Those who ask me about the potential value of extracurricular activities for college students risk being on the receiving end of a verbal serenade about The Torch. Allow me to explain….
My undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University in Indiana, recently announced the creation of an online archive of past issues of The Torch, the school’s long-running weekly student newspaper. As a former Torch department editor and reporter (1979-81), the notice catapulted me into a nostalgic state. I even dug out the bound volume from my first year on the paper, photos of which you may peruse here.
I quickly lapse into soggy memories over The Torch because it was the most important extracurricular activity of my college career. The experience of writing and editing articles for publication has paid professional dividends throughout my career, and many of the friendships formed with fellow staffers have endured to this day.
I joined The Torch in my junior year, and I pored myself into working for it. I wrote dozens of articles and columns, mostly on academic affairs topics within the university. I also assigned stories to reporters in my department and edited their work.
It was a heady experience to write pieces for publication with a byline appended. Many members of the VU community read the paper, as our lively letters-to-the-editor section often reflected. (I learned that if you’re going to put your words out there for public consumption, you’d better have or grow a thick skin.)
Some articles demanded special attention to detail, thoroughness, and accuracy. For example, I wrote an investigative piece in which I was able to elicit admissions from campus administrators that a popular political science professor had been denied tenure on grounds beyond the official criteria for tenure evaluation. This meant many hours interviewing university faculty members and deans; our reporting had to be airtight on such an important matter.
I also did a series of articles covering the aftermath of a tragic student-on-student slaying that had racial overtones. Those pieces thrust me well beyond the comfort zone of reporting everyday campus events and activities. For several weeks I was regularly on the phone with sources from police departments, the county prosecutor’s office, and the local hospital, among others.
The Torch quickly became the social and intellectual hub that I didn’t previously have at Valparaiso. A former Torch colleague once wrote that it became our own college of sorts, where we wrote and edited our articles and debated issues related to academic and campus life. We spent a lot of time simply hanging out at The Torch offices, even when we didn’t have to be there. Looking back, I now realize that it was an exceptional extracurricular experience.
Our little newspaper was not free of sophomoric writings (some penned by yours truly), and at times we took ourselves too earnestly (ditto). But we produced some quality reporting and thoughtful commentary about collegiate life and academic institutions, as evidenced by multiple awards we earned from the Indiana Collegiate Press Association during those years.
The university’s Greek system was a regular focus for us, and we often took to task the behavioral excesses emerging from fraternity events. This was the age of Animal House, and along with toga parties inspired by the movie came some pretty egregious conduct. In retrospect, it’s clear that we were fully warranted in addressing these issues, many of which anticipated today’s concerns about student conduct at fraternity events.
However, we largely dismissed the positive social bonds facilitated by fraternities and sororities. Our office conversations were laced with regular putdowns of Greek organizations, to the dismay of Torch staffers who belonged to them. At a school with a largely conservative student body that embraced the Greek system, our newspaper was a liberal-ish, independent enclave, sometimes fueled by healthy doses of self-righteousness.
As a group of (mostly) liberal arts majors, we closely reported campus deliberations relating to the place of the social sciences, humanities, and general education in the university curriculum. These topics were frequently invoked in editorials and opinion columns as well. The more callow among us were guided by the work of three senior editors with strong intellectual orientations. Many of us were unaware that we were participating in an emerging national debate on the value of instruction in the liberal arts, but this troika was already marking academic trends by reading The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Only a handful of Torch staffers would build careers in journalism. One of them, Jim Hale (author of the “Insights gleaned” column pictured above), is currently a reporter for the Gettysburg Times in Pennsylvania. Previously Jim was a writer for the Gettysburg College communications office and a reporter for the Chesterton Tribune in Indiana.
As for me, I did some part-time reporting for a couple of local newspapers in northwest Indiana, and later I served as an editor of the law school newspaper at New York University. Though I did not pursue a journalism career, The Torch served as an ongoing tutorial on the importance of tight, clear, well organized writing. In terms of aspirations, at least, these qualities have manifested themselves in virtually everything I write: Scholarly articles, essays, reports, op-ed pieces, and, yes, blog posts.
In fact, I know that my affinity for the blogging medium traces back to my days at The Torch. Writing this blog is an engaging pastime for me, like being a newspaper columnist, albeit with a much smaller readership! Writing my professional blog, Minding the Workplace, requires more analytical smarts, but it, too, has roots in my collegiate newspaper experience.
The old chestnut about understanding your present by comprehending your past certainly applies here. I did not have an academic career in mind when I was a collegian. My intention was to go to law school and eventually to start a career in politics. (I also was active in student government and in political campaigns as a college student.) However, as I flipped through the pages of The Torch, I understood how reporting on the ups and downs of academe planted seeds that keep sprouting in my life today.
Equally important, I remain good friends with everyone whose byline appears in these photographs, as well as others who were part of the mix. Our paths cross regularly through periodic get-togethers, e-mails, phone calls, and social media. Many of these friendships have matured and deepened over the years. This only reinforces my belief that something good was happening at that campus newspaper office some 35 years ago.
Portions of this post were adapted from a previous piece on the importance of extracurricular activities, written for Minding the Workplace.
I made an extended weekend trip to northwest Indiana for a long overdue visit with friends and family, one filled with both nostalgia for the past and appreciation for enduring friendships renewed.
Concededly, I am positively masochistic when it comes to self-inflicted nostalgia. During much of this trip, I had my rental car radio tuned to an oldies station that played songs mostly from the late 70s through early 80s. Like many, I associate old Top 40 songs with memories of earlier days, so I basically had a series of mental videos going through my head, prompted by whatever was on the air.
I put the nostalgia machine on overdrive when I had some time to kill before heading off to O’Hare Airport. I decided to spend a few hours driving around to old haunts.
It started with a visit to our early boyhood home in small-town Griffith, Indiana, where my brother Jeff and I spent our early years with our parents. I had not been there in many decades. I was stunned to see a cozy little block with a narrow street. In my memories of being five years old, it is a big, humongous block with a wide street!
I also stopped at the Hammond, Indiana house that was home for most of my childhood through teen years. No real surprises there…it and the surrounding homes were much more as I had remembered them.
For some odd reason I wanted to revisit the sites of jobs I had worked before moving to New York for law school in 1982. During several college summers and holiday periods, as well as an interim year between finishing college and leaving for law school, I worked for Ribordy Drugs, a local drugstore chain that once had a couple of dozen stores dotting northwest Indiana.
It was standard low-paid retail store work, unloading delivery trucks, tagging merchandise, and stocking shelves. Although I grumbled about it at times, I now look back and realize that those experiences helped me to develop a work ethic.
When I graduated from Valparaiso in 1981, I intended to take an interim year before moving on to law school. Alas, so-called “professional” jobs were not in large supply for new graduates in recession-burdened Northwest Indiana. So I ended up returning to Ribordy Drugs, this time working at its new warehouse-style store, a local precursor of the big box chain stores that now dominate the retail outlets in the area. I worked there more-or-less full-time, while also doing some part-time reporting for a local community newspaper.
It was not the most exciting year of my life, but because I was filing my law school applications, it was filled with anticipation. My original plan was to head to the west coast, but when an acceptance letter from New York University arrived in the mail, I knew that I wanted to go there. In August 1982, I would leave for NYU and the Big Apple.
But let me get back to people. The photo above is from a mini-reunion last Friday of college friends from Valparaiso University and assorted family members. The company of Hilda, Mark, Brad, Don, Maggie, Dave, Dorothy, Jim, Elena, Abby, and Matt made for a most enjoyable evening. The many smiling faces in the photo were more than snapshot poses. We were laughing a lot, unearthing stories from back in the day and sharing news of the latest goings-on in our lives.
At my motel, I also bumped into another group of VU alums holding their own little reunion, including friends Sheralynn (and a most articulate contributor to a running e-mail exchange about the suspense series 24 when it aired) and Rachelle (fellow study abroad participant). Their sorority was doing a kind of Chicagoland summer reunion caravan that concluded with a visit to their alma mater. Getting to see them was an unexpected treat.
The next day, I drove to Hammond, where I joined with my brother Jeff and old friends Mark and Karen for a meal at the House of Pizza, a restaurant than enjoys legendary status for its uniquely excellent thin crust pizza. Mark and I have been friends going waaaay back to the 3rd grade. And all four of us have been going to House of Pizza since we were kids. Sharing a meal at one of Chicagoland’s many superb pizza places has become a sort of tradition during visits there.
I then met up for a visit with my long-time friend Katherine (going back to high school), who first took me to the local Community Veteran’s Memorial, featuring some very well done historical exhibits and timelines. We then went to one of the local casinos (none of which were around when I grew up there), where we enjoyed a first-rate meal and won $10 playing the nickel slots. (I cannot recall the last time I was in a casino. What a surreal world onto itself.)
So here’s the lesson, especially for us nostalgia freaks: Old haunts are what they are, places of days gone by. It may be meaningful to revisit them, but they are of the past. When it comes to people, however, it’s about the present. The relationships built over the years may have their roots in long ago, but when they remain vibrant, and thankfully stripped of
our my early immaturities (er, at least some of them), that is a pretty cool thing.
On Thursday evening, I’ll be hopping on a plane for Vienna, Austria, for the biennial International Congress of Law and Mental Health, a week-long event that draws some 1,000 people from around the world. I’ll be presenting a paper on continuing legal education, attending plenty of panels, and enjoying the company of friends and colleagues who are immersed in research and practice related to law and psychology.
Traveling to Vienna pushes my nostalgia buttons. In May 1981, it was a stop on a brisk trip through parts of western Europe, following completion of a semester abroad in England via my college, Valparaiso University. The grainy photo above was taken from the famous Prater Wheel, a giant Ferris wheel built in 1897. If I recall correctly, I spent three days in Vienna with one of my traveling pals from the VU group.
That European jaunt was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Traveling alternately on my own and with members of our group, I visited Paris; several towns in Switzerland; Innsbruck, Salzberg, and Vienna; and finally Munich and Berlin.
The semester abroad also happened to be the final term of my senior year, and I was full of excitement and uncertainty as to what would come next. But even with all of my heady aspirations for the road ahead, I had the good sense to drink in a lot of this overseas opportunity. Although my cultural immaturity caused me to pass on some pretty significant sights during this sojourn abroad, those five months made a lifelong imprint on me.
Back to today: As usual, I find myself packing and planning at the last minute. However, I know that I’ll get a lot out of this trip. I’ll do so as a much more grounded person than the anxious young man who first saw Vienna several decades ago. The march of time brings its blessings.
As a little sidebar to this post, click and enjoy Billy Joel’s “Vienna” (1977). And to learn how the famous singer/songwriter did his homework about Vienna in writing this number, check out this interesting Wikipedia entry.
You may have to be a bookworm to fully appreciate a soggy, nostalgic Throwback Thursday post about, well, reading a book, but here it is: About 30 years ago, I discovered Jack Finney’s Time and Again (1970), an illustrated novel about a Manhattan advertising artist named Si Morley who is enlisted in a U.S. Government project experimenting with time travel.
No spoiler alerts are necessary to give you a preview. Let me first quote from the back cover of my paperback edition (pictured above): “Did illustrator Si Morley really step out of his twentieth-century apartment one night — right into the winter of 1882?” I’ll say no more about the story, except to say that if you love New York City and enjoy time travel stories, then this book is for you.
I discovered Time and Again in 1985. I had not heard of the book when I kept glancing at it during repeated visits to Barnes & Noble’s giant sale annex at 5th Avenue and 18th Street, but finally I decided to buy it. As I was reading along, soon I realized that it was becoming one of my favorite books. (It remains so.) Again, I’ll skip the details, but Chapters 7 and 8 provided some of my most cherished reading moments ever.
To grasp such a geeky memory, it helps to understand where I was in my life. In the fall of 1985, I had just graduated from NYU’s law school, I was living in Brooklyn, and I was working as a public interest lawyer in Manhattan. I had also become completely smitten with New York City. I doubt that I will ever again experience such deep affection for a place. If a big part of me will always be a New Yorker, then those early years in NYC will have a lot to do with it.
Time and Again spoke to that love of New York, and its story captivated me. Finney had a knack for writing the time travel tale — as his other books and short stories also attest — and he got it just right with this one. It may be as close to genuine time travel as I’ll ever get, a reading experience approached only by Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (2011). (In fact, in the Afterword to his book, King calls Time and Again “the great time-travel story.”)
So, if a tale of discovering olde New York is to your fancy, then you might give Time and Again a try. I think you’ll be glad you did. Don’t forget to close your eyes and see what Si Morley saw.
Thirty years ago, as I approached my final semester of law school at New York University, I accepted an offer to join the New York Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney after graduation. For me, it brought together two things near and dear to me: First, to work as a public interest lawyer; and second, to stay in New York City.
I had spent the previous summer working at a large commercial law firm in Chicago. Although the firm would extend an offer to return as a full-time associate attorney, I realized that my heart was not in corporate law and kindly declined. I wanted to work in the public interest sector, and so I applied for jobs across the country with legal services organizations, public defender offices, and a variety of other non-profit and public employers. Although NYU was very supportive of students who wanted to do public interest work, these jobs were in heavy demand among young (and not so young) do-gooder types. I knew that I had my work cut out for me.
My job search stretched across the country, but New York was my top destination by a huge margin. I had moved there from northwest Indiana to attend law school, and I fell fast and hard for the city. New York of the early-to-mid 80s was a city in transition, emerging from a previous decade steeped in crime, urban blight, and corruption. It was an awesome, gritty, sometimes overwhelming place to me.
In many ways, going to law school in New York was like a study abroad experience, in that I kept discovering its endless nooks and crannies on a shoestring budget. It was still possible to explore and enjoy many aspects of the city on the cheap, with an occasional splurge or two for a show or a nice dinner.
Anyway, good fortune would smile upon me, and I spent my final semester of law school knowing that my immediate future was set. I graduated in the spring, took the bar exam over the summer, and started at Legal Aid in the fall. Between being ousted from the NYU law dorm and my $20,000 starting salary, I was propelled into the apartment share hinterlands of Brooklyn. It would be many years before my paychecks yielded more disposable income, but at least I was in a city that captured so much of the world. Armed with subway tokens, travel guidebooks, and a credit card that I tried to use judiciously, I took a lot of New York “staycations.”
Yup, this takes me back some 30 years, and that realization does a number on me. Though concededly I was quite clueless about so many things back then, this was a very good chapter of my life. Sometimes, even memories filtered through rose-colored lenses of personal nostalgia can be pretty spot on.
As a political science major, my bachelor’s degree program at Valparaiso University included a set of distribution requirements covering basic liberal arts subjects. Among other things, I had to choose three mathematics and science courses, with at least one math offering among them. Heading into my senior year in the Fall of 1980, I had already managed to take a pair of science courses to cover two of the three, but the dreaded math course still loomed in front of me.
You see, I hadn’t taken any math courses since my junior year of high school, and I was happy to be done with them back then. Although I’ve tended to be a pretty good logical thinker, that aptitude or affinity has never quite extended to the field of mathematics. Indeed, I was a living exception to the stereotype about Asians and math.
And so I reviewed the math course listings in search of something palatable, or at least passable. At VU, they were numbered in the 100s, 200s, 300s, and so forth, to signify their relative level of complexity. But mixed in with the three-digit numbered courses was one offering, Math 14, a/k/a “Mathematical Ideas,” with a description free of scary terms like “proofs” or “calculus.”
With a sigh of relief, I enrolled in Math 14. In the class, I saw a few students I knew previously, including a fellow political science major or two. However, by far the most notable cohort was comprised of members of the VU football team. VU was refreshingly short on “rocks for jocks”-type courses, but this was an apparent exception.
Math 14 was taught by a friendly senior professor who actually cared about stoking some enthusiasm for the subject matter among we math-phobes. He also adopted a textbook equal to our skill sets; I can’t recall the exact title, but it was something like Mathematics for Everyday Life or close to it. And yup, inside the book were a lot of story problems.
Hey, I’m not meaning to brag here, but I kicked butt in that course. Our final project was to assemble a set of 3×5 index cards using hole punchers to simulate a simple digital computing function. (Keep in mind that the personal computer era was a few years away.) Boom, I pulled off that baby without a hitch! And thanks to my penchant for not throwing anything away, I can now proudly share a photo of that project above. (Go on, tell me this isn’t like gazing at the collegiate notebooks of a young Stephen Hawking.)
Despite this rousing success, I did not attempt to switch my major to math at that late juncture, tempted as I was to continue on this newfound path of excellence. Instead, I stuck with the political science major and would go on to law school, as I had planned. But at least my index card computer remains operational; some exhibitions of raw brilliance must endure.
The other day, my long-time friend and law school classmate Patrick sent me a couple of photographs taken thirty years ago, from a camping trip at the start of our third and last year at NYU law school. It was the beginning of the fall semester, and the onset of classes had triggered a bout of cabin fever so intense that five of us piled into Patrick’s car and headed for the Catskills.
This may sound like an odd thing for a law professor to be saying, but my reaction to the start of classes was so acutely resistant that even I — a budding city dweller in the making — was willing to forgo the niceties of the law school dorm in order to escape the world of casebooks and classes.
You see, unlike my outdoorsy law school friends, I was not a regular camper. Actually, I wasn’t a camper, period, and I haven’t been since then. It’s not that I’m a high maintenance traveler. In fact, between summer storm chase tours and countless trips to New York, I’ve stayed in places that won’t be listed in any premium travel guidebooks. But when it comes to accommodations away from home, I do strongly prefer (1) a bed to sleep in; and (2) indoor plumbing.
I don’t remember a lot about the trip itself, though I know that we all got along together just fine. I also seem to recall a couple of loud guys camping in an adjacent plot who had too much to drink on multiple nights, but maybe that’s just a ritual memory of every camping trip, whether it actually happened or not.
Anyway, after a few days in the wilderness, we folded our tents and returned to the urban jungle. Soon I got back into the law school swing of things, and it would prove to be a good and meaningful year, with some fun and laughter mixed in with the work.
Wow, it has been thirty years since my last year of law school. I’m sure the muse of nostalgia will cause me to write more about that time during the months to come.
Given that trick-or-treating is a hallowed Halloween activity for kids, I thought I’d take a stroll back to my childhood and list out what made me cheer and boo when I checked out the goodies in my stash. How does my list compare to yours?
1. Baked goods (donuts, cupcakes, cookies, or Rice Krispy treats) or caramel apples — These items were the gold standard. However, by the late 60s and early 70s, urban legend paranoia about poisoned homemade treats and apples containing razor blades had invaded suburban Indiana, and some parents warned their kids not to consume anything that wasn’t pre-packaged. Properly warned, we made sure to eat those items before we got home. For some reason, I retain a memory of an exquisite, fresh hot donut given out by an older couple in the neighborhood.
2. Kit Kat bars — Kit Kats didn’t make their appearance until the early 70s, if my memory is correct, but I remember being pleased to see them in my Halloween sack!
3. Nestlé’s Crunch bars — I’m developing a theme here of chocolate with crunchy stuff.
4. Money — Yes, cold hard cash. Every once in a while, someone would give out money, usually a quarter, which back in the day was real money to a little kid.
5. Nestlé’s $100,000 bars — Add gooey stuff to the chocolate and crunch.
Honorable mentions — Peanut M&Ms, Milk Duds, Whoppers, Almond Joys, and Milky Ways were solid staples. I would develop an affinity for Reese’s peanut butter cups later in life.
I was indifferent toward Snickers bars, Mars bars, Hershey bars, and various peanut candies.
Overall, chocolate ruled the roost.
1. Anything with licorice, especially Good n’ Plenty — I just couldn’t deal with licorice as a flavor. I still feel that way!
2. Necco wafers — Bleeecccchhh!
3. Candy corn — I never understood the appeal of what tasted like pure chewy sugar.
4. Chewing gum — Serviceable, but it didn’t rock my trick-or-treat world.
5. Lollipops — Eh….though Dum Dums and Tootsie Roll pops were okay.
As you can see, I was less crazy about the super sweet stuff.
This morning I clicked on a Facebook posting from New York University, my legal alma mater, to a short piece about dorm living for law students. A photo of one of the NYU Law dorm rooms (see below) reminded me once again that many universities have upgraded their residence hall accommodations considerably since back in the day, especially in terms of private rooms and bathrooms. (Of course, this has contributed significantly to rising tuition costs, but that’s for a more serious post….) In any event, the article sent me into a brief trip down nostalgia lane.
In many ways, dorm living tends to look better mainly with the passage of time, at least when it comes to furniture, décor, and creature comforts. During college at Valparaiso University in Indiana, I lived in dorm rooms throughout my stay, first in Wehrenberg Hall, and then in Brandt Hall, two rather plain vanilla buildings built sometime during the 50s or 60s. The VU dorms were typical of undergraduate dwellings of their era, offering small shared rooms with pullout beds and bathrooms down the hall. During my last year of college, I qualified for a shared Brandt Hall first-floor room with a private bathroom, a nod to the fact that I was a good student who managed to stay out of trouble.
In the photo above, I’m standing in front of my desk. The boxes and papers to the right obscure the mattress of the pullout bed. I was packing my boxes at the end of the fall semester of my senior year, in anticipation of departing after the holidays for a final semester in England. My roommate Chris’s furniture configuration was exactly the same, the main difference being that he was a very disciplined and neat pre-med student who periodically and politely would push my growing piles of books and papers to my side of the invisible Mason-Dixon Line, as we jokingly called it. Every evening, when Chris would dutifully turn in after watching the Johnny Carson monologue, I would gather my books, papers, and — if necessary — typewriter to join other more nocturnal students in the cafeteria, which served as a nighttime study hall.
When I got to NYU in 1982, I had a much fancier address, Hayden Hall at 33 Washington Square West (yes, that Washington Square). The toney Greenwich Village exterior masked the spare accommodations similar to those of my collegiate days, with a few New York cockroaches tossed in as free bonuses. At the time, Hayden Hall was the primary dorm for first-year law students. A converted old hotel, it had a few interesting nooks and crannies in addition to the drab rooms. Its first floor cafeteria and TV room provided opportunities for breaks and socializing.
I would spend my second and third years of law school living in NYU’s Mercer Street residence hall, a (then) brand-new building featuring small apartments with individual bedrooms and kitchenettes. While I didn’t do much cooking, the fridge and stove made it possible to store and heat up Chinese take-out and delivery morsels. With some physics-defying moving around of beds and furniture, apartment units could host pretty decent parties, replete with room for dancing to Michael Jackson, The Clash, and other 80s music artists. We also had waifs’ Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for those of us too far or too broke to return home for the holidays. The Mercer dorm provided my nicest accommodations during 12 years in New York.
In fact, they remained among my nicest digs ever until I moved into my Jamaica Plain, Boston condo in 2003. For the longest time, I was satisfied with a sort of enhanced “grad student” standard of living. It took me until well into adulthood to do an upgrade!
Those who want to play a game of simulated football today are likely to fire up Madden Football on their video game systems or check the status of their fantasy football teams. But before these brands of fake football became all the rage, gridiron fans who wanted to coach their very own teams could opt from a rich variety of board and electronic football games.
For a grand stroll through these offerings, check out Steve Anderson’s Retro Football Games (2014), an illustrated look at vintage tabletop football games from the last century. It’s a beautifully done book, featuring hundreds of games, ranging from very simple recreations of the sport, to complex statistical simulations that incorporate actual player performances and play calling options. Interspersed with the photographs and brief descriptions are short sections on football trivia and collectibles.
The Whitman Play Football game from the 1930s is an example of a simpler version of tabletop football. It’s activated by a spinner, with the play results obtained from the game board.
If you were a young fan in the 60s or 70s, it’s very possible that you played some brand of electric football. A vibrating field and quarterback figures who could “throw” a tiny felt football were the supposed keys to the plastic players executing their plays, but for many of us the results included mainly wrong-way runs and errant passes.
Eventually tabletop football became more complex and sophisticated, with game systems that used real player performances translated into player cards and roster sheets with statistical ratings that would be taken into account when determining play results. No longer did you have to imagine your star player overwhelming the opposition based on generic result charts like the Whitman game. Instead, games like APBA Football would allow you to pick your lineups and plot game strategies.
Steve’s book arrives just as the current football season is in full swing. Especially for those who grew up during this era, it’s nostalgic eye candy and a fun read. For more information and ordering details, go to his website, here.
For more fun
Tabletop football is not dead — far from it! In fact, buoyed by consistent demand from a lot of guys around my age, many of these games continue to be offered, with new offerings popping up all the time. There’s also an active after-market on e-Bay and sites dedicated to tabletop sports games, such as this popular site on Delphi. In addition, the second issue of a new tabletop sports zine, One for Five, features a cover package including descriptions of currently available football games.
All photos (including the blurry ones): DY, 2014