The truth? You want the truth? I'll give you the truth. It's the truth about the 1950s, the era that began around 1945 and lasted until 1965 and which, in advertising and the recollection of people who have no recollection of it, was the most wonderful time in recent American history. It's not true. I know. I was there.
Let me tell you about the '50s. It was a time when every kid feared something called ringworm. How you got it no one knew, but as if to prove that the thing existed, every once in a while some kid would show up in school with a stocking cap over his shaved head.
Trench mouth, which everyone was told you could get from kissing, was less frightening, mostly because no one in the '50s kissed. That's because 1) even married people slept in separate beds, 2) birth control was often illegal, 3) abortion was always illegal, 4) love scenes in the movies ended with waves crashing onto a beach, and 5) cowboys sang songs to their horses.
The '50s had values. This is something allegedly lacking today because they're not taught in school. In the '50s, values were almost all that was taught in school. The day began with a prayer (now illegal) and included the Pledge of Allegiance. The very generation that was educated in such a manner later took to the streets, smoked dope, indulged in every manner of sexual experimentation and raised its children in communes, extending the nuclear family to anyone who walked in off the street. So much for values.
For most people, there was no air conditioning in the '50s. In summer, people slept on rooftops and fire escapes and on something called sleeping porches. Most people did not have clothes dryers, either, and so in the '50s you had to hang the wash. A whole generation of sexually repressed boys were forced to hang their mothers' underwear, and they have all been in therapy ever since.
During the wonderful '50s, there was racial segregation in the South and parts of the North. Blacks were occasionally lynched, and in large parts of the country they couldn't vote. Leftists were all called communists and sometimes fired from their jobs. A senator named Joe McCarthy ran around the country giggling insanely and accusing people of being communists. For a time, he was the most powerful politician in the country, and even President Eisenhower, who had faced the Nazis in Europe, was afraid of him. This is how wonderful the '50s were.
In the 1950s, every other man over the age of 30 had an ulcer and every kid under the age of 20 had acne. Mothers did not work; they stayed home all day to bake. This made no sense since the '50s had bakeries. Now that mothers no longer stay home to bake, the bakeries are gone. You figure it out.
Everyone in the '50s was afraid of nuclear war. At the order "Take cover!," kids in school plunged under desks and put their arms around the backs of their necks. This would protect them against a nuclear holocaust. In the Army, soldiers were marched into nuclear test zones to see what radiation would do to them. Years later, we found out.
The '50s had something called a pressure cooker. This was a pot you put food into that, sooner or later, exploded and sprayed food all over the kitchen and even on the ceiling. The '50s introduced television and, because of that, they also introduced the Veg-O-Matic. This was a device that with one quick plunge was supposed to cut a tomato into 234 nifty pieces. In practice, it squashed the tomato.
The '50s also had parakeets. They were supposed to talk, but they never did. What they did do, though, was fly all over the house, perching here and there. One of these birds landed on the edge of my plate as I was eating at my friend Sam's house, took a nip of my spaghetti and fell over dead. In the '50s, this was considered funny.
The '50s had awful clothes. You had to wear a tie to school no matter what kind of shirt you wore. What made it worse was that the ties were wide and sometimes had pictures of rearing horses on them. Pants were oversize and very baggy. When you sat down, a small mountain of material rose from the crotch almost to your neck. There was also a buckle on the back of the pants that served no purpose whatsoever, but then neither did undershirts. You wore them because you were told they kept you cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It made no sense, but in the '50s you did what you were told.
The '50s had no color television or VCRs. There was no pizza or diet cola, but there was polio. The United States threatened to go to war over Quemoy and Matsu. Stalin still ruled Russia. On television, Walter Cronkite appeared on a show called "You Are There" and interviewed actors playing Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. The great Edward R. Murrow did "Person to Person," in which you got to see the interior of someone's house. Cyril Ritchard had a donkey in his bedroom, so the man who reported the Battle of Britain ("This . . . is London") was face to face with a jackass. This is now called television's Golden Age.
The truth -- the other truth -- is that the '60s weren't much better than the '50s, the '70s weren't either and, so far, the '80s have been awful. But the '30s . . . the '30s were wonderful -- a delicious time of wonderful songs, movies and clothes. It's that era I'm nostalgic for, although my father, I'm sure, feels different. Unlike me, he lived through it. ::