Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Strange Roads

I just returned from East Lansing, where Toni and I attended granddaughter Alissa’s senior art show, entitled “Strange Roads” and featuring nine large photo compilations that seamlessly grafted together several landscape scenes. As she said, none are real places but imaginary blendings of fond memories of the past. One of them, entitled "New Water," for example, combined a scene of Niagara Falls (where we all went a year ago) with a waterfall we took her and Miranda to the summer before. Two of the photos contained scenes from near our house, one of the woods (entitled "Between Trails") and the other of the Lake Michigan dunes. She managed to get each of her three siblings in a piece. She also made use of photos that she took while in Scotland. Her four housemates were all there and happy to see us. They are hoping to tour Europe together this summer. I talked with three of Alissa’s professors, who were very complimentary about her talent, and several of her friends, including a guy named Sean, who told Toni and me that we reminded him of his own grandparents, who he had been very close to while they were alive.

Before the show I looked through one of housemate Bree’s (same name as the Jane Fonda character in “Klute”) textbooks, an anthology entitled “Race, Class and Gender in the United States.” It included an interview that my favorite oral historian Studs Terkel did with C. B. Ellis, a former Klansman who came to admire Martin Luther King and worked on behalf of poor Black people. Ellis, who died in 2005, said, “It finally came to me that I had more in common with poor black people than I did with rich white ones.” Terkel later said that the Ellis interview confirmed his optimism about the human condition by showing that people can change their minds.

On the way to IU Northwest for a pre-tenure meeting (a new yearly procedure the university has set up to weed out underachieving faculty) I heard Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” on the car radio. I am a big fan of the Detroit rocker, and his music especially lends itself to being played loud while driving. Two of my favorites are “Hollywood Nights” and “Roll Me Away.” "Night Moves" conjures up images of making out at the drive-in, a favorite pastime of teenagers of my era.

Out past the cornfields when the winds got heavy
Out in the back seat of my '60 Chevy
Workin' on mysteries without any clues
Workin' on our night moves
Tryin' to make some front page drive-in news.

Until the summer after I graduated from Upper Dublin High School in 1960 most of my drive-in exploits were either with a bunch of guys or with girls who didn’t want to move to the back seat. I tended to ask younger girls out and was too insecure to try to date people my age that I would have preferred such as Gaard Murphy, Judy Jenkins or Pam Tucker. One time Ronnie Hawthorn and I tried to sneak in by hiding in Pete Drake’s trunk. Pete opened the trunk in sight of the ticket booth, so we were busted. They tried to make us pay double but settled on just charging us regular price. After I started dating Toni in the summer of 1962 (having met her at a Philadelphia law firm where she was a secretary and I a “mail room boy”), I recall taking her to the Paul Newman movie “Hud” at the 309 Drive-In and missing much of the action. When Patricia Neal won an Academy Award, I could barely remember what role she played. One time we parked in a long driveway leading the the Van Sant farm, and Fort Washington’s Chief Ottinger, the father of high school class mate Alice, interrupted us. Since Toni lived in Philadelphia, I found it difficult to find out-of-the-way places near her neighborhood. Once we were cuddled up and heard a train whistle getting louder and louder. The locomotive passed within a few yards of where we were in my ’56 Buick.

I awoke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in.

With autumn closing in and I was due back in school at Bucknell, Toni and I had one last date. On the car radio came Jimmy Charles’ “A Million to One,” and I got Toni to get out of the car and dance with me. Two years before I had gone off to college and promptly forgot my summer girlfriend. This time I missed her terribly, exchanged letters several times a week, and knew I was truly in love.

Ron Cohen loaned me “Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture” by Alice Echols, whose book “Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967-75” I read with interest several years ago. I was not into disco but have to admit I loved John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever” and the BeeGees songs and the Trammps’ “Disco Inferno” from the soundtrack. Two of the six chapters in Echols' book deal with the popularity of disco among gays, including “The Homo Superiors: Disco and the Rise of Gay Macho.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Bad to the Bone

On the day I was born
The nurses all gathered 'round
And they gazed in wide wonder
At the joy they had found
The head nurse spoke up
And she said "leave this one alone"
She could tell right away
That I was bad to the bone

On Thursday I received this sad news from high school classmate Pam Tucker: “I just read about Johnny Maestro, what a bummer. I just saw him a couple of months ago at Bowzer's Rock & Roll Party. He was terrific, he always had such a great voice (Sixteen Candles was my favorite song in high school). I replied: “I hadn’t heard about Johnny Maestro until you told me the sad news. I, too, loved “Sixteen Candles.” What a great song to slow-dance to and sing along with. It takes me back to the Upper Dublin sock hops.” Seventy year-old doo wop great Maestro recorded his great hit with the Crests before forming the band Brooklyn Bridge. What I wouldn’t give for another slow dance with my first serious girlfriend. I tried to get niece Lisa to go with me to see George Thorogood, one of her favorites rockers, but she was in Florida for her parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Friday I got 90 year-old Bill Neil to attend an IU Northwest Faculty Organization meeting as part of my ongoing heritage initiative. A bigwig from Bloomington, John Applegate, took up most of the two hours explaining the creation of a new regional campus bureaucracy that many faculty had questions about. I had told Chairman Chuck Gallmeier that we’d only take up five minutes so he moved us up on the agenda fortunately. I mentioned that 70 years ago Bill had received a degree from IUN’s predecessor, Gary College, that 60 years ago he started teaching at the downtown Gary Center, that 55 years ago he drew up the Faculty Org’s first constitution and then became its first chair, and that 50 years ago he was acting chancellor in charge of the campus. I drew laughs when I said that on a lesser note 40 years ago this month as Dean of Faculty he hired me. Ten years ago he attended a Faculty Org meeting to deliver a eulogy honoring President Herman Wells; he stayed for the entire meeting and later repeated the old French proverb, the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

After my intro Bill strode to the lectern like it was an old companion and said that after my remarks he felt like a museum piece. Then he said that it was the great German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who noted that for most actions there are stated reasons and real reasons. He noted that the stated reason he was there was on my invitation but the real reason was that he missed the collegiality he so much cherished from his tears at IUN. He was great. Afterwards Education professor Vernon Smith told him he was a former student and that Bill had had a huge impact on him. Bill remembered Vernon, who has gone on to become a school principal and state representative. What Bill said about enjoying colleague’s company reminded me of a WW II vet interviewed years later who recalled how at war’s end there was one final parade and afterwards the soldiers were so elated never to have to do that again. An old soldier told them there’d come a time when they’d miss the camaraderie and look back on this day with nostalgia. Indeed Bill, a WW II bombardier, has attended reunions and kept in touch with old comrades.

I had hoped to see “Runaways” or “Greenberg” at the movies, but they haven’t come to NW Indiana yet so settled for “Hot Tub,” which starred John Cusack and got a review of three stars in the paper. It was gross but funny with lots of 80s music and fashions. Geek-looking actor Clark Duke hangs with these older guys, one of whom tries to get him into a three-way. In another scene it appears that one guy, after losing a bet, will have to give a buddy a bj. The second guy passed out and wakes up to see what appears to be semen all over his buddy’s face. The buddy says something like, “Boy, were eating pineapple today” before admitting it was just soap. Afterwords I picked up CDs at Best Buy of MGMT and George Thorogood. The latter was titled “The Dirty Dozen” and had both classics and new recordings of hard rocking blues. The song “Hey Little Girl,” a tribute to Chuck Berry, opened with a guitar riff from “Johnny B. Goode” and included bits from “Roll Over Beethoven.”

Saturday I watched Butler University defeat Kansas State to reach the NCAA Final Four before catching George Thorogood at the Star Plaza in Merrillville. He was tremendous doing all his big hits, including “Bad to the Bone,” “Move It On Over,” and “Who Do You Love.” Young women were dancing suggestively in the aisles, and the place was packed (so was the men’s bathroom, causing someone to start cracking prostate jokes). Sunday I had a good gaming day, winning three of six, and then had a great salmon dinner at Hagelbergs before playing 24 hands of bridge.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Birthday Bash

Last evening Toni and I went to Lake County Roy Dominguez’s Birthday Bash at Avalon Manor in Merrillville. I’ve been working on a book project with the sheriff for nearly a year now, and it was fun to observe him greet the many guests and perform in front of the crowd. Earlier in the week he had brought to the Archives all sorts of photos, family Christmas cards, flyers, literature, and other campaign memorabilia, including decks of cards, buttons, writing pads, and even an umbrella. I had met his wife Betty before, but I got to meet his charming daughters Maria and Veronica for the first time, as well as his brother Jesse and his nephew Alex, who is a candidate for county judge in the May Democratic primary. The Fundraiser invite announced that hors d’oeuvres would be served, but there was a sumptuous buffet plus a dessert table. Roy’s mom, whom he describes as feisty, gave a brief but passionate speech. The guest speaker was USWA District 7 Director Jim Robinson, whose father-in-law Jim Balanoff was a crusading union leader a generation ago. He said it was unfair having to follow Roy’s mother. Roy himself was very dynamic and mentioned that in Kokomo someone on a newspaper editorial board mentioned that nobody from Lake County had ever been elected governor. He replied that nobody from Lake County had ever run for governor before but that was going to change. The crowd roared its approval. I enjoyed watching local politicians go from table to table, including Lake County Treasurer John Petalas, who was a student in my 1979 History of American Journalism class and editor of the student newspaper, the “Northwest Phoenix.” Several candidates to succeed Sheriff Dominguez were in attendance including onetime rival John Buncich.

Today I attended a Women’s Studies “Celebrating Our Students” conference. My buddy Anne Balay was one of the main organizers, and she mentioned that her youngest daughter designed the program, which featured Virginia Woolf on the cover. During the morning sessions eight IU Northwest students delivered papers. I especially enjoyed Nicole Yoder’s exploration of imagery in Wallace Stevens’ modernist poem “The Emperor of Ice cream.” It made no sense to me until Nicole explained that the “Emperor” stood for death. Also interesting was Catherine Brilmyer’s presentation on flooding in Ogden Dunes that occurred in the spring of 2009. Kathy Kwiatkowski discussed the silhouettes of black folks drawn by African American artist Kara Walker depicting antebellum days. Some critics have criticized her work as demeaning, but her message, I think, is that it was the institution of slavery that was demeaning, so she does not idealize her subjects, just the reverse. After lunch children’s book author Maiya Williams gave a fascinating talk and reading from her book “The Golden Hour.” She also wrote for various Hollywood shows including “Fresh Prince of Belair,” “Rugrats,”and “Mad TV.” Several people inquired about how ones goes about getting a book published ("get a good agent," was her advice) and about her writing habits. Maiya said she is a type A personality who can write for four hours or so while her kids are in school and then think about what she'll next put on paper the evening before so she's ready to go at 8 the next morning. I have gotten good at doing that, too.

On “Final Jeopardy” the category was animated movies, not a good one for me, but I thought I knew the answer – “Who Killed Roger Rabbit?” – only to find out that the proper title was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Somebody on the show made the same mistake. Last week the question had to do with the 39th and 40th states to join the union on the same day during Benjamin Harrison’s presidency. I correctly guessed North and South Dakota, but thought it was a tough question until discovering that all three contestants got it correct.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March Madness

The NCAA basketball tournament is underway, and two of my Final Four picks (I entered the Post-Tribune contest), Vanderbilt and Villanova, have already been eliminated. I picked Kentucky to beat Ohio State in the championship game and am still alive with them. Georgetown and favorite Kansas also stumbled, but two Indiana teams, Butler and Purdue (with East Chicago Central star E’Traun Moore) are in the Sweet Sixteen. The biggest remaining underdog is Cornel, with former IU star Randy Whitman’s son swishing three-pointers. While gaming yesterday with Tom and Dave I watched Michigan State beat my alma mater (PhD, Class of ’70) Maryland on a last second desperation shot. Alissa will be happy but probably was too busy working on her senior one-person senior show to have seen it. My favorite NCAA memories are 1987, when IU beat UNLV and then Syracuse on a last-second shot by Keith Smart, and 2002, when Maryland, led by Juan Dixon, defeated an IU team coached by Mike Davis. I started out rooting for IU but when the Terrapins led by 12 points near the end, I savored their victory.

At the high school level three Region teams – Gary Lew Wallace, Wheeler, and Gary’s Thea Bowman charter school - made it to the state finals in this the hundredth anniversary of Hoosier Hysteria.

I finished Anne Tyler’s novel “Saint Maybe” about Ian, a guy whose loose tongue causes his brother to commit suicide and then tries to atone for it by raising his widow’s three kids after she dies from an overdose of medicine. As in other books, Tyler tells the story from the point of view of several characters, and the novel is very much about Ian’s niece Daphne struggling to find herself. Ian’s dad Doug, a retired school teacher, struggles to fill up his days with things to do and is rather pathetic in a humorous way. Then there are a revolving door of Middle Eastern neighbors, students who are enamored with gadgets and speak fractured English but who are lovable in their own way and who Doug is more than willing to help out when they are in need of some practical home repair advice.

The Post-Trib’s cover story Sunday was the first in the series “City in Crisis.” The headline was “Gary’s Financial Woes May Be Unsolvable.” Reporter Jon Seidel identified me as “a longtime Gary historian” and quoted me as lamenting the tax breaks given to U.S. Steel and the lack of support from the Indiana General Assembly and Governor Mitch Daniels. I said that if Wall Street banks were considered too big to fail, “a proud city like Gary, in my opinion, is too big to fail.”

I had a fire going in the fireplace both Saturday and Sunday because the temperature got down into the low thirties. I’ll miss “real fires.” Our new condo has what I sometimes call a “fake” fireplace fueled by gas. While reading an article about Ben Stiller in the new Rolling Stone magazine (he’s in a must-see movie called “Greenberg”), there were references to one of my favorite 90s movies, “Reality Bites,” which Stiller directed and appeared in and which tries to capture the coming-of-age angst of so-called Generation Xers. I especially like the scene where Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Steve Zahn, and Janeane Garofalo are in a Seven Eleven store and the Garofalo character asks the man on duty to turn up the radio when she hears “My Sharona” by one-hit-wonders The Knack. As Ethan Hawke gets a pained look on his face, the three others start dancing to the music. The Knack’s Doug Fieger recently died of cancer. I decided to listen to my “Reality Bites” soundtrack CD, which leads off with “My Sharona.” Also on the CD are songs by Squeeze, U2, Crowded House, Lisa Loeb, and others, but my favorite is Lenny Kravitz’s “Spinning Around Over You.” Thirty years ago our neighbors’ youngest son, Grag Bernsten, would play “My Sharona” at a deafening volume as he washed his car.

Nephew Bob’s wife Niki gave birth to their second child, which they named Crosby (Bob is a big Pittsburgh Penguins fan whose star is Sidney Crosby). Niki has been sending pictures of daughter Addison, a real charmer, and sure enough an email containing a cute photo of Crosby awaited me when I arrived at my Archives computer.

In the news: The House finally passed the health care bill after President Obama signed an executive order banning federal funds for abortions. The Republicans acted like we are on the road to a socialist state even though, as Obama admitted it is a middle-of-the-road bill very similar to past Republican proposals. Their Tea Party shock troops were at Capital Hill shouting racist and homophobic insults at Representatives John Lewis and Barney Frank. One Congressman yelled out “Baby killer” during final debate and Minority Leader John Boehner kept saying “Hell no!”

I gassed up the Corolla on the way to school and said hello to the Middle Eastern lady – possibly Palestinian – who works at the Ogden Dunes Marathon station. Last year she told me I could pay with a credit card at the pump, and I replied, if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to wish you a good morning. She is very nice but still almost always says “debit or credit” when I go to slice my Discover Card.

Went to see “Green Zone” with Matt Damon, which follows a soldier in Iraq in 2003 who comes to realize that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) and that the dismantling of the Iraqi army had a horrendous effect on the country we invaded. The lesson: Iraqis have to decide the fate of their country, and we made a bad situation worse by posing as a champion of democracy.

Angie had us for a delicious dinner after which Rebecca was dancing in front of the mirror to a Miley Cyrus song. I joined her and got James to participate, at least to the extent of moving his shoulders up and down in time with the music.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Buying a Condo

Toni and my house-hunting saga appears to have come to a successful resolution. Because we had until October to vacate our home within the National Lakeshore, we were able to take our time plus we didn’t have to be simultaneously selling a house. We found a condo (a duplex) in Chesterton that has most everything we were looking for: master bedroom on the first floor, finished basement, two-car garage, no septic tank, foyer, skylights, no big yard to care for, and for good measure two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. It is close to 80/94 and Lake Michigan but in a fairly secluded area with an open area in back. The process of bidding on it and then going back and forth after the home inspection was rather tense but turned out all right. Doug at the IU Credit Union was a great help as was our agent Gloria Notaro. I was really tempted by a beautiful cabin in Miller north of Oak Street and built by Patrick Lee, but it was over $250,000, contained no garage or basement and had a septic tank. The last time we were house-hunting was 35 years ago. Moving to NW Indiana, not realizing that Miller was the place to live, we first rented a house in Ross Township (from a man in Texas who had hired lawyer and future Congressman Adam Benjamin to handle it for him; in his office was a plaque honoring him as Assyrian-American of the Year). Then we rented a Hoosier home at 337 Jay Street from Mike Lukovic, who loved us because his previous tenants were no-accounts who left a trail of creditors in their wake. We spent close to two years looking for a place to buy in Miller until we found our present house, which had a Miller mailing address and phone number but because it was a half-block into Porter County allowed us to pay much less for insurance.

Yesterday I emailed grad student Rich Balsano: “I enjoyed my time with you and Joe. When I was discussing the importance of decentralized citizen control of what once was called urban renewal, I meant to add that gentrification can be a mixed blessing at best if it forces out old residents, as has happened in places like Baltimore.” He replied: “Duly noted. Joe and I feel very fortunate that you took the time to discuss these issues with us, and even show us around town a bit. In my time in graduate school, it was certainly the most gracious interview I have participated in. Thanks again, and if there is ever anything I can do to help you out just let me know.” When I was a grad student my adviser Sam Merrill went out of his way to be helpful and introduce me to other historians when we were doing research at the Library of Congress. I recall being surprised when historian Elliott Rudwick appeared to be so interested in my findings about Jacob A. Riis.

I mailed a copy of my “Ides of March, 2003” Shavings (volume 36) to a friend of Sam Barnett’s who had read about it on his Facebook and a copy of the Seventies issue “Tie-Dyes and Color Lines” to “Facebook friend” David Cox, a student who wrote about his mother Beverly not even realizing she was pregnant until she went into labor with him. Twenty-four years before his mother gave birth to his brother Tom, and the doctor told her she could never again have children. In many ways the Seventies was my favorite decade, but, quoting Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, I warned readers in volume 29’s Editor’s Note: “The kids of today should defend themselves against the 70s! It ain’t reality, just someone else’s sentimentality.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Flamingo's Pizza in Gary's Miller Beach

Two UIC grad students, Rich Balsano and Joe Van Dyk, interviewed me at the Archives yesterday for a paper they’re doing about urban revitalization in Gary. I emphasized that urban planning ideally should be a decentralized process and involve the community. They looked at a couple Gary master plans that archivist Steve McShane had laid out for them and three books by Chilean photojournalist Camilo Vergara, including “The New American Ghetto.” When I pointed out photos Vergara had taken of the interior of City Methodist Church, they mentioned having viewed the ruins in person themselves. I mentioned how Vergara would visit Gary annually and photograph various abandoned buildings in order to document their decay and slow return to nature. Sometimes Camilo and I would go out together on jaunts and show each other out of the way places. For instance, he hadn’t known of the Swedish cemetery in Miller and I hadn’t been to an old German burial ground near Tolleston. One of my (and Camilo’s) favorite buildings is Four Brothers Grocery on East Twenty-First that was founded by four Palestinians a quarter-century ago who in turn sold it to another Palestinian set of brothers who still run it. One time I stopped in, and although it looked like an old-fashioned mom and pop store, the most popular items appeared to be cigarettes and lottery tickets.

I took Rich and Joe on a tour past several housing projects including the recently built Duneland Apartments in Miller, which was quite impressive, with an outdoor pool and a massive playground. On the way to IU Northwest, at my suggestion, they had visited the Horace Mann Apartments near Seventh and Adams. The half-century old Delaney project also looked to be well kept. The Gary Housing Authority, in my opinion, has done a good job providing for senior citizens (rehabbing, for instance, the old Gary Hotel into Genesis Towers) as well as poor people. Their hope with the newer apartments is to attract middle class families willing to pay fair market rent as well as providing subsidized housing. That was also the goal for Miller Village Apartments across County Line Road from where we live, and for a long time the plan seemed to work. At Marquette Park, looking out at Lake Michigan, Rich and Joe gawked at the distant mills and the Chicago skyline clearly visible. I showed them the house Patrick Lee built that I was tempted to bid on and the place Dave and Angie rented a decade ago that was but a hop, skip and jump from the beach and got sold to Chicagoans who mainly use it on weekends.

Rich had read “City of the Century” two years ago for another class and still recalled what I had written about pioneer Drusilla Carr and the Arlene Draves rape-murder case. I gave both of them “Gary’s First Hundred Years” and pointed out that my goal for the later chapters was hopefully to strike a balance between Gary’s problems and the resilience of its people and institutions. I told them the book had information on the urban revitalization efforts (called Gary Genesis) under Richard Hatcher, which might have succeeded in accomplishing more things had Republicans not been in power in Indianapolis and in Washington, DC, for most of his 20 years in office. Incidentally Mayor Hatcher’s 31 year-old daughter Ragen filed papers indicating that she plans to run for mayor next year.

Rich and Joe wanted to treat me to lunch, and Joe had already eaten at the Bakery Café, so after showing them some beachfront homes along Lake Shore Drive (the day was gorgeous, sunny with the temperature in the mid-sixties, and the winter ice mounds were still present but breaking up) we ended up at Flamingo’s. Once a pizza joint and smoky bar, under imaginative management it has become an “in” spot and expanded to include a nice dining area. On Thursdays we often order a carry-out pot roast meal for $7.95 that feeds two of us twice. The last time I was in the bar area was to watch a Phillies play-off game last October against the Dodgers. I had a great Italian Beef sandwich and fries for five bucks and took half the meal home. The waitress said tomorrow they’d be serving corn beef and cabbage (one of Toni’s favorite meals) all day for St. Patrick’s Day, so we went there for lunch. It was delicious. Near us were six ladies in their 70s or 80s with green party hats on. Flamingo’s success probably hastened the demise of the Beach Café, which had been a Miller watering hole for probably 75 years, with their Friday perch dinners once attracting overflow crowds. Flamingo’s has built a loyal clientele by having special events such as pig roasts and the like and by keeping their food prices low and the quality of menu items high. After all, booze is where bars make their profits. And they still make a darn good pizza.

In my retirement journal (Shavings volume 40) I mention taking granddaughter Alissa to the now closed restaurant La Dolce Vita for pizza and finding that they were down to two menu items, that their pizza oven was not working, and that they had lost their beer and wine license. It was late and there was no cook in sight, so I asked Alissa if we should leave. “Your call, Jimbo,” she said. We opted for a pot roast meal from Flamingo’s. It was delicious, and as we were enjoying it Alissa said, “Good call, Jimbo.”

Thursday, March 11, 2010

History Matters

A reporter for “Branches” magazine in Indianapolis wanted information about the successful fight by antinuclear forces 30 years ago to stop construction of a nuclear power plant along the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The Bailly Alliance was a broad-based blue-green coalition of forces including union activists, old radicals, wealthy lakeshore residents, and environmentalists. I sent him my Steel Shavings issue (volume 16) on the Bailly fight that I co-edited with “Intervenor” James Newman and told him he should visit the Archives, and talk to such leaders as Jack Weinberg, Mike Olszanski, and David Canright. Jack was a leader of the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and worked for Greenpeace for many years. Mike worked at Inland Steel and co-edited Shavings volume 30, “Steelworkers Fight Back.” Canright has been managing editor of the Chesterton Tribune for many years.

Andy Grimm of the Post-Tribune called seeking information about when Gary was chartered as a town and then as a city. Also two grad students at UIC want to pick my brain for a policy planning class assignment on cities and gentrification, in particular Gary. They are coming in Tuesday. I promised them copies of “Gary’s First Hundred Years,” and they offered to buy me lunch.

Department chair Diana Chen-lin asked me to serve on a pre-tenure review committee for history colleagues Chris Young and Jonathyne Briggs. Because Diana is the only tenured historian, Arts and Sciences dean Mark Hoyert asked her to solicit me. They’re both good, productive people, so I don’t mind. A couple years ago one of Jonathyne’s students wrote one an evaluation form that he had a nice tush. Diana worried that maybe the student might be a stalker and that perhaps Jonathyne should be warned of that possibility. I told her that he could take care of himself.

Received a letter in the mail from John Glen, a historian at Ball State. When IU Press asked for suggestions two months ago on who might give Sheriff Dominguez’s autobiography a critical reading, I passed on Glen’s name along with IU historians John Bodnar and James Madison. I was hoping Glen was sending me a copy of his critique but it was only a check for my latest Shavings.

Our granddaughter Alissa is on spring break from Michigan State and is staying with us a couple days before going to Chicago with housemates for a couple days. She had heard of the group Augustana, which I have had on heavy rotation since her mom Beth gave me the CD. She particularly liked their song “Boston,” which contains the lines “I think I’ll go to Boston/I think I’ll start a new life.” We know two women who went to Alternate Public School with Phil and Dave, Marlo Shepper and Shannon Bayer, who live there and are in touch both with us and each other.

In the news: actress Lindsey Lohan is bringing a $100 million lawsuit against a company that made a commercial where a toddler supposedly rants against a “milkaholic” rival who stole her boyfriend. I kid you not, as late night pioneer Jack Paar used to say. In a recent speech at the University of Alabama Chief Justice John Roberts criticized President Obama for taking the Supreme Court to task in his State of the Union address for (by a 5-4 vote) allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in political contributions. The Northwest Indiana native labeled what Obama did “very troubling.” What is very troubling is the action by the high court. New York governor David Paterson is being investigated for lying about whether he accepted free World Series tickets. What is this world coming to? Bigwigs like Dick Cheney and Henry Paulson can make tens of millions in stock deals going back and forth between government and big business, but small fries like Paterson get driven from office. Speaking of which, former Illinois governor Rod Blogojevich is appearing on Donald Trump’s reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.” He may be a sleaze ball but I still think he was screwed by the system and didn’t do anything illegal in talking about getting something for Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Oral Histories

Interviewed Lake County Sheriff Roy Dominguez Monday for a book we’re doing. He loves the political process and is a great storyteller. His latest efforts are on behalf of his nephew Alex Dominguez, who is a candidate for circuit court judge in the wake of Judge Lorenzo Arredondo’s impending retirement. In recent weeks Dominguez has buried the hatchet with three former political enemies and is positioning himself to have Lake County Democrats united behind him should he decide to run for governor in 2012.

Because a search is underway for a new chancellor at IUN, talk at the faculty lunch table revolved around the two candidates (one is an Irish historian) and some of our past leaders. I recalled saying at a roast for Danilo Orescanin that his attributes included a firm handshake, an ability to hold his liquor, and (to paraphrase John Petalas) “the best line of bullshit I’ve ever heard.” Orescanin, I think, took that as a compliment. Orescanin was one of the few administrators that Chemistry professor Alan Lindmark liked, and he commented that he had read that characterization of Dan in my and Kern’s history of the university. I told him I was flattered that he had read it. My main role, in addition to being chief editor, was to do oral histories. One of the best was with Donald Young, a Labor Studies student as well as a campus policeman. He talked about catching people making out at night in the parking lot as well as other indoor places such as darkened classrooms and far reaches of the library.

Yesterday I conducted another interview in connection with an oral history of IU’s FACET program rewarding excellence in teaching. Sociologist Tanice Foltz agreed to let me and audio/visual technician Aaron Pigars and Tome Trajkovski came to her office between classes for the taping. Aaron manned two cameras because the room was too small for a second person. Tanice was excellent and quite demonstrative, getting up from her chair on several occasions to act out dances she did at FACET workshops and a talent show. At one point she mentioned that my longish hair and frilly, multicolored shirt indicated that I was telling people that spiritually I’m cool, like an old hippie.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Patchwork Planet

“I am a man you can trust.” This is how Anne Tyler both begins and ends “A Patchwork Planet,” about a 30 year-old misfit named Barnaby Gaitlin, who helps old people for a living working for a company called Rent-a-Back. His family considers him a black sheep because of youthful misadventures, his failure to attend college, and his apparent satisfaction with a dead-end job. In reality he is a great help to a variety of poignant senior citizens trying to live independent and not in a nursing home, ranging from feisty, crabby Maude May to his girlfriend’s forgetful, half-deaf aunt, who calls her Yorkshire terrier Tatters “my doorbell.” Like with many American soldiers in Vietnam, Barnaby didn’t want to get too attached to those he helped because they could be fine today and gone tomorrow. Tyler is particularly adept at depicting old folks, most memorably the 100 year-old Poppy in “Back When We Were Grownups.” When the aunt falsely accuses Barnaby of stealing money she had squirreled away, it threatens his relationship with older woman Sophia, whom he had met on the train while on his way to visit his daughter in Philadelphia.

On the jacket cover of Tyler’s novel is a patchwork quilt, which reminded me of Jacob A. Riis’s comment that new York City’s housing pattern in 1890 reminded him of a “crazy quilt,” with various immigrant groups crowded into their own distinct quarters.

Spent part of the weekend in Michigan to watch 12 year-old Anthony play basketball. Anthony was shooting hoops without a jacket when we drove up. I joined him while Victoria and a friend were playing on a huge mound of snow, the result of a street plow. There is an even bigger one probably 15 feet tall nearby in a church parking lot that the kids call “snow mountain.” He scored about ten points and had several steals and assists. The league has a rule that if someone is fouled in the act of shooting, his team automatically gets a point and he shoots one free throw. Phil was in Bloomington with old roommates for the IU-Northwestern basketball game (a thrilling OT win for the Hoosiers on Senior Day), but we took the rest of the gang to the Sunrise Diner. Tori and Anthony were skeptical at first of the venue but ended up loving the place. They ordered a Belgian waffle; Anthony then tried Miranda’s burger and pronounced it the best hamburger he’d ever had. Toni took a photo of us, and a couple came to the booth and asked if she wanted to be in the picture, too. They were headed to Cancun, so we chatted about our being there last month.

Played bridge with the Hagelbergs and got home in time for Saturday Night Live. Was able to stay up for impressive musical guests Vampire Weekend. Sunday after board gaming and food shopping, I was looking forward to watching the Red Wings-Blackhawks game (Dick Hagelberg was there, courtesy of a free ticket from a friend or customer), but Detroit scored five goals in the second period. Chicago needs a better goalie if they hope to reach the Stanley Cup finals. Right after we moved to Northwest Indiana Chicago was one game away from winning it all against the Montreal Canadians but ran into hot goalie Ken Dryden. Led by Bobby Hull and Stan Makita, they went up 2-0 in the seventh game but lost 3-2.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Uncle John's Band

“What I Want to Know
Where does the time go?”

Got home from bowling last night and heard Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.” Years ago, when Ivan Jasper moved to Florida, he gave me some of his old albums, including the 1970 classic “Workingman’s Dead” in mint condition (wonder what that would bring on ebay?). Since it was only 8:30 in the Seattle, I was able to ring up Gaard and Chuck Logan, who are still huge Dead fans (it’s the reason Chuck pays for Sirius radio). The Dead were trendsetters in so many ways but totally unique, with a music historian’s sense of their roots.

My bowling team, the Electrical Engineers, won 5 of 7 points, winning the third game by a mere 7 pins. I stunk the first half of the evening, going into the fifth frame of the second game, for instance with a 34, but I got hot and finished that game with a 162 and then rolled 190 in game three. Our 81 year-old captain, Bill Batalis, goes home after the first game if not needed as a sub, and I call him if we win any points thereafter. He was pleasantly surprised to get my call since we bowled a tough team of over-200 average bowlers. Their leadoff man, Jorge Lopez, is daughter-in-law Delia’s uncle. In game three he started with five strikes. A deliberate bowler, he was ready to start the sixth frame when someone a lane down suddenly went in front of him. He threw a gutter ball, which cost him about 30 pins, and then got all ten on the second ball. He continued striking until the tenth frame, when the same bowler so annoyed him that he left one pin. He could easily bowled a perfect game instead of a 249.

Bowler John Gilbert came over, sat beside me, and told me he had had a rough day. We have a standing joke that I call him Johnny and he calls my “paw” – being that only his dad ever called him Johnny. I figured he was talking about work, but the reason was because his old girlfriend Jamie’s father died. He still loves Jamie and was close to both of her parents, so he went to the wake to pay his respects but couldn’t bring himself to go inside. He thought it might have made people, himself included, uncomfortable, so he’s planning to send Jamie’s mother a sympathy card and note instead.

“The old man had his high point every Wednesday at George’s Bowling Alley, where he once bowled a historic game in which he got three consecutive strikes.” Jean Shepherd

After I started game three with three strikes (a turkey) I immediately thought of the Jean Shepherd quote from “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.” I used that witticism in the intro to my Nineties issue “Shards and Midden Heaps” (another Shepherd line). My league, Sheet and Tin, is a vestige of an era when industrial leagues flourished. Now steelworkers are a vanishing breed, with more old-timers moving south every year or scaling back their league play as the recession has taken on an air of permanence. It was once common for guys to bowl in three or four leagues. When in my fifties I bowled in a league with son Dave and still have a championship jacket from 1994 to prove it. There was an IUN intramural league in the early nineties that sadly lasted only one season. One night teammate Jackie Cheairs, a leftie with a slow hooking ball who often struggled to break one hundred, bagged a half-dozen strikes in a row and after each one gave a hearty chuckle. Afterwards, she couldn’t believe she broke 200.

During the Nineties my league took up eight alleys at Cressmoor Lanes in Hobart and a women’s league bowled on the other eight. The women, for the most part, were better bowlers than the men in our league. I loved to watch the best of them, Lisa Anserello, who had the sweetest delivery I’ve ever seen. In today’s paper was mention that Linda Olszewski recently rolled an 843. Unbelievable. When I bowled my historic 615 series during the mid-Nineties, I stayed around to brag and have another nightcap. A couple blocks from Cressmoor a cop stopped me because a taillight on our ’84 Toyota hatchback had popped out. Noting that my breath smelled suspicious, he asked if I had been drinking. My classic reply, “Only a couple beers, officer.” Well, he had me blow into a Breathalyzer as a second cop car pulled up. Then a third cop car arrived. I had been sharing pitchers with some other guys and didn’t really know if I gone over the .8 limit. I thought to my horror, “They’re going to take me off in handcuffs the night of my big triumph.” The officer came back and begrudgingly (I thought) said I could go. Whew! Now my limit is two Leinie drafts (I once toured the Leinenkugal Brewery in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, but that’s another story).

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hoosier Hysteria

After daughter-in-law Angie made us a splendid chicken and ribs dinner, I went to see East Chicago Central play Lake Central in the opening Sectional game of the Indiana high school state tournament at the John A. Baratto Athletic Center, named for the coach whose E. C. Washington squad won the 1960 state championship. . Son Dave was the announcer. Falling behind by 15, the E.C. Cardinals rallied in the third quarter and won by four points despite a stellar performance by Indians sophomore Glenn Robinson III, the son of the former Gary Roosevelt, Purdue, and Milwaukee Bucks star whose nickname was “Big Dog.” I was surprised that four of Lake Central’s starters were African American. Now East Chicago has to beat West Side and then favored Munster. Across the court from me was 87 year-old Louis Vasquez, who never misses a game and whose remarkable autobiography “Weasal” I published as Steel Shavings volume 24. Sitting near me was veteran Times sports reporter Al Hamnik, a master at finding appropriate similes for his stories. I mentioned the impressive 56-page section his paper published called “Celebrating 100 Years of the Indiana State Basketball Tournament,” and he said he learned some things from it, too. At halftime a guy whose face was painted red on one side and white on the other (school colors) sat down next to Dave. After he left, I asked, “One of your favorite students?” “A fellow teacher,” he replied. Though the upper stands were empty, the lower seats were packed and the house was rockin’ as the game went down to the wire. East Chicago has a player, Henry Davis, who bears a striking resemblance to a young O.J. Simpson. After he made several hustle plays, the students started chanting, "Oh Jay, Oh Jay."

Some lament the demise of the single class playoff system 12 years ago, which, for instance, means that two of Gary’s best teams, Lew Wallace and Thea Bowman, won’t be playing any of the teams in East Chicago’s Sectional, but this gives small schools a realistic opportunity to win. The so-called “Milan miracle,” when in 1954 a school with a population of 161, upset mighty Muncie Central (dramatized in the movie “Hoosiers”), probably wasn’t ever going to happen again. Until 1954 the biggest long shot was 1940 champion Hammond Tech, which entered the tournament with a 12-6 record.

My History colleague Paul Kern got me going to games in the mid-70s, but during my first year living in the Region I was aware of the undefeated 1970-71 East Chicago Washington team containing three players, Pete Trgovich, Tim Stoddard, and Junior Bridgeman, who went on to play for Division I colleges. My favorite team, the Gary Emerson Golden Tornado, twice made it as far as the Semi-State during the Seventies, first led by Emmitt Lewis and then by “twin towers” Wallace Bryant and Frank Smith. Way back in 1917 Emerson lost in the Finals 34 to 26 to Lebanon. While researching Gary’s history, I interviewed Johnny Kyle, who played on that team and also starred in football (Kyle went on to coach many years at Froebel). When Emerson dropped its program and Coach Earl Smith went to Lew Wallace, my loyalties went there, too. Away games in outlying suburbs were often quite interesting. I recall with nostalgia a scene in Boone Grove where kids where shaking “Big Wally’s” hand and asking for autographs. In the Eighties after a monster dunk by Lew Wallace star Jerome Harmon, appreciative Chesterton fans held up signs reading 9.5, 9.5, and 10, as if he had executed a near perfect move.

Lew Wallace is now coached by Renaldo Thomas, the Gary Roosevelt star who in 1982 led “The ‘Velt” to the finals only to see his team lose in double overtime to Plymouth, whose leading scorer Scott Skiles hit a miracle shot to send the game into overtime. Roosevelt also was runner-up in 1955 when Oscar Robertson led Indianapolis Crispus Attucks to victory in a game that saw 171 points scored. Under Coach Ron Heflin Roosevelt finally won it all in 1991 when Glenn Robinson outplayed his Indianapolis Brebeuf counterpart Alan Henderson (who went on to IU).

President Obama is a basketball aficionado. He played at Punahou High School in Oahu (a stone’s throw from our apartment while I was getting a master’s degree at the U. of Hawaii) and still plays whenever he can. After his annual physical checkup, it was revealed that his cholesterol is up from too many desserts and that he is still smoking occasionally. Politically the health care debate drags on, to the republicans’ obvious glee. Let’s hope Obama doesn’t turn out to be as ineffective dealing with Congress as Jimmy Carter was. So far he hasn’t lost the good will of the majority of people, and the rightwing criticism is relentless.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

IUN Lady Redhawks

Last Saturday Toni and I cheered the IU Northwest’s women’s basketball team, the Lady Redhawks, as they won a thriller against the number one seeded Ohio Dominican Panthers in the finals of a postseason tournament held at IUN’s Savannah Center gym. The game was tied 40-40 at halftime, and with less than a minute to go the Panthers had a chance to take the lead but the Lady Redhawks prevailed, led by their six foot, four inch superstar Sharon Houston, who scored 27 points in the 70-67 win. The team has two scrappy guards, Juliette Keller and Nina Wills, who also played great. Two years ago the team had only one or two subs and went winless. Coach Ryan Shelton, a really good guy who helped me lay out volume 40 of Steel Shavings, was quite emotional as he presented team members with their first place medals. There was a pretty good faculty contingent at the game including Jim Tolhuizen, Ruth Needleman, Mark Hoyert and Cynthia O’Dell with their two kids, and (with their spouses) Rick Hug and Chuck Gallmeier.

Right after the game there was a reception for photography professor Gary Wilk, who is retiring at the end of the semester, in connection with an exhibit entitled “Master and Mentor” that included works both by Gary and some of his students. The most interested group were entitled “As I Remember It, Vietnam,” with images inside a border simulating the counting off of days remaining of a soldier’s tour, although in these cases they represent KIAs. As mentioned in the interview of Gary in “Brothers in Arms” (Steel Shavings, volume 39), Gary was a cook who didn’t see much military action during his first 365 days so he extended his stay so he could afterwards receive an early discharge from the army. As fate would have it, he did this on the eve of the Tet Offensive and his base was constantly under attack during his final four months in country. During most of that time he lived in a bunker.

Won one (Amun Re) out of four board games against Dave and Tom Wade and watched the exciting Winter Olympics ice hockey final between the U.S. and Canada. Miraculously America tied the game with less than 30 seconds to go only to lose in overtime on a goal by baby-faced Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who reminds me of my favorite Philadelphia Flyers player from the Seventies Bobby Clarke. I was rooting for the Americans but didn’t mind the Canadians ending “their” Olympics on such a celebratory note. That story pales though compared to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Chile just weeks after an even more deadly one wracked Haiti.

Got into Anne Tyler’s “A Patchwork Planet.” Like with “Morgan’s Crossing” the main character, Barnaby, is a male oddball nonconformist, but the real theme is how this person transforms and in some ways liberates the life of the (in this case older) woman he hooks up with. The book opens with Barnaby at the Baltimore train station on his way to visit his daughter when he notices a man trying to get someone to carry a package to his daughter at the Philadelphia station. Supposedly the daughter is flying overseas and forgot her passport, and the man himself can’t go because his wife is ill. Sylvia, the woman Barnaby later hooks with, agrees to take the package, and a suspicious Barnaby follows her.

Watched “Jeopardy” yesterday afternoon with friend Clark Metz. I was pretty slow on the draw coming up with answers, but did well on the “March 1” category that featured historical things that occurred on that date. The “Final Jeopardy” question was about Lizzie Borden, who allegedly killed her father and stepmother with an axe. Both Clark and I got it, as did two of the contestants. A young woman drew a blank but had enough of a lead to win anyway. Lizzie was found not guilty but inspired this rhyme, to which girls sometimes skipped rope:

“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.”