It was late afternoon on Aug. 12, 2004, a Thursday, and I was finishing the exit interview of our department's summer intern (at media buying/planning agency Carat USA.) Then I heard the soft "ping" from my computer indicating incoming mail so I casually glanced at the screen and saw a CNN Breaking News alert (the 21st century's version of "Extra, extra read all about it!").
It reported that New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey was stepping down upon revealing at a news conference that "my truth is that I am a gay American." Furthermore, he had been involved in an adulterous affair with his former 36-year-old homeland security advisor who planned to press sexual harassment charges against the governor. McGreevey's announcement was made to pre-empt this action. The aide, Israeli citizen Golan Cipel, vigorously denied the affair and claimed McGreevey made three advances that he rebuffed. (He returned to Israel and hasn't been heard from since.)
Upon reading this news I let out a "whoa!" and chuckled with surprise. The expression on his wife Dina's face in the photo above is priceless. I'd love to know what was going through her mind at that very moment. A few years later her tell-all book, Silent Partner, told us.
Since then online news alerts have informed me of other equally stunning admissions of philandering by two other governors, i.e. Eliot Spitzer of New York (March '08) and Mark Sanford of South Carolina (June '09) and online adultery by New York congressman Anthony Weiner (June '11). For these revelations, however, I didn't make any audible exclamation, I just shook my head silently, exasperated by their transgressions.
News of aviation disasters often produces a visceral reaction since such crashes usually result in a large number of fatalities. Additionally, since most of us have been on board a plane we can empathize with the doomed passengers. Two of the nation's most high-profile air disasters occurred in mid-July in 1989 and 1996.
TWA Flight 800 was bound for Paris on the evening of July 17, 1996 when it exploded off the south shore of Long Island shortly after take-off from Kennedy Airport. Some eyewitnesses reported seeing a streak of light shoot up to the plane, perhaps a missile. My mother called to tell me the news shortly before I sat down to watch the 11:00 news. I remember that at one point NBC News anchor Brian Williams resorted to showing the crash location by holding up a paper map since there had been no time to create a whiz-bang graphic. That summer was the first in which I had a weekend share out in Fire Island Pines and a seat cushion was found washed up on the beach that weekend. For the rest of the summer whenever any flotsam appeared in the water (the plane came down just 15 miles east of the community) we'd wonder if it was debris from the plane.
An air disaster captured on video occurred the afternoon of July 19, 1989 when United Flight 232 bound from Denver to Chicago lost its hydraulic system an hour into the flight and was forced to make an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa. Although 111 passengers died there were also 185 survivors. Besides the high number of survivors what also made this accident stand out was the fact that news crews were waiting for the plane when it crash landed. (For more than an hour it was known the flight was in distress.) The dramatic footage of the plane breaking apart with pieces of it going up in flames and then somersaulting into a cornfield adjacent to the runway was shown over and over on TV that night. I didn't see the news coverage until late because I was at a carefree summer networking event, but once I was home I was glued to the TV set as I counted the cash from the evening's event. It was horrifying, but mesmerizing as well, to watch because it was something rarely captured on video.
On the same day as United 232's crash landing another story out of LA was receiving a lot of coverage as 21-year old actress Rebecca Schaeffer, co-star of the sitcom My Sister Sam, was murdered the day before by a stalker who shot her at point-blank range when she answered the door of her West Hollywood apartment.
It was just past noon on a scorching Saturday afternoon (the temperature back in Manhattan was close to 100°). I was out on the deck of my summer share at Fire Island putting on sunscreen when a housemate returned from a beach walk and told us the news that the private plane piloted by John Kennedy Jr. was missing. It had taken off Friday evening from New Jersey and never arrived at its destination in Martha's Vineyard where here and two passengers, John's wife Carolyn and her sister, were to attend the wedding of John's cousin Rory. Their bodies were recovered on July 21. John was 38, Carolyn 33; they would have been married three years in September.
Flight experts speculated that Kennedy, a newly licensed pilot, likely became disoriented by a thick haze that obscured the horizon and was unaware his plane was flying directly into the water. Ironically, Kennedy's death occurred almost 30 years to the date of his uncle Ted's controversial car accident at Chappaquiddick.
That weekend happened to coincide with the annual Fire Island Dance Festival (a benefit for Dancers Responding to AIDS) and the Kennedy tragedy put somewhat of a damper on the event. Kennedy's fate was likely on mind of many of the event's attendees, especially since the stage looked out onto Long Island's Great South Bay which served as a sobering reminder of the watery grave of the plane's passengers.
This tragedy brought back to mind the death of Princess Diana two years earlier because I was also out at Fire Island then when I heard that awful news.
Hale-Bopp was one of the brightest comets to streak across the skies in the 20th century. And unlike Kohoutek, a much hyped comet that turned out to be a big dud in the winter of 1974, H-B lived up to its hype. A survey conducted by Sky & Telescope Magazine reported that 69% of Americans saw it during the winter and spring months of 1997. (The photo to the right was taken in the lower Hudson River Valley).
I was thrilled to catch a glimpse of Hale-Bopp, especially since star gazing in Manhattan can be a frustrating experience due to the glare from the city's lights. It was Wednesday evening on April 2 at around 7:30 and I was doing my thrice-weekly 5-mile jog along the Hudson River in lower Manhattan. In the Battery Park City neighborhood I noticed a man pointing his telescope across the river in the direction of Jersey City. I glanced over my shoulder and was stunned to see a slash of light not far above the horizon. It seemed to be holding still in the sky and had the classic comet's tail. I stopped running to gaze at it further and then detected a slight, jerky horizontal motion. It was a very Zen moment. (My sighting occurred one day after the comet's closest approach to the sun, aka "perihelion".)
A week before my sighting the comet figured prominently in a mass suicide carried out by members of a religious cult known as Heaven's Gate. 39 members, mostly young adults, and the cult's elderly leader Do (pronounced "doe") committed the act in a rented mansion in an affluent suburb of San Diego. A videotape made shortly before the suicides indicated that a spaceship following behind H-B would pick up their souls. It was done in a very orderly manner and the victims were dressed in a similar fashion, which included wearing the identical Nike sneakers.
This was also an interesting time in my life (perhaps the comet had something to do with it). With my 40th birthday looming in May an ex-boyfriend from 10 years earlier reappeared. "David the Israeli", as I referred to him, was now living in Chicago (not far from Wrigley Field) and suggested I consider moving there as well. (I attached "the Israeli" to his name because there was a multitude of Davids in my life at the time, i.e. my roommate, boss and a number of co-workers, so to avoid confusion they each had their own descriptor.) At the last minute he joined me and my friend Tom when we went to San Francisco on vacation in March. (That's me with David on Lombard St. I'm the tall one.) Then at the end of April I visited him in Chicago (my first time there).
It was a whirlwind six weeks but, alas, it didn't work out this time either as the same dispiriting patterns re-emerged (his, of course). And no appearance from a comet was going to magically change him. Speaking of comets, if you'd like to learn even more about them the book The Greatest Comets talks about famous ones through history.
I graduated from Penn State University on March 3, 1979 but the occasion wasn't tied to any momentous historical event. Rather, my commencement took place at the height of the disco-dancing frenzy sweeping the nation. At the time it seemed that Top-40 radio was playing nothing but wall-to-wall disco, e.g., hits such as YMCA; I Will Survive; Shake Your Groove Thing; Le Freak; and Do Ya Think I'm Sexy, to name just a few. The Village People (whose first LP I bought in the spring of 1978) even appeared on the the cover of Rolling Stonemagazine.
After a celebratory lunch in State College with my parents, brother and sister, rather than return home to Pittsburgh I went east with my brother to his apartment in Bayonne, NJ. (It would serve as my home base while I went on job interviews in Manhattan for a position in advertising.) As we drove he played a cassette he had made from the wildly popular New York disco station WKTU. As I caught a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline at sunset Sister Sledge's song He's the Greatest Dancer came on the air.
Four months later a backlash to disco music began, largely a reaction by listeners with more rock-oriented musical tastes (and who helped make My Sharona a big hit later that summer). It was epitomized by "Disco Demolition Night" at Chicago's Comiskey Park on July 12 when a riot ensued after thousands of disco records were blown up as part of a radio station promotion (between games of a doubleheader). However, gay, black and Latin audiences, who first embraced disco music in underground clubs in the early 1970s, would continue to do so for years to come as it evolved into hybrids such as Eurodisco, hi-NRG and electronica.
It was Friday night and after work (I was an assistant media planner at ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves) I poked my head into a few bars in the vicinity of my office on Manhattan's East Side. At Cowboys & Cowgirls on 53rd St. I was idly chatting with an older fellow (I was 22 at the time so most everyone qualified as "older") who teasingly mocked my choice of cocktail, a Tom Collins, as being an "old man's drink". That may have been, but I was a novice and still familiarizing myself with mixed drinks.
While standing at the bar we overheard that the U.S. hockey team had beaten the Soviet team 4-3 at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid (which made the victory even sweeter). It was a huge upset and took some of the sting from the the Russian basketball team's controversial defeat of the U.S. at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Shortly afterwards I met up with a few friends from work and we went to the dance club Stix (formerly the Barefoot Boy) which was a few blocks north of the Queens-Midtown Tunnel on 2nd Ave. Two particular songs I remember dancing to were Vertigo/Relight My Fire and Don't Cry for Me Argentina (from the classic Disco Evita album). We stayed until the wee hours and since I lived in New Jersey at the time (Bayonne) I slept over at my friend Phillip's place in the Lower East Side.
Although the U.S.'s victory over the Russians was a huge accomplishment it wasn't the end of the story. In order to win the gold medal they still needed to win one more game. That match was played two days later on Sunday - and they prevailed over Finland. This provided a huge boost to a nation whose pride had taken a serious hit a few months earlier as a result of the Tehran hostage crisis - which continued for nearly another year.
Although I have 9,000 songs on my iPod just a few have the power to trigger "a-ha" memories (e.g. I equate In the Year 2525 with the first Moon landing; The Night Chicago Died with Nixon's resignation). The earliest I remember were novelty songs when I was a wee lad of 3 or 4, e.g. Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop;Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini; and Alley Oop. What follows are some songs of summers past that bring to mind memories from my personal history.
Hearing Judy's Turn to Cry(Lesley Gore), Nat King Cole's quintessential summer song Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer or the popular Australian folk song Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport takes me back to the summer of 1963. I was 6 years old and remember those songs playing on the car radio while I sat in the front seat of our Rambler station wagon as we drove to Pittsburgh's Highland Park Zoo. My sister Linda, two of her girlfriends and my brother Darrell were in the backseat. At the zoo a baboon took a liking to me, followed me around and constantly showed me his multi-colored behind.
The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction was the first rock song that registered with me. It got plenty of airplay in August 1965 when my parents bought a new car, a steel blue Dodge Coronet sedan. It replaced our 1960 Rambler station wagon which on two occasions lost its front wheel - once in the parking lot at Kroger and the other time at an intersection as we waited to pull into traffic. But despite this potentially fatal defect (for both us and the car) I had a sentimental attachment to the car (in lieu of the dog I never had). On the evening we left it at the dealership I sat in the car and cried. We had the Coronet for 8 years until the fall of 1973 when we got an Oldsmobile Cutlass (for $3,300, the same price I'd pay for my plasma TV in 2003).
Then in the summer of 1966 my sister Linda swooned for the guy group Wayne Fontana & the Mindebenders and their hit Groovy Kind of Love (another guy group, The Association, got her attention as well). That same summer I got creeped out by the novelty song They're Coming to Take Me Away (Ha Ha), about a man going mad and being taken to an insane asylum. In a chilling coincidence, later that summer a young man in Austin, TX snapped, climbed a water tower and randomly shot to death 15 people on the ground.
During the summer of 1976 I visited New York City for the first time. The songs burnt into my memory were Don't Go Breaking My Heart (Elton John/KiKi Dee); Kiss & Say Goodbye (Manhattans); and Turn the Beat Around (Vicki Sue Robinson). I was 19 at the time and drove to NYC with my brother who had begun working in Bayonne, NJ the year before as band director at the town's high school. It was also the first time I stuck a toe in the ocean, at the beach in Belmar, NJ.
Skipping ahead 6 years, I was in the middle of vacation with my boyfriend Rick in August 1982. We were on our way to Provincetown after having spent a few days in Ogunquit, ME and were stuck in traffic in downtown Boston (my first time there). The New Wave song Kids in America (Kim Wilde) came on the radio and it was followed by Billy Idol's first hit Hot in the City (not to be confused with Nick Gilder's Hot Child in the City from 1978).
Whenever I hear Every Breath You Take (The Police) or Safety Dance (Men Without Hats) it brings to mind the birth of my nephew, Corry, in July 1983 (on the very same day as his father's 30th birthday). Curiously I don't have any such tuneful memories from when nephew #2, Nick, was born in December 1985.
Music sounded just a little better to me when I was floating on a raft in the pool at my weekend share at Fire Island. In the summer of 1999 one of my housemates, Matthew, loved No Scrubs by TLC and played it incessantly. And Cher's comeback song Believe was the dance anthem of that summer. I also recall that during my first visit out there in 1982 ABBA's Lay All Your Love On was big in the clubs and the summer of my first share, 1996, the debut CD by Kristine W. (a club star rather than mainstream) was a popular one at our house.
Finally, during the 2000's my summer share at Fire Island had XM Satellite Radio which introduced me to a lot of great songs from the 1960's and 1970's, largely R&B, that I was unfamiliar with. Ultimately I purchased a few hundred of them on iTunes. Some of the best were Edwin Starr's Headline News; Eddie Kendricks' Tell Her Love Has Felt the Need; and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes'Satisfation Guaranteed.