When I was a kid, it seemed all the old people said the same things. It was like they got them from a book entitled, "Stuff to Say to Young People, Over and Over, Every Chance You Get."
It drove me nuts, pretending to pay attention to what they thought was timeless wisdom and what I thought was hopeless cliche. Of course, I survived it, which I knew I would. But I didn't know that I'd end up spouting the same cliches, over and over, every chance I got.
Perhaps the most common is, "They just don't make (fill in the blank) like the used to."
Of course it's true. But that, by itself, doesn't mean anything.
For example, if you think you'd like to have your teeth examined by one of the Good Ole Days' dentists with his G.O.D. equipment, you need to have your head examined as well.
Was education better back then? Well, people talk about all the excellent teachers who filled the schools, and of course we had some. But we also had more than our share of deadbeats, whack-jobs and stone-cold crazies.
Cars were definitely classier looking. But they were also fuel-inefficient, polluting, fairly undependable, and, in too many cases, downright unsafe.
A lot of things were clearly better, like food. People talk about the American obesity epidemic? It's not an epidemic - it's a pandemic. And it's caused by only one thing - our addiction to fast food and junk food, things we had back then, but didn't rely on as our main source of sustenance. I think most people made meals then, rather than today, when they thaw and nuke them.
Television programs? We had good and bad ones then, and we have good and bad ones today. But I can't believe the worst ones of the past could come close to the tasteless dreck that pollutes today's airwaves.
Reality shows? I can understand why the producers put them on, since they don't have to pay for scripts, costumes, sets and especially not actors, so it's pretty much pure profit. I also understand why people watch them, which is the same reason people watch fires, gang fights, public executions and the like. But why anyone admits to watching them is completely beyond my understanding.
But putting all my previous arguments aside, I can tell you one thing that's definitely gotten worse over the years - birthdays.
Let me clarify. It's not because I hate getting old. The fact is I like getting old. To me it's a badge of sorts, designating me perhaps not a winner but at least a survivor. And given my craven and morbid nature, I'd much rather be a sniveling survivor than macho martyr.
No, the thing with birthdays is they no longer come with the sense of joy and wonder they used to. And that's because I no longer come with the sense of joy and wonder I used to. In my dotage I record my birthday, rather than celebrate it. It's like, one more down, ? more to go.
But this never happened in my childhood. Back then, a b'day party was something amazing and special, truly the highlight of my year. Of course, that might be because back then, as opposed to now, a year lasted darn near forever!
One birthday party, my seventh, still sticks in my mind.
Seven is a magical year. You're hardly a teenager, but at least you're no longer a pathetic pre-school pisher. By the time my seventh birthday rolled around, I'd already survived one full year with Miss Starr and a half-year with Mrs. Ruth Smith. It was the little kid's equivalent of getting through a 10-year hitch with the French Foreign Legion in some sub-Saharan hellhole like Djibouti.
So, like the Legion when they finally hit the fleshpots and bistros of Gay Paree, when my b'day party was ready for me, I was ready for my b'day party.
A most dapper Dope
I was dressed to the nines in an ironed white shirt and blue pants with knife-edge creases and matching suspenders. My black shoes had a mirror polish, my hair was slicked down with at least a pint of Brylcreem, and my face had been scrubbed to a bright pink sheen.
It was my mother's idea of what a proper child host should look like at such affairs of state, but in reality I'm sure I looked less like a kid than a tiny escapee from an embalming lab.
No matter. The whole bash came off beautifully.
But here's the weird thing: I can remember almost no specific details of the party. I vaguely remember eating hot dogs and drinking soda, but I've no memory of a cake. I also recall the Pin the Tail on the Donkey poster, but can't remember playing it. As for my honored guests, I can remember only one: He was a nice Hispanic boy whose name I've long forgotten and who I remember only because he shook my hand when he arrived.
My only clear memory of the party is my present, and that's because it stuck with me, literally, for years.
It was a belt.
"A belt?" you say. "What a cheesy birthday present."
I beg to differ. That belt ranks as the best birthday present I ever got.
It was super wide: The only belt loops big enough for it were on blue jeans, which was the whole idea, since it had a distinctly western theme. Engraved on the leather was a perfect Southwestern motif cacti, bright sun and a mountain range, off in the distance. The buckle also was a classic. It was a huge brass-plated thing, and in its center a pair of gorgeous pearl-handled pistols.
Remember, this was in the heyday of cowboy movies. Guys like the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott and the Durango Kid strutted their way across the silver screen and into our hearts. And wrapped in my belt, which seemed to exude its own strange power, I even strutted a little.
I loved that belt and wore it every chance I had, for years and years, until I finally outgrew it. I kept telling myself I was going to replace the leather, but I never did. Still, I couldn't bear to part with it, and I didn't - until a few years ago. Then, in the midst of a housecleaning frenzy, I realized keeping the belt, while an act of sentimentality, was also an act of selfishness: If there was a kid who could enjoy that belt half as much as I did, then it was less my option than my duty to pass it on. So I gave it to a local thrift store.
Out of curiosity, I went back to the store a couple of weeks later, and the belt was gone. I didn't ask who bought the belt, nor did I need to. Just knowing someone liked it enough to snag it was enough for me.
Last year I had my silversmith friend Mark Stowe make me a belt buckle. I didn't give him any specific directions about its design, only that I wanted it otherworldly and trippy as all get out. Mark, being master craftsman and a good friend, came up with a perfect, one-of-a-kind piece.
I love to look at it, I wear it all the time, and I know I'll never replace it.
Then again, as a child I learned when it comes to a beautiful belt, I can easily change it but can never replace it.