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Test Pattern: The not-so-long ago

Dishwashers, automatic car windows, lawn darts.  By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Comfort links for a tough week

It’s been a heartbreaking week, with all the horrors coming out of New Orleans and Mississippi. I read somewhere that “if you’ve ever enjoyed the hospitality and generosity of the people of New Orleans,” donate a dollar. Although I’ve only been there once, I remember friendly people, sugary beignets, romantic balconies, frosty daiquiris and streets filled with music. I think I’ll donate a lot more than one dollar.

This week’s five-link Friday offers up five links that soothed my mind when the hurricane news threatened to overwhelm it. I hope they’ll do the same for you. Sometimes it’s OK to take a breath.

• The antics of a little boy and his stuffed tiger are still very much missed on our comics pages. Now you can buy “The Complete Calvin and Hobbes,” three gigantic volumes of all the strips. (It’s , but it’s less than $100 at Amazon and Barnes and Calvin's world is an easy and comforting one to lose yourself in, that's for sure.

• This one is my favorite link in some time, possibly all year. Take a few minutes, put your headphones on, and listen to and watch the video for It’s a sweeter-than-sugar video about a little boy riding with his dad in dad’s big earth-mover in 1980s Britain. It’s based on real childhood experiences of Nizlopi singer Luke Concannon. (A few quick translations: is the maker of the loader his dad drives, and is a Christy Moore song about the Irish coming to England to work.)

• When the news is just too heavy, take a brief break by flipping your browser over to . Spending even just a minute watching the National Zoo’s baby panda get cuddled by his mom reminds me that there are still good things in the world. (The San Diego Zoo has a too, but the National Zoo’s works better for me.)

• Games are good mind-soothers. I linked to , a free and fun online Boggle-like game,  at least once before, but the sign of a good game is that I’m still not tired of it.

• But if you are sick of it, you might enjoy , the new number puzzle that’s been popular in other parts of the world and is just starting to catch on here.

The not-so-long ago

The discussion of the Beloit College Mindset List reminds me of one of my favorite books (and I get no royalties, just so you know). If you like this topic, you'll love "Going, Going, Gone: Vanishing Americana," by Susan Jonas and Marilyn Nissenson. It's a huge book that devotes full pages to parts of our lives that are disappearing, such as dial phones, chop suey, paper dolls, the dining room, wedding-night virgins, slide rules, and more. For a fast nostalgia trip, just scan the Amazon page that lists the .

Some of them are things I for one won't miss. (TV antennas, polio scares). Others will be much missed (the smell of burning leaves, drive-in movies). Others already seem quaint, part of a vanished time (parietal rules -- governing the conduct of college students, white gloves, soda fountains). And then there are those that you don't really think about, but which are vanishing nonetheless: the dining room, bank checks, hotel keys, mending.

Some of them really spark memories. The book lists "gas station attendants" as a vanishing form. And so they are, except in those few states (Oregon and New Jersey?) that won't let people pump their own gas. I remember being driven around by my teenage sister and hearing her coolly tell the attendant "Fill it, no lead." ("No lead," now that's something kids today don't hear.) I imagined the great day when I would be old enough to drive when I'd say that same thing, but by the time I got my license, both leaded gas and gas-station attendants were gone, daddy, gone.

Here are some of your thoughts on what's vanishing from our lives.

Roll up and down windows in cars.  I laughed when we got in my brothers restored vintage car and the kids asked what does this do and I can get my window down.”    --Alisa[Editor's Note: Heh, my 1994 Civic has these.]

“Today’s college freshmen do not remember life without a dishwasher.”  --Natasha

“I remember corded phones. We had a wall phone in the kitchen and my parents had an old black phone in their bedroom. And you had to actually dial the phone not punch in numbers.   And with a corded phone you could actually slam the receiver down when you got annoyed with someone.    Not so with a cell phone or a cordless phone. “    --Monica

“College freshmen…wouldn’t know what they would do for a Klondike Bar.”    --Anne

“Today’s freshmen have probably never played lawn darts!”    --Denise

“I remember the day when loading up ‘M.U.L.E.’ (an addictive little game!) on my Commodore took five minutes of my young life. And that was ok! Now kids whine and gripe over slow ‘processors’. They complain about sluggish dithering and non-realistic ambient lighting. What?! Pong never had a 3-D engine or complex A.I., but it still stole countless hours of our precious lives. Without the buckets of blood, I might add.”    --Jillian

“I was lucky not to have missed out on learning to tie ties (a session my mother held for all of us children when we were young and has tested us on at least 3 times a year since). I was lucky to learn to cook without microwaves (Heaven forbid the power goes out again this month in California!). And I was very fortunate that none of my schools (and I went to many of them, as my mother is a Marine and we traveled a lot) allowed calculators (I’d never know what to tip the waiters out here.)”   --Adrienne

“We had a VCR that was top-loading and the remote control was attached to the machine with a long cord! If we wanted popcorn, we dragged the air-popper out of the closet; microwave bags of popcorn hadn’t been invented yet (and we didn’t have a microwave for them anyway). McDonald’s used to have Styrofoam containers for their sandwiches. I remember learning to type on an actual typewriter, not a computer (although I had it easy with an electric typewriter; my older sisters had to use manual typewriters).”    --Heather

“The kids don’t know what a typewriter is, much less that we only had two font choices — Pica and Elite — if I remember correctly.  I think I now understand what my parents went through explaining that television was radio with pictures. A typewriter is a computer without the box and monitor. Do the kids know what Liquid Paper is for? Carbon paper? How to install a new ribbon?”    --Beth

Who remembers corded phones?

Oops, here I was, asking you to send in cultural landmarks from your life that today's college kids don't remember, and here my e-mail wasn't working. If you tried to send something in, you're welcome to . It should work this time.

Cynthia did manage to get through, with this:"College freshman don't remember dial phones? They also don't remember phones with cords. Who can forget chatting with a friend and streeeeeeetching that cord as far as it would go and then having to sit for five minutes twirling the phone to untangle it afterward? Or having to sit in one place to hold a conversation? My kids, one of whom will be a college freshman in just three years, laugh hysterically when I tell them; they are used to being able to talk to their friends while out in the yard, in the bathroom (don't ask), in their rooms or lounging on the couch, all without having to worry about anyone else tripping over that dratted cord. Of course back then, no one had to worry about misplacing the phone, or recharging batteries either."

I still have a corded phone in my home, but we have several cordless. Sometimes I just like to use the corded one — it rarely has a bad signal, and I find I really have to focus on the call if I'm stuck in one place.

Cell phones have been a gift in many ways, but doing homework with a regular phone tucked onto your shoulder is definitely a vibrant memory for me. And then my mom thought it would be fun to buy one of those old candlestick phones, where you had to put one part to your ear and keep your mouth at the phone's base. Try doing all that while jotting down notes — it's not easy.

Kids don't remember a life before call waiting, either. They're probably completely perplexed by the "Brady Bunch" episode where Mike installs a pay phone in his home because he can never get through. In fact, even pay phones are dying out.

MTV is running a reality show where kids of today have to live in true 1970s style. They're perplexed by almost everything — the clothes, the music, the primitive video games — but on a recent episode, one of their big complaints was about dial phones. "It takes forever to call someone!" they whined.

The kids didn't know it, but that very dial-phone slowness resulted in . Area codes that required less waiting for the phone to return were given to bigger cities. The Straight Dope reports "AT&T assigned 'low dial pull' numbers to the markets with the most telephones and thus presumably the highest number of incoming long-distance calls. New York got 212, Chicago 312, LA 213, Detroit 313, Dallas 214, and so on."

You're welcome to send in your own nostalgic trips, be they phone-centric or otherwise, now that the e-mail works again.

The Beloit College mindset list, or do you feel old yet?

I’m fascinated by the , a.k.a. the “gee don’t you feel old NOW?” list. The Wisconsin college means to make a point by listing items that are cultural landmarks for today’s college freshmen. This year’s list announces that today’s freshmen have always thought the Starship Enterprise looks dated, that they have never knew Tom Landry to coach the Cowboys, that they have always had voice mail.

I think the list is fun. But I also like to argue with it. “The Starship Enterprise has always looked dated”? Are we talking the original ship here, because I only came to the original series in reruns, and it looked dated to me, too. (Not as dated as the short-skirted uniforms on the women crew, but still.) Is there anything from the 1970s that does not look dated?

The list says “they never saw a Howard Johnson’s with 28 ice cream flavors." Did they ever see a Howard Johnson’s with 27? That once-mighty chain dwindled long ago, and according to a , there were only 11 locations left in 2003. There were never any HoJo's in my neighborhood. What about “they never knew a McDonald’s without a McRib?” or something?

And the oddest item on the list: “ ‘Whatever’ is not part of a question, but an expression of sullen rebuke.” Uh, whatever.

The Beloit list often stretches a joke to get something on the list. “They don’t remember when cut and paste involved scissors” is on the list. Unless grade schools in Wisconsin are really different than in other states, I’m betting they do. “They learned to count with Lotus 1-2-3.” No, they learned to count with the Count on “Sesame Street,” just like I did. “Dirty dancing has always been acceptable.” Seems to me that’s assuming a definition of “acceptable” that I don’t think every school district in American has in its dictionary.

Then again, I love some of the items on the list. I like “Most of them do not know how to tie a tie.” And “they never had the fun of being thrown into the back of a station wagon with six others” sparks memories of sitting in the way-back of mom’s Country Squire station wagon. Any one of us goes through life noticing things that today’s kids take for granted that we didn’t, and our own mental lists are often just as gasp-inducing as the Beloit list.

Here’s the list that I would write, and you’re invited to write in and add to it. You can read . And before anyone writes in, I'll make it clear: Yes, not all of the items apply to all freshmen. As someone who never had anything but network TV until well into the 1990s, I'd be slightly miffed by a line like "they have always had cable." So accept some generalizations, as we do with the Beloit list, and .

• College freshmen today don’t remember dial phones. They certainly don’t remember phone exchanges like CApitol or PLaza.

• They learned to use Velcro closures in their shoes before they learned to tie them.

• Calculators were rarely forbidden in their schools.

• Digital clocks slowed their learning to tell time.

• They always rode in car seats and when older, used seat belts. Their cars usually had air bags, and often had alarms and remote lock-unlock capability.

• Not only have they never sat in a station wagon’s “way back,” but they never lounged in the outside bed of a pickup speeding down the highway.

• Record players, 8-track tapes, even cassettes are as dusty as Victrolas to most of them.

• They’ve always had microwaves and food processors.

• They don’t remember TVs without remotes, or where the program slowly faded away, leaving a dot of light in the center of the screen. They certainly don’t remember test patterns, the name of this column.