published Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Kennedy: Quick: What decade is this?

If I'm blessed with an average life span, I will live a good stretch of years in two centuries. There's something about this I find disconcerting, like having a foot in two different rowboats.

Here's the thing: Lately I'm feeling nostalgic for the 20th century. It felt more like home. The 21st century may turn out to be an acquired taste, but so far it doesn't seem like the new millennium has its act together.

Let me illustrate.

It's the year 2013, right, so what decade are we in? Stumped? Some of you probably thought "the teens," but I'll bet you've never used it in an actual sentence: i.e., "The teens is a sweet decade."

Here's a chance to redeem yourself. Easy peasey. What was the last decade called? ... Patting my foot now. Still waiting.

Notice a pattern here? In the 20th century, every decade had its own name and culture. For baby boomers, mention the 1960s or 1970s and we can hear, taste and smell them.

Nowadays, epochs are measured not by decades but by new iPhone releases. My youngest son was born a year before the introduction of the original iPhone. See, that has meaning.

So far, the 21st century has been a culturally disappointing era of wars, recessions, political gridlock and stock market crashes. Not a great first impression.

Here's a list of some of the things I miss from the 20th century.

• The U.S. space program. It flabbergasts me that children today don't aspire to be astronauts. To them, the Apollo moon landings are prehistoric -- like the Civil War was to us as kids. Meanwhile, Washington's idea of a sexy topic is budget sequestration. This is progress?

• The Cold War. I know this will invite ridicule, but think about it: When the whole world was divided into red and blue countries, it seemed like Americans of different political stripes got along better. There's something galvanizing about the risk of mutually assured annihilation.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, though, we began to fixate on domestic issues and created our own red-blue war at home. I liked things better when the enemy lived on a different continent, and even terrorists knew better than to tug on Superman's cape. Plus, I thought the end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in an era of peace and prosperity. I'm still waiting for that to kick in.

• Record stores, movie rental stores and bookstores. God bless the digital age, but I miss the simple 20th century pleasure of shopping for books, movies and music at bricks-and-mortar stores. Visit McKay Used Books on Lee Highway any weekend and you'll see that I'm not alone. Sure, people are there for bargains, but I think they're also nostalgic for the pre-iTunes-and-Amazon days when media shopping was a hands-on experience.

• Home-cooked meals. Our family eats out too much. With two working parents, takeout meals are our survival rations. I miss simple 20th century pleasures like sweet tea and homemade cornbread for dinner every night.

• Clear skin. I have nothing against tattoos, but can we all agree that skin art has become cliché? As long as people understand that getting tattoos in 2013 makes you a conformist, not a non-conformist, all is good.

Personally, I hope my kids skip the ink. The idea that anyone might want to drive the same car, wear the same clothes or display the same tattoos at age 18 and age 68 is a stretch.

• Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson's theme song at 11:30 p.m. was to the 20th century what church bells were to the 19th century. I miss shared culture.

I'm trying to keep an open mind about the 21st century. But it's got some serious catching up to do.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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