A testament to changing times l Chuck's World

Jan 10, 2018

If for some reason you’re interested in what the world was like in 1983, you could do worse than look at movies.

I mean, you could do better. But movies are interesting.

That was the year of “The Big Chill,” and “Risky Business.” “Terms of Endearment” blew everyone else out of the water, including “Return of the Jedi,” “Trading Places,” and “Mr. Mom,” but it was still an impressive group effort. Stars were born, or at least confirmed, in 1983, among them Tom Cruise.

Then there was “War Games,” with Matthew Broderick. Much beloved by teenage 1980s computer geeks who are now in their 50s, “War Games” was a fairly light treatment of a serious subject, mostly a snapshot of a dawning technological era where clever teenage boys (and only boys) could cause all sorts of mischief with these new machines.

But the subject matter tapped into the zeitgeist, and so it became less of a technothriller about a somewhat sentient computer that put mankind at risk of total devastation (Broderick plays a kid who inadvertently hacks into a military computer and sets up a nuclear launch countdown) and more of a bad dream about everything blowing up, against our will.

I remember this zeitgeist, being a young man at the time, soon a new father. It was the last heightened Cold War period, which would dwindle and die out in a few years when the Soviet Union dissolved, and it was pretty damn scary.

And two films came out in 1983, within two weeks of each other. “The Day After” was a harrowing TV movie about a nuclear attack on the United States and how the aftereffects played out for ordinary Americans. I managed to skip it, not seeing the film until a couple of decades (and some paranoia) had passed

I did see “Testament,” though. It was playing just down the street from the first apartment my wife and I rented after moving to the Northwest, and it eventually ended up on PBS. Talk about harrowing.

“Testament” told the story of a small northern California town in the aftermath of a massive nuclear strike, isolating this little community as its population died off from radiation sickness. Harrowing is not a powerful enough word.

This is obviously not a subject to be taken lightly. Current events don’t help, with public talk by powerful leaders about imaginary buttons being pushed by tiny fingers. I have no intention of using the threat of nuclear war as the basis for jokes.

But I’ll use a movie. So I can talk about my Christmas present.

See, “Testament” gifted me with a permanent image, its final one: The remnants of a once-happy family, gathered around a kitchen table by candlelight, survivors for the moment. No happy ending, no happy anything, certainly no hope. Just survivors.

But this became a mental go-to graphic for what’s happened to my family over the past 15 years, minus the tragedy. I remember thinking of it when my daughter left for college. The three of us went out to dinner, my wife, my son and I, and I noted that this would be the new normal. Just the three of us.

I’ve revisited that image, too. Again, there are none of the morbid overtones from the movie, just a sense of hanging on and changing at the same time. My son still lives with us, but he’s 27 and has successfully navigated his peculiar neurology into something approximating adulthood. He’s independent and frankly a little irritated, I think, to have to endure the senior citizens he lives with for the time being.

So holidays are different. Very casual, very simple Christmases have become the norm, as happens in many families. We become utilitarian Santas, and my wife appropriately gave me new underwear this year. I needed this and was very appreciative. In fact, they were remarkably comfortable when I tried on a pair, and I told her so. Not looking up from her iPad, she murmured, “I’m glad you’re happy with your new panties,” and now I have no idea what to do with that. I’m almost 60. I think maybe I just die now.

But that’s not the gift I’m thinking of.

If your household has downsized in the recent past, you probably understand. There are fewer of us, and we have distinct eating orbits. Long gone are the days when we ran that dishwasher at least once a day; now it can be a couple of times a week, and it’s easier just to wash the few dishes we use as we use them.

So I saw this stainless steel dish drainer on Amazon, after reading an article about it, and showed it to my wife, and we ooohed and aaahed a bit and then bought it as a Christmas present for ourselves. Sixty bucks for a metal thing that doesn’t respond to my voice, play music, or have wifi.

So that was Christmas, and it’s been a blast. I love my underwear, I really enjoyed the snow, and now my dishes drain onto this special coated surface that beads up water and sends it directly into the sink, so no more brown stains and ugly plastic thing sitting on my counter. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, how life changes and families become altered and we compensate and adjust. We are survivors, not of nuclear war but of time, and by God our dishes are dry.

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