SEARS—Business Lost, Memories Kept

How does a retail company like SEARS, once the largest in the world and still in business for nearly 130 years, swiftly fade into oblivion?  Sears is nearly gone.  How could you mess up a successful time-proven brand like Sears?  Perhaps Sears’ CEO, Eddie Lampert, can explain because most of us cannot.  Sears has not only been a department store chain , but an institution baby boomers fondly remember. Few of us can smell popcorn popping or hear Christmas music that we don’t think of Sears. 

It can be safely said most of us are discouraged by what has happened to what was once the world’s largest retailer.  I’m not in the retail business nor am I qualified to comment.  However, I will offer my armchair opinion anyway.  To understand the Sears journey, one must look back nearly 130 years to the beginning.  Richard W. Sears was a man with vision who took risks.  He saw opportunity where others did not.  He understood what worked and—what didn’t.  He knew due diligence was what it took to make it in the world. He never faltered. 

He founded SEARS. 

In the 1880s, Richard Sears was a station agent with the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway. He did whatever it took to earn a living and engaged in a lot of things on the side including peddling jewelry and other dry goods, which would prove profitable in time.  He founded the R.W. Sears Watch Company and moved to Chicago in 1887 from his native Minneapolis.  It was in Chicago he became acquainted with watchmaker Alvah C. Roebuck.  They developed a solid business relationship and founded Sears-Roebuck & Company in 1893.  Little by little, they amassed investors and the company grew.

The Sears-Roebuck partnership blossomed beyond anyone’s imagination.  Sears’ first initial stock offering happened in 1906 and the company grew like wildfire.  Sears cut its teeth in the mail order business, which made it easy for people, especially farmers, to get what they needed via mail order.  Those who lived in remote parts of the country could order items, including homes and automobiles, from the catalog and have what they needed in a matter of days.  Shoppers didn’t even have to go to a Sears store.  Sears was a precursor to what Amazon is today—the ease of ordering from your telephone and having it arrive in days.

There wasn’t anything Sears didn’t have as the 20th century unfolded.  You could order a house from Sears or remodel your bathroom or buy a house full of furniture.  By the 1920s, Sears’ success was phenomenal and sales were brisk.  The only way was up even during the Great Depression in the 1930s and turbulent war years spanning the 1940s.  By the time World War II ended in 1945, veterans came home from the Pacific and Europe ready to go to marriage and housekeeping which meant a huge cash windfall for Sears-Roebuck.  Shoppers could go to Sears or fan the pages of a catalog and order just about anything under the sun. 

As baby boomers came of age years later, it only got better.  By the 1960s, Sears’ slogan was “Sears Has Everything…” and it did.  You could shop for clothes and shoes while your car was getting a tune-up or an engine replacement in the automotive center.  You couldn’t help but notice complete bathrooms, kitchens, and living room furniture while you were wandering through Sears searching for a pair of shoes. For anyone with distractibility issues, Sears was a challenge because there was so much to choose from all over the store. Put me in the tool or home improvement department and I become hopeless. 

And Christmastime?  The Wish Book and a trip to Sears meant being able to look at toys, Christmas decorations, and just about anything else your imagination could dream up.  The Wish Book often arrived just after school started in September just to whet your appetite for the holidays. 

With the rich smell of woodsmoke in the autumn and journeying up the street in search of Halloween candy meant the holidays, and the thrill of Sears, were just around the corner.  I still get a rush of goosebumps thinking about it.

However, goosebumps and our memories aren’t going to save Sears.  The Sears story in recent decades has been a succession of failed business decisions and stiff competition from mail order giants like Amazon.  It is important to understand Amazon isn’t what is killing Sears.  Poor management decisions within the Sears organization are. 

And now, it’s just too little too late. 

Sears will undoubtedly join the ranks of dozens of other retailers who failed to compete that are gone in 2021.  The May Company, Zayre, Montgomery-Ward, Grants, Venture, Robinsons, The Broadway, Gottschalks, Toys R Us, Mervyn’s, Robert Hall, Kinney Shoes, Best Products, Woolco, Service Merchandise, Western Auto, and a host of others are gone now.  Plenty of local and reginal retailers are gone too.

My point is not only have these chains been a part of our lives for decades, they’ve been places of business we felt we could count on.  The downfall of Sears is but the latest in a series of business losses that have made it necessary for boomers to find suitable replacements.  When it comes to Sears-Roebuck, those are mighty big shoes to fill.         

“It’s About Time” — For What?

The 1960s was a decade of turmoil, social unrest, and imagination run amuck.  No better place for the latter than Hollywood, California and the small town in a big metropolis—Burbank.  Burbank was named for a dentist, Dr. David E. Burbank, who migrated to California from Maine in the 1800s.  This charming community has long been an entertainment mecca with more than its share of studios and sound stages in the Southeast corner of the San Fernando Valley.  It is home to the Walt Disney Studios, Warner Brothers, the CBS Studio Center, NBC-Comcast/Universal, The Burbank Studios, Cartoon Network Studios, and a host of others. 

Although we think of Hollywood as home to the entertainment industry, Burbank a few miles north of Hollywood is also where the action is.  Burbank was one of those places few ever thought about until “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In” made it famous by calling it “Beautiful Downtown Burbank…”  Johnny Carson also gave it that distinction on “The Tonight Show” back in the day. 

As television began to take off early in the decade, so did imagination.  The 1960s became a decade of zany sitcoms that dared explore the absurd.  Sitcoms like Gilligan’s Island, Mr. Ed, Hazel, Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith, Leave It To Beaver, The Lucy Show, I Dream Of Jeannie, Bewitched, Family Affair, My Three Sons, Petticoat Junction, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, That Girl, My Favorite Martian, Dennis The Menace, Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Hogan’s Heroes, and even The Monkees kept viewers tuned in week after week. Boomers just couldn’t get enough. What’s more, young people remain hooked on these situation comedies generations later.

There were some sitcoms on the edge of imagination.  Some, like “Jeannie” and “Bewitched,” endured.  They lasted five seasons.  Jeannie was a fantasy trip for a lot of men.  An astronaut and a beautiful woman who popped from a bottle in a haze of smoke?  There was abundant sexual tension—and no sex? 

Yeah right…

The biggest insults were one-season wonders—for example “My Mother the Car” and “It’s About Time.”  Are you kidding me?  Even at the age of 11, I had to scratch my head wondering what kind of bad tobacco they were smoking in Los Angeles in 1965.

Dave Crabtree’s (Jerry Van Dyke) mother (Ann Sothern) was reincarnated as a 1928 Porter automobile. You can’t make this stuff up, but someone did. Just imagine the situations Crabtree found himself in with his mother on four wheels. Ann’s voice would flash from the radio when she spoke. She would speak only to Dave – kind of like Ed only speaking to Wilbur. The irony is, car radios didn’t exist in 1928. “My Mother The Car” lasted one season and no wonder.

“It’s About Time…” was another really absurd situation comedy only no one was laughing. These two bumbling clowns posing as astronauts came down into the Gilligan’s Island lagoon in a corrugated tin space capsule with pyrotechnic sparklers popping in the engine pods, greeted by prehistoric cave men and women.  Are you kidding me???  One of the cavemen—actor Joe E. Ross, (Car 54 Where Are You?) with a New York accent, never made much of a statement, but it paid the actor’s bills.

Two astronauts, traveling faster than light, go back in time to prehistoric Earth. Unable to return, they befriend the locals.  Then, to add insult to injury, they bring the natives into the 20th Century where they attempt to blend into present time in an attempt to save the series.  Not meant to be.  “It’s About Time” faded quickly into prehistoric times.  One could hope it would never make syndication. 

The golden era of television was a learning curve of what worked and what didn’t.  What kept an audience and what did not.  There were quite a number of one-season wonder sitcoms and drama series that barely lasted a season and there was a reason why.  They were terrible.  That said, “The Monkees” was another one that actually managed to last two seasons yet developed a huge multi-generational following that has lasted for decades. The Monkees pioneered the music video.

The news wasn’t all bad for producer Sherwood Schwartz.  He produced very successful franchises.  “Gilligan’s Island” was very successful as was “The Brady Bunch.”  Both retain a sizable audience today across the generations.  Everyone wanted to be a Brady kid.  Gilligan’s Island was just goofy enough to get a belly laugh every time something really stupid happened.  And yes, Mary Ann was more to my liking than Ginger.  I still don’t understand how they kept that portable radio going without replacement batteries for years, nor do I understand where all this everyday “stuff” came from no one would take on a three-hour tour including the Professor’s portable nuclear reactor and slide rule.   

The Brady Bunch was believable, but downright corny at times.  Why anyone would bring “Tiger” the dog to a wedding where a cat was present is beyond me. You just know Mike Brady (Robert Reed) was decidedly furious when the wedding cake fell on him.  The busted vase — remember that?  Elmer’s Glue-All was used in an effort to glue it back together?  Problem?  Elmer’s is water soluble.  At dinner, the vase swiftly became unglued for all to see and at the horror of six naïve crumb crushers who thought they could get away with it.  

Cold busted…

I can’t help it.  Every time I hear the name Marcia, I feel inclined to go “Marcia-Marcia-Marcia!!!”  Eve Plumb lives in each of us.

We’re Living Here In Levittown

Belair At Bowie, Maryland Models on Opening Day, October 8, 1960

William Jaird “Bill” Levitt was a legendary homebuilder and birther of well thought out communities where childhood memories were made a lifetime ago.  Bill Levitt was a born entrepreneur and World War II Navy Seabee who understood economics and how to build quickly with virtually no budget and limited resources during the war.  He was a man who could do a lot with nothing.  He was once quoted as saying, “Any damn fool can build homes. What counts is how many you can sell for how little.” 

Levitt revolutionized the housing construction assembly line beginning with Levittown, New York just 26 miles east of New York City.  He pioneered a simple 27-step process to building homes by taking the automotive assembly line and reverse engineering it by moving workers from one lot to the next with a specific task.  Much of his labor were independent contractors.  If you could drive a nail or swing a paint brush, Levitt would hire you.  Levitt also pre-built subassemblies like plumbing, electrical, and framing to where these items were dropped on each lot with precision timing just like an auto assembly line.  Levitt’s approach would later be a popular buzz phrase known as “Just In Time” manufacturing.    

If you grew up in a Levitt & Sons community, you understand what I am talking about, especially if you were there to see it unfold.  Levitt provided the bones of home and hearth.  Buyers and homeowners provided the love and memories.  He made buying a new home possible for struggling war veterans who didn’t have a dime nor a place to live.  Without Levitt & Sons, they wouldn’t have been able to afford a home.  Think of Levitt & Sons as the Bailey Building & Loan from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.” 

There were dozens of Levitt & Sons communities built not only across the United States, but in France, Puerto Rico, and Spain. Levitt France, as one example, has a huge following today because baby boomers grew up there too.  ITT acquired Levitt & Sons in the mid-1960s and Levitt’s magic pretty much ended there.  Levitt & Sons became ITT/Levitt and the company just wasn’t the same—nor were the communities it built.  In fact, construction methods became so poor ITT/Levitt was ordered to stop building one Maryland county.  The Levitt name has been tried and has failed numerous times in the decades since.  It just couldn’t be done without Bill Levitt.

I grew up in the suburban Washington/Baltimore Levitt community of “Belair At Bowie” smack in the middle between these two great cities at the intersection of U.S Route 50 and Maryland Route 3 west of Annapolis and south of Baltimore.  If you were among the first residents at Belair early in the 1960s—if you grew up here—you know and remember the extraordinary atmosphere that existed in the heart of rural Maryland 60 years ago. There was no better place to come of age.

The Belair Estate, some 1,700 acres consisting of a mansion, stables, horse property, and abundant meadowlands, came up for sale in 1957.  Levitt and a number of other developers understood the great opportunity that existed in this remote location in the middle of nowhere.  Developers knew the value of “nowhere” because Route 3 and the soon-to-be-opened John Hanson Highway (Route 50) were going to connect “nowhere” with Washington, Baltimore, and Annapolis.  There would be phenomenal growth in this region in the years to follow.  There would also be phenomenal memories. 

William Jaird “Bill” Levitt

The Belair Estate was a land developer’s gold mine.  There was a bitter legal dispute between Levitt & Sons and the sellers.  Levitt was the successful bidder—yet—because the seller didn’t care for Levitt’s plan for the land, chose to sell to a lower bidder despite Levitt being the highest bidder.  Levitt tied up the sale in court, which resulted in a second bidding war and Levitt’s successful bid. 

Levitt got his Belair.

Bill Levitt had an appreciation for the history of the Belair Estate and for Laurel, Maryland’s Montpelier estate nine miles away.  He had a terrific plan for his Belair At Bowie, and later—Montpelier with more upscale homes.  There would be carefully thought out sections, parks and recreation sites, pools and tennis courts, churches, community centers, and shopping much as he’d done in other Levitt communities.  Levitt would keep the Belair mansion and the property intact, then, ultimately give this historical property to the City of Bowie for one dollar in 1964. 

This is where Belair’s official history ends and the unofficial begins. 

Belair At Bowie’s Dreamy Foxhill Pond, Winter 1966-67

Kids who grew up in Levitt communities understand what growing up Levitt meant.  Boomers have kept the memories close for more than 70 years.  From Levittown, New York to all Levitt communities beyond, there was something extraordinary about growing up Levitt.  Belair At Bowie, like other Levitt communities, was a wonderful place to grow up.  It was isolated and all we had to count on was each other.  There was a strong sense of community.  Historians said Levitt was building suburban slums.  They also said Levitt homes wouldn’t last 50 years.

Are you kidding me? 

I beg to differ.  So do untold thousands of other boomers who remember what it was like to grow up Levitt. There are original Belair residents who grew up there who live in their parents’ home 60 years later. I don’t see their homes falling down, do you?  Levittown, New York and Pennsylvania, like Belair At Bowie, have strong boomer followings.  There are civic organizations and social media pages seriously committed to Levitt community memories—relationships that go back three quarters of a century.  Talk about staying power?

“Tommy The Turtle” At The Belair Shopping Center in the early 1960s

My Belair At Bowie street, Chesney Lane, like thousands of others, was alive with screaming kids having a good time playing every sport imaginable until the streetlights came on.  Kick Ball.  Soft Ball.  Football.  Dodge Ball.  The clatter of bicycles fitted with playing cards.  Lemonade stands.  Carnivals.  Birthday parties.  Block parties in the heat and humidity of August right before we went back to school.  The aroma of hot charcoal with hot dogs and hamburgers.  Our memories of each other and our Belair At Bowie remain strong 60 years later.  We remain connected with a strong love for one another.                         

Were The Good Old Days Really All That Good?

As baby boomers cruise into the latter of our lives, it is easy to fondly remember a simpler time when we were clad in flat tops, crew cuts, pony tails, and penny loafers.

Were times any easier? For us, perhaps, but not our parents.

The past always looks better in retrospect than it actually was. In the 1950s and 1960s, we were nose-to-nose with the Soviet Union and Red China. There was the Cuban Missile Crisis and Kennedy Assassination. There were also The Beatles, the Mustang, and Free Love. There was also color television and self-cleaning ovens.

Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were both shot to death in two 1968 assassinations. There was the Vietnam conflict that took 56,000 American lives and screwed up a whole bunch of others. There were the riots and protests.  There were The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Hendricks, Janice Joplin.

We gained…. We lost… Just like today.

There were the fabulous Christmases. Neighborhoods full of kids at play. And there were the alone times when we played in our rooms and got lost in the world of imagination. We didn’t have electronic devices aside from portable phonographs and transistor radios.

I use to lie in bed at night or when I was sick and listen to a hand-held Magnavox portable radio. The sounds of AM radio and mental pictures of a man in a soundproof studio at a microphone. The whistles, twitters, pops and crackles of AM radio. And the hopeless silence at each end of the AM radio dial.

There was sitting at a steering wheel in my mother’s Valiant with my sister pretending to be driving somewhere. There were cold winter nights gazing out a frosty window into darkness watching brave streetlights show us the way. Wondering who and what was out there.

Listening to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Daydreaming. Grand openings of modern shopping centers. Walking yet to be occupied neighborhoods still under construction. Exploring in the woods and taking in the aroma of Autumn.

Do you the smell of unburned hydrocarbons from freshly started engines that still had carburetors, chokes, and fat fuel mixtures on a frigid morning. Riding the school bus along with 50 other young souls who believe they would change the world.  Waiting for Gilligan’s Island to come on. The Addams Family on a Friday night. Who could forget Popeye and the Three Stooges on the Metromedia station in your town? “Don’t try this at home, kids…” WTTG’s (Washington, D.C.) Bill Gormly always told us. I was still inclined to hit my sister in the head with a hammer.

We were young without a care in the world in the fifties and sixties except dodging bullies and trying to avoid a bath and a haircut. Had you an adult at the time, you had memories of The Great Depression and a world war. If you were young and of age, you had the Vietnam draft to sweat out.  We hark back to what we believed was an easier time and it was because we were so very young with our whole lives ahead of us. Our parents and grandparents buffered us between our own innocent worlds and the dangers that existed beyond.

As 2021 gets underway remember something – these are the good old days. As baby boomers grow older, it is easy to fondly remember a simpler time when we were clad in flat tops, crew cuts, ponytails, and penny loafers.

Were times any easier? Let’s not kid ourselves. Probably not.

Do Boomers Really Think They Invented Sex?

Do Boomers really think we invented sex? 

I mean—where do we think we came from?  Could you have ever imagined your parents or grandparents engaging in sex?  I couldn’t—even today.  At age 65, sexual desire isn’t what it was a half-century ago when I was coming of age and male hormones were beginning to stir with great fury. However, interest remains very much alive.

Teenage adolescence is a time of great anticipation and raging hormones. Do you remember that? I do. The anticipation of a hot date.  Checking out those tanned legs in the mini skirt in science class. The deep burning passion of youth.   The magic of adolescence.  I call it the age of great discovery.  Once discovered, we can’t seem to get our minds off of it—especially men.  It has been written men think of sex every 30 seconds.  I think it is more often than that. 

Yet, we tend to be uncomfortable discussing what’s actually on our minds. What the heck is with the word “penis” I ask?  People just can’t say it.  It embarrasses them. We get tomato red saying it.  In the movie “Porky’s” the school administrator who just couldn’t say this word and insisted instead on using the word “tallywhacker” to describe the male anatomy.  My mother couldn’t even say it while trying to explain sex to me.

What the heck is that?

Sex was such a taboo subject in most households when we were growing up.  The Greatest Generation just couldn’t talk about it.  My mother attempted to educate me on sex with all kinds of terminology. She skirted certain words and tippy toed around my more in depth questions.  My father never would have discussed sex in any capacity.  He was old school and believed I’d just have to figure it out on my own.

The message we got from our parents was sex was for making babies—yet I just couldn’t get away from thinking of it more as great fun provided by God and Nature.  Nature baited us with sexual feelings, yet those darned consequences. 

Seemed so unfair. 

Do you remember when you were pre-teen, in the Fifth Grade, and it was time to learn all about procreation? Where babies came from?  Those embarrassing sex education classes, film strips and Super 8 movies on a Bell and Howell projector complete with illustrations?  Do you remember those embarrassing illustrations on the screen and the discussion to follow?

I do…

My Fifth Grade teacher was young, just 26 and fresh out of college.  She had a terrific sense of humor.  She made learning fun—and at times, embarrassing.  We’d watch the sex education movies and film strips, then, be forced to discuss what we learned.  We’d get called on and asked to explain what we learned.  Red in the face, we would stumble over our words and, in broken verbiage, have to tell the class all about it.

Oh my God…

The dawn of adolescence was certainly a period of discovery.  Our bodies were beginning to develop.  Hair where we’d never had it before.  Stinky armpits.  Thickening vocal chords.  Pimples and blackheads.  Peach fuzz on our chins.  Oily hair. Depression and other emotional struggles. Girls and their first monthly menstrual cycles.  Boys obsessed their manhoods.

I knew nothing of sexual intercourse at age 11.  It was when a kid in my class – I will call him Steve – told us all about walking in on his parents doing something I considered repulsive.  “Why would anyone do that?!” I thought.  When I got home from school, I shared this story with my mother because I thought it was ridiculous.

My mother listened and then said, “Honey, sit down…” 

She attempted to explain sex and procreation to me.  I was thinking, “Holy crap!  You and Dad did that?!”  I never saw my parents or grandparents the same way again.  It explained things I sometimes heard in the night—especially when slats fell out of their bed followed by my father’s foul language.  When he’d had enough of structure failure, my father nailed those loose slats to the side rails. 

Problem solved…

I’ve found how we view sex changes significantly over a lifetime. Young people perceive old people no longer have an interest in sex. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sexual passion remains with a lot of us. However, our desire for sex surely changes and isn’t as frequent as it once was. That’s just nature because, at our ages, reproduction isn’t in the cards.

That doesn’t mean we have to forget about it.    

Growing Up With Lucy…

I’ve been on an “I Love Lucy” obsession for a couple of weeks now on the Hulu network.  I just can’t quit watching – and laughing.  It is challenging to find anyone in the world who isn’t familiar with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the “I Love Lucy” brand that has been with us since 1951.

Television and movies tend to take on a life of their own for better or worse.  They either survive or they don’t in the chilly world of ratings, critics, and advertising dollars.  Given the right chemistry, sitcoms achieve great success from the start.  Then, they go the distance in the decades to follow via syndication.  “I Love Lucy” remains the most watched sitcom in television history—joined by a host of other TV classics we enjoy watching.  We still love Lucy 70 years later.   

“I Love Lucy” was one of those rare moments where the planets aligned and it worked from the get-go.  Lucy and Desi spent $5,000 making the “I Love Lucy” pilot.  Then came the task of pitching it to the networks and sponsors.  Together, they founded Desilu Productions in 1950, the very first television production company.  This gutsy first step made Hollywood, California the nerve center for network television production.

Character Actor, Comedian, and Lucy regular, Frank Nelson.

Network executives were skeptical when they were presented with the “I Love Lucy.” concept, which was born of the “My Favorite Husband” show.  They weren’t comfortable with a Cuban husband and a redhead.  Despite the skeptics and naysayers, “I Love Lucy” patented the television sitcom. It rocked.  Millions of viewers loved it.  My grandfather, born in 1894, hated it.  To him, it just wasn’t funny.   However, “I Love Lucy” remains the quintessential American original.  It was a terrific combination of writing, directing, acting, and authenticity. 

To make “I Love Lucy” a smashing success, Desilu amassed the talents of not only William Frawley and Vivian Vance, but a treasure trove of great character actors who complemented the base set.  These actors and characters flowed in and out of “Lucy” for six seasons, plus the “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” in the late 1950s. 

That “I Love Lucy” has endured for seven decades around the clock and around the world in dozens of languages is every evidence of its great popularity.  As long as Baby Boomers can tune in, “I Love Lucy” will continue to endure for at least a couple more decades.  Lucy/Desi’s brand of comedy is timeless.  It makes us feel good.  When “I Love Lucy” wrapped in 1957 and segued into the “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” it was something of a farewell to Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel.  It was over. 

On the set of “The Lucy Show” in 1962.

If I could rewrite the “Lucy” story, “The Lucy Show” (1962-68) would have been Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz—not Lucille Carmichael and Vivian Bagley.  I would have wished for a continuation—where Ricky and Lucy, and Fred and Ethel, were divorced; with the Lucy/Ethel duo starting over again as middle-aged divorcees.  After six years as best friends and landlords, it was challenging to see them as anything but Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz.

Lucille Ball (center) with Desi Jr and Lucy Arnaz of “Here’s Lucy.”

Although “The Lucy Show” (1962-68) and “Here’s Lucy” (1968-74) to follow in the 1960s and ‘70s weren’t in my opinion as funny as the original, they performed very well in the Nielson ratings.  They enjoyed a huge audience.  When “Here’s Lucy” wrapped in 1974, the Queen of Comedy went out on top along with great character actors, writers, and directors who made the magic.  Lucy would return in 1986 for “Life With Lucy,” which lasted one season.  She also did a made for TV movie, “Stone Pillow,” in 1985 about a lovable homeless woman living on the streets of New York.

Although Lucy and Desi are gone now, their legacy of great sitcoms and drama programming will live with us for a long time to come.

Understanding Carly Simon’s Legendary Hit

Boomers grew up in an era of great music.  Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” is a good example.  This pop hit has been discussed everywhere and by everyone for nearly 50 years.  Carly Simon fans continue to ask what the song is about.  Plenty of interviews and news stories.  Yet nothing definitive addressing what this song is all about. 

“You’re So Vain” clearly addresses someone with an enormous ego.  It is my personal belief Simon, who wrote this song, was referring to men in general—perhaps someone she’d had a relationship with.  Actor Warren Beatty is frequently mentioned.  In fact, she has said it was Beatty she was thinking of in the second paragraph.

“You’re So Vain” didn’t start out to be about an egotistical man.  This song was originally entitled “Bless You, Ben”.  As Simon wrote the lyrics, she became unhappy with her words and shelved the song.  It has been written she was at a party when a famous celebrity arrived. A friend of Simon’s commented the celebrity entered as if he was “walking onto a yacht”. She revisited “Bless You Ben” and took this song in an entirely different direction.  It became more about ego. 

When “You’re So Vain” hit the air waves in the fall of 1972, it was an immediate hit played extensively on WPGC Morningside/Washington D.C. “Good Guys” radio in both AM and FM Stereo.  It was immediately a source of speculation and gossip. 

What did it mean? Who was she singing about?     

I have to admit, “You’re So Vain…” is more personal for me.  It invokes memories—more specifically a memory.  At age 16, I really didn’t care what “You’re So Vain” was about.  I didn’t even know what “vain” meant.  I only know “You’re So Vain” sparks an indelible memory a half-century later.  It was a chilly November night when I heard this song for the first time on an old AM car radio.  My transportation had one of those tube-type radios that took a half hour to warm up before you could hear anything.  Remember those?  With a crackle, whine, whistling, crosstalk, and all sorts of weird sounds only heard on AM radio, WPGC came to life. 

It was a Saturday evening and the days were growing shorter.  It was dark.  A buddy and I were on our way over to Greenbelt, Maryland in my first car—a clunky old 1960 Valiant sedan that was falling apart with a slant six engine and push button automatic that had belonged to my mother’s hairdresser.  I took it manually out of Park, which was a lever below a row of lighted “R-N-D-2-1” buttons.  I’d punch the “D” button and the prehistoric Chrysler 904 push-button Torqueflite transmission would lurch into gear.  First gear in the smallish Chrysler automatic had a very distinctive whine under acceleration before it segued into second and final drive back when automatic transmissions actually had a voice.    

I remember the night so vividly because I was instructed by my mother not to go far from the house.  I’d had my driver’s license two months and she was a nervous wreck.   I figured what the heck—there was no harm innocently cruising over to Greenbelt on a Saturday night to hang with buddies at a bowling alley and roll a few lines. 

What my mother didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me. 

Or would it? 

As Simon sang “You’re So Vain” on the crackly radio, we were coming off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at MD 193 when my Valiant suddenly quit and would not start.  It died right there at the off ramp.  I managed to get it started long enough to get it into a parking lot at the State Armory.  The rest of that journey also involved pushing.  No matter what I did with that stupid carburetor, including begging, it would not start. 

I could have called a tow truck—had I had dime to my name.  No one was going to tow my car 10 miles for the three bucks I had in my pocket.  My parents would have to foot the bill—and learn I had actually been miles away from home without permission.  It was chilly and damp.  Bone-numbing cold.  The onset of winter.  It was too far to walk home in the dark.  There would be no dodging where I had been.

To call my mother for a ride home would be a fate worse than being caught thumbing through my father’s “Playboy” collection hidden on his closet shelf.  There’s a lot to be said for not having a choice.  I had none.  It would be a long walk home and we were in no shape to walk that far.  Then, there would be the awkward business of having to go get the car anyway the next day. 

We found a pay phone and—with a knot in my stomach, cotton-mouthed—I dialed the weather-beaten telephone.  My dime hit the tumblers inside and, via the magic of telecommunications, there was a dial tone.  I was feeling decided weather-beaten myself.  She answered the phone in a very reassuring voice so familiar to me. 

It felt good to hear her voice—that is, until she learned of my whereabouts.  That’s when our conversation deteriorated quickly.  My step brother, a Vietnam Vet, who was living with us at the time and not much older than I, came to get me.  He delivered a lofty lecture addressing being where I was supposed to be during the 30-minute drive home.  I wanted to belt him.  I knew it was bound to get worse when we got home where my mother would be standing at the top of the steps with her hand on her hip.

She took my car keys.  I might as well have been placed in solitary confinement.  It was very uncool to be without a car in high school in 1972.  I wanted to crawl under a large rock and hopefully die there.  The next day—a Sunday—I drove to Greenbelt to replace a defective carburetor gasket and came right home. 

When my father was driving the Valiant home, the silence was deafening, much as it always was with my father.  He rarely lectured me.  However, he sighed a lot as he puffed on a Salem and shared second hand smoke.  The icy cold silence was worse than anything my mother could come up with.  To add insult to injury, the car had no brakes.  I mean—good grief—I only needed them for stopping!  My ol’ man didn’t understand that.  He kept my car keys—and probably hid them behind his stack of entertainment on the closet shelf.

The Saturday night massacre would surely pass and I would move on to my next abomination as a stupid teen.  And, there would be plenty to learn though I knew more than my parents.  When we are very young, we don’t understand the wisdom gained by our parents trying to talk sense into our thick skulls.  All we knew to do was lament about how parents just didn’t understand.  What we didn’t understand then was they’d been there long before we arrived.  They knew the trouble we could get into because they’d been there.  They knew and understood what we did not.

When my mother was lecturing me about the importance of safety and being where I was instructed to be, Carly Simon’s timeless hit “You’re So Vain” was playing in my head.  At that moment, I was feeling anything but vain.

Oh by the way—I still don’t understand what “clouds in my coffee…” means. Does anyone?

Our Unstoppable Lust for the Classic Sitcom

I was just watching an episode of “I Love Lucy” when it occurred to me the enduring lifelong classic sitcom that has been on the air 70 years is beginning to lose its luster especially with young people. They don’t seem to get the comedy yet we surely did as young people. The world is changing, friends.   My 12 year-old son sits down, looks at the screen, and gets right back to his video games. He’d rather kill zombies.  He doesn’t understand mid-century comedy.  Yet, he will sit and watch “Dick Van Dyke” for hours on end.  I figured if he liked Dick Van Dyke, he’d enjoy Lucy.

Nothing doing…

Boomers will always be drawn to “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Andy Griffith,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “I Dream of Jeannie,” “Bewitched,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Partridge Family,” “Green Acres,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and “Petticoat Junction” and a host of others because they remind us of our youth. 

They’re also downright funny. 

We watch “The Brady Bunch” and recall—as teenage girls and boys—the crushes we had on Maureen McCormick and Barry Williams.  When Eve Plumb said “Marcia-Marcia-Marcia!!!” most of us guys, ages 12 through 15, thought to ourselves, “Yes…and now!”  I actually sat down and penned a letter to Maureen McCormick in 1970. 

Fifty years later, I’m still waiting for her response.

Today, I’d be more interested in Eve Plumb.

As baby boomers came of age long ago, we dreamed of being what we saw on “The Brady Bunch”— and “The Partridge Family.”  Most of you ladies had a thing for David Cassidy.  Guys had it for Susan Dey.  I personally experienced a renewed thing for Susan Dey when she was doing “L.A. Law.”  She was still hot in the 1980s when I wondered what it was like to live in Los Angeles.

I’d get my answer.  Been living in Southern California for 27 years.      

 We hear the opening and closing themes and the music and drift into another time.  In fact, we get so lost in the era we forget it is 2021.  That’s the magic of a rainy Saturday watching classic sitcoms.  Seems TVLand has lost its sense of fair play.  It takes advantage of our passion for the sitcoms we grew up with.  Stockholders and bean counters have become priority instead of the viewer and advertiser.  Five minutes of air time and six minutes every five minutes spent suffering through 16 really pointless commercials—most of which are pharmaceutical companies trying to convince us we might be sick.    

These networks are not worth the time anymore. 

There’s Hulu, Prime, and there’s our ginormous library of classic sitcom DVDs.  The TV networks don’t even have a tasteful way of seguing into commercials.  They will cut to a commercial amid a scene and amid a line.  How cheese ball is that?  And now—the biggest insult, streaming with additional plans you get to pay extra for.  It is also finding its way into the web where they charge for the privilege of watching their programs.  Discover Plus is the biggest insult.  Advertiser get bopped without a kiss too.  They pay enormous sums of money for commercial time while local cable and sat’ companies run regional commercials overtop the network commercials.

If that isn’t audacity, what is? 

Meanwhile, I will continue watch my dusty old sitcoms—and loving it.

Time For a Long Look At Ourselves

Time for me to get back in the saddle.  It is time to write great things.

If you’re like a lot of us beyond the age of 60, you’re probably scratching your head wondering what has happened to the world around us.

The answer?

We’ve become a bunch of self-absorbed, easily offended, politically correct crybabies bent on feeling sorry for ourselves.

We’ve become a society of Professional Victims.

Sound like anyone you know?

You know this is not the way we were raised by “The Greatest Generation” a lifetime ago.  The fiercely committed generation that brought us up, who are nearly extinct in 2021, were the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” generation. They endured tough times and became stronger for it. They didn’t complain and did what they had to in tougher times than we’ve ever witnessed.  They didn’t tolerate any whiny-assed self pity from us.  What few are left look at us and our offspring wondering what happened to their message, which seems to have been lost over time.  If they observed us feeling sorry for ourselves growing up, we got cuffed on the back of the head and were told to go out and play.

My mother (far left) and close friends on a hot summer day in 1944 in wartime. They understood how to enjoy the company of one another without cell phones and laptops.

My mother often repeated, “Life isn’t fair and never will be…stop expecting it to be…”

She understood what she was talking about.  My mother, born in 1923, lived through tuberculous in her teens and was in bed for six months through miserable Washington, D.C. heat and humidity long before there was air conditioning. She didn’t have television. All she had was her imagination and her love of books. If she was lucky, she had a radio.  My mother and her big brother, my Uncle Wayne, lived through the Great Depression and a world war.  She watched him go off to war in the Pacific in 1942.  He was gone for four long years with no promise he would ever return. Thousands of fighting patriots did not. Those who did return were maimed, emotionally damaged, and forever changed by what they’d been through.  

My mother and her counterparts understood how to do without during the Great Depression and in the war years to follow. Times were tough and didn’t appear to be getting any better.  They understood hardship and how to cope with it. They didn’t whine about it.  They were tough. They were also compassionate and took care of their own.  They understood the importance of saving for a rainy day—and there would surely be the storms. Our parents and mentors understood this. They never took the good times for granted. They knew life could turn on a dime. They’d been there. 

We obviously didn’t get it.

Baby Boomers and close behind GEN Xers are the most fortunate generation to have lived in the most prosperous time in American history.  The post-World War II years spawned the most robust economy the world has ever seen. The Jet Age. Man on the Moon. Color TV. Fast muscle cars. Video players. Microwave ovens and automatic dishwashers. Global Positioning. The internet. Cell phones.

What more has there been to want? 

We have lived in the greatest period of opportunity in American history. Time to ask ourselves how we can best give back to a nation that has given us so much.

Many of us bought our first homes in our twenties right out of college and vocational school. I bought my first home while serving in the United States Air Force.  Most of us have owned at least two cars.  We’ve snapped up vacation homes, boats, round-the-world cruises, man and girl caves, three-car garages, pools and hot tubs, tennis courts, billiard rooms, second mortgages, and a host of other personal luxuries in record numbers. We’ve been rocket fuel for the endless “gotta have it!” economy. 

We’ve inspired our offspring to do the same.

It is time for an uncomfortable introspective look at ourselves.

Instead of asking yourself what you can do for yourself – ask what you can do for others. When was the last time you asked what you can do for a greater cause than yourself?

Always someone – or a body of people – who could use your help and support. Not just cash or a family heirloom. Just yourself. How about reaching out to the lonely, the sick, the confined, those who are dying, those without hope who need a lift – your ear, love, and moral support. Young people need our support now more than ever. They’re going to be in charge of society when we are but a memory.

How can you best reach out in your spare time?

We are a nation of lonely souls. Lonely alone. And – lonely surrounded by loved ones and friends.  Lonely hearts from sea to shining sea who could use our help. Hope…

There are the haves and the have nots. Those with luck and those without. A cop stops you in a radar trap when some jerk passed you up five minutes ago. Doesn’t seem fair does it?   You may have cancer or some other dangerous disease and think “why me?” Or the flip side – a dear friend, a neighbor, your spouse, your kid, your very best friend—with a dreadful terminal disease. “Why them and not me?”

That would make you thoughtful instead of selfish.

Life is the darnedest irony at times now isn’t it?

However – life is this. We are each on our own journeys. We are each a specific blueprint. We have a beginning and we will surely have an end. Be not envious of someone’s success. That’s their journey. We each make our own success – and failure. Sometimes, we become a victim of circumstances and an unfortunate twist of fate. I’ve had my embarrassment, my shame, my pain. I’ve also had my time in the sun. Great friends and loved ones.  I am blessed beyond imagination.

Thank You, Father… Thank You for my blessings and……Thank You also for my pain.

My pain…my tears… Moments that have made me appreciate the good times….the love of others….the support.

Thank You…

Perhaps it is time for our self absorbed society to turn inward for a look at how each of us needs to change ourselves for the better.

What can we each personally do for others?

One at a time – with selfless tenacity – we stand to get better.

Why The 1980’s Were So Great —Because The Seventies Sucked!

When I think of good times, I think of the 1980s.

Why?  Because the Seventies sucked.

Remember the 1970s?  The Arab Oil Embargo.  Gas lines.  Doubling fuel prices.  Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.  Continuing chaos, unrest and the overflow of the turbulent 1960s.  The Vietnam conflict, outrage, and the fall of Saigon.  Dysfunctional 8-Track tapes that interrupted our music from track to track.  Really lousy automobile quality, the fall of the muscle car—and the Chevy Vega.  The invasion of decidedly boring earth tone colors—a lackluster trend that has never really ended (where are the vibrant colors of the mid-20th Century today?).  The New Right…  Bellbottoms and leisure suits.  Platform shoes.  The Carter years.  Labor strikes and outrageous expectations.  The environmental revolution.  The Iranian hostage crisis.  Ever increasing self-absorption.  And—disco—John Travolta strutting his package along a Brooklyn sidewalk in new shoes, lookin’ for opportunity with the opposite sex, with a gallon of fresh paint to the beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” pop hit.

By contrast, the 1980s was a period of emotional and economic recovery.  The 1980s heralded a new exciting, energized attitude across the land.  You could see it in commercials, in the movies, and in the masses. “Oh What A Feeling!!!” was Toyota’s slogan early in the 1980s. Ford and Chevy were back in the performance car business.  It was a period of enormous energy. 

The masses welcomed President Ronald Reagan, who kept us laughing with his incredible wit and one-liners although the news from Washington wasn’t always good. He understood the importance of acting presidential. Reagan and Tip always shared a couple of beers and found a path to compromise. They did what was good for the country because they genuinely cared.  Fuel was plentiful and cheap again.  Disco was replaced by awe-inspiring pop music.  The factory muscle car returned. Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off the pad for that first nail-biting journey into space. 

The 1980s demonstrated with great irony how cyclic society can be.  High times that follows low times.  It takes the low times to make us appreciate the high times.  The 1980s enjoyed a euphoria—an energy—that followed the lackluster downright boring 1970s.  Perhaps this is something we should embrace—especially now.  This year has been one of the toughest in memory, especially if you’ve lost a loved one or been horribly sick with the virus yourself.  Let us all look ahead to 2021 in hopes it will be the beginning of a new exciting era—much as 1980 was.  In order for times to get better, we must each do better in our own lives in an effort to collectively make things better.  And, remember…focus on the good as much as you can and be a tenacious tough survivor.  Tough times will always challenge us.  However—tough times never last.

Happy Holidays, Everyone, and May God Bless…