Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Unforgettable, That’s What You Were

Following up on my previous blog, here are some materials from yet another proposal for a book that never saw the light of day. Its working title was This ‘70s Book: Remembering the People, Events, Fashions, Fads, and Mores That Defined an Unforgettable Decade.

It was the grooviest snapshot in time—the 1970s. At once colorful in fashion and remarkably colorless in politicians—from Presidents Nixon to Ford to Carter—the decade began with the nation mired in a contentious war and passed into the dustbin of history with Americans held hostage by a fanatical Ayatollah in Iran.

It was the decade that added both spice and controversy to television sitcoms, as the perfect TV family at last became dysfunctional—just like the rest of us. The 1970s also furnished us with a heaping helping of variety on the boob tube—quite literally—as a diverse cast of characters from Flip Wilson to Mac Davis to Howard Cosell hosted their very own “variety shows.”

The 1970s gave us a Secretary of Agriculture named Butz, a presidential brother named Billy, and a nightclub named Studio 54. It witnessed the rise of a thing called “free agency” in Major League Baseball, altering the face of the American pastime forever. In this inimitable decade, Volkswagen defined the “cheap car,” with the German automaker’s “bugs” crawling all over America’s highways and byways. So what if the trunks were on the wrong end of the car. And, lest we forget, 1970s automobile owners also cruised about in Dodge’s “Dart Swingers.” Meanwhile, two-legged swingers created a thing called “disco fever,” while gyrating the nights away to the latest Bee Gees blockbuster hit.

Yes, the 1970s were a decade to remember. From Richard Nixon and Watergate to John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever, the people, events, fashions, fads, and mores are lodged in the memory banks of millions of baby boomers. Their children are even caught up in the nostalgia of what came before them. For no matter what transpired three decades ago—from war abroad to scandal at home—it was unquestionably a simpler time. It was the end of the “good old days.” 

In the 1970s, only those with acrophobia gave second thoughts to ascending high-rise buildings. Al Gore had yet to “invent” the Internet. Job outsourcing was not a political issue. With most Americans driving around in the same old heaps until the wheels fell off, car leasing was unheard of. And there weren’t more than four hundred-plus TV channels with nothing on, but a mere ten to twelve with seemingly something for everyone.

This ‘70s Book will chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly of an epoch—from the birth of the disposable razor to cigarette vending machines dispensing the poisonous pleasures in high school cafeterias. It’ll recall Jimmy Hoffa’s mysterious exit from this mortal coil, as well as baseball players Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich swapping wives, children, and dogs. 
This ‘70s Book will wear hot pants and attend college toga parties. It’ll get behind the wheel of a classic Plymouth “Duster” and American Motors “Gremlin.” The book will furnish readers with crash courses on the era’s economic highlights and lowlights. The Dow Jones Industrial Average reached an all-time high of 907 in 1979! Inflation topped 13% and the prime interest rate soared above 15% in the late 1970s. And the Chrysler Corporation received a highly contentious $1.5 billion worth of government largesse during this time period.

This ‘70s Book will cast its net far and wide over a unique and momentous period in American history. Readers will relish this enticing retrospective. They will learn things they never knew before about everyone from Louise Brown, the first test tube baby, to Tony Orlando, who turned yellow ribbons into gold nuggets. They’ll relive Argentine stripper Fanne Foxe doing her thing with a powerful Congressman. This ‘70s Book will recall when Superman was a guy named Christopher Reeve and when Ernest Borgnine and Gene Hackman sailed the extremely rough seas on a ship called the Poseidon. 

A short sample chapter from the book that never was but could have been…

Rolling in the Hays

Every decade makes a celebrity out of a mistress or gal-pal of somebody famous or otherwise powerful. It’s part of our cultural heritage. The 1990s gave us Monica Lewinsky; the 1980s, the dynamic duo of Donna Rice and Jessica Hahn. And the 1970s were hardly devoid of sexual hijinks and scandal. 

Famously quoted as saying, “I can’t type…I can’t file…I can’t even answer the phone,” Elizabeth Ray nevertheless found employment as a secretary on Capitol Hill. Despite her less than impressive administrative attributes, she landed a $14,000/year clerking position with influential Democratic Congressman Wayne Hays of Ohio. In our bicentennial year of 1976, the world discovered that the comely Ms. Ray’s job responsibilities had precious little to do with typing, filing, and answering the phone. 

Congressman Hays chaired the House Administration Committee, which controlled the purse strings and myriad perks on everything from custodial help to travel allowances to parking spaces. This enabled the long-time Washington insider to wield considerable power with the most modest of mallets. In other words, he could cut off colleagues’ air conditioning if he saw fit, or punish elevator operators for sitting down while he had to stand, which he in fact did by removing their jump seats.

So, when Ms. Ray went public with her story of having been hired solely as a congressman’s mistress, not too many folks in Washington felt sympathy for the beleaguered Hays. Ray said she spilled the beans because she felt snubbed at not being invited to her paramour’s nuptials. In 1976, Hays married Patricia Peak, a bona fide secretary from his Ohio office, not too long after divorcing his wife of thirty-eight years. Ray grumbled, “I was good enough to be his mistress for two years, but not good enough to be invited to his wedding.” She also wanted it on record that she did not enjoy her intimate moments with the flabby senior citizen for whom she worked. Ray said, “If I could have, I would have put on a blindfold, worn earplugs, and taken a shot of Novocain.”

When all the dirt surfaced of the two-year-old liaison between Ray and Hays, the Congressman admitted to romping in the hay with his employee, but emphasized that she was not hired to serve as his mistress. It wasn’t, after all, against the law to fool around. Hays immediately resigned from his committee chairmanship and a couple of months later from his congressional seat. He escaped any criminal charges, largely because Ray was certifiably flaky and completely unreliable. People from her past came out the woodwork and made a convincing case that she was the antithesis of a naive Girl Scout and, too, a far cry from the brightest bulb in the chandelier.

A former boyfriend—and a trial lawyer—told the media: “She wasn’t very intelligent. If I took her out somewhere, I’d tell her not to say anything. Now and then she’d forget and call me the next day to apologize.” A restaurant owner who once employed her as a waitress said that he had to let her go because “she was hustling.” 

After Wayne Hays resigned from the Congress, he disappeared from the limelight altogether into a well-earned obscurity. He succumbed to cancer in 1989 at the age of seventy-seven. His second wife, Patricia, survived him.

With more than thirty years of resume building since the scandal, Ms. Ray has posed for Playboy several times and tried her hand at acting and screenwriting. It has been reported she is a part-time stand-up comedienne.

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