The Answer is Blowin’ In the Wind?

Recently, an “artifact” from the boomer age has resurfaced in the news. Clotheslines have been popping up around the country as personal expressions of energy conservation and “common sense.” Some boomers, however, disagree that the act of placing laundry on a line to billow in the breeze is natural and good; they believe dryers were invented to forever relieve us of this manual task. Some go one step further, and see the stringing of lines draped with clothespinned-garments as an assault on their sensibilities and a blight in their neighborhoods. As a result, homeowner associations have banned the practice in many states, to the point of fining offenders who break the rules.

Clothes dryers in various mechanical forms have been around in France and England since the 18th century. On June 7, 1892, George T. Sampson from Dayton, Ohio, was granted a patent for a clothes drying system that used heat from a stove, thus replacing the older models that required hand-turning a basket over an open flame. Despite the increases in technology throughout the years, it wasn’t until the boomer age — post World War II — that the popularity of dryers increased. By 1955, they came in electric and natural gas versions, but were too expensive for the average consumer. That year only 10 percent of U.S. households had a dryer.

Mister Boomer’s experience certainly follows the historical trend. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, there wasn’t anyone to object to the neighbor’s drying clothes on a clothesline because everyone dried clothes on clotheslines. Mister Boomer recalls helping Mom put up sheets on the backyard lines, securing the ends with that amazing little utilitarian invention: a shaped piece of wood that had a split three-quarters of its length, and a rounded head to easily grasp. Yes, the humble clothespin. There’s a great invention, if you ask me. We owned and used very few of those flat spring-type clothespins. Mister Boomer’s Mom reserved those for thicker and oddly-shaped garments that weren’t easily secured with the traditional pin.

Mister Boomer recalls the time — a decade before the Clean Air Act of 1970 — when clothes hanging outside weren’t exactly finishing fresh-air fresh. Little bits of rusty-brown soot from the nearby steel mills would sprinkle onto the drying laundry, forcing a good shaking before folding and placing in the wicker laundry basket. Winter was not much kinder. The snow and ice complicated outdoor drying. Mister Boomer used to get a laugh out of his jeans drying in the cold breeze — or rather, freezing — into a stand-up shape like the Invisible Man were somehow modeling them. The method then was to remove the jean-sicles from the line and bring them indoors. Propping them against the dining room wall by the heat register, they soon melted into a foldable fabric, like denim witches from the Wizard of Oz.

Mister Boomer’s family didn’t get a dryer installed until the mid-sixties. Mister Boomer had gone along for the ride when his Dad visited a local appliance store. “90 days, same as cash,” read the sign on the wall. Mister Boomer’s Dad double-checked on that before signing on the dotted line. A gas dryer was a helpful appliance in the Boomer household that lessened the drudgery of the modern housewife, allowing her to rejoin the workforce to enjoy a rewarding career in retail sales.

The debate, to outside dry or not, amplifies the point that the Boomer Generation, unlike others before them, is not one of a single mindset. While some find it a nostalgic glimpse at a bygone era whose time has come again in the form of energy conservation, others feel technology has reigned supreme for the past hundred years, and has made our lives the better for it. This has prompted some to go to the point of demanding legislation that allows residents “the right to dry.” Last month Vermont became the first state to pass such legislation, while other states, including Texas and California, have considered it.

Now, it’s far from Mister Boomer’s mission to get involved in political debates, one way or the other. But doggone it, we changed the world, man — so surely this is a problem we can solve on our own. Instead of new laws allowing people their “God-given” rights, how about if we require those persnickety homeowner associations to set up a fund from members’ dues that would subsidize the purchase of solar dryers? They could paint them in homeowner association-approved colors. Surely a box in the backyard wouldn’t offend the sensibilities of the gated crowd like colorful undies blowin’ in the wind.

And how about it, Mr. Boomer President? Can we make America number one in manufacturing solar appliances? What do you think, boomers?

The Sweet Taste of Success

Remember when we were young, and sugar was a good thing? Companies, in fact, thought so much of sugar that they could openly advertise their products as made with the real deal. No one advertised with more gusto than the cereal companies, and of course, we all remember those classic commercials for Sugar Pops, Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks.

That’s right, boys and girls, the Sugar Pops jingle said:

Oh, the pops are sweeter
and the taste is new
They’re shot with sugar,
through and through.

Mister B loved the Sugar Pops, while Mister B’s sister was a Frosted Flakes and Smacks fan. Suffice it to say, our house was a real sugar shack at the breakfast table. Even Mister B’s family dog got into the act. When Mister B had consumed his portion of the golden nuggets, the remaining milk in the bowl was an eerie pool of sweet, unnatural yellow. The dog, a good-sized German Shorthair, would climb one of the vinyl-seated chairs within reach and lick the milk right out of the bowl until we shooed him away.

About the same time we were being marketed to with catchy jingles and cartoon characters on the sugar cereal front, the debate grew on water fluoridation. Though it had existed in some areas since 1951, now it was coming to our neck of the woods. By 1960, it was in wide use. The American Dental Association and a host of others backed the fluoridation as a way of improving overall dental health. Others saw it as an unnatural addition and a danger to the water supply. Certainly, post World War II was a time for dental health awareness, as annual cleanings in schools became the norm. Was it a way to combat the cavities that would result from the widespread consumption of sugar-coated cereals? Compared to the diets of many of today’s youngsters, ours would have been considered outright healthy, yet we did get our share of cavities. Who knows? It may have been a symbiotic relationship that helped both industries to grow right along with us.

In the end, water fluoridation won out in many areas — including Mister B’s — and the practice continues in about 65 percent of the country today. Toothpaste commercials cropped up to remind us we would “wonder where the yellow went.” Crest, Colgate and Pepsodent were the big brands in our area. They say people tend to take their toothpaste choices right on into adulthood. Mister B can’t say the sugar cereals fared as well. Somehow Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes and Honey Smacks haven’t grabbed our children’s attention with the same heft that it did to our generation.

Today it looks like the sugar battle is poised to return with sugar as the good guy, or at least the better guy, as high-fructose corn syrup has surpassed the volume of sugar in cereals and kept on going to permeate practically every form of processed food we boomers and our families eat. But now, PepsiCo has released Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwback for a limited run. These soda pops will be made with sugar rather than corn syrup. How about it boomers, will the taste be sweeter and everything old is new again? And how about it, American Dental Association? Will Pepsi Throwback earn the ADA seal of approval?