Sunday, December 29, 2013 | Categories: Michael's Essays
(AP Photo / file)
The other day at breakfast, my friend Jack was bemoaning the loss of something which was to him kind of neat. "Nobody tells jokes any more," he said. "There was a time, maybe five years ago, when somebody would call me up at least once a week and tell me a joke. Now nobody does. People don't tell jokes anymore."
I conducted a modest and informal survey in the office. My friend is
right. The people I talked to couldn't remember the last time someone
told them a joke. With one exception; young children still like to tell their parents jokes.
My friend was indulging in an act of nostalgia, but not for the lack of jokes; he has the Internet for that. He was being nostalgic for a small loss of human communication that he had come to count on for a bit of pleasure. And this is the time of year when nostalgia flows as thickly and as sweetly as egg nog.
My favorite quote about nostalgia is from Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote Lolita. He said: "One is always at home in one's past." And this is the season for home and one's past, however bittersweet.
The trap of nostalgia, of course, is the danger of too much, of wallowing in the glory days of the past to the exclusion of the wonders of the present. It usually starts with someone saying, "They sure don't make something something like they used to." And the Nostalgia Express is off.
I do it myself; I did it the other night. I wanted to show a teenager of my acquaintance what movies used to be like before Computer Generated Graphics.
I picked The Flame and Arrow with Burt Lancaster in all his athletic glory. Which is a terrific movie if you're eight. Then we watched Rebel Without a Cause with a smoldering, but
milk-drinking James Dean. Which is a terrific movie if you are 16 and
it's the mid-1950s.
The young man was under impressed. We agreed: thank God they don't make movies like they used to.
But some things were better way back when.
Take tomatoes. Today they taste like cork board. Tomatoes used to taste like tomatoes.
Or take dogs. It used to be that dogs looked like dogs. Now they are mush-faced little toy things that look like a floor mop, shake all the time and pee if you raise your voice.
Where are the Dobermans, the German Shepherds, the Boxers and the Irish Wolfhounds of yesteryear?
In the middle of my nostalgia binge, the Post Office announced there would be no more home delivery. There used to be Saturday delivery in this country in a time when getting mail was a big deal. Now the letter carrier goes into the dustbin of history like the milk
man, the movie usher, the paper boy or girl, the elevator
operator and the Progressive Conservative. There is a chance you might become a figure of fun if you wander too deeply into the forest thickets of nostalgia.
But it's the time of year for looking back. So go ahead. Enjoy. Wallow. Look at it this way: no hangover in the morning.