Remember When People Ate Apples?

Remember when people ate apples and pears instead of pomegranates and star fruit?

I do.

There used to be like four fruits.  Apples, oranges, pears…um, bananas.  I don’t know.  Maybe there were more.  Oh, in the summer there were peaches and nectarines and plums.  I liked them all.  Except pears.  And anything with a brown spot.  I would open the refrigerator and balk and brown-spotted fruit, exclaiming, “Ugh!  I’m not eating that!  It has a brown spot!”  And my mother would shout from the living room, “There’s nothing wrong with it – just eat it.  You kids are so spoiled.”

Peaches were my favorite.  I liked them hard – almost not ripe.  A rock-hard peach with no brown spots was the greatest five minutes in the world (at least at that time in my life).  The only thing that could ruin such a perfect peach was when part of the pit would come off with the bite.

My second favorite fruit was a nectarine.  Same criteria as the peach, except, obviously, no fuzz.

Next came plums.  Same criteria as for peaches and nectarines.  A soft plum was like biting into a water balloon. 

After this triage of summer fruits I would have to say my next favorite fruit – a distant, distant fourth place – was the apple.  But I did not like the McIntosh, or Red Delicious, or even Golden Delicious.  The only apple I liked was the Granny Smith.  And these I also liked hard and crispy with no brown spots.  I was told, however, that Granny Smith apples would give me a bellyache, and should be used only for baking pies.  So I had to eat the McIntosh, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious, prentending to like them because that was what society expected of me.

There were other fruits but I did not like them that much.  Oranges were okay but hard to peel and gave me sticky hands.  Grapes and cherries were better than starving but were somehow unsatisfying, being the potato chips of the fruit world.  Watermelon I despised.  To this day I cannot figure out why watermelon is considered such a treat.

As I emerged from childhood I learned of other fruits.  When I got into high school I was introduced to kiwi fruit.  In college I heard about mangoes.  During law school I even ate something called a rhubarb.  Peruse the produce section of your local supermarket and you see a panoply of exotic fruits, including the biblical pomegranate and fake-looking starfruit.  I have not yet partaken of most of these new fruits.  But if I do I will be sure to check for brown spots.

Remember When Only Infants Had to Ride in Car Seats?

Remember when only infants had to ride in those specially-made car seats?

I do.

Actually, what I remember is riding in a car.  I have no memory of riding in a car seat.  That is because only infants had to ride in car seats.  By the time you were old enough to remember something so humiliating, you no longer had to do it.  Nature’s built-in protection.

Even the seat belt was an imposition.  In the back seat in some of the older cars the belts and buckles would get stuck in the crack, and you would rip that thin layer of skin that cover the base of your fingernails trying to extract the belts.  Your hands would be covered in crumbs and unidentifiable grime by the time the safety device was located.  And wearing the belt was uncomtable.  The lap belts cut into my abdomen, and the shoulder belts cut into my neck.  I didn’t know why we had to wear these uncomfortable belts.  We hardly ever got into accidents.

I heard that today the hospital staff will not let the parents take a baby home unless they verify that the parents have the appropriate car seat installed.  My parents took me home in a laundry basket.  This was during the energy crisis and they wanted to double up on errands – do load of laundry, pick up newborn.

Today, some states, like New York, require that an child ride in a car seat until age 8.  I distinctly remember being in the first grade, riding in the back seat of the car wearing jeans and one of those life preserver jackets Marty McFly wore in Back to the Future, and wanting to look cool by sitting with one foot up on the seat so that my bent knee was pointing straight up at the ceiling.  I would not have felt very cool doing this in a child car seat like the one pictured above.

But they say that the child car seats are necessary because kids, being smaller, can slip out from underneath the regular seat belts.  I guess kids today just aren’t eating enough.  If they were more obese they wouldn’t slip out.  Then they would look cool.

Remember When Playgrounds Were Not Made of Plastic?

Remember when playgrounds were not made entirely of plastic?

I do.

The playground at my elementary school was made of wood and metal and old tires.  It had a number of sections.  There was a multi-story maze made entirely of wooden planks.  Many of these planks were splintered and charred as if someone had tried to burn them.  The charred pieces that fell to the ground were good for writing with.

The designer of the playground had taken eight or ten large rubber tires – like monster-truck-size tires -cut them in half, and placed them in a row inside the playground so that a child could crawl underneath them like a tunnel.  You could also run on top of them and jump on passerby.

In the southeast quadrant stood a three-story rusty metal cylinder in the shape of  rocket.  Children could climb up to the top of it with only cold metal rungs to keep them from falling to death or paralysis.  At the top of the rocket there was the opening to another tunnel.  This one went horizontal and was made of the same wooden planks as the charred and splintery maze.  Sitting in that tunnel three stories above the world was the only moment of zen I knew in K through 5.  I don’t remember what the other end of the floating tunnel connected to.  Maybe nothing but a certain death.

You are probably imagining the playground as having a the stereotypical concrete floor.  But the designer was not that sadistic.  Instead, the playground was filled with millions upon millions of little beige pebbles.  These pebbles were supposed to make the playground soft to play on.  The pebbles felt especially soft when they got into your sneakers, and you dropped from the monkey bars, driving the pebbles upon impact into the soles of your feet.

That playground has since been torn down and replaced with a colorful playground made of plastic and resting on rubber.  No charred splinters of wood.  No rusty metal.  No stray nails.  No pebbles.  No tires.  I am sure that the kids are much safer when they play on it during the day.  And I am sure that their parents sleep much better at night.

But I wonder…had I spent my formative recesses on the safe and colorful playground instead of the dangerous splinter trap, would I still remember it today?

Remember When Computer Printers Printed on That Paper That Had Perforated Edges With Holes?

Remember when computer printers used that paper with the perforated edges with the holes?

I do.

The inside of a printer was a mystery to me but I imagined that the paper was threaded through  spokes, and that was what the holes were for.  All I know is that these edges made a big mess when they were ripped off and discarded.  A wastepaper basket overflowing with those edges was a common sight.Old Computer Paper

The printer used to make loud screeching sound as it spit out this paper.  And there was only one kind of print.  In middle school we spent three class periods making a missile out of ASCII characters.

Also, the individual pages of paper had not been separated.  The edges were perforated and the pages folded over each other like an accordion.  When the paper came out of the printer you ripped off what you needed along the perforation, like toilet paper.

Of course I witnessed almost all of this from afar, as I did not have a computer at that time.  These were the days when very few families had a computer.  But we all knew those few special ones, the anointed ones who could be counted to bring in a dozen connected sheets that read “Happy Birthday” when hung horizontally across the top of the blackboard.

It has been a long time since printer pages were perforated and had edges with holes.  Today you can get a laser printer for less than the price of dinner for two at a moderately priced restaurant.  The pages are printed in any type, with any picture.  If you want a missile, you just find a photograph of a missile and select “print” from the pull-down menu.  And the pages print out so fast and easily that you can do your editing on a hard copy if you want.  The wastepaper baskets are filled with these discarded drafts.

But at least they are no longer filled with the discarded edges with the holes.

Remember When “You Can’t Do That On Television” Was On Television?

Remember when that show You Can’t Do That On Television was on Nickelodeon?

I do.

There have been shows where kids make fun of their parents.  There have been shows where kids put on comedy sketches.  There have been shows where kids are supposed to be in “reality”.

But there has never been another show where green slime fell on someone’s head every time they said “I don’t know.”  This was a show without equal.ycdtot

Imagine that every time you called the Department of Motor Vehicles and someone who was supposed to know something said “I don’t know” got green slime dumped on their head.

Politicians must have been religious watcher of YCDTOT because they never say “I don’t know”.

The show was the most brilliant display of what I call repeated punchlines.  Every episode took a group of these kids and rotated them through the same settings: the living room with the parents, the classroom, the arcade, the fast food restaurant, the summer camp.  Each of these settings was hosted by the same repulsive adult.  For example, the proprietor of the fast food restaurant was Barth, and every time the teenage patrons alluded to the fact that the burgers were made of roadkill, he would say, “D’uhhh I heard that.”  But you had to hear to really know how effective it was.

Blip.  Ross.  The Executioner who would say “Ready…aim…fi-” and then the executionee would say “Wait wait wait” and the Executioner would say “What is it dis time?”  These are the memories that get me through the cold, cold world of adulthood.

And now.  What have kids to look to now?  Yes there are more shows.  Yes there is more variety.  Yes there is more of everything on television.

But there are no shows where people get slimed for saying “I don’t know”.

Remember When People Listened to CDs?

Remember when people listened to their music on compact discs?

I do.

The compact disc, called a “CD” for convenience purposes, was actually an improvement from an older technology, called tapes.  The tapes were, well, a bunch of tape spooled inside a little plastic cartridge.  If you did not like what you were listening to, the tape had to be fastfowarded or rewinded to the desired location.  CDs offered something new: you could skip directly to the place, called a “track,” where the desired song resided.

I bought my first CDs with money I’d earned from painting my aunt’s deck furniture.  I bought the Use Your Illusion double-disc album by Guns ‘n’ Roses.  With giddiness I skipped right to the songs that had the most vulgar lyrics.  What liberty I felt at not being burdened with fastforwarding a tape.

The things was, you could also fast-forward the CD if you wanted to.   By holding in the button that was used to skip to the next track, I could play the music at double-time, and with the voices sounding like the Chipmunks.

The only catch to the CDs was the sensitive surface that held the music.  I would gaze at my reflection on the magical underside.  How did such a smooth surface hold music?  It must have all been with lasers.  Lasers explained everything.  With utmost deliberation and care I would take the CD out of its case and convey it to the top of the boom box, snap it in, and close the cover.  At once the CD would come to life, spinning and spinning, awaiting my command.  I was a hominid discovering fire.

Then one day in college my friend told me about an “mp3”.  He said it was the greatest.  He emailed me a link to an mp3  file – the file itself was too big to email.  I downloaded and listened and the world was never the same again.  But going from CDs to mp3’s was somehow just not the same as going from tapes to CDs.  I had become jaded by technological change.

And now even children have devices the size of a stamp which hold four million songs.  Those children probably don’t even know what a stamp is, either.

Remember When You Didn’t See Christmas Decorations Until After Thanksgiving?

Remember when you did not see any Christmas decorations in stores until after Thanksgiving?

I do.

There were limitations to the shopping seasons.  No red hearts until February 1.  No pastel colors and chocolate bunnies until April 1.  Red, white and blue began last week of June.  October was all about Halloween.  Then the Thanksgiving stuff came out as the costumes were put away.  And then after Thanksgiving, the big one, the big shopping Kahuna got trotted to make us remember that the only true way to show you love someone is to buy them things.

I remember the year my parents made me freeze my rump off at the Thanksgiving Day parade.  Santa Claus on his sleigh was the final float.  I thought about how clever it was of the parade people to insert a smooth transition to the holiday season.

But smooth transitions are, evidently, a thing of the past.  There was nothing smooth about the purple shiny tree I saw parked in the vestibule at Borders today.  No warning, no apology.  Just fake shiny trees and a wall of stuffed reindeer.  Isn’t there a law against this?  Isn’t there something in the Constitution about not being to display Christmas merchandise until the first Tuesday after the first Monday in December?  Are the stores really that shameless that they will play that Christmas card as early and as often as possible?

Sometimes I want to curse the corporations’ dilution of the Christmas spirit, blast the marketers’ commercialization of a solemn celebration, and indict the retailers’ sickening zeal to cash in at the expense of the defined seasons that gave structure to our chaotic lives.

And then I remember that I’m Jewish.

Remember When We Got Dittos Instead of Photocopies?

Remember when the teacher handed out “dittos” instead of xerox copies?

I do.

They never explained why the dittos were in purple ink.  It was just another one of the many things you have to accept as a child without question.

They also never explained why it was called a ditto.  I guess that’s easier for kids to learn than mimeograph, even though I think I would have fancied saying mimeograph.

The dittos came from a mysterious place in the school.  I never saw anyone pick them.  They just materialized.  I had a feeling that some of my fellow students knew where dittos came from but did not tell as part of some inside joke.

Sometimes the fresh dittos would be hot to the touch when handed out.  This led me to believe that they were manufactured close to the sun, perhaps in Florida where my grandparents lived.

I also noticed that sometimes the ink was of varying darkness.  Getting a light dittos was a mild insult, I felt.  I did not care to color in light dittos.  But I also did not like it when the purple ink ran, as if the lines were smudged.  That I also found offensive.  How dare they ask me to color in a smudgy ditto.

When I think about the dittos I picture scenes like “Winter Fun” or “Thanksgiving Dinner” where we would have to color in a setting of nice kids in approved activities.  This was supposed to show us what real life was supposed to be about.  As if a ditto could compete with television.

And then one day the dittos were gone.  I don’t remember the exact day the purple ink turned to black.  I just noticed that it had been sometime since I’d seen a ditto.  I pictured the ditto machine – wherever they kept it – sitting alone, unused, reminiscing about better days.


Remember When Plain Cream Cheese Was the Only Cream Cheese?

Remember when there was only one flavor of cream cheese?

I do.

When I was growing up we got bagels every Sunday morning.  My favorite bagel was cinnamon raisin.  For spreads our choices were butter and cream cheese.  Cream cheese came in only one flavor—plain.  The plain cream cheese came in two types of consistency: the smooth “Philadelphia” kind and the whipped “TempTee” kind.  I preferred the whipped kind, but would take the smooth kind if that’s all there was.  Beggars cannot be choosers.

Then one day I heard that there was a “vegetable” cream cheese.  I almost retched at the news.  Why would someone want to eat cream cheese that tasted like broccoli and carrots?

And they did not stop there.  Now they have salmon cream cheese, hummus cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese, and chocolate cream cheese.  They have every flavor under the rainbow.  I’m waiting for them to come out with a cream cheese that tastes like butter. 

This variety sounded so weird to me.  But it turned I was the one who was weird.  Because no one can believe that I choose plain cream cheese when so many flavors are available.  My friends are embarrassed to eat with me.  They let me sit at the table with my plain cream cheese but I’m not allowed to talk.

I wouldn’t have anything to say, anyway.  I would be too busy eating my bagel and plain cream cheese.  And enjoying it.