You know you are a child of the 1970s if the weirdly malty and existentially disappointing flavor of a Tiger’s Milk bar still lingers in your mouth from when you were 8 and your parents tried to pretend carob was as good as chocolate. You know you are a child of the 1970s if you once owned — and wore — a T-shirt with the words “Jive Turkey” on the chest.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you know how to walk barefoot on the side of an asphalt road on a hot summer day: Step only on the white line, like a tightrope artist, so your soles don’t burn. You know you are a child of the 1970s if you rode a bike barefoot, skateboarded barefoot, or went barefoot to a square dance, political demonstration, or hot-air balloon launch.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if the melancholy songs on AM radio made you sad as you sat in the station wagon waiting for your mother to finish shopping at the I.G.A.: “There’s Got to Be a Morning After,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” “Wichita Lineman,” the theme from “M*A*S*H.” If you sang along when “Afternoon Delight,” “Muskrat Love,” and “Kung-Fu Fighting” came on WLNG but the first single you bought at Long Island Sound was Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke.” If you’re still pleased with yourself that you had the good taste to prefer Stevie Wonder.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you have ever filled your cupped hands with Jean Nate After Bath Splash, pouring it from a giant yellow plastic bottle that your ballet teacher kept in the bathroom of the dance studio, or stood in your underwear to pump-spray your entire body with the powdery enchantment of Love’s Baby Soft. If you ever shampooed with Lemon Up or coveted your classmate’s Bonne Belle Lip Smacker, shaped like an ice cream cone and scented strawberry. You know you are a child of the 1970s if you parents referred to marijuana as “grass.” If your parents saying the word “grass” made you vaguely embarrassed for them, but you weren’t sure why. If your seventh-grade science teacher burned “grass incense” to teach you what it smelled like, a warning that wafted down the hallway of the middle school. If your eighth-grade health teacher brought a recovering heroin addict into class to scare you straight.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if chewing gum was an essential component in your pencil case or the pocket of your corduroy pants. If you preferred Bazooka Bubble Gum because it was the original, even though Bubble Yum was sweeter and wasn’t as hard. If Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit and Doublemint were staples, the vegetables on your plate, but Big Red cinnamon made you want to throw up. If you ever threw up from eating Creamsicles. If you had a sibling who lost a filling to a Bit-O-Honey.
If you associate stripes with special treats and holidays: the striped Astro Pop, the striped Torpedo Popsicle, Fruit Striped Gum, striped balloons, the striped awnings at the fair. If striped cartoon characters named Tony — a toucan, a tiger — tried to sell you frosted cereal. If your father wore flared white twill pants with vertical red or blue stripes. If you celebrated the bicentennial with American flags, plastic muskets, and a car ride to Williamsburg, Va., where you slept at a motel with a Magic Fingers Bed that vibrated when you dropped quarters into a slot. If you learned the Preamble to the Constitution from “Schoolhouse Rock.”
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you remember the aroma of the inside of a rubber Halloween mask that went over your head like a hood: a rubber ape, a rubber caveman, a rubber Richard Nixon. You know you are a child of the 1970s when your elementary school memories are crowded with monsters: Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. You know you are a child of the 1970s when the “Creature Double Feature” was your companion on Saturday afternoons in autumn when it rained. If the milk in your bowl of breakfast cereal was blue from Boo Berry, pink from Franken Berry, brown from Count Chocula.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you still have lingering fears while swimming — even in a pool — that something will bite off your leg, because you saw “Barracuda,” “Jaws,” “Tentacles,” and “Orca” at the 2 p.m. matinee.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you half-believed that certain foods had magical powers: Would a Charms Blow-Pop create floating bubbles in the air if you licked it, like in the advertisement? Could the marshmallow hearts, stars, and clovers in Lucky Charms grant your wish for a 10-speed bike? Did Keebler elves once exist? Did the Wombles live under a tree in your front yard? Could trees wave their branches and break into song? Could daisies?
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you first started to distrust the judgment of adults because some of them — apparently — believed sincerely that space aliens had built the pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu. If you first started to distrust the judgment of adults because some of them apparently believed that chanting “Om mani padme hum” would get them a better financial settlement in their divorce. And one of them had disappeared to an ashram in Pune, India, leaving a 9-year-old on your bus route alone in a cottage on Lee Avenue with only a housekeeper for six months.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you can chant all the words to the McDonald’s jingle: “Two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.” If you have ever felt the mystic allure of the big plastic eggs on a rack in the drugstore that contained sexy pantyhose called L’Eggs. (“Our legs fit your legs, they hug you, they hold you, they never let you go.”) If you legitimately believed “dishwashing hands” would play a significant role in your adult life.
If you know who Madge was. Who Evil Knievel was. Who Paul Lynde was. Kristie McNichol. Cindy Williams. Suzanne Pleshette. Mason Reese. Rodney Allen Rippy.
You know you are a child of the 1970s if you learned to swear from “The Bad News Bears” and learned to smoke from a 7-year-old pal named Valerie who lived on Pudding Hill, kept a pack of Camels in a cigar box under her bed, and played “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers for you on her record player while she demonstrated how to inhale. If Valerie’s mother served you SpaghettiOs for lunch after you were done smoking. If Valerie’s mother knew Valerie kept a pack of cigarettes under her bed but — apparently — approved. If you worried — no, wondered, or perhaps hoped — that Valerie’s growth would be stunted by the smoking.
If your first crush was Steve Austin, astronaut. You know you are a child of the 1970s if you can still recite the intro to “The Six Million Dollar Man”: “Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.” If you turned “The Six Million Dollar Man” intro into a running joke with your snub-nosed cousin: “Steve Austin, astro-snot. We have the tech-snot-ology.” If your snub-nosed cousin invited you out the upstairs bedroom window of her summer house and out onto the tar-shingle roof to prepare “disgusting stew” from a potful of dog excrement, Tiger’s Milk, pine cones, Clamato juice, and rocks, and there was no one to stop you.