Remembering Armistice Day and Our Veterans

The red poppies are blowing today as the world marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War Armistice (11/11/18).

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As I watch French, German, American and other world leaders come together in Paris to pay their respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their countries, I am thankful that veterans are being remembered and appreciated for their service.

An American Legion magazine is spread open on the kitchen table and a poignant photo of a WWII veteran is calling to me.  He is all bundled up in gloves and a blanket and is holding a small US flag in one hand and a hand written sign in another.  The sign reads, “Thanks for Remembering”.

In the end, that’s all most veterans really want- to be appreciated and remembered.

So on this important day, Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance/Armistice Day in Canada, Australia and many nations in Western Europe, it is my hope that as citizens of the world we can set aside our political differences and reflect on the positive impacts that countless servicemen and women have made all over the world.

There are over 20 million living veterans in the United States, representing almost 10% of the population.  If you don’t know someone who has served in the military, I encourage you to find out more by supporting your local VFW or American Legion posts.

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Marching in a Veterans Day Parade in Denver. Photo by Steve Smull

This Veterans Day is a very special Remembrance Day as we celebrate the centennial of the end of the First World War.

I proudly wear my red poppy to acknowledge the sacrifices made by those died on the battlefield.  I humbly pick up and carry the torch for those who came before me, knowing that they would say, “Thanks for Remembering!”

Happy Veterans Day America

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Reflections on the Mall : My 1980’s Top 40 List

My nostalgic yearning for life as it was in the 1980s continues for a number of reasons. Sad news of the passing of a childhood friend, an upcoming family visit to my hometown and the longing for simpler, more authentic experiences have me pining for my happy days growing up in the small, friendly community of Spotswood, NJ.

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Last year I wrote a two part series on the popular Netflix series Stranger Things and the Dungeons & Dragon phenomena and today I am excited to share with you the latest update on Stranger Things season 3.

This quirky teaser trailer for season 3  had me LMAO and vividly remembering my first job at the Brunswick Square Mall in 1983.

I visited the shopping mall the other day and it just didn’t have the same positive vibe that I remember growing up.

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Photo by Michael Galinsky

It looks like we will have to wait a bit longer to get our next 1985 fix since season 3 of Stranger Things isn’t scheduled to release until mid 2019.

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The other thing I loved about the 1980s was the music.  Everyday I listen to SiriusXM radio on my drive to work and I always end up on the 70s, 80s or Classic Vinyl/Rewind channels.  Hair Nation is also a favorite channel with its compilation of arena rock concert music.

Images of black and white band jerseys come flooding back every time I hear a song from Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Rush, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel or Lynryd Skynryd.

 

I also enjoyed Casey Kasem and the weekly Top 40 countdown so I thought I’d share with you my own list of memories from the decade of big hair and great movies.

The Top 40 List (in no particular order) of the things I miss most about the awesome 80s:

  1. Hanging out with friends and listening to records or cassette tapes for hours on end.
  2. Playing Asteroids, Space Invaders and Pac Man at the video arcade.
  3. Waking my Dad up bright and early on my 17thbirthday so he could drive me to the DMV in Rahway, NJ. He let me drive his 1972 Chevy Chevelle to take my driving test to get my license.
  4. Listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall on my Sony Walkman.
  5. Back to school shopping and getting a shiny, new Trapper Keeper note book.
  6. Paradoxes in clothing trends: Black parachute pants. White Painters pants, Overalls.  Day glow colored spandex.   Peach colored anything.
  7. Quality movies like Back the Future, Ghostbusters, E.T. and The Terminator.The list is endless.
  8. Hanging out at Brunswick Square Mall and my first job at York Steak House.
  9. Getting a slice at Taverna Pizza parlor for lunch during senior year at Spotswood High School.
  10. High quality teachers like Mr. Muschla, Mr Dziedziak and Mr. Perosa.
  11. Great coaches who inspired and motivated: Jean Lonergan Puff and Bruce Nissenbaum.
  12. Playing in large piles of leaves in the front yard.
  13. Watching or marching in the annual Memorial Day parade.
  14. Eating a Carvel banana barge with nuts after eating pizza.
  15. Making cassette tape mixes by recording them from vinyl albums or the radio.
  16. Listening to classic rock on FM radio WPLJ.
  17. Being able to go over to someone’s house unannounced and just knock on the door and ask if they want to come out and play.
  18. Climbing trees and occasionally having someone break an arm.
  19. Building forts in the woods.
  20. Playing in the “dirt piles” behind my house.
  21. Sitting around an open fire in the woods.
  22. Going to Devoe Lake and sitting by the small waterfall on the Immaculate Conception church side overlooking the American Legion post.
  23. Watching Fourth of July fireworks over Devoe Lake from the church parking lot.
  24. Play acting and performing skits with my friends on Maiden Lane and Bruning Lane.
  25. Riding our bikes to places my parents didn’t know about.
  26. Exploration and the sense of wonder at discovering new and buried things.
  27. Playing kick ball in the street until it was dark.
  28. Riding my bike and unicycle to school without a helmet (it’s amazing I survived).
  29. Watching my friends play D&D.
  30. High School Marching Band and Color Guard pride.
  31. Swing sets and dodge ball at recess after lunch at Appleby school.
  32. Walking home from school on the railroad tracks.
  33. Playing video games at the Sorrentos pizza parlor on Main St and Devoe Ave.
  34. Jumping off home made, wooden ramps with our bikes.
  35. Storytelling at sleepover parties.
  36. High school yearbooks with hand drawn artwork on the covers.
  37. Using a shiny, new Apple II in high school computer class and learning BASIC.
  38. Fun and festive carnivals behind the Catholic church.
  39. Fishing in down at the outlets and rivers.
  40. Going to the Movie City Five theater and it costing $1.50 to see a movie.

Friends Don’t Lie and Other Stranger Things- Part 1

“The Past is a foreign country: They do things differently there”.

–L.P. Hartley 1953

Why am I longing for the year 1984 like it is some quaint, simple and authentic nation that values loyalty and character?   Is nostalgia clouding my view and causing me to misremember this strange decade that is now viewed as “retro” by the Millennial and Z generations?

I blame this recent love and fascination with the 1980s on the popular Netflix series Stranger Things. I finished watching season 2 three weeks ago and it really has me obsessing about big hair, parachute pants, and the video games Pac-Man and Asteroids.

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Movies seemed bigger and better forty years ago and we were forever changed by ET, The Terminator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, Ghost Busters and Gremlins.   The themes of good vs evil seemed more simple, sincere and powerful. Films were more about entertaining and less about lecturing.  The plots and characters seemed more fun and whimsical. Being an adrenalin junkie, I loved the intense adventure, risk taking and the fearless dedication to noble and sometimes scary causes.

I found myself pondering the question of why Stranger Things resonated so strongly with me and millions of others?

Being a proud and slightly older member of Generation X,  I reached back into my memory banks with the help of photos, high school year books and interviews with childhood friends.  From this I distilled the following four reasons for why the early 1980s were so totally awesome and how the Stranger Things cast and plot exemplified them:

  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Loyalty
  • Character

The tight group of friends in Stranger Things had an important and secret mission on their hands and I related to the huge amount of Freedom they were afforded by their parents.   As a latch key kid with both parents working, I had large  amounts of time on my own where I could explore and be with my friends.

Unsupervised Adventures were another hallmark of growing up the in the early 1980s.  For me, the only planned or scheduled events were sporting events at school (or via a bus) during the week, orchestra and marching band practices.  Most of my memorable experiences were outside playing in the street, at the lake or in the woods. By far the most exciting adventures were spontaneous.

Defeating the demogorgon and rescuing Will from the Upside Down was the ultimate adventure in my book.  I loved how many of the parents in Stranger Things were completely oblivious to what their kids were up to!

The theme of Loyalty really hit home for me during Eleven’s strong expression/tantrum of “Friends don’t lie!”.

Mike, Eleven, Lucas, Dustin and Will had a strong and trusting bond of friendship that enabled them stick together, count on each other and accomplish their heroic mission. I identified with this sense of commitment as I still have loyal connections with a number of friends from my childhood and adolescence.

The concept of Character in Stranger Things resonated with me in two ways with two meanings. First, I loved the character development of the underdog heroes and the references to Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). I also felt a strong sense of virtue and moral code among the friends.  I dig more deeply into the D&D influences in my next blog ( part 2 of this series).

I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoyed Stranger Things. On multiple levels, for a multitude of reasons I became enthralled, reminiscent and excited. While I’ve always been a big Sci-Fi fan (Ray Bradbury rocks), there was something special about this mix of characters, plot and time period. It truly warmed my heart.

Seeing and feeling the loyalty, love and trust of family and friends makes we want to travel home soon to my small hometown so I can take a walk down by the water with my sister, brothers, nieces and nephews.

“The Past is a foreign country: They do things differently there”.

Stranger Things reminded me of just how different our world has become in the past 40 years and how lucky I was to grow up during a time of relative peace and innocence.

I’ll end with a Top 20 List of the things I loved about the 1980s (in no particular order).

  1. Hanging out with friends and listening to records or tapes for hours on end.
  2. Making custom cassette tape mixes. IMG_4511
  3. Watching actual music videos on MTV.
  4. Being able to go over to someone’s house unannounced and just knock on the door and ask if they want to come out and play.
  5. Climbing trees and occasionally having someone break an arm (ok, maybe I don’t miss this part).
  6. Live rock concerts.
  7. Playing in the “dirt piles” behind my house.
  8. Sitting around an open fire in the woods.
  9. Going to Devoe Lake and sitting by the small waterfall overlooking the American Legion post.
  10. Play acting and performing skits for no apparent reason.DSCF8413
  11. Riding our bikes to places my parents didn’t know about ( and would have had a heart attack if they had).
  12. Exploration and the sense of wonder at discovering new and buried things.
  13. Playing kick ball in the street.
  14. Riding my bike and unicycle without a helmet ( it’s amazing I survived).
  15. Swing sets and dodge ball at recess after lunch at school.
  16. Playing video games at the local pizza parlor (Sorrentos).
  17. Jumping off home made, wooden ramps with our bikes.
  18. Storytelling at sleepovers.
  19. Overalls and white painters pants.
  20. High school yearbooks with hand drawn artwork on the covers.  See the Pegasus photos above and below.

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In Part 2 of this Series on Stranger Things and the 1980s, I’ll dive into the magical world of D&D which played such a pivotal part in the Stranger Things series to date.

I recently interviewed a childhood friend from Spotswood, NJ, Peter C., who shared with me his experience with D&D over the past 39 years and his thoughts and perspective on the early 1980s and the Stranger Things series.

Stay tuned for more tidbits, trivia and insights from a Dungeon Master!

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