Poetry and Prose

Mark Twain

The Howdy Doody Generation by Zels Bryan Johnson (1998)

The fifties seemed so innocent but probably not as innocent as Lucy, Desi, Fred and Ethel made them. I didn’t know many "Leave it to Beaver; households–and just what did Ozzie do for a living anyway?

Maybe a better representation of 1950’s America was Chester A. Riley, and what a revoltin development that was. There was ‘I Remember Mama’, my Swedish grandmother’s favorite because she liked the references to the old country. Topper and Hopalong rode the range. There was Poncho and Ceessco and of course, Sky King and Penny, a teenager’s heart throb before Annette. We heard Andy Devine yell, “Wild Bill wait for me”, and they always asked, Who was that masked man?

Red Skelton made us laugh while Uncle confused us with his dresses for chuckles, and Ed Sullivan gave us reason to watch the Philco on Sunday night.

Growing up in the was exciting. The Dodgers were still in Brooklyn, Dizzy Dean was on the tube and Duke was roaming the outfield at Ebbets. Jackie was running the bases, and Peewee guarded the infield. Every young boy saved for his Spaulding or Wilson, and Louisville sluggers were a favorite at Christmas time–even better than a Red Ryder B-B gun for some. Our mothers knew we could shoot our eyes out and our fathers just shrugged.

Looking back, why did so many teachers disappear and why were they replaced by gray haired nasties that pulled our ears the way Lyndon pulled his beagle’s ears and smashed our knuckles if we stepped out of line in readin’, writing’ and ‘rithmetic. I remember when I kissed Donna and Mrs. Craig called me a dirty little commie. Ah, but there was Miss Zels, (my first name is Zels)–maybe we were a generation of destiny.

Outside of Everett, the Dulles brothers took over Washington before it was a beltway. Batista allowed organized crime &carte blanche in Havana. Mao and Stalin distrusted each other, but still the Chinese poured across the 38th parallel in Korea. Chang Kai Shek and the Dragon lady fled to Formosa to battle the 'reds and the French were prepared to lose at Diem Bien Phu.

While we played, world leaders were setting the stage for the fateful battle that nearly destroyed two economies. Later in the decade, the cold war began for real. A basketball-sized sphere named Sputnik was hurled into space at the top of a rocket and the space race was on, the arms race as well.

The die was cast, our future lay before us. How did we lose those wonderful cities, or am I just middle-aged and only seeing the world through the rose-colored glasses Dole wore? The cities seemed so wonderful and magical in the Fifties and earlier. Even America seemed innocent–unless there was pigment to your skin or, you were a woman.

Did we damage our future by fleeing from the cities to the cul-de-sacs of suburbia. Instead of building concrete tributes to the car, should we have made our neighborhoods safer? And why don’t all of those houses in the fancy named developments that end in Estates have front porches–and does everyone have to have a barbeque? Did we lose our bearing when we didn’t recognize equality among ourselves and forced Rosa to ride at the back of the bus–and wouldn’t let everyone eat at Woolworths?

Did we get lost on the way to the 21st when we tried to fight communism by shooting everyone that disagreed with us in places like Vietnam? Did we lose it when we lost sight of our riches and wasted our technology on electric pencil sharpeners? Did we lose our way to San Jose when my generation fought for dignity in the Sixties, battling in the classrooms and streets only to lose it with bad music and worse–drugs? Did Elvis and the Beatles take away our future, or did we let America get away while we were stoned in the jungle?

What happened to the movies; what happened to decency? Why are so many sicko things happening? Or have things always been this way and we were just too busy trying to get ahead to notice them? Is Dan right, has Hollywood become the Babylon we accuse it of turning into? Or are he and the rest of the finger-pointers as mad as the hare in Alice and Wonderland?

I want back the America I remember, real or imagined, that was safe and pleasant. I want back the America that I remember–maybe never happened or even existed–I still want it.

Can my generation have another chance? Most of us are not stoned out of our minds anymore and we’re not in the jungle looking for Charlie–he’s here now and succeeding nicely in some places; even at your corner 7-Eleven that replaced mom and pop in the neighborhood.

In the meantime, it looks like we’ll prepare for the 21st behind self-imposed bars in homes that are wired to detect the slightest movement. While we cringe in fear, our politicians continue to let our cities deteriorate out of neglect. Soon our inner sanctum will be our prison and we’ll shoot at everything that moves with plastic guns that look like they were made by Mattel, but deadly as a poisonous viper.

The Howdy Doody generation–what happed on the way to the 21st Century? Did we get lost, or did we just never know the way…?


Is not the love that a man and a woman share with another
manifested through dedication, commitment and
and culminated in the beauty of the union
of sexual awareness
and thus human life is conceived.

My question – how can this manifestation of
such intense love
exhibit anything other than beauty?
Is this not the innocence of the child?

What then is the adult?
The manifestation of the reality of life?
Is life an aberration of love?

Then how can revolution be based in hate?
Is that not oppression?
And is that not what we seek to eliminate?
So brothers and sisters – is not revolution love?

And isn't then the greatest love a person
can show
being a revolutionary?

Yet – what is gained if we change the world
but neglect to change ourselves?

Is that not the heighth of arrogance?

– Zels Bryan Johnson
May 19, 1971

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