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May 16, 2012: Truant

May 16, 2012

While I am pleased as punch to have an acceptable access to the entertainment technology that the 21st C. offers, I can’t help but think of how drastically different my life would have been if I had all the stuff we have today: internet, DVDs, UTube, video games, IPods, etc., in my youth. Sure, we had TV, but then it was only three channels, no remote, and I’d like to see you jockey for your favorite show competing with nine other family members on a single set! My parents were pretty cool. If we did our work during the week we were allowed Friday nights to watch our shows. Our family dubbed Friday as “Popcorn/Soda Night” because those snacks went along with our entertainment. I think this was pretty good parenting: we worked hard for our weekly reward, and thoroughly enjoyed the treat. Still, we are talking a couple of hours of TV during the whole week!

Filling the Void

So, without all the trimmings of the 21st C. how did kids from the 60’s entertain themselves? Well, for one thing…we got outside more than most kids these days seem to. The 60’s parenting norm was to chuck a child outside after school until dinner and then after, the kids hit  the books until bedtime. Sure, this tactic worked pretty well for the parent: they got a few hours to themselves preparing dinner and enjoying the obligatory pre-dinner cocktail so prevalent in the 60’s, but it also got the kids tons of exercise and forced us to socialize via outdoor games. In short, without distractions of the spoon-fed, electronic ilk, we were forced to use our imaginations, intelligence, and our bodies to make up for the entertainment shortfalls.

A Partner in Crime

My childhood friend was Johnny B. He was actually my closest child neighbor, living only two doors down. Slightly older than I was, we were friends since I (literally) could first remember. I once saw a super-8 that  Johnny’s parents took of him as a toddler and I, in baby carriage, meeting for the first time. Johnny was different from me in almost every way: physically, he was thick and bullish to my lithe smallness. Socially, he was extroverted and chaotic as a foil to my quiet thoughtfulness. What brought us together was our imaginations, art, and our habit for getting into trouble! And here…people who know me now, will think to themselves “When did Steve ever get into trouble?!!!” Well, folks, I got most of my trouble out-of-the-way very young, the worst being my altar-boy/cub-scout days. Much of this trouble was in Johnny B.’s company. I don’t want to lead you to believe that Johnny was the sole instigator in these events (it was about 50/50) or that we were “bad” in any real (criminal or evil) sense, it was just that the ideas that we came up with (at least to our minds) were just too good to not make a reality. This draw towards trouble gave us many adventures, including, but not limited to: firearms; first love; physical dares; courting; drinking; cruising; sports; pranks; pyrotechnics; camping; really strange home movies; injuries; hunting; brawls; sex, drugs, and rock and roll…and Mary Ann Semonelli’s missing bra.

Skipping School for a Really Lame Meal

…oh…and lest I forget…a single count of truancy! I think it was Johnny’s idea to skip school, but rebels without a clue that we were, we had no plan what exactly to do with our free day. Earlier that week, one of my sister’s had done a decent job making Shrimp Newberg, so to my mind at least, making this dish seemed like an interesting and somewhat exotic way to spend the day. I remember Johnny shrugging and I suspect now that he wished that he had spent a little more time on thinking the whole event through, but he finally acquiesced. Needless to say, my sister was a few years ahead of me, culinary-wise, and while I think I could do a bang-up Shrimp Newberg these days, back then it was waaaay out of my league. Oddly enough though, this dismal failure put me onto an early track to improving my culinary skills. I started paying closer attention to my sister’s culinary successes and how they attained them.

The Hunger of the High-School Heart

So, to my childhood friend: thank you for all the fun, adventures, imaginings, as well as the bumps and bruises to our bodies and hearts…and for all that time spent cruising. Here is a word that has forever left American social life…cruising. In those days before IChats and Facebook, socializing was done  out in the open, but perhaps with the same embarrassment and sad desperation that haunts todays teenagers. Cruising, in the 60-70’s was driving a car up and down the fast food strip of the local town. It sometimes led to taunts, races, occaisionally fights, and rarely…that teenage Holy Grail…the glimpse of that perfect babe, cruising just like you…to be (hopefully) met at the next party!

No one has quite captured the unique American social activity of cruising like David Wilcox, in his song “Saturday They’ll All Be Back Again

Johnny’s out cruising down the fast food strip
He rides his high-wheeler Ford
Down here every evening since the school let out
An ordinary man would be bored
Johnny’s got the hunger of the high school heart
And a tank full of minimum wage
So it’s six lights down, six lights back
Pacing like a lion in a cage…
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One comment

  1. […] Okonomy – what the hell DID we do before Facebook? Oh yeah, truant! (and I did, too). […]



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