Thursday, January 23, 2020

On the Basis of Sex

 “I ask no favor for my sex, all I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg, quoting Sarah Grimké during her first oral argument before the Supreme Court
 Sarah Grimké  

Sarah Grimké (1792-1873) and sister Angelina were prominent abolitionists and feminists.  Born into a prominent South Carolina family, Sarah sympathized with slaves she grew up with and resented that her own education was inferior to her brother’s due to social norms of the day.  She moved to Philadelphia, became a Quaker, and lectured about two issues dear to her, the immorality of slavery and discrimination against women. She once wrote: “I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights; human rights are all that I recognize.”
 Ruth Bader Ginsburg portrait

 “On the Basis of Sex” follows the early career of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of just nine women in her 1956 Harvard Law School class. At the time, the building lacked a woman’s bathroom. Despite her academic credentials, no New York City law firm would hire her as an associate, so she began teaching at Rutgers and then Columbia Law School.  The film highlights a case Ginsburg successfully argued with her husband, a tax attorney, before the Tenth Circuit of Appeals of a man denied a tax deduction for hiring a nurse to care for his mother so he could continue working.  She wrote the brief in the 1971 Reed v. Reedcase in which the Supreme Court extended the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to women.  In 1972 she became general counsel for the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.  Felicity Jones played Ginsburg as iron-willed, extremely intelligent, and compassionate. I loved Sam Waterston as unctuous Harvard Law School dean Erwin Griswold and Kathy Bates as veteran civil liberties activist Dorothy Kenyon.
A graduate of New York University Law School, Dorothy Kenyon (1888-1972) was an important feminist and New Deal liberal who worked with the ACLU, NAACP, and agencies offering legal services for the poor in New York City.  When Red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy falsely accused her of being connected to subversive organizations, Kenyon (above) called him a liar and a coward hiding behind Congressional immunity.
In “I’m Not Taking This Sitting Down” (2000) humorist Dave Barry described donning the lizard costume of the Miami Fusion soccer team mascot P.K. (for penalty kick) and learning to his chagrin the fine line between being an object of affection and ridicule. He discovered that children “love to run directly into mascots at full speed and tend to hit you” right where one would be well-advised to “wear a cup.”  Barry was at a gala where Mick Jagger made an appearance, looking “like Yoda wearing a Mick Jagger wig” and probably the only one in the room his senior.  In high school Barry’s band attempted to play Rolling Stones songs, such as “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Under My Thumb” but could never get the chords right.  Barry wrote:
    He seemed like a pleasant enough person, as near as I could tell from watching a crowd of avant guard people trying to get as close to him as possible while pretending not to.  I considered trying to push my way in there and start up a conversation with Mick, maybe try to find out the correct chords to “Under My Thumb.”

Former student Fred McColly stopped by on the way to the Archives to drop off two new journals about working at South Lake Mall on Macy’s department store’s loading dock.  He enjoys his co-workers but fears that Amazon and other direct mail giants will soon render stores like Macy’s obsolete.  Cosmetics appears to be Macy’s most important big-profit item. For Sears, mail order pioneers who lost their way, in its last days as a department store the main sellers had been paint and kitchen appliances until new competitors undercut them.
To celebrate bridge player Joe Chin becoming an Emerald Life Master, having accumulated 7500 master points, over 70 people gathered in Gary to honor him, including nonagenarian Jennie Alsobrooks, who, in Chin’s words, “started a lunch-hour foursome at Gary West Side High and taught me bridge basics.”  Barbara Walczak, who planned the event, presented him with a 50-page illustrated book citing some of his accomplishments and tributes from former partners and opponents.  Walczak’s Newsletter reported on the death of Claire Murvihill, noting that at Claire’s request the last hour of her funeral celebration was devoted to bridge; seven full tables participated. Back playing after a two-week hiatus,  Dee Browne and I finished third out of ten couples with 58%.

Terry Brendel, in charge of the Valpo game with Charlie Halberstadt in Arizona, complimented my letter to the NWI Times complaining about Gary and its political leadership.  The editor had left out some of my supporting material, but Terry reminded me of the policy limiting letters to 250 words or less.  I did like the headline: “Positive solutions needed to Gary’s problems.”  It fit with my final sentence: “What is needed in the face of Gary’s present travail is regional cooperation and positive solutions, not ugly stereotyping by those who, in my opinion, long ago ceased wishing the city well.”
In the Banta center library was “Baseball Forever” by Ralph Kiner, my first sports hero growing up in Easton, PA.  Kiner’s father, Ralph, Sr.,  had been a steam-shovel operator in the New Mexico copper-mining town of Santa Rita who died when Ralph was just four.  Mother Beatrice moved the family to Alhambra, CA, worked as an insurance company nurse for $125 a month, and, in Kiner’s words, kept a clean house and close eye on her son, sending him to military school for a semester when he lied about his after-school activities.  Kiner played for Pittsburgh, my dad’s hometown, and led the National league in home runs a record six years in a row, twice hitting over 50.  He briefly played for the Cubs and Cleveland Indians before a bad back ended his playing career.  Chicago oldtimers fondly recall Kiner in rightfield, slow-footed HR hitter Hank Sauer in left, and Frank Baumholtz in center, expected to cover most of the outfield. Beginning in 1961, Kiner became a New York Mets announcer until his death in 2014.  

At bowling, after overhearing Jim Daubenhower and I discussing Gary, George Yetsko mentioned that he was a 1951 Lew Wallace grad (he recalled French teacher Mary Cheever’s murder, which led to women protesting crime and corruption tolerated by the Democratic machine).  Wife Marge was a Horace Mann grad.  Her grandfather, a dentist, lived in a large house with a spiral staircase that was later torn down to make way for RailCats Stadium. 
 Tim Vassar

Daubenhower brought me Timothy Vassar’s autobiography “Jeremiah Wasn’t Just a Bullfrog: A Story of Passion, Pursuit, Perseverance . . . and Polliwogs.”  Vassar, a Butler University grad, taught special education, coached track and field at Lake Central High School, and is presently Director of Student Teaching at IUN. A Highland native, Vassar attended Mildred Merkley Elementary School, a name Region humorist Jean Shepherd (whose style Vassar’s resembles) would have appreciated.  Tim father worked at the mill plus two weekend jobs to provide for his family of six.  Vassar wrote: “My Dad used to say that Northwest Indiana was one of the only places on earth where you could run your furnace and central air on the same day.  Since we didn’t have central or any other type of air conditioner, I had to take his word for it.”  

Tim Vassar played centerfield on a Highland team coached by Andy Domsic that competed in the 1970 Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA after winning state and regional tournaments.  In Williamsport Vassar noticed Taiwanese players eating with chop sticks and met Pirate great Pie Traynor and 1968 Olympic medalist Chi Chang, the first woman to run 100 yards in ten seconds flat.  Tim’s moment of glory came when he fielded a line drive on two hops and threw out a runner jogging from first to second. After defeating a German team consisting mainly of sons of American servicemen, Highland lost in the semi-finals to eventual champ New Jersey.  The town of Highland threw a parade for the returning heroes, and players rode in convertibles.  The following year, 1971, a team from Gary, led by Lloyd McClendon, reached the Little League finals, losing to Taiwan in the longest game, nine innings, in tournament history. After McClendon homered in five consecutive at-bats, opposing coaches intentionally walked him every time he came to the plate.
Princeton professor Imani Perry was the featured speaker at VU’s Martin Luther King Day celebration.  Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1972, she is the author of six books, including “Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry” and one on the history of the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Perry’s keynote speech lamented the “Disneyification of Dr. Martin Luther King” and urged students, my grandson James, a VU freshman among them, to overcome the rancid present political climate. NWI Times correspondent Doug Ross quoted her as saying, “Hope is not an organic feel for me at this moment.  I don’t just feel it, I create it, and we all have to do that.”

Jim Spicer’s latest senior citizen joke:
  An elderly man in Louisiana had owned a large farm for several years. He had a large pond in the back. It was properly shaped for swimming, so he fixed it up nice with picnic tables, horseshoe courts, and some apple and peach trees.
    One evening the old farmer decided to go down to the pond and look it over, as he hadn't been there for a while. He grabbed a five-gallon bucket to bring back some fruit. As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting and laughing with glee. As he came closer, he saw it was a bunch of young women skinny-dipping in his pond. He made the women aware of his presence and they all went to the deep end. One of the women shouted to him, “We're not coming out until you leave!” 
The old man frowned, and proving that some seniors still think fast he said, “I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim or make you get out of the pond naked. I'm here to feed the alligator.”

Friday, January 17, 2020

Sundown Towns

“By 1970, exclusion was so complete that fewer than 500 black families lived in white suburban neighborhoods in the entire metropolitan Chicago area.” James W. Loewen, “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism” (2005)

Most famous for “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” first published in 1995, James W. Loewen in the 1970s  had a textbook turned down by Mississippi educators on the grounds that it was too controversial.  Sundown towns, Loewen discovered, existed from Maine to California, including the Hoosier state.  Sometimes the discrimination was blatant, and in Southern Indiana it was not uncommon for motorists to come across signs crudely addressed to African-Americans, warning, “Don’t let the sun go down on you.”  Jews and other minority groups sometimes encountered similar hostility when attempting to move into suburban communities. 

In Northwest Indiana, suburban police forces often intimidated drivers passing through their communities, and realtors rigidly enforced the color line.  During the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan had been active in many Hoosier towns, and the Klan almost purchased Valparaiso University at that time.  According to John Gehm’s “Bringing It Home” (1984) the Klan erected a sign by the Valpo city limits reading “NIGGERS OUT BY SUNDOWN” that remained for some years.  Two black students registered for classes at VU in the fall of 1946 but were told to wait until second semester so that a statement in the city charter that read, “No blacks are allowed to sleep in Valparaiso overnight” was amended.  Then they allegedly were given notes from the mayor to carry with them granting them permission to be in town in the event they ventured off campus after dark.   

Indiana Humanities kicked off a ten-city film series tour (on March 6 the venue will be at IUN’s Bergland Auditorium) at Valparaiso University by showing two documentaries of particular interest to me, “From Sundown to Sunrise” by Pat Wisniewski (left) and Tom Desch and “Larry from Gary” by Miller resident and Columbia College professor Dan Rybicky (below).  I sat with Liz Wuerffel and Allison Schuette, who introduced me to two VU students connected with the Welcome Project and Jon Hendricks, VU director of photography, whose wife Becca works for IUN in University Advancement.  A large crowd was on hand, including former Post-Trib columnist Jeff Manes, a good friend whom I hadn’t seen in over a year, IUN Vice Chancellor John Novak, and Katherine Arfken, a Performing Arts professor who knew Pat Wisniewski from when she was an IUN student.  Once a steelworker, Wisniewski returned to school in her 40s and graduated in 2009. She and Jeff Manes collaborated on “Everglades of the North” (about the Kankakee March) and she worked with Lee Botts in producing “Shifting Sands” (about efforts to save the dunes). I'm in it, and when people tell me they saw me on TV, I'm fairly certain that's why.

“From Sundown to Sunset” told the story of the Cotton family becoming the first African Americans to live in Valparaiso.  They were residing in Chicago’s segregated housing project Cabrini Green, where close to 15,000 African Americans lived, when the met Walt and Loie Reiner.  A navy veteran and former VU football coach, Walt had moved his family to Chicago after founing a group called Prince of Peace Volunteers interested in working with Cabrini Green residents.  Four years later, when the Reiners prepared to move back to Valparaiso Robert’s mother expressed regret that her family couldn’t do so as well, it became the Reiners’ mission to make that happen.  When realtors refused to deal with the Cottons, the Reiners arranged for volunteers to construct a house for them near their own.  As a result, both families received death threats and other forms of harassment. Volunteers guarded the Cotton home at night for over a year. Appearing on the film, Robert Cotton, who was 12 at the time of the move, recalled her sister being fearful upon spotting a stranger lurking outside their home and his deciding, bare-chested, to guard the door with a machete in his hand.  Cotton went on to graduate from VU, and there’s a clip of him speaking to students in Allison Schuette’s class. In 2015 residents elected Cotton to the Valparaiso City Council;  he was re-elected in 2019.  The film ends with him first being sworn in and his mother wiping tears from her eyes as he recited the oath.
above, Reiners; below, Robert Cotton
Larry Brewer
Renaldo Maurice

“Larry from Gary” highlights teacher Larry Brewer’s efforts to teach dance to young people despite great obstacles.  Brewer graduated from Gary’s Horace Mann High School and taught for 35 years at Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts, which closed down last year.  Brewer is interviewed outside the ruins of Horace Mann, where as a student he participated in a demonstration on behalf of Martin Luther King Day becoming a national holiday, inside the ruins of City Methodist Church’s Seaman Hall, where he once performed, and at the two former sites of defunct Emerson School. He’s seen working with dancers, and the film includes performances by former students, including Reginald Maurice, who went on to study at Juilliard School and dance with the prestigious Alvin Ailey Company.  I was pleased to see Larry, sitting in front of me, be greeted by numerous well-wishers.  A few years ago, he directed a program at the old Miller School that grandson James participated in, learning hip hop dance moves.

A third film showed the tremendous effort it took to put out a small-town paper.  It reminded me of the Chesterton Tribune, in existence since 1882 and performing a vital community service. It’s probably destined to survive, if at all, as an online publication.  At intermission IUN performing arts professor Kathy Arfken greeted me warmly.  Sensing I was trying to place, she said that, inspired by former colleague Anne Balay’s example, she recently decided to let her hair go naturally white.  It looks great.  We talked about photography professor Gary Wilk, who retired a few years ago. I told her we used to party with him during the 1970s when artist Larry Kaufman was his mentor.

Photographer Kay Westhues sought information about a Gary district known as Black Oak.  Among other things, I recommended my Vietnam Steel Shavings issue that has excerpts from Joe Klein’s “Payback” describing the “scuffy” home town of Vietnam veteran Gary Cooper (who would subsequently die in a shoot-out with Hammond police while suffering a pstd-induced flashback) and the distinctive blue-collar counter-culture emerging there in the late-1960s that promised “sex, drugs, mayhem, and good music.” Klein wrote:
    It was harsher, more anarchic and, in a way, more hedonistic than its better-known progenitor.  There was none of the philosophical posturing, little of the youthful idealism.  If a Fonda was admired, it was not Jane (who was despised even by the antiwar veterans) but brother Peter and his motorcycle. Steel workers didn’t “experiment” with drugs; they used them; they weren’t searching for illumination, just escape.
    They tended to favor the wilder fringes of rock music, disdaining the existential angst of Simon and Garfunkel for the less subtle pleasure of Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad.  They grew their hair long (and left it that way, long after most of the campus radicals returned to the fold and discovered the 25-dollar hairstyling parlor), and they began using some of the words they’d heard on television: the police became the “pigs,” the factory bosses the “establishment,” and “party” became a verb as well as a noun.  Their rage was diffuse; they weren’t rebelling against their parents so much as the utter dreariness of factory life itself.  Those who talked revolution were mostly interested in tearing the old mess down.
David Rubenstein included an interview with A. Scott Berg, author of “Lindbergh,” in his new book “The American Story.”  “Lucky Lindy” was the world’s first mega-hero after his 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic at age 25.  Previously, he’d performed dare-devil feats, including wing walking and parachute jumping, as a barnstorming pilot and survived close calls delivering mail between Chicago and St. Louis.  Berg claims that Lindbergh turned down all endorsement offers upon his triumphant return from Europe and that in 1929 the shy Minnesotan and his bride Anne Morrow were virgins on thei wedding night.  They went on to have six children, the eldest who was abducted from his crib and killed.  Between 1958 and 1967, unbeknownst to his wife or author Berg until after his biography was completed, Lindbergh fathered seven children by three German women. Because he was an isolationist prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt rejected his efforts to serve in World War II.  Nonetheless, Lindbergh advised American pilots in the Pacific and with General Douglas MacArthur’s blessing flew on 50 combat missions. Somewhat of a racist, he was no doubt more comfortable fighting Japanese than Germans.
Since IUN only carried Elizabeth Keckley’s “Behind the Scenes: or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House” as an ebook, Anne Koehler ordered it for me inter-library loan.  A copy arrived from VU that contained an informative foreword by historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  I was most interested in Keckley’s relationship with Mary Todd Lincoln, for whom she made over a dozen dresses and became a close companion of the First Lady. After publication of the book, Keckley was criticized for revealing White House secrets, but the anecdotes were tame compared to present-day gossip.  Mary Todd Lincoln was very suspicious of the men around her husband, in particular Salmon Chase and William Seward.  When Lincoln was about to appoint Andrew Johnson military governor of Tennessee, she told him, according to Keckley, “He is a demagogue and if you place him in power, mark my words, you will rue it some day.”  She also detested generals George McClellan as a “humbug” and Grant as “an obstinate fool and a butcher.” She was uncomfortable with Abe interacting with comely women during social engagements. One story has Mary telling the President prior to a reception not to flirt with the ladies and saying, “You know well enough, Mr. Lincoln, that I do not approve of your flirtations with silly women, just as if you were a beardless boy, fresh from school.”      

Toni and I celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary at the Craft House in Chesterton. Normally we don’t get dessert, but the highlight of the meal was sharing nine warm beignet pastry fritters served with chocolate, strawberry, and caramel dipping sauces.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


“The first principle of a free society is an untrammeled flow of words in an open forum.” Adlai Stevenson

To my dismay The NWI Times Sunday Forum section carried two front page commentaries lobbing cheap shots at the city of Gary and its elected officials, namely Ronald Brewer, who is in legal trouble for forcibly taking teenager who stole his car to a police station, and Tai Atkins, who allegedly accosted a woman dating her ex-boyfriend.  I sent off this letter to Times Sunday Forum editor Marc Chase with little expectation that it will be published.
    I am troubled by the Times’s continuing disparagement of the city of Gary’s political leadership. In particular, I refer to gratuitous comments emanating from the January 12 Sunday Forum by editor Marc Chase and columnist Jerry Wilkerson. Once again, Chase has drawn wildly exaggerated conclusions from, in this case, the impulsive and misguided actions of two Council members, that exemplify, in his words, “a sickness of epic proportions, characterized by unwavering selfishness [that] long has plagued our Region’s political landscape.”  Such negative characterizations certainly do not apply to two of Chase’s favorite targets, former mayors Richard Hatcher and Karen Freeman-Wilson. During 15 of Hatcher’s 20 years in office, Republican U.S. Attorneys investigated his administration time and again.  Had they unearthed evidence of corruption, they certainly would have prosecuted him, just as they targeted black mayors in Detroit, Washington, DC, and Atlanta. Regarding Freeman-Wilson, as a Harvard Law School graduate, she had opportunities that would have made her a multi-millionaire by now but instead, like Hatcher, remained in Gary and worked for the betterment of the city.
    Also in the January 12 Forum appeared Jerry Wilkerson’s “Cursed by the memories,” which blamed Gary’s decline on “moral decay, political corruption, racism and crime” – which he implied happened, not during the 1950s, when he claims “Gary was great” but after he and other whites left.  He waxes nostalgic over shopping downtown as a “young lad” and enjoying Miller beaches. He neglected to add that black customers were unwelcome in many of the first-class restaurants he recalls so fondly and that as recently as 1960 blacks were beaten when they dared use the beaches in Miller. Though nearly half Gary’s population by 1960, African Americans were largely restricted to the overcrowded Central District.  The police tolerated, indeed profited, from houses of prostitution along Washington Street and syndicate-controlled gambling. Vendors dealing with city officials contributed generously to the Democratic machine’s “flower fund.”
    I, too, lament the destruction of Gary landmarks such as City Methodist Church and Memorial Auditorium as a result of the 1997 fire, but these had long fallen into disuse as Wilkerson and others moved south to Merrillville and other lily-white suburbs. What is needed in the face of Gary’s present travail is regional cooperation and positive solutions, not ugly stereotyping by outside detractors who, in my opinion, long ago ceased wishing the city well.
Jerry Wilkerson
Dr. Joseph Koscielniak sent me to Doug, a physical therapist specializing in sports medicine and rehabilitation, for home exercises to strengthen my rotator cuff and shoulder muscles.  The office was located at Lakeshore Bone and Joint Institute in Chesterton not far from our condo.  Doug turned out to be the same guy whom I had seen when once he worked in Dr. K’s office. For 90 minutes he put me through about 15 different exercises, including isometrics.  A former teacher, Doug had me read the instructions for each exercise out loud twice to make certain I understood them when I got home.  We’ll see.

A “Porgy and Bess” revival is taking place at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera House.  Last time I heard renditions of “Summertime,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” and “It Ain’t Necessarity So” I was somewhat repelled by the condescending lyrics.  In fact, until recently, George Gershwin’s Thirties classic was out of fashion.  Black actor Sidney Poitier, for example, expressed regret at having starred in the 1959 film. Now critics regard “Porgy and Bess,” like “West Side Story,” as a period piece reflecting racist stereotypes of its day.  In “Back on Catfish Row,” New York Review contributor Geoffrey O’Brien wrote:
    On can only wonder if Gershwin [who died in 1937 at age 38] imagined all that performers have continued to create from his music; there can be no doubt that he intended not a work fixed unchangeably at a single point in time but a process of continuing change that would keep it vital.
 Key West Gay Pride parade

In “Gone to the Dogs” Dave Barry wrote about a Key West dog show.  Barry and fellow judges gave the top prize to Sam, “the old, totally motionless sleeping Chihuahua dressed as a butterfly to match his owner.”  Barry described the runner-up as “the ugliest dog in world history [that] might actually be some kind of experimental sheep.”  Commenting on the relaxed standards of Key West residents, many of whom were aging hippies, he noted that for them the term business attire would fall under the category of wearing some kind of clothes as opposed to showing up nude.  The annual Key West Gay Pride parade is quite immodest and spectacular; my brother and first wife Maureen participated several times.  When I told one of their gay friends, who managed a nail salon, that I was more liberal than my brother, he replied, “That remains to be seen.” 
 Nineteen years ago, Toni and I took Alissa to see the mockumentary “Best in Show” at the late, lamented Town Theater in Highland, where cake was served free at intermission.  Co-written by Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy, who appear as Harlan Pepper and Gerry Fleck, it was very clever and earned a 94% thumbs up from Rotten Tomatoes. One memorable line from the film: “We started this magazine ‘American Bitch.”  It’s a focus on the issues of the lesbian pure bred dog owner.”

Toni and I enjoyed “Little Woman,” which was in the news because it received six Oscar nominations, including for best picture, best actress (Saoirse Ronan), and best supporting actress (Florence Pugh) but not best director (Greta Gerwig).  In fact, no women directors were nominated. I loved Laura Dern’s performance as the long-suffering mother and Merle Streep as the aunt.  Near the end we see how books were put together during the nineteenth century before computers and mass production. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020


“Never give a sucker an even break,” W.C. Fields

In addition to being slang for a lollipop and used to describe someone easily duped, sucker refers to an organ found in numerous species for the purpose of holding or sucking, in the case of female mosquitoes, the blood of humans, for nutrients needed for their eggs.  Mosquitoes’ mouth or proboscis consists of thin needles that pierce the skin and take nourishment from blood vessels.
David Quammen’s essay in New York Review of Books, titled “Suckers,” asserted that mosquitoes have changed the course of history and that almost half the human beings who ever lived succumbed to malaria or other diseases spread by these deadly insects.  Passing on information gleaned from Timothy C. Winegard’s “The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator,” Quammen wrote:
If Alexander the Great hadn’t died of malaria in the sumpy outskirts of Babylon, on his way to Arabia and North Africa (and Gibraltor and Europe?) in 323 BCE, the Western world and its history might look much different. If the Visigoth king Alaric hadn’t succumbed to malarial fever in the autumn of 410 CE, after sacking the city of Rome but not gaining control of Italy, who knows?  If the Holy Roman Emperor Otto II hadn’t croaked suddenly at age 28 of the same inescapable ailment, just short of consolidating the Germanic tribes in 983, maybe Voltaire would have grown up speaking German. If Oliver Cromwell hadn’t suffered malaria unto death in 1658, because he was too stubbornly Puritan to take quinine, a remedy associated with Jesuits, then what? No Stuart restoration, possibly no more British monarchy ever?
Mosquitoes played a critical role in the colonization of the Americas and the enslavement of Africans, as well as the outcome of conflicts. During the Civil War, for example, General U.S. Grant’s army had ample amounts of quinine while Confederate soldiers did not.

Years ago IUN historian Rhiman Rotz and biologist Bill May team-taught a course called Microbes in History. Both were excellent instructors, and I recall how excited Rhiman would get (we shared adjacent offices) talking about the readings for upcoming classes. How I wish I’d audited them.  After he died in 2001, we kept a file draw containing his lecture notes, but I fear they disappeared in the subsequent departmental moves (from Tamarack to Lindenwood to Hawthorn to the Arts and Sciences Building).
In the Journal of American History Dennis Deslippe reviewed Timothy J. Lombardo’s “Blue-Collar Conservatism,” about Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.  Capturing City Hall in 1971, the former police commissioner served two terms used thuggery and law and order rhetoric geared to whites resentful of civil rights activists and affluent liberals.  One of Rizzo’s many provocative sayings was that “a liberal is a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet and “a conservative is a liberal who got mugged the night before.”  Deslippe wrote:
The central actors in the book are the city’s white skilled workers in trades and construction, and white police and fire fighters.  These unionized, relatively high-paid workers had some security in a city with an increasingly weak industrial employment sector. Their work was a cultural touchstone for neighborhood stability and a sense of masculine respectability amid the rapid social changes of the period.  Rizzo’s stock rose as affirmative action threatened to undo the tradition of family and co-ethnic recruitment to these positions.  Challenges to police practices came under fire from civil rights supporters and civil liberty allies during the 1960s.  
During the 1970s, Toni’s family came to visit most summers.  After we exhausted sight-seeing in Chicago and dunes excursions, we took Toni’s mother Blanche, sister Mary Ann, and brother-in-law Sonny to places in Gary.  We had just gotten onto a City Hall elevator when Mayor Richard Hatcher joined us.  He greeted us warmly and asked where our visitors were from.  Hearing Philadelphia, he said, “Oh, Frank Rizzo’s city.”  I knew Sonny admired Rizzo and that Hatcher certainly did not and was thankful that an argument didn’t break out.
 Richard Hatcher and Vernan A, Williams
The Gary Crusader devoted an entire issue to honoring the late Mayor that included scores of photos and tributes from civil rights and political leaders. Gary Roosevelt grad Vernon A. Williams called Hatcher “a man among men, a public service icon,” writing:
  His first year in office was festive.  Curtis Mayfield penned the hit song
“We’re a Winner” to capture the historic moment.  Gary Roosevelt won its first state basketball championship and with Black and Gold colors, Mayor Hatcher instantly became an honorary Panther as he led the celebration in the parking lot of City Hall.
  That summer, this cool young, smart new mayor brought a concert to Gilroy Stadium that included Stevie Wonder and the Jackson Five,  I remember taking a photo of the mayor working the crowd in his Nehru suit and sunglasses.
 Tito Jackson at West Side by Kyle Telechan: below, Horseshoe groundbreaking
Three Jackson brothers, Tito, Marlon, and Jackie, were in town to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Horseshoe Casino near the Borman Expressway.  They found time to attend a West Side Leadership Academy student production featuring dance, voice, and theatrical skits.  Taylor Iman got a hug after his group sang the Jackson 5 hit “I’ll be There.”

I joined Banta Senior Center in Valpo ($24 for six months) because I’ll pay two dollars less each time I play duplicate bridge there.  Another perk is a well-stocked library (mainly novels but with plenty of biographies) where one simply borrows a book on the honor system and returns it at his leisure. I found humorist Dave Barry’s “I’m Not Taking This Sitting Down” (2000), which begins by explaining the title as mainly an excuse to put a toilet on the cover.  The first chapter describes appearing on Bill Maher’s talk show “Politically Incorrect,” where guests are encouraged to express strong opinions, and being yelled at by singers Vicki Lawrence and Micky Dolenz of the Monkees. My bridge partner Mary Kocevar (a life master with over 500 master points) and I finished first out of 12 couples with a 61.48%.  Next week, Barbara Walczak is arranging a celebration for Joe Chin, who became an Emerald Life Master, accumulating an amazing 7500 master points - about 7440 more that I.
 Terry Bauer, Mary Kocevar, Carol Miller, Chuck Tomes

At Village Tavern in Porter I met former Porter Acres softball buddies Dave Serynek and Sam Johnston.  We lamented the passing of old teammates and retold stories about our championship season, parties at Porter Acres motel, and a group vacation in the Bahamas.  I see David at book club when he’s not in Florida.  He grew up in Glen Park not far from IUN’s present location.  In fact, he recalled taking a running start and diving into the Gleason Park wading pool when the matron wasn’t looking and a black family being told to leave when they had the temerity to show up with young kids.   Our waitress complimented Sam’s sweater; he responded that all his clothes were from Goodwill.  “Even your underwear,” she asked.  “Since you asked, they’re  from a dollar store, but I paid two dollars for them because they’re extra-extra-large,” he replied.  

As always  at such reunions, we told anecdotes about Ivan Jasper and Tom Orr, the heart and soul of Porter Acres.  On one occasion, they returned from the Virgin Islands, where they had moved in the early 1980s, with two Swedish beauties.  All four stayed several days with Dave, then Sam, and finally with us at our Maple Place home.  Before moving away, Ivan had gotten rid of many possessions, including a  softball shirt I inherited with the name “Ivan” and the number 0 (zero) on the back.  One evening I gave it to the blond with Ivan and suggested she wear it to bed.  The next day, to my surprise, Ivan was not pleased, as he and Tom were expecting to part ways with the women once the trip ended. 
From a previous reunion get-together at Village Tavern I knew to leave my coat in the car (no big deal because the temp was in the upper 40s). Smoking is still allowed inside, and plenty of the blue-collar  lunch crowd were puffing away, including one person with a portable oxygen device. Arriving home, I stripped off my clothes in the garage and jumped in the tub with my hair still smelling like smoke.
 Ben Studebaker

The father and son combination of Paul and Ben Studebaker delivered the Saturday Evening Club talk on the subject of climate change, Ben from a political point of view and Paul as an engineer.  They began by announcing that climate change is real and they weren’t going to debate it but instead deal with what can be done.  During my allotted time afterwards, reiterating that the crisis requires worldwide cooperation, I noted that 100 years ago, Woodrow Wilson attempted to form a League of Nations strong enough to deal with worldwide problems but couldn’t even convince the U.S. Senate to ratify the Versailles treaty – shades of Trump’s head-in-the-sand global-warming denials. Franklin Roosevelt helped establish the United Nations Organization in 1945, but Cold War realities kept it weak so its true potential was never reached. Ben will soon defend his PhD thesis at the University of Cambridge, and we compared notes on how the procedure differed from what I went through at Maryland.  While my final defense, arranged by adviser Sam Merrill, was largely pro forma, Ben indicated that Cambridge candidates are often required to make significant revisions. Bummer!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Machines of Youth

“It’s a hard trip to the kitchen sink
’Cause I can’t wash this one clean.”
   “Stick,” Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan)
Along with CDs by The Beths, Weezer, Lumineers, and Goo Goo Dolls, I’ve been listening to “Lush” by Snail Nail featuring teenager Lindsey Jordan that Alissa’s husband Jeff Leffingwell gave me at Christmas (it’s a favorite at his office).  The lush arrangements and lyrics of unrequited queer love are delivered with no trace of self-pity,  In fact, if I hadn’t read the liner notes, I wouldn’t have guessed how confessional the songs were.  Despite the plaintive plea to “Stick Around,” the lyrics of “Stick” also imply the termination of a sticky situation, one that can’t emotionally be washed clean. The album’s opening lyrics set the mood perfectly:
Go. Get it all.
Let them watch. Let them fall.
Nameless. Sweat it out.
They don’t love you.  Do they?
Grace. Born and raised.
Cut you down. Still bleeds the same.
As it is. For you anytime.
Still, for you. Anytime. 
Those responding to the above post included Alissa (“Glad you’re liking the CD, J-Bo”) and Cindy B. Bean, whose photos of Gary ruins have appeared in several of my publications.
 above, Larry and Cindy Bean; below, Gary girls at drive-in, 1957 by John Vachon

Ron Cohen loaned me “Machines of Youth: America’s Car Obsession” (2018) by Gary S. Cross.  It contains several references to my Fifties Steel Shavings (volume 23, 1994) on teen culture in the Calumet Region and a great John Vachon photo from Look magazine of Gary girls at a drive-in. “Machines of Youth” begins: “In modern America, growing up has meant getting a driver’s license, buying, driving, and maybe crashing the first car; the ritual of being picked up for the date and ‘making out’ in the front or back seat; even the pleasures of repairing, customizing or racing that car.”  I am cited mostly in the chapter “Cruising and Parking: The Peer Culture of Teen Automobility, 1950-1970.”  One reference mentions both sexes skinning dipping at night on beaches along Lake Michigan.
“Juliet Naked” (2018) features Ethan Hawke, one of my favorite actors, as Tucker Crowe, a Nineties indie rocker who dropped out of sight 25 years before but is still venerated by a few hundred fanatical fans, including Duncan, played by the endearing Chris O’Dowd, whom I found so amusing in a similar role in Judd Apatow’s comedy “This Is 40” (2012).   As much as I enjoyed those characters, the women were even more compelling, including Tucker’s pregnant teenage daughter, who comes back into his life after ten years.  Unbeknownst to Duncan, his long-suffering mate Annie (Rose Byrne) develops an online relationship with Tucker that blossoms into a romantic friendship after Duncan takes up with a younger woman.  Annie, manager of a museum in an English seacoast town, curates an exhibit highlighting the summer of 1964.  One old photo shows two young couples by the beach.  At the opening 84-year-old Edna, one of the four, identifies herself and her date:  It was George, mmm, he was a fast worker. He wanted a bit of fun. I wish I did too, but I fought him off. I thought, ‘Edna, you can never go wrong not doing something. It's the things that you do that get you into trouble. Here I am 84 years old and I've never been in trouble in my whole bloody life. Goddammit!’   
Annie takes Edna’s lament to heart.  Up to this time, her chief sexual pleasure came from a dildo-shaped vibrator, in contrast to her lesbian younger sister Ros, who is with a new lover each time they meet. When Ros brags that her latest is a gold star, meaning never had sex with a man, Annie doesn’t know what that means.  Annie decides to move to London, reconnect with Tucker, and be open to new experiences. My favorite scene: coerced to perform at Annie’s museum, Tucker sings the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset.” 
                      Alissa Yoshitake and Dean Bottorff with Angie
Several Holiday cards came with newsletters describing 2019 family highlights.  Good liberal Lois Hart’s came redacted, emulating the Mueller Report that documented Trump’s obstructions of justice.  Many mentioned beloved pets; in fact, the Yoshitakes, California relatives whose daughter Alyssa recently graduated from the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (where Becca had a try-out), was composed as if written by new cat Emmy:
  They told me that my predecessor, 17-year-old Ariel, who went to the “rainbow bridge,” didn’t do her job last year.  They say that’s the way cats are.  I didn’t know any better because I am only 6 months old and I act more like a greyhound than a kitten sometimes.  The place I came from (the Humane Society) was really scary busy.
Dean and Joanell Bottorff’s began:
  Where to start.  Maybe order of importance.  Angie got fed this morning and every morning throughout the year.  Not once did she forget to remind us to put food in her bowl.  Best of all, for several months, she got extra scraps of beef trims, left over from the Wykoff (SD) Volunteer Fire Department Picnic and daughter Ann’s birthday celebration.  You may not think that having your bowl filled every morning is the most important event of the year, but then you are probably not a dog.
Gayle and Ed Escobar’s included photos of their China trip, a new grandchild, and, most prominently, their cat.

In a PBS interview with David M. Rubenstein published in a new book (“The American Story”), Chief Justice John Roberts spoke briefly of growing up in Northwest Indiana but left out that his father was plant manager at the Bethlehem Steel plant in Burns Harbor, and the family resided in the affluent beachfront community of Long Beach.  Roberts attended Notre Dame Elementary School and the exclusive La Lumiere private school in La Porte (I passed the grounds en route to Halberstadt Game Weekend), where he was an honor student, student council officer, a Regional champion wrestler, and captain of the football team.  While at Harvard Roberts majored in history and  anticipated a future in academia until a taxi cab driver told him he’d also been a history major at Harvard. Realizing that job prospects for historians were grim (just as they had been 50 years ago and remain today), the practical Hoosier decided to set his sights on law school.

Reviewing Richard A. Hall’s “Pop Goes the Decade: The Seventies” for Choice magazine and being limited to 190 words, I couldn’t fit in the comic genius of filmmaker Mel Brooks, that “High Fives” originated in the 1970s, or that future tech behemoths Apple and Microsoft started then.  In many ways the Seventies was my favorite decade. On the cover: John Travolta, Richard Nixon and “Wonder Woman” actress Lynda Carter.  My choice would have been the original Saturday Night Live cast.