You ever try to explain a rotary phone to your kids? The whole circle of numbers with this plastic Frisbee with holes in it thing? You put your finger in the number hole and you whip the little Frisbee around until your finger hits the metal stopper and then you let it spin back the other way.
And your kids are just looking at you like you’d completely lost your train of thought while trying to describe a phone because what you just described, man, that’s not a phone. That’s a carnival.
Remember those moments on those rotary phones when you had to dial fast? You couldn’t! Like if a swamp monster was trying to break in through the window and you had to call the police, there was no way to speed up the rotary. Why didn’t they make 911 just 000 so it was super quick? You could zip through those zeros! But you gotta dial that 9 and it takes forever to let the 9 spin all the way back around and you’re like “Come on, come on!!” And you can’t even run to a different room because the receiver is connected to the phony by that squiggly cord.
Anyway, here’s why I was thinking about this:
I was setting the clock on our coffee pot the other day and didn’t have my phone with me, and was wondering what the exact time was. And I remembered being a kid and using one of those old rotary phones to call that robot woman to tell me the time.
Remember that robot woman?
And that got me thinking about how when I used to go to Ireland every summer with my dad, my mom would send me letters in which she would include newspaper clippings of the baseball standings so I could see how the Mets were doing.
And so on.
I guess my question is this: Why do we have such fond memories of things like that? All of them are fundamentally less convenient.
But perhaps the oddest example of nostalgia is the pining for a thousand years ago, before modern medicine and toilets. That is not something anyone should pine for. But apparently we do because there’s a restaurant and show thing called Medieval Times. And we took the kids.
It wasn’t something we had planned out. But it was President’s Day and we had the day off and it was one of those things where we were trying to keep the kids entertained.
(And seriously, Presidents Day?? I don’t want to come off as unpatriotic but what are we doing using a bank holiday to celebrate our presidents? Were they previously overlooked and in need of special recognition? I’m as big a George Washington fan as anyone, but I feel like he’s gotten his due considering we’ve already named after him 56 towns, 12 colleges, and a multitude of parks, forts and lakes. And also a bridge and an entire state and 4 mountains. We can’t have a day off to celebrate single moms? I say we change the name of every river in America and name them all after single moms. I’m serious. Right now the biggest rivers are all named after states. Hey, Ohio River – guess what? Now you’re Janet River. Boom. Don’t @ me, #Buckeyes.)
Okay, back to Medieval Times.
So if you haven’t been to Medieval Times, lemme tell you – it’s all kinds of crazy. We walked in and they put the crowns on our heads. I caught Liz’s raised eyebrow as they explained to the kids which part of the kingdom we would be representing, but because she’s Lizzie, as soon as the kids turned to her, all excited, she got totally into it. That’s what moms do.
Here’s how it works:
They put you in one of six sections surrounding this horse arena and you cheer for the knight representing that section. These knights come out, and there’s this queen, and they’re saying all this stuff. Acting and whatnot.
And meanwhile, they just start bringing you food.
Which is sort of the best part for the kids because there’s no utensils so you just sort of slurp everything up. (When she was young Lucy used to say “slurfing” which is much better.) They give you a half a chicken. Literally one half of a chicken. Now, at home, Lucy will maybe eat a tiny bite of chicken when I prepare some delicious herb-crusted chicken breast. But slap a half a chicken on her plate and take away a knife and fork? She’s whooping it up, slurfing it down and waving a chicken leg around like she’s trying to sell Enron shares on the floor of the stock exchange.
It’s nonstop entertainment.
There’s a lot of talk between the queen and these two other guys – the handsome fellow and the older weasly guy. And there’s a lot of talk about how people are doing stuff for their honor or her honor or the honor of their people. (Which I don’t think I totally understood but I never wanted to ask what that meant exactly because that would have outed me as somebody that had no honor.)
It starts off pretty awesome, with them doing these tests of skill, riding these horses around. Then there’s more banter and a general storyline that I didn’t totally follow but who cares because here’s the thing:
At the end the knights actually started jousting.
Like, literally jousting. Running at each other on horses holding massive javelins.
Lemme tell you something – it’s one thing to see it in a movie. But it’s pretty intense when it’s happening inside your restaurant.
And I think after the jousting we all would have been good with that and went home happy.
Except then the knight that won off jumped off his horse and they started fighting with swords or battle axes or whatever.
Then one beats the other and holds the sword over him and looks up at the queen perched on her balcony. Then the queen declares to the crowd “Shall they fight…to the death??”
And the crowd erupts with a “YES!” except for the Grennan family, and we’re all shouting “NO!” because isn’t that the right answer??? Have we all gone insane??
Luckily the queen – unlike our fellow Medieval Times patrons – had mercy and decided they weren’t going to kill each other and that the dishonor was punishment enough. (Again with the honor. You get knocked off your horse because the other guy had a javelin and that means you lose your honor? I don’t get it.)
So the kids loved it.
Here’s the point about it, though.
We love that we experienced the most sanitized version of 11th century Spain imaginable. We ate chicken with our hands and watched dudes pretend to fight.
Maybe that’s the key to nostalgia. You take a moment that reminds you of something wonderful, like being a kid and using the rotary phone because it made you feel like a grownup without all of the grownup responsibilities. And the inconvenience falls away and you’re left with something beautiful.
Like getting to eat with your hands without worrying you were going to catch the black death.
Maybe nostalgia makes us feel protected. Maybe it scrapes away bad memories and leaves us with the only the good. And maybe I sort of love that idea.