The essayist Joseph Epstein is turning 80 years old and, naturally, wrote an essay about it. It has some wit, insight, and, of course, grumpiness. Some of the reflections are personal, while others generational.
My generation grew up with memories of the country’s one good war—World War II—hummed the sophisticated music of the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers and Hart, and Cole Porter, and found rock ‘n’ roll trivial, if not laughable. We learned about charm, our ideal of sophistication, and much else from the movies. We smoked cigarettes, drank Scotch and bourbon, and ordered dry martinis, went to work in suits, a small number of the men among us wore serious hats. We carried handkerchiefs. No one born after 1942, a contemporary of mine declared in a generalization that has held up nicely under my random sampling, carries a handkerchief. In the early 1970s, when I began teaching at a university, after the sixties had brought down the wall of formality, the first decision I faced was whether to teach in tie and jacket or jeans and open-collar shirt. I went for the tie and jacket; it felt more natural. Besides, by my thirties I owned no jeans.