Wednesday, October 26, 2016


“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu
above, Pat Colander; below, Jillian Van Volkenburgh
I drove to the Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster for an Art in Focus presentation by Pat Colander, author of “Hugh Hefner’s First Funeral and Other True Tales of Love and Death in Chicago.”  I’ll be speaking to the same group in three weeks and wanted to check out the facilities.  Unfortunately, the building had lost power and the talk was moved to a dining room with only a podium for the speaker.  Rather than talk about Hugh Hefner, to my disappointment she read a chapter about the 1982 Tylenol murders, when seven people in the Chicago area died from Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide. The crime remains unsolved, but Colander talked about two main suspects who, she speculates, may have acted together.  When Colander first wrote about the case, it inspired a spate of copycat cases of product tampering.  South Shore Arts Director of Education Jillian Van Volkenburgh plugged my upcoming talk and assured me there’d be equipment on hand for me to show photos and YouTube clips and play Vee-Jay hit records hit such as “Goodnight, Sweetheart” and “Duke of Earl.”
above, Maria and Arredondo siblings; below, Kenny Kincaid
Purdue Northwest historian Ken Kincaid asked me to discuss “Maria’s Journey” with students in his class on Hispanics in America because authors Ray and Trish Arredondo were unable to attend.  Published by Indiana Historical Society Press, the book is used in numerous college courses.  Some 35 years ago I was oral history consultant for a Tri-City Community Mental Health Center project on ethnicity called “Pass the Culture, Please,” funded by the Indiana Committee on the Humanities.  In 1982 I conducted several interviews with the Spanish-speaking matriarch with son Ray acting as translator.  Then I taped a group interview with her ten children during a Sunday gathering after mass featuring plenty of Mexican food.  Years later, Ray and Trish completed book-length manuscript and asked me what I thought of it.  It was a charming and valuable document right up my alley as a social historian, and I agreed to edit it and furnish chapter introductions.  I wrote the Foreword and got IU professor John Bodnar, author of “The transplanted,” to do the Introduction.  Bodnar wrote:
  Not unlike many immigrants from around the world at various times, Maria lived a life of hardship and turmoil. At key moments in her life decisions were forced on her.  As a child she had to follow relatives to Texas, living the life of a migrant in a boxcar.  Her mother coerced her into marrying at age 14 a man from a higher social station in the vague hope she could improve the family’s fortunes.  Throughout her adult life her spouse, Miguel, was generally insensitive to her needs and insisted she remain confined to her domestic duties. But Maria did not always let others shape the course of her life.  In the early years of the Great Depression, when the United States sought to return Mexicans to their homeland so that they would not compete with native jobs, Maria – scarred by her early years of deprivation in Mexico – refused to leave.  She only returned to Mexico with her children to care for her mother when the elder woman was deported.  Soon she brought her family back to America, despite her husband’s objections that he could not afford to support them.  Faced with countless forces that tried to run her life, Maria retained the ability to fight back and to seek what she thought was best for her children – traits that earned her their everlasting love.  When a Catholic priest once asked her to confess her sins, she retorted that with all the cooking, washing, and caring she did for a husband and ten children, “do you really think I’ve got time to sin?”

Kincaid’s students peppered me with questions and talked about local history projects they were doing, some involving their own families.  Asked if, looking back, I’d do anything different, I wished I’d interviewed Maria’s children one-on-one and asked more intimate questions, about sexual behavior, for instance.  I talked about daughter Jenny, who the family wouldn’t talk to for two years after she defied their wishes and joined her boyfriend in California and then married.  Asked what my favorite parts were, I cited the chapter where Maria defied husband Miguel and journeyed from Mexico to Indiana harbor with eight kids and another (Ramon) on the way.  I also brought up when Maria burned Miguel’s leftwing literature during the Red Scare, fearing that they might be deported as radio coverage of HUAC hearings taking place in Gary investigating the suspected communist sympathies of union leaders.   When I mentioned Ray’s statement that whenever he or his siblings left town, they’d kneel before Maria or her mother Rita while she was alive and seek their blessing for a safe trip, two Latinas gave smiles of recognition and said it was the same in their families.  After student named Emily, noting my Rainbow Connectionz ribbon, told me the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, transgendered, Straight Alliance (LGBTSA) was holding a campus event where participants could dress and wear make-up as persons they’d like to become. 
I learned from Bucknell magazine that Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas (1884-1968), above, attended my alma mater for a year while his father was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg.  He then transferred to Princeton after a wealthy relative paid his tuition, graduating in 1905 as valedictorian.  After Thomas himself was ordained a minister, he sometimes preached in his father’s church during the summer.
I spoke on the phone with granddaughter Alissa, who works with Grand Valley State’s overseas program, about hosting counterparts from other countries such as Ghana and China.  For several years, since meeting Isaac Kofi Spellino (above), he has expressed a desire to visit Ghana.

Unlike the Jeopardy contestants I knew all the answers in the Veep category, including Nelson Rockefeller, whom Gerald Ford appointed after taking over for Nixon and Harry Truman’s running mate, Kentuckian Alben W. Barkley.  I even knew most Etiquette answers; my mother would have been proud.
 Enrico Dandelo

Speaking about the Fourth Crusade, which was supposed to liberate Jerusalem but instead climaxed with an attack on and pillaging of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, Parnell brought up two divergent theories to explain the chain of events.  The first claimed it was a conspiracy motivated by greed and hatched by Venetian doge Enrico Dandelo to wrest control of trade and commerce from an economic rival.  While there is no contemporary written corroboration, those involved in the conspiracy would have to have their plans kept secret.  In the last quarter-century or so, scholars have tended to subscribe to a so-called accident theory in which what happened was the result of unanticipated events. The dispute reminded me of conflicting interpretations of the Vietnam War.  Economic determinists see American participation as the logical culmination of American imperialism and that business leaders turned against it when they regarded it as unwinnable.  Other historians subscribe to a version of the so-called quagmire theory whereby American policymakers kept getting in deeper and deeper until stuck there.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Elwood and Stella

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark, and we’re wearing sunglasses.”  Elwood Blues

The first things that come to mind hearing the names Elwood and Stella are the movies “Blues Brothers” (1980) and “A Named Desire” (1951).  “Joliet” Jake Blues (John Belushi), whom Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) picked up outside prison, responded, “Hit it.”  In “Streetcar” Marlon Brando as Stanley keeps yelling, “Hey Stella” until Stella (Kim Hunter) finally comes outside and embraces him.
C. Elwood Metzger and wife Stella, below, holding Mary Virginia
My brother sent along Midge’s photo album, featuring shots of my grandparents C. Elwood and Stella Metzger.  Stella, a dress designer, died of pneumonia when my mother was a kid. When in high school, I’d pick Elwood up on Sundays in Chesnut Hill and bring him to our place in the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington.  He’d be looking dapper carryng a cane and wearing a suit with vest.  He’d bring huge jars of jelly or other items purchased at a discount (he was once a department store buyer).  At days end I’d get a 50-cent piece if I’d behaved.  He insisted on helping me pick out wedding rings for Toni and me along Philadelphia’s jewelers row and took me to where he formerly worked, as a security guard.  When my dad died at age 50, Elwood was suffering from cancer.  When told about Vic, he said, “I wish it had been me.”
 Terry Jenkins; below, daughter Melissa Bollmann-Jenkins
Best friend Terry Jenkins is undergoing chemo, but you’d never know it.  His daughter, artist Melissa Bollmann-Jenkins, who survived harrowing health problems as a child and is strong as steel, is providing updates to friends.  I told Ter she is not going to let you die. Melissa wrote:
  Chemo treatment No. 2 (protocol is called “Gem-Cis”) was completed today, without issues! Side effects have been minimal, and attitude is Terry-like positive. For now, life as usual, whining and dining (oops, wining). His treatment team seems terrific at the University of Pennsylvania, thus far. Chemo is two weeks on, one week off, for a total of 3 rounds (9 weeks). Following the 9 weeks, he’ll have a one-month break, then the surgery, which will probably land around the new year.

In my journal (see Steel Shavings volume 40) I wrote on November 9, 2007:
  Shortly after retiring in the summer of 2007, a battery of tests unearthed a mild form of prostate cancer.  Now there’s something to write about.  Not! – as Mike Myers in Wayne’s World would say.  A seed implant procedure has taken care of the problem. Even had my inflated PSA number not been discovered, I’d probably have lived 10-15 years without ill effects.  ’Nuff said.

I don’t believe I’ve written about my prostate cancer (in remission) since except in veiled references to frequent bathroom trips and visits to oncologist Jeffrey Quackenbush. I vowed not to be one of those senior citizens who talks incessantly about the ravages of aging.  Maybe I’ve gone too much the other way.
 Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend at Desert Trip

WXRT’s Lin Brehmer introduced what he called the greatest song of all time - “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by the Who, recently performed live at Desert Trip, also featuring the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Roger Waters and nicknamed Oldchella - it took place at the site of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.  During the instrumental parts Brehmer added nonsensical quotes by Donald Trump.  The final lyrics:
Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

Among the tunes I recognized on a WXRT show about 1977, the year Elvis died, were “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads, “So Good to See You” by Cheap Trick, “Second Hand News” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Heroes” by David Bowie. Rolling Stone asked Democratic candidate for vice president Tim Kaine his favorite musical groups.  He mentioned The Replacements and The Dave Matthews Band.  Matthews is from the state Kaine represents in the Senate, Virginia. Referring to Kaine’s aggressive performance in the debate with Mike Pence, Bill Maher compared him to a man opening the door on Halloween wearing a mask.

Driving through Hobart I enjoyed the many Halloween yard displays and appreciated the political signs supporting Democrats John Gregg for governor and Lorenzo Arredondo for attorney-general.  I saw none for Gregg’s opponent Eric Holcomb, who became governor when Mike Pence agreed to be Trump’s running mate.  I bowled a 424 series, slightly under average, as I’m still figuring out how to go after spares with my new Nitrous. Engineers took two games and series to edge above .500 for the first time all season. While James was bowling at Inman’s, a four-team women’s collage tournament took place hosted by Valpo University.  The “National Anthem” brought everyone to their feet.
 Chad and Jeremy in 2005

George Van Til invited me to a Chad and Jeremy concert at the Acorn Theater in Three Oaks, Michigan, not far from the Indiana border. Both 75, the duo are a British version of Neil Simon and Art Garfunkel.  Their two biggest hits were “Yesterday’s Gone” (1963) and “A Summer Song” (1964).  Henry Farag’s musical “The Signal: A Rhapsody” has drawn big crowds at Three Oaks.

Samuel A. Love posted a cartoon drawn by a Steel City Academy student.  Wife Brenda called it an accurate presentation. Katie Terry pronounced it to be epic.  Gene Coleman noticed Sam was looking left.  Proud mama Pamela Roorda Barnett wrote: “I love how kids relate to ‘Mr. Sam.” You have a special talent for that, my son.”

Kyle Hendricks outpitched the BPOP (best pitcher on the planet) Clay Kershaw in a 5-0 game-six victory, saving longtime Cub fans the trauma of a seventh game with ghosts of Billy Goat, Bartman and other jinxes lurking.  Two 6-43 (Russell to Baez to Rizzo) inning-ending double-plays were things of beauty.  The 2016 National League champs will play in the World Series for the first time since 1945.