Paul Andersen: Fair Game
I celebrated my 60th birthday in January. I’m an aging Aquarius from the Age of Aquarius. If you remember the musical “Hair,” you know what I mean. I once had hair that was long enough to make a statement. Now I use words. Long hair was easier.To say I “celebrated” my 60th is a misnomer. I celebrated good friends who came to dinner and roasted me mercilessly. I laughed so hard I damaged my vocal chords. Seriously, it took three weeks for my voice to recover. I shouldn’t complain about an injury caused by gut-wrenching laughter, but I will complain about turning 60, if anyone will listen.A family member sent me a birthday greeting in the form of a booklet titled “1951: Remember When …” It includes historical reflections on what seems like a different century. Wait a minute! That was a different century.Harry Truman was president, and he passed the largest defense budget in U.S. history as the Koreas split apart and the Cold War sent shock waves through Congress. Who do you think was VP under Truman? You’ll never guess, so I’ll tell you at the end of the column.As I paged through the 1951 booklet, I realized that 60 is a significant age. I look at my face in the mirror and get the same realization. Is that wizened visage really me? The day after my birthday, I treated myself to some introspection at the Glenwood Hot Springs pool. If you want to ponder the effects of aging, the pool is a somber place to do so. You see things about aging that are … well … sobering.The next day, still in a contemplative mood, I skinned up Snowmass and bumped into a friend to whom I poured out my aging angst. This man is 73, so he didn’t offer a whole of lot sympathy. He said it’s appropriate that a person of my age should contemplate life, then he informed me that 70 is when physical decay begins. That’s just 10 years!The next day, there was fresh powder on the mountains. I skied Aspen Mountain like it was the last ski day of my life. I so enjoyed myself that the age issue fell away like … like the hair from my head. How many decades has my hair been gone? I flipped again through the “1951” booklet to get some perspective on just how old I am.In 1951, the average price for a new house was $9,000. The average annual income was $3,515. You could buy a new car for $1,520. Tuition to Harvard was $600. Gas cost 19 cents a gallon, a postage stamp 3 cents.Two of the most popular movies that year were “African Queen” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” I still remember space alien Michael Rennie teaching Patricia Neal to chant “Klatu Barata Nikto” in order to disarm the apocalyptic robot. Among the popular tunes that year were Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House” and Tony Bennett’s “Because of You.” There’s good reason that rock ‘n’ roll took over in the ’60s.In 1951, Joe DiMaggio signed a contract with the Yankees for $100,000 – Big Money in those days. Twenty-year-old Willie Mays joined the New York Giants. The Hudson Hornet set new sales records as the car that “Rules the road – and America knows it!”General Electric advertised a 17-inch TV – “It’s Lifelike! It’s Real!” The ad showed an immaculate nuclear family with dad in suit and tie, mom in a full-length dress, and a beaming little girl positively ecstatic over the jumbo screen. An ad for the Hotpoint “Wonderinse” washing machine featured a glamorous housewife twirling with immeasurable glee in the laundry room.I was born at a time when housewives were just a gadget away from thrilling to the joys of homemaking (no matter that many of them were on alcohol and anti-depressants). In 1951, suburbia was the Elysian Fields of post-war industrial prosperity. I am so old I remember when the first color TV was a big deal on my street.Life back then was a rerun of “Ozzie & Harriet.” I was born in black and white, grew up in flagrant Technicolor, and will die in digital pixels. Not even Mister Peabody’s “Way Back Machine” can help me now.
Paul Andersen’s column appears Mondays in The Aspen Times. (Truman’s VP was Alben Barkley.)
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Columnist Paul Andersen continues to hope that the moral arc of the universe trends toward justice.