LOST PLEASURES

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GRESHAM’S LAW DOESN’T go far enough. Not only does “bad money drive out good money” but, as we can now see, bad anything drives out good anything. Fudge-covered graham crackers have driven out real chocolate ones; apartments with low ceilings and thin walls have replaced older, sturdier dwellings; and in restaurant lavatories the so-called hand-drying machine has eliminated the rotating cloth towel. Plastic, of course, has replaced just about everything: the lacquered wooden dashboard in your car, the leather buckle on your coat, and the bone buttons on your suit, the ivory keys of your piano, and even the tiny wooden hotel in your Monopoly game.

These and hundreds of other devaluations in goods and services, although perhaps inevitable, are nevertheless worth mourning. The America in which they flourished is not so incredibly distant; it is only half a lifetime ago, after all, and our houses are still full of casual relics from that time: a can opener that works by hand and never burns out, an ancient but well-stitched book that doesn’t fall apart, wooden coat hangers that don’t snap under the weight of a shirt, perhaps even a functioning toaster. But the commonplace quality of these survivors is deceptive, for in fact the America that existed when I was growing up is as remote, as unbelievable, to the modern observer as the days when Coney Island was a fashionable resort. In the belief that a decent funeral is called for, I offer these drawings of past pleasures as a personal eulogy.