Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving with the Bayers

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

In the journal is this account of Thanksgiving 2007:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Doo Wop

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2009


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Northwest Phoenix Article

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

AREA Calumet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steel Shavings
by James Lane, Samuel Barnett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(note: here is the link to AREA Chicago

Monday, November 9, 2009

Steely Dan concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pep Rally & Autograph Party (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wacky Mode

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

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

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

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

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

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