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70 things we don't miss
Tuesday, September 1, 2001

Typewriters, tent dresses, the Rubik's Cube. Heather Mallick tells us several dozen more reasons why we can be glad it's now and not then

It's the first day of September, kids are heading back to school, summer is officially over, and smart Canadians couldn't be happier. No one will miss the Summer of '01. It came with a killing heat wave, a drought that turned lawns the colour of butternut squash, green aphids flying into our eyes and a plague of West Nile virus-carrying mosquitos that deleted whatever fun was left in our summer evenings.

Why would anyone miss that?

Pessimists and nostalgic types have had their heyday. They enjoy warning us that we're going to hell in a handcart. Young people are ignorant, feckless and immoral, they have silly hair and even sillier clothes, and they think something's true just because they read it on the Internet. The climate's going to turn our cities into big burned pie crusts with crispy people underneath. Wait till those Chinese people get cars and then you'll fry. Just remember, we're the greatest generation, and you're not. And wasn't Roxy Music the coolest band? We won't see their like again.

Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? That would make their past a golden one and our present a shabby, stained, shameful climb-down, a slippery slide to a bad future.

But if you have found yourself calling the city recycling centre to ask if pill bottles and terra cotta bronzing powder pots qualify, if you have read the latest Douglas Coupland, or if you have seen and admired the new Smart Car, you'll realize that life is getting better and there were a lot of things about that mythical golden past that were just horrible.

Forthwith, just a few of the things we don't miss. And just think, in three years we'll be able to put that Canadian-lumber-tormentor George W. Bush on the list.

  1. TV dials. We hauled ourself off the couch one last time, turned the dial one-notch-two-notch-three-notch, enough of this, and bought a terrific new TV with a remote control. Mentally, we added a pound or two to our bellies for all the leaping we wouldn't be doing in the years to come, but admit it, it was worth it
  2. Dial telephones. No more hours of torture dialling Ticketmaster 800 times for Bowie tickets, round and round while the little disc with your phone number printed on it swirled dizzingly, until your index finger went numb and the nail went square. Ah, the magic of redial. Yes, turquoise princess phones were pretty, but you want your pizza NOW.
  3. Black Tower. Whenever you bought this wine, the black nubbled surface of the ubiquitous, oblong bottle signalled "I'm where the fun is" and the sad thing is, you were.
  4. Beryl Plumptre. It's not possible. You dreamed that once upon a time, if your tomatoes went up in price, you called a tough little old lady at the federal anti-inflation board to complain and she had whoever responsible killed or something. No, it wasn't a dream. Neither was Margaret Thatcher
  5. Sanitary belts. Boys and girls, they were sold in supermarkets. They were a white, elastic band that went round the waist with two extensions front and back to which you hooked the tags ends of huge, thick, sanitary napkins. You wore them beneath your underwear. Pretend you are straddling a giant hammock. That's what it felt like. I am not making this up.
  6. Colonialism.
  7. The Happy Hooker. Her name was Xaviera Hollander and she was a prostitute. She had blonde, pageboy hair, thick brown eyebrows and heavy lipstick. In real life, she was a tragic, jilted Boer (is there any other kind?) and in Chapter 1 of her autobiography, she had sex with a German shepherd (dog). She is old now and weighs about 200 pounds.
  8. Hammy Hamster. A kids TV show about the adventures of a hamster. Seriously. Action, drama, edge-of-your-seat plotting, Hammy offered it all as he just sat there, or hopped about a bit, but mostly just sat there.
  9. Chez Helene. Helene, the host of this children's show was great, but there was an irritating little mouse named Suzy, and I wanted to trap her. Rodents played a bigger part in children's TV than they do now.
  10. Hinterland Who's Who. These were little, educational segments inserted into CBC shows when they hadn't timed them properly. "The woodchuck hibernates in snowy climes," the announcer would intone. SCTV once did a parody of Goin' Down the Road in which they ran over the woodchuck.
  11. No choice. We love our CBC, especially the slow-talking Peter Mansbridge, but it used to be that you watched the CBC or else you watched the CBC. The stars of the CBC firmament in the old days were hamsters, mice and woodchucks. Now, they have their own channel, which you can watch or not watch, as you please.
  12. Henry Kissinger and shuttle diplomacy.This short crinkle-haired horn-rimmed accused war criminal was once a sex symbol. That's how desperate things were when Richard Nixon was president. He flew back and forth making peace. Or so we thought. The Miss Havisham of Indochinese land wars, he is interrogated by even the French now. "They seek him here, they seek him there, his victims seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven, is he in hell, that damn'd elusive war criminel."
  13. Life before ATMs. Chatting with bank tellers? About what? I'm sure it was as painful for them as it was for us.
  14. Avocado and harvest gold. Carpets, dish racks, fridges, purses, toilets, you name it, they came in these colours. Orange and lime green are back now, a stalking horse for avocado and harvest gold. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
  15. The Ford administration. No, not part of a title of a John Updike novel, but an actual government headed by a man who once injured his head swimming into the wall of his pool. He had pals, Jim Schlesinger, Hank Kissinger, Donny Rumsfeld, where are they now? Oh my God.
  16. Dief the Chief He was said to have charisma. Did not! Did too! Look, it was the 1950s, it was Prince Albert, Sask. He had horrible wattles, the kind of facial appendages that liposuction would make fast work of now. And he had a dog; a Scottie, I believe.
  17. Dalkon Shield. They looked like a tiny face mask from that killer in Halloween, but with wires. Doctors inserted them into women's uteruses and left them there for years, not even by accident. They prevented pregnancy, mainly by means of sterilization, disease and death.
  18. Nick Gilder. He looked like an underweight, limp, blond Parsifal and sang like whoever sang that she wanted to be Bobby's girl. He had one hit, Hot Child in the City, and it was every bit as bad as its title.
  19. Just say no. To drugs, in case you're wondering. It was Nancy Reagan's message. She said this at a time when America was saying and continuing to say Yes to the question "Do you want more drugs and stuff?" Yes, Yes! Yes! YES! YES!!!
  20. Chicken Kiev. Helpful friends and advisers are bewildered by my selection of this tasty and nutritious dish, the mainstay of 1960s hostesses from Burnaby to Bonavista. Rolled, breaded and containing an exciting spurt of hot butter, how many things can you say that about? Go on, how many? Fine, take it off the list. For people who can see the rationale behind furnace deodorizers and lemon-scented Mr. Clean, Chicken Kiev is your serving suggestion.
  21. Ernest Hemingway. You don't fool anyone any more with your "See Dick run after Jane" sentences, boyo.
  22. The Ugly Brits. It started with Enoch Powell. Actually, it started with Judge Jeffreys of the Hanging Assizes, but it's a grand tradition of nasty, purple-faced, foul-tempered old British men who fling spittle at the common folk and pollute the air we share with diatribes against the poor and unwhite. It went on to include Norman Tebbit, Thatcher's big-toothed old nasty, who was recently quoted as saying he knew of no happy multicultural nations, which left contented Canadians scratching their heads as they ate their takeout Chinese food and goat curries and cuddled their sultry, blue-eyed, black-haired tan-skinned infants.
  23. Conrad Black. See above and double it.
  24. Irish Spring. What was the deal with those endless commercials for soap with green streaks in it? And why whittle at it with a penknife? I wouldn't dream of doing that to soap. What do the words "Irish" and "spring" suggest? Whisky, surely. Cleanliness is not associated with the Irish one way or the other. They're known for drinking, for that sexless, Riverdance hyper-twitch from the waist down, for endless, entertaining chatter and for, um, peat bogs. Irish Spring ads were emphasizing the fact that soap has nothing to do with personal hygiene. Oh, I get it. It was a Guy Soap.
  25. The perversion of cunnilingus. It's no longer a perversion, it's the easy way out. Or it's a girl's best friend. Whichever side of the road you stand on, it is no longer a foul and frightening thing described in novels by means of ellipses. Why, it's as common as dimes and as easy to come by. These are the days, my friends.
  26. Vander Zalms. Where have you gone, Bill and Lillian, with your teeth and headbands, like Struwelpeter with his horrible face and hands? God knows, but it's nowhere near where we are. British Columbia has had its potholes on the road to bliss, but at least we don't have to hear about Fantasyland any more. It was some kind of tulip carnival with rides and garden gnomes? Frankly, I have no idea.
  27. Tent dresses. Nothing so unflattering has been devised for or since. Princess Diana, who looked good in everything, would have looked like a barrage balloon in one of these.
  28. Embarkation a l'ancien. Going outside and climbing up little stairs to get on the airplane for a transatlantic flight.
  29. Hats. Fashion editors say they're coming back, but they say that every four years. They may be on runways, but they're not on us. Fedoras, top hats, porkpies, bowlers, tweed caps, beanies, Robin Hood's green felt thing with a feather, they made men look awful. And that includes you, Peter C. Newman, with your Greek fisherman's affectation. Lose it, or wash it, but do something.
  30. 8-track tapes. There's something to be said for an endless loop of music, but not much. Now, we choose the song we want to hear on the CD. We don't just make a wild guess and embark on a half-hour quest for the source of the Nile. Better living through technology.
  31. Cigarette smoke. Lurking in your nostrils, hair, pockets, lapels and skin, it was all so much less charming the next morning.
  32. Hogan's Heroes. Yes, in the 1960s, they made a sitcom set in a prisoner-of-war camp. The head Nazi was a bumbler and not a monster, so unlike the nasty Nazis of song and story. Col. Klink was his name. This really happened. Global proudly reruns it. < li> Formica dinette sets. They had lime-green daisies, among other horrors, on their surface and splayed, metal legs. Sometimes they were tartan. They cost $1.20 and looked it. Long after you left home, your trusty dinette was still bringing back those meatloaf memories. < li> Compulsory religious education. Not pleasant even if it was your own religion. And if you were Jewish or Muslim, you had to keep your mouth shut. Was that nice?
  33. Ye olde pocket calculators. They were the size of Kleenex boxes, had huge buttons and cost $180.
  34. Carbon paper. Flimsy, flipping things, easy to screw up, itching to deposit black smudges on your leisure suit, always on the edge of inklessness. Not the same as mimeograph machines, the intoxicating purple ink of which I would, to this day, buy in bottles and spray on my neck if I could.
  35. The Wedge. Dorothy Hamill, an American figure skater, was to blame. Big on top, tapering down to nothing like an inaccurately sliced loaf of bread, it was a handy haircut for a figure skater and bad news for 100 million suburban women in lemon-yellow, polyester pantsuits. It looked like a Constable haywain had landed on your head. It was harsh.
  36. Gaucho pants/skorts. They keep trying this one. But skirts are skirts and pants are pants and never will they blend.
  37. 'Cancer can be beaten.' In 1978, Susan Sontag told us to stop referring to cancer as a battle being fought by the individual. It puts all the responsibility for getting well on that person, who quite often isn't feeling up to it. Cancer isn't one disease, it's many diseases, it won't disappear anytime soon, and this martial metaphor won't be missed when it finally vanishes for good. Thanks, Ms. Sontag.
  38. Phrenology. Pick a crackpot theory, any crackpot theory. This one, which posited that mental ability could be identified by the shape of the cranium and had practitioners fondling and measuring your head, was the mood ring of the 1920s.
  39. Pasta pictures. Art that kids made in class has come a long way since you stuck macaroni on a piece of paper and came home looking for parental applause and a snapshot. Even rolling crepe paper in tiny balls to glue to butterfly wings was better. Now, making DNA models out of candy, that's modern and fun.
  40. Pristine parents. There was a time when teenagers who did some bad acid couldn't wake up their parents for help, comfort or medical aid. Can you imagine? Now, parents are walking manuals of drug experience, good and bad. When those magic mushrooms are taking you inside the mirror into the pulsing purple hole, your mom has already been there. She's not going to call the cops or stab you to kill the demons. Same goes if you're gay.
  41. Strict liquor control. These boards really controlled. As late as 1980, you had to write Bacardi, 60 oz. on a slip of paper so that clerks in uniforms could make a big production of taking it off the warehouse shelf and placing it on a counter for your putative purchase. Booze wasn't a whim, it was a statement of financial intent and moral worthlessness.
  42. Swaddling clothes. Immobilizing babies in tight, liver-squeezing wrapping was the accepted method for centuries. But don't Gap, checkered, flannel overalls with Baby Love written on the front reflect better on you as a parent?
  43. Gambling. Sure, people still do it. But no one we know.
  44. Sluts. You may be sexually profligate, you may be Dirty Annie, you may be a "guy magnet" or just the woman everyone wants to know at closing time. But you are no longer labelled a "slut."
  45. Human sacrifice. Mayan culture should not be unrepresented in this list. You say you grabbed warm, still-beating hearts and did what with them?
  46. Brutalism. We asked for a library and you gave us a concrete Brontosaurus. Ye architectural gods of big, ugly, concrete masses, exposed pipes, conduits and fixings, and a harsh, huge, grey monumentality, we don't worship you anymore. Sadly, we can't dance on your graves until all your manifestations have been demolished. Fine, we can wait another 20 years.
  47. FDS. Younger folk won't know this acronym for feminine deodorant spray. It was perfumed Raid for the vagina in the days before we understood that the pheromones emitted by men and women were one of the things that got us really hot. Instead, women caught infections and self-hatred, and adventurous men ingested harmful chemicals. It was a lose-lose situation invented by prissfaces, and all for naught. Now that's a sex crime.
  48. Undershirts. They're white, they're sleeveless and Tony Soprano still wears them. I hope nobody else does.
  49. Red hair. Only a few years ago, all women dyed their hair red, or auburn, or pomegranate or some damn thing. It made them look pale instead of interesting, ill instead of model-thin, and tense rather than masterful. They have stopped now.
  50. The Armed Forces as a sane career option. We all knew kids in high school who joined. They were not people with a lot of options. Do you sleep better at night knowing they're defending you and all our lakes and rivers?
  51. King Leopold of Belgium/Strom Thurmond/Jesse Helms. Three bad dead men. Okay, Helms and Thurmond, both retiring soon, aren't quite dead yet, but Helms is 98 and pushing it.
  52. Movie musicals. You sit nervously in your seat, munching your popcorn, knowing it's about to happen. The actor is getting that look on his face, the actress is getting into receptive position, he's standing with his legs slightly apart, it's that stance, yes, he's going to sing at you. But why? Couldn't he just say it? Nowadays, we go to the theatre for this kind of punishment. We go to multiplexes for everything else.
  53. Hydroponic cucumbers in Newfoundland. As scams to rake in government money went, it was the most embarrassing in Canadian history.
  54. DPs. In the 1950s, it stood for "displaced person" and it was a legitimized way to be cruel to destitute immigrants. Just because we've come up with new ways doesn't mean we miss "dirty DP." Same goes for "fairies."
  55. Chenille bedspreads. They came in pink and yellow and white; they had little tufts all over them. They screamed "cheap." They left tuft-dents in your skin. No, you can't bring them back. Even retro has limits.
  56. All in the Family. This is what passed for searing American social comedy in the 1970s, some jerk, his idiot wife, his twittering daughter and lugnut of a son-in-law. They still make these sitcoms, mostly with Ray Romano, but at least they don't call them "searing" any more. They don't call them anything.
  57. Curlers. I refer to tubes glued to the head with various lacquers. It is possible that women still wear them, but no longer in public. They made up for this with Spandex pants, but that's a whole other list.
  58. Flap alarm clocks. They had white numbers on little black cards attached to a Rolodex type of device. The numbers would mark time by flipping over with a little clacking noise. We may complain about the aesthetic limitations of digitalization, but if you were an insomniac in the 1970s, that flap-style alarm clock had an alarming fatality to it. It was tolling for you.
  59. Typewriters. Like a man you married for his looks alone, they were glossy and stylish, especially the Olympias and the IBM Selectrics. But if you made a mistake, you had some elaborate, time-consuming work ahead of you with little bottles of white paint. And the difficulties of moving paragraphs around were such that you didn't do it. Imagine the novels that could have been improved had someone been able to shuffle paragraphs and do a mass delete. I'm thinking Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, I'm thinking The Sun Also Rises (See Hemingway, above).
  60. Macramé. Okay, it was fun when your sewing teacher tried to be "hip" by teaching you how to make a macramé belt. But face it, that beige, lumpy, twisted thing looked horrible.
  61. Making your own ice cubes. Yes, in metal trays with a cobbled-together inner frame that you jiggled about until all the ice cubes jumped up and hit you in the face. Now, fridges come with ice dispensers. You can't lose an eye with those. Nor do you get blood on your ice.
  62. Rubik's Cube. The only way to solve it was repaint all the colours.
  63. Earth shoes. Your heels were lower than your toes. But why should your heels be lower than your toes? Did that make sense? Did that feel good? I don't think so. And at this point, may I just mention Frye boots?
  64. Spice Girls.They're dead and gone in North America. They boasted about their daring and courage and girl power. Then the documentary came out on Ginger Spice. Geri Halliwell was revealed as a itty, bitty, widdle wreck. Do you like me? she'd ask people. And cry if they said no.
  65. Odia Coates. She sang One Man Woman/One Woman Man with Paul Anka. Yes, she did. And Odia was her real name.
  66. Dentist drills. They offer pain-free dentistry now. Why didn't they offer it 30 years ago? Because they would have missed all the fun? Dentists are like that.
  67. Abortions. Around the world and in Canada, women will still have them for a few years. But now you can go to a doctor and get an abortion pill or morning-after pill. No doctors getting shot, no dilation, no curettage, no religious creeps filming you at the clinic and sticking you on a Web site. These are happy days for women.
  68. Headphones. They weighed 20 pounds and they hurt your ears. Same with the first cellphones. They were the size of bowling balls.

Still not convinced that things are better now? Look at the recent list of things prohibited by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban: Playing cards, neckties, lipstick, nail polish, chessboards, fireworks, statues, fashion catalogues (do they mean Vogue magazine?), greeting cards featuring pictures of people, musical in-struments, cassettes, computer discs, movies, satellite-TV dishes, pig-fat products and anything made of human hair.

We love most of those things. Let's hope they never end up on a list of things that went away. Because we'd miss them if they did.

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