Monday, September 8, 2014

Fantasies


“Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of the telescope.”  Dr. Seuss


Week one of Lane Fantasy Football started poorly for me on Thursday when Marshawn Lynch scored two TDs for grandson Anthony’s team, The Powerhouse, my opponent.  Seattle’s defense forced a fumble in the end zone for a safety; had a Seahawk player come up with the ball I’d have scored big time.  Anthony also had Peyton Manning, whom I rode last year to the league championship.  Not only did he outscore my QB Tom Brady handily, he also threw three TD passes to Anthony’s tight end Julius Thomas for 28 points, while my counterpart Jason Whitten got me a single point on 13 receiving yards and no TDs.  That was the difference, as I lost by 24.  My score of 80 would have beaten four of the other six teams.
 Rep. Peter Visclosky with Student Support Services administrator Davetta Haywood; 
Post-Trib photo by Jim Karczewski


Congressman Peter Visclosky spoke at an IUN luncheon marking the fiftieth anniversary of TRIO, which began with passage of the 1964 Educational Opportunity Act that established Upward Bound.  Two other programs, Talent Search and Special Services, were soon added to help disadvantaged students achieve success in college (hence the word TRIO).  Special Services offers numerous programs for disabled people, furnishing hem with tutors and class note-takers.  Visclosky noted: “We’re giving TRIO students the best chance to succeed at getting their baccalaureate degrees.”

With a half hour to kill I watched an episode of “Girls” entitled “Females Only” where the friend with the English accent, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), in a rehab institution, accuses an overweight black girl named Laura of being a lesbian and then, when Laura admits she may be one, goes down on her.  People walk in on them, and Jessa gets kicked out of the place for actions deemed detrimental to Laura’s mental health.  How could the administrator be so clueless.  It’s probably the best therapy Laura could get there.

At Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City Peter Aglinskas entertained for two hours, performing tangos, bossa novas, a classical selection of Stravinski’s arranged by his DePaul guitar mentor Mark Maxwell, plus Sixties and Seventies pop (Led Zeppelin, Jackson 5), and much more.  He mentioned attending a concert of blues guitarist Johnny Winter, who recently passed away, and did his original arrangement of “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.” Before a Santana medley, he said he saved a ticket stub for $3.25 after seeing the original group at his first rock concert.  Peter thought he’d just be providing background music but enjoyed the applause and “bravos” from the attentive audience, which included several of his IUN students.  Several times he told them that the upcoming number qualified as world music.  My favorite was a Lithuanian tango (“Sutemos Tango” by Liudas Jakavicius, I think).  His parents didn’t play musical instruments, but he grew up listening to tangos, which were the rage in Eastern Europe during the interwar period.  Peter said that the three biggest dance halls were in Berlin, Paris, and Vilnius.

Peter’s friend Audi sat near us with retired Kenyon College German instructor Eve Moore and UIC classics professor John Valo.  I told him about the Bucknell classics teacher who’d ask students, “Is that apocryphal?”  Or “Are you being pejorative?”  By the second or third time, embarrassed students looked up the meaning of the words. I bet like me most have never forgotten the meanings.

James rolled a 145 and a 400 series, his first ever.  Dave was at East Chicago running a tennis tournament despite having relinquished his fall coaching duties.  On the way to and from Camelot Lanes I listened to a WXRT show on 1991, one of my favorite years musically, with R.E.M. (“Losing My Religion”) and Tom Petty (“Learning to Fly”) at the top of their games and Pearl Jam debuting with “Jeremy.”  Nirvana recorded “Nevermind” that year and Buddy Guy “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues.  Omar Farag booked Guy into the Star Plaza for a “House-rocking Blues” night co-starring B.B. King, Albert King, and Bobby Blue Band.  None of them wanted to relinquish the stage, and the concert went on long past midnight.

Frank E. Lee’s “grim reaper” segment mentioned the deaths of Harry Reasoner (fell down steps), Redd Foxx (collapsed and went code red on the set of “Sanford and Son”), Dr. Seuss (who said, “I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells”), and “Hollywood Squares” comic George Gobel (“Lonesome Gaorge”), who got laughs from malapropisms such as “a swell hoop” for “a fell swoop.”   A month before he died in 1991 of brain cancer, political consultant Lee Atwater apologized to 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, for the “naked cruelty” of his Willie Horton attack ads blaming Dukakis for a furloughed prisoner raping a young woman.

Hank, the protagonist in “Straight Man,” is an English department chair.  Concerning an upcoming lunch with his boss, Hank says: “The food on campus is unworthy of a dean.  Therefore, we will dine at a bowling alley.”  A disgruntled faculty tells Hank, “There’s considerable sentiment among our colleagues for a recall of the Chair.”  Nonchalant, Hank replies: “Name one time in the last 20 years when that wasn’t true.”  He observes: “The rules set forth in the department’s operating paper are egalitarian in nature and render the chair an impotent facilitator, should he be foolish enough to obey them.”  Hank, to everyone’s surprise, chose not to obey them.  During my teaching career the History department ran pretty much on an egalitarian basis since we all started about the same time.  In the English Department, I believe, there was more of a pecking order differentiating junior and senior faculty.

The Epilogue of “Straight Man” opens with this M.L. Mencken quote: “For every complex problem there is a simple solution.  And it’s always wrong.”  That’s something for President Obama to keep in mind as he prepares to escalate attacks against ISIS.  

Anne Balay reports: “I am able to pay attention to my steering even while downshifting, not always, but usually.  And I LOVE watching my tandems slide by on the CORRECT side of the curb or the marker line behind me.  53 feet plus behind me.”  Tandems, Anne explained, are the rear wheels on a trailer that do not turn. SO, the tractor turns, and you pull or push the trailer behind you. MUCH harder than it looks. It's because the trailers are detachable (they have the stuff you're carrying around in there) and they don't want to power the back wheels, cuz it would be hard to engineer and expensive. SO . . . that's the deal.”  At last report Anne got a buzz cut and, in her words, “passed phase one training, so I’m a trucker now.  Look out world, here I come.”

My fantasies would be to bowl a perfect game and win the MacArthur “Genius” Award for the Steel Shavings series.  With the money I’d build a mansion near campus that I’d bequeath to IUN to be the chancellor’s residence.  Then I’d endow a chair in Women’s and Gender Studies on condition that Anne Balay be hired to fill it. 
 Matt Mullin with Orville Reddenbacher statue at Popcorn Fest; NWI photo by Jillian Pancini


On John Lennon’s 1980 “Double Fantasy” album, released three weeks before he lay dying outside his New York City apartment, “Hard Times Are Over” contains lines that came to mind as I drove to Valparaiso Popcorn Festival to catch the Crawpuppies and Spin Doctors on a beautiful September afternoon:

Hard times are over, over for awhile
The leaves are shining in the sun
And I’m smiling inside.”


Chad Clifford’s band did not disappoint.  They rocked out on “Just What I Needed” by the Cars and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and started a long medley with Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy” as a segue into dozen soul tunes including Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and “1999” by Prince.  Close to the stage, I got smiles from Chad and Aaron and replied with a big thumbs up.  Fortysomething women nearby were dancing and partying like, to paraphrase Prince, “it was nineteen ninety-nine.”

Prior to Spin Doctors, I located Dave Serynek and Chase, who accompanied him on a bicycle trip through Iowa.  They thought Crawpuppies sounded great, and I introduced them to Chad when he walked by, called me Dr. Lane, and thanked me for coming.  Chase was wearing a White Sox 2005 World Champions cap, and I told him my friend Rhiman Rotz purchased World Series tickets and, when the team lost in the AL playoffs to Baltimore, had them framed rather than seek a refund.  “That would have been 1983,” remarked Chase accurately, who remembered that disappointment well.  I made reference to the 1959 Sox, dubbed the “Hitless Wonders,” and Serynek told me about a book by Joe Oestreich with that title about a Columbus, Ohio, band called Watershed that almost made the big time.  Like Henry Farag, Oestreich’’s fantasy was to achieve “three minutes of magic.”
above, Watershed, Joe Oestreich on right; below, Spin Doctors

Back in front of the amphitheater stage for Spin Doctors, I found the volume so loud it was hard to hear the lead singer, Chris Barron.  He was very theatrical but ultimately tiresome, repeating the same dramatic moves over and over.  It reminded me of the Gin Blossoms’ Robin Wilson a year ago, incessantly calling for the audience to put their hands above their heads and clap.  I was impressed that the original members were still with the group, and the guitarists Eric Schenkman and Mark White were excellent.  It was fun to hear “Two Princes,” “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Pocket Full of Kryptonite” but sad that the weakest numbers on their playlist were from their latest, blues-oriented CD. Big 20 years ago, Spin Doctors played to great acclaim at Woodstock 1994.

Heath Carter brought his Valparaiso University History students to the Archives.  Their course deals with the history of race-relations in the Calumet Region.  Steve McShane talked to him about Archival holdings and then I introduced myself and gave them “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”  I’ll be visiting their class in three weeks and mentioned that my first book “The Enduring Ghetto,” co-edited with David Goldfield, contrasted the ethnic enclaves that served as way stations for European immigrants with the more permanent black ghettoes.  I mentioned that at present Portage and Merrillville are undergoing somewhat of a racial transformation, and it would be interesting to compare and contrast those communities with Gary during the 1950s and 1960s.  I asked the ten students if any were from those communities.  None was, and only two were from Northwest Indiana, a far cry from our residential campus.  A couple had attended Popcorn Fest but none had seen Spin Doctors, whose three main hits were popular before they were born, I later realized.

Knowing the students going to study race-relations at VU, I told them of Roy Dominguez being just one of two Latino law students in his class and read them this excerpt of Karen Blaney’s Shavings article on Amesha McDonald:

  “In 1992 Amesha McDonald enrolled at Valparaiso University.  She liked the fact that it had a good social work program and the idea of going to a small school and was attracted by comments in VU’s brochure about the racial diversity.  Amesha, however, was the only black female to enroll at VU that year.
  Campus life seemed strange and unfriendly, not like the brochure implied.  The big trees were unlike any she had seen on the south side of Chuicago and reminded her of lynching trees.  At a dorm meeting each girl told where she came from and whether she had an HTH (home town honey).  One girl turned to Amesha and said, ‘I’m from Danville, Indiana.  I’ve never been around blacks so don’t expect me to like you.’  This comment seemed to come out of nowhere and Amesha felt stung.  She became reserved and homesick.
  In time Amesha met a lot of tolerant people.  Her second semester, she felt more settled in and was starting to drink a little too much.”

Reading reviews of Jay Winik’s “April 1865” in preparation for the History Book Club, I learned that the author is a neoconservative whose previous book, “On the Brink,” credited Ronald Reagan and four renegade Democrats in his administration with winning the Cold War.  Most credit should go to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Time magazine’s “Man of the Decade.”  Critics praised Winik’s narrative style but faulted him for factual errors and exaggerating the possibility that Confederate troops could have waged guerrilla war had not gentleman-soldier Robert E. Lee accepted U.S. Grant’s generous terms at Appomattox.  With the South demoralized and destitute and desertions rates soaring, the collapse of the Confederacy was inevitable by the time Lincoln visited the ruins of Richmond.  Winik is too firm a believer in the “Great Man” theory that, in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “history is biography write large.” 

Winik is correct, however, in regarding slavery as the central issue of the war and that the Emancipation Proclamation turned the conflict into a moral crusade, not just a fight to preserve the union.  He quotes Houston Holloway, sold three times before age 20, recalling his emancipation: “I felt like a bird out of a cage.  Amen.  Amen.  Amen.”  While Winik acknowledges that sectional peace was only achieved at the expense of men like Holloway, he does not make explicit the connection between rebel guerrillas and Ku Klux Klan terrorism during and after Reconstruction.

Joining me at Gino’s were Roy and Betty Dominguez and Brian Barnes, whose wife Connie is having surgery on her arm tomorrow and insisted he leave the house and focus on something other than her operation.  Knowing Winik’s politics, he had a jaundiced view of his lionizing Lee, General Joseph Johnstone and other Rebel traitors.  Rather than spend a day in jail, lee went on to become President of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, renamed Washington and Lee after his death in 1870.  I told former sheriff Dominguez that I quoted from “Valor” earlier when with Valpo students and suggested he offer to teach a SPEA course.  I told him what a shame it was that funding ceased for Sheriff John Buncich’s work release program.  Evidently County Commissioner Gerry Scheub and Buncich had a falling out, and Scheub and a second commissioner, Michael Repay, are responsible for defunding the laudable program.
 Gary mayor Karen Freeman Wilson at Methodist Hospital; seated from left, Methodist CEO Michael Davenport, Indiana Health and Human Services commissioner Arthur Logsdon, Trauma director Reuben Rutland. NWI photo by John J. Watkins

Methodist Hospital in Gary has been designated an in-process trauma center, the first in Northwest Indiana and something medical school dean Patrick Bankston has been urging for many years.  State Representative credited Bankston for working hand in hand with him f to make this happen.  At a reception and press conference, “We look forward to having our students study up here among the best doctors in Northwest Indiana for emergency medicine.”