I took my oldest grandson to a shoe store the other day to buy him a pair of shoes for his 15th birthday.
He picked out a pair of Adidas that cost $52.23.
A top-quality pair of tennis shoes when I was 15 might have cost $4.
But the price didn't surprise me. In 1931, when people with good jobs earned $25 a week, $4 for a pair of shoes was dearer than $52 is today.
I was thinking about what a different world altogether it is for a 15-year-old boy these days.
We had our own music, too, as the young today have rock and its multitude of gods and goddesses. We had grown up with jazz, and Rudy Vallee had introduced "crooning," and Bing Crosby had just burst on society as its prime exponent.
Of course, we were not so divided from our parents by music as the younger generation is today and has been for 20 years; our mothers loved Rudy, too, even if our fathers didn't.
We were not rabid, as today's young music lovers seem to be; we were moony. We believed that she might not be an angel, but still she'd do; we believed that two souls were mated the day she came along; we believed in dancing cheek to cheek.
Today's messages are more graphic and perhaps more realistic.
Of course, my attitude toward women was perfectly expressed by the lyrics that Bing sang, and it was to stay that way for several years. In my senior year, when I took a girl to the prom, the band played "Good Night, Lovely Little Lady," and I sang it in her ear as we danced. That's as far as it went.
I didn't drink and I didn't smoke.
It was impossible for me to be in love with any ordinary mortal, because I was in love with Clara Bow, Claudette Colbert, Helen Twelvetrees and Madeleine Carroll. They were all, fortunately, beyond my reach, so nothing was expected of me.
Hoover was President, and there didn't seem any hope of rising out of the Depression; but nobody worried about annihilation.
I had seen Pat O'Brien as Hildy Johnson in "The Front Page," and I knew what I wanted to be: a hard-working, fast-talking newspaper reporter whose job was more important to him than his fiancee. Since I had no fiancee and no job, I was not called upon to make that choice. In later years, however, it came up.
Since there was no television, and since movies cost a quarter, I spent a lot of my time after school at the public library. I had no guidance in what I read, so I just drifted through the stacks, one book leading to another, and got a rather spotty education.
The teen years are hard for boys. I suppose they're hard for girls, too; but all I know about is boys. Gradually, you have to give up your childhood fantasies. You aren't going to run the 100 meters in the Olympic Games. You aren't going to play second base for the Hollywood Stars, much less the New York Yankees. Maybe you aren't even going to get a job on a newspaper. And surely, you are never going to hold that walking, talking dream in your arms.
Of course, these days teen-agers have all those teen-sex movies to guide them through their frustrations. Intimate relationships that I had to infer from the unimpassioned kisses of William Powell and Carole Lombard are demonstrated in the nude, or nearly so. The Hollywood Code kept us from ever seeing even a married couple in the same bed, much less in conjugal embrace.
We had no Playboy or Penthouse magazines to picture in intimate detail, and in ecstatic color, that object of our fevered imaginations, the female anatomy divine.
One of the things I used to read at the library was the National Geographic, because of all the bare breasts one found in it, even though they were all in Borneo, Bora-Bora or New Guinea.
Somehow I also discovered Somerset Maugham, and he awakened me, in "Of Human Bondage," to the disappointments and ironies of manhood; and Thomas Wolfe (that's not Tom Wolfe), who introduced me to the poetry of life in America.
I wish my grandson well in his new shoes.