1985 Excerpt - Autobiography - My Life in Context [1980-2020]

1985


Historical and Cultural backdrop:  

Movies: Back to the Future, The Goonies, The Care Bears Movie, Cocoon, Day of the Dead, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, Fright Night, Ghoulies, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, Return to Oz, Rocky IV, Silver Bullet, Teen Wolf, Transylvania 6-5000, Weird Science 

Television: Thundercats, Mr. Belvedere, Ewoks, The Golden Girls, It’s Punky Brewster, Care Bears, Growing Pains, Jem, The Jetsons 

Video Games: The debut of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the U.S. 

Video Games – NES: Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gun.Smoke, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Pinball, Super Mario Bros., Wild Gunman 

Tech: The first commercial Internet domain name is registered as a .com, Microsoft Windows OS released  

Music / Songs: U.S.A. for Africa “We Are the World”, John Fogerty “Centerfield”, Jan Hammer “Miami Vice Theme”, Sting “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free”, Paul Young “Everytime You Go Away”, Pet Shop Boys – “West End Girls (1985 version)”, Tears for Fears “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, Huey Lewis & the News “Power of Love”, Whitney Houston “How Will I Know”, Robert Palmer “Addicted to Love”, Madonna “Into the Groove” 

Music / Albums: Aerosmith - Done With Mirrors, AC/DC - Fly On the Wall, Stevie Ray Vaughan - Soul To Soul, Iron Maiden - Live After Death, Mötley Crüe - Theatre Of Pain, Sting - The Dream of the Blue Turtles 

World Events / Politics: Ronald Reagan begins his 2nd term as U.S. president; Mikhail Gorbachev becomes new leader of U.S.S.R.; discovery of ozone hole; the wreck of the RMS Titanic is located


The sounds of the Miami Vice Theme song filled the airwaves and the heads of scores of Americans throughout the year of 1985. In January of that year my family was living in our new home on East 19th St. between Avenues W and X in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. It was a unique one-way street. The west side of the street was mostly private one-story houses with basements. Towards Ave. X stood a large post office building (not open to the public) and toward Ave. W there was an alley which opened into a shared space where the backyards of the various houses converged. On the east side of street were a vacant lot (towards Ave. X), apartment buildings and directly in front of our house was a car garage shop. The car shop was called DiCaro’s and run by two mechanics Louie and Bruno. While their business did regularly eat up the available parking spots on the block, they were decent enough to run over and let my father John B. know when a spot was opening up when he needed one. John B. got along with them well enough, and he brought his car to them when it needed repair. 

After much anticipation my brother William James Sheridan was born on February 21, 1985. As John B. pulled up to the house to bring the newborn home after a few days in the hospital, Louie the mechanic came running over to see the newborn. I was overjoyed when William arrived home for the first time and got to look at this new lifeform who apparently was closely related to me! While our relationship would prove to be tumultuous in years to come, I was a happy big brother as evidenced from photos at that time. Perhaps I was a bit jealous of my new brother in that I was no longer receiving the undivided attention of any of my family members which I was so dearly enjoying not long before. Somehow, I adapted fairly quickly and soon I could not have imagined life without him. 


Even though I now lived a significant distance from St. Thomas Aquinas, my parents kept me there for the duration of my Pre-Kindergarten year. I can still remember my teacher Ms. Janet’s smiling face.  

The world was made a little smaller that spring as the U.S.A. for America hit song “We Are the World” rang out all over the country and presumably the world at large. There was a sense that ordinary human beings could indeed effect a change for the better. I quietly wondered to myself, “Why do we need to change things for the better? My life is great!” I was still very much in the safety bubble of a “secure” nuclear family with great love and support from extended family and friends.  

In the spring my family, now of 4, made our annual beginning of the season visit to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. As we walked into the garden via the Flatbush side entrance, my mother had my father pose with his two boys, John (4 y/o) and William (0 y/o) along a low stone wall, beyond which yellow daffodils and various green plants were strongly growing. My father John B sat smiling proudly. He wore a light blue button-down shirt, a full beard and head of dirty blonde hair neatly cut and combed. By contrast I sat by his left side in a white t-shirt with blue trim. I also had a smile on my face, of the kid variety, and my hair was less neat, shorter and light blonde. My skin complexion was a bit paler and pink, whereas his was a bit ruddier though similar. Under his right arm was cradled my baby brother William who matched my complexion but with no hair yet. William wore a white and blue baby suit. I wonder if my mother tried to coordinate her three boys with a blue-white theme that morning.  


We rented and lived on the 1st floor apartment of the house on E. 19th St. In the basement there lived a mild-mannered elderly gentleman named Tony. Tony was a widower who spent his time as a hospital volunteer 7 days a week. It was his way of continuing on with purpose.  

I often spent time playing outside either in the front or more often probably in the shared backyard alley space. One day while practicing my baseball moves I either hit or threw a ball a substantial distance! “Wow, look at that!” … CRASH! “Oops…oh no no!” I had managed to get the ball right through our neighbor Hy’s window. I was petrified and feared I had committed a crime most heinous. Yet I knew in my heart that it was an accident. My mother helped me to ring his bell and tell him what I had done, which was no fun for me. He was quite fine. My mother paid for the window and it was done with.  

I graduated from St. Thomas Aquinas Pre-K on June 7, 1985. The Graduation Ceremonies involved the following: Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and My Country Tis of Thee. The songs we sang are:  

“It’s a Small World After All” 
“Frere Jacques” 
“Que Sera” 
“Ten Little Indians” 
“Molly Malone” 
“London Bridge” 
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” 
“New York, New York” 
“I Am Your Child” 
“We Are the World”[1] 

It’s funny to me how certain things that are inconspicuously implanted into our lives can then have an amazing impact on our future lives. I’ve gone on to perform “It’s a Small World” several times in performances as an adult.  I’ve performed it for audiences in USA, Brazil and Japan. I also released a video of myself performing it on YouTube in June 2016[2], just 31 short years to the month after singing it with my Pre-K classmates as we graduated our first year of school together. Of those 10 songs that we sang I have taught 4 of them: “London Bridge”, “Frere Jacques”, “Molly Malone”, and “It’s a Small World” many times to my students over the years. I have also performed “We Are the World” with my wife and son (per my wife’s request) during my Earth Day Livestream Performance 2020[3]! 

The summer of 1985 would prove to be very special for movies. On the very day I was graduating Pre-K, in theaters across the U.S. a very special and legendary movie was debuting on the big screen. The soon-to-become iconic classic The Goonies was released on Friday June 7th, 1985. While I would not watch it until some years later, this movie would become embedded in the identity of myself and my peers. Yet (in my opinion) another even more spectacular blockbuster movie was on its way. Less than a month later, the unforgettable Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd was released in the U.S. on Wednesday July 3rd, 1985. This movie, even more so than The Goonies, would come to live with me throughout my life in a very palpable way. Michael J. Fox (along with a few others[4]) would come to represent to me (and a whole generation of youngsters) the epitome of what was fun and cool about the 1980’s decade. And, as if these two incredible movies weren’t enough, in mid-summer yet another highly entertaining, if somewhat lesser-known fun 80’s movie hit the theaters. Weird Science was released on Friday August 2nd, 1985. In a fairly good-natured and respectable way, this movie gave play to some of the wildest fantasies of the teenage imagination, namely creating (during an adventurous science experiment) a drop-dead gorgeous woman whose existence is to fulfill your whim and desire.  

During this summer of amazingly entertaining movies (which I did not see at that time) my family took a trip up to the Catskills, NY during summer vacation. Along with the 4 of us, my good buddy Donny came along. We stayed at one of those (ubiquitous at the time) lodges that seemed to fill the Catskills replete with mini cabins, soda machine and pool with colorful plastic pool chairs. I was never one to take to the water naturally, so I stayed in the shallow end. Donny however was going down the slide head and arms first as my father waited for him in the deep end.  
 


During that trip my father sported a mustache only and was wearing more physical weight than in most other photos I have of him from previous years. It makes me wonder how he was feeling emotionally at that time as I get the sense that somehow his own health was taking a back seat priority amidst the daily grind of his life. 

On that same summer trip, we visited the Catskill Animal Game Farm where I happily fed small goats from milk bottles.
 


We also went to a Renaissance Fair where my father taught Donny and I how to shoot a bow and arrow. Both Donny and I came home with a special sword and shield[5] from that fair. In the months and perhaps years ahead, we would dress up as knights and play sword fighting together. While some older kids (Donny was 2 years older than me) were not fun to play with because they pushed their weight around, Donny always treated me gently and never acted like a bully. He was naturally stronger than me and sometimes his nature may have overwhelmed me in some ways, but he was a gentle and reassuring presence and I remember always looking forward to him coming over and sometimes sleeping over as well. I was always happy when we would spend time together. I also felt safer around the bullies if Donny was around.  
 


Both before and after the Catskills trip our summer days would often involve visiting Nana and Bampa’s house and spending time in their backyard. At that time, the relatively small space of their yard was a vast playground for me with many different areas of exploration. Among my favorite activities in that backyard during my childhood were digging in the dirt, creating “tunnels” with twigs, playing catch, riding my tricycle, building with wooden blocks, playing in the kiddie pool, and other various games that were spurred on by my freedom to imagine and explore. These times are cherished memories of the freedom and pure joy of being a child.  


Across the street from our home on E. 19th St. in one of the apartment buildings lived a friendly, young to middle age woman, let’s call her Carol. She would occasionally cross the street to say hello to my mother and I and we became friendly. One time I brought my “drawing business” outside to sell my artworks on the street and she came over and bought one for a generous fee. One time my mother allowed me to accompany her in her car to drive around the corner and into the apartment building garage on the adjacent street. Shortly after allowing this my mother says she regretted allowing me to go with her. However, my memory was of a fun little car trip with a new person. I was safely returned home in short time. 

My mother’s concern was not unwarranted as in the mid-1980’s it was not uncommon to hear about unseemly things in society such as kidnappings, murders, and various other sordid affairs. While my mother’s fear was warranted considering the tone of the times, I sensed feeling as a child (and throughout my life), “Isn’t it sad that trusting a kind neighbor is not normal, but rather mistrusting our neighbors is normal?” 

Our neighbors on one side were Chinese-American. This was my first experience befriending people from a significantly different culture. I recall going into their house and experiencing unfamiliar shapes, colors and smells. There were two children living there of a similar age to myself, Sandy and Wayne. We were friends while I lived there and to some small extent in years following. 

There were two kids living down the block who were no so friendly. James and John were brothers and while I remember there were times that we played together, I basically remember them as being bullies and I preferred when they were not around. Throughout my childhood I would have to live with the challenging and uncomfortable reality of bullies in the environment. I really hated that! 

We had an apple tree in our backyard which we were allowed to pick from. I also climbed the tree with my father or mother’s help. It was in the shared back-alley space that I learned to ride my bike. Both my parents taught me how to ride. One day while my father was helping me to ride, I fell down and scraped my knee badly. As my memory has it, he encouraged me to keep on going and to not run home to tell Mommy. I suppose he was teaching me to be tough. In any case bike riding has been a fundamental factor throughout much of my life and is still a preferred mode of transportation to this day. 

One day in the fall, there was a hurricane. My mother and I went for a walk around the corner to visit the video rental store where I was likely going to re-rent for the umpteenth time a video from my favorite video series The Winsome Witch. The wind was so strong I was genuinely afraid I was going to fly away like Mary Poppins! Nana was not happy when she found out that we left the house that day in such weather! 

One of my father’s favorite books of all time was The Lord of the Rings, so when he found out that one of The Lord of the Rings cartoons was airing on evening television (The Return of the King), he couldn’t wait to watch it with me. My association with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit stem back to my earliest memories. For some strange reason I even had a Balrog[6] poster hanging on the wall of my childhood bedroom at that time, which scared me. 

On September 30, 1985 we received yet another new addition to our family, our first family dog Aragorn.


Aragorn was an akita and a beautiful dog who seemed to have an air of wisdom about him. He was named after King Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. My father had a habit of giving presents to others on his birthday, a tradition that he learned of from the hobbits. My mother had grown up with dogs and was longing to have a dog of her own. Aragorn was a gift from my father to my mother on his birthday which is September 30. Soon after, Aragorn would often sit calmly and enjoyably, chained to the front steps of our home watching the world. 

In September 1985 I switched schools from St. Thomas Aquinas to another more local catholic school St. Mark Catholic Academy. This school was walking distance from our home on E.19 Street. I was not very fond of going to school and cried before entering school several times at the beginning of the year. Eventually I adapted and one thing that I found very cool was that my friend Donny was also attending this school and sometimes I would see him crossing the hallways.  

There was a stage play put on at St. Mark during my time there in which a tall giant character appears. This scared me very much and one of my classmates was so petrified, he cried the whole duration of the play.  

As I look at a class photo from this year dated October 1985, I am amazed to note how not even one of the 12 students in the class photo look familiar besides myself. Perhaps 1 or 2 vaguely familiar but even that’s a stretch. The teacher’s name is familiar Miss Casanova and her face is somewhat familiar. In the photo I am sitting nicely with my hands folded and doing my best to smile or at least appear to look like a good boy. The gray and white uniform is familiar to me. My tie is off-center. My hair color is reddish blondish. Looking at my small frame and haircut reminds me of my own son who is currently a very similar age to when this photo was taken.  

My father signed me up for the St. Mark baseball team which was a very beginner T-ball team. I don't know if I loved it or not, but I basically recall feeling excited about it and a sense that it was about having fun and learning how to play. 


Footnotes:

[1] It’s kind of amazing to me that our class would already be singing “We Are the World”, as if it were a classic, just mere months after its release in late March 1985. This goes to show how prevalent and influential this song was on American culture at that time. 

[2]Find on YouTube by searching: Sherman Bros’ “It’s a Small World” – by John Henry Sheridan 

[3] Find on YouTube by searching: John Henry’s Earth Day Livestream Concert 2020 

[4] As to other people and cultural references who represent to me the epitome of what was fun and cool about the 1980’s: Corey Feldman, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Denver the Last Dinosaur, Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Metallica, Guns n’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Helloween, Headbanger’s Ball, The Burbs, Fright Night, among other things…  

[5] I still have the shield although the art on the face has been all but stripped away. 

[6] Balrog is a powerful demon figure from The Lord of the Rings

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