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How did we survive?
by Mark Patinkin
The Providence Journal


December 03, 2004

I just got one of those "However did we survive" essays that people pass along by e-mail. You know - pointing out that kids once endured without bike helmets, childproof medicine lids and separate sneakers for each sport. Gosh, they even drank water from a garden hose instead of Evian bottles.

It left me thinking about other risks we faced.

Such as going to the movies even though they had no ratings. Worse, theaters had only one screen per theater instead of 16, so we had to take our chances. Somehow, we got through it unscathed, perhaps because writers back then were able to put together scripts without the F-word in every sentence, and sex in every scene.

Oh, and you had to settle for popcorn, Coke and Dots. Theaters had no hot dogs, pizza, ice cream, hot pretzels, nachos or other such healthy food.

I suppose we could have just watched movies at home, but we were unable to turn to channel 190 and look for Pay-Per-View selections. You just had to wait for the few nights a week when one of your three normal stations showed movies. Certainly, you couldn't rent them at video stores, which didn't exist. Instead of a Blockbuster card, people had a "library" card where they borrowed videocassette-sized items called "books."

But that was when kids actually "read" instead of playing "Grand Theft Auto" or "Halo 2" on your Xbox.

Once you were done "reading," you had to actually play outside. We even went out in the rain sometimes, and usually weren't hit by lightning. On weekends, we'd be out all day, in and out of neighborhood houses where playdates hadn't even been arranged by parents. When it was time for dinner, our mothers had to look for us, which they did calmly, without panicking and reporting us missing.

They could not even call us by cell phone, or we them. We had to use a neighbor's phone, or something in a booth called a pay phone. Often family members went through most of a day without being able to call or text each other.

Perhaps most alarming, when you wanted to talk to a girl, you couldn't just dial her cell, or instant-message her. You had to deal with her parents answering the household phone, and ask if it was all right for you to talk to their daughter.

Oh, and you couldn't broadcast your individualism by downloading the "William Tell Overture" as your ring-tone. You had to settle for the same ring as everyone else.

Talk about risk: Year after year, I played Little League without my pediatrician first filling out a health form. Everyone played without that form. And I don't recall anyone dying on the field.

Once, a thing happened to me in school that - God forbid - should never happen today. I was grabbed by a teacher by the shoulders for running around a classroom. My parents did not call a lawyer. In fact, I don't think I told my parents. I kind of deserved it.

My favorite way of purchasing was not the Internet, but the Johnson and Smith catalog, which sold things like imitation bird plop. Once, I sent away for a hand buzzer, and had to endure an awful burden. There was no checkbox for overnight air. So I had to wait two weeks. It was the same with all items I ordered and letters I exchanged. I don't know how I did it.

Similarly, my mother had to spend a half-hour heating food in the oven instead of a half-minute in the microwave. And she had to cook most nights because there wasn't a gourmet food shop where you could pick any of 15 prepared entrees to go.

I have to stop now because it's traumatic thinking back to all these hardships and risks.

All I can say is thank goodness for R-ratings that nobody follows, video stores having crowded out bookstores and our children being able to carry out unmonitored lives because of cell phones, instant-messages and e-mails.

It's progress.

Isn't it?


Mark Patinkin can be reached at mpatinkin(at)

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,


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