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I GUESS I’M OLDER THAN DIRT PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Over the past couple of years, I’ve assembled from many different sources what I think is an amusing set of observations on getting old – an art that I’ve been working on for the last 30,000 days or so.  Having just lost two very valued friends and learning that another two of them are about to pass away as well, I’d like to share this with SWIFT readers.  I’m well aware that the topic isn’t of the sort that usually appears here, but I have to admit that I’ve been very lax in contributing to this giddy site, and I promise to appear here much more frequently from now on, since things have now somewhat stabilized for me...   

...............................................................

I’m old, and I can prove it just from the fact that I know certain things with which most of you won’t be familiar.  Hey, I’m so old that I remember when folks used to eat at a place called “at home,” where Mom cooked every day and when Dad got home from work, the family sat down together at the dining room table.  I even remember a time when some parents didn’t own their own house, wear Levis, go to a golf course on Sundays, travel outside of the country or have even one credit card. My parents never drove me to school, can you imagine that? To get to school, I had a ratty old bicycle that weighed probably 50 pounds, and that kept me fit and trim with its one speed – slow.  We didn't have a television receiver in our house, it was a big box called a “radio,” and on nights when I got through my homework, we often sat around it until the stations went off the air after playing the national anthem and some sappy poem about God; they came back on at about 6 a.m.

I never had a telephone in my room, or even thought about such a thing. The only phone we had was on a “party line,” and before I dialed, I had to listen to make sure that some people I didn't know weren't already using the line.

I’d never even heard of pizzas, so they were not delivered to our home, as if that were imaginable...  But milk was, every morning, and in glass bottles, on the back porch.  All newspapers were delivered by boys and just about all boys delivered newspapers, though I didn’t.  I was reading, somewhere out of sight.

Back then, movie stars kissed with their mouths shut. At least, they did in the movies. There were no movie “ratings” because all movies were responsibly produced for everyone to enjoy viewing, without profanity or violence or anything blatantly offensive.

We didn't even have a steam iron or a clothes dryer.  Mom hung the laundry on a rope that was called a “clothes line.”  Man, I am old.  

But how about you?  Do you remember things like candy cigarettes, coffee shops with table side juke boxes, newsreels that played in the theater before the movie, and – later on – TV test patterns that came on at night after the last show? How about peashooters, or a kids’ TV show with Mister Mac or Uncle Don – whatever – maybe even a show called Wonderama...?  How about 45 RPM records, “hi-fi's,” metal ice trays with a lever, blue flashbulbs on cameras, Ford Consuls, wash tub wringers, headlight dimmer switches on the floor of the car, and ignition switches on the dashboard?  Did you or your brother wear pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards, and did your Dad use hand signals for a car without turn signals?  Did a traffic policeman ever give your dad driving directions and then tip his cap to him?

Along the way to my getting to be older than dirt, I’ve managed to meet just about everyone I ever really wanted to meet – except for Peter Ustinov, Margaret Rutherford, and Nelson Mandela – though the latter is still within my reach…  I have to urge my readers to pursue the possibility of meeting such people.  It’s rewarding to do so, exchanging a few thoughts with them, just dropping a few words of thanks, saying that you’re glad they inhabited the world when you happened to be around.  I’ve had that happen to me, and I’ve never turned away from such an encounter without renewed purpose and inspiration.  Rich or poor, old or young, famous or not, everyone has a thing or two to teach others, even though it just may be a bad example of something to shun.  I’ve watched stone masons at work, studied my paternal grandfather as he finished off a replacement armrest for an antique chair, and been transfixed by an electrician snaking wires through a wall to fix a chandelier – and I’ve learned from each and every such observation.

Do you encourage kids to pay attention to the world around them?  I hope so.  The function of the JREF is to equip you to prepare them with the ability to think critically about what they will observe, to wonder whether what they see might be better accomplished, and to thereby improve their own skills.  In particular, we want you to be able to inspire the young to become involved, to participate, to be excited, over what they see around them. It can be done, and you can do it.

Now, about that sputtering chandelier you mentioned…

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Must be old too
written by pooder, November 08, 2010
I guess that means I'm old too; I remember all those things . . . .

But my brother and I did have a phone in our room -- unknown to Mom and Dad -- 'cause I pilfered parts from the trash behind the Bell Telephone building and built my own phone and tapped into the wires on the other side of our bedroom wall.

Years before that, I remember picking up the phone and hearing the operator say "Number please?" and I remember that our number was 579J until I was a teenager when they lengthened the numbers, added the area codes, and we had to dial them on our own. Mom and Dad got a Touch Tone phone when I was in my 40s; that was a really big deal, and they had to pay extra for Touch Tone service for it.

We were never driven to school 'cause we lived three blocks away, so walking was required; even during blizzards.

We had one of the first TVs in the neighborhood, and my grandpa would always walk over to watch "The Fights" whenever they were on; Saturday evenings, I think. There weren't Saturday morning cartoons until I had moved out; my little sister got to watch them, though.

I had a newspaper route; I hauled the papers in baskets on my Schwinn one-speed and it took two trips to get them all delivered. We never had milk delivered, though, because we bought milk from a farmer who lived at the edge of town. I remember stirring the milk in the vat before filling the bottles, so we'd get whole milk; otherwise it would be skim 'cause the cream was all on top and the filler valve was at the bottom.

Wow; I could go on all day . . . but I still need to work for a living; I'll probably never get to retire like my dad did.
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Great Post!
written by Hierro, November 08, 2010
I thought this was a great post smilies/smiley.gif
Kinda reminds me of George Carlin's routine in his last special "It's Bad for Ya" where he talks about being "an old fuck" in which 'fuck' is a synonym for fellow.
And I can actually remember a few of these things, even though I'm not very old at all.
Clothes lines
TV test patterns that came on at night after the last show

And as far as meeting people, I sure hope to be able to take the time in December and drive up to Ft. Lauderdale and see the JREF in person smilies/grin.gif
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Old, eh?
written by chunt, November 08, 2010
Heck, I can remember half of those things, and I'm only 44!

In the UK we got the test card shown on TV for much of the day during my childhood. It's only in the 1980's (I think) that new-fangled "daytime TV" came in. Sometimes I think the test card was more interesting viewing.

We had a TV, but didn't own it - it was rented from a local shop. We were one of the first in the neighbourhood to get a colour TV, so all the kids came round to our house to watch it!
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written by I Ratant, November 08, 2010
I remember most of those things. Miss a few a of them. But as I age, I find a lot of the "good old days" weren't. The technology we enjoy past endurance today really is a benefit, despite the annoyances. I've used my now ever-present cellphone for real, not just yakking several times.
And this thing here... talked to people all around the world in "real time".. another modern invention. smilies/smiley.gif
Saw a commercial last night about what's gonna happen 80 years from now. I bet every one of the guesses will be wrong, and really far off what actually occurs.
80 years ago the modern world was just starting to grow, and man, look what we've in those 80 years.
If we kill us off, the next 80 should be 'amazing' smilies/smiley.gif to those that experience them!
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written by Spellweaver, November 08, 2010
First of all, Mr. Randi, let me extend my gratitude for all that you have done and the motivation with which it has been carried out.

Enterprises such as these are faint, and hopefully enduring, glimmers of what could one day be the norm. Free, inspired and fraternal cooperation between people who have transcended their restrictive social identities and fears is a worthy way to while one's time away indeed.

As for old age...I am not particularly old, only in my third decade, yet I remember all the experiences you mentioned. Having spent a significant portion of my childhood in a less than developed country, I shared the circumstances you listed. I suspect many of our species still do smilies/smiley.gif I consider it to have been a privilege, as such vastly different experiences grant some valuable perspective as to what is worth pursuing and what isn't...

Looking forward to your active participation and comments on the site.
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written by Hallaluva, November 08, 2010
I'm not that old (35), but there are so many things, too many to mention, that have changed in my lifetime - and I hope I'll be around to see many more.

Also, I heartily agree that there is a special joy in meeting someone you admire and telling them so. I met you, Mr.Randi, this summer in Copenhagen at the Planetarium, and it did indeed fill me with "renewed purpose and inspiration". Thank you for being an example to the rest of us.
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Watch a movie made in the year you were born
written by edgraham, November 08, 2010
A few nights aga, I turned on Turner Classic Movies and a move made in 1937 was on. Hard to believe the stuff in that movie existed in my lifetime. Check out a movie from the year you were born.

Randi, I have been a fan for many years - - I hope that you live as long as you want to. If we could truly live forever, the suicide rate would increase dramaticly.

I love living and don't fear death like my religous friends.
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Rust never sleeps
written by T. Finke, November 08, 2010
Dear Mr. Randi,
getting old with a mind that stays young, as you are doing, is one thing I hope to have for myself in life.
Though we never met personally I remember emailing you during the last years and getting kind responses all the time.
And I was very excited when you participated on my record which was only made possible by modern technology.
I have always liked the idea of someone of your age using computers like someone younger than me, but I was really suprised when you even managed to record something for me and sent me the files.
Now that I read you latest Swift post, I understand why that is possible: Because you are an observing mind without prejudices.
I would not have expected less from you.
If you're ever in Germany again, I'll be there to thank you personally.
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The Things We Remember
written by FledgelingSkeptic, November 08, 2010
This was a wonderful post. I think us young whippersnappers need to be reminded now and again of the simple things in our history.
I watched the moon landing on a black and white TV when I was three years old. I actually remember my Mom carrying me downstairs in my blue footie PJs and sitting me in front of the TV and telling me I needed to remember this because it was the most important thing in our human history.
When I was a kid, we didn't have cable TV and the three stations we had went off the air at midnight after playing the National Anthem and showing footage of a waving flag. The first video game was Pong and we thought it was SO cool that you could control these lines on the screen to hit a "ball" back and forth. The ball was a small, white square.
When Polaroid film came out we thought that was just the coolest thing ever because now you didn't have to take this stuff called film to a guy who lived in a tiny box in the grocery store parking lot and wait three days to see your photos.
One of the best gifts I got when I was young was my very own record player. My Dad worked at a radio station so he was always bringing me home 45s for my collection. Sometimes I got hit songs before they were even out in stores. Of course this was back before radio stations played music all night long, too.
My Mom remembers having milk delivered and listening to the radio instead of watching TV.
When I was 14, I took over a friends paper route when she was on vacation a few times. So by the mid 70's it wasn't just boys delivering papers anymore. Now it's just adults that do it.
Does anyone else remember lunch boxes? And thermoses? Yes, we used to take our lunch to school in these metal boxes with super heroes or other cool things on them. This was back when bologna was considered good for you.
Thanks for sharing your memories with us. We're hoping you're going to stay with us for a long time to come.
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Old indeed
written by JeffWagg, November 08, 2010
I first saw some of this list in 2005, and I thought.. wow, yeah.. I'm old enough that a lot of this resonates. How about bench seats in cars? Hoods that stayed open without prop rods? Gas caps behind the license plate and bumper jacks (Which Adam Savage failed to understand hilariously in an episode.) Hell, for that matter... remember carburetors? And chokes? And "Three on the tree"? Or having to pump the gas pedal to start the car...

Yep, old. But better than the alternative.
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written by MadScientist, November 08, 2010
Remember when cars had fins and no seat belts? Remember when car wheels had spokes like a bicycle's wheels - then those disappeared and only the spare tire had the funny wheel and soon that disappeared too. Cranks to start car motors because the starter motor either hadn't been invented yet or was considered a luxury. Cars without refrigeration - oh they were such fun to ride in those Tucson and Phoenix summers. Flat windscreens on cars.

The first computers - hundreds of thousands of dollars for enormous power-hungry machines which weren't even as good as that iPhone that fits in your pocket. The first powered pocket calculators (bye-bye sliderules - yeah!) The "field phone" - a portable phone which could give you back problems for the rest of your life and which cost more than a car.

Smallpox - ah, how I miss the smallpox! No more people with big circular scars all over their bodies. Antibiotics - if only they hadn't been discovered, extracted and purified - think of how small the human population might be!

Nuclear bombs, space rockets. There has been so much more discovered and invented in a mere hundred years than in all the preceding human history.
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Old is not a dirty word
written by Onelifer, November 08, 2010
I can remember once going to the movies and they were all silent! One was Snookums. The next time there was a talkie.
Mr Randi if meeting the one remaining person on your list brings you to South Africa, and I am still around it would be a privilege to meet you.
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I remember the bebops of a 56k modem
written by AdamMorva, November 08, 2010
I remember the bebops of a 56k modem!

Okay, let's face it, I'm 22, I'm young.

But dear Mr. Randi,
Words can not express how glad I am that I stand on the shoulders of giants like you.
The generations after yours are so fortunate to have you and your peers to pave the way ahead us and draw inspiration from your example.

Thank you, Mr. Randi.
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Time! What a concept. ;-)
written by CasaRojo, November 08, 2010
Wow! Sure does go by quickly... Meeting people that I have a great deal of respect for has always been on the top of my "bucket list" and I'm happy to say that I've met a few including Mr. Randi. That was truly an amazing visit! :-)

Back a few years, (hah! I hit the 'T' instead of the 'Y' in 'years' and it fits ;-)), I was driving towards the center of the state (Florida) late at night and went to dim my lights to oncoming traffic on a long two lane road. The dimmer switch under my foot dislodged and my headlights went totally dark! I managed to get off the road without incident. I couldn't get it back together so I made a conductor out of something and closed the headlight loop. I only had high beams for awhile which made oncomers a bit unhappy but at least I had lights. Ahhhh, the good old days. :-)
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written by lytrigian, November 08, 2010
Born in the early 1960s, I just barely remember milk delivery. Houses that were more than a couple of years old were almost certain to have one of those insulated boxes on the front (not back!) porch -- and I'm pretty sure those were a late innovation.

I do remember candy cigarettes, which persisted into the 1970s if memory serves, but not unrated movies or newsreels.

Wonderama was one of my favorite shows. My earliest memories have Sonny Fox as the host, but Bob McAllister was the one I remember best. I was almost never allowed to stay up late enough to see the test pattern on the big stations, although some UHF stations signed off earlier. But I was occasionally up early enough to see it before they signed on. Especially on Saturdays.

Yes, I carried lunch to school every day in a lunchbox, from elementary through middle school. They always came with a Thermos, but we never used it because they had fresh milk available at school.

45 RPM records, yes. I even remember 78s. Our Stromberg-Carlson stereo (a bit too fancy a piece of furniture to be called a "hi-fi") could play them both, as well as 33-1/3 RPM LPs and whatever they called the 16 RPM format. Diners (not so much "coffee shops" in New Jersey) with tableside jukeboxes, yes.

Mom had a dryer, but for some items such as bedsheets only hanging them outside would do. We had one of those whirlygig-style clotheslines just outside the cellar door.

I indeed had a paper route, but my bike had a chain guard. Usually. It was fun to make it sound like a motorcycle by clipping baseball cards to the forks with clothespins, so they hit the spokes. One of my favorite destinations was the general store about a mile from my house, where we could get Italian ices on hot days.

We always had our own phone line -- and TWO phones in the house. My parents had one in their bedroom. But my semi-rural area was slow to modernize in one way: to dial outside a limited number of exchanges, you had to talk to an operator and give her (always her) your phone number so they phone company knew who to bill. We didn't get a fully automated exchange until the mid-70s.

As we were on the East Coast, there were naturally pizzerias. Not one of them was a chain, though.

For me, it's high time i got off my ass and got out to see the world. I've done practically nothing of what I've wanted to do with my life, and the time left is short. That's always true, no matter what your age. I've learned far too much from books, and nowhere near enough from life. I tend to plead "responsibilities" -- I have two special needs kids at home -- but I also have to keep myself healthy and sane.
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written by Stitch, November 09, 2010
Dear Mr Randi,
For probably up to eight years now I have been following your SWIFT BLOG eagerly. Fridays were always special since an updates would be posted that day and I’d get to read more of your many endeavours into quack busting.
You mentioned that you have had the pleasure of meeting many of your special friends over the years and how that ‘to do’ list is shortening. I don’t have such a list, but I was greatful to be awarded a meeting with you at the TAM London a few weeks ago. Unfortunately only brief niceties were exchanged between us because of your schedule. However I was privileged to sit with you, shake hands, and sense your presence. This will probably stay with me for along time. Anyhow, I’ve got the photo to prove it. I don’t typically put people on pedestals, but my encounter with you made me proud for us to have been together sharing our common cause. You are certainly The Amazing Randi.
I understand that you’re not shy of the inevitable and that you remain steadfast in your fight against ‘woo woo’ as long as you’re able.
May you continue the good cause.
One of your many admirers
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Australia, 1956
written by Michieux, November 09, 2010
I was 6 when we got off the boat from Germany. We moved to a country town near Victoria's electricity generating plants, which were situated near abundant deposits of brown coal -- enough to power the country for 1,000 years. Back then we had no concept of pollution. When the wind blew the coal dust our way, we closed windows and hung the washing up inside.

Our TV was mainly from the U.S. -- I grew up watching the Mickey Mouse Club. I had a crush on Annette Funicello. Still do! Also watched Lowell Thomas adventures.

Our milk was delivered fresh daily, as was our bread -- by horse-drawn carriage. I've never forgotten melted butter on still warm bread.

One day our "milky" jumped over the fence and dropped some money out of his pocket. I spent almost half an hour devising some way of picking up that bounty without being seen to do so. I hit on walking the fence -- a feat of amazing balance -- and when I got near where the money was, I just sort of lost my balance, fell, landing with my right hand right on the money, which I nonchallantly pocketed.

Later that week I spent a good portion of it at out local milk-bar -- a foreruner of convenience stores -- where I bought a bag of broken bikkies -- biscuits that had been broken in transit and were sold by weight. This is probably why I have bad teeth.



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@Randi
written by Caller X, November 09, 2010
Even though this article has next to nothing about skepticism, let me say on a rare positive note, good one! By your standards I am old, about half your age. Here's my version: Where I live, all the woods have been torn down to build houses. When I see kids out and then see them again a couple hours and a couple miles away, I think "Great, at least they're out and doing!" When I was a kid smilies/grin.gif we used to stay out in all weather, set fires, blow things up, build stuff in the woods, etc. Also worked for money. Had a paper route or two, mowed lawns, dug stumps out, etc. In grade school we used to fight for fun. And I miss my sliderule. Not to diss the skateboards and bmx bikes, but the environment has changed, so I guess those are the outlets now for similar exploration. All I can say is those kids better stay off my lawn.
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And remembering the future...
written by johnp, November 09, 2010
Yes, I was telling the grandkids the other day about the candy cigarettes we got for Halloween. Wax Lips. Turkish taffy. Good N Plentys.

And someday I'll tell them about the things they will see. When cancer becomes nothing more than a nuisance. When fusion energy makes space flight cheap and coal-burning a filthy Victorian-era relic. When we use diamond bricks to pave our gardens....
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written by AndyL, November 09, 2010
As a thirty year old, a few things stuck out at me about this article.

"There were no movie “ratings” because all movies were responsibly produced for everyone to enjoy viewing, without profanity or violence or anything blatantly offensive." ...
You make it sound like they did that by their own free will. Many of the films produced before the Hays code clearly illustrate how many Hollywood directors wanted to make films if they hadn't been so restricted.

The mouth-shut kissing was specifically required by the Hays Code.

You may recall that films of this period never spoke ill of religion. This was also specifically forbidden by the Hays Code. (As was all mention of homosexuality and miscegenation.)

To be honest, I find the Hays Code an unusual thing to be sentimental for. It was not designed to encourage critical thinking.

"Do you remember things like candy cigarettes, coffee shops with table side juke boxes, "
Both these things still exist, though they are not as popular as they once were.

"Mom hung the laundry on a rope that was called a “clothes line.” "
This too. Every neighborhood I've lived in, has had clothes lines in at least some back yards.

"Did you or your brother wear pant leg clips for bicycles without chain guards"
These are coming back as chain guards are falling out of fashion. They're more for bicycle commuters than for children, though. Most of them are velcro nowadays, but old fashioned metal clips are still available as well.

"didn’t own their own house, [...] , travel outside of the country"
This is the one part of this article I don't understand. Surely this describes the social class you find yourself in, not the era? Most Americans still cannot afford to do either of these things.

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written by NoCoPilot, November 09, 2010
I'm only 56, but I remember when gasoline was $0.19 a gallon, and the attendant cleaned your windshield and checked your oil and tire pressure.

As my grandma used to say, "Gettin' old sucks, but it still beats the alternative."
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written by a1103528979, November 10, 2010
Death is just back to reality!
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"I have to urge my readers to pursue the possibility of meeting such people"
written by feldesq, November 10, 2010
One such person you all should meet during your lifetime is James Randi. But in his case he will go beyond simple courtesies, and you will be genuinely uplifted by the meeting (and I am not referring to any levitation trick!)
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Only 50, but...
written by GrahamZ, November 10, 2010
I do remember the television test patterns.

I'm not old enough to remember newsreels in the theater, but I do recall drive-in theaters, and when they used to show cartoons before the main feature.

I'm barely old enough to remember seeing body bags from Viet Nam, on the news, and JFK's funeral.

I have met a few of my idols (I never actually 'met' you, Mr. Randi, but I did go to see a talk/demonstration you gave at one of the World science fiction conventions. I was always a bit on the shy side, so I didn't talk a whole lot. But I have gotten to chat with Isaac Asimov, Hal Clement, and many other authors (I even took a writing workshop from Frederick Pohl once upon a time). I also had dinner with Richard Feynman (our student house at Caltech hosted a dinner party for him, and he delighted us all with stories about Los Alamos, and his adventures playing the bongos and painting and so on).

Anyway, I never actually felt old until very recently when a young lady told me that I reminded her of her dad ("but in a good way"). And everything is a little slower now (body and mind) at least for me. But that's the cost of it all and it's ok.
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Older than dirt?
written by Gsparky2004, November 11, 2010
Randi, I'm sorry to say that I just spoke with several people concerning having you properly "aged". Unfortunately, I'm told that, since you're older than dirt, carbon-14 dating won't work and that you might even be too far gone even for U-235smilies/tongue.gifb-207 dating.
Hang in there, my friend. We'll think of something. smilies/grin.gif
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written by feldesq, November 11, 2010
One's meaningful age is more a function of attitude than cellular deterioration. Many people become more certain, more rigid in their ways, and less likely to adapt as their span continues. Others recognize the inevitability of change (evolution, if you will) and see the process of life and living as a state of dynamism -- continuous change -- accompanied by the need to adapt to that change. Randi is one such person. He not only adapts to change, he has that same sense of awe and inspiration as the likes of Sagan and Asimov, who not only had no fear of change but did so much to help us all understand and adapt to change. While we remain at war with those (the "dark side") who reject the inevitability of change and assert certainty in the face of uncertainty, Randi leads warriors (the "light side") in his fearless quest to understand and adapt to the ever changing universe. Randi, and those who appreciate and understand skepticism, remain ageless.....
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written by Soapy Sam, November 12, 2010
I still don't have a TV. And I remember all that stuff like it was yesterday. Some of it probably was; my memory ain't what it used to be...
And as for meeting interesting people- just recently I met this dude who stopped my friend's watch BY MAGIC!, identified some wild parrots photographed in a London park, got 1000 people together from all over the world to hear him and other fascinating people talk and who appeared to be a lot younger between the ears than most folk 50 years his junior. Can't remember his name...Rodney? Randle? Rhonda? Damn this failing memory!
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Milk and clotheslines
written by markbellis, November 12, 2010
There are some places that ban clotheslines.
However in Stratford Ontario there was a guy who brought back a horse drawn wagon to deliver milk door-to-door.
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written by TDjazz, November 17, 2010
Yes, I remember candy cigarettes, 45s, milk delivered in bottles...and a magician who used to appear on a local New York TV station's Sunday morning kids show--none other than the Amazing Randi. Those were the days.
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