WASHINGTON — For a high school history class assignment, my editor's son, Sam Shroder, had to interview a genuine, living cadaver who is old enough to remember the 1970s. Here are his questions and my answers:
Sam: How old were you in 1970?
Me: I turned 19 on Oct. 2, 1970.
Sam: What was the main cultural highlight of the 1970s?
Me: There were none.
Imagine that one day it became the cool thing for kids your age to strap Harry Potter novels to your bare feet and walk around that way all day. Stupid, right? Well, people did that in the 1970s, sort of; they were called platform shoes. Everyone wore them because everyone else did. That's what passed for culture in the 1970s: conformity. This was the sterile decade. The pinnacle of technological achievement was the perfection of the neutron bomb, which killed people but left buildings intact. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Sam: What event in the '70s affected you the most?
Me: It's a toss-up. On one hand, Watergate made me want to change the world through journalism. However, I do not remember exactly where I was and what I was doing at the moment I heard about Watergate. Whereas Bucky Dent's game-changing home run in the 1978 single-game playoff between the Yanks and Red Sox . . .
I'll go with Watergate, but only by a hair.
Sam: To you, what are the major differences between the '70s and the present?
Me: The most important difference is that my prostate gland is a lot larger now. The reason you do not think this is a big honking deal, Sam, is that your prostate is the size of a walnut and not a beanbag chair.
The second major difference is that the U.S. presidents during the 1970s — we're talking Nixon, Ford and Carter, three of the cruddiest presidents in history — were all way better than the guy we have now.
Sam: What did you think of the Watergate scandal?
Me: Well, as I said, it made me want to change the world. It also made for great reading. The unexpurgated Watergate tapes were hilarious, revealing the president to be more batty than Osama's cave. Here's a direct quote: "You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose it is because most of them are psychiatrists."
I thought there would never be more entertaining presidential reading, and I was right, until the Starr Report came out. God, that was great: a cornucopia of fabulous stuff, including the famous Footnote 220 in which it is officially revealed, in a solemn document submitted to Congress, that Monica Lewinsky once gave the president of the United States — and I say this with all appropriate distaste and discomfort, aware as I am that you are just a kid, and that this is for a class assignment about history, and thus I must emphasize that I am reporting this not with glee or prurience but with a solemn regard for the importance of history and the sanctity of truth — a romantic kiss on the tush.
Sam: How did you feel about the end of the Vietnam War?
Me: That depends on what you mean by "the end of the Vietnam War." Do you mean when we pulled our troops out, declaring that we had achieved "peace with honor" and that we were leaving our allies all the tools they needed for self-defense and self-determination, or do you mean after their subsequent annihilation in the inevitable regionwide bloodbath?
The Vietnam War was the second-most idiotic foreign policy screw-up in this nation's history. Oh, wait. At the time, I guess it was the first-most idiotic. It's now the second-most idiotic.
Sam: What was your opinion about disco?
Me: Well, on my list of musical genres it was pretty far down, between "clarinet-and-accordion polka duets" and "big-band tunes hummed by people with dentures."
Sam: What did you think about the Roe vs. Wade decision?
Me: I applauded it, but I was wrong. I'm pro-choice, but this decision was so poorly written and tenuously justified that it gave rise to an obnoxious, self-righteous political movement around which conservatives would be able to rally for the next 30 years. My theory is that conservatives don't actually want to overturn Roe vs. Wade. They hate the sight of it but know they need it around. It's like the toilet plunger in the bathroom.
Sam: Do you believe that the '70s was a self-obsessed decade?
Me: It was, but things have gotten much worse. I just got a Facebook "status update alert" informing me that one of my Facebook friends "no longer likes pasta."
Sam: What do you miss most about the '70s?
Me: Walnut prostate.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chat with him online at noon Tuesdays at www.washingtonpost.com.