North Coast Journal



Forward to the past

by George Ringwald

IT'S BACK TO BASICS, IN THE BUZZ jargon of the day, or Forward to the Past, as Republican pols might phrase it. A New York Times scribe reported during the tepidity of our presidential election campaign that Bob Dole had for an audience "an overwhelmingly urban and suburban nation that longs for the small-town verities of Jefferson's and Jackson's America."

I don't know that we want to go that far back, but I think it's fair to say that many of us today yearn for a return to the simple life. Or what we remember, anyway, as the simple life. Ben Franklin once observed: "The Golden Age was never the present Age."

If you're one of those with that yearning, I can tell you where to start: With Band-Aids.

I mean, have you gone out to buy a box of Band-Aids lately? Well, don't; you could bleed to death before deciding which kind you want.

As I discovered in a recent shopping sortie at the Myrtle Avenue Longs Drugs in Eureka, they have Band-Aids up to your armpits. There's the "Flexible Fabric" kind (for knuckles and fingertips), "antiseptic" Band-Aids, plastic Band-Aids, "Medicated Bandages," and even, for jocks, the "Sport Strip" which offers "water resistant flexible protection."

Which is not counting all the Band-Aid wanna-be's. 3M has "flexible foam bandages," an outfit called New Skin offers a "liquid bandage," Curad has an "ouchless" sheer sterile strip, and even Disney is in the act, with its Pocahontas "sterile adhesive bandages," with you-know-who on the cover. My very own favorite, though, is Curad's "Neon Strips," which come in Radical Pink, Outrageous Orange and Most Excellent Yellow.

Used to be, you know, you'd walk into the drug store, ask for a box of Band-Aids, and, amazingly enough, get 'em. Just like that. Now you may have trouble even finding somebody to ask.

(Have you ever noticed when you're on a purposeful buying mission in a department store, say, how hard it is to catch a sales person's eye? But go in just browsing, and they're right at your elbow; you can hardly fight 'em off. It's like wait persons -- this politically correct language is really getting absurd -- who always manage to show up to ask you if everything's all right just when you've popped a fork full of pasta into your mouth. They teach them that at restaurant school.)

My Ferndale friend Jerebob Bowden was in instant rapport with me when I mentioned this dilemma of the Band-Aids. "A multiplicity ... an overwhelm of choices," he agreed.

Same with toothbrushes. I checked them out too while I was in Longs. They come now with "flexible" necks, the "plus angle" kind, and the "plus sensitive" model. Good Lord! A touchy-feely toothbrush.

Then there's the "indicator" model. Its colored bristles "fade as the brush wears out." Look, I don't need any "indicator" to tell me when the old toothbrush has had it.

And I bet Deerslayer or Hawkeye didn't either. It was one of those guys, heroes of the James Fenimore Cooper novels that I read in my boyhood, who I remember would brush his teeth of a morning with the raggedy edge of a twig ripped off a tree or bush. I like to think now of old Hawkeye out there in the wilderness looking for an "indicator" twig.

"And cereals," Jerebob chimed in as we pursued this subject.

I'd swear he was reading my mind, because I'd spent part of a morning only a day or so before checking out the cereals at the Safeway by the Eureka Mall.

In my day -- and Jerebob's too, although his doesn't go back as far as mine -- you had Kellogg's Cornflakes, Wheaties, Grapenuts and, of course, Quaker Oats. And that was about it, Jerebob and I agreed.

But today ... well, good grief, must be dozens of them. (But the old standbys are still there, too, if maybe in different packaging.) I counted five different kinds of Cheerios alone -- from apple cinnamon to honey nut and multi-grain. That was before I even got to Cap'n Crunch and Kix and Trix and Froot Loops. And no wonder people can't spell anymore.

As I was getting this all down in my official "Professional Reporter's Notebook," a floor person passed by, and I asked, "How in the world do you keep track of all these brand names?"

"All I'm responsible for is the bread," she said. "I don't know how they do it over here."

I wasn't about to get into breads, but I did notice nearby shelves full of bottled water -- from Town House to Black Mountain, to Calistoga and South Fork Mountain. I'm wondering: Doesn't anybody (except me) drink water out of the tap anymore?

About this same time I happened to have an appointment with John Brimlow, my friendly P.A. (physician's assistant), and I asked how they keep up with the speed-of-light changes in medicine today. By attending seminars and reading as much of the latest literature as possible, he answered. Even so, it would take a superhuman to keep up with everything, so doctors learn to specialize.

It was a simple segue from there to computers. Five years ago Brimlow and his wife bought a personal computer. "We went through three upgradings," he said, "and today it's a dinosaur."

Think of it: The first practical commercial typewriter was invented in the United States in 1867, and went on the market -- manufactured by one Philo Remington -- in 1874. It wasn't until about 1935 that the electric typewriter came along.

More than half a century for this first dramatic change to occur in the writing machine. And what does it take today for the new computer or word processor and other electronic gadgetry to emerge -- months, weeks, days? Almost instant obsolescence.

No wonder that Bob Dole has offered to be "the bridge to a time of tranquility."

A lot of us, I suspect, would like to cross that bridge, but I doubt it will happen in the lifetime of anyone alive today.

What goes around, however, does come around. I can imagine that one distant day, after all the high tech stuff burns itself out -- and already you can see the instant consternation of people not knowing what to do when "the computer is down" or the electric power goes out -- we will be back to writing with pencil and paper. Perhaps even brushing our teeth with raggedy-edged twigs. That's assuming, of course, that we still have trees then.


George Ringwald was a reporter for the Riverside Press Enterprise from 1948-69 and Tokyo bureau chief for Business Week magazine until 1984.

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