Friday, December 9, 2016

The Man in Me

“There's kind of a Zen aspect to bowling. The pins are either staying up or down before you even throw your arm back. It's kind of a mind-set. You want to be in this perfect mind-set before you released the ball.” Jeff Bridges
Most lines by Jeff Bridges as The Dude in the cult film “The Big Lebowski” (1998) are filled with profanities.  Oft-repeated lines by fans of The Dude include “Hey, I’m housebroken” and (when the Nihilists invade his bathroom with a trained ferret) “Hey, nice marmot!”  My favorite: “I was one of the original authors of the Port Huron Declaration.  Not the compromised second draft.”  One thing that immediately hooked me the first time I watched “The Big Lebowski” was Bob Dylan singing “The Man in Me” during the opening credits (son Dave sings it even better than Dylan).  When The Big Lebowski tells The Dude that what makes a man is being prepared to do the right thing whatever the cost, The Dude replies, “Sure, that, and a pair of testicles.”

At Hobart Lanes the Engineers bowled against 2 R’s and 2 L’s.  During warmup I said to William Pfeiffer, “None of your names start with either R or L.  What’s the deal?”  You’ll see,” he replied. Two were lefties and the other two right-handed. Teammate Robbie said, “Hey, you made the front page of the newspaper” and related that he was 6 at the time of Pearl Harbor and understood it was important from his parents’ reaction. For two and a half games I struggled until Frank Shufran told me I wasn’t following through.  I promptly had five straight strikes to finish with a 210, my best game since in two years.  Demonstrative Judy Sheriff, whose second game was even more horrendous than mine, rebounded with a 190, exclaiming “yahoo” and copying Frank Vitalone’s Italian salute by gripping the biceps of her right arm and raising her fist when she picked up a ten-pin.  At home over the phone we wished our friend Jim Migoski “Happy Birthday.”  Thirty years ago I started bowling because of him.   

Due to bowling, I missed IUN’s Holiday Reception since teammate Dick Maloney is on the DL after a hand operation.  Pianist Billy Foster and accordionist Eve Bottando were providing entertainment, and I’m sorry to have missed emeritus faculty regulars Fred Chary and Rick Hug. This time of year it is feast or famine.  Saturday I’ll miss a Lady Redhawks basketball game because of bowling.  Sunday I’ll be at Memorial Opera House for “Meet Me in St. Louis” and miss a puppet show and radio play at Gardner Center.  Monday I have to attend a condo board meeting while the Gary Symphony Orchestra is performing at the Gary Genesis Convention Center.

Ray Smock emailed, I got a nice surprise in the mail today. Glad I was on your short list to get [a copy of “In God We Trust”]! I sat down and started reading it again and I started laughing out loud again at Jean Shepherd's great stories and his wonderful writing. It's an American classic and so are you, my friend. Our hearty best wishes to you and Toni and your entire family.”  On Facebook Smock posted:
  Soon I will be back to full speed on politics, not that it has ever been out of my mind. But I did feel the real need to get away from it for a while by watching old Westerns, engaging in my photography hobby, and I even cleaned up the storage area in our basement. Anything but watch news of another Trump appointment. Sunrises and sunsets remind me of things more eternal and I look for these golden hours to reflect on things. I took this image at sunset last night. I sat on a lovely hill for almost an hour waiting for the low light and watching the clouds go from white to red. Good for the soul.
 West Virginia before the snow came, photo by Ray Smock' below, Jim Spicer, Packer fan
This from Jim Spicer:
            A 65-year old woman had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital. While on the operating table she had a near death experience. Seeing God she asked, “Is my time up?”
God said, “No, you have another 33 years, 2 months and 8 days to live.”
Upon recovery, the woman decided to stay in the hospital and have a face-lift, liposuction, breast implants and a tummy tuck. She even had someone come in and change her hair color and brighten her teeth! Since she had so much more time to live, she figured she might as well make the most of it. After her last operation, she was released from the hospital. While crossing the street on her way home, she was killed by an ambulance. Arriving in front of God, she demanded, “I thought you said I had another 33 years? Why didn't you pull me out of the path of the ambulance?”
God replied: “I didn't recognize you!”
I received an email from Melinda Oswald Ramadan (above), who wrote that she recently learned that is the granddaughter of Paulino Monterrubio, whom I interviewed and wrote about in “City of the Century.”  Paulino’s son, who Melinda thinks was a nightclub singer, got her mother, an Estonian immigrant, pregnant, and Melinda was adopted and raised by parents in Illinois.  She wrote:
In the years before I found information on my birth father’s family, I had hoped he was still in Chicago.  I threw myself into Mexican history via books, television series (Latino Americans, etc.) and as much as I could find via the Internet.  I learned how many Mexican families came North to work in steel mills and/or in the meat packing industry.  And it was because of your book that I could understand why one of the birth certificates for one of the family members indicated that Paulino Senior was working in a pool room, and how they had lived in Joliet (where my father, Paulino, was born).  Never did I take so much interest in history until I realized how much of it was in the making in the lives of both of my family members.
I emailed back, “Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.  In the Roy Dominguez book “Valor” I talk about how memorable my interview with your grandfather was.  It’s been over 40 years since I interviewed him, but I still remember it vividly.”  Here’s what’s I wrote in the Afterword to “Valor.”
  John Bodnar’s epic “The Transplanted: A History of Immigrants in Urban America” (1987) developed the paradigm of immigrants and their offspring as active agents rather than as mere victims.  I had a similar epiphany after interviewing Gary steelworker Paulino Monterrubio.  All I initially wanted to question him about were the ways he was discriminated against, which he was, and that’s certainly part of the story.  But he wanted to tell me about being a neighborhood warden during World War II, and he was eager to show me his citizenship papers, union cards, and pictures of his family.  Thankfully, I was a good listener, the first prerequisite for an oral historian. Paulino put up with the discrimination, but the reality of his life – the way he wanted to be remembered – was not just as somebody who was kicked around but as a man who had this, did that, and left a mark through his relatives and his kids.


Astronaut John Glenn, a marine fighter pilot during World War II and Korea (baseball great was his wingman) and the first American to orbit Earth (in 1962), is dead at age 95. Although I was not all that caught up in America’s space program during the 1960s, I was deeply impressed by Glenn’s entire career, including four terms in the Senate. In 1998 at age 77 Glenn boarded a space shuttle and went back into space.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day of Infamy

“December seventh, 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Jimbo in the Calumet Regional Archives; Post-Trib photo by Jim Karczewski

It’s always interesting (and sometimes a little scary) to discover what quotes reporters use after interviewing you. Nancy Webster’s front page Post-Trib article on remembering Pearl Harbor on the seventy-fifth anniversary of that momentous event began by noting the dwindling number of survivors –that’s probably why she spoke with me and Gary historian John Trafny rather than World War II vets who had been there.  Trafny told Nancy Webster that his father was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Oahu when Japanese planes attacked. Trafny said, Steve was on his way to the mess hall — he thought one of the stoves exploded. Then he saw the Rising Sun (the Japanese emblem) on the side of the plane.”  Webster added: “According to the family story, Trafny’s Aunt Veronica wrote a letter to President Roosevelt asking what happened to her brother. The letter was forwarded to the Red Cross and then on to Steve Trafny's colonel, who ordered the young man to sit down in his presence and write his family a letter to let them know he was alive.”

Here are statements of mine that appear in Webster’s piece;
* The interesting thing in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack — the government censored the showing of any images so as not to alarm people to the tremendous extent of the damage to our fleet. A lot was classified.
* Pearl Harbor will continue to be remembered [because] it brought home to Americans that the world is small and had come to a point where we could not be isolated from the world's problems.  It will be a big part of history, even if the celebrations of the veterans continue to tail off.
* [When I visited Hickam Air Force Base in 1965], there were still bullet marks on the buildings that had never been cleaned up. The idea was that it was a reminder to be vigilant, as part of the reason Pearl Harbor happened was because of the lack of vigilance by the military.
* When I was growing up, it was a badge of pride to have a family member in that war.
 Vic, Midge and Jimbo Lane, circa 1943


My parents were both 25 years old and living in Easton, Pennsylvania, on Pearl Harbor Day.  Midge was in her seventh month of pregnancy with me.  Because Vic was a chemist with a job considered vital to the war effort, he was deemed to be more valuable as a civilian than as a soldier.  Still, I believe part of him regretted not going off to war. For some of his friends going off to war was the adventure of their lives.
Don Wallace and Wendy Masters; NWI Times photos by Joyce Russell

The NWI Times cover story, “From Paradise to a War Zone” profiled Don Wallace of Portage, 84, and Wendy Masters of Valparaiso, 78, who were kids living near Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack.  Wallace told reporter Joyce Russell: “I’ll always remember that first plane coming over.  If you had a rock, you could have thrown it and hit it.”  Masters recalled that her parents were convinced the Japanese would land troops and possibly poison the reservoir that provided their drinking water.  Russell also interviewed Lake Station history teacher Tom Clark (a former student of mine), who has on display in his classroom such wartime artifacts as Purple Hearts, servicemen’s letters, and items recovered from the USS Arizona, including spoons and a silver tray. Calling Pearl Harbor “that generation’s 9/11,” Clark described visiting the Battleship Arizona Memorial: “The theater blows you way.  Then you get on a launch to go to the Arizona memorial, which straddles over the ship and a wall with the names of all those killed.  You look at this, and you are just awed.”
 "Ghost Ship" interior before the fire


Dozens of young people perished in a warehouse fire in Oakland, California, located just a few miles from my friends Gaard and Chuck Logan. The property had not been inspected for over a decade.  The building, dubbed the “Ghost Ship” by artists who used it as a work space and crash pad, was a fire trap, with no sprinkler system and very few exits.  Due to the housing shortage and gentrification of former bohemian neighborhoods, warehouse communes have become increasingly common. It evidently was a happening place but a death trap with faulty wiring and other structural deficiencies.  The owner looks to be in serious trouble.  Some 30 years ago I stayed in a West Berlin warehouse with university students, thanks to a professor who knew my friend Sheila Hamanaka.

For a final exam review David Parnell put together a Jeopardy quiz with categories such as Popes and Kings, Places, Name that Crusade, Crusades Terminology, and “Kingdom of Heaven,” the 2005 film.  I pretty much stayed on the sidelines since most students were enthusiastically participating.  Some were extremely competitive, and David was quit adept at his duties as moderator and scorekeeper.   That afternoon none of the Jeopardy contestants knew what month (June) in 1944 D-Day (Operation Overlord) took place.
Mike Olszanski posted a 1986 photo of him with our late lamented poker buddy Fred Gaboury in East Berlin, an old, radical lumberjack.  Mutual friend Connie Mack-Ward wrote:
            Fred and I were at some event, sitting by each other and both smoking. I was holding our ash tray - there was no place to put it down while we were using it. Fred then offered to hold it, and I said, “No, that's OK, I'm fine.” Eager to be a gentleman, Fred crunched my fingers together until they were almost broken and took the ashtray out of my hand. He had no idea he was hurting me, of course.  I always let Fred perform his courtesies after that - I was afraid of being maimed by “The Frozen Logger.”

I picked up opatki packages at Nativity Church in Portage. Toni always sends one to her sister Mary, who has trouble finding it in Punta Gorda, Florida.  In Willard J. Dolman’s “Golden Memories and Silver Tears” (2000) – a nonfiction portrayal of a coal miner’s son growing up in northeastern Pennsylvania during the Great Depression -  is this description of an ethnic Christmas dinner practice:
  Jadek said the prayer before the meal and Babka distributed the opatki, a half sheet of this blessed unleavened bread to each adult and child. No one ate until the opatki ritual was first completed.  In this tradition each person shared his or her opatki with another person by breaking off a tiny piece of the other person’s opatki and saying something like, “I wish you health during the coming year.”
When the Lane household would do it for Wigilia (pronounced valia), a Polish Christmas Eve tradition, we’d exchange kisses as well as good wishes.

BeyoncĂ©’s Lemonade” topped Rolling Stone’s Top 25 album list.  Also honored were the final efforts of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen as well as the Rolling Stones blues album and one by Parquet Court, who I saw live at Pappy and Harriet’s in Pioneertown, California.  On the singles list was Bob Dylan doing the Johnny Mercer classic “That Old Black magic” from his Frank Sinatra tribute album. The article states: The only guy this year to release a Frank Sinatra tribute album and win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Dylan pays his respects to the Chairman of the Board, rasping a standard from the Johnny Mercer songbook and yet somehow bringing his own sense of menace to it.”