Free Fun Friday, Time Machine

How different is the modern world to the one you grew up in?

This was a question I was A2A on Quora.  For those who are not in the know, A2A means Asked to Answer, as in someone feels you are an expert in this field.

Here are some things I can think of just off the cuff:

  • Banking
  • Mail
  • Television
  • Radio
  • Music
  • Telephones

Banking:  It wasn’t that long ago that you had to go to a bank to deposit your paycheck and withdraw money from your account. Direct Deposit wasn’t a thing and ATMs were just getting started. You were hard-pressed to find a bank open on Sunday and if you did, it had very limited hours.

Mail:  Before email, instant chat and whatever the kiddos are using this these days, to send a message to a friend in another city or even across town, you had to find a stamp, an envelope, and their snail mail address. If you were lucky and the stars aligned, you might send a letter out on Monday and get a response by Saturday.  But usually, it was longer because we all have other things going on and it took time to find that damn stamp.

Television:  My earliest recollection of TVs is that while most families had at least one, they cost more if you wanted color and or larger size. Remotes were a luxury and you were dependent on the OTA signal and schedule. If you were not home at 3 pm to watch Your Show, you missed it. VCRs didn’t become affordable until the late 80s, early 90s.

Radio:  If you lived in a major metropolitan area, you had the good fortune of having multiple sucky radio stations to choose from. If your taste in music was too nuanced to be captured by the Oldies Station, the Rock Station, The Pop Station, maybe the local college would have some bandwidth at the end of the dial between 10 and 2 am.

Music:  Back in the day, if you wanted a copy of a song, you had two choices.  Wait for your local radio station to play it and hope the DeeJay didn’t talk over the intro or exit of the song because you were going to (illegally) record it on your cassette recorder.  Or you could buy the entire album just for that one song.  There were attempts at releasing mini albums on specific media but those cost almost as much as the entire fucking album so what was the point.

Telephone: Phone calls use to cost a bundle, even local ones. Sure some small towns let you chat with the other townies for free but anyone you wanted to talk to was long distance and it was pricey. I remember calling some people and sort of hoping their answering machine would pick up so they would have to call me back on their dime. Sometimes they did, some times they didn’t. Or they got my machine and it was a game of Hot Potato Phone Bill Tag.

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Authors and Writers, Get It Off Your Chest, Life Lessons, Practical Life Lessons, Time Machine

These letters have been in a shoe box for over 25 years. Find out what I’m going to do with them

Back in the day, people wrote one another because phone calls were expensive, especially if they were long distance.  I have this box of old snail mail

Way too many letters

Treasure Trove, junk mail, it’s a fine line

letters from my college days and shortly thereafter.  A treasure trove of envelopes of multitudes colors and sizes, stamps of all varieties, and postmarks from exotic places such as Kirksville, Missouri.  Yes, I saved them all, sentimental fool that I am.

I tend to hold on to things too long. Old memories, mementos and more than a few grudges.  I’ve been holding onto these letters for decades, moving them from home to home but never looking at them.  So I figured the time has come to deal with them once and for all.

I thought I could take a quick, first pass through them and cull the less meaningful, superficial ones.  They cannot all be gems.

This proved harder than I thought because often within the contents of a typical boring letter are nuggets of goodness. I see things that I missed, undervalued or outright ignored the first time.

The Case for Getting Rid of It

You should only hang onto old memories, and their physical artifacts, for two reasons. One, they provide some warm fuzzies that elevate your mood. Two, they remind you of what to do or not to do when life throws you in that situation again.

These letters meant something to me decades ago. Leaving NMSU back in my college years was traumatic for me.  I had a good group of friends.  I was doing okay academically and repairing the damage to my GPA that my clueless freshmen self-inflicted.

Alas, I had to leave because of finances and for years I tried to get back to Planet Kirksville and the life I had to leave behind.  I would visit Kirksville and later St Louis, even considering relocating there to be with my college friends.

I spent a lot of my 20s struggling because I didn’t have the support structure here that I had there (or thought I had there).  I spent a lot of time and energy holding onto something that didn’t exist anymore and probably didn’t really exist in the first place.  And had I been able to let go sooner, I probably would have had a better 90s and 2000s.  It wasn’t until I built something solid here that I was finally able to let go.

I saved these letters because I figured I might read them in my old age and enjoy some warm memories. But honestly, if I have to read these to have warm memories when I’m nearly 80, my life didn’t turn out so well.

The Case for Keeping Some of It 

Back then, they only duct tape the important meaningful letters

Back then, they only duct tape the important meaningful letters

I googled what do to with old letters and surprisingly half a dozen articles appeared with that title (hence why I’m not using it as the headline for this post).  The best advice was Get rid of all cards and letters that don’t add to your happiness. You know, the letter from someone who promised they’d write and at the tail end of summer you get a postcard saying “hey dude, how’s your summer been? ready to get back to classes,” Signed: Somebody That I Use to Know.

Since I have access to an Enterprise sized scanner I am scanning everything, significant or insignificant.   But this is proving to be a challenge since many of these letters are folded, crumpled odd-sized pages and as such, are a bitch to get into the feeder.

There are a few people I will be able to send the originals back just in case genealogists and family historians want some insight into how their ancestor thought, what made them happy, and what broke their hearts.

Stay tuned.


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Blogapalooza, Life Lessons, Time Machine

Second Chances are for others

I don’t think there is a person alive who doesn’t wish they could have a DoOver.  A Mulligan.  A Second Chance at something in their life.  The Gods only know how many things I wish I could do over.  If Fucking Up were an Olympic event, I would be the Michael Phelps of it.

I was too busy to participate in the last ChicagoNow Blogapalooza where we are challenged to write a post and publish it in one hour. The challenge:

“Write about something in your life you’d like a second chance at”

The geek in me says that if you could go back in time and change anything, even a small thing, you totally reboot the Time Continuum and suddenly Hitler won World War II.  (Never mind the fact that you might be changing something from 1974).  Some schools of thought say that if you go back in time and drink red instead of white wine, you will significantly change the Universe.  On the other hand if you believe in Destiny then minor things have to cancel each other out.

All the baggage from the past that I carry with me

All the baggage from the past that I carry with me

My first inclination was to say I’d like a second chance at becoming an engineer.  My job pays well and I’m a smart guy, so I’m told but I don’t really do anything that matters.  I would really like to design something that improves things for people.

The point of this exercise is to…Be creative, enjoy the process. Use words, images or video. Whatever you need to tell your story.

 So who says a Second Chance means going back in time?

When I really think about it, I think I would like a second chance at all the situations where I hurt someone, either unintentionally, or more often intentionally.  Looking back through the lens of time, I see that I was often a hot headed kid whose emotions were a bundle of raw nerves and hormones with a laser-like fixation on not letting anyone put anything over on me.  Needless to say, I failed miserably at that.

So perhaps I could get a chance to apologize to those I hurt by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time or not being there when I was needed.  Or perhaps I could go back and not be so hard on myself because I now realize that things don’t have to go exactly my way for everything to eventually work out.

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Last summer I had the opportunity to bring home a carload of boxes from my mom’s house. There were star wars toys and comic books and other oddities. And there were at least three boxes worth of paraphernalia known as memories. I took a quick first pass through it all last summer and probably tossed a box worth of stuff. Then the kids arrived and they sat in my garage until now.  The boxes, not the kids!  That would be wrong.  Please don’t call DCFS!

This past summer I was able to go through it a little more thoroughly and I whittled down the boxes and combined it with the smaller set of boxes of personal mementos I’ve kept with me throughout the years. That’s right, not only did I keep the mother ship of ancient memories at my mom’s house, but I kept a runabout worth of stuff with me from apartment to apartment (to condo and then house) over the years.

I guess I’m just a sentimental old fool because I saved tons of things. I have notes passed back and forth in class and phone numbers of people I’ll never need to call. I had a ton of stuff from my high school and college years like course catalogs, class notes and assignments, the student newspapers I wrote for and other stuff.  [I went to two different colleges for undergrad so it stands to reason I have twice as much crap.]


I feel I did a pretty good job of clearing the clutter on this second pass. This stuff followed me around because it was significant twenty years ago but has little relevance now. For instance, I put all the Campus Chronicles I had in the recycle bin because who the hell cares about my expo about a meningitis outbreak at UIC in 1990. I also got rid of a ton of class notes and assignments that I’ll never read. I was reminded how much I hated the Spanish Dept at UIC. In college one of my “friends” punked me by sending a valentine gift to my from an “secret admirer”. No one ever claimed responsibility for this one but the odds are better that it was a prank than legit.

I want to make one more final pass before I put the boxes away for good, or at least until the next time I need to do it. There are still letters I cannot bring myself to re-read but cannot simple toss out yet.  I’m not ready to go full Buddha and fit everything into a paper lunch sack.


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Getting It Off Your Chest, Life Lessons, Time Machine

Clearing the clutter of memories