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The past is alive but barely breathing

Posted Jan 13 2010 5:58am
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes.
- George Santayana

I keep seeing all these postings on Facebook saying, "It's WAYBACK WEEK!!! RETRO RETRO RETRO!

Usually, I try to play the role of non-conformist and not give into tradition. But I've already ventured into this territory, so it's too late for me to be "cool:" This week, my Facebook page has become the video theater of the wayback (or just the wack).

My good brother has downloaded a series of videotapes that show every one of my television appearances. I' ve edited them and posted all of them. I've posted ones that have drawn a lot of attention (my appearance on an ESPN game show in 1988) while others probably should have remained on VHS (my panel appearance in a 1999 Easton, Pa. School Board debate - the only exciting moment came when I winked at the camera).

Each time I've done so, I've felt a mixture of excitement and guilt. In my mind, I still see myself as the same 20-year-old with brown hair. Now, when I see myself in a 22-year-old video, I see only contradiction.

I have to reconcile the young man with the middle-aged version. I have to reconcile the look of a full head of brown hair that's on youtube screen versus the man with the gray hair in the mirror. I have to realize that when I exercise and run five miles, I feel pains in places I never thought I'd feel.

I see myself on the ESPN game show, Boardwalk and Baseball's Super Bowl of Sports Trivia, in 1988, and I see how I felt like I could do no better. I was a top editor on a top newspaper at a top school, on a television network that draws some of the highest ratings on cable.

Looking at these tapes, I get that sense of wanting to be back there, in Orlando, hanging out with college kids who had money to burn. The things we did were the stuff of legend. Alumni of this event have even written about it:

You'd think that I'd look at this history, and want to break out and sing "Glory Days" while drinking a six-pack of beer.

But I also look at the tape, and feel glad to be here, too, in 2010, with a family and a job and a sense of direction. I now have 22 more years of life on my side, and I've built up a stockpile of life experience that has made me stronger, savvier and more secure.

I no longer have money to burn, but I don't live like I did in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with a sense of living day-t0-day, worried that I'd never find a job once I got out of school.

Once I got out of school, I faded into near obscurity. I got a job, but I had little respect. I used to say that I was "writing to the wind," working for newspapers that don't even exist anymore. I used to worry until I got myself sick because, to coin Springsteen again, I had "debts no honest man can pay."

I look at another tape, made in 1989, a year after ESPN, when I was working for a weekly newspaper in central New Jersey, serving on a debate panel local election candidates. I went from ESPN to a newspaper that nobody read, on a cable channel nobody watched.

That's how things were for a while, until I moved onto The Press of Atlantic City, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. and then, finally, The Record, where one of my first assignments was 9-11.

I think back to what I've done over the past nine years and I realize that ESPN was fun, but it wasn't important. I think about what I've done at The Record, and also at The Star-Ledger, as part of a sharing agreement. I think about how I've flown with troops who fought in Afghanistan; how I've interviewed people who have lost loved ones in war and terror.

I think back to that and I realize: Nostalgia is a fun diversion. But maybe the glory days are now, and in the future. Even in these tough economic times, that's what I keep pushing for.

About 20 years ago, I complained to a friend that I wasn't getting anywhere in my life. The main thing, I said, was that I couldn't get respect. "Don't worry," he said. "When we get to our late 30s and early 40s, things will change."

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