Dear readers, you’re about to be treated to another entry about the weather here in Boston. We’ve got our fourth consecutive weekly Big Snowstorm, two of them blizzards. Winter Storm Neptune (snowstorm 4/blizzard 2 if you’re counting) has been unfolding before our very eyes this weekend.
I wish I could claim that I’ve turned the snowbound days into productive work activity, but it’s only partially true. The weather geek in me keeps an eye on the TV weather coverage, even if it’s becoming repetitive. Snow here, snow there, snow everywhere — and plenty of wind gusts, too. This is, after all, a weather pattern of historic proportions, and we’ll be talking about it for years. Hey, this ain’t nothin’ compared to the big ones back in ’15……
The local transit authority announced that the subway, buses, and commuter rail will be operating on, to put it gently, adjusted schedules on Monday, after being shut down completely today. My university decided to hold classes, which means that a lot of students, faculty, and staff will be having somewhat adventurous sojourns into downtown Boston. I’ll be among them!
I’ll also have a little soreness in this middle aged body tomorrow, thanks to my largely futile efforts at snow shoveling today. Fortunately, I was able to hire a couple of guys who were earning extra cash with a snowblower and a snowplow truck. They did in a few minutes what would’ve taken me…never mind…I wouldn’t have finished. That said, even the snowblower had trouble pushing through mounds of snow where the sidewalk was supposed to be.
I did manage to watch some TV, including the latest episode of The Americans, one of the best one hour dramas around right now. I also watched an ESPN streamed college basketball game featuring my undergraduate alma mater, Valparaiso University, overcoming a half-time deficit to beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the latest win in a surprisingly strong season. VU’s basketball team wasn’t much to speak of while I was a student. But its fortunes have improved considerably since then, to the point where VU now ranks among the better mid-major Division I hoops programs.
As I finish off this blog post, I’m missing a 40th anniversary special for Saturday Night Live. It realize that it’s an iconic Generation Jones television show, premiering in 1975. SNL has had its moments — for me “Da Bears” skits and Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impersonations are brilliant — but overall I find its humor misses as often as it hits. Maybe I’ll catch it another time, perhaps during a future snowstorm.
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.
I can thank a British sheep or two from 1981 for stoking my interest in this story:
In a piece for the Huffington Post, science writer Macrina Cooper-White reports on a potentially significant discovery near Stonehenge in Britain:
Archaeologists studying Stonehenge and its environs say they’ve unearthed the remnants of an untouched, ancient encampment that dates back 6,000 years–a find that could rewrite British prehistory.
“This is the most important discovery at Stonehenge in over 60 years,” Professor Tim Darvill, a Bournemouth University archaeologist and a Stonehenge expert who was not involved in the new discovery, told the Telegraph. And as he told The Huffington Post in an email, the discovery overturns previous theories that “Stonehenge was built in a landscape that was not heavily used before about 3000 B.C.”
It’s pretty cool stuff, yes? But I might’ve passed on the story had Stonehenge not made its own indelible mark on my life decades ago.
During my 1981 semester abroad in England via Valparaiso University, one of our weekend group trips included a visit to Stonehenge. (As the photograph above indicates, we were ultra-serious about these mini-sojourns, giving new meaning to the term “visiting scholars.”)
You see the comely lass waving to me in the photo below? That’s my long-time friend Hilda, now an English teacher and novelist in Northwest Indiana. You can visit her book sites here (Kingdom of the Birds) and here (Plank Road Stories).
Anyway, if memory serves me well, just a few minutes after snapping that picture of Hilda, I would take a short slide down a hill. Although it was damp and cold that day, it wasn’t precipitation that precipitated my fall. No, I had slipped and scooted down on a big pile of sheep droppings.
Yup, really, really gross. And kind of mortifying.
I won’t dwell too much on the odoriferous aftermath, but suffice it to say (1) thank God our bags were packed in the bus nearby, so I could change; and (2) although my wardrobe was sparse — most of us did our best to pack light for our semester abroad — I removed those trousers and quickly threw them away.
Now, you rightly may be asking yourself what the heck this has to do with a potentially significant archeological discovery near Stonehenge, and I agree the connection seems weak.
But here’s one thing I’ve learned about travel and education: Simply being there plants a lot of seeds. (No jokes about fertilizer, please.) I was not anything close to being an Anglophile when I opted to spend my final undergraduate semester abroad. But I got sooo much out of that experience, despite my remarkable immaturity at the time. In fact, I’ve returned to England at least a half dozen times since that collegiate semester, and each visit has been rewarding.
So when I read about this exciting discovery near Stonehenge, I thought to myself, cool, I’ve been there!, and then checked out the article with great interest.
Of course, it’s not necessary to have visited a country in order to appreciate it. I’m fascinated by ancient Greece, for example, but have never visited there. In my case, however, it does help to have walked around a place.
And who knows, maybe that location is close to where I did my slide down the hill!? Talk about deep-seated connections….
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!
Over the weekend, one of my college classmates (that’s you, Jon!) posted on Facebook a quick little remembrance of our graduation day from Valparaiso University on May 17, 1981. Of course, the mere mention of that time triggered a bout of nostalgia, a chronic condition that is both my blessing and curse.
Now, I wasn’t actually at our Commencement, which is how the seemingly random inclusion of this grainy snapshot of Lucerne, Switzerland figures into the story. I had finished up my undergraduate career with a spring semester abroad in Cambridge, England, and I was spending three weeks traveling on the European continent with my friends. My graduation day was spent with fellow VU sojourners David, Joanne, and Liana in Lucerne, where we took a boat ride and finished up the day with dinner at a waterside café, from where I snapped this photo.
Study abroad was a very different experience back in the day. No Internet, e-mail, or smartphones. Our primary connection to friends & family back home was the postal service, which made the daily mail delivery an important event. As study abroad sites go, England is about as safe & secure as they come, but we truly felt like we were on a foreign adventure.
My biggest technological novelty was an ATM card from a local British bank. I didn’t own a credit card. In the house designated as the residence for men, our music system was a small portable cassette player that my friend Don had “borrowed” from the office of the school newspaper back at VU, where we both had spent many hours as collegiate news scribes.
As I noted last fall in a remembrance of my years at Valparaiso, that semester abroad was the most formative educational experience of my life. I know I’m not alone with this sentiment. Since 1991, our study abroad group has held reunions every five years, and each time over half of our group has attended. (In addition to the aforementioned study abroad classmates, they have included Anne, Hilda, and Kathy, who also subscribe to this blog!)
Looking at that photo and applying rose-colored glasses, it’s easy to lapse into thinking of those days as being carefree and without anxiety, softened by images of vagabonding around Europe. Truth is, I was full of uncertainties and very much a work in progress. I had sufficient wisdom back then to know that I was very, very fortunate to have that study abroad experience, but my inner focus was impatiently and continually on the future and what it might bring.
I’ve reached the age where the fading old Kodak snapshots from my semester abroad look like something from another era, and for good reason. It really was long ago and far away when I celebrated my college graduation with friends at that Lucerne café. For nostalgic beings like me, I’ll take it as a memory to be treasured.
If you recognize the name Jack Bauer, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with 24, the Fox espionage and terrorism drama that ran from 2001 to 2010. If Bauer’s name doesn’t ring a bell, then here’s a piece of the Wikipedia entry on the series:
24 is an American television series produced for the Fox network and syndicated worldwide, starring Kiefer Sutherland as Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agent Jack Bauer. Each 24-episode season covers 24 hours in the life of Bauer, using the real time method of narration. Premiering on November 6, 2001, the show spanned 192 episodes over eight seasons, with the series finale broadcast on May 24, 2010.
24 gained something of a cult following, with its fans taking apart the many twists provided in each episode. Every hour served up a civil libertarian’s nightmare, as the, uh, goal-oriented Bauer stopped at nothing (er, almost nothing) to get the job done. With its fixed time frame and claustrophobic sense of contained reality, 24 created a compressed world of terrorist threats and violence.
For many fans of suspense TV, including this left-of-center one, 24 was a guilty pleasure.
Well folks, after a four-year hiatus, Jack Bauer has returned to the small screen in 24: Live Another Day, a 12-episode mini-series on Fox that premiered this past Monday.
The two-hour opening episode is vintage 24, with plenty of Bauer-inflicted mayhem, some of it so over the top that I couldn’t decide whether to laugh, cheer, or grimace. Putting on my law professor hat, I saw countless violations of the law, not to mention grounds for a personal injury suit or three.
In other words, I’ll definitely be following the rest of the season!
…and so is the gang
Plus, I have an added incentive to watch. With the return of 24 comes the revival of a small, super-exclusive 24 e-mail discussion group made up of three of my college schoolmates and me. We’re all graduates of Valparaiso University, today dotted across the country: Sheralynn in California, Don and Myk in Illinois, and yours truly here in Massachusetts.
For the better part of the show’s long run, we debriefed each episode and engaged in deep speculation on how the story lines might develop before the end of the “day.” Now we’re virtually reuniting again to pick up on this abbreviated season.
With apologies to Don and Myk, Sheralynn is our best reviewer. She digs into the details and typically writes a sharp summary that competes favorably with the entertainment blogs. But we three guys aren’t slackers either.
And so, through e-mails, we’ve created a sort of Web 1.0 equivalent of watching a favorite show in our dorm rooms and then kicking around the details later. All that’s missing is the pizza delivery.
I’m now into a slightly extended binge viewing of Season 1 of “The Americans,” an FX drama series featuring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as a Soviet couple operating as deep cover spies in Washington D.C. during the early 1980s, the decade leading to the end of the Cold War.
It’s a great series, and a vivid reminder of U.S.-Soviet tensions of the era. But irrespective of its dramatic quality, I was won over by the opening scene, a bar in which Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart” is playing in the background.
Yeah, it pushed my Eighties nostalgia buttons, and I was hooked.
If you’ve followed my posts here, you know that I get nostalgic even for historical eras I am too young to have experienced. But the Eighties are very much my time, and I regard the decade fondly.
Okay, so it may not have been the best years for America. This was the decade of trickle-down economics, “greed is good” (a philosophy popularized by financier Ivan Boesky, who landed in prison for overdoing what he preached), the emergence of the Middle East as a dominant hot spot, and a lot of political corruption. Many of the challenges we face today have their roots in those years.
Personally, however, I think of the Eighties as a comparatively innocent, wide-eyed time of my life. It covered the heart of my 20s, starting with my last year of college at Valparaiso University, then through law school at NYU, and finally post-law school life and work in New York City. Though I was barely masquerading as an adult during that time, I experienced a lot of growth and memorable times during the decade.
Moving to New York was a big deal, for I was a pretty sheltered Midwesterner. (To clarify, not all Midwesterners are sheltered, but I sure was.) I fell for New York completely, and during those years it was possible to explore the city on a tight budget. To be young and broke in New York wasn’t a terrible thing back then; there was a sort of gritty romance about making it on a shoestring.
Anyway, back to the “The Americans”: Season 1 opens in 1981, right after the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. A few episodes into the series, we see American and Soviet intelligence operatives scrambling madly to respond to the March assassination attempt on the President. Although the would-be assassin, John Hinckley, turned out to be a mentally ill man whose actions had nothing to do with Cold War politics, neither side knew that in the immediate aftermath of the shootings.
I recall that time well. We all lived under the nuclear threat. It was part of our existence.
Yesterday it was about the Cold War, the nukes, and the Soviets. Today it’s about terrorism, airport security, and Al-Qaeda. And the economy and jobs, always. The beat goes on.
I just finished reading Mark Leibovich’s This Town (2013), a bestselling “insider” look at political life in the nation’s capital. It’s bitingly funny at times, as one might expect such a book to be, and it provides a fix for recovering political junkies like me.
It’s also a reminder of a path I chose not to take.
You see, reading about politics is a far cry from my aspirations of decades ago, when I was an ambitious student government pol in college and planned to go to law school as a springboard into the real thing. As an undergraduate at Valparaiso University in Indiana, I was elected to various student senate positions, and I volunteered regularly for political campaigns. I managed a successful upset campaign for a town board seat in northwest Indiana, and I served as an area coordinator for the 1980 independent presidential run of John B. Anderson.
Of course, I also was a political science major, and it so happened that the poli sci department at Valparaiso was comprised of dedicated teachers who stoked my fascination with politics. In particular, Professor James Combs, quite the political junkie himself, was teaching and writing up a storm about political communications, which played right into my obsession with campaigns and elections.
My interest in politics continued through law school and beyond. As a young lawyer during the late 1980s, I was an officer in a reform Democratic club in Brooklyn, and it served as a very on-the-ground introduction to the gritty realities of New York politics. (I recall discovering pages and pages of forged ballot access petition signatures filed by one of our opponents, marveling at their sheer chutzpah.)
But some 23 years ago, I stumbled my way into teaching. I returned to my legal alma mater, New York University, as an entry-level instructor in its innovative Lawyering skills program for first-year law students. I knew immediately that I enjoyed being an educator, and that experience turned out to be the start of an academic career. In fact, I’m now in my 20th year of teaching at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.
Today, I’m hardly removed from politics. My work in drafting and advocating for workplace bullying legislation puts me in regular contact with legislators and their staffs. Two years ago I finished a term as board chair of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal policy advocacy organization based in D.C. And though my politicking these days is limited primarily to occasional campaign contributions, I follow electoral politics fairly closely.
But the world portrayed in Leibovich’s This Town, however embellished to attract more readers, is not for me. There are a lot of good, honorable people in politics, a fact we dismiss too easily in this cynical age. But politics is a bloodsport, and it requires a certain dispositional DNA to play the game for the long term without it becoming debilitating. When I think back to my collegiate ambitions, I now understand that I enjoyed reading and writing about politics more than being in the thicket of political life, even as the latter appealed more directly to my ego and insecurities at the time.
Okay, so the world of academe is hardly apolitical, and it can get as petty and nasty as any political brawl. (I sometimes quip that the real untold Biblical story is how God banished Adam & Eve to a faculty meeting as punishment for their transgressions.) That said, the focus of academic work itself is more on teaching, writing, and public education, and that’s more to my liking than the day-to-day work of political life.
Still, please do excuse me if I get a little charged every four years over news coverage about the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. It remains neat stuff to me, albeit from a distance.
Big parts of the country are facing heavy snowfalls and blizzard-like conditions right now. My home in Boston is among them, though I’m managing to avoid it because I’m out of town. Regardless, weather like this does push my memory buttons, thinking back to blizzards of days gone by.
Of course, I don’t have to think back far at all to reach the last blizzard, a blast that hit Boston hard last February. I took the photo above the night of the heavy snowfall, just steps from my small condo building. It was kinda fun to be out that night, and I was among a number of hearty souls (including canine ones) reveling in the snow.
The next day, folks were shoveling out of the mess. Fortunately my beloved City Feed & Supply Store, about a 30-second hike from my home, was open to sell provisions, including coffee and hot chocolate:
Three years ago, I was spending Christmas with my cousins in New York when a blizzard hit. We had a great time, including a Broadway performance of La Cage Aux Folles where a spirited cast delivered their best to a half filled house. Here’s midtown Manhattan during the heaviest snowfall:
But big snowstorms experienced as an adult may not compare to their magical quality when you’re younger — especially if it means schools closing!
I remember the blizzard of 1967 that hit Northwest Indiana and other parts of the region. Our Aunty Elaine was visiting from Maui, Hawaii, and she got a proper (if reluctant) introduction to a midwestern winter! Anthony Diaz produced and posted to YouTube this snippet of a longer video on the blizzard:
My brother Jeff and I were grade schoolers then, and if I recall correctly, it meant no school for a week!
I also remember the huge blizzard that overwhelmed America’s Midwest and Northeast in 1978, including the NW Indiana area. I was an undergraduate at Valparaiso University, and the campus was buried by the accumulation.
Most of those affected by the current weather will know by tomorrow morning what this storm has wrought and the full degree of inconvenience attached to it. In any event, keep warm and safe, and enjoy the sights.
With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, college students across America are studying for final exams and writing term papers. Even with the onslaught of technology over the decades, the ritual of gearing up for end-of-semester tasks remains largely the same. And for the procrastinators, it’s truly crunch time: That which has been ignored cannot be any longer.
Our late night “study hall”
I recall those days as an undergraduate at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana very well. My favorite study hangout was the dining room of the Brandt Hall dorm where I lived. After the dinnertime meal service was over, it was kept open as a sort of impromptu study hall. Around finals time, several dozen students could be found reading, writing, and typing (on real typewriters, by the way) into the wee hours. Oh, there was plenty napping and chatting (often of the gallows humor variety) as well, not to mention late night coffee, sodas, and snacks courtesy of area donut shops and convenience stores.
My roommate, a super conscientious pre-med major, was not given to dining room studying. He spent his study hours at his desk or in the library. We’d usually watch the monologue of the Johnny Carson Show, after which he’d hit the hay. By contrast, my study day had just begun. Off I’d go to the dining room so he could get some sleep.
Come to think of it, the most self-disciplined students often avoided late nights in the Brandt Hall dining room. Those who joined us there rarely pulled all-nighters; it wasn’t necessary. Especially at finals time, the post-midnight shift in the dining room was largely the province of those of us who had put off those pesky term papers and heavy-duty reading assignments.
Beyond Brandt Hall
In these days before personal computers, having access to a typewriter was necessary for churning out those papers. I had a Smith-Corona electric typewriter, which I’d lug back and forth from my dorm room to the dining room.
But during my last two years of college, I worked as an editor of the college newspaper, The Torch. And in The Torch offices were two IBM correcting Selectric typewriters. IBM Selectrics were the Cadillacs of typewriters. Not only were they fast, but also they could correct errors without swapping out a cartridge or using Liquid Paper to paint over mistakes! For typing long seminar papers, the Selectrics were gifts from heaven.
During my senior year, some friends and I hatched a plan that would surely propel us to epic levels of academic concentration. We would drive into Chicago, thus removing ourselves from the usual campus distractions, and study at the public library there. So we piled into my gas guzzling Buick and made way for the Windy City.
We made the trip, but alas, we found new distractions — Chicago is quite festive around the holidays — and returned late that night with little to show in terms of productivity. Scratch one Saturday. So back to the Brandt Hall dining room for this guy.
Is it any wonder that I still experience academic anxiety dreams? You know, those dreams in which it’s the end of the semester, and you suddenly realize there’s a class you haven’t attended, studied for, or even thought of, for that matter. As in, The Class You Completely Blew Off??? Panic ensues when you can’t even remember the course title — though for me, it’s usually some vague heavy science or math class. Then, thank goodness, I usually wake up and realize, gratefully, that it was a dream.
Well, enough reminiscing; time to get back to work. I’m on the other side of this realm now, and facing me are two large piles of term papers that I haven’t jumped into yet. I’d better get moving, because in two weeks I’ll have the final exams to grade as well. ‘Tis the season!