Monday, November 23, 2015

Edge of Canaan

“Life does not consist only of what you have.
The bigger part of life is what you can give."
         “In the Presence of a Gift,” Hollis Donald (November 2015)

The titles of Taylor Branch’s three-volume history of Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in America come from the Old Testament Book of Exodus.  “Parting the Waters” refers to crossing the Red Sea; “Pillar of Fire” allegedly was a miracle that allowed Israelites to travel by night; “Edge of Canaan” refers to the Promised Land that Moses was able to see but, like King, did not survive long enough to enter.

According to the Bible, after the death of Moses, Joshua conquered the Canaanites, who were descended from Ham, the son of Noah and worshipped the false god Baal.  Around 1200 B.C. in the aftermath of the battle of Jericho, Joshua’s army, supposedly following revengeful Yahweh’s orders, slaughtered their foes and burned the city to the ground.   Following the death of King Solomon, a spendthrift with a harem of a thousand wives and concubines, the 12 tribes of Israel split into two groups.  In 722 B.C. the Assyrians overran the northern kingdom; in 585 B.C. the Chaldeans under King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and marched remnants of the two southern tribes to captivity in Babylon.  Some Israelites eventually returned to Jerusalem but were annihilated by the Romans in 70 A.D. under Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian.

At Lakeshore Toyota as a result of a recall due to defective airbags (a scandal of momentous proportions involving Takata Corporation), a fellow Toyota owner asked, “Are you Dr. Lane?”   It was a student from 25 years ago, Jason Kontos, who had interviewed steelworker Clarence Ashley for my “Steelworkers Tales” Shavings issue.  In “Silo” Kontos wrote:
  The worst accident Clarence B. Ashley remembers at U.S. Steel was when a huge silo exploded.  His job was to load chunks of lime onto a conveyor belt, which transported them to a silo that was at least 300 feet high and 50 feet wide.  One morning when Ashley arrived at work, the silo had seemingly vanished.  Water had somehow gotten into it, causing a chemical explosion that left several people dead or injured.
  Ashley’s worst personal injury occurred in a less dramatic way.  He slipped on a piece of taconite and his own shovel hit him on the head, requiring more than 20 stitches.

Jason grew up near Wells Street Beach and is friends with Bob Wilcynski, my Seventies tennis partner.  For years a special education teacher, Kontos presently is in real estate.  His recalled that his favorite teacher, Rhiman Rotz, was such a showman that he’d be drenched in sweat by the end of class.  Several times Jason brought guests who were mulling over whether to attend college.  Rotz was faculty adviser to IUN’s Muslim Student Association.  He died of cancer in 2001 shortly after 9/11, and the last time I talked to him he was worried about its members.
 from Anne Balay's "Steel Closets"

After Anne Balay spoke at Illinois Institute of Technology on “Tradition and the Individual Steelworker,” Andrea Zeffiro, interviewing her for “Nomorepotlucks.” Asked about putting together the “Steel Closets” appendix, titled “The Narrators,” which provided pseudonyms and descriptions of the 40 LGBT steelworkers interviewed.  Balay answered:
  My publisher and readers made me do that. I resisted for a long time. Why? I was nervous about making the narrators visible. I had learned so much about how vulnerable they were at work that I was very anxious not to add to their struggles. But they don’t lack courage, certainly, and they agreed with the publisher that readers would want some outline of a body and life to tie the stories to, so I settled on the approach you describe. Even the aliases are chosen to conceal identity (for example, narrators with “black” names are white, etc.), and specific mills or job sites within mills are sometimes changed. I had a hard time guessing their age, also, since the mill affects your body.

Asked by Andrea how “Steel Closets” was received, Balay first mentioned how it helped prod the United Steelworkers of America into guaranteeing contract protections for LGBT members and then turned her attention to academia, asserting:
         The academy has no respect for activism, though they give it lip service. I was denied tenure, and haven’t found permanent academic work. Most academic departments have their hearts in the right place, but when they go to hire, they think more about the existing classes they need to cover than they think about what needs to be added, or even changed in their course roster. Most departments don’t find themselves asking who will teach their courses on blue-collar queers, or their courses that will send students out to the community to meet local folks, hear their stories, and encourage them to change their worlds.
A colleague who once relished my company skedaddled as I was about to join him in the cafeteria, fallout a year later, amazingly (professors do carry grudges, as Anne also discovered), from my defending Anne Balay, denied tenure on patently specious grounds.  The lie spread by her enemies was that she had favorites and was insensitive toward black students.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as I witnessed auditing her class for an entire semester. Anne was a rigorous grader who encouraged her best students to present papers at conferences in South Bend and Bloomington, as well as IUN.  Some students assumed incorrectly that her Children’s Literature course would be a piece of cake.  In an incident that her boss seized on, several flunking students attempted to get their money back one day before the withdraw deadline by claiming to be upset by being exposed to “Nappy Hair.”  Written by an African American woman, the book’s main point was for black kids to be proud of their African heritage.
Niece Lisa Teuscher posted a photo of her with younger sister Mary Ann and my son Dave taken during the blizzard of 1979, which caused Chicago mayor Michael Bilandic to lose election the following month to Jane Byrne.  Lisa’s family, visiting from New Jersey, had left for home but turned around due to the storm.  Commenting on the “huge DD jug” in Lisa’s left hand was hubby Fritz.  Mary Ann joked, “I noticed Dave and I holding hands.  It must have been a good visit since we were usually arguing!!! LOL.”
 above, Maurice Yancy; below, Liz Wuerffel, Rebekah Arevalo, Christina Crowley, Allison Schuette
A NWI Times article about VU’s Welcome Project mentioned partnering with IUN’s Calumet Regional Archives and included a photo of Archives volunteer Maurice Yancy.  Project co-director Allison Schuette told correspondent Rob Earnshaw: “We edit interviews into sometimes more than one short video or audio story.  Then we facilitate conversations around those stories in various venues.” Co-director Liz Wuerffel added: Rather than let the dominant narrative narrow our ideas about who we are or what kind of regional relationship we can have, we hope that, through storytelling, research, and conversation, we can start to tell a new story about who we are and what we can become.”

In the mail was “Indiana’s 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State,” a handsome tabletop volume celebrating the state’s 2016 Bicentennial.  I wrote the essay on Vee-Jay Record Company founder Vivian Carter.  Other Gary natives who made the cut include “King of Pop” Michael Jackson, World War II combat photographer Johnny Bushemi, and Roman Catholic Bishop Andrew Grutka.  I was disappointed that actor Karl Malden and Mayor Richard Hatcher weren’t included, but happy to see dunes artist Frank Dudley and Region humorist Jean Shepherd represented.  On the back jacket are quotes by Theodore Dreiser about Hoosiers being dreamers and Kurt Vonnegut alleging that “wherever you go, there is always a Hoosier doing something very important there.”

Steve Glazer, a Jean Shepherd historian, inquired if I knew anything about the humorist attending IU after graduating from Hammond High in 1939.  I wrote back: “I cannot directly answer your query, but in 1995, before Shep was awarded an honorary IU degree, he spoke for 20 minutes at a luncheon I attended, joking about going to the East Chicago site of what was called IU extension after he got out of the army and being asked to take an aptitude test.  Upon being told the results indicated that he'd make a good dentist, he claimed that he walked out of the building and never went back.  I'll leave it to you to decide how much of the story was apocryphal.”

Next week in Steve McShane’s Indiana History class I’ll discuss the Calumet Region during the 1980s and have students read excerpts from my Steel Shavings volume on that decade, “The Uncertainty of Everyday Life” (2008), in particular my oral history of the Richard Hatcher administration.  The issue is dedicated to IUN senior lecturer Gary L. Martin, who while Lake County chief of police under Sheriff Roy Dominguez died, rammed into during a bicycle rally to raise money for the widows of police officers.  It contains an article by Jillian Adams about Bob Hechlinski, a Dyer businessman who for 13 years beginning in 1986 mentored interns as part of IUN’s Career Beginnings program directed by SPEA professor Phil Rutledge. Initially reluctant to participate due to an onerous workload, Hechlinski was prodded by wife Nancy, who reminded him that his former boss at Bendix Corporation, Dick Cordell, had pushed him to finish college. Of the original 115 mentors, after two years Hechinski was the only white male left.  Jillian Adams wrote:
  The obstacles were great, but the rewards made up for it, Bob recalled.  One student named Malcolm had around a D average going into his senior year.  Bob was determined to prove he wasn’t a complete washout and to get him into college.  At their weekly meetings he worked to change Malcolm’s study habits and to stress that schoolwork came before phone calls to girls and other leisure activities.  The reward came when Malcolm called with news that he had made the honor roll.  After Bob hung up, he realized that he was crying tears of happiness.
  The following year, he had an intern who seemed sullen and angry to be paired with a white man.  Throughout the relationship the student kept his distance and didn’t open up to Bob, but he didn’t break off the relationship.  Bob even talked to Malcolm about the situation.  At commencement the student was standing with family and friends when he spotted Bob and much to Bob’s amazement threw his arms around him and embraced him.  Said Bob, “That alone made the experience worthwhile.  Everything was pushed aside, race and all.”
Bob and Nancy Hechlinski presently live in Bloomington.  He’s the author of “Honey, I Bought An Airplane: Stories, Histories and Recollections of 597 Flights in the Midwest.”  In 1991 NWI Times correspondent Phil Wieland covered the final flight of Hechlinski’s “quixotic quest to land his airplane at every airport in Indiana.”  He touched down at Grissom Air Force Base during an air show witnessed by 100,000 people.  Hechlinski told Wieland, “I’d do it again.  I guess there are two crazy men of the dunes – me and Octave Chanute.”

Daughter-in-law Angie prepared a pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  In the front yard honoring East Chicago Central grad Tamiya Towns was the sign, “Proud Parents of a U.S. Soldier.”  Sweet.  Angie’s dad John Teague brought Becca an acoustic guitar that he’d bought 40 years ago but hadn’t played for years.  Dave tried it out and sang several Replacements songs, including “Talent Show.”  John spent four years in the military, stationed at area Nike missile sites, including one in Porter.  I told Dave that Taylor Branch’s “Edge of Canaan” contains details about the shooting in 1965 in Lowndes County, Alabama, of Richard Morrisroe, whose wife worked at E.C. Central.  The Morrisroes met after Richard was assigned to a Puerto Rican congregation.  Ring bearer at their wedding was her nephew BernabĂ© “Bernie” Williams Figueroa, who as a Yankee centerfielder won four championship rings. We drove home through a snowstorm, but the four inches in Chesterton paled in comparison to the record amount for November at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
left, Bernie Williams; right, The Ronnettes
Writing about girl groups in “Leaders of the Pack,” Sean MacLeod noted that “the songs were the musical expression of that transitory stage between the wonders of childhood and the realities of adulthood, while endeavoring to bridge the gap between innocence and knowing, between dependency and independence, and between self and other.”  Fame for most of the singers was fleeting, as they were at the mercy of an industry that exploited them financially and commercially.  The two exceptions, Ronnie Bennett of the Ronnettes and Diana Ross of the Supremes, had the advantage of being pursued romantically by their producers, Phil Spector and Berry Gordy.

Adele shined on Saturday Night Live, and Justin Bieber performed the American Music Awards finale.  In sports IU blew a nine-point lead and lost to Wake Forest in the Maui Classic, but I finished first in the 15-person CBS Sports pool despite selecting the pathetic Eagles to beat Tampa Bay. Bo Reyes, my closest competition, incorrectly picked Minnesota over Green Bay.

Lady Redhawks coach Ryan Shelton and I had lunched in the IUN cafeteria.  The team is 6 and 1, the only loss coming when star player Nicki Monahan was out with an injury.  In the Viterbo NAIA Showcase Classic IUN fell behind by 17 points but defeated Saint Ambrose on a last-second shot by Monahan (below), who finished with 34 points.