Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Down Memory Lane

“A few hundred years ago, some cat got famous in the field of literature with something called Pepys Diary. Seems his name was Sam Pepys and the hour by hour timetable of his days brought home the way folks lived during that time in merry old England.” Richard Petty, in a “Stock Car Racing” magazine column, October 1979

Magill’s Literary Annual sent me a book to review on the breakthrough 1979 NASCAR season by Mark Bechtel entitled “He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back: The true Story of the Year the King, Jaws, Earnhardt, and the Rest of NASCAR’s Feudin’, Fightin’, Good Ol’ Boys Put Stock Car Racing on the Map. “King” Richard Petty barely outdueled bad boy Darrell Waltrip (“Jaws”) for Winston Cup championship, awarded to the driver accumulating the most points during the grueling ten-month season. The “He crashed me . . . .” quote was from Cale Yarborough in reference to his altercation with the Allison brothers, Bobby and Donnie, at the Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 1979. The melee, caught live on TV, received, in the words of Bechtel, “the kind of national play normally reserved for Superbowls and All-Star games. The sudden rise to national prominence of stock car racing was but one of many indicators of what historian Bruce Schulman in “The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture” termed the “Southernization” of America. The Sixties image of the villainous bigot had undergone a near complete makeover. It was the age of “Redneck Chic” when daredevil Evel Knievel thrilled millions, the television series “The Dukes of Hazzard” became a surprise hit (Yarborough appeared in an episode narrated by outlaw country singer Waylon Jennings), and country music found a mainstream audience. President Jimmy Carter invited NASCAR’s stars to the White House, and his brother marketed Billy Beer. Bechtel’s book ranks right up there with such sports history classics as “Seabiscuit” and “Boys of Summer.” It brought back high school memories when I’d go to the drag races with Sammy Corey, who sometimes borrowed his grandparents’ Chrysler and entering into the competition without them knowing it. I haven’t been to “The Race,” as Hoosiers refer to the Indy 500, but I’ve watched it on TV ever since Danica Patrick’s debut.

I stopped at Taco Bell on the way to the movies Friday and got free guacamole. The week before it was left out of my take-out order. Only thing was, I was at a different Taco Bell. Following that caper I sneaked into “Grown Ups” (simply awful with lame jokes about farting, peeing in the pool, and a nursing mother dousing folks with her milk) for 20 minutes before transferring to the movie I paid for. Movie critic Roger Ebert raved about “Inception” starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Ellen Page, but it was impossible to follow the plot – something about planting messages inside people’s brains – and the action scenes were not suspenseful since it became obvious nobody important was going to get hurt. Much more scary was the 1991 flick “Cape Fear” getting heavy play on cable. I’d seen it before, but Robert De Niro is absolutely spellbinding as the brilliant but creepy villain. One of my favorite movie moments is him laughing uproariously in a theater and putting his prey on notice that he’s out of prison. After serving 14 years for rape, the De Niro character Max Cady seeks revenge against his former defense lawyer who withheld evidence that the victim was sexually promiscuous because he believed his client deserved to rot in prison, thereby violating, as Cady reminded him in the climactic scene, the American Bar Association canon that charges attorneys with zealously representing clients within the bounds of the law. Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam, who were in the 1962 original, have cameo roles and are an absolute hoot, playing venal, self-righteous hypocrites.

After losing two games each to Dave and Tom, I chose Yacht Race, as was my right. We played on a custom-made board that Toni had designed for Dave. We hadn’t played it in years, and I eked out a victory. Phil used to be virtually unbeatable in it, being more patient than the rest of us. Toni also made a copy for Tom and Karen Orr as a house gift when we went cruising the Virgin Islands on their sailboat. It sank along with the boat when Tom attempted to sail the Atlantic and was hit by a surfacing submarine.

WXRT featured 1994 on its Saturday morning show – a stellar year for alternative rock. I heard songs by Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Cheryl Crow, and Smashing Pumpkins, as well as “Loser” by Beck. It was the year of Green Day’s “Dookie” and Tori Amos’ “Pancake Girl.” That year I took granddaughter Alissa, age 6, to a father-son dance (Phil was finishing up his degree at IU), and young girls were imploring the deejay to play songs by Ace of Base. Swedish successors to ABBA, the quartet had three pop hits that year, “The Sign,” “All That She Wants,” and “Don’t Turn Around.” Where are they now, one wonders.

Dave was in a softball tournament on Saturday. I told him to let me know if his team made it into the finals. Sure enough, he called and I watched two games. The the losers bracket finalist won the first, necessitating a second one for all the marbles. Dave made several sparkling plays at shortstop, including executing as the middleman a one-six-three double play and had numerous hits, including tying the game up and then scoring the winning run. Twenty years ago I pitched in countless tournaments, including one where literally you only got a single pitch and even foul balls were outs. I hated it, especially since strong winds made control of pitches difficult. Someone at Dave’s game had on a one-pitch tournament t-shirt, reminding me how much I had disliked the concept.

I asked Suzanna what specific things she remembered about our romance in 1960 and she recalled: “I think we went out every day and every evening all summer. I am surprised my parents allowed it. We were really good kids.” Indeed we were content to neck and restrict our petting to above the waist. Our outdoor activities included swimming, tennis, miniature golf, picnics, and drive-in movies whose titles escaped her. That was the year “Psycho,” “Spartacus,” “The Alamo,” and “Elmer Gantry” came out, but the only one I’m confident we saw at the 309 Drive-In on Bethleham Pike was “Exodus,” about the founding of Israel starring Paul Newman and Sal Mineo. Referring to my terminating our “intense romance” after I went to Bucknell, she wrote: “I had no idea that we would be such a short lived entity. I think college made you grow up to another level and I was still a kid.” I belatedly apologized for being a cad, writing: “ I was so thankful for the freedom from home that I sought more of a break with the past than was necessary or wise.” We’re both glad she found me thanks to the Internet. She recalls activities I have no recollection of, including a double date with Vince Curll and Wendy Henry, a sign perhaps that I am losing brain cells. Toni and Dave frequently say, when claiming to have already told me something, “Don’t you remember?” Since I’m retired, I can’t use the “absent-minded professor” comeback. My blog hopefully will keep me intellectually active.

Post-Tribune columnist Jeff Manes did a great feature on Calumet Regional Archives curator (and my good buddy) Steve McShane, who mentioned how Ron Cohen and I were both interested in the history of Gary and started collecting things around 1973. He added, “They just kind of self-declared themselves as the co-directors of something they called the Calumet Regional Archives” and “in 1980 when [the new] library building opened secured two rooms to store the material.” Two years later, in a decision we’ve never for a moment regretted, we hired Steve to organize the materials. We now have probably 10 times as much space now.

Unfair and unbalanced FOX news is ragging Obama for telling people to use the oil spill threatened beaches down south but then vacationing in Bar Harbor, Maine. Republicans are trying to equate Obama’s handling of the BP mess with Bush’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, but it’s a totally bogus analogy. FOX made such a fuss over a supposedly racist speech by African-American Department of Agriculture administrator Shirley Sherrod that she was fired. It turns out that the excerpt being played ad nauseum was taken completely out of context, and Sherrod had been referring to an event that occurred 20 years ago that caused her thereafter to treat all folks equally. Sarah “Drill, baby, drill” Palin wants folks to protest the building of a mosque a couple blocks from ground zero where the World Trade Center tragedy occurred. In the British Open Tiger played erratically, but it was fun seeing South African unknown Louis Oosthuizen win with black African caddie Zack Rasego on Nelson Mandella’s ninety-second birthday. Due to a gap between his front teeth, Oosthuizen is nicknamed Shrek. Spectators at St. Andrews were waving the multi-colored South African flag. Cubs blew a game in the ninth, giving up four runs, mainly due to walks. A similar thing happened to the White Sox when with a 6-3 lead closer Bobby Jenks couldn’t retire a single batter.

I’ve been working with the FACET interviews from the French Lick retreat, finding short excerpts where people talk about what makes a good teacher. By writing down the times they appear, Aaron Pigors can easily find them for a short documentary entitled something like “The Campuses of Indiana University, dedicated to excellence in teaching and learning.”

Editor Ray Boomhower emailed to inform me that he wants to publish my article entitled “Goodnite, Sweetheart: Vivian Carter and Vee Jay, the First Black-Owned Record Company” in the upcoming Winter issue of TRACES magazine. A Gary native who also owned a record store and hosted a popular radio show, Vivian discovered the doo wop group the Spaniels and also recorded the best blues and gospels groups of the 1950s and 1960s.

John Fraire thanked me for meeting with him at the Archives and sent along two remembrances having to do with the Mexican-American baseball team Los Gallos and the women’s softball team Las Gallinas.” When he was a young kid, he persuaded his mom to have a catch with him. He had heard from relatives that she had played shortstop for Las Gallinas and could throw better than many boys, but he was skeptical. She started out throwing underhand to him until he demanded that she throw it fast. Finally she to him to hold the glove in the air and threw one right in the glove so fast it knocked him over backwards.

Sisters Vanessa and Phyllis, whose parents were the original occupants of our house on maple Place, returned for one last visit. When we got to Phil’s old room, Vanessa recalled watching the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show on a black and white TV. They gave me some photos plus an old clipping of a column I wrote 35 years ago entitled, “Is Gary the Last of the ‘Dream Cities?’” It mainly dealt with the pre-1906 era, prior to U.S. Steel’s arrival.


  1. unfair and unbalanced? how about crypto-fascist? beacon to the forces of armed reaction? pandering to nativist yahoos?

  2. since you have both car racing and film review in the same blog post, allow me to recommend the film "Dust to Glory" (should be available thru Netflix but if not I can copy for you). Its about my only sports hero: Mouse McCoy and his effort to be the 1st motorcyclist to ride the Baja 1000 solo. Richard Petty is in the documentary, as well as some other Indy racers...I'm not a sports fan per se but this is a great film about human effort & achievement!

  3. It's probably not the most important subject you covered in today's entry, but I really enjoyed Inception. Perhaps, like you, I felt totally baffled part way through by what was going on (a notion I also felt part way through Henry James' novel The Ambassadors, by the way), but by the end I felt like it made narrative sense. I was concerned about what I might tell my wife when she asked what it was about, however. What I especially appreciated was that it wasn't a remake or a sequel like so much else offered this summer.