The root words for “nostalgia” come from Ancient Greece: Nostos = returning home, algos = pain (Hmmm???)
I get a good laugh when people talk about the past with the reverence of “simpler times.” Today, I was reading a story on Google News about the closing of the Queen Anne Dari-Snack in Williamsburg, Virginia and I was nearly plunged into a state of delusional reminiscence. As a kid, my family would go to Queen Anne for dinner. The burgers were huge and if I’m remembering correctly came with mayo. After the first round there, I learned to order it “my way,” which to this day is cheese, ketchup, and mustard. (no plants, please…). The fries were a perfect mix of crispness, grease, and salt that were served in bags that held the heat without letting the fries get soggy. A cold soda, most likely Dr. Pepper, served as the wash for a really good meal. The style of the Queen Anne was old school. Orders were taken at the window and customers milled around the parking lot or waited in their cars until their numbers were called. People used to say that it was how food was ordered in the “good ole days.”
The “good ole days?” When were those? The 1950s? There was nothing simple about then. A quick check of the headlines on the front page of the New York Times from 7/29/1955 yielded the following simple affairs of the time:
Bulgaria shot down an airliner.
Democrats were seeking the ouster of the Secretary of the Air Force.
Republicans were concerned with our defenses at home and abroad and the ramifications of travel to the “Iron Curtain.”
Joe McCarthy was either being civic or crazy depending on your level of acceptance of bullying and fear mongering.
Air conditioning was being considered for the subway in New York City.
None of those were too simple. They certainly were not cheeseburgers (with ketchup and mustard), fries, and a soft drink. The thing about nostalgia is that it is a falsehood. We look to the past to escape the present. We think that the past was better, but my instinct feels like we have selective memory of what the past held. Problems have always existed and their nature has always been human. I know this seems negative, but we are violent and manipulative. We also understand peace and the importance of thought, but looking back throughout the history (at least in the way it is recorded), we don’t seem to think about simplifying life.
I think simplicity is often associated with efficiency. If I can do something with great ease, then it must be simple. I no longer have an abacus, card catalog, or high-fi system. I have a smart phone, which is undoubtably a complex technology. I don’t think it was easy to figure out how to install air conditioners in the NYC subway back in 1955. Simple living is hard today. Where does my food come from? What cable plan to I choose? Am I on wi-fi? Is my password too weak? At the same time, though, my car works well. I don’t have to stand in line for anything. Music is everywhere I go and I’m composing this without a feather, pen, or correcting tape. In fact, this essay will go out to the world with a few simple keystrokes. People (a few anyway) will read it wherever they are without having to buy a magazine or go to a library to find the essay in some dusty anthology. Of course it would have been checked out when they finally found the book on the shelf.
So what’s the point? The Queen Anne Dari-Shack was a slice of time. It represented longevity, not the simple times of the past. Those simple times never existed and if they did, to truly appreciate what the times were would cause a lot of pain for those accept the reality of then. We must live in out present and use the past to inform how we go about our business, but we must enjoy the times where we are. Now is the most important time of any person’s life. Stay present and be in this moment.
Do you think Pierce’s is still good? I hear they have seating now. I remember when…