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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Wondered, “Where’s My Jet Pack?”

As the world of science touched our lives during the Space Race, a vision of personal flight long imagined in science fiction entered the scene as a real possibility: the jet pack, or more accurately, the rocket pack, since it did not have a jet-propelled engine. A rocket pack was a device worn by an individual that contained fuel tanks and control mechanisms to propel the figure, in science fiction, across the skies.

The first rocket pack was invented by a Russian inventor, Aleksandr Andreyev, in 1919. He imagined a liquid fuel mix of methane and oxygen as his propellent, and affixed wings that were three feet long to the back of the device for stability in flight. A patent was issued to him years later, but his device was never built.

The idea was constantly cropping up through the years. The Nazis tested versions of flying platforms during WWII, but their plans fortunately did not result in operational devices. Various companies tested versions of rocket packs in the 1950s, and the U.S. Army was interested in possible military uses for reconnaissance, passing over mine fields, crossing rivers, ascending steep inclines, etc. The government contracted Aerojet General to develop and test a rocket pack, which the Army dubbed a Small Rocket Lift Device (SRLD). In 1960, the Army discovered that Bell Aerosystems was testing a rocket pack (which they called a rocket belt), and shifted their funding over to them. Bell’s version used a propellent made of a hydrogen peroxide mixed with a bit of nitrogen.

Testing was well underway between 1960 and 1965, first with trained test pilots, then, at the Army’s suggestion, by an untrained pilot. Bill Suitor, age 19 at the time, was hired to join the team of pilots. Between 1965 and 1969, the team executed 3,000 flights with a perfect safety record. While successfully getting its pilots airborne, the duration of each flight maxed out at 21 seconds by the mid-60s. Short flight duration coupled with expensive engineering and high fuel costs caused the Army to scrap its program. Bell continued to demonstrate the device at air shows and state fairs, so it piqued the imagination of many boomers along the way.

Boomers had watched episodes of Rocketman on TV and already wanted to fly with their own rocket pack. As if rocket pack fever wasn’t enough, James Bond entered the mix in the opening sequence of Thunderball (1965). Our man 007 made his getaway courtesy of a Bell Aerospace rocket belt. His stunt double was none other than Bill Suitor.

Mister Boomer recalls seeing a Glad garbage bag commercial on TV in the 1960s where the Man from Glad flies in with a rocket pack to rescue the woman struggling with an inferior trash bag. Despite his memory, he was unable to verify this memory online.

Today the rocket pack is alive and well, with several companies producing versions with various forms of propellant, and individual inventors have created their own devices with mixed results. Two practical applications did arise from the rocket pack idea, though: today astronauts use a similar device for space walks. The NASA device is a direct descendant of the Bell rocket belt. Enterprising inventors realized that if they could figure our a way to keep a fuel supply coming to the belt, fly time could be greatly enhanced. They found a way to pump water to the propulsion unit, and the water jet pack was invented. These devices propel a person, tethered to to the pump unit, above and around a body of water. Variations on the device include one that resembles a skateboard, and others that act like individual “jet shoes.” A recreational rental market has cropped up in several tourist-centric locations around the globe.

Did you want a jet pack, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fun,Pop Culture History,Technology and have No Comments

Boomers Had More Patience Back Then

You’ll have to bear with Mister Boomer this week. He’s feeling a little grumpy and here is the reason why: People have such little patience these days! In our hurry-up, git-‘er-done, gotta-run, don’t-be-late, don’t-hesitate, give-me-more, don’t-want-a-chore, wasting-time-oughta-be-a-crime world, is it too much to ask for people to take a second to realize that not everything needs to be instantaneous? Are these the ramblings of an aging boomer or a societal observation that rings true? Well, here is the case for the latter:

Remember when we stood in lines — all sorts of lines — without complaining? (If you did complain, your mom was sure to have something to say about that). We had to stand in line to cash our checks at the bank every week (no such thing as ATMs); we stood in line to buy concert or sporting event tickets (sometimes all night!); we stood in line when we went to the post office (before those stamp vending machines came in); and we stood in line to take our turn in gym class; play a game of pool in a bar; gain admittance into the city swimming pool; and a host of other situations. Standing in line was part of the way we grew up, and cutting the line was a very real violation that brought the immediate wrath of all those assembled, beginning with our parents. Standing in line taught patience.

Remember when we popped popcorn in a pot and anticipated the hot and tasty treat that was on the way? Then Jiffy Pop came along and although the process wasn’t much faster, it was fun to watch. Having a little patience was made into fun. Later still, the microwave came along and we couldn’t believe how fast we could get our popcorn. Now popping popcorn in a microwave is too much for a lot of people in generations after boomers. Mister B has heard some of a younger generation complain it “takes too long” and is “too much work!” Really? A microwave! No patience!

Remember when patience was its own reward? We put together jigsaw puzzles for hours on end. It wasn’t the finishing that was as important as the journey getting there. And we played family games, waiting our turn and enjoying the moment, though some competitive boomers strived to win.

Remember collecting box tops and sending in for some type of toy? So many things could be acquired courtesy of the back of cereal boxes, but they required kids to do something — collect box tops, tape a quarter to the entry form, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope — whatever it was, once accomplished, you had to wait. In two to six weeks, your sea monkeys, temporary tattoos, string-pull flying thingies, etc., would arrive in the mail. Patience was rewarded.

Remember seeing mothers feed grapes to their children or open a bag of chips or cookies in the supermarket before paying for them? It did not happen! If you begged your mother to give you a grape or open the bag of cookies, what would she have told you? That’s right, she would’ve said you had to wait. Patience. And the wait wasn’t until the groceries were placed in the car in the parking lot, either; it was when the groceries were put away at home. Patience meant never eating anything inside a supermarket if it wasn’t a free sample.

The old saying goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” If the adage is true, what does that say about things that come — nay, HAVE to come — instantaneously? Mister Boomer’s reaction to all this mayhem reminds him of the call-response chanting prevalent in our protest days (and indeed similar chants are still employed in today’s protests). To paraphrase: What does Mister Boomer want? PATIENCE! When does he want it? NOW!

Is the patience you practiced in your youth still hanging on in your current life, boomers, or have you embraced the “instant gratification” attitude of today’s techno-addicted scene, man?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Ate Economical Dinners Like “City Chicken”

Much has been written about how quickly the parents of the Baby Boom Generation embraced frozen TV dinners and other prepared frozen foods like pot pies and fried chicken. However, it was Mister Boomer’s experience that the day-to-day dinners of working class families were simple and economical, especially in the 1950s and early ’60s. Officially, the national data famously stated the average household family had “2.5 children,” but every family Mister B knew had a minimum of three — often four, and up to seven — kids. That was a lot of mouths to feed. Casseroles, stews and soups made good use of leftovers while feeding growing families.

For Mister Boomer’s family, one oft-made economical dish was “City Chicken,” known by some as “Mock Chicken.” Origin stories and recipes for this dish vary widely, but it is generally written that the first mention of a “mock chicken” dish occurred in the early 1900s. Recipes for the dish began circulating in newspapers and cookbooks immediately before and during the Great Depression. It was a working class dish since, at least in its early incarnations, leftover scraps of meat — especially veal and pork — were cut into cubes and skewered on wooden sticks, breaded, fried then baked. The name came from the resemblance of the skewered meat to chicken drumsticks. During the Great Depression and WWII, fresh chicken was harder to obtain than veal or pork, which were cheaper and more readily available.

Many ethnic groups claim variations of the dish as their own, but it is generally agreed that the invention of the recipe came about in the U.S., and did not come over with other treasured family recipes when boomers’ ancestors made their way here. A regional dish, it was especially popular during the boomer years in Appalachia, Pennsylvania, the Rust Belt and Midwest states. Generally speaking, wherever there are people of German, Slavic or Polish origin, you’ll find a “City Chicken” variation.

Midwest boomers will recall seeing packages in supermarkets labelled as “City Chicken” that contained pork cubes and wooden skewers. In some areas, boomer moms battered the meat before frying then baking, giving it a real fried chicken look. Other areas, particularly in Canada and the Upper Midwest, ground meat was used instead of cubes.

In Mister Boomer’s house, his mom had her own version, which was tantamount to meat loaf on a stick. His mom reused the wooden skewers, which were kept in the housewares drawer along with serving utensils and specialty tools. When Mister Boomer’s mom wanted to make her “City Chicken,” she’d ask Mister B or his sister to take out the sticks and soak them in a bowl of water for a few minutes. This would keep the sticks from burning in the cooking process and allow them to be reused another day. Her meat of choice was the same mixture used for her meatballs when she made spaghetti; that is, an inexpensive ground mixture of veal, pork and beef that was a weekly staple in the fridge.

It may have been sacrilege to some “City Chicken” aficionados, but Mister Boomer’s mom favored expediency over tradition. She’d crack an egg and toss in some cracker crumbs, which would help bind the ground meat, but also help extend the pound package to feed the family. Next his mom would shape the meat around a skewer in a teardrop shape to mimic a chicken drumstick, dredge it in flour and brown the meat in a cast iron skillet before transferring the “legs” to the oven for finishing. When the meat was put into the oven, she’d open a small can of mushrooms and toss them over the “legs.” Drippings and fat from the meat would collect in the pan, so when removed from the oven, a little flour was added to the drippings and mushrooms to make a brown sauce. Once she got an electric frying pan (with trading stamps, of course), that was it for the oven. She completed the all the cooking in the one electric pan.

Each member of the family got one “leg” along with mashed potatoes and canned string beans. His father got two. The “gravy” was spooned over the meat and potatoes. Mister B places the word in quotes because sauces were not his mother’s strong point. Generally, lumps of flour and patches of grease shared space with what other people might recognize as “gravy.” Mister Boomer’s father, a true child of the Depression, loved grease of any kind, often sopping it up with slices of Wonder bread. It wasn’t Mister B’s favorite meal, but it was dinner. His sister especially liked it, before she became a super-picky eater in her pre-teens.

Did your family eat “City Chicken,” boomers? If so, which version was popular in your household?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Got Sugar-Coated Facts

We have all been admonished for years not to believe everything we read on the Internet (excluding Mister Boomer’s posts, of course). The prevalence of inflated studies and the outright fabrication of “facts” has cast a veil of uncertainty over all aspects of medicine, nutrition, parenting, climate change and of course, politics. Recently Mister Boomer read some articles that made it clear these practices are far from new and original; in fact, the disinformation factories were alive and well during our Boomer Years.

How the cigarette industry withheld evidence and obfuscated facts and statics for decades are now known to be of the highest degree of impropriety. Mister Boomer has chronicled the case of how the dairy industry got milk into schools and every boomer household after the War (see Boomers Were Milked for All They Were Worth). In 2016, it was revealed that the sugar industry had its hands in sweetening the pot on the effects of sugar, particularly on heart disease and obesity.

The Sugar Research Foundation (SRF, now known as the Sugar Association) was established by the sugar industry in the 1950s to further the spread of their product by extolling its benefits, based on studies performed by preeminent scientists. Unfortunately, this was a time when the funding sources of research findings did not have to be disclosed, and in fact, many industries (i.e., tobacco, automotive, etc.) funded the studies themselves. In 2016 when a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California San Francisco discovered thousands of pages that documented how John Hickson, president of the SRF, paid three scientists $6,500 each in 1964 to shape their data on sugar in order to “minimize the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.” As a result, based on the findings of the SRF report released in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, national policies for nutrition have for decades placed more blame on fat than on sugar’s role in heart disease. At the same time, the SRF was courting scientists with research that would blur the lines between sugar and tooth decay, something that had been known since the 1950s among dental researchers. Negative reports were successfully suppressed for more than a decade.

Likewise, other findings have shown the candy and soft drink industries have attempted to put out their own studies. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, waving his hand and suggesting “These aren’t the droids you are looking for,” their findings stated directly that there was no link found between sugar and weight gain.

A look back to our Boomer Days shows the effects of these campaigns. Some historians have written that the public was poised and predisposed to accept such a disinformation campaign. Sugar was such a rare commodity in Colonial times that furniture pieces were created with locked drawers to hold the precious stuff. By the time of the Great Depression, boomer grandparents could not afford sugar, then during World War II, sugar was rationed. It seemed only natural that the Greatest Generation, enjoying post-war freedom and new-found prosperity, would cause the sugar pendulum to swing in the other direction. Their swings were given that extra push. Baby Boomers became the recipients of this sugar bonanza. The spread of television assisted the sugar campaigns with commercials airing during Saturday morning cartoons that relied heavily on sugar-laden cereals and sweet drinks. Boomers will recall how Kool-Aid commercials showed kids making the sweet drink by pouring in cups — not tablespoons — of sugar per pitcher.

While the industry was not afraid to place the word “sugar” front and center in their advertising with products like Sugar Pops, Sugar Crisps (remember Sugar Bear?), Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks, at the same time throughout the 1950s and ’60s, parent-based magazine and TV ads concentrated on the benefits of sugar as an energy source. At various times, the sugar, candy and soft drink industries produced ads that stated:

  • Kids need the kind of energy that sugar provides (Despite knowing sugar-based energy could be obtained through many types of fruits and vegetables)
  • Sugar can help control appetite and weight in diets (They accomplished this with a campaign comparing the amount of calories in common foods like apples to one teaspoon of sugar; of course, we know now calories aren’t the whole story in weight gain and nutrition)
  • We like sugar because it is instinctual for us to like sweet tastes (But they failed to mention that they would exploit that sweet craving throughout the Boomer Generation and increase the use of sugars in processed foods)

Mister Boomer has written that generally speaking, the boomers he knew did not have candy on a regular basis at home, other than at holidays (or visits to grandma). However, the sprinkling of some sugar on cereal, dessert fruit, in coffee (for kids who drank coffee) and in drinks like Kool-Aid were “authorized” uses of sugar in most boomer households. There were a few years where Mister Boomer and his neighbor friends got their summer candy money by redeeming soda pop bottles. If the bottle harvest was good on a hot day, 10 cents would buy a sweet treat in the form of an 8 oz. bottle of Coke from the Sinclair gas station vending machine.

So, what are parents and grandparents supposed to do, knowing what we know about sugar now? Mister B posits that perhaps advice from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is most apropos: “The virtue of Justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.”

What was your family’s attitude toward sugar, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Food & Beverage,Pop Culture History and have Comments (2)

Boomers Got Tattoos — Or Did They?

The history of tattooing spans countries, cultures and generations. The early days of tattoos in the U.S. echoed the new country’s military beginnings, as tattoos were predominantly inked on male soldiers and sailors, who sported patriotic themes or regimental insignia. This same practice was reawakened during the Civil War, when tattoo artists would travel, even from Union to Confederate camps, to practice their art.

The Victorian Era saw acceptance of tattoos grow from the strata of the military and lower income classes to higher echelons of society. A New York newspaper at the time reported that as many as three quarters of the women of high society were tattooed for decoration, mostly with butterflies and flowers.

Like most trends in the U.S., the popularity of tattoos started on the East and West Coasts and moved inward, but times were changing. By the 1920s, tattoos and tattoo artists were equated with the excesses of the Jazz Age, and it fell out of fashion in the general population as part of the sweep of the Prohibition Movement. Tattoos on women were thought to be a sign of promiscuity. This forced some heavily tattooed women into working circus and strip-tease acts. Nonetheless, the practice continued. When Social Security was introduced in the 1930s, a minor trend appeared of getting your newly-issued Social Security number tattooed on your body so that you would remember it!

In the 1940s, many men still sought out tattoo artists. However, as the possibility of the U.S. entering World War II loomed large, the military would not accept individuals with images of naked women or pin-ups, popular tats of the day. Consequently, there was a surge in tattoo business nationwide as men had their tattoos “dressed” with nurses’ uniforms, bikinis or even Native American garb. During the War, it was mainly sailors — like the early days of the U.S. military — who received tattoos. And like the time of the American Revolution and Civil War, their tats were most often patriotic images or regimental insignia.

By the time the War had ended and the first boomers were born, tattoos were once again losing their status in society. Prisoners gave each other tattoos, often to reflect group affiliation, and thus a person observed with a visible tattoo was thought of as either a felon or under-educated. This rebellious reputation made tattoos more attractive for motorcycle clubs and Beatniks, though their chosen imagery differed greatly. Motorcycle club members often had a club logo tattoo in the 1950s, while the Beatniks preferred imagery that suggested Eastern mysticism.

In 1961, a hepatitis outbreak in New York City was traced to a tattoo studio in Coney Island. Consequently, a New York City law banned all tattoo establishments, and most of the country followed suit. (New York City didn’t repeal the law until 1997.) More underground than it had been in decades, tattoo artists worked illicitly. As rock ‘n roll established itself as the voice of the younger generation, some rock stars sported tattoos as a sign of their rebellious nature. Members of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, in particular, sported visible tattoos.

In Mister Boomer’s circle of family and friends, tattoos were a rarity. He only knew two people — both men — with tattoos. The first was his uncle, a veteran of World War II, who had his army division insignia tattooed on his arm. The other was a manager at the first retail job Mister Boomer worked. The man’s tattoo pictured snakes slithering down an anchor — he had recently left the Navy.

In Mister Boomer’s area, it was commonly said during the 1960s and ’70s that any tattoos or markings should be covered up for job interviews. It was not going to be easy to enter Corporate America if you had a visible tattoo. Thus the alienation between financial classes, heightened by level of education, could also increase over physical appearance. Many long-haired boomers will attest to this same form of discrimination. Consequently, tattooed boomers tended to work in factories, record stores or places where they would not be seen by the general public lest someone be offended.

Now it is said that the number of tattoo studios in the U.S. has doubled since the 1990s. Many corporations still frown on their workers showing tattoos, and tattoo concealer sales have grown to serve this market. At the same time, tattoo removal services have also grown exponentially. According to a 2006 study by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly a quarter of Americans between 18 and 50 have at least one tattoo.

These days it’s hard to turn practically anywhere without seeing people of both genders sporting tattoos. Male and female stars on all types of TV shows, movie stars and sports stars proudly display their tats. More establishments are relaxing their ban on tattoos in the workplace as the popularity seems yet to have reached its peak. Who knows where this will lead? Mister Boomer can’t help but wonder if the Boomer Generation didn’t set the stage for the level of freedom this current generation has to express themselves with their bodies.

While Mister Boomer doesn’t have any tattoos and doesn’t know tattooed boomers himself, he did run into one man in his daily work commute last summer who had a series of tattoos on both his arms and legs. The man appeared to be of boomer age and was dressed in shorts, so he may have been retired or worked as a corporate messenger since he was observed carrying large envelopes each time Mister Boomer encountered him on the train platform. The interesting thing about his tattoos to Mister Boomer, though — and what made him think the man was a boomer himself — was that virtually all of his tattoos were cartoon characters from our boomer days. The man had Mighty Mouse, Heckel and Jeckel, Huckleberry Hound, Popeye, Felix the Cat, Yogi Bear and Bullwinkle and Rocky inked on his arms and legs! While Mister Boomer isn’t of the mindset to ever get a tattoo of any type, this was one display he could appreciate. How is that for a rebellious boomer?

Did you know any fellow boomers who got tattoos back in the day, boomers? Have you jumped on the tattoo bandwagon yourself in subsequent years? Do your children have tattoos?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Pop Culture History and have Comment (1)

Boomers Watched Scary Weekend Late-Night TV Programs

At the beginning of the Baby Boom, television broadcasting expanded to make boomers the first TV generation. By 1955, half of all U.S. homes owned a TV, so the next issue for broadcasters was to fill the programming day. From the early days of four-hour prime time broadcasting (8 p.m. to 11 p.m.), the burgeoning networks had grown the broadcast day to twenty hours, signing off the air at 2 a.m.

The dilemma broadcasters faced was what to put on the air after 11 p.m. on weekends, when most people (and all good Baby Boom children!) were already in bed. While the networks experimented with late-night programming during the week (i.e., Broadway Open House in 1950, The Tonight Show in 1952), it wasn’t as lucrative to them in terms of advertiser sponsorship. For the most part, late-night broadcasting was left up to locally-owned stations. The cheapest way for them to fill the time was by airing old movies.

As the 1950s became the 1960s, many stations were airing syndicated segments of movies from the horror genre on weekends in the time between midnight and 2 a.m. Some had a voiceover actor to introduce the film, then disappear until there was a commercial break or the film ended — whichever came first since it was difficult to sell late-night ad space. Most had a local host or hostess who was often dressed as a ghoul, vampire or monster themselves to introduce the movie of the night. While the hosts may have been adept at slapstick and schlock with a distinct feeling of improvised scripting, the movies were from Hollywood — often B movies but also top-rated films like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Various regional favorite hosts emerged (such as Vampira on the West Coast).

Their success drew copy cats from other regions, to the point that several used the same titles for their programs even though each region generated their own content on either end of the movie being aired. Some of these program titles included Nightmare Theater, Creature Features, Chiller Theater and the most famous of them all, Shock Theater. Shock Theater became synonymous with the genre, so much so that the title is now considered a generic name for programs airing late-night movies from classic horror films of the 1930s and ’40s to the sci-fi and Japanese monster movies of the ’50s and ’60s.

Shock Theater began as a syndicated package of Universal/Screen Gems classics. The originally syndicated package ran from 1957 to ’59. There was a version of the movie package under the umbrella title of Shock! airing until the 1980s. Mister Boomer and his siblings were in bed long before the shows came on, though his father was a late-night TV watcher/sleeper. Mister B, a light sleeper, would wake up when the TV broadcast ended and white noise filtered into his bedroom down the hall. He’d turn off the TV and shut the light, then head back to bed.

Mister Boomer saw his classic horror films mostly at Saturday matinees at the movies, but later enjoyed them on TV during daytime or nighttime broadcasts. He was well-versed in everything from Abbott and Costello Meets the Mummy to creepy Vincent Price movies like House of Wax. There is one time, however, that Mister B recalls seeing Shock Theater. He believes he was in the third grade when a classmate held a sleepover with Mister B and a couple of his friends. After the boy’s parents went to bed and the house was dark, the group made their way to the TV to watch Shock Theater. Mister Boomer was frightened that the boy’s parents would get up and be angry with them, but that did not happen. Mister Boomer would view a Shock Theater program.

Mister B remembers that the movie that night was Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). It didn’t matter that the film was in black & white (as was the capability of the TV set); the movie scared the bejeebus out of him. There was no other movie that gave him more nightmares than that one episode of Shock Theater, watched in the dark in a strange home in the middle of the night.

Did you watch Shock Theater or weekend late-night scary movies in the 1950s and ’60s, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Watched Scary Weekend Late-Night TV Programs