Trick Or Treating In The ’60s

We’re getting ready for Beggars’ Night in Columbus, but that’s just part of what has become an increasingly big, and prolonged, celebration of Halloween in America.

In German Village, we’ve already had an adult trick or treat night that gave “grown-ups” a chance to don costumes, act like kids, and go to designated locations where they could have special drinks and eat Halloween food.  If you turn on your TV, you’ll see lots of commercials about preparing special Halloween-themed foods, decorating your house with spiders, fake cobwebs, and other scary stuff, and making or buying elaborate get-ups for your kids.  It all reflects the reality that, every year, Americans spend more and more on Halloween.   

f22c4ef1e347c837bc8f82d4dbf0581aIt was . . . different during the ’60s.  Halloween was almost exclusively a kid’s holiday in those days; I don’t remember adults being very involved or all that interested in participating themselves.   Most of us kids came up with our own costume ideas and made them ourselves, because there weren’t a lot of other options — you could buy a cheap costume from the local store, but it was impossible to see or even breathe in the hard plastic mask with a slit for the mouth and little holes for the eyes that was always of the package, and the flimsy bodysuit part of the costume was ripped to shreds almost immediately unless you stood perfectly still, like the unfortunate kids in the photo above.  After one year where I, too, went as Batman and wandered around with a sweating face, unable to see or make myself heard clearly, I decided that the homemade costume route was definitely the way to go.

I don’t remember much about the costumes I made, except that they were pretty simple.  One year UJ, Cath and I went as three of the four Monkees — I think I was Mickey Dolenz, my favorite Monkee — but our costumes didn’t matter much because it was unseasonably cold for trick or treating that year and Mom made us bundle up to the point you couldn’t see our Monkee outfits, anyway.  One year I was a pirate, one year I donned a jersey and went as a generic “football player,” and another year — I’m embarrassed to admit — I went as a “bum,” putting on some beat-up clothing, a battered hat, and smearing some of Mom’s mascara on my chin to give the appearance of unshaven beard stubble.  The hobo outfit was common in that pre-PC era and was an easy costume to make and blessedly mask-free, but I’m guessing that nobody goes trick or treating as a “bum” these days.

That’s one of the many ways in which Halloween has changed since I was a kid.  One thing that hasn’t changed:  kids still want chocolate to put into their trick or treat sack.  No apples or popcorn balls, please!

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A Defense Of Fingernail Biting

I ran across this piece in the New York Times in defense of biting your fingernails, and I immediately thought of Grandma Webner — perhaps the most resolute opponent of fingernail biting in the history of mankind.  She regularly hectored UJ and me about our nail-biting habits, even to the point of mocking, with a grimace, the hands-in-mouth pose of the hapless nail-biter.

A defense of fingernail biting?  Grandma would scoff at the very notion.

1000-woman-biting-nailsThe Times piece makes a reasonable case, tracing nail-biting back to Cleanthes of Assos, a Stoic philosopher, and deftly addressing the arguments that nail-biting is gross and unhygienic.  And yet, the writer goes too far in justifying the conduct of many of those of us who just can’t resist chewing on our fingertips.  She concludes that “nail-biting pairs best not with tension and anxiety but with the moody, concentric revolutions of meditative thought” and adds:  “The urge itself may be faintly animalistic, but answering it can give rise to the kind of mental wandering that makes us more human. It’s freeing and creative, more about process than results. If the point were only to shorten your fingernails, clippers would do — but clippers are regimented and mechanical, while nail-biting is, literally, a manual art. It’s personal, bespoke, precise: You have to bite just the right nail, just the right amount. The method is traditional, and the materials couldn’t be more locally sourced. It’s the ultimate handicraft.”

Grandma worked hard to get me to stop biting my fingernails, and now Kish is the last line of fingernail defense.  With their aid and counsel, I’ve managed to stop biting my fingernails as a matter of course, and to reduce temptation at an absolute minimum I keep nail clippers at the ready in convenient places so I can always give a tempting nail a quick trim.  But when a key sporting event is on the line, I still feel those fingers reflexively reaching upward and my teeth preparing to render a satisfying snick as they chop through the keratin at a moment of maximum uncertainty.

In my case, at least, fingernail biting is clearly associated with tension and anxiety, not “the moody, concentric revolutions of meditative thought.”  It’s an old childhood habit that emerges anew at times of stress, and when the ballgame is over I still feel a twinge of shame that I’m not more disciplined and, frankly, grown-up about it.

Grandma Webner had a lasting impact.

78

6011_hamburg_07Today is John Lennon’s birthday.  One half of the greatest songwriting teams in the history of music would have turned 78 today, if he had not been felled by a lunatic’s bullet and had survived the ravages of early old age.

78 is an interesting number with a distinctive musical element to it, for those of us of a particular age.  When I was growing up, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were standing, alone and unchallenged, at the absolute pinnacle of popular music, we had a phonograph that had four speeds — 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 — so you could change the revolutions per minute of the turntable depending on the kind of record you were playing.  My parents actually had some old swing era records that played at 78 rpm, but of course the Beatles singles were 45s, and the Beatles albums, where the band really broke through the barriers surrounding popular music and changed music forever, were played at 33 1/3.  We played those Beatles records over and over, and even though I’ve heard every song more than a thousand times — no exaggeration — they all still sound as fresh and great as they did when I first heard them on an AM radio.

I never understood why turntables had variable speeds and why different records were recorded to be played at different speeds — but still, even today, 16, 33 1/3, 45, and 78 remain almost mystical musical numbers for me.  I really would have liked for John Lennon to have made it to 78; unfortunately, he never had the chance to make it to 45.

What a waste.

Birdbaths And Breadboxes

The other day I was out for a walk and saw a birdbath.  As I walked by, I thought:  boy, you don’t many birdbaths these days — even though they were a common feature that you saw in people’s yards when I was growing up.

It made me think about other once-common things that have pretty much vanished from the everyday scene.  Like breadboxes, for example.  When I was a kid, we had a wooden breadbox in our kitchen.  Every house seemed to have one.  In our case, it was part of a decorated matched set with the flour and sugar and coffee containers, and when you wanted to get the Wonder Bread to make your peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich you went to the breadbox, flipped down the front lid, took out the bread in its plastic wrapping with the red, yellow and blue balloons, and made the sandwich on the back part of the flipped-down lid.  I’m not sure whether breadboxes were supposed to really serve any meaningful function in terms of keeping bread from going stale, or whether people just wanted to have a central place to store their bread.  In any case, nobody puts a breadbox on their kitchen counter anymore, I doubt if anyone sells breadboxes anymore, and I imagine if you gave a breadbox to somebody under 35 they would have no idea what it was.  At some point, Americans collectively made the decision that it was better to put bread in the refrigerator, and breadboxes went into the dustbin of history.

Breadboxes.  Rotary telephones.  Rabbit ear interior TV antennas and elaborate TV antennae on rooftops.  Fancy silver tea sets, always slightly tarnished, on dining room tables.  Elaborate ashtrays on coffee tables and end tables and standing cigarette lighters. They’ve all been left behind as America has moved on and tastes have changed.

And birdbaths have been left behind, too.  Which makes me wonder:  where do birds go to freshen up these days?

 

Pattern-Challenged

Some people are good at seeing patterns. I’m not. In fact, I stink at it. I never could find the hidden pictures in the Highlights for Children magazines in the dentist’s waiting room, and I don’t really see either the young woman or the old crone, or the vace and two faces, either.

So when I passed this sign on a walk through downtown Boise it took me a while to figure out that it was supposed to reflect a ram. An apparently very sad, gloomy ram, but a ram nevertheless.

Why would anyone want a gloomy ram as their business logo? Beats me! But it you did, why not just have a picture of the ram that even pattern-challenged people like me can recognize?

NASA Naming Rights

The Washington Post is reporting that NASA is considering the possibility of selling naming rights to its rockets and spacecraft.  As part of that process, NASA also is thinking about loosening restrictions on astronauts in a bid to make them more accessible and known to the public — the kind of figures that might appear on cereal boxes.

7864011894_d67acabbf4It’s all about branding and (of course!) money.  The consideration process is in its very early stages, with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announcing at a recent meeting of the NASA advisory council that he will be creating a committee to study the issues.  The Post quotes Bridenstine as saying:  “Is it possible for NASA to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to its spacecraft, or the naming rights to its rockets?  I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: Is it possible? The answer is: I don’t know, but we want somebody to give us advice on whether it is.”

The kind of commercialization that is being contemplated would be an abrupt turn for NASA, which has studiously avoided any action that might be seen as an endorsement of one product or another.  And, there are challenging questions about how it would all work — and how astronauts being paid to appear on commercials, or wearing uniforms adorned with the patches of sponsor a la NASCAR drivers, would be treated under the governmental ethics laws.

When I first read of what NASA was considering, I rebelled against the very thought of corporate naming rights or corporate logos on spacecraft.  I’ve always like the purity of the white rockets and the simple white spacesuits, adorned only with an American flag and a NASA emblem, and it irks me that buildings built with public funds, like sports stadiums, can be rebranded with the name of a corporation that throws in a few million after the building has been completed.  But there’s no doubt about it — that’s just the world that we live in these days.

I also think that if selling corporate naming rights helps NASA get the money it needs to reenergize the manned space program, so that we can finally move to the Moon and Mars and beyond, I’m willing to endure rockets and spacecraft and astronaut suits that are plastered with stickers.  I also think it would be good for the country to have kids wanting to be astronauts again, as many kids did when I was growing up.  In those days, astronauts were the biggest heroes and celebrities around, and they stood for many of the qualities that we prize — bravery, fortitude, and coolness under stress, among others.  It wouldn’t be a bad thing, either, to put people who have gone to college and received advanced degrees into our firmament of national celebrities and aspirational figures for kids, right up there with hip-hop artists and professional athletes and reality TV stars.

So I say let NASA study the issue, and then move forward in a way that puts space back into the public eye and public mind.  I’ll put up with a few corporate logos along the way.

Burt’s Best

I was sorry to read of Burt Reynolds’ passing today.  He was a huge Hollywood star in his heyday, but he never seemed to take himself, or his acting ability, too seriously — which is an all-too-rare quality in the film and television industry these days.

longest-yeard-470x350Reynolds’ death has caused some people to debate what was his best movie.  I think Deliverance is great — and Dueling Banjos clearly was the single best song — but for my money the original version of The Longest Yard can’t be beat.  It came out when I was in high school, and it combined everything that would appeal to an adolescent boy — sophomoric humor and pranks, football and football players, a ridiculously implausible plot, crotch hits to bad guys, and the use of Burt Reynolds’ overwhelming sex appeal to convince the warden’s pasty-faced, beehived secretary (played wonderfully by Bernadette Peters in one of her first big roles) to part with some much-needed game film.  In fact, you can argue that no single movie is more calculated to appeal to teenage males.  And watching it, even now, remains a guilty pleasure.

RIP, Burt Reynolds, aka Paul Crewe.  Adolescent boys of the ’70s salute you.