The Silver Screen and the Golden Age

Although a lot of people complain about old age, I’m not one of them.

Now, well past the three-quarter-century mark, I find this life stage fascinating. It has all the discoveries and changes of adolescence — just in reverse.

In youth, you’re growing bigger, stronger, more aware, more assured. The future looks vast, even infinite, full of possibilities, friendships, and successes galore.

In the sorely mislabeled Golden Years, the future is — well … if you don’t mind, let’s not discuss it.

Honestly, though, this really is a time of new discoveries for me.

Like what, you ask?

Like these: The best and cheapest meds for acid reflux, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, eczema, and dry eyes. Or which dermatologist/cardiologist/anykinda-ologist has the shortest waiting room times. Or which restaurants give old fart discounts, and on which days.

In short, this life phase is — to plunder a motto — a Voyage of Discovery.

Dharma Dehond, my Coffee Clods’ resident philosopher and wide-eyed optimist, said the young and the greybeards are on the same glide path. I, ever the clear-eyed pessimist, say, Yeah, we’re on the same glide path, all right — but with completely opposite trajectories.

That said, one of the great benefits of hitting the tail end of the life expectancy charts is you get to share your accumulated wisdom with young people — whether they wanna hear it or not. For instance, there’s the ongoing, if not interminable, spiel about Life in the Good Ole Days. You know the one: Back when gas was 50 cents a gallon, kids were polite, giants walked the earth and tobacco was good for you.

Of course, a lot of those memories aren’t actual memories, so much as comforting delusions. In other words, complete doo-doo. Others, however, even if remembered imperfectly, hold more than a grain of truth.

The past — imagined, and real

This came to the fore in a Coffee Clods convo with Doc McHugh. I said that in my Gilded Youth there was a lot more community activity than there is now. He, at least 15 years my junior, had the unmitigated audacity to disagree.

“There are all sorts of things to do now that weren’t done before,” he said.

“Like what?” I said.

“Cross country skiing, snowshoeing, canoeing, kayaking,” he said. “And more people hike here than ever before.”

“Agreed,” I said. “But whattaya think we did back then — just stay home and play cat’s cradle?”

“Cat’s what?” he said.

“My point exactly,” I said.

Then I went on.

“You’re right about lots of peeps doing those things who never did them before,” I said. “But that’s because they were hardly done anywhere before. For starters, we didn’t have any of that equipment back then.”

“Sure you did,” he said. “There were canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and cross country skis.”

“There were canoes, kayaks, snowshoes and cross-country skis,” I said. “But did you ever see them? The canoes were either huge wooden ones or aluminum ones, and about as portable as a blacksmith’s anvil. The snowshoes were wood, with bindings that did everything but bind. The only kayaks in existence were owned by Inuit, and the only cross country skis were owned by Finns.”

OK, so I was exaggerating…but not by much. People may have participated in those activities, but not to any great extent, and often not as recreation. The only folks I knew who snowshoed were hunters or trappers. While people may have shlepped around on skis, they were regular downhill skis (which were big wooden ones with suicide bindings). As a kid I knew kayaks existed, but never saw one.

But that said, all sorts of other activities were available to us. Skating was a huge deal, and we had the rink to prove it. It covered the entire Petrova field, was reputed to be the world’s biggest outdoor artificial rink, and some huge percent of kids — me included — practically lived on it. There was skiing on Pisgah, of course, and it was also full of peeps all the time. Keep in mind, this was before Whiteface opened, but when it did, it was an expensive hassle to go there. Pisgah was free till sometime in the late 50’s or early 60’s, when they instituted a season pass, which for kids cost an outrageous five dollars, cash money.

In the summer we may not have hiked with the equipment and knowledge we now have, but my friends and I spent a lot of time on trails and in the woods. We also swam at the various beaches, official and unofficial, and of course diddy-bopped out to Crescent Bay, to hang out on the rock (which if you’ll recall was covered with class years slapped on in red and white paint).

Now we have excellent road and mountain bikes — something we couldn’t have even imagined back then. But we had our one-speed clunkers, or maybe a three-speed “English racer” that, since we didn’t know any better, got us around just fine.

A town treasure

And as far as a stellar town activity, there was something we had that today’s folks will never know the joy of — the Pontiac Theater. I told Doc about how it had movies seven nights a week, and matinees on both Saturday (for kids) and Sunday (regular flicks).

“And lemme tell ya,” I said, “pre-television, that was a town-wide event. The theater was full for all the flicks, and when I say full, I mean full. It had a thousand seats.”

“A thousand seats?” he said. “I don’t believe it.”

“You don’t have to,” I said, “cuz it’s true anyway.”

“A thousand seats?” he said. “LPCA has only three hundred or so.”

“Yeah? And Madison Square Garden has twenty thousand,” I said. “So what’s that have to do with anything?”

“I just don’t believe a theater in town had a thousand seats,” he said.

“OK, ye of little fatih” I said, “go to it.”

I pointed at his i-Phone.

It was of course lying on the table in front of him, as it is on every damn table in the land.

“Look it up on Saranac Wiki or Historic Saranac Lake.”

He fiddled with with it a bit, tappin’ here and tappin’ there. Then he sat stock-still, staring at the screen. He shook his head, as if trying to clear out a cobweb or two, and said, mostly to himself, “I don’t believe it.”

“Don’t believe what?” I said.

“It says here,” he said, looking at me, “the Pontiac had eleven hundred seats!”

I shrugged.

“I was wrong, and you were right,” he said, looking like a kid who’d just been told he couldn’t have a puppy for his birthday.

“Actually, I wasn’t,” I said. “I said a thousand seats, but it was more. Plus, for all I knew, it could’ve been a lot less. It was just a lucky guess.”

“Really?” he said.

“Star of David my heart and hope to die,” I said.

A look of joyful relief crossed his boyish face.

Of course, it wasn’t a guess at all. After having looked it up repeatedly over the years, that golden number, 1,000, had been etched into my memory banks. So I knew if it wasn’t the exact number, it was mighty close.

But by nature, Doc is a competitive guy who takes losing personally — even in little matters like the number of seats in the Pontiac theater. I, on the other hand, a lighthearted lad of the mountains and streams, eschew competition and above all else, seek peaceful bonding with my fellows.

So when it came to Doc, the least I could do was spare his feelings, and be gracious about who was wrong, who was right, or any of it.

Besides, let’s get real: It’s a helluva lot easier to be gracious when you know you’re right.


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