Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category


Happy 50th Anniversary, Mom & Dad!

May 30, 2019

As of tomorrow, my parents will have been married for 50 years! I hesitate to say “celebrating” 50 years because, at the moment, they’re mostly working hard on moving from their current home to a new place across town. But, anyway … 50 years! In recognition of this milestone, I am posting a relevant column — one of my all-time favorites — by my dad.


by Jack Crowther
Rutland Herald, April 1, 1984

Contemplating the approach of our 15th wedding anniversary, my wife observed, “I think it’s pewter.” A pause. “I don’t like pewter. You can’t put it in the dishwasher.”

Such is the state of our marriage after a decade and a half. Sentiment hamstrung by convenience, tradition clobbered by practicality, symbolism outlawed by appliance manuals. Yet it survives.

In fact, the 15th anniversary isn’t pewter at all. It’s watches. But watches don’t go in the dishwasher either, so the point still applies. If it’s not dishwasher-safe, she has no use for it. I count myself and the children as exceptions to this standard, though a “dishwasher safe” label might improve our standing.

How to summarize those 15 years and the preceding courtship? Certain cycles have repeated themselves, as they do in the dishwasher. The quiet purposefulness of the fill cycle, the turbulence of the scrubbing, the fresh prospects of the rinse and the warm glow of the drying. It’s all there.

We met in the summer of 1967 at a public sailing club in Boston. They taught sailing and let out boats not far from the band shell on the Charles River. After you learned to sail, you taught the beginners. This offered a good opportunity for a chap to impress a young lady by showing off the arcane skills and colorful language of the skipper.

“Belay that purse,” I’d say with the authority of one who had battled wind and wave from Cape Horn to the Sea of Okhotsk.

My wife wasn’t the only female companion to sail with me on the Charles. Another possible romance had foundered when the boat had capsized. In some waters, tipping over might be as much fun as sailing, but not on the Charles. It’s too much of a working river, carries too much Bay State waste to be a swimmer’s place. An unplanned dunking was more taint than treat for my crew, and I never saw the girl again.

But I fared better with my future bride. We kept upright and avoided the treacherous Storrow Memorial Embankment.  Out of gratitude for her survival or interest, or both, she invited me over for stew.

The rest is history, though largely unrecorded until now.

I was new to the ways of love and underwent the usual bizarre changes in behavior. I made a cake and shared it with her. An ingenuous little pastry, it was yellow, one layer high and without frosting. But she loved me for it.

Well, at least she didn’t laugh.

At least she didn’t laugh loudly.

At least she didn’t laugh loudly in front of me.

Another time, I made dinner, served wine, and put on a tablecloth. Photographic evidence proves she was still smiling after the meal. She believes that I made spaghetti with store-bought sauce. That I could have pulled off such a culinary feat stretches credulity, but she’s not one to exaggerate.

Our courtship had its ups and downs. I moved to Vermont. On weekends she’d come up or I’d go down to Boston. Once we broke up for a couple of weeks. It was my doing, but I must not have liked it much. I broke down and called her up. After that things settled down a bit.

These things tend to reach a point of decision, and they did with us. I proposed. She accepted. Our parents accepted. Her church accepted. The Chicago city clerk accepted.

On a late spring day in 1969, the awesome ship of matrimony slid down the ways in a Chicago suburb and set its course, cheered by a waving throng and tacitly admonished as well: beware the conjugal straits; tempt not the storms of estrangement.

The crew of two somehow thought they could handle it. Why, they’d sailed the Charles River, hadn’t they?



The playing fields of Eph-dom

October 8, 2013

As Williams College — the home of the Ephs — renovates its Weston Field Athletic Complex, “complex memories” are being collected and shared. Here are mine.

When I was an undergraduate at Williams, the short run down to Weston Field for cross-country practice was one of the best moments of my day. It often felt exhilarating to put away my work, put on my shorts, and burst out the door, full of anticipation. Would I be able to keep up with Billo today? What new stories from the weekend were circulating? Might I get to talk to one of the women? A lot of what I wanted out of life at the time was waiting for me at Weston.

We didn’t do that many of our cross-country workouts at Weston’s Plansky Track (named for coach Pete Farwell’s predecessor, Tony Plansky), but one exception was the annual “Plansky workout.” For several days beforehand, the upperclassmen kept the details of the workout a secret while hyping its overall difficulty (“I’ve never puked so many shades of green before,” etc. etc. etc.) Then came the big reveal: Farwell, in Plansky’s voice, assigning “fo-uh qwah-tuhs” (4 quarters, i.e. 4 x 400 meters) in 80 to 82 seconds apiece … “because most of you will never race faster than that anyway.”

A final Weston memory comes from spring track. We distance runners had many talented teammates in the sprints, jumps, etc., but the one guy who absolutely knocked my socks off was Sal Salamone ’93. During the winter, Sal competed with reasonable success in the 60-meter high hurdles and the 500-meter dash, but in the spring he focused on the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. Long-legged and lean, Sal sprang over those 36-inch barriers with the efficiency and grace of a halfback evading fallen tacklers. If any particular Eph was ever predestined to run one particular race, surely it was Salvatore Salamone, Class of 1993, in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles.

When the news came back from the 1993 national meet that Sal had been disqualified, I was sad, but his legend remained intact. In my mind, a DQ was the only plausible reason Sal would not have won.


The guilty pleasures of Scooby-Doo

February 15, 2012

When I’m totally honest about it, I can admit that Phil and I watch too much Scooby-Doo, the animated TV show about four mystery-solving teenagers and their Great Dane. But when I’m feeling slightly defensive, rationalizations abound.

To start with, there is, “Carl Sagan endorsed it, so it must be good.” Sagan presumably knew a thing or two about compelling, worthwhile videography, as he starred in the TV series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and wrote the novel on which the movie Contact was based. In his book The Demon-Haunted World, Sagan praised Scooby-Doo for consistently showing that paranormal events have rational explanations.

Then there’s the nostalgia angle. We’ve been watching the What’s New, Scooby-Doo? incarnation of the show (2002-05) in which the character of Velma was voiced by Mindy Cohn, and Shaggy was voiced by Casey Kasem — Mindy Cohn of The Facts of Life, and Casey Kasem of the American Top 40 countdown. For those who grew up in the ’80s, as I did, these familiar, iconic voices are more than a little pleasing.

Phil likes the show because, hey, it’s about a big, goofy talking dog, and what’s not to like about that? But perhaps there is more to his enjoyment than meets the eye.


It’s Ladies’ Night in Panama

January 26, 2012

It hadn’t occurred to me that both of these bands might still be touring — together….

It's Ladies' Night in Panama.


Mixing it up

November 25, 2011

Once upon a time, my friend Tanya and I made each other mix tapes accompanied by lengthy commentaries on the rationale for our selections, the relevance of the songs to our lives, etc. I possibly took these exercises a bit too seriously — e.g., were my misguided attempts to make sense of R.E.M. lyrics really necessary? — but it was rewarding to move beyond passive listening into the realm of really sharing and discussing the music.

Eventually Tanya and I left our 20s behind and got busy with other things and stopped making tapes for each other. But I miss those days…. And so tonight after Phil fell asleep I finally made the Glee (Seasons 1 and 2) mix that I’d been thinking about for six months: (1) Leaving On A Jet Plane; (2) Don’t Stop Believin’; (3) Alone; (4) Sweet Caroline; (5) Defying Gravity; (6) I’ll Stand By You; (7) Don’t Stand So Close To Me / Young Girl; (8) (You’re) Having My Baby; (9) True Colors; (10) Smile; (11) You Can’t Always Get What You Want; (12) Borderline / Open Your Heart; (13) Dream On; (14) Safety Dance; (15) Dream A Little Dream; (16) Poker Face; (17) Stronger; (18) I Want To Hold Your Hand; (19) Teenage Dream; (20) Forget You; (21) Landslide; (22) Loser Like Me; (23) Never Going Back Again.

Now if I can just find some time to write the liner notes….


My favorite book of all time

November 15, 2011

Continuing with my recent theme of “sorting through stuff from the basement and reflecting on it,” today I dusted off The Great American Baseball Card Flipping, Trading, and Bubble Gum Book, written by Brendan C. Boyd and Fred C. Harris in 1973.

It’s more of a scrapbook than a “real” book; it consists mostly of images of 1950s baseball cards accompanied by musings about the players pictured. But it’s really, really funny, plus it perfectly captures what it’s like to be a kid obsessed with baseball. Which I was, back in the early to mid-’80s.

Some choice excerpts are below. They are awfully harsh at times; however, as the authors say in the Acknowledgments section, “We know only too well that we could not have played baseball half as well as even the most inept players mentioned herein. We know that much better than you, in fact. We tried.”

Jay Hook was a lanky engineering student from Waukegan, Illinois, who looked like Wally Cleaver and pitched like Zazu Pitts. With the New York Mets teams of 1962-64 he compiled records of 8-19, 4-14, and 0-1, for a three-year cumulative total of 12-34, which might on the face of it seem rather horrendous unless you stopped to consider that Craig Anderson, the staff’s beefy boy wunderkind in residence, had a record of 3-20 over the same time span and that Roger Craig, the stopper, if that is the proper phrase under the circumstances, had a two-year record of 15-46. The back of Jay’s card is the very soul of discretion regarding these notable statistical deficiencies, stating in part: “Jay pitched better than his record indicated in ’63.” (All things taken into consideration he would have had a pretty tough time pitching any worse.) “Jay’s a member of the National Rocket Society too!”

…Hook once wrote an article for “Sport” magazine explaining why a curve ball curves. He had a hard time getting the message through to his arm though and was forced to retire in 1964 when he could no longer get even his own teammates out during spring training intersquad games. He spent eight years in the major leagues and never had a winning season. His final won-lost totals were 29-62, with a lifetime ERA of 5.23.

I’d sure as hell like to read a scientific explanation of that.

* * *

The most impressive personal record in baseball history is the 56-game hitting streak of Joe DiMaggio. The second most impressive personal record in baseball history is the winning of 20 games by Ned Garver with the 1951 St. Louis Browns. In recording this feat, which must rank in terms of sheer miraculousness somewhere in between Johnny Vander Meer’s consecutive no-hitters and the raising of Lazarus, Garver became the first pitcher since 1924 to win 20 games with a last-place ball club. And he only lost 12. In fact those 20 victories were 38 percent of the entire Browns’ total for that year.

Now when a good hitter is with a bad ball club he’s basically all right. If he is at all competitive then all the losing might get to him and he’ll probably be a bit short in the RBIs and runs scored, but still he’s going to get his hits and everybody will know what he’s worth. But a good pitcher with a bad ball club is just plain screwed. Nobody scores any runs for him, nobody makes the big hit. The outfielders kill him with errors and the infielders lack any kind of range. The management is bitter and insulting. The crowds are sparse and often hostile. Even his friends are likely to turn against him. He is surrounded by ineptitude and indifference. Discourtesy and discouragement fill his days. And nobody ever does anything to try and shore up his morale. He is like Sviatoslav Richter playing with a Salvation Army band. There is no telling how good Garver might have been with a good club but after five or six years with the Browns, whom their owner Bill Veeck has often referred to as the worst team in the history of major league baseball, he wasn’t much good for anything. The last time I saw him his right arm was two inches shorter than his left, he looked like he was going to pass out every time he threw a slider, and he wasn’t throwing hard enough to break a soft-boiled egg against Willy Tasby’s skull.

* * *

Then there is the case of Rich Rollins, who, it seems to me, was a rookie third baseman with the Minnesota Twins about fifteen minutes ago. Well here I am still sitting around like a fool waiting for him to reach his potential and it turns out he’s been retired and coaching for the past several seasons. I thought he was just out of the lineup with the chicken pox or something, and all this time he’s been turning into a senior citizen behind my back. So anyway, what I really want to know is, if Rich Rollins is now an old man, does that mean it’s too late for me?

* * *

Whenever my father would take us up to Canada during summer vacations, we would always pass through a small sleepy potato-farming town in northern Maine near the Canadian border called Cherryfield — the sort of place that was inhabited exclusively by lobster fishermen and grizzly bears. Over the main street of the town — which coincidentally was the only street in town — there was a huge white muslin banner strung between the Flying A Gas Station sign and the front of the McKeither Brothers Dry Goods Store that proclaimed in faded red script: WELCOME TO CHERRYFIELD, MAINE, HOME OF MAJOR LEAGUE PITCHER CARLTON WILLEY. For this reason, and for none other that I can possibly think of, I have always been a fan of Carlton Willey’s. And even though, in the manner of all my particular and special sporting favorites, he has always managed somehow to disappoint me, I cannot help thinking that nothing he could do, no matter how dismal or mediocre, could ever prove disappointing, in any way, shape, or form, to the people of Cherryfield, Maine.

* * *

The Golden Greek. An All American quarterback at Boston University, a fancy fielding, home-run hitting first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, a tall, handsome, clean-cut son of immigrant parents, a good student, an all-around athlete, a youth leader and a teen-age idol, Harry Agganis was the epitome of the American dream. The day that he died of leukemia at age 25, in 1955, I was attending a performance of the Big Brother Bob Emery television program with a group of my fellow Cub Scouts. I can still remember the oversized headlines in the Boston newspapers and the feeling of stunned incredulity they aroused in all of us. Up until then death had been something that only happened to animals or in the movies or to bank robbers or people who had fires in their houses or to the old. But Harry Agganis? If something like this could happen to Harry Agganis then what was to become of us?

What indeed?


My aborted career as a Russian TV star

November 14, 2011

Some of you might be wondering what Jeremy was referring to in his comment about my brush with Hollywood. Well, here’s the full story in all of its convoluted glory….

In July of 1994, I was doing summer research in the Williams College biology department. Bon Appetit magazine came to campus to do a photo shoot for a Thanksgiving piece on Darra Goldstein, a professor of Russian who had written a cookbook. Since regular classes weren’t in session and Prof. Goldstein’s usual students weren’t around, I and some others were recruited to pose as her Thanksgiving guests. We gathered around a turkey and smiled at the idea of eating the still-raw-on-the-inside bird. One of the photos was indeed used in Bon Appetit‘s November issue. Shortly thereafter I was forwarded the following letter.

November 25, 1994

Darra Goldstein
Associate Professor of Russian
Williams College
Williamstown, Mass. 01267

Dear Prof. Goldstein,

I was wondering if you would be so kind as to to do me a favor and pass this letter along to one of your students. I shall explain. I am a producer, director and personal manager in Los Angeles…. I have produced many movies of the week and directed such shows as FAME, HILL ST.BLUES, MAGNUM P.I., DYNASTY, DALLAS, SILK STALKINGS etc. We have a very small but select group of actors that we manage and place in commercials, TV series and Feature films. One of them is ___ _____ who is the star of many movies of the week including the new ____ ______ which airs on Dec. 6 on CBS…. We now have been offered a new series deal for CBS and we are in the process of developing it. It is planned at the moment that he will have another character in the piece who is Russian or who can at least speak some Russian.

In looking through my BON APPEITE [sic] magazine, I saw the picture
that I am enclosing. [Stapled to the letter was the Goldstein article, with a circle around me and the words “THIS KID” written in pen.] The young man who is in the lower right hand corner has the look that we would want. I am assuming you know him and that he is a student.

This letter is to inquire as to whether or not this young man has ever acted or would be interested in checking it out. As I have come to know over the years, experience isn’t always necessary to get started in films and TV. It is a look and a personality.

If you would pass this letter on to this young man, I’d be most grateful and if he would like to contact me, please have him do so. I thank you very much for your cooperation.

______ _______

I called the guy and confessed my ignorance of Russian, as well as my plans to become a biologist rather than, say, an actor. Nevertheless, we agreed to meet when mutually convenient. This happened the following February, when I had a layover in Los Angeles en route to visiting UC-San Francisco as a prospective grad student. The guy told me that I wasn’t cut out for modeling (“they want dark, ethnic features”) but that he could help me get started as an actor. This would entail moving to L.A., taking a commercial acting class, getting a professional set of head shots, auditioning for commercials, getting an agent, and finding a non-acting job to pay the rent.

I declined this option in favor of the University of Washington’s Ph.D. program in physiology & biophysics, and the rest is history. But I’d like to think that in a parallel universe I’m a successful thespian — perhaps one who specializes in portraying Russians.


My first Commencement, 20 years later

November 10, 2011

As I continue to sort through old books and files, I just came across the speech I gave at my high school graduation in 1991. It’s neither great nor terrible — just an interesting snapshot of how I thought and expressed myself at the age of 18.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Honored guests, parents, friends, and classmates:

To begin with, I want to thank my parents, my teachers, my coaches, and the Rutland High students themselves for everything you have done for me over the years. Without your guidance and support, I wouldn’t be standing up here.

I have agonized for many hours about what I should say tonight, and I was thinking that, to begin with, I could wish my classmates “Good luck.” I assumed that no one would protest such a simple and uncontroversial message. But then why is it that in last year’s Rutland High School yearbook, senior class president Zach Kron wrote, “I wish you all success, profit, and above all happiness… but not luck. Luck is for rabbits.” And Ralph Waldo Emerson — an even greater philosophical authority — once said, “Shallow men believe in luck.” Apparently, luck has a somewhat tarnished reputation. But I believe it’s a reputation it doesn’t deserve.

To understand why we should dare to utter the words “Good luck,” it is important to first consider what luck is. A standard dictionary definition would say this: “Good fortune coming by chance.” This definition seems pretty reasonable on the surface. Still, it does not quite correspond with many people’s understanding of the word.

Students usually talk about luck in situations like these: someone takes many guesses on an English test, gets a good grade, and says, “Oh, I must have just gotten lucky.” Or a basketball team wins a game when one of its players sinks a desperation shot at the buzzer. But is luck entirely responsible for these people’s successes? Most likely, the studying done by the student helped him or her to guess correctly, and the basketball player’s hours of shooting practice were partly responsible for him or her making the shot.

These examples suggest that what we call luck does not occur totally at random, even though a strict dictionary definition might not agree. Instead, luck often benefits those who have worked hard and have earned it. In general, we create our own good luck by putting ourselves in a position to take advantage of unexpected circumstances. The major league catcher Tim McCarver said of Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, “Gibson’s the luckiest pitcher I’ve ever seen. Because he always picks the night to pitch when the other team doesn’t score any runs.” McCarver was kidding, of course, but his point definitely applies here. What we attribute to fate or chance may actually be a direct or indirect result of our own talent, determination, or other favorable qualities.

Therefore, it is necessary that, as a class, we don’t go into adulthood passively, hoping that luck will make us a success. In school, we have motivated ourselves to accomplish much academically, athletically, and artistically. Our test scores, victories, and musical performances have all, at times, been made possible by luck, but if we hadn’t put time and energy into these pursuits, all the luck in the world wouldn’t have done us any good. In the future, we must continue to be self-reliant and ready to prosper on our own. Then, most likely, we will get a few lucky breaks that will help us to achieve our goals.

Thus, against the advice of Kron and Emerson, I will say to you, my classmates, I hope that you will profit from good luck — because if you do, you most likely will have done something to deserve it.


The BB (Before Blogging) era

November 5, 2011

In going through my books and things recently, I’ve discovered a few old notebooks containing long-forgotten diary entries between 1999 and 2003. Overall, they’re quite dull, but a couple of the less tedious bits are presented below.

June 3, 2000 [shortly after arriving at an “Altitude Camp” for distance runners]: Just met another camper: _____ ______ from _______ _____. He had two questions for me: Did I drink? And what were my PRs? He was quick to reveal his own limitations as a runner and as a person; he admitted to drinking too much at times, being arrested twice, having his license suspended, and “having sex with promiscuous women.” He says that lifting weights is the only part of running he enjoys. He speculates that AIDS might be a government conspiracy. And on and on. “You sound like a coach’s nightmare,” I told him; he enthusiastically concurred. On our trip to the supermarket this evening, he (accidentally) broke a wine bottle and (intentionally) purchased chewing tobacco.

September 4, 2003: …I guess I’m going through a phase (perhaps a permanent one?) of feeling as though my regular paying job is not solving any of the world’s important problems and that I should be doing more — particularly to help people who are poor and in pain right now. There are political ways of trying to bring about change, but I’m uncertain as to whether we’ll ever elect a president who can give the “losers” of society the attention they deserve. Americans can be very self-centered and over-patriotic, and I fear that Bush’s emphasis on achieving US goals by bullying the rest of the world will continue to meet with approval by the average American. Is Dennis Kucinich electable? I fear not…. I saw the last two rounds of the JELD-WEN Tradition last weekend in person in Portland. Tom Watson squandered his four-stroke lead during the third round, then came back with an uneven but ultimately successful fourth round on Sunday. What a thrill to see my childhood hero playing well again! Only in a sport like golf is this really possible (further success after a 20-year slump). It was neat to be out on the course with the players; it really made me appreciate the manners of the game (e.g., the crowd cheers for everyone and groans whenever anyone misses a putt). Watson’s ALS-stricken caddy was there too, and it was good to see him doing what he loves while he is able.


The joy of text

October 10, 2011

Over the last month I’ve finally embraced text messaging. It’s a nice way to deliver short messages fast without the imposition of a phone call.

Texting has also gotten me thinking about my adoption of communication technology in general.

* First regular use of email (as spring 1992

* First regular use of World-Wide Web: 1996

* First courtship relying heavily on email: March 1998

* First personal web page: 1999 (?)

* First cell phone: 1999 (?)

* First non-student/non-work email address ( June 2000

* First email from grandmother: 2004

* Ceased to have a land line at home: 2004

* First consistent use of blogs (reading and writing): 2006

* First home wireless network: 2007 (?)

* First tweet: May 27, 2009

* First smartphone: 2012?