There have been a number of times over the years where I'd realize that some area of my experience or interest had more or less become considered either passe or something still held only in the hearts and minds of those who were there for it. If you're of an age with me, you no doubt remember all manner of pop culture stuff that united us as Americans of an era, stuff like:
- The days when there were only three television networks.
- HAPPY DAYS, when it was a genuine national phenomenon and pop culture juggernaut, and not just an edited-for-time mainstay on Nick at Nite.
- The mind-bending wholesomeness of Donny and Marie.
- The embracing of and inevitable shunning of disco.
- The original STAR WARS coming from out of nowhere and literally kicking our collective ass.
- The all-too-brief martial arts boom, often blanket-termed as either "kung fu" or "chopsocky."
- Pet rocks.
- Dick Clark.
- MTV, when it actually ran music videos.
- Blaxploitation movies.
Odds are, if you know even the slightest thing about the blaxploitation movie boom of the 1970's — which lasted in earnest from roughly SHAFT (1971) through sometime late in the decade — you've heard of Pam Grier, the thesp whose name has become virtually synonymous with the genre, she of the lovely face, knockout figure, Jupiter-sized 'fro and (for the genre) the rare ability to act. Since her 1970's heyday, Grier has been internationally recognized as a pop culture icon and she even starred in Quentin Tarantino's JACKIE BROWN (1997), a film Q.T. made specifically so he could work with her. All of those basics bring the layman to the present, around four hours ago to be exact, so here's what happened.
I went around the corner from my apartment to the local Associated supermarket — often referred to by me as "kiss my big black ass-sociated" in much the same vein as my friends Nicole and Jennifer referred to the Gristede's market that they grew up near as "greasy titties" — to pick up enough provisions to hold me over until I head back up to Westport for the annual Thanksgiving hoo-haa, and as the cashier rang up my purchases, she saw my t-shirt and asked me whose image adorned it.
I figured that the cute little Latina couldn't see the full image, it possibly being semi-obscured by my loose-hanging scarf, so I pulled the scarf to one side and stated, "It's Pam Grier," with the same matter-of-factness I would have applied to saying "the sky is above us." The girl stared blankly at me as though waiting for further explanation, and finally volunteered, "I have no idea who that is is." I literally let out a howl and wailed, "Oh, my heart breaks!!! This is Pam Grier! You know, Pam Grier! PAM GRIER! The actress? Star of COFFY, FOXY BROWN and JACKIE BROWN? Hello, is this thing on?" The girl looked at me like I was crazy (she's right) and then halted my rant with "Do you know who Biggie and Tupac are?" It was my turn to look at her like she was barking mad, and I responded with, I'm old enough to be your dad! Of course I know who they are!" She looked at me sweetly and said, "Oh, I'm so glad. My heart was about to break!" At that, a fifty-something black dude who was on line behind me looked at her, shook his head and simply added "Mph, mph, mph," just like like my dearly departed granddaddy Ozane would have.
When I closed the door of my apartment behind me upon returning to the Vault, I was gobsmacked. How does someone not know who Pam Grier is, especially with the availability of her films on DVD? I just could not process such a happenstance, and then it hit me. I'm now officially a relic, a still-living museum piece who was once jokingly nicknamed "grandpa" by some soon-to-be lifelong friends who were three years my junior some twenty-four years ago. It was a sobering thought but now that I've mulled it over, I guess that's just how the wheel turns. Hopefully my brief rant will spur the cashier to hit the Internet and see just who the hell this Pam Grier that the old guy was raving about was. If she deigns to use Netflix and rent COFFY, FOXY BROWN, JACKIE BROWN, or even THE ARENA — a latter-day nudity-laden peplum flick and sort of proto-Xena story, starring Pam as an African princess who's forced into gladiatorial slavery during the days of the Roman empire — then I will have unintentionally awakened her to one of the great pop culture female empowerment role models of the late-20th century. So I guess it's not a total loss for Ol' Man Bunche.