“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three”: Recalling Sentimental 1980s Toys

“Hold your breath, make a wish, count to three”: Recalling Sentimental 1980s Toys

Woody: All right, that’s enough! Look, we’re all very impressed with Andy’s new toy. / Buzz: Toy?/ Woody: T-O-Y, Toy! / Buzz: Excuse me, I think the word you’re searching for is ‘Space Ranger’. / Woody: The word I’m searching for – I can’t say, because there’s preschool toys present.

– Tom Hanks (Woody) & Tim Allen (Buzz) from Toy Story (1995)

The other day, I watched a YouTube channel, and the two hosts visited the Funko shop on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA. Now, that might not sound like anything special, but it is for two reasons. One, I love those small Funko POP! figurines, and I wish I had more than the two I currently own. Two, the hosts made custom Funko POP! figures as part of the “POP! Yourself!” experience at the Hollywood location. That seemed incredible. Not only does Funko have an actual store, but people can make a toy/figure that looks like them. As a child of the 80s, I would have loved these custom creations, both then and, yes, now. At least I know one place I will be going when it’s safe to travel! Get ready, LA; I am coming.

The most cherished item in those early years of growing up was my toys. Sure, that might be odd to think of as an adult nearing forty, but as I have defined myself as a reflective person, someone who regularly ponders nostalgic thoughts, this adds up. For the last couple of months, I have found, one could say, somewhat of a groove with my weekly posts. One week I post about travel, one week movies/POP! Culture, one week half marathons, and another week nostalgia/memories. While it does not always turn out this way, nor are weeks confined to such a rigid structure, January and February proved the rule. To close out this cold and snowy New England month, I thought, why not dive into one of my oldest and purest enjoyments; toys. I no longer seek them out, except of course, for the occasional adult LEGO build of a Haunted Mansion or the Statue of Liberty, or the Nathan Drake Uncharted and John F. Kennedy Presidential Funko POP!. Still, I have the fondest memories of those days, nights, and Saturday afternoons when toys were the center of an imaginary world, of my invention.

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“No Sleep Till Brooklyn!”: Two Brothers, a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon & Craft Beer

“No Sleep Till Brooklyn!”: Two Brothers, a Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon & Craft Beer

“In Brooklyn on a Saturday night, Saturday night, yeah, Talkin’ bout Brooklyn on a Saturday night”

– “Brooklyn on a Saturday Night” by Neil Diamond

I have spent two fabulous Saturday nights in Brooklyn. That might not be enough, true, but I spent both with family, fun was had by all, and I loved the city, its eateries, and its beer. My first experience in Brooklyn was with my brother Jeff. Together we ate, drank, and crushed the Brooklyn Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. It was a memorable weekend, and it was a running trip that we have modeled all our other trips after. The incredible times we had in other locations, and in subsequent years, was inspired by our “brother trip” to Brooklyn. As I have focused on and provided attention to a half marathon each month, this month, it’s time to lace up the sneakers, get some craft beer, eat delicious food and enjoy Brooklyn. Two brothers, 13.1 miles of scenic running, and the weekend that established a tradition.

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Trip to Washington, D.C.: Half Marathon Running, Delicious Food & an Inconceivable Encounter

Trip to Washington, D.C.: Half Marathon Running, Delicious Food & an Inconceivable Encounter

“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

– John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address Delivered on Friday, January 20, 1961

Today is an exciting day in the United States. I have always been amazed by the American President’s inauguration. Maybe it was the countless hours I spent at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA. Those moments as I sat transfixed in front of the large screen, watching and listening to Kennedy’s inaugural address. As I observed this visual history in the museum exhibit, it was the first time I heard a speech that inspired me. It made me feel emotionally connected to history, the moment, the point of it all. As a historian, I continuously try to reclaim that connection to the past. That’s one of the reasons why I always wanted to visit Washington, D.C., and see the important monuments, museums and consider the nation’s collective memory of the past.

Four years ago this March, my wife and I traveled to Washington, D.C., so that I could run another Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. As I wrote in numerous blog posts about half marathon travel, I love Rock n’ Roll organized races. The half marathon I ran in Washington, D.C., is a perfect example of why I continue to travel and run. I enjoy traveling to D.C., and, especially as a historian, there is an endless amount to do. Since today is Inauguration Day and President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris will take the oath of office, I thought I would venture back to the nation’s capital and reflect on my last time there. Make sure your sneakers are tied and have your cold weather running gear because D.C. was frigid. The only way to remedy the freezing temperatures was running fast and eating some delicious food. Just beware of the eatery you go to; you might bump into someone unexpected.

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My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Travel Adventure & “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

My No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Travel Adventure & “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

“Neal: What’s the flight situation? / Del: Simple. There’s no way on earth we’re going to get out of here tonight. We’d have more luck playing pickup sticks with our butt-cheeks than we will getting a flight out of here before daybreak. / Neal: I guess we’ll find out soon enough. / Del: Yeah, but by the time the airline cancels this flight, which they will sooner or later, you’d have more of a chance to find a three-legged ballerina than you would a hotel room. / Neal: Are you saying I could be stuck in Wichita? Del: I’m saying you are stuck in Wichita.”

– John Candy (Del) & Steve Martin (Neal) in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

In previous posts, I have discussed how my brother Jeff and I do a movie rewatch and chat each week. It started on ZOOM when things locked down at the start of the pandemic, and we have since continued doing it socially distanced in either his or my backyard. One week, what started as a discussion of our favorite John Hughes’ film, morphed into a conversation about bad travel experiences. As brothers do, we each told our own bad travel stories, competing to see who had the worst experience. In the end, we both agreed our worst travel experience was one we shared.

Many years ago, 16-years to be exact, my brother Jeff and I lived our version of the film Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but I remember it being terrible. In our attempt to go to Florida to celebrate Christmas and the dawning of a New Year at Walt Disney World with my sister Becky and mother, we experienced what can only be described as an awful travel adventure. To circumvent lousy weather, limited plane space, and a semi-strike by our airline, we did whatever we could to make it Florida, from Providence, RI. We went through insanity, yet it is one of the funniest stories to tell because, well, sometimes bad experiences make for great stories.

The end of the story will be as strange as the beginning. But, to better understand it, I want to add in a comparison take on John Candy and Steve Martin’s incredible buddy-comedy adventure, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. A film with sharp comedic timing, uncomfortable travel commentary, and touching dramatic elements, the movie always makes me think of what my brother Jeff and I went through and the paths we took to get to Florida that Christmas in 2004. Join me as I explore that travel adventure, study an incredibly nostalgic film, and partially spoil the story’s ending. It ends pretty well.

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“Make it So!”: The Timelessness of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

“Make it So!”: The Timelessness of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”

“Every choice we make allows us to manipulate the future… A person’s life, their future, hinges on each of a thousand choices. Living is making choices.”

– Patrick Stewart (Picard) from “A Matter of Time”

Whether it was Zoobilee Zoo as a child, Saved by the Bell as an adolescent, or the X-Files as a teenager, and shows like Dead Like Me and Being Human as an adult, I have fallen in love with multiple television shows during my four decades on this planet. While essential viewing, those shows are just a small batch of television shows that have brought me incredible joy for various reasons. Still, one show has impacted me and stayed with me probably the longest or positions itself as a close second to Dead Like MeStar Trek: The Next Generation, which I refer to as Star Trek: TNG or simply TNG in this post, is that showLet’s boldly explore, with a personal story, “strange new worlds…new civilizations.” On this journey to the “final frontier,” I will discuss Star Trek: TNG and its impact on me as a kid and how, as an adult, I always think back to those episodes and Star Trek conventions that taught me valuable human lessons. 

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A Brief Hawaii Moment: “A’a i ka hula, waiho i ka maka’u i ka hale”

A Brief Hawaii Moment: “A’a i ka hula, waiho i ka maka’u i ka hale”

“You like spaghetti, George? I like spaghetti. I like board games. I like grabbing a trifecta with that long shot on top… that ozone smell you get from air purifiers… and I like knowing the space between my ears is immeasurable… Mahler’s first, Bernstein conducting. You’ve got to think about all the things you like and decide whether they’re worth sticking around for. And if they are, you’ll find a way to do this.”

– Mandy Patinkin in Dead Like Me

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America. When I think of Thanksgiving, I often recall day trips to Plymouth historical sites, visits on the Mayflower II, high school football in Massachusetts, and, of course, the family get-together. The thing is, a couple of the best November’s I have had were spent, with my wife, on the island of Oahu, where we lived for a short time. That first year in Hawaii, Thanksgiving was with my mother and brother, who visited us. Together, we celebrated in a way we didn’t in Massachusetts, on a lanai with views of the Pacific Ocean. The second was with our friends Colleen and Don at their Mililani home. Our last was on a cruise ship voyaging around the Hawaiian Islands, with the actual day celebrated with amazing views of the Napali Coast. Three unique Thanksgivings in a place I genuinely consider home.

I often think of those three years living in Hawaii with my wife and dog, Mr. Tuttles. Thanksgiving always makes me reflect on the past, so it makes sense that, after several years away, I use this holiday as an opportunity to look towards Hawaii with a reflective gaze. Those may be, when all is said and done, three of the most rewarding years of my life. Born and raised near the ocean on the South Coast of Massachusetts, I never dreamed my journey would bring me to the Hawaiian Islands. This disbelief is valid for travel, let alone relocating, meeting new friends, and becoming filled with feelings of Aloha. The title of this post is a Hawaiian saying that translates as, “Dare to dance, leave shame at home,” loosely meaning, “Just be you.” I am thankful to Hawaii for teaching me to, well, just be me.

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My Journey to Beijing & the Great Wall of China

My Journey to Beijing & the Great Wall of China

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

– Anthony Bourdain

I first started this blog in July of this year, so not long ago. It began out of my most profound hope to scratch a creative itch and share stories with those who want to read them. My second blog post, Exploring Shanghai, dealt with my trip to Shanghai, China, in June/July of 2018. I will not repeat too much for those who read it, and for those who haven’t, please do. It has some great reflections and stories of the month I spent in Shanghai, China, teaching, traveling, eating, and drinking. The one part of my trip to China I did not detail, and wish to do so now, was my weekend journey from Shanghai to Beijing on June 23 & 24 of 2018 and my eventual and emotional walk along the Great Wall of China. So back to China we go, but this time we jump on a bullet train to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.

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“Nobody Does It All Alone”: The Beauty of Film & Television Original Scores

“Nobody Does It All Alone”: The Beauty of Film & Television Original Scores

“I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.”

– Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

The other day, while my wife was at work, the one day of the week she is not remote, I felt terrible. I didn’t feel sick, but rather anxious, and found myself falling deeper into a somber place. I immediately grabbed my phone, put on my music streaming app, and turned on my preprepared playlist, “My Film Scores.” I selected “Constant,” which is from the fourth season of Lost by Michael Giacchino, walked into the sunroom, and moved a chair so I could look out the window. I sat down, eyes closed, and did some deep breathing as the song played. With its slow but beautiful orchestral progression of intersecting piano and violin play, I felt my heart grow warm, regular, and my anxiety slowly dissipated as the instrumental music comforted me.

I am not sure when I began gravitating towards film scores at moments of sadness and heightened anxiety. It’s not new, but it’s not old either. They seem to reset me when I feel low and bring me to a place that only they can guide me. It’s like being transported to an island of one with music broadcast over the speakers, similar to that powerful scene in The Shawshank Redemption, from the quote I use above. Even for a minute, it seems all the craziness, the current reality of life, and my fears and worries are proven imaginary. The villainous face these feelings appear as are finally unmasked, as the music reminds me of who I am and everything is alright. But why film scores? Let’s explore that for a moment.

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Good Morning America: Election Day 2020

Good Morning America: Election Day 2020

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

– Pericles

Well, it’s November 3, 2020… Election Day in America! I usually submit my weekly blog post on Wednesday of each week, but I thought I would move it up one day to coincide with Election Day since this post is all about the importance of voting. So, let’s get started!

The other day, I read an opinion piece written by Mandy Patinkin, whose acting credits include Dead Like MeHomeland, and my favorite, The Princess Bride. In this article, he talked about his path to greater political consciousness, and it made me think of my journey to greater political understanding. No, this blog post will not discuss politics today; that’s not the point of my blog or this post. Instead, this is an opportunity to reflect on my lived past and feelings around current moments, as I often do. Join me as I remember my path to greater civic awareness. It’s Election Day in America; let’s remember what that means. 

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Adventures in Baseball w/ My Dad: One Game at a Time

Adventures in Baseball w/ My Dad: One Game at a Time

“Archie Graham: We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, “Well, there’ll be other days.” I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

Field of Dreams

In June 2016, I took my dad to the New York Yankees Old-Timers’ Day game. It was the 70th Anniversary of the event, and we were celebrating my dad’s 70th birthday. We decided to make a weekend of it. So, we enjoyed the city, ate good food, and prepared for a full day of baseball. At the game, we saw many of our favorite baseball players from years past. Still, we watched the old-timers’ game and a regular-season game while sitting in Championship seating at the new Yankee Stadium, which my dad had not yet visited. Free food, comfortable seats, close to the field; it was terrific. We’ve seen dozens of games at Fenway Park and the old Yankee Stadium and sat in basic fan seating, but after years of Yankee games, we finally enjoyed this new stadium in luxury seating. We watched baseball in style, even as we reflected on all those games we sat through before.

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