1983. It was a crazy, crazy year for me. One that started with a death and ended with a severe punishment. Puberty hit and I was out of control. It was the year 7th grade led to 8th grade and all that goes with that. But it was also the year seeds were planted for a couple of things that didn’t bloom until later. But let’s get to the historical stuff first.
The average income in America was $21,070.00. You paid $1.35 for a gallon of milk and $1.25 for a gallon of gas. If you wanted to buy a new home, you could prepare to shell out around $82,000.00 but the average price of a home was $34,795.00. If you wanted to have a brand new Ford Mustang in your new driveway, that would have cost about $6,572.00. A new invention called Microsoft Word came out that year. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
In March, President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative, otherwise known as “Star Wars”. This attempt to stop a nuclear mission invasion from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (U.S.S.R., aka Russia) amped up the Cold War between the U.S. and the Communist country.
The first American woman went into space as Sally Ride embarked on a journey in the Space Shuttle Challenger in June of ’83.
Tensions went up between South Korea and the U.S.S.R. in early September when the Soviets shot down a civilian Korean plane killing 269 civilians. One of them was a U.S. Congressmen named Larry McDonald.
The U.S. decided to invade Grenada in October of 1983. There were 19 casualties in the successful bid to stop a coup d’état in the Caribbean country. That same month, 63 U.S. soldiers died in a bombing at the U.S. embassy in Beirut.
The Christmas craze toy that year was Cabbage Patch Kids. They were pretty ugly but it was the “in” thing to have one. I never had one. I feel luckier for that. It was a girl thing.
Throughout 1983, I kept hearing about a disease called AIDS. At first they said only homosexual men could get it. But then they started talking about how anyone could get it. Blood transfusions and dirty hypodermic needles helped to spread the disease that ravaged bodies. Some right-wing people said it was God’s way of getting rid of the gay people. I remember watching a news segment about it and thought it was a horrible way to die.
Something called mobile phones were released by a company called Motorola. They were big and awkward things for the rich and famous. I believe they might have advanced to something else over the years.
The original Star Wars trilogy came to an end as “Return of the Jedi” came out in May. Ewoks were the latest creation to cause controversy among Star Wars fans
Eddie Murphy became a big star after “Trading Places” came out. “Superman III” bombed but “War Games” made people take notice of young star Matthew Broderick. “Flashdance” hit theaters like a rocket as young women in the US began to dress like star Jennifer Beals. It was the 80s and nothing could stop the fashion trends invading the landscape.
The year ended with a heartfelt Christmas movie called “A Christmas Story”. 35 years later, the phrase “You’ll shoot your eye out kid” is a holiday staple whenever people talk about the movie.
125 million people watched the series finale of “M*A*S*H” as the series ended after years of laughter and heartfelt moments. As the helicopter took off, with the theme song playing, Hawkeye looked back and understood what B.J. meant in their last conversation.
The most harrowing and frightening two hours of American television came out on November 18th when “The Day After” showed not only the after-effects of nuclear war, but also horrified viewers with what happened to people when the bombs landed.
In music, the Police launched “Synchronicity” and the public ate it up. With the single “Every Breath You Take”, the Police took over the airwaves during the summer and fall. Ironically, their most successful album was also their last studio album.
But it was Michael Jackson, whose “Thriller” album came out in the fall of 1982, who dominated the airwaves throughout the year. “Thriller” has sold 66 million copies worldwide since it came out. Half of that number sold in the U.S. alone. I was never a huge Michael Jackson fan. But “Beat It”, which was huge in the Spring of ’83, had Eddie Van Halen on guitar.
But it was bands like Asia and Genesis that captured a ton of interest from me. Their “Alpha” and “Genesis” albums continue to be all-time favorites of mine. It was also the year, at least for me, that new wave really got big for me. Bands like Duran Duran and Men At Work flooded the radio with awesome songs. It was also the year I first got into David Bowie as “Let’s Dance” came out. But my absolute favorite song of the year was the one-hit wonder by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, “Come On Eileen”. No words can give true meaning why this song is so awesome. Easily in my top ten of all-time.
A band from Ireland got big in America that Spring as U2 released their album “War”. With songs like “New Years Day” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, the young band were firmly entrenched in American rock.
The 17th Super Bowl saw the Washington Redskins beating the Miami Dolphins. Philadelphia fans rejoiced as the ’76ers beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Championship. They did so in four games. Philly fans were heartbroken later that years when the Phillies lost to the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. It was a trend they would repeat for the next couple of decades with Philadelphia disappointment.
No mention of 1983 would be complete without my love of comic books. No story was bigger for me that year than the Hobgoblin saga running in Amazing Spider-Man. Fans were going crazy trying to guess who the Hobgoblin was. We didn’t find out that year but an epic battle between Spidey and Hobgoblin was one for the record books! On December 23rd, we had a snowstorm. We waited at the bus-stop for an hour but the bus was late. Everyone else left but I stayed. A friend was bringing a copy of the last part of the storyline into school for me to buy. I had to get to school that day. And I did.
Over at DC, the New Teen Titans with the all-star team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez was blowing fans away. #34 of the series had a last page shocker that changed everything you thought you knew out the window. New team member Terra was actually a traitor. She was working for the team’s greatest enemy, Deathstroke the Terminator!
The most gripping comic I was reading then was called Jon Sable. Writer and artist Mike Grell launched a series about a former Vietnam vet turned mercenary. It was probably the first “mature” comic I read. Grell’s art was amazing!
My mother got a letter from a friend in Roanoke, Virginia that January. He talked about how a young man named Todd Faw passed away the October before. My mom knew telling me about this was going to be tough on me. I met Todd in the Summer of 1980. He was a lifeguard at the pool we went to. I was a scrawny nine-year old at the time who was afraid to death of diving. Todd taught me how to dive and do it right. It wasn’t until the last day the pool was open that I braved diving off the high dive. The belly flop hurt and I haven’t been able to dive right ever since.
While on many time-outs at the pool for running around and goofing off, I would talk to Todd about all the things annoying nine-year olds do. It was mostly girls. I had a crush or two and I figured this high school guy could tell me how to do it right. After the summer ended, I called him a few times to get girl advice. Most high school guys would tell a then ten-year old to screw off, but Todd didn’t. He was heartfelt in his advice. He would also tell me not to worry about what other people think.
His death hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn’t talked to him since 1980 but I always remembered our chats. It was the first “real” death I experienced in my life. After my Mom told me, I went up to my room and cried the rest of the night. I was really depressed for the next few days. I remember walking up to a vacant lot up from my house the next day. I sat in front of a tree for hours just crying and remembering my friend. When I got home, I decided to write Todd’s mother a letter.
About a month later, Todd’s mom responded to my letter. She included an article about Todd that appeared in the newspaper after his death. He was in college studying to become a minister. He had crises of faith but he was always there for people and inspired them. I found out Todd had a heart defect since birth. Before his death he shared with friends he hadn’t been feeling well and thought his time might be coming. He died of a heart attack in October of 1982. Some people in your life make an impression. Todd was one of them. He was always willing to help others even at the expense of his own health. If only we could all be like that.
Todd’s death started off a tough year for me. I acted out. That March, I stole some of my Mom’s cigarettes and smoked them. I didn’t inhale. That lasted about a week. In school, I didn’t want to do any work. I didn’t like living in New York. I missed my old home in Roanoke. That April, I got to go back for a visit with my family. It had been two years since I had moved away. No sooner did we arrive than I began seeing all my old neighborhood friends. It was like I never left. This was a good trip for me and re-energized my spirits.
I worked at Steve’s farm that spring and summer. It was a produce farm behind our house. It was actually called Hidden Valley Farm, but we called it Steve’s farm cause of the owner. The guy was a raging alcoholic and he would spend many nights in a makeshift house he built for himself drinking away. I also had a brief after school job where I would walk their dog while they were at work. That $1.50 a day job felt like a million bucks!
I was in Boy Scouts. That spring we went on a trip to Boston. The highlight of the excursion was hiking around Boston. We went to Faneuil Hall where I found a store that had one of my favorite hobbies that year: music buttons! Yes, I would decorate my jeans jacket with buttons of my favorite bands.
On the border of our property, between Steve’s farm and some woods in our backyard, my brothers and I made forts. They were usually rocks we took from the stone wall dividing our properties. The rocks were the walls and we would put boards on the top and cover them with leaves. I would grab some of my Mom’s candles and spend countless hours in them during that fall. My brothers and I would build raging fires up in those woods. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the safest move.
My brief foray into smoking became very real that September. A month before I caught my brother smoking in the woods. I blackmailed him into giving me some of his comic books in return for not telling our parents. But the day after my 13th Birthday I decided to start smoking for real. I bought a pack of Marlboro and inhaled for the first time. I got a head rush right away. I found that smoking actually calmed me down for the first time in my life. There was nothing quite like it. The brother I caught smoking found out first and immediately demanded his comics back. My brother and I would smoke out the bathroom window. My mother smoked so it wasn’t like the house didn’t already smell of smoke. We were very careful. But I made a huge mistake that brought my teenage year into a tailspin.
Sometimes after school I would go over to a shopping center near my school and hang out with other kids. I told my parents I was going to extra help after school. Then I would take the 4:30 bus home. Even though the school tried to stop kids from doing that, they couldn’t stop it. We would hang out at an ice cream place where arcade games whiled away the afternoon. A local pharmacy was where I was able to buy cigarettes at about a dollar a pack.
One day I went to the grocery store. I didn’t have any money so I decided to steal a bag of Blow Pops. I shoved them down my pants and thought I was in the clear. A worker came up to me and told me he saw me do it. We went back to his office as he went through my book bag to make sure I didn’t steal anything else. He saw a pack of cigarettes in there and asked me if my parents knew I smoked. I said “sure”. I really thought he was going to let me go with a warning. But I came across as arrogant, especially with the cigarette discovery. He called my mother. The half hour until my mom got to the store was the longest wait of my life. I knew my ass was grass. It was not going to be good. The manager of the store was the one who caught me shoplifting. He yelled at my mother telling her he couldn’t believe she let me smoke. I will never forget the look my mother shot at me.
Many kids know the tale. Get in trouble after school and one of your parents yells at you for a few hours. Then Dad gets home and it starts all over again. That day was one of the longest of my life. I was pretty much grounded the rest of the year.
Sadly, I didn’t stop smoking after getting caught. I was a rebel and decided to smoke more after that. My junior high school was next to the high school and sometimes I would catch the bus home up there. At the top of the outside stairs between the two was the place to smoke. One day I got caught by the Dean of the high school. He was a giant of a man named Mr. Wirchansky. He asked my name and I blurted out “Jim Jones”. He started laughing and said “Come with me Kool-Aid man!” I didn’t get what was so funny until my parents explained it to me that night.
I became angry that fall. I was getting bullied at school a lot. I wanted to be a part of the tough guy group. They wanted nothing to do with me. I shot my mouth off a few times and paid a heavy price. One day, when I had enough with the bullying against me, I decided to bully another kid. I assumed he would just take it. I taunted him all day until lunch. As I went up the stairs to the cafeteria, he confronted me. He was pissed at me. He was a bigger kid but I assumed he was harmless. Big mistake. The last thing I saw was his fist pummeling into my nose as my head slammed against the brick wall. I passed out for a few seconds and felt the worst pain of my life. By the time my mother picked me up, the blood was still wet on my shirt. I wound up getting a concussion from the hit. I never messed with that kid again.
The year ended with me getting grounded again a couple of days before Christmas. I lied about doing my homework and my parents found out I was failing some key classes. They were not happy with my lying. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the work, I didn’t want to do it. I was too busy being a teenager.
I did find a couple of outlets that year to purge some of the emotions I was feeling.
The first was a local youth group. As all things went in my life at that time, my brothers went to it first. Being the youngest of four boys, I would often want to do what they did. I didn’t have a lot of friends so it seemed natural to me. They didn’t like it so much. My oldest brother was in college at the time, but the next two up were in the two grades right above me. They couldn’t get rid of me if they tried! But I wormed my way into the youth group. I had been to religion classes all my life but I never really got it. At youth group, it wasn’t just talking about the Bible, it was talking about how we felt about it. It was the beginning of a spiritual foundation for me that would take me on a journey with God for the rest of my life. I would find myself reading the Bible at home, especially when I was down, and writing notes about it. It was good for me.
The second thing was journaling. In my 7th grade English class, the teacher had all the students write in a journal. She would read what we wrote and comment. It actually began in 1982, but it wasn’t until my friend passed away that I really started writing about how I felt. She helped me deal with that a lot and encouraged me to write more about how I feel. It was the first time in my life that I began to love the art of writing. Sometimes it would be creative stuff while others I would purge my soul. I will always treasure that teacher for pushing me beyond the boundaries of my surface.
1983 was a year I wouldn’t care to ever repeat in my life. It was filled with tons of hard lessons for a young teenager. It was the year I cast away childhood and marched straight into adolescence, with all the angst and anxiety that comes with it. 8th grade sucks for most people. 1984 wasn’t much better but those awkward teenage years began in ’83. It did, however, set the stage for what was to come the next few years and even into the present as I still enjoy writing. I hated that year with every passion of my being but I do recognize it now as being a pivotal part of my life.