I’ve been stuck in the 1970s lately. Your parents had that orange couch, too, didn’t they?
I have no one in particular to whom I direct my sporadic prayers, but I do believe in sending positive vibes wrapped with a pastel bow to Valerie Harper. The uncontrollable giggle fits given to me by dear, sweet Miss Morgenstern have certified Rhoda (1974–1978) as solid, runaway in my household. I went on a few dates with a flight attendant who once had Ms. Harper on a trip of his, and I was fully prepared to marry this man purely because he had been in her presence. If life’s first goal is to take a trip to Minneapolis to kiss the Mary Tyler Moore statue (on a clean spot), the second is to kick off my campaign to erect a Valerie Harper statue somewhere in Manhattan.
Because of her new show with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda edged her way up towards the top of my queue, and along came Klute (1971) a few weeks ago. Although I’ve always liked Jane Fonda, I’m not planning to hang a framed picture of her any time soon, unless Lily and Dolly happen to be standing there with her, throwing dead bodies into the trunk of a car. That, I would hang proudly on any wall. As she’s never been one of my favorite actors, pangs of guilt never kept me awake at night over neglecting Ms. Fonda’s Oscar-winning performances (oh, it’s happened over others), but it was time. Except during a few scenes and monologues with her analyst that I found crept up on mesmerizing, my mind drifted without losing track of the story. Not the best; not the worst; but oh, the colors of the 70s; the clothes; the furniture; the hairstyles; the nonexistent body fat percentages . . . and of course; the movies. I thought Klute would have soothed the decade craving that plagued me, but it wasn’t enough. The color of my mood ring still matched nothing in my wardrobe.
I’ve been on countless dance floors in my day, but one I’ll never forget is the 1970s party given by one of the dirty ol’ co-ops back in college. I still reminisce with a good friend about the boisterous shenanigans that went on that evening, all without the druggie drugs of the honored decade. A pinch of vodka, perhaps, flowed through our veins, but we didn’t need much else. It’s fitting that this same friend and I bonded over the Tales of the City series 14 years later, as we walked together to our first Cher concert. When I’m bummed out on modern life in San Francisco and search for mementos of the fun that was once and still may be out there, I return to Tales. When I need the television equivalent of comfort food, I return to Tales. Perhaps not as light of a comfort food meal is the 30s of the 70s I find in Cabaret (1972). Respectful hats off, yes, to Ms. Fonda and her hair trendsetting prostitute in Klute, but she ain’t no Sally Bowles. When the world of film and television places the 1970s in another decade, it still feels like the 70s to me – the best and worst aspects are exaggerated for any period piece, and what can be more fun than a 70s soundtrack created in the 90s? Having read all of the Tales of the City books, some twice, often I turn to that delightful 1993 miniseries starring everyone’s favorite person on the planet, Olympia Dukakis. Not to mention the actor who plays the character of Michael Tolliver, my book husband, is a super-duper cutiepants whom I’ve never seen again. He’s ideal, my friends . . . the perfect onscreen one-night stand. Michael dutifully cleans his apartment while Bette Midler’s flawless version of “Am I Blue?” plays in the background. I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love, I feel love!
I’m convinced that this tidal craving all comes back to Soap (1977–1981). The television show emerged early in life as my primary happy place, defining not only experiences of love, family, and belonging through our nightly gatherings over Oreo ice cream, but also it set the standard that I still use to determine whether or not entertainment may be considered “quality.” Precious to many are those protected moments of childhood, a time when family surrounded us, and we had much more future than we had past. We knew everything that we needed to know, and we knew nothing of what we didn’t know yet. Soap was the family bible, and at that age, I had only one gash on my heart when a character died in season two. The 1970s of Soap bring back to the surface a time when no one had rejected me, no company had turned me down for a job, no nightclub made me feel like I wasn’t listed on the correct clipboard, and I was frightened of nothing. I could take to a ski slope brimming with confidence and absolutely no fear, knowing full well that the snow would catch and cushion and rock and soothe and love me if I fell.
The 1970s and their renditions, enhanced throughout my workday with a bit of “Stoney End” Barbra, sewed themselves together this week, forming a comfort quilt of dreadfully horrible colors, but comforting just the same. It involves some industrious searching to find the perfect combination of fabrics and Rhoda headscarves, but those quilts that eventually we sew for ourselves provide as much comfort as knowing that somewhere, out there in this confusing, overwhelming, frightening, sometimes lonely modern world stands a statue of Mary Tyler Moore with a clean spot waiting to be kissed. And just when we’re about to surrender and call off the search, remember the dance floors of days past and then throw an impromptu party in the kitchen. Mine looks something like this: