As a society, we like to think that we are always advancing. The old days seem antiquated and often silly. Instead, we believe that today is way better than yesterday, and certainly way better than it used to be. I mean, who would prefer a black and white TV instead of a color one?

This is true, of course, on many levels. But on others, not so much. Who would have known that nearly everything we’ve been consuming since we were born contains microplastics, including some that are so small they can even get into our cells? It makes me wonder if someday we’ll go to the hospital for a broken arm, and the doctor will pull out a big tube of Testor’s Model Glue, put the two pieces together, and add some Scotch tape until it dries.

This limited view of our human experience came to me while I was watching Playboy After Dark. I can blame my friend Lisa for this. She reminded me that it was a TV show. True to form, had episodes. While I could claim that I only read the articles, Playboy, for better or worse, has been part of our culture for as long as I remember. And, while I vaguely remember the After Dark version of the show, I had no idea that Hef also hosted a previous version, Playboy Penthouse, in the late 1950 with a very different vibe.

The 60s version had, of course, the latest Playmates on it. The earlier one was more like a high-brow cocktail party, with everyone in tuxes and cocktail dresses with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Lenny Bruce as guests.

If you haven’t watched an episode, I encourage you to do so. It is a snippet of what we used to be. A little more fun loving, more open about the topics of the day, able to laugh at ourselves, and find commonality rather than division.

Now, I’m smart enough to know that this is a TV show. But still, you have to admire a show where Rex Reed and Patty Duke are talking about independent films and nudity on Broadway. Then the show cuts to Doug Kershaw who does a couple of Cajun tunes, playing his fiddle in ways I didn’t know were possible. True to form, he’s in a velvet suit with a ruffled shirt and barefoot. Cut to Sammy Davis Jr. who belts out a couple of his latest hits by the piano, all the while admonishing Bill Cosby to step back further and further as he plays maracas poorly.

Where does all this lead? First, in a time when races were not mixed, certainly on TV, the party guests are from all walks of life. Again, I get it’s TV and some of these folks are atmosphere, but showing a wide swath of hipsters was pretty wonderful to see, especially since the magazine itself during this time didn’t yet feature any nudes who weren’t white.

Stay with me. This is not about Playboy. It’s about society then. A little more congenial, a little more sophisticated, a lot more respectful. We hadn’t yet endured Nixon and Watergate. We hadn’t become so jaded in the way we viewed life. Better days were ahead and people believed it.

I speak with some authority on this since I was growing up during this time. Generations now would be aghast to think it was even possible to walk to school without being abducted, or go to school and never having to worry about some sick bastard shooting the place up with an AR-15. Parents were stern, but they also loved to party. I can’t count the number of cocktail parties my parents hosted in our house growing up. They were always celebrating something. And they looked a lot like those Hef was throwing.

This isn’t to say there weren’t problems. I can still see my mom’s face, filled with tears when JFK was assassinated. I remember the day Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were killed. I remember visiting my oldest brother at Madigan Hospital where he showed me his wounds, fighting a war in Southeast Asia that seemed to have no purpose – or end. But he went anyway, voluntarily, because it’s what you did as an American. It was the price of freedom.

I can’t imagine how our own children view the world we live in today. All the vitriol, the raw hatred, the religious zealotry that could possibly put a convicted criminal in the White House. The constant vigilance needed to be sure you’re not a victim of road rage or having to deal with an ever-crazier climate that was set on this path of destruction by their ancestors.

Yet, I still see the world as a glass half full. It was probably three-quarters full when I was younger. But my mother drank Spanada, so I had to deduct a quarter of the glass for poor taste.

The world we choose to live in is entirely our choice. Those snippets of life in the 60s when Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald belted out the hits and 9/11 was not even something we could conjure up in our worst nightmares, tell us something about those choices.

Sure, we can slip down the slippery slope of growing farther apart, being consumed by hatred, suspecting everyone around us, and cutting off someone in traffic so we can feel, at least momentarily, that we are in control of our life.

But we can all choose a different path individually. We can choose to be kinder to one another. We can learn to laugh at ourselves and at life’s foibles. We can forgive ourselves for not being PC all the time and try better the next time, if we find that important, and we can stop looking for ways to be different and realize that we all share this same rock. No one but Elon Musk is getting off it. So we might as well make the best of it; religious, race, political, and lifestyle choices be damned.

Time is perilously short. A lifetime goes by in a blink. And before we know it, we end up looking back at our choices. We can choose to hold onto the regret of our bad ones and long to hold onto the good ones. But the funny thing about choices. You don’t know how they will turn out. All you can do is try to make the best choice you can and hope for the best.

So next time you’re out and about, think about creating a more civil world. Hold a door open for another, let someone else go ahead of you in the line, pay for the meal of those in the car behind you. Remember to say please and thank you. And if you cut someone off, wave your hand to show you’re sorry instead of flipping them off.

We all learned in school the basic principle that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. We are jointly creating the world by our choices – our reaction to the actions of others. We still have time to make better choices, ones that can make the world a better place instead of one that no one wants to live in.

Somewhere north of the Emerald City, groovin’ on some Frank and Ella,

  • Robb