Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sixty years ago . . .

Cartoons copyright © 1952, 2012 The New Yorker

The new phone

Sally was sitting at her laptop auditioning ringtones for her new cellphone. "How do you like this?" she asked, as "Oh, Canada" blared from her speaker. Sally's father was Canadian. "Great," I said, "except you'd have to stand with your hand over your heart until it stopped ringing."

Sally called the cellphone company a week or so ago and complained about paying $80 a month for her phone and mine (since I rarely use it) for 400 "free" minutes a month. She told them we're retired and on a fixed income. Without missing a beat the girl on the other end gave her a new phone and a new monthly contract with the same minutes and a phone for me, now at a new rate of $50 a month. It pays to call and complain. Most companies would rather give you a discount than lose your business. I can't imagine Sally without her phone. It is with her constantly. She takes calls for her business and no matter where she is she wants to be accessible to our son who lives 2000 miles away.

The cartoon from a 1952 New Yorker is more typical of a time that is not gone so long, but long enough it seems quaint: girls hanging around the house waiting for the phone to ring. An invitation to the prom, or a friend calling with gossip about boys or their most hated female rivals. I don't think a teenage girl of today would even recognize such a situation. Cellphones have now been around longer than the teenagers.

A few weeks ago we needed a new landline phone, so I bought an AT&T base phone for the living room and a handset for the bedroom. The total set-up cost about $35.00. Sally and I have our home phone as part of our cable TV/Internet/telephone bundle, so when it rings a banner shows up on our TV screen with Caller ID. Nine out of ten calls are solicitors, and we don't answer. Sally asked, "Why do we need a landline anymore, anyway?" Frankly, I have no answer for her. We've had the same phone number since 1975, but that's no reason. Many people are giving up their landlines and going exclusively to cellphones. It's why the yearly ritual of getting a five-pound phone book on your porch is a thing of the past.

I started using a telephone about the time the New Yorker cartoon was published. If the phone rang you picked it up without knowing who was on the other end. You said, "Hello." Chances were good it was someone you knew.

It hasn't been all that many years, but some of us can still remember having to find a payphone to call home in an emergency or to ask a question of our spouse ("Do you want white bread or whole wheat, and 2% milk or skim?") The cell phone has changed that. I also knew an era was over when I saw the exact style of Western Electric/Bell telephone I used for twenty years in my house sitting on a shelf in an antique store.

"It hadn't yet been invented."

In 1952 it was a gag situation having a man blow leaves off his lawn.

Very few of my neighbors bother raking leaves. They just blow them into their neighbor's yard. The neighbor in turn blows them into someone else's yard. If they hire a Mexican yard crew they actually pick up the leaves, throw them onto a big pile in the back of a pick-up truck, and cover it with a tarp for its journey to the landfill. My dad used to burn our leaves, but back in 1960 or '61 a county ordinance was passed, and there was no more burning because of smog and air pollution. I have a leaf blower, but it broke after one season and rather than buy another I've gone back to the rake. I swear, one of these days I'll hire a crew of Mexicans and sit inside, drink iced tea and watch them through my front window. As it is now, before raking I swallow two Aleve to fend off backache.

Bristles no longer mean "bum."

The last cartoon is more of a fashion statement. A man with bristly whiskers is no longer a hobo or panhandler. Or even a guy who works in a cactus store. Things change, and sixty years from the 1952 date of this cartoon a guy with those bristles is now in style.


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