Friday, March 27, 2015

Promised Land


“I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.”
“Promised Land,” Bruce Springsteen
In Sara Davidson’s “Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties” (1977) an FM radio host spends hours while high on drugs in his man-cave putting together seamless music medleys that seem to have synchronicity.  Driving to IUN, I heard a WXRT set that brought to mind that character.  After James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” came “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac followed by “Crystal Village” by Peter Yorn, “Come with Me Baby” by Kongos, and “Promised Land” by Springsteen.  British sensation James Bay ruminated about the impossibility of recapturing the past:

Tried to keep you close to me,
But life got in between
Tried to square not being there
But think that I should have been

Hold back the river, let me look in your eyes
Hold back the river, so I
Can stop for a minute and see where you hide
Hold back the river, hold back

Once upon a different life
We rode our bikes into the sky
But now we call against the tide
Those distant days are flashing by

As in many Springsteen songs “Promised Land” paints a bleak picture of contemporary America but ends on a note of hope.

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

The dogs on main street howl,
'cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man,
And I believe in a promised land
I believe in a promised land
Responses to Steel Shavings, volume 44, have been gratifying.  On the cover of Cindy Karlberg’s nice “Thank You” card was Edward Hopper’s “5 A.M.” Secretary Delores Crawford asked me to sign her copy.  Chuck Gallmeier wanted a second for former student Thora Evans; her son, who worked for IUN’s Physical Plant, got gunned down last year on one of Gary’s “mean streets.”  From Paris filmmaker Blandine Huk wrote: “Dear Jimbo, Thank you for having used the pictures of My Name is Gary. When we received the book and I saw it, I had the feeling that we also belong now a little bit to the city of Gary and its history and that makes me really happy.”

I got a call from IUN’s Career Center that a Bob Lane was looking for me.  Could it be my nephew Bob, I wondered?  No, it was a Steel Shavings fan, on campus for the Anthropology dollar book sale, who grew up in Black Oak.  I asked him if he’d read Joe Klein’s “Payback” about Vietnam vet Gary Cooper; he turned out to have been a neighbor and recalled Hammond police killing him after he turned violent while suffering a flashback.  At the Archives I showed him my dog-eared copy of “Payback” and gave him my Vietnam Vets issue that contains a 45-page excerpt about Cooper that brilliantly captures the blue-collar, counter-culture milieu of Black Oak during the 1970s.

In “The Imaginary Girlfriend” John Irving equates writing to wrestling – “one eighth talent and seven eighths discipline” -  in words that ring true.  The author of “The World According to Garp” wrote:

Good writing means rewriting, and good wrestling is a matter of redoing – repetition without cease is obligatory, until the moves become second nature.  I have never thought of myself as a “born” writer – anymore than I think of myself as a “natural” athlete, or even a good one.  What I am is a good rewriter; I never get anything right the first time – I just know how to revise, and revise.

On the way to Birky Women’s Center for a talk by sociologist Kevin McElmurry on “Music, Masculinity and Mega-churches,” I didn’t even bat an eye when a guy approaching said, “I love you.”  I’m used to students talking with an ear piece.  In Moraine was a large graffiti board on which people drew and wrote short statements.  One announced, “Serbs are awesome.”  Next to “I love being a lesbian” a second person had scrolled, “That’s hot!”
 above, Dr. Kevin McElmurry; below, Rev. Joel Olsteen
Kevin showed illustrations of ten mega-churches. Most were in the South and non-affiliated evangelical Baptist.  Joel Olseen’s Lakewood Church in Houston was by far the largest.  I’ve come across Olsteen’s TV show after the Sunday news shows.  McElmurry studied a mega-church in Columbia, Missouri, whose main mission is to attract un-churched male seekers even though, ironically, about two-third of attendees are women.   Services, carefully scripted down to the last minute, resemble rock concerts, with giant video screens, extravagant lighting, and other high-tech special effects.  Rather than stressing intimacy and audience participation, the idea is to put male audience members at ease. Both Christian rock selections and mainstream standards are designed to illustrate the lesson of the day, such as R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” which begins:

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts

A good crowd was on hand, and Ausra Buzenas asked particularly insightful questions.  Connectionz mainstay Kaden Sowards, an F to M transgender, had a deeper voice than last time we spoke and except for breasts looks like a young man.  Like me, Scott Fulk had a somewhat cynical view of high-living modern evangelists as scam artists, like a modern day Elmer Gantry or Billy Sunday.  Kevin noted the scandals that have tarnished the reputation of mega-churches but believes many leaders are sincere in their desire to reach those in need of spiritual nourishment or help overcoming addiction and dependency.  I asked whether there are any prominent female evangelists, such as Aimee Semple McPherson of 90 years ago.  Kevin replied in the negative, one reason being that most Baptists don’t countenance women preachers so they are in subservient roles.
Alissa (above) and Miranda wished Phil a Happy Birthday with photos and loving words.  Miranda, who compiled a YouTube video, wrote of her dad: “You are so driven in life but you still manage to have a sense of humor and make everyone around you laugh.”  Sweet.  In the evening Toni and I got to sing to him.
above, from "Mother Jones"; below, sign used by tolerant businesses 
Good old Jerry Davich railed against Republican politicians’ latest move that “reinforces our state’s backward image,” noting that even the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, opposed the measure.  Davich wrote:

Embarrassed is the word that best sums up my feelings toward Senate Bill 101. Not angry. Not disappointed. Certainly not surprised.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a poorly perfumed piece of legislation for what smells to me like legal discrimination and an obvious backlash to same-sex marital equality in our regressive state.
New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz quipped: “In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion. . . . [even if it] costs the state billions of dollars.  While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. ‘Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,’ she said.”

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Catholics vs. Convicts


“Save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me.” Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz at halftime of “Catholics vs. Convicts” 1988 “brawl” game against Miami

On October 15, 1988, when the number 1 ranked Miami Hurricanes visited Notre Dame Stadium, many students wore “Catholics vs. Convicts” and “Hate Miami” t-shirts. Miami had won 36 straight regular season games but had a reputation for sleazy recruitment practices and tolerating questionable off-the-field behavior from its players.  Prior to the opening kickoff a brawl broke out between the players in the entrance tunnel.  Living up to their nickname “Fighting Irish,” Notre Dame won the contest 31-30 after Miami coach Jimmy Johnson elected to try a two-point conversion with 45 seconds left in the game rather than settle for a tie.

Under the headline “Catholics vs. Convicts?” NWI Times reporter Steve Hanlon reported on a press conference where Guerin Catholic coach Pete Smith badmouthed opponent Griffith in the upcoming 3A state championship game.  Last month Griffith’s season appeared over after a 45-second brawl that ensued after a Hammond player shoved Anthony Murphy, who was going up for a dunk, into a wall.  When twin brother Tremell Murphy went to his aid, someone allegedly punched him in the back of the head.  Judge Pera overturned the IHSAA ruling, citing other cases where the penalty was much less severe.  The main difference: footage of those didn’t go viral on social media.

Coach Smith claimed Golden Eagles fans had taken up the chant “Catholics vs. Convicts” and that, while he doesn’t agree with such a characterization, he believes Griffith does not belong in the tournament.  Speaking out of both sides of his mouth, Smith claimed that it was unfair for Griffith to have had three weeks off to get “rejuvenated” but then surmised that the team had still continued to practice.  He said, “We hope to get into their bench,” a veiled invitation for referees to call fouls on Griffith’s star players the twins Anthony and Tremell Murphy (below).  Downstate refs frequently show bias toward Region teams, so it would not be far-fetched since officials are somewhat beholden to the IHSAA.
Guerin Catholic’s best player, Matt Holba, is from Chesterton.  One wonders if Coach Smith recruited him illegally.  Gary Hayes, the Griffith coach, told Al Hamnik that the Murphy twins, who have lived in Griffith throughout their years in school, have resisted agents trying to lure them to a private school.  Hamnik wrote: “The Murphys, at 6-foot-5 with guard skills, can turn a game around quick as a hiccup.”  In a column entitled “Guerin must lose its elitist attitude,” the veteran Times reporter lit into Coach Pete Smith for his whining and poor sportsmanship and praised Griffith coach Gary Hayes for not getting “into a hissy fit with Smith.” Hamnik added:

How many Guerin fans actually made the ‘Catholics vs. Convicts comments to his face?  Was here a sign-waving, torch-carrying crowd chanting “Catholics vs. Convicts’ through the streets of Noblesville?  Was it that unanimous?
  Or did Pete Smith hear it secondhand, from a few, then pass it on as water-cooler gossip?
  Smith owes the Griffith School Corporation an apology.

Under intense scrutiny the Griffith players, coaches, administrators, and attorneys who took the case to court have been great.   As the headline of Indianapolis Star reporter Gregg Doyle’s column put it, “Griffith kids acting like adults; can IHSAA?”  Doyle wrote:

The kids at Griffith have done everything they can do to make amends.  They were barred from ‘The Region’s’ annual sportsmanship dinner, a petty move by the adults up there, so the kids at Griffith had their own sportsmanship dinner.  They invited the kids from Hammond.  Both teams sat together, ate together, grew together.

They practiced on their own at the YMCA, just in case.  Folks around town were down on them, the whole country was mocking them online, but the kids from Griffith kept it together.  They met every day at the public library because they’d been suspended from school for a week and wanted to keep their grades up – doing homework, studying for tests – just in case they were allowed back onto the court.
East Chicago State Representative Earl Harris (above), stricken with cancer, passed away at age 73. House Democratic leader Scott Pelath (my state rep) called him a true gentleman, “one of the finest and most visionary lawmakers I ever knew” and “a tireless advocate for the future of Northwest Indiana.”  Denzel Smith wrote: [He was] my Dad's best friend and an awesome man. I am honored to have known him and I'm grateful that he served his community well as State Rep. Mr. Earl always was encouraging and always willing to lend a hand. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps. God bless you and rest in peace.”
The Black Student Union and Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs sponsored a screening of “The Trials of Muhammad Ali,” which brought back a flood of memories, including watching the first Sonny Liston fight in 1964 on cable TV in Williamsport at the home of a fraternity brother.  Ali was certainly a trailblazer who suffered mightily for his outspokenness and becoming a Black Muslim.  Many reporters, in fact, continued to call him Cassius Clay long after he took the name Muhammad Ali.

I learned that the unanimous Supreme Court decision that overturned Ali’s conviction of draft evasion and upheld his claim to be a conscientious objector was all set to go the other way when Justice John Marshall Harlan switched his position after a clerk pointed out that the Black Muslim position was identical to the Jehovah Witnesses, a religious group that had been granted conscientious objector status.  Other justices, fearful that all Black Muslims could refuse military service, then found a way to base the ruling on very narrow grounds, namely that his draft board had claimed he was insincere but during oral argument the Solicitor General conceded that Ali was sincere in his belief.  The scene of Ali, suffering from Parkinson’s, lighting the Olympic torch at the Atlanta Games Opening Ceremony caused tears to stream down my face.
I spoke to Steve McShane’s class about Thyra J. Edwards (above), who between 1920 and 1931 was a Gary teacher, social worker, and director of Lake County Children’s Home for orphans.  Thyra was the subject of historian Gregg Andrews’ biography, subtitled “Black Activist in the Global Freedom Struggle.”  In 1925, optimistic over the possibilities for racial progress in the Steel City, Edwards declared: “I am inclined to call Gary the eighth wonder of the world.  A barren, uninhabited waste of sand dunes and thistles has in 20 years developed into one of the largest industrial centers in America.”  She was appointed to several interracial commissions, served on the board of Stewart Settlement House, and was friends with Judge E. Miles Norton.  Moreover, through a circle of Chicago friends, she met the leading social workers and black leaders of that day.

Thyra soon became disillusioned, however, at the possibilities for racial progress in Gary because of the pernicious influence of the Ku Klux Klan, the increasingly segregated housing patterns, and the decision of Mercy and Methodist hospital boards to deny black patients access to their facilities.  In 1934, well on her way to becoming a radical, feminist, and human rights activist, she wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier:

We played childish games, ate rich cake, tea and jelly, and tried to be awfully nice to each other.  Having no common base of interest we had no real conversation – but we chatted and smiled and it might have been Gary, Indiana, or any one of a number of race-Relations fiascos of which I have been guilty.

Beautiful, adventurous, and intellectually curious, Edwards developed an intimate friendship with union leader A. Philip Randolph, who praised her “keen analytical mind, fine poise, modes charm and a fluency of presentation that will capture the admiration of the most critical.”  Biographer Andrews wrote:

She rejected orthodox religion and conventional marriage.  She was a theater critic, passionate lover of the arts, excellent cook, and fashion-conscious beauty writer known for her impeccable taste and collection of peasant blouses.  She led educational travel seminars to northern and western Europe, Scandinavia, Mexico, and the Soviet Union.

The same person who as a young girl was warned by her father to stick to the same street on her way to school every day and never to take a different route later walked down the street to the Kremlin, thrilled when she marched in Red Square in a May 1st celebration.  Edwards visited Napoleon’s tomb, wined, dined, and danced with European politicians and dignitaries; took lovers in a number of countries; and enjoyed nude sunbathing on the Soviet Black Sea Riviera.

Thyra Edwards supported anti-Fascist forces in Spain and Germany, was active in the wartime Double-V campaign, and due to her radical connections came under FBI scrutiny during the Red Scare.  She died in 1953, on the eve, Gregg Andrews concluded, of the civil rights movement she helped nurture.

In the memoir “The Imaginary Girlfriend,” John Irving wrote about being the butt of novelist Nelson’s Algren’s disdainful humor while a participant in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop during the mid-1960s.  Irving suspected that Algren thought him too soft since he was a small-town, prep school brat who didn’t play poker and wrestled rather than boxed.  Years later, when Kurt Vonnegut brought them together, Algren acted like he couldn’t remember meeting Irving at Iowa and pretended to confuse him with Clifford Irving, who had produced a bogus autobiography of recluse Howard Hughes.  Algren said he appreciated a good scam and then winked.
Reacting with disdain to Ted Cruz’s plans to run for president, both Anne Balay and Steve Pickert posted a Dr. Seuss “Green Eggs and Ham” parody.   The frigging Indiana legislature passed a “religious objection” law that will allow businesses to discriminate against gays.  Anne Balay posted: “Indiana, I’m leaving you anyway, you don’t have to pile on the reasons.”  John D’Emilio responded: “Yes, observing its current politics does put your denial of tenure in its true context, doesn’t it?”

Closer to home, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson wants the land where the Sheraton Hotel once stood converted into a park and ice skating.  Samuel A. Love posed in front of the Memorial Auditorium fa├žade, all that’s left off that important landmark.