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Talkin' 'Bout My Generation

Boomers Banked the Old-Fashioned Way

A major financial institution announced this week that it was rolling out a new smartphone app that could control all functions of their ATMs. For several years now banks have accepted check deposits through their smartphone apps when the consumer takes a photo of the check. This announcement, however, eliminates the need for a physical ATM card altogether. You don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows. The writing appears to be on the wall as we inevitably move toward a future where all monetary transactions are handled through some personal electronic device.

That dots the “i’s” and crosses the “t’s” for placing the boomer generation as the last to be required to visit a bank teller in person to do routine banking functions such as deposit checks and withdraw funds. Banks have been discouraging the traditional face-to-face bank teller visit — the one boomers recall — for nearly 40 years now. They have trained us to use the ATM instead. Now they want to come one step closer to eliminating the need for an ATM at all.

What triggered this latest nostalgia bomb in the mind of Mister Boomer was that recently he and his spouse opened an account at a neighborhood bank for the sake of convenience. This particular bank is a little unlike others in that there are no bullet-proof partitions separating customer from teller, so there is no need to shout through a hole to relay one’s reason for today’s banking. This was much more like the banks of yore.

Mister Boomer was probably around six or seven years old when his mother brought him and his brother, with his sister in tow in the kids’ wagon, to the neighborhood bank. This visit was to open an account for Mister Boomer. The nice lady behind a desk got the pertinent info, Mister B’s mom handed over a couple of dollars — more than likely the contents of a birthday card from his grandmother — and then went behind the teller counter to finish the transaction. When she returned, she handed Mister B the book — which he was now informed was a “passbook” — and was greeted with a “Welcome to the Bank, Master Boomer.” That was the way it was — men and women would be addressed as “Mister” or “Missus,” girls as “Miss” and boys under the age of twelve as “Master.”

For the next twenty years Mister B banked at that branch. Each time he produced his passbook, where tellers dutifully recorded deposits and withdrawals by stamping the date and amount. When the pages of one book were filled, another was given to take its place. The tellers knew your name when you walked through the door, and they were always happy to see you. It was like Cheers — a place where troubles were all the same, and everybody knew your name.

Of course, boomers did not have a choice but to visit a bank weekly, at the very least. We had to stand in line with all the other people who just got their paychecks in order to deposit part and take back the cash we would need for the week. There was no such thing as “direct deposit.” This might result in lines of 45-minute waits or longer, despite a full complement of tellers for every window. It meant a race to the bank after work if you wanted to cash your paycheck, or using a lunch hour to do so instead. Some banks began to open one day a week a little beyond their usual 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours (known as “bankers hours” to boomers) to accommodate the weekly crush. Others established drive-through windows to increase the number of tellers and lessen the lines, only to have long lines at the drive-throughs.

Mister Boomer’s neighborhood bank wasn’t much bigger than the size of a gas station. It was dwarfed by the size of its parking lot, which was easily double its size. Drive-through windows first appeared in the late 1920s, when people began owning more cars than horses, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s when Mister B’s bank installed drive-throughs. The bank’s main branch had them probably since the building was built, which looked to be the 1950s. But Mister B’s branch was old-fashioned. Following suit, Mister Boomer didn’t use the bank’s drive-throughs until the bank established Saturday morning drive-through hours in the early 1970s. If you couldn’t make it to the bank on Friday payday, the Saturday drive-through window was going to be a life-saver.

Like most boomers at this time in history, Mister Boomer has moved along to embrace whatever ways the banks have laid out for us to give them our money. Forty years ago, would any boomer have envisioned a day when we could make bank transactions and bill payments by computer, let alone a smartphone? Mister Boomer, though, wouldn’t mind banking at a place where everybody knew his name.

Do you remember banking in our boomer days fondly, or as a necessary evil?

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

Boomers Welcomed Spring Their Way

As winter’s thawing tentacles recoil and thrash, intent on crushing the young ambitions of budding crocuses, a wellspring of thoughts gurgle with the notion that spring will — no, must — arrive soon.

Mister Boomer hated this time of the season, that interval of neither here nor there. The time when you needed a winter coat for the walk to school in the morning, but by the time school let out, the temperature had risen 20 degrees. Still cold enough to require a jacket, Mister B and his siblings would have to strip off their hats and gloves and unzip coats to maintain a comfortable equilibrium with the day. He hated that.

Mister Boomer’s mom, like many boomer moms, was motivated by the coming of spring. Her actions on spring motivations began with the seasonal change of outerwear. Since a family of five had to share one small coat closet, a move to storage was always in order when the next season arrived. Winter coats, scarves and gloves were transferred to a basement chifforobe. It was a tall, wooden, rounded-cornered affair, probably dating from the 1930s or ’40s. Mister Boomer thought it must’ve been part of his parents’ bedroom set when they were married, a hand-me-down gift from one of their parents or siblings. However, Midwest springs being what they are, seasons can come and go in a matter of hours. Inevitably there were days when Mister B would have to make the trek to the basement to retrieve winter wear that was prematurely sent to the off-season storage. He hated that.

What’s more, the season ushered in annual spring cleaning chores, especially for the Boomer Brothers. Once Mister B’s mom had the hall closet switched to spring jackets, she’d enlist the help of the boys in various chores around the house. His sister was often exempt from participating. Mister B hated that. (See: Spring Cleaning for Boomer Youth)

T.S. Eliot may have christened April the cruelest month, but then, he may never have had to go to baseball tryouts in the Midwest in March. Mister Boomer didn’t make a Little League team his first year, but did the next three. Tryouts, though, in Mister B’s estimation, were problematic due to seasonal conditions. The air was far too crisp for Mister Boomer, the ground far too soft, the sky far too grey. Then there was the sting of catching a ball in a cold glove, and the zap running up each arm, like brain-freeze for extremities, when the ball made contact with the bat. Even as he took his place at the plate, Mister B knew that somewhere in this favored land, the sun was shining bright, but right there on that day, the weather had struck out. Mister B hated that. (See: Going Batty for Spring)

Mister Boomer has mentioned many times that he, like most boomers, spent a good portion of his time outdoors. As far as Mister B was concerned, he could layer up for winter, but this early spring business confounded his selection of outerwear and made it the most uncomfortable season to play in, in the Great Outdoors. One of the first spring activities in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was kite flying, to take advantage of the seasonal wind. Like baseball tryouts — air, crisp; ground, soft; sky, grey — wasn’t Mister Boomer’s idea of a good time. He hated that. (See: Boomers Go Fly A Kite)

Meanwhile, back at school the march continued toward summer vacation at a snail’s pace. After all, what was spring to a school kid but the gateway to a summer of fun? It would be Memorial Day before Mister B could hope for a full day off for basking in the warm rays of late spring sunshine. Sure, he had a break over Easter, that strange holiday that hopped around the calendar like a crazed bunny hyped up on sugar. It could be a pleasant week off from school one year, depending where it was in the month, or it could snow. Mister Boomer hated that. (See: Our Sunday Best for Easter)

As the passage of time becomes more prescient to an aging Mister B, he hasn’t mellowed much in his thoughts on early spring days. However, hope springs eternal as March has a way of becoming April, which paves the way to May and on to June. Before you know it, we’re in a Frank Sinatra song singing about the autumn of our years. Mister B hates that.

How did you feel about early spring, boomers? How do you feel now?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Seasons and have Comments (2)

Boomers Both Feared and Laughed at Russia

Spying and hacking and meddling … oh my! Russia is in the news again, but that is nothing new to boomers. We lived with practically daily news about the country and people we were told were our biggest adversaries.

There are famous stories of General George Patton advocating war with Russia at the end of World War II. His rationale was that it was inevitable that we would face the country some day, and at that point we had troops and equipment available in the area already. Fortunately cooler heads prevailed, but just four years after the end of the war, the first salvo of the Cold War was hurled when the Soviet Union tested their first nuclear bomb.

We tended to use the terms “Russia” and “Soviet Union” interchangeably, though there was a difference. Russia was and is a country in and of itself, but the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) was a collection of Country/States that comprised the Soviet Union, until its dissolution in 1991. The U.S.S.R. was under the control of the Communist Party, headquartered in Moscow, Russia.

Once the Soviets became the second state to possess nuclear capability, fear spread across the U.S. Boomers recall the Duck and Cover government educational film (1951) and the craze of people building home fallout shelters (See: Signs of the Times: Fallout Shelter Signs Were A Common Sight for Boomers). In the beginning we were told we’d survive a nuclear attack if we were at school, simply by sliding under our school desks. At home, we could survive indefinitely inside shelters that were either pre-made and installed, or custom made by the homeowner. These shelters were stocked with water, canned goods and everything a family might need to remain locked away underground until nuclear fallout clouds might dissipate. Information at the time thought that might not take more than a month — at least that is what the government was saying aloud.

Soon after the Soviets’ first nuclear test, the country was gripped by McCarthyism, named after Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisconsin) and the congressional hearings he chaired on the possible infiltration of Communists into the U.S. (1950-54). His first inquiries concerned the loyalty of government employees, then he targeted the film and TV industry.
The same year McCarthy began his “Red Scare,” the U.S. entered the Korean conflict, ostensibly to stop the spread of Communism.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev said in a speech in 1956 that he felt the Communist system would outlast the western Capitalism system by saying, “We will bury you.” He repeated the phrase at the United Nations in 1960, pounding his fists and ultimately, his shoe, on his desk. The line elicited front page news for the American press. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 added more fuel to the fire of nuclear fear (See: Boomer History: The Cuban Missile Crisis).

Meanwhile, the film and TV industry was busy doing what people always do to their adversaries — demonize and make fun of them. Some of the most popular movies and TV shows referenced the Soviet Union in an adversarial role. Most, however, may have made allusions to Russian spies and meddling, but the foes were more often super villains from international crime syndicates as opposed to state operators. Here are a few of Mister B’s Cold War favorites:

James Bond — The first James Bond film was released in 1962. The books, authored by Ian Fleming, did plot U.S. and Soviet spies against each other on occasion, but the movies seldom did. In From Russia with Love (1963), James Bond “must” seduce a beautiful Russian agent in order to acquire a decoder device. In You Only Live Twice (1967) super-villain Blofeld is capturing Soviet and American satellites in an effort to start a war between the two countries. In The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), British and Russian submarines are being hijacked, so the two countries’ governments combine forces to investigate. Heading into the 1980s and ’90s, the Soviets and British (and by proxy, Americans) appear in an adversarial role in several Bond films, but that is out of the range of the prime boomer years, so Mister B will leave that for your own research.

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – This movie set up a “what if” scenario of a rogue American general intent on starting a war between our two countries. In the movie, the U.S. President reaches out to the Soviet Ambassador to try to explain the situation and brings him into the top-secret War Room in the process. There, the Ambassador, skeptical of U.S. motives, is busy taking pictures of his surroundings. The satire showed the absurdity of our mutual distrust in the face of total annihilation.

Fail-Safe (1964) – Like Dr. Strangelove before it, this film creates a scenario where a nuclear exchange between the two countries is frighteningly close at hand. In this film, though, American bombers are accidentally sent to destroy Moscow due to electrical and computer malfunctions. The U.S. asks the Soviet Union for help in averting a worldwide crisis. Unlike Dr. Strangelove, this was serious drama. Mister Boomer had read the book in school before the movie was made.

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) – When a Soviet submarine accidentally runs aground off the coast of a small New England town, members of the crew realize they have no choice but to go ashore and seek help to free their vessel. Reflecting the paranoia of the day, townspeople mistake the small boat as a Russian invasion force. Merriment ensues.

Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale – Cartoon characters on Rocky and His Friends and The Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), these spies and dastardly do-no-gooders were actually from Pottsylvania, despite their obvious Russian names. Their superior was known as Fearless Leader. Boris’s name is a play on the name of Boris Godunov, a 19th century Russian tsar who instituted a spy system to protect his power from internal and external enemies. Boris Badenov proclaimed himself the “world’s greatest nogoodnik,” another reference to the Russian language.

Much taller than Boris, Natasha Fatale was his partner and evidently the brains of the operation. She appeared to hold some affection for Boris and often saved him from his own misdoings. Like Boris, she spoke in a broken English reminiscent of a Slavic-Russian accent.

Spy TV Shows — A series of TV shows cropped up in the early ’60s that used the Cold War as backdrop, but again, seldom mentioned Russia and the Soviet Union by name — although there were instances where the two countries worked together to thwart a common enemy. Among them were The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68),  I Spy (1965-68), The Avengers (1966-69), Mission: Impossible (1966-73), The Prisoner (1967-68), and Get Smart (1965-70). All of them used at least some humor in their scripts.

What memorable laugh or fear-stricken book, film or TV show about the Russians do you remember, Boomers? (For further Mister B insight, see: Laughing Through the Cold War)

posted by Mister B in Film & Movies,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comment (1)

How Boomers Kept Warm

As winter makes a comeback this week across a good portion of the country, Mister Boomer is forever amazed at how thin the outerwear appears on the young Millennials he sees darting around town. If we saw coats and jackets like these back in the early Boomer Days, we would have put them in the same category as fashion from Star Trek — the stuff of science fiction. Advances in lightweight materials and especially insulation innovations have enabled modern outerwear to be a fraction of the thickness of what we had as kids, without sacrificing warmth.

If you were a kid in the late fifties and early sixties, your choices for winter warmth weren’t that much different than what your parents wore in the 1920s and ’30s. Wool and heavyweight cotton coats, hats, scarves and pants were the order of the day. While younger children had snow suits (as portrayed in the movie, A Christmas Story), older kids had snow pants that had buttons in the waistband to attach suspenders while teens tended to wear long johns under their regular winter-weight pants. Gloves and mittens were also wool or cotton, though lined leather gloves made it into Mister Boomer’s wardrobe for dress occasions such as Sunday church, family weddings and funerals.

As a youngster, Mister Boomer remembers wearing snow pants over his school pants, held up by suspenders. When he got a little older, he wore long johns under corduroy pants to school. The trade off was that warmth on the way to school gave way to potential overheating in the classroom. Jackets and coats were usually wool or had a wool lining, but as the mid-sixties introduced synthetics into the marketplace, acrylic pile linings were replacing the wool. For the most part, boys and girls wore the same type of garments, though in Mister B’s experience, girls tended to choose mittens and boys had gloves.

Most boomers will tell you they played outdoors every day. When kids expected to be outside for a few hours, they often doubled up on their layers. Two pairs of socks inside their boots, two pairs of gloves, a t-shirt, shirt and a sweater, and as previously mentioned, pants and snow pants or long johns and pants. Only the coldest of days would have much of an effect short-term, except when the fabric got wet from snowball fights, making snow forts, snowmen and snow angels. Mister Boomer and his siblings, when cold and wet, would enter the house through the back door and replace the wet garments with dry ones, hanging the wet ones on the clotheslines in the basement. We’d plan ahead leaving extra gloves, socks and pants for themselves since we didn’t want to cut into outdoor play time by having to remove our boots to walk through the house.

During the early years Mister Boomer remembers having black wool pants that had flecks of color threads in them. His parents often bought Mister B the same styles they got for his older brother. So the brothers had these pants and later in the sixties, matching brown suede pants, too. The wool pants were warm, though a little scratchy. In retrospect Mister B thinks the fabric must have been a quarter-inch thick. He wore them for several years, until he grew out of them. The suede pants were equally groovy, though not as warm.

As the sixties marched on and jeans became an everyday fashion, heavyweight or lined jeans were added into the mix for a lot of boomers. They were available for years, but in many areas jeans were not allowed in school, at least until the late sixties and early seventies. Too cool for black rubber galoshes, teens began wearing suede half boots that had a fleece lining. By then turtleneck and v-neck knit sweaters were popular for both boys and girls, and jackets were the choice more than three-quarter length coats.

Like everything we knew as kids, outerwear has evolved. While maintaining a fashionable silhouette indoors and out may have been top-of-mind for celebrities and wealthy folks, for the rest of us, form followed function. We needed warmth, and that meant bulk. Today’s kids have many more choices. Now if we could only convince them that “outside” isn’t a bad thing.

Do you have any fond memories of bulky outerwear, boomers?

posted by Mister B in Fashion,Pop Culture History,Seasons and have Comment (1)

Boomers Ate Their Way Through Food Trends

Every decade has their food trends, and the Boomer Years were no different. Yet when we see movies as well as articles that feature food in the times we lived through, many of us feel a disconnect between the often clichéd culinary presentations and the facts of our real lives.

Food then, as now, varied greatly by region and ethnic background. Yet perhaps the biggest regulator of food trends for the average boomer family was economic strata. It makes sense that the more money you have, the more food choices are available to you. For example, Mister Boomer has noted in previous posts that before the Interstate Highway system was completed, many areas had a limited choice of fresh fruits and vegetables. The items we did have were locally grown or had to be brought in by train, so only the heartiest of ingredients could make the trip from the South and West to the rest of the country (see Boomers Watched Out for the Iceberg).

Mister Boomer’s parents thought of themselves as people in tune with the times. They tried to dress in fashion (in discount versions, of course) and Mister B’s mom tried new recipes that she would get from McCall’s or Good Housekeeping magazines all the time — though mostly only once before resorting to her usual repertoire. As a result, some trends of the day made it into the Mister Boomer household and others did not. Two cases in point are Jell-O and Lipton Onion Soup Mix.

The 1950s and ’60s are replete with descriptions of Jell-O molds and fancy concoctions made with the gelatin dessert. In Mister B’s home, however, though Jell-O was served with some regularity, it was almost always jelled in a large bowl. Mister B’s mother did not own a bundt pan or Jell-O mold of any kind. At dessert time the bowl was brought to the dinner table where big chunks could be scooped out at dessert time and, if a spray can of whipped cream was on hand in the refrigerator, a squirt could top it. On rare occasions, such as when strawberry season arrived, fresh fruit might be added to the Jell-O. Mister Boomer’s mother loved fruit cocktail in a can, but it was even more rare that she placed the canned fruit into the family Jell-O. She reserved that for her lettuce and cottage cheese plates. More often than not, the Jell-O — strawberry or  cherry mostly — remained plain.

Lipton Onion Soup Mix was a powder that came in a package envelope. Though it was marketed as a soup base, Lipton flooded the women’s magazines with recipes using the mix. Many recipes became quite popular, such as meat loaf made with the mix, and a chip dip. The product was a hit with Mister B’s mom since she was all about modern things that were convenient and saved time. She would mix it into hamburger to make a meat loaf, but where it really entered the family food list was as a chip dip. Mister B’s sister and mother especially loved the oniony flavor. The dip was easy enough to make for Mister B and his sister — blend a package into a pint of sour cream and it’s ready to go. The family regularly had potato chips around the house. They often bought local brands, but occasionally they had Ruffles brand potato chips and Ruffles have ridges that are all the better to scoop up dip. Mister Boomer was never a fan of onion flavor, so it was not one of his favorite things. Boomer Sister ate it by the spoonful.

The Boomer family did latch onto certain trending products through the years, including Tang, Carnation Instant Breakfast and Pop Tarts, but when it came to trendy dinner recipes, Mister B’s mom preferred to keep it simple and within her comfort zone.

What food trends did your family embrace, boomers?

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

Boomers Made Gary Lewis Famous

Entering a store recently, Mister Boomer immediately recognized the music playing as Count Me In by Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Walking through the aisles, it transported him back to his boomer-boyhood bedroom with his transistor radio. There, as a pre-teen, he’d listen to the local radio stations that played rock and pop music. The songs of Gary Lewis & the Playboys were among the first memorable tunes Mister B latched onto during his formative years.

The son of comedian and actor Jerry Lewis, Gary’s interest in music was stoked when he received a drum set for his fourteenth birthday in 1960. Four years later he formed a band called Gary & the Playboys, installing himself as the band’s drummer. He didn’t use his last name because he didn’t want people to connect him with his famous father, and therefore give him favorable treatment based on his name alone. His father, however, was not enthusiastic about his rock ‘n roll leanings, so Gary kept him out of the loop when it came to his band. In contrast, his mother, Patti Palmer Lewis — a one-time singer in a band herself — was supportive both verbally and financially. When the fledging band had a chance to audition for a slot at Disneyland, they jumped at it. The Disney people were impressed with the band’s youthful exuberance and boy-next-door looks and hired them. It was while playing at Disneyland in 1964 that producer Snuff Garrett “discovered” Gary and started their musical collaboration.

Their partnership produced immediate returns, with the help of financing from Lewis’ mother to record This Diamond Ring. The record was released in January 1965, and climbed the charts to number one by the third week in February. The song was written by Al Kooper, Bob Brass and Irwin Levine, and produced by Garrett. Kooper in particular was not enamored with the choice of Lewis to record his song; he had the Drifters in mind. He also voiced concern over the band’s level of musicianship and Lewis’ vocal ability. Garrett met the objections by hiring The Wrecking Crew, made famous by being labeled Phil Spector’s “house band” during his “wall of sound” recordings. Leon Russel joined the Crew on keyboards, and arranged the music for This Diamond Ring. Together, the Crew were known as super-session musicians who appeared on more than one hundred hit recordings, including those by The Monkees, Sonny & Cher, Frank Sinatra and The Beach Boys. The contribution of The Wrecking Crew to the Pet Sounds album was documented in the 2014 movie, Love & Mercy. The Playboys only played backing tracks on the record, and Lewis’ voice was overdubbed with session singer Ron Hicklin. Neither were rare occurrences in the days when record companies held all the cards when it came to recordings.

Meanwhile, even Lewis didn’t have confidence in his singing ability. Garrett got Lewis to take vocal lessons, and recruited Buddy Rich to give him some pointers on his drumming. Despite his earlier reticence, Garrett persuaded Gary’s father, Jerry Lewis, to lobby to get his son on The Ed Sullivan Show. In look and sound, Gary Lewis & the Playboys were groomed to be America’s answer to the British Invasion bands like Gerry & the Pacemakers and Herman’s Hermits. The band landed a gig. Ed Sullivan required bands to play live, but since the record had been heavily produced in the studio, during their appearance on December 6, 1964, Lewis sang the song to a pre-recording while the band mimicked playing. Nonetheless, the broadcast one month before the release of the record helped propel This Diamond Ring to the top of the charts. It wouldn’t be long, though, before Garrett took Lewis out from behind the drum kit and made him the front man.

In the next year and a half, the band racked up an impressive series of hits, though band members came and went. The band was only one of two artists of the 1960s to have their first seven releases hit Billboard’s Top 10 (the other being The Lovin’ Spoonful). This Diamond Ring was followed with Count Me In (which reached number two), Save Your Heart for Me, Everybody Loves a Clown, She’s Just My Style and Sure Gonna Miss Her. Despite the success of This Diamond Ring, the band was not able to reach the top of the charts again.

Like many other rock ‘n rollers before him, including Elvis, Lewis was drafted into the Army in January of 1967. He served his time in Seoul, South Korea, narrowly escaping being sent to Vietnam. Even before his Army stint, most of the original band members had moved on, but when he returned, he started up the band again, replacing any of guys unable or unwilling to continue, but the band could not gain any momentum. They officially disbanded in 1970. Lewis tried a solo career for a few years, then drifted into the oldies circuit, where he continues to perform to this day.

As far as Mister Boomer is concerned, the Gary Lewis song that most resonated with him was She’s Just My Style. Its release coincided with his first major crush, a long-haired blonde girl at his school. Every time he heard the song, he saw visions (in slow motion, of course), of the girl walking down the school hallway, sweater tied around her neck and hair blown by unseen winds. She may have been just his style, but she epitomized the out-of-my-league girls Mister B would pine for in his boomer school days.

What was your favorite Gary Lewis & the Playboys song, boomers?

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