Friday, February 26, 2010

Indiana History

The Indiana History magazine TRACES put Michael Jackson on the cover of its Fall 2009 issue plus contains a nice article on him and his Gary roots. Ray Boomhower’s Editors Note mentions how he played the Jackson Five hit “ABC” on his little 45 rpm record player.

Spoke to Steve McShane’s Indiana History class last evening about Gary, the importance of social history, and Steel Shavings. I told them I was tempted to do an issue on “Social Life in Hobart, Indiana” featuring school experiences, workplace experiences, sports, leisure time activities, and the like. Mentioning how history is essentially the record of change over time, I suggested someone might do a paper on bars and bowling alleys. Cressmoor Lanes, where I bowl, dates at least back to the Forties, and one fellow whom I see every Wednesday was a pinsetter a half-century ago. Another topic I told them would be fun to research was the annual Jaycee Fest held in the Strack and Van Til parking lot, where I have seen Joan Jett, the Smithereens, and Cracker perform, as well as my son’s old band Voodoo Chili. To induce some audience participation I showed the class the same photos I took to the third graders at Aspire Charter School and then had seven volunteers read excerpts from the Steel Shavings “Shards and Midden Heaps” article by Ryan Maicki called “Bad Seeds” (a hilarious account of high school high jinks). One part that got a big laugh was his mention of having S.A.F.O. meetings Fridays before school. The initials stood for “Smoke A Fat One.”

On the sobering side, Ryan wrote of his buddy Bowman dying in a car crash. As I mentioned in the Editor’s Note: “Adolescence was truly a period of danger. Young people succumbed on the highway, at unprotected crossings, from drug overdoses, at the hands of predators, and from insidious diseases such as AIDS and asthma. Ryan wrote of Bowman: “We had fun down to a science. He was my partner in crime. His family had a cabin in Michigan. We decided to take a trip there with three other party animals. We arrived in the middle of January to find that his dad had shut off all the water facilities and taken the heater home for fixing. We were hundred of miles away from home with only Tequila, cigarettes, beer, and laughter to keep us warm.”

In many ways “Shards and Midden Heaps” is my favorite Shavings, starting with the Jean Shepherd references in my Editor’s Personal Note, where I brag about bowling a 600 series and pitching my softball team to a championship. On the cover are two all-time favorite students, Sam Barnett and Sarah McColly, who contributed memoirs. In my survey classes I used to spend ten minutes a week going back in history from the present to 1990, and for each year of the Nineties I’d read excerpts from a student story, including Marshall Lines talking a friend out of committing suicide and Anne Marie Laurel being thrown in jail for underage drinking to Samantha Han’s Band camp memories and Rebecca Irwin getting her tongue pierced. Among my favorites was Sandra Avila’s account of eighth grade experiences. At Hammond Eggers, she wrote, she and her best friends would squeeze into a photo booth at Woodmar Mall to take photos (sort of like Facebook now). When she began dating Daniel, she had to keep it from her parents. When Daniel gave her a dozen roses and some balloons on Valentine’s Day, she had to pop the balloons and squeeze the flowers into her back pack to avoid getting into trouble.

Always complimentary, Steve said I was fantastic last evening and he thought it was my best appearance yet. Got a call from librarian Anne Koehler, who ran into Sam Johnson, an old teammate of mine on Porter Acres softball team. Gave her my latest Shavings for him plus others that contained photos he’s in of our championship season and from a trip a dozen of us took to the Bahamas around 1979. He and Ivan Jasper took my then-ten year-old son Dave out golfing with them and let him drive the cart. He overturned it and didn’t suffer even a scratch, but they warned him if he told Toni and me about it, they’d kill him. Dave told us the story 25 years later.

Ruth Needleman asked me to proofread an article about the 1919 Steel subtitled “An Untold Story of Solidarity Strike” that argues that in Gary African Americans supported the strike. Most accounts just talk about the bringing in of black strikebreakers, but she focused on two community leaders, Louis Caldwell and C.D. Elston, who spoke at mass meetings in favor of the union cause. Unfortunately, there isn’t much biographical material available about Caldwell and Elston.

Indiana Historical Society Press editor Teresa Baer had a couple queries about “Maria’s Journey,” which is nearing publication. She fine-tuned a chapter introduction dealing with the Red Scare and how it affected unions and had a question about information that appeared in the book I edited with Ed Escobar, “Forging a Community.” Teresa had sent both authors Ray and Trish Arredondo and myself the photo captions, which contained virtually no errors.

People say Facebook can be addicting, and it is amazing how becoming friends with one person can link you to so many others. Granddaughter Miranda has some great photos and posts, plus gets messages from my nieces Alexandria and Jacklyn, who have neat photos of their own. On one post Miranda said she “totally told Robbie off for dissing Owl City (my current favorite band whose CD I gave her dad and several others for Christmas).”

I went to see “Cop Out” with Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan despite Roger Ebert giving it a “thumbs down” review (he is getting pretty crotchety when it comes to comedies). Being a Willis fan from the “Die Hard” series and a Morgan fan from SNL and “The Office,” I thought the banter between the two cop characters quite witty. Some of the villains are quite scary, but a thief named Dave (Seann William Scott, most famous for “American Pie”) nearly steals the show, he is so hilarious. The Bruce Willis character Jimmy has a valuable 1952 baseball card of Andy Pafko stolen that he’d hoped to sell in order to pay for his daughter’s wedding. “Handy Andy” Pafko played for the Cubs before being traded to the Dodgers during the 1951 season.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I had a great time in Grand Rapids, Michigan, having traveled there with Toni for granddaughter Miranda's junior varsity basketball game. She was a tiger on defense, swished through a 17-foot shot, and threw a perfect pass to a teammate who scored her first points of the season. Afterwards, she took a photo for my Facebook with Phil's new computer, a group shot with her, Toni, and Victoria in it. Anthony showed me how he and Phil play computer chess, and Tori showed me her favorite YouTube sites. Delia prepared a meal featuring tilapia and also had some hot salsa on hand. Today at breakfast Miranda gave me a beautiful hand-made birthday card. After we got home, Alissa called from Michigan State to wish me a happy 68th. It’s hard to believe she’s graduating in a couple months. Her mom Beth sent me a CD by a group called Augustana. The song "California Burning" contains these lyrics: "I'm here wondering where the sun has gone/ Driving thru a midwest storm/ asking why no one's home."

Now that I know how to access my Facebook, I came to find I have 15 “friends,” including high school classmates, relatives, former students, buddies from graduate school days at Maryland, and former IUN colleagues. Several other people, including some I don’t know or can’t recall, want to be my friend. It’s a little overwhelming. Daughter-in-law Delia has 184 friends, including many people who in the near future might be mutual friends, if I get hooked. Also sites called and MyLife keep telling me that all sorts of people are trying to get in touch with me, but those sites cost money. Besides, anyone who really wants to find me can Google my name and find me at IUN’s History Department site or on my blog.

When I tried to do my first shared Facebook posting, I was told my remarks used too many characters. As my blog readers already know, I can be wordy. Mentioned to Pam Rudolph that I has started a Facebook, and she replied that Facebook was for kids. I told her,"Believe it or not, many of our U.D. classmates have Facebook pages, including Pat Zollo (who’d have thought), Wayne Wylie, Joe and Barbara Ricketts, Joe Pollard, Phil Arnold, Bruce Allen, and Leelee Minehart. Probably others as well."

I finished another Anne Tyler novel called “Morgan’s Crossing.” Midway through the book, this fetching, oddball character commences an affair with Emily, a married woman 21 years his junior. I was disappointed at the turn of events but it turned out for the best for Emily, whom the book is as much about (her search to find herself). Near the end of the book Morgan’s old spouse Bonny put Morgan’s obit in the newspaper, even though he was still alive. Morgan is one of Tyler’s most memorable characters, eccentric like so many of her other creations and both endearing and annoying.

I’m involved in book projects with members of the two most prominent Mexican-American families in Northwest Indiana, the Arredondos and the Dominguez family, specifically Sheriff Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez, who because of term limits cannot run for re-election and is considering a run for Indiana governor in 2012. Meanwhile the 2010 local elections are interesting. Hours before the deadline for filing in Indianapolis, Judge Lorenzo Arredondo suddenly announced he would not be seeking another term. He intended that the timing would prevent anyone but his choice to succeed him from being able to file (a tactic Senator Evan Bayh used successfully a few weeks ago). Sheriff Dominguez got wind of the scheme and was able to get his nephew, Alex Dominguez on the primary ballot.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Aspire Charter School

Talked to third graders last Friday at Aspire Charter Academy, a K through 8 school located on Gary’s west side. One of 61 schools launched by a group called National Heritage Academies (the first one opened in 1995 in Grand Rapid, Michigan, where son Philip lives), Aspire is sponsored by Ball State University, David Letterman’s alma mater. At the school office I had to get out my driver’s license and put it into a machine to make sure I wasn’t registered as a sex offender. Then the machine took my picture (not a good one) for me to wear like a nametag.

Invited as part of Black History month to talk about Gary’s history, I came armed with a dozen 8 by 10 photos starting with Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who traded with Potawatomi Indians and lived in Northwest Indiana before founding the first permanent settlement in Chicago and ending with a 2005 dance workshop at Emerson School for the Visual and Performing Arts. I found Ms. Melissa Jung’s room (actually an aide walked me to Room 13) and was introduced to about 15 neatly dressed (the kids wear uniforms), curious, well-behaved third graders. I was about to get started when Ms. Jung indicated several additional classes would be joining the group. Shades of 1976 when I was invited to talk to a History class at Lew Wallace High School and ended up being the featured speaker in an auditorium in front of the entire student population at their Friday afternoon assembly. They were celebrating Diversity Week. I went on first, and then the fun entertainment was scheduled to begin. My plan was to talk about four people from Gary – a Slovak woman, a Mexican-American man, a Croatian woman, and African-American mayor Richard Hatcher. I paused after the third one, and somebody clapped. Then a few more people started clapping facetiously, as if to get me to stop. I said, “I’m almost done” and that got a large round of applause. Needless to say, I hurried through my remarks about Hatcher.
With more than 50 kids seated on the floor in front of me, Ms. Jung suggested that we show the photos on a large overhead projector. Though practical, the effect was to make some of the details fuzzy. The kids were great, but with dozens of hands going up, it was hard to achieve the intimacy possible in a small group. The kids stayed enthusiastic, but some spoke so softly that I had to be practically in their ear to understand them, half-deaf as I am. I was impressed that most students guessed that du Sable was a French name. When I told them he was from Haiti, virtually all were familiar with the recent earthquake.

One photo that fascinated them showed Froebel students outside reading from books, including an African-American kid. They wanted to know why they were outside and whether the books were readers or song books. It gave me a chance to mention how Froebel School was once world-famous as an example of Superintendent William A. Wirt’s work-study-play program of progressive education. Viewing a photo of mothers and babies posed in front of Stewart Settlement House during the 1930s and learning these were members of the Better Baby Club, they had interesting comments on what a Better Baby Club might be for. Several had heard of settlement director Frank S. Delaney because there is a housing project named for him. Another photo showed black and white kids sleeping in a cabin. They were members of a WW II school organization, the All-Out Americans, who were being honored for being leaders within their schools. AOA director Mark Roser took a lot of flak from segregationists for planning an integrated sleepover, but he believed that American needed to practice what it preached while battling the Nazis. One third grader asked whether they were in a log cabin (they were). Another wondered why two girls seemed to be occupying the same bed (just for purposes of posing for the photo, I answered). Sadly, when I showed a photo of Richard Gordon Hatcher celebrating with campaign workers on election night, few seemed to know who America’s first black mayor was. All in all, it was a fun experience.

Aspire is just one of several Gary charter schools. Thea Bowman Academy is a junior-senior high school with a formidable basketball team. Ron Cohen has been involved with an elementary school called Charter School of the Dunes. Then there are a couple Gary Lighthouse schools. While these must have eased the funding crisis city school districts like Gary face, I worry that if the most gifted and motivated kids from stable goal-oriented families go to these schools, won't it further erode the quality of the traditional schools as well as undermine union gains?

To change the subject, Portage Historical Society officer Barbara Borg-Jenkins emailed me that the woman who identified herself as Sherril Tokarski’s sister last week when I talked to the group was in fact named Linda and therefore the woman whose husband died in Vietnam. Barb added: “My daughter, Stephanie Byarlay, was also in one of your classes. You did one on Vietnam. I wanted to attend and observe at least one class with her, but never got the chance. We received a lot of positive feedback from the members after you left. Everyone enjoyed your talk very much. Thank you so much for doing this.”

Don’t recall Barb’s daughter Stephanie but if I found her in my grade book it might come to me. Last week Paul Nelson, who did a documentary on Cedar Lake that I was part of, visited the Archives with an intern named Sarah Holst. She looked familiar and said she had a summer course with me on the Seventies, and I apologized for not remembering her. Then I got out my gradebook, and I could even recall where she sat, near Alex Passo, the son of friends of ours. She hopes to do a documentary on the history of WYIN, so I sent her this email: “Dear Sarah, It was nice to see you again at the Archives. I do remember you now – it just takes me time to visualize my old courses and the students in them. In your Summer class, for instance, an old softball teammate of mine, Steve Kokos was always bringing me and/or the class things to read or watch – he was so enthusiastic about our doing Seventies popular culture. Then there was Nursing student Kim Holland, who made a double CD of John Prine’s greatest hits for me. I could go on and on. The reason for this e-mail has to do with your project. My son Phil worked for Channel 56 after he graduated from IU in the early 1990s and might be a good source for you if you wanted to interview him. The pay at the station was very poor (just a small step above an internship), but Phil got an opportunity to do all sorts of things, from directing the news to doing high school football games. The experience led to his getting his present job at a PBS station in Grand Rapids, Michigan, WGVU (it’s connected with Grand Valley State University) where he has gone on to win two EMMYs. I could give you his e-mail address if you like and once winter is over he comes back to the Region from time to time. Sincerely, Jim Lane”

Toni and I looked at several houses over the weekend. One in Miller near the lake would be great if it had a garage, no septic tank, a dining room, a larger and more accessible lot, and wasn’t so expensive. I also loved a tri-level in Chesterton, but Toni pointed out that it didn’t have a foyer or a short path from the garage to the kitchen (for lugging groceries) and is hoping for a ranch type all on one floor with a finished basement and under $200,000. We saw one with a huge unfinished basement but it, too, wasn’t perfect and needed sidewalk repairs and was close to neighbors who had a trampoline setup just on the other side of the fence. So the search continues.

Played bridge Saturday with Dick and Cheryl Hagelberg, first time we saw them since our return from California and their return from New York. We had grandkids James and Rebecca because Dave and Angie attended the Purdue-Illinois game (Boilermaker star E’Traun Moore went to East Chicago Central, where Dave teaches). We all had Chinese food from Wing Wah and then the kids played Wii games. After we finished cards, I turned on the Olympics and we saw Apolo Ohno win a bonze medal. Normally I’m not a chauvinist when it comes to rooting for American athletes, but I like Ohno, an old vet and 2007 “Dancing with the Stars” winner who counts on guile to defeat rivals. A few days earlier he won a silver after two Koreans wiped out on the final turn. His opponents in this race were two Koreans and two Canadian brothers, who started out in the lead. When Ohno tried to pass them, one brother nudged him and threw him off his stride. The two Koreans at this point burst into the lead. Ohno recovered and crossed the finish line inches ahead of the Canadians.

Page 1 of today’s Post-Tribune has a full=page photo of a scrapbook sent to the Archives by people who rescued it from the trash. It contains letters a WW II veteran from Gary, Irwin Fann, sent to his parents. Sadly Fann was killed during a bombing mission over Norway. Steve McShane worked hard to get the scrapbook for the Archives and is in a second photo on page 3. Writer Jerry Davich was interviewing Steve last week, and we gave him our book “Skinning Cats” containing letters from Seabee Tom Krueger, another Gary native. During the summer of 1984 the National Park Service had scheduled for demolition the Krueger house, which was located near ours within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. My wife Toni discovered the letters in shoeboxes and scattered on the garage floor. They evidently had been in a footlocker that somebody had taken. We eventually located Krueger and received his permission to publish them in a book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Portage Historical Society

I spoke to about 25-30 members of the Portage Historical Society last evening. First I told them about how Steel Shavings magazine got started (to publish family histories written by IUN students and record other aspects of social life in the Calumet Region). Then I mentioned what went into the Portage issue (volume 20) that came out in 1991, including articles and interviews some of my seminar students did as well as interviews I conducted with politicians Cortie Wilson and William Westergren. I recruited 18 Historical Society members to read quotes from old-timers who had been interviewed by Portage High School students in 1981 about life during World War I and the 1920s. Passing out magazines with the various people’s lines marked with red ink, I told the volunteers they could keep the magazine when we were done, an incentive that apparently worked.

Before the group performance, former student and friend Bruce Sawochka read an excerpt from his article “Portage in Three Stages of Its Growth.” In between the “Pioneer Era” and the “Big Bang Period” starting in the 1950s were the quiet years of farms, villages such as Crisman, McCool and Garyton, and one-room schoolhouses. I got chuckles mentioning that one teacher was also a preacher and closed school on funeral days but then made students make the day up on Saturday. The reading experiment went very well with people almost always talking loud enough and picking up on their cues (I was well organized, having employed this method of shared participation in talks about the city of Gary). When I had run out of male volunteers, Lois Mollick offered to assume the role of Marvin Guernsey and drew laughs when she read his lines with a deep voice. One woman turned out to be the granddaughter of one of the Anderson brothers, Elmer and Walter. Elmer recalled: “I got a job working in the mill before we had the eight-hour day. I worked in the mill nights, and then in the daytime I worked on the farm.”

During the question period I mentioned that I lived in Portage but that my neighborhood, Edgewater, was disappearing because it was within the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. When someone asked about the big slide in Ogden Dunes during the Twenties, I replied that one could read about it in my “Tales of Lake Michigan and the Indiana Dunelands” issue (volume 28). I also got in a plug for Ron Cohen and Steve McShane’s book on South Shore posters, “Moonlight in Duneland: The Illustrated History of the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad” One man said he was thinking about writing a book about stories from his years working at U.S. Steel, and I encouraged him and told him about Richard Dorson’s book “Land of the Millrats” and my Shavings volume (no. 19) on “Steelworkers Tales.”

I had spoken to the group in 2006 when my “Centennial History of Gary” came out. Lois Mollick remembered me and told the group that she had been interviewed by two of my students (excerpts appeared in my Postwar issue “Age of Anxiety” (volume 34). Turns out she and a friend skipped school to see Frank Sinatra sing at a Tolerance concert held at Gary’s Memorial Auditorium during the 1945 Froebel School Strike. Someone else reported seeing Nat King Cole perform with his trio at Memorial Auditorium. I took that opportunity to mention that African-American celebrities often went to Midtown for ribs at Mae’s Louisiana Kitchen but that Roosevelt principal Theo Tatum thought the place to be disreputable and prohibited his teachers from frequenting Mae’s because he thought it would reflect badly on the school’s image.

Afterwards helped myself to some of the many cookies on hand and chatted with Barb Borg-Jenkins, the South Haven librarian who had originally invited me to talk. She had read about Ronald Osgood’s “My Vietnam Your Iraq” documentary on my blog and hopes to purchase a copy after it is completed. Another Historical Society officer told me that her sister had done an article for my “Brothers in Arms” issue. Turned out she was referring to Sherril Tokarski, one of my all-time favorite students, who also wrote about a family grocery store in Glen Park for my 1980s issue (volume 38), “The Uncertainty of Everyday Life.” (the title was fitting, as the store was robbed several times during the decade) As I was leaving, Barb Borg-Jenkins said, “Come back any time.” I was flattered and pleased with how everything went. I think at least two folks are planning a visit to the Archives.

My first Shavings issue was just 40 pages long while volume 40 is more than seven times as thick at 304 pages. The Portage issue, 96 pages, was the first to have a spine (not until volume 23 was there writing on the spine, however) and one of the last pre-computer issues that had to be retyped and therefore re-proofread by the printer. As Bruce Sawochka was finishing the reading the paragraph I had assigned him, he said at loud, “This is quite good.” That was also my feeling when going through the entire magazine. There are articles covering work experiences, school activities, church functions, July Fourth celebrations, Little League, Girl Scouts, trailer court life, the Bonner Center for senior citizens, and much more. In my “Editor’s Personal Note” I mentioned playing softball for Porter Acres at Woodland Park (its clubhouse was the site of the History Society meeting), taking my mother-in-law Blanche to play bingo in a church basement, and watching my granddaughter Alissa do puzzles at the public library.

Back home, I opened “Brothers in Arms” to Sherril Tokarski’s article, which dealt with her brother-in-law Charles Hubert Stanley being in a three-day battle in Vietnam during the Tet offensive. The sister I met seemed too young to have been married in 1967, but who knows? In his last letter to his wife Linda the young first lieutenant said he looked forward to seeing her soon on R and R in Hawaii. Then Sherril writes: “March 1968 – a green car arrives at our home. The soldiers inform my sister that her husband was killed. A defective grenade in his ammo pouch exploded while he was waiting for a chopper to airlift him out of the field at Binh Long province.” Sherril adds: “A young man died far from home for a lie delivered to all Americans by those we trusted. He never got a chance to buy his first home, hold his first child, have the great pride in his children, hold his grandchildren, and grow old or even middle aged. It has been 40 years since he died in that far away place, but he has not been forgotten. We are proud of you and will always love you.”

David Malham sent me two emails, a link to an Esquire article about film critic Roger Ebert called “The Essential Man” and a plea to sign a petition protesting the History Channel’s plans to show a scabrous biopic of John F. Kennedy next year on the fiftieth anniversary of his election as President. Got a call from Post-Tribune reporter Andy Grimm soliciting my reaction to the Gary Library Board changing the name of the Ora Wildermuth Miller branch to Carter Woodson, thereby honoring “the father of Negro History.” A couple years ago a historiancame across and published racist letters Wildermuth, Gary’s first librarian, wrote to IU President Herman Wells while he was on IU’s Board of Trustees opposing integration of dorms. Wildermuth argued that it would lead to intermarriage and that would be horrible. While Grimm mentioned that Wildermuth’s views were no different than most whites of his time, I told him I agreed with the Board’s decision.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Culinary Arts

Went out to eat this past weekend more times than in an average month. On Thursday granddaughter Rebecca called to invite us to help celebrate her being named student of the month. At first she wanted to go to Cici’s Pizza buffet but then decided she wanted ribs, so we went to Longhorn Steak House near Portage’s Bass Pro Shop. I was expecting peanut shells on the floor, but Longhorn’s was quite classy, and my 18-ounce steak was delicious and so plentiful I had leftovers enough for lunch the next two days.

On Saturday evening son Dave was honored at a banquet sponsored by the LakeShore Chamber of Commerce (formed as a result of a merger between the Hammond and East Chicago’s chambers) and held at the Horseshoe Casino’s ballroom (the Venue). It was my first visit to a Northwest Indiana “boat” and to get to the Venue we passed through very crowded gaming rooms (there might be a recession going on but you’d never know it, at least this Saturday evening). There was an open bar, and we were seated at a table next to Hammond teacher of the year Allen Bild, a friendly fellow who teaches Culinary Arts at the Hammond Career Center (formerly Hammond Tech). Also at our table were Purdue Calumet chancellor Howard Cohen and his wife, who were very pleasant and sociable. Dave had been interviewed on tape previously, and when the winners of the awards (policemen and firemen were also honored), they played excerpts from the interviews on a big screen. It was quite impressive. After dinner a 10-piece band played dance music and during their breaks a deejay put on songs that lent themselves to people doing the electric slide and whatever else is presently in vogue.

Toni’s birthday falls on Valentine’s Day, and she usually prefers not venturing out among the throngs but I talked her into going to The Bistro in Valparaiso at 4 p.m. with Dave and Angie. Last year daughter-in-law Beth gave Toni a hundred-dollar Bistro coupon that was due to expire soon, and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal and the excellent service. The crab cake appetizer was as delicious as the ones at the Miller Bakery Cafe. I had the lamb stroganoff plus various bites of crab cake and steak that Dave and Angie ordered. They got the two-person Valentine’s special, which came with a delicious dessert sampler we all shared. Once again I needed a doggie bag and probably brought home more stroganoff than I consumed, having pigged out on rolls and salad. Toni described to us what a sous chef is. Rather than just some underling who chops and peels, he is second in command to the head chef and in charge of things in the chief honcho's absence. For instance Bakery Cafe chef Gary Sanders might plan the menu and order the ingredients but often lets a sous chef handle on the scene operations. With the recent demise of longtime Miller restaurants Ming Ling and Beach Cafe as well as short-lived ventures Four Four Four and La Dolce Vita the Bakery Cafe has the local fine dining field virtually to itself.

My Nineties Steel Shavings issue, “Shards and Midden Heaps,” contains an article by Daniel Gesmond entitled “Culinary World.” While in high school, the author worked for a catering chef aptly named John Cook. Then he worked at The Spa, my family’s favorite eatery when Phil and Dave were young (especially the Friday buffet with crab legs). While working at the fancy Brio Restaurant at the Blue Chip Casino, Gesmond spent a year as a student at the Chicago Cooking and Hospitality Institute but then gave up his ambition to be a chef, burned out and, as he put it, “sick of smelling like food even after a shower.”

For lunch today the venue was the IU Northwest cafeteria with “the boys.” Geology professor Kristen Huysken joined the table and someone asked her about the 4-point earthquake that many of us felt a few days ago at four in the morning. She said that scientists don't know that much about that particular fault and minor quakes enable them to learn new things. With Biology professor Amy Bishop killing three colleagues at the University of Alabama at Huntsville being the big story in the news, Alan Lindmark made a joke about professors shooting colleagues who deny them tenure. Last year Mondays usually featured tacos, but today I went with the chicken salad and bread. Reminds me of the LBJ quote: “Gentlemen, I may not know much, but I know chicken shit from chicken salad.” He also said that in politics, “overnight chicken shit can turn into chicken salad.” Unlike JFK, whose salty language usually referenced sexual activities, LBJ’s preferred words that referred to bathroom functions.

English professor Alan Barr teaches a film class and invites the faculty to view the Monday film, which today was the 1967 film “Belle de Jour” directed by Luis Brunuel and starring the great Catherine Deneuve. The title literally means “daylight beauty” and is the name of a flower, a morning glory, that only blooms in the daytime. It’s about Severine, a mixed up married woman who has masochistic nightmares and goes to work as a prostitute afternoons from two to five, calling herself Belle de Jour. In a flashback it appears that the woman was molested as a child and associates sex with sin. French movies usually go over my head, and this one was no exception. One man takes her to his estate, has her get into a coffin dressed as his dead wife, and afterwards a servant kicks her out in the rain. While in the brother Severine meets a young gangster who seems to cure her of her frigidity but then in a possessive rage shoots her husband. Young and sexy in this movie, Deneuve was still sexy 25 years later in the classic movie “Indochine,” scenes of which I used to show in my Vietnam War class.

Alan wrote a question on the board that students were expected to answer by Wednesday. It had to do with how the director used Deneuve’s body parts and clothing symbolically. In the course of being a prostitute she went from being reluctant to disrobe to stripping without a second thought. Similarly, once she starts getting comfortable with sex she literally lets her prim and proper hair down. There isn’t any frontal nudity (had the movie been made a year or two later it would have been de rigeur), but we see Deneuve’s ass as she walks to get into the duke’s coffin in a see-through outfit. In the film’s most shocking scene, the duke’s servant throws her out into the rain as if she were a lowlife slut, messing up her carefully made up face and hair.

News flash: Indiana Senator Evan Bayh just announced he won't run for another term as Senator in the fall. Is he scared of the Republicans or what? He blames a "dysfunctional Congress." Former Senator Dan Coats recently announced he'd run as a Republican but has lived out of state for several years. Bayh looked unbeatable, but then so did his dad 30 years ago when Dan Quayle defeated him. The timing of the announcement is suspicious. Would-be Democratic candidates now only have a very short time 24 hours - to gather 500 signatures from all of Indiana's Congressional districts, otherwise the party's central committee will select the nominee. Bayh might have done it with a successor in mind for the central committee to rubber stamp.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crazy Heart

Went to see "Crazy Heart" with Jeff Bridges on Monday. Beforehand, had lunch with the IU Northwest regulars. Bill Dorin had seen Robert Downy, Jr., in “Sherlock Holmes” the night before. I saw it with Toni and the Migoskis in California and thought it funny. George Bodmer said that Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock in 14 movies starting in 1939, made an appearance at an assembly at his high school in Cincinnati. Arrived at the Portage movie theater ten minutes early so watched the beginning of “Dear John,” which deals with a soldier home on leave and appears to be one to miss.

“Crazy Heart,” the tale of a down-on-his-luck, alcoholic 57 year-old country singer named Bad Blake, was fabulous. You got to love the charming Bridges, even when he is crashing his ’78 Silverado (“Old Betsy”) or puking his guts out into a trash can (then puts his hand in it to retrieve his sun glasses). Robert Duvall shines as his buddy and Colin Farrell as onetime protégé-now country star Tommy Sweet, but love interest Maggie Gyllenhaal almost steals the show as a young reporter with a four year-old kids torn between her head and her heart. The music is fantastic and songwriter T-Bone Burnett has been nominated for for an Oscar along with bridges and Gyllenhaal.

Called up Gaard Logan, Terry Jenkins, Josef Robinson, and David Malham and told them to go see “Crazy Heart.” David is a real movie buff who would love to write reviews and works for MADD. I told them his organization would love the movie’s message but refrained from giving any of the plot away. Nephew Joe celebrates his twenty-first birthday Saturday. His mom Andrea doesn't want him to see it because of the drunk scenes, but the flick has a good ending in terms of sending a message about alcoholism.

Have been shoveling snow for the past two days. The 15 or so inches were a minor inconvenience compared to the monster blizzard that hit the east coast, shutting down airports and the federal government for days. Staying home, I finished Gore Vidal’s “The Golden Years,” which is very critical of FDR for manipulating the country into WW II and Truman for Cold War measures that took away freedom of speech and made the U.S. a national security state permanently on a war footing. Oddly, Vidal puts himself into the novel when dealing with the New York City postwar Arts scene. I preferred Burr and Lincoln but enjoyed it.

House hunting is going slowly. Here in Northwest Indiana not many homes are designed for codgers like us. I liked one in Chesterton that was “too much house” for Toni and had dead trees in the back yard. The homes she has taken us past seem more appropriate as starter homes for young marrieds.

Told Paul Kern that I’m lined up to talk to the Hobart Kiwanis, the Portage Historical Society, a third grade class for Black History month, and Steve’s Indiana class, so I don’t miss not being in the classroom on a regular basis. Talking to third graders will be a challenge. years ago, I taught Gary History for IUN's Kids College. Any time I started to lecture eyes glazed over. My plan is to take with me about a dozen pictures, starting with Haitian-born fur trader Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, who married a Potawatomi Indian and lived in Northwest Indiana before moving to Chicago, and get the kids to talk about them. I was slightly disappointed when I ran into Nicole Anslover that she didn't invited me to speak to her class on the 1920s and 1930s although last semester after my appearance in her 60s class she said I could come back whenever I wanted. I told her about Bill Moyer's documentary on the Twenties that was part of his "Walk Through the Twentieth Century" series.

Monday, February 1, 2010

My Vietnam Your Iraq

Ronald J. Osgood of IU’s Department of Telecommunications sent me a screening copy of his documentary “My Vietnam Your Iraq.” It’s a documentary about eight parents whose sons or daughters have served in Iraq. Earlier, Osgood, a Vietnam vet, had requested a copy of “Brothers in Arms” and especially liked the interviews with E. Everett McFall and Omar Farag. I watched Osgood’s 61-minute film on Saturday and found it to be awesome. One guy talked about going berserk upon hearing that his son had been killed, knocking down a wall full of awards and plaques. Osgood did such a good job I’m hoping to interest him in helping me put together a documentary about IU’s FACET program and its charismatic founder Eileen J. Bender. Tome and Aaron from Instructional Media Services have finished editing the DVD of my December interview of Bender in South Bend.

Played a board game called Small World with Dave and Tom Wade that I had played once before at Halberstadt Game Weekend. You try to conquer territory with a combination of races (dwarves, trolls, ghouls, sorcerers, etc.) and abilities such a flying, pillaging, and the like. It has potential to join out three favorites, Amun Re, St. Petersburg, and Acquire, in heavy rotation.

Looked at a book Kim and Terry Hunt sent us called “The Art of Frank V. Dudley” featuring his Dunes paintings as well as four interesting essays, including one by “Sacred Sands” author Ron Engel and his wife about Dudley’s efforts to save the Northwest Indiana dunes. The book served as a catalogue published simultaneously with a 2006 exhibition at Valparaiso University’s Brauer Museum. In my retirement journal I talked about Dudley being honored with a plaque at the Lake County Tourist Bureau’s Wall of Fame along with boxer Tony Zale and actor Karl Malden. Coincidentally the Post-Trib had an article about a Miller resident, Jim Nowacki, who wants to retrieve a 1927 Dudley painting entitled “Landing the Fishing Boat” from the Indiana State Museum. Evidently it was donated to the city of Gary (I think to the Gary schools and was part of the art collection at Emerson School) but somehow got waylaid and ended up in Indianapolis.

The Sunday Post-Trib has a Jeff Manes SALT article about 80 year-old retired East Chicago librarian Gloria Dosen. Her dad worked for Inland Steel, and when she was eight years old she witnessed Chicago police firing at picketers in front of Republic Steel, something that became known as the Memorial Day Massacre. She’s lived in the same house on Olcott Avenue since 1951 and told Jeff, “My son and daughter know they’ll never get me out of here. I’ll stay here till they wheel me away.”

The GRAMMY awards show was worth staying up for even though Phoenix (winners of the best alternative album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) didn’t perform. What got most attention was a Cirque du Soleil-like performance by scantily-clad Pink doing “Glitter in the Air” and a 3-D tribute to Michael Jackson after which his kids Paris and Prince spoke. My favorite moments were Lady Gaga and Elton John teaming up to her song “Speechless” and Taylor Swift doing a few bars of “Rhiannon” with Stevie Nicks, even though the 20 year-old, perhaps awed by her duet partner, appeared to be a little off key.

Interviewed Lake County’s sheriff for almost two hours. He has patched up relationships with two old political enemies, both of whom are seeking his support in the upcoming election. He might want some of the criticism of the two softened in the nearly completed autobiography am helping him with. George Bodmer is getting around campus with a walker after being hit by a car crossing Broadway on his way to a parking lot last December and having his knee all smashed up. He thanked me for sending him the Anne Tyler book "Digging to America" while he was in the hospital.

I’ve been helping Eva Mendieta, who teaches in IUN’s department of Foreign Languages, edit a long articles she did about an East Çhicago mutual aid society named after Mexican-American hero Benito Juarez. In 1957 it was one of three organizations that merged to form the UBM (Union Benefica Mexicana), which is still in existence even though its clubhouse burned down a couple years ago. Came to find out that Eva has a new book out called “In Search of Catalina de Erauso: The National and Sexual Identity of the Lieutenant Nun.” The seventeenth-century Basque heroine was a swashbuckling transvestite who led an unbelievable life. Must check it out. It was once my goal to teach a summer course at the Basque university of Bilbao where Eva is from, which is a kind of sister school to IUN.