Monday, October 20, 2014

Gary Black Film Festival


“I believe in Gary.  I believe the people are holding on.”  Community organizer Syron Smith

I decided to talk without notes introducing Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk’s film “My Name Is Gary,” but wrote out these notes beforehand:

Last year I received an email from French filmmakers Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk.  They had come across my blog dealing with Gary history and told me of their intention to live in Gary for two months.  They had made documentaries about industrial cities in Poland and the Ukraine and wanted to do something comparable in the United States.  I helped them find a place to stay and, after they arrived, arranged for them to meet such people as Mayor Richard Hatcher, State Senator Earline Rogers, union leaders Alice Bush and Lorenzo Crowell, and people from IUN such as archivist Steve McShane and administration assistant Mary Lee.  I soon got the sense, however, that what they wanted most was to go off on their own and discover people and places for themselves.  Their goal was to have Gary residents talk candidly about their city and to record as many different viewpoints as possible.  Theirs became a labor of love and once, after spending a day in Chicago, they told me that, riding back on the South Shore, they felt like they were coming home.  One of their last interviews was with me, and at the end they asked me to say, “My Name is Gary.”  I thought it rather odd, but after they used that phrase as the title of their film, it made sense.  In fact, I believe that virtually everyone interviewed in the film is proud to say they’re from Gary.  Frederic and Blandine sensed that and through their interviews have captured that pride and the resilience of its people.  So I believe that it is not an exaggeration to call the film a loving a well-balanced tribute to the people of Gary.
above, Karen Toering; below, Erykah Badu

On Friday, day one of the Gary International Black Film Festival, IUN’s 33rd Avenue parking lot was swarming with police, and a Lake County Command Center trailer indicated they were doing another sweep.  I hope it is just an unfortunate coincidence, but if I am uncomfortable, I imagine other attendees will be, too.  Greeting me in Savannah Center were festival director Karen Toering, committee member Toni Simpson, and board chairman Walter Jones, whom Samuel A. Love introduced me to at the Stewart House community garden.  I chatted with community organizers Alicia Nunn and Kay Abraham and former Labor Studies teacher Robert Buggs, dressed to the nines.  When Karen lined up to take a photo of us, I joked that Buggs should slouch since he was much taller than ZI.  The main event was screening of the Black western, “They Die at Night.” Appearing in the film is singer Erykah Badu, and by 7 pm a large crowd was on hand.

On Saturday I was back to see three short films.  The first, Eli’s Liquor Store, was so realistic I first thought the owner was playing himself.  The others were quite disturbing: “Finding Neptune” dealt with a guy whose compulsion to masturbate while watching porn undermined his relationship with a girlfriend.  “The Gift” was about a woman who caught AIDs from a man and got her revenge by picking up strangers and sleeping with them.  The actress, a 1987 Gary Wirt graduate named Timika now living in Texas, was quite beautiful, as was her mother, currently rehearsing as Lady MacBeth.

Sunday was the premiere of “My Name Is Gary,” and a crowd of more than 100 people was on hand, including Mayor Freeman-Wilson and two of Mayor Hatcher’s daughters.  After festival director Karen Toering made introductions and thanked her staff, I made some remarks about directors Frederick Couseau and Blandine Huk.   The film was awesome (as Georgre Van Til and others remarked), but about 25 minutes into the film the blue ray kept stopping and starting and then stopped entirely.  Once it stopped while showing Samuel Love and me putting Camilo Vergara’s Martin Luther King posters on the front of Four Brothers market, enabling Toni to photograph it.  After a few minutes, it started up again but only for about 15 minutes.  We never got to see the end, but people in the audience, including some who were in the film, shared reminiscences about growing up in Gary and appreciated how “My Name Is Gary” provided historical context.  I promised to obtain a clean copy and show it in its entirety, perhaps at IUN and the Gardner Center in Miller.

On the way out Wilton Crump of the Spaniels said hello and reported that Henry Farag’s second performance at Three Oaks, Michigan, last Friday was so successful the management wants them to work up a Christmas show.  Also in the audience was Jonathyne Briggs, clutching page proofs of his forthcoming book and back from Paris, where he spent two evenings with Frederic and Blandine.  We marveled at some of the symbolism in “My Name Is Gary,” the use of trains, for instance, and the image of Chicago seen clearly across Lake Michigan.  Some in the audience thought the film too bleak, but my view is the filmmakers came to Gary expecting to find a ghost town and instead met a whole slew of interesting, vital people proud to be from Gary.

After the show we had dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse with the Hagelbergs, where, having skipped lunch, I devoured a 7-ounce filet.  The day before we celebrated Angie’s birthday at Sage Restaurant, and I brought half my delicious pot roast home. The grandkids were at play practice in East Chicago, but earlier I had seen James bowl a decent series.  Chris Lugo’s grandson Charlie Jones rolled a 213, despite a split in the seventh, ending a string of strikes.
 John and Andrew English, Dave and James Lane, Josh, Kevin and Kaden Horn

Randy Mark Yager, formerly with a local chapter the Outlaws Motorcycle Gang, got arrested in Mexico and transferred to San Diego after 17 years on the lam.  Indicted in 1997 for robbery, drug trafficking, arson, and conspiring to commit murder, Yager, a Gary native who had lived in Crown Point, fled the country with girlfriend Margie Jelovic, whom he met at Milan’s 51st Tap at 5115 Broadway in Gary, owned by her mother Katie.  Margie has not been seen since.  The Outlaw Motorcycle Club started in 1935, adapted the skull and cross pistons as their official patch after Marlin Brando wore a similar insignia on his jacket on “The Wild One,” and spawned dozens of chapters in the U.S. and several other countries.  Forty years ago they went to war with the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels.

Twenty years ago one of my students got involved with the Outlaws.   He and a friend were breaking into summer homes in Cedar Lake; among the things they stole were guns. Outlaw members said they’d help arrange for to sell them to the Black P Stone Nation.  It turned out to be a police bust, and he spent six weeks in jail and received a six-year suspended sentence and probation while two Outlaw gang members with him received the maximum sentence of ten years.

Elsewhere in the news, Governor Pence turned down $80 in federal money for pre-school programs after Tea Party zealots put pressure on him.  Even more horrendous, Darren Vann, a convicted sex offender from Gary, strangled a prostitute to death in a Motel 6 in Hammond and when apprehended, admitted to murdering six other women and led them to bodies located in abandoned homes, of which there are approximately 10,000 in Gary.

Dave had Monday off so he, Tom Wade and I played board games for the first time in ages.  I was two of four, winning Amun Re and Air Lords, barely edging out Dave who usually wins it.  The bears were so terrible losing to Miami that Al Hamnik of The Times compared rooting for them to being in a bad marriage:
                You stay together for the kids and because you have a lot invested in the family.
                But secretly, you’re drowning in apathy.
                This isn’t fun any more.
                There are no rewards, no future.
                The negativity is choking you like a harness.

On the way to IUN I noticed that gasoline prices have dipped below three dollars a gallon.  I thought I’d never see that happen.  Leeann Wright (above) of University Advancement sold me an IUN Homecoming ticket from her.  It comes with a nice Redhawk shirt.  Unfortunately they were out of extra larges, but Leeann said more would arrive by October 28, four days before the Homecoming basketball games.  She is very personable and told me she reads my blog.

In “The Judge” Special Prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) is from Gary while the small-town attorney supposedly received his law degree from Valparaiso.  Dickham has it in for attorney Hank Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.) because of a previous case, where Palmer successfully represented a murderer.  The opening reception was a big success, and I chatted with Alicia Nunn of ARISE and Kay Abraham of the New GRANT Theater, two other folks Sam introduced me to while Frederic and Blandine were in town.  Robert Buggs, a Labor Studies mainstay of old, was dressed to the nines and had Karen take a photo of us (I joked about him being much taller than I so he pretended to slouch down).  A jazz trio, singer, keyboardist, and conga drummer were first-rate, as were the hors d’oevres.

Jonathyne Briggs spoke in Nicole Anslover’s WW II class about France under the Vichy regime and how the German occupation has been seen by the French over time.  He mentioned that the American military hanged 25 black soldiers for allegedly raping French women even though in all likelihood, some of the cases were consensual.  Jonathyne said that rather than employ a guillotine, the army brought over  a hangman from Texas.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Jake and Elwood


Elwood: “There’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark out, and we’re wearing sunglasses.
Joliet Jake: Hit it.
            “Blues Brothers”

For a scholarship drive Chuck Gallmeier and Chancellor Bill Lowe made a three-part video as the Blues Brothers, borrowing a university police car and changing the words slightly from when Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) picks up Jake (John Belushi) from prison.  Aaron Pigors directed it with his typical professionalism.

I had a childhood friend nicknamed Jake (Bob Jacobs) and played ping pong at his house on a surface installed atop the kitchen table.  In the late Sixties at a party thrown by Terry and Gayle Jenkins, Jake insulted my Nehru jacket.  I told him I’d bought it for 20 dollars, and he replied, “Too much.” 

Publicizing Anne Balay’s talk at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia Gay News, Jen Collette wrote: “The notion that being LGBT is becoming more accepted is gaining traction, but there remain wide swatches of the LGBT community who still routinely face discrimination and harassment.”  Balay told Collette that one of her goals in writing “Steel Closets” was to paint a more realistic picture of the gay community.  She stated:
“The media presents one image of what it means to be gay or queer – a white, male, middle-class architect [for instance] – but that’s only one side of what it means.  To be responsible, social-justice-minded queer people, we have to help these stories to be told.”

In “The Vikings” Else Roesdahl, an archaeologist by trade, focuses on the three centuries beginning around 800 when Scandinavian seafaring adventurers dominated much of Europe.  In an Introduction entitled “The Allure of the Vikings” Roesdahl stated:
“It used to be thought that the Vikings were just energetic, robust, straightforward people or that they were wild, barbaric, axe-wielding pirates; and that they lived in a fairly democratic society.  The Viking Age is now seen as having been altogether more complex, with a strong class system, diverse social conditions, and far more radical achievements.”
Michael Hutchence
 “We Are the Vegetables” by INXS has a punk sound and attitude reminiscent of the Ramones.  One eerie line goes:         
“I’ve got the feeling in the back of my head
“I feel like making someone’s face turn red.”
Frontman Michael Hutchence died in 1997 at age 37 by hanging himself, perhaps the result of autoerotic asphyxiation.  He left no suicide note.  Good friend Bono wrote “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” based on an imaginary conversation with Hutchence.  The final lines go:
“If the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if your way should falter
Along this stony pass
It's just a moment     
This time will pass”


At IU law school Julian Bond spoke on “The Broken Promise of Brown” 60 years after the seemingly momentous Supreme Court decision.  IUN’s Office of Diversity skyped the program into a campus classroom.

IUN’s Student Alumni Association sponsored a “Celebrating YOU” reception designed to raise money for scholarships.  I enjoyed chatting with young faculty Kevin McElmurry, Frances Daniel, and David Parnell, who thanked me for my suggestions to stimulate discussion in his Barbarians class.  Four students talked about mentors on campus and scholarships they’d received, one named for under-appreciated former chancellor Hilda Richards.  Chuck Gallmeier mentioned being a first-generation college student and regional campus grad (from IU Fort Wayne) who bartended to pay his way until a scholarship enabled him to take 15 hours a semester his senior year.  He introduced the Chancellor as William “Elwood” Lowe, who in turn said that when he was at the Fitness Center a new receptionist didn’t recognize him until he pointed to a Blues Brothers poster nearby and said, “That’s me.” He noted the Clothesline Project t-shirts adorning Moraine.  One near me read, “It’s Never Your Fault: Stop Victim Blaming.”  I grabbed extra grapes on the way out and said hi to Pat Bankston and Pamela Lowe, the best chancellor’s spouse we’ve had since I’ve been at IUN.

Seattle City Council voted to supplant Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, and Minneapolis followed suit.  A Seattle spokesman for the Sons of Italy said, “Italian-Americans are deeply offended.”  In 1892, 400 years after Columbus landed in the Bahamas, President Benjamin Harrison established the original holiday.  In 1992 South Dakota declared the second Monday in October Native American Day.  In 1892 Berkeley became the first city to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. 

Deeply touched by Jeff Manes’ SALT column, Anthony Forbes received it electronically while bowling.  He “lost it” when he got to the line, “Dennis Forbes might have finished second back in ’91, but he’ll always be No. 1 in his son’s heart and soul.”

 The Engineers took 5 of 7 points thanks to Frank Shufran’s 680 series and despite two games in the 280s by opponent Tony Miller, who has about 20 career 300 games.  His teammate Steve Gorches, a sports reporter for The Times and before that The Post-Trib, told me that he got his son hired there part-time and then got fired in a cost-cutting move.   “Thankfully I belong to the union,” he said.  When Sam Hill left a split on an apparently perfect hit, it gave me the opportunity to exclaim, “What the Sam Hill?”
Steve Gorches twitter photo

Evidently “What the Sam Hill?” is a euphemism for “What the hell?”  In “The American Language” H.L. Mencken expressed the belief the phrase derived from Samiel, the name for the Devil in the opera Der Freischutz.  There was a nineteenth century surveyor named Sam Hill who allegedly had such a foul mouth that the name became a synonym for swear words.

Boardwalk Empire’s “Devil You Know” episode was full of surprises as the series winds down.  “What sense that make?  We headed to different places,” Chalky White says as he tries to save his daughter and former lover from the evil Dr. Valentin Narcisse (above).  Gunned down, he hears Daughter singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”  First recorded by bandleader Ozzie Nelson in 1931, the song was a hit two decades later for Kate Smith, Frankie Laine, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong and in 1968 for the Mamas and the Papas.
 Ron "Sparky" Cohen; photo by Socheata Ing


Scott Fulk asked me to introduce Ron Cohen at his Soup and Substance talk about folk music.  I mentioned that we started the Archives and Steel Shavings and our collaboration on a Gary pictorial history.  Ron told the decent crowd of staff, faculty, and students that host Fulk was a past winner of the History prize.  I especially enjoyed the Q and A part where “Sparky” talked about Harry Belafonte, the Kingston Trio, Country Joe McDonald (whom he brought to campus 25 years ago) and others who popularized folk and protest music.  When a student asked him to define folk music, he repeated Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: you know it when you see it – or rather, hear it.   He cited Bob Dylan as an example of one who went from playing Rock and Roll as a teenager to in 1960-61 started emulating Woody Guthrie and then went from folk to folk rock back to Rock and Roll.