Good Times

Reliving the decade we never had

I missed the '70s. Culturally speaking, my folks were still grounded in the idealism of the 1960s, determined to find themselves or create new selves if they didn't like what they found, and there was no TV. Not to say they were opposed to television; it just didn't fit within the context of communal living, gurus, art galleries, tai chi classes, experimental film, modern dance, foreign countries, "happenings," red-light parties, and/or marijuana cultivation in the wilds of the Oregon mountains. So what I gleaned of popular culture (and the savory rapture of barbecued chicken) came via sleepovers at the homes of "straight" schoolyard chums, which is probably why I feel dizzy with pleasure entering the apartment of 33-year-old Jennifer Mendieta.

"It's cozy and cheerful," says Mendieta, "and funny. It's hard to take things too seriously when you come home to this."

Opening the front door is a bit like crossing the threshold of someone else's childhood memory.

Black velvet paintings, lava lamps, shag carpet, beanbag chairs, and little disco balls are just the beginning. The shared flat is filled from nook to cranny with the ephemera of my lost era. Farrah Fawcett smiles down from the wall in an unironic way, along with Isaac Hayes and Al Pacino. There's a beat-up Big Wheel at the top of the stairs, a chain of mood rings hanging from the bathroom mirror, a spread of Mad, Teen Beat, and Lifemagazines on the coffee table, toys on every shelf in every room, a row of candy-colored cereal boxes lining the kitchen walls -- Sugar Smacks, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, Honeycombs, Boo Berry, Froot Loops -- and lunch pails over the stove -- Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Gilligan's Island, The Electric Company, The Osmonds, The Bugaloos.

I admit to having never seen The Bugaloos. Mendieta's eyebrows raise and furrow in a sympathetic way, as if to say, "I feel your pain; I don't understand it, but I feel it."

"And I only tried Sugar Smacks for the first time two years ago," I say, forcing the reality of the situation into the sunny, talking-toad reality of her kitchen. "I've never had a Franken Berry."

"OK, to start with, we can remedy that situation right now," says Mendieta, pulling a box from her pantry. "There's a Web site called Franken Berry Fanatics where you can buy a lot of the harder-to-find sugar cereals like Boo Berry. I mean, you can't eat this stuff every day, but it's fun to have around."

Mendieta pours me a bowl of Franken Berry and I watch the milk bubble up through the cereal, the artificial colors swirling off the marshmallow bats, slowly staining the milk a pastel hue. I dig in, feeling the rush of corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, Yellows 5 and 6, Red 40, and Blues 1 and 2 course through my veins. I'm excited. I'm happy. I'm ready to play games. Mendieta smiles and leads me to the living room, where one of her housemates has set up a Matchbox car racetrack.

"It's nice, we all get a kick out of this stuff. It makes it easy," says Mendieta, taking Hungry Hungry Hipposand Winky Dink down from a shelf. "Our new roommate Josh [Crowgher] prefers the edgier, more adolescent edge -- you know, Iggy Pop, the Clash, Alice Cooper. But it all fits together. We're all children of the '70s, so it all works. I'm the only chick I know that collects, though."

I scan the shelves -- Scooby-Doo figurines, Archie and Jughead, the Wacky Races board game, Gumby and Incredible Hulk stretch dolls, Isis and Kiss dolls, the Play-Doh Fun Factory, Charlie's Angels dolls, the Kool-Aid guy, a framed photo of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Mendieta shuffles through her CDs and cues up "Jungle Boogie" from a Kool & the Gang record represented in vinyl over the doorjamb between Helen Reddyand the Ohio Players.

She puts on a video of H.R. Pufnstuf with the volume down.

"Total saturation," she says with a wink.

I notice I'm sweating a little.

We play tiddlywinks, but I find the game too slow and methodical for my present mood. Slapping the Hungry Hungry Hippos is much more my speed.

"Want another bowl of cereal? Maybe a Pop-Tart?" asks Mendieta. I nod, and after a minute she appears with a bowl of crispy nuggets floating in chocolate milk and a warm sugar-iced pocket. Despite a slightly queasy feeling, I munch them down, using them to fuel my Rock Em Sock Em Robots tourney. Mendieta doesn't stand a chance. I am unstoppable. Sweating, and trembling slightly, but unstoppable.

"When your roommates come home, we should play Twister," I suggest. "And Clue." Fifteen minutes later, I'm passed out on a green beanbag chair having psychedelic milk dreams.


"You're going to be late for roller disco," says Mendieta.

"Auntie Em, is that you?" I mumble.

"You're going to be late for roller disco," repeats Mendieta. "I wish I could go."

It's like a dream, except I feel like hell -- exhausted, cranky, sugar-saturated, and in no mood for disco. Still, you only get to revamp your childhood once every few months in this town, so I pull on my denim jumpsuit and white platform boots and head out to Oakland's Dry Ice Roller Hockey Arena, but there is nary a halter top in sight.

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