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Then and Now

So, were we better off then or now? It’s a mix.
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February 1, 2024
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Back then, iceberg lettuce was the only lettuce my mother ever bought. Its anemic green leaves were usually so limp that it seemed like a truck had run over it before reaching our table. Romaine was never eaten but was only used as garnish under dead fish. Then using her trusty, rusty, eroded peeler, we were treated to a sliver of carrot. 

Now 50 years later, you can purchase bagged slivered carrots. How about that for progress? If there was extra money, my mother would toss a tasteless rock-hard cherry tomato on top. After a good drenching of bottled dressing, each salad had a minimum of 1700 calories. Like some urchin out of “Oliver!” I’d drink the dressing right out of my bowl, providing me with 3000 milligrams of sodium, likely contributing to my lifelong high blood pressure. 

Sadly, my parents passed away having never tasted Lollo Rosa, Mizuna, Frisee or everyone’s favorite, Tango lettuce.  Like manna from heaven, Orthodox Jews can now purchase pre-washed, debugged lettuce. Lettuce, with microscopic insects, no longer needs to soak in the same sink where you bathe the dog.

Except for Italian and Chinese, all other foreign cuisines were nonexistent. I was probably in my late 30s before trying bacteria-laden raw fish known as sushi. At weddings or bar mitzvahs today, people rush to the sushi table as if they’re giving away winning Powerball tickets. My parents also passed without tasting sushi. On their only trip abroad, their favorite restaurant was a hamburger and pommes frites joint in Paris. You can take an American out of America, but you can’t force them to eat Plum Clafoutis. 

Neither of my parents ever had a cell phone. They were married in 1951 and ran out the clock with only one home phone. Just imagine a family of five these days with just one phone. The parents would probably be hauled in for child abuse. Today my family has five phones and rarely, if ever, do any of them call me.  Plus, I’m stuck paying for all five phones because 15 years ago I got sucked into the “family plan” contract. 

Before cell phones, there were payphones if you had to make a call in a restaurant. We lugged around something called “coins” to drop into little slots in the phone. Because, back then, the only fiber people digested was when they chewed on a number two pencil, so payphones were placed outside the restroom and not inside because people you call might ask, “What’s all that grunting and groaning?

Back then nobody had packages delivered. On Hanukkah and birthdays, you were mailed a card with cash. Amazon was still just a river filled with piranha.

Back then nobody had packages delivered. On Hanukkah and birthdays, you were mailed a card with cash. Amazon was still just a river filled with piranha.

Nowadays our front door is so piled with boxes that if the crooks don’t get them first, it’s not unusual for me to come home and have to dig deep just to find the front door. Sometimes it’s plastic envelopes that a gorilla can’t tear open. Or maybe a box the size of my house with 50 bottles of water sure to give a professional weightlifter a hernia. My parents had bottled water. When we finished a bottle of grapefruit juice, they’d rinse it out and then fill it back up from the tap that occasionally housed flesh-eating substances. We used the same bottle for 11 years.    

So, were we better off then or now? It’s a mix. Yes, it’s great to be able to come home and there’s my dental floss waiting. By the way, we didn’t have dental floss back then. We didn’t even have teeth. I like shopping at neighborhood stores. My mother liked picking her fruits and vegetables and I do too.

For some, having strangers jumping in and out of trucks and delivering toothpaste and dog food is necessary. And for those who are getting 300 Viagra pills a week and don’t want to be recognized walking into a neighborhood pharmacy, delivery is the only way. 

But I like meeting the people who work in my neighborhood. Some I know by their first name. We trust these people. Knowing the people who work in your neighborhood stores is a big deal. It keeps the neighborhood safe, strong, and friendlier.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer, and host of the ‘You Don’t Know Schiff’ podcast. His new book is “Why Not? Lessons on Comedy, Courage and Chutzpah.”

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