Monday, February 28, 2011

R Is for Revision

     One night a few weeks ago I was walking the dog, and I had a flashback to a time 20 years ago when I had young kids and a golden retriever ... and would walk the dog at night just the way I was doing it now. I suddenly realized that despite all the changes in the world, most of the things we do every day aren't much different from what we were doing 20 and 30 years ago. From eating a bowl of cereal in the morning to ... well, as I pointed out, the toilet paper we use every day.

     For the most part, I still believe that, especially for the big things in life. But the other day I was rummaging through a used book store and picked up a copy of R Is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton. It's one of her alphabet mysteries. The series began in 1982 with A Is for Alibi, and continues to this day with her latest, published last year, U Is for Undertow

     R Is for Ricochet came out in 2004. But the setting is California in 1987. The hero, the skeptical but soft-hearted Kinsey Millhone, is a private investigator who works out of Santa Teresa, Calif. (a fictional version of Santa Barbara), and in this episode she's been hired to save a self-destructive young woman who's involved in drugs, gambling and a man who's laundering money for organized crime.

     But the point is, the book takes place in 1987. And, boy, what a different world that was from today!

     For example, one of the characters had been working for Braniff Airlines, and did business at Crocker National Bank. Remember them? Names you haven't heard in a long, long time. Braniff went out of business in the 1980s, and Crocker was long ago gobbled up by Wells Fargo.

     Some evidence in the story involves canceled checks, discarded typewriter cartridges and an adding-machine tape. Okay, we still occasionally use checks (although they're beginning to seem anachronistic). But when was the last time you held a typewriter cartridge in your hand? When you were in college? An adding machine? We'd have to ask an octogenarian to get a first-hand memory of this ancient office artifact. Is it kind of like an abacus? Did it print out numbers in cuneiform?

     At one point, Kinsey is walking down the street, and she ducks into a phone booth. Even if you don't personally have a cellphone, when was the last time you saw a phone booth?

     Later, at home, to retrieve her phone messages Kinsey pushes a button and listens to the high-pitched squeal as the tape rewinds. I, myself, am not exactly an early adopter of technology; but I have to sift through a lot of memories before I get to one that involves a phone machine with a tape in it.

     Not to mention that the whole plot revolves around a brand new upscale mall. I guess somebody is still building malls somewhere, but the ones around me are all showing their age and suffer from several empty store fronts ... and the whole idea of a mall seems somewhat passe in this age of internet shopping.

     Finally, Kinsey and her friend go into a bar. There's a jukebox playing. With 45-rpm records! But the most disconcerting thing of all is ... people are smoking. These days smokers hang around outside in a designated area. It's been years since I've seen anyone smoking indoors.

     So that's why I say R Is for Revision. Since reading this book, I realize lot of things have changed since 1987.


Steve Finnell said...

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MerCyn said...

I still have a box of vinyl records in my garage. And slides, and slide projector, and...lots of other things it's time to get rid of. Great (nostalgic) post!

Linda Myers said...

Pretty cool that the author could write a book in 2004 and get 1987 right.

Retired English Teacher said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

My husband was just mentioning this book the other night. He was talking about how things were so different back in 1987. He also said he is really amazed at the changes that he hadn't really thought about until he thought about the book.