My parents’ lackluster filtering skills are probably why I remember the seventies as a house of horrors with no exit.
I was born in the spring of 1975, and very few of my earliest memories actually happened to me personally. The ones that did showed no signs of being for posterity at the time; my brain just sort of grabbed onto them as they rushed past.
I can remember visiting “the California Cousins” on vacation when I was three, returning to the motel after our trip to Disneyland and putting one of my mom’s bras on my head, pointing to the cups and saying, “Look, I’m Mickey Mouse!”
I can remember the way I used to let go of the lever on my View-Master* with a jarring, springy CLANG when I was three or four, oblivious that the noise terrified our dog Lady out of her mind. I remember Mom scolding me as Lady bolted to the safety of the laundry room, yelping the canine equivalent of “what the fuck is your problem, man?” The fact that you could release that little lever gently, without taking your finger off of it, was completely lost on me; I remember thinking, essentially, “I don’t know why you gave me this thing, then, if you didn’t want to hear that noise. That’s the noise a View-Master makes,” and going right back to CLANGing. Lady would run away for good within a year.
With a few exceptions, though, almost all of my earliest memories are of seeing things on TV in the seventies, and most of those things were incomprehensible nightmare seeds.
My mom and I are alone in her bedroom late one night. My sister is either sleeping or absent, meaning I am no more than four. On the 10” black and white TV in the corner of the room, Dan Aykroyd is on Saturday Night Live pretending to be Julia Child. Look at the funny man doing the funny voice in the funny outfit! Yay! Funny funny funny, BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD. Suddenly funny Dan is spraying arterial blood in high, wild spurts all over the kitchen, and he is dying in front of us, and the people watching him die are shrieking with laughter and grownups are crazy monsters running a nonsense devil world.
I am almost five. My mom is in the kitchen. My dad is in the Green Room, so named because of its thick shag carpet the color of Kermit the Frog. The Green Room can’t be renamed after its furniture or its function, because it has neither; someone meant it to be a dining room, but Mom and Dad never got a table. The only things in the Green Room are an echoing void, a hand-me-down TV from the sixties and, at the moment, my dad sitting on the floor in front of it in the dark. He goes to the Green Room sometimes if there’s a hockey game on or he wants to watch something away from kids. Mom warns me to leave him alone in there, but I creep in anyway; if they don’t want me in the Green Room, they shouldn’t keep it where I can find it. Dad is watching a Steve Martin comedy special, and right as I walk in behind him they’re showing a commercial parody about drunk driving. Instead of driving a car, Steve Martin has a steamroller. A little boy my age chases a ball into the street, and Steve Martin is drunkenly rolling along, and the boy is flattened in the street and everyone is laughing and oh my God can that really happen look at the expression on his flat face I am never going outside again.
I am five. Oh no, is this that scary show from last time? Should I hide? Wait, this isn’t scary. This is silly and fun! Look at the little cartoon clown man, Mr. Bill. He’s saying “hi” to us kids! Hi, Mr. Bill! I like this show. This is funny wait, who is that, what is happening oh no Mr. Bill look out he’s going to OH MY GOD MR. BILL IS MURDERED. WHY DO THEY KEEP LAUGHING.
In general, Saturday Night Live was a goddamned minefield, almost as if a show broadcast at 11:00 at night was not made for preschool children to watch because that would be an insane time for them to even be awake.
The less said about the band Kiss at the height of their popularity, the better. Bear in mind, at this point I am being told that devils are actual things that are around.
The people I’ve known who were exposed to slasher films at an early age were all creepshow-loving gore hounds. They say that little kids who are exposed to pornography at an early age become hypersexualized and have relationship problems later in life. I wonder sometimes about whether the things I was exposed to ruined me the same way. I read Bob Woodward’s Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of John Belushi when I was in sixth grade and still follow SNL the way most men follow baseball; thank God there is no SNL radio call-in show, or I would have wasted hours asking strangers, “What is Michaels thinking up there in the main office? You’ve got a talented young utility player like Abby Elliott on the bench, and you put in Wiig with another ‘Gilly’ sketch? This is shaping up to be a bad season.”
Even without K-SNL Talk Radio to sidetrack me, I have self-inflicted many wounds in my adult life that may share a common origin now that I think about it. I tend to go for the wisecrack when it’s not called for; my sense of humor often gets too dark for the person I’m talking to; and I usually don’t notice where the line is until I’m half a mile past it. Whether or not that’s because watching Dan Aykroyd bleed out is the first thing I can remember, I have no idea, but now that I’ve thought about it I will certainly be using it as an excuse next time someone is blocking me on Facebook.
*What is a View-Master, you ask? Why, only the most fun a child could have before the invention of fun. View-Masters held a cardboard “reel” containing seven (7) stereoscopic slides of your favorite licensed characters doing things. You would insert the “reel,” stand in front of a light source, and peer into the device for as long as you liked. They were like binoculars that gave you a closer, clearer look at how bored you were. Cradle your smartphones, children. Cradle and cherish them.