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Jack Smith

The Favorite Things in Life Worth Saving

September 27, 1989|Jack Smith

In its October issue Life magazine lists 101 things worth saving. By things, it means just that--things: root beer floats, claw-footed bathtubs, LP records, manual typewriters, cabooses and soda fountains; it also means institutions, such as afternoon baseball, shoeshine stands, family picnics and volunteer fire departments; and natural phenomena, such as the ozone layer, real cream, hummingbirds and suntans.

The layout includes a richly nostalgic essay by Edward Hoagland deploring the havoc that change, speed and greed are working in our daily lives; the loss of space, of privacy, of innocence, of the sense of home.

Except for the hummingbird, the article is not concerned with the vanishing species; except for the ozone layer, it is not concerned with the loss of environment. As the title ("A World Worth Saving") suggests, it is concerned with those things that are still here but vanishing through technical obsolescence, changes in style, or urbanization and standardization. As Hoagland says in an apt phrase, "Centrifugal forces begin to operate that spin us out."

What fascinates me about most of these 101 things is that they still exist in my world, though endangered they may be.

Just the other day I walked through a newly refurbished Victorian house in Pasadena that had a claw-footed bathtub. In our house we have a three-foot shelf of Mozart and Beethoven on LP records. I have numerous correspondents who still write on manual typewriters. Every now and then I have to wait for a long freight train at the foot of our hill, and they end in cabooses. Afternoon baseball is still played on Sundays. There is a shoeshine stand in my car wash. Aspen, Colo., is protected by a volunteer fire department. Despite the medical warnings, suntans are still being deliberately acquired. Just the other day my family picnicked in Pacific Palisades Park (though it was a group picnic sponsored by my wife's employer, the Southern California Counseling Center, and thus a command performance).

As for some of the other "things worth saving," termite exterminators still make "house calls"; "TV dinners" have not vanished--they have simply been renamed microwave dinners; they still make "movies without sequels"--what about "Heaven's Gate?" I still go to a "barber" who is not a hair stylist. "Jukeboxes" have become chic as nostalgic furniture; 24 "cafeterias" are listed in the Yellow Pages; there is a "hardware store" at the foot of our hill; we still have a "five-digit Zip code;" I wear a "wristwatch with hands." Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors are still "working waterfronts," despite what has happened to San Francisco's; I have a "ceiling fan" in my bathroom and both my sons have one or two in their homes (far from being obsolete, ceiling fans are in vogue).

More questionable, perhaps, are such things (institutions?) as "telephone operators." I still get a telephone operator every time I forget to dial a 1 before dialing long distance; but I have a feeling I am not connected to a real person who is aware of me as a real person.

I still get "free air" at gas stations, but I have to put it in the tires myself, unless I pay a premium price for "full service." Redcaps, it is true, have been replaced by airport porters who expect a $5 tip for telling you your flight has been canceled. But Union Station still has redcaps, though scarce.

"Sunday dinner" is still an institution at our house. My wife asks me what I prefer from her stock of microwave dinners, and we enjoy one another's company while we watch a sex and violence movie on TV.

As for "independent bookstores," we still have David Dutton's stores in North Hollywood and Brentwood (or is that a chain?); the Scene of the Crime (moving from Sherman Oaks to the Wiltern Building); and Charles Cooper's City Desk Books on York Boulevard. I'm sure there are many others, though the competition from chains must be demoralizing.

There must be some soda fountains left--or how would young Lana Turners have a chance to be discovered? I think you can get a root beer float at the root beer stand on that bleak stretch of Highway 5 in the San Joaquin Valley.

As for hummingbirds, I saw one just the other day in my own back yard. So don't despair.

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