When Generation X healed the racial divide and fixed the world with a single song

The above tweet is from the GenXrs Twitter feed:

“I thought we solved racism in the 80s with this one song”

The tweet refers to the 1982 song, “Ebony and Ivory”, a duet by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. A video of the song is embedded below, in case you are too young to remember, or have since forgotten. “Ebony and Ivory” got a lot of play on FM radio during the early to mid-1980s. 

The tweet (like the title of this post) is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course. Everyone knows that a pop song can’t heal racial divisions. So what are you talking about?

This isn’t just about the song, mind you. It’s about a different time and place, a different state of mind.

I’m a GenXer and I was 14 years old in 1982. I remember the 1980s well.

Not everything—or everyone—was perfect. The 1980s were, however, a simpler time on the whole, when everyone seemed to get along better. 

Racism was universally seen as a bad thing, something to be purged from both our institutions, and the hearts of the people. There was not, though, a perceived need to constantly talk about what divides us…or might divide us. The focus of the culture was more on what unites us…kind of like this song.

“Ebony and Ivory” is not revisionism. The song certainly doesn’t deny the shameful chapters in our history. But it says, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could all just get along now?”

Such was the “chill” GenX ethos. There were no “woke” maniacs, no alt-right nutjobs. At least not among the young. The whole point of life was to be kind to others, and get along with others. Especially if you were young. 

No 4chan, no Antifa, no Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and no Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Sure, there were kooks, radicals and dingbats in those days. But they remained on the fringes…where they belong.

In the 1980s there was no Donald Trump, and no Alyssa Milano.

Okay, we did have Donald Trump and Alyssa Milano in the 1980s. But Donald Trump was a tabloid billionaire with no interest in political office, and Alyssa Milano was Tony Danza’s teenage daughter on Who’s the Boss.

See the difference?

Not surprisingly, I miss those times. 

The Rockland Horror 5: rough cut preview chapters

The Rockland Horror 5 is presently in production. The fifth book will mark the end of the historical arc of the series. The series will continue in modern times (post-1985) with a spinoff series.

If you’re new to The Rockland Horror series, start here. If you’ve read the first four books already, you can preorder Book 5 here.

Below are the first three draft chapters. (These have not yet been edited, so you may find a typo or two.) These will give you a preview of what’s coming in Book 5!

Chapter 1

Wayne Wyman stood at the edge of the ballroom in the Briggs House, in the room’s large open doorway. The same room where Theodore Briggs, back in 1882, had hanged his unfaithful wife.

The ballroom was oval-shaped, with a vaulted ceiling and high windows. The windows were hung with thick velvet drapes; but these were pulled back, so as to admit plenty of natural light.

It was a sunny September afternoon in 1945. According to the calendar, the dark events of 1882 were in the distant past. But where the Briggs House was concerned, the past was never too distant. The past was always capable of making itself known, and maybe even more than that. 

Wayne had discovered as much over the previous two years, since Wyman Realty had purchased the old mansion, at the insistence of his father, Cornelius. The seventy-five-year-old Cornelius Wyman had believed—and still believed—that the Briggs House would turn out to be a moneymaker.

But that had yet to be proven, a fact which distressed Wayne to no end.

Wayne had been up here many times, during the home’s renovation. But the renovation was now complete, and the war was over. The time had come to get serious about selling the house, or at least finding a renter for it. 

In the center of the ballroom was the big, multilevel chandelier. The infamous chandelier. Wayne tried not to look at it, because he knew that Briggs had hanged Ellen there. Everyone in Rockland knew the story: Briggs had made Ellen climb the ladder, and place the noose around her neck. Then he had made her jump. 

Briggs had written as much in his final testimony, or so the old stories said. Wayne had not been alive in 1882. Cornelius, though, had been a boy then. 

***

Wayne heard footsteps behind him, on the hardwood floor of the first-floor hallway. These were not the footsteps of any monster or apparition, but the shuffling steps of his father.

Wayne turned to see Cornelius. The old man was thin and bald, and he had wrinkles everywhere. His back was hunched. And though he walked, he walked with visible effort. The sight of Cornelius reminded Wayne that his own age of forty-two was still young. 

Ah, yes, young! But still too old for Mary Casey!

Wayne pushed these thoughts away, reminding himself that Mary Casey, now Mary Clark, was a lost cause.

***

“Something on your mind, son?” Cornelius asked.

The old man never missed a trick. 

Cornelius might be seventy-five; but he still dressed in a suit everyday, and his mind was still sharp.

“Everything okay in the ballroom?” Cornelius pressed.

“It would appear so, Dad.”

Cornelius joined Wayne in the doorway of the ballroom. The two of them had driven up here to check the place, a preventative ritual that was necessary in an unoccupied property outside town. The crest of Washington Hill was not far from downtown Rockland, as the crow flew. But it was at the top of a long and winding wooded road. And there nothing else up here, really, besides this old mansion.  

Cornelius indicated the chandelier. “I remember when it happened, you know. The hanging and the other killings, I mean. I never saw it, of course, but I heard about it. That summer and fall, it was all anyone in Rockland was talking about.”

“I would imagine so,” Wayne said with an involuntary shudder, despite the early autumn heat. 

“I was twelve years old in 1882,” Cornelius noted. 

“I suppose you were.” Wayne knew that his father had been born in 1870.

“Briggs was a madman,” Cornelius went on. “But he did have good taste in architecture and interior accoutrements.” 

“He should have, don’t you think? With all his money.”

“Money is no guarantor of taste,” Cornelius corrected. “Look at that chandelier. It may be sagging now, and I suppose we’ll have to take it down and replace it eventually. But it was a fine-looking thing in its day. A work of art, you can be sure.”

Wayne nodded. Cornelius was probably right about that. Briggs had imported the chandelier from Europe, in all likelihood. 

Cornelius was also right about the inevitable need to take down the chandelier and replace it with something more modern. The chandelier had been made for the pre-electric age. It was ringed with dozens of candle holders. The candle holders were all empty now, and would never be refilled. The age of candlelight was long past. Even folks of Cornelius’s generation preferred electric light nowadays. 

They would eventually need to install a new chandelier with lightbulbs. But that would have to wait, even though the house had been electrified. 

The Briggs House was so large, that it was impossible to complete the renovation in a single phase. The house would have to be put on the market with some finishing touches left undone, and the ballroom chandelier was one of them. 

But that shouldn’t matter to too many prospective buyers—assuming that anyone would be interested in the Briggs House to begin with. The mansion was more than adequate to live in as it was. If you didn’t mind living in a house with a history of murder and suicide, that was.

“Well,” Cornelius said. He removed a silk handkerchief from the beast pocket of his suit coat, and began to wipe his brow. “What say we head back? We’ve more than looked the place over, I’d say.”

“Sure.” 

“I’ll lead the way,” the old man said, turning away.

Wayne turned away, too. Then he stopped before he’d taken more than two steps.

Once his back was to the ballroom, he heard the dry sound of a rope swiveling under tension. A rope with a significant weight attached to it.

If he turned back around, he knew what he would see: the corpse of Ellen Briggs, nee Sanders, twisting in the air. 

Her long red hair would be tangled, and matted to her head. Ellen’s skin would be mottled. All of her fabled beauty would have been erased by the grotesque manner of her death. 

Wayne knew this, because he had seen Ellen hanging from the chandelier in the ballroom before. Not every time he came here, but often enough.

If you came to the Briggs House often enough, you were going to see something, sooner or later. It was practically inevitable.

The question was: did the visions that manifested themselves here have sentience, and independent wills of their own? Or were they merely psychic echoes, left over from the trauma that had taken place here, more than sixty years ago?

 A good question, Wayne thought, as he followed his father to the front door of the house. 

Chapter 2

Ten minutes later, they were riding down Washington Hill Road in Wayne’s Chevrolet. 

Washington Hill was heavily wooded in spots, primeval forest, more or less. Wayne concentrated on the downward sloping curves as he steered the car through the shadows and the dappled sunlight. 

He also took care not to look into the woods. Just as it was now common for him to see things in the Briggs House, he had also caught glimpses of things on Washington Hill Road that were not quite right. Trees sometimes appeared to have faces. He occasionally saw brief flashes of small, humanoid figures in the canopy of leaves and branches overhead.

Such visions, though, usually disappeared when Wayne looked at them straight-on. And when they did persist, it was never for more than a few seconds.

“Do we have any inquiries on the house yet?” Cornelius asked, when they were about halfway down the road. 

Wayne nearly flinched at the sound of his father’s voice. Cornelius, though, did not seem to be affected by the atmosphere up here, even though he was old enough to remember 1882. If Washington Hill and the Briggs House did bother Cornelius, he kept quiet about it.

“I’ve had some inquiries,” Wayne said, steadying himself, “from the ads that I’ve placed in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Indianapolis Star, and—of course—the Rockland Gazette.”

“What about the Louisville Sun?” Louisville, Kentucky lay about two hours to the southwest of Rockland, along the Ohio River.

“Some from the Louisville Sun, too,” Wayne clarified. “But when I explain the dimensions and location of the house, most people balk.”

“The Briggs House is not far from downtown Rockland,” Cornelius countered. “Not in a direct line.”

“No.” Wayne squinted as bright sunlight broke through a hole in the leafy canopy above the car. “But until we find a prospective buyer who can fly, that won’t make much of a difference. Washington Hill is a bear to drive in the winter. Most people can figure that out.”

Cornelius harrumphed. 

“The bigger problem, though, Dad, is that no one with fewer than twenty kids can possibly make use of all the space in that house. The Briggs House was grandiose and overdone, even by the standards of its time.”

Cornelius nodded. “That’s true.” 

“And then there’s the history of the place.” They were almost at the bottom of the hill now, and the road that would take them into town. 

“I know all about the history,” Cornelius said. “But 1882 was a long time ago. Like I told you, I was only twelve years old then.”

“And I wasn’t even born. Yes, it was all a long time ago, Dad. But long ago or not, there are few women who want to sleep with their husbands in the bedroom where Theodore Briggs dismembered his young wife’s lover. Women are funny that way, I suppose.”

Cornelius paused to consider what Wayne had said. He knew all of this, of course. But he had a counterargument.

“According to the newspapers, the country is in the midst of a housing shortage. All those young men, recently mustered out of the military. They’re all coming home, and starting families. The pundits and journalists are already predicting a postwar baby boom, you know.”

“I do know,” Wayne said. “And during the war, construction on new civilian housing came to a near standstill. Just like the manufacture of so many consumer goods. So the demand for housing is outstripping supply.” 

“Exactly my point,” Cornelius said, with obvious self-satisfaction. 

Wayne was dismayed that his father still didn’t get it. The old man was by no means senile; but he was set in his ways.

“Here’s the problem, though, Dad. Those returning soldiers, sailors, and marines aren’t interested in living in a haunted house from the nineteenth century. And their young wives definitely aren’t.”

Wayne temporarily diverted his attention from the road to glance at his father. He had told Cornelius more than two years ago that the purchase of the Briggs House was a bad idea. The investment could sink Wyman Realty, given all the money that they’d put into it. Never mind that the First National Bank of Rockland had sold the property for pennies on the dollar. In its original state, the Briggs House had been next to worthless, anyway. 

“And we furnished the place, too,” Cornelius added.

This was was true, after a fashion. At Cornelius’s insistence, Wayne had purchased “gently used” furniture from various places, and had it staged in a about a dozen rooms in the vast mansion. Cornelius’s theory was that the furniture made the Briggs House look more like a potential residence, less like a haunted house of horrors.

“The furniture might make the place look a bit more homey,” Wayne conceded. “But there are still a lot of obstacles to overcome.”

Cornelius, though, was undaunted. “We just need to find the right buyer, Wayne. And the right buyer—or possibly renter—is out there. You’ll see.”

Chapter 3

That night after dinner, Wayne stood from the table and said to his wife, Joanne, “I’m going into my  den for a while. I have some paperwork to finish up.”

“Okay,” Joanne replied. “Don’t stay at it too long, though. You don’t want to give yourself eyestrain.”

Joanne was the understanding and attentive wife, as always. Her constant forbearance made Wayne feel guilty. But not guilty enough to stop his thoughts of Mary Casey.

Mary Clark, he reminded himself. 

“I’ll be careful, Joanne. And my eyes thank you for your concern.”

Wayne walked through the two first-floor hallways that connected the kitchen, living room, and formal dining room of their home with his den. 

The hallways, like the rest of the house, were tastefully decorated. All Joanne’s doing. On many of the walls were family portraits of past years: Wayne, Joanne, and their two children. Both of the kids were out of the house now: their daughter was away at business school. Their son, having narrowly missed minimum age eligibility for service in the war, was a freshman at Indiana University.

All in all, Wayne did not have a bad life. But he didn’t have the one thing he really wanted right now. Or, more accurately, the one person.

Mary.

Joanne suspected nothing about him and Mary. But there was not much to suspect, Wayne supposed. 

***

Mary Casey had been his secretary at Wyman Munitions during the final two years of the war. He had pursued her so far as was possible within the bounds of propriety…and maybe a little beyond such bounds. But he had gotten nowhere. She had insisted that she would remain faithful to Tom Clark, her beau who was missing in action in the South Pacific.

Mary had rebuked him for his advances, and even threatened to expose him. Chastened, Wayne had backed off, and nearly given up.

And then…the breakthrough. While on a business trip last summer, he and Mary Casey had spent a single night together in her hotel room.

That glorious night had just…happened! Wayne had not plotted it, engineered it, or jumped through many hoops to make it happen. He had, truly, given up on Mary by then.

That night, he had been drawn into the hallway of the Benjamin Harrison Inn by something strange. A woman in an old-fashioned dress, who had apparently knocked on his door and then fled. He had never caught up with the anonymous prankster; but subsequent events had made him forget all about her.

When he’d walked by Mary’s room, he’d heard her crying.

He had knocked on her door. Not with the intent of seducing her. Just to make sure she was all right. 

Mary had allowed him in.

And then it had happened.

The most glorious night of his life, actually. And maybe, he had dared to think at the time, the start of a new life.

In the morning, however, Mary had immediately shown him her regret, and with that, her rejection. 

Then, only days later, Tom Clark returned from the South Pacific. There was quite a story behind Tom’s disappearance and rescue; and the people of Rockland were still talking about it. Tom Clark had spent weeks alone on an island, dodging the remnants of the Japanese force that had been there. 

The Marine Corps awarded Tom a Bronze Star Medal. His story had been written about his experience the newspapers. A radio station in Chicago interviewed him.  

And of course, Tom and Mary Casey had gotten married. Wayne and Joanne had attended their wedding reception, like so many other people in Rockland. 

And so Mary Casey was now Mary Clark. She and Tom were away on their honeymoon at present. They would probably return to Rockland within a day or two, but that would make little difference to Wayne. 

Rockland was a small town, and he might see Mary now and then in passing. But she would give him little more than a brief nod in his direction. Maybe the occasional hello. Certainly there would never be another night with her. That privilege belonged to Tom Clark now. To him and him alone. 

***

Wayne stepped into his unlit den, and made his way to the room’s desk without bumping into anything. He knew his home office space intimately, after all. Also, behind the desk were two glass doors that opened onto the back porch. A small amount of ambient light came in from outside. There was a three-quarters moon tonight.

He turned on the desk lamp. He really did have some paperwork to finish up. Since the Briggs House was shaping up to be such a white elephant, he would have to work harder to make the most of Wyman Realty’s other assets.

Before he even sat down, though, he knew that he was in no mood for paperwork.

***

A few minutes later, Wayne was standing on the back porch with a glass of bourbon in one hand. Wayne liked his bourbon straight, with no ice. 

He was leaning against the brickwork of the house, just looking at the moon. He wondered how he would react, the next time he ran into Mary in town. And even more importantly—how would she react to him?

Then Wayne became aware of another presence in his back yard.

Standing in the darkness beneath the big honeylocust tree in the back yard was a tall, bearded man. The man was wearing a mud-splattered, old-fashioned suit, and a battered top hat.

The man held an ax in one hand.

Theodore Briggs looked at Wayne through two oversized black pupils. 

Wayne felt a chill, and a ripple of real fear, but nothing he couldn’t control. Wayne had seen Briggs before, too. 

The first time, he had been absolutely terrified, and had cried out in fear. Wayne had since learned, though, that Briggs would do him no actual harm. Nor would the dead, nineteenth-century railroad tycoon come much closer than he was now. 

The Briggs House clearly emanated some form of energy. There was a kind of psychic radiation there, not unlike the atomic radiation in the recently destroyed Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

It was also apparent that the psychic radiation at the Briggs House could cling to a person who spent too much time there. As a result, sometimes the house’s visual echoes manifested themselves beyond the confines of the mansion itself. 

As with Briggs’s doomed young wife, Ellen, Wayne wondered if the apparition beneath the honeylocust tree had any meaningful existence beyond the confines of his own perception. Did that apparition of Theodore Briggs think? Did it have any independent intentions?

Wayne turned away from Briggs, opened one of the glass double doors, and stepped back inside his den. 

He did not expect the projection of Theodore Briggs to follow him. But once inside, he was careful to fasten the latch, nevertheless. 

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Most dangerous combat roles in World War II

Being in the infantry in World War II was certainly dangerous enough. But that wasn’t necessarily the most dangerous combat role, as detailed in the article hyperlinked below:

“These 5 World War II jobs were more dangerous than being an infantryman”

My grandfather was a gunner on various US Navy vessels that escorted Merchant Marine ships through the North Atlantic. (Number 3 on the above list.)

He once told me that when a ship capsized or was torpedoed, there was seldom any hope of rescuing survivors. Such was the nature of the North Atlantic.

‘Return of the Jedi’: 39 years ago

The last installment in the original Star Wars trilogy, and the last really good film of the franchise, Return of the Jedi hit theaters 39 years ago today.

A lot has already been written about the original Star Wars trilogy, and how and why these three movies were better than the more recent ones. So I won’t add my two cents, because you’ve already either heard or read it.

One side note, however:

The Princess Leia gold bikini scene was supposed to have been an enduring fantasy for adolescent and teenage boys at the time. This even became a topic for an episode of Friends in 1996.

I was 15 in 1983, and I made note of the scene. Carrie Fisher certainly looked fetching in the gold bikini.

But as adolescent film fantasies of the early 80s go, I was much more affected by Diane Franklin’s seminude scene in The Last American Virgin, or Phoebe Cates’s topless scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (You can Google both of those.) 

Return of the Jedi was just an entertaining, swashbuckling science fiction film like they seldom make anymore: pure escapism, and lots of fun. With or without the gold bikini.

Phone stress, then and now

As the above tweet (courtesy of @ILovethe80s) illustrates, screening your calls used to be a lot more complicated. But also less necessary.

Caller ID on landlines was phased in (depending on where you lived) in the early 1990s. But you had to have a peripheral device with a display for it to do you any good. 

Yes: getting any extra functionality from your phone in the pre-digital age usually required some extra equipment.

And so it was with answering machines. The earliest answering machines were sold in the 1970s. They were not common, however, until the early 1980s. My parents bought one in 1983, or thereabouts. 

The answering machine gave you the ability to “screen” your calls. You could listen while the caller was leaving a message, assuming that they left a message.

Before that, though, you had no way of knowing who was calling, unless you actually picked up the phone and answered it. Nor could you keep track of missed calls. 

This meant that you sometimes had to wait at home, by the phone, if you were expecting an important call.

And while not every phone call was important in 1975 or 1985, telemarketing calls were much less numerous than they are today. There were no overseas computers, dialing thousands of numbers per minute with recorded messages. And certainly no AI “bots” that could mimic human speech and interactions.

Back then, if a company wanted to telemarket, they had to hire living, breathing humans to man the phones. And since long distance calls were expensive in those days, most telemarketing calls were from local businesses. 

You can see how this would limit interruptions from telemarketers. 

When you got a phone call 40 years ago, it usually was from someone whom you knew, or at least someone who had a legitimate reason for calling you. The phone was not the nuisance that it so often is today.

All of these changes have had long-lasting effects on phone behavior. I have screened my calls for years, going all the way back to the 1990s. My grandparents, however, who spent decades in the every-call-is-special environment, could never let a ringing phone go unanswered. 

The Beatles in Hamburg, and ‘The Cairo Deception’

As many of you will know, I recently wrapped up The Cairo Deception, my 5-book World War II series.

One of the final chapters of the book depicts the Beatles performing in Hamburg, West Germany in December 1962. (I won’t go into more story detail than that, so as to avoid spoilers.)

This is actually true. When I discovered this lesser known piece of rock music history, I just couldn’t resist putting it in the book, as an Easter egg for Beatles fans.

The Beatles both resided and performed in Hamburg from August 1960 to December 1962. The Beatles’ Hamburg residence took place shortly before they became a global phenomenon. The band also performed at a music venue in Hamburg called The Star-Club, as described in Postwar: Book 5 of The Cairo Deception. 

The Beatles of the Hamburg period involved a slightly different lineup of the band: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. After the group returned to England at the end of 1962, Sutcliffe and Best left the band, and Ringo Starr was hired on as the new drummer.

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Appliances: they don’t make them like they used to

As the above meme suggests, home appliances aren’t as durable as they used to be. Not only refrigerators, but especially refrigerators.

I recently replaced a General Electric refrigerator that was only a few years old. The compressor (manufactured in a sweatshop in China, no doubt), had died.

On the other hand, the refrigerators of my youth seemed to go on forever. Throughout most of my childhood and early adult years, my grandparents owned a refrigerator that was older than I was. And not just by a few years. They had purchased it when JFK was in the White House. It was 1987 or 1988, and their refrigerator had rolled off the assembly line in 1961. 

Of course, those old refrigerators didn’t have any computer chips. But who really needs a computer chip in a refrigerator, I ask you.

Why I’m not a “car guy”

I will freely admit that I have never been much of a “car guy”. To me a car has always been little more than an appliance. Not all that much different from a washing machine or a refrigerator. I spend a lot more time oohing and aahing over the latest Apple technology than I do over the latest offerings from any of the automakers. 

Most men much under 55 are similar, I’ve found. (The exceptions are pickup truck guys, but they’re a different breed, entirely.)

This is definitely a generational thing. Almost all of the car guys I know are over the age of 60, which means that they started driving in the 1970s or earlier. 

I started driving in 1984. It was around this time that cars all started looking more or less the same, and not very exciting at all. 

For example, check out the “K Car”, a popular car of the 1980s. The K Car was basically a shoebox on wheels. Yet so many cars built during the 1980s followed this pattern.

Vehicles of the 1990s, 2000s, and beyond became even more uniform in shape and appearance. Can anyone really tell the difference between a Kia Sorento and a Toyota Highlander without looking at the grill emblem? I certainly can’t—and I drive the latter car. 

Now look at these cars that Chevrolet put out in 1972: the Camaro SS, the Malibu convertible, etc. And (of course) the venerable El Camino. 

Now these were cars worth getting excited about. 

No—I wasn’t driving in 1972. (I was four years old.) But many of these cars were on the road well through my early adolescent years. Trouble was, they already represented the last of the fading classic car era. 

Why are cars so similar today? We can blame Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, as well as changes in the marketplace. 

The era of the classic car is now over. And with it, I would argue, the era of the “car guy”.

1980s VCRs: a lot of money for a little technology

Today video-on-demand is everywhere, including on your phone. But 40 years ago, things were very different.

When I was in junior high (1980 – 1982), it was quite an event when one’s parents broke down and purchased a “programmable” VCR.

Of course, “programmable” is a relative term. Any of these VCRs would be…I don’t know…1/100,000th as powerful as an entry-level 2022 iPhone?

Nevertheless, these early Reagan-era gadgets were expensive for their time. The cheapest VCR in the ad below, priced at $989 in 1981 dollars, is the equivalent of $3,128.07 in 2022 dollars. And that VCR would be suitable for nothing but landfill today.

1980s Cold War films, and the 2022 ‘Top Gun’ sequel: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

Given that 1980s nostalgia is a frequent topic here, some of you have asked me how I feel about the upcoming sequel to Top Gun, which has been titled, Top Gun: Maverick.

I should probably first say a bit about my experience of the first one. Top Gun was released to theaters in May of 1986, now 36 years ago. I was just getting out of high school then. 

I have always had a liking for action movies, so of course I saw it. I enjoyed Top Gun, but (let’s be honest here), I also found it somewhat lightweight and forgettable. 

Top Gun was conceived, written, and produced at the height of the Reagan era, when triumphalist Cold War films were all the rage. This was also the era of Rambo, Red Dawn, and a Rocky film that sent Rocky Balboa to Moscow to face down a Soviet boxer. 

Don’t get me wrong, here: I would have voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984 had I been old enough. So if you’re looking for any whining about healthy patriotism or a strong defense policy, you’ve come to the wrong place. 

But that same schtick gets boring, film after film. Top Gun, for me, was never much more than a predictable date movie.  Another war movie of 1986, Platoon, struck me as far more thoughtful and serious…much as I came to disagree with Oliver Stone on other matters in later years. 

The first Top Gun seemed to have had the biggest impact on younger GenXers who were in grade school or junior high when it came out. One of my former work colleagues, who is eight years my junior, was ten years old in the summer of 1986. He has told me that Top Gun became a virtual obsession for him that year.

What about the sequel? Based on the trailers, I actually think that it might turn out to be better than the first one. I miss the 1980s, in many ways; but the 80s were not, on the whole, a great decade in film.

It has also been noted that Top Gun: Maverick includes at least one female fighter pilot role, that of Phoenix, played by Monica Barbaro. 

Speaking again of my high school years: at least two women from my class served in the US Armed Forces after graduation. I did not. So women fighter pilots in the Top Gun sequel are okay with me.

On the whole, I’m looking forward to seeing the new Top Gun movie, which will hit theaters on May 24. Should be a fun time. 

German rocket scientists, Nazi-era anti-smoking campaigns, and history’s interesting ironies

The Nazis were evil; they weren’t always stupid. In some scientific endeavors, Nazi Germany actually surpassed the Allied Powers. 

For example, one of the first things the Americans did, upon conquering Germany, was to scoop up a rocket scientist named Wernher von Braun. During World War II, Braun was a chief developer of the V-2 rocket program. (He was also a member of the Nazi Party and the SS.)

But after the war, the US faced new enemies. The American government brought Braun to the United States, where he worked on American rocket programs, with both scientific and military applications. Wernher von Braun had a hand in the Apollo spacecraft that would eventually lead to eight crewed lunar missions in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Wernher von Braun, former Nazi scientist, with President Kennedy at Redstone Arsenal, 1963

That may not come as too much of a surprise to many readers. After all, most people know that Nazi Germany had some advanced weaponry. But did you know that Nazi scientists also raised the alarm over cigarette smoking long before anyone else did?

This historical curiosity provided a scene in Book Four of The Cairo Deception

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In Book Four of The Cairo Deception, Rudolf Schenk tells Jack McCallum that the Nazi government had identified cigarette smoking as a major health concern: a cause of heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. Jack  is skeptical; but on this matter, at least, Schenk is actually telling the truth. 

The German medical community actively discouraged cigarette smoking decades before those of other countries, including the United States. Adolf Hitler (as noted in Book Four of this series) was personally opposed to cigarette smoking. Hitler was a teetotaler, too. 

Smoking was never quite outlawed in Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, official propaganda discouraged smoking among German citizens and servicemen alike. 

In this regard, Nazi Germany was ahead of its time, and in a good way. This must be kept in perspective, obviously. Nazi Germany’s prescience regarding the harmful effects of cigarette smoking was overshadowed many times over, by all of the evil that that government committed—both in Germany and elsewhere.

Nazi-era anti-smoking ad

Happy Mother’s Day

On Mother’s Day: some words of wisdom from Mr. T, that actor and cultural icon from the 1980s.

(Mr. T. actually did say this in an interview sometime in the 1980s, by the way, when the interviewer slyly asked him if he was too much of a tough guy to care about his mother.)

Happy Mother’s Day to all of my readers who are mothers. If your mother is still alive and you have a relationship with her, be sure to give her a call today, at the very least!

I can’t wait to see ‘The Black Phone’

The Black Phone stars Ethan Hawke, whom you’ve seen in many other films over the years. Based on the trailer and what I’ve read online, this seems to be a supernatural serial killer film set in 1978.

I was 10 years old in 1978. That was an age before cell phones and helicopter parenting. An era of suburban kids disappearing for hours at a time on their bikes. Much of the time, nobody knew exactly where you were. Your parents certainly couldn’t track your whereabouts on an “app”.

This wasn’t parental negligence. It was just the way things were then.

The 1970s was also the heyday of the serial killer. Growing up in that era, we were taught to be on the constant lookout for “stranger danger”. Especially male strangers driving vans. 

This movie seems to tap into a lot of generational fears for people of a certain age (my age).

If the movie is as good as the trailer, I expect it to be a big hit with horror fans over the age of 40…or anyone interested in the fears of that increasingly receding time, the late 1970s.

The Black Phone will hit the movie theaters in June. Count me in!