I went back to the office this past week, to make sure I had a sound connection for a videoconference. The office wasn’t the same, of course — the hallways were darkened, there was no one around, and the water fountain on my floor was turned off as part of our COVID-19 protocols. And wearing masks in the common areas is mandatory.
But at least I got to drink some coffee from the stoneware cup that has been a part of every workspace I’ve had since I received it as a gift just before starting law school in the fall of 1982. It felt good to have that familiar, comfortable heft of that specific cup in my hand as I slurped down my coffee. In fact, the deep-seated familiarity of the whole experience made the coffee taste a little bit better.
We’re still a ways away from getting back to normal—whatever “normal” is going to be—but quaffing some hot coffee from my favorite mug helped me to realize that the “normal” is still there, waiting for us to return from this weird period and reengage with our routines. I liked that feeling, too.
When you’re a kid growing up, your little world is necessarily “normal.” The decor in your house, the clothes your Mom buys for you, the breakfast cereal you eat in the morning, the haircuts your friends have — all of those are things that set your standard expectations and define what is customary and conventional. You have no reason to question it, because it is all that you know.
I think this notion explains how many of us lived through and readily accepted the collective insanity that took over the United States in the late ’60s and ’70s — a time of bad fashion, bad haircuts, and dubious home decoration developments like beanbag chairs. How in the world our parents adjusted to the ’70s, after living through World War II and the ’50s, is anybody’s guess. I kind of wish I had asked them about it at the time, but of course the thought would never have occurred to me.
When we moved to Columbus in 1971, our split-level house became a kind of shrine to the ’70s. It was a temple of black, brown, and white shag carpeting, steel, chrome and glass coffee and end tables that could slice your hand open, shiny white brick, and recessed light fixtures that made it virtually impossible to change a light bulb. About all we were missing was a lava lamp and a beanbag chair (which I really hated, anyway, because they provided no back support and left your neck stiff as a board), but we did have one of those annoying “clacker” devices with the five steel balls hanging on strings on the coffee table. I accepted all of that, and more — like leisure suits, maxi dresses, unappealing cars like the Ford Grenada, big bow ties and crushed velvet — because that was just the way things were.
It was only with some perspective, added after living through successive decades, that I came to realize just how weird and kind of hilarious the ’70s actually were. From time to time people talk about a revival of ’70s this, or ’70s that, and they still sell beanbag chairs, but I have no desire whatsoever to go back to that time period in any way, shape, or form. I kind of feel lucky to have escaped the ’70s in the first place.