Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What a Guy!

"What a guy!   Buddy Guy!”

    Inside joke of Phil and Jimbo
Ever since the family saw Buddy Guy live in Merrillville, whenever Phil or I use the phrase “What a guy,” the other says “Buddy Guy.” We have other expressions that only we find funny, such as saying “dirty rubber” when a policeman drives by, a reference to something my buddy Paul Curry said in Terry Jenkins and my presence when a cop pulled over and accused him of muttering “Dirty copper” as he drove by.  Paul claimed he had said, “Dirty rubber,” which made no sense but the cop drove off. When one of us makes pancakes, we inevitably say, “nobody doesn’t like hoecakes,” which we (and nobody else) finds hilarious.
Though in his mid-80s, Buddy Guy is still performing, often in his own club, buddy Guy’s Legends.  The son of Louisiana sharecroppers, he moved to Chicago in 1957 and became a session musician for Chess Records.  The last of an era, Buddy’s 1991 CD, “Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues” leads off with his so-named biggest hit and includes the Willie Dixon classic “Let Me Love You Baby,” the Eddie Boyd standard “Five Long Years,” Buddy’s own “Remembering Stevie,” a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan, plus “Mustang Sally,” the Louis Jordan hit “Early in the Morning,” and more – even a John Hiatt number “Where Is the Next One Coming From?” - all made unique due to Buddy’s guitar solos.  In 2012 Guy played at the White House and persuaded Barack Obama to sing along to “Sweet Home Chicago.”
B.B. King’s chapter “Heavenly Music” describes services at a sanctified church that his family, complete with hand-clapping, foot-stomping, shouting, and rocking back and forth in time to the music, as Preacher Fair played a guitar and a relative the piano.  When B.B’s Mama had Preacher Fair over for a Sunday dinner of fried chicken (which B.B. had caught, wrung its  neck, and plucked off the feathers earlier that day) and chocolate pie, he let B.B. play it.  Mama had a cousin, Bukker White, who recorded for RCA Victor and called himself “king of the slide guitar.” B.B. loved visiting his Aunt Mima, who owned a crank-up Victrola and had records by Lemon Blind Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson.  Their Blues numbers, such as Johnson’s “Bow-legged Lady” (“who wears her dress above the knees”), constituted excitement, emotion, and hope for future possibilities.
Another important person in King’s life was Uncle Major, virtually blind from cataracts and with a stutter so bad few folks could understand him.  He’d take B.B. fishing, bolster his confidence, and teach him patience.  On the way home Uncle Major would lean of him as B.B. described the fields, birds, and other things near them.  B.B.’s mother and grandmother died, leaving him alone at age 10.  He became the plantation owner’s houseboy and bought a Stella acoustic guitar for $15, two month’s wages.  As he wrote, “My guitar gave me a new life.  It helped me cope.”
The season finale of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” reminded me of how “Seinfeld” ended, which critics panned but appropriately made the cast pay for its selfish past actions. In other words, you get what you deserve, reap what you sow. Mocha Joe and a secretary Larry mistreated in season ten have the last laugh as Funkhouser’s F to M transgender former daughter’s big penis wreaks havoc with a watch Larry borrowed and intended to have repaired and causes a fire that consumes the “spite store” he opened in competition with Mocha Joe.
Ray Smock wrote about Trump’s erratic leadership during the pandemic:
    The only part of the stimulus package that seems to appeal to the president is the half-trillion dollars that will go to corporations. He said in a news conference that he would personally oversee how this money is dispersed. Congress thought differently and set up a review process and an inspector general with subpoena power. Can you imagine Donald Trump having control of a half-trillion dollars to dole out to billionaires—like himself?
    The  president’s top priority in this pandemic is to save business, and, of course, in the process to save jobs. This is a legitimate priority. But it is not Priority Number One. All humans on the entire planet are threatened with a plague of historic proportions and it must be stopped before workers and businesses can get back to what will pass as the new normal. This is a health crisis first and an economic crisis second. They go together, for sure. But nothing will be right until the virus is gone. Trump keeps talking about opening the nation by Easter. It should be criminal for him to even suggest such blind optimism in the face of scientific knowledge and of the dire crisis faced by our healthcare system nationwide. His false optimism encourages some governors to be reluctant to act, leaving it to mayors and other local officials to make important heath decisions, like social distancing and home confinement.

After D.T. called for things to reopen by Easter to save the economy, Dr. Fauci said, "You don't make the timeline.  The virus makes the timeline."

Trump seems to infect everything he touches.  During the 1980s, unable to buy an NFL franchise, he became an owner of a USFL team, the New Jersey Generals.  After two seasons Trump convinced the owners to move from a spring schedule to the fall, then sued the NFL, claiming it was a monopoly.  He was hoping for a merger but instead the ploy destroyed the league. Houston Generals owner Jerry Argovitz told author Jeff Pearlman: “Donald didn’t love the USFL. To him, it was small potatoes. Which was terrible, because we had a great league and a great idea.  But then everyone let Donald Trump take over.  It was our death.” Since that experience, Trump has disparaged the NFL at every opportunity.
IUN’s HELP desk staff, now working from home, has enabled me to get into my blog and Facebook with a minimum of trouble.  Paul and Julie Kern arrived back at The Villages after a cross-country trip from California.  He wrote: “On the final lap, restaurants were open only for drive-through so their restrooms were inaccessible, no small matter for traveling old people.”  Lois Reiner, commenting on Trump’s impatience to end social distancing, wrote: “Old people, Unite.  Tell D.T. we will not die for the economy unless he volunteers to be the test case.”
Country pop singer Kenny Rogers died.  Most famous as “The Gambler” in TV movies, the song of that title includes the line, “Know when to hold them and know when to fold them.”  Dave sang “Coward of the County” on Facebook that got many likes and comments.  It’s contains the line, “You don’t have to fight to be a man.”  Behind him was a poster of his former band, Voodoo Chili and a photo of guitarist Big Voodoo Daddy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Pandemic Update

Pandemic Update (March 23)


I’ve remained at home except for a brief visit to Jewel, where purchases on scarce items such a milk and tissues were limited to one to a customer (and forget about picking up toilet paper). IUN has remained open to faculty but the Governor has ordered all nonessential facilities closed within 24 hours. I’m trying to master a borrowed laptop with a miniature keyboard compared to what I’m used to, and it is going slowly. Thankfully the HELP desk has been very helpful.  I just hope it will continue to be staffed a day from now.


When I get slightly depressed, I consider our situation much less disruptive compared to most folks.  Toni and I feel particularly sad that Becca and other young people are missing out on senior year activities and that so many people face economic uncertainty much worse than our own situation.


 I watched the six-hour documentary “McMillion$,” about the head of security who stole several dozen winning tickets and in the end got off with a light sentence thanks to a plea bargain while so-called winners paid a heavy price.  I found “Yesterday” on HBO,a humorous fantasy about a singer who discovers nobody has heard of the Beatles and becomes a pop star singing their songs. “Saturday Night Live’s” Kate McKinnon is a hoot as an overbearing manager. My favorite line is when a friend named Gavin says he doesn’t mind being second fiddle and references as an example Pulp’s “Common People.” Singer Ed Sheeran has a prominent role and is quite fetching.


I sailed through Olga Tokarczuk’s “Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead.” “The Guardian” described the author as combining an extraordinary talent with an archaic sensibility. Janine, for example, believes in astrology and that one’s fate is determined by the alignment of the planets at birth. A rich man is described as having a saturnine look.  After Janine has had an entomologist stay her for a few days, it reminded her how awkward it was to live with someone: 

  How another Person starts to irritate you without actually doing anything annoying, but simply by being there. Each morning when he went off to the forest, I blessed my glorious solitude. How do people manage to spend decades living together in a small space? I wondered.  Can they possibly sleep in the same bed together, breathing on and jostling each other accidentally in their sleep?


I noticed that the Woody Allen movie “Match Point” co-starred Scarlett Johansen so I decided to watch it.  The opening scene, showing a tennis ball being hit back and forth, finally hitting the net is meant to symbolize how luck often determines one’s fate, in this case depending on which side it falls on. Later a murderer tosses evidence into the river only it hits the railing.  Which side it lands on will determine whether or not the villain gets away with the crime.


Ron Cohen called to see if I were still going to IUN (negative) and whether my blog entries would continue (doubtful, but we’ll see).  He recently got a call from Danny Mack, a student of ours when we first started teaching 50 years ago. He had been a grader for Ron.   I only used a grader once, when I had a class of over a hundred students. Dave Malham gave almost everyone an A, so I had to go back over them and grade them myself.

I’ve been looking at a map Phil Arnold sent me of General George Washington’s  Montgomery County (PA) itinerary between October 1777 and June 1778  .He stayed in two dozen places while hi troops were encamped nearby including an estate near Oreland owned by George Emlem that in now Sandy Run County Club, where my 55th reunion took place.  The map identifies township (i.e., Upper Dublin, Whitemarsh), boros (Ambler, Norristown, Jenkintown ), and small towns (Flourtown, Oreland) but not, of course, Fort Washington, which came into existence at a later date.


Friday, March 20, 2020

Women of the Year

   “I grew up in a beautiful era, now sadly in the past.  In it there was great readiness for change, and a talent for creating revolutionary visions. Nowadays no one has the courage to think up anything new… they just keep rolling pout the same old ideas.” Olga Tokarczuk
                          Marsha P. Johnson          below, Mirabel sisters
A special issue of Time with Jackie Kennedy on the cover was devoted to honoring influential women each year since 1920.  There were some obvious choices – suffragists Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and Angela Davis, feminists Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem, entertainers Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin, writers Rachel Carson and Toni Morrison, athletes Babe Didrikson and Serena Williams, and lawmakers Margaret Chase Smith and Patsy Mink.  A transvestite, Marsha P. Johnson, who participated in the 1969 Stonewall Inn Riot, made the list. I had never heard of some foreign leaders and scientists, as well as wheelchair-bound Judith Heumann, who fought for rights of access for the disabled.  I learned that when Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the Mirabel sisters - Minerva, Patria, and Maria Teresa – murdered in 1960, the resultant outrage contributed to his downfall. 

Hollywood barrier-breaker Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican native who starred in “West Side Story” (1961), revealed that she refused to sing such demeaning lyrics as “Puerto Rico, you ugly island/ Island of tropic diseases.” The words were changed at her insistence.  Our misogynist President has demeaned at least a half-dozen women on the list, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Ellen DeGeneres, Nancy Pelosi, Angela Merkel, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and last year’s  “Time Person of the Year” Greta Thunberg (I kid you not, as Jack Paar used to say).

Not all women profiled escaped criticism, especially foreign leaders such as Indira Gandhi, who instituted repressive measures against India’s poor, Aung San Suu Kyi, complicit in the Myanmar army’s brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims, and even Liberia’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for tolerating corruption and cronyism. Birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, it was pointed out, embraced eugenics as a method of weeding out defective babies.  Notably by their absence: Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” who objected to outspoken lesbians supposedly tarnishing the women’s rights movement, and Phyllis Schlafly, who successfully campaigned against the Equal Rights Amendment.  Though she had a rancid effect on the body politic, Schlafly was a far more important newsmaker (Time’s standard for selecting its Person of the Year) than many of the more admirable women on the list.
I spotted a woman from Ivy Tech wearing a “SRAIGHT OUTTA TRIO” t-shirt and told her my son worked with TRIO students at East Chicago Central.  She said she was Central class president in 1996, that her maiden name was Letise Walden and now Jenkins, and she had worked with Mr. Lane on the school yearbook. 

The stock market Dow Jones average had fallen below 20,000, and price of gasoline has dropped below 2 dollars a gallon.  Strack and Van Til  was open, but several customers and employees were wearing masks.  The bread shelves were almost bare.  My sons were concerned that I am still going to my IUN office, but the building has been sanitized and I hardly see anyone, much less get close to them.  Chesterton library is closed, but I have several books at home that are unread or that I have barely begun.

I am taking my time with Olga Tokarczuk’s “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” because it is so rich with meaning – and sad, which seems fitting in these plague times.  She writes: “Sorrow lies at the foundation of everything, it is the fourth element, the quintessence.”  Living in a wooded area inhabited by hunters who await their prey in pulpits, Tokarczuk  notes: “For what on earth was taught from that sort of pulpit.  What sort of gospel was preached?  Isn’t it a diabolical idea to call a place from which one kills a pulpit?” The book opens with a neighbor fetching Janine in the dead of winter to help dress a man found dead from swallowing a dagger-shaped bone from a deer he’d slain.  The macabre task complete, Janine observes the “dead hobgoblin’s body in a coffee-colored suit.”
Having returned three CDs to the library’s outside video slot, I dug into my collection and put on albums by Counting Crows, Arcade Fire, and Donnas. The first two are rather somber in tone, but the Donnas ”Spend the Night” always puts me in a good mood.  As the lyrics of “Take Me to the Back Seat” advise, “let’s get this baby rockin.’”  “Take Me to the Back Seat” ends:
do you need a map?
let's skip the nightcap
i'll make it sticky sweet
just take me to the backseat
Hearing the Donnas brings back memories of a sitter by that name who’d look after us when our parents went out.  A sultry brunette who smoked cigarettes and wore sweaters that showed off perky breasts, she would sit in Vic’s chair reading a novel. I can imagine snuggling in her lap as she recites a dirty passage from “Peyton Place” to me, although by the time of that potboiler’s publication, I myself would be babysitting other kids and Donna dating collegians.

Ray Smock weighed in on the coronavirus pandemic with an essay entitled “Old Ways Won’t Work Anymore.” It begins:
    Trump is our plague president and he is a political plague. So let’s face the fact that we must deal with many things simultaneously, the virus and the ineptitude of a president and his top officials, who are in way over their heads. Congress and the rest of the government must find ways to work around the president to minimize his negative effects while science, medicine, and saner political leaders deal with the virus. Congress needs to assert its own powers, over the desires of the president. But the current GOP members are sticking with the president all the way, even as some of them come down with the virus. 
    The recent negotiations between Speaker Pelosi and Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, appear to be one of the work-arounds, that was deftly designed so it could be sold to the president. We still need his signature on legislation. State governors need the federal government and they all say so. But many of them are already taking steps ahead of our president to meet the emergency. From what I can tell from news reports, a lot of the government decision making on the pandemic at the presidential level must first pass through the office of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, as if Trump was still running his real estate business. Shakespeare could not write a stranger tragedy.
    We are a nightmare from nature and a nightmare by the failure of our political system. Yet, we can pull through this, defeat the virus and build up our economy and our nation again. Even as we fight through the unknown, we should be thinking clearly that the old politics will no longer work. We cannot be at each others' throats over things that now seem inconsequential, when the whole world is at risk. 
    Lincoln said during the Civil War that to save the Union we had to disenthrall ourselves of old thinking. Time to heed Lincoln again, even as we are stuck with Trump. The virus will pass. And so will Trump’s presidency.
We will have much to lament and much more work to do when we beat the virus. The fall elections as difficult as they may be, will be a major event for change. We must un-elect the president and a good number of members of Congress. We need a fresh start, with new leaders, and new thinking about how we govern ourselves and protect the people. We cannot ever allow a future president to get rid of a unit of our national security apparatus that was there to protect us from pandemics, just because that unit was created by a previous administration.
While galleries are closed, thanks to social media, one can still enjoy art.  Here’s VU museum curator Gregg Hertzlieb’s latest Facebook cover photo:

Monday, March 16, 2020

Social Distancing

“Put simply, the idea of social distancing is to maintain a distance between you and other people — in this case, at least six feet. That also means minimizing contact with people. Avoid public transportation whenever possible, limit nonessential travel, work from home and skip social gatherings — and definitely do not go to crowded bars and sporting arenas.” New York Times
below, "Let the online teaching begin" Liz photo of Al

Coronavirus pandemic updates are totally dominating the news.  Hoarders are panic-buying items such as toilet paper while others, often Trump supporters, believe news reports to be a hoax or an anti-Trump conspiracy. Democratic frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders debated on CNN without an audience, and the candidates did an elbow bump rather than shake hands.  Illinois is closing bars and restaurants for the foreseeable future (Indiana followed suit the following day) except for carry-out, yet at O’Hare Airport passengers returning from overseas had to stand in crowded lines for up to four hours in order to pass through customs. Students at every level from preschool to grad school will be working from home. Overseas programs, such as those Alissa directs at Grand Valley State, are in chaos.

In the past 24 hours Banta Center closed and Chesterton Y drastically limited services, so no duplicate bridge. I called off bowling, and teammate Frank Shufran’s knee surgery got cancelled at the last moment. According to a CBS anchor, Isaac Newton apparently invented calculus while working in isolation during the plague years of 1665-1666.  With Trinity College, Cambridge closed, Newton returned to his family estate and worked on his own so successfully that he later referred to that period as the annus mirabilus or “year of wonders.”
After watching Willie Geist discuss binge-watching a TV series on NBC Sunday Today, I checked out “Better Things” on FX, which New York magazine had praised.  Pamela Adlon portrays a single mother and sometime actress with three precocious daughters and an unbalanced mother who likes to swim naked uninvited in a neighbor’s pool.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t get the first couple episodes free On Demand and that commercials interrupted the action every few minutes but nonetheless watched the three available shows with growing interest.  With a husky voice and gravelly laugh, Adlon looked and sounded familiar; I learned that she had been a regular on “Californication.”  Season 3 of “Better Things” almost didn’t happen because  original co-star Louis C.K. was banished after multiple accusations of sexual misconduct.  
Sociologist Chuck Gallmeier studied social distancing, not as a way to prevent catching contagious diseases but as a means of avoiding unwanted interchanges in public places.  Examples are checking email messages while on elevators and closing your eyes seated on airplanes.  I need to consult with Chuck on latest developments, as Americans keep readjusting their lives.  Whereas government officials recommended avoiding crowds of over 100 and then 50, now the number is down to ten.  

In Richard Russo’s “Chances Are,” about three college buddies (Teddy, Lincoln, and Mickey) reuniting 45 years later on Martha’s Vineyard, squeamish Teddy faints dead away when a singer he recognizes as the daughter of a long-lost girlfriend joins Mickey’s band on stage and belts out the opening lines to “Nutbush City Limits.”  
A church house, gin house
A school house, outhouse
On highway number nineteen
The people keep the city clean
They call it Nutbush
Written in 1973 by Tina Turner about her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee, so small it doesn’t appear on most state maps, at a time when she was suffering at the hands of an abusive husband, “Nutbush City Limits” has an ironic tone, as seen in these lyrics:
No whiskey for sale
You get caught, no bail
Salt pork and molasses
Is all you get in jail
  . . .
Quiet little old community, a one-horse town
You have to watch what you're puttin' dow
Rock critic Rick Hasted wrote: “’Limits’ is the key word, as she artfully sketches a circumscribed life [in a place] more like somewhere to escape [from] than like a rural idyll.”      

Buddy Johnson orchestra
Riley “B.B.” King’s autobiography, “Blues All Around Us” describes growing up in a Mississippi Delta sharecropping family. His first vivid memory: braiding his mother Nora Ella’s hair after she had worked all day picking cotton.  From his great-grandmother, a former slave, he learned that blues songs unburdened the soul but also served as a survival mechanism, for example, warning that “massa” was near.  Attending a one-room schoolhouse, Riley had a bad stutter and was more interested in girls than learning.  Nonetheless, teacher Luther Henson impacted his life, convincing him that justice would ultimately prevail over evil.  Hanson’s nephew Purvis performed in Buddy Johnson’s nine-piece orchestra, evidence of the possibility of reaching brighter horizons.  In 1944 the Buddy Johnson Band had a number one rhythm and blues hit, “When My Man Comes Homes,” with Buddy’s sister Ella Johnson on vocals.
Toni and I saw B.B. King, who died five years ago at age 90, headline a “House Rockin’ Blues” show at Merrillville’s Star Plaza.  Also on the bill: Buddy Guy, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Albert King.  At B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis with the Migoski’s on the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, the performer on stage announced she wouldn’t be playing Elvis songs for tourists but made a reference to Elvis admiring the Blues that was not uncomplimentary.

High school classmate Phil Arnold called and asked if I were a history buff.  As a historian, I replied, I might be called that.  Rummaging through decades-old possessions, he unearthed a map showing Montgomery County, PA, during the period of the American Revolution, including places where General George Washington stayed.  I was familiar with Valley Forge, of course, my home town, Fort Washington, and Whitemarsh, where our Cub Scout Memorial Day parade would end, but not Camp Hill or other places he mentioned.  He’s planning on mailing it to me. As always, I asked Phil to say hello to Bev, unfailingly upbeat despite myriad health concerns.
Phil and Bev Arnold, 2009
According to university scuttlebutt making the rounds, a few longtime professors have never interacted with students via the internet and don’t intend to start, despite expectations that they do so during the current crisis. When I retired a decade ago, rudimentary methods of contacting students online were in place, and I had begun to post assignments and other important messages.  It’s hard to believe that a handful of old-timers are resisting the inevitable. Distance learning is certainly better than none at all.

Looks like no more guest appearances in history colleagues’ classes this semester.  In the fall, if all returns to normal, Nicole Anslover will offer a class on Women in Politics.  Unlike 1990s governors Ann Richards (Texas) and Christine Todd Whitman (NJ), most early women governors and members of Congress succeeded deceased husbands and only served out the remainder of their terms.  Two exceptions were Texan Miriam “Ma” Ferguson and Hattie Wyatt Caraway of Arkansas. Ferguson’s husband had been impeached while governor and barred from holding future public office, so “Ma” ran in his place, winning a two-year term in 1924 and again in 1932.  Making no secret that she would lean on her husband for advice, Ferguson used this campaign slogan: “Me for Ma, and I Ain’t Got a Durned Thing Against Pa.”

Hattie Caraway took over husband Thaddeus’’s Senate seat in 1931 and the following year threw her hat into the ring, proclaiming, “The time has passed when a woman should be placed in a position and kept these only while someone is groomed for the job.” Senator Huey Long of neighboring Louisiana campaigned for her, and she became the first woman U.S. Senator to serve a full term.  In 1938 Hattie got re-elected after surviving a primary challenge from Representative John McClellan, whose slogan was, “Arkansas Needs Another Man in the Senate.”  Caraway lost a bid for a third term against Congressman J. William Fulbright, a former Razorback star football player and Rhodes scholar.

Friday, March 13, 2020


    “It has a very nice floral bouquet.  I detect lilac, hydrangea, tulips,” Governor Andrew Cuomo (below), unveiling NYS Clean, a hand sanitizer produced by inmates at the Great Meadow maximum security prison.
No IU Northwest classes on campus for the next three weeks due to the coronavirus scare, although buildings, unless things change, will remain open, so, for the time being, I don’t have to scramble to borrow a laptop.  In Indianapolis a large crowd watched IU defeat Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament, but then the rest of the games were cancelled.  A Big East contest was terminated at halftime.  Ditto the NCAA playoffs.  The NBA has suspended its season.  Even Hoosier Hysteria bowed to reality, as the IHSAA suspended the basketball playoffs.  The last holdouts, NASCAR and the National Hockey League, reluctantly bowed to the inevitable. ESPN, which ends “Sports Center” with the top ten plays of the previous day, was reduced to showing high school basketball played in a mostly empty gym.

Trump gravitates between declaring that what the World Health Organization has called a pandemic will soon go away as if by magic and declaring the rapidly spreading disease a national emergency, blaming other countries (and who else? Obama).  He has absolutely no credibility.  His White House speech was a disaster.  As the Washington Post noted about his “ten minutes at the teleprompter,” Trump failed in his attempt to calm coronavirus fears. Critic Ben Rhodes said:
     I think we’ll look back on this as a defining moment of the Trump presidency because it speaks to larger concerns that people already had about Trump — that he can’t tell the truth, that he doesn’t value expertise, that he doesn’t take the presidency seriously enough.
     Trump’s speech contained at least two errors and a significant omission. He said the travel ban would apply to cargo; it did not. He said health insurance companies would waive patients’ co-payments for coronavirus testing and treatment; industry officials later clarified that they would waive payments for testing only. And he did not fully explain the details of his travel restrictions, leaving out the fact that U.S. citizens would be exempt.
 Josh and Alissa (middle) in Panama
Trump’s lack of leadership has raised anxieties rather than calm them.  Phil called to say that his PBS station in Grand Rapids, WVUE, was straining to keep up with breaking news and updates all day. He wanted to make sure Toni and I (of the age to be classified as elderlies) were tasking proper precautions.  Alissa and Josh, vacationing in Panama, were scheduled to stop in New Orleans on the way back; Phil hoped they’d revise their plans.
 Crystal Taliefero (who plays drums and banjo as well as sax)

Although IUN’s Women’s and Gender Studies Conference took place as scheduled, keynote speaker Crystal Taliefero was unable to attend.  A Gary Wirt grad, Crystal has toured with Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, John Mellencamp and Billy Joel; she had planned to talk on “Breaking and Entering the Male-Dominated World of Pop, Rock, and Blues.”  The conference proceeded without her although two other presentations I was looking forward to, Kaitlin Battista’s “Abuse of the Disables” and Kaitlyn Grubbe’s “Bill Clinton Sex Scandals,” were scratched.  Speaking at faculty sponsor Tanice Foltz’s session, Lani Eaton traced the history of abortion legislation and litigation, then expressed concern over the proliferation of recent Trump appointees to the bench signaling a possible Me Too backlash.
Brandon (left); Hilary, below

Speaker Michael Litke Adams reflected on Brandon Teena’s life and legacy.  Born a girl in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1972, Brandon transitioned into a man and was raped and murdered in 1993.  Growing up, Teena had been sexually abused by an uncle, was considered a tomboy, began identifying as a male as a teenager, and started dating girls.  “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999), based on Brandon’s life, starred Hilary Swank, who won an Academy Award for the performance. Adams criticized the choice of Swank, arguing that a trans actor should have had the part, but I thought Swank was a perfect choice.  Perhaps I’d feel differently if it were being made today or if I were trans, like Adams. In 2005, when she won a second Oscar for playing a female boxer in “Million Dollar Baby,” Swank said, “I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve this.  I’m just a girl from a trailer park who had a dream.”   

In place of Crystal Taliefero’s keynote speech was a discussion of Jessica Valenti’s recent column in Medium titled “Coronavirus Is Having an Outsized Impact on Working Woman.”  Noting that she was writing while three little girls were playing nearby, with school having been cancelled, Valenti called for authorities to pay attention to how women’s caretaking might spread the disease.  She concluded:
    Ironically, while women perform this extra work around preparing for and dealing with the consequences of coronavirus, the White House’s coronavirus task force, a Mike Pence-led coalition focusing on preventing the spread of COVID-19, is entirely male. That lack of representation means less understanding of how coronavirus will impact women and the way women’s invisible labor could impact the spread of the virus. This isn’t just a feminist issue — it’s a health issue.
  Sherry VerWey
During a break I chatted with faculty sponsors Jacqui Huey, whom I met at the same conference last year, and Bill Allegrezza, whose student Sherry VerWey, I know as secretary for IUN’s School of the Arts and who read original poems to close the conference, save for final remarks by program director Tanice Foltz.  Sherry VerWey, in her introduction of “Ghost,” about an adoptee, mentioned that approximately 135,000 children are adopted annually but only 10 states grant adult adoptees access to birth records.  An organization called Bastard Nation has been fighting for adoptee rights. Here’s Sherry’s incredibly moving poem “Ghost”:

this isn’t some representation of the “miracle of life”
it isn’t some “beautiful little blessing”…
…any baby would do

you will erase my name
rewrite my ethnicity
my history
my DNA
and replace it all with your fantasy

i already know i’m lost…stolen
a primal wound
my eyes may not be open
but i morn just the same

a shroud of shame surrounds me now
shhhhhhh….(your dirty little secret)

when i look in the mirror, it’s a stranger i see
these hands, these eyes
no resemblance, no memory

you’re painted as a saint, a savior…mother
but no one thinks of the woman (child) left behind
what of her grief
her emptiness

an eternal question
permanently sealed
the ghost of my identity
Next day, I asked Sherry, in her 40s and herself adopted, if she’d been writing poems for a long time.  Not until I took professor Allegrezza’s class, she replied, except for some rants during her Gothic phase.

Patricia Gonzales thanked me for the latest Steel Shavings and wrote: “All the history you have given us in these volumes read like a conversation and are a gift to read now and especially in the future.”  Steve Gwizdalski noted: “Always enjoy Steel Shavings; looking forward to the next issue. I hope you keep going for many more years...I know this is a labor of love for you. Always great to read about the 'Region' and how the events of the times shaped us, and to read much of it as seen through the eyes of students with a fresh look. I grew up in Burnham and Cal City, retired from two area steel mills - Inland and US - so I've been around awhile. I always thought it was a pretty good place to grow up in. Through Steel Shavings. I can stay in touch with the new stuff (kind of), yet read many stories that bring back countless memories. Thanks again for what you do, and for keeping me in the loop.”
Jon Hamm, whom I came to admire in the TV series “Mad Men,” is a hoot in the latest “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. Claiming he'll be playing a role based on Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, he tags along with David, and they quickly bond. Hamm mimics Larry’s mannerisms and expressions so well while Larry is being obnoxious that Susie kicks them both out of a dinner party. 

Jerry Pierce posted a drawing of daughter Heidi , along with this explanation: “Look, Daddy, it's you and me, and we're in the ocean. And I'm holding your hand because I was scared of the waves. But now I'm not.”  The first time we took Phil to the ocean was at Cape Hatteras on North Carolina’s outer banks, near Kitty Hawk. A toddler, he eagerly ran to water’s edge and got knocked down by a wave.  He didn’t want to go anywhere near the beach the rest of the day, so we hung out by the hotel pool.

Dottie Hart and I finished first in bridge with a 65 percent, with more than our share of luck.  One hand we underbid only discover that other pairs who went to game got set.  Another hand, Dottie and I were both bidding Diamonds, and our opponents Spades and Clubs.  Holding the top two Hearts, one stopper in Spades, and the Ace, Jack, spot of Clubs, I took a chance and bid 3 No-Trump.  Surveying Dottie’s hand, I realized it was necessary to lose a Diamond before I could run the suit. The player to my left led the King of Clubs, and I played low. Had he then led a small Spades, I would have been in trouble, but he followed with the Club Queen.  I took it and still had the Jack stopper as well as the Ace of Spades and could draw out the Diamond Ace without fear.  I made ten tricks for high board. During our sit-out round I learned that Dottie’s father had worked for Sinclair Oil as a distributor.   She was the youngest of five, all daughters, and he’d take her hunting but only to observe.  Dottie’s husband was a pressman at the Post-Tribune, and she worked for a mortgage company.
Frank and Joan Shufran in 2017; photo by Jeff Manes
At bowling Frank Shufran had scratch marks on his arm; one looked infected.  Every once in a while, he said, their three-year-old cat goes a little crazy.  Knowing he was devoted to an older dog, I asked whether the two pets got along.  “No way,” he replied.  Asked why they got a cat, Frank said that at the vet wife Joan spotted three homeless kittens in a cage and couldn’t resist bringing one home.  They had also rescued all their previous pets.
Toni found Jewel to be a madhouse, with sanitizer and toilet paper (???) gone from the shelves, as hoarders were panicking. Recently married Kody Amanda Marie posted: “What if the world reacted to climate change like it’s reacting to the coronavirus.”
              left, posted by Cindy Bean; right, Chelsea Sue and Kody Amanda