Friday, August 9, 2019
It wasn't entirely bad. I made a friend at my new place of employment, a girl my age who actually knew how to navigate the world. She had a VW ~ not a bug, but some kind of passenger vehicle ~ a Golf maybe. I think it was yellow. Not that we drove much. Alice Two had an apartment about two blocks from the State Capitol where we worked, so we'd clomp down the sidewalk at lunchtime in our platform shoes to her place and she'd heat up a can of SpaghettiOs. I convinced myself I was sophisticated. I was an eighteen-year-old rube.
I can't even begin to describe the depths of my naivete. Even though my mom and dad were not model parents, I leaned on them as much as I could and allowed them to care for my needs, which essentially consisted of food and transport. It was a confusing time of transition. My best friend since sixth grade, Alice One, and I had begun to drift apart, despite my struggle to hang on. I desperately needed to maintain the mirage of normalcy, but nobody cooperated. It was almost as if I was being elbowed into maturity.
I was still living at home and not contributing any of my paycheck towards shelter, so I bought clothes and records. I obtained a JC Penney charge card (my very first!) that had a $75.00 credit limit and I ordered items from the catalog, took them home and tried them on; then returned most of them. It was, I guess, a semblance of the "grown-up game". JC Penney, in fact, was the go-to store in town. It had clothes and shoes and a basement full of record albums. Montgomery Ward and Sears were a bit more low-rent. There was also a local discount department store called Tempo, which was definitely inexpensive and definitely shoddy. Its tissue paper clothing almost disintegrated before my eyes as I lifted it from the shelf.
I had a boyfriend I tolerated, just so I could say I had one. I wasn't sophisticated like Alice Two, who had boys practically breaking down her apartment door, but then again, she did have her own apartment and I had a bedroom in my parents' house. My boyfriend wanted to get married, so I said okay. I was eighteen, after all ~ practically an old maid ~ and this might be my only chance.
My position with the State Health Department was called Clerk Typist II. The "II" was very important to me, because I was at least better than a "I", although the cache was imaginary. I began by typing up birth certificates for walk-in customers on an IBM Selectric; then toddling back to my director's office so she could emboss her official stamp on them. Sometimes the clients would want something that was stuffed inside a dusty file drawer in the back room, so I retrieved that. I must have either been a good retriever or a typist who employed Liquid Paper sparingly, because soon I was singled out to join a new project along with Alice Two; a vast undertaking to commit to microfilm every birth, death, and marriage certificate in the state of North Dakota from the beginning of time. It certainly sounded auspicious, but it quickly became as dull as dirt.
Alice Two and I and our new supervisor were cloistered inside a smoky back office, where we employed number two pencils to trace over the faded typeset (and in some cases, handwriting) of each document bound inside powdery albums dating back to 1889. Then we took turns inside the curtained microfilm booth sliding said records under the camera eye and clicking a button, over and over and nauseatingly over. It was scintillating work for a girl still in her teens. Worse, everyone else in the department grew to hate us, because we closed the office door behind us and smoked our guts out; carcinogens wafting out from beneath the door jamb.
We did have an AM radio for consolation and it buzzed out tunes all day long. 1974 was an odd year in music. There were breathtaking songs and then there were novelties. There were also tracks that were somehow taken seriously, but were actually revolting. In fact, 1974 most likely racked up some of the worst songs ever recorded.
I'll begin with the intentional novelties:
Then the unintentional:
It was AM radio ~ they weren't playing Led Zeppelin.
Not exactly sure what this was:
Don't care ~ I like this ~ and yes, it's strange;
The radio even played songs my little sister liked:
Ringo was trying to be relevant:
Then there were the good songs:
This one goes out to my little brother:
These are for me:
And most especially this:
Things did not end well in that little smoky back office. Alice Two's and my supervisor, an old married lady around age 26, insinuated herself into our friendship, desperate to regain her lost youth. As inevitably happens among a party of three, Linda did all she could to rupture Alice's and my bond. Fortunately for me, she focused her energies on Alice, setting up hapless blind dates and couples nights out. Alice was the cool one, after all. That experiment ended abruptly the night Linda's husband came a'knockin' on Alice's apartment door. While the whole imbroglio was never mentioned (expect in a whisper to me), the oxygen became heavy soon after. Linda turned brittle toward us. The AM radio was suddenly switched off. The three of us scribbled in silence.
Alice eventually met the man she would marry and we served as bridesmaids at each other's weddings.
And we simultaneously quit our jobs, leaving bitter Linda to sort out her life and find two new rubes to intimidate.
The joys of one's first job ~ little life lessons, even if we are merely innocent bystanders. We learn about allegiances and how much we're willing to assert them. And what the stakes are either way. Earning minimum wage helps in our decision making. I chose friendship over a job I didn't even actually like.
Nevertheless, for a time in 1974 we had the radio.
Saturday, November 3, 2018
Hindsight is essentially useless, other than reminding us that we're (unfortunately) human, and therefore dumb.
In 1974 I was nineteen and ignorantly immature. In hindsight (see?) I realize just how green I really was. I, for instance, had no business pretending to be an adult. Society, however, deemed that a girl needed to be married by at least age nineteen or twenty. Every girl didn't do that, but most of us did. Our life's goal was to become betrothed. I remember when I told my parents that I was engaged, they were delighted. They almost clapped their hands together in glee, and muttered under their breath, "It's about time." I was still a few months shy of nineteen. My concept of marriage was having a sofa and a TV, and maybe a microwave oven. Life wouldn't change much, except that I could escape home. Truly, my primary motivation was escaping, as if that would make life better. Living a dysfunctional existence no doubt played a role. I had to get away from the craziness I'd lived with for the past seven or eight years. I was desperate. Additionally, my self-esteem was so minuscule that I couldn't pass up the only chance I'd ever have to snag a husband. (Happy ending: both of us have since found our true soulmates.)
I now think a good age to marry would be thirty ~ young enough to still have children; mature enough to know oneself.
I had a "starter" job ~ I could definitely type, so what better fit than a job as a clerk-typist? Living in the state capitol opened up a plethora of possibilities. There was never a dearth of job openings. One only needed to pass a test in order to qualify. The exam consisted of alphabetizing and vocabulary...and typing. All things that were well within in my wheelhouse. I didn't care or know how much I was getting paid for my position within the State Health Department. I did notice that my paycheck seemed to deduct a bunch of dollars for this and that; something called "Social Security" and other things I didn't understand, but that was neither here nor there. Shoot, I was still living at home, which was free, so all I needed was some clothes and new records.
All I knew about "credit" was my JC Penney charge card. Securing a place to live, in anticipation of my marriage, was contingent on what I liked; cost be damned. Payments? No problem. We perused the mobile homes on the sales lot. I was particularly enamored by the one with the black-and-white geometric kitchen linoleum and the harvest gold appliances. That's the one we got. Our mortgage, with zero down payment, figured out to be $149.00 a month. Everything else we came to own was secured through wedding gifts and hand-me-downs, including my console stereo. I did bring to the marriage a transistor radio.
I certainly didn't know how to cook, and was offended by the unreasonable expectation that I should. It was only after a fortnight of Kraft macaroni and cheese that I was informed a dinner of boxed dinners and toast would not suffice. I subsequently purchased the Betty Crocker cookbook, in a show of "cooperation". Thus began my too-brief immersion in cooking.
I soon quit my State job ~ I didn't even last there a full year. There was something (okay, someone) I didn't like. My pay was so low, one job was indistinguishable from another. Unfortunately, interviewing petrified me, so I nestled back in the bosom of my parents. They let me work for them again, not that I actually asked. I believe I just announced it. I panicked when faced with a new environment; I tended to not even give it a middling chance. Home was home. I knew the lay of the land, the arrangement of the furniture. I'd checked guests into our motel from the time I was far too young to be manning a cash register. Plus there was a lot of down time. I could read magazines, snatched from the rack. Mom had a fully-stocked refrigerator and I helped myself when I was hungry. And the motel office had a TV. It was like leisure time occasionally interrupted by work. I'd get up early, 5:30-ish, throw on some jeans, and scoot my blue '66 Chevy Impala across the Memorial Bridge, with nary another vehicle crossing my sight line. And back home by 2:30 in the afternoon, just in time for a nap.
Life, to me, at nineteen, still consisted of music. Music was number one, and if my new husband didn't get it, then that was unfortunate. I was more bonded to my little sister than I was to my husband, because she, at least, "got it".
I'd been a country music gal for so long, it was embedded in my bone marrow, but strangely, the songs I remember from 1974 are firmly Top Forty. One's exposure to music consisted of AM radio and television. There were still enough variety shows on TV that musical guests were de rigeur. I would sit through interminable comedy skits simply to see the hokey setup the show's producer had envisioned for the night's rock act, because he didn't trust that people would actually enjoy the music. Twenty-three minutes of torture simply to catch a two-and-a-half minute song. Truly, network television was awful. I guess people watched because they had no other choice but the Big Three, and the cathode rays hypnotized them.
There were tons of one-hit wonders in the seventies, and more power to them. Don't knock one-hit wonders. Do you think, I really enjoy the Dave Matthews catalog, or do you surreptitiously boogie out to the Hues Corporation?
I know what I do:
This was one of my little brother's favorites:
Some new girl singer, who'd, I guess, go on to make a movie, appeared on the scene in '74. She had a hyphenated name and was Australian, which was odd, because I only thought Americans made music:
A song that will always scream "tornado!" to me (but that's a story for another time) was a hit in 1974:
Paper Lace had a big hit (and I didn't know there wasn't an east side of Chicago ~ geography was not my strong suit):
The biggest phenomenon of 1974 was ABBA; no question. '74 will always shout ABBA.
'74 was a watershed year for me. Maybe it's because I was nineteen, embarking on adulthood. I'm not sure. I could include twenty more songs from that year. These will suffice. For now.
These tracks take me back to that black tile and to a time of utter obliviousness.
We all have to grow up. I think it just took me longer than most.
Friday, August 31, 2018
And truth be told, Alice and I stopped being friends around the time we turned twenty-one. We had wildly divergent lives -- I became a new mom and she was single and singing in a band. I was searingly hurt when I called her and wanted to drive over with my newborn son to visit and she responded indifferently. I never did go. That was the last conversation she and I ever had.
Once my kids were older and my then-husband and I escaped for an occasional night out, we'd sometimes patronize the club where Alice and her band played every weekend, and we'd ease into a table next to the one where the band took their breaks, but she and I never even acknowledged one another. If I had been older and wiser, I would have made the effort to at least walk over and make superficial conversation, but I waited for her to make the first move. She never did. Hurt feelings; hurt pride; confusion -- she and I had once been as close as two humans could be, and now we were strangers.
Several years later, my son called to tell me Alice had died, and I mourned silently -- I guess mostly for the times that could never be relived. I frankly didn't know her; I'd stopped knowing her in 1974. That didn't erase the eons when her friendship had buoyed me through the hell I was living at home; the afternoons she spent in my dank bedroom teaching me how to play guitar; the giggling inside jokes we'd shared.
I never again had a best friend.
When I secured my first "real" job in 1973, I made another friend. Her name was -- Alice.
The truth was, Alice and I most likely became friends because we were thrown together, but I liked her, despite (or because of) her crazy life. I lived vicariously through her adventures. Alice had come from a small town of approximately 600 souls, but apparently very enlightened souls. She was a mid-twentieth century girl living a twenty-first century life. Alice was tall and willowy and apparently exuded a scent that attracted all manner of male persons; elderly, teen-aged, and in between; and she reveled in it. When I met Alice's mom, I was shocked to encounter a tiny immigrant lady who struggled with the English language and who steamed up a batch of Borscht soup and delivered it in a Tupperware container to her daughter's flat. I liked Alice because she tossed off testosterone-stoked attention matter-of-factly, and she was funny, self-deprecating, and guileless. Alice was confident in her identity. I, on the other hand, was still straining to figure out who I was supposed to be.
Alice and I dwelled in an office in the rear of the State Health Department, along with a hard-bitten bleached-blonde supervisor we quickly came to hate. It didn't help matters that our supervisor's husband, like every other man on the planet, magically fell under Alice's spell and showed up unannounced at her apartment door one evening. The ensuing fallout was awkward. Not for me, of course. I frolicked in the tabloid headlines. But that tiny back room became perilous, with glinting knives whooshing too close to my jugular for comfort.
Meanwhile, the desktop transistor innocently played.
Unfortunately, no live Grand Funksters to be found, but still...
This guy was unusual, but intriguing, and a helluva singer. Fortunately, this track is a bit more memorable than "The Streak":
Maria Muldaur, I don't think, ever had another hit, but this was huge in 1974, although I didn't have a camel to send to bed. I didn't even have a dog:
I tried to convince Alice, once she finally found "the one", after rabid experimentation, that she should feature this song in her wedding. She declined. I still think I'm right:
Upon first hearing this next track, I was perplexed, yet intrigued. This was an old BJ Thomas song, but BJ wouldn't have thought to do an "ooga-chalk-a" intro, I'm pretty sure. Weird songs were de rigeur in 1974. Jim Stafford was big (whatever happened to him?) with Spiders and Snakes, and especially "My Girl Bill". Paper Lace invented the "east side of Chicago". My tween-aged sister's music came into being, with "Beach Baby" and "Billy, Don't Be A Hero". My little brother was enamored by "Smokin' In The Boy's Room". Some blonde-headed geek had sunshine on his shoulder. One of the all-time worst recordings in history, "Havin' My Baby", somehow became a hit. Wings became huge.
In the meantime:
Carly and James were still married, and National Lampoon's Vacation not withstanding, everyone liked this:
The Hues Corporation, which was a poorly-conceived name for a band, had a big hit:
There was a hit that I never really appreciated until years later, by a guy who knew how to write a killer song.
My favorite songs from 1974:
But the absolute most memorable to me was this next song, which I tormented Alice with as I sang along to the radio. I suppose I thought I was being cute, and maybe my judgmental side slipped out. My crooning never failed to elicit an exasperated response.
Alice had a little walk-up apartment two blocks from the State Capitol, and every day at noon, the two of us would ride the elevator down from the eighteenth floor and click along the street in our polyester mini-dresses and high heels to enjoy a lunch of SpaghettiO's heated in an aluminum pan on her gas stove. I never once thought to volunteer the fifty-nine cents to cover the cost of our little meal. I was a rube.
My stint at the State Health Department was my first real job. It ended badly, but in the grand scheme of life, it mattered little, except for the memories it created.
Alice and I remained friends for a while. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, as I was in hers. We bore sons at roughly the same time. She and her husband eventually moved to a little town where they purchased an auto body shop. She began selling Avon products. I visited...once. Alice was fun and upbeat. I felt happy being around her. I envied her. I guess I always had.
At eighteen or nineteen, one's life experiences are seared into their brain. We have so much empty brain matter, I'm guessing, that everything -- music, little day-to-day trifles -- assume vast importance.
Thus, many decades later, I wrote a song to try to capture that time.
I'll admit, I Googled Alice, just to know what had become of her. I found her, but I wouldn't ever try to contact her, because she probably doesn't even remember me, and that would be embarrassing and humbling. Some memories should remain just that -- memories.
That hardly negates them, though.
Friday, December 15, 2017
I was thinking about work tonight, which is not like me. When I leave my workplace on Friday afternoon, bye-bye! One needs to maintain a separation between work life and actual life. I know people who live for their jobs. That used to be me, but I'm older and much wiser now.
I got my first real job in 1973; and by real job, I mean one in which I didn't report to my parents. As a newly-minted high school graduate, with no idea why I would want to attend college, I realized that I needed to put my two years of typing class to use. I'd also taken two years of shorthand, but you know what? Nobody in the course of history has ever employed shorthand in an actual job. Shorthand was a scam, but I prefer to call it a "lost art", because it sounds mystic.
Living in the capitol city of my state, government jobs flowed like water. Luckily for me. I landed a job as a Clerk Typist I in the State Health Department, Division of Vital Statistics. The office housed all the birth, death, and marriage records from the early days of Dakota Territory to the present day. Of course, the first thing I did when I had the chance was scan the shelves to find my own birth certificate, and then my dad's. Then I located my mom and dad's marriage document. None of those records contained anything eye-opening. But, after all, who wouldn't have looked? There were rack upon rack of big dusty books in the bowels of the Vital Statistics office.
Folks would pop in from time to time, ride the elevator (that had its own valet) up to the seventeenth floor, fill out a form and leave with a certified copy of their record of birth. I typed up my own copy for myself; made myself three years older than I actually was, so I could go to bars and not get kicked out. (Is it okay to admit that now? I'm thinking after forty-four years, the statute of limitations has run out.)
After a few months of manning the front desk and trying to look busy during the quiet times, I was chosen to be part of a new (exciting!) project. The big dusty books had to go -- we were now going to microfilm all the ancient reposing records. Microfilm. Much like shorthand, microfilm is a remnant of a bygone era. A microfilm machine was a big camera that one slid papers under and pressed a round red button. Oh, but I bet everyone else in the office was keenly jealous! Who wouldn't be?
As an eighteen-year-old, I didn't fully understand the solemnity of my charge. We were a three-woman team -- our new supervisor and a girl named Alice and me. We had an office in the back with a door that we closed behind us. We sat at two desks -- one for the supe and one for Alice and me. And we lugged those powdery books from the shelves in the catacombs of the warehouse back to our little cubby and traced with pencil over the ancient typing that had turned faint from decades of being encased between stiff binders. Ahh, the glamour! Then each of us would take a turn behind the secret curtain and snap pictures for an hour. Over and over and over.
Do that for a day and you will never want to come back. Do it for a year and you will be tempted to hurl yourself out the seventeenth-story window.
Luckily, we had our radio. And cigarettes. It was a putrid, smoky closet that had nice tunes.
AM radio was our suicide repellent. It was all that saved us. KFYR featured all manner of songs; radio was not yet compartmentalized in 1973-74.
We heard songs like this:
That's when I realized Barbra Streisand was actually a really good singer.
Nadia's Theme, we knew, was the theme song for the Young And The Restless. You can call it what you want, but come on.
I wonder if they still use that theme song today. My soap days are long behind me, so I don't know. I suppose Katherine Chancellor is long gone. She'd be about a hundred and ten years old if she were still around.
I told Alice she should use this next song in her wedding. She demurred. I still feel I was right:
I liked this one. I knew BJ Thomas had done the original, but Blue Swede took it to a whole new level:
I guess the bandwagon was filled to the brim with old songs done in new ways:
I never lie on this blog, or try to recreate history. This was a big hit in 1974, and we liked it:
I'm somewhat proud to say that one of the two worst songs of all time was released in 1974. It's a minor conceit, admittedly, but I'm going to claim it:
No offense to my little sister, but these next two songs remind me of her. While I, at age eleven, was grooving to the Beatles, she was stuck with tracks like this:
I won't delineate here why this next song is, to me, synonymous with tornadoes. That's a whole different scary story, but here it is:
We didn't exactly think Jim Stafford was funny, per se, but he was odd. If I was of a mind to look him up, I'd probably find that he had some serious songs. To everyone's dismay, though, he will be remembered for stuff like this:
"Star Baby" was a revelation and taught me that Burton Cummings was a sex-drenched god. But the Guess Who chose to follow that hit up with this one. Nevertheless, we liked it:
There was also this new guy who popped up around 1974. He was British. He could sing. He could definitely sing. He liked feather boas and humongous eyeglasses.
But, boy, could he sing:
Yes, the tunes went on forever in that tiny, choke-filled room, and we tried to remember that there was actual breathing life somewhere far below the seventeenth floor.
This song was to me...in 1974...as I struggled to believe that blue sky existed somewhere...everything:
And yes, I wrote about that time. Of course.