Friday, January 29, 2010

Chichen Itza

I have returned from a fifteen-day trip to California and the so-called Mayan Riviera near Cancun, Mexico. Those all-inclusive stays at ocean-front five-star hotels such as the Grand Bahia Tulum are everything that they are made up to be – great food, free drinks, no tipping, and shows every evening, not to mention perfect weather for January and daily walks along the Gulf of Mexico beach. Most impressive was a visit to the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, featuring the incredible thousand year-old pyramid honoring the Mayan sun god Kukulkan (feathered serpent). Our knowledgeable guide, who joked that some tourists call the site “chicken ‘n’ pizza”) pointed out the amazing mathematical and astronomical calculations that went into designing it. For example, during the spring and autumn equinoxes the afternoon sunlight causes seven isosceles triangles to form near the pyramid's main stairway imitating the body of a serpent that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom. Other notable sites include a ball field (the game ended after one goal after which there was a ritual beheading as sacrifice to the gods) and columns where market was held. While in Los Angeles with friends Kate and Jim Migoski, we stayed with their daughter Suzanne, her husband Kris Kallin, and their delightful kids William and Julia. William has a really winning grin, and Julia has remarkably penetrating eyes that appear to take in everything that is happening.

Did some reading during the vacation, thanks to finding “The Great Gatsby” in Kris and Suzi’s bookcase (was even more impressed with Fitzgerald than the first time I read it) and “The House of God,” a book about interns set in the 1970s that was satirical and pretty raunchy. My favorite novelist John Updike compared it to Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” Author Samuel Shem (real name Stephen Begman) is someone Kris knows personally.

Unlike a year ago, when we arrived back from California to discover that the furnace had stopped, all was well on our Maple Place hill even though a fire had destroyed the house across the ravine from us. A dozen or so phone messages awaited, including updates from the Arredondos and Sheriff Dominguez on our book projects. While we were gone, son Dave had been named Lake County teacher of the year, and we will be able to go to a reception in his honor to be held at the Horseshoe Casino (it will be my first visit to one out the Region boats).

At the university more than 350 emails were waiting to be read and/or deleted, including New York Times updates on the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti and the shocking loss of Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat to Republican Scott Brown (once named America’s sexiest man by Cosmopolitan magazine). I got invitations to join several Facebooks, with the message that so-and-so wants to add me to their list of friends. The most touching email came from the parents of Robin Hass Birky, who died last year when a truck plowed through a red light and crashed into her car. They must have heard that I mentioned her in my retirement journal and requested a copy. Her mom wrote, “ I spend time looking up things about her as it gives me peace knowing her efforts in life.” In my letter I directed her to the Index. In a section entitled “Grieving,” I wrote that on September 2, 2008, Vice Chancellor Kwesi Aggrey set aside two hours where people could share thoughts over her death and how many people could barely control their emotions. Kim Hunt emailed me that day that “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 learn more of our history.” On September 3 I wrote how I passed where Robin had died on my way to the packed service. In church Mary Russell called her “our Rockin’ Robin.” Kwesi sang a Ghanian 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 photo of the three of us dancing at my retirement party (it’s one of three photos in volume 40 that Robin is in) and a note telling her to keep joy in her life. Before going to the cemetery the funeral procession wove past the Valparaiso firehouse, where Robin’s husband worked, the firemen were out front at attention. Back at school was this email from a stunned Paul Kern: “Robin’s son Cole played basketball for Morgan Township. I’d check the bos scores to see how he did and mention it to Robin. The heartfelt tributes were deserved. What a lot of enthusiasm snuffed out.”

High school classmate Gaard Murphy Logan reported that the Tacoma Art Museum where she is a docent has an exhibit featuring animals in artwork and that she and hubby Chuck “did our first motorcycle ride of the year last week. It was sweet to be back on the road.” She had been ill but claims to be 97 percent well and back to jogging and visits to the gym. I replied in part: “I checked out the information about the animal exhibit on the Tacoma Art Museum’s website. Sounds like April 25 will be fun with folks dressed in the favorite animal outfits. There’s a guy on our campus who often dresses as a cat with whiskers, a long tail, and mittens. He is a ‘furry,’ part of a cult group partial to the novel ‘Watership Down.’ Let me know if you see any furries while you are a docent.” A telecommunications professor from Bloomington, Ronald Osgood, who used some material from my “Brothers in Arms” Shavings magazine, wants to send me a DVD he did called “My Vietnam Your Iraq: Eight Families, Two Wars,” Sounds intriguing. Got this email, which I passed on to Dave: “This is Aaron, the bass player from Drena's jam night. Thanks for the kind words on your blog. The kind words should be coming from me. David did a great job. I wish to jam with him again real soon. It was very invigorating.”

At bowling rolled three games in the 170s, well above my average. Relaxing at home with a quart of Miller High Life, started planning my February 16 appearance before the Portage Historical Society. I’ve decided to have some 17 people read excerpts from my oral history of Portage (Shavings, volume 20, 1991) covering the years from World War I through the 1920s. In an article entitled “Portage in Three Stages of Its Growth,” former student (and good friend) Bruce Sawochka called the time between the 1880s and the 1945s “The Quiet Years” to distinguish it from the previous half-century (the pioneer period) and the past half-century (in his words, “the Big Bang”).

Monday, January 4, 2010

Drena's Bar and Grill

The holidays were quite eventful. Since the leaseback on our house, located within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, is due to expire on September 30, 2010, this will probably be our last Christmas on Maple Place, unless the federal government has a change of heart. That is unlikely, although there is some sentiment for allowing folks to stay longer. There are not enough of us to have any clout, I fear. Anyways, we knew the situation when we bought the house 33 years ago, and we already have been given two extensions beyond the original 20 years. On Christmas Eve Toni had the traditional Polish meal (called Wigilia) after which we broke off pieces of each others’ unleavened wafers (Oplatky) and kissed one another (there were 13 of us in all, including Alissa’s mother Beth, in from Portland). Then we decorated the tree, had a “March of Presents,” and sang Christmas carols. Next morning we opened presents (I got jelly and some cool shirts, among other things) did a lot of Wii bowling, and enjoyed a new board game called Ingenious.

On December 27 Dave performed at Open Mike night at a place in Hobart called Drena’s Bar and Grill. Beth drove me and Alissa (who was carded at the door), and we were joined by Beth’s brother Jimmy and Dave’s wife Angie. I didn’t know what to expect but had a great time. For one thing, there was an excellent house band, so even when the singers or other musicians weren’t that great, the drummer, lead guitar player, and bass player were top notch – in fact, they also played in a popular local group called the Crawpuppies, whose lead singer, Chad Clifford, is a former student of mine from back in the Eighties when he was with the band Digital Hair (I heard them open for the Romantics at Valparaiso University). The Sunday night festivities were dubbed “rock and roll blues jazz country western karaoke jam night” and in fact some “amateurs” were reading the lyrics from a book containing the songs the band could play. There were several Kelly Clarkson wannabes and a couple red hot mommas who could really belt it out. One guy who could really scream did a couple great AC/DC numbers.

Dave was the last act of the night, having arrived somewhat late because Sunday was his bowling night. He did a few acoustic numbers without the band, starting with the Bob Dylan song “The Man in Me” from the movie “The Big Lebowski.” Earlier there was a rather old guy (probably ten years younger than me) at the bar; and when he looked about to leave, I told him that my son was performing next and that maybe he’d like to stick around. I offered to buy him a drink, but he declined, saying he was on medication. I noticed that when David started, the guy was near me and seemed to be taping him with a hand-held camera. After about ten minutes, I heard Dave say that he hoped the house band would join him. The members were at the bar, so I went over to them and told them what David said. They got on stage while Dave was singing the Neil Young song about Johnny Rotten, “My My Hey Hey,” that includes the line “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” First the drummer joined in and than the guitar players. It was really cool. Then as a finale they did Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which made me think of Big Voodoo Daddy from Dave’s old band Voodoo Chili, who died last year. That was his trademark song. Quite a night.

The next day Dave told me that Drena’s put his opening song on YouTube (if you Google Drena’s Bar and Grill, you can find “Jam with David Lane,” December 27, on the second page of listings). It turns out the “old guy” was recording it and that my voice singing the chorus from the audience is almost as loud as Dave’s. Embarrassing. I told Dave I was sorry and hadn’t realized what was going on, but he said it was OK because it just sounded like the audience was having a good time.

Found the time to read Gore Vidal's novel "Hollywood," part of his series covering American history starting with "Burr" and "Lincoln." It faithfully covers events that took place during the Woodrow Wilson and Warren harding administrations - of the two he is more sympathetic toward Harding. Not many holiday parties because the usual suspects Tanice Foltz and Chuck Gallmeier were either indisposed with a foot operation or in England. We did go with Ron and Nancy Cohen to Tracy and Fred Traut’s New Year’s Eve party (much fun) followed the next day by Halberstadt Game Week-end, a tradition that goes back over 30 years (my first one was in 1981). I played two new board games, Carcassonne and Small World. In the first you build cities and roads, and in the second you do battle (“in a lighthearted way,” to quote from the inventor) with one of 14 races (sorcerers, ghouls, skeletons, etc.) endowed with one of 20 special powers. I liked them both, and they don’t take nearly as long to finish as many games played during the three days.

The weather in Northwest Indiana stinks. The ice was so thick on the driveway Christmas Eve an entire bag of salt hardly made a dent on it. It took three attempts before a city plow could get up our road. Then for three days straight on New Year’s week-end Lake (Michigan) effect snow continued to fall. At least I could sweep it off the driveway with a broom. President Obama was in Hawaii with his family in a fabulous mansion near Honolulu located at Kailua Beach. When Toni and I lived in Hawaii in 1965-66 while I got my Master’s degree, we often swam near there. I found time to see two excellent movies, ‘Up in the Air” and “Avatar.”

Since IU Northwest’s library was closed for the holidays, I stayed away completely from computers. Over 130 emails were waiting for me this morning, many New York Times news stories plus a lot of messages from trying to get me to join by claiming Upper Dublin classmates were trying to get in touch with me. One classmate I am in touch with, Pam Rudolph, wished me Happy New Year and mentioned attending a Bowzer (from Sha Na Na) oldies show featuring the Tokens and some of Bill Haley’s Comets, now in their mid-80s. A reporter from the Chicago Tribune wants to talk to me about the ending of leasebacks at the National lakeshore. Coincidentally in an email old neighbor John Laue asked me to proofread interviews he did over the holidays with various leaseholders as well as with Jack Weinberg, who was a leader in the anti-nuke movement that stopped NIPSCO utility company from building a nuclear plant near the park.

Choice magazine sent me a book to review, “The World Turned Upside Down” by James Livingston. It’s part of a series on American Thought and Culture and, while scholarly, has sections on pop culture covering rap and heavy metal music as well as slasher and sci-fi films, among other things. There are even pictures of Eddie Van Halen, Freddy Krueger, Public Enemy, the Simpsons, the “South park” cast, and Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver” in army fatigues and Mohawk haircut. It looks much different from a previous book I reviewed in the series called “The Postmodernist Turn: American Thought and Culture in the 1970s.” In my Choice review I complained that it contained nothing about film, TV, music, sports, advertising, “New Age” philosophy, pop psychology, genetics, cybernetics, environmentalism or Latinos, Asian Americans, gays, or Native American thought. Instead it focused on “such barren shoals of academic thought as deconstruction, neo-Marxism, poststructuralism, hermeneutics, and neoconservatism.”