Rich Galen

My birthday is Thursday, December 21. My birthYEAR is 1946. Even I, with my oft-demonstrated lack of arithmetical capability, understand the significance of this birthday:

Sixty. The big six-zero. Six decades. Senior … Citizen.

Yikes.

When I was a kid, people who were sixty were … dead. Or close to it.

When I was young most cars were manual transmission - and it wasn't that cool. "Four on the Floor" meant "farm truck."

There was no cable or satellite television. Commercial television was brand new. Our first set was a Dumont which weighed about 27,000 tons with a screen only slightly larger than the one on my mp3 player which is in full color while the Dumont's was not.

Speaking of TV, in the early 50's the biggest show on television was Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. One of the biggest shows a half-century later is American Idol.

Plus ça change …

There were no satellites (Sputnik was still a decade away) and cable was something which stretched under the Atlantic ocean so you could book a call to England with an overseas operator who would ring you on your black, bakelite dial phone when a circuit became available.

There were no ZIP codes, no area codes and no cell phones. There was such a thing as the "penny postcard" and our home phone number was FL (for Floral Park) 2-8959.

When I was born I had to look forward to foreign military actions in Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. So far.

My National Guard duty began when I was 20 years old - 40 years ago - after I was tossed out of Marietta College, Marietta, Ohio 45750 for "failing to make significant progress toward a degree."

This was pre-pot, way-pre-cocaine and pre-sexual revolution. Father really DID know best. Ward and June Cleaver were role models. The most explicit photos we ever saw were the bra ads from Macy's in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

There was no such thing as a commercial jet airplane, the 737 of the era was the DC-3. At even the largest airports you could walk out onto the parking apron and meet an incoming plane separated, if at all, by a low chain link fence. With as many liquids, gels and aerosol sprays as you wanted.

The earliest commercial computer in my lifetime was the ENIAC which required huge amounts of electricity to power its 17,000 vacuum tubes, needed its own air conditioning system to control the heat they generated, and didn't have the computing capability of your Blackberry.

There was no such thing as a Walkman, much less an iPod. There was no such thing as a transistor (which was about two years away).

Speaking of tubes, in my lifetime you could find machines for testing the tubes in your Emerson radio in every hardware store which was right next to the shoe store where a sales clerk with zero training would stick your feet into an x-ray machine to assure your mother that your feet were, what, attached?

Cigarette smoking was not only acceptable, but encouraged as being sophisticated in almost every setting from college classrooms to executive board rooms; in movies and on television. The notion of smoking being prohibited at your desk at work much less in any restaurant or bar in an entire city was an absurd impossibility.

Being drunk was a common trigger for canned laughter in sitcoms. Dean Martin's act would have been not nearly as amusing today as it was back in the 50's and 60's.

There was no such thing as AIDS but there was the scourge of Polio. Photos of hospital wards filled with people - especially children - being kept alive in Iron Lung machines are still clear in my mind.

Mumps, chickenpox and measles were childhood diseases that just about every kid got from some other kid and, so, were immunized from that point onward. I never knew anyone with a peanut allergy.

Meals always included some dreadfully unhealthy mixture of eggs, meats, starches, gravies, and whole milk. A mother following the official government food pyramid back then would be the subject of a Law & Order: SVU episode today.

Given all that, I'm more than a little surprised I've gotten this far.

I can't wait to see what happens next.

On the Secret Decoder Ring today: An astonishing amount of make-work as I looked up links to almost everything listed above; another early 2008 bumper strip and a Catchy Caption of the Day which is … odd.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.