Thursday, March 5, 2015

Atomic Tattoos


“When there's a doubt within your mind
Because you're thinking all the time
Framing rights into wrongs
Move along, move along.”
“You Are a Tourist,” Death Cab for Cutie

Gary native James Taylor, a Cleveland dermatologist, inquired about blood type tattoos in Lake County between 1951 and 1953.  The idea was to prepare for a nuclear catastrophe and also to facilitate creating an emergency blood bank should the need arise.  Other than Lake County, Indiana, the only other place where such a program was implemented was in two Utah counties.  Tattoos approximately three eights of an inch went on the left side of the chest near the armpit.  Northwestern Medical School professor Andrew C. Ivy first designed the program for Chicago, but Northwest Indiana proved to be more receptive, initially as a volunteer experiment.   First carried out at the 1951 Lake County Fair, medical units operated in Hobart elementary schools before tackling schools in Gary, Hammond, East Chicago, and Whiting.

Jim Taylor wondered how the units cleaned the needles between subjects, adding that it was “a potential way for all kinds of disease transmission -  hepatitis, STD’s and a host of other blood borne pathogens.”  Jim provided a link to a Conelrad civil defense website called “Atomic Secrets” that contains an article entitled “O.K. Blood Type Tattoo as Aid in Atom Attack.”  Unbelievably, it contains this recollection by my neighbor Marcia Gaughan:

I was in the first grade at the Whiting, Indiana primary school in the spring of 1953. The experience was so horrendous that I remember, in detail, everything that transpired."
First, we were given permission slips to take home for our parents to sign. There was even a charge for the procedure--50 cents. On the day of the ordeal the first thing that happened was that we stood in a long line to have our thumbs pricked with a needle. They then squeezed our blood onto a 3"x5" card that had three circles on it, each circle containing a different drop of fluid and, ultimately, a drop of our blood. This must have been how they determined our blood type. After the fluid and blood had enough time to dry, the cards were put into a plastic sleeve and given to us. (I kept mine for years but finally threw it away when I found it in a desk drawer decades later).
"At some point we were also given a metal dog tag on a chain and told that we were to wear the dog tags all the time (presumably so that our bodies could be identified after a nuclear attack.) The dog tags had our name, blood type and RELIGION and maybe our address embossed in raised letters. The back of the tag had a piece of paper with lines on it and, I think, the same information that was in the raised letters. We then took the dog tags and the 3"x5" cards into a large room that had about 20 little chairs in a line along the wall leading to an area behind a curtain. We were told to sit in the chairs.
The kid closest to the curtain was told to go inside the curtained area, and the rest of us moved up one chair closer. We then heard a buzzing sound similar to a dentist's drill, and a lot of screaming and, a few minutes later, the kid emerged from behind the curtain, crying, and then next kid took his place. The wait probably took about an hour, and during that time, as we inched closer and closer to the curtain, we had to witness each of our classmate's enter the curtained area and come out crying, so you can imagine how frightening it was.
Once behind the curtain I had to take off my clothes above the waist and show my card and dog tag to the two people in there. One held me still and the other stuck what looked like a power drill into my left side, turned it on and held it there for a minute or two. Naturally I was screaming and struggling just like the other kids before me."
I still have my atomic tattoo (O-); but, as I grew it got distorted, so it's pretty illegible today. The tattoo caused a lot of comments during bikini season after I went to college and later moved to Ohio, where no one had seen anything like it. I have met people from Hammond, Hobart and Gary who have atomic tattoos, and most of them can vividly remember the day it happened to them because it was such a terrible experience that they never forgot it."
 I have heard that one of the reasons they pulled the plug on it was that some of the children had blood types that did not match either of their parents, so the guys who were thought to be their fathers... uh..really weren't, so in the interest of family unity they decided to nix the whole thing. Thank goodness.

While the program appears not to have mandatory, I’m certain there was great pressure on parents to have their children comply.  Miller realtor Jean Ayers, who has a tattoo, told me he’d heard that some Jewish parents objected because it was reminiscent of concentration camp means of identification.

Fred McColly has commenced a March journal with a photo of U.S. Steel’s coke battery, slated to close in two months, putting about 300 people out of work.  Fred asked: “So, are the unions pernicious monopolies that have priced themselves out of the job market or is U.S. Steel on a union busting and cost cutting spree?”  My answer would be, the latter.  East Chicago casino workers have also gone on strike to protest severe cutbacks what management contributes to their health insurance coverage.  In a show of solidarity oil workers joined their picket line, urging customers to boycott Ameristar.

In the Post-Tribune IUN librarian Tim Sutherland discussed an effort by Indiana Republicans to eliminate funding for INSPIRE, a state website hat enables libraries across the state to provide free access to scholarly journals.  Sutherland told reporter Cristin Nance Lazerus: “About 80 percent of what you discover on INSPIRE is not available elsewhere.  The cost comes to about 17 cents an article.  Basically, it’s benefitting all of the people in Indiana.”  After library officials and genealogists put up a fuss, funding for INSPIRE was reinstated.

Telling Steve McShane’s students about radical attorney Paul Pavlovich Glaser, I included information about wife Sarah, who helped him escape being exiled to Siberia after he plotted against Czar Nicholas II.  Neighbor Polly McNough, whom I interviewed 40 years ago, recalled that he was an expert horseman who rode in Fourth of July parades and liked his tea Russian-style, in a glass with jelly on the bottom.  From a government document entitled “Investigation of Strike in Steel Industries: Hearings Before the Senate Committee on Education and Labor” (1919), I learned that Glaser spoke at the mass rally that provided the excuse for anti-union Mayor William Hodges to request federal troops to preserve order.  I got a nice round of applause (that’ll get me to return). 

After delicious ham soup and tossed salad Toni and I called granddaughter Victoria in Grand Rapids to wish her a happy fifteenth birthday.  I learned from Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated that Judy Garland was from Grand Rapids, Minnesota (not Michigan), and that her given name was Frances Ethel Gumm.  When she was four, the family moved to California following rumors that her father, a theater owner, was buggering young male ushers.
 from left, Danielle Zandstra, Nicki Monahan, Grayce Roach

The Lady Redhawks season ended with a hard-fought overtime loss to Northern New Mexico College on the visitors’ home court.  Nicki Monahan was named AII (Association of Independent Institution) conference player of the year, while Danielle Zandstra won defensive honors and Grayce Roach selected freshman of the year.  Coach Ryan Shelton deserved to be named coach of the year.

Ron Cohen pointed out that a Krispy Kreme bakery in the English city of Hull cancelled a promotion for KKK (Krispy Kreme Klub) Wednesdays in the face of complaints about KKK being the abbreviation for Ku Klux Klan. Talk about Klueless.

I asked Joe Pellicciotti if he would be leaving the Region after he retires in June.  Not right away, he thought, although his children want him to move to Seattle.  Pretty cool place, I said, and he nodded in agreement.

Jean Poulard wondered why flags were at half-staff.  It was at Governor Pence’s request to honor longtime State Senator Mary Landske (above) of Cedar Lake, who died at age 77 from lung cancer.  Fellow State Senator Earline Rogers praised Landske for being bipartisan, unlike most Republican legislators these days.  “We were always able to come to an amicable agreement,” Rogers declared.  Like her friend and fellow Republican Ed Charbonneau, Landske voted against the 2012 Right To Work law and against a measure designed to cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

IUN custodian James Hill played AAU youth basketball against former Bowmen coach Marvin Rea, a former Roosevelt Panther standout who was recently fired despite having led the charter school’s basketball team to two state titles.  Hill went to several Gary schools before a welding teacher at Gary Career Center turned his life around, enabling him to learn a skill and gain confidence and self-respect.

In “Remembering Strawberry Fields,” Mary Matury Gibson tells of attending her fiftieth Lowell High School reunion:  “One of the boys who was very popular in high school was saying how hard it had been in our class for him and others who were gay.”  Mary hadn’t realized any of them were gay.  Gibson (unfortunately for historians) changed the names of people and places, but her description of her old homestead, located between Highway 41 and the Illinois state line, visited 50 years later, rings true.  She wrote:

“The house at Strawberry Fields still stands, but it looks empty, stark, and lonely.  The fields no longer contain the beautiful, fragrant strawberry rows that once brought fame to the Rosario family and my pa, the Strawberry King.  I closed my eyes.  I took a deep breath.  I caught a fleeting whiff of the blossoms that haunt my dreams.  When I opened my eyes, it was gone.  I looked around and saw old, dead grass on the hills.”
Jeff Manes profiled labor activist Sameerah Ahmad (above), like Mary Gibson a Lowell grad who grew up in Shelby and identified herself as “a queer woman of color from a working-class Muslim family.”  She added:  I’ve always been a fighter.  Hey, I’m Palestinian-Irish.  I don’t have much tolerance for inequality.”  Her dad is a chef at Aladdin Pita in Merrillville, where her uncle, the former owner, was murdered.  Sameerah told Manes that at Lowell she not only “learned early on that racism, bigotry and ignorance existed, but [that] there was a great divide [because] Shelby is more of a working-class community than Lowell.”

Among the 19 Valpo Welcome Project oral histories listed under “sexual orientation” one entitled “Fuels My Ball of Fire” is by the co-president of the campus LGBT group Alliance.  It contains this quote: “I’ll see people down the hallway, and they’ll walk out a door because they know who I am.  They don’t want to ‘catch the gay.’”  Once he was walking near Roosevelt Road and Lincolnway in Valparaiso when people in cars shouted insults such as “Fag” and “Go back home.” 

Engineers swept all three games from the Legends, composed of guys nicknamed (as their shirts indicated) Coach, Sweetness (for Walter Peyton, Walter being his first name), Ko Boss, Buddha, and Double Check.  Two years ago, the Legends were league champs although several members, including Anthony Forbes, formed a second team, dubbed, with typical Region verve, “Da Legends.”  I doubled in each game to roll my average.  After I clinched the only close game, Robbie, who had doubled right before me, said, “Way to go, Jimbo.”  I was surprised and pleased he called me Jimbo.  Mel Nelson has an “atomic tattoo” from when he attended Tolleston.  His dad, a pipefitter, worked for an East Chicago company that furnished pipes for Whiting oil refineries.  Back home, I put on "Codes and Keys" by Death Cab for Cutie and celebrated with a couple Coors stubbies.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Rearrange the World


“We can change the world
Rearrange the world
It’s dying
To get better.”
“Chicago,” Graham Nash


On Saturday morning, WXRT focused on 1971, the year of “Maggie May” (Rod Stewart), “Brown Sugar” (Rolling Stones), “Proud Mary,” (Ike and Tine Turner), and “Riders of the Storm” (Doors).  There was also a feature on Boss Richard Daley, re-elected in a landslide despite his atrocious actions and statements during the 1968 race riots and Democratic convention.  He famously said, “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”  In fact, WXRT played “Chicago” by Graham Nash, which admittedly sounds rather sappy, albeit well-meaning, 44 years later compared to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic, “(Four Dead in) Ohio.”  The first line, “So your brother’s bound and gagged and they’ve chained him to a chair,” refers to the 1969 Chicago 8 “Conspiracy” trial where Black Panther Bobby Sealer was shackled for demanding his own attorney, Charles Garry, to defend him.  I followed the trial with intense interest, sympathetic to the defendants who had protested against the Vietnam War.

James bowled a 440 series and later Dave’s family came over for Chinese food and gaming.  Sunday I watched the Bulls lose to the Clippers despite 29 points from Serbian rookie Niko Mirotic.  He reminded me of my favorite former Bull, Toni Kukich, from the town of Split that I visited while participating in a conference on Pluralism in Dubrovnik, then part of communist Yugoslavia.  Now Europeans in the NBA are commonplace, but 20 years ago it was unusual.

Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel, “A Spool of Blue Thread,” deals with family commitment and contains a description of Halloween decorations reminiscent of John Updike at his best.  Tyler wrote:

“Years ago, when the children were small, Abby had started a tradition of hanging a row of ghosts down the length of the front porch every October.  There were six of them.  Their heads were made of white rubber balls tied up in gauzy white cheesecloth, which trailed nearly to the floor and wafted in the slightest breeze.  The whole front of the house took on a misty, floating look.  On Halloween the trick-or-treaters would have to make their way through diaphanous veils, the older ones laughing but the younger ones on the edge of panic, particularly if the night was windy and the cheesecloth was lifting and writhing and wrapping itself around them.”


After Abby died, hubby Red decided to move out of the family house, but the grandkids wanted the ghosts up one more time.  Tyler wrote:

“So the ghosts were brought forth one final time from their paper-towel carton in the attic, and Stem climbed up on a ladder to hang them from the row of brass hooks screwed into the porch ceiling.  Up close, the ghosts looked bedraggled.  They were due for one of their periodic costume renewals, but nobody had the time for that with everything else that was going on.”


Ray Smock passed on a quote from Philip Wylie’s “Generation of Vipers” (1942) about the selfishness and arrogance of members of Congress, which ended: “The appalling stupidity of these men, highlighted by the ferocious peril of these hours, is the exact measure of the stupidity of the people in our states, cities, towns, and villages.  When we condemn them, which we rightly do with nearly every dispatch concerning their multifarious and nonsensical agenda, we condemn ourselves.”  I responded: “All I remember about ‘Generation of Vipers’ is Wylie's pejorative description of Momism and how much that term rankled my mother.  Between the blatant gerrymandering and the absurdity of populous states like California and New York having the same Senate representation as Alaska and Montana, no wonder Republican assholes control Congress despite a majority of voters having favored Democratic candidates.”
 Downtown Philadelphia by Leelee Devenney

Dog-sitting for a cousin in downtown Philadelphia, Leelee Minehart Devenney spotted a sign at the site of the 1856 Republican National Convention that nominated John Fremont to run against my “Uncle Jimmy,” James Buchanan.  I noted: “Three summers when in college, thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, I was a law firm ‘mail room boy’ and roamed downtown Philly delivering letters and documents.  Pepper, Hamilton and Scheetz (known as pepper, ham and cheese) was right across from the Union League, a midget amidst giant skyscrapers.  Ten years ago I went looking for 3 Penn Center Plaza, where my father worked for Penn Salt Company, and had a devil of a time finding it.”

Here are the lead quotes for three Valparaiso University Welcome Project site oral histories about transgenders.  For “Why Do You Look Like Such a Little Boy”: “They’ll say, ‘Well, it’s fine, I just don’t want to hear about it.”  For Valpo Needs To Try Harder”: “Not all trans people want a surgery; they just want to be seen as the gender they’re presenting as.”  For “Going By My Initials”: “A lot of people don’t know what that (transgender) is here.”

Prior to speaking about “Peyton Place” (1956) by Grace Metalious, I told Nicole Anslover’s class that, contrary to stereotypes about the 1950s being an Age of Innocence before the dawn of the Sexual Revolution, there was much public fascination with sex.  Evidence of this includes the media frenzy over Christine Jorgensen’s sex change, the successful launching of Playboy, and the fascination over sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.  “Peyton Place,” originally rejected by more than a dozen publishing houses until a woman CEO realized its worth, sold 32 million copies and remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year.  It spawned a sequel, two movies, and a nighttime soap opera starring Ryan O’Neil and Mia Farrow.  The phrase “Peyton Place” entered the lexicon, as in, “This town is a regular Peyton Place.”  Nicole compared the popularity of “Peyton Place” to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and I speculated that it appealed primarily to teens and middle-age women who love romance novels that push the boundaries.  A rebel, Metalious eschewed make-up and fancied flannel shirts, at least until becoming rich and famous.  Sadly the notoriety led to alcoholism, and she died at age 39 of cirrhosis of the liver. 

I passed around my Fifties Shavings, “Rah Rahs and Rebel Rousers,” which contains this excerpt from “Peyton Place”:

Her fingertips traced a pattern down the side of his face, and with her mouth almost against his she whispered, “I didn’t know it could be like this.”
She could not lie still under his hands.
“Anything,” she said.  “Anything.  Anything.”
“I love this fire in you.  I love I when you have to move.”
“Don’t stop.”
“Here?  And here?  And here?
“Yes.  Oh, yes.  Yes.”

Discussing Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” Nicole noted that “the Mother of Modern Feminism” took flak for dwelling on white, college-educated housewives and disparaging those homemakers who found fulfillment in being stay-at-home mothers (a phrase Jeopardy still uses to describe contestants).  After discussing the scandalous over-prescribing of tranquilizers to depressed housewives suffering from, in Friedan’s words, “the problem that has no name,” Nicole played “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966) by the Rolling Stones, whose chorus goes:

“Doctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old.”

With the BP strike in its third week, the assassination of Vladimir Putin’s critic Boris Nemtsov sparking mass protests, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu interfering with American foreign policy by addressing Congress on bonehead John Boehner’s invitation, the media was obsessed by efforts to catch two fleeing llamas and whether a dress looked to be white and gold or blue and black.


Whenever I see a bookcase in a photo, I try to read the titles and fantasize that one of mine is among them.  Voila!  Brenda Love’s shot of her and Sam’s cat above their bookcase reveals my pink Steel Shavings (volume 42) lying on its side.

In the category “Literary Characters” Jeopardy had a question about Kurt Vonnegut, asking who wrote about Kilgore Trout and Eliot Rosewater.  “Final Jeopardy” was also right up my alley, asking who started a book with these lines: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs took hold.”  All three contestants recognized it was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

At the library I picked up CDs by Death Cab for Cutie (“Codes and Keys”) and Elton John (Greatest Hits).  Elton’s showmanship during the 1970s harked back to Liberace and inspired Boy George, George Michael, and virtually all contemporary artists who do stadium tours.  Like tennis star Billie Jean King, he bravely admitted to being gay and even wrote “Philadelphia Freedom” for Billie Jean’s pro tennis team.  Someone who caught his Las Vegas act complained it was too expensive, too brief, and too glitzy.  WTF?  I’d pay any price to catch Elton live, even if just for 90 minutes, and expect nothing less than glitzy.