Forward To The Past
“What’s a record player?” the clerk behind the counter asked when I had finally decided that my faithful decades-old machine needed replacing. My classical music collection of LP’s includes some of the operatic greats. Toscanini conducting “La Traviata”. Leonard Warren as Rigoletto. Marilyn Horne and Joan Sutherland in “Norma”. Maria Callas. Even Rosa Ponselle and Enrico Caruso.
I repeated my intent to the puzzled young man in the music store. “I would like to buy a record player.” Again, he responded, “What’s a record player.” I had the uncomfortable sensation of being in a time warp. He was not kidding. He really didn’t know what I was talking about. And he was looking at me the way those people looked at Michael J. Fox in the film, “Back to the Future”. To see if there were any other strange characteristics besides my peculiar inquiry.
I persevered. “ A record machine. You know, the kind that you put the records on. With a turntable and the automatic arm that drops the records one by one.” Oh,”, he said, “You mean the machines that people used to have in the old days before the cassettes and C.D.s? ( I aged two decades with that comment) Now, it was my turn. “C.D.s What are they?” (CD to me means certificate of deposit or civil defense and I didn’t think he was on either of those wave lengths.)
He explained, “C.D.s are compact disks. They’re the latest thing in the sound business. The best possible way to hear music next to being there. Would you like me to play one for you?” “Well”, I went on, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but I have this huge collection of L.Ps at home. Something of a lifetime investment, you might say. I think I’ll stick with what I have. That’s why I need a new machine. Don’t you carry them at all anymore?”
At this point, we had reached an impasse. He obviously regarded me as an alien in the modern world of music. It also occurred to me that he might not even know what L.P.s were. It was clear that I was not a potential buyer of C.Ds, the sound of the future. He turned me over to the assistant manager, who diplomatically informed me, “We really don’t have any call for the type of machine you are describing. Perhaps a second-hand store or an antique dealer might have one.”
Help! Alvin Toffler was right. My world is becoming archaic. My machine is an anachronism. Toffler predicted in his book, “Future Shock” that this would happen. At the time, I didn’t believe him. After this consciousness raising session at the music store, I decided to keep my old machine. The sound may not be perfect, but I know it well and its sounds right to me. I also began t think about other things that have become outmoded, outdated and out of stock. I didn’t have to search too far. Here’s my starter list:
Clotheslines and wooden clothespins.
Dry goods stores.
Watches and clocks that one winds and sets.
Stockings, not pantyhose.
Rouge, not blusher.
Soap, not a body bar.
A manual typewriter.
A malted milk shake.
Five and Dime stores. At least one per town.
Roller skates that clip onto your shoes.
The metal key to tighten the skates.
Fountain pens. Other than the status models.
Bottles of ink for the fountain pens.
Ink eradicator to correct the blots.
A baby stroller that is simple in purpose.
Have you tried lately to buy a plain canvas what-we-used-to-call sneaker? The variations on this form of footwear are awesome. Tennis. Walking. Jogging. Running. Racing. With reinforced arch. Without said arch. High top. Low top. No top. Leather. Nylon. Canvas. Wide laces. Narrow laces. Stretchable laces. And all of these choices occur before you enter the world of different brands and myriad colors.
Many people yearn for the days of the past. For the simple rural society and its values. For fewer choices. For the small town with the 5 and 10 cent store and the corner drugstore with soda fountain. I cannot say I belong to that segment of the population. I guess I am somewhere in between that world and the present one, with a clothing chain store on every other block. One for women. One for men. And one for children. Is this really necessary?
How I would love to see tucked away on one of those blocks a nostalgia store. A store that stocks all the anachronisms and archaic objects I crave. All the hard-to-find record machines, needle threaders and wooden clothespins. This image conjures up the legendary store that used to exist in a neighborhood. It might have been called a hardware store, or a general store in the real old days. In every case, this store was the place of first and last resort. Merchandise usually spilled down fromm the jammed aisles. Threading one’s way through the aisles took determination. But the reward was finding exactly what you needed. In the right size. And the right color. And just the brand you usually bought.
The owners of these stores knew their inventory and the hiding place of every item. They honed in on the most obscure request with unerring accuracy. “I know I have a few in stock. On the third aisle, top shelf, under the rubber spatulas.” And there they were!
Having such a store in our neighborhood would gave me a wonderful sense of security. As I am catapulted into the future, I could visit the nostalgia store from time to time and hold on to the comfortable past.