The Way We Were

It’s great that a disproportionate number of millennials follow this blog.  Maybe it’s because at my age- as we used to say in the good old days- I can wax nostalgic.

Used to be, when some guy came walking right at you, waving his hands in the air and shouting, “Yeah, right?  #%&@*!  Know what I’m sayin’?” you knew to cross the street ASAP.  Now he’s probably talking to someone real.  I sure miss that excitement!

Used to be, on a New York subway train, everyone’s eyes were not focused on their smartphones and iPads for the entire trip.  They were riveted instead on the ads for St. John’s University or for McDonald’s posted above the passengers you faced.  Between Manhattan and Queens, you could read those ads a hundred times or more, avoiding eye contact at all costs.

I thought about the distortions of nostalgia yesterday, when a Trump supporter in her 50’s at a Berkeley demonstration said, “I grew up in Berkeley; it was a beautiful place in those days, without all of these violent protests.”  Ah, yes:  no violent protests in Berkeley.  That must be why the Bank of America on Telegraph Avenue finally gave up and replaced all its windows with brick walls.

Sorry- nostalgia shouldn’t be sarcastic.  It should be warm and glowing, self-affirming, a reward for making it through all those challenging times.  Just look out for selective memory’s tendency to distort facts and history, especially if applying nostalgia (many of us do) in deciding how you feel about the present.

As we so often joked amongst ourselves in those golden, giddy, halcyon days, “Nostalgia just ain’t what it used to be.”

Less distorting, I think, is the memory of a style, or a mood, from the old days:  that feeling we had listening to Stairway to Heaven, or the Eagles, or anything from Woodstock.  Digesting the writings of Yevtushenko, Russell, Rilke, Ellison, Brecht, Baldwin and Buckley as we formed our world view.  Except for Bill Cosby, I remember the comedians of those days with special fondness.

Here’s a conversation between Benn and Lora from Fourth World, at a baseball game in the fall of 2196:

“Say, Lora.  You can stop studying now.  Take a break and watch the game,” Benn pulled her cap back up with a grin.

“That’s all right.  This is really interesting, multi-species therapeptides boosting athletic performance.”  She read in silence for several seconds, then smiled and pointed at the program screen.  “Say, you should enjoy this, Benn- there’s a quote from Lupe Rincon- you know, the retired first baseman who became a comedian?  He admits to using illegal peptides and signing up for a detox program:  ‘No twelve-step program for me:  I joined a thirty-six step program to quit drugs!’  Then he says, ‘One step forward, two steps back!’”

“Ha!  Hahah!  Ba-da-Boom!”

Badaboom?  A crash of drums:  a theatrical sound from twentieth-century vaudeville.  Poor Benn.  He really loves these corny, old-fashioned jokes, thought Lora, a feeling of warmth touching her cheeks.

See, she really does have a sense of humor after all, thought Benn with equal affection.

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