Friday, November 26, 2010

When the World was Old

Years ago, the boy sprawled on the living room floor, rested his chin on his hands and looked up at the television. The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was on the air and men were urged to look sharp and feel sharp too by baseball players, who were frequently seen shaving on national TV. In those days, ballplayers had to be clean-shaven, because during the Eisenhower administration only bankers and diplomats with graying slicked-back hair on their heads were permitted to grow hair on their faces, but only a pencil-thin moustache and nothing more.

The country was hopelessly naïve in those days, completely unaware of the insidious gay agenda. Not a single eyebrow was raised over commercials in which an incompletely dressed baseball hero stood before a mirror admiring his face, while a bevy of his less talented and incompletely dressed teammates crowded around and admired him too. While the freshly showered star, who had just driven in the winning run, shaved, one of his admirers would say:

“Gee, Hank, you always look so good. How do you do it?”

“Well, Stu, the secret to looking good is getting a close shave every time.”

“Golly, Hank, I try, but my razor never gives me the close, comfortable shave I crave.”

“Well, Stu, I’ve found that the Gillette double-edged razor is the best there is. It keeps me looking sharp, and it never irritates my skin.”

“Wow! That must be one swell razor. I’m going out to get me one.”

“Atta boy,” Hank said as he slapped Stu on the butt.

The question the boy sitting before the TV asked himself was: Why are those guys worried about irritating their faces? The boy had a shoebox full of baseball cards, and every player on those cards had a gnarled, weather-beaten face. During televised games, the announcers sometimes talked about a new player, “he’s just a youngster,” they’d say. But when there was a close-up of the new guy digging in at the plate, he didn’t look like a youngster. He looked like someone who had plied his trade for years under the broiling sun in Altoona, Biloxi, Helena, Yuma and a dozen other uninspiring burgs, chasing ground balls on dusty, rock-strewn infields and going after fly balls in outfields littered with cow pies.

The face of a ballplayer, every ballplayer, in those days was impervious to irritation – their skin was like leather and their whiskers like wire barbs. That image stuck with the boy who sat watching TV.

As he got older and older, the players he saw on TV and in the sports pages got younger and younger. Some of them appeared to need special dispensation to stay out after curfew on game nights. But, the players he remembered from his boyhood had been rough, rugged, gnarled and wizened to a man.

That is until recently when he came upon a review of a biography of Mickey Mantle. The picture on the cover wasn’t of The Mick the boy remembered. Mantle is wearing a Yankee’s cap, but he looks far too young to be a major leaguer. He doesn’t look old enough to need a date for the prom.

And then Ted Sorenson, an advisor to President Kennedy, died. In a picture from his days as

a White House aide, Sorenson looks more like a prissy high school student on a tour than a

member of the Kennedy brain trust.

So, now the boy wonders: have his perceptions changed, or have the photos been retouched?

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