During the early 1970’s, America was standing on the verge of the end of the world as we had known it. The 1960’s had been a decade of great turmoil, a mix of social progress and social upheaval, a mix of war and prosperity. The U.S. tried to simultaneously fight the War on Poverty, and the War in Vietnam, and the rush to get to the moon. All the while, the stage was being set for the tremendous changes that have followed. The coming of the end.
In 1973, TV was saturated with commercials for Mr. Coffee, commercials that featured Joe Dimaggio in the role of product pitchman. Most people seemed to take this new development in stride, but I knew instinctively that if Joltin’ Joe could do such a thing it meant that every single fucking thing in the world had been altered completely. The world as we had known it was gone.
I was too young to see Joe Dimaggio’s baseball career first hand, but you could not escape his importance to the culture of the 50’s and 60’s. There was the marriage to Marilyn Monroe, for one thing. My family regularly ate at his up-scale Italian restaurant in Flushing, Queens. He was a tremendously dignified man, tall, handsome and highly intelligent. I actually had him in my taxi one time, around the time of the Mr. Coffee ads. I never mentioned Mr. Coffee, of course. I drove him from JFK to the Delmonico Hotel on Park Avenue. He was quiet, he just stared out the window for most of the ride. He did ask me about the weather, but no conversation developed. I liked Joe, and I respected his dignified solitude, which you could cut with a knife.
In the years since the early 70’s we have seen the destruction of much of what was good and holy in American life. The exponential rise in productivity has benefited only the tenth-of-one-percent; the unions have been destroyed and with them most of the working class; we have increasing debt-slavery; the middle class has been demoralized and largely impoverished; probable cause and due process rights have been destroyed; and forget the old fashioned covenant of good faith and fair dealing in business and politics. The death of everything.
It didn’t start with Joe and the Mr. Coffee gig. Joe was just the wakeup call that something had happened while we weren’t looking. The “wake up and smell the coffee” moment. Maybe it was not obvious, but I think it was impossible not to become suspicious. Joe D., the very personification of old school grace and charm, hawking a cheap coffee maker. What’s wrong with this picture?
I’d never suggest that the old world was a perfect place, but it did have a lot going for it. There were progressive tax policies, policies that favored the middle class over moneyed interests. Civil rights were on the upswing, although still under great stress. Personal freedoms in the due process area were expanding. And, as weird as it may sound now, the two major political parties could still work together and compromise when the needs of the country called for it.
Something had happened at about the time that JFK was murdered, and within ten years it had been cut in stone. After that the dominoes really started to fall. Joe Dimaggio and the Mr. Coffee thing were the headlights on the highway. That was a turning point. Since then the truck has run all of our sorry asses over.