Two Clips from a Post-War Paean to Life in a Victorious America
Are these clips too pompous and self-satisfied by half? It seems that way at a distance of seventy-five years. Or perhaps that seems a current correct response in the correct social tone of automatic diminution. Be that as it may, the immense energy required for that stunningly broad and lateral burst of prosperity known at the Fifties had to come from somewhere, didn’t it?
And in that prosperity America found their “New” Freedom, the Freedom of Movement… the freedom of, in the words of Jack Kerouac,
“Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’
‘Where we going, man?’
‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”
With the New Freedom came the smell of Los Angeles in the post-war years as the men came back and the nation literally “got back in gear.”
And the smell of L.A. in those years was always faint smog. And inside that smog was the far-off faint smell of napalm in the morning there at the edge of the Pacific where America ruled the waves and L.A. smelled… “like Victory.”
Yes, that smog smelled like Victory even to some kid living, say, at 521b Allen Avenue in Glendale, the 2-bedroom bungalow in the back, watching a fuzzy black and white puppet show featuring Mr. Bluster, Buffalo Bob Smith, the Flub-A-Dub, and Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring. Then (after a trip to the incinerator in the back lot where everyone burned their trash regularly in the smokey LA summer afternoons ) watching that paragon of homeschooling, Mr. Wizard.
And yes there was the smog but then there was Griffith Park. And the beaches of Malibu unbuilt on and wide open.
And yes there was the smog making dark rings on your father’s starched white short-sleeved shirts, but there was the Pier at Santa Monica. And there was watching the deadlifts and chin-ups at Muscle Beach in Venice with your father and your uncle. And there was the miracle of your uncle who just a month before had been fighting behind stacked and frozen Chinese soldiers in the Pusan Pocket in Korea.
And you sat in the sand and watched them both toss a football between themselves in the wave wrack along the shore. And that night you dozed on the rough and sandy horsehair cushions in the back seat all the way back to Glendale. In the front seat, your father and your uncle both smoked big cigars and talked about my uncle’s dream, having survived Pusan, of becoming a prizefighter. And all the windows were open and the night air was cool and smelled good. It smelled like gasoline for everybody.