Ciao'd while listening to The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme. RIP Mare.
What girl didn’t feel a frisson of excitement when Mary tossed her tam-o’-shanter into the air in a giddy take-the-world gesture that promised: “She’s gonna make it after all.”
I’m old enough to have watched The Mary Tyler Moore Show in real-time, not syndication. For seven years of Saturday nights, from childhood to my early teens, I lay on my stomach on our den carpet (yep, shag), mesmerized by the woman played by Mary Tyler Moore. Not only could Mary Richards “turn the world on with her smile,” but she also had a career that looked like fun, a big girl apartment with a wood-burning fireplace, a sporty white mustang, and a hilarious, pull-no-punches best friend, Rhoda. Plus, Rhoda lived upstairs, just like Lucy’s Ethel.
Now, years later, I am channeling Mary Richards. Mary’s boyfriend jilted her and catapulted her into a new life in a new city. I had a jilt, too. After too many years climbing the corporate ladder, I experienced the demoralization of careening off the career track and then trying unsuccessfully to hop back on. Picture sitting in an interview room on a pouf while a 20-something asks the requisite questions fed to him by HR, but who’s really thinking, “She looks like my mom.” We know what that leads to. A call or email (if you’re lucky) a few days hence telling you that, while your expertise is awesome (a favorite descriptor from the start-up/tech/youth world), you’re just not a “cultural fit,” a veiled nod to ageism.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I would have a career. In fact, that was the only thing I wanted to do. No marriage. No children. My mother raised her eyebrows but I wonder if maybe she was thinking the same thing, too. Thanks to the women who went before me, those who marched and loudly lifted their voices in the 1970s, a career could be an option. But, don’t get me wrong, obstacles for women in the workplace still vibrate. It goads me that equal pay remains a dirty secret, no matter how slyly you bargain during the recruitment process. It chafes me that sexy baby voices and tilted chins often trump smarts when it comes to upward mobility.
Mary wasn’t necessarily a cultural fit, either. The newsroom was inhabited by a gruff (but sweet) boss, a complete numbskull, and a ditz. Mary wasn’t irascible or cloyingly sweet. She was straightforward, industrious, and real. Those attributes were the subtle foundation of her power. She was deferential to her boss, Mr. Grant, but she had the chutzpah to stand up for her beliefs (channeling those of the women watching her on TV). In one episode, she confronts Mr. Grant when she learns that the person who held her position before her (a man) earned $50 more a week. When she asked Mr. Grant why, he said, “Because he’s a man.” She didn’t get the raise but at least she raised her voice. Forty years later, we’re echoing Mary. *Sigh*
The Mary Tyler Moore Show addressed sex, the Pill, homosexuality, and women’s friendships, among other contemporary topics. I wonder if these themes would have come to fruition if not for the fact that the Mary Tyler Moore Show employed more women writers than any other show - ever. The irony is that the show’s creators were men.
Mary's television voice harmonized with the women who marched and raised their voices for acknowledgment and equality. With comedy as her platform, she opened a door to the issues implored us to not only view the world from our individual place on the sofa but also to understand the world conveyed her.
Mary Richards would not have existed without the feminist movement. Without marching or hoisting a protest sign, she echoed the women who raised their voices for acknowledgement and equality. She proved that humor is a powerful conduit for for addressing serious issues. I was too young to register the impact then but it resonates with me to this day.
If “Mare”and Rhoda were having dinner at my house tonight, I would cook them this recipe for Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe and Spicy Sausage. We’d raise our wine glasses and toast to “sistuhs” far and wide.
p.s. I did get married. I did have a child. No amount of money or professional success can best that.
RIGATONI WITH BROCCOLI AND SPICY SAUSAGE
Broccoli rabe is the pungent, often bitter green that comes tied in bundles. The headiness of garlic and the spiciness of the sausage give broccoli rabe a run for its money. All told, the many vibrant flavors in this dish will have a resonant and pleasing effect on the palate.
1 1/2 pounds rigatoni pasta
1 1/2 pounds broccoli rabe, trimmed
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup water
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 large pinches of salt and when the water has returned to a boil, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, cut the broccoli rabe stems into 1/2-inch pieces and coarsely chop the leaves and florets.
Warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and saute the sausage pieces until well browned on all sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet. Add the garlic and cook over medium-low heat until golden. Add the broccoli rabe and sauté until wilted, about 1 minute. Add the water, heat to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain.
In a large bowl, toss the pasta with the remaining olive oil. Add the broccoli rabe, sausage, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan cheese.