Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Historian Studs Terkel

Curiosity never killed this cat – that’s what I’d like as my epitaph.”  Studs Terkel
Studs Terkel in 2001; below, Ray Smock in 2014
Ray Smock sent me an excerpt from Tom Englehardt’s blog TomDispatch about one of my heroes, Chicago oral historian Studs Terkel.  Englehardt wrote:

Given the grim panorama of death these days -- from beheadings to pandemics -- and the hysteria accompanying it all, I thought it might be both a relief and a change of pace to turn back to Studs’ oral history of death, which as its editor I can testify is moving and uncannily uplifting. That, of course, is not as odd as it sounds from the man who was the troubadour for the extraordinary ordinary American. This is the only book I ever remember editing while, in some cases, crying.

Introducing two interviews that appeared in Terkel’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith,” Englehardt noted that “the first focuses on an impulse that may be among the hardest to understand and yet most moving to encounter, forgiveness; and the second, from this country's medical front lines, centers on a subject that, unfortunately, is still all too timely: the trauma deaths of young Americans from gunshot wounds.”

Maurine Young’s 19 year-old son Andrew was shot by an 18 year-old member of the Latin Kings named Mario.  A year after the killing, Maurine wrote Mario and told him she forgave him.  They started corresponding, and 18 months later Maurine visited him.  It went well, and she became kind of a mentor for him. She told Studs: “I’m convinced that if I did not forgive and I held on to my anger, that I probably would have b3ecome mentally ill.  Maybe killed myself, maybe hurt someone else.”

The second interview reprinted in TomDispatch was with surgeon John Barrett, Trauma Unit chief at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital.  He told Terkel:
You do things that live on after you. Each of us, as we pass through life, influences others. You leave behind you a legacy of things you did and people you influenced. So even if you don’t believe in a life after death, you’ve had an influence. And people say, ‘I haven’t had any influence. What did I do? I worked in a steel mill all my life, I didn’t actually do anything.  Got married, had a few kids...’ Well, you did - you had an effect as you went through life, and it was either a good effect or an indifferent effect or a bad effect. That effect continues on. I have two children, and they’re going to have influences on people and they’re going to do things. I’m also a teacher: I’ve taught lots of people, hundreds, perhaps even a thousand people that I have influenced in a very fundamental fashion. Many of them are now surgeons themselves. There’s little pieces of me that exist in all of that. So even though you’re dead, you’re not gone.”

As I’ve been sitting in on Nicole Anslover’s World War II class, I think often of Terkel’s “’The Good War,’” which he deliberately put in quotes because all wars are terrible.  One veteran summarized his military experiences as “four years of diarrhea.” A nurse told him of him of walking with a soldier whose face had been disfigured and how people recoiled and tried not to look at him.  From Terkel I learned about PAFs, veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade during the Spanish Civil War whom by 1945 certain government agencies had begun to regard with suspicion, as the Cold War commenced.

Terkel spoke at an Oral History Association conference about his book “Working: People Talk about What They Do All Day and How They Feel about What They Do.”  He mentioned that a milkman told him that one of the few perks of his job was coming across women in various stages of undress.  That got a big laugh although some feminists in the audience didn’t think it was funny. 
I had lunch with Amanda Board (above), a Psychology major who graduated with honors from IUN last May, at Applebee’s in Chesterton.  She lives in Porter, almost as close to the restaurant  as we are.  I met Amanda through Anne Balay and the LGBT group Connectionz.  She finished her paid internship with the National Lakeshore recently and is mulling over what to do next.  She would love a career with the Park Service and is thinking about going to grad school.  I suggested going to Hawaii, where she could probably work in a national park all year round and take courses at the University of Hawaii, which has an excellent program in the field she is interested in.  I told her that moving to Hawaii right after Toni and I got married was one of the best decisions I ever made.  At present Amanda is taking care of her fiancĂ©’s four year-old boy and, as she said, putting her Psychology degree to good use. If Phil had been born a girl, Amanda was one of three names on our list, along with Carrie Ann and Ramona.
Inappropriate Halloween costumes from Brendan and Missy: "wrong on so many levels"
I invited new neighbor George to join us passing out candy on Halloween and have chili and beer with us.  It turns out he’s a Catholic priest and will be conducting mass at a Hispanic church in Illinois. 

Archives volunteer David Mergl, under orders from his wife to thin out his closet, gave me a Ports of Indiana fall jacket.  It fit so well I promptly trashed a flannel one I’d worn to IUN that Toni declared fit only for gardening.

Nicole Anslover is asking students to critique a journal article about WW Ii, so I told them where they could find them in the IUN, library if they didn’t want to access them online.  I took in a Journal of American History volume from March 2014 that contains an article about John Hersey’s “A Bell for Adano,” which the Office of War Information trumpeted as an example of the “good” occupation of Italy.  The author points out that what Italians wanted more than a church bell was food.  In a bound volume located I found an article in he September 2008 issue of Indiana Magazine of History entitled about “Race and Employment in Fort Wayne, Indiana, that concentrated on changes during wartime. 

Since Nicole’s class was discussing women war workers, I told them about a book dealing with Latinas entitled “From Coveralls to Zoot Suits” and added that quite a few Mexican-American women from Northwest Indiana joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs).  Someone had brought up attitudes towards homosexuals in the previous class, so I read them a quote I found in Lillian Faderman’s “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers” from WAC Sergeant Johnnie Pheps when asked by General Dwight Eisenhower to ferret out lesbians in her battalion.  She recalled telling Ike:
  “Yessir.  If the General pleases I will be happy to do this investigation.  But, sir, it would be unfair of me not to tell you, my name is going to head the list.  You should also be aware hat you’re going to have to replace all the file clerks, the section heads, most of the commanders, and the motor pool.  I think you should also take into consideration that there have been no illegal pregnancies, no cases of venereal disease, and the General himself has been the one to award good conduct commendations and service commendations to these members of the WAC detachment.”
Eisenhower replied to forget the order.  
Sgt. Johnnie Phelps

Monday, October 27, 2014


“You can't find peace if you can't find a home
You can't survive as an island alone
Black heart with a gaping wound
Put back together by a troubled groove.”
         Foo Fighters, “The Feast and the Famine”
Any time I receive a poem from Region bard William Buckley (above) is a red-letter day.  He dated this composition, entitled “Our Hip-Hop Economy Here,” September 2014.

I don’t understand
The body of a kangaroo
In its function:
It has strong legs
But weak arms,
With its anxious word-watcher
                          In a pouch!
Before it is dropped out hoping for all fours:
                          Wouldn’t that make evolutionary sense
                          After being shoved out?
Well, with this drop-kick metaphor,
I live in Steeltown, U.S.A.
With its kangaroo economy:
                          Hip-Hop! Hip stop.

Discussing rightwing Republicans’ infatuation with Ronald Reagan and disillusionment with Gerald Ford in 1975, Rick Perlstein concluded that Ford was the most conservative president since Calvin Coolidge and in 1964 even sought to be Barry Goldwater’s running mate, while Reagan as California governor signed the country’s most liberal abortion bill into law and increased considerably the state budget.  Supposedly the “family values” paragon, Reagan was a terrible parent (so emotionally unattached he didn’t recognize son Michael at his high school graduation) whereas Ford was a model father with well-adjusted offspring, unlike Reagan’s four.  The media ridiculed Ford, one of the country’s most athletic chief executives (an All-American center at Michigan), as a clumsy oaf who took too many hits on the gridiron.  In the midst of Senate committee revelations of heinous CIA crimes and not long after crazies Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Sara Jane Moore tried to assassinate Ford, the President became the subject of weekly ridicule by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live during its iconoclastic first year.
 at the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan a decade later
On SNL’s October 11 debut episode of “Weekend Update” Chase declared:
  “Yesterday in Washington, President Ford bumped his head three times getting into his helicopter.  The CIA immediately denied reports that it had deliberately lowered the top of the doorway.”
On October 18 Chase continued:
  “President Ford’s regular weekly accident took place this week in Hartford, Connecticut, where Ford’s Lincoln was hit by a Buick.  Alert Secret Service agents seized the Buick and wrestled it to the ground.  No one was injured in the accident, but when the President got out to see what had happened, he tore his jacket sleeve on the car bumper, bumped his head, tripped over two chairs, and stuck his thumb in his eye.  Alert Secret Service agents immediately seized the thumb and wrestled it to the ground.”
On October 25 Chase referred to Ford having caught a cold:
  “White House physicians say that it will take the President a few days to recover his motor skills fully, citing the period after his last cold when he tied his shoe to his hair blower and inadvertently pardoned Richard Nixon.”
By mid-November Chase was playing the President, often in SNL's opening skit.  In one typical bit he bumped into an American flag, dropped his speech, banged his head against the podium, and did a pratfall onto the floor. A couple shows later Chase had Ford answering a glass of water rather than the phone.

New England blew out the Bears by 28 points after building a 38-7 halftime lead. With just minutes to go, Lamarr Houston sacked the Patriots’ backup quarterback and ludicrously celebrated, using a move similar to one befalling injured Lion Stephen Tulloch a month ago.  Jerry Davich wrote: “In a stupid-ass incident that truly epitomizes the Bears season, defensive end Lamarr Houston suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee while celebrating a meaningless fourth-quarter sack.  Eat dirt, Lamarr.”

David Grohl’s “Sonic Highways” series on HBO is off to a promising start.  It documents the Foo Fighters recording a song for their new album in eight different cities, devoting an hour to the musical heritage of each, starting with Chicago.  Paying particular attention to the punk scene that changed his life and gave it meaning and to black musicians that he came to admire greatly, he interviewed a wide range of artists, promoters and record producers.  Blues legend Buddy Guy told him his first musical instrument was a button on a string and that he came to the Windy City looking for a dime and found a quarter.  Grohl uses both those lines in “Something From Nothing.”  A Chicago cousin took him to his first punk concert at the Cubby Bear, a far cry then from the trendy Wrigleyville watering hole it id today.  Grohl told Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick, who lent a hand on the first track, that the first time Foo Fighters played Chicago, it was on Halloween so they dressed as Cheap Trick.  Grohl was Nielson.  A punk band opened for Cheap Trick when I saw them 15 years ago in Merrillville whose drummer hurled a broken drumstick into the audience that almost impaled niece Cristin Donahue. 
Because Grohl first achieved fame with Nirvana, fans associate him with Seattle, but he grew up in a Washington suburb in Virginia.  Fittingly, the second episode of “Sonic Highway” takes place in the nation’s capital.  Grohl goes back to his childhood home in Springfield and looks at photo scrapbooks with his mother and revisits the punk posters in his bedroom.  The epicenter of the DC punk scene for young Grohl was Dischord Records, which recorded such groups as the Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Fugazi, and Scream.  Grohl pays homage to Bad Brains, featuring the frenetic black dude H.R., as well as to a genre of funk pioneered by Chuck Brown in the 1970s called go-go, dance music heavy on drums that put audiences in a frenzy at venues such as Club U.  Borrowing heavily from go-go was hip-hop, which started in the Bronx with DJs utilizing two turntables at block parties to extend percussive breaks and emphasize synthesized beats.  Crunk, an offshoot of hip-hop, featured call and response vocals used by Chuck Brown, as well as a drum machine beat and heavy basslines.  Both punk and hip-hop (and later, rap) enabled artists to get things off their chest – whether or not, they had anything worth pondering is another question.  Certainly in Grohl’s case, the answer is yes.

 Looking north in Miller between Lake Street and Marquette Park; photo by Bill Carey

The temperature reached well into the Seventies for perhaps the last time all year, perfect for walks across IUN campus or visits to the beach.  At lunch I sat down with faculty and Anne Balay’s main adversary promptly picked up his tray and moved.  I gave his colleague, whom I’ve known for 40 years, a hurt look and then he, too, fled.  Afterwards, I sent him this email: “I fought very hard for two years to remedy what I believed was a terrible injustice, and I would have expected you to do the same if you felt as strongly about a campus issue as I did.  For the most part, I kept personalities out of my arguments and tried not to demean Anne’s detractors.  Now that the battle is over, is it not time to be civil to one another?” I could have added that two others who sided with them are now cordial; one called me the campus conscience and the other recognized how much I cared about IUN and admired that I acted on the courage of my convictions.
George Taliaferro then and now

A student in Nicole Anslover’s WW II class brought in a recruitment photo for women workers, listing a dozen occupations, including waitress.  In Gary girls as young as 13 were waitressing in bowling alleys, viewed by some as unsavory places that exposed impressionable young women to drinking, swearing, and flirtatious men eager to prey on them.  Some jobs have since been phased out, such as service station attendant, milk deliverer, and, for the most part, bank teller and typist. 

I told the class about George Taliaferro, born on January 8, 1927, in Gates, Tennessee, just down the block from Roots author Alex Haley, six years his senior.  When he was an infant, his parents moved to Gary, like thousands of African Americans during a ten-year span that saw the population of the “Steel City” double to 100,000.  Taliaferro grew up on the 2600 block of Madison (approximately two miles from IUN’s present location), an integrated, working class neighborhood, but attended segregated schools, graduating from Roosevelt in 1945.  He earned 16 athletic letters in four sports, but until his junior year, the IHSAA forbade schools with black players from competing against white athletes in contact sports.  His senior year Taliaferro led Roosevelt to victory over East Chicago Roosevelt, known as the “Goliath of Indiana high school football” and otherwise undefeated during a four-year span. 

A triple threat (he could run, pass, and kick and also excelled on defense), Taliaferro won a scholarship to IU at a time when black athletes couldn’t live in campus dorms.  His freshman year IU went undefeated and was Big Ten Champ.  The three-time All-American (Taliaferro lost a year of eligibility due to military service) was the first African American drafted by an NFL franchise and first to play quarterback in an NFL game.  After the three-time Pro Bowler retired, he had a successful career as a prison official and IU administrator. 

After my remarks student Sean Boyle mentioned a ten-minute feature on Taliaferro last Saturday during halftime of the Michigan-Michigan State game.  Nicole showed the class a Steel Shavings page containing Taliaferro’s photo. Below was one of Carson Cunningham coaching at Andrean.  Sean played freshman ball for Cunningham at Andrean.  At halftime, he told me, rather than give “rah rah” speeches, Cunningham, a Purdue PhD, would sometimes refer to Greek mythology or make allusions to sports history.
High school friend LeeLee Minehart Devenney made orange Jell-o shots for an “Orange Is the New Black” themed Halloween party.  One guest posted: “Woo Hoo!!! They were awesome.”  LeeLee wrote: “I’ll have to make red (cherry) and green (lime) ones for the Christmas gig.  We all may need designated drivers.”

Despite accumulating well over a hundred points in Fantasy Football, I didn’t pull away from Anthony’s team, The Powerhouse, until the final minutes of Monday night football, when Dallas tight end Jason Witten caught a TD pass.  Had it been Pierre Garcon who scored, I’d have been in trouble.  Beforehand, I told fellow Skins fan Ray Smock that I was conflicted because three Cowboys were on my fantasy team.  Unbelievably, third string QB Colt McCoy (as Ray noted, aptly named) led the Skins to victory.  Ray emailed: “Long may you have both reality and fantasy firmly in your grasp.”