Die Mauern fielen nieder

I’ve not paid much attention to newsworthy events from thirty years ago in my Destination 89 series; today I’m atoning. The fall of the Berlin Wall, on 11/9/89, was among the most memorable geopolitical events of my grad school years (others included the rise and crushing of dissent in Tiananmen Square, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War, and the end of the Soviet Union/Cold War). The Wall existed in some form or fashion for a little over 28 years; it was early February of 2018 when the moment passed that it’d been down for as long as it had stood. I’m not nearly enough of a student of history to discuss the proximate or long-term reasons for why it happened at that particular moment in time. But what strikes me now is how suddenly it seemed to occur (though I recognize my distance insulated me from having to be aware of developments) and how a world with two Germanys, the only one I’d known, disappeared in an instant. Meaningful change is by no means always gradual.

Martha has been to Berlin four times, twice before 89 and twice after. Here are some pix.

The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic sites, sitting adjacent to the Reichstag. Here are two views when Martha was there in 1983 with a few college classmates on a class trip at the end of her junior year.

They were able to take the subway over to the East side. Here, she’s standing at some sort of barrier, as close as she was able to go. You can see the Wall on the other side of the gate.

The view from the West–there’s a short fence in front of the graffiti-riddled Wall.

And here are analogous photos I took in late June of 17:

You can see bricks in the road marking where the Wall once stood in this one. It’s remarkable to me to think how effortless it was to pass through the Gate and to visit the Reichstag, given how it was in the mid 80s.

Martha was back in Berlin in 85, during her yearlong stay in Hamburg after finishing college. This photo was taken in March on the West side (note the sign warning not to advance into the “no-man’s land”); she was en route to the airport in East Berlin, where she would take off to Moscow (a story for another day).

Not much of the Wall remains. One of the places we visited was the East Side Gallery, where they’ve turned still-standing segments into murals.

Rather than try to make some grand statement about the ultimate futility of walls myself, I’ll let a couple of songs do the talking, even if they’re not from the latter part of 89.


From the Archives: Ben’s 9th Birthday

Continuing what’s now become an All Saints’ Day tradition by going back to see what happened on my son’s birthday a decade ago.

11/1/09 was a Sunday, and Martha’s mother and sister were staying with us. Ben opened a few presents at the breakfast table before we headed to church.

My parents came to visit in the afternoon, for a fuller celebration. The boy might have received some Lego that day.

The theme for the cake that year was aquatic:

Those are candies that Martha made sitting on top of the cake–she’d bought some molds. There were just a few left over…

A couple of Saturdays later, we took Ben and two of his friends to the aquarium in Newport, KY, right on the Ohio River across from Cincinnati. Here he is on some sort of giant toad in a play area there:

Right outside the aquarium is a plaza, along with some surrounding shops. After we’d finished chilling with the sharks, penguins, and rays, the boys were wowed by a street magician plying his trade on the plaza.

Happy birthday, Bud!

We get to see Ben on his birthday this year–it happens that this is also Family Weekend at his college, so we’re heading out after I get done with my own classes. Martha’s made a cake big enough to feed all the guys on his floor.

There’s a small lake in the middle of the campus, and it seems to be de rigueur for birthday celebrants to be tossed into it. It will be in the 30s tonight when they get around to “laking” Ben, but I think he’s actually looking forward to it a reasonable amount–it’s not like it can be avoided.

In the years after I left home, my parents would do their best to call me and talk for a few minutes on my birthday at the exact time of day when I was born (fortunately, it was late morning and not something like 3:00am). Now that Ben’s begun that phase of his life, at some point I may attempt to see how well he’d abide such a thing. His official birth time isn’t all that different from mine, about 30 minutes later. I’m not in class this morning at that time, but he will be. Maybe some other year…

From The Archives: Gran

Lucille Barton Haskell Houston was born on this date 110 years ago in Erlanger, KY, the eighth and final child of Frederick B. and Elizabeth L. Haskell. She had four sisters and three brothers. In 1927, she was valedictorian of a graduating class of size six, from Erlanger High School. A few months later, she married Wilbur Houston, a medical student in Cincinnati. Over the next six years, they had three daughters; my mother was the middle child.

When my grandfather joined the Army to serve as a physician during WWII, Gran kept the household running (at first it didn’t look like Papaw would be sent overseas, so the family relocated briefly to Texas, where he was stationed—they headed right back to Kentucky after he received his orders to go to the Pacific Theater), including arranging the purchase of their first house. She was heavily involved in the fabric of life in Erlanger and surrounding communities for decades: a lifelong member of Erlanger Christian Church, a frequent officer in the Erlanger Women’s Club, and extensive work with a physicians’ wives’ auxiliary.

I was the eighth of her ten grandchildren, so she was well-practiced in the art by the time I was old enough to notice. My sister and I were fortunate that they lived close to us throughout our youth—our years in Stanford overlapped with those my grandfather served as the Director of Medical Services at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, and they returned to their farmhouse in Union soon after we had moved to Walton. (Many of my older cousins were similarly blessed—they love to reminisce about their experiences with Gran and Papaw in the mid-50s to mid-60s.) Among the fondest memories I have growing up are holiday afternoons spent with my grandparents and extended family.

They moved back to Erlanger in 83, to a house adjacent to and owned by the church, just before my grandfather became ill and passed away. Gran lived there about a decade; afterward, she managed to spend all but her last couple of months in an assisted living facility. She died in March 2001 at age 91, not long after her thirteenth great-grandchild, my son, arrived on the scene.

A couple of quick stories from my adult years:
–My grandmother never learned to drive; after my grandfather developed macular degeneration, she became reliant on daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and friends for rides. The most memorable time I had out with her probably occurred in the late 80s. She’d always wanted to visit the observation deck at the top of Carew Tower (completed in the early 30s), then the tallest building in Cincinnati. I was the lucky one to take her when she achieved that dream.
–One of Gran’s greatest abilities while in her presence was to make you feel like you were the center of her universe. Every gift she received at birthdays or Christmas was “exactly what I wanted.” While I was job-hunting in 92, she needed to undergo a pretty serious heart surgery, and was still recovering in the hospital when my offer from Georgetown came through. I wanted her to be among the very first to know. When I leaned over her bed to tell her about it in a semi-conspiratorial fashion, she whispered back, “I knew this was going to happen for you.”

I know my many cousins, first- and second-, once- or twice removed, could fill hours with tales based on their time spent with my grandmother (and she was a great storyteller herself).

Gran’s persistently upbeat outlook on life, even in the face of more than occasional adversity, reminds me that I have much for which I should be grateful. I was incredibly fortunate to have her in my life for 37 years.

This photo, taken in her final year, sits on top a bookcase in a room on the main floor of our house.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 10/18/86: Janet Jackson, “When I Think of You”

Shortly after I moved to Champaign-Urbana in August of 86, I bought a point-and-shoot camera with some of my graduation gift money. While I’ve never been the shutterbug my wife is, I have managed to record the occasional moment, notable or otherwise. That fall, it looks like I mostly kept an eye out for sights that friends back in Kentucky might appreciate, often as inside references. For instance, this was for my friend Kathy Jo, who often went by KJ:

To call someone on-campus at Transy, you just had to dial the last four digits, which always began with an 8. The number on this seemingly random sign in a dorm window was the same as my friend Suzanne’s extension during my senior year. I likely discovered it on my way to the dining hall where I took my meals that fall (no, I didn’t recall whose number this was, though Suzanne would have been my first guess—I looked it up in the 85-86 campus directory I still have):

And here’s an iconic campus scene I hadn’t had the opportunity to witness firsthand at my tiny college:

It hasn’t been all that long since I browsed through these photos. As I was thinking yesterday about possibly including some in this post, one image came to mind, and in it, I thought I visualized an irritating detail. The picture is the one you see at the top, of the desk and shelf space in my cubby of a dorm room, apparently taken on 10/1/86. You are indeed looking at almost the entire length of the room—the door was at one corner, and that’s the bottom of the window, above the cooling/heating unit, on the right edge. And yes, what I feared was true. Long-time readers may notice it—it’s that decorative plate on the shelf, the plate I claimed back in February was something I’d gotten on my 25th birthday, well over two years in the future. 

Irritating, because now I have to deal with not remembering who gave me the plate (which I clearly treasure), and when, and why. Irritating, because I have to wonder what, if anything, I chose instead on 2/13/89. Irritating, because I’ve conflated two very separate events. Irritating, because I don’t want to be faced with the evidence of self-mythologizing—what else have I gotten wrong from misplaced confidence in my ability to recall the events of the long-gone past? Occasionally, in going through the items I still have, I discover tidbits that would have allowed me greater accuracy in some of my earlier posts—this time, though, the error was egregious.

From time to time I get asked, “How do you remember all this junk?” A partial answer is that apparently sometimes I don’t. Which leads to this: when I think of someone, or something that I believe happened, how can I be sure I’m getting the broad outline, much less any details, right? I’m going to try not to sweat it too much, but I clearly need to be appropriately humble.

Miss Jackson is in her second week at the top with the first of her ten #1s. She made a lot of very good music, but I’m inclined to say “When I Think of You” is my favorite (I’ll admit I’m by far most familiar with the singles from her first two albums). It’s another of those songs where I hear and feel the joy, getting swept along on a very pleasant four-and-a-half minute ride.

Okay, So No One’s Answering

Our son was home for his four-day fall break this past weekend. We didn’t have a lot of plans—he had a couple of doctors’ appointments, and we’d arranged for some long-overdue family portraits—but that was okay, since simply being together was the biggest thing. Ben brought along a friend who lives in Colorado; it was nice to have a chance to get to know one of his new peeps a little.

They went back to Terre Haute on Sunday by way of Louisville—Ben wanted to visit some of his HS friends who are at UofL.  He and his friend got back to his dorm about 6:00pm.

How do we know this? Not because he called or texted us, or vice versa: he’s allowed Martha to have access to his coordinates via the Find My app. As it happens, Ben didn’t contact us until the next morning.  (That’s perfectly fine—I’d like to think we’ve been giving him enough space in this transition period. At the least, he hasn’t complained to us about cramping his style since we dropped him off—and I think he would.)

Obviously, cell phones and GPS have changed so much about how and when we communicate since my first years away from home. Each dorm room at Transy had a phone hanging on the wall, just inside the door. Like everyone else, I had to rely on what we now call a landline—or the occasional pay phone—throughout my grad school years. And occasionally, I’d forget to honor my folks’ request to let them know I was back in Lexington or Urbana after trips home to see them.

I loved my parents dearly, but I’m not being fully truthful if I fail to admit they were not entirely rational when it came to the well-being of their children. An hour’s delay in acknowledging safe arrival led to them imagining a car off the road in a ditch or in a horrific accident. After a while, they’d begin calling, to try to assuage those fears. Frequently, I was on site to answer but yes, there were a few times when, like perhaps Ben did on Sunday, I’d trotted off to visit with friends or gone out to eat, all without a thought.

In those cases, they weren’t above trying to contact someone who knew me. I have evidence of this happening once, probably one of my first two years of college. I’d given my friend Cathy, whose home was just a few miles away from mine, a ride back to Transy one Sunday afternoon, and I suppose I’d gone on blithely about my business. Maybe I’d passed Mark H’s phone number on to them, or—more likely—they called campus information to find out how to reach him. Regardless, eventually I found this from Mark on my door:

I know I’m far from the only one to endure experiences akin to this—it’s natural for parents to have and show concern. On the whole my recollection is that I suffered “minor reprimands” like this reasonably well—I wasn’t the sort to blow up or feel special embarrassment in such situations. While I wasn’t responsible for anyone else’s state of mind, I suppose it was good to be able to offer (eventual) relief. I either inherited or obtained through osmosis a little of this irrationality, though I can hope a combination of technological advances and knowing how it was to be on the receiving end has made me less willing to act on those feelings when they arise.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 9/11/76: Ohio Players, “Who’d She Coo”

In the fall of 77, my 8th grade English teacher passed out a small, bound booklet with around fifty blank 5.5″ by 8.5″ pages to everyone in the class. The assignment: assemble a “creative notebook.” We were to come up with ten articles on topics of our choosing, enliven them with illustrations or photos, and decorate the cover as we saw fit. My awesome title: The Past, Present, and Future of William Richard Harris. Included are a one-page sci-fi story, an editorial (“Students Should Eat Their Lunch!”), a diatribe on “What I Would Do To Improve the World” (apparently, I would crack down on pollution yet encourage energy companies to drill for more oil to avert an energy crisis), a reflective piece on “How I Look To Others,” and an ode to My Favorite Person, my father. (I didn’t ignore the rest of the family–the notebook was dedicated to Mom, Sis, and our dog Friskie.)

My AT40 obsession is on display in other articles. “Life of an American Top 40 Song” provides a week-by-week accounting of the path Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat” took as it climbed to and fell from its #8 peak earlier in 77. “What I Hope To Be Doing 10 Years From Now” is, well, let me just show you the first paragraph:


The things 13-year-olds write…

Finally, there was “The Top 40 Coincidences,” which spells out in detail the two times I found new AT40 stations just as WSAI in Cincinnati was changing its schedule. The first was the weekend of 9/11/76: early that Sunday morning, I heard Casey announcing “Who’d She Coo” at #20 as I flipped my trusty transistor radio past WAKY, a well-known AM station in Louisville. I scribbled the titles down in the same little spiral notebook I’d used to track The National Album Countdown during the summer, at least through #11 (I could get the Top 10 out of the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer). It was good to have found another option for catching some of the show, and it got even better later than evening, when it became apparent that WSAI had discontinued AT40. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t hear full shows or resume chart-keeping until 10/16, when WSAI brought Kasem back. There exists a half-hearted accounting of the portion of the 9/11 show I did hear:


(For the sake of completeness: the second ‘coincidence’ occurred in early February 77, when WSAI moved the show from evening to morning on Sundays, in conflict with church attendance. The following Saturday night, I found AT40 on WLAP-AM in Lexington–perhaps that explains my interest in future employment there.)

I knew the Ohio Players, out of Dayton, best for “Love Rollercoaster,” their #1 hit from earlier in 76. Like so many others, I was aware at the time of the false rumor that the scream one hears about halfway through was that of a woman being murdered in the studio during recording. The groovy, funky “Who’d She Coo” was the eighth and would be the final song of theirs to make the countdown. It wound up climbing just a couple of spots higher from where I heard it that September Sunday morning.

It’s Only Life After All

Thirty years ago today, I took a rental car south from San Jose, connected with the coastal highway at Monterey and continued down about as far as Big Sur. We’d had non-stop sun in the Bay Area the whole week, but the places I traveled that Tuesday were socked in with clouds:


You can see that the cloud cover didn’t extend far inland at all:


After turning back north, I stopped in Monterey for a while. Got to encounter a little wildlife, too:


After a good seafood dinner at a restaurant on the bay, I drove back to the hotel. A day on my own, taking in some great scenery, put me in a better frame of mind.

Watching Sportscenter in my room that evening, I learned that Dave Dravecky, the Giants’ hero just five days earlier, broke his arm throwing a pitch in the sixth inning at Montreal, ending his baseball career. A recurrence of his cancer was subsequently found; eventually his left arm and shoulder were amputated. He’s been a motivational speaker for a number of years.

What might I have heard in the car on the road that day? Let’s investigate some of the songs on the 8/12/89 Hot 100. As usual, I’m ignoring lots of tunes that just weren’t my scene (cough, hair metal, cough), but I have found a number of nuggets and oddities to remark upon.

#97: Paul Shaffer, “When the Radio Is On”
I’d completely forgotten that Shaffer released this “hip-hop/doo-wop” single featuring, among others, Will Smith, Dion, and Johnny Maestro. I don’t think Paul’s fooling anyone with that five o’clock shadow biker/rapper schtick. “When the Radio Is On” would make it only to #81 in a two-month run.


#95: Graces, “Lay Down Your Arms”
This was Charlotte Caffey’s attempt at commercial success outside of the Go-Go’s. I have the Graces’ CD Perfect View, and it’s got some pretty good songs on it. Meredith Brooks, whose song “Bitch” you couldn’t escape eight years later, was also in the group. This should have gotten higher than #56.


#70: Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”
Don’t lie to me–you see John Cusack holding up his boombox in your mind’s eye when this song comes on the radio, no?

Gabriel had reached #26 in the fall of 86 with “In Your Eyes.” I suppose folks thought it could/should have done better (I know I do), so they released it again after it played such a prominent role in Say Anything…  Alas, it only made it to #41 the second time around.


#68: Robert Palmer, “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming”
I can’t imagine who thought it was a good idea to have Bobby P cover this Jermaine/Michael groove. It’s already topped out at #60.

Just a few weeks ago I re-discovered the original version of “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming,” sorting through a pile of cassettes containing music I’d dubbed from the radio back in the early 80s (more on that perhaps some other time); it was B-side of Jermaine’s single “Do What You Do.”


#60: Indigo Girls, “Closer to Fine”
In a rare confluence of my musical tastes with those of the buying public, there were three songs on this Hot 100 I was actively cheering on: “Oh Daddy” (#85) and “Let the Day Begin” (#75), which were discussed last week, plus the stunning “Closer to Fine,” from the Georgia-based duo Indigo Girls. Unfortunately, in the coming weeks all three would stall out in the 50s (#58, #51, and #52, respectively).

I’m a big enough fan of the Indigo Girls’ work (love their harmonies) to have made them the seed band for one of my Pandora stations. Greg’s wife Katie overlapped with Emily Saliers and Amy Ray at Emory University, outside Atlanta–I’ve never thought to ask her if she knew of a prof there with a Rasputin poster.


#58: The Cure, “Love Song”
The highest new entry on the Hot 100 this week, and by far the most successful single the Cure ever had, surprisingly hitting #2 (I mean, it’s a good song, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the folks buying singles would embrace Robert Smith and company to that extent).


#57: Beastie Boys, “Hey Ladies”
The Boys are now in the upward arc of their career, though I prefer “Whatcha Want” and “Sabotage.” Maybe it was just a little too soon to try to re-live the Saturday Night Fever era…  Got as high as #36.


#49: Eddie Murphy, “Put Your Mouth on Me”
Honestly, I don’t think I’d ever heard this until a few days ago; it hadn’t registered with me that Murphy wasn’t a one-hit wonder. This is on its way up to #27.


#47: Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston, “It Isn’t, It Wasn’t, It Ain’t Never Gonna Be”
Another one that had already stalled at #41. Honestly, this is a pretty disappointing song, given the star power present–it’s as if Houston just didn’t want to mix it up with the Queen all that much.


#45: De La Soul, “Me Myself and I”
I’ve not listened to that much hip-hop over the years, but this is really, really good. Clever video, too, though I haven’t tried to research how LL Cool J felt about it. “Me Myself and I” had already peaked at #34.


#40: Bee Gees, “One”
They’re ba-ack! “One” was the Gibb brothers’ first Top 40 hit in six years, and their final song to go Top 10, peaking at #7.


#35: Milli Vanilli, “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You”
#32: Milli Vanilli, “Baby Don’t Forget My Number”

I didn’t play around with the dial on the radio on that day trip down the coast, keeping it tuned to a Top 40 station the whole time. That meant I got to hear a number of new/recent releases for the first time that day. One was “Girl I’m Gonna Miss You,” which became Milli Vanilli’s second #1 hit. Three others had yet to hit the chart: Madonna’s “Cherish,” Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator” (released as a single on this date thirty years ago), and Janet Jackson’s “Miss You Much” (which wouldn’t be available for another week).


#22: Soul II Soul, “Keep On Movin'”
Dynamite, awesome track. The British dance scene was making some fine music at this moment (see also Lisa Stansfield’s “Been Around the World”). The strings bring to mind Barry White’s 70s stuff, but “Keep On Movin'” fortunately lacks his emphasis on “come over here, baby, lay down beside me”-type mannerisms. Caron Wheeler and Jazzie B know how to bring it. Reached #11.


#18: Jeff Healey Band, “Angel Eyes”
My friends Mark H and Lana got married in November 90; they requested this song for their first dance as husband and wife. It would get to #5.


#16: Simply Red, “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”
I wasn’t a big fan of this former #1 song at the time, but I wasn’t really familiar with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ version then, either. I’ve grown to like it okay, but it was better done the first time.


#6: Paula Abdul, “Cold Hearted”
The songs in this Top 10 that I actually liked are ones I’ve already mentioned this summer (“Batdance,” and especially “So Alive”), so I’m briefly pausing here just to remind everyone again that Paula Abdul was basically unstoppable at this moment: three #1 songs, including this one, and a #3 in 89, plus another #1 in the early part of 90, all from Forever Your Girl.


#1: Richard Marx, “Right Here Waiting”
Mentioned only so that you aren’t left wondering. The second single from his sophomore release Repeat Offender (was that truth in advertising?), his third #1 song in a row, ascending to the top in just its sixth week.

Early the next morning I dropped the rental off at the airport and headed back to Cincy, the big vacation over and my fourth year of grad school on the horizon.

And with that wrapped up: I’m expecting posting to be lighter for the next three or four weeks. School’s almost back in session for me, the boy’s soon to leave for college, and there’s a major project about to go down in our house. I won’t disappear completely, but I’m thinking just maybe my energies should be focussed more in those directions for a while. Wish us well.