Monday, July 22, 2019


“I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good,
I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camaro’s hood.”
    “Wishlist,” Pearl Jam
 59-year veteran steelworker John Gold; photos by Jerry Davich
Jerry Davich wrote a Post-Tribune column on steelworkers who put in 50 years at the mill, despite the dirty, unhealthy, dangerous environment and constant shift work that, as one veteran exclaimed, took ten years out of your life.  Why would someone do that, he wondered. Some feared they’d soon die if they retired.  Others were proud to be called steelworkers and claimed to like the workplace camaraderie. Others didn’t have much of a home life and preferred not to be home all day.  Of course, the “golden handcuffs” phenomenon was still in play, the good money that paid for maintaining a middle-class lifestyle, sanding children and grandchildren to college.  Replying the Davich’s column, Carla Waters Spencer stressed the economic security a mill job provided her family: My dad worked at US Steel for 52 years in the coke plant, retiring after my mom was diagnosed with cancer because she needed his help at home. Mom and Dad were able to raise the four of us kids, pretty much on his income, and we wanted for nothing.”Valerie Dixon commented:
  My dad worked at USS for 46 years! He started out in a dirty section and moved to an overhead crane in shipping at the sheet and tin mill; loading coils. He had health problems for as long as I can remember; one being thyroid problems. They didn’t use hearing protection back then either and the damage was done by the time he started wearing ear plugs. The shifts they had them work were stressful: 1 week days,1 week 4 to 12’s, 1 week midnights; alternating until a vacation. They did have great vacation benefits back then; 13 weeks every so many years. Traveling the country during those paid weeks off were the best childhood memories.
Cindy C. Bean posted a photo of hubby Larry finding Davich’s “Lost Gary” at Sam’s Club and one she took of a window in an abandoned church. 
 Cubs fan Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam
I’m approaching my golden anniversary being associated with IU Northwest.  I still go in to the office and keep active guest lecturing and writing a blog.  It keeps the brain active; also, I am vain enough to believe that my Steel Shavings magazine and work with the Calumet Regional Archives has lasting value. There are no exotic vacation spots or adventures on my wish list or bucket list beyond continuing what I do now, including travel to scholarly conferences.  Like Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, in 2016 I witnessed the Chicago Cubs win the World Series for the first time in our lifetimes, near the top of our wish lists.  In a recent interview Vedder talked about his love affair with the Cubs:
  It probably started because my grandpa took me to Wrigley Field. The first day I was about 4 and a half or 5, we saw the Pirates play the Cubs. When we came up the bleachers, you could smell the stench of one of those white capsules in the piss thing. That was the smell, mix it with hot dog, and walking up the ramp and I could hear the pop of the gloves, it was a Wizard of Oz moment to see that field for the first time.  It was the greenest green I ever, the whitest white, Jose Cardenal, the coolest afro. That moment I feel something inside changed, and a fire was lit. 
 Brandy Halladay at Hall of fame ceremony
Inducted into the Hall of Fame were six former stars, including Cub reliever Lee Smith, White Sox clutch hitter Harold Baines, and Phillies pitcher Ray “Doc” Holladay, who died two years ago when his small plane crashed into the Gulf of Mexico.  He’d been suffering from depression and addiction to pain medication, and there of speculation that he took his own life.  Joining the Phillies in 2010, Holladay pitched a perfect game in May of that year and won two games in the postseason against Cincinnati and San Francisco, the eventual World Series champs.  Lee Smith thanked his Castor, Louisiana, school principal for buying the equipment his family couldn’t afford that enabled him to play baseball. Yankee closer Mariano Rivera, the first unanimous selection, was the final speaker and joked that he’s always the last one called on.
 army troops march down Broadway in Gary during 1919 steel strike
Robert Blaszkiewicz’s mention of the hundredth anniversary of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919 reminded me that I taught an entire course about that fateful year and used William M. Tuttle’s “Race Riot: Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919. Racial disturbances also took place in Washington, D.C., Omaha, Nebraska, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and throughout the South.  Required reading included Robert K. Murray’s “Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria,” and David Brody’s “Labor in Crisis,” about a nationwide steel strike that resulted army troops coming to Gary, jailing union leaders, and crushing the strike.  The class read the coming-of-age novel “Winesburg, Ohio” by Sherwood Anderson and Gene Smith’s “When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson,” which details the President becoming incapacitated during the Versailles Treaty ratification fight.  I taught the course some 55 years after these events, which seemed like ancient history – about the same number of years past as the March on Washington and John F. Kennedy’s assassination. I was incredulous when an older student recalled listening to news of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic.
Momma Mia! cast: Kolsch front, middle; Romersberger back, third from left
Toni and I thoroughly enjoyed the production of “Momma Mia!” at Memorial Opera House.  We first seaw the play in Las Vegas and enjoyed both the movie starring Meryl Streep and its sequel, featuring an iconic cameo by Cher singing “Fernando.” The best numbers were the upbeat ones involving the entire cast, including lively dancers led by long-legged Jordyn Romersberger (an instructor at Mirror Image Studio) and stunning, blond-wigged recent VU grad Carley Kolsch.  Bobbie Sue Kvachkoff shined as Tanya and Mark Williams as Englishman Harry, one of Donna’s three former lovers.  That fling was his last heterosexual affair, Harry confided.

“We lived poor as dump dogs,”a character declares in John Updike’s “My Father on the Vege of Disgrace,” an expression I’d never heard before. In that short story from “Licks of Love” (2000) the author describes a hometown west of Philadelphia not unlike mine, Fort Washington, sex decades before:
    In this present day of strip malls and towns that are mere boundaries on a developer’s map, it is hard to imagine the core of authority that existed then in small towns, at least in the view of a child – the power of righteousness and enforcement that radiated from the humorless miens of the central men.  They were not necessarily officials; our town was too small to have many of them.  But certain local merchants, a clergyman or two, the undertaker whose green-awninged mansion dominated the main intersection, across from a tavern and a drugstore, not to mention the druggist and the supervising principal of the school, projected a potential for condemnation and banishment.
One of my mother’s chief concerns concerning my aberrant behavior could be summed up by the words, “What would neighbors think?”  When I came home from college, she always tried to drag me to church until I showed up with a beard.  That Sunday, church was never mentioned. Unlike Toni, whose Catholic upbringing fostered feelings of guilt, for me it was shaming yourself or the family.
Time magazine’s Lucy Feldman interviewed Richard Russo (above), about his new book, “Chances Are.” Responding to a critic, Russo said, “I have to admit, having been raised a catholic, my first instinct when anybody says anything bad about me is always to say, ‘God, is that true?’”   Attending the University of Arizona in 1969 at the time of the first draft lottery, he recalled joking around with friends initially and then drifting away to call home. His number was 332, which he gave to a character in the novel. Ruminating over his fate, Russo stated:“There are certain times when it’s good to be industrious, but that night it was good to be lucky.”  He elaborated:
 There are certain things that are fated, that no matter how hard we try are beyond our ability to alter or shape. There are certain things over which we do have agency.  And then of course there is dumb luck.  But suppose you put me in the exact same place where I started, with the same parents, living on the same street and you give me 99 more tries.  There would be 99 different outcomes.
The town of Highlight hosted a Pride Day that featured entertainment (including Eve Bottando playing accordian), displays, and spontaneous outbursts of enthusiasm among the LGBTQ participants and supporters. One couple getting married changed in a dressing room along with drag queen getting ready to perform.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Hot Hot Hot

“Me mind is on fire
Me soul is on fire
Feelin hot hot hot”
   “Hot Hot Hot,” Buster Poindexter 
David Johansen in middle
Written and first recorded in 1982 by Arrow (Alphonsus Celestine Edmund Cassell) from the Caribbean island of Monserrat as an upbeat calypso, “Hot Hot Hot” became a hit five years later for David Johansen, formerly with the New York Dolls, under the pseudonym Buster Poindexter. The music video caught on, and “Hot Hot Hot” became a karaoke favorite, with the word hot repeated a total of 137 times.  Toyota commercialized the tune (Toyota’s Hot Hot Hot”),and The Cure recorded a version with lyrics about being struck by lightning.  Jimmy Buffet opens most shows with “Hot Hot Hot,” which has been used in many TV and movie soundtracks, including “The Office” and “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” (2000).
I wrote my University of Hawaii master’s thesis on somebody named Poindexter, territorial governor Joseph Boyd Poindexter.  Appointed by FDR, Poindexter helped implement the New Deal in the Hawaiian islands and brought Asian-Americans into leadership roles in Hawaii’s Democratic Party.  Sadly, he is most remembered (and not fondly) for authorizing martial law during World War II, which lasted much longer than islanders thought necessary, even though the governor was ordered to do so by Franklin Roosevelt, leaving him no choice.  Had he refused the President’s direct order, Hawaii faced the prospect of a military takeover and loss of home rule. Nicknamed “Mahope Joe” for his rather plodding, uncharismatic personality, he nonetheless was notorious within Iolani Palace, I found out, for pinching women unfortunate to be behind him in the elevator.

A record heat wave is affecting most of the nation, including Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.  At 8:30 the temperature was already 86 degrees with high humidity.  Yesterday was even hotter.  Numerous weekend outdoor events got cancelled but not the Porter County Fair. I used to work the IUN booth there in a building that at least had air conditioning.  A friend worked in a fried veggie truck that if still in operation must be insufferable in such weather. Midway through the Cibs game an huge cheer erupted even though nothing had transpired on the field.  The wind had shifted to the north, suddenly dropping the temperature ten to twenty degrees. With the wind blowing out the score had reached 6-5, Cubs, in the fifth.  No runs scored after that.

I’ve received several notices about my sixtieth high school reunion, scheduled for October 2020. Those less sentimental or still harboring traumatic memories from their teen years generally don’t come.  I’ve attended every one since my twentieth, enjoy the surprises they always provide, and retain vivid memories from each.  In 1980 I shared a smoke in the parking lot with Gaard and Chuck Logan and was surprised some people hardly recognized me because I’d grown a good six inches since high school; in 1990 Susan McGrath asked me to dance to “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner; in 1995 I got Wayne Wylie (who never dances, wife Fran warned) to boogie with me to the Ramones’ “I Wanna be Sedated.” Favorite math teacher Ed Taddei came to the fortieth, sexy Miss Polsky and Mr. Beck to the 45th, and several first-timers to the fiftieth, including childhood pal Jay Bumm and Homecoming Queen Wendy Henry wearing, unbelievably, a tiara.  In 2015 traded baseball memories with old pal Eddie Piszak; classmate Fred Scott played hits from 1960, including “The Twist” by Chubby Checker, “Go Jimmy Go” by Jimmy Clanton, and “Save the Last Dance For Me” by the Drifters. Although I need the help of name tags for a few classmates, most I recognize almost immediately. One year, however I mistook Carolyn Aubel, who only attended Upper Dublin (U.D.) her senior year, for Carolyn Ott and blurted out that I’d had a crush on her in junior high.  Now I’m more careful.

In John Updike’s “Lunch Hour” first published in the New Yorker, David Kern attends his forty-fifth reunion in a small Pennsylvania community not unlike my home town of Fort Washington, PA, whose “underpopulated terrain,”Updike wrote, was now “filled with shopping centers, car lots, aluminum diners, and fast-food franchises.”The only such franchise I recall near us was a Dairy Queen (we called it a frozen custard stand) where Judy Jenkins and Alice Ottinger worked one summer.  Updike describes reunion attendees being greeted by displays of “photos from the happy days – duck tails, bobby sox, the smoke-filled luncheonette.”David observes that youthful personality traits were poor predictors of adult achievement:
 It was the comically tongue-tied yokel, invisible in class, who moved to Maryland and founded an empire of plant nurseries and parked a silver Jaguar in the lot of the reunion restaurant.  It was the forlorn, scorned daughter of a divorced mother – a monstrous thing in those days – who had become a glamorous merchandising executive out in Chicago.  The class cut-ups had become schoolteachers and policemen, solemn and ponderous with the responsibility of maintaining local order.   The prize for newest father – his bouncy fourth wife in a low-cut satin minidress, indistinguishable from his third, five years ago – went to a boy who had never, as far as anyone could recall, attended a dance or gone out on a date. The class wallflowers, an almost invisible backdrop of colorless femininity against which the star females had done their cheers and flaunted their charms, had acquired graceful manners and a pert suburban poise, while the queens of the class had succumbed to a lopsided overdevelopment of the qualities – bustiness, peppiness, recklessness, a cunning chiseled hardness – that had made them spectacular.
Updike’s last line is not true of U.D. stars Suzi Hummel, Susan Floyd, Judy Gradin, and Marianne Tambourino, all of whom aged gracefully.  Like David, I had grown up in a rural suburb where I was quite popular, moved away for a time, then returned to Upper Dublin school with former classmates.  We both felt insecure and initially didn’t fit into any one group until befriended by a girl, in David’s case Julia, in mine Mary Delp.  Mary taking a liking to me did wonders for my self-image. We first bonded her a school bus one afternoon when I was visiting Eddie Piszak; in David and Julia’s case, it was during their 55-minute lunch breaks when they jumped in a car with two others, drove around, and ended up at a burger joint. It was a time in our lives when, to paraphrase Updike, we were on the edge of those possibilities approaching to shape and limit our lives.
 Mary in 2015

Like Upper Dublin, David’s old school, “with its waxed oak hallways and wealth of hidden asbestos, had been razed” and at his next reunion “the door prizes had been yellow bricks salvaged from the rubble.”  In my case, it was an offer to tour the new facility, which I declined.  I preferred to remember the old junior-senior high building.  Shortly after graduating, Chuck Bahmueller, Vince Curll, and I, after consuming a few beers, paid a visit to “Old U.D.”  Stopping to see guidance counselor Mr. Dulfer, always good for a hall pass or excuse slip in a pinch, tactfully passed out mints after getting a whiff of us.  Dulfer’s advice to college-bound seniors never wavered: consider Muhlenberg College, his alma mater.  “Hot Hot Hot” French teacher Renee Polsky greeted us warmly and called me Jacques, which always got a rise out of me. Favorite teacher H.M. Jones was gone, however, summarily dismissed for indecent behavior toward a male student.

Jeanette Strong at Fair Housing rally
Archivist Steve McShane sent a researcher some photos of a Gary civil rights march that took place on September 9, 1963 organized by the Combined Citizens Committee on Open Occupancy (CCCOOO) to protest ghettoized housing conditions and rally support for an open housing ordinance. Thousands assembled at 25th and Broadway behind a coffin emblazoned with the words “Segregated Housing.”  Carrying banners and singing “We Shall Overcome,” the crowd paraded down Broadway to City Hall for a rousing rally.  
above, Gary Works in 1908; below, Allison Schuette
Allison Schuette has written numerous poems inspired by photos from Ron Cohen and my “Gary: A Pictorial History.” Accompanying “The Lakefront Changed from Sand to Steel” is a panoramic view of Gary Works, circa 1908, from the Calumet Regional Archives US Steel digital collection that one can access online.  Schuette wrote: 
Paul says as a younger man he believed racism would hold Gary 
back only a short while: close to Chicago, lots of infrastructure, 
national lakeshore. Liz and I drive up Indiana 49, 
exit on US 12, and drive west to Beverly Shores to avoid 
parking fees. At Kemil Beach, the shoreline sprawls northeast to Michigan, 
southwest to Burns Harbor then Gary: sand to steel. Industrialists
that first decade of the 20thcentury hired men to dig 
into the dunes and drain the swamps. What did it feel like to jump in the 
lake at the end of a grimy day? How large did the labor leave one? 
What stature did one single worker inherit from the scope of the 
industrial imagination? Or did the lake have the power 
to minimize the enterprise, goading the entrepreneur to put in place
a black and white (and brown) world that Paul would have to witness far 
longer than he ever thought possible?
Al explained the concluding lines in this manner: I was intending it to mean that the owners and management were creating and relying on segregation to keep workers opposed to seeing common cause. I also wanted to play on the concept of ‘black and white thinking’ and oversimplification in order to control outsized forces.”
 Kevin and Tina Horn
Juanita Mitchell
Tina Horn successfully pulled off a surprise fiftieth birthday party for hubby Kevin at AJ’s Pizza by pretending it was somebody else’s celebration.  “You got me,” Kevin admitted.  He’s a huge White Sox fan and a couple weeks earlier g Sox as his present.  As we were singing “Happy Birthday,” a Sox player hit a home run that was on the screen behind him, which Kevin didn’t fail to notice.  I talked Region politics with former newsman Robert Blaszkiewicz, who worked for the NWI Times and Chicago Tribune before landing a public-relation position with Franciscan Health.  He turned me on to an article in the Tribune about 107-year-old Juanita Mitchell, who remembered the 1919 Chicago Race Riot, which started when a black kid on a raft drifted close to the white beach, was struck by a rock, and drowned.  Juanita told the Tribune: “My uncle pulled out the biggest gun I’ve ever seen and stood at the window, and I heard him say ‘Here they come,’”Mitchell explained, “It meant the white folks was coming up 35th Street and that the riot was going to begin.”We both lamented the decline in quality of the Times’Sunday Forumsection since editor Doug Ross was bought out.  We agreed thatTimes reporter Joseph Pete is top notch.  Whenever he calls for information about a story, he calls me sir.  He’s that way with everyone, even me, Robert told me, a carryover from the military.Pete’s wife Meredith is an ace reporter for the Post-Tribune.
Meredith and Joseph Pete
 photos by Joseph Pete

For the past three weeks on the way to and from Banta Center for bridge I’ve passed striking machinists picketing the Regal Beloit plant in Valpo.  When I first waved, someone held up a sign asking me to honk if supportive, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  International Association of Machinists Local 2016 Business Representative David Gault, representing the 130 striking employees, told Joseph Pete that health insurance increases over the life of the past two contracts have eaten up workers’ wages.  Regal, which produces aerospace bearings, including parts for military helicopters, has been stonewalling rather than bargaining in good faith. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

What, me worry?

“Getting old is when a narrow waist and a broad mind change places.” Alfred E. Newman
The saying “What, me worry?” often accompanied MAD magazine mascot Alfred E. Newman, who has appeared on almost every MAD cover since the 1950s, when I was a loyal reader of the scabrous cartoon satires within its pages.  Every kid could find humor in the Alfred E. Newman quote,“A teacher is someone who talks in our sleep.”  Over the years any number of celebrities, from Prince Charles to, more recently, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, have been said to resemble the “bumpkin portrait” (MADfounder Harvey Kurtzman’s words) of a “part leering wiseacre, part happy-go-lucky kid.” Given Trump’s most recent verbal depredations, where he recklessly branded Representative Ilhan Omar a communist and “Hater of America” who should go back to where she came from (Somalia), as bigoted supporters shouted, “Send her home,”only MAD seems capable of capturing the utter MADness.  Alfred E. Newman once characterized elections as when politicians find out what people will fall for. For the sake of the republic, I sincerely hope, in the words of the Who, Americans“won’t get fooled again.”
Robert Blaszkiewicz retweeted Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s response to Trump’s incendiary calumnies with this Maya Angelou poem:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise. 
“Chance the Snapper: the Alligator that Mesmerized Chicago,” headlined the New York Times.  On July 9 a five-foot gator was discovered swimming in Chicago’s Humboldt Park lagoon.  For a week, as efforts failed to trap the reptile whose nickname derived from Windy City celebrity Chance the Rapper, ever-larger groups of sightseers gathered at the lagoon’s edge.  Unable to spot the critter among the lily pads, the city of Chicago in desperation hired Floridian Frank “Alligator Bob” Robb. After he snagged Chance the Snapper on its tail with a fishing pole, Robb held a press conference, describing how around 1:30 a.m. he heard it “vocalizing” and spotted its eyes shining in the darkness.  Moving to an optimum position on shore, Alligator Bob caught “the Snapper” on the first try. Briefly was toast of the town, he subsequently threw out the first pitch at a Cubs game. There was talk of keeping the creature in a Chicago zoo, but it’s headed to an animal sanctuary in Florida. Chance the Snapper bobbleheads are presently on sale.
 East Chicago mayor Bob Patrick in 2003 after the court invalidating his primary victory over George Pabay, Times photo by Christopher Smith
Book club member Rich Maroc turned me on to the 2001 documentary “The King of Steeltown” about longtime East Chicago boss Robert “Hollywood Bob” Pastrick.  It being in the Calumet Regional Archives, I checked it out and was pleased to hear commentary from longtime area newsman Rich James.  The film focused on the 1999 mayoral primary when Pastrick faced a formidable challenge from Lake County Democratic chairman Robert Stiglich, who under suspicious circumstances had hundreds of supporters apply for absentee ballots. In a review titled “Hardball Politics in the Heartland,” Chris Sautter wrote: 
  The King of Steeltown" is an offbeat, sometimes humorous inside look at Chicago-style machine politics in a rust-belt city (East Chicago, Indiana) struggling with the decline of the steel industry. The film focuses on the 1999 re-election campaign of Robert A. Pastrick, mayor for three decades and a dominant political force since he launched his career in the early 1950's. Described as the last of America's political bosses, Pastrick is portrayed as an old-style pol who skillfully retains control of this gritty multi-racial industrial community with a well-oiled political machine, an election year multi-million dollar public works program, and a clinical display of old fashion retail politics.
Liz Wuerrfel and Beatrice Petties
Liz Wierrfel interviewed longtime Gary resident Beatrice Petties for the VU Flight Paths project. In “Remember Where You Came From” Beatrice stated:
 I say to my grandkids all the time, you can never forget who you are, but you have to remember where you come from.  I always tell everyone I was a depression baby because I was born in 1929.  In Detroit my mother joined the WPA was trained as a welder. They sent her to school. She had certificates and everything. She thought when she came here, she would go to the mill and get a job. They would not hire her. The only job she could get was a job as a cook or a cleaning. She said, no thank you. And that’s when she took the two jobs, cleaning houses and waitressing.  One time, I sat there and watched as she took orders from five tables. When she came back, not one person got the wrong drink, or the wrong dish. She went up this high for me when I saw her do that. I was sitting there wondering, “How do you remember them?”She said, “You do it, you just learn how to do it, that’s all.”I often wondered how far she would have gone if she had had the opportunities that are open for us now. 
   My brother was born in Gary. As we got older, I had to babysit him naturally. There was a young man that would always come by, which I did not like, period. I said, “Billy, tell him I’m not at home.” And I went in the bedroom and stood with the door open. And he opens the door, and what does he say, “She said to tell you she’s not at home.”Oh, I was ready to kill him. So I had to go out shamefaced and all and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m not going anywhere, I’m babysitting, period.”
   Whatever I learned to do in school, like if it was sewing or cooking, I had to come home and teach him. His rule was if he was in carpenter shop or any other shop that I couldn’t do, he had to teach me. And my aunt was a good cook, she made the best lemon pie in the world. And I could never make that lemon pie. He comes home one day when he was in the service. I said, “I sure wish I could have one of Aunt Mamie’s pies.”And he said, “Which one you talking about, Bea?” And I said, “I’m talking about that lemon pie, you know, the one with that thick meringue on it.”And she did not use an egg beater to make that meringue, she used a fork. He goes in the kitchen – he didn’t tell me what he was doing – and made that pie. I’ve been trying to make that lemon pie for I don’t know how long said, “how come you got to make it?”And he laughed and hugged me. He said, “Because I paid attention and you didn’t.” Yeah, my brother and I were good friends.

Liz Wuerrfel introduced me to Belt magazine, which will be publishing a poem she wrote about Gary.  I found Kay Saunders’s memoir about growing up in the rust belt city of Akron, Ohio, in the June 24, 2019 issue:
   was seven when my family moved to Rubber City. That’s what everyone called Akron—once home to General Tire, BFGoodrich, Firestone, and Goodyear. Although most of the rubber plants were gone by the time we moved to Akron, the specter of industry remained. F.A. Seiberling, founder of Goodyear Tire and Rubber, once lived in the sprawling Stan Hywet Hall. Now the estate is a museum, open for school field trips, weddings, and those who simply wish to see how the rubber barons lived. In our suburban house, on clear days, I sometimes saw the Goodyear blimp, blue and gold and hulking. It hovered in the sky, a distant reminder of prosperity and productivity.
    When I went out with my friends on Friday nights, my mother would wait up for me. My father went up to read around 9:30 with a mystery novel tucked under his arm. By 9:45, when my mother went upstairs to wash her face and take out her contacts, my father would be snoring, his book still open and splayed across his chest.  My mother always wore fleece pajamas and two pairs of wool socks. Even though it had been years since we’d moved from New Orleans, she still wasn’t used to the harsh winters. She shivered in restaurants, malls, and church: everywhere we went. She craved sunlight, the South’s merciless heat.
    On Friday nights, after my father was in bed, my mother ate cheese and crackers, maybe a runny brie, a cranberry stilton, or a cheddar with chives. She usually drank red wine, but in the winter months, she savored a finger or two of scotch. She poured from the expensive bottle my uncle always brought for us when he made his annual visit from Wales.  She watched the ten o’clock news on the trashy channel my father usually forbade us from watching before dinner. He thought the reporters were incompetent, but that’s exactly why she and I liked the station. The Cleveland news was seldom good, and if we laughed at the reporters’ incompetence, it made hearing it easier. A missing child. An entire family killed in a house fire. Another young Black person killed by police officers’ bullets.

Barbara Walczak’s bridge Newsletterpaid tribute to Dave Bigler for achieving the rank of Gold Life master, having accumulated 2500 master points. Congratulating him were numerous partners and admirers, including Mary Kocevar, who took lessons from him at Hobart Senior Center, Trudi McKamey, who met him at a Bridge-O-Rama game, and Wayne Carpenter, who attended Hobart High and IU Northwest with him and like him worked at U.S. Steel for 30 years.  Calling his bridge contributions “Golden,” Walczak wrote: 
 Dave has offered a multitude of lessons throughout the years - all without remuneration. He oftentimes comes to the games with bags of food, also without remuneration – but with gratitude from us.  He signed up as a “pro” to help increase Alzheimer’s donations.  Nine players signed up to play with him, and he accepted them all.  In fact, he doubled their games (2 for the price of 1), and he collected $240 for Alzheimer’s.  He is willing (or more so, he is enthusiastic) to partner with new players – no matter how elemental their skill level is – and those newbies leave having had a successful experience.
The Newsletter noted the passing of Conrad Staudacher, whose big disappointment was not accumulating the 500 points needed to become a Life Master.
 below, Dr. Raymond Carmody
Retired Valpo ophthalmologist Rick Friedman was my bridge partner at Banta Center. Despite never playing together before, we finished right around 50 percent. He’d known eye doctor Tim Carmody, one of my first students, who committed suicide in 1998 at age 46.  Knowing I wrote a medical school letter of recommendation on his behalf, his sister and father, who had an eyecare center in Glen Park, treated me like royalty. Timmy was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known. Several softball teammates went to school with him, and we got to be friends.  After Phil visited his office for an eye exam, he wanted to be an eye doctor because he was so impressed.  I last saw Timmy at a Moody Blues concert, and he seemed fine but evidently couldn’t get over his wife breaking up with him.  I shed a tear as Rick mentioned that Tim’s father, Dr. Raymond Carmody, came of out of retirement afterwards at age 90 to resume work at the family business. A patient of Rick’s, Raymond Carmody died just last year at age 109.
Dr. Eric Friedman
Last year while in Steve McShane’s Indiana History class, IUN student Madelynn “Maddy” Kurgan interviewed Rick Friedman.  Here is part of what Rick told her:
    I learned to play bridge in medical school. It was not a required course. Four of us actually took a night course at a nearby high school and learned enough to play. Then for the next 40 years I didn’t play due to time constraints of a busy practice and the fact that my wife didn’t play cards. Only after retirement did I have enough free time. I considered myself an athlete, frequently playing golf, tennis, racquetball, and even joining softball leagues in Valpo.  My bad back has limited sporting endeavors and turned me back to bridge.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Life of Illusion

“Sometimes, I can’t help but feeling that I’m living a life of illusion.” Joe Walsh, “Life of Illusion”
I love starting the weekend listening to WXRT’s “Saturday Morning Flashback,” especially when I can hear such 1981 favorites as “The Voice” by Moody Blues, “Shake It Up” by the Cars, “867-5309 (Jenny)” by Tommy Tutone and surprises such as “Champagne and Reefer” by Muddy Waters and “Life of Illusion” from the album “There Goes the Neighborhood” by guitar great Joe Walsh, whom I saw live in Merrillville with Ringo Starr and His All-Star band.  “Life of Illusion” dispenses this advice:
Hey, don't you know it's a waste of your day
Caught up in endless solutions
That have no meaning
Just another hunch, based upon jumping conclusions
Backed up against a wall of confusion

The new Morrissey CD “California Son” contains covers of songs originally recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Joni Mitchell, and Phil Ochs. “Days of Decision” by Ochs strongly resembles “These Are Days” by Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs. To my surprise one track was the Roy Orbison classic “It’s Over.”  When with the Smiths, Morrissey wrote and recorded a different number titled “It’s Over.” Orbison’s lyrics end:
All the rainbows in the sky start to even say goodbye
You won't be seeing rainbows any more
Setting suns before they fall, echo to you that's all that's all
But you'll see lonely sunset after all
Morrissey gives it a good go, but nobody conveys the heartbreak of losing a loved one like the legendary Roy Orbison.  At the end of a recent episode of “Big Little Lies” I heard Orbison’s breathtaking version of “It’s Over."
Jerome Allen and son Roman in 2017
Boston Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen grew up in Philadelphia’s Germantown projects, sharing spece with 18 relatives.  He went on to star for the University of Pennsylvania, and after a ten-year pro basketball career mostly abroad, became the Quakers head coach.  Allen founded HOOD (Helping Our Own Develop) Enriched, a basketball and tutoring initiative for underprivileged kids.  Caught up in the Varsity Blues scandal, Allen, it developed, had accepted $300,000 to gain a multi-millionaire’s son admission to the Wharton business program by claiming falsely that he was a talented recruit. Allen shattered admirers’ illusions as a result of financial problems compounded by fear that he’d soon be fired due to a mediocre 65-104 record in six seasons.  The donor promised to be a big Penn supporter and his friends for life. Overly generous to boys in his old neighborhood, he had expensive tastes in cars and clothes and sent his children to elite private schools. Briefly suspended by the Celtics after a plea bargain agreement that left him basically a free man, Allen resumed coaching duties, beloved, Ben Baskin of Sports Illustrated claimed, by players.  Celtic forward Marcus Morris called Jerome Allen “the backbone coach of the team.”

The theme of John Updike’s “The Woman Who Got Away,” the inanity of sexual promiscuity, is similar to the novelist’s best-selling “Couples,” which caused a sensation when published three decades earler in 1968, the apex of the so-called sexual revolution.  Marty, a liberal arts professor free of illusions, looks back at his days as a philanderer and concludes that the women who remain most vivid are the ones he failed to sleep with.  Audrey, a redheaded faculty wife who got away “remained loyal to the long, ironed hair of the flower child era years after the flower children had gone underground or crazy or back to their parents.” Marty last spotted her at a New Hampshire mall on the former site of a dairy farm (“chain stores in postmodern glass skins, and a vast asphalt meadow,” its arcade “a parody of an old-time Main Street”).Divorced, Audrey was holding hands with Winnifred, “wearing trousers and a feathery short white hairdo and a quilted down vest,”another woman who got away.
Artist Robyn Feeley’s vibrant pastels on display at Gardner Center in Miller featured colorful images of living creatures in frames made from recycled ceramics, beach stones, and glass found along the Lake Michigan shoreline.  The pieces, including yard ornaments and birdhouses, were quite striking; many had been sold by the time I visited the gallery.  Robyn was one of the original owners of Miller Bakery Café.

At Miller Farmers Market I ran into Cullen Ben-Daniel, founder of the Miller Historical Society, who recently converted a 14-room rehabbed house into an airBnB.  Even though it’s a good six blocks from the beach, he charges $450 a day and has been booked solid on weekends from May through early October, with only had two bad experiences (a wild party and the inground pool left discolored).  Evidently dozens of homes in Miller are listed on airBnB websites.  Some communities have attempted to limit, ban or place crippling restrictions on short-term home-rentals, but according to Ben-Daniel, so far groups such as the MCC (Miller Citizens Corporation) have made no such efforts.
 Selena Rosas, Dave, Eric Kundich at Rick's Boatyard cafe in Indy

At granddaughter Becca’s seventeenth birthday party I consumed two delicious tacos and generous portions of guacamole, salsa and chips.  Stuffed, I took my cake home for later.  Home from a teachers conference in Indianapolis, where he ran into former student Selena Rosas, Dave was setting up karaoke downstairs for the high schoolers as we were leaving.
In “Bohemian Rhapsody” the portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s family, Parsi immigrants originally from Gujarat, India and then Zanzibar, Tanzania, was compelling. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946, Freddie was derogatorily called a Paki, short Pakistani.  Parsi migration to the Indian subcontinent commenced over a thousand years ago during the Muslim conquest of Persia.  The Bulsari family still practiced the Zoroastrian religion.  Though Freddie was late to win his father’s approval, he had loving parents. A scene where they accept that he has a male lover was especially moving. Freddie promised his mother he’d blow her a kiss at the end of Queen’s 20-minute Live Aid set; and when he did, I teared up.  Six years later, he succumbed to AIDS-related pneumonia.  Accompanying the credits were family photos; the actors were almost dead ringers for family members and Queen band mates. Freddie was cremated in the Zoroastrian fashion; traditionally, in the old country, corpses are laid out in the sun and consumed by birds of prey.

In “We’ll Always have Casablanca, July’s book club selection,” Noah Isenberg claimed that in 2007 the film was the most frequently played on TV.  It was discussed by the characters Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan play in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989), spoofed on “The Simpsons” and twice on “Saturday Night Live,” and referenced in hundreds of other TV shows and movies, from James Bond’s dinner jacket in “Goldfinger” (1964) to the café scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). Isenberg concludes that there is no appetite for a Casablanca sequel, quoting film historian Jeanine Basinger: “Leave them in all that glamorous fog on the Casablanca tarmac, fat brims pulled down low, morals ramped up high, no future necessary.”

Viewing “Casablanca” at Gino’s with book club members and guests prior to the meeting, I was struck by the clever dialogue and comic moments, such as a pickpocket at work and Claude Rains as French Captain Louis Renault.  Once instructed by German Major Strasser to close down Rick’s establishment, he says, “I’m shocked to find that gambling is going on here” right before accepting his winnings from the croupier. After witnessing Rick shoot Strasser, he utters the still famous line, “Round up the usual suspects.”
Brian Barnes gave an excellent presentation, confiding to me afterwards that he took my advice and concentrated on one chapter, describing the many emigres in the cast, including refugees from Hitler who played Nazis. In addition, he mentioned problems getting around the censors when it came to matters of sex and the many reference to “Casablanca” in films, including “Star Wars” and Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” He revealed that when “Casablanca” won the Academy Award for Best Picture,” studio boss, listed as executive producer, accepted the Oscar as Warner family members blocked Hal Wallis, the producer responsible assembling the cast and bringing it all together, from reaching the stage.  Barnes identified the central theme as overcoming disillusionment and choosing commitment to a cause when confronted with evil in the world.  He contrasted artistic control of Orson Welles in the making “Citizen Kane” with the movie factory conditions Wallis had to work with. I noted that Roger Ebert called “Citizen Kane” the best movie he ever saw and “Casablanca” the most enjoyable film he ever viewed.  Debra Dubovitz noted that when she saw “Casablanca” at an IMAX, the audience clapped at the end.  Sometimes in theaters cult followers clap each time the various actors make their first appearance.
A Jeopardy category was actors who never won EMMYs, including Jackie Gleason, Angela Lansbury, Andy Griffith, George Clooney, and, unbelievably, Jerry Seinfeld.  Ditto Jason Alexander, but fellow “Seinfeld” cast members Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Michael Richards as Elaine Benes and Cosmo Kramer won several times.  Go figure.
Tamazina Tesanovich in Split;  Frank Barich wedding picture
Cindy C. Bean posted photos Croatian relatives originally from the Dalmatian coastal city of Split. Three decades ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a week-long American Studies conference in Dubrovnik sponsored by Indiana University.  On our flight from Germany I met a charming ten-year-old traveling to visit her grandmother in Split, a city of 300,000 people. On my first day in Dubrovnik, we took a boat trip on the Adriatic to Split. Walking around near where we docked, I spotted the girl in her grandmother’s backyard.  I asked if she wanted to show me around, she got permission, and off we went, ending at a gelato stand.  Unimaginable in the U.S.  We corresponded for several years, often talking about our favorite bands (we both liked REM).

Ray Smock commented on Trump’s most recent sickening display of demagoguery:
  Trump, having been rewarded for his many racist comments and his long assault on the previous president through his “birther” movement, a racist ploy which helped him get elected, publicly uttered to the world through Twitter: “So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly......and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
  The President was not finished. When criticized, he always goes on the attack. He has never apologized for anything. Today he followed up his earlier remark by suggesting that the four congresswomen leave the country if they didn’t like it here. This reminded me of the kind of divisive bumper-sticker chant we heard during the protests against the Vietnam War: AMERICA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT. Who had the right then, or the right now, to tell any American to leave his or her own country? 
  The president said today, “These are people that hate our country. They hate our country. They hate it, I think, with a passion.” He cannot understand why anyone would criticize him or his policies. He can’t understand that all Americans have constitutionally guaranteed rights to petition the government for a redress of our grievances. Trump has wrapped himself in the flag and said these four young, bright, talented women hate America. Trump thinks HE is America. But he is only a temporarily elected official. It is as American as apple pie to criticize the President.  It has always been so. Trump is blind to this obvious fact. He thinks an attack on him is an attack on America. This is a form of sickness. 
    I do not know how far the president will go to keep this escalation going. He has already gone far beyond decency. Nancy Pelosi called the president’s remarks “xenophobic” and this is putting it accurately, but mildly. 
    The president’s incendiary remarks and his own obvious anger puts the lives of these four women in danger. It also divides the nation even more while he empowers racism in others. Trump is so flawed, so caught up with his own power, that others in his own party must step forward and muzzle him when he utters such outrageous things. This is intolerable speech from any American and it is filth beyond all measure when it comes from the President of the United States. 
    As shocking as is the president’s blatant racism, his misogyny, and his xenophobia, it is matched in shock value by the utter silence of the Republican Party. It is his own party that bears the greatest burden of responsibility for him. It is the Republicans who must act now if they are going to be able to say to the world that they are not as racist and as filled with hatred as is the president. Do Republicans want to embrace racism just to win elections for another generation? At what cost to the nation? If the Republican Party has even a hint of the Soul of Lincoln left in it, it must call for the president’s immediate resignation.
Janet Bayer pointed out that Somalia-born Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar has been a citizen longer than Melania Trump. The three others were born in the United States.
 above, Rep. Ilhan Omar; below, Governor Henry Horner

The Summer 2019 Abraham Lincoln Association newsletter For the People reprinted an unpublished, undated typescript historian Benjamin P. Thomas (“Abraham Lincoln: A Biography,” 1986) composed about two-term Illinois governor Henry Horner. Jewish, a bachelor, and a Democrat elected in 1932, Horner was subjected to unfair slurs about his religion, manhood, and perceived lack of compassion (he was a fiscal conservative).  Probably written shortly after Horner’s death in 1940, the elegy describes Horner’s periodic nighttime drives when lonely and troubled with a state policeman from Springfield to New Salem 20 miles away, where young Abe Lincoln opened a general store in the prairie village.  Thomas wrote: “Lincoln had failed and gone into debt, but had risen from that and other failures to go on to greatness.”  Thomas continued: “The governor also remembered that it was in this little prairie village that Lincoln had gained faith in himself and in the people – those twin faiths without which a democratic ruler cannot govern wisely.
above, young Abe Lincoln
George Sladic posted shots of Hobart's old grist mill water wheel and lake George at sunset.