Trust me…I am living in the present. Despite the fact that I post a lot of pictures from the past and often wax nostalgic for the “simpler times” of my youth—when a Mets’ game and the warm and reassuring voices of Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner were downright otherworldly—I am fully present in the present. Okay, so I think the present isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it stinks in so many ways, which I won’t count right now. Suffice it to say, people walking around the streets with their heads buried in their iPhones and obliviously talking on their cells is disconcerting, annoying, and—really—dangerous. Why don’t you look where you’re going, jerk! But this grievance of living in the here and now has already become a cliché. Yada…yada…yada.
So, I thought I’d look on the bright side of the present for a change and underscore some of the things that I think are better today than in those simpler times of my callow youth. For starters, recycling is a major step forward. Everything from ketchup to prescription cough medicine came in glass bottles once upon a time, which were just heaved into the regular trash. How many Hawaiian Punch and Hi-C heavy aluminum cans did we toss into the garbage that weren’t recycled? An awful lot.
While I don’t like the trend of human beings being replaced by technology, I’m nonetheless happy that there are ATM machines. They are convenient and I use them for virtually every transaction. Withdrawals the old-fashioned way—with a living and breathing bank teller at the other end—always make me feel guilty, as if I’m doing something wrong. I’ve never seen you before. What exactly are you trying to pull with this withdrawal? You don’t look anything like the person on your ID.
I’m pleased, too, that in the here and now my high school alma mater—Cardinal Spellman in the Bronx—has cast asunder “lunchtime sponge duty,” where the unlucky and the unwashed were compelled to clean dirty lunch tables with filthy, germ-laden sponges and pick up garbage off the floor as well. No rubber gloves were passed out and no extra time allowed getting to our next classes, which the sadists in various authority positions relished. If we were late for a class, a teacher could set the “detention” wheels in motion and a few of them did, even if we had the very legitimate “sponge-duty” excuse. There are no students who are “sponge-worthy” in the present and thank God for that.
As far as diagnosing and treating diseases, our healthcare is considerably better than it used to be. I’m old enough to recall a neighborhood family doctor making house calls. And when my paternal grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia, nuns in the Catholic hospital he lay dying in stayed at his side 24/7. Still, the disease that he succumbed to came fast and furious. While the Marcus Welby doctoring approach is sorely missed, one still has to appreciate the advances in modern medicine. That is, if living and longevity count for something, the present has its benefits.
If the Hudson River is representative of waterways everywhere, I suppose Iron Eyes Cody would have less to tear up about nowadays. My father swam in the river in the 1940s and recalled pushing an unrelenting stream of excrement away. I even remember the river smelling more of garbage than of the salty sea. Now, though, its odor in lower Manhattan is of a pleasing brine and not raw sewerage. That having been said, Iron Eyes, I’m certain, would still have ample reasons to open the floodgates.
Then there’s the Internet. I couldn’t have written the books that I have without it—and certainly not in the short time frame that was allotted me. I wouldn’t be writing this blog either. At some point in the 1970s, I wrote a rather lengthy letter to TV Guide asking the folks there a long list of questions. Most of them were of the “Whatever Became Of?” variety. For some reason, I was fixated on death and who in the celebrity world had shuffled off this mortal coil. I remember asking, “Whatever became of character actor Larry Keating, who played neighbor Roger Addison on Mister Ed and, before that, Harry Morton on The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show?” and “why was he replaced on the former by Leon Ames?” What a curious youth, I was. Now, all I’d have to do is Google “Larry Keating” to get the answers to these burning questions. Someone at TV Guide—it should be said—sent me a personal response to my missive with possible resources—books of all things—that might help me find answers. Larry Keating, by the way, was diagnosed with leukemia and—like my grandfather—died from it pretty quickly.
YouTube and Netflix have been gifts in the present. I don’t think I’d ever have watched shows like Rawhide, Wagon Train, and Stagecoach West without them, not to mention countless other television classics and historic moments, which might otherwise be buried in the archives at the Museum of Television & Radio. Speaking of which, I watched several episodes of Adam-12, a Dragnet-esque show created by Jack Webb, on Netflix. I recalled it from my youth, but it didn’t hold up for me. I found it interesting that they played for laughs a domestic abuse call, like it was a complete waste of the police’s time. With smirks on their faces and exasperated meaningful glances, Officers Malloy and Reed asked only that a wife-beater—festooned in a wife-beater tee—be a little bit nicer. One more plus for the present. Drunks, too—even behind the wheels of cars—weren’t taken all that seriously on television and on the streets. Now they are.
Finally, I must say that the present has at long last put a lid on smokers—as best that it could—who have literally taken our breaths away and stunk up our clothes, hair, and skin for far, far too long. I began every single day of high school reeking of cigarette smoke courtesy of a ride in a packed-like-sardines bus where it was tolerated, even though it was against the law. It cannot be denied: The present has its place.