without fear of being cursed out. The floors were not sticky with spilled drinks and mashed popcorn as I find many movie theaters today. While seats did not recline, have cup holders or any other accoutrements, they were velvet covered, plush and very comfortable. And it was understood that if you wished to “neck,” the back row was the only acceptable place to do so. Of course, the usher was also watching to make sure you remained sufficiently appropriate.
What I remember most fondly about the movies was the tension on a date about the center arm rest. Did you share it? Should you make your hand sort of available to be held without being overly obvious? Sometimes that dynamic was more engaging than the movie itself. Still movie theater movies were a safe first date. Not like the drive-in. But that’s another story.
People of my generation continue to be the main users of print newspapers. I suspect this goes back to our childhood when we were given “My Weekly Reader: The Junior Newspaper” each week in our classrooms. We were also regularly required to bring in an article of our choosing from the newspaper to share in the segment of class called “Current Events.” In 7th grade, we were given $100 in imaginary money to “purchase” shares of stock. We then were expected to track the performance of “our” stock every week by looking it up in the newspaper.
For most of my elementary school years, the only things I knew about current events came from newspapers. Our town had two, one in the morning and one in the evening. The evening one was more labor friendly and was aimed at workers coming home after their jobs. The morning one was more conservative and was aimed at business men getting ready to face the day. While each reported similar news, the evening one also seemed to include more crime stories. The morning paper had the stock performance charts. Neither was as pointedly biased as several cable television channels are today, however.
So newspaper reading was purposefully instilled as a habit from my earliest school days. No on-line source still satisfies me as much as opening the morning “New York Times” and settling down with my coffee and toast. No on-line source has ever replaced the pleasure of getting the crossword puzzle to start my day. And no television newscast allows me to skip over stories that don’t interest me. I may be one of a dying breed, but I will go down reading my paper.
Despite their invention in the mid 1950’s, Xerox machines were definitely a luxury and not part of ordinary life. I graduated from college in 1969, and my papers were still being duplicated with carbon paper. Even when I began teaching, using mimeograph machines was the only way to reproduce classroom materials. Not until the late 1970’s did I work somewhere with access to a Xerox machine. And at the college where I was doing graduate work, each copy was expensive. I remember having to pay 25 cents for a copy at first. Since at that time 25 cents was the equivalent of $1.11 in today’s money, this was a large expense for a graduate student. I used the Xerox very sparingly, and more often just copied material by hand onto index cards from the sources I needed to cite.
Doing research on index cards also shows my age. Today one can collect images, data and information in files on the computer. But when I was researching, I wrote every citation down on a card and then shuffled the cards until I was satisfied with the order I needed, whether alphabetical or chronological.
Amazingly, I now have a machine which cost me $89 which can fax, print,scan and copy. I pay only for the ink and the paper. No one could have made me believe that one day I would be able to research at home and duplicate my own material. And my machine doesn’t even need quarters!
Even posting this image of the mimeograph machine reminds me of the particular smell it gave off. If you are old enough to remember the machine, I bet the you would still recognize the odor if you ran across it. Since we needed more than one copy of a worksheet for much elementary school assignments, we had to use the mimeograph machine.
Fortunately, I rarely had to make my own stencils to use. There were many ready made mimeograph sheets available. But sometimes I had to make my own. I typed them on the stencil material which produced the image in reverse on the back of the master. Then the master was carefully separated from the back and attached to the large roller of the machine. Paper was inserted on the right and then you cranked the roller to duplicate as many sheets as you needed.
What could go wrong? You might die from the fumes of the thing to start with. There were no OSHA regulations in those days, and I am sure that the ink used to reproduce the stencil was toxic. Then you would have the challenge of attaching the master very carefully so that it lay evenly and smoothly across the roller. A slight wobble produced disastrous results. And of course, like most teachers I would wait until the morning I needed the sheets to run them off. So we had to wait while each of us carefully attached a stencil and ran off their copies.
Do I miss the thing? Not at all. By the time I returned to teaching the Xerox had been invented. Of course, it brought a myriad of its own problems from paper jams to toner spill. But at least, unless when it was overheating, it didn’t send out toxic fumes!
Returning to the more pleasant topic of things that have disappeared from common use, I remember carbon paper. It is difficult to remember back before Xerox machines or the ability to save, store and print documents at will. The only way you could make a copy of something was to insert a piece of carbon paper between your first piece of paper and the second piece. Then you had to carefully keep everything together as you threaded the trio into your typewriter. When you struck the typewriter key with enough force, the carbon paper transferred a bit of black ink to the underneath sheet while the top sheet got the ink from the inked ribbon.
If this sounds tedious, it was. However, it was a vast improvement over the century before. If you have read Melville’s story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” you will know that lawyers and other paper heavy professions hired men(not women)to hand copy each document that needed to be duplicated. This was the tradition that had come down through centuries. While printing presses allowed multiple copies to be made of books–a vast improvement over hand copying each book–it was of no use for making one copy of a will or deed.
Carbon paper was as messy as it sounds. It also was of no use in correcting errors. Even if you could use White-Out to correct errors on the original page, you had to repeat the correction on the carbon copy. Now I guess it is a novelty item. It is still for sale I learned when reading about it. But in my college days it was a necessity. A dirty necessity, but needed nonetheless.
When I was a child, June 14 was celebrated as Flag Day, and I remembered that this morning when I noticed the date. I was very murky about what that day was supposed to celebrate, and I am quite sure I was never taught its significance. Researching it now, it apparently was to note the adoption of the first flag for the United States by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. That was a little premature, since the Revolutionary War didn’t end until 1783, but they were optimistic enough to design a flag.
Unfortunately, many people have confused caring about the country with carrying about the flag. That led to outrage in my college years when protestors set fire to flags. People were also appalled by pants being patched with flag patches. My country’s leader is almost apoplectic about athletes not standing as the national anthem is sung while looking at the flag. Some say that old flags can’t be discarded but must be ceremonially buried. There are organizations in the United States that will collect old flags and ceremonially destroy them for you.
To me a flag is a symbol, not the thing itself. Much more disrespect is shown to the values of the United States daily by our leader than is ever shown when a flag is discarded. Locking up refugee children apart from their parents, for instance, is a grave demonstration of disrespect. Flying an American flag over the lockup doesn’t bless the actions.
To the extent that the flag reminds Americans of the ideals of democracy, I am glad to fly one from my front porch and I do. But don’t think I expect you to genuflect before it. It is just a symbol, not the real truth of freedom. Kneeling during a flag ceremony is a genuine act of freedom for an American. And it is done respectfully, in silence with a bowed head of mourning. Because like those first designers of the flag they are protesting against repressive government actions. Not the British this time, but their own leaders who sometimes act without justice under the banner of the flag.
Smoking was ordinary in the 1960’s and 70’s, but apparently sales showed that not enough women were smoking. The tobacco company began a campaign designed to appeal to women. Supposedly. The early ads showed women in the early 20th century being chastised for smoking. Now, apparently, women had “come a long way, baby” and could smoke just as freely as men.
This ad is clearly trying to attract another market segment, black women. This woman is meant, I suppose, to represent a very strong rebellious woman, with an Afro and Afro-centric colors of clothing. This ad probably ran in Ebony or Jet, rather than in women’s magazines such as Good Housekeeping. Ads were still drastically segregated, and people of color were not seen in ads for “general (i.e. white) audiences.” But that’s another post!
I never took up smoking because of a childhood deep inhalation of a neighbor’s cigarette when I was six. I promptly threw up, curing me forever of any desire to smoke. But most of my friends smoked. Cafes, restaurants and bars were thick with smoke. To be an intellectual almost demanded that you smoke. No one except the tobacco companies knew that cigarettes were both addictive and lethal.
Today I cringe as I think about both the ad campaign with its patronizing use of the word “baby” and the emphysema and lung cancer rampant in people my age. But we didn’t know about the danger in the smoke. And it hurt us.