One Word After Another – James A. Autry – Jan/Feb 19

The Irascible Eye

This is not going to be one of those “Things sure ain’t the way they used to be” columns, but I must admit that things are most assuredly not the way they once were.

This is the point at which you roll your eyes and ask yourself, “Now what is this old guy going to gripe about?” But I hope you’ll stick with me and indulge a few “old guy” observations about how things have changed.

I travel regularly, not as frequently as I did when I was gainfully employed and for several years spent almost every other week in New York, but regularly nonetheless.

Believe it or not, people used to dress up to take a trip. Men wore a coat and tie, women wore stylish clothes and equally stylish but comfortable shoes.

Nowadays, it strikes me that travelers in airports dress as if they woke up, looked at the clock, discovered they were going to be late for the flight, then rushed to the dirty clothes hamper, pulled out a few things, dressed quickly, slipped on some flip-flops and headed for the airport, the men in soiled T-shirts and jeans and women in strategically torn jeans. Always makes me feel overdressed. I even get tempted to tell the young men to turn their baseball hats around and pull up their pants.

Stranger still is an apparent new dress code for dinner dates at restaurants. (I suppose “dinner date” is an antiquated term.) Inevitably the young women dress not just presentably but often exquisitely, as if ready to model for a fashion magazine photo shoot. But the young men wear (you guessed it) T-shirts and jeans or other kind of equally dressed-down trousers. (Can I still say trousers?) Or they seem to make a big effort to ensure that the shirttails are outside and hanging over the trousers. (I said it again.) But when I think of the efforts I made to keep my shirttail tucked in, I can appreciate today’s liberated shirttail look.

I suppose the clothes really don’t matter because almost immediately both man and woman are intensely more engaged by whatever is on their cellphones than by their dinner partners.

I thank my lucky stars that I am way beyond the dating scene.

Wait a minute. Who am I kidding? The truth is not that I disapprove of all these changes but that I’m intrigued by them and find myself reflecting on years past.

I once had many of the same skeptical observations about baby boomers. You remember them; they’re the parents of the young people I’ve been writing about. Many of the baby boomers were obsessed with looking as if they grew up on tobacco row with their overalls, unkempt hair, and bare feet. At the time, I called it “playing at poverty.”

As for my generation, we wore jeans with the cuffs turned up to reveal socks of various colors. We even rolled up the sleeves of our short-sleeve shirts as if we had biceps worth showing off. Some of us boys combed our hair into “ducktails” in back. And everybody smoked (cigarettes). The girls wore bobby socks and, to the dismay of teachers and parents, wore angora sweaters, which were of course enticingly and temptingly soft to the touch.

Later, when we could afford to have dinner dates (we actually called them that), we had no cellphones so were forced to have conversations. I have to confess, however, that the conversations probably were no more important than what is found today on cellphones—usually who’s doing what with whom and when, what’s happening in the world—or just reaching out to one another, staying in touch. 

Come to think of it, what really could be more important than that, when we get past the superficial stuff like how we dress?

I must say, however, that I could do without the selfies.


Mississippi native James A. Autry (jamesaautry.com) of Des Moines is a well-known author, poet, musician and business consultant who has written 14 books on such topics as gratitude, servant leadership and his Southern boyhood. Autry recently published his first novel, “The Cold Warrior: When Flying Was Dangerous and Sex Was Safe.”

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