Two weeks ago I wrote that my old television set had seen its best days and that I was awaiting a replacement. I’m all set now, with a new flatscreen unit and a technologically upgraded cable package. As I made the transition, I decided it was time to say goodbye to my 22-year-old VCR machine. Here it is, pictured above, unplugged and soon to be disposed of, after many years of steady service.
Despite my enjoyment of movies, I was a latecomer to VCRs. Living in New York, I was happy to see old films in the city’s several revival movie theaters, and I was living on a tight budget to boot. But as VCRs became commonplace and more affordable, I finally took the plunge. In the summer of 1992, I went to an electronics store, pretty much arbitrarily picked out a VCR (my usual quick-hit approach to shopping), and set it up in my Brooklyn apartment.
I wouldn’t want to estimate how many hours I spent watching movies using my VCR that summer, as the answer would be highly suggestive of addictive behavior. Suffice it to say, however, that I was a loyal supporter of video stores near work and home. As I wrote last year in a lament over the closing of Blockbuster video stores, it was such a treat to survey the shelves of these stores in search of old favorites and new discoveries.
Given how many movies have played on that machine, it’s something of a miracle that it lasted so long. Over the past decade, of course, I’d morphed over to DVDs, but on the few occasions when only a VCR version of a movie or show was available, I could pop in the cassette and watch it.
I tend to be resistant to jumping to new technologies right away, so these days I find myself preferring DVDs to streaming video. My Netflix subscription still includes the discs, and I continue to get a short spark of little-kid-like happiness when a red envelope shows up in my mailbox. Alas, my luck with DVD players has not been as good, and it looks like I’ll be buying a new one soon. Perhaps I’ll upgrade to a high-def model. They seem to have dropped in price in recent years, and now I have a TV set that justifies the purchase.
Twenty years ago, I packed my bags and boxes in Brooklyn and moved to Boston to begin a new job as a law professor. It was a big move for me. Not only was I embarking on the next major step of an academic career, but also I was leaving a beloved city that was my first chosen home.
I don’t love Boston the way I love New York City. Yes, Boston is “thinky,” manageable (as larger cities go), and contemplative, all qualities I appreciate and now truly embrace. However, it also can be thuggish, uptight, and lacking a sort of joie de vivre in its civic culture and social DNA. (On the latter point, my starting evidence is musical: The Gershwins and Cole Porter never wrote songs about it, and Sinatra never sang about it!)
But amidst this mixed bag, I have grown a lot here, become much wiser (umm, it takes some of us a while…), found great meaning in the work I do, and made lifelong friendships. And on the musical side, I’ve even discovered singing, a topic I’ll write about at greater length sometime soon!
Through ups and downs, Boston has taught me the differences between “happy” in a sort of superficial way vs. meaning in a deeper sense. These are no small blessings, and I accept them with gratitude.
This time of year prompts those back-to-school feelings. I’m betting that for most people, memories of new school years are more emotionally laden than infused with any of the educational content of those first days back. Depending upon one’s experience, those memories may include doses of excitement, dread, enthusiasm, anxiety, or some combination thereof.
For me, the start of an elementary school year (K through 6 in my hometown district) felt like a leap into the unknown. It usually involved a new classroom teacher, a mix of familiar and new classmates, and speculation over what it meant to be in the next grade. Fortunately, my elementary school in Hammond, Indiana, featured old-fashioned, dedicated teachers. Some could be a little gruff on the outside, but all of them deeply cared about kids.
When it came to starting new levels of higher education, well, let’s just say that the term “new student orientation” still gives my stomach a small rumble, calling to mind those well-meaning but ultimately fruitless attempts to soothe rookie anxieties. It usually took me a year or two to find my comfort zone and cohort group. Once that occurred, I would greet the start of an academic year with a sense of purpose and belonging.
For example, during my final two years of college, I was a department editor of the college newspaper, which became my hangout and social outlet, not to mention a training ground in the art of writing clear prose. During my last two years of law school, I was active in student publications and various public interest law projects, as well as a cast member in the annual law student musical (a ton of fun), all of which became sources of friendships.
The painting above was the work of Samuel Morse, inventor (yup, Morse Code!), artist, and New York University professor. Portrayed on the left is the original 19th century NYU building on Washington Square (since torn down), where Morse had his faculty office. He placed the Gothic structure in a classical landscape to suggest the idea of the university as paradise.
Today I’m wise enough to know that such a paradise exists only in fantasy, but it’s a beautiful painting nonetheless. And though I have many concerns about the state of formal education here in the U.S., I can still get a tad sentimental about the start of a school year.
What are your favorite childhood eateries? Maybe a restaurant that served the best comfort foods? Or perhaps a place that was designated for special meals with your family?
One of my favorites is still around: Miner-Dunn Hamburgers in Highland, Indiana. It’s an old fashioned, diner style family restaurant that specializes in delicious varieties of burgers. The Miner-Dunn hamburger is pressed thin and wide before being grilled and then served on a big soft bun, with various toppings of your choosing. The platter comes with fries and — in a unique and tasty twist — a small cup of orange sherbet to top things off. (Of course, their desserts are good as well.)
Growing up, Miner-Dunn was a favorite family destination. Once we got our driver’s licenses, it became an occasional nighttime or after game hangout as well. During my occasional visits back to Northwest Indiana, I’ve made pilgrimages there to enjoy the good food, which remains very reasonably priced to boot.
Miner-Dunn has been around since 1932, and from what I can tell, they haven’t overly tinkered with recipes that work for them. Just writing this post is making me hungry…
I also realized that I have posted photos of two favorite burger places going back to years past in successive posts. Talk about being a meathead.
For those of you around during August 1974, where were you during when President Richard Nixon resigned from office in the midst of the Watergate scandal?
At the time, I was in high school, heading into my sophomore year. That night I happened to be watching a football game. The Jacksonville Sharks were playing the Hawaiians, both of the fledgling World Football League, an upstart, ragtag operation that was challenging the established NFL. The game was interrupted by Nixon’s resignation’s speech, which made for an odd return to the televised game action following such a momentous event!
For readers too young to understand the Watergate scandal, or for the sprinkling of international readers thankfully spared the ongoing saga back then, Nixon got in trouble when his Administration was linked to an illegal break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington D.C.’s Watergate Hotel during the 1972 election campaign. As is so often the case, the cover up was worse than the initial sin, and it led right to the Oval Office.
The Washington Post took the lead on investigating the Watergate scandal, and it served to launch the careers of two unknown reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.
The movie “All the President’s Men,” starring Robert Redford (Woodward) and Dustin Hoffman (Bernstein), manages to tell the story of the Post‘s investigation with a sense of detail and drama that conveys the gravity of this historic event in American government and politics. It still holds up as an excellent movie.
One of the fun things about being a kid was sending away for stuff and then waiting in anticipation for what would come in the mail. A toy, game, or hobby item. Maybe a magazine subscription or a book.
In the days before U.P.S. and other private companies claimed a larger share of the package delivery business, the U.S. Postal Service was the main show in town. This was still the heyday of mail order. For young boys, especially, the back pages of comic books, ad listings in magazines such as Boy’s Life, and catalogs issued by novelty toy companies like Johnson Smith offered tempting discoveries. Sometimes the products would fall short of expectations, providing youthful lessons in advertising vs. reality!
When I became a postage stamp collector, I’d look forward to periodic deliveries of stamps-on-approval, a quaint service whereby small stamp businesses sent selections of collectible stamps for review and possible purchase, with unwanted items to be returned within roughly a two-week time frame. (Stamps-on-approval services remain popular today.)
When I became a sports fan, I’d eagerly await weekly deliveries of The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated, and then pore over the statistics and feature articles in each issue. The Sporting News was the real deal, packed with updated player statistics, boxscores, and in-depth coverage of the major U.S. pro sports, especially baseball. In the days before the Internet, this was a must-have subscription for serious sports fans.
With an allowance that stretched only so far, and before part-time jobs entered the picture, being able to send away for free stuff was especially tantalizing, and this book was a gateway:
The cover was better than the substance inside. OK, there was a lot of free stuff to send away for, but company promotional items and information from the government predominated the listings. I must’ve sent requests based on dozens of listings, but I cannot recall receiving anything of lasting interest!
Today, of course, the daily mail brings a lot of bills, junk mail, and fundraising pitches. I subscribe to a lot of magazines, so those goodies still await me every week. And yes, I send away for stuff on occasion, though usually via online signups. Indeed, in terms of convenience and speed, the Internet is a consumer marvel.
So, this definitely isn’t a call for a return to the mail order era of the past! Please indulge me, however, while I get a tad nostalgic about the days of sending away for fun stuff and waiting to see what arrives in the mail.
Thirty summers ago, I was a summer associate for a large corporate law firm in Chicago, doing legal research and writing assignments under the supervision of attorneys representing commercial clients. The work was challenging, I was being paid handsomely, and I was working with very good lawyers who happened to be down-to-earth folks.
And yet…it didn’t feel quite right for me.
For those uninitiated in the lingo of the legal profession, “summer associate” is the usual job title for a law student who is working at a law firm for the summer. At large law firms, summer associates are brought on board with the assumption that they will be considered seriously for offers of full-time employment as associate attorneys if their work is of high quality. The pay is very good, approaching the weekly equivalent of a first-year associate’s salary.
I secured one of these jobs for the summer following my second year at NYU Law. Although I went to law school to become a public interest lawyer, I decided to give the corporate legal world a try. Also, having grown up right outside of Chicago, I wanted to see if returning to the Midwest was the right thing for me.
Even before I started, however, I knew in my heart that I was not meant to be a corporate attorney. The night before leaving for Chicago, I went to a classic Broadway musical, “42nd Street,” starring Jerry Orbach:
That show captured it for me. I didn’t want to go to Chicago.
But I went, and I worked very hard at that law firm. I tried to fit in and to be a part of it all. My law student colleagues were smart and friendly, and the firm treated us very well. Nevertheless, within a few weeks, I found myself regretting that I had passed up several offers to work for public interest legal organizations that summer. I also missed New York terribly.
How much did I feel like a fish out of water? Well, as the summer wore on, I found myself dodging the friendly “round ups” of summer associates to treat us to lunch. Instead I would grab a quick bite to eat and spend lunch hour in a bookstore. I also made excuses for not attending some of the firm’s social functions, preferring to visit various historical sites in Chicago or read the books I had purchased during my lunch breaks. (Had I been more self-aware, I also would’ve realized how those patterns revealed an introverted side that only in recent years I have come to acknowledge and value.)
Still, my objective was to secure an offer of full-time employment, as I knew it would be a good thing regardless of whether I accepted it. So I gave a maximum effort.
I got the offer soon after my summer stint ended, and for a few weeks I sat on it. But I knew I had to go a different route and declined. During my third year of law school, I accepted an offer from The Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. It turned out to be the right decision.
Since then, I have tried to be true to myself in terms of vocation. However, with a bit more maturity under my belt, I also now understand that enjoying a span of work and career choices is a huge privilege. “This above all, to thine own self be true,” wrote Shakespeare, but when it comes to earning a living, not everyone has that luxury. It’s something to consider when assessing one’s blessings in this life.
During any given summer, thousands of newly-minted law school graduates are reaping the rewards of their toil with one final “gift” of a test: The bar examination of the state in which they intend to practice. With a few exceptions, one’s ability to practice law in a given state is dependent upon passing a grueling two or three day examination, consisting of batteries of brain-frying multiple-choice questions and essay questions that pose factual scenarios densely packed with legal issues to be analyzed.
To prepare for the bar exam, which most people take during the summer, one typically signs up for a bar review course. This is a crash course that features over a month of lectures and practice exam questions, interspersed with hours of studying legal rules and principles. Most bar review courses start right after graduation season and finish a few weeks before the bar exam itself, with the remaining time spent drilling and memorizing.
Every summer I encounter law students lugging around the thick paperbound law summaries published by bar review courses. As the weeks go by, their faces look more drawn and tired. Many of the men stop shaving and even the more fashion conscious women trudge around in sweatpants. They make for a pretty motley crew by the time exam week hits.
I remember that time oh-so-well. Twenty-nine summers ago, I was studying for the New York bar exam, reputed to be one of the toughest in the nation. The biggest challenge in studying for the NY exam was the vast number of legal subjects potentially covered on it. We had to stuff a lot of law into our heads and hope that it remained there at least through the two days of the actual test. For people like me, who assiduously took classes of intrinsic interest rather than courses that tracked the bar exam subjects, there was added misery in tackling subjects avoided during law school.
Furthermore, earlier that year, I had accepted an offer to work for The Legal Aid Society in Manhattan. I would be handling appellate-level criminal cases, which meant that the areas of law I needed to feel comfortable with boiled down to a handful of subjects. My motivation to learn, say, the rules of New York gift & estate taxation, was practically nil. (Especially with the salary I’d be earning and the people I’d be representing, neither I nor my future clients had much use for the subject.)
I spent the first few weeks dutifully going to the bar review lectures and trying to study each day, but I found the whole deal to be quite excruciating and my attention span wandered. As the weeks ticked down, however, I came to grips with the fact that I didn’t want to take this exam over again, so I’d best buckle down and give it my all. That I did. During the weeks preceding the exam, I basically camped out in the law clinic offices at NYU, where I had spent so much time in my final year of law school.
Of course, I also spent hours on the phone with law school classmates, sharing supposed insights on how to prepare for the exam, as well as gallows humor about our chances of passing. Many of my best friends from NYU were going to other states to practice, so I ran up a much higher phone bill than was prudent for a soon-to-be public interest lawyer.
I was assigned to take the exam in the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan. By then I had moved out of NYU housing and was sharing an apartment in Brooklyn. I didn’t want to risk a subway delay, so I rented a room at the Vanderbilt YMCA, a manageable walk from the hotel.
The exam itself was every bit as challenging as I had imagined. My head was spinning throughout the two-day test, and when I finished, I honestly had no clear idea of whether I had passed or not. (One of the essay questions was about New York gift & estate taxation, and had I not spent an hour the night before with a one-page summary prepared by one of my law school classmates, I probably would’ve sat there in a stupor.) But I didn’t feel horrible about it, so I figured my chances were okay.
After the exam, I celebrated by going to Barnes & Noble and buying two books, the titles of which I recall to this day: William Shirer’s The Nightmare Years (the journalist’s account of being in 1930s Nazi Germany) and Tom Clancy’s first thriller, The Hunt for Red October. I treated myself to an extra night at the YMCA to read my new books in solitude. In the weeks that followed the bar exam, I was basically in a haze. Thank goodness I had that time to recoup before reporting for duty at Legal Aid after Labor Day.
In November I learned that I had passed the bar exam! It was good news all around in my office; all 12 or so Legal Aid colleagues who sat for the exam that summer also passed. I called the elementary school in Indiana where my mom taught kindergarten, and they gave her the good news over the intercom.
I celebrated by going to Barnes & Noble and buying another book, Mark Girouard’s Cities & People, a beautiful volume about urban social and architectural history — and a perfect complement to the love affair I was experiencing with New York City as a broke-but-happy Legal Aid lawyer.
Thirty-two summers ago, I paid my first visit to New York City. The main occasion for my trip was to check out New York University, where I would be starting law school that fall.
While it may sound odd in this day and age for someone to say this, I had accepted NYU’s offer of admission sight unseen, based largely on its overall reputation and strong support for students who wanted to enter public interest law. You see, I also was pretty broke, and I didn’t have the funds to visit the law schools to which I was applying. Having opted happily for NYU from a distance, I wanted to preview the situation firsthand, so I scheduled a late June visit to New York City.
I reserved a room at the Vanderbilt YMCA on 47th Street. It was like staying in a youth hostel, reminiscent of my semester abroad in England the year before. Another adventure begins!, I thought to myself.
During my short trip, I spent a lot of time around NYU and its Greenwich Village surroundings. I discovered some of the cheap local eateries that would get a lot of my business during the years to come, I did some hanging out in Washington Square Park in the heart of the Village, and I paid my first of hundreds of visits to the remarkable Strand bookstore.
Of course, I also checked out NYU, including Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, and Hayden Hall, the residence hall where most first-year law students lived, both located right on Washington Square. I could feel the butterflies churning in my stomach in anticipation of what was to come, and a little voice inside me wondered if I was in over my head.
I did standard tourist stuff as well. Going up the Empire State Building. Taking a guided tour of the United Nations. Becoming bewildered by the city’s labyrinth of a subway system. (If you’ve ever been lost in the Dante-esque middle level of the West 4th Street stop in the Village, you know what I mean.)
My NYC recon trip confirmed that in terms of sophistication, I was a babe in the woods. I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with big cities, having grown up in northwest Indiana right outside of Chicago and having spent chunks of time in major European cities during my semester abroad. However, New York seemed overwhelming to me, ranging from its apparent vastness (in actuality, Manhattan is a mere island!) to its exorbitant prices. (Upon my return, I would report breathlessly to friends and family that a fancy ice cream place called Häagen-Dazs was charging one whole dollar for a small cone!)
Nevertheless, I also had a gut feeling that I was making the right choice. I knew that New York would fascinate me, and — nerves notwithstanding — I had a good feeling about my decision to attend NYU. My instincts would prove to be right. New York and NYU were the right places at the right time for me.
I didn’t take any photos of that visit, but I’ve held onto the guidebook I used to traipse around Manhattan. In Frommer’s 1981-82 Guide to New York, author Faye Hammel writes:
You should be advised that there is one dangerous aspect of coming to New York for the first time: not of getting lost, mobbed, or caught in a blackout, but of falling so desperately in love with the city that you may not want to go home again. Or, if you do, it may be just to pack your bags.
That quote captured how I would feel about New York for years. As would this song:
As the boxes of papers in my condo unit storage area attest, I tend to save stuff! This stuff includes a small pile of mementos from the first Presidential candidate I ever supported and voted for, John B. Anderson of Illinois. I spent countless hours working as a volunteer for Anderson’s 1980 independent campaign, and it is one of my most memorable college experiences.
I’ve written earlier that during college and law school, I had every intention of launching a political career, so much that I was obsessed with the machinations of campaigns and elections. During this time, and especially through college, my own political views were very much in flux. I started college as an independent-minded Republican and finished as an independent-minded Democrat. But it’s also safe to say that my positions on issues were more knee-jerk than principled and well thought-out. regardless of whether I was leaning right or left!
Since then, my views have usually come out on the liberal side, but as to individuals I admire and respect in public life, I find myself drawn to people of character and integrity in ways that may transcend political partisanship. This may signify that I have come full circle, because John Anderson had those qualities in abundance.
In a way, my own political journey tracked that of Anderson, who for most of a long career in the House of Representatives was a strong conservative, rising to party leadership positions and representing a Rockford, Illinois district that returned him to office time and again. But in the wake of Vietnam and the social upheaval of the 60s and early 70s, Anderson began moving to the left, to the point where he entered the 1980 GOP primaries as a “liberal Republican,” a designation that would be virtually impossible today.
Anderson made a splash in the primaries and was gaining a following that cut across political lines, but he knew that his chances of winning the nomination — eventually secured by Ronald Reagan — were practically non-existent. So he decided to mount an independent Presidential campaign. He engaged in the arduous effort to get on the ballot across the country, and he picked a running mate, former Wisconsin Governor Patrick J. Lucey, a Democrat.
Although polling data showed Anderson with double digit support through the summer of 1980, he faded in the fall and garnered 7 percent of the November vote, far behind Reagan and the Democratic incumbent, Jimmy Carter.
I served as the Northwest Indiana coordinator for the Anderson/Lucey campaign, an area covering Lake and Porter counties, two fairly heavily populated areas of the state. My position signified the degree to which the campaign had to rely on green volunteer talent. I coordinated a small organization of volunteers, served as a representative to the statewide campaign committee, participated in a couple of local debates, and even did some local radio interviews.
Some of the mementos pictured above are self-explanatory, but let me say a bit about three of them:
(1) The ALL CAPS letter on the left is a mailgram sent by Vice Presidential candidate Patrick J. Lucey to core Indiana volunteers, thanking us for a furious and ultimately successful petition effort to put him on the state’s November ballot. Lucey had been added to the ticket as Anderson’s running mate after petitions for Anderson had been submitted, so the Indiana courts required us to mount a second petition effort to secure his place as the VP candidate on the ballot.
(2) The newspaper article at top is a summer 1980 piece by the Gary Post-Tribune, featuring our small band of Anderson volunteers. It was one of my earliest press interviews about anything, and I recall how nervous I was speaking to the reporter! The article mentions an older couple, John and Kim Glennon, who served as den parents to our young volunteer group. Mrs. Glennon had attended law school with Anderson at the University of Illinois.
(3) The letter on the right was sent to key Anderson supporters after the November election, thanking us for our efforts on behalf of the campaign. I didn’t know if Anderson personally signed it or whether a robo-signing machine was used, but it was nice to receive the letter after working so hard for the campaign.
The 1980 election will forever be associated with President Reagan’s election and the nation’s rightward political shift, but I believe that Anderson’s story also symbolizes that change. After many years as a Republican loyalist, Anderson’s politics were moving left as his party’s positions were moving right. Anderson’s campaign platform was a mix of liberal social positions, strong support for workers’ rights, and moderate-to-liberal economic policies. His departure from the GOP anticipated the sharper ideological divisions that continue to confront America today.
In the years following the election, Anderson did a lot of teaching and lecturing, eventually becoming a law professor at Nova University in Florida and serving in leadership positions for various advocacy groups. He’s in his early 90s now. I’m not sure if he is still active as a teacher and advocate, but I hope he knows that his campaign made a strong impact on those of us who were fortunate to be a part of it.