My wife’s uncle said he had some old pictures of Minneapolis, taken in the early 1980s for a promotional effort. Would I like them? Oh, my, yes! Bring ’em over when you come for Memorial Day.
He brought two boxes. They weigh 95 pounds.
Let me back up a bit. You know that vinyl records are hot and hip, right? Right. It’s fun to get a turntable, haunt the thrift stores for some vintage LPs (“Cha-Cha to the Moon,” “Jack Jordon and his Five Jacks” or “Vaguely Parisian Songs” by Jordon Jacques) and play them for friends some night while you’re having Old-Fashioneds and wishing “Mad Men” was still on.
It’s a form of cultural dress-up, and if the end result is appreciation for the middlebrow hi-fi pleasures of the mid-century era, I’m all for it. People laugh when I say I have the complete works of the Jackie Gleason Orchestra — until they hear it. Suddenly you want to be wearing nice clothes, smoking, and half in the bag, because it seems like the epitome of adulthood.
Instant cameras are popular again, too, because they bring back a relaxed, carefree time when instant gratification took a minute. My daughter was interested in the medium for a while, and I felt compelled to give a history lesson. “You know why we had film that developed right away? Because we thought the Soviets would nuke us at any minute. You send them to the drugstore for developing, you might never get them.”
I applaud the real-photo movement. Kids spend untold hours swapping pictures on Snapchat; their entire life is documented to a degree previously lavished on heads of state, and they don’t save any of it. I think the sole evidence of my existence in 1964 is a picture of me holding a dead pheasant by the neck.
Unless, of course, you count the slides.
Are slide projectors the next old tech to find a new home with the vintage enthusiasts? Will this be the next trend you’ll read about here, as people in their early 30s hold “Carousel Parties,” where they sit around in dark rooms while someone splashes Kodachromes up on a screen? I can write the obligatory feature story before it happens:
“We fell in love with slides because there was something so discrete and self-contained about the little things,” said Amanda Huntley-Brinkley, who also hosts a monthly Tupperware party for like-minded people who play-act bygone social situations to plug the gap previously filled by church and bowling. “Unlike today’s pictures, which are virtual, plentiful, sharp and easily shared, slides capture a single moment that’s not only overexposed half of the time but frequently upside down.”
Trust me, it’ll happen. Once the trend moves beyond a friend of a writer for the New York Times style section, people will swarm Goodwill stores, looking for old slide projectors. They’ll be out of luck. Those things are long gone. When the kids cleaned out the parents’ house, they may have dropped them off at the Goodwill, but there’s probably a picture in the warehouse that instructs the staff to smash them with hammers as soon as possible. Because everyone hates slides.
No, amend that. We like the idea of slides, if we grew up with them. Looking at slides was an event. Dad had to get out the screen, a strange shivering silvery sheet that glistened as if it was made of a million diamond shards; it shusssshed when he pulled it out, as if telling everyone to pay attention. The slide projector had its own aroma — hot dust, I suppose. We had a manual unit that required each slide to be loaded individually; not for us the Rockefeller extravagance of a carousel. Slides came out when company came over. TV dinner trays were set up; ashtrays for the aunts and uncles; a round of Hamm’s or creme de menthe, and then shots from the picnic or the hunting trip.
(Somewhere in Fargo right now my dad is reading and thinking, “We did that maybe twice.”)
It’s a good memory, but it was a bad medium. Slides locked up the pictures in tiny white squares, and you needed all this effort to see them. It was a foretaste of the format wars to come: To this day, kids who grew up in the VHS era are left with boxes of unlabeled tapes, thinking “I should do something with these,” and nothing is done. Same with 8mm tapes in the ’90s. I made a point of transferring everything to digital years ago, so I am not haunted by the thought that my daughter’s childhood is degrading under the basement steps. Transfer it all to the cloud, and it’s safe as long as Amazon’s in business. Which will always be the case, right?
What do you mean, where’s the nearest Woolworth’s?
Anyway. Uncle-in-law’s boxes, all 95 pounds, consisted of three carousels of slides — a total of 250 pictures — and a state-of-the-art, commercial-grade slide projector the size of a dorm-room fridge. The manual is 60 pages. The last time it was turned on, Walter Mondale was telling himself “Well, at least I carried Minnesota tonight.” It has a cassette player, so you can play music and narration while the pictures flash in a dark room full of Realtors with wide ties who would rather be anywhere else. I’d put it on eBay but the listing would be “$4.99 or best offer. Shipping, $156.”
The slides? Off to the place that scans them for two-bits a throw. I’ve been meaning to do that, because I have all the slides from childhood, and for years all I’ve been able to do is hold them up to the light and see the tiny dim pictures of Mom and Dad in our turquoise rambler. Now I want to get one of those devices that lets you project your smartphone pictures onto big blank surfaces, so I can re-create the slide-show experience without any setup.
I hope it makes a clunk-clunk sound. There won’t be the smell of burning dust and Winstons, but that’s OK. Now and then for added realism I’ll turn the phone upside down so the picture’s inverted, and everyone can laugh.
Everyone always laughed when that happened.