The vanshing

May 23, 1994|By Mike Bowler

GOING, GOING, GONE . . . By Susan Jonas and Marilyn Nissenson. Chronicle Books. Illustrated. 173 pages. $18.95.

ONE of the joys of sliding through middle age is reminiscing about the things that are no more -- or that are fast disappearing. Among the former: "Number, please." The dye packet in the margarine. "The Bell Telephone Hour." Ipana. Party lines.

This delightful coffee-table-size paperback is about the latter -- the people, things and practices that are to modern American culture what Galapagos turtles are to zoology.

Most of them are good (nuns, doctors' house calls, the nuclear family, the smell of burning leaves), some are bad (cavities, smoking, polio scares, landfills), some are disconcerting (paperboys, one-newspaper towns, organized labor), some are good for a laugh (hotel keys, men's garters, wedding night virgins) and some are still visible elsewhere on the planet. Enclosed phone booths and milkmen, for example, are still plentiful in England, but they're disappearing there, too.

The list, compiled by Susan Jones, a former deputy picture editor of Time, and Marilyn Nissenson, a TV documentary producer, is accompanied by some marvelous photographs in black and white -- of nuns, paperboys, drive-in theaters, men's clubs and marbles games, for example.

You could quibble with some of the selections. Psychoanalysis, for one, seems to be undergoing a rejuvenation in the '90s. And mending. A lot of us never got much mending even when, as Ms. Jonas and Ms. Nissenson claim, there was a sewing basket in every home. If mending is becoming extinct, it's probably related to tougher (and disposable) clothing materials.

Two things on the list are to be devoutly missed -- gas station attendants and security-free airports, where families, according to a 1968 ad, could "stroll through roof gardens, or shop and eat, making a day of aircraft-spotting an outing for the entire family."

Unfixed domestic male animals are here, as are suntans (alas), penmanship, family farms, fan mags, the navy blue suit, carbon paper, landfills, white gloves, soda fountains, tonsillectomies, "the menopause taboo" and shoe-fitting fluoroscopes. (Haven't seen one in decades.)

The essays are nicely written and educational. You'll learn that Bob Hope, Richard Cardinal Cushing, Willie Mays and John Wayne all delivered newspapers.

And you'll learn the recipe for Walgreen's Double-Rich Malted Milk. That alone is worth the $18.95.

Mike Bowler edits this page.

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