Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Two volumes of Magill’s Literary Annual arrived containing 2,000-word reviews of the best 200 books of the year, including mine on “Sweet Thunder” (a biography of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson by Wil Haygood) and “Passing Strange” (Martha Sandweiss’ opus about geologist Clarence King living a double life as a black Pullman porter). I corresponded with Sandweiss about whether she thought King’s fascination with black women sprang from his childhood memories of a devoted nursemaid; she doubted it although she noted the theory had been put forward by another biographer. I came upon interesting reviews on books about Lincoln, Darwin (the biologist and the “Great Emancipator were born on the same date, and their mutual hatred of slavery changed the world), Ted Kennedy (author of the memoir “True Compass,” who is on the cover, 1848 (year of Revolution), and the late, great John Updike’s poems in a volume called “Endgame.” Starting when he turned 70 in 2002, he’d sum up his life in sonnet form. Aging had long been one of his major themes. Writing about a harrowing plane ride, he concluded: “Age I must but/die I’d rather not.” In 2007 he penned these lines hoping his talent wouldn’t dim: “Be with me, words, a little longer/ you have given me my quitclaim in the sun.” He moved to Tuscan, played much golf, and noted seeing skeletons of dead cactuses that stand in “mute mobs” in the desert. A volume of Updike’s short stories called “My Father’s Tears” also got reviewed. Reviewer Laurence Mazzeno wrote that Updike “approached his craft with a sociologist’s understanding of middle America, a psychologist’s insights into the workings of the human mind, a theologian’s perception of humankind’s struggle with faith and morals, and a poet’s gift for language.” Concerning Updike’s tendency toward personal musings, Mazzeno quotes from his 1969 poem “Midpoint”: “Of nothing but me, me/ . . . / I sing, lacking another song.” Sort of like me. If this blog should morph into another Shavings, I’ll subtitle it “Wretched Excess.”

Thursday’s retirement reception was not just for Chancellor Bergland but also honored psychological counselor Ray Fontaine and photography professor Gary Wilk, two good men. A Sixties divinity school grad, Ray was a sex therapist before coming to IUN. Starting off with puns involving Freud and Jung, retired Sociology professor Bob Lovely quipped that he once asked Ray for advice and, emulating Cher’s reaction to Nicolas Cage saying he loves her in “Moonstruck,” he slapped him and said, “Snap out of it.” I lamented losing my favorite cafeteria lunch companion, although I said I hoped he’d follow my example and return frequently. While most faculty talk shop and grouse at the administration, Ray preferred more elevated conversations. Once, at the other end of the table from me, he heard me mention theologian Paul Tillich, got up, sat down next to me, and asked, “What was that about Tillich?” In his remarks Ray was gracious, witty, and urbane and jokingly thanked Neil Goodman for naming a Echo Garden sculpture (“Ray”) after him.

I was tempted to mention Gary Wilk’s tour of duty in Vietnam. He was a cook and out of harm’s way for 12 months so he re-upped for three more so he’d be eligible for an early discharge immediately thereafter. Then came the enemy’s Tet Offensive, and Gary found himself under fire virtually every day. His Vietnam experience convinced Gary to pursue a career in photography rather than settle for a more “practical” career path. His Fine Arts colleagues Neil Goodman and David Klamen covered most of what I would have said, specifically how patient he is with students and how great his book Steel Giants, which he did with Steve McShane, is. Gary got an email of congratulations from Paul Kern, who recalled the interesting conversations when they bumped into each other in the Tamarack Hall men’s room.

Chancellor Bruce, more composed than on Tuesday, was presented with a lamp and a rocking chair as well as the traditional clock. I told about how ten years ago when I was in the hospital he called me “Jimmy.” I said that my good friends call me Jimbo right before our phone connection went dead. He called me back, referred to me as Jimbo, and has been calling me Jimbo ever since. Executive Secretary Mary Lee mentioned how compassionate Bruce was after Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Ernest Smith’s stroke, visiting him in the hospital and keeping him on as a trusted adviser. Vernon Smith recalled how Bruce called him his first week on the job and wanted a tour of Gary. Bruce was a stickler for things starting on time, and Neil Goodman had a funny story about being late to a social function because he put his kid’s bike in the trunk of the car on his wife’s dress on the way to a sitter with such disastrous results that they had to stop and buy a new one, causing them to be 45 minutes late. Medical School director Pat Bankston talked about going to Country Lounge on Friday afternoons with Bruce and other campus bigwigs who called themselves “The Sharks.” One day longtime state representative belittled their pretensions, saying, “You should be called the guppies.” Country Lounge has long been a Region watering hole. Bangston quipped that one former chancellor picked up a liver disease there. Back 30 years ago Chancellor Danelo Orescanin put in two-hour lunches mingling with area politicians and talking up the university. Often upon returning to campus, he’d ask his secretary to decipher the phone numbers and messages on his place mat. Dan could hold his liquor and had, as one area politician put it, a “good line of bullshit.”

I got a thank you card from Lisa Hartlund for my Gary book. Her dad grew up on Tyler Street and enjoyed the references to his old neighborhood. I also sent a copy to Anne Balay, who wanted to read my account of “Women of Steel” who fought against sexist practices in the mill after women were hired in large numbers following the 1974 Consent Decree.

Fred Chary gave me on videotape a documentary about the Philadelphia Flyers teams of the Seventies, the co-called “Broad Street Bullies.” It brought back memories of enforcer Dave “Dutch” Schultz and “Golden Boy” Bobby Clarke. I fell asleep before the conclusion of the NBA Finals game seven. I didn’t care whether Los Angeles or Boston won. The first half was sloppy and low scoring, with both teams shooting poorly. I found out from all-night SCORE jock Les Grobstein (“the Grobber”) that L.A. prevailed, giving Kobe Bryant his fifth ring (one more than Shaq, he exulted) and Coach Phil Jackson his eleventh. Good news: the Cubs, White Sox and Phillies all won.

David and Angie held a joint birthday party for James (10) and Rebecca (8) at Lisa’s Gymnastics. Seventeen kids had fun playing with the equipment. Afterwards I attended a retirement party at Ray Fontaine’s snazzy place in LaPorte. I gave him volume 1 of Magill’s Annual (my two pieces are in volume 2). I talked with several of his golfing buddies, as well as faculty members Neil Goodman, Vinod K. Vinodogopal, Michele Stokely, Iztok and Stela Hozo. Stela was wearing a black Purdue t-shirt that her daughter gave her; I had on an IU Northwest shirt I got for working the university booth at the Porter County Fair. Former colleague Roberta Wollons was a surprise guest, flying in from Boston. Chuck Gallmeier recalled how in a Faculty Org meeting I warned the chancellor that if he tried to ram through a 12-hour faculty teaching load he’d have a revolt on his hands. I heard through the grapevine that Bruce later mocked my remarks, saying to lackeys, “Ooh, I’m really scared.” He didn’t pursue the 12-hour load for everyone, however.

We’ve been without electricity since a storm came through on Friday. Ron Cohen is in the same boat. Bummer! We spent all day Sunday at Dave and Angie’s. Son Phil and granddaughter Victoria had come in for the birthday party, and we played board games and watched the U.S. Open. Dave’s former band mate Hans Rees stopped by with his two kids, one of whom is named Graham, and mentioned that thanks to me he became a Graham Parker fan and recently got to meet the British singer (“Passion is no Ordinary Word” is the best song ever) at a concert. Toni and I saw him at Chicago’s Vic Theater with Terry and Kim Hunt, and he ended with a smokin’ Sam Cooke medley. Tiger really sucked and still finished only four strokes back. Ditto for Mickelson. Irishman Graeme McDowell was the first non-American to win since 1970. Toni stayed the night, but I went home, lit a couple candles, and went to bed at nightfall.

Monday A.M.: still no electricity and I had to drive through another storm to take Becca to dance class. I called the National Lakeshore and the secretary to the superintendent assured me they had contacted NIPSCO about our not having power. Before picking Becca up Angie brought Victoria to the Archives. Tori loved my 27-inch computer screen and showed me how I could have things on YouTube fill up the entire screen. She played the musical video “Boom Boom Pow” by Black Eyed Peas and “Fireflies” by Owl City. Sheriff Dominquez brought interesting photos in for us to scan, and then I just got to the cafeteria before closing for a hot dog before running off to Best Buy to pick up a computer that Toni bought yesterday. George Bodmer was at the cafeteria and mentioned that his father-in-law was over for Father’s Day, saw one of Toni’s drawings called “Four Seasons,” and thought it was great. George is teaching a drawing class once a week to homeless people.

Monday P.M.: Toni and I took the computer and two TVs to the condo. Before going to Angie’s for tacos I drove home and came upon four utility company trucks working along County Line Road. I arrived home to find a light on. Yes! The stove clock indicated that the power had come back on less than five minutes before.

1 comment:

  1. well, huh, now I finally know why I got hired at bethlehem in April 1974!
    Got the funniest book last night - "Sh*t My Dad Says" - hilarious, finished it today, couldn't put it down, LOl funny - must read. Author Justin Halpern - he's got a blog and twitter, if you don't mind some bad language. Funniest F..ing book I've read in awhile. getting Brady a hard coopy (I'm a Kindle copy) and changing the title to Sh*t my Mom says.