The Editor’s Desk: Who are you calling old?

It’s a shock to realize that things you remember as recent took place a loooong time ago

Earlier this week I was listening to someone on the radio talk about how great it was to shop in downtown Kamloops, citing as one of the reasons the friendliness of the merchants. “It’s like that old TV show Cheers,” he said enthusiastically. “Everybody knows your name.”

I was doing something fairly mundane as he said those words — since it was early morning, it almost certainly involved preparing or drinking coffee — and only half-listening to the radio, but his words brought me up short. That “old” TV show, Cheers? What on Earth did he mean? Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows (1950-54) was an old TV show, but Cheers certainly wasn’t. I remember watching it every week when it was airing as if it were yesterday.

I went to the computer and did a quick Google search. The result took me aback: Cheers had aired from 1982 until 1993. I blinked and looked again. No change. Hard as it was for me to believe, it was 36 years since Cheers had first aired, and a quarter-century since Ted Danson’s Sam Malone called out “We’re closed” to a would-be customer and walked away from the bar in the final episode.

This was only the most recent instance where I realized, with some surprise, that events and entertainments I think of as having taken place just a few short years ago happened before — sometimes long before — my son was born in 1997. In 2005, for example, when the movie Back to the Future was celebrating its 30th anniversary, I couldn’t quite believe that it was three decades since the film came out; in my mind it was only a few years old.

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of one of the best Christmas movies ever made, Die Hard; I remember seeing it when it was first released as if it were yesterday. Yet I’ve lived more years since the movie came out than I had when I first saw it in 1988. How did that happen?

The dispiriting thing about the situation is that not only do many of my references to popular culture elicit blank looks (unless the people I’m speaking with are of similar vintage to me); I’m out of touch with the popular culture of today. I watched the Golden Globe Awards at the weekend, and while I was at least aware of a good many of the movies and shows being acknowledged, others had me scratching my head as I realized I’d never even heard of them, let alone seen them, or heard of their stars.

Mind you, sometimes there’s an upside to being old enough to recall things from way back. Several years ago my son said to me in some excitement “Mom, you have to listen to this great song!” He turned the volume up on his computer, and Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” came ringing out. I started humming along with it, and my son looked startled.

“You’ve heard it before?” he asked, and I nodded. “I remember it when it was new,” I replied (which was 1983, for those who were wondering). Score one for Mom.

References to past TV shows and movies can also be a useful way of finding out who, in a room full of people you don’t know, is of a similar age. Murmur “Look, up, look waaaay up” or “Missed it by that much” or “You bet your sweet bippy!” and see who smiles or nods. (I once used the phrase “Beautiful downtown Burbank” and had the person I was speaking with say incredulously “You’re not old enough to remember Laugh-In!” Dear reader, I am.)

Writer Bill Bryson, speaking of approaching his forties, noted that he was at the base of the cliff-face of middle age. With a slight shock I realize that I’m no longer looking up at that cliff; I’m well on my way to getting to the top.

With luck, there’s still some way to go before I arrive there. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the view, and try not to date myself too much. Just be careful what TV shows you describe as old, though. You never know who’s listening.

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