The next morning after breakfast, Mike was just thinking about making a run to the store when the doorbell rang. Opening the front door he found two teen-aged boys. He immediately recognized their faces as those of former students though only one of their names swam to the surface of his brain.
“Mr. Smith, I thought you lived here.”
“I do. I have since before either of you were born. Come on in.”
He led them inside and gestured for them to have a seat in the living room. The teen whose name he remembered as Curtis was a tall thin African-American with close-buzzed hair. His friend was just as tall, though not quite so thin, with long blond hair and a very red face. Both were obviously hot.
“Patience, would you bring these young men something cool to drink please?” he called, and then turned back to them. “What would you like?”
“Just water,” said Curtis.
“Yeah,” said the other one.
Both stared at Patience when she brought them their drinks. Curtis had to elbow his friend to remind him to take the glass. It wasn’t that she was dressed provocatively, in a shorts combo and a pair of pump sandals, but it was just impossible it seemed for her not to be attractive. They both kept staring at the spot where she exited the room long after she was gone.
“So what can I do for you guys today?” asked Mike.
“Francis is doing a paper for his junior History class and he has to have an interview as one of his references. So I told him to come and ask you.”
“We’re taking summer school so we can get a credit ahead. He’s taking History and I’ve got Pre-Calc.”
Mike looked and noticed for the first time that the other boy, Francis, had a small wriTee tucked under his arm.
“Francis,” he said, more to reinforce the name in his memory than to address him. “What is your paper on?”
“The 1950s. Do you remember what it was like?”
“Well first of all boys, I was born in 1982. In fact, my father wasn’t born until 1963.”
“Oh. Well, do you know anything about the fifties?”
“I’m a teacher. I know everything about the fifties. I don’t worry about the bomb, I’d rather be dead than red, and I like Ike.”
“Who’s Ike?” wondered Francis.
“Eisenhower. Dwight D. Eisenhower. That was his nickname—Ike.”
“How do you get Ike out of Eisenhower? There’s no K in it.”
“I don’t know. That’s just what they called him.”
“They should have called him Ice,” offered Curtis, “like Ice-enhower, or Ice-double H.”
“Yeah,” agreed Francis. “That’s edge. Wait a second. I thought he was that World War II guy. That was the forties, not the fifties.”
“He was a general during World War II and he was President during the fifties.”
“See. I told you he knows it,” said Curtis to his friend. “Turn on your Dictathing.”
Curtis unfolded his wriTee on the coffee table and with a swipe of his finger the screen came to life.
“So what was life like in the fifties?”
“There was a sort of dichotomy. There was the good and the bad. On the one hand, average Americans were richer in the 1950s than they had ever been before or have been since. On the other hand people were in a constant state of fear that thermo-nuclear war was right around the corner. The cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union threatened to erupt into World War III at any moment.”
“I thought people didn’t make much money in the old days,” said Curtis.
“Money had a different value then. You might only make five or six hundred dollars a month, but that was enough to support a family. You could buy a big, new house for $15,000 and you could buy a brand new Cadillac for $5,000. A loaf of bread was twenty cents. A comic book was a dime. Gas was less than… you guys know that cars ran on gasoline then, right? Gas was ten to twenty cents a gallon.”
“Wow. How much was a vueTee then, fifteen bucks?”
“Um, no. A vueTee, they called them TVs, only a fifth as big as this one,” Mike pointed to the vueTee above the fireplace, “was $500. And those TVs had no interactivity, no threed, no inscope, no Infinet… they didn’t even have color.”
“Man, I wouldn’t even bother,” said Francis.
“Sure you would. Everybody wanted one. It was the cool new thing. Remember, nobody had anything else—no texTees, no tPods.”
“So how come it was so expensive?” asked Francis.
“That’s just how technology is. TVs got cheaper as manufacturers geared up to keep up with demand and competed against other companies for business, and then cheaper still as they found ways to make them with fewer and less expensive parts. When real vueTees came out, it was the same thing. They were thousands of dollars, but got cheaper even as manufacturers added more features.
“The same thing happened with robots. When the first humanoid robots came out they cost a butt-load of money—millions. Now they’re under thirty thousand.”
“Going up though,” said Curtis. “The new Daffodils are more expensive.”
“That’s because Daffodil is the biggest corporation in the world now,” said Francis. “They can do whatever they want.”
“I remember my dad told me about buying one of the first personal computers back in the eighties,” continued Mike. “It cost him three thousand dollars and it didn’t have any graphics at all, no connectivity, no video, no sound. All you could do was type on it and calculate things.”
“Why would anyone buy a computer? That would be like buying a part of something—like buying a steering wheel instead of a car.”
“Well, that’s the way things are now… in our world. We have computers in our media creating devices—our wriTees and our andTees. We have computers in our media consumption devices—our texTees and vueTees. We have computers in our cars, our refrigerators, and our thermostats…”
“And in your wife,” added Francis.
“Um, right…but they didn’t back then. They were just things by themselves. Everything else was analog.”
“But everything else got more expensive right?” asked Curtis. “Like food?”
“Food more than anything else, especially after all the bees died. Back in the 1950s, you didn’t have to use robots to pollinate everything. It was part of nature.”
“Man, I want to live in the fifties,” said Francis.
“Even with no andTees and no tPods?”
“They had Rock and Roll, right?”
“After about 1955.”
“Then I’d get along just fine.”