I’m just moving along

1986

My teenager enjoys posting TBT (Throwback Thursday) pictures on Twitter. The idea that a fourteen year-old is nostalgic for the past amuses me, actually. And because my blog is drenched in nostalgia for the past, at least sometimes, I decided to go along. I posted this picture to Facebook today, and it will hit Twitter and the other social media platforms I’m on once this post is put together.

This picture was taken in the summer of 1986, after I had graduated from high school and turned 18. The guy sitting in this car wanted to do only two things. One of them wasn’t yet legal for me to do, but that rarely stopped me. And the other was to get out of Springfield, Illinois as quickly as I could. I had to wait for the fall for that to happen, so I was stuck in one final holding pattern.

If the guy sitting in the car above had to pick just one album (I didn’t yet know what a CD was) to listen to, it would probably have been Boston’s debut album. And the best track on it, in my mind, was the last song on side one, Foreplay/Long Time. I had even quoted from it in my farewell to the rest of the students in my school newspaper: “It’s been such a long time, I think I should be going.” And it wasn’t only the four years I had spent in high school, either. It was my entire life to that point.

I couldn’t wait to leave, but I still had to wait for one final summer. It was a paradox, and one that hearing that song on the radio–as I did a few minutes ago–always brings to my mind. My teenager probably feels the same way that I once did. The circle of life keeps on spinning.

Now that I’ve achieved whatever it is that the 18 year-old me once wanted, it’s funny to me in some way. I wanted to go out and live, but the anticipation of doing so kept me from appreciating the life that I had.

Chasing dreams–even if they aren’t yet well-defined–is essential, but it can also get in the way of looking around and enjoying what’s in front of you already. As Boston sang in the song, it’s just outside of your front door.

The watershed year

1986

I was sweeping out the house today, trying to get the last remnants of the holiday season out of the house. As I was bringing a pile of dust and other stuff toward the dustpan, I heard a clink that indicated a coin was inside. I pulled it out and found a penny with the date of 1986 on it.

I doubt that any other year has gotten as much mention on this site as 1986 has. It truly was a pivotal year in my life, because I began the year living in my parents’ house in Springfield, Illinois. High school graduation was still a few months away, and then my 18th birthday would be a few weeks later and then, in the fall, it would hopefully be off to college somewhere. That was the plan, at least.

Looking back on it, more than a quarter-century later, that’s exactly the way that it turned out. Graduation came, after I survived a very severe bout of what we called senoritis. And then it was off to college in September, just as I had wanted. Timewise, I was only five hours away, but it felt like I had left for another planet. And that suited me just fine.

I still went home to spend holiday breaks with my parents, and spent the summer of 1987 living under their roof, for one last time. But my life changed forever in 1986, and finding a tangible reminder of that year was an unexpected surprise. It’s certainly fodder for something to put in this space.

Then and now

After taking my little one to skating practice this morning, lacing up her skates and listening to the details from a sleepover party last night, I went out to the car and found a penny in the parking lot. As I have written about before in this space, I picked it up and looked at the year the penny was minted. And the year I saw–1986–may well have been the most momentous one in my life to this point. In fact, it was the turning point.

The picture above shows me as I was in 1986. I’m in the middle column, at the bottom of the page. The picture was taken by a local photographer, and it appeared in my high school yearbook as well. Seniors had their pictures published in color, while everyone else had to settle for smaller pictures in black and white. Rank has its privileges, both then and now.

The book that this page was taken from appeared in was what we all called the “Freshman facebook.” It’s funny how today everybody knows about Facebook in a different sense. But I, and all the rest of my classmates, were in a facebook of a different sort. And this is helpful for getting at who I was back then.

My name appears along with my nickname and home address. I never actually lived in Springfield, Illinois, but in a small village–a suburb, actually–that bordered Springfield. In hindsight, I wish I had just put Jerome, Illinois as my mailing address, since it did set me apart from nearly everyone else that I knew back then. But setting yourself apart from the herd is not something that the 18-year old version of me wanted to do. Thankfully, I’m more willing to do that now.

Below my address (and somebody lives there today, but not me or my family) are my interests which, if I had been completely honest about it, would have also included drinking beer, but I couldn’t publicly own up to that. The interests that I was willing to share with all of my soon-to-be classmates are kind of funny: basketball (Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, particularly), baseball (anyone who’s ever read this blog knows about that), and rock music (see yesterday’s post about Van Halen’s tour for evidence of that). The basketball interest has faded somewhat, but the other interests are still right up there, a quarter of a century later.

Below my interests are the place I graduated from high school (which no longer exists) and my intended major. I viewed political science as my pre-law major, and even though my school didn’t have a pre-law curriculum, I had every intention at that point in my life of becoming a lawyer some day. Fate had other ideas, as it so often does, but without fate I wouldn’t have been in Northwestern’s freshman facebook to begin with (there’s more about that here).

I drove home from the skating rink, turning 1986 over in my head, and thinking about how different I am from the person who occupied that space at the bottom of page 52. I wondered what the 2012 me and the 1986 me would say to each other. That sort of thing pops up on Twitter every so often, with a hashtag like “#thingsIwouldtelltheyoungerme.” I have become, in many ways, what the younger me wanted to become, but would never say so publicly.

I’ve lived into my 40s, which I’ve learned that not everybody gets to do. I have a family, with a wife and a dog and two kids I would do anything for. I also own a house in a historic part of a city that I love almost as much as my family. I drive two cars–a hybrid and a minivan–which didn’t exist back in 1986 but serve their purpose very well. I have seen some of the world, which the 18 year me had not yet done. I have a career that has allowed me to do some interesting things, while not also consuming my every waking moment. I drink coffee–which the 18 year old me would have thought impossible–but I don’t drink  alcohol, which the 18 year old me would have though equally as impossible. And I still love rock and roll, and am looking forward to concerts by some of the same performers that I listened to back then. The 18 year old me would have really loved the Loop.

The place I’m at in life today is the result of the course I began charting back in 1986. I was on my own, for the first time in my life, and I enjoyed all of the freedoms that came with this. But I stayed on the path, not knowing where it was going to end up. And this morning–as I’m hearing my older daughter laugh with a friend in the next room while writing down some thoughts to share with the wider world–I must say that I am happy with how things have turned out.

One of my favorite songs back in 1986 was “Foreplay/Long Time” from Boston’s debut album. The lyrics of that song include the lines “I’ve got to keep on chasing a dream/or I may never find it”. I left my parents home in 1986 to chase a dream that I couldn’t define very well back then, but what I’ve found since then fits the bill better than anything I could have imagined. I’m not a millionaire or a celebrity or anything that a typical 18 year-old fancies himself to be one day, but I am a middle-aged, middle class dad who knows what really matters in life, and has everything that he needs to have. And I’ll take that every day of the year.

Party like it’s 1986

The 1985 Bears are having a pretty good season. The 2011 Bears? Not so much.

After the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986, they were going to the White House to meet with President Ronald Reagan when the space shuttle Challenger exploded after liftoff in Florida. I still remember finding out about it in the lunchroom of the high school I attended, and then passing the news along to my younger brother in the hallway that day (“Dude, the space shuttle exploded” was how I put it, I believe). It was one of those “remember what you were doing when you heard the news” moments.

The Bears’ trip to the White House was cancelled, and the Bears–who were unique in so many ways–remained the only team that won the Super Bowl but did not visit the White House. And the first president to actually come from Chicago rectified this earlier this month. Walter Payton wasn’t alive to see it, Dan Hampton chose not to attend, and the Fridge has all kinds of medical issues going on, so not all of the team was able to be there. And the Bears aren’t unique anymore, at least not in this sense.

I wrote a piece about the 1985 Bears, where I argued that maybe they have passed their period of relevance, and it’s time to let them go as these larger than life heroes in Chicago. The sad ending of Dave Duerson, who killed himself earlier this year by shooting himself in the chest, is just one example of the trouble that a lifetime of head injuries can cause. They lived life at the highest level, these players did, and life might now be waiting to extract some revenge.

I’ve written about a recent rummage sale I went to here. But the most interesting thing I acquired there is a Chicago Tribune from the morning after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1986. It’s not a reprint, and it’s not one of those “special commemorative edition” papers that always seem to come out nowadays. This was just the paper you would expect to find on your front porch way back in 1986. All of the sections are there, and the paper has yellowed some but is otherwise intact. It’s about has close to a historical artifact as you can get, at least in terms of Chicago sports.

Some people–maybe even most–would see this as an item that could be sold on eBay. After all, they aren’t making any more of these things. Back when people still subscribed to newspapers, saving a paper when something big happened was a way of remembering that day’s events. There was no internet back then, and it would have sounded weird if someone from today’s world went back to explain it to them.

Somebody who was around back in 1986 realized that the Super Bowl was a big deal, so they saved the paper from that day. And now, a quarter of a century later, it’s in my hands. I’d like to flip through it and read about some of the stories that were making news in the city I would one day call home.

I’m certain that life has changed a lot in Chicago since 1986, just as it has everywhere else. And this might be my chance to understand just what those changes are. But there are also a lot of fanatical Bears fans out there, especially when it comes to the only Super Bowl winner this city has seen. Perhaps selling it for ten bucks–or whatever it might actually bring–would be a good return on a $3 investment at a rummage sale.

It seems clear that whatever I decide to do with it will say something about my values as a person. A 1986 Chicago newspaper, especially this one, could be like Niagra Falls, powering the creation of lots of new material for this blog. It isn’t like too many other 1986 papers are out there, after all. But money is money, and the scarcity of similar items like this shouldn’t be ignored.

I’ll be content to leave it on a shelf in my basement for now. And if it leaves that shelf, one way or the other, this will be the first place to know about it.