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Rust in piece

Updated: May 21, 2022

Earl Fowler

It’s a familiar refrain in my cohort that things aren’t as good as they used to be. Perhaps you got the memo.

And no wonder the natives are restless.

Gasoline in the city where I live has hit $2.33 a litre. The average home price in British Columbia in April was $1,058,079. Ontario checked in at $985,354. Across the country, home prices have risen by almost two-thirds from five years ago.

With the Canadian food inflation rate running at about nine per cent and average wages rising annually by 2.7 per cent, a trip to a grocery store these days is a masochistic exercise in sticker shock. That’s particularly so for anyone on a small fixed income. In an unsurprising Ipsos poll conducted in March, six in 10 Canadians said they were worried they might not have enough money to feed their families.

Oh, and speaking of food. Thanks to the wonders of science and technology, thickly fleshed beefsteak tomatoes now last 15 years on the grocery shelf … but taste like cardboard for 20. Today’s Red Delicious apples, sweet and crisp in my youth, should more accurately be rebranded as Simply Red.

There used to be two or three tiny bits of unidentifiable Kibbles ’n Bits Meat Substitute™ in a can of Campbell’s chicken soup. Now you’re lucky (or not) to get one stuck between your teeth. I haven’t sampled the cod liver oil of our childhoods lately, but I’m willing to bet that the current version is falsely marketed catfish kidney sediment. Diluted to boot.

OK boomer. Calm down.

Just don’t get my fellow habitués of the crusty-old-curmudgeon table at the Penny Farthing Golden Ager Club started on what passes today for popular music: A banal, Auto-Tuned cacophony of idiotic men yelling idiotic lyrics pulled from an idiotic online thesaurus. Mattel Kardashians doing near-identical Adele or Queen Bee impressions. Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die. But it sure can croak.


Oops. Better make that Queen Bey. Damn your eyes, Autocorrection.


Anyway, you crazy Beatle lovers with your long hair and your electronic noise, where have we heard similar sentiments before?

Get yer bah-bahs out.

Humbug.

Do we sound like a bunch of grumpy old poops? Who can blame us after Susie went and left us for some foreign guy?

We miss the melodic tinkling of Wally the milkman’s glass bottles and our harmless little tittering over his rumoured affair with Mrs. So and So up the street. Breakfast would be over and the blocks of ice would be sweating, just like Wally, by the time he would finally arrive at our end of the street with his bottles and hotly anticipated cartons of Beep and Vi-Co (the latter an obscure Saskatchewan reference to a legendary type of chocolate milk).

We miss having just one phone per household, chained to the wall. Telephone operators. Rotary dials. If you lived in the country, party lines and the audible breathing of nosy neighbours.

We miss the prissy voice of the Time Lady and her unflappable 10-second updates. At the tone, the time ran out decades ago for manual watch winders, bored kids and the pathologically lonely.

I’m sorry, but the number you have dialled is no longer in service.

We miss the seagull flying in from the Strait of Georgia that kicked off CBC-TV’s nightly rendition of O Canada — accompanied by that stirring, animated flight over the Rockies, the Prairies, northern Ontario, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, the Maritimes, Newfoundland and out over the Atlantic — as affiliates signed off until morning.

We miss the full-headdress Indian head test pattern that followed. That eerie accompanying Space Age sound.

We miss Mr. Moose and the bangs of Captain Kangaroo. Friendly’s whistle to summon Jerome. Cowabunga, Buffalo Bob. Eddie, kiss me goodnight. No more rehearsing and nursing a part. We knew every part by heart.

And oh, what heights we hit.

We miss the snack bar and playground sets at the drive-in movie theatre. Acapulco cliff diving on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Skinny Minnie Miller’s signature roller derby moves. Mays. Mantle. Maris.

The arcane speech of coffee percolators.

The strangely beautiful doohickey inserts that made it possible to play 45 RPM records on auto-drop 33 RPM record player spindles.

LPs that cost $4.20, taxes included, at Eaton’s or Sears. Liner notes.

Tiger Beat. Creem. Mad. Croc. National Lampoon.

The shoe department at Eaton’s. The tools at Sears. The malt shop in the basement at the Bay.

But wait! Order now and we’ll send you 22 explosive hits from K-Tel Records. Twenty-two original stars! Gallery. Oh, it’s so nice to be with you. The great Sammy Davis Jr. Oh, the Candy Man can. Lobo. Hamilton, Joe, Frank & Reynolds. Hot Butter’s instrumental Popcorn earworm. Paul Revere and the Raiders in those corny American Revolutionary War outfits. AND MANY MORE.

Classical Gas.


Herb Alpert and that album cover with the model covered in whipped cream.

Mimeograph machines and the unremitting stench of those smeary blue-stencil pages. Carbon paper. Liquid Paper, invented by Michael Nesmith’s mom. Michael Nesmith’s green toque.

Michael Nesmith.

Watching TV shows when they were broadcast, along with everyone else, so that we all saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan simultaneously. Tin foils on rabbit ears. Horizontal and vertical dials. Ben Cartwright and Little Joe and the Ponderosa, which, by the way, bordered on Lake Tahoe and was about as big. So was Hoss.


Hop Sing.

The theme songs drilled into our heads by The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. The opening credits of Get Smart, culminating with that sudden drop through the phone booth. The apparent slamming of the last set of doors on Max’s nose in the closing credits. (In truth, they missed it by that much.)

Barbara Feldon.

Sam Drucker.

Mmm. Barbara Feldon again.


Sorry about that, chief.

Eating what was in front of us or not at all. Dad’s uncanny ability to hold onto the steering wheel with his left hand while blindly swinging his right arm through the backseat if his final warning to stop punching your brother was ignored.

Comics flying through the air as the big arm came down.

Turok, son of Stone. Little Dot with her legs crossed on her Little Dot bed in her Little Dotted room. Little Audrey. Little Lotta who was anything but. A veritable cornucopia, in fact, of Littles and easy-listening pop crooners named Bobby.


Dinky toys and cap guns and Davey Crockett coonskin caps and G.I. Joes and Bendable Barbies. Never did figure out the difference between Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone.

People dressing up for church. People dressing up for flights or train trips. People dressing up for hockey games.


Original Six table hockey games made in Canada.

Stuff made in Canada.

OK boomer. OK boomer. OK boomer.


Ça suffit comme ça.

I could do this nostalgia thing unto eternity and so could you, I am certain, were it not for the fact that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — Famine, War, Plague and Poilievre — are so clearly upon us.

You don’t have to have a handle like Ezekiel or Obadiah or Diefenbaker to notice that the heavens have been stocking up lately on fire and sulfur.

So let’s try to be fair. Before we’re all turned into pillars of salt for these wistful glances back at our cities of the plain, it would be only sporting to point out the many ways that life is better now than when we stegosaurians and ankylosauruses were frequenting the soda fountains at Pop Tate’s.

Let’s see. Ballpoints are way better than fountain pens.


Um.


It’ll come to me.


While we’re waiting, put a quarter in the Wurlitzer. Push three buttons and the thing’ll begin to whirl ...

I know! I see you can now buy cans of Coca-Cola® with Coffee, which sounds like an even faster way to take flight than by drinking Red Bull, say, or Sparkling Organic Yerba Maté with Citrus and Hibiscus and a rejuvenating jolt of Crystal Meth. Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings, a sugar-caffeine junkie gets his wings.


For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

What else?

No one is making us drink cod liver oil anymore. I think I might have covered that.

Oh, and speaking of hockey, having two penalty boxes instead of one was a big improvement. Combatants used to sit next to each other after being whistled off the ice for fighting. What could possibly go wrong with that arrangement?

We don’t have to put doilies on our chesterfields anymore. That’s a considerable saving.

Cellphones make it possible to work or at least be on call 24/7 and never have a moment to ourselves. In our Sixties and Seventies salad days, we thought the 5-1/2-day work week was excessive. Silly us.


And then there’s the Internet, of course. What an empowering tool that has proved to be for furthering the advancement of knowledge, public discourse and civic engagement.

In the bad old days, village idiots were often isolated and routinely felt blue and underappreciated. But thanks to the selfless efforts of social media and Big Tech, the village idiots of today have no problem finding each other, reinforcing shared racist conspiracy theories and staging mass murders or flag-waving freedom parades.

Mercy sakes alive, looks like we got us a convoy!

Full of passionate intensity, village idiots have even taken over political parties in what used to be major democracies. That could never have happened in olden times. Surely some revelation is at hand.

Being a bit of an idiot myself, I’ve helpfully sketched out a simple roadmap for the future. Surely the Second Coming is at hand:

Let the Internet = the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and everything in between.

Let Apple = well, you know, the apple. It didn’t fall very far from the tree.

Let the climate crisis = expulsion from the Garden of Eden.

You do the math. We’re in for it again, and this time it’s personal. Pretty hard to blame a snake.

But first, boy, what I wouldn’t give for a taste of the cornbread dressing in a Swanson TV dinner. Topped off, natch, with a bit of ham or sprinkling of cottage cheese in a cubed lime Jell-O fantasy dessert.

The world never looked better than it did from the banana seats of our old Mustangs (the two-wheeled variety).


May it rust in pieces.

Just like our bikes.


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