Monday, September 28, 2009

Political Willpower

In an email Fred McColly, who has a blog of his own, fears that Obama won’t have the political willpower to avoid escalating the war in Afghanistan. He wrote: “Why is it that some jabbering neo-con freaks on the crypto-fascist Fox network can overcome the collective memory of what it is like to fight a determined guerilla force? Vietnam analogies were all wrong for Iraq...but they fit you think Barack will have the balls to pull the plug on this before it rewinds the whole nightmare? Maybe someone will realize the country's bankrupt (financially and ethically) before we get in any deeper. It's been more than thirty years since the last real quagmire. My gut feeling is that the powers that be have forgotten long ago.

Nicole Anslover asked me to critique her proposal for a Summer Faculty Fellowship. She basically wants to revise her PhD dissertation, entitled An Executive Echo Chamber. In summarizing the first chapter on Harry Truman’s foreign policy she wrote: “I argue that although his diplomacy evolved out of necessity, his actions led directly to the Vietnam War. However, by the time Eisenhower took office, the world situation had changed and continuity was not necessary. I told her the proposal was fantastic and that she should be a shoo-in for a Fellowship. I added this paragraph: “One thing you might think about: you have Truman making police in Asia “out of necessity” while I’d argue that converting a policy intended for Europe into a worldwide policy was foolhardy (this was George Kennan’s view) and that we should have looked to normalize relations with “Red China.” If containment was “out of necessity,” the reason was political (McCarthyism), not geopolitical.” Nicole replied: “Thanks! All your suggestions are very helpful. I completely agree with Truman's policy being foolhardy -- I make the argument that the "necessity" was his own personal feeling, due to his inexperience, limited world view, and having no idea what steps FDR would have taken. I'm looking to develop that idea completely in the revisions.”

Speaking about change and continuity, President Obama was very critical of Bush’s foreign policy but is close to upping the ante in Afghanistan with possibly disastrous consequences. Fighting the Taliban is one thing, but we are dangerously close to getting tied too closely with the regime in power and engaging in nation-building.

I’m sending copies of the Retirement Journal to friends whose emails I used, including grad school buddy Ray Smock and high school friends Phil Arnold, Gaard Murphy Logan, Wendy Henry Wellin, Mary Delp Harwood, and Terry Jenkins. Hopefully I don’t write anything that they will find embarrassing. I describe Gaard as someone who “lived a semi=hippie life in San Francisco for years.” We spent a day with Gaard and husband Chuck while in Washington with Beth, Alissa, and Miranda and I wrote that for several years they “went to Mexico for long periods in a VW van and lived for two dollars a day in a trailer park. Gaard put her first husband through NYU law school. After the dean got all the wives together and told them to expect their spouses to be married to school and career, she fled and started a new life more open to adventure.”

Took volume 40 and copies of “The Signal” retrieved from IU Northwest Bookstore to Henry Farag’s office at the Star Plaza while picking up tickets for the Steely Dan concert on November 7. Henry graciously offered me four free tickets to his “Ultimate Doo Wop Show” on November 21 and expressed interest in doing more writing for Steel Shavings. He is upset at the power of big moneyed interests to thwart meaningful change in health care and other areas. Both he and Fred McColly kept journals in the Spring of 2003 that I used in my “Ides of March” issue (volume 36). They were opposed to Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein’s regime and appalled at how docile the press was at the time. Fred titled his journal “Orwellian Times” and started with the George Orwell quote: “The illiteracy of Politicians is a special feature of our age.” Henry wrote: “The terrorist attack of September 11 is the catalyst. Everything is now security or safety or the illusion of it. A truly unprecedented tragedy has turned into a right cross on our body politic. Bush gave Congress a budget request for the war of $74.7 billion, and that was described as a down payment. Forty-eight million people don’t have health insurance, millions are out of work, and hundreds of federal programs have been cut. The Feds are operating on a $500 billion deficit, and over 30 states are in debt, but somehow we can come up with $75 billion (which translates in government arithmetic to $200 billion or more) in a flash.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Took a copy of volume 40 to Marianne Brush, whose husband Tim (“Big Voodoo Daddy”) died of pancreatic cancer before any of us were ready to have him leave us. She loved seeing him on the cover and eagerly read the stuff inside about him and the band Voodoo Chili. What a great guy Tim was. Every time I’d show up at a Voodoo Chili gig, his face would light up like we were long lost friends and he’d say, “Mr. Lane! How great to see you.”

While looking up Tim’s name in the Index, Marianne came across a Herman Brush and wondered if it were Tim’s father or brother. Somebody wrote about him in volume 19, the “Steelworkers Tales” issue. When I told Marianne that Herman’s nickname was “Baldy” and that he’d worked at Inland Steel, she said, “That’s Tim’s brother, whom we haven’t heard from since he moved to Florida during the early 1990s.”

Paul Boyter, who interviewed Herman and is the author of “Baldy,” wrote about practical jokes steelworkers at Inland played on each other and whenever possible, foremen, such as painting a guy’s boots while he was sleeping or spraying a little cheap perfume on the back of someone’s shirt near the end of a shift so the guy might have some explaining to do when his wife noticed the odor. Also people made tails out of adding machine tape and a paper clip and then would surreptitiously hook it in the back of an unsuspecting person’s belt. As the tape unrolled, the foreman or shipper would have a white tail trailing behind him. Boyter wrote: “Baldy said it was common to see several people throughout the day walking around with these tails. They didn’t usually notice their tail until shutting a door on it, having a room full of workers laughing at them.”

It seems that in the old days almost all steelworkers had nicknames, many ribald, such as Wart Man, Stutters, Glass Ass, Half Ass, Crazy Joe, Okie, Gator, Hot Dog, Boozie, Hill Billy, Tomato Face, and Captain Crunch. Some were based on the workers’ ancestry, such as Serba and Mex. Pete Fernandez recalled that at Inland Steel there was one worker called BUFF (for Big Ugly Fat, F----r), and another called BLUFF (with the “L” standing for lazy)

Took copies of volume 40 to bowling to give to teammate and friend Clark Metz and Cressmoor Lanes owner Jim Fowble, whose name is mentioned five times. He was bowling on a team with son Dave and his wife was also on hand and opened it up after I said Jim was in the Index. On April 8, 2008, I wrote that he had bowled an 803 the week before and added: “Awesome considering he has a chronic bad back.” On December 10 I wrote that Jim Fowble’s son Dave bowled an 857 the week before – unbelievable. One reference was to Jim, a Vietnam veteran, taking volume 39, “Brothers in Arms,” to his Legion post.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Retirement Journal

Got a call from Val at Home Mountain Press that volume 40 of Steel Shavings magazine was being delivered today. It arrived at the IU Northwest mailroom before noon, and the 660 copies were in my office at the Calumet Regional Archives (Martha’s Cage) within a half hour. Featuring “Out to Pasture but Still Kickin’: A Retirement Journal, 2007-2008,” it looks great with a cover photo of me singing on campus on the day of my retirement party with son Dave, students Bruce Sawochka and Jonathan Rix, and guitar player Tim “Voodoo Daddy” Brush. Rushed copies to archivist Steve McShane, Ryan Shelton, who was a godsend helping me lay it out and good friend Chuck Gallmeier, who is featured prominently in it.

Dropped off 16 copies of volume 40 at the IU Northwest Bookstore and in return took copies of Henry Farag’s “The Signal” (Shavings, volume 32) that they had on hand from when I used it in my survey History class. Henry grew up in the Tolleston neighborhood of Gary and was in a doo wop group called Stormy Weather. He puts on Oldies concerts featuring the likes of Little Anthony, Dion, the Spaniels, and many others. His upcoming “Ultimate Doo Wop” show will star the Flamingoes and the Skyliners. His autobiography is fantastic and almost out of print, so I was happy to find the extra issues. Somebody should make a movie using “The Signal” as the foundation for a script.

My journal combines what I was doing both in my social and scholarly life, with university, local, national, and international doings. Since I love sports, books, movies, and music, those things get covered as well. In the Editor’s Note I wrote: “Why a retirement journal? The easy answer is that I had lots of time on my hands and was vain enough to believe it might have enduring merit for future area scholars. So, therefore, in the spirit, misguided or not, of serving Clio, the muse of historians and with intended malice toward none, I apologize to anyone who doubts its worth or whose feelings I may have unintentionally hurt. Candor, I have discovered from past experience, is a double-edged sword.”

I continued: “My thoughts on aging and “being out to pasture,” in horse parlance, may find resonance with slightly younger baby boomers (I was born in 1942) as they, too, consider the benefits and drawbacks of retirement, perhaps postponed due to Bush’s disastrous economic policies (I make no effort to mask my left-leaning political views – don’t look for objectivity here). Having made pretty decent use of journals (including my own) in past issues covering 2000 and March of 2003 and having long appreciated the value of contemporary history, I also had a hunch that 2008 would be a momentous year (alas, not for the Cubs in the centennial anniversary of their last World Series title but a thrill for this lifelong Phillies fan). How special that my Maryland adviser’s widow, Marion Merrill, a “bleeding heart” liberal in the most noble sense of the phrase, could live to see an African American elected President."

The journal is consistent, I believe, with the overriding purpose of the Steel Shavings series, to record everyday life – what Hoosier humorist Jean Shepherd called “shards and midden heaps” on the scrap pile of the past. Broadly defined, this includes all aspects of personal interaction, everything from sports and sex, fads and fashions, food and film, books read and ball games watched, the memorable and the mundane, the comic and the tragic (as with another pivotal period some 40 years before, there was plenty of both).

The original purpose behind Steel Shavings was to make available the fruits of area history research to students, families, community residents, and scholars (present and future) interested in Northwest Indiana’s rich cultural heritage. The very name (Ronald Cohen’s idea) underscored the enormous local impact of area mills historically. Heavy industry jobs had originally lured most settlers to Northwest Indiana. While the region is still a major American steel producer, the diminution of that influence due to automation has been quite dramatic since the magazine’s debut in 1975. Shavings has undergone numerous transformations but has consistently emphasized the social history of the family, that most fragile but resilient of institutions.

Monday, September 21, 2009

IU Northwest: "Celebrating 50 Years"

Friday’s “Celebrating 50 Years” event at IU Northwest came off OK after a rough start. Activities were spread out all over campus and entertainment included the IUN cheerleaders, songs by campus daycare kids, and the Emerson School Jazz band. There was no parade as originally scheduled or formal program like I wanted to reflect on the past. I had been told Chancellor Bergland would give his welcoming remarks on the stage at the library courtyard at 12:45, but he went on at 12:15 with hardly anyone present. Had not library director Tim Sutherland and Physical Plant director Jefimenko not given most of their staff the afternoon off, the place would have been dead.

After Sheriff Roy Dominguez arrived, I asked Bruce if he’d like to introduce him, but he said it would be an insult since the crowd was so small. The Sheriff shook hands and passed out little badges similar to the wings airlines used to give kids. He seemed to know half the folks, including the m.c. for the afternoon Carolyn Jordon, and was thoroughly enjoying himself. Event coordinator Toni Lieteau asked if he wished to say a few words, and he was great, mentioning that he was an IU Northwest grad and if it weren’t for Special Services counselor Elsa Rivera and professors such as Bob Lovely, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity for future success. He mentioned that he met his wife Betty on campus and got his start in law enforcement in the campus cadet program under Andy Lazar. He reserved special praise for Professor Gary Martin, who subsequently became his Chief of Police and close friend. Dominguez is considering running for governor in 2012 and showed me a Website called him “Indiana Roy” and illustrated in a way that is a take-off on Indiana Jones.

Around two o’clock 89 year-old Bill Neil arrived. Fifty years ago he was acting director and in charge of the campus immediately after it moved from downtown Gary to Glen Park. Since the Chancellor was not around, I introduced him between acts, mentioning that his association with the campus went back over 70 years to when he first enrolled at the old Gary College that held classes at Horace Mann High School. Bill, who hired me 39 years ago, then got up and said that someone once defined history as “One damn thing after another” but with IUN it has been “one great thing after another.” He was terrific.

There weren’t many faculty around, but I did introduce Bill to English professor Anne Balay and Gianluca DiMuzio, who is acting as Chair of the History and Philosopher Department since Diana Chen-lin is on sabbatical. Kathy Malone greeted Bill warmly and showed him a tree dedicated to his former secretary Lavern Gutsch. He seemed touched. Somebody was filming the entire program – perhaps the Gary cable station – so I’ll have to see if Bill’s remarks have been saved for posterity. Several nice items were raffled off including a shirt autographed by former White Sox star Ron Kittle (married to Laura on our committee) and a framed South Shore poster. The last three digits of my ticket were 440, and three times the number drawn was in the 440s. Otto Jefimenko won the poster and then gave it away to computer guru Mark Uncapher, who had told him beforehand that he'd really like to win it. By four o’clock a considerable audience had gathered, including many families, as Asian and Mexican folk dancers and an African-American percussion group performed. So the final hours were worth all the hard work Toni Lieteau’s committee went to in “Celebrating 50 Years.”

Yesterday's Post-Trib carried an article about Harold Okone by Jerry Davich entitled, "Area veterinarian: 'Jer, I've had a remarkable life.'" Davich writes that when they'd have lunch, Hal "would tell me another chapter of his incredibly interesting life." One story involved a dalliance with Diane Mitford, the wife of controversial British politician Sir Oswald Mosley. Davich writes, "Diane bought Hal a new suit for their date and even took photos of him at a racetrack." Davich mentioned having a copy of the first episode of Hal's proposed TV sitcom "For Love of Harry" in his filing cabinet.

Got an email from former student Tim Jackomis, who is now Director of Surveillance at Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City. He wanted a copy of “Steelworkers Tales” because I published an article he wrote about his father in it. Unfortunately that Steel Shavings issue is out of print but I did Xerox some pages for him in a section called “Horseplay.” One story his dad told him was that in winter men working outside would light fires in oil drums. One guy on a scaffold above the fire liked to drop balloons onto the drums. When they exploded, they sounded like gunfire and would send sparks all over. Mill workers, he said, sometimes took oxygen tanks holding over a ton of pressurized oxygen to the shore of Lake Michigan and strike the valve off with a sledgehammer, launching the tank toward the water like a torpedo. Jackomis added: "My father remembers a mill worker who on paydays would raffle off a shotgun. He would take 52 playing cards and cut them in half. After selling the half-cards for five dollars a chance, he would put his half in a hat and hold a drawing, from which about 80 dollars was profit. Sometimes he would raffle off fishing tackle, deer rifles and jewelry."

It would be great to get "Steelworkers Tales" back in print, perhaps with nre information added relating to the research Anne Balay and I plan to do. After volume 19 came out, some officials at Bethleham Steel wanted IU Northwest to force me to stop its circulation because of material about sex and sexism there. Chancellor Peggy Elliott stuck by me, and the crisis passed. One of the interviews I did for the issue was with Valerie Denney, and I subsequently used quotes by her in several published papers, including "Indiana Women of Steel" in the Spring 2009 issue of TRACES. I recall she had a bad cold the day of the interview and almost begged off. One funny story she told was about a guy who cooked lunch out of his locker, which contained, she recalled, "a full-size refrigerator plus a microwave and two picnic tables with paper table cloths. He'd serve two or three types of sandwiches and all kinds of pop and candy. He did doughnuts and coffee in the morning. He would make these marvelous pork sandwiches. He would do take-out orders for other departments. Then it would get too big, and management would crack down on him. Then gradually it would start back up again. He was black, and workers called it the Black Hen Pantry. He worked at night, too. He had a snow plowing service in the winter. He would be out in the parking lot starting batteries. He was constantly trying to make money."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harold Okone, R.I.P.

My friend Clark Metz is grieving over the death of Doctor Harold Okone, a Region veterinarian for over 50 years and a great raconteur. In his heyday when he went to dinner at one of his favorite watering holes, if he didn’t know everyone when he arrived, chances are he did by the time he left – and bought most of them drinks. For years he talked about writing the script for a TV series based on his years as a young student in France and the women in his life then. He sought help from me, radio and TV personality Tom Higgins, and most recently Jerry Davich of the Post-Tribune. I thought it would make an interesting movie with an old geezer, a Burgess Meredith type, relating his youthful escapades from his hospital bed when his wife isn’t listening. At the service for Hal Clark told one of Doc’s favorite stories about hearing that his son Brandon wanted a new yarmulke. Impressed that he was getting into his Jewish religion, Hal bought him the nicest one he could find as a present. Brandon opened it up and said, “No, dad, I said Yamaha, not yarmulke.”

Sheriff Dominguez is planning to come to IU Northwest’s 50-year celebration tomorrow. He is a graduate and winner of the top IU alumni award. There will be popcorn, face painting, tug of war, and free copies of “Educating the Calumet Region” by yours truly and Paul Kern. I think I have Bill Neil lined up as well. He attended IU as a student 70 years ago when it was known as Gary College, and after serving in World War II and earning a PhD from the University of Chicago, he became a History professor when IU’s “Gary Extension” was downtown in Seaman Hall. When the institution moved to Glen Park in 1959, Director Jack Buhner had a two-year sabbatical so he could finish his PhD, so Bill was in charge of the campus. He jokes that parking (in an unfinished lot) was even a worse problem then than now. The lone building then, called Gary Main and later Tamarack Hall, was condemned a year ago because of the flood. He hired me in 1970 and while driving me to a motel in Miller described what a great retirement plan the university had.

Nicole Anslover thanked me for a bunch of books on the 1960s that I gave her. I wouldn’t mind talking to her Sixties class about northwest Indiana during that tumultuous decade. Most of the books deal with protest or the counter culture, but I included a biography of Lyndon Baines Johnson called “Big Daddy from the Pedernales” by Paul Conkin, who taught at the University of Maryland while I was there. Conkin calls LBJ “larger than life” and that he was. He is the first famous politician I saw in person – my freshman year at Bucknell when on the steps of a courthouse in Lewisburg, PA, LBJ told voters to vote for him and Kennedy because they’d be able to get more done through the Democratic Congress. I wasn’t all that impressed with “Big Daddy” on that occasion or later when he Americanized the war in Vietnam.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

9/11 and All That

No disrespect intended by the title, a take-off on that great textbook parody “1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England” by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman. There was not so much media coverage of the eighth anniversary of 9/11 as I expected. In fact, both local papers devoted much more space to the first anniversary of the flood that decimated many Calumet Region communities and shut down IU Northwest for two weeks, leading to the condemnation of my old building Tamarack Hall. Even so, there’s no doubt that the terrorist attack on New York City’s World Trade Center was (so far) the “Pearl Harbor Day” of our generation. I still recall where I was when I heard the news. Toni called me in from outside and I was watching the "Today" show when a plane hit the second tower, leaving no doubt that it was not an accident. Then when the towers collapsed the horrific extent of the carnage became clear. Driving to class at IU Northwest's Portage Center with the radio on, I learned of a plane crashing into the Pentagon and another crashing in western Pennsylvania and did not know if more attacks were to come. I also recall talking to students about other traumatic events such as the JFK assassination and watching TV with other customers at Taco Bell after class. Even though it was not a shining moment for President George W. Bush, declaring a "War on Terror" probably assured him a second term and helped give him an excuse to take the country into a disastrous war in Iraq. I'm glad some of the patriotic posturing following 9/11/01 has died down although there remains a certain paranoia about Arab-Americans in our midst.

Decided to skip going to the Merrillville History Book Club at the Patio last evening. The book to be discussed was "Manhunt" by James Swanson, about the effort to catch John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Lincoln. Talk about unforgettable events. Evidently someone in the club is a Lincoln fanatic, and about half the time he's the topic. Gore Vidal's novel "Lincoln," which I read last year, is great and contains some interesting brothel scenes. Next spring Roy and Trish Arredondo will be able to discuss "Maria's Journey," which I helped them edit and that Indiana Historical Society Press is publishing. Last season I talked about Gary history and got Karren Lee and Tony Mockus to help with a dramatic reading.

Had some interesting emails when I arrived at my computer yesterday. Colleague Chris Young wants me to write a letter of support for his Summer Faculty Fellowship proposal so he can continue his research into party politics during the John Adams administration. Tony Bornstein thanked me for Steel Shavings magazines I gave him in return for William A. Wirt High School Yearbooks he donated to the Archives. Anne Balay showed me her impressive proposal on GLBT mill workers called “Steel Closets.” She mentioned her intention to visit a gay bar in Lake Station called EnCompass in order to find folks to interview. I asked her what she thought of the two of us going there together. She’d probably do better without me in terms of getting patrons to open up.

A student from Florida State named Carter McMillan wanted some biographical info on me. He is writing a synopsis of an article I published way back in 1973 entitled “Underground to Manhood: Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man,” in a publication called “Negro American Literature Forum.” Hadn’t thought about it in years before recently seeing it listed on the Internet. I once thought of doing a book on novels taking place in New York. Finally Jeff Manes wondered if volume 40 of Steel Shavings will be ready soon and, concerning the SALT interview he did with me, wrote: “About a week ago, I typed onto the computer screen what I thought I could possibly use from the tape recorder (the tedious part I really hate). You broke the all-time record. I am allotted 1,100 words (in the P-T), which I sometimes stretch to 1,300. The rough draft fresh off the tape is usually 1400, 1500, 1650 words. And then I have to whittle it down to size. Kill my darlings, as they say. Yours is more than 3000 words.” I apologized to Jeff for being so wordy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Samuel A. Love

Had lunch twice this week at the Country Lounge in Hobart, first with Anne Balay from the English Department and then with former student Sam Barnett. Neither had been to the 70 year-old eatery, sometimes called “Hunky Hollow” because it was once a favorite watering hole for Lake County politicians, many of whom were of Eastern European ancestry. During the 1970s it was one of the few places near IU Northwest where I could go after class for a few beers with minority students without getting hassled. Chancellor Dan Orescanin often went there for lunch and returned with a placemat filled with names, phone numbers, messages, and reminders that he expected his secretary to decipher. The place still serves tasty lunches and offers friendly service.

In addition to his teaching duties in Chicago Sam is involved in all sorts of grassroots neighborhood activities. He brought me two recent issues of the magazine “AREA Chicago: Navigating the City through Art, Research, Education and Activism” that ran photos of his. In the “contributors” section it mentions that he is “also known as Samuel A. Love, a writer, researcher, artist, educator, and ‘band professor’ of 33, 45, 78 (” He’s my most creative protégé (if that is the right word) and on the cover of my 1990s “Steel Shavings” issue (volume 31), which contains his memoir about being a punk rock band (Fuzz Factor) front man. At one time I had hoped he’d succeed me at IU Northwest after I retired. He’s involved in an ambitious “AREA Chicago” project called “A People’s History of Chicago” and has interviewed residents (both participants and victims) who recalled the riots that occurred in the aftermath of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Many of the “AREA Chicago” articles deal with contemporary labor strife – a subject sadly neglected by the mainstream press and not much in fashion among our current generation of American historians. Contributor Lauren Cumbia put together a time line entitled “Strike! Chicago” listing labor stoppages of the past 30 years involving teachers, fire fighters, cemetery workers, symphony orchestra members, copy editors, bricklayers, actors, waste haulers, as well as industrial workers. The editors listed these “local media allies” among others: The Baffler Magazine, Journal of Ordinary Thought, Lumpen, Nitty Gritty News, View from the Ground, and We The People Media, Say What? Two “inspiring publications” mentioned were the Brooklyn Rail and Green Pepper, published in Amsterdam. The pity is that publications such as these don’t reach a larger audience.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

GLBT Life in the Calumet Region

Met with a colleague about a joint project involving the conducting of oral histories of gay and lesbian steelworkers in the Calumet Region of Northwest Indiana. As I mentioned in an interview with Sam Barnett, I had students in two History classes do such a project but was disappointed with the results. It was probably my fault – out of shyness perhaps - for not having the students discuss possible questions to ask. I myself was too chicken even to interview two friends about being gay (how much more life-affirming that word is than the old-fashioned “homosexual” or the presently trendy “queer”). Even so, I found enough interesting material in the student articles to fill several pages of volume 40 of “Steel Shavings.” Here is a sample:

Concerning WNBA all-star Sheryl Swoopes’ admission of a lesbian relationship, one student wrote: “Sheryl said to make this announcement made her feel free and liberated to finally be herself. I am not gay but for some reason, her announcement made me feel liberated as well.” She mentioned that a character in Terry McMillan’s book “Waiting to Exhale” divorced her husband because he had sex with men on the side.

Lacretia’s dad and his navy buddies played basketball in the park during their free time and a gay guy named Tyrone often joined them. One day, Tyrone dunked the ball and said, “Take that, bitches,” as he pranced around in hot pink shorts. Lacretia’s dad cracked up every time he told that story.

Tiffany’s subject watched an HBO movie where a teenager suspected of being a lesbian was sent to a camp to “straighten her out.” Ironically, she hadn’t been interested in women until then but fell in love with a girl at camp. At the gym a girl wearing just a bra and panties hit on her. Tiffany asked the girl what it was like to be a lesbian in the Region. “Lonely,” the girl replied; her social life took place in Chicago.

Several guys commented on how women often made out with each other in public at bars without being stigmatized – and that some guys really got off on it – but if they acted that way, they’d be seen as queer. Matt’s friends acted gay in public as a joke. Once they approached three “really hot” girls who were eyeing them. He wrote, “We were smiling at them and about eight feet away when Mike smacked me in the ass and said, ‘Come on, honey, let’s go.’ I was pissed, but the story amused my friends at parties.”

Joe’s dad explained that gays at the mill were no big deal unless of the “flaming” variety, like Mama Dixon, who’d tell guys they could sleep with his wife in exchange for sex with him. Drunks gave Mama oral pleasure for booze money.

Scott went to the Encompass, a gay bar in Lake Station. On the TV were two scantily clad men engaging in a game different from what you’d see at a sports bar. Two women were caressing each other’s legs under the table. Couples danced, some whose sex was hard to discern at first glance. Scott lamented that he’d miss next weekend’s drag show.

Deb, who grew up Baptist in Schererville, believes her sexual orientation to be biological. She said, “I was a big tomboy. My first experience with a woman happened when I was 20. Until then I had no interest in dating anyone. I have had eight lovers. No one night stands but only four were very serious. All have been feminine; a couple were ultra-feminine. Lesbians tend to chose opposites of themselves.”

Many journals commented on the TV sitcom “Will and Grace.” Straight girls who hang out with gays are called “fag hags.” Sydney’s mother told her that her father would disown her if still alive and wondered, “Does this mean I have to buy you a chainsaw for Christmas?” That December Carol’s girlfriend bought her a chainsaw necklace.

Sanchez wondered why they used dildos if they had something against penises. I don’t think that’s it. Women just like sex to last longer, including before and after.

Donny’s babysitter put on movies with sex scenes, and he paid more attention to the men. He admitted to 75 gay affairs, some involving penetration but mainly oral sex. Kenny, a hair stylist from Merrillville, loved dressing Barbies and still has a collection. He first felt comfortable being gay dancing at Chicago clubs. Twirling his shirt over his head became his trademark move, one he was still using at age 37.

Eight year-old Jamell’s older brother caught him playing with dolls and called him a fudge packer. “I had no idea what a fudge packer was, but knew it could not be good,” Jamell recalled. In high school, he accepted a date with Keisha, whose brother Parker was gay. In her bedroom Keisha suddenly undressed, and Jamell felt himself getting sick. He recalled: “Then she started unbuckling my pants. I felt my skin begin to crawl. I had never been with a girl sexually. I just lay there until it was over. Although I climaxed, there was no feeling behind it. That was the first and last time I was with a female. I stayed in the same spot with Keisha under my arm until I was sure she was asleep. Then I got up and put my clothes back on. When I entered the hallway, the bathroom door opened and Parker was standing there with a towel around his waist and drips of water rolling down his bare chest. The bathroom light shined against his backside, creating a silhouette.”

Jamell followed Parker into his bedroom and inquired how one knew he was gay. Parker, he recalled, “came up to me with his towel still tied around his waist and put his two hands on my heated cheeks. He pressed his body against mine. I closed my eyes out of fear and excitement. Then he kissed me. At first I was shocked, but then I began to kiss him back. After ten minutes of this, he moved away from me. My body felt like it was floating in mid-air. And that was it. That was my birthing. I was finally out of the womb.”

One student’s gay uncle spent several years in seminary to have an excuse for not dating women. After he left, he became a gay libertine (his words). A girl he’d been friends with drove 500 miles to visit him, and, in his words, “that night after wine and song and some really good weed (it was 1972) I did take Michele to my bed. The lovemaking was sub par to say the least. I went through the motions but could barely function. It was awkward for both of us, but at least she could put to rest any fantasy of our future together as lovers.”

Vanessa and Dan dated but instead of having sex sat up one entire night talking. Dan fell in love with a black man. Kicked out of the house by his strict Dutch father, he moved in with Vanessa. At a party someone beat him up after finding out that he was gay. He lost a tooth and had multiple bruises but refused to see a doctor. His parents didn’t attend his wedding ceremony in Chicago. He told Vanessa, “Narrow-minded people like them make this world shit.”

A lesbian co-worker at US Steel saw Eduardo at a gay bar and snitched. He endured snubs for a week, and then things were fine except for one guy. Eduardo recalled, “We were in the showers, and he kept looking over at me and when I looked back he covered up. He thought I was checking him out, but he wasn’t my type. Some guys who act real feminine get picked on but not me.”

James asked his aunt, “What is your most memorable experience? Nothing to creep me out, just funny or something.” She told about getting “shit-canned” with an old friend and confessing to a high school crush on her. Interrupting the story, James said, “Now that I’m weirded out and ready to throw up, I think the interview is over. I knew that last question would go that route.” The aunt replied, “Quit bitchin’, I could have given you details.” Shit, details are what I was looking for.

Kirby was hesitant to inform his parents because when his cousin came out, her father broke her jaw. Kirby’s mother screamed that she was going to hell. Religion contributed to intolerance although some enlightened churches have set up gay support groups.

Kirby took on the man’s role so was known as a “stud.” Some women go to extremes, she said, by getting short haircuts, beating up their girlfriends, and walking around with straps in their pants. Keith’s cousin Lee first had sex with a girl in a cornfield at age 15 and recalled, “I started going at it, and it was like going through a jungle.” A year later, he was watching a movie with 14 year-old Andy, who suddenly moved his hands down Lee’s pants. He thought, “Why not?” and let Andy proceed, then broke up with his girlfriend. At gym class a guy called him a “stupid faggot.” Lee slammed a locker door on the jerk’s hand. One of his five lovers was tall and muscular, but his penis was no bigger than Lee’s pinky. Now that’s the detail I was aiming for.

A gay man told of being treated as if he had a mental disorder. He said: “My father never accepted me and on his dying bed insisted I was not his child, even though I looked just like him. My sisters totally accepted me though. I was being chased home on a regular basis, and they went into battle to protect me and unleashed our dog on my attackers. The Gary area made me feel like a freak. Now I live in Atlanta and am very comfortable with my life. I was born gay. I was not molested or turned out by an older man. Not all gay men want little children. You don’t have to be afraid a gay man will harm your children any more than you have to be afraid of a straight man. I don’t like being made fun of by grocery clerks or having doctors and nurses assume I have AIDs when it is just a cold.

Jason’s friends made fun of a guy, saying things like “Beep, beep, there goes my gaydar” and “Someone call the fire department, this kid is flaming.” They referred to Broke Back Mountain as “Broke Ass Mountain.” Describing a strip club, Harold wrote, “Some of the girls are bisexual and will even double up on you in a booth. It would be cool to date a bisexual and have her and her friend double up on me.” I wonder: is “bisexual” a euphemism for someone not wanting to admit to being homosexual, or do some people “swing both ways.” Kinsey thought so and did. Near the end of his life he was into self-inflicted pain.

Two coworkers invited Harold over for beers; one wanted to give him a blowjob. Harold wrote, “I was going to hit him but just left instead.” Later Brian “whipped out Unabomber glasses and put on a shark hat, then went outside to wave at cars. People honked or waved back.” After a few beers, they kept urging Harold to “whoop it up,” but he stayed sober. The following week, the three of them got buzzed and danced to music on the stereo. Harold wrote: “I realized that I had had a lot of fun. They may be bisexual, but they’re actually pretty cool. And by hanging out with them, I had overcome my fear of homosexuals.”

An attractive guy came up to Marquita. She was tempted to ask him out until his boyfriend arrived and said, “Baby, let’s go.” She thought, “I knew it was too good to be true. He was too damn fine and clean to be straight.” At Rally’s in Glen Park Marcus became nervous when a guy with tight pants and colored contacts winked and asked if he could “kick it” with him. During a discussion about favorite sexual positions, a gay friend told Marquita things he and his partner did with the aid of lubricants that she “didn’t really know men were capable of doing.” After stopping at a Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) table at IUN, Marquita thought about attending an event but feared she’d feel out of place.

While faculty adviser to the Pride Alliance, former IUN librarian Ellen Bosman wrote sayings in chalk around campus for National Coming Out Day, such as “Oscar Wilde Was Gay.” Some students were offended at the mention of African-Americans Bessie Smith and Langston Hughes. Her social life was lonely until she found a sympathetic church group. While there were several openly gay male faculty, she was the only lesbian “out of the closet.” Many interviewees met lovers on Internet chat rooms, but Ellen found a support group at a local church.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sam Barnett's interview

My blog is registering on the Internet - don't ask me how the process works, but I Googled Calumet Regional Archives volunteer Maurice Yancy, Red Scare political prisoner Kathryn Hyndman, and former student David Janott and found Blog references to them. I typed in the name of fellow grad student Ray Smock, who has a new book coming out on Booker T. Washington and finally found the blog cited in reference number 231. Obviously, he has been active in numerous endeavors in the service of Clio, and amazingly, the Internet has a record of many of them, from his work as Director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies to books he put out while Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives.

A librarian from St. Sava's Serbian Church in Merrillville wanted some Steel Shavings issues for their library and gave the Archives some books on parish history in return. Former student Nick Tarailo, whose grandfather Nikola, a retired steelworker, I interviewed many years ago, put her up to it.

Got an email from Sam Barnett that contained an interview he did of me for a Chicago underground newspaper - it's great and very flattering. Here's what he wrote:

"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 emeritus professor 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 39 volumes, using oral histories, journals and diaries, newspaper clippings, photographs and more to create an invaluable people’s history of the area.

On the eve of Volume 40 (the ‘Retirement Journal’) Jim Lane spoke about his approach to history, the future of Steel Shavings, and a certain topic he feels is regrettably lacking in local histories.

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 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 movement 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 were the ways he was discriminated 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 show me his citizenship papers, union card, and 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 one who was kicked around but somebody who had this, did this, and left a mark through his relatives and kids.

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

The great thing about oral history is that 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 others can’t shut up. (Laughs)

One oral historian pioneer thought there is maybe a ten- or at most a fifteen-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. 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 buy shy or circumspect when dealing with sex. That’s a subject I’ve tried to get into, but haven’t succeeded as well as I like. At one point I’d hoped to 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 did a great job, but there wasn’t enough for an issue.

A lot of Shavings is contemporary history. I went from having students write about their families to students writing about themselves, through journals. Because so many of our students are adolescents, their reflections constitute 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, coined the phrase “shards and midden heaps,” which I used for 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, 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.

Selected Steel Shavings titles are held in the Chicago Underground Library. Complete sets are in the Calumet Regional Archives at Indiana University Northwest (Gary, Indiana) and in libraries across Northwest Indiana. Online, visit

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

Friday I examined the final page proofs of “Steel Shavings,” volume 40, which in essence is my Retirement Journal, called “Out to Pasture but Siill Kickin.’” It looked great except the photo for the front cover was cropped in a way that left out two important people, so they will adjust it and FAX me the change. In Anne Tyler’s 2006 novel “Digging to America” a character retiring from teaching compares the final days to “walking down a red carpet and then turning to find the attendants rolling it up behind you.” I used to hate people seeing me on campus and saying, “What are you doing here?” like I was an interloper. Now since I’m at IU Northwest regularly, that only occasionally happens, to which I reply, “I wasn’t ready to retire.” Recently I've been on an Anne Tyler reading binge, starting with "Breathing Lessons" and "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant."

Saturday I interviewed Sheriff Roy Dominguez at school and listened to a telephone message informing me that due to a health setback Marion Merrill’s “Living Eulogy” has been postponed. There go the plans for our road trip east. In the afternoon I attended former colleague Fred Chary’s seventieth birthday party. Since we are both Philadelphia sports fans, I wore a Phillies t-shirt. He had on an Eagles jersey with (Donovan) McNabb and the number 5 on the back. I gave him a CD featuring a 35-minute excerpt of the “Joe Niagara Show,” circa 1957 (when Fred was a h.s. senior). I was a tenth grader then listening to the Coasters ("Searchin'), Fats Domino ("Blueberry Hill" and "Blue Monday"), and the Everly Brothers ("Bye, Bye Love" and "Wake Up, Little Susie"). Known as “The Rockin’ Bird,” Niagara was the evening mainstay on radio station WIBG until victimized by the so-called payola scandal. Someone gave Fred a DVD of the Eagles ten greatest games, and he had me watch the end of the 1978 “Miracle in the Meadowlands.” The NY Giants had the ball with a minute to go and could have run out the clock with their quarterback taking a knee, but he inexplicably attempted a handoff, fumbled, and the Eagles’ Herman Edwards picked the ball up in stride on a bounce and scored the winning TD. It cost the Jets coach his job. Two of the guests were faculty members still teaching who are older than I - Alan Barr and Jean Poullard. Poullard offered a toast to the year 1939, when both he and Fred were born. Alan, 71, suggested 1938 was a better choice given WW II breaking out in '39. Poullard actually grew up in occupied France and is married to a Berliner. I went from Fred’s to an "end of the summer" jam hosted by Marianne Brush, whose late husband Tim (“Big Voodoo Daddy”) was the lead guitar player in my son’s band Voodoo Chili. Dave jammed for about five hours with various musicians. I went up to a mike to sing the chorus to "867-5309" and "Surrender." It was Marianne's daughter Missy's eighteenth birthday, and Dave got her to sing three songs after singing the Cracker "birthday" song, only substituting "Missy" for "You" in the lines "Happy, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you and to me."

The Sunday Post-Trib had a huge article on the 1919 Steel Strike using photos obtained from Steve McShane at the Calumet Regional Archives. Writer Andy Grimm used quotes from former student David Janott’s Steel Shavings article, including this conclusion: “Blacks in Gary, regardless of their connection, if any, to the strike, were regarded as company scabs. They were made the scapegoat for the failure of the strike.” Steve emailed Janott’s article to Grimm as well as a memoir by Paul Dremeley that includes this quote concerning the gulf between immigrant workers and their native born bosses: “Italiano push wheel barrow/ Americano smoke seegaro.” Recently Ray Fontaine loaned me an excellent book on the year 1919 that had a photo of a person identified as Judge Elbert H. Gary. It looked nothing like the U.S. Steel head honcho and turned out to be of a labor leader. Jeff Manes’ “SALT” column also had a Labor Day theme, befitting the area’s rich industrial heritage. He interviewed United Steelworkers District Director Jim Robinson, who discussed the importance of labor solidarity with union members in Mexico. I interviewed Robinson, whose father-in-law was the labor militant Jim Balanoff, for a Steel Shavings issue co-edited with Mike Olszanski entitled “Steelworkers Fight Back.” The Wades had a cookout Sunday featuring crocket, ping pong, and the game “Wits and Wagers,” which I won mainly by knowing the approximate year Ernest Hemingway won a Pulitzer. One question asked what year the Panama Canal opened. I guessed 1914 but it was 1913, which Darcy Wade guessed on the nose.

Monday : The suburban community of Lowell had a Labor day parade, a tradition dating back 90 years. Good for them. Some “Tea Party” protestors showed up to heckle Congressman Pete Visclosky for his support of Obama and health care. The rightwing is determined to derail anything the President tries to do, even pressuring schools not to carry his message to children to work hard and stay in school (a tradition started by Ronald Reagan). We had a cookout and played bridge with the Hagelbergs to end the long weekend.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Living Eulogy for Marion Merrill

Next Tuesday I am driving east and after visiting a few friends, including former fellow grad student Ray Smock, will attend a "Living Eulogy" in Hockessin, Delaware, for 95 year-old Marion Merrill, the widow of my PhD adviser H. Samuel Merrill. Sam was an avuncular, devoted scholar who was much beloved. After I started teaching at IU Northwest, he and Marion would stop overnight at a motel near our house for a vist with us on their way to visit his relatives in Wisconsin. Other former grad students were also on their route. Here's what I plan to say:

Living Eulogy for Marion Merrill by James B. Lane
Marion Merrill and her husband Sam were wonderful mentors. They were role models both in terms of personal and professional development. First and foremost, the Merrills showed me the positive effect a caring teacher can have. To be a Merrill student, as we privileged Maryland grad students called ourselves, was almost like being their adopted offspring. They guided us, prodded us, tried to keep our heads on straight (after all, it was the Sixties), made us aware of what other Merrill students who came before us were doing, and helped us get jobs when we graduated. I love the fact that the Maryland History Department has a Merrill Seminar Room, but the irony is that Merrill seminars took place at Sam and Marion’s house, with Marion’s cookies served at the break.

Second, Sam and Marion had a far-reaching influence on my political thinking. They were progressives - Flaming liberals in the best sense of the connotation - passionately dedicated to civil rights and world peace. Sam took part in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery March and was with me at the 1969 Moratorium Rally against the Vietnam War. Marion involved herself in a successful fight to free an African-American teenager convicted of rape after he had consensual sex with a white girlfriend. Marion used to drive neighbors’ maids back to their homes in Washington, D.C., so they wouldn’t have to go through the cost and inconvenience of public transportation. My liberal beliefs, to a large extent, are due to the Merrills. When Barack Obama was elected President, I immediately thought of how happy Marion would be.

Finally, the Merrills influenced my growth as a historian, not only making me mindful of how to write, according to guidelines known to us grad students as Merrill’s rules (no passive voice was number one), but showing me how exciting original research can be. At the Library of Congress while working on my dissertation on urban reformer Jacob A. Riis (a subject they suggested) I frequently had lunch with friends of theirs who were some of the most famous historians in my field, such as Allen Davis and Elliott Rudwick.

In 1971 Sam and Marion co-authored "The Republican Command, 1897-1913." My copy is inscribed “For Jim, One of our very favorite historians and persons. And with affection for Toni, Philip, and David.” (my wife and two sons). The jacket describes Marion Galbraith Merrill as “experienced in manuscript research and especially interested in the record of political successes and failures to alleviate poverty and improve race relations.” In the preface they wrote, “Our concern with the unnecessary suffering, waste, and danger which legislative inadequacy perpetuates in our society prompted us to make this study.” Those words ring just as true today. On the acknowledgements page Marion attributed much of her intellectual development to the patience of Mrs. Lila Fisher Woodbury and Osman P. Hatch, in her words two “exceptional teachers in a two-room school in Passumpsic, Vermont,” where they led a little girl gently by the hand into the magical world of books and free inquiry.” Just as Marion owed them, in her words, “a lifelong debt,” so do we Merrill students owe a lifelong debt to her. How fortunate I am to have known her.