Tuesday, November 22, 2022

From Almonds to Cyanide by Gabriel Valjan

Q: Fads come and go, as do waves of nostalgia. At the moment, the Aughts (years from 2000 to 2010) are trending. Is there a decade that makes you nostalgic, and why? 

I can recall phone numbers from decades ago, and recite the schedule and stations for TV shows. I was an Oakland Raiders fan. I remember Jordache, Sassoon, and Vanderbilt jeans. The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” was the first MTV video.


Oh, the minutiae. Oh, the fads caught in the lint trap of memory.


As for the vivid and visceralthe streets scenes in Three Days of the Condor was the New York I knew. Dirty, the city bankrupt and corrupt, the garbage was piled up in the streets for weeks on end. Drugs and sex were negotiated in plain sight in Times Square. The Summer of Sam was as heavy as the humidity. Etan Patz disappeared, while “Reunited” by Peaches and Herb hit #1.


I missed most of the Eighties because I was deep into my studies. I’ve never seen the movie ET. I never saw an episode of Miami Vice until the Aughts. Popular music provided the soundtrack to those years. I can tell you where I was when I heard John Lennon was murdered, when Reagan was almost assassinated, when the Challenger Space Shutter exploded, when the Berlin Wall came down, and when I learned of friends who died at Lockerbie and on 9-11.


I wouldn’t call any of this nostalgia. I’m wary of nostalgia because nostalgia seems like (for most people) a feel-good moment, like some endless loop from Groundhog Day. Emotional warm spots were rare for me because my earlier years were not pleasant. We don’t choose our families, where we were born, or the mindset that accompanies time and place. Through no fault of our own, we are ignorant as children, accepting the environment around us until we either experience something that pierces the veil, or we step away from the known into the unknown. Nostalgia, for me, is about loss. I miss my grandparents because they were only the people I felt safe with as a kid. I associate Sunday mornings and Abbott & Costello on Channel 11 with my grandmother.  


When people talk about the ‘good old days,’ it reminds me of the late Andy Rooney from Sixty Minutes. Life, according to him, was easier ‘back in the day.’ No, it wasn’t. My Shane Cleary Mystery series illustrates just how bad it was for the poor, people of color, women, and LGBT folks. Andy would have you believe his generation sucked it up, stoic as Marcus Aurelius, while they walked all five miles to school, in the snow, uphill and barefoot. The rest of us were whiners.


I live in the present and I look ahead. If and when I look over my shoulder, it is to see the distance I’ve covered. I try not to impose a narrative to make sense of events, especially emotions. The person I was then is not the person I’m now, though the journey was my own and it has made me the person I am today. If there’s a tear, there’s also a smile because I’m grateful for what I had. It’s easy to get stuck in the moment, but I choose not to live there. Nostalgia is sweet as the scent of almonds, seductive, but don’t forget cyanide is fatal.


Live in the Present, grateful.


  1. "It's easy to get stuck in the moment, but I choose not to live there." Thanks to Gabriel Valjan for the great essay.


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