Monday, December 14, 2009

A Tuna Christmas

Saw the wickedly funny satire “A Tuna Christmas” at Valparaiso’s Chicago Street Theater yesterday. First performed 1989, it was the second in a series that included “Greater Tuna,” “Red, White and Tuna,” and “Tuna Does Vegas.” Tuna is a small Texas town, and the wicked satire featured three actors playing over 20 characters, both men and women. Evidently originators Jaston Williams and Joe Sears performed the play as a two-person show and were invited to put it on in front of George and Barbara Bush at the White House. It opens with deejays Arles Struvie and Thurston Wheelis at radio station OKKK announcing that the notorious “Christmas Phantoms” is vandalizing yard displays put up in connection with the annual contest. Other characters include Didi Snavely, who has a used weapons store, and hubby R.R., who claims he has sighted UFOs. Sheriff Givens is nicknamed “Rubber Sheets” because he wet his bed at church camp. Housewife Bertha Bumiller is a member of Smut Snatchers of the New Order. Other characters include two midgets and a gay director, Joe Bob Lipsey. It was quite a hoot. At the Paparazzi Restaurant with the Hagelbergs and Pat Cronin and Tom Eaton, learned that the Bears lost to Green Bay with QB Cutler throwing two more interceptions. Home in time to enjoy the Eagles defeat the hated New York Giants, 45-38 in a real shoot-out. Got in a couple chapters of Gore Vidal's "Burr." Old Aaron tells his young associate that he could have been president in 1800 had he not, unlike Jefferson, been an honorable man. Burr was supposed to be Jefferson's running mate, but the two men received an equal number of electoral votes, throwing the election into the House of Representatives.

Had trouble opening documents from my old computer that had used a 1997 version of Microsoft Word. Strangely, some files opened just fine while others wouldn’t behave. Got help from technicians Jackie Coven and Velate Sullivan. At lunch Alan Lindmark and Neil Goodman started telling jokes. I have almost no repertoire except one that I found in Rolling Stone magazine said to be a favorite of late show host Craig Ferguson. I used it in the "Retirement Journal," and it goes: Salesman knocks on a door, and a ten year-old answers in bra and panties smoking a cigar. Salesman asks, 'Are mommy and daddy home?' Kids says, 'What the f--- do you think?'"

Salem Press mailed me a copy of my review of Clay Risen’s book about the 1968 race riots, "A Nation at War." Here it is:

“We learn, as the thread plays out, that we belong
Less to what flatters us than to what scars.”
Stanley Kunitz, “The Dark and the Fair.”
Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz’s epigraph, though composed years earlier, captures the harsh reality of evaporating optimism during the fateful spring of 1968 as events spun out of control in American ghettoes. Journalist Clay Risen recreates such memorable moments as Martin Luther King’s prophetic “I’ve been to the mountaintop” Memphis speech, Robert F. Kennedy’s addressing a stunned African-American crowd in Indianapolis, Black Power advocate Stokely Carmichael exhorting followers to take up the gun, the Lyndon B. Johnson White House in crisis mode, and Maryland governor Spiro Agnew egregiously berating black Baltimorean community leaders. This day-by-day account explores not only the diverse causes of the riots but also why certain cities, such as Gary, Indiana, and New York City, did not go up in flames, perhaps in part due to diligence by mayors Richard Gordon Hatcher and John Lindsey. Once sparked, the looting and mayhem were well nigh impossible to stop. For many, rioting was both cathartic and exciting, no matter how counterproductive the long-term consequences. Often the sequence went like this: angry militants smash store windows; youngsters grab what items they can carry off; “professional” looters load commodities into vehicles; arsonists then torch buildings with Molotov cocktails, occasionally incinerating folks still inside.

The white backlash was inevitable. Republican presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon successfully adopted “law and order” as his central campaign theme. By year’s end Bobby Kennedy was long dead and Spiro Agnew vice-president elect. As Risen concludes, “What was once a problem to be solved became a threat to be contained. Security for the suburbs replaced opportunity for blacks as the watchword.” If the inchoate message was, “Pay attention to us,” the opposite sadly proved true. Scars left by the riots still remain in cities across the country.

This just in. The 2010 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (which I visited this past summer and thoroughly enjoyed) include ABBA, Genesis (I'm surprised they aren't in already) and the Iggy Pop's band the Stooges. It's been a great ride recently for ABBA ever since "Momma Mia!" was such a hit, both as a play and then a movie starring Meryl Streep. My favorite group of late, Owl City, reminds me of ABBA.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

FACET's Eileen T. Bender

Yesterday I interviewed FACET founder Eileen Bender at her office in the English Department at IU South Bend. Several weeks ago in the cafeteria lunchroom FACET (Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching) director David Malik, who is also interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at IU Northwest, said to me, “Since you are an oral historian, how would you like to interview the woman who started FACET?” She is retiring from teaching this year, and he wanted her remembrances recorded for posterity. He offered to pay me but the terms of my retirement plan prevent me from earning any extra money from IU. I was in desperate need of a new computer, however, so I heard him out, and agreed that the interview might become part of a larger project. To learn more about FACET I interviewed Don Coffin, who had been an active member since 1989, as well as current campus liaison Charlotte Reed, and Malik himself. Tome Trajkovski and Aaron Pigars provided camera work and then produced excellent DVDs of the interviews that could possibly be part of a documentary or put on FACET’s electronic Website and/or Newsletter. I contacted Eileen and we set up a time and date.

The weather yesterday was threatening, but we plunged on. Aaron was a recent graduate of IU South Bend and navigated while Tome drove us in his new BMW. We made it to campus in under an hour. I packed ham sandwiches and Fritos for each of us. Eileen proved to be a charming woman with much to say. At one time she was special adviser to IU President Tom Ehrlich, who supported her vision to honor excellent teachers and bring them together as an unofficial leadership cadre to encourage teaching innovations on their respective campuses. The interview went on for nearly two hours. Each year in May new inductees and those already members of the organization go to a weekend retreat. For the past several years this has taken place in French Lick, a former spa in southern Indiana that now boasts a casino. Various sessions and workshops take place that involve teachers having to learn new skills outside their discipline. One such collaborative effort involved making pieces of a quilt. Another involved participants making silkscreen segments. As Eileen recalled, in 1998 her assistant “smuggled out” a snapshot of her, which was enlarged and cut into squares. People worked on and made abstractions from nine little screens not knowing what the larger picture was. The collage was unveiled at the closing session and now hangs in a lounge near Eileen’s office. Eileen said, “It has taken me years to be able to view my abstracted multicolored image with good humor. I’m amused when holding a class in the lounge when a student asks warily, ‘Dr. Bender – is that YOU????’”

Thanks to Vice Chancellor Malik I now have a state-of-the-art MAC (version 10.6.2) 27-inch screen computer with 4 GBs of memory. In the past couple days I’ve worked out most of the bugs and gotten used to it thanks in large part to technician Velate Sullivan. I love it. The old one had been freezing up every half hour or so. So far I have showed it off to Steve, Anne Balay, and other visitors to the Archives. Malik is also going to pay for Aaron, Tome, and me to attend next year’s retreat so we can do interviews and capture some of the highlights on tape. Malik was at today’s Holiday Party (you don’t say Christmas!) and I introduced him to 89 year-old Bill Neil, a surprise guest who mentioned that he, too, had been Dean (as it was called in 1971) of Academic Affairs until an idiot, Robert McNeil, became Chancellor (and Bill was not exaggerating). Chris Young sat at our table. His field, early American History, was the same as Bill’s, so they got along famously. Also at our table were Ken Schoon, who (as I pointed out to Bill) wrote the excellent book “Calumet Beginnings,” which combines his expertise in geology and history. Zoran and Vesna Kilibarda, who moved to the United States from Yugoslavia in the 1980s, were our other companions. Bill recalled some of his former Serbian students (what a memory), and Zoran expressed regret that after Tito’s death his country disintegrated into a half dozen little states with little power or influence. He knew Bill from chairing the 2009 Arts and Sciences Research Conference Committee that approved my Plenary Session on the history of the university featuring Bill, Paul Kern and me. Vesna thanked me for giving them my Retirement Journal and said she found it interesting. I mentioned in volume 40 that Vesna was a Voodoo Chili fan who danced to my son’s band at the Roadhouse, that as Chair of the Math Department she gave Lary Schiefelbusch the Gary Pictorial History and Ron Cohen and I co-edited, and that at grieving session in the wake of Robin Hass Birky being killed in an auto accident, she was so moved she could barely control her emotions (she wasn’t alone).

Next week will be the A & S Holiday Party, and last week was a Retirement Reception for Business Prof Bert Scott (didn’t know him very well) and an Information Technology secretary. Three other retirees failed to attend, including good old Mary Bertoluzzi, who was hired in 1978 to work in a unit that was later abolished and never promoted into a position that would have used her considerable talents. Usually try to provide witty anecdotes at such events, but kept my mouth shut. Have been reading with pleasure Gore Vidal’s “Burr,” told from the point of view of a young would-be biographer who works in the former vice president's law office. As in "Lincoln," the main character frequents a fashionable D.C. brothel. Picked up and skimmed through “Everything’s Changed” by Gail Collins about women’s history since 1960. In that year a judge kicked a woman out of his courtroom for wearing slacks. There’s a photo of a sexy stewardess lighting men’s cigars. How times have changed.

Wednesday ended with a wintry blizzard. It took my son Dave 90 minutes to get home to Portage from East Chicago Central H.S. and he begged out of bowling in place of me. I have been nursing a pinched sciatic nerve but drove through the snow and wind to Cressmoor Lanes and bowled a 509 series (194, 182, and 133 with four splits in the third game). The Engineers won one game and series for three points, and Dick Maloney beat me out for high series above average by a total of four pins to win the five dollar pot. Had two Leinie drafts and then a couple Goose Island 12-ouncers while listening to an Owl City CD and proofreading my forward to the an autobiography I am helping someone put together.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving with the Bayers

Gave volume 40 to Michael and Janet Bayer when we hosted them and their family on Thanksgiving. In all, we had 22 people gathered around our ping pong table and various card tables. Everything went great and the Bayers also came over Friday. Dave brought his acoustic guitar and entertained for an hour or so. Kirsten’s nine month-old son Nickolas and Brenden and Becky’s daughter Delilah were born within two days of each other and were really cute. Nickolas climbed up to the stairs landing where I had plopped myself down and for an hour played with kids' stuff on the bottom two shalves of the bookcase, much to my delight. Michael is a big Richard Russo fan, and I told him he needed to read “That Old Cape Magic.” I told him I’d been on an Anne Tyler kick and in fact had just finished “Back When We Were Grownups.” Saturday night some of the young-ins had a few drinks at Mark O’s where Dave’s band Voodoo Chili often played. Before the Bayers moved to Vermont 15 years ago, we used to get together for most holidays, including Memorial Day and Labor Day picnics featuring laughter and political conversations that went on far into the night. Janet also liked to have a Kentucky Derby Party and serve mint juleps. Mike is a Marxist and sometimes I tell him he’s my mentor because of his savvy political analysis of current and historic events. While too independent-minded to be a party member, I see nothing invalid about the slogan, “Workers of the world, unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.” Mike’s dad Eugene was a communist and when I once told him I was a Democratic socialist, he responded, “Oh, one of those half-ass socialists.” I dedicated volume 34, “The Age of Anxiety: Daily Life in the Calumet Region during the Postwar Years, 1945-1953” to “Old Lefties” like Mike’s parents. When Mike wrote a column for the “Daily World,” he offered to give me a subscription. I demurred, saying “After I retire.” How chickenshit was that. Mike has turned me on to such books as “Race Matters” by Cornell West and “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” by Thomas Frank. I mention Mike and Janet several times in the journal including going to a Gordon Lightfoot concert with them some years ago, seeing bluesman Duke Tomatoe perform at Leroy’s Hot Stuff, and playing marathon Risk games at their house with Fred and Julie Chary.

In the journal is this account of Thanksgiving 2007:

Thursday November 22: Made cherry cobbler (a tradition) and watched Packers-Lions before going celebrating Thanksgiving with the Bayers at (son) Brenden and Becky’s (in Valparaiso). Kirsten was missing because her husband hauled her off to be with his family in Pittsburgh). It was our first glimpse of baby Rhiannon. In Welsh mythology Rhiannon is a horse goddess, and it is the title of a Fleetwood Mac song sung by Stevie Nicks. Shannon just passed the Massachusetts bar exam; last spring we celebrated her law school graduation at a bistro where Brenden worked. Mike’s mother Selma, in her late 80s and looking younger every year, flew in from Cleveland. Mike just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and noted its similarity to Gore Vidal’s novel Lincoln. All ages played charades, including Selma and three year-old Eli. Two of mine were Jimmy Eat World (my favorite band) and “Finger Lickin’ Good” (the KFC slogan). In acting out “Hair Spray” I pointed to the top of my head and then pretended to squirt a champagne bottle.

The following year we got together at daughter Kirsten’s in St. Louis. I noted:

Wednesday November 26, 2008: (Granddaughter) Alissa arrived from MSU after I fell asleep, and we got off for St. Louis around 9:30. Traffic was light, and we crossed the Mississippi five hours later, passing by the Arch and Busch Stadium. Spent a delightful evening reminiscing with Kirsten and Ed, Mike and Janet, Shannon, 86 year-old Selma, Mike’s sister Terry and her husband Victor and daughter Maya. Toni went outside while Janet smoked but didn’t partake. Victor performs stand-up comedy, and Alissa accompanied him, Terry, and Selma to a club that had an open-mike night. He was reportedly pretty good and told of being from L.A. and having been a Rams fan before owner Georgia Frontiere moved the team to St. Louis. The St. Louis native and former nightclub singer’s sixth husband was Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom, who drowned in 1979, leaving her in charge of the team. Hated by many Angelinos, she died earlier this year of breast cancer.

Thursday November 27: Had breakfast with Mike’s sister Terry and spry Selma, who doggedly attempted to pick up the tab even though she just had coffee and a roll. A high-power executive for an HMO, Terry is very rich but shares the wealth with the family, once taking everyone, for example, on a cruise. Got in laps at the pool. Alissa made use of the workout room. Munched on Kirsten’s snacks, including a concoction that included corn and sour cream. Both football games were blowouts, just as well because we had a great time talking, feasting, and playing Trivial Pursuit. Knew what the Tonight Show calls the segment where Jay Leno interviews people on the street (“Jaywalking’). Never watch Jay but recalled a spoof of the segment on Mad TV where Frank Caliendo plays him and attempts to interview Ozzie Osbourne. Had intended to play charades, but Trivial Pursuit dragged on even though we reduced the dice rolling. Maya talked to a friend in London on her laptop. They could even see each other. By sitting near a window she tapped into a neighbor’s wireless network.

Friday November 28: Made lutkies from leftover mashed potatoes; some people call them potato pancakes – our kids called them “luckies.” Added onions. Kirsten said they were the best part of breakfast, which featured luscious confections and an egg dish. Since Kirsten is due in February, we all wrote notes to be opened by her son on his first 18 birthdays. Brenden’s wife Becky is also with child, so he and his family were unable to make the trip to Missouri.

Back to the present. Got an email from Australian oral historian Alistair Thomson, to whom I sent a copy of Sam Barnett’s interview of me. I told him I hoped to see him at the International Oral History Association conference next summer in the Czech Republic. He wrote: “Great to read this James, wonderful - thanks for sending it on. Look forward to seeing you in Prague. Best wishes, al.” Librarian Jackie Cheairs liked my mention of her in volume 40. I wrote: “Twenty years ago, we were IUN intramural bowling teammates (sadly the league only lasted one year). Often Jackie struggled to break one hundred, but one night her left-handed shot bagged half-dozen strikes in a row. After each she gave a hearty chuckle. At game’s end she couldn’t believe she broke 200.”

I picked up “Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture” by Gretchen Lemke-Santangelo for niece Alexandria’s Christmas present. Nephews Sean and Connor will get “Tycoon’s War” and “Sweet Thunder” respectively. The “Daughters” book contains some great psychedelic posters of women from the Haight-Ashbury days. The author writes that Hippie Women have been stereotyped as either earth mothers or love goddesses when the reality is much more complex. The most interesting chapter seems to be “Little Sisters.” Lemke-Santangelo writes: “Runaways, often cast as vulnerable, potential victims, were remarkably resilient, resourceful, and determined to secure and maintain their freedom and autonomy. In contrast, girls who were born into the counterculture often faced too many choices and longed for ‘normal’ parents, limits, and boundaries.” There seems to be pretty much stuff on sexuality and the broadening of choices, including lesbianism. Speaking of which, my Gay and Lesbian Steelworkers research partner, emailed: “You game for a visit to the region's gay bar? You've never met my partner -- we could have dinner and go over to EnCompass.” She also wanted to meet some of the activist women steelworkers I wrote about in TRACES magazine. Toni said I could invite her and her partner to spend the night.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Doo Wop

Attended an Ultimate Doo Wop show at Merrillville’s Star Plaza Saturday evening with Toni, Dave, and Angie thanks to four free tickets from producer par excellence Henry Farag. He really knows how to put on a good show. After three snappy songs by his a capello group Stormy Weather, Henry assumed the role of master of ceremonies, introducing groups from the Fifties and Sixties, including the Clovers (“Love Potion No. 9”), Gary’s own Spaniels, at least what’s left of them after the death of Pookie Hudson (“Goodnite, Sweetheart, Goodnite”), Kathy Young (“A Thousand Stars”), Johnnie and Joe (“Over the Mountain, Cross the Sea”), Eugene Pitt and the Jive Five (“My True Story”), a “Super Girl Group” made up of members of the Exciters (“Tell Me”) and the Cookies (“Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby”), and headliners Terry Johnson and the Flamingoes (“I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Lovers Never Say Goodbye”). Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners (“Since I Don’t Have You”) were a late cancellation. The back-up band, the Flat Cats, was great, especially the saxophone player. Most people in the audience were in their Sixties, and some were sporting canes or walkers, so there wasn’t any dancing in the aisles.

Eight years ago, I published Henry Farag’s splendid autobiography “The Signal” as a special “Steel Shavings” (volume 32) and each chapter is named for a doo wop classic – such as “Oh, What a Night,” “Could This be Magic?”, “Come Go With Me,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Get a Job,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” and so forth. I followed the same format in my Editor’s Note, introducing paragraphs with such song titles as “Book of Love,” “What’d I Say,” “Speedo,” and “A Million to One.” At a previous show Henry had Dion headlining, and we went out for dinner first with Ron and Nancy Cohen and student Shannon Pontney’s parents Audrey and Bill.

On Gaard Logan’s recommendation I picked up a first novel by Chinese-American Jamie Ford entitled “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” Set in wartime Seattle, it is kind of a Romeo and Juliet romance of schoolmates Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe, who are the only nonwhites at a private school (they have to work in the cafeteria and after school to pay for their respective scholarships). Henry’s father hates the Japanese for invading his homeland and has Henry wear a button declaring, “I am Chinese.” Both he and Keiko consider themselves American. An African-American street musician named Sheldon teaches Henry to say, “How are you today, beautiful” in Japanese (“Oai deke te ureshii desu”), but when he tries it out, she doesn’t understand him because she only speaks English. Keiko (my late sister-in-law Maureen had a beloved shih-tzu dog named Keiko) and her family eventually are sent to an internment camp in Idaho. The inspiration for the novel came from when the Panama Hotel was renovated during the Eighties and in the basement were trunks containing the possessions left behind by 37 families, including (for the purposes of the novel) the Okabes. At the end of the book the two lovers find each other 40 years later. Each has lost a spouse to illness. She says to him, “Oai deke te,” and he replies, “Ureshii desu.” There’s much mention of the Forties West Coast jazz scene, and introducing the book is this quote from a Duke Ellington song: “My poor heart is sentimental/ Not made of wood/ I got it bad and that ain’t good.”

Friday, November 20, 2009


Being a movie buff, I saw three new ones in the past week plus snatches of “2012” (I tend to arrive at the theater 15 minutes early and then sneak into another one to determine if it looks worth paying to see). While “2012’s” computer generated special effects looked cool, the plot seemed contrived and the acting lame. I’d have been better off slipping into “This Is It” and again watching “King of Pop” Michael Jackson in action.

The satire “The Men Who Stare at Goats” was humorous in parts, especially when Jeff Bridges, playing Bill Django, the stoned psychic head of a secret military unit, was hamming it up on the screen. George Clooney was also superb, as always, as crazy-as-a-fox “Gedi Warrior” Lyn Cassady. Their adversary, Larry Hooper, played admirably by Kevin Spacey, claims in one memorable scene that Lieutenant Colonel Django used funds from the project's black budget to procure prostitutes.” “That's a lie!” Django says. “And to get drugs for himself and his men,” Hooper continues, bringing this response from Django: “That... well, the hooker thing is definitely a lie.” I’d give the movie three stars, even though it was not in the same league as “Burn After Reading.”

I thoroughly enjoyed “Pirate Radio,” a guilty pleasure comedy set in England, circa 1966-67, when the British government tried to keep Rock ‘n’ Roll off the airways. In retaliation deejays begin broadcasting off shore. The music –featuring the Rolling Stones, the Who, and many more, was great, and shots of listeners dancing and partying or in the case of one kids slipping his radio under the covers at night capture the sheer thrill and transforming force of music of that era. The coming-of-age plot isn’t very deep, but the characters are quite memorable – from the lone woman (a lesbo, her mates lovingly call her) on board ship to an old burn-out who ends up being the main character’s father. Kenneth Branagh is perfect as the villainous, uptight government official out to sink the “Boat that rocks.” Even better is the on-board rivalry between deejays Gavin (Rhys Ifans) and “The Count,” played perfectly by my favorite actor, the versatile Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won an Oscar portraying Truman Capote. He’s been in some of my favorite movies, including playing child molester Father Flynn in “Doubt,” music critic Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” the gay Scotty in “Boogie Nights,” and Brandt in “The Big Lebowski. Old Sixties types nostalgic for the age of Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll will appreciate The Count’s line when he says, “It’s a terrible thing to realize you’re living the best days of your life.” Not so terrible for those able to enjoy the moment.

The movie getting most of the buzz (at least prior to the release of “New Moon” from the “Twilight Saga”) was “Precious,” based on a novel by Sapphire, who was very much influenced by Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” At times it was so tough to watch the violence against the main character, the morbidly obese, illiterate Clareece “Precious” Jones (played by an amazing newcomer named Gabourey Sidibe) that I had to close my eyes. Mo’Nique plays her mother Mary as a pathetic, self-hating scourge. The theater was packed, and I’m sure some of the African Americans winced at the portrayal of Precious’s parents (the father is a monster who virtually only appears in rape flashback scenes) and when Precious said things like “I wish I had a light-skinned boyfriend with good hair.” Paula Patton was angelic and luscious as the caring lesbian teacher Ms. Rain. After spending a night with Ms. Rain and her female roommate, Precious says, “They talk like people in TV shows that I don’t watch.” I hardly recognized Lenny Kravitz as the caring Nurse John or Mariah Carey as the busybody welfare worker Mrs. Weiss. Precious calls her Mrs. White and when she clams up after letting it slip that her father is the father of her baby, Mrs. Weiss says, “You’re going to have to talk to someone if you want your check, sweetie.” At movie’s end Precious has brought her reading skill up to a seventh grade level but with two young kids and few employable skills, what hope does she have for a bright future? I guess it is a testament to the film’s greatness that one leaves the theater moved and at least slightly hopeful.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Northwest Phoenix Article

Adam Hazlett, a reporter for the IU Northwest student newspaper, the Northwest Phoenix, did a feature article on the autograph party and pep rally. A photo of me singing the chorus of “Surrender,” with drummer John in the background (son Dave was jealous), is captioned, “Jim Lane joins Jimbo’s Jammers for a jam session in the Savannah Center lobby.” I was pleased at how the article emphasized that it was a History Club function and that there were quotes from club president Heather Hollister, who mentioned being pleased with the turnout of people inquiring about club functions, and secretary Sabrina Atchley, who said, “This party is pretty poppin’” and that "we are here to support Dr. Lane." The article started out, “For Dr. Jim Lane, retirement is a flexible condition.” Several people on campus commented on the article, including CETL director Charlotte Reed, who, based on the photo, asked if I were a member of the band. Also in the Phoenix issue was an article about the Women’s Clothesline Project that Anne Balay helped organize, which has been on display in the student union and movingly bears witness to violence against women. Anne is quoted as saying that designing the t-shirts was an emotional experience and that sometimes students started crying while doing it.

Lunched with cafeteria Monday regulars, including Jim Tolhuizen, George Bodmer, Alan Lindmark, Ray Fontaine, and Michelle Stokely, who on the way back to our offices mentioned that she is working on an article about a Kiowa Indian tribal calendar. Many in the nineteenth century were done on buffalo hide. Almost all have some depiction of the 1833 meteor shower that lit up the sky – in fact, that is a key way experts can date them. Michelle and Ray are very well versed in Native American lore. A week ago when Political Scientist Jean Poulard was claiming that our culture was superior to others and citing religious toleration as a key reason, Michelle mentioned that Native Americans didn’t have freedom of religion until 1975. The subject of fishing came up, and I mentioned that our furnace man Chuck returned from a Tennessee River fishing trip in Alabama with bags of croppies and blue catfish for us. That led to the subject of noodling, catching catfish with one's bare hand, which is popular in Oklahoma and elsewhere in the South. Had never heard the term before.

Sent a copy of Sam Barnett’s AREA Chicago article to Senate Historian (and Maryland grad school buddy) Don Ritchie, who replied, “Thanks, many a night I did homework while listening to Jean Shepherd on WOR radio in NYC. He always had a breathless way of storytelling. I enjoyed your interview. You and I are reaching the fossil stage of life where young historians come to interview us!” I also sent Sam’s interview to IU history professor John Bodnar, whose book “The Transplanted” was a major influence on how I examine the immigrant experience. I’m also hoping Bodnar will take a look at Sheriff Dominguez’s autobiography, which I have been working on for six months and is just about done. Bodnar wrote an excellent introduction to Ray and Trish Arredondo’s book “Maria’s Journey,” due out in the spring.

Interviewed Vice Chancellor David Malik, who is also director of the FACET program on teaching excellence. Tome Trajkovski brought his assistant, Aaron Pigors, along, so one camera was trained on Malik and the other on me. Malik was especially interesting talking about teachers having to imagine what goes on in their classrooms from a student’s point of view and things done at a retreat he planned that simulated teachers being in students’ shoes. He also mentioned that he would write personal letters to bright students who had done well in his Chemistry course encouraging them to pursue that discipline and how surprised and gratified students were to hear from him that way. Afterwards Malik talked about the great MAC computer he’d ordered for my use, and I told him I’d “earn” it. One idea is to put excerpts of interviews on the FACET newsletter. He also invited me and a cameraman to the spring retreat, where we could do interviews with a variety of people and videotape some of the events.

Received in the mail from Salem Press my second choice of books to review, journalist Clay Risen's “A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination.” My first choice had been “Daughters of Aquarius: Women of the Sixties Counterculture.” Perhaps in anticipation of it coming I finished Richard Russo’s novel “That Old Cape Magic.” It is about a troubled marriage but has moments of high comedy and some unforgettable characters, including Jack the protagonist’s moronic jarhead twin brothers-in-law Jared and Jason. The main character is an English professor whose parents were also academicians who resented the fact that they were stuck at a state university in Indiana. The most endearing characters are Korean-American Sunny Kim, who has a crush on Jack's daughter (Jason and Jared take it upon themselves to loosen him up), and hot-to-trot Marguerite, who Jack meets at one wedding and takes to his daughter's wedding a year later while separated from his wife.

Risen’s “A Nation on Fire” starts with this quote from former Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz’s “The Dark and the Fair”: “We learn, as the thread plays out, that we belong less to what flatters us than to what scars.” In the index I found three references to the city of Gary, Indiana. The first mentions Mayor Richard Hatcher attending a crisis meeting with Lyndon Johnson at the White House, along with other Black leaders (Hatcher told me the whole time he was anxious to get back to Gary). Next Risen mentions that in those cities like Gary where major racial disturbances didn’t occur “competent antiriot mechanisms [were] in place and [Hatcher] made the point of showing [himself] in the streets as soon as possible” (the Mayor also enlisted the help of members of the state championship Roosevelt High School basketball team). Then, contradicting himself, Risen alleges that Hatcher cancelled plans to attend the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr., “because of renewed rioting in his city.” Instead of “renewed rioting” Risen should have said something like “the threat of rioting.” In his prologue Risen laments the paucity of books that discuss the aftermath of King’s assassination. One excellent study, however, is Ray Boomhower’s “Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary.” RFK, of course, was in Indianapolis when he told a shocked crowd of King’s death and appealed for compassion in the face of bloodshed. Perhaps in part for this reason. Indianapolis also escaped a race riot.

Friday, November 13, 2009

AREA Calumet

Sam Barnett dropped by the other day with copies of the latest AREA Chicago, called “Peripheral Vision.” The idea was to include articles on surrounding communities, and in a section called AREA Calumet is excerpts from the interview Sam did with me a few weeks ago. Actually the editors credit me as the author “as told to” Sam, who did an excellent job introducing and editing it. Sam had with him a young street artist from England, Sarah Smith, whom came to Chicago after hearing about AREA Chicago. Sam gave her a tour of Gary, and I gave her a copy of volume 40 and my Nineties issue “Shards and Midden Heaps” with Sam on the cover, along with Sara McColly. I showed Sam photos from the Autograph Party, including one of Fred McColly and Sam mentioned that he regularly reads Fred’s blog.

Found some interesting articles in the magazine, including one about possible ways to use the 573-acre site where U.S. Steel South Works once provided work for thousands. A high school art teacher, Bert Stabler, in an article called “Relative Freedom,” lamented the restrictions of the classroom and how it tends to strangle creativity. Anthony Rayson produced a long, angry poem called “Shut This Authoritarian Nightmare Down!” which mentioned his protesting the building of a metropolitan airport near his home in Monee. He writes:

“We marched in solidarity with city folks being forced out of their homes,
As Daley and his plotters decided to destroy the miserable high rises.”

A teenager when Mayor Daley’s father had the police tear gas protestors at the 1968 Democratic convention and Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down the following year, Rayson writes:

“We had an Iranian exchange student, who we invited into our gang.
He was the son of a two-star general in the Shah’s army no less!
His name was Bahram Salimi, but everyone called him Sirhan Sirhan.
He got a helluva “education” because everything was such a mess!”

Here’s what the article in AREA Chicago looks like:

Steel Shavings
by James Lane, Samuel Barnett

Can you imagine 4,000 years passing, and you’re not even a memory? Think about it, friends. It’s not just a possibility. It is a certainty!
—Jean Shepherd, 1975.

Or perhaps not, thanks to the life’s work of another great Calumet Region writer and raconteur, James Lane, Indiana University Northwest Professor Emeritus of History. In 1975 Lane co-founded Steel Shavings, a magazine dedicated to the social history of Northwest Indiana. Since then he has edited (or co-edited) all 40 volumes, using oral histories, journals and diaries, newspaper clippings, photographs and more to create an invaluable people’s history of the area.

Shortly before the autumn 2009 release of Volume 40: “Out to Pasture but Still Kickin’” (the “retirement journal”), I asked Jim Lane to reflect on his approach to history, the future of Steel Shavings, and a certain topic he feels is regrettably lacking in local histories.—Samuel Barnett

Steel Shavings started out to publish people’s family histories, which were done as projects in history classes. From the very beginning we believed if people knew about their own families that would be the microcosm which would contain a lot of the themes of the larger local as well as national history.
Almost everybody in The Region can trace the immigrants in their family to the last generation or two or three. That immigrant experience, when not told from the bottom up, misses a lot of the humanity. For a long time, the traditional studies just showed immigrants as victims, but the family histories showed people combating the harsh environment with different strategies. Sticking together, forming clubs. So the immigration experience has been humanized through family and oral history.

This is a blue-collar area, but the story of steelworkers is usually told studying institutions, like the union or the corporation. As a starting point I’ve used folklorist Richard Dorson’s interviews with steelworkers, published in the book Land of the Millrats, but Dorson researched the subject when there weren’t many women working there. Now we have a whole body of sexism stories. My latest article in the Spring 2009 issue of Traces magazine talks about members of a women’s caucus, most of whom started out as radicals, and moved to Gary to work in the mills because they thought they could start a social revolution through the working class. As women steelworkers, they used their organizational skills to start women’s groups and demand fair treatment.

Race is the third theme that exists throughout Shavings. Race relations, the interaction or lack of it, is so important in this area. You can study the Richard Hatcher grassroots mayoral campaign as I have, as a very important movement. But I’ve also wanted to get the daily life of people living in Gary, especially before neighborhoods were open to all.

One of the first interviews I did when I wrote City of the Century: A History of Gary, Indiana (1978) was with Paulino Monterrubio. All I wanted to talk to him about was the ways he was discriminated against when he came here, which he was and that’s certainly part of the story. But he wanted to talk about being a neighborhood warden during World War II, and he wanted to show me his citizenship papers, his union card, pictures of his family. He put up with the bullshit, the discrimination, but the reality of his life—the way he wanted to be remembered—was not just as somebody who was kicked around but somebody who had this, did this, and left a mark through his relatives and his kids.

I have never told my students they should have a list of “30 questions,” or that these are the questions we should ask all the people we interview. I tell them the best oral historian is a person who is a good listener; you want to establish a rapport and have that person realize that the final product is as much theirs as it is the interviewers’.

The great thing about oral history is that I think anyone can do it. Some of my worst students have done the best jobs. You know—real screw-ups who half the time didn’t come to class, but just knew how to get stuff out of folks. It’s been interesting to see how some people are natural interviewers and other people can’t shut up. [Laughs]

One oral historian thought there is maybe a 10- or at most a 15-year window of opportunity where people have vivid memory, and after that forget it. An oral historian has to be skeptical; human memory is frail. Oftentimes I think people form or recall an anecdote, and then they have the anecdote in their mind all set, so what they’re remembering is more than the event itself. In the formation of that story or anecdote, certain things are left out that are too painful or too embarrassing or whatever.

I wish there was more sexuality in Steel Shavings. I think in the future people will want to know more about that. In the journals, people were so candid about drug use, about their parents being abusive; they were so candid about so many things. But shy when dealing with sex. Or maybe that’s not the word, maybe they don’t want to put it in writing, but I wish there was more. That’s something I’ve tried to get, but haven’t succeeded as well as I’d like.
At one point I’d hoped that I could do an issue on Gay and Lesbian life in the Calumet Region. I had my students go out, and most of the interviews were disappointments. They just stayed away from certain questions. One student was interviewing his aunt, and every time she talked about what she actually enjoyed doing, he said, “I don’t want to hear about it!” Some people did a great job but there wasn’t enough for an issue. I have, however, put some of that material in Volume 40.

A lot of Shavings is contemporary history. I went from having students write about their families to students writing about themselves. Because so many of our students are adolescents it is a contemporary history of growing up, becoming an adult. Coping with school, girlfriends, work, living at home. I’ve never expected this to be a scientific analysis, a good statistical sample, but it’s filling in the gaps.

Jean Shepherd, my favorite writer, used the phrase “shards and midden heaps,” which I used for the subtitle of the 1990s issue. My concept is that 200 years from now somebody’s going to find these things, these magazines, and they will literally be shards and midden heaps, little scraps of history, little pieces that add to the general story that people remember about the time.

I don’t know if Steel Shavings will have a future after Volume 40, but I hope it does. There are possible funding problems, as there always are, but that could probably be overcome. I wouldn’t mind passing the baton or being an occasional co-editor. I consider Steel Shavings the best thing I’ve done as a historian. ◊

(note: here is the link to AREA Chicago

Monday, November 9, 2009

Steely Dan concert

“Are you reelin’ in the years
Stowin’ away the time
Are you gatherin’ up the tears
Have you had enough of mine?”

Saw Steely Dan last Saturday at a place called the Holiday Star in Merrillville with son Dave and Darcy Wade, whose husband Tom (our board game buddy) didn’t want to go. Beforehand we met Marianne and Lorraine (Voodoo Chili veterans who’d been at my autograph party earlier in the week) at Old Chicago Pizza and Pasta Restaurant nearby. I had a guacamole hamburger and wine (to reduce bathroom visits). Still featuring Donald Fagen and Walker Becker, Steely Dan was mainly a studio band doing jazzy, funky, progressive rock during the 1970s and was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. The name comes from a metal dildo called Steely Dan in the William Burroughs beat novel “Naked Lunch.”

Steely Dan, 2009 version, featured a four-piece horn section and three hot female singers. They first did their entire “Aja” album, featuring “Peg” and “Josie,” straight through and then performed most of their hits (though not “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”). They played for over two hours and were fantastic. Marianne had attended one of their shows a couple months before in Chicago and said they were better this time because the crowd was so into it. Many in the mostly Forty-and-Fifty Something crowd were dancing and the bolder ones even went up to the stage for the last few numbers. The finale was a scorching version of “Reelin’ in the Years.” Darcy thought the vocals a little weak (often the case in a live show) but loved seeing her favorite Seventies band.

Walker Becker did a long introduction to the song Dave liked best, “Hey Nineteen,” mentioning Cuervo Gold, which I learned is a brand of tequila (I’m strictly a beer and wine guy). The lyrics document a man’s frustration with a young girlfriend who, among other things, doesn’t know who Aretha Franklin is. One line goes, “She thinks I’m crazy but I’m just growing old.” “Hey Nineteen” ends this way:

“The Cuervo Gold
The fine Columbian
Make tonight a wonderful thing
We can’t dance together
No we can’t talk at all.”

On Gaard Logan's recommendation, I’m putting my name on a list to get “Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.” I also found a Website for the novel and learned that author Jamie Ford must be a "Star Trek" fan because even though the book has been translated into 13 languages, he’s holding out for Klingon. The book evidently touches on the Forties Seattle jazz scene, similar to the Sugar Ray Robinson book Sweet Thunder’s depiction of the NYC scene that the "Sugar Man" so enjoyed. Nine years ago I reviewed a book for the Oral History Review about the L.A. jazz scene of that era called "Central Avenue Sounds." Recalling the block where the Club Alabam and the Dunbar Hotal were located, musician Jack Kelson told an interviewer that when the sun went down, all the flaws and imperfections disappeared, replaced by "an aura of mysterious wonderfulness."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pep Rally & Autograph Party (2)

The Pep Rally and Autograph Party for volume 40 Tuesday was a success. The band Jimbo’s Jammers, consisting of son Dave, former student Bruce Sawochka, and original Voodoo Chili drummer John, was great, starting with acoustic numbers and then rocking out and climaxing with Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World." The band also did the Neil Young song about Johnny Rotten, "Hey Hey My My (Out of the Blue)," which contains the line, "it's better to burn out than to fade away." Dave invited me and favorite student Shannon Pontney up to sing the chorus to "Sympathy for the Devil" – first “woo, who,” then “ooo, who,” and finally “ooo, who, who, oh, yeah.” I also, as usual, helped with the chorus to "Surrender" - "Mommy's alright, Daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird. Surrender, surrender but don't give yourself away." (sat in sixth row to see Cheap Trick at the Star Plaza with niece Cristin; the drummer in the punky warm-up band threw a broken drum stick that sailed right by her; could have taken her eye out). Among the former students who came to the Autograph Party were Dave Serynek, Fred McColly, Sherril Tokarski, Thomas Hazlett, Mary Lee, Don Young (who took many photographs), and Marshall Lines. Marshall’s girlfriend Erica was puzzled that in volume 40 I referred to her tattoos (I rasn into them while working the Porter County Fair). She said she only had one and that it wasn’t visible; it must be near her breast or above her butt because I wouldn’t have made that up. Or would I?

Todd Cliborne arrived accompanied by his daughter Baylee. In an article called “Lifeless Angel in Sandals” that appeared in my 2000 issue Todd wrote about thinking of his three year-old daughter as he viewed the body of a young drowning victim and calling her after leaving the hospital to tell her how much he loved her. That was nine years ago, and I could tell from their body language how close they still are.

I danced with the Redhawk cheerleaders (who also performed) and numerous others, including Marianne and Missy Brush (Big Voodoo Daddy’s daughter, who also did a number with the band), John’s wife Lorraine, wife Toni, daughter-in-law Angie, Shannon, and Communication professor Lori Montalbano (much to her young daughter’s displeasure), and an African-American guy named David who basically danced the entire time. Jon, Jerry, Chris, and Jean from our department lent their moral support as well, as did Chuck Gallmeier and emeritus prof Ron and wife Nancy (who’s halfway though and said she’s learning more about me than she wanted to or words to that effect) and best friend Clark Metz. Trish and Ray Arredondo were pleased to find their names in the volume several times in connection with the book we worked on together, “Maria’s Journey.”

I got a lot of help from IU Northwest History Club members Heather, Brandy, and Sabrina, who signed up new members. Heather Hollister is a campus cadet and goes out with former student Josh Gonzales, who wrote an article for my Eighties Steel Shavings (he is one of eight Gonzales’s in the master index, plus seven Gonzalez’s with a “z” at the end). Scott Fulk from Student Life provided free popcorn, Ann Fritz kept the Gallery open (a haven for those who wanted to talk while the band was playing), where punch and cookies were on hand, and Donna DeGradi kept the bookstore open and reported that they sold a bunch of books. Some of the fans who had come for the basketball game were pleased at the entertainment, including two middle aged guys from Grace Collage (the Lady Redhawks’ opponents). After leading by ten at halftime the Lady Redhawks lost to the "Lady Lancers" in overtime.

In a reference to my “Wacky Mode” comments about Padgett Powell Gaard Logan wrote: “I think breaking a reader’s heart is a worthy goal for a novelist. I’m reading a little something called "Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." It centers around the Panama Hotel in Seattle’s international district. The hotel was closed for 40-plus years following WWII, I’m guessing because all the Japanese were carted off to detention centers and so it could not longer make a profit. When it was purchased and reopened in the 80s, the new owners found the basement full of personal belongings left behind by the community. It talks about what the residents tried to do to save themselves from arrest, including burning anything that linked them to ‘old’ Japan – kimonos including wedding kimonos, photos of their parents and grandparents taken in Japan, artwork that today would be worth fortunes but meant ‘Japanese sympathizers’ to the authorities. I’m only at page 75, and my heart has already been broken. Twice.”

I recall watching the Johnny Carson Show many years ago when a Japanese-American actress said she was born in Arizona and Johhny expressed surprise, not realizing she had been in an internment camp. Initially families in the camps had virtually no privacy and had to keep lights on all night as soldiers could peer inside to make sure no subversive activity was taking place.

Wednesday was a busy day. I interviewed Charlotte Reed for the FACET project. She was very moving talking about her passion for teaching and very complimentary toward my son Dave, who was a student of hers in the Urban Teacher Education Program. They have kept in touch since he started teaching at East Chicago Central High School 15 years ago. In the afternoon I did my first steelworker interview for Anne Balay's project, which lasted two hours. At bowling I rolled a 512 and the Electrical Engineers won five points out of seven. One opponent looked just like Tommy Lee when he was in his blond-hair mode. At an O'Hare Airport bar Toni and I sat right next to him and he was charming to us and the young women seeking to say hey and maybe get his autograph.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wacky Mode

Found an article about novelist Padgett Powell in a three-week old issue of the New York Times Sunday magazine that I had brought home so Toni could do the crossword puzzle. Powell wrote a critically acclaimed novel in 1984 called “Edisto” and then not much since then except a few short stories. In one called “Mrs. Hollinsworth’s Men” he writes” “Her husband is indistinct.” What a sad thing to say about anyone. I have many character flaws but am not indistinct. Of someone else Powell said, “I think he’s dead but still talking.” Equally sad. How many people do we know who fit that description.

Powell just published a novel called “The Interrogative Mood” that mainly consists of one person asking a second person a series of questions about love and loneliness. Author Dan Halpern mentions that Powell studied under Donald Barthelme, who asked creative writing students: “We have wacky mode. What must wacky mode do?” The rest of the class sat silent, stumped, but Powell answered, “Break their hearts?” I think that means, “Really get through to someone emotionally.” I guess that is a worthy goal for a novelist, or, for that matter, me as editor of Steel Shavings magazine.

Also in NYT magazine: an essay about a guy’s 63 year-old mother going out on an Internet date and wondering how soon to accept a kiss, etc., etc. Someone my age must really be lonely or horny to subject oneself to that.

Met with English professor Anne Balay and one of her students about a project we are going to do together involving the interviewing of gay and lesbian steelworkers. Anne had to go through numerous hoops to win the approval of the campus Human Subjects Committee, but things are a go. All we need now are subjects to interview. Anne wants me to start the ball rolling by interviewing a gay guy who is willing. I’m not supposed to know his name and he will contact me. Anne and I got a demonstration from Tome Trajkovski in Information Technology on various digital recorder models and how to use them. My huge old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder is on its last legs – it’s time to join the twentieth-first century.

One of the questions Anne submitted for approval by Human Subjects was, “Are you a gold card?” I asked her what that meant and it’s slang for “never have had sex with someone of the opposite sex.” Though a lesbian, she has two teenage daughters so obviously isn’t a “gold card” herself. In my retirement journal I wrote about attending an Arts and Sciences Research Conference session where Anne spoke on fantasy fiction “Tough Girls and commented: “With her manly shirt and tie, she looked fetching and sexy in a butch sort of way. The English Department website lists her fields as Women’s, children’s and queer literature. She worked five years at the “Foreign Car Hospital” and proudly wears her mechanic’s shirt around campus. Hope to get to know her better.” Last week I gave her volume 40 with some trepidation and was pleased that she was fine with my description of her. Since I wrote that, she has let her hair go from red to its natural grey and looks twice as cool as before.

In my “Retirement Journal” I quote historian Walter LaFeber, who wrote me that he “assumed that I’d discovered that I didn’t have as much free time in retirement as expected.” In his case he attributed it to the “Warren Harding syndrome of not knowing how to say no.” Perhaps that’s why I have a half dozen projects going simultaneously, including not only the gay and lesbian steelworkers project but editing a book about an Hispanic matriarch called “Maria’s Journey,” helping Sheriff Roy Dominguez write his autobiography, an oral history of IU’s FACET program (honoring teaching excellence), writing books reviews for Magill’s Literary Annual, and helping Modern Languages professor Eva Mendieta publish work she has done on the history of Mexican-American mutual aid societies in Northwest Indiana. I was not ready for retirement, and as my friend Paul Kern put it, calling my musings a retirement journal is a misnomer since I’m not really retired.

Friday, October 30, 2009

This Is It

Attended a luncheon at the Patio for retired IU Northwest faculty organized by Janice Rowe and Barbara Cope. About 25 people showed up including Bill Neil, Ron Cohen, and George and Bette Roberts, all of whom were in fine form. George spotted two local politicans sitting at a nearby table and said something that made Bill Staehle, sitting across from him, say, "Same old George." My $7.95 meat loaf and mashed potatoes special came with a nice salad and was so enormous I saved half the meat till tomorrow and didn’t need dinner. Gave volume 40 of Steel Shavings to Bette, who spoke at an event last fall celebrating 50 years of the university moving to Glen Park.

Saw the Michael Jackson documentary “This is It.” The 1:30 showing wasn’t packed but there were lots of folks waiting to see the following show. Michael looked great and his rehearsal performances caught on tape showed that at age 50 he was still the “King of Pop.” How tragic that he never got to take the show to London. While he sang an early Jackson Five song in the background were shots of him performing as a kid, which were almost enough to break your heart. At the end of the film Michael comes off not as a freak but as a genius. The audience, me included, applauded.

Cliff Lee pitched masterfully for nine innings, giving up only one unearned run, and the Phillies took game one of the World Series in a driving rain thanks also to a pair of Chase Utley home runs. Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia hadn’t surrendered a HR to a lefty in Yankee Stadium all year. Michele Obama and Jill Biden attended the game and escorted Yogi Berra and Tony Odierno (he lost an arm in Iraq), who threw out the first ball(s). Watched most of the game at Cressmoor Lanes, where I bowled a 494 series despite pulling a thigh muscle. I invited John Gilbert, who I mention seeing at a Cracker concert, to next Tuesday’s Autograph party for volume 40, but he has a darts tournament that evening. Also invited Chris Lugo and told him to bring granddaughter Angel, but she has softball practice. On January 23, 2009, I wrote: “Said hello to Angel Lugo, there to watch her granddad Chris bowl. When I first met her, she was about four and I mistook her for a boy. She held it against me for years. Now she’s in seventh grade and real cute. Her favorite teacher is Mr. Sawochka.” Bruce Sawochka is part of Jimbo’s Jammers and will be playing guitar at the party. gave a flyer to a Gary police officer named Dante and told him former officer Todd Cliborne will probably be there. Dante hadn't bowled all season but rolled a 279.

I received a package of books from IU Press for the Archives in exchange for refereeing an article about Gary. They included an autobiography of Gary Roosevelt and IU football great George Taliaferro and "Steel Giants," a pictorial history of Inland and U.S. Steel that Steve McShane and Gary Wolk produced.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autograph Party & Pep Rally

I have been sending out email notices for the Pep Rally and Autograph Party next Tuesday November 3 at IU Northwest’s Savannah Center between 5 and 6:45 and prior to the Lady Redhawks’ first basketball game of the season against Grace College. Heard back from Carson Cunningham, who has a PhD in sports history and coaches at Andrean High School. Former student and Gary police officer Todd Cliborne said he’d try to be there. I mention in volume 40 that he inquired about teaching possibilities in SPEA and for volume 33 (on the year 2000 in the Calumet Region) wrote movingly about children drowning in Lake Etta in Black Oak. A Californian got confused during a sudden thundershower and drove her car into the water. After good friend Bill May was murdered senselessly in his condo in Miller, Todd spotted the stolen car and apprehended the killer.

Steve helped me put up display cases in the Conference Center lobby and in Savannah next to the bookstore. We put up flyers and Jeff Manes’s SALT article plus displayed both the front of the magazine and the back, which has photos of my final class in Summer I, 2007, and members of the History and Philosophy Department at one of my retirement parties. I also opened a third book, in one case to an account of the September 2007 flood that closed the campus for two weeks and for the second display the two-page spread includes photos of my son Dave and other members of the band Voodoo Chili on one page and a photo of Robin Hass Birky and a section called “Grieving.” On August 29 I wrote: “Campus news flash: Assistant Vice Chancellor Robin Hass Birky just died, her car hit by a truck that ran a red light as she turned onto Route 49 on her way to a meeting in Indy. She was a friend of the History department, Jerry especially, her academic specialty being Medieval Literature. Went over to the cafeteria to be with colleagues and ran into her boss, Kwesi Aggrey, who was too shook up to talk. Robin danced with me to Voodoo Chili at Leroy’s Hot Stuff and on campus after my retirement ceremony. Everyone loved her. I’m numb.”

Three days later came this entry: “Vice Chancellor Aggrey set aside two hours where people could grieve over Robin’s death as well as the recent passing of George Adair and Doc Lukas. Like a Quaker meeting there were periods of silence and short testimonies. I started things off with brief personal anecdotes about each. Vesna Kilibarda could barely control her emotions, and some others were too shaken up to speak. Charlotte Reed mentioned what a comfort Robin was when people close to her passed away. Roberta Wollons came into my office, having traveled from Boston to attend the wake and burial service. She remembered when the three of us danced to a Rolling Stones song at Leroy’s. Kim Hunt wrote: ‘Robin was one of my academic inspirations. She motivated us to enjoy and want to learn more about our language, just as you motivated us to enjoy and want to learn more of our history.’”

On September 3 I wrote: “Passed where Robin died on the way to the packed church service and got choked up. Had been at the intersection many times delivering Shavings to Home Mountain Press. Trucks roar by at 60 mph and commonly run the light. In church Mary Russell called her “our Rockin’ Robin.” Kwesi sang a Ghanaian song in her honor that was unbelievably moving. DeeDee Ige mentioned that when she went back to teaching, Robin gave her a book. Inside was a picture of the three of us dancing at my retirement party and a note telling her to keep joy in her life. That broke me up. Two former students spoke of how tough but caring she was. Son Cole just finished basic training and wore a military uniform. Before going to the cemetery the funeral precession wove past the Valpo firehouse, where Robin’s husband worked, and firemen were out front at attention. Stunned, Paul Kern wrote: “Robin’s son played basketball for Morgan Township. I’d check the box scores to see how he did and mention it to Robin. The heartfelt tributes were deserved. What a lot of enthusiasm snuffed out.”

The flood started on September 14 as a remnant of Hurricane Ike and caused areas near the Little Calumet River to be inundated, including the Tri-State (Interstate 80-94). I had some of Trish and Ray Arredondo’s photos in my office for the book project on Maria Arredondo plus the latest version of the manuscript on my computer and on a CD. Couldn’t even get near campus until four days later. On September 18 I wrote: “IUN is still flooded but parked at 35th and Jefferson and got in my office, jumping over numerous puddles before a campus policeman let me in a side door. If anything, things have worsened because nearby communities are pumping floodwater into the Little Cal. It is obvious that the campus won’t open for quite a while. A family in Griffith lost a home to the recent tornado and now their hotel quarters are under water.” Five days later, told I could go into my office for ten minutes, I stayed two hours. Actually the History offices weren’t flooded at all, but the Theatre got it bad. A photo that I used taken by Chris Sheid shows IU president Michael McRobbie investigating the damage, escorted by Physical Plant director Otto Jefimenko.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fiber artist Marianita Porterfield

Attended Garrett Cope’s monthly Glen Park Conversation. The featured speaker was fiber artist Marianita Porterfield, who weaves beautiful, original art pieces. She and my wife Toni took some art classes together at IU Northwest, including an Art History course taught by Harold Hayden that I audited. Her son J.J. went to school with my sons Philip and David, and she recalled that I once called her house and asked to talk to her teenaged daughter Gina because we were looking for a baby sitter. She mentioned moving to Gary with her first husband, attorney Jackie Shropshire, and told several anecdotes about her husband Harry, a Chicago TV anchor for years who does a feature entitled “Someone You Should Know.” They are great people, and Marianita charmed the audience both with her personality and her splendid art pieces.

During the second part of the program Steve McShane showed off some Archives treasures, including an 1818 map that showed the Lake Michigan shoreline being part of the Northwest Territory rather than Indiana, whose first governor, Jonathan Jennings, finally persuaded the federal government to allow it to be part of the Hoosier state. Steve also showed glass plates of early U.S. Steel mill and town construction sites and gave everyone a photo of the Jackson Five, circa 1972, in front of the Palace Theatre. In attendance, in addition to the two dozen or so Gary senior citizens, were Chancellor Bruce Bergland, several library staff, SPEA professor Rick Hug, Garret’s wife Barbara (formerly Dean of Student Services), photographer Don Young (a former student and IU Northwest police officer), and 91 year-old former Tuskegee Airman and West Side principal Quentin Smith, who still has a booming voice, a firm handshake, and an active mind.

Spoke to Nicole’s class about Gary IN during the 1960s. Had students read excerpts from stuff in my Sixties issue, including these recollections by Bette Julkes, a 1967 Gary Roosevelt grad who recalled Afros being the rage her senior year: recalls that during her senior year of 1966-67 the Afro hair style was in vogue and girls could wear pants to school for the first time. Bette recalled: “A shy, young, white student teacher was assigned to my Biology class. Some students were irate, but to my surprise I liked him right away. In fact, after initial reservations, most of my classmates accepted him. We had a lot of fun, perhaps because he was closer to our age than our regular teacher. When his teaching time was drawing to an end, we decided to buy him a ten-dollar briefcase. On his last day he spent the last 15 minutes telling us how sorry he was to be leaving. When we gave him our gift, his eyes filled with tears as he managed to mutter a thank-you. It was sort of a great release. At that moment I loved him for liking us so much to cry and for being so different from what we had been conditioned to expect.”

Judy Fouladi interviewed “Laurie” who recalled: “One day my friends and I met a few hippies on the beach who asked us if we’d like to party. Of course, we said yes. The guys had bell-bottom jeans on and no shirts. They had long hair, and some were wearing headbands. They took us to an apartment that was on the top floor of a two-story house. I will never forget what it looked like. There were beads in the doorways separating the rooms. They had black light posters highlighted with black lights and strobe lights. Several folks were already there, sitting in the living room on big pillows, smoking pot out of this big water pipe. They offered us some, and we said yes. When it was time to go home, I had a lot of difficulty walking down the stairs. One of the guys took me home, and for the first time I experiences a French kiss. I thought it was gross.

Laurie continued: “Sex was fun it the Sixties. We did not have the fear of life-threatening diseases or unwanted pregnancy because of The Pill. It was also a time of exploring different ways to have sex. My girlfriends and I compared notes and discussed new techniques. Experimentation was practical because you could avoid marrying a guy who was a dud in bed. My fantasy in 1969 was to go to Woodstock. Some of my friends’ older brothers went in a couple of vans but getting my parents’ permission was out of the question. In the summer of 1969 I bought a ring bikini. The top was held together in the middle by a plastic ring, and the bottom was held together at each side by plastic rings. One day in Lake Michigan both bottom rings broke. I had to wear a towel home.”

Dario Llano interviewed his father, whose world during the Sixties revolved around music. He recalled: I had a pair of socks that resembled the American flag and was in a band called Sadly Mistaken. I channeled all the energy that had previously got me into trouble into singing. I loved The House of the Rising Sun by the Animals. I also listened to the Young Rascals, who recorded Good Lovin’, Groovin’, and Mustang Sally. My older sister Phyllis loved the Kingston Trio and the Beatles. My dad had a jukebox in the basement filled with 78 rpm Latin records. I couldn’t understand them except for the cuss words. I could sing La Bamba, however. It made me feel good.

I gave everyone in the class copies of “Brothers in Arms” and had three people read excerpts from the remembrances of Iu Northweest professors Jim Tolhuizen, Gary Wilk, and Raoul Contreras, who recalled an incident during a Search and Destroy mission that changed his perspective: “We were searching a village, and for whatever reason I was extremely pissed off, which at that time was common for me. We were trying to move people out and destroy their possessions. There were people standing next to their huts, while I was yelling and screaming at them to move. There was a small, bent, elderly woman who was running in the direction that I was telling her, along with the children. She turned around for a moment, and I immediately stopped screaming. As I saw her face, suddenly it dawned on me and I said to myself, ‘Jesus, she looks like my grandmother!’ All of a sudden it hit me, goddamn, here I am yelling and screaming at this woman. I could only imagine what I looked like with this weapon, helmet, and other shit on, and how she must be terrorized about what we might do to them. It made me think about what she must have been thinking when she looked at me. It made me think of what we were doing. From then on, I always got along well with the Vietnamese.”

Talked about Richard Gordon Hatcher’s election in 1967 and had students read these perspectives by Hatcher supporters James Holland and Jean Thurman. Holland recalled: “When the outcome was announced, thousands of black people danced in the streets. It reminded me of what we used to do when I was a kid after Joe Louis won a fight. I stayed around and talked to people about what we had to do next. Then I went to a friend’s house and we stayed up most of the night talking about what was going to happen.” Jean Thurman noted: “After the election, in one of his first speeches Mayor Hatcher said that the only people not welcome in Gary were crooks. They could go. His vision was a multi-cultural, multi-racial city. That was the vision most of us had. We didn’t push the white people out. They decided on their own that they wanted to go. I remember people saying on talk shows that they were moving because they couldn’t raise their children in a city where the mayor was black. That was disheartening. I really don’t think Hatcher expected that. You know, we can talk about how awful racism is, but you never really want to believe it. You want to think that, deep down, people are decent. The white flight came as a rude awakening. Hatcher didn’t even get a chance to get in office before people were getting ready to leave.”

After showing a video of the Jackson Five’s first hit, “I Want You Back,” I mentioned how they were allegedly discovered by Diana Ross performing at a Hatcher fundraiser and had someone read a quote from Michael’s autobiography Moon Walk about growing up the seventh of nine children in a three-room house in Gary and strict papa Joe was.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Ultimate History Buff

The “SALT” article Jeff Manes wrote about me publishing my “Retirement Journal” in volume 40 of Steel Shavings appeared in the Post-Tribune yesterday. He did a great job. It’s titled “The Ultimate History Buff.” I’ve always had mixed feelings about the phrase “history buff.” It denotes an enthusiastic liking for history, however, so I guess it fits. “Ultimate” can mean either final or greatest, like Henry Farag’s “Ultimate Doo Wop” Oldies shows, so either way I guess it is a compliment.

Manes starts with the Cheap Trick chorus about mommy and daddy being all right but just a little weird. He ends the article by asking about the photo I put on the cover of me in front of Hawthorn Hall the day I retired. Manes: “Surely a somber shot of you shuffling through IUN's parking lot for the last time, with slumped shoulders, while dragging an ancient attache case.” Lane: "Actually, I'm standing in front of a microphone, along with my son's band, Voodoo Chili, while covering Cheap Trick's "Surrender." And I'm really bringin' it. We jammed for hours. Earlier that day, IUN had a retirement ceremony for me. They gave me a clock, of all things."

Jeff mentioned that Studs Terkel was one of my heroes and that my favorite writer was Region humorist Jean Shepherd. Here’s an excerpt from the article that I particularly like: "When I moved here, I found this region to be the most blue-collar area I'd ever been in. I loved the cultural diversity -- eating pierogi with the Slovaks on 11th Avenue and Harrison Street. Most of my students' parents or at least grandparents were immigrants. Their families' stories are that of coming to Northwest Indiana, looking for a job, adjusting, maybe starting nationality clubs, going bowling. That's the kind of stuff I like to catch in Steel Shavings. Jeff, I have your philosophy. I want to write history from the bottom up. I try to find out about people who aren't normally in history books -- everyday people. Talking about politics, economics and war is important, but I'm a social historian first and foremost."

This email from Jeff Manes awaited me at school: “Hey Jimbo, They did some chopping -- your master index list etc., etc. One of your fellow members of Saltdom (you're part of a fraternity now), environmentalist Jim Sweeney, e-mailed saying that he really enjoyed the column on Mr. Lane. Another man just e-mailed me a bunch Jean Shepherd sites you might be interested in. Vietnam veteran Jim Chancellor said to tell you hello (another Salt named Jim).” Jeff shared another email he got from a recent transplant to the Region from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, near where I was born. He wrote: “As the one who turned out the lights, literally, on over 127 years of blast furnace operation at Bethlehem, PA I can see the handwriting on the wall for NWI. When the ore is depleted in Minnesota or becomes too costly to mine your furnaces will fall silent too. I am very concerned that there are too many around here that think we'll survive as a bedroom for Chicago, a tourist mecca and a gambling resort rather than an industrial center and transportation hub where real workers create real value.” Jeff concluded: “You're making me famous.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sports, Movies, and Rock 'n' Roll

The Sugar Ray Robinson book Sweet Thunder by Wil Haygood is great. During World War II he toured army bases with Joe Louis and refused to perform for whites-only audiences. He was a true artist in a brutal sports and hobnobbed with soul singer Lena Horne, Harlem Renaissance poet and playwright Langston Hughes, Miles Davis and other jazz musicians. The Phillies took game one of the NLCS thanks to three-run home runs by Ruiz and Ibanez, who the Cubs could and should have signed over the off-season instead of malcontent Milton Bradley. Brad Lidge, last year’s invincible closer who went 0-8 this year with an ERA over 7, saved his third straight playoff game. The Phils' World Series win, only there second in the club's history (they defeated George Brett and the K.C. Royals in 1980), was a 2008 highlight.

Wish there were more decent movies out, and the one I really want to see, the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man,” isn’t playing anywhere in Northwest Indiana. My favorite movie of 2008 was "Burn After Reading," and "Fargo" ranks up there in my top 5 all-time list with "Dr. Strangelove," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest," "Jungle Fever," and "Saturday Night Fever." On Jerry Pierce’s recommendation I saw “Zombieland,” which I found funny and campy. Woody Harrelson was great, and it was a surprise finding Abigail Breslin in it. “Couple’s Retreat” was so disappointing I moved into the theater where Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story” was playing. He is right: Wall Street bandits have way too much power. “Law Abiding Citizen” with Jamie Foxx is probably well done but probably too violent for me.

Picked up three CDs at Best Buy, including Aja by Steely Dan (a band named for a dildo), whom David and I will be seeing at the Star Plaza in Merrillville on November 7. They’ll be playing the album in its entirety plus other hits. Also bought “Artwork” by The Used. I especially like the songs “Empty with You,” “The Best of Me,” and “Men Are All the Same.” Also bought Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal” featuring such tunes as “Calming the Snake,” “Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn” (Pyn was the lead singer for the punk band The Germs who changed his name to Darby Crash and committed suicide a day before John Lennon was killed), and “Leaky Lifeboat,” dedicated to the memory of Beat poet Gregory Corso.

Old friend Paul Turk, whom I met when my family moved to Birmingham Michigan, right before I started eighth grade, liked volume 40. Regarding the note I wrote, he replied, “You might not realize it, but your handwriting remains essentially unchanged from your mid-teens on. It has never varied. Enjoyed some of the references to your dad, and they're accurate as far as I can tell. Glad Midge continues to do so well. Do recognize a few names (T. Jenkins, et. al.)” After my family moved back to Fort Washington, PA, we became pen pals all through high school and college. He drove through a snowstorm to attend Toni and my wedding in Philadelphia. He arrived just as the service was starting, and I first spotted him in the receiving line in back of St. Adelbert’s Church. He wrote, “January 1965, I remember it well, at least thru the haze of the reception and the endless snow on the windshield.” Concerning my retirement he added, “My financial guy says I can retire in two years .... but never says two years from WHEN?”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Depression Stories

Vice Chancellor David Malik wants me to do an oral history of a program called FACET (Faculty Colloquium for Excellence in Teaching). The idea is that I’d interview a couple people at IU Northwest and then perhaps travel to other campuses. I can’t accept money due to the retirement plan I’m under, but maybe I could get a new computer for the Archives out of the deal. Mine freezes up all the time.

Talked about Gary history in Steve McShane’s class. Because I’ve done it numerous times, I had my spiel all planned out in my head, but there were some fun moments when I thought of things to say spontaneously. The previous week the class had watched an episode from Peter Jennings special series “In Search of America.” It was very negative. Steve asked me what I thought and I quoted from my Centennial History, which I had give out free: “Post-Tribune readers expressed outrage over the program’s one-sidedness. One resident complained, “It portrays Gary as just a slum city with no prosperous, upright citizens.” Why no mention of young people developing their talents at Emerson School for the Performing Arts, Lisa DeNeal wondered. Or the activities of block clubs and community centers. Nate Cain wrote: “To indicate that all the good people have left was extremely disrespectful to the hard-working, tax-paying, family-oriented citizens of this community. For every criminal you show me, I’ll show you 100 solid citizens. For every board-up building, I’ll show you a block of well-maintained, residential homes.”

During a discussion about how safe or unsafe the city was I got to talking about sometimes driving to the university on East Twenty-First Street and passing liquor stores, a housing project, and the old, abandoned factory once owned by Bear Brand Hosiery (a so-called eyesore due for demolition, but I’ll miss it). That got me thinking about how when researching Gary’s history I went through microfilm of old Post-Tribunes day by day. There were hardly any articles about the depression – after all, that wasn’t news and who wanted to read about it. You got hints about the hard times from letters to the editor complaining about people going through their trash cans in the alley or people abandoning their pets, causing packs of wild dogs to form. One day, however, there was a banner headline about Bear Brand Hosiery planning to build a factory in Gary that would employ over a hundred people. That was worth proclaiming.

I mentioned the original purpose of Steel Shavings – to publish family histories. An issue on the 1930s (volume 17, 1988) contained a number of poignant Depression tales, which I repeated to Steve’s students. There was the girl who realized things were bad when instead of a Christmas tree the family brought inside a tree branch to decorate. Another girl wanted a dress for Christmas that was in a department store window. Instead she got an ugly brown one and confided that’s she’s never worn brown since. One family moved into their garage and rented out their house so they could keep up with mortgage payments. A lady lost a five-dollar bill – meal money for the week – and tore up the house in an unsuccessful attempt to find it. A Slovak-American recalled her father and uncles playing cards. After they were too poor to play for money, they used matchsticks.

E. Craig Turpin interviewed a guy named Zeb who recalled: “We’d go behind the butcher shop and pick orange peels out of the garbage. We were so hungry one time that when my father brought home a bag of flour, we ripped it open and just ate it like that.” Larry Luchene’s father had a 1915 Studebaker truck, which he had obtained in a trade for a shotgun. He once took 23 people to file for relief. The truck did not have enough power to start normally, so to get it running they had to jack up the back wheels and kick them. Dad bought the cheapest gas possible and then put mothballs in the tank to give it some “zip.”

There were several former students in Steve's class, including Sarah Lewis and Donny Hollandsworth, whom I hadn't seen in ten years. Donny’s journal was the highlight of my Nineties issue. He wrote about his part-time job at Shoe Carnival, playing softball, watching wrestling, mourning the deaths of Walter “Sweetness” Peyton and golfer Payne Stewart, breaking up with a girl, dealing with diabetes, and struggling with classes. If not for the splendid journal, he wouldn’t have pulled a “C.” On 11/7/99 he wrote: “With Sweetness looking down, the Bears beat the hated Green Bay Packers 14-13. The Bears blocked an easy field goal to end the game. Walter was with them today.” His last entry mentioned talking to a girl after class who was in his Speech course: “She had to go but said she’d talk to me more on Wednesday. I will get her number then. I needed something good to happen to me, and something did.”

Bowled about my average but the Engineers won two games thanks in part to Clark Metz, who got a turkey (three strikes in a row) to finish up the third game. In the seventh frame we both had five seven splits and picked them up.
Bear brand HHosiery,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Day in the Life

Yesterday the Today show had “exclusive” interviews with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and blowhard Rush Limbaugh. Asked whether she thought she had been marginalized (as someone suggested in the Washington Post), Hillary said that was ridiculous. Asked whether he thought Obama had done anything right since taking office, Rush pretended to think for ten seconds or so and then said, “He sure can read a teleprompter.”

At IU Northwest put together a lecture on Gary in the Sixties for Nicole Anslover’s class on October 21. I’m going to have students read quotes from the oral histories from my Steel Shavings issue (volume 25) on “Social Trends and Racial Tensions.” Here’s an example from Alma Furnish, who grew up in central Kentucky and moved to Gary after marrying a Region steelworker who was the brother of her best friend. Alma recalled: “I’ll never forget my first visit coming up Highway 41. About 50 miles from Gary I noticed the sky. I had never seen or smelled anything like it. Every night for the first few months, just like clockwork I’d wake up at two a.m. The smell would almost knock me out. Some company must have been releasing pollutants into the air. When I’d take my daughter to the park, our legs would be black by the time we got home, like we’d been standing in coal soot. The Lake Michigan beach smelled so bad as to almost make you gag. We didn’t go there often. How could you even think about swimming with hundreds of dead fish up on the beach. The alewives were all over the place and attracted horseflies that attacked you unmercifully.”

One of my students interviewed a former hippie named Laurie, who recalled: “One day my friends and I met a few hippies on the beach who asked us if we’d like to party. Of course, we said yes. The guys had bell bottom jeans on and no shirts. They had long hair, and some were wearing headbands. They took us to an apartment that was on the top floor of a two-story house. I will never forget what it looked like. There were beads in the doorways separating the rooms. They had black light posters highlighted with black lights and strobe lights. Several folks were already there, sitting in the living room on big pillows, smoking pot out of this big water pipe. They offered us some, and we said yes. When it was time to go home, I had a lot of difficulty walking down the stairs. One of the guys took me home, and for the first time I experiences a French kiss. I thought it was gross. In the summer of 1969 I bought a ring bikini. The top was held together in the middle by a plastic ring, and the bottom was held together at each side by plastic rings. One day in Lake Michigan both bottom rings broke. I had to wear a towel home.”

Bette Julkes was a student at all-Black Gary Roosevelt High School in 1967, a year when Afros were in vogue and girls could wear pants for the for first time. This remembrance of hers always brings tears to my eyes: “A shy, young, white student teacher was assigned to my Biology class. Some students were irate, but to my surprise I liked him right away. In fact, after initial reservations, most of my classmates accepted him. We had a lot of fun, perhaps because he was closer to our age than our regular teacher. When his teaching time was drawing to an end, we decided to buy him a ten-dollar briefcase. On his last day he spent the last 15 minutes telling us how sorry he was to be leaving. When we gave him our gift, his eyes filled with tears as he managed to mutter a thank-you. It was sort of a great release. At that moment I loved him for liking us so much to cry and for being so different from what we had been conditioned to expect.”

Had lunch with Garrett Cope, still working at IU Northwest at age 81. His parents were cook and chauffeur for H.B. Snyder, who owned the Post-Tribune during the 1940s. Garrett went to Froebel School during the infamous 1945 strike and then to Bloomington at a time when African-American students weren’t allowed in the new dorms. He was the only “colored” (as Blacks were called then) student in a touring choral group. Once after a performance in southern Indiana their bus stopped at a restaurant and weren’t served because of him. Sensing what was going on, he pretended he wasn’t feeling well and went back to the bus, but the choral director caught on and had everyone leave. Garrett was embarrassed to tears but grateful that the professor stood up for him. Around this time President Herman Wells ended segregation on campus.

Stopped at the Portage library prior to a visit to the dentist and then Quick Cut. Checked out the new TRACES, which has Wendell Wilkie on the cover and a nice essay on the 1940 Republican Presidential candidate by editor Ray Boomhower. The new Esquire has an interview with 51 year-old rocker Joan Jett, most famous for the song “I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll.” I saw her live at a Hobart Jaycees summer fest held in the Strack & Van Til parking lot. She was a platinum blond then (punk style), unlike her normal jet black hair. A supporter of Howard Dean in 2004, she was present when he gave his over-the-top yell speaking to supporters (Deaniacs) after finishing third in the Iowa caucuses and claimed the press made way too much out of it.

Watched a movie Dave got from Netflick called “ANVIL,” about an 80s Canadian heavy metal band that never quite made it like such contemporary groups as Slayer and Megadeth but stayed together and even attempted a comeback in Europe. It’s sort of like a straight version of the spoof “Spinal Tap” and surprisingly poignant as it follows two of the founding members of the band, Lips Kudlow and Robb Reiner. I recommended it to nephew Joe Robinson.

Phillies beat the Rockies to advance to the National League Championship series against the Dodgers. Sunday they played in subfreezing weather and won thanks in part to an errant umpire’s call. This time the heroes were sluggers Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth. Brad Lidge, inconsistent all season, got his second save in as many days.

David Pietrusca saw mention of his book about the 1960 election in one of my blogs and asked how he could find the full review. I replied: “Salem Press contracted me to do the short review for Magill Book Reviews, which appears on MagillOnLiterature and Literary Reference Center hosted by EBSCOhost. Glad you found my blog.” I’ve never gone to those sites but think they are used by libraries.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Sweet Thunder

Salem Press wants me to review “Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson” by Wil Haygood, a Washington Post writer who previously did a biography of entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. I recall watching Robinson fight Gene Fullmer and Carmen Basilio on Friday night boxing sponsored by Gillette razor blades. He won the middleweight title by defeating Jake LaMotta. The two fought six times, causing LaMotta to quip that he went against Robinson so often, “I almost got diabetes.” Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” captures ferocity of those bouts.

At bowling Wednesday Frank Shufran gave me many green tomatoes that Joan sent along plus a book about the Hobart High School Class of 1965. One old grad noted that in terms of popular culture, fads, and fashions, her high school years were more like the 1950s than the stereotype of the Sixties. The volume looks great, but there isn’t much sex in it. Considering the number of teen pregnancies occurring at my high school, Upper Dublin (Class of 1960), in the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington, the atmosphere, to quote one person, was like “a regular Peyton Place.” Back then Grace Metalious’ best-selling potboiler was passed around and read by young and old. I even found a copy hidden behind other books at my maiden Aunt Grace’s house. Copies tended to open at the pages where steamy scenes took place.

High school buddy Phil Arnold reports that he has been getting a huge number of hits on his Elvis blog since reporting that Elivs' grandson, Benjamin Keogh, signed a five million dollar record contract. He received volume 40 and found the account of our meeting in Memphis for events coinciding with the thirtieth anniversary of "The King's" death. I invited him to Elvis FANtasy Fest, taking place nexy weekend in Portage (IN) but he can't make it all the way from South Carolina.

Nicole Anslover invited me to speak to her Sixties class about Gary (IN) during the 1960s. I’ll talk about social change and race relations, culminating with the 1967 election of Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher. Archivist Steve McShane burned jpegs of 25 photos on a CD that I can use. Most were from my Shavings issue or my Centennial History of Gary. I plan to give the students copies of “Brothers in Arms” (volume 39, subtitled “Vietnam Veterans from the Calumet Region’) and talk about how the lives of three vets on the IU Northwest faculty (Gary Wilk, Jim Tolhuizen, and Raoul Contreras) changed.

A student was at the Archives researching area casino boats, which first made their appearance in the Region during the 1990s. I showed her volume 31 (“Shards and Midden Heaps”), which contains a body of “casino stories” collected by Dion Thomas and Beth Searer having to do with celebrity sightings (Scottie Pippin of the Chicago Bulls was known as “no tippin’ Pippen”), sex, bizarre behavior, heart attacks, excited pregnant women going into labor, and other motifs. Dion Thomas wrote: “On the Empress a slot machine player turned away for a moment, and a lady put a token in his machine and the machine hit. The man was so distraught he sliced the lady’s throat. She was shaken but not seriously hurt.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Walk Around the Sun

Sam Barnett brought me a copy of the Summer 2009 issue of The Journal of Ordinary Thought, entitled “My Walk Around the Sun,” published by the (Chicago) Neighborhood Writing Alliance. The articles and poetry remind me of the title of my 1980s Steel Shavings, “The Uncertainty of Everyday Life.” Most of the authors write of having to make tough choices and dealing with poverty, illness, no job, being behind bars, raising kids in a rough environment, and loneliness. But while the tone of many is resignation, others are hopeful. Sandra Gildersleeve Freeman ends her poem “Never Stop Trying this way: “When you can’t jump over the mountain, Ship over the hill.” Editor Alice Kim writes about Ronnie Kitchen, one of the Death Row Ten, an innocent man kept behind bars for 21 years who told her that “society is unforgiving, but I need to forgive to move on.” The most poignant deal with might-have-beens. Thus, Ammadiyya King’s poem “Where Would I Be Now?” starts out:

If I had gone to college?
Would I have moved to L.A.?
Earned a degree in fashion?
Where would I be if I hadn’t taken that job in the mall after high school?

The first verse of Mayi Ojisua’s “A Chosen Key” goes:

I have a bunch of keys
To very many doors.
Not one have I opened.

How fortunate Sam Barnett is to know many of the people associated with the Journal of Ordinary Thought. It must be exciting to live in the Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park although I am certain the vicissitudes of urban life can be a little much for one like me used to living on top of a sand dune without oddball neighbors close by. Speaking of unique individuals, here’s an entry from the “Retirement Journal: “A guy selling newspapers at Lake Street has a trademark salute that never fails to bring a smile to my face. At the Tri-State Broadway exit a guy was gesticulating as if preaching to a crowd. Gary has its share of characters. A peanut vendor is a fixture on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and a guy selling flowers near Ridge and Broadway often dresses in a tux. Sam Barnett saw someone crossing the street on Broadway with a pair of glasses with bug eyes that looked to be hanging out.”

Sam tells me that the various writing alliance centers have readings and that audience members react to good performances vocally similar to a congregation at a Black church. One poet who’d love that atmosphere is John Sheehan, a good-hearted soul who taught in the Gary schools for years. Here is his “Gary Postscript 89.”

the schools I taught in were noisy but friendly
the jiving was mainly merriment
the gangs mostly clubs
the learning more than you’d think
though six of my students were shot to death
out of six thousand
I’ve lived in this house for sixteen years
I walk the dog down the street to the woods
kids and their parents call me by name
for better or worse Gary’s my home
and I’d rather live in this left-over city
than in any suburb I know

Ten years ago John Sheehan moved away from Gary to be close to wife Margie, confined to a nursing home following a stroke. The hirsute former priest had inspired a generation of students and colleagues. In “Leaving Gary,” he wrote: “I feel like I am betraying her. I came to identify so much with this ill conceived steel mill mismatched city; this scapegoat of our confused society . . . this enchanted place where 1906 and after have not completely destroyed the woods and swamps and dunes of centuries.” The poem ends: “O Gary, heart of our mixed up country, I love you now and forever.” His departure left a void.

I showed Sam a book just donated to the Calumet Regional Archives by Gregg Hertzlieb, Curator of the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University. It’s called “The Calumet Region: An American Place” and features photos by Gary Cialdella that, like Camilo Vergara in “American Ruins,” poignantly capture industrial and urban decay and, according to Hertzlieb, reveal “striking juxtapositions of industry and domestic life unfolding in its shadow.” He includes many photos of well-maintained working class bungalows, often located literally within the shadow of a mill or refinery, with distinct personal touches, a garage door painted with flowers or statues of a deer or the Virgin Mary in the back yard. Some photos are similar to those Sam has taken. In an introduction Hertzlieb writes: “I remember riding along Indianapolis Boulevard in a typically enormous car in the late 1970s, seeing refineries on both sides of the street that seemed to go on forever, as if we had driven into a world of industry, full of lights, pipes, flames, smoke, and steam.” Even though, as Ciadella writes, “with every passing year, pieces of the Region’s distinctiveness disappear,” it is still fascinating to drive through Whiting, East Chicago, Hammond, and Gary and imagine the hubbub of activity that once was.