The adjustment disorder
On one warm afternoon in late May or early June of 1977, in Phoenix – in other words, a long time ago in a place far, far away – I stood in line for a couple of hours at the Cine Capri theater, waiting to see “Star Wars.”
It was so long ago, in fact, that it’s possible some of the details are fuzzy. It could have been more than a couple of hours. It could have been very hot, and maybe also snowing. I could have been somebody else. A long time ago.
I do remember two things, for sure. I went with Sharon Dillon, a friend from college. If I checked with Sharon, I’m sure she’d corroborate my story, and you know what’s funny? She and her husband and kids live in Seattle, just 20 miles or so away. This story just gets better and better.
Since the Lucasfilm people have been pretty energetic about repackaging the franchise, making sure that new generations have easy access to Boba Fett and the rest, my 1977 experience has become sort of an origin story in this family, something I haul out from time to time until my children start getting patricidal.
I mean, really, who cares? I don’t even care.
But I remember going with Sharon, and specifically I remember that the tickets for “Star Wars” cost 5 bucks. Apiece.
That was a huge jump in ticket prices, and it never jumped back down. Suddenly movies were splashier, filled with amazing special effects, and expensive, and a few years before VCRs and movie rentals became common, you paid your money over and over again, as many times as you wanted to watch the film before it disappeared.
But hey. It was only 5 bucks. Five dollars is nothing now, a latte and a tip. No wonder the kids get mean when I tell this story.
Still, it stuck in my head, this stupid five bucks, and I got curious. Five dollars in 1977 translates to what now?
Ah. There’s the truth, right there in numbers. In 2012 dollars, five bucks becomes $18 and change. You can own the DVD for 18 bucks. I was right, and remain right: It was a big jump.
This is a cliché, but bring up movie prices to someone who was a kid in, say, the 1930s. They’ll be glad to tell you how they used to go to the movies for a dime, and that included a newsreel, a cartoon or two, and usually a double feature.
Sure, we think, sneering in that part of our brain that has facial expressions, but that was 1935. A dime was a lot of money. You could buy a house for, like, a dollar. It’s called inflation.
But the buying power of 10 cents in 1935 equals about $1.68 today, so show some respect. Movies were cheap back then, case closed.
All of this number chasing started with the State of the Union speech a few weeks ago, back in those tranquil days when “sequester” was just another big word.
The president offered a proposal that the minimum wage be increased, a subject that’s so full of opposing statistics I don’t know what to think.
Does it help or hurt? Do jobs dry up, or does money get slammed into the economy? Who actually works for the minimum wage? Should it be tied to the poverty level for a family of four?
I’m a little unclear, although my heart leans toward anybody earning a little more, particularly if their job involves grease. Economics is hard, though.
The minimum wage was $1 when I was born, by the way; that correlates with a little less than 8 bucks an hour in today’s money.
In 1977, when I was spending what money I had on Skywalker and friends, the minimum wage was $2.30, which equals $8.71 today, slightly less than what was proposed in the State of the Union. I still am unclear.
But it’s fun to translate, and wonder. A year after “Star Wars” premiered, I was working doing data entry for an HMO, just typing in vital signs and handwritten notes on a primitive computer network.
Mindless, boring work, but one day I noticed a tiny paragraph in the employee manual that discussed an incentive program. The more of those charts you process, the more money you make.
It was an epiphany to me, that I could earn more by just working harder, even at a dumb, college student sort of job. So I did.
And by 1978, I was making about 7 bucks an hour, which is – wait for it – about $22 an hour today, or roughly $45,000 a year.
You’re not buying McMansions for that, but then I was 19. It was a pretty amazing income, enough to save and indulge some dreams.
If all this sounds like a fun way to kill time, you can go to the website of the Bureau of Labor ( HYPERLINK "http://www.bls.gov" www.bls.gov) and play around with calculators. It’s an exercise in relativity, but with some truth hiding in the calculations.
If you’re just hanging in there, making more than you did 10 years ago but somehow you don’t seem to be better off, you’ll find some answers there, maybe.
Just don’t start talking with your kids about it, trust me. They get this nasty gleam in their eyes.