1989 - Baseball, Movies, Music, and MTV

1989 – Baseball, Movies, Music, and MTV

In January, President Reagan delivered his farewell address to the nation. A few days later, race riots erupted in Miami, Florida. Football was in the air as the San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl. In February Tecmo Bowl was released for the Nintendo, a fun football game. On TV, ABC began to run a new sitcom called Coach about a football coach and his daily struggles as a human being in various roles.

To offer some relief during the long and cold winter were two fun new movies. The ‘Burbs and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure both came out on Friday February 17th providing movie-goers with perhaps some much-needed laughs and thrills during the end of this colorful yet stressful decade. The Grammy Awards featured Whitney Houston, Sinéad O’Connor, Bobby McFerrin, Dizzy Gillespie, Itzhak Perlman, Tracy Chapman, and Metallica amongst others.

I had been exposed to heavy metal music and despite initial resistance, began to get into it. Johnny G. had spearheaded this campaign on the block. Jack and Joe Lanza were already subscribing to the new scene with their heavy metal t-shirts and cassette tapes before I was. Music was beginning to have a real influence on me as well. I often enjoyed watching MTV at Nana and Bampa’s house. They had cable television before we did, so going over to their house was an extra treat. 

The kids on the block and I were excited about heavy metal and cable TV. We wanted to be a part of it. I received a few audio cassette albums in those days from family members. My cousin Krissy gave me some “tapes”: Europe’s The Final Countdown and Def Leppard’s Pyromania. These were a bit softer than “my style” perhaps at that time, but I still listened to these albums on our small portable radio cassette player and enjoyed them. My tape collection began to grow very slowly. One day Mom brought me to Nobody Beats the Wiz[1] (on Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue) and I had the chance to scour the vast music selection of cassette tapes. I finally decided on the very first album I would ever purchase, and the cover art certainly influenced on my decision, Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind. Occasionally I would acquire “real” albums bought from music stores, but it was not uncommon at all to own albums or songs that were copies from a friend or relative. Uncle Rob gave me a black Memorex tape on which he copied the album … And Justice for All by Metallica. This was quite harsh on my ears at first, but I slowly grew to love it.

In March the Exxon Valdez oil spill created an ecological disaster in the waters off Alaska affecting 1,300 miles of coastline. The Soviet Union held its first free elections two days later. I was 8 years old and in 3rd grade at St. Thomas Aquinas. My teacher was Mrs. MacMaster. She was quite pleasant. That year my grades were all 85 and above, mostly in the 90’s. I was absent 19 days throughout the whole year and late 4. Some of those absences had something to do with my preferring to watch TV and play Nintendo all day. But another reason was that in mid-April I contracted chicken pox. They were quite ugly, itchy, and unpleasant but I was quite happy to get an entire week off from school. If only I didn’t have to do the makeup work, yuck! I spent a lot of time on the couch, watching TV, enjoying canned soup and extra personal attention. I tried to play Nintendo as much as possible but had to contend with either Nana or Mom telling me to take a break to rest up and get better. 

One Friday Mom came home after working late to her usual list of concerns. What would she prepare for dinner? How were her kids? As she discussed this with Nana over coffee, Mom asked another routine question. 

“Any mail today?” 

“Oh yes! You got something from Australia!”

Mom had a pen pal Helen in Australia. This brightened her otherwise somewhat glum day. Helen’s letter spoke to her from one single mother with two kids on the other side of the Earth to another. In an uplifted mood Mom soon penned a reply to Helen in which she painted a picture of things going “fairly well” as she contended with raising two boys who were quite different from one another and who fought with each other a lot.

As the weather was warming, baseball was coming back into view for myself, and many others and it was exciting. TV commercials for the movie Major League contributed to the excitement of the upcoming season. I tried out for the Willie Mays Traveling Team, part of the St. Columba Little League Baseball outside division, and made it. We travelled around Brooklyn playing teams from other leagues rather than just playing other teams within the St. Columba League inner division. It was kind of a status symbol of being a strong player. Our leader at the time was Coach Tim, a decent enough guy in my experience although opinions were mixed about him. Our uniforms were green with yellow accents. Coach Tim sometimes wore a white uniform with green and yellow accents. He seemed to always have a moustache and sometimes a waxed one. By the time Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was in theaters by late May baseball playing both on the block and in little league was well underway.

As the spring deepened with longer sunshine hours, and pleasant scents of trees and flowers, local stores began to stock the new 1989 line of baseball cards. Finding Topps, Donruss, and Score cards was not difficult though Fleer cards were harder to come by. It was a typical routine to walk to Jackie’s Delicatessen two long blocks away on Avenue S to buy some basic household groceries by Mom’s request. These chores were a sign that I was growing up as I could now go without the accompaniment of an adult. I would walk into Jackie’s and read off the list or recite it from memory:

“Can I have a half-pound of ham, a quarter pound of Swiss cheese, an Italian bread, and a pack of Newport Lights 100’s with two packs of matches please?” 

The store clerks would dutifully get to work fulfilling my order. My guess is that they handed me the cigarettes because they had met my mother and understood that they were for her – I hope. While waiting, I would go to the back of the store where the candy and baseball cards were. A pack of Topps baseball cards was 50¢ as was a candy bar. I might buy one or two packs of cards and a candy bar. Candies of choice were Whatchamacallit, Bar None, M&M’s, Peanut M&M’s, Reece’s Pieces, and some fruitier ones such as Skittles and Starburst. It was also tempting to buy a single piece or two of Bazooka Joe’s bubble gum for the bargain price of 5¢ apiece which even came with a tiny comic strip inside. 

I loved collecting baseball cards. One day Uncle James came over and with a happy surprise. He gave me a red and white checkered shoe box containing his entire baseball card collection within. I excitedly looked through the box and tried to sort out who was who and what was what, and of course secretly wishing to find some valuable gems. Uncle James’ baseball card collection consisted mainly of cards from the 1960s. Most were quite beat up and the collection was haphazard with no strong continuous run of any kind. Nevertheless, it was quite a treat to be given these portals into a prior age. While there were not any super valuable cards, there were a few of moderate value according to collector’s pricing guides and I was excited to recognize some familiar names (such as Bob Clemente, Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, and Steve Carlton amongst others…).

Going to an entertaining and air-conditioned movie theater was a great way to pass some hot summertime hours. And what a spectacular summer it was for movies! Us kids were happy when Ghostbusters II was released on June 16thright before the start of summer vacation. A few days later another epic movie was released with more of a dark tone – Tim Burton’s Batman. Soon after, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was in theaters. This movie blew our minds as we imagined what life might be like if we were shrunk to the size of insects and were stranded in the veritable jungle of our own backyard without our parents’ knowledge of what happened. I went with friends and family to see some of these amazing movies at the Sheepshead Bay United Artists movie theater. Movies like these enabled us to feel like our world was expanding towards ever-expanding limits of what was possible.

One hot day in July, Donny and his mom Ginger picked me up. We were going to the UA movie theater to see Weekend at Bernie’s, a comedy about vacationers who somehow end up staying at a house with the deceased corpse of Bernie the owner of the rental place and trying to pretend to others that he’s still alive. On the way to the theater, we pulled into the 7-11 convenience store a block away. Ginger explained that we were going to buy some snacks here and then sneak them into the theater to save money since buying snacks there was a rip-off. I thought to myself, well, I’m glad we’re getting snacks, but are we gonna get in trouble sneaking this stuff in? I had a strong aversion to breaking rules and causing unnecessary friction of any kind.

The Galligans and the Panettis shared a cabana at the Breezy Point Surf Club located in the southern peninsula of Queens, NY. Our family would be invited to join them maybe a couple of times a month. A day out there would involve sandy fun in the sun. Refreshments were of the fun kind – hamburgers, hot dogs, soda, ices, candy, chips. Adults would be drinking and smoking throughout the day. Sometimes there would be a deejay nearby blaring out some danceable light-hearted pop music from the 50s through 80s. Among other tunes in rotation, one might hear the voices of The Crystals filling the early evening air, singing “Going to the chapel and we’re gonna get married. Going to the chapel of love.” Adults played organized bocce and softball games. Kids played their own games such as manhunt (a variation on hide and seek) and suicide (also known as wall ball). There was a large swimming pool with both shallow and deep ends including dive boards. I was generally not brave enough to jump in the deep end, but I did try a few times and was terrified.  

Since July 31st (1987) was the day my father passed away, each year that date was beginning to have something of a serious tone. This year however Nintendo’s new handheld system Game Boy was coming out on that day which kept my mood bright. It was quite an awesome development for those of us interested in video games and the wonderful world of Nintendo kept informed as we were by TV commercials, Nintendo Power magazine and word of mouth. 

In the early August heat, the kids on the block were abuzz with talk of the Moscow Music Peace Festival[2] which was going to be aired live on MTV. This was of interest to me as well, but since we still did not have MTV yet at home, I kind of realized that if my neighbors (namely the Lanzas) did not invite me to watch it, then I wouldn’t have the chance to see it. When the days arrived (August 12th -13th), I did get to see some of the live footage at the Lanza’s house. The concert seemed like a globally significant phenomenon. We may have watched a little of it together inside their living room or maybe we watched it from outside through the front porch window. The very next day the Sega Genesis console was released in North America as a successor to the 1986 Sega Master System. I didn’t really know what Sega was all about, but I was quite curious. Jack and Joe had a Sega Master System, but I didn’t have more than a very few opportunities to see it in action.

The end of summer can often be sad and feel a bit like the gloomy energy of a Sunday night before the start of a full week of school. The end of August and first few days of September felt sad and heavy. Some bright spots that September however were the release of the Duck Tales video game for Nintendo and the premiere of the funny new sitcom Family Matters. The day before what would have been my father’s 39th birthday there was a huge cocaine bust in Los Angeles. Interestingly this was the year Mötley Crüe had released the hot title track of their new album of the same name “Dr. Feelgood” about the downfall of a bigtime drug lord based in L.A.

It wasn’t long before we had cable television in our house as well. We had the most basic cable option, but since it had MTV and Nickelodeon, I was happy. There were so many cool videos being played on MTV at that time. I watched the show Dial MTV[3] regularly in the early evening on school nights and was alternately either excited or disappointed depending on whether my favorite videos were close to first place or not.

In October kids like me enjoyed catching all Halloween-related cartoons and sitcoms that happened to be on TV in the weeks leading up to the holiday. As ever it was fun to see decorations in windows and then costumes on Halloween Day during trick-or-treating. I was an army soldier in khakis and Billy was the Ghostbusters villain, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, one of Mom’s best costume creations.

In November, David Dinkins became New York City’s first black mayor. In the following days East Germany opened its borders with West Germany and joyful Berliners began to knock down the Berlin Wall, symbolizing the end of the Cold War. In the week before Thanksgiving two more excellent movies were released: The Little Mermaid and Back to the Future II. Several big money contracts were negotiated and announced in Major League Baseball. President Bush and Soviet President Gorbachev held their first official meeting which at which they announced that the cold war had effectively come to an end. 

Christmas Eve was celebrated at our house in the Norwegian-American tradition. Dinner included white fish with egg and butter sauce, potatoes and just a few other dishes. Dessert was an event as you could win a prize (usually a chocolate candy bar) if you were the one to find the nut hidden in your bowl of rice pudding. Without fail, Uncle Jack would always plant a nut in his own rice pudding and pretend to win. That night a neighbor dressed as Santa Claus came to visit to deliver some presents and provide a few seasonal photo opportunities. From Santa I received an extensive Crayola crayon set which put a big smile on my face. Much-anticipated musical gifts became reality. From Nana I received my very first electronic keyboard, a small Casio. And on Christmas morning my dream came true when I opened the big, gift-wrapped box to reveal the Hot Lixx toy guitar by Tyco! The Dow Jones closed at a gain over the year on December 31st, giving the impression of the decade ending on an economic high note.

[1] Learn more about Nobody Beats the Wiz on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wiz_(store)

[2] Learn more about the Moscow Music Peace Festival on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Music_Peace_Festival

[3] Learn more about Dial MTV on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dial_MTV

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