The June Elle Décor features a profile of New York interior designer Richard Mishaan whose store Homer is reopening in another Gotham location. After listing a dozen of the things Mishaan cannot live without such as Tuscan wines, chocolate-covered orange peels, and white shirts and claiming mirrors he sold for $3,000 are now being offered for $30,000, the puff piece concludes with a vote of confidence in the decorator’s skilled eye and his pithy business philosophy: “I’m always looking for the next thing.”
The cri de coeur of “What’s next?” is shouted at us from computer monitors, magazine covers, and TV screens 24/7. Being in vogue is not enough; being two jumps ahead of the latest trend is the goal of the unhidden persuaders. To be au courant in today’s culture is passé. Making one’s mark as a trend-finder has become more important than being a trend-setter.
When did the emphasis change from “Look what’s coming down the street?” to “What’s around the corner?” When was carpe diem replaced by “Stay tuned”?
Even before the Grass Roots recorded “Let’s Live for Today,” one of the 1960s anthems to grabbing ahold of life’s fleeting moments, and those alliterative Schlitz commercials, we were grabbing for the gusto.
During a phone interview with the co-hosts of an Internet show regarding articles in my 2011 book On the Screen, On the Air, On My Mind, I tried to convey to the listeners a sense of what it was like to be a young boy in the early 1950s. The media choices were quite limited (many families in my small town did not purchase their first television set until 1954 or later). The concepts of watching reruns or recording events on tape or disc for later viewing were not even on the horizon. When we watched Lucy Ricardo cutting capers before us in our living rooms or when counting down the anguished minutes toward High Noon with Gary Cooper in our local theater, we squeezed every ounce of pleasure out of those experiences because we had no expectation that those scenes would ever pass before our eyes again.
During the interview I did my best to capture the ecstasy of what it was like to live in the moment of those heady times for a fun-loving boy who had fallen under the spell of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Imagine the delight of that lad who, after watching the duo pass the mustard with some of their classic routines in their syndicated series on the 21” Capehart in a corner of our living room, was able, in the very same week, to see them at a theater three blocks away cutting up with Charles Laughton in Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd. O Frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Repeated exposure to the double takes, wordplay, and shameless mugging over the years has taken only a few gasps of helium out of those rapturous times because my focus on “What’s now” was so intense I can feel that sense of exhilaration in my lungs 60 years later. What kind of reminisces will children raised in a “What’s next?” world have if they never develop an appreciation to embrace today’s “what’s now” moments? Being able to retrieve dozens of digital images of beach scenes, Disneyland rides, and pizza parties 20 years after the events does not mean those events have had any significance. In fact, the multitude of images may even blur together (“Was that the first time we went to Hawaii or the second?”) Digital may be forever, but it will not be more enduring and meaningful than events woven deeply into the fabric of a person’s life.
I describe in the introduction to my book how the edge of my sense of humor was honed during those magic moments before large screen and small as my interest in frolicking fun makers continued right into my high school years. Even as I began to appreciate the writings of James Thurber, Robert Benchley, and Ogden Nash, part of me continued to laugh at Bud and Lou’s routines that ran in an endless loop in my brain. (Somehow that combination of printed and visual humor saturating my existence contributed to being voted wittiest in my senior class.) By the time I graduated from college I absolutely knew that someday I would write a tribute to the comedy duo, and finally, in 1991, “A Twosome and Then Some,” appeared in the pages of Nostalgia Digest. Of the 43 articles I have written for the magazine since then, many of them have been profiles of comedy greats such as Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope, Ernie Kovacs, Stan Freberg, Red Skelton, Joan Davis, Lucille Ball, and Eve Arden.
I could not irrefutably connect any dots between “Slowly I turned” and a turning point in my life even if I had some of Abbott’s straight lines to help me. I can only trace my appreciation for holding on for dear life to those days of long ago. I wonder what remembrance of things past will exist for those living in the future tense. I count golden memories among my most-valued possessions. The highest those singing the advice of Warren Zevon’s “Looking for the Next Best Thing” can hope to attain is silver. Will those who keep asking “What’s next?” be left with a handful of dust?