Category Archives: 1980s

Sunday Salon/Currently … Stable Genius with a Big Button

 

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you didn’t
And all this science, I don’t understand
It’s just my job, five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man …” 
~ “Rocket Man” performed by Elton John, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

A mere seven days into a brand new year and — in what will undoubtedly be a common refrain for many of the 358 to come (should we be so lucky to see them) — this has been quite the week. We’ve had the Stable Genius boasting about the size and potency of his, um, nuclear button. There was a bombshell of a book release with a title that could be most Americans’ motto for this administration. (You know I got myself on the Fire and Fury holds list at the library — #180 out of #542, baby! I like my chances for the audio, for which I’m #37.)

Not to mention the weather has been downright frigid this week, with temperatures more suitable to Mars. All right, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration for the sake of pithy blog fodder, but I think we can come together and agree that it’s goddamned fucking cold. Last night we got down to -14 and that’s the actual temperature, not the RealFeel (of which it was -20 on Friday.)

But here’s a little something that made me feel all warm and toasty. I woke up to find this from The Girl (who had a snow day) as I sat down to have my coffee at 5:30 am.

She’s a keeper, that one. She’s 16, so this is a proud teenage parenting moment for the win. (And yes, for the love of God and keeping the peace, please let it be known that she did spell out AWESOME. My phone camera cut it off and I’m too lazy to retake the photo.)

Reading
I had all good intentions of reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan as my First Book of the Year, but decided I needed to get crackin’ on a review book, considering the review itself was due January 6. I’ll tell you more when it’s released in March. This week I’ll be reading another review book, so I don’t have much to talk about right now reading-wise.  Sorry.  I am reading a back issue of The New Yorker (10/23/2017) which includes this profile of our creepy-and-dangerous-as-fuck Vice President.

Blogging/Writing … 
Still hoping to finish my Best Books of 2017 post and a few other recaps of the year. Hopefully that will happen before, say, the Fourth of July.

I wrote a review for the aforementioned review book and submitted it within 29 minutes of the deadline. A great start to 2018. I’m working on another author piece, due tomorrow, so I need to spend some time with that today.

Oh, I almost forgot the biggest Blogging/Writing news. In what might be a regular occurrence or one time thing, The Husband made a return to blogging with this post (“Heaven and Hell Prepare For Massive Influx of Billions“)  It’s hilarious, but I may be biased. Anyway, consider giving it a look and showing him some blogger love.

Listening …

My current audiobook is It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell, a compelling memoir about Mitchell’s tumultuous childhood and how that affected her relationship to food. Mitchell writes candidly about her father’s alcoholism and destructive behavior, her mother working four jobs and preparing elaborate feasts for family gatherings (Mitchell’s descriptions of the food are mouth-watering), and how her traumatic formative years led to her weighing 300 pounds at age 20.

Many of the Goodreads reviews seem to be more complimentary to the first part of the book, but for now I’m finding this to be engaging yet heartbreaking. It seems odd to draw comparisons to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls but I think this would appeal to those who connected with that book.

Podcasts of the Week …
Being back to work after a long (12 days!) break means I’m back to podcast listening during my commute. (I alternate between audiobooks and podcasts, depending on my mood.)  For 2018, I want to get back to doing my Podcasts of the Week feature, either as part of these Salon posts or in a separate discussion, because I listen to so much great stuff that I want to a) remember and have a reference point of sorts and b) share it with you.

One that stood out this week was Ezra Klein’s discussion with Jon Favreau of Pod Save America. Both The Ezra Klein Show and Pod Save America are two of my favorites so this was a must-listen.  Others I enjoyed this week:

Getting Things Done: Tips for a Year-End Review (1/1/2018)
The Bob Cesca Show: Fire and Fury (1/4/2018)
The Readers: Farewell 2017 … Here’s to 2018 (12/30/2017)

Watching … 
To my delight, The Girl is on a quest to watch all the great ’80s movies. I am more than happy to oblige. This week her selection was “The Breakfast Club” and now she’s obsessed with all things Ally Sheedy, circa 1985.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, hope you’re keeping warm this Sunday.

 

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Dear Teenage Me, On the Night of Your 30th High School Reunion

I see you, way back there in 1987.

I know what you’re thinking.

I’ve just told you that you just came home from your 30th high school reunion, an occasion you swore you would never, ever go to.

(Never, ever. That’s so cute. And naïve.)

Instead, you had one of the best nights of your life with people who (I know, you’re not going to believe me) are genuinely great to be around.

They’re funny, smart, accomplished and you have a lot more in common than you think.

But now, in the me decade of the ’80s, you’re just trying to fit in. To feel accepted and seen in your small school where the same kids you stood with at the bus stop on your first day of elementary school will be the same kids in most of your classes and the same kids you’ll cross the graduation stage with 12 years later.

Yeah, newsflash (or spoiler alert, as we say in this era): despite the hell of algebra and the horrors of gym class, you do graduate. You’ll go to a college where, unlike Cheers, nobody knows your name (at first) and then you get a job or five, and maybe lose a few of them. You’ll make some money and the economy will make some of that disappear, too.  Same with your friends; you’ll keep some, make more, lose some of them, too.

In essence, you get a life.

That’s a bit of a ways off, though. For now, though, you’re in a competitive pressure-cooker where everyone is expected to excel. In everything. ALL. THE. FREAKIN’. TIME. It’s easy to feel less-than, that you don’t measure up, that what you do in these years will be remembered forever, would haunt you.

Or so you think.

Here’s what I’m trying to tell you, 30 years out.

The things you think matter today, in 1987?

Are going to be very different things in 2017.

(Oh my God, you have no idea how different things are going to be in 2017. Believe me.)

You know how I know?  Because last night, 30 years later? People who once seemed to have it all (and it all together) were admitting that…they…really…didn’t.

“I know, I know, I was such a loser….”

“…it was not always easy to see that [the good in people] in high school – when you are so self absorbed.” 

Wait, what? Him?  HER? They were feeling like this too?

What would it have been like, had we known? What damage could have been prevented? How different would we have been? How much fewer scars would we have had, then and now?

Who would we have noticed more closely?

It turns out that we were all insecure and unsure, trying to find our way. And we still are, in a sense. We’re sandwiched between our perplexing teens and our aging parents and facing an uncertain future on several fronts.  With seven classmates gone and losses of others in our lives, there are likely more years in the rearview mirror at this point than there are ahead.

But we know a few things that we didn’t know then.

We know that things get better. In so many ways.

And we know that we’re not alone gathered here in this thing called life.

And we finally, finally learned the most important lesson of all.

We never were.

 

 

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Book Review: Long Black Veil, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Jennifer Finney Boylan had me with that cover.

Actually, that’s not true.

Well, partially. But that cover is pretty kick-ass, isn’t it? I feel like making it my Facebook profile picture.

I was sold on this book simply because it’s written by Jennifer Finney Boylan. I’ve been a fan of hers for awhile now — loved her novella I’ll Give You Something to Cry About (one of my Best Books of 2016) and her memoir I’m Looking Through You: A Memoir of Growing Up Haunted (one of my Best Books of 2013) — and I admire her advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community. (She’s the outgoing co-chair of GLAAD.)

And it doesn’t hurt that she’s from Philly. Like me.

The dilapidated ruins of Philadelphia’s famed and creepy as hell Eastern State Penitentiary is  the setting for Long Black Veil. Darkly suspenseful, fast-paced, and character driven, this is told through alternating narratives that segue smoothly between 1980 and 2015. It accurately captures Philadelphia’s gritty essence from a bygone time. It’s about secrets, friendship, identity and authenticity.

You can read more of my review in today’s issue of Shelf Awareness.

(And yes, this one will be on my Best Books list for 2017.)

 

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Living on a Prayer with Bon Jovi in Pittsburgh

Immediately after performing “Runaway,” a song released 33 years ago, Jon Bon Jovi made a confession to the Pittsburgh crowd gathered at PPG Paints Arena on a Wednesday evening.

“I think I’m singing like shit tonight and I apologize,” he said, promising his fans he would keep “pushin’ on,” and adding “if you stick it out with me, I’ll stick it out with you.”

And that’s sort of how it has been for those of us who grew up with Bon Jovi, hasn’t it?  His music was part of the soundtrack to our youth, the backdrop to everything from our first loves to our last slow dance at the prom. To prove it, there was an entire arena on Wednesday night full of Gen Xers who, intentionally or not, seemed to be throwbacks to the 80s with mullets and big hair and clad in Slippery When Wet concert t-shirts from 1987 and clutching cans of beer while unabashedly belting out every single word to the likes of “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Lay Your Hands On Me.”

Same as it ever was.

At first I thought Jon’s admission that he had been battling a cold since Saturday was simply concert shtick or, perhaps, a clever intro to “Bad Medicine.” I still thought that when he brought a fan up from the audience to help out on “Born to Be My Baby.”

But when he walked over to the edge of the stage and recited Prince’s infamous, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life” — that’s when I admit to feeling a little freaked out and unsettled. Here’s yet another rock icon of my youth saying he’s not feeling well and invoking the words of another who died way too young and reminding us of our own mortality and his. My generation doesn’t need any more reminders of the fragility of life, that we’re getting older and that, personally speaking at 48, more years are likely to be in the rear-view mirror than down the road.

Whoa, we’re halfway there, whoa, livin’ on a prayer … 

On Bon Jovi’s new album “This House is Not For Sale,” one of the tracks is called “God Bless This Mess.”   I think it kind of puts into context this phase of life and how we’re starting to feel its effects.

“My voice is shot, I’m going grey, these muscles all ache
Don’t cry for me, I’m the life of the party
I’m smiling most of the time
I may be gritting my teeth, can’t get back where we started
These days I’m doing just fine.” 

The song has been frequently included on this tour’s setlist, but we didn’t get to hear it in Pittsburgh because as the world knows by now, the Pittsburgh show was abruptly cut short — 90 minutes into what would have been a two and a half hour performance — and with no rousing encore. It’s a decision that has some expressing frustration, mostly via social media temper tantrums, about getting an abbreviated version of the show.

To which I say, get yourself a fucking life. If you’re complaining about something as trivial as being “cheated” out of sixty minutes of a concert — during a week when innocent people were gassed to death in a unfathomable literal hell on earth — then check your privilege at the door, thank you. Sure, it’s disappointing to not get something you expected. But there is nothing that comes with a guarantee in life. Nothing.

And that’s what Bon Jovi’s songs are all about. They remind us to enjoy that moment, that guy, that girl, that kiss, that night, that time, that love.  I went to the show with my 15 year old daughter and we danced our asses off and sang at the top of our lungs. We had a great time, enjoying every moment. For the record, I thought Jon sounded fantastic and his performance was great.  My girl loved it and said it was one of the best nights of her life.

“Take my hand,” I said, as we crossed a busy street to get back to our car.

We looked at each other. “We’ll make it, I swear!” we sang.

We remember how we were, once upon a time, not so long ago. We take nothing for granted, holding on to what we’ve got. These days, we’re all living on a prayer.

Thanks for a great show, Jon. Get well soon. 

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Currently … Listening, Attending, Anticipating, Celebrating

Our daffodils bloomed this week. Or maybe it was last Saturday, I’m not sure. And even though they arrive on a different date each year–sometimes varying by several weeks, depending on the vagaries of Pittsburgh’s weather–they always seem calibrated to appear at the exact moment when I need an emotional pick me up.  Despite this particular bloom pictured above from the front yard, they’re looking a little droopier than usual this year. Maybe the late season snow of a few weeks ago is to blame, I don’t know.

Listening….
As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent most of this week being obsessed with S-Town, the new podcast by the team behind Serial and This American Life. It’s only seven episodes of about an hour each, give or take, so you can easily listen to the whole thing during your commute plus some time at your desk or as you work out or however you listen to podcasts. And if you don’t listen to podcasts, this is a great one to start with. I’m so in awe at the reporting and sheer craft of storytelling with this one.  If you’re not listening, you need to start. Now.

Attending … 
You wouldn’t know it from my not-so-great cell phone photo, but I had second row seats on Thursday night as J.D. Vance was in Pittsburgh to give a lecture about his best-selling book Hillbilly Elegy. I’ll have more to say in a separate post but I enjoyed his talk more than the book. I mean, I thought it was fine as a memoir but as the touchstone for the cultural commentary that it has been anointed as … I’m not sure. It’s certainly a book that has struck a nerve, good and bad.

Anticipating … 
After going through a One Direction phase that lasted four long years (and cost a fortune in tickets for three separate concerts and related 1D merchandise), The Girl has seen the light and discovered the music of my youth. We’re talking Michael Jackson, Prince, and Bon Jovi, in particular.

(Let’s pause for a moment while the heavens part and angelic music plays — notably by two of those three, who could be playing a celestial jam.)

I am, obviously, delighted about The Girl’s new appreciation for ’80s tunes –mainly because all said merchandise and music is already available in the basement, free of charge and accessible via convenient mixtapes and CDs. Have at it, kid.

Anyway, many months ago, she heard that Bon Jovi was touring and would be stopping in Pittsburgh. She begged to go and I was unconvinced. I should have known better, given this girl’s history when it comes to music. When she finds someone she likes, she is a fan for life. Finally, I relented over Christmas dinner.  If she worked on improving her algebra and biology grades and went to after-school tutoring if she needed extra help, I would consider getting Bon Jovi tickets.  Soon, I was getting texts from her updating me on every grade.  Like every day. And there was not a day I did not hear about Bon Jovi.

And you know, this girl worked her ass off. These are not her strongest subjects, not by a long shot, but she raised her algebra grade from a 75 to an 80 (the highest ever) and biology from a 77 to an 85. So, we’re going. And she is beside herself and absolutely delirious. She has been talking about nothing but this concert for months.

To tell you the truth, I’m just as excited as she as. I love Bon Jovi and have since the beginning. Saw them in concert when I was The Girl’s age. I think it was back in ’85 or ’86 when they played The Spectrum in Philadelphia, maybe for the Slippery When Wet Tour. It could have also been in ’89, but I seem to think it was earlier. Anyway, The Girl finds this to be the epitome of cool. And since The Girl is 15 and a half and I am still regarded as a cool mom who The Girl enjoys hanging out with,  I’ll take it.

Celebrating …
This is my birthday week and I’m thrilled that Jon and I are both still rockin’ on. Usually I try and take my birthday off from work but because of the Philly trip last month and another somewhat unplanned Philly visit over Easter, I don’t want to burn too many vacation days this early in the year. So, tomorrow will be a typical, normal work day — hopefully without too much stress. Maybe I’ll even take my full lunch hour and leave work on time. I bought myself a flourless chocolate cake from Trader Joe’s. My daughter wants to hang with me at a Bon Jovi concert. There are worse ways to welcome in 48.

“Welcome to wherever you are
This is your life, you made it this far
Welcome, you got to believe
That right here, right now
You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be
Welcome to wherever you are….”
~ Bon Jovi, “Welcome to Wherever You Are”

 

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Book Review: Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote

tomboy-survival-guide

For several weeks, I’ve been hinting about a new freelance book review gig. I’m thrilled to announce that I am a new contributor to the popular book site Shelf Awareness.  My first review for Shelf Awareness was Ivan Coyote‘s memoir Tomboy Survival Guide about growing up transgender in the Yukon during the 1980s and their process of discovering and accepting their gender identity.

As coincidence would have it, this review was published last week — on Election Day, no less — and I share it with you now, during Transgender Awareness Week. In these uncertain and frightening times, Ivan’s voice becomes even more important.

Read more about Ivan’s story and my full review of Tomboy Survival Guide in the Biography and Memoir section of Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 8, 2016.

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sunday salon/currently …moment in time

Sunday Salon 4

Sitting out here on the deck, with the sunny and 75 degrees and no humidity weather as perfect as it gets here in Pittsburgh, this feels like a moment in time. Summer is definitely winding down. Only two days remain before school starts, and it’s a milestone one: this is the year we turn a corner and become the parents of high schoolers.

“I remember thinking, back when we were in the NICU, that their high school graduation year of 2020 seemed so far away,”  The Husband commented on Wednesday, as the four of us sat in the school’s auditorium for high school orientation.  This is where it all starts, the principal said, the plans and decisions and classes that shape the next four years.

Of course, he was careful to say that there’s still time to decide on a post-graduation pathway; nothing needs to be determined this week.  But the message was clear: time’s a-tickin’. Time keeps on tickin’, tickin’ tickin’ into the future …. 

It’s all a bit unsettling. Even without a new building to navigate and new school personnel to get used to, the beginning of school historically tends to be a difficult, stressful, anxiety-levels-through-the-stratosphere transition for our family. Much of this past week has been spent trying to mitigate as much of that as possible. To put it mildly,  it’s been exhausting on every level.

Bright Precious DayOne of my go-to coping strategies has been to seek out a mindless read, and Jay McInerney’s latest, Bright, Precious Days is fitting that bill perfectly. It’s another incarnation of the insufferable lives of Corrine and Russell Calloway, the protagonists in two of McInerney’s Brightness Falls and The Good Life. Just like his earlier works, Bright, Precious Days is yet another one of McInerney’s name-dropping romps through the New York City playgrounds of the glitterati.

If you’ve read any of McInerney’s earlier novels, you know what you’ll be getting with any of his subsequent books. Bright, Precious Days does not veer from the formula that has made him successful. It’s a navel-gazing, salad-eating, charity-gala-going, Chanel-wearing, hedge-fund managing narrative set in New York (of course) between 2006-2008.  Hillary is running for president against a guy named Barack whose only major political experience is a short stint as a Senator;  the subprime mortgage crisis and the recession hasn’t yet happened, and people still carry flip phones.

It all seems like an ancient time, as much of a relic from the past as the cocaine-laced ’80s that define McInerney’s characters own bright, precious days. Those they lost in the era of drugs and AIDS, as well as the horror of 9/11, are still very much part of their present.

Like I said, sometimes you just need a book where you don’t have to think much and if I was in a different state of mind, this might not be holding my interest. But it’s doing its job right now by being an effective diversion, so that’s something. And even though The Husband and I never were nor will ever be in the same social and economic class as the Calloways, there’s a part of me that can relate to them.  At 47, we don’t feel old enough to have kids in high school, despite my insistence to The Husband at the school orientation that we are, in fact older than the typical parents.  At nearly 50 (the age of the Calloways), it seems we should have our act together by now, have done more, know what we’re doing with our lives.  Instead, the decisions we’ve put into place and the assumptions we’ve made about our future feel shaky, at best.

It’s twilight.  The clouds are aflame, there’s a slight autumnal chill in the air. All any of us really have in this moment in time are these bright, precious days.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #84 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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