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Life as performance art

Life as performance art


By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel

When the weather really turned chilly the other day, I finally broke out my Uncle Corwin’s winter coat. It’s heavy wool, thick and warm.

Even though he fell off his perch in 1950 and probably had the coat from at least a decade before that,  there’s still plenty of good left in it. And since it’s three quarters of a century old, it’s right in style again.

We had it rough when we were growing up. I didn’t realize just how grim it was until recently.

Back in the Olden Days we had to walk all the way across the living room when we wanted to turn on the television. Then we had to wait a few minutes for the tubes to warm up. If the picture was fuzzy, we had to tinker with the Motorola control to turn the antenna. Sometimes it worked; sometimes not.

If we wanted to change stations, we had to trudge all the way back from the chair to the TV and turn the dial by hand. All of that for three stations in living black and white.

Then, after the local news and Jack Paar on the Tonight Show, we got six solid hours of the test pattern. Not that we ever stayed up that late as children, of course.

If we wanted information about someone or something, we had to hike all the way to the book case and select the right volume of the World Book, or learn how to spell a word by finding it in the dictionary. We sometimes had to wait for the library to open, then work our way through the card catalogue.

In winter when the air was dry, we had to endure a spark of static electricity when we touched anything metal. The only good thing about that was when we would shuffle across the carpet to build up a charge, slip up quietly next to someone — preferably when dozing after all that hiking to and from the TV — and touch their ear lobe. Watching them jump was as exciting as it got some days.

Even more fun was when my sister took off a wool sweater and her hair stood on end. You don’t get to see that much anymore, thanks to humidifiers.

I’ve begun to realize just how primitive our lives were back then. We had indoor plumbing, of course, electricity and the old coal furnace had been replaced by a propane one, but still, it was a rugged life.

I realized that when I came across a box of remotes Pat and I had been hoarding for the past decade or so. Like my father who saved burned-out fuses and light bulbs, I held on to them “just in case.”

I’m not sure what that “case” might have been, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Whatever they controlled, alas, we don’t have it anymore.

We are down to just two: for the TV and the gas log in the fireplace, and that worries me. We flirted with the idea of expanding our circle of friends by including Siri or Alexis to move in with us, then dropped that idea.

Nor are we yielding to the temptation to be able to push a few command buttons to turn on the lights, adjust the heat, raise and lower the blinds for us. I’m not too keen about some robotic vacuum cleaner bouncing around the floors, if only because I’m such a klutz I’d trip over it, knock my head against something and the camera would probably alert first responders that I was on the floor and not getting up.

Thanks but no thanks. We have cotton dish towels for drying and neither of us are terrified of using them. I like spending quality time with the vacuum cleaner and am perfectly capable of adjusting lights, heat and blinds. It gives us something to do.

I adjust, Madame re-adjusts, then I re-re-adjust. When we finally get things the way we both like,  I’ll be content to put a 78 on the phonograph, a new steel needle in the stylus and crank it up so we can enjoy three minutes of Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians before it is time to jump up and get on my feet again.

I am sort of curious about one thing, however. If we did buy a Siri and Alexis, do they ever talk to each other on their own? If they do, why and what do they talk about?

If any of my non-curmudgeon friends says anything, I’ll listen, smile and tell them that I’m Retro and proud of it.