Jake helped Mickey on with his JetPak and four minutes later they landed smoothly at the Mall entrance. The January Minneapolis sun barely dented the oversized thermometer perched atop Dayton's Redux, as the two youths hurried inside.
"My Grandpa said that when he was a kid, like 60 years ago, experts predicted that the Earth would suffer from something they called 'global warming'."
"Well, whoever thought that one up sure didn't live in Minnesota," answered Jake.
They found some old photos of former President Ross Perot and an oversized poster of Tom Seaver Jr. pitching in the 2019 World Series.
The boys entered a Retro Shop and browsed through the nostalgia section. They found some old photos of former President Ross Perot and an oversized poster of Tom Seaver Jr. pitching in the 2019 World Series. They enjoyed reading about the "old days" when people still believed in diets to lose weight, doctors to cure diseases, and something called the Internet to view news and entertainment.
"I guess life was just simpler back then," said Mickey. "The century had just started, the first Twin Towers had been terrorized, and people were probably just seeking an uncomplicated existence. Imagine, no inter-planetary transcloxilotation, no JetPaks, and no ice turkey bars!"
"Almost sounds boring," cried Jake. "But you know what I really wonder about? What was life about even before that?"
"You mean, the 20th century!?"
"Yeah. There must be stuff written about those ancient times."
"Let's ask old Mr. Humphreys, behind the ScanPort," said Mickey. "He knows everything about this shop."
Humphreys had taken a liking to the boys ever since they first visited the Retro Shop two years previously. He was eager to satisfy their curiosity, but the kind of information they were seeking was no longer available on the shelves or screens.
"No interest," barked the old-timer. "Most folk don't care much about the 20th century anymore. It's like the world didn't exist before Crocs."
"CROCS?" chimed the youngsters. "What were Crocs?"
"Oh, never mind. Just tell me what kind of questions you had about the 20th century. Maybe I could just answer them for you myself. My dad lived then and he told me all about it."
"Oh, nothing special, Mr. Humphreys," answered Jake. "Just tell us what your dad told you about life back then."
"Hmm...let's see now... Well, for one thing, Dad always reminded us kids that back then children used to show lots of respect to their parents. They never interrupted them, they told them where they're going, and occasionally stood up when their parents entered the room. In many circumstances, children even sought out their parents' advice about relationships, religion, and career options."
"Cooool, Mr. Humphreys," said Mickey. "I always suspected that my folks might know something about those things. I just never thought of asking them!"
"Well, maybe you should, Mickey."
"What else, Mr. H.? What else did your dad tell you?" inquired Jake.
"He once said that in those days people were considerate of each other's feelings."
"Really? How so?"
"Well, I'm not so clear about that, but it seems that lots of people didn't necessarily put themselves first. They offered fellow passengers seats on trains and busses, readily slowed their cars down to allow other cars or pedestrians into their lanes, watered neighbor's lawns, and gave up their spare time and money to help each other out. Things like that, I guess."
"I don't get it, Mr. Humphreys," said Jake. "Why would they do those things?"
"Gradually people just started caring only about themselves."
"Look, kids, I just remember what my father told me. Don't expect me to figure out why. But I reckon that it all began in the 60's. It was the dawning of the age of free expression and self-gratification. The music - always a reflection of the culture - communicated a message that launched the 'Me' generation. Gradually people just started caring only about themselves."
"Isn't that when the Beatles were born," inquired Mickey?
"Hey, they weren't the only ones, ya know. The Vietnam War was grossly unpopular then, and everybody in the world voiced his opinion about it. By the time the 70's rolled around there existed an atmosphere of total over-indulgence and self-importance. Restrictions were stripped away. Before you knew it, infatuation, infidelity, and immorality became normal and expected behavior."
"Whoa...and I thought society was always like that. Wait till the guys hear this stuff. What else do you recall?"
"Well, my dad said that he personally knew a number of people who weren't completely sure of every single opinion they had! They would state their beliefs or feelings about politics, morality, or truth, or anything, but then allowed for the possibility that they were mistaken or off the mark!"
"But Mr. H., how could that be? Wouldn't showing someone else that you could be wrong be a display of weakness or vulnerability?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought. But somehow people just did it anyway. Strange."
"Totally hot, Mr. Humphreys. We've never heard anything like this," said the boys. "Anything else you remember?"
"It probably was rare, but I heard about some kids back then who did not find it necessary to be constantly entertained every single waking moment."
"IMPOSSIBLE!" gasped Mickey. "Everyone I have ever met requires constant stimulation of the glandular mycosis membrane. It's part of the genetic code, discovered by Spears, Hilton, and Lohan in 2037! We learned about it in Symmetry class last year!"
"Yes, yes, of course, Mickey. I'm as familiar with the discovery as you are. I'm sure it wasn't the norm, but some kids just seemed to be able to delay their need for instant gratification. They just waited, I guess, until some later time, when they would receive their reward or response."
"Incredible," said Jake.
"Now, don't hold me to this, boys, but if memory serves me right, there were certain individuals who, no matter what, would always tell the complete truth -- even if they hurt themselves in the process."
"Mr. Humphreys, pleeease," Mickey interjected. "Just because we are kids, do you take us for complete fools? Do you really think we'd believe that people used to tell the complete truth? I read somewhere that that kind of behavior stopped around the time of the Industrial Revolution!"
"I suppose it did, Mickey. But Dad knew some of the exceptions - the throwbacks - who still thought the truth was important. Kinda funny now, I guess."
"Sure is. I suppose people in those days didn't understand that life is just all about survival...no matter what," said Jake.
"Hey, folks back then also thought nicotine, cholesterol, and loud music were unhealthy too. What did they know?" said Mr. Humphreys.
They roared at the stupidity of the generations long ago forgotten.
The boys had stored the verbatim transcript of Mr. Humphreys' memories of the 20th century in their internal MDB's (Medulla DataBanks) and were ready to leave. They collected their Charg-O-Belts and JetPacks and headed for the Transporto to leave the Retro Shop.
They walked down the long corridor towards the main mall exit. Suddenly they heard the rumpus of hurried footsteps. It was Mr. Humphreys, with a big smile on his face.
"Boys," he said. "Did you get everything you were looking for?"
"Why, sure, Mr. H. It was perfect!"
"Good...very good. But...cough...cough... I think you forgot to say, 'Thank you!"
"Ha! Good one!" howled the boys. "Now THAT was REALLY funny, Mr. H. Hysterical!"
And they laughed all the way home.