Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring, Day 8

This was the perfect spring afternoon I'd been waiting for.

I was actually inside working on some freelance stuff most of the morning and early afternoon. I took Popcorn to buy dog food at PetSmart, dropped her off and went to pick up the boys from school. After we got home, we went to Ben's baseball practice. The practice went well on the partly sunny, warm spring late afternoon. On his first time on the batting machine this year, Ben got four hits in only about 10 at-bats -- a big improvement over last year when he got only three hits all season during games.

We returned home and ate dinner, then I took Popcorn for a walk to a little wooded area near Emigration Creek where I can take her off leash. I threw a tennis ball to her, usually uphill to get her good and exercised. We walked back to the house and settled in for the night.

I'll admit, the day wasn't that eventful. But it was sunny and warm (low 60s, but it felt great) and was a reminder of how nice spring days can be.

The Nostalgia Files: American Top 40

I thought at some point over the last six years, I blogged about "American Top 40." But looking through the old posts, I can't find it. If I do, I'll rewrite this first paragraph. For now, I'll paraphrase what I thought I wrote. I discovered AT40, hosted by Casey Kasem, in December 1980 while listening to the radio while taking a shower. I had taken a liking to music countdowns, with WLS' Big 89 the New Year's Eve before and "Solid Gold" (and that blog post I found).

I consistently listened to AT40 the next couple years, first on WBBM-FM in Chicago, then on WLS. Gradually, I was sleeping a little later on Sunday mornings or finding other things to do, because I didn't listen to the countdowns as much. Still, on the couple hundred tapes of songs I recorded off the radio between 1982-1989, bits of "American Top 40" -- and the songs in between Casey Kasem's voice -- pop up here and there.

A few decades later, the classic AT40s are rerun on radio stations across the country. More station carry the 1970s reruns than the '80s, and though I like the listening to the former decade, I prefer the latter's shows. After all, these were the countdowns I actually listened to when I was a kid. With live streaming, an audio program and an MP3 converter, I've been recording these shows for future listening on my iPod.

After getting a bunch of old episodes over the last two years, I've become a little more discriminating on what I record. If I have an episode from this week in 1982 that I recorded last year, and the episode next week is the subsequent week in 1982, the songs are mostly the same. The files from 3-4 hours of recorded audio are big; I only keep a few on my iPod at any one time. And though I do catch some new songs that I don't remember from back in the day, I do own most of these songs as MP3s or MP4s -- I can re-create my own countdowns if I wanted. No, the allure is the "American Top 40" itself -- Casey's stories, the long-distance dedications, the jingles that might musically declare "Number twenty-seven!"

In the past few months however, the rerun AT40s have made a case that I should be less discriminating instead of more.

First, I captured the year-end countdown from 1987, rerun 25 years after its original airing. This was significant because on one of those old tapes, several songs, including "I Knew You Were Waiting" and "Rock Steady" by The Whispers, taped one Sunday from the same countdown reside.

Second, and this really floored me more than anything, was an AT40 episode from February 1983 that was recently rerun and I recorded. Usually, I record the live stream, then go back through to edit out the present-day commercials. As I listened to the 30-year-old show, Casey started telling a story about the Stray Cats (in the countdown that week with "Stray Cat Strut") and how the band would change its name to something else with "cats" in the title so it could play at different clubs in England and still let the fans know it was the same band.

I already knew that story, and you know why? I remember hearing it on "American Top 40" in 1983.

Besides the nostalgia of the old music and the show itself, I love listening to these AT40s because it's taking me to an exact place in time when I was also listening to the show. I can see an old movie and try to remember the first time I saw it (and I'm actually pretty good at remembering the theater and the circumstances), or watch a rerun of "Cheers," "The Cosby Show" or "Happy Days" and know what's going to happen, even though I haven't seen the episode in decades. But something about this one specific AT40 moment ignited something in my nostalgic brain. Thirty years ago, I was in my house or maybe my parents' car, or maybe listening to my dad's Walkman or the little AM transistor radio I owned, and I heard this story about the Stray Cats. Three decades later, I was sitting in my home office, on my PC, and I heard the same story.

I wish our memories were like a long YouTube video. If you place your cursor over the progress bar, a very small thumbnail pops up to show you what's playing at that moment of the video. How great would it be if we could replay every moment of our lives? You could click on the parts you wanted to see again, then click ahead past the parts you don't. We remember so much but forget even more. And that's a small part of why I blog so much about things past -- I'm pissed that there's things I don't remember.

Listening to that AT40, I placed a cursor on a point of my life when I absolutely knew I was doing. There was no video, but there didn't need to be -- I was listening to the radio.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring, days 3-7

Something got in the way of my spring blogging: wintry things.

Over the past five days, we got more intermittent snow and some chilly temps. The weather seemed to finally turn back to more springlike in the past 36 hours, and should be nice for the next several days. Huzzah!

I watched plenty of basketball over these past five days as well, to the point that it got so late I didn't feel like blogging. I can't get enough of the madness, even if it started a little later than normal this year (the Final Four won't begin until April 6).

I took Ben back to the game store Friday, and we tried Ticket to Ride, which was fun. Michael skied for the last time this season that day as well. Saturday was a well-deserved nothing day in which we cleaned, relaxed, and didn't have anyplace we had to be. We went to Mass on Sunday and Ben had his first baseball practice of the season despite a cold breeze (it wasn't so bad once the sun came out). The boys and I went to the Jazz game Monday night. Today, I co-oped at the boys' school and helped with Michael's baseball practice.

That catches me up. Until Spring, Day 8 ...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Spring, Day 2

So less than eight hours after my decision to blog spring, it snowed in Salt Lake City.

Thankfully, it wasn't a lot of snow, and it all melted by mid-afternoon. But baby, it's cold outside, and is supposed to stay that way (highs in the 30s) for the next few days.

These are my two favorite sports days of the year: the first two days of the NCAA Tournament. So after running some errands, I watched basketball most of the afternoon, including a 59-58 lucky victory by Marquette. I'm guessing I'll watch even more hoops tomorrow.

Not all the basketball was of the NCAA variety. Michael played his last basketball game of the season (I counted 25 for him among three leagues) on the JCC team that I coached. We only had four players at game time, but the other coach was cool and we went 4-on-4 until our fifth player arrived. And we finished with a victory: 18-10, with Michael scoring 12 points and grabbing at least 15 rebounds. Playing on the short court, 5-on-5 can get a little crowded, but 4-on-4 opened things up for us to get a lot of shots and rebounds. Unfortunately, Michael's shooting was way, way off in the first quarter -- maybe he was too wide open. He could have scored 20 if he didn't have the temporary kink in his shot. We had lost to our opponent twice this year, so it was a good way to finish off the season.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spring, Day 1

After blogging summer last year, and after not blogging much this year, I'm trying a new endeavor: Blogging spring. This will only go through about the third week of May, when I jump ahead and officially summer as having begun. My hope is to chronicle the boys' last couple months of third and first grades, baseball and soccer season, my progress toward getting in shape for summer, and the emergence from a winter that sucked.

Unfortunately, my first day of spring was somewhat boring. I woke up with a sore throat and was just tired all day. I don't think it's a cold, but rather, allergies starting to kick in. Nevertheless, the combination of the being under the weather, the weather being cloudy and rainy, and coming off an incredibly busy Tuesday resulted in kind of a lazy day. I made pizza for dinner, and we played board games after we ate. I took the dog for a walk and watched the last half hour of "2010" on TCM.

Spring has sprung. But on Day 1, I wasn't very springy.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The golden age of (my) television

I possess a rather good recollection of our family's television in the 1970s.

Kiddies, there was a time when the primary TV in your house weighed 200 pounds and was essentially a piece of furniture. That's what our TV was: perhaps 3 1/2 feet tall, wood-paneled, heavy, no remote control. It took my dad and another adult to move it.

I remember our secondary TV as well, the one in our basement on McVicker and in my parents' room on Rascher. It was white, with probably a 27-inch screen, no remote control, and on a white stand we used for a while after the TV had died. My Atari 400 was hooked to it in the 1980s, years after we played a Pong console on it. I also remember the black-and-white TV we watched in our kitchen (it sat atop a rolling stand with a spot to put newspapers or magazines underneath, as well as the big standalone TV my grandfather gave us that actually had a clicker for a remote, a small color one (also from my grandfather) I had in my room in eighth grade and that barely worked, and the black-and-white TV in my dorm the first two years of college (wow, also from my grandfather).

But the big-ass console in our living room in the 1970s was the main television. I watched my first Super Bowl on it, as well as "Romper Room," "Bozo's Circus," my first Schoolhouse Rocks, "Solid Gold '79" and "Happy Days." Our first VCR (a big monstrosity in its own right) sat atop that TV. And it was furniture as essential as the couch and coffee table.

By 1980, our big console TV was dying. Televisions, much like cars of that era, weren't built to last. Are picture tubes even replaced now? We had a TV go kaput a few years ago and simply bought a new one. Our little kitchen TV is 10 years old, works fine, and is obsolete. But three decades ago, the console age was fading, with big TVs being replaced with only slightly smaller ones that could be placed on stands.

In March 1980, we needed a new television. The search began. I remember going to JC Penney's and Sears in Golf Mill (a mall in Niles, Ill.) with my family at the start of the journey (and for some reason, I connect hearing "Still" by The Commodores and "Working My Way Back to You" by The Spinners). Then that Sunday, we went to an electronics shop near Wrigley Field that had, and I'm not making this up, a cage with a live chimpanzee or monkey in the window. I don't think I went near the cage (and some time later, the store got in trouble for the simian). I believe we bought our TV there -- a 21-inch (I'm guessing on the size) Sylvania that seemed light years ahead of our big old console.

Thirty-three years later, this Sylvania GTE survives. Pardon the flash in the picture, but here it is in my home office.

The TV has definitely seen better days. It didn't come with a remote; we just turned the dial to the desired channel. But you could adjust each channel to get whatever signal you wanted, then place a plastic inlay over the number (this was useful for UHF stations). Over the years, zeroing in on one channel is tricky, even if I only need channels 2, 3 or 4. The latch on the TV's front door broke long ago. The picture isn't the greatest. This was the last generation of TVs to not come cable ready, meaning you had to screw on the antenna connectors to get a video game or VCR to work (or the antenna, for that matter).

And yet, the TV lives. I think I took ownership of it when I moved to Milwaukee permanently. It's never been the primary TV, but worked well as an extra TV for the bedroom or to play video games. In 2000 when we moved to Utah, I brought this TV to Salt Lake because I knew I could leave it in the car while I was staying in a hotel waiting to move into a new apartment (after all, if someone wanted to steal a 20-year-old TV, it wouldn't be a great loss). For two weeks until I flew back to Wisconsin to complete the move, the apartment was filled with mostly myself, a Super Nintendo and the TV. I watched HBO, played Liberty or Death and missed Lori those two weeks.

When we bought the TV in 1980, it came with a free GTE Flip-Phone -- one of the first non-AT&T phones produced after the breakup of Ma Bell. It was cheap; I don't know how long we used it before switching to another phone. But while the Flip-Phone is in a landfill someplace, the TV remains.

A couple days after buying the TV, I remember watching Chicago's St. Patrick's Day parade on TV and seeing my grade school marching in it. I wasn't sure why we weren't in school that day, but there it was, some of my classmates on TV -- a brand new TV.

The console got sent to the curb, where apprehensive garbage men put it in the truck and we watched it get crushed. The Betamax moved to the new television. We added an Atari the next year. I don't know if this TV saw cable in the old house -- we might have had a better TV by the time we finally got cable (1988 or so?). But the Sylvania GTE carried on.

Currently, the television isn't hooked to the satellite. Without the special box now required for old TVs, I might not even be able to get local stations. But there was a DVD player hooked to it up until recently. Michael and I used to play Mario Kart on the SNES before we bought a Wii (and subsequently moved the SNES to another TV). But I have plans for the Sylvania in its twilight years: Hooking up an Atari 2600 on it again.

This television is about to relive its glory years.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Green thoughts

Tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, but today was the parade in Salt Lake City. We've been part of this parade for five years now, previously with the boys' preschool, and now with their grade school. I'm sort of wondering what it's like to actually watch the parade instead of march in it. But I don't want to find out anytime soon.

This year, the school didn't have a float or a truck hauling the student band. It was just kids on their bikes and scooters and parents walking along side. However, we did bring one extra guest: Popcorn, our dog. She wore a green t-shirt, behaved and wasn't too overly excited (I thought she'd go bananas in the presence of the Irish wolfhounds), though she did pull a little bit once we started parading. And she was a star, with many kids wanting to pet her.

The boys had fun, too, parading with their friends. Luckily, the weather was warm and sunny, not cold and rainy as in past years. After returning home, we went to lunch at Blue Plate Diner near our house, then eventually went to some friends' annual St. Patrick's Day party.

I have felt so tired all week. I can't seem to get to sleep early, nor could I fall back asleep so easily after being awakened in the morning. And this was all despite the warm weather. It's just a mini-rut, one I think I can bust with the new week. Our green day was a good prelude the imminent week ahead.

Friday, March 15, 2013

And then there were 19

I didn't lose my first tooth until I was almost 7 and in second grade. I was definitely a late loser. On the other end of the spectrum, Michael was barely 5 and still in preschool when he lost his first tooth. By the time he was 7, he had lost eight teeth.

Ben was taking after me. Two months short of 7, he hadn't lost a tooth yet. Until today.

The tooth started wiggling a couple weeks ago, but just yesterday, it got really loose. The poor kid had to learn for himself how to avoid chewing with a seriously loose tooth without being in pain. As a result, he barely ate yesterday, and Lori had to cut a pizza into little bitty pieces that he could just pop into his mouth rather than bite into.

(And for the record, I can remember the first time I bit into something with a crazy loose tooth and yelped in bloody pain -- I was with my dad helping my cousin Sharon move into a new house; she had a gumball machine, I chewed and could not believe how much it hurt. After the first loose tooth, you figure out how to eat with the next one).

Ben got to school today, ate lunch (Lori made him a quesadilla and cut it into small pieces, just like yesterday's pizza), and made it to second recess when it finally fell out. He showed me the baggie with the tooth with the biggest, albeit incomplete, smile on his face. He declared: "This is going to be my best day ever!" and said how he was looking forward to the $2 the Tooth Fairy would bring.

With Michael, he's the older son. I look forward to the milestones with him, though I wish they wouldn't happen so soon sometimes. Ben is my little dude -- I'm more protective of him and sometimes don't want him to grow up so fast. We got a little lucky the first lost tooth took so long. But the milestone arrived, just like other milestones that are rapidly being reached.

I managed to extract the baggie with the tooth from under his pillow and exchanged it with two dollar bills. I hid the tooth in my sock drawer. It's another little piece of his childhood that fell out, with more and more little pieces ahead. At least this one I can save.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Nostalgia Files: Super Jock Football

One toy I fondly remember from the '70s (maybe given as a gift in 1977) was Super Jock Football. If you don't remember the Super Jock toys, they were plastic humanoids, about 8 inches tall, and when you pushed down the head, a body part would move. The baseball Super Jock swung a bat. The basketball Super Jock shot a ball with his arm. The football Super Jock was a kicker, booting a plastic football toward goalposts that came with the toy.

I don't recall owning this toy for beyond a couple years. I did have the soccer and basketball Super Jocks, but the kicker was the signature toy of the series. Plastic toys, especially ones with moving parts on which you slammed your hand onto, don't last long, so I can't remember if it got lost in the toybox or just broke. Or, if I just got bored with it. I can remember using the Super Jock basketballs as whiffle balls, so either I did lose interest or was good at multitasking my toys.

Years later, I would love to get Super Jock Football again. And maybe the other toys in the series as well. My sports-themed office is coming together nicely, with small MLB pennants lining the walls, old baseball hats hanging from the ceiling, a framed Wrigley Field print above my desk and a Marquette banner adorning a closet door. How cool would Super Jock Football be in this room, perhaps on the shelf above the Wrigley poster? In fact, how cool would be the whole series: baseball, soccer, basketball and hockey?

However, I foresee one problem. Even if I did find these on eBay (and they aren't as cheap as I'd prefer), I would want to play with the toys. I'd want to kick field goals and shoot baskets and take slap shots. And if I at age 42 want to, I know the boys will. I'd let them of course, but again, cheap plastic toys and the force of eager kids won't bode well for the Super Jock kicker's neck and legs. That's the problem with going to eBay to reacquire your childhood. You spend a lot for something, then don't want to treat it like it's a collectible.

Then again, I'm not collecting for value or appreciation, or to sell again someday. I'm collecting the memories. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013


By it's name, March is forward-looking. "March!" Don't go back. March is progress.

March is green. Green decorations. The green grass that had been hiding underneath the snow all winter long. Granted, green leaves are mostly weeks off, but we know they are coming.

March is alternately cloudy and sunny. But it's not as cold. The season is marching along.

I'm betting that I've watched more college basketball in March than any other month of the year. Heck, maybe more than the other four months of the season combined ... and there was a time when I watched plenty of college basketball all season long. March is brackets and coverage that jumps from one game to another.

But March is also the anticipation of another sport. Baseball is just around the corner. You know it's imminent, and with it, the cementing of spring. March only teases spring, the equinox notwithstanding.

March is "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" by Night Ranger and "We Are the World." It's "Footloose" and "The Outsiders." It's shamrocks and Stations of the Cross. It's putting away the boots and gloves.

March is such a relief. Thank God. This winter sucked.

This is March.