Monday, December 14, 2009

A Tuna Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

FACET's Eileen T. Bender

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

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

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

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

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