Long Before Search Engines
By Larry Teren
The old-timer was sitting in the den with his twelve year old grandson. There was nothing good on television, so the kid was playing with his iphone. The old man tried to jump start a conversation.
Old Man: Whatcha doin?
Kid: Nothing much. Just playing around.
Old Man: (Chuckling to himself) Heh, heh. When I was a kid in the 1950’s and 60’s, Yahoo and Google meant something totally different to my fellow baby boomers.
OM: Yeah. Actually, Yahoo meant two things- that’s what a cowboy would yell when he got on a busting bronco and also what Johnathan Swift named a society of roughneck characters in Gulliver’s Travels. And Google was the last name of a popular cartoon character whose first name was Barney.
K: What is a bronco and what is a Johnathan Swift?
OM: No- You mean, WHO is a Johnathan Swift? He was a famous writer who lived in the late 1600’s and early 1700s and wrote a bunch of satire stories like Gulliver’s Travels.
K: Yeah, Gulliver’s Travels. There was a Jack Black movie on Netflix about it but I didn’t care.
OM: Hey, when I was a kid, every year the day after Thanksgiving, they would show this old cartoon movie version of Gulliver with these little people singing “Hi, ho, hi, ho- it’s off to work I go..” I always loved watching it because it was a long cartoon but it told a grown-up story.
(The kid stopped looking at the iphone and was now totally directing attention to his grandfather.)
OM: Now, Barney Google- the other thing I mentioned- was created as a comic strip in the 1920s- long before I was born- so watch what you say.
(The kid giggled)
It became so popular that a novelty song about him hit the top of the charts. This was before radio, I think, so it meant people were buying the song sheets at record stores and playing it on their Victrolas.
And don’t go asking me what a Victrola is. It’s a very old-fashioned record player. And don’t go asking me what a record player is, either.
(The kid giggled again)
Now, let’s see- where was I? Oh, yeah- a fellow by the name of Billy Rose was a song plugger in those days. A plugger was a guy who would work on behalf of song writers to get their music published. He did as some of the other agents did which was to change a couple of words to a song, get it published, taking partial credit of ownership. He would then collect a percentage of the royalties besides his commission. This jump started him into a fabulous but somewhat notorious career as a show business producer.
Going back to Jonathan Swift,- he was what we call a satirist like the type of comedy you see on Saturday Night Live. He also published a very far-out (we used to say that in the 60’s and 70’s – watch it- I mean, the 1960s and 70s) political pamphlet titled “A Modest Proposal”. He suggested that poor people sell their children to the rich as food so that the poor would have money to live in non-squalor conditions. Some people thought he was serious. They didn’t have the Comedy Channel in those days otherwise Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert would have had a field day with that story.
K: Yeah, I like Jon Stewart. He’s cool.
OM: He’s alright, I guess. Anyway, many baby boomers used to drink a popular chocolate drink sold in pop bottles called Yoohoo but for some reason it often got it mixed up with Yahoo. Still, the grocer always knew what we wanted. There was another popular carbonated beverage in those days called Mountain Dew. The commercial on tv was, “Ya-hoo, Mountain Dew!” The drink was sold in dark colored bottles and it was for a good reason. Once you poured it into a glass, you had to think twice about it.
OM: Well, because of the drink’s color. I guess that’s why most of the kids at my high school drank it right out of the bottle that came out of the vending machine. Back then, nobody thought about ecology and protecting the environment. Pop came in glass bottles back then but I don’t remember anyone ever dropping a bottle and shattering the glass.
Kid: Hey, grandpa?
Kid: Thanks for telling me about that. It was kind of interesting.
OM: But, I’m not finished.
Kid: But I gotta do something. Oh, and one thing.
Kid: What’s a baby boomer?