That ’70s Party

Later this month, Kish and I are going to a conference for work.  The organization sponsoring the conference is celebrating its 40th anniversary and decided to mark the occasion by having a party where everyone dresses up like people did in the year the organization was founded.

what-did-people-wear-in-the-70sIt’s a clever idea, but for those of you who are mathematically challenged, that means we’re supposed to party like it’s 1979.

This will be a tough challenge, because I don’t have any ’70s-style clothing.  In fact, it’s fair to say that I have tried to get as far away from ’70s garb, and ’70s hairstyles, as is humanly possible.  Having gone to high school and college in the ’70s, I enjoyed ’70s rock music then and still do, and I can definitely wax nostalgic about the shows and skits put on by the first cast of Saturday Night Live.  But the clothes and haircuts of that decade are another thing entirely.  Loud “leisure” suits, platform shoes, brightly colored, patterned polyester shirts that were manufactured without any breathing, natural fibers, monster bell bottoms with huge cuffs, enormous sideburns, and carefully combed hair helmets only begin to scratch the surface.

So don’t talk to me about “’70s style” — in reality, that’s a self-contradictory phrase.   From a physical appearance standpoint, the ’70s is undoubtedly the ugliest decade in American history, when the clothing and grooming industries pulled a fast one on the gullible citizens of this great nation, and I’ve consciously tried to put it out of my mind since the calendar page turned to January 1, 1980.

Kish and I have talked about where we might go to find ’70s clothes, but I’m afraid if we bought such items at a thrift store they might end up infecting the rest of the clothing in our closets.

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A New Take On An Old Favorite

One of the great things about the current American foodie culture is the willingness of young chefs to reimagine classic dishes in new ways with new ingredients. Hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs, chili, and macaroni and cheese — among countless other staples of the American diet — have been recreated in inventive and delicious ways.

So when we visited Ambrose and Eve for dinner last night and I saw Beefaroni on the menu — that’s right . . . Beefaroni! I to try it. Beefaroni, plopped out of the can with the smiling face of Chef Boy-ar-dee on the front, warmed on a saucepan on the stove, and served in a bowl with perhaps a sprinkling of Kraft grated Parmesan cheese on top, was a favorite food of my youth. With tiny, chewy logs of pasta, a curiously sweet tomato sauce, and miniscule shards of some kind of meat, all served piping hot, Beefaroni was a perfect, simple “stick to your ribs” meal. Plus, it had a great commercial featuring throngs of excited kids sprinting home for dinner while singing “we’re having Beefaroni, beef with macaroni. . . . ”

Our waiter described the Ambrose and Eve version as what Chef Boy-ar-dee might have come up with if he had gone to culinary school. After I got over the jarring concept that Chef Boy-ar-dee might not have gone to culinary school, notwithstanding the fact that he sported a chef’s hat and called himself a chef, I found the Ambrose and Eve version to be an excellent successor to this favorite of my youth. It featured excellent rigatoni rather than doughy pasta logs, a very delicate sauce that was chock full of finely minced beef, and a generous topping of Parmesan cheese that promptly melted into the sauce. My only complaint was that it was served with a fork rather than a spoon, which I could have used to more effectively scrape the sides of the bowl in order to consume every scrap.

When we left the restaurant, I half expected to see the kids from the ’60s commercial running toward the restaurant, and I found myself wondering when a brave foodie chef is going to tackle coming up with a modern version of Whip ‘n Chill.

A Taste of Grilling History

Memorial Day is probably more identified with outdoor grilling than any other day on the modern American calendar.  So . . . exactly when and how did Americans become so enamored with outdoor cooking, anyway?

weber1aOf course, humans have been cooking outdoors since the discovery of fire by our primitive ancestors tens of thousands of years ago, before the dawn of recorded history.  But in the ensuing millennia, outdoor cooking didn’t advance much beyond the basics of skewering a piece of meat on a metal spit and turning it over flames or coals until the fat dripped off — which wasn’t exactly well-suited to people cooking for their families.

Charcoal has been made since the early days of human civilization, and had been used for smelting, blacksmithing, and other industrial processes.  After the individual charcoal briquet was invented in the 1890s, people tried cooking outside on various flimsy devices, but the traditional problems that are familiar to any outdoor cook — food that is burnt on the outside and undercooked on the inside, thanks to poor temperature control — was a constant problem, and as a result outdoor cooking remained unpopular.

In 1952, George Stephen, a welder at the Weber Brothers Metal Works in Chicago, came up with the idea for the first modern outdoor grille.  Apparently inspired by marine buoys, he devised a sturdy, stand-alone kettle grille with a lid for temperature control.  Later, the Weber grille design with the familiar dome was introduced, and the gas grill was invented in 1954.  Those inventions coincided with the development of the American suburb, the Baby Boom, and the rapidly growing American economy in the years after World War II and the Korean War, and soon every American household had its own outdoor grill on the patio of their suburban home.  It was just natural that the first big grilling weekend would be the Memorial Day weekend, when the improving weather marked the start of the outdoor grilling months.

Any kid who grew up in the ‘burbs in the ’50s or ’60s remembers sitting at a picnic table eating cheeseburgers and hot dogs cooked by the Dads in the neighborhood who were clustered around their grills — typically while they wore embarrassing cooking outfits and swigged Budweisers — while the Moms brought out the potato salad and buns and condiments and sported brightly colored cat-eye sunglasses.  There’s a reason why the Monkees sang about “charcoal burning everywhere” in their ode to the generic American suburb, Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Of course, grilling has advanced since then, but the association of Memorial Day with outdoor cooking remains strong.  On this Memorial Day, grill on, America!

Potato Peril

A constant of my daily shower routine is using the washcloth to scrub behind my ears.  Why?  It’s not like the behind-the-ear area of a 60-something guy working at a desk in a white-collar job is constantly exposed to dirt and therefore requires a vigorous daily scouring.

g-fruitandveg-potatoes-mainNo, it’s because I remember my mother inspecting that particular area and then saying, with a tone of terrible shock and deep regret, that my postauricular regions had become “so filthy” — not just dirty, mind you, but filthy, which was much, much worse — that “you could grow potatoes back there.”  And then I would be marched off to the bathroom to wash my face and neck and the unseemly behind the ear areas, preferably with rough Lava brand soap that was made with pumice and seemed like it was taking off a layer of skin in the face-washing process.

Interestingly, it was always potatoes that could be grown in the heavy layer of dirt and grime that somehow had accumulated while I was out playing with UJ and our friends.  Not carrots, or corn, or even flowers, but inevitably potatoes.  Because, at that age, mothers seem to know everything, my natural assumption was, and still is, that potatoes must require an especially deep, dark, heavy soil if they are to grow properly.

Mom used to have a sign hanging in the house that said “my house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy,” but that just meant the house was treated differently from the kids in the family.  The house may have gotten the benefit of the doubt, but Mom was extraordinarily sensitive to any sign of human grubbiness or — God forbid! — “B.O.”  (And “B.O.” was pronounced by my mother, who never uttered a profanity of any kind in her entire life, as if it were the queen mother of curses.)

And yet, when we were doing chores around the house, Mom inevitably would tell us kids to “put a little elbow grease into it.”  How we were to do that and still maintain the expected level of spotlessness was left unexplained.

Old Shots

Measles has been in the news a lot lately, from a recent New York City public health order requiring mandatory vaccinations in an attempt to stop a measles outbreak in Brooklyn that is (inevitably) being challenged in court, to reports of cases of measles in various places in the U.S., to scary outbreaks in other parts of the world like Europe and the Philippines.

measles-vaccine-gettyimages-544419442Although measles is typically viewed as a childhood disease, getting it as an adult can be serious business.   And, because measles is a highly contagious condition that can be readily communicated from one person to another through airborne droplets sneezed and coughed out by random strangers in public places — like airport terminals — it’s a concern for people who do a lot of traveling.   Health care officials uniformly identify vaccination as the best defense against contracting a case of measles.  But what should you do if, like me, you got that painful measles shot in the arm or the butt when you were a kid long ago, and your childhood vaccination and immunization records are God knows where?  Do we all need to get another shot?

Here’s some good news:  according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if you received the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) shot that every kid of my generation got as a matter of course, you’re in good shape.  The CDC says that the measles component of the vaccine provides lifelong protection at 93 percent efficiency even if, like me, you got your shot more than 50 years ago.  And if you were born before 1957, you don’t need to worry about the measles, either, because the vast majority of people living in the pre-1957 world were exposed to measles as kids and have natural immunity to the disease as a result.

It’s weird to think that, in the 21st century, Americans should be worrying about diseases like measles that can be readily controlled by vaccination, but that’s what happens when parents start getting lax about vaccinating their kids — or believing quacks who raise unproven claims about side effects of vaccination.  If you’re not sure about whether you’ve been vaccinated, you really should talk to your doctor.  When it comes to communicable diseases, we’re all in this together.

Colorful Kegling

Russell was in town for the weekend, and at his request on Sunday we went bowling at the HP (for “high performance”) Lanes Bowling Center off Cleveland Avenue.  Knocking down the pins was fun, as always, but our little taste of modern bowling made me realize how dramatically the bowling experience has changed since I was a kid.

Our bowling alley in those days in the ’60s was the legendary Riviera Lanes in Akron, Ohio. It was a place for people who were serious about bowling.  The bowling balls were all black — the only nod to color appeared on the 6-pound balls for little kids, which had red and blue triangles on them — and the only noise was the balls rolling down the alley and scattering the pins.  To complete the somewhat somber, focused atmosphere, against one wall there was a huge photograph of President Nixon, with an intense look on his face as he began his approach to the foul line, bearing the title “Our Bowling President.”  It helped to lock in the belief of most of the keglers that bowling was the all-American sport.

HP Lanes is . . . different.  For one thing, the “house balls” are as colorful as Easter eggs.  The area above the pins is a riotous, Mardi Gras-like study in pastels, and there was rock music playing at a pretty healthy volume.  There wasn’t any photo of a bowling president around, either.  The only link to the bowling days of yore was the color of the lanes, the ball delivery system, and the American flag.

Your High School Music

The other day I thumbed through my iPod music playlist and stopped at the playlist “UAHS Rock.”  (UAHS stands for Upper Arlington High School, from which I graduated in June, 1975.)  It’s a list of about 200 songs I remember listening to during my three years attending high school as a Golden Bear.  (In those days, classes were so huge that the freshman year was spent in junior high.  I think my graduating class had about 890 people in it.)

upper_arlington_oh_sign-307x192I wrote about the playlist some years ago, but it had been years since I’d listened to it.  My musical tastes have broadened quite a bit since my high school days, and lately I’ve been enjoying classical music from the baroque era.  But I got the sad news that one of my high school classmates had passed on, and it made me think about those days and the music I associate with it.  Once I started playing the music on the playlist, I felt the stirrings of my 17-year-old self, sitting in my room at our split-level family home in “new Arlington” and listening to records on a cheap Panasonic turntable or on WCOL-FM, the “album rock” station in town.  Boy, there was some great music being recorded during those days!

All of the songs on the playlist now form a core part of the playlist on any modern “classic rock” station, and they all came out during the days when I was a kid trying to find my locker and then make it to my next class in the sprawling corridors of UAHS.  The songs are terrific, and because they came out at that weird, awkward, scary, fun time, they pluck some of those special musical heartstrings we all have.  I’m guessing that pretty much everyone has a special corner of their psyche reserved for that high school time in their life and especially the music that is so incredibly closely associated with it — whether you graduated from high school in the ’60s, ’80s, post-2000, or are in high school right now.  You listen, and you feel yourself beginning to do the same lame dance moves you first tried as a fumbling teenager.

I’m not arguing that the rock music of the early ’70s is the best rock music ever — who would argue with that irrefutable proposition? — but only observing that if it’s been a while since you’ve listened to your high school music, you’d be doing yourself a favor by doing so.  You’ll feel younger!