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.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day of the Dead

Passed an exhibit in the IU Northwest Library/Conference Center lobby containing photographs of deceased faculty. For the past several years Professor Ana Osan had assembled a display based on Latin American culture for the Tamarack Gallery, now defunct due to last September’s flood. I assume that it will run through the Day of the Dead or All Souls’ Day, which is November 2. Among those represented was historian Rhiman Rotz, who passed away of cancer shortly after 9/11/01. He kept teaching until shortly before he had to be hospitalized, and his last thought were with Muslim students (he was their group’s adviser) who might be subjected to prejudice in the aftermath of the World Trade Center tragedy. Photos of good friends Larry Kaufman and Bill May also caught my eye. Larry died on a New York country road, while Bill was murdered at his condo in Miller by a car thief, who was subsequently arrested by one of my former students, Todd Cliborne.

Finished Anne Tyler’s “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant,” which was very moving even though it was hard to identify with any of the characters. Tyler is a marvelous novelist. In the first of her books that I read, Breathing Lessons, a middle-aged woman leaves her family to start a new life. In “Dinner” a man deserts his wife and three children.

Have been reading with fascination a book William M. “Bill” Neil sent me about his World War II experiences as a bombardier. It is called “Three Crawford Brothers,” but it also contains a memoir that Bill contributed upon the invitation of his friend and comrade George Crawford. Bill’s wife Mary died two years ago, and in addition to documenting some of the dangerous missions he flew, his remembrances are truly a love story. Bill writes of joining a music club while attending Gary College and being immediately drawn to “this pretty blond girl.” He got up the nerve to ask her out for a movie and coke afterwards, and, in his words, “it was, for me, love at first date.” They started going steady and he talked his parents into letting Mary join them at a summer cottage in Michigan for two weeks. He writes: “By this time I had told Mary that I was in love with her. To my delight she replied that she was in love with me. That summer of 1940 was a truly enchanted one for both of us.” They were married two years later by an army chaplain in Montgomery, Alabama, and Mary subsequently was one of countless war brides “moving around the country by rail.” In Midland, Texas, they enjoyed three weeks of “marital bliss.” Later they had an “ecstatic reunion” in New York City. When they parted “the tears flowed” as Bill said, “Adios, mi Coraz√≥n (beloved).” When finally arrived home from Europe, Mary greeted him with “screams of delight, ecstatic embraces, [and] long, delicious kisses” – then took him upstairs to the bedroom to see his son for the first time. What a wonderful, romantic tribute to his late wife of 65 years.

Monday, October 5, 2009

America's Best Idea?

Ken Burns’ six-part, 12-hour series, entitled “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” began to air on PBS. The subtitle is from a quote by Wallace Stegner. I’ve enjoyed Burns’ previous efforts on the West, Baseball, Jazz, the Civil War, Baseball, and World War II; but the fiddle and banjo music can get to be a little too much. A reviewer for the L.A. Times wrote that unlike many documentaries that dumb-down the study of the past, Burns teaches us that “history is a gorgeously complicated thing.” Burns refers to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where Toni and I reside until our leaseback runs out in September 2010. As neighbor John Laue points out in a proposal to save some of the few remaining houses from “the wrecking ball,” the West Beach Unit where I live in the once tight knit community of Edgewater was added in a 1976 Expansion Bill that more than doubled the size of the park. Also the government negotiated more than twice as many leasebacks as any other park and for the first time did not issue lifetime leasebacks. We negotiated a 20-year leaseback that was subsequently extended another nine years. When that ran out in 2007, the government allowed us to extend it till September 2010, at which time all remaining homes will be torn down, if the Park Service gets its way.

In a 1991 volume of “Steel Shavings dealing with the history of Portage, Indiana, I included a poem called “The Oaks” by John’s father Gilbert Laue about the cost to nature of “progress.” He wrote:

Men in hardhats
chainsaws snarling
earthmovers roaring
exult in their power
as the old oaks crash to the ground
and every vine and violet
blade of grass and fallen leaf
in buried under raw sand
for the Interstate cloverleaf

entrance to the steelmills-in-the-dunes
and a new motel to be called
no doubt
The Oaks

In 1998 John Laue and I co-edited an oral history of Edgewater that included many wonderful sketch drawings by area artist Dale Fleming and appeared in volume 28 of Steel Shavings, entitled “Tales of Lake Michigan and the Northwest Indiana Dunelands. In the Editor’s Note I wrote that a violent thunder and lightning storm greeted us our first night at 9649 Maple Place, which was located high atop a sand dune in a wooded area not far from the lake. In time we got used to shoveling lake effect snow and having cold air permeate our double-paneled fireplace room north window when the wind chill factor dropped below zero. With mixed feelings we watched deer munch on our shrubs, cleaned up after raccoons raided our garbage cans, lost electricity several times a year, and experienced sensations similar to an earthquake after shock when vibrations from passing trains disturbed the sand under our home. Compensating for these minor inconveniences were the pleasures of hearing the surf on stormy days (“pounding the shore with the throb of an engine,” to quote French novelist Simone de Beauvoir), rummaging for firewood in a nearby ravine, tending our plants and garden vegetables, catching sight of toads, possums and even an occasional snake, and observing hummingbirds, woodpeckers, hawks, and dozens of other kinds of ornithological specimens, including migratory ducks and geese flying overhead in formation and seemingly honking at us.”

This Gilbert Laue poem appears in “Tales of Lake Michigan””

He wasn’t much for nature
Walks in the woods
Bird watching
Spring’s first hepatica
Home craftsman
Was his line

Remodeling, rebuilding
Making and designing
Planning how to do it

Poor Dot was doomed
To never live
In a finished house
Her kitchen was torn up
He was building new cabinets
The rec room
New ceiling
And on and on

Once he even figured out
How to raise the roof
To add a whole new floor

He needed the attached garage for his tools and materials
So to it he attached a two-car garage, with a sun-deck roof
Neither car has ever been in it
There isn’t room.

Heard from Paul Kern about volume 40. He wrote: “I've read it cover-to-cover and found it very interesting. Of course, some might quibble that you cannot write a "retirement journal" when you are so obviously not retired. Somewhat startled to find my emails in your journal, I was relieved to not find anything in them that made me cringe. It's true that it was my dream in graduate school to teach at a liberal arts college, but after several years I concluded that IUN was a good place for me. I liked the students and enjoyed the freedom I had to do things like develop ancient history as one of my fields. The atmosphere at a small college might have seemed a little claustrophobic. Also I thought the Region was an interesting area and always admired and enjoyed your efforts to preserve its history and bring it to life. Writing the history of IUN with you was an honor. I had forgotten that you holed up in my apartment one Christmas to finish up City of the Century. I guess that's when I was spending the holidays with my sister and our parents. I liked the way you weaved background info and reminiscences into your journal. That brought back many good memories.”

Salem Press released my review of “1960: LBJ VS. JFK VS. NIXON: The Epic Campaign that Forged Three Presidencies by David Pietrusza. I mentioned that it captures the essence of a pivotal Presidential election that featured party primaries and television “debates” assuming immense and lasting importance and wrote: “Since the publication in 1961 of Theodore H. White’s classic The Making of the President, 1960, journalists and historians alike have swept aside the code of silence regarding the peccadilloes of politicians. Without verifying its veracity Pietrusza repeats an anecdote about John F. Kennedy having sex with a call girl at Chicago’s Palmer House 90 minutes before his first TV encounter with Richard M. Nixon, who looked, to quote Ben Bradlee, like an “awkward cadaver.” Afterwards, the story goes, the charismatic candidate was so pleased with how things went that, according to longtime confidant Langdon P. Marvin, Jr., “he insisted we line up a girl for him before each of the debates.” Concerning Lyndon Baines Johnson, also a notorious philanderer, the author quotes wife Lady Bird’s rationalization that since her husband loved everyone, ‘it would be unnatural for him to withhold love from half the people.’”

The review continued: “In recent years revelations have surfaced about the role Mobster money played in securing West Virginia for Kennedy in the Democratic primary, the amphetamine injections from “Miracle Max” Jacobson, nicknamed Dr. Feelgood, and how Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley provided the necessary “ghost votes” to secure Illinois in November. Had Nixon chosen the Prairie State’s Senator Everett Dirksen or Governor William “Wild Bill” Stratton as his running mate, he might have won. JFK’s choice of LBJ was shrewder. In the capable hands of prolific sports/social historian David Pietrusza (i.e, Teddy Ballgame: My Life in Pictures (with Ted Williams), the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and character flaws of these contenders in the bare-knuckles blood sport of politics come alive and serve as cautionary tales to a new generation of readers.”

Last Friday IU Northwest’s History and Philosophy department was to take Anja Matwijkiw out to Aladdin’s Restaurant in Merrillville to celebrate her getting tenure and promoted to associate professor only she was sick and couldn’t come. Ten of us had lunch anyway including fellow emeriti Ron Cohen and Fred Chary. Gave “Freddy,” as I sometimes call him, a copy of the Retirement Journal. Ron, whose wife Nancy Del Castillo, has been reading volume 40 and contributed a journal herself to my “Ides of March 2003” issue, asked about my method of journal keeping. Told him I’d scribble down notes in the late afternoon and type daily entries the next morning but then make additions and revisions later. I often call Ron “Sparky,” a nickname he dubbed himself when he was a deejay on a radio program. They both call me Jimbo, as does Chancellor Bruce Bergland and many others. As Ray Saluga of the Ace Trucking Company liked to say, “You can call me Ray, Or you can call me J., Or you can call me Ray J., Or you can call me Ray, J. J., Or you can call me R. J. J., Jr., but you doesn’t have to call me Johnson.” The grandkids love it when I do that routine.

On Saturday Toni and I went to a quilt show at Timothy Ball Elementary School in Crown Point, named in honor of the Calumet Region’s first teacher, minister, and historian. There is also a Solon Robinson School, named for Crown Point's first resident. A bowling teammate, Frank Shufran had a quilt in the show, as did his wife Joan. Her entry, entitled “The ABCs of Life,” had such words to live by from A to Z as “Accept differences,” “Be kind,” “Yearn for peace,” and “Zealously support a worthy cause.” The worthy cause that we support most zealously is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which helps victims of bigotry. Frank at age 78 plays golf whenever the weather permits and averages in the high 180s on my bowling team, the Electrical Engineers. Over the years, I have come to admire people ten years or so older than me who are still vibrant. Neighbor Chuck Bernstin, who was still repairing TVs and VCRs a couple years ago, was one. Local radio and TV personality and historian Tom Higgins is another.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ain't Misbehavin'

Got an email from Tim Jackomis thanking me for volume 38 of Steel Shavings dealing with the social history of the Calumet Region during the 1980s and entitled “The Uncertainty of Everyday Life.” He wrote: “ I read the entire book this weekend. It brought back many memories. A lot of people that I have not thought of or seen in many years! Thanks again!” The issue contains the third and final installment of my oral history of the Gary Mayor Richard G. Hatcher’s 20 year administration (1968-87) as well as student articles ranging from teen sports and partying to family activities and tragedies.

One of my favorite articles is by Charles Halberstadt dealing with annual Game Weekends at his house in which my family participated. Here it is: “The 1980s: what a decade. We had two failed assassination attempts, one on President Reagan and the other on Pope John Paul II. The steel industry was having a tough time. The Berlin wall came down finally ending the cold war. Episodes five and six in the Star Wars Trilogy came out, and I was born. One annual event of importance to my family was called Game Weekend, a three-day excursion where friends get together to play board games. Its creators were my parents, Jef and Robin Halberstadt. My dad described Game Weekend as “a weekend long open house for playing board games that starts Friday evening and ends Sunday night. The type of people that come to Game Weekend can be put into four categories. The ‘social’ gamers were friends and family who were there more to visit than to play games and who were more into group games like Taboo. The second group liked more serious games like Diplomacy or Rail Baron that were challenging and took a long time to play. The third group basically showed up just to play Backgammon for an extended amount of time. The final group consisted of those who just popped in to see what it was all about. So all sorts of people would be there, some for a few minutes and some for a few days.” Asked how Game Weekend changed during the 80s, Jef replied that at some point the date was moved to the weekend closest to New Year’s Eve. Also in 1985 after daughter Sheridan came along, the location was moved to the home of Tom Wade, who still is hosting it to this day.” One regular participant, Evan Davis, went on to create the popular board game Air Baron. Two Halberstadt offspring became World Board gaming champions. My brother Jordan became King Maker champ in 2005, and I am the current Mystery of the Abbey champ.”

My nephew Joe Robinson returned home to Seattle after a week with us and other relatives. His IPod contains over 4,000 tunes, mostly very hard metal rock ranging from Iron Maiden to Used but also a few show tunes and even Fats Waller’s rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin’ (I’m savin’ all my love for you).” He had a college course on the history of pop music but had no interest in listening to my current favorite group Phoenix ("Litzomania"). At Best Buy I bought him the latest CD by the alternative rock band The Used called Artwork and enjoyed it myself. Last year he picked out CDs by Disturbed, Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Joe also loves the Mamma Mia! Soundtrack, and on the way to Indianapolis we listened to an ABBA Greatest hits CD. Joe pointed out when song lyrics had been slightly altered for the play and movie. Joe just may set a record for longest name; incorporating various Polish family names, it is Josef Anthony Siedleska Gasiewski Trojecki Okomski Robinson.