50 Years: A Review
50 years ago today, at 2:30 in the morning (it was a Tuesday), I was born to Wayne and Adele Alaspa. Born with a nearly full head of hair, a hernia and crooked feet, I was a screaming, chubby-cheeked baby prone to crying - a lot. It's hard to fathom the 50 number, to be honest. It's a challenge to realize there are probably more days behind me than ahead of me (I mean, let's be honest about it).
Suddenly Bob Seger's Night Moves is a very powerful song, especially the part where he sings about "autumn closing in."
It's hard to put it all into perspective. When you reach a milestone it feels like something dramatic should happen. That, like in Scientology when you pay them enough money and they reveal the space opera secret to the universe, there should be some Xenu-level revelation about life.
It turns out, there is no great revelation. You don't really understand the world better than when you were 25, your friends and relatives start dying off, you're tired and sore a lot more, and you have a lot more cynicism than you did when you were young. Younger people (whom you still call "kids" even if they're in their 30s), still do not want to listen to you about your life experience, so you have to wonder what it's all for.
In 50 years I have seen a lot. It's hard not to think back. When you work at a place, like I do, filled with young people just out of college, it's amazing to think of the things you saw first-hand and realize they have probably only seen these things on TV or binged on a streaming service or maybe see them at a movie theater having a "retro" weekend. They look at things with nostalgia and through a lens of quaintness that you saw in person in some form or fashion.
I remember the first time I felt old. It was on college. I was in my early 20s, but the "classic rock" radio station said they were going to "flash all the way back to 1979" and then played Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall Part 3" and I realized I remembered when that was a brand new song and I heard it on the Top 40 radio station.
So, here are the things that went going on during my 50 years. Totally navel-gazing and self-indulgent, but indulge the old man. Here are things you might have read about, but I saw (often via television, but it counts). Does it matter? Who knows, but I'm old now, so shut up.
Born in 1971, I was well aware from an early age that the United States and the Soviet Union were going to go to war and nuclear missiles would fly. The world would end and it was inevitable. I was well aware of the evil of the Soviets, communism and the threat of total nuclear destruction. No wonder I have a dark side. Hell, the Beatles hadn't even been broken up for a year when I was born and Charles Manson had just been convicted of his crimes five months before I was born.
Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall were all newly released albums during my time alive. The year I was born, their new release was Meddle. They're still my favorite band of all time and "Comfortably Numb" is the greatest rock song ever. Period.
When I was born, the Vietnam War was an active war and would not stop for a few years yet.
When I was born, Richard Nixon was president and we were still a few years from Watergate. One of my earliest memories of TV is seeing boring old men talking into microphones as my dad watched with interest. I realized, years later, these were the Watergate hearings.
All in the Family was new and on the air when I was born. So was Sanford & Son, SWAT, The Rookies, Wonder Woman, Chico and the Man, Welcome Back Kotter, Happy Days, Mork and Mindy, Fantasy Island, The Love Boat and so many more. The first episode of Saturday Night Live debuted in 1976 and I was aware of its existence even if I didn't see it until years later. All of the shows now on TV Land or Decades or Antenna TV were (for the most part) brand new when I was a kid.
I saw The Star Wars Christmas Special when it ran on TV. We recorded it on our VCR and I watched it quite a bit. I had to mail in a form to get the first Star Wars figures ever made and they were shipped to me.
I still believe I have an undiagnosed case of something called dyscalculia which is like dyslexia only with numbers. I still transpose numbers from time to time and cannot do even the most basic math in my head. Don’t ask me how much XX% is or what XX+XX is. I don’t know. I was always testing at or below my grade level in math, but six or seven grades higher in reading comprehension.
Movies that were brand new when I was alive include: Jaws, the entire first Star Wars trilogy (which I saw first run in theaters), all of the Indiana Jones Movies. I saw Christopher Reeve as Superman and believed a man could fly, but also Superman 2 which I saw at a special sneak preview downtown. I saw E.T. weeks before it came out and wore a button saying I Saw E.T. and people kept asking me what the hell E.T. was. I saw A Christmas Story in the movie theaters. I remember my mom, dad and relatives discussing the horrors of Alien. Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and other horror movies were brand new. I saw Poltergeist in the theaters and it was the first time I saw a movie where people screamed during the movie.
I also remember movies like The Godfather, and part II, as well as Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter and other movies being brand new, although I would not see them until I was much older. They just won a ton of movie awards during awards season.
The first gaming system we had was Pong, which burned itself into our TV screen. We also got an Atari 2600 and it was like the future. When I was a kid the way to see the latest video games was at Showbiz Pizza or Chuck E. Cheese and there was not a ball pit in sight anywhere.
My parents spent a fortune for a top-loading Betamax VCR that was the size and weight of a small car. What? You can record things off the TV? I remember the first video rental store which was a tiny thing down the street and one side had VHS tapes and the other Beta. My family would rent one movie the whole family could watch and then one horror movie (sometimes more) that he and I would watch.
I remember the energy crisis of the 70s. I remember John Lennon being shot. I was obsessed with the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and remember when the Pope was shot. I was in high school sociology class when the teacher started talking about how fast rumors can spread and that someone had told him between classes that "the space shuttle had blown up." We spent the rest of the class listening to the news radio station about the Challenger disaster. I was listening to the radio, again, when the 2nd plane crashed into Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. I came home from school one day to see coverage of Flight 191 crashing at O'Hare. I remember Chernobyl and, well before that, the crisis at Three Mile Island.
I watched the news and saw the Falkland Islands war. I remember Margaret Thatcher and was well alive and aware when Reagan was President. I remember when AIDS was the pandemic/epidemic the world was so worried about and suddenly everything was "safe sex" and "condoms." I saw the invasion of Grenada and went on a march while in college the night fighting broke out in Gulf War One. I also saw George HW Bush speak at my high school during a rally because it was pretty obvious he was going to win and it was a chance to see a President in person. I saw Charles & Diana get married live on TV. Also Luke & Laura on daytime TV. I also remember the summer everyone wondered Who Shot J.R.?
John Belushi was alive and well when I was born. I remember movies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers being brand new. I remember his last movie (Continental Divide) and when he died.
The Berlin Wall was up and present for my younger years. I witnessed the footage as it came down.
My dad's love of movies was instilled in me and we went a lot. I got to see movies that were rated R even at an early age. I also remember when Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom helped create the PG-13 rating.
I wrote my first piece of fiction in third grade. I wrote tons of short stories over the years. I wrote my first novel (handwritten) senior year in high school (it was dreadful). My first published novel happened in the late 90s and had more than 8 main characters. I went to college to learn journalism, got involved in radio, learned how to edit reel-to-reel tape with a razor blade and a grease pencil. I worked part-time in radio for years. I spent 7 years working HR. I lived in Chicago and St. Louis, but have always been a Chicago guy. Despite being born on the north side, I became a Sox fan thanks to my uncle Ron. I've always been the type to go left when everyone goes right.
I was married just out of college. It lasted roughly three years. A lot more happened, but it's not my story to tell. I now can at least chat with my ex-wife on Facebook and I finally found Melanie and she's been my wife for nearly 9 years now.
I had braces starting in 7th grade - for four years! I got my first pair of glasses for being near-sighted in 4th grade. I tried contacts, but had to wear hard contacts which are not fun. I was the dateless wonder throughout high school. I had to wear orthopedic shoes complete with a heel until I finally reached high school due to flat feet. My medical issues that happened when I was born created days spent in the hospital and a fear of abandonment I carry with me to this day because my mom and dad were not allowed to stay the night in the hospital with me.
There's a lot of bad in there, but there are also so many personal moments. Tiny images and instances of startling beauty. Things which stay with me no matter how many years pass.
The way the stars looked so big, like diamonds on velvet, during a family trip to South Dakota.
The sun rising over the island of Maui on another family vacation as we drove to the airport to catch a very early flight.
The beauty of newly fallen snow, early in the morning, untouched by anyone, like a blank canvas waiting for me to draw upon it.
The sight of one of my books on a bookshelf. It never, ever, ever gets old.
Being on the radio in Rockford, IL, on New Years Eve and have drunken listeners call in to wish me a Happy New Year!
Fireworks going off in various neighborhoods while in the upper deck of a minor league ballpark watching a baseball game on the 4th of July. Dozens of them lighting up the horizon.
Seeing my wife Melanie walk down the aisle at the little chapel where we got married almost 9 years ago now and the fun of our reception (we had the best food and the absolute best dessert table ever).
Walking my dog Hondo early in the morning when the world feels like it's just us in the stillness of pre-dawn.
There feels like there's so much more. So many memories. So much history. Now, my dad has died, my mom is suffering with dementia, and within the past year I lost at least two friends to cancer. My back aches a lot and it seems like my knees are in constant pain. I've always had a tiny bladder, but these days the need to go to the bathroom is so much more constant and it's so annoying (it's the meds I take and the diabetes).
If I had advice, it would be: life is too short to do things you hate doing. Find what you love and try to do that. Try to do more good than bad. Try to help more than you hurt. Try to love more than you hate. Enjoy the time you have now instead of saving up for some "here after." Remember, things change fast, and life goes by too quickly.
I now work with the greatest bunch of young, creative, collaborative and helpful people I have ever worked with. They help keep my brain young. So, don't dismiss young people. You can learn from them as much as they can from you.
In the end, be happy. Love always. Create things. Remember, you touch more people than you realize and each life has some kind of meaning.
And now, for that final touch of the truly over-the-top melodrama I love so much, I am going to quote from Blade Runner and the final speech of Roy Batty, which was actually written by actor Rutger Hauer: "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."