The Daily Ed

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.

Click here to view THE CAIRO DECEPTION series on Amazon

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

View THE CAIRO DECEPTION on Amazon

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!

College textbook memories: 1986 “Introduction to Poetry” text

I’m a packrat by nature. You should therefore not be surprised to learn that although I graduated from college in 1990, I still have many of my college textbooks. 

I purchased the above text in 1986 for an English class (obviously).

The above textbook cost $25 when I bought it. If that sounds cheap to you, I’ll point out that this would be $65.58 in 2022 dollars. So perhaps college textbooks have always been overpriced. Also, minimum wage was $3.35 per hour in 1986, and $4 to $5 was considered a “typical” hourly wage for a student-level job.

I haven’t written or read much poetry since I took that class. 

Why? While I’m more than willing to tilt at windmills, even I have my limits. The market for poetry in the English-speaking has never been great…at least in modern times. The editor of the above text, X.J. Alexander, points this out in an essay near the end of the book. He describes a “poetry glut”. And keep in mind: the above textbook was published a decade before the Internet or Windows 95, back when people who wanted to write had to actually use typewriters or pens. Now we can write entire books on our cellphones.

Like most overly introspective teenagers through the ages, I wrote my share of bad poetry between the ages of 15 and 17, or 1983 and 1985. Teenage crushes, feelings of being misunderstood, and generalized adolescent angst all tend to produce bad poetry, like May weather produces dandelions.

No—you will never see any of those old poems of mine here. All of those old pages disappeared in the chaos of a move in 1988. This was no great loss, neither to me, nor to the American literary canon. 

Another nice thing about the pre-Internet era: the potentially embarrassing things we wrote, said, or did tended to disappear with the passage of time. As they should.

Springtime in Ohio, grass mowing, and writing updates

This is what springtime typically looks like in Southern Ohio: coolish and overcast, with rain, or the threat of rain.

Today I plan to finish editing the last few chapters of Book 5 (the final book) of The Cairo Deception series. Book 5 is available for preorder now, and you should see it on Amazon in early May.

I also hope to mow both my lawn and my dad’s lawn. Because the grass is growing like gangbusters here, even though the weather is still less than summerlike. In April in this part of the country, a suburban lawn has to be cut every five to six days.

It takes me about three hours to cut and trim both lawns. I don’t mind, though. As I’ve noted before, I usually listen to audiobooks while I mow.

Today I’ll be listening to Purple Cane Road, a crime novel by James Lee Burke, and Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan.

The latter title, of course, is a nonfiction book about postwar Japan. I have long had an interest in Japan, its language, and its history.

Also, this is partly research. I’m planning a historical series set in postwar Japan, beginning in the year 1945. (I’ll provide more information about that in the future.)

Anyway, I hope you have a happy and productive day, dear reader, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. 

Memories of Waldenbooks

Before there was Amazon, before there was Borders or Barnes & Noble, there was Waldenbooks.  The all-American mall bookstore. 

There was one of these in both of the malls near my house. As I’ve noted before, I’m a child of the 1970s and 1980s, and I grew up in the Golden Age of the American Mall.

I bought a lot of books at Waldenbooks in those days. (I was a lucky kid, and my mom bought me books when I was too young to buy them myself.) 

In those days, my favorite authors were John Jakes, James Clavell, and Stephen King. I also liked the nonfiction of Carl Sagan. (That was the heyday of Cosmos, too.)

The selection in the most well-stocked Waldenbooks was but a fraction of what is available on Amazon. And there were few discounts; most titles sold at full price. Because there was no online competition.

I’m not claiming that it was more economically efficient, or even better for reading. But those mall bookstores…they became sources of great memories for those of us who came of age at a certain time in the American suburbs.

State of the lawn: late April 2022

I despise the very concept of the suburban lawn. Perfectly manicured, astroturf-green lawns are wasteful. They harm the environment, too. If it were up to me, I would let my lawn be overrun with dandelions and wildflowers. Good for the bees! I might also plant a vegetable garden.

But I live in a neighborhood with an HOA that is only slightly more tolerant than the former East German Stasi. I therefore go to considerable lengths each year to make sure my lawn is green, and relatively weed-free.

I used to use TruGreen…until the company started performing services without my permission and then billing me. (I am currently in a dispute with TruGreen over two applications they performed after I cancelled their service; but that’s more detail than you need.)

This year, I’ve been treating both mine and my dad’s lawn with Scott’s Turf Builder Weed and Feed, and a spreader made by the same company.

The lawn looks good—if I say so myself—and I don’t have to deal with TruGreen. A win all the way around.