"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Behind the Florida Scenery

     You spend a couple of weeks in Florida, and you know it can't all be sunshine, warm sand and beautiful sunsets.

     If you're there for that long, you're sure to get a few dark, rainy days -- windy enough to blow over the umbrellas at the pool ...

     This is not a river or stream; it's a culvert that hasn't drained because of all the rain.

     And this is not a pond. They say the mosquito season is going to be bad this year.

     It didn't rain every day. But still, I had time to go to a flea market . . .

     where I bought a decorative dragonfly and saw a live macaw at one of the booths.

     I made a few friends playing table tennis at the local recreation hall.

     And then, yeah . . .  there's the traffic.

     Still, a beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

     And so, goodbye to Florida.

Monday, January 25, 2016

New Take on Nostalgia

     Julian Barnes in his book The Sense of an Ending characterizes nostalgia not as a sentimental memory of "something that wasn't even true at the time," but instead as, "the powerful recollection of strong emotions -- and a regret that such feelings are no longer present in our lives."

     He confesses that he's nostalgic about the early years with his ex-wife, the birth of his daughter, and a road trip taken long ago. "And if we're talking about strong feelings that will never come again, I suppose it's possible to be nostalgic about remembered pain as well as remembered pleasure."

     So is anyone nostalgic about Star Wars? Kathy Gottberg on her blog SMARTLiving365 recalls going to see the original Star Wars with her fiance back in 1977 and marveling at how the innovative film brought the classic story of good versus evil to the screen in a visually exhilarating way. Now, so many years later, with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens she offers Five Smart and Timeless Lessons from Star Wars, which include several observations about the Force -- and how these days age, color or gender doesn't matter when it comes to saving the Galaxy.

     Meanwhile, Meryl Baer of Six Decades and Counting gets nostalgic remembering the music of the rock and roll greats we all grew up with. In Rock Stars Voice Our Story she recalls the night of Jan. 23, 1986, when the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony made history in New York City. And if you don't remember the ceremony (which you probably don't) you surely do remember some of the musicians honored that night, from Chuck Berry and Little Richard to Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers and a dozen other icons.

     Linda Myers, of Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting, also waxes nostalgic in Snowbirds in Year 4, but her "powerful recollections" go back only a few years, reflecting how people have come to spend their winters at the Voyager RV Resort in Tuscon, Ariz. If that in itself doesn't bring you, oh, say ... a beautiful mornin', then you should know that her husband has a lead part in the Voyagers Light Opera Company's production of Oklahoma!

     Meanwhile, Rita R. Robison, consumer journalist, is bringing us back into the kitchen. In Which Oils Should You Use? she gives us the sizzle on which oils are better for cooking and which are more appropriate for salads. Then for a second helping she serves up New Evidence on Food Dyes, which reports on a recent study from the Center for Science in the Public Interest about the safety of coloring agents in our food.

     Finally, Laura Lee Cater has discovered that she shares something in common with today's 20-somethings. Like Millennials, she usually opts to choose a . . . well, to find out take a trip over to Millennials and Me (at 60!) and discover the common element that inspires her to fondly recall the days when she went island hopping across the Caribbean and country hopping through East Asia.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Different Perspective on the Storm

A churned-up Gulf of Mexico
     I'm not going to complain about the weather here in Naples, Florida -- even though my airbnb host, who's from England, says that the last fortnight has brought the worst weather he's seen since moving here two years ago.

     A near-tornado blew in from the Gulf of Mexico a few days ago knocking down trees and flooding the streets.

Sand-swept beach
     Today we are getting the southern edge of the storm that's been barreling across the eastern United States over the last couple of days. While we have clear skies, winds are coming in from the Northwest, gusting to 50 mph.

A spooky noise
     But at home, B is in the thick of it, dealing with a foot of snow, blizzard conditions, high winds and near-total whiteouts. Meanwhile, the northern edge of the storm is now bringing snow to my friend who lives on Cape Cod, Mass. And I know my daughter, in Raleigh, NC, also got a piece of the winter blast, mostly by way of the sleet and freezing rain that formed a thick coating of ice on the trees and the roads.

Flying the colors
     That's one heck of a storm, affecting weather conditions from South Florida to Northern New England. But there's one thing you get down here that's kind of unique. It's the sound of the wind rattling through the palm trees, a kind of whistling and clattering sound that's a little spooky. But I like it ... especially compared to the sound of plows scraping along the city streets.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Now THIS Is Interesting

     So I'm in Florida now, and I guess I could show you some photos of the tennis courts outside my condo, or the recreational center where I played table tennis, or the fast-food joints where I've been consuming too many calories. But that would be boring.

     Tomorrow it's supposed to get up to 75 degrees, and so I plan to take a swim in the heated pool -- even as a major snowstorm is forecast to arrive at home in the mid-Atlantic states. But a picture of a pool? That would be boring.

     I could tell you about the book I'm reading, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. Would that be boring? It was a Christmas present from my daughter. No, she doesn't hate me. We both took Latin in high school, and she knows I have an interest in this sort of thing. Besides, in her estimation, you have to go back as far as ancient Rome to unearth some history that I didn't personally witness.

     I saw The Revenant. Don't go see it if you don't like violent movies. It's got a great opening battle scene, then it crawls into a survivor story that morphs into a revenge story. And it stars Leonardo DiCaprio, so you know he gets his guy in the end. The movie is intense, that's for sure, and will make you feel cold and dirty. But in my opinion it's overlong, overwrought and overrated, and toward the end it just gets kind of boring.

     But as you've probably noticed, the stock market has tanked in the last two weeks. I hope it hasn't decimated your retirement assets. The pundits say the problem is the slowdown in China, or the plummeting price of oil which will cause layoffs and bankruptcies.

     But another reason suddenly dawned on me yesterday. I heard a commentator on the radio predict that Donald Trump will take the Republican nomination. Trump leads in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and nearly everywhere else. And Bernie Sanders will win the Democratic nomination, as he has a slight lead in Iowa and a big lead in New Hampshire, and Clinton is faltering everywhere.

     Who would have thunk this until very recently? A choice between Sanders and Trump. And the radio commentator went on to predict that Trump would win.

     So it's not China, and it's not oil. It's investors who are panicking as they fear the end of the economy as we know it. Does that make sense? Anyway, it's certainly not boring. But as the Chinese curse says, may you live in interesting times.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ah, Florida!

     I've been a Florida for a week, so I figure I owe you a few nice photos. I'll skip the ones of crowded six-lane highways, intersections choked with traffic, and strip malls dotted with gas stations, drug stores, pawn shops and souvenir stores.

     We had a storm come through the other night, and it riled up the surf quite a bit. These are pretty heavy waves for the Gulf of Mexico -- big enough so they even brought out some surfers for a while.

     But by the end of the day the weather had mostly cleared up, and the sky graced us with a dramatic sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

     This is the view from my ninth floor condo, overlooking a marina and the bay side of the island. I called B right after I took this picture, a little after 5 p.m.yesterday. She said it was already dark in New York; but as you can see there was still plenty of daylight left here in South Florida.

     I'm not saying I would want to live in Florida, especially in the summer. But there are three things I love about this place. The air is nice and warm and moist. It's good to breathe and it's good for your skin, The sky is open and all around you, and makes you feel free and expansive. And the light is bright and happy. You can see better in Florida ... and perhaps there are better things to look at here as well, at least in January.

Friday, January 15, 2016

"The 1960s and Vietnam"

     I was visiting my sister in Jacksonville, FL, for a few days. On Wednesday nights she and her husband take an American history class at the University of North Florida called "The 1960s and Vietnam." It sounded kind of interesting, so I asked if I could go along.

     "The class is three hours," my sister told me.

     "That's okay." I swallowed hard. "I think I can stay awake that long."

     Later, I called B and told her what I was doing. "That's not history," she scoffed. "You lived it."

     "Yeah, I know. But it would be the same as when we were kids, and we took a course about the United States during the nineteen teens, under Taft and Wilson instead of Kennedy and Johnson. That's history, isn't it?" 

     So the other night we drove over to campus and found the classroom, filled with some 25 undergraduates and about ten seniors auditing the course. The topic for the evening:  John F. Kennedy. Of course, as B suggested, I already knew the general outline of the Kennedy story. But I did learn a few things.

     Kennedy had three main problems standing in the way of his election. First was his Catholicism. The professor had to explain to the wide-eyed students that Protestants, especially in the South and Midwest, were prejudiced against Catholics back in those days.

     (As an aside, my wife was from Ohio and she once confessed to me (I was raised Catholic) that her parents would not let her date a Catholic boy when she was in high school.)

     Kennedy addressed the Catholic issue in a famous speech to a gathering of Protestant clergy during the Democratic primary. He stood squarely for the separation of church and state, he told them, and no priest was going to tell the president what to do -- just as no minister should tell their church members how to vote. His campaign also made sure that the Catholic nuns who attended his rallies never sat up front where they might be photographed or appear in any news clips.

     A second problem was Kennedy's philandering, which was an open secret at the time. Fortunately for him, the press was more discreet back in that era. You were okay, so the saying went, as long as you weren't caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl.

The official White House portrait of President Kennedy
     Then there was his health. He was chronically underweight; he suffered from constant pain from a bad back. He had colitis. But his worst problem was Addison's disease. According to the professor, Kennedy had been close to death and been given last rites three times in his life. He was given cortisone shots when he started running for president, which filled out his face and made him look healthy, even though he wasn't. He took barbiturates for pain on a consistent basis, and then took amphetamines to counteract the barbiturates.

     One of the causes of the Cuban Missile Crisis, according to the professor, was that Kennedy and Khrushchev had already met in Vienna in June 1961. Kennedy was not feeling well and was taking various medications, and he made a poor showing at the meeting. Khrushchev decided Kennedy was weak, and this emboldened him to send missiles to Cuba. Basically, he'd sized up Kennedy, and he thought he could get away with it.

     Well, the class was three hours long, and so there was a lot of information about JFK. He picked Johnson as his running mate because he was Protestant and would take "the stink of Catholicism" off the ticket. Johnson was from Texas and would help carry the South. And then Kennedy said:  Besides, what good would it do to win the presidency if Lyndon Johnson was the Senate Majority Leader? Kennedy wanted Johnson out of the way so he wouldn't block his legislative proposals in the Senate.

     The professor opined that Kennedy could probably never get elected in today's America. And it's entirely possible that, were he not assassinated, he would have died of his health complications before he could fill out a second term.

     He also pointed out that Kennedy was an avid Cold Warrior. Kennedy pledged to go to the moon, not because he was interested in space, but because he wanted to beat the Russians.

     When Kennedy was sworn into the presidency, there were 900 American military advisers in South Vietnam. By the time he was killed, there were over 30,000 Americans in Vietnam.

     Yet the professor believes that Kennedy probably would not have ramped up the Vietnam War the way Johnson did, with over 500,000 American troops at the peak in 1968. Kennedy had already proved he was tough on communism; he could have afforded to step back in Vietnam. But Johnson felt he had to stand firm in Vietnam to prove he wasn't soft on communism. He gave the hawks what they wanted in foreign policy to allow him to pass the social welfare programs of the Great Society (including Medicare).

     And the professor also wondered, were it not for Kennedy's assassination, the Great Society may have never come about. Although Kennedy finally did come around and fully support civil rights by mid-1963, he was never the avid social liberal that Johnson was. Yet his death made him a martyr. And Johnson used that to inspire many in Washington to support his programs, as a legacy to the fallen president.

     Of course, we'll never know the what-ifs of Kennedy. And I guess I'll never know about the rest of the 1960s -- the Johnson years, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the music and the counterculture -- because I have moved on from Jacksonville and won't have the opportunity to attend any more of the classes.

     However, it's raining today in Florida. So maybe I'll read some of those handouts the professor gave us.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Advice My Mother Gave Me

    I've just arrived in Florida. My parents lived here for 15 years after they retired, and so it got me thinknig about my mother.

     I've argued before, and I stand by my position, that we'd all be better off if we had just done what our mothers told us to do -- no questions asked. Because who, besides our mothers, has nothing but our best interests at heart? Sure, our dads love us. But they have an ulterior motive. They want us to succeed, make them proud. Our mothers just want us to be happy.

     My mother was not the overbearing type. She instead was rather cool and detached, perhaps because she had four kids and didn't have the time or resources to give a lot of individual attention to any of us. She instead fell back on a lot of sayings that she, no doubt, got from her mother.

     For example, she believed in addressing problems head on, and not letting them linger. So a favorite saying of hers was:  A stitch in time saves nine.

     She also warned us what would happen if we didn't face up to things. We'd be: Up a creek without a paddle.

     She was industrious, and didn't believe that her children should sit around and daydream (or watch TV). She'd admonish us when she thought we were being lazy:  Don't be a lump on a log. And she drummed into us:  The early bird gets the worm.

     But she knew all matters didn't necessarily proceed as fast as people, especially children, want. And so she also counseled patience and reminded us:  Rome wasn't built in a day.

     When I got older, into my teens, she was appalled at the clothes I wore. And more than once as I left college and went out into the world she reminded me:  The clothes make the man.

     And I'd be more successful if I didn't sit around and engage in idle chat, for:  He who gossips with you will gossip about you. Or, another way she'd say it:  Mind your p's and q's.

     And whenever we did anything, she thought, we should do it right. Or: Cross your t's and dot your i's.

     Not bad advice. I wish I'd taken more of it. So . . . what did your mother tell you?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Why We Write

     Last Sunday I saw a New York Times article about the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Do you know about this?

      Some 150,000 people around the country participate at more than a hundred OLLI locations. The story focused on a couple in Rockville, Md., that takes classes at Johns Hopkins University, which itself has five locations throughout Maryland. "The institutes, affiliated mostly with colleges and universities, are among the best-known advanced adult educational programs in the country," according to the Times. "The lifelong learning programs position themselves as communities where the participants not only take on challenging subjects but also seek to engage more deeply with their fellow students."

     I, myself, do not take classes at OLLI or anywhere else, even though I sometimes feel like I should. After all, B works at a library, so she's learning all the time. Both of my sisters take classes. The one who lives in Florida audits a course every semester at a nearby university. My other sister is learning Italian and has been taking classes for two or three years (and also has made two trips to Italy).

     I instead volunteer at an educational institution -- though one not nearly so prestigious as Johns Hopkins University. I go to my local community college. I help students write their essays, which involves helping them understand what they're reading and then coaching them how to write a coherent report. I also help students with transfer applications, scholarship essays, resumes and job applications.

State House in Annapolis
     The community college is currently on winter break, and I am on my way to Florida. My first stop is Annapolis, Md. -- which is why Johns Hopkins and Rockville, Md., caught my eye. By the way, if you want to learn some history, Annapolis is not a bad place to start. It is home to the U. S. Naval Academy, St. John's College (founded in 1696), and the oldest continuously used state house in the nation.

     They say travel is a good way to learn. I'm not sure if a trip to Florida with all the Snowbirds is particularly educational -- I wouldn't trust the Orlando, Fla., version of history -- but thinking back to my work at the college, I realize I have learned a few things.

     I've learned about the many ways that a piece of writing can go wrong, as well as some of the essentials of what makes a piece of writing work. It doesn't have much to do with vocabulary or grammar. Of course, an essay has to be comprehensible. And it should have a point to it, a thesis. Beyond that, it should have a voice -- something that makes it real.

     One of my last students before I left for Christmas vacation was a young woman who came to the writing center with an essay about discrimination faced by transgenders. She wrote about how friends can ostracize a person who changes gender. She cited the sometimes-horrified reactions from parents and teachers. She discussed the negative signals that transgender people get from the media and society at large.

     I didn't know anything about transgenders before I met this young woman. But reading her essay, I felt as though I had learned something, and I also felt like I had shared some of the transgender experience.

     And I learned something about why we all write. Perhaps we have some observations or opinions; perhaps we have something to say. But most of all, I think, we just want someone to know: We are here. This is who we are.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Answers to: Who Didn't Start the Fire?

     Wait! If you haven't already taken the quiz, first go down to the Jan. 1 post to test your knowledge of 20th century history according to singer/songwriter Billy Joel. And then . . . here are the answers to the references from "We Didn't Start the Fire, " a test of how well you know your Baby Boom history:

     1. c)  Doris Day, born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff in 1922, scored the hit solo "Sentimental Journey" which became an anthem for soldiers returning from World War II. She was then voted favorite female star by U. S. soldiers in Korea in 1950. But her popularity went way beyond the armed forces. She made a number of movies and was named number one female box office star four times in the early 1960s. Day has been married four times (but not to Eddie Fisher); she went bankrupt in the late 1960s (not in 1951) and won a substantial judgment against her lawyer. She currently lives in Carmel, Calif., and is still active in animal rights.

     2. a) Johnny Ray (1927-'90) scored several hit records in the 1950s, including the double-sided hit single "Cry" and "The Little White Cloud that Cried." He is credited as a significant precursor to rock and roll and was a magnet for teen hysteria in the pre-Presley days of the early 1950s.

    3. a) Roy Cohn (1927-'86) made his name prosecuting Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, two American citizens convicted and executed for passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. Cohn went on to become a key aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy when he launched his crusade against communists. Cohn was accused of doctoring evidence and resigned to go into private practice, then represented clients ranging from Donald Trump to John Gotti, from the Catholic church to the New York Yankees.

     4. c) Juan Peron (1895-1974) was president of Argentina from 1946 to 1955 when he was overthrown in a coup d-etat. Peron was controversial, pushing to improve the lives of laborers, but also inviting criticism for his strong-arm tactics. Peron's considerable popularity was eclipsed by his wife Eva Duarte (Evita), the poor actress who became his First Lady. Duarte died of cancer in 1952, at age 33, and later made her mark on popular culture with the 1970s musical Evita.

     5. d) Princess Grace (1929-'82), as American actress Grace Kelly appeared in High Noon, Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in The Country Girl. Then in 1956, at age 26, she retired from the movies. She married Prince Rainier and became Princess of Monaco -- no relation to Princess Di or the rock star Prince.

     6. a) Peyton Place was the first American nighttime soap opera, which ran from 1964 to 1969. The TV series was based on the novel by Grace Metalious and the 1956 film starring Lana Turner. The TV show featured Mia Farrow and Ryan O'Neal, and gained fame for addressing relationships, violence, and political issues in a more modern, realistic manner.

     7. d) Chou en-Lai (1898-1976), also known as Zhou Enlai, was the first premier of the People's Republic of China. He served under Mao Zedong, survived The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four, and was credited for thawing relations with the West by arranging for President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Chou died in 1976, a few months before Mao passed away.

     8. b)  The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) was a fictional account of British prisoners of war in Burma during World War II who built and in the end destroyed a railroad bridge for the Japanese. The movie, which dramatized the brutality of the Japanese toward POWs, won Best Picture Academy Award in 1958 and starred not Alan Alda, but William Holden and Alec Guinness.

     9. d) Charlie Starkweather (1938-'59) perhaps inaugurated the modern era of serial killers. He  murdered 11 people in Nebraska and Wyoming in December 1957 and January 1958. He was convicted, along with his teenage girlfriend, in 1959. He was executed, and she served 17 years in prison. Starkweather is not to be confused with Charles Whitman who killed 14 people form the clock tower of the University of Texas in 1966.

     10. a) Thalidomide was first marketed in West Germany in 1957 as a sedative to treat anxiety, nausea and insomnia, and was later prescribed to pregnant women to alleviate morning sickness. Its use spread to England, Canada and other countries before it was found to cause birth defects, including severe malformation of the limbs. Some 10,000 cases were reported, and only about half of those affected survived past infancy. The FDA prohibited attempts to market Thalidomide in the U. S., but the drug was distributed for testing purposes and resulted in 17 babies born in America with birth defects attributed to thalidomide.

     11. c) Psycho (1960) was nominated for four Academy Awards -- but not best picture -- and did not win a single one. The only Oscar director Alfred Hitchcock ever received was the Irving Thalberg award for lifetime achievement. Tippi Hedren starred in The Birds, but not Psycho, and most of the movie was shot in Hollywood and Arizona. Hitchcock made a cameo appearance, as he did in most of his films, as a man in a cowboy hat standing outside the office of Marion Crane, played by Janet Leigh of the unfortunate shower scene.

     12. d) Belgians in the Congo refers to a period of upheaval after the Congo gained independence from Belgium in 1960. There was a series of civil wars that involved the Belgians as well as UN troops, and brought the United States, the Soviet Union and communist China into the conflict. The war claimed some 100,000 lives -- including UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjold who died in a plane crash on Sept. 18, 1961. The crisis finally ended in 1965, at least for a time, when Joseph-Desire Mobutu established a dictatorship.

     13. a) Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein is a science fiction novel published in 1961. It tells the story of a human, born and raised on Mars, who arrives on Earth after World War III. He had never seen a woman, and struggles to understand and adapt to human culture. He studies various religions and eventually starts his own church and preaches free love -- and thus became a hero to many in the 1960s counterculture.

     14. c) Bay of Pigs invasion occurred in April 1961 as a CIA-sponsored counterrevolutionary effort against Fidel Castro who, the Americans feared, was inching closer and closer to communism. The exercise was planned under President Eisenhower and took place just months after John Kennedy was inaugurated. After the invasion Kennedy, who took most of the blame for its failure, imposed a trade embargo against Cuba, which in turn set the stage for the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

     15. a) Malcolm X (1925-'65) was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. After his father was killed and his mother institutionalized, he quit school and spent time in prison. He became a Muslim, dropped his "slave name" in favor of Malcolm X and rose to be a leader of the Nation of Islam. He declared himself a communist, preached separation of the races, and promoted drug rehabilitation programs. In 1965 after he turned away from extremism and began to champion economic and social equality, he was assassinated by three members of the Nation of Islam.

     16. a) British politician sex refers to a scandal involving British Secretary of State for War John Profumo who had an affair with 19-year-old Christine Keeler. In March 1963 Profumo denied the affair in front of the House of Commons, only to confess a few weeks later. The scandal took on a new meaning when Keeler was also found to have been involved with a Soviet naval attache. No security breaches were discovered, but Profumo was forced to resign. He lived out the rest of his life doing volunteer work, and died in 2006 at age 91.

     17. b) Sally Ride (1951-2012) was the first American woman in space as a member of the 1983 Space Shuttle crew. She is not to be confused with astronaut Judith Resnik or teacher Christa McAuliffe, both of whom perished in the Challenger disaster of 1986. Altogether, 59 women have been to space, 45 of them Americans. Ride died of cancer at the age of 61.

     18. d) Heavy Metal Suicide refers the rise in the suicide rate in the 1980s, which peaked at 13 per 100,000 people in 1986. Families of several young suicide victims brought lawsuits against the heavy metal bands of Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest, claiming the lyrics caused young people to commit suicide. The suits were unsuccessful.

     19. b) Homeless vets back from Vietnam became an issue in the 1970s and '80s as many traumatized soldiers found it difficult to reintegrate into society. They had trouble finding jobs; many turned to alcohol and drugs to soothe their problems; and a disturbing number ended up poor and homeless and living on the streets.

     20. c) Bernie Goetz boarded a New York subway in December 1984 where he was approached by four young black men who demanded $5 from him. Goetz pulled out a pistol and shot all four men, then shot one of the men again as he lay on the floor, seriously wounding all of them. Goetz escaped, but turned himself in a few days later. He was charged with attempted murder and assault, but convicted only of carrying an unlicensed firearm. He spent eight months in prison and later lost a civil suit for $43 million. In the court of public opinion Goetz was praised by conservatives frustrated with high crime rates and vilified by liberals concerned about race relations and vigilantism -- a controversy that, apparently, still goes on to this day.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Quiz: Who Didn't Start the Fire?

     When Billy Joel was a kid he wanted to grow up to be a history teacher. Of course, as we all know, he instead became a hugely popular singer/songwriter.

     Joel had just turned 40 when young Sean Lennon was in his recording studio with a friend. The friend, for whatever reason, complained that "it was a terrible time to be 21." That made Joel, who was born in 1949, reflect on the time that he was 21, when the Vietnam War was going on, there were drug problems and civil rights issues and "everything seemed to be awful."

     The kid responded that Joel had grown up in the 1950s and "everybody knows that nothing happened in the 50s."

     The singer/songwriter started thinking about the people and events that had populated his life, starting in the year of his birth. He went on to write and record "We Didn't Start the Fire," a signature song which became a No. 1 hit and was nominated for the Grammy Award Record of the Year.

     Joel refers to more than a hundred people and events that had affected his younger days. Did they have any influence on yours? See if you can identify these references from Billy Joel's hit song by choosing the correct answer . . .

     1. Doris Day
a)  Recorded her hit song "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" in 1950
b)  Married Eddie Fisher in 1950
c)  Was voted favorite female star by U. S. soldiers in Korea in 1950
d)  Went bankrupt in 1951

     2. Johnny Ray
a)  Bolted to the top of the charts with "Cry"
b)  Was Milton Berle's sidekick on "The Milton Berle Show"
c)  Played Davey Crockett's sidekick on TV
d)  Was convicted in the murder of Jack Ruby

     3. Roy Cohn
a)  Was an aide to Sen. Joseph McCarthy
b)  Defended Richard Nixon
c)  Played Perry Mason on TV
d)  Was Ray Kroc's original partner in McDonald's

     4. Juan Peron
a)  Starred in the hit TV series I love Lucy
b)  Sang the hit song "Lemon Tree"
c)  Was president of Argentina in the 1940s and '50s
d)  Captured Adolf Eichmann in 1960

     5. Princess Grace
a)  Was Princess Di's older sister
b)  Later became Queen of Luxembourg
c)  Was the mother of rock star Prince
d)  Married Prince Rainier of Monaco

     6. Peyton Place
a)  Was a book and TV show
b)  Sits near Boardwalk in the game Monopoly
c)  Is a Louisiana town named for Peyton Manning
d)  Is the title of Katharine Hepburn's autobiography

     7. Chou en-Lai
a)  Was George H. W. Bush's favorite presidential meal
b)  Was elected the first Asian-born mayor of San Francisco
c)  Was the leader of the communist North Vietnamese
d)  Served as premier of the People's Republic of China

     8. The Bridge on the River Kwai
a)  Starred Alan Alda
b)  Won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1958
c)  Dramatized the cruel practices of the British in colonial India
d)  Was based on an actual event that occurred during the Vietnam war

     9. Starkweather homocide
a)  Took place at the book depository in Dallas
b)  Took place at the clock tower of the University of Texas in Austin
c)  Was the title of Huey Newton's autobiography
d)  Was the name of a killing spree in Nebraska in the 1950s

     10. Children of Thalidomide
a)  Suffered birth defects because of the drug
b)  Died from the defoliant used in Vietnam
c)  Were babies born after a scandal involving Trojan condoms
d)  Were children saved by the smallpox vaccine

     11. Psycho
a)  Won Best Picture Academy Award in 1961
b)  Starred Tippi Hedren
c)  Featured a cameo appearance by director Alfred Hitchcock
d)  Was filmed on location in Lewiston, Maine

     12. Belgians in the Congo
a)  Was a brand of candy popular in the late 1950s
b)  Was the name of a hit record by the British invasion group The Hollies
c)  Helped free the African nation from colonial rule by Germany
d)  Tried to mediate a civil war after the Congo gained independence in 1960

     13. Stranger in a Strange Land
a)  Was a science fiction book by Robert Heinlein
b)  Was the autobiography of James Baldwin
c)  Formed the tag line in an advertisement for the ill-fated Edsel
d)  Was a TV sit-com about two unlikely cousins living together in Chicago

     14. Bay of Pigs Invasion
a)  Occurred in 1964
b)  Was JFK's first step involving us in Vietnam
c)  Was a CIA misadventure set in motion by President Eisenhower
d)  Saved Guantanamo from falling into Castro's hands

    15. Malcolm X
a)  Was a notorious Civil Rights leader
b)  Was a notorious New York gang leader
c)  Was a notorious 1970s rap star
d)  Played Will Smith's father in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"

     16. British Politician Sex
a)  Refers to a sex scandal involving a British government official
b)  Was a new sexual position popularized by the movie "I Am Curious Yellow"
c)  Was a 1980s reference to gay sex
d)  Was the CIA code name for Margaret Thatcher's husband

     17. Sally Ride
a)  Debuted in 1976 as a new ride at Disney World in Orlando
b)  Flew as the first American woman in space
c)  Climbed the charts as a hit record by The Rascals
d)  Was a slang word for cocaine

     18. Heavy metal suicide
a)  Was the name of a Punk Rock band
b)  Was the name of a film by Andy Warhol
c)  Refers to the suicide of Nirvana star Kurt Cobain
d)  Refers to lyrics from Ozzie Osborne and Judas Priest allegedly glorifying suicide

     19. Homeless Vets
a)  Was the name of a movie starring John Voight
b)  Refers to the number of Vietnam vets who were poor and homeless
c)  Was a NY Post headline about New York's homeless problem
d)  Was Donald Trump's plan to register the homeless in Atlantic City

     20. Bernie Goetz
a)  Manufactured Guess jeans
b)  Was a character actor in the first Star Wars movie
c)  Shot four people in the New York subway
d)  Was the last person killed at the Berlin Wall in 1988

     So do you still think you know a lot about the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s? Check out my next post for the answers, and a few little-known Baby Boomer facts from singer-songwriter-historian Billy Joel.