Friday, May 28, 2010

Who's on First

I took Toni to “Sex and the City 2,” panned by Roger Ebert, who called the four women characters bubbleheads. Toni had enjoyed the TV series and the first movie, which she saw in Oregon with Alissa, Miranda, and Beth, so we gave it a try. It had its moments, especially the New York scenes, but most of the time the women were in Abu Dhabi acting like ugly Americans. Kim Cattrall was excellent as 52 year-old slutaholic Samantha (meeting a hunk in the dessert, she calls him “Lawrence of my labia”), but I cringed when she disrespects Muslim culture by walking around with her boobs hanging out and then when she spills her purse and dozens of condoms fall out. There was not much drama and I could care less about Carrie’s (Sarah Jessica Parker) marriage to bimbo Mr. Big (Chris Noth). The big conflict: would he forgive her for kissing an old flame. I was hoping she’d sleep with him and put some sexual excitement back into her life. As mediocre as the movie was, critics really seem to be piling on. One wrote: “Nothing says putrefying, rotten, and vile quite like this sequel.”

We watched James while Angie took Rebecca to her “Annie” rehearsal. He loved listening to the Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on first?” Players have such names as Why, I Don’t Know, and Because. James’s favorite part was when Costello says, “Tell me the pitcher’s name” and Abbott says, “Tomorrow.” Speaking of baseball, the normally hard-hitting Phillies were shut out for the third straight game by the hated Mets, the first time such a humiliation happened since 1969, the miracle season for New Yorkers, when the feat was performed by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan.

Former student Terry Helton is being hassled at his job but plans to take some days off to fish the Yellowstone River. Imagine a black guy from Gary, IN, making like Robert Redford. Living in Montana does have its advantages. He is quite sentimental about my 1979 History of Journalism course and was delighted to find Joe Salacian, the Phoenix assistant editor via the Internet. He wrote: “It is kinda nice to catch up with the old gang. Though I miss ‘em, you included, I know those days are gone and that they will never return.” Sounds similar to Ryan Maicki’s paean to his Hobart High School days. Like terry, I still vividly recall some of the controversies involved with putting out IUN’s paper, pitting me against such luminaries as George Roberts and John Hunger.

I came upon “Steel Shores,” a 2005 publication that English professor William Buckley and “Spirits” editor Mary Nolan put together. It combines highlights from the IUN’s literary magazine “Spirits” and “Steel Shavings.” I sent Nolan a bunch of possible articles and she made the final cut. In the Preface Scott Fulk called both publications “the pride and joy of IUN.” Nice. He referred to himself as a Region Rat and mentioned that his family would say, “You can smell Roxanna” (their nickname for the mill area) when a north wind blew the pollution their way and “the stink of Northwest Indiana industry” filled their nostrils. It was fun rereading the publication. Jeff Warren wrote movingly about the Cline Avenue Bridge Disaster. Included were some Fifties interviews I edited about drive-in movie experiences called “Going to the Passion Pit.” Nick Tarailo’s wrote about his Serbian grandfather (who I also interviewed for my Gary book). Nikola claimed he arrived in Gary three days before the city’s first mayoralty election and voted six times for winning candidate Tom Knotts. In retirement the old steelworker referred to himself as “Old Scrap” but he was an esteemed patriarch whose sacrifices made it possible for his offspring to pursue meaningful lives. Meenakshi Svinivasan’s journal is entitled “Parents Visiting from India.” Her father was used to things being within walking distance and told her that being unable to get on a bus, scooter or rickshaw made him feel like he was under house arrest. Here’s her last entry: “My daddy came to my son’s swimming class to take pictures. He has photographed police cars, construction projects, mobile homes, RVs, limousines, and many other things. He wants to show relatives what life is like here. In the evening we went to a birthday party. The kids enjoyed the backyard sprinkler and played musical chairs and pass the potato. My son was apathetic, but I made him participate. He got a goody bag.” Meenakshi, I remember you well, and I hope America blessed you with happiness.

At lunch sculptor Neil Goodman asked about the History department and I bemoaned the denial of tenure of our best teacher, who recently won the Prestigious Founders Day Award. Hypocrites on the divisional promotion and tenure committee claimed the guy was inadequate in research even though he has read papers at scholarly conferences nearly every year, has published an article and had two others accepted, and even has a book contract. It’s a huge embarrassment to the university, and even people who voted against him are having second thoughts. Hopefully he will successfully appeal.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Appleby's and Amsterdam

Toni and I spent the morning at the Sand Creek (same name as the famous Indian massacre in Colorado) condo and met the Value City delivery men followed by a guy who repaired the defective love seat and touched up the chipped table, both to our satisfaction. Then John Shearer came over to finish the last bit of painting. Randy Marshall, another old friend, did an excellent job of laying the rug in the enclosed porch while I was in French Lick. Jason promises he’ll have the two skylights in by next week at the latest. We had lunch at a nearby Appleby’s – I had a hamburger and Coleslaw and Toni ordered soup and pork tacos. There was enough left over for dinner. Years ago we took our two oldest granddaughters to Appleby’s and Alissa ordered a Shirley Temple (nonalcoholic) daiquiri. She took a taste and found it delicious. A few moments later a waitress appeared with another daiquiri and without a word substituted it for the first one (no doubt containing rum). Imagine the collective sigh of relief when we made nothing of it. In fact, it’s a great story. Seeing all the stuff on the walls about sports and film celebrities reminded me that Miranda had initially balked at going to Appleby’s, preferring MacDonald’s, but Toni concocted a game where you spot something on the walls and the others see who can spot it first. Ever since, Miranda has loved Appleby’s. During our trip to Palm Springs last year with Jim and Kate Migoski we had a couple meals at an Appleby’s right next to our motel, and Jim and I watched an NCAA playoff basketball game during Happy Hour – love those 22-ounce Bass Ales.

Alissa has embarked on her European trip with housemate Vee and called from airports in Grand Rapids and Philadelphia. Her thank-you card for our graduation present mentioning how important we have been in her life was deeply touching. She flew overnight to Amsterdam, a city I explored 25 years ago after a teaching stint in Saudi Arabia. At lunch in a history museum I listened to a folk singer who’d been singing for tips on a street corner earlier in the day. That night, drinking Amstel at a bar featuring a live band, I struck up a conversation with the guy next to me, who invited me to join him and his wife at an Indonesian restaurant the following evening. The food was fabulous. Near my hotel was a casino, and one evening I joined a blackjack table, betting the equivalent of about fifty cents each hand. After an hour the place got crowded, and a man behind me started betting on my hand, only he was risking about 20 times as much as I was. Every time he offered advice on whether to split my cards or take a hit, I took it. I ended up five dollars ahead, my one last bet of double or nothing and lost.

Suzanne mentioned that cats are a “sweet part” of her life, that her grandfather was a department chair at Beaver College, and that she likes to ponder abstracts such as whether truth is an absolute whereas I seem to be a very social person with a knack for discerning detail and inter-relationships of contemporary events. Very flattering, and I replied that I enjoyed her musings and comparisons of our personalities. Concerning cats and beavers, I wrote: “Our one neighbor down the road feeds three outdoor cats that often wander up to our place. While Marvin was alive, I’d try to chase any cats I saw because he was very territorial and would fight any feline intruders – often feral cats that would infect him. With Marvin gone, I’ve gradually come to enjoy them. Our first Indiana cat was Poki, named after a street Toni and I lived on in Honolulu when I was in grad school. Poki had a set of kittens that our young sons were fascinated by (and would have kept, had I let them) before we had her neutered. When we got married, my mother told Toni that she’d be hosting faculty tea parties. At IU Northwest almost all of us were young so the milieu was beer and Rock ‘n’ Roll rather than tea and classical music. I recall Beaver College being located near where I grew up and, looking it up on Wikipedia, discovered that it started admitting men in 1972 and in 2001 changed its name to Acadia University, in part, according to president Bette Landman, because the name “too often elicits ridicule in the form of derogatory remarks pertaining to the rodent, the TV show Leave It to Beaver and the vulgar reference to the female anatomy."

The reality shows “Dancing with the Stars” and “American Idol” came to a close. “Dancing” winner Nicole Scherzinger from the pop group Pussycat Dolls and runner-up Evan Lysacek, an Olympic skating champ, had an unfair advantage in experience over underdog Erin Andrews, the ESPN reporter who became an unwanted celebrity because of being stalked by a man who took photos of her naked through a peephole and posted them on the Internet. So I was rooting for her but didn’t think she had a chance. I hadn’t watched “Idol” all year and didn’t care who won but knew that the ultimate winner, Lee DeWyze, was a painter from the Chicago area. The judges seemed to favor Crystal Bowersox, but my theory is that far more females vote and that they tend to go for male idols. Paula Abdul came back Simon Fuller’s final show. The crowd went wild for her. I mainly tuned in to see guest performers Alice Cooper, Janet Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Chicago, Michael McDonald, and Joe Cocker (who sang “With a Little help from my Friends” with Lee and Crystal). Quite a lineup. Alanis Morrissette did a duet with Crystal, who sanitized “You Oughta Know, substituting “with” for “on” in the line, “Would she go down on you in a theater?”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flamingo Pizza

Got an email from old student Rick Dawson, who enjoyed “cherry picking” my journal. I recall when my sons player soccer, cherry picker was pejorative for one who didn’t play defense and instead hung out near the opponent’s goal hoping to get an easy score. It is also a type of aerial work platform attached to a crane and often shaped like a basket that was originally designed and still used in fruit orchards. Parenthetically, as an adjective “cherry” can mean inexperienced (i.e., a virgin) or like new (a cherry car being one in mint condition). Rick saw that I had done a Shavings issue about Vietnam vets from the Calumet Region (“Brothers in Arms”) and revealed that he had served in the First Infantry in Vietnam but does not like to read novels or see movies about the war. He mentioned that while staying with Geoff Ryan in Miller he ate at Flamingo’s three times and especially enjoyed the fried perch sandwich. “I would have eaten there four times,” he added, “but they would not allow my eight year-old granddaughter to come in.” I emailed back: “Great to hear from you. Please email me in advance before your next foray (a favorite Jean Shepherd word) into the Region. Back in the 1970s I spent many happy hours attending Geoff Ryan’s deck jams – they were both loud and mellow. I lost touch with him – that’s the way life is - until I phoned him to get your address. Flamingo’s is a great success story, and the management does numerous special things, such as outside barbecues, that have cemented patron loyalty. Their pot roast dinner special on Thursdays for $8.95 is enough for two with meat left over. Glad you are glancing through the journal.” Flamingo’s started as a pizza joint with a smoky bar on the east side but has expanded considerably and even has a wing, I believe, where kids can be seated.

I emailed Aaron Pigors and Tome Trajkovski thanking them for all their camera work at the FACET retreat. Offered to send Gerald Powers a copy of my retirement journal (Shavings, volume 40) since he mentioned during his “Uncle Edgar” talk how liberating it was to write in the first person in a scholarly setting. I thanked FACET staff members Kim and Ali for their help and resisted the temptation to say something about the silver streak in Ali’s hair that I found very attractive or Kim’s lactating breasts (she had a nursing baby with her, and when Tome went to pin a microphone on her, she joked, “I’m lactating”). At lunch I told Bill Dorin and Jim Tolhuizen that I had gotten to know Psychology professor Karl Nelson at the retreat. He had a big booming, infectious laugh. He’s friends with Jerry Pierce, who teaches medieval history and writes about historical films such as “The 300” and Oliver Stone’s “Alexander.” I saw both of them. Joining us at our lunch table was geologist Kristin Huysken, who plays in a bluegrass group and was on her way to a student field trip to the Paul Douglas Center at the Indiana dunes in Gary.

After torrential rain and tornado warnings greeted us in French Lick, these past three days the temperature has been in the nineties. At IU Northwest coeds have stripped down considerably – plenty of bare midriffs and décolleté. That hardly ever distracted me in class although this one student had a tattoo positioned right above her ass and would wear short shorts that revealed some of it. My interest in it was more curiosity than prurience, and I wondered whether she got it at Roy Boy’s, nearby Glen Park’s oldest business establishment, that Cher and Greg Allman once frequented.

I had mentioned to Suzanne that going to French Lick with Phil evoked memories of when we went to Rio de Janeiro together 12 years ago. She asked what Rio had been like and I responded: “The beaches are fantastic and there is a rain forest within the city limits. I’d go back in a minute although some neighborhoods are unsafe and to be avoided by Americans. We were there at the time of the World Cup in soccer and a young historian attending the International Oral History Association conference invited us to a party that coincided with a game the Brazilian team was playing. There was dancing in the street and wild jubilation whenever their compadres scored. The American Embassy hosted a party for conference attendees where dancing and other festivities went on late into the night. At the Universidade do Brasil were life size busts of retired distinguished faculty. The only evidence of my 38-year tenure at IU Northwest is a framed collage.” Other Rio highlights included a steakhouse buffet where waiters brought a dozen cuts of meat to our table and a stage show where beautiful women wearing erotic – make that exotic - carnival outfits danced and posed with us.

Monday, May 24, 2010

French Lick

Last Thursday I talked to about 60 members of the Duneland Historical Society in Chesterton about Steel Shavings magazine, in particular the “Age of Anxiety” issue covering the years 1945-1953. Actually I got them to do much of the talking. I enlisted 16 volunteers for the purpose of reading excerpts from student interviews plus ones I did. It went great; everyone was loud enough and emoted. Readers got a free copy of volume 34 for being participants. Some passages got lots of laughs, and others were quite moving. The first few described the elation and celebratory mood when WW II ended, but most dealt with “the uncertainty of everyday life,” a phrase I used to describe the 1980s as well. I ended with someone reading political prisoner Katherine Hyndman’s reaction to an obit for Willa Mae, a cellmate of hers who became a prostitute to support her family and took dope because, in Katherine words, it “made it easier for her to live the life thrust upon her.” It is so touching I could not read it in class without tearing up. When Katherine was first in Crown Point jail, Willa Mae protected her against someone who called her a communist rat. In a moving letter to a comrade Katherine wondered if anyone besides herself wept for her, then added: “How many more Willa Maes are there in this rich country? Who cares about them? To the solid law-abiding citizens it was just one more sinner put into the earth, six feet down. Dear Willa Mae, I wish you could somehow know that I will never forget you. Rest in peace, dear child, you knew so little of it in life.” I took a half-dozen books with me to Chesterton Library Center and could have easily sold at least a dozen more. One participant noticed an article about her uncle Harold Petit, who delivered milk door to door when he moved back to Crown Point from California in 1951. Son Jack was wrote about him for my class.

Phil had arrived from Michigan by the time I got home, and the next day father and son traveled to French Lick Resort and Casino for the FACET retreat. The initials stand for Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching. Director David Malik, who got me to start an oral history project for the organization in return for buying me a new 27-inch, state-of-the-art MAC computer, paid for our room and my meals. On Saturday I interviewed 18 people in the Fairbanks Room (Hoosier Charles Fairbanks was Teddy Roosevelt’s vice prersident) with the help of Instructional Media technicians Tome Trajkovski and Aaron Pigors. Psychologist Bernard Carducci, whose specialty is working with shy people, had given the keynote address the evening before, dressed to the nines. He made several references to an author that sounded like quarterback Carson Palmer. It turned out the name was Parker Palmer, who has written a book called “The Courage to Teach.” Carducci showed up for the interview in shorts and a t-shirt and was just charming, the kind of guy you could spend hours with. We bonded. The day before he had on this classy pair of shoes. I told him I had been impressed, and he smiled and admitted that he had seen them at a used clothes store and had been delighted to find that they fit. Phil, a two-time Michigan EMMY winner for documentaries, attended five sessions and got some great footage of people doing interactive things. Since FACET is an organization that honors excellent teachers, session leaders pushed participants to get out of their comfort zone and try new things by seeing themselves in the eyes of students. One called “Art in the Dark” had professors doing various things as alternatives to simply sitting in a dark room listening to the instructor drone on and on about famous works of art, as happened in most art history classes.

It was my first visit to French Lick. I was supposed to go there for a conference on boxer Joe Louis and had written a piece on Louis’s Gary connections, but the entire conference was cancelled at the last minute. We stayed at a magnificent hotel that was originally built in 1901, when people believed the nearby mineral springs had curative powers. “Lick” means stream or creek, and two centuries ago the salt licks in the area were “harvested” because it was so valued as a meat preservative. One of the first salt companies was founded either by a Frenchman or a person named French. Hoosier basketball legend Larry Byrd was from French Lick, a name that sounds like a deviant oral sex act. FACET participants got tickets with their meal vouchers promising five dollars credit and a “Free Spin” at the casino. The big wheel listed various prizes, and I won a t-shirt. Phil spun and won 50 dollars cash! We both played a poker slot machine. I quickly lost my five dollars, but Phil ended up winning $5.45. At a computer-controlled roulette wheel people made bets on a computer screen in front of them. Minimum bet was two dollars a spin, but you could break it up into 25-cent increments. Phil won 20 dollars, using a strategy of using half his bet on red or black and the rest either on individual numbers or four corners. Phil also found time to swim and take a shuttle to a sister hotel in nearby West Baden that once had the largest dome in the world.

The final FACET plenary session featured Gerald Powers talking about what he referred to as “turn around mentors.” He related that when he was in second grade he hated school. An embarrassingly poor reader, he’d get rapped on the hand by a nun (Gerald labeled her Sister Euthanasia) because he couldn’t spell even the simplest words. He had an Uncle Edgar who turned his life around by various ingenious methods of positive re-enforcement. We broke up into small groups to talk about other people’s “Uncle Edgars” and I found myself, much to my delight, at Powers’ table. He’s a sentimental guy from Pennsylvania coal country (Pottsville), and said he left out several anecdotes about Uncle Edgar because he knew he’d break down. He had published a chapter about Uncle Edgar in a social work textbook and used this quotation from Confucius: “Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising each time we fall.” I mentioned how important historian William Harbaugh was in getting me to learn rather than just memorize for grades. Entering his class on diplomatic history at Bucknell, I was a Republican bent on becoming a lawyer. Thanks to him, I acquired a passion for history and a compassion for have-nots. I talked about hitchhiking to Lewisburg, PA, before quitting law school to seek his advice about becoming a historian and how 20 years later I heard him speak at a history conference and he had the same fire in the belly. We had a drink together, and I started sending him my latest Steel Shavings magazine, which he always read and commented on until one year a note came from his wife, saying that “Bill would have loved the issue but, alas, he passed away recently.” A woman at our table talked about coming from Greece as a child and how a teacher had been her turn-around mentor. Close to tears, she said she wished she knew how to get in touch with her to thank her.

The French Lick Resort buffet meals were tremendous. More than once I feasted on salad, cole slaw, mashed potatoes and gravy, rare roast beef au jus, and an ice cream sundae for dessert. At the final Sunday lunch, Chuck Gallmeier steered us to a table where, lo and behold, there to my direct right was Gerald Powers. I mentioned that I had been interviewing Sheriff Roy Dominguez and that he had an “Uncle Edgar.” When his family moved to Gary from Texas, he didn’t know English as well as some students and was pretty shy until a caring teacher put him on the safety patrol and encouraged him to go out for basketball. Powers said he recalled the badge he wore on safety patrol and how proud he was when he was promoted to lieutenant. Also at the table was outgoing FACET director David Malik, who told everyone about the computer he bought for me, which was better than his, and chuckled when I told him that one person I interviewed described his leadership style as akin to throwing a pebble into a pond and watching the waves expand outward. Charming yet dogged, he knows how to get his way when he wants something done.

Phil and I had plenty of time to talk on the way home with CDs by MGMT and Abba playing in the background. Home in time to catch the end of the Blackhawks hockey game, completing a sweep of the San José Sharks. When Chicago scored their final goal, over the public address system came the opening instrumental part from the Fratellis’ song “Chelsea Dagger.” As the two teams shook hands, the crowd sang a fight song that began, “Here come the Hawks, the mighty Blackhawks.” The Flyers are leading their series with Montreal 3-1, and it would be unbelievable if they could make it into the Stanley Cup finals. They last won it all in 1975, and Chicago hasn’t won since 1961. Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were smiling down from their box when the clinching empty net goal went in with less than a minute left. An email greeted me this morning from childhood friend Terry Jenkins, starting out, “Go Flyers.” I also received an email from Suzanne, who has become fascinated with the ideas of mathematician John F. Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind.” A genius but a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from delusions at various times in his life, he pioneered in the field of game theory and is most famous for something called the Nash Equilibrium.

In the news: the BP oil spill is worse than anyone thought and reaching land, threatening wildlife and the livelihood of tens of thousands. The federal government is in a Catch-22 situation, frustrated at the failure of BP’s attempts to stop the oil flow but without the expertise to take over operations. Obviously, it is the government’s fault for not having forced the offshore drillers to have fail safe plans, but it’s the Bush administration that deserves most of the blame for being in bed with the corporations. In fact, both Bush and Cheney have backgrounds in the oil business.

Dissatisfied with the movie “Robin Hood,” I moved over to an adjoining theater and caught “Letters to Juliet” – schmaltzy but worth seeing. Vanessa Redgrave is great as a woman who sought out an old boyfriend a half-century after their romance. In real life she’s married to Franco Nero, who played her long-lost lover. Riding in to her life on horseback at his wine vineyard, he later toasted her by saying something to the effect that he started that day as an old man and turned into a teenager. Redgrave is very subtle in having her character seem old and vulnerable one moment and vibrant and strong the next. There’s a very tender scene where she’s brushing the hair of the younger woman who’s helping her find her lover to show her appreciation and affection.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Roots of Steel

I wrote the first draft of my “Roots of Steel” review, ass usual, leading off with a quote. Here it is:

“I became a union man at my father’s knee, and I’ll be one till they put me in a box,” Manuel Alvarez
Deborah Rudacille, whose previous books dealt with animal rights (The Scalpel and the Butterfly) and transgendered Americans (The Riddle of Gender), returned to her childhood neighborhood in Dundalk, Maryland, a blue collar suburb of Baltimore, and produced an elegy to a vanishing culture. For more than a century Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point plant symbolized the triumph and travail of industrial capitalism. With the advent of unionism in 1941 laborers secured a significant stake in the system. Jessie Schultz, one of over 50 people interviewed by Rudacille, recalled: “It was a dangerous job. But if it wasn’t for Bethlehem Steel, I wouldn’t have what I got today.” Workers had to cope with a racial and ethnic pecking order, shift work, asbestos, noxious pollution, and a harsh workplace environment that drove many to drink (as her dad’s sidekick the author recalls coaxing bar patrons into giving her coins for the jukebox).
Though certainly no utopia, those days seem idyllic compared with when the bottom fell out. Oldtimers regret the loss of solidarity among neighbors and union comrades. Now, to quote Judy Martin, there is homelessness, overcrowded soup kitchens, and “everyone is afraid of opening doors.” Rudacille blames the “bust” not only on automation but on management shortsightedness and greed. Still it was a mistake for unions to have pressed for employer-funded health and retirement plans rather than national health insurance and adequate Social Security pensions. Starting in 2001 with Bethlehem's bogus bankruptcy, Sparrows Point has changed corporate hands five times in eight years, with huge profits accruing to speculators and downsizing inevitably resulting . At the time "Roots of Steel" went to press the mill, whose patriotic employees helped win two world wars and fueled the prosperity of the mid-twentieth century, was in Russian (OAO Severstal) hands.

Yesterday we drove to Valparaiso to watch James star in a play that was a clever take-off on “Cinderella.” He had everyone’s parts memorized and said all his lines so clearly that the audience heard every word. Rebecca would have been in the play as well, but she had rehearsal at the Star Plaza for “Annie,” in which she got the prized role of Molly. Burgeoning thespians both! Afterwards, we celebrated James’s triumph and Alissa’s twenty-second birthday at Longhorn Steak House. My riibs were perfect – not too much barbeque sauce.

Commenting on what Suzanne said about my having stayed married for 45 years, I replied: “Virtually all my colleagues at IU Northwest divorced during the Seventies, some of whom went on to marry former students. It was an age when many wives resented going from their parents’ home right into homemaking responsibilities without having ever enjoyed the freedom feminists were talking about.” I could have added that there were many temptations and some flirtations, but in the end Toni and I weathered the inevitable storms.

Ron Cohen emailed me about running into Bill Ayers, the onetime radical who belonged to the SDS Weathermen in the late Sixties and participated in the 1969 Days of Rage in Chicago. FOX news tried to use his being on a board with Obama as an issue during the 2008 Presidential election. Ron also ran into a guy (he couldn’t recall his name) who told him he was a former student of mine and that the two of us had seen the Ali-Foreman fight (the Rumble in the Jungle) in Zaire at a Hammond movie theater. That had to be Rick Dawson, a brilliant student who was a labor negotiator and now, according to Ron, a lawyer. I remember Rick giving an oral report about Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and using the word pariah in describing how trolley riders shunned the main character because he smelled so bad from his job in the meat packing industry. I recall debating whether to pay 20 dollars to see the fight and how the crowd, composed of an approximately equal number of whites, blacks, and Latinos, was overwhelmingly for Ali, who had us worried when he went into his Rope-a-Dope strategy. Prior to the fight the theater showed a softcore porno movie that drew hoots and applause from the boisterous crowd.

Steve McShane asked me to talk to his class about doing oral history projects about social life in Hobart – a chance to reprise my Kiwanis talk, ending with seven people reading excerpts from Ryan’s “Bad Seeds” piece. I’ll show them my tape recorder, which to them will seem like a real museum piece.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sizwe Banzi Is Dead

Toni and I went to a theater at the University of Chicago Sunday with the Hagelbergs to see the 1971 play “Sizwe Banzi Is Dead.” It deals with two South Africans living in Cape Town during a time of apartheid, when blacks were not free to move about without the proper credentials. One of them did not have a proper Passbook and came upon a dead man, whose identity he took so he could remain in the city to earn money to provide for his family. The play was very moving, and the two actors, Chiké Johnson and Allen Gilmore, were fabulous. It starts out with a man commenting on news events he’s reading about in a newspaper. Evidently when it was first performed, the actor John Kani would improvise based on whatever the headlines of the day were about. Sometimes he’d go on and on. The play reminded me of being in Durban and Pietermaritzburg eight years ago to attend an International Oral History Association conference. The first night I ventured out from my five-star hotel, located a block from the beach, in search of a restaurant or sports bar and found the neighborhood mostly deserted and palpably unsafe. The next morning a colorful open market had materialized outside and dozens of black kids were playing on the beach or in the water, many just in their underwear. I went on a day trip to the highest point in South Africa, officially crossing into the country of Lesotho, where families lived in cone-shaped tents. During the conference at the University of Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) female teenage Zulu dancers performed topless, which left some of the feminist historians nonplussed. The campus was surrounded by walls and gates, and people claimed carjacking was widespread, but I walked into Pietermaritzburg and felt quite safe. Nelson Mandela remains my biggest hero, and I got the shivers watching Morgan Freeman portray him in “Invictus.” After the play Corey Hagelberg got us to go into the U. of C.’s Smart Museum of Art that featured 60s surrealistic, campy work, including use of grotesque cartoon characters, by members of the Chicago Imagist school, including Ed Paschke, who I’d heard of. One faction called themselves Monster Rooster, another the Hairy Who. Pretty cool. We topped the day off with a great meal at Shaw’s Crab House.

In the car Dick turned on the end of the Blackhawks hockey playoff game with the Sharks. They were up 2-1 with a minute to go, but San Jose was on a power play plus pulled their goalie for a two-man advantage. The Chicago goalie Antti Niemi was great, however, and the Blackhawks won. It was a banner weekend for Philadelphia. The Phillies swept a three-game series with Milwaukee, and the Flyers became just the third team in history to come back from a three-game playoff deficit. On Friday they actually fell behind 3-0 against the hated Boston Bruins before scoring the final four goals. Last night they won game one from Montreal 6-0. Even though they were the seventh seed, they have the home ice advantage. To think, back when I was in Punta Gorda, they needed a victory in a shootout on the last day of the regular season to even get in the playoffs.

I’ve traded a couple emails with Lisa Hartlund, who initially wrote: “Hi James! I like your blog! I thought maybe since you are a history professor in Gary you might have some idea what this photo is. It's my grandfather who lived in Gary from some time just before WWI until he died in 1947. He was Italian and lived on Tyler Street. No one in the family knows about him being in any kind of band. I'm wondering if you know of any bands this photo could be associated with in Gary? I think his hat says Marandos Band. He looks to be about 20 something in this photo so I put it sometime right after he got out of WWI and maybe in the early 20's? I'd appreciate any insight you might have!” Unfortunately, all I could offer Lisa were a couple theories, the most likely being that Marandos was a Gary band, perhaps put together by a local person or family named Marando. In the photo Loreto Manna is in a band uniform holding a musical instrument (a trombone, I think). It’s possible but not probable that he went to a photo studio and decided to use these as props.

Emails also awaited me from old girlfriends Pam Tucker (upset over the latest eliminations on “American Idol” and “Dancing with the Stars”), Judy Jenkins (who I’ve been trying to convince to come to our fiftieth reunion), and Suzanne, who was pleased to learn that I was “one of the few among us who was able to stay married” (and who appreciated that I didn’t say anything shocking in my last note). Today is Alissa’s twenty-second birthday, and she is coming down from Michigan and will go with us to a play James is in.

There’s a scene in “Straight Man” where Hank is with his secretary who is 22 years younger than him and, with battle lines being drawn among English department members, repeats the Buffalo Springfield lyric, “Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” She doesn’t catch the reference, causing Hank to say, “Ours is a fragmented culture. If I wrote another book, who would read it?” On the other hand, Hank’s buddy Tony is in a bar dancing with young reporter Missy, and both are singing the chorus to “Gimme Some Lovin’,” a Sixties song by the Spencer Davis Group featuring Steve Winwood that was later covered by the Blues Brothers in the movie of the same name. Hank suffers from what he terms ellipses, where he blots out the world and goes into a trance or reverie. He quotes the Everly Brothers line, "Whenever I want to, all I have to do is dream." The department’s junior faculty member (Orshee) compares the sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes” to “Huckleberry Finn” and calls it white America’s great race fantasy: “young black males, nonthreatening and loving. Old white guys who care about the black community. It’s great stuff.”

In the news: Rioting continues in Thailand, and BP is claiming they are catching a fraction of the spewing oil with a mile-long straw. Former Gary West Side graduate became the first African-American valedictorian at Notre Dame. She has a radiant smile and is the kind of person that makes old teachers pr oud. Jim Spicer taught many years in the Gary schools and may have had her. Son Dave has an East Chicago Central student heading for Harvard in the fall. He and Angie chaperoned the prom on Saturday, and we had the grandkids overnight. James has been reading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and brought along the audiotape.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blast from the Past

“Mild apprehension
Blank dreams of the coming fun
Distort the odds of a turnaround”
From MGMT’s “Flash Delirium”

Among the hundred emails awaiting me upon my return from Michigan was one from an old girlfriend whom I went out with the summer between high school and college. Suzanne found me through Facebook and wrote: “ I have fond memories of our growing up experiences together that summer when I was 15.” Holy cow! I thought she was at least 16 (she was going into eleventh grade). Lucky I never ventured further than second base. It was 1960, and I was just thrilled to have an attractive, steady girlfriend who was a great kisser. Her email mentioned that she has been married twice, had six kids, and has had many job experiences, including caseworker, counselor, EMT, and midwife. I wrote back: “I have fond memories of you, too, and I’m sorry for any and all stupid things I might have done during that time. I blame it on the time and my immaturity. I remember being with you at a state fair and seeing Louis Armstrong perform, and being at your house with a horrible case of poison ivy. You were a real sweetheart. A couple summers after we stopped going together I was at a party at Paul Curry’s (he died in Vietnam tragically) across from your house and almost knocked on your door. Sounds like you are doing well despite life’s vicissitudes. Six kids – that’s quite an accomplishment.” Suzanne responded to my email thusly: “I was so truly delighted to see that you answered my note- in -a -bottle via cyber space. You were my first real boyfriend and so I surely never forget anything about that. We had a wonderful summer... we were young... all self perceived immaturities are forgiven and taken into account, of course, and I hope you do the same for me. We were very different people but just what we needed at the time, I do believe.” In my reply I succumbed to the temptation to bring up anecdotes of the two of us parking. As I put it, “My hormones were raging then, so I have memories mostly of making out with you (isn’t that terrible?).” She mentioned that she is now very religious – a Mennonite, in fact – so I may not hear from Suzanne again. I hope that is not the case, however. This is how I ended my second email: “I apologize if this has been too intimate. I am in touch with numerous Upper Dublin classmates, including Mary Delp, whom I dated in ninth and tenth grade. She recalled my father (who died at age 50) driving the two of us from the movies to a dairy bar on Bethlehem Pike and waiting in the car while we went inside for something to eat. I had no memory of that, and it was great adding that anecdote to the memories I have of my father.”

Soon to retire Chancellor Bruce Bergland thanked me for the “Retirement Journal.” I sent him and called me a “pillar of IU Northwest.” He called me Jimbo, as he always does, and concluded, “I’ll always treasure your friendship.” I’m a little rough on him in the journal for the way he treated Vice Chancellor Aggrey, so I hope he likes it (maybe he won’t get that far). There’s a line in the MGMT song “Flash Delirium” from their new CD “Congratulations” that goes: “I can stand by my pillar of hope it’s just a case of flash delirium.”

Monday evening I went to the Patio for the Merrillville History Club presentation of Lester Langley’s “The Americas in the Age of Revolution.” One fellow was bemoaning the instability of Latin American countries compared to ours, and I mentioned that during the Cold War the United States did much to destabilize countries and prop up dictators. Afterwards, Joy Anderson emailed, “I wanted to let you know that I thought your insightfulness into the role that our foreign policy played interfering in the governments of Central and South America was an excellent point. I can remember the campus unrest when I was in college regarding the backing of the right wing dictators, pouring money into countries that was supposed to help the general population but just lined the pockets of the corrupt leaders.”

I saw the movie “Death at a Funeral” starring two of my favorite comedians, Chris Rock and Tracy Morgan. It’s pretty gross but very funny. There’s a midget blackmailer who shows up with photos of him having sex with the dead man (Chris Rock’s father). Aaron (Rock) tells his brother Ryan (Martin Lawrence): “Let me get this straight: our dad was having gay sex with a guy that could fit in his pocket, and you're mad because he's white?” Danny Glover is hilarious as a thoroughly crabby Uncle Russell. One running joke involves a bottle of pills marked “valium” (inadvertently taken by three people) that in fact are powerful psychedelics. They cause people to freak out. The James Marsden character takes off all his clothes and gets up on the roof to gawk at nature. In the final scene someone has medicated Uncle Russell to calm him down and we see him naked on the roof commenting on how green everything looks.

Toni and I went shopping for basement furniture for the new condo and bought a sofa set at Value City plus a table and chairs. Jim, the salesman, was a real pro and was so low pressure it was a joy to do something (shop) that I normally dislike. We had sandwiches at a place called Heavenly Ham. Toni was able to buy a ham soup bone for five dollars.

I attended the weekly meeting of the Hobart Kiwanis in order to get volunteers for my Hobart Oral History Project. Students in Steve McShane’s summer Indiana History class will do projects relating to the town’s social history. I’m scheduled to talk with them during their first class next Tuesday. About 20 people filled out the questionnaire and agreed to be interviewed, including funeral director Jim Burns, who donated a coffin for a school exhibit about the perils of drunk driving that was intended to be an object lesson for those going to the prom and whose son Jimmy was one of my best students. In fact, Jimmy wrote an article in my 1990s issue “Shards and Midden Heaps” about wrestler Alex Ramos, who saved Jimmy’s sister Christy and saved her life after they were involved in a horrific accident. I happened to have a copy of the Nineties volume with me and gave it to Burns. The Kiwanis speaker was 87 year-old Dwight Carter, was a marine corpsman who landed at Iwo Jima 65 years ago as part of the original invasion force and who lost 40 pounds during the 37 days he was on the front lines. He had a belt where he had made an extra notch to hold his pants up. He had enlisted in 1942 “For the Duration,” as he put it. Twice marines died within ten yards of him. He recently returned to Iwo Jima, now in Japanese hands, for a ceremony honoring both Americans and Japanese who fought there. Both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Post-Tribune had front-page stories about his journey, which first took him to Honolulu and Guam. There had also been a 50-year commemoration, but he didn’t go because of his wife’s poor health. At the end of his presentation the Kiwanians gave him a standing ovation.

There’s a great scene in Richard Russo’s novel “Straight Man” where Hank is having lunch with his dean in one of the few places still open in the fictitious western Pennsylvania town of Railton. The lounge is in a bowling alley, and near them a lone bowler yells out “cocksucker” when he leaves a split. “Nice ambience,” Hank glibly tells his boss. “Nice nose,” the dean replies. Earlier during a department meeting colleague Gracie Dubois, an earth mother type, hit him with a notebook after he made a snide remark disparaging her poetry. Later Hank’s mother chastises him for being clever, saying that cleverness is a poor substitute for true creativity. Me, I’ll settle for clever.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Alissa's Graduation

On Thursday we drove to East Lansing for granddaughter Alissa’s graduation from Michigan State. She lived with us for eight years and is like a daughter to us. We had three rooms at a Howard Johnson’s for our entourage of 12. Beth, Alissa’s mom, flew in from Oregon (she was pleased to see me wearing the “Detroit Rock City” t-shirt she bought me one Christmas), and her parents came up for the big event. Alissa was radiant, and in addition to the gigantic commencement that we skipped due to inclement weather the school staggered various smaller, intimate ceremonies where each student crossed the stage as his or her name was called. Alissa was one about 500 graduates from the division of Arts and Letters, which included Fine Arts (her specialty in photography), Graphic Arts, Professional writing plus more traditional (and less popular) fields such as Philosophy and American Studies. Many more students were in Asian Studies than were majoring in French, Italian or Russian. Afterwards we found a pizza place that could seat the 15 of us, including Vee and Jen, two housemates who will be going to Europe with her in the summer. We ordered Middle Eastern carryout one other day, which we brought back to the motel. The kids loved its swimming pool and hot tub, and we also got in several S.O.B. card games.

I finished my review of “The Dragon’s Tail” just as a book arrived for me to review for Salem Press called “Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town” (about Dundalk, MD, a blue collar community near Baltimore and the old Bethlehem Steel Sparrow’s Point works). Author Deborah Rudacille, who grew up in Dundalk, writes a moving elegy (“that would do Studs Terkel proud,” according to Kirkus Reviews) to a dying breed of industrial workers whose values – hard work, patriotism, family bonds – made a lasting imprint on her. On the back of the jacket is a memorable photo from June of 1942 showing literally thousands of shipwrights, blacks and whites all intermingled, on payday. As Rudacille points out, however, African Americans suffered from housing discrimination as well as barriers to job advancement. In the mills they were given the dirtiest, most unsafe jobs.

Here’s the “Dragon’s Tail” review: Atomic narratives in postwar American culture are subjected to cogent analysis in this succinct, well-researched, readable book. These stories convey just how scary the future seemed during the Cold War at a time (until 1963) when atmospheric testing exposed virtually all living things on the planet to radioactive fallout. As the government urged citizens to construct backyard fallout shelters, ethicists debated whether one was justified in shooting intruders. Nuclear weapons, everyone agreed, threatened civilization’s very survival. World peace was no longer a pipedream but the only practical alternative to an apocalyptic denouement - the extinction of the human race as dramatized in Nevil Shute’s bestselling novel On the Beach (1957) and on a bubblegum trading card labeled “Atomic Doom.” A ludicrous (in retrospect) civil defense film, Duck and Cover, made use of cartoon character Bert the Turtle and a jingle written by the same team that came up with “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet" to warn kids to be on alert for a sudden bright flash that could “burn you worse than a terrible sunburn.” Especially interesting is the interpretation of disaster movies such The Incredible Shrinking Man. Monsters range from mutant ants (Them) and octopi (It Came from Beneath the Sea), to dinosaurs (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and, most famously, Godzilla).

For lighter reading I am enjoying for the second time Richard Russo’s “Straight Man.” It’s a real riot. The main character, 49 year-old English professor William Henry “Hank” Devereaux, Jr., says: “Truth be told, I’m not an easy man.” I think I am an easy man, but Toni would disagree. Who is? My friend Jim Migoski is the most easy-going man I know, but his wife commonly says, “I’m gonna kill him.” Devereaux has a dog Occam, named for Occam’s Razor, the proposition that the simplest explanation is best. One colleague, Bill Quigley, only calls him when he’s been drinking. He’s not necessarily a drunk but doesn’t make phone calls unless he’s been loosened up with spirits. Hmmmm. Sounds familiar. Another colleague Hank has nicknamed Orshee because whenever someone uses the pronoun “he,” the guy, who is guilty he was born a white male, adds, “or she.”

Got home just as the Cubs lost, completing a 1-5 road trip. The Phillies won, and two nights ago 47 year-old Jamie Moyer beat the Braves, the oldest pitcher ever to hurl a shutout. My white puff ball tree is in full bloom, and Toni spotted a groundhog ambling across our driveway. Mellowed out with a quart of Miller High Life and scared two deer away as I relieved myself on the rocks, something I’ll miss being able to do when we move to the condo. Talked to Midge, it being Mother’s Day, and also phoned Alissa and 16 year-old Miranda, who had driven with Phil back to Grand Rapids. She apologized for Texting so much while we were all playing cards (no problem, I said). She had a funny story about having trouble getting cruise control to work, and when Phil was helping her, he noticed the gas gauge registered empty. Fortunately they made it to a station.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cinco de Mayo

The Phoenix Suns have decided to wear “Los Suns” on their jerseys tonight for their NBA game against San Antonio as a way of honoring Latinos on Cinco de Mayo and as a protest against a recent Arizona law that seemed aimed against Hispanics. Owner Robert Sarver came up with the idea and got approval from all the players. Cinco de Mayo celebrates a victory by Mexican forces over French troops in the 1862 Battle of Puebla.

I tried to read Gore Vidal’s novel “Duluth” but found it too convoluted. The author puts the Minnesota city next to the border with Mexico, and when characters die, they come back to life either as characters in books or on TV shows. The book is meant as a satire, but his stereotypes of Mexicans and African Americans are demeaning and not funny.

I voted in the Democratic primary yesterday in Porter County. Most Democrats, including Judge Julia Jent, were running unopposed. The races I really cared about were for Lake County sheriff and judge. My guys, Ligon and Dominguez, lost but both did much better than most people expected.

My talk to the Hobart Kiwanis went well. About 40 people were in attendance, including the woman from whom Toni and I bought our house. At the end I got six people to read paragraphs of Ryan Maicki’s “Bad Seed,” including Judge James Moody, former mayor Linda Buzenic, and former students Jeff Renn and Fred McColly. Fred looked great and said he’d lost 30 pounds by changing his eating habits. Mayor Brian Snedecor said he hoped I’d follow up on doing a Shavings issue on the social history of Hobart and offered his help if I did so. After I mentioned Hobart Jaycee Fest, someone mentioned that he had met his wife there. Afterwards, Jeff emailed me: “You did an awesome job and I know already that everyone really liked you. If you ever want to come back and just come to a meeting or join the club, let me know. They would love to have you. Once again thank you so much for your time and for everything else over the course of the past 5 years (teaching me).” I got laughs when I said that Ryan would have been here to read it himself but he was teaching school. I amended my remarks several times and in the end didn’t use notes because I virtually had everything memorized. Here is the final version:

I want to tell you about a magazine I edit dealing with the social history of the Calumet Region. Steel Shavings started out in connection with having students do family oral history projects and then publishing the best of them. Such an assignment can also help students learn about local and national events. Most articles focused on the immigrant experience since few Region residents have been here more than three generations. One early issue focused on Latinos. Others centered on themes within specific time periods, such as Depression experiences, WW II Homefront activities, the Postwar Age of Anxiety, Relationships between the Sexes during the Teen Years of the 1950s, and Racial Tensions during the 1960s. I have edited special issues on Portage, Cedar Lake, and Gary, with the dominant emphasis being family life and social change over time. I’m seriously thinking of doing one on Hobart.

I consider myself first and foremost a Social historian and am interested in such things as sports, work experiences, school experiences, popular culture, fads and fashions, and leisure activities of young and old. One of my favorite articles, in fact, was about a Hobart student’s grandparents who were really into square dancing.

Starting about ten years ago, I gave students the option to write about themselves, looking back on memorable moments as well as keeping journals highlighting day-to-day activities (everything from working out to making out, from body piercings to line dancing). Many had to balance school, work, and family obligations. The journals provided insights into what I call the contemporary history of adolescence although, I hasten to add, at IUN there also were many nontraditional students writing about the perils of married life, encounters with death and illness, and other life-altering events. One article, entitled “Emptying Nest,” dealt with taking one’s youngest child off to college.

During the 1990s Dorothy Ballantyne and Elin Christianson of the Hobart Historical Society edited two delightful volumes about growing up in Hobart. David Dunning recalled skinny dipping during the 20s in Duck Creek and Lake George. Ada Easton remembered wearing a long Indian dress at Campfire Girl outings. William Fowble watched silent cartoons at the Strand Theater listening to Ted Coons play the pipe organ. Dorothy Ballantyne heard the blind and deaf Helen Keller speak at a school auditorium. She got to school in a horse-drawn bus and was one of 27 high school students in the class of 1927. While most of these reminiscences are about the so-called “old days,” it is just as legitimate to record for posterity recent history.

If I were putting together a Shavings issue devoted to social life in Hobart, one subject could be how Lake George has changed over time (some residents refer to B.S. and A.S. – before silt and after silt). Another might explore the evolution of bowling alleys. At Cressmoor Lanes, where my team is in the Gary Sheet and Tin league, teams once tipped pinsetters by putting a dollar bill in one of the bowling ball holes at the end of the night and keep score themselves without the aid of a computer. Other Hobart institutions deserving of coverage include the YMCA (my son Phil met his future wife there), July Fourth parades and fireworks displays (I’ve attended many), the unique Art Theater, whose longtime owner was quite a character, and Hobart’s bar and restaurant scene (Rosie O’Grady’s, that grand old dive, is now Cagney’s). I’d love to see a history of the Hobart Jaycee Fest where in the Strack and Van Til parking lot I have seen Blue Oyster Cult, Cracker, the Smithereens, and Joan Jett perform, as well as my son’s band Voodoo Chili. Just last week I passed Hillman Field, where I played many a softball game, on my way to a tennis match at the new high school, whose athletic facilities are awesome.

Stories about Hobart’s social scene have appeared in most Steel Shavings issues. In the Nineties volume, entitled “Shards and Midden Heaps” (a phrase borrowed from my favorite Region author Jean Shepherd) eight pages alone are devoted to Brickie Pride, the football program under Coach Don Howell and three humorous remembrances of high school days. I’d like to conclude with excerpts from one of them, Ryan Maicki’s “Bad Seeds.”

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dragon's Tail

“Look up in the sky.
See the pretty mushroom cloud.
Soon we will be dead.
Haiku written by fifth grader Richard Rhodes

Got a book from “Choice” to review about atomic narratives called “The Dragon’s Tail.” One genre was Fifties monster movies, featuring ants (“Them), dinosaurs (“The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”), an octopus (“It Came from Beneath the Sea”), and other mutants (including, most famously, Godzilla) created due to nuclear fallout. Such a fate also befell “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” The monster in that case was the mushroom cloud that transformed him. The author’s name is Robert Jacobs, same as a boyhood friend who was a jock in high school and still is in touch with Terry Jenkins. At a late-Sixties party Terry and Gayle threw, I told “Jake” that my Nehru jacket n only cost twenty dollars. “It looks like it,” he replied snidely. You would have never have guessed that he and Donald, our nerdy scout leader, were brothers.

Schererville town historian Art Schweitzer passed away. Post-Tribune reporter Michelle Quinn called him a one-man historical society and quotes Heidi Zima as saying, “There’s no one who loved this community more than he did.” The longtime volunteer fireman worked for Acme Steel for 30 years. Known for wearing khaki shirts with several pens in his pockets, he was a voracious collector and evidently would show up to record on camera for posterity events that he believed historically important. Wish I had known him. I told Steve McShane that the Archives should look into getting his stuff and maybe even have an exhibit of it or set up a “Schweitzer corner” where it could be on display or made use of in the service of Clio, our common muse.

Paul Kern says he finished reading Edward Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and is starting John Lothrop Motley’s “Rise of the Dutch Republic.” Pretty heavy stuff. I replied that I’m into novels and recommended Richard Russo’s “Straight Man.” He mentioned being in close Facebook contact with former student Terrance Durousseau, whose journal I published in my “Ides of March 2003 Shavings issue. In a section of “Gary’s First Hundred Years” that raised eyebrows but one I consider among my most creative, I made use of it in this paragraph: “Working at Church’s Fried Chicken, Terrance Durousseau joked about politicians threatening to change the name of French fries to Freedom fries because our erstwhile allies weren’t gung ho for war. One customer reeking of alcohol wanted a refund, claiming his order got messed up, then pretended he’d been short-changed. On March 15 Durousseau wrote: ‘The manager checked the bleed box, where 20 dollar-bills are dropped. It was empty, but the man still left in an outrage.’ The day’s highlight was a call from older brother Cool Breeze, thanking him for the ten dollars and card featuring a bikini-clad woman promising, ‘Tammie is going to remove her top for you.’ Inside was a chimp named Tammie.”

Received a handwritten letter from 1979-era student Terry Helton, an African American who says he feels more comfortable living in Ellis, Montana, than he ever did in Gary, Indiana. He had a number of job complaints, however, and apologized for an earlier anti-Obama rant. The Prez, incidentally, was great at the White House Correspondents Dinner, taking a swipe at Jay Leno (“the only person whose ratings fell more than mine”) and Conan O’Brien (he was glad to precede Leno “because we have all seen what happens when someone takes the time slot after Leno.” He chided birthers who claim he’s not an American citizen. Referring to the couple who crashed a state dinner last year, he quipped, “Odds are that the Salihis are here.” As if Obama doesn’t have enough on his plate, a gigantic BP oil spill threatens the entire gulf coast.

Saturday was a Philadelphia sports day on national TV, first an exciting overtime hockey game between the Flyers and the hated Boston Bruins, then FOX carried the Mets versus the Phillies, led by ace Roy Holladay (a blowout with “Doc” hurling a complete game shutout). That evening we played bridge at Hagelbergs, and I emerged the winner on the strength of a slam that partner Toni played. Sunday I got in six board games, winning only Amun Re by a single point. Had the final sacrifice been different by as little as a dollar, I’d have lost. There was a way either Tom or Dave could have won. Both St. Petersburg games also went down to the wire, fodder for a lengthy telephone rehash with T. Wade afterwards. Cubbies own a three-game win streak on the strength of Afonso Soriano’s four HRs in that span. When he goes on a hot streak, there’s nobody better. Home alone (Toni went to hear Dick Hagelberg sing at Vaplo University’s chapel – they did Mahler’s “Resurrection” in German), I talked with a couple old friends, including Chuck Logan, who recently visited his 97 year-old grandmother in New York (“she recognized me, I think,” he reported) and had just finished watching a 20 year-old Irishman win a tournament over Phil Mickelson.

Got a rightwing group email about the so-called Stella awards, named for the woman who sued MacDonald’s after she put hot coffee between her legs while driving and got scalded. One supposedly claimed a would-be burglar got trapped in a garage and successfully sued the owner he was trying to burglarize. Then there was Kara Walton, of Claremont, Delaware, who supposedly sued a night club owner because she fell from the bathroom window to the floor, knocking out her two front teeth attempting to sneak through the ladies room window to avoid paying the $3.50 cover charge.” The only trouble, according to a USA Today article, is that these things never happened. They are just propaganda.

On Facebook Anne Balay posted a picture of her dressed as a man complete with slicked down hair, dark eyebrows, and fake mustache. She asked her class to cross-dress for a day, and about a third of them did. Two black guys looked very voluptuous as women. Anne said Chuck Gallmeier sat down next to her in the cafeteria and didn’t recognize her at first. Interesting experiment. Joy Anderson sent a reminder that next Monday’s book to be discussed by History Book Club members is Lester Langley’s “The Americas in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1850.” It compares America’s war for independence to the 1791 Haitian slave revolt and the struggle in Latin America against Spain. I may go. At the last meeting the group discussed a book about harems. Joy quipped, “I almost reeled in a new member when I told him about the ‘Behind the Veil’ book and that we came dressed for the occasion! His face was so full of anticipation that I had to say that I was joking.”

Upper Dublin classmate Connie Heard Damon, working with Janet Stuart Garman on our fiftieth reunion, emailed wondering whether I had Pam Tucker Rudolph’s email address. Turned out that Pam and I spent the morning a few days ago emailing back and forth about two dozen times. The closest I came to flirting was to say I sure could use a back rub. “That’s Toni’s job,” was her succinct reply.