Friday, February 1, 2019

Visiting the Wonder Years House

The Wonder Years created a brilliant parallel between generations and time -- it aired from 1988 -1993, yet took place from 1968 -1973. The story was set against the backdrop of that turbulent era, focused of the coming of age of late-wave Boomers in the suburbs and covered the life of Kevin Arnold, as he grew from age 12 to 17. Danica McKellar played his girlfriend, Winnie Cooper, and was born (in real life) the same year I was, and all the actors who played these characters were late-wave Generation X. By design, from the history to the soundtrack, there was a strong connection that Boomers had to this show. And even if also by design, there is something universal about teenage angst, and it created a bond between people my age and the show's characters. Fred Savage, a young Gen Xer, made the show even more relevant to both generations.

Here's The Wonder Years house in Burbank, CA as it is now. I took this photo in late December 2018 when we came to visit this house with a friend. It brought up a lot of coming-of-age, deep emotions for me, as it probably does for anyone who stands in this space. The mild Southern California weather causes this majestic tree to drop its leaves at each passing Christmas even as the early spring buds sprout out at the same time -- like some literal symbol of family trees, and time, and generations. This tree keeps its roots exposed above ground like it has nothing to hide. And what we know of the suburbs and the human situation is that each story is ultimately the same story. The broken souls of Vietnam came home to the suburbs of America, and their own scars often became the scars of their children, just as their fathers, the soldiers of WWII, came home to the suburbs and did the same a generation before.

The soft light of the afternoon sun shines on the front of the house, warm and gentle, as it came through Harper's Woods, a symbol of firefly-catching childhood innocence in the show in 1988 as it depicted 1968. As the last days of 2018 turned to the days of 2019, the last of the leaves fell from this tree.

Of history that would unfold on this street in real life, and on any suburban street in America, an enormous rift would take place between the Boomers and Generation X that, for the most part, has never really healed. When the final episode of this show comes to an ending, Kevin's older sister, a Hippie Boomer, has a Gen X baby in 1973. Sometimes I hear of a Boomer who bought into the Me-Era of the 1970's or sold out to the Greed is Good Era of the 1980's who later apologized to their Gen X children who were often left to raise themselves, but it seems pretty rare. The current of culture can be alluring, and life is hard for any generation; maybe this show was a pause that we took once a week, for a few years, where we could momentarily empathize with each other. In the episode where Kevin goes to work with his father and sees the depressing job that makes him the tense and angry middle-aged man he is, it is a reflection on understanding as a path to forgiveness that spans the experience of all generations. As a person who often finds myself in generational conversations, I have noticed a pattern in our lives: when someone can actually just say the words, "I'm sorry" it speeds the forgiveness process by a lot -- reducing it to months or years rather than decades or lifetimes.

To quote the end of the pilot episode about growing up in the suburbs that applies to the way the 1960's yielded to the 1970's, and the way the 1980's gave way to the 1990's:

"We know that inside each one of these identical boxes, 
with it's Dodge parked out front, 
and it's white bread on the table, 
and it's TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, 
there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love,
there were moments that made us cry with laughter, 
and there were moments...of sorrow and wonder." 


(c) 2018/19 photos and writing by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Visiting the House from E.T.

The house from E.T. backs up to the steep and extraordinary San Gabriel  mountain range in Tujunga, CA. We had the chance to see it recently under a blue afternoon sky which was more than exciting and a little surreal. This picture was taken the week of Christmas 2018.

Whenever I am visiting one of these iconic Gen X places, like one that I first saw on the silver screen in my most formative years, my heart speeds up and I feel like some kind of electricity is connecting time and space in the ground below my feet.

Below is me in my Atari shirt in front of the house rocking it like it's 1982. I was born the same year as Drew Barrymore, so I looked a lot like her with the exact same string-tied blond pigtails when I saw the movie. She and Henry Thomas became a part of our hearts the first moment we all saw them in this house.

Decades have passed and the house hasn't changed much. These trees were just seeds in the ground as the film was being made - this was a brand new neighborhood at the time of the filming. These trees grew up as Gen X did. 

When we arrived at this suburb, it looked instantly recognizable as the place where Elliott and company trick-or-treated all those years ago. It felt strangely and unexpectedly bittersweet, like I was visiting one of my old neighborhoods. 

After we went and saw the house, the kiddos watched a viewing of E.T. in our friends' Burbank home theater while we had dinner and wine. On their tree was an ornament that was bought right after the movie came out. Another little unexpected snapshot of history to end a perfect day.

This was the gift box I put together before the trip to thank our friends for inviting us over (and for the kids to snack on during the movie). I took an empty box that had been full of Hallmark Christmas cards, put in some Reese's Pieces, and small cans of soda. I put in some microwave popcorn and my daughter drew and colored a Speak & Spell and taped it to the front. I cut out a white piece of construction paper for the moon and used a black marker for the trees. 

Here's to every magical moment we experienced as a generation. Here's to the greatness of story and how our own stories are a part of a greater collective story. As the last light-filled moments of the holiday season linger on, and as a new year begins, here's to hope that at any given moment, between the flicker of the stars, the universe may reach out to us in a way we never would have expected. 

For M.B. 

As a fun tidbit: 

Later the same year the movie came out, the Atari game for E.T. wasn't exactly what everyone had hoped for since the programmer didn't have much time to work on it, and the overstock of hundreds of cartridges were buried for years in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. A few years back, many of the games were pulled back out and sold on eBay.  Read more here: CNN Article on buried E.T. Atari games

(c) 2019 all rights reserved, pictures by Chloe and Telly Koffas

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Pink Sun Over Northern California

In Northern California, when the fires tear across the land, the sun sometimes turns pink, even hours before sunset. It gives you this sorrowful feeling that colossal suffering is happening not so far away. It reminds me of when I lived in the Midwest - when the the eerie yellow-green light would fall onto the streets just before a tornado would touch down. Pink sunlight in the middle of the day is surreal - and you always view it with smoke-filled lungs. 

When I heard that the fire nearby was the worst one since 1933, I couldn't help but think of the turnings of time, the patterns of generations, and how much of what we have experienced through history as Gen X, is connected to the Lost Generation - like earlier this year when the unbelievable flu season we endured was compared to that of 1918. When you are traveling in open spaces in California and you look out at the fields under the power lines where the green vegetables quietly grow, it's like you can still feel the sorrow and exhaustion of the migrant workers who came to California during the Great Depression.

Many of us are rolling up our sleeves organizing help in small local ways, because that's what Gen X does, and we are bringing our resources together. People across the state are offering whatever resources they have - land for displaced horses to graze, free housing, they are using airport space to reunite people with lost pets, good people in food trucks are giving out free tamales. Goodwill is handing out clothes, blankets and other necessities. Sometimes what people need most is a toothbrush. Sometimes what they need most is a hug. There are countless ways to help people in both parts of CA, whatever nonprofit you trust, if you want to donate, they are most likely helping out.

In the midst of all the great suffering and tremendous loss that has gone on under this sun, there are heroes emerging every moment - paramedics, fire fighters, people who are reuniting lost loved ones with each other and lost animals to their families, and girl scouts stacking canned soup into boxes that will be driven north.

Sometimes we don't even realize the resources we have, and in a flash of genius we are able to offer something no one else can. Sometimes we pray and we don't even realize we are praying. Sometimes we give because we remember a time in our lives when our suffering was similar to the people we see suffering at this moment.

In this moment, there may be a way for you to give in a way that no one else can.

(C) 2018 Chloe Koffas 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Get Ready for the Great Pumpkin!

My daughter and I made a Great Pumpkin diorama in a wooden crate as part of decorating for Halloween....

Sally should be making an appearance here somewhere, though these are the characters of the lil' Peanuts set we have, so we'll just go with it. Frosty little pumpkins await the upcoming holiday while Woodstock leans in for a hug and Snoopy dances.

Charlie Brown is disappointed to find rocks in his trick-or-treat bag during this beloved holiday special, though this was only because of a playful argument between animators. Empathetic children from all over the country mailed candy to the studio for Charlie Brown for years each time the special was aired. Those were some thoughtful little Gen X kids!

When the world is not the kind of place we would like it to be, let's use our voices, and hold up our signs, and when we grow tired, let's find a way to quietly sit, and wait, and hope for something better under a starry night sky....

Watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown 
Thurs., Oct. 18th, 2018 
8pm ET on ABC. 

How we made the diorama: Green scrapbooking paper is the ground of the pumpkin patch, blue sparkly paper is the night sky. The moon is construction paper, the pumpkins are decorative vase filler pieces, and the white picket fence is from a miniatures store.

(c) 2018 Writing and photos by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved


Seven Facts You Never Knew About It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

The PEANUTS characters and related intellectual property are owned by Peanuts Worldwide LLC/Iconix Brand Group, Inc. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Visiting the Arcade from the Original Karate Kid Movie

My family and I spent a day this summer at Golf 'n' Stuff, an arcade and fun center in Norwalk, CA which is one of the locations the original Karate Kid was filmed. The Gen X nostalgia here floats above the tables, where arched windows look out upon the mini golf course. A walk through the arcade and around the buildings proved that while some things have changed from when they filmed the movie here in the fall of 1983, some things are amazingly the same....

Many of the 80's games that were shown in the movie have disappeared, like the analog mini hockey game Daniel and Ali played in the movie, and the water slide is now gone. High voltage poles still stand behind it, as if they are there just to power the rides and arcade games.

Main Golf 'n' Stuff sign on the far right

While I was taking some pictures, a man in flip flops and a hoodie who looked very Gen X was giving me this huge smile - he knew exactly what I was doing since nostalgic Xers often stop through here as tourists. It's the kind of place you might visit when you're in the LA area and you've already been to Universal and Paramount, and still want to experience some little piece of film history. Later in the day I saw another fellow Gen X tourist, even as younger people passed him by and had no idea why he was taking photos of the Golf 'n' Stuff sign. 

The mini golf course! On left: mini clock tower, mini Russian Orthodox style church, on right: mini pagoda
There is the feeling here that this is the symbol of any arcade or mini golf course you hung out at as a kid or teenager in Anytown, USA, just as there is this feeling we got from the movie that any of us could be the main character. Most of us know what it feels like to be the underdog. The script was based on a true story of a real Gen Xer from the San Fernando Valley.

I am always looking for the little retro things, little remnants that may go unnoticed, like this blue and white checkered ceiling....

A mix of analog and digital games still fill the arcade, even if most of them are different now.

The bumper boats look the same as they do in the movie.

The little race track looks about the same as it did in the film, though it's no surprise that all the go karts have been replaced.

Part of the mini golf course and its little buildings can be seen behind the snack bar area.

We had the place mostly to ourselves during the breezy, cool California morning, and as the afternoon came, the clouds parted and it gradually began filling up with families and people on dates.

I love retro outdoor tables and the way that they all look similar to each other across America - the bright pops of color of the seats and tables.

Where the main entrance used to be is now a party room that can be rented by the hour.

Inside the party room: it's hard to describe the energy in this space -- it was kind of strange. It was like there were a million memories from the decades, good and bad, that had unfolded in this space during parties and get-togethers. It was all kind of just hanging heavy in the air, like the smell of the pizza they were baking in the ovens nearby. It seemed as if all those memories, those intangible mementos of time, had no other place to go and just got stuck there.

The day we were here, a boy was about to have his birthday party - he was a sweet kid who looked like he was about 12. He held the door for us as we came in, while his Gen X mom was busy setting up decorations on the table they had reserved. I wondered if maybe she once had a Gen X birthday party here as a kid. She probably did.

Movie poster on the wall by some 70's-looking decor
No one expected the original Karate Kid movie to be as successful as it was. All these years later, we are still talking about it, spin offs are still happening. Maybe part the reason the original film became so well-loved was because its cultural value. There weren't many good roles for Asian Americans in films those days and Pat Morita as Mr. Miagi played this wise, lovable father-figure. His role was a breakthrough, he was nominated for an Academy award, and he won the hearts of many Gen Xers.

Along with the cultural piece, there were also spiritual and philosophical components in the film. "Wax on, wax off" has become one of the most well-known movie quotes of all time. It's a philosophy that if you do some seemingly mundane thing many times over, even without realizing it, it can make you more ascetic, or even cause something extraordinary to happen. Occasionally I hear someone talk about how the Miagi philosophy applies to our spiritual life, and I have found it to be true. For those of us Gen Xers who did not have someone like this to look up to, we quietly wished Mr. Miagi was our own mentor, and inadvertently got a profound set of spiritual lessons from the movie -  impulse control, self-discipline, to only fight as a last resort.

No doubt this film was very important during the formative years of Gen X, which was why it was so interesting to visit this place. A view from the middle of the golf course above - possibly the one in the movie where you see Daniel and Ali playing mini-golf on their date. This place seemed so magical when I was a kid. Back in the 80's, my husband who grew up nearby, used to hang out here with friends. While I didn't yet know my husband in the 80's, being here with him, in some small way, makes it feel like I did, and connects us in some magical way through space and time.

Near the end of the visit, I made a stop at the token machine so we could all play a little skee ball. It was the first time I've ever made the 100-point target and the first time my daughter ever did, too!

I had my eye on these little Pac-Man ghosts, but alas, we only had enough tickets for two pieces of candy - that's how it goes when you are out of time for more skee ball and have other places to be!

Our very last stop was the hand-crank machine to make a pressed souvenir penny for my daughter to keep. Of all the amusement parks, museums, and landmarks I went to as a kid, making a penny was always one last moment to savor the experience.

Here's to all the Gen X journeys we go on, the places that we go back to, from movie scenes we watched as kids to the places we once went with our friends that hold memories of our childhood.  At this place, for my family, it was both.

Whether we experienced an important place with one friend, or if we experienced it collectively with our entire generation, all of it is significant. These are the places that made us who we are.



LA Weekly: How a Movie Shot in the San Fernando Valley Made us all the Karate Kid

(c) 2018 writing and photos by Chloe Koffas - all rights reserved

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Welcome to Side Two

When we flip the mix tape of our life over to side two, we are done being the version of who people told us we should be. We begin to find a way to trust ourselves; we begin to find our truest selves. If we spent side one looking to someone else to answer the big questions, side two is where others look to us for the answers.

There is this inherent need in the psyche of human beings to mark their transitions, the shifts of our universe. This Southern California late June sunset was the last sunset of my side one. The sunrise of the following morning was the beginning of my side two.

After about six straight months of a string of profound disappointments, crises, and of life-altering grief, the storm seems to have mostly stopped. What truly amazed me in the past weeks is that whenever I felt I was getting too far out into the water, there was always an unexpected piece of driftwood for me to hold onto, a kind person to reach out to me, more grace to sustain me. Of all the times life has taken me to that place of feeling like I might drown, I'm not sure if I realized how much that grace was there with me.

In my experience, when the universe hands me a crisis, it is giving me an opportunity to let go of something, or to let go of someone. After not having the chance to write for six months, and after my life seems to have re-wired itself, I felt this need to walk across Highway One, and to stand at the edge of the ocean, because this seemed like a place where a person would begin again.

We can spend so much of our younger days trying to be enough for everyone's expectations, but what I really want is not having to keep up. In my Gen X school days, when the last week would come before summer break, the teacher would take down the images on the bulletin boards and nothing was left but a few staples and the remnants of colored paper like leaves from the seasons that we had just weathered. I would get this feeling of relief that I had nothing else to prove, because the year was over, that I no longer had to be cool enough or smart enough - and that I could just be myself for a while.

I have reached this place where I am gradually able to let go of what I thought should be. I've been saying the few, simple lines of the serenity prayer at night. The fuller, original version of this prayer looks as if the writer had skimmed centuries of wisdom from all the major religions of the world. It's a profound enough prayer to be part of the foundation of 12-step programs.

I am realizing that the courage to change the things that I can has been a force in me all along, it's just much bigger now. It's as fierce as any crisis that I have lived through. It helps me to say what needs to be said in the moment and somehow even helps me learn to listen more. And when I have spoken my peace and someone does not listen in return, this is my cue to just peacefully walk away. I have learned in these past months to take life one day, and even one hour, at a time. I am learning to accept the things I cannot change when I have tried for many years and decades to change them.

I am now on side two. 

(c) 2018 - writing and photos by Chloe Koffas 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Messages from the Lost Generation to Generation X: A One Year Journey

Gen X's Connection to the Lost Generation

While the late wave of the Lost Generation experienced the last years of their lives, Generation X experienced their earliest years. They were the red leaves that had hung on through the worst heat of summer, while we were the green blades of grass shooting up toward the sun, only just realizing how cold the coming winter would become. As I've been on a one-year journey to find the Lost Generation, I have sought their wisdom. And I have realized that these leaves, this generation, even as they fell, were often trying to protect us or give to us in whatever way they could. When I was a small child, my Lost Generation great-grandfather had brought me a seedling tree from Illinois, down Highway 35, and across I-40, and planted it in our front yard. In the summer, it had shadowed me as my pinwheel blew in the soft breeze and, when fall came, it dropped its leaves in the street like little treasures.

When Ethan Hawke's character picks up the phone in Reality Bites and says, "Hello, you've reached the winter of our discontent," he isn't just alluding to the crisis that Gen X remembers as kids, he is reaching back in some way to Steinbeck.

Sinclair Lewis summed up the experience of the Lost Generation: "Winter is not a season, it's an occupation." As generations go, every four cycles is a 'lost generation', and the history that goes with those cycles is always winter, always discontent. This was life for the Lost Generation, this has, in many ways, been life for Generation X.

Why it matters to understand a previous generation is that it helps to better understand our own. Why it matters to study history is so that we don't keep repeating the same mistakes. We are still very much affected today by issues of the Lost Generation. History, as we experience it, is even continuously altered by WWI. One all too real example of this is that many bombs, designed to explode on impact, were left behind in the fields of Europe as the tired arms of soldiers sometimes laid them in the grass and walked away. Today, as farmers plow fields, or as people walk by, those bombs sometimes explode and those people are sometimes injured or killed, even though it is now a hundred years later. This is known, darkly, as the Iron Harvest.

Another chilling example of our connection to the Lost Generation is H1N1. In the winter of 2009, this virus was constantly in the news as a potential pandemic. We stood in line at a clinic for shots in the freezing cold, while volunteers handed us warm blankets. The Red Cross sign on the side of their truck had me thinking about the way they had helped relief efforts during WWI, but I did not know that what we were about to get immunized for was a variation of the same flu that wiped out a large number of the world's population a century before. Sadly, the Lost Generation was born during years that made them more susceptible to this horrible virus because of a different flu they had gotten as children. 

If you are Generation X, you may have known and loved people from the Lost Generation - I surely did. One thing that became more and more clear to me through this year of searching for them, for their wisdom, for their messages left to us, is that they saw our suffering, and knew our suffering because it was painstakingly familiar to them. Their lives were coming to an end as ours were beginning so they were often unable to intervene in our lives or help us in a way they could have if they had been younger, though I think they often did what they were able to in the time they had left.

The Lost Generation lived through a similar pattern of history, and therefore had a similar struggle that Gen X has now, and any wisdom or hope they left behind helps us on our own long journeys. Some of those messages are quoted on this blog over the past year. Beyond that wisdom, these are the two messages I found from them that have affected me the most....

How to Fight

One of those messages is the example they left us of how to fight. There were two well-known truces that took place during WWI: The Christmas Truce of 1914 (which would have been a day that would have the most meaning to soldiers on the Western Front) and the Easter Truce of 1916 (a day that would have the most meaning to soldiers on the Eastern Front). In both cases, soldiers stepped out of their trenches and broke bread with the other side, an act that included both risk and profound love. Many other small, localized truces took place during the war as well. This was a powerful message from the Lost Generation to us: we should always take a moment to see those we consider an enemy as truly human, or even if just for a moment, as brothers and sisters.

How to Have Hope

C.S. Lewis, one of the brightest voices of the Lost Generation, told us the reason our heart yearns for something earth can't supply is proof that heaven must be our home. This is the ultimate hope and the ultimate explanation for why we feel lost, because we are not yet home. This image of hope and light shows up in different ways in the writing of the Lost Generation - it was the green light that the Great Gatsby reached toward over the water, it is the lighthouse that Virginia Woolf told us to look toward.

Here's to the coming new year, when we look toward hope. It will be exactly one century from the year that WWI came to an end. In November of 2018, a centennial memorial for American WWI veterans will finally be opened. Up until now, the veterans of every other major war have been given a monument in Washington D.C., the Lost Generation has not. This is exactly what it means to be a lost generation.

May the Lost Generation rest in peace. And while we've said it for generations, it is always worth saying it again:
Peace on earth.

(c) writing by Chloe Koffas 2017, photos by Chloe, Portland, Oregon


Time Magazine: Solving the Mystery Flu That Killed 50 Million People
WWI Centennial Memorial Info and a link to donate
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Wikipedia: Iron Harvest 
An Easter Truce, 1916: Gateways to the First World War