Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

The 1970s: My first decade

From time to time, I’ve written about the 1980s. They mattered to me. As I wrote in 2008:

In practically every sense of the word, I grew up in the 1980s: I turned 10 the year they began, when the Empire struck back and Tom Hanks cross-dressed on television. In 1989 I saw Robin Williams make studying poetry rock, graduated from high school, started college, listened to the Cure disintegrate and turned 19. The popular culture of that decade is as addicting to me as a two-pound bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a two-liter of Coke Classic.

In my memories, the late 1970s – say, 1977-79 – mesh easily with the eighties, for the most part. Maybe because that’s when I started elementary school, and you begin having those shared experiences with your friends that eventually shape and define you collectively.

But over the past few years, I’ve found myself drawn repeatedly to pieces from the earlier part of that decade, which I recall with little specificity, large swaths of sensory impressions, and vague memories attached to large, blurry-edged chunks of time and place.

Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Me, sometime in 1971 or ’72. That blanket in the background now belongs to my daughter.

The early 1970s were the years when my mom and I lived in her childhood farmhouse in Upper Sandusky, while my dad was serving in the Air Force; when mom & dad & I lived in Lima, Ohio, and I made my first best friend, Albert.

Movies like Snoopy Come Home, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake take me back there in powerful, intangible ways. (Yes, I saw those last two in the theatre with my parents, and re-watched them within the last couple years for the first time in decades: Inferno totally holds up. Earthquake does not.) So do songs like Billy Don’t Be a Hero, Song Sung Blue, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, and Band on the Run (oh God, BAND ON THE RUN).

For a long time, my love for the ’80s made it easy for me to kind of file the early 1970s away in a lumped-together preschool haze of funky stripes and plaids, wavy hairstyles, and peanut butter sandwiches, without giving much thought to the lasting impressions and the things that mattered.

My parents, I realize now, were at an age I’d now grin at and shake my head, saying, “Ah, they’re still just kids.” And my grandparents still had many years ahead of them – they were only about 10 years older than I am now.

I’m going to try to regularly revisit those years through pictures and memories for awhile. Adam and I have talked about it occasionally, and recent conversations with my friend Mo about Walt Disney World got me looking for pieces from an early ’70s trip there with my parents.

The ’80s will still be there for me. But I’m looking forward to spending some time going further back.

January 21, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 3 Comments

Father’s Day – Music and Memory

Because memory association is what I do, on this Father’s Day, here are five songs that always bring my dad immediately to mind:

Harry Chapin, “Taxi” –

I remember my parents talking about the news when Chapin died, but more vividly I remember being in the car with my Dad, and this being a song for which he specifically turned the radio up and told me he liked it. After the song’s narrator talks about his old flame telling him to keep the change from the “twenty dollars for a two-fifty fare” come the lines:

Well another man might have been angry/ And another man might have been hurt,
But another man never would have let her go. / I stashed the bill in my shirt.

At this point Dad gave me one of those eyebrow-raised “that’s life” half-grins and said, “Yep – Harry’s no fool.”

Sheena Easton, “Telefone” –

I remember when Dad bought Best Kept Secret on cassette. It was the first current pop album I remember him buying, and I seem to think he told me it was one of the albums they listened to at the hospital where he worked as an anesthetist. It’s funny how many fragments of the other songs on the album popped into my head when I read through the track listing for the first time in at least 25 years, but “Telefone” is by far the most prominent in memory. (I think Dad had a little thing for the early/mid-1980s Sheena – neatly balanced , of course, by mom’s little crush on Harrison Ford.)

Lionel Richie, “Hello” –

Because the song came on the radio once in the car, and for some reason, Dad began responding out loud to the lyrics:

“I’ve been alone with you inside my mind …”

“Really, Lionel?”

“And in my dreams I’ve kissed your lips a thousand times.”

“Lionel!” (This was preceded by little gasp of faux-prudish horror and sent me over the edge into laughter.)

My wife never got to meet my Dad, but I told her this story a long time ago, and I’m not sure we’ve ever heard “Hello” and failed to insert Dad’s comments.

The Beach Boys, “Sloop John B” –

Well, I mean, it’s got my name – which is also my Dad’s brother’s name – right there in the title, which Dad always pointed out, and it’s a Beach Boys song from arguably their best and most influential album, so there’s that, too.  My parents graduated from high school in 1965, so the The Beach Boys were a big part of the music I heard when I was little, and they later became the first musical act I saw perform live when I went with my parents to Blossom Music Center in my early teens.

Don McClean, “American Pie” –

I remember hearing this song for the first time because we were in the car and Dad made a point of telling me all about how long the song was, and how parts of it were about Buddy Holly’s death and other parts Don McLean had just explained as having no meaning at all.

The song stuck: When I was old enough to drive, I went to the mall and bought a $2 cassette version of it from a bargain bin at Camelot Music (look it up, youngsters) and was disgusted to find it included the cut-in-half “part one” and “part two” single versions. And when I took to hanging index cards with quotes and song lyrics on the inside of my high school locker door, verses from “American Pie” were there.

It’s still a favorite – an absolute gotta-turn-it-up in the car, and if I’m alone, crank it to eleven, sing along, get those adrenaline shivers and remember my Dad.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history, Music, Ohio | , , | 2 Comments

Children’s Palace: Peter Panda Unmasked!

George Krstic’s Tweet asking, “Who misses Children’s Palace?“, sent me digging into the Booth photo archives. (Because, well, the answer to his question is a resounding, “I do!”)

I’ve mentioned the occasion of these two photos here on the blog and in Collect All 21!

Peter Panda - Children's Palace mascot, 1989

Click to embiggen and feel the 1980s love.

Peter Panda - Children's Palace mascot - Unmasked!

Click to zoom back in time.

“Classic” logo on the Coke 2-liter? Check.

Dual cassette deck AND turntable stereo system? Check.

Someone in the reflection behind me trying on the ginormous Peter Panda head? CHECKMATE.

I also have this odd tangible reminder of the most awesome of awesomest toy stores:

Children's Palace cup - Peter Panda

"Hey, kids? Mom and dad won't buy you a toy? Ask for THIS: It's cheap, and you can use it every day to remind them that you NEED TO GO TO CHILDREN'S PALACE RIGHT NOW!"

I dunno – maybe it was a giveaway or something, because I certainly can’t imagine that my parents would have paid money to put Children’s Palace ad space on our kitchen counter.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio, science fiction | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Twenty years went under the bridge like time was standing still.

Two decades ago tonight:

It was my sophomore year at Bowling Green.

So, Tobi showed me around her hometown, and after dark, we drove out to this place she called Five Mile Bridge and waited for a train to come rushing beneath while we stood there and leaned on the railing.

For some reason, that night mattered to me. Maybe because I was barely 20 and everything like that mattered to me. Maybe because it was a strange sort of fluxing time in my life, when my closest friends had moved away and I felt oddly on my own. It grew to matter even more when Tobi died a few years later.

By that time, you couldn’t drive across Five Mile Bridge anymore.

Here’s how it looked when Jenn and I visited in June 1996:

I’ve been there four times in all, but not since a couple weeks before Christmas 1999, and never again after dark. I don’t even know if the bridge is still standing.

A few weeks after my last visit, I started writing the first draft of what grew into Crossing Decembers, which, while a work of fiction, has very real roots out there in the vast fields of Northwest Ohio.

For the sake of sharing, I serialized the entire book online this spring and summer. With winter a week away, and the 20th anniversary of two goofy college kids standing on a cold bridge in the middle of nowhere upon me, it seemed the right time to collect all the chapter links together.

It’s snowy and windy today, and I’ll be listening for train whistles.


Chapter 1 – Return

Chapter 2 – Another December

Chapter 3 – A Glimpse of Orion

Chapter 4 – Bowling Green, Ohio

Chapter 5 – And We Danced

Chapter 6 – Steering A Train

Chapter 7 – 7:41

Chapter 8 – Another December

Chapter 9 – Cornfield Meet

Chapter 10 – Bridging Backward

Chapter 11 – Pennies and Splinters

Click here for information on ordering the book in paperback or electronic editions through Amazon or Lulu.

December 14, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, 1990s, Books, Fiction, geek, Ohio, writing | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Turning forty: two photos

A couple days after I wrote this post on turning 40, the result of several months’ worth of conspiracy came to fruition in a surprise party at my mom’s house. (I was expecting a smallish family get-together – turned out to be a hugely awesome gathering of amazing friends old and new and wholly unexpected visitors, from people I’ve known since I wearing plaid pants and watching Sesame Street to others I’ve just come to know in the past few years.)

For my 40th birthday, I received two photos. (Three if you count the baby picture on the birthday cake.)

Here’s one:

Click the photo to embiggen. But don't feel obligated.

This was a gift from my brother & sister-in-law. Ever since my youngest brother and I started running one race a summer, we’ve always been amused by the usually less-than-flattering photo results, from the lower-lip mid-bounce freeze-frame to the eyes-half-closed unintentional pout to the “I’m trying to throw a double-thumbs up and a wink toward the camera but they snapped it too early and I look like an idiot” that my brother has mastered.

I was stunned, then, to find this among the shots of me participating in the relay in this year’s Akron Marathon, because it makes me look, you know, like I’m running, as opposed to simply trying not to keel over.

Just to keep me from feeling almost cool, though, here’s the second picture I got for my 40th birthday:

Is there any way I can avoid this thing without betraying my cool exterior?

September, 1981: I’m 10 years old. Apparently the neighborhood dare-of-the-day was to kiss this tomato worm found in our neighbor’s garden. I’ll pass, thanks. I mean, with my ink-stained stripey shirt and my +2 Plastic Rimmed Glasses of NerdVision, I’m already pushing the boundaries of TOO AWESOME TO CARE, so why risk sucking all of southern Lake Township into a black hole of nonchalance by showing off and smooching a Manduca quinquemaculata?

(Also: Ewww.)

December 4, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history, geek, Ohio, photos, running, Sports | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

New friends, family ties and the edge of the desert.

After passing beneath a super-ominous and very cool storm front yesterday morning southwest of Eureka, Missouri – that cloud was so low and heavy-looking it felt like driving beneath one of the Independence Day invasion ships – the rest of the short 6-hour drive to Arkansas was easy and entertaining. It included a long stretch of winding two-lane through some very small towns in what was apparently once a river beach resort destination region, and I wish I had been able to stop and take some photos of a few incredible shots where the road actually undercuts these stone cliffs, so you’re driving with tons and tons of rock hanging overhead, with a river off to the opposite side. Unfortunately, I was being rudely tailgated because I refused to speed (I’ve grown up around enough small towns to know speed traps when I see them), so you’ll just have to trust me: If you ever have some time, check out Missouri Route 59.)

Got to Arkansas in the early afternoon and finally got to meet Kirk Demarais, who, it turns out, is as incredibly awesome and kind and fun and generous in person as he’s been online. And though he had no obligation to entertain me or anything, Kirk figured it would be fun to take a mini-road trip for the afternoon, so we zipped over to Eureka Springs – spotting, along the way, totally by chance and entirely fitting, the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Traveling Reptile Show in a parking lot. (Truth be told, things like that make me sad for the animals, so they never get my money, but the cheesy sideshow art on the trailers was too garish and bizarre and odd not to stop and gawk at.)

We wandered the three or four balconies of the supposedly haunted Crescent Hotel –

Crescent Hotel

Crescent view 2

– and walked around Eureka Springs for a little while, then went to check out the view of the place from across the valley, from the vantage point of the Christ of the Ozarks –

Christ of the Ozarks

The day passed in a non-stop conversation bouncing from nerdstuff to nostalgia to movies and science fiction and videogames and being dads and art and writing and books and road trips, and it was a total blast, and Kirk and his family are seriously great people for letting me crash at their place during my odyssey.

I got up and hit the road this morning about 6 a.m.

Today was quite the drive for changing scenery:

From an approaching storm over Oklahoma –

to the Texas panhandle –


to a blazing afternoon stopoff in Amarillo and a visit to the site of the former Air Force Base where my dad did his basic training back in 1968. It’s not a pretty place these days:

former Amarillo

And even though I wasn’t yet in the world when Dad was here and when mom and grandma drove down to visit him, I still wanted to see it, and I tried to imagine Dad coming down here on his own and being in this strange and isolated and expansive region so different from the parts of Ohio where he grew up.

From Amarillo, it was just a couple quick hours to Tucumcari, New Mexico, where I’m staying tonight, and I’ve got a couple good hours of the evening to explore, which I’m going to go do now, since tomorrow’s another hit-the-road-early day.

June 16, 2010 Posted by | Family history, geek, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Oo! Ooo! Oooo!

While I was looking through our family photo albums for Empire Strikes Back-related pictures, I found this shot of one of the more bizarre toys from my childhood: Welcome Back, Kotter Colorforms:

Hi there.

Sincerely, Epstein's Mother.

According to the note on the back, this picture’s from 1977, when we lived on 19th St. NW in Canton, Ohio. I could have cropped it closer to the actual Colorforms set itself, but I like the inclusion of the rug and the footstool and, at lower right, the case of the peel-apart film Polaroid camera with which this photo was taken.

Since I’m not in the picture, the possibility exists that, being six years old, I was so excited about creating my own wacky adventures with Mr. Kotter, Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington, Arnold Horshack, Vinnie Barbarino and Juan Luis Pedro Phillippo DeHuevos Epstein that I got my parents to let me take a picture to preserve the joy. (I’ve labeled the characters on the picture’s Flickr page, where there are also larger – though not much clearer – versions.)

There’s a great shot of the set and the Mad magazine-esque package art totally worth checking out over at Hake’s. (Although Epstein’s not mentioned in the cover text – what’s up with that?)

I do remember playing with this – as well as the “You’re A Pal, Snoopy” Colorforms I had, though I associate that set with the basement play room of the next house we lived in – and though I get the mix-and-match legs & torsos and props like the paper airplanes, to this day I can’t figure out what the hell that giant striped candy cane was for.

May 20, 2010 Posted by | Games, Television | , , , , | 1 Comment

Golden Age of a Saga

Last week, I got a nice note from Henry Hanks over at CNN’s Geek Out! blog – he’d found my site and thought I might be interested in contributing to the CNN iReport project on the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back‘s original release.

Click to view the video on CNN iReport

Seeing as how I’m in full-on Empire Recollection Mode this week anyway, I figured it would be fun – and it gave me a chance to work with a new video editor and sound setup installed post-Karmic upgrade.

Nothing fancy, but I like the way it came out. I can’t seem to embed CNN video, but it’s viewable with a simple click here.

And if it whets your appetite for some Empire nostalgia, come see me Saturday at the Fairlawn-Bath branch of the Akron-Summit Public Library!

May 13, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Web/Tech, writing | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Wars nostalgiarchaeology – delicious find!

So I’m waiting for the primer on the walls to dry, and I’m looking for a little bit of flashback to post, and I happen upon … this:

Yub Nub! Icecreamandfudgenub!

Happy 7th Birthday, Nicky! (click for larger versions)

My friends, if my analysis is correct … that is an EWOK on that ice cream cake.

Here’s a zoomed shot:

Let 'em eat cake. And then they can topple a highly superior army.

Short help's better than no help, but ice cream cake beats all.

Now, I remember Nick’s Return of the Jedi Throne Room Duel cake, but this one had completely eluded memory. If I had to guess, I’d figure this was in the Dairy Queen adjacent to the Gold Circle department store on Everhard Road in Canton, in the same shopping center as the four-house movie theater and the Funway Freeway arcade where Aaron and I fought Golden Axe to the death.

Given the amount of time and energy I’ve spent digging up pretty much every corner of my Star Wars Memory Yard, it’s fun to find something like this.

May 8, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history, geek, science fiction | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Friends, family

*Update 8/21/11 – The people in this photo are, from left to right: Ann Binau, Glen Shafer, Bud and Peg Orians, Judge Loren Charles “Dutch” and Georgia Schoenberger, Reuben and Donna Schoenberger, and Pete Binau. At the 100th Schoenberger reunion on Aug. 21, 2011, I met “Dutch” and showed him this photo. He supplied this great background to the photo, which kind of puts a lump in my throat: Dutch served in the armed forces from 1941-1946. This photo is from a celebratory night at a tavern in Bucyrus, Ohio, marking the first time this gang of friends and relatives were back together at home after World War II.

There’s no information at all on this photo from our family trunk, but it’s one of my favorites in there:

Schoenbergers, Beidelschieses, and a Binau or three?

Click to see a larger scan.

I know for sure that my maternal grandfather, Reuben Schoenberger, is third from the right, and to his immediate left (so, the second person from the right) is my maternal grandmother, Donna Ruth. And I’m fairly certain that the woman at the far left is my great-aunt (?) Ann Binau. All the remaining faces have a degree of familiarity which will probably resolve into aha! moments if my mom checks this out, because I’m sure she’d recognize most, if not all of them.

Every person in this picture – and if I’m right with my hunches, I’m related to most of them – has always been an “old” person to me. They’re my grandparents and their siblings and peers, and they bring to mind memories of houses that didn’t have any kids’ toys and where complicated card games were played while people laughed and drank things I think I’d later find out were whiskey sours, which would explain why the first time I ever tried that drink, I was thrown back to feeling like a kid underfoot at a grown-ups’ get-together.

But here’s why I love this picture so much: Because when I look at this photo, God, this could be me and Jenn and our friends, or us with my brothers and their wives – and not even the way we are now, but maybe 10 or even 15 years ago, all hanging out someplace and crammed into a corner booth or a table, the food (if there had been any to begin with) long since cleared away while the glasses remained and everyone just kept on laughing and talking.

Maybe that’s not what’s going on here at all – but that’s what it reminds me of, and that’s where it takes me, and it’s funny how now that I’m most likely more than a few years older than the group gathered at this table, I love thinking about how young they were, and even decades later, it alters my memories of them just a little bit for the better.

May 2, 2010 Posted by | Family history, Ohio, photos | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

%d bloggers like this: