Thursday, July 29, 2010


Suzanna, who resides in western Pennsylvania, has returned from Houston, where she met a new granddaughter, and reports: “I have been really busy catching up with myself since returning. So much to do. The garden was overrun with weeds but fortunately the grass was not too bad. The tomatoes are just starting to turn red and with twenty tomato plants I will have a tomato processing plant when they all are ready. Last year I made some yummy salsa and spaghetti sauce and stewed tomatoes and lots and lots of salad and gave alot away and also made chili and other tomato-based things. I will also have bunches of other veggies but mostly pumpkins. I plan to put up a sign "Grant Street Pumpkin Patch" "Papa Pumpkins $2.00; Mama Pumpkins 1.00 and Baby Pumpkins 50 cents." Should be fun.”

I wrote back that 20 tomato plants was quite a crop and that Toni and I love fried green tomatoes, as well as salsa and the other things she will be canning. Here in Northwest Indiana tomatoes don’t turn red until later in the year. A couple friends give us tomatoes from their gardens and we keep reiterating that we like green ones, too. After we moved to Northwest Indiana, we’d go south on Broadway until we came to a pumpkin farm where a mall was eventually built. Then there was a pumpkin patch in Portage on Airport Road and Central where my dentist, Dr. John Sikora now has his office. The last pumpkins I bought were from Town and Country supermarket, and “Babies” cost way more than 50 cents.

Yard work can be fun if you don’t have too much of it. I thought we wouldn’t have to do anything at our new condo, but Toni and I have weeded and pruned bushes. At our old place the back yard was so small that I’d keep the grass under control with a weed whacker – good exercise. We had poison ivy that kept threatening to invade our property. The National Lakeshore rangers told us officially that since poison ivy was indigenous to the area, we should let it alone, but I squirted stuff on patches near us. We also had thistles that stuck to your pants legs and shoe laces and hurt like hell. In “Rabbit at Rest” John Updike concludes that weeds have their own personalities and styles and don’t know that they are weeds. He writes: “Chickweed is a good weed, soft on the hands unlike thistles and burdock, and pulls easily; it knows when the jig is up and comes willingly, where wild cucumber keeps breaking off at one of its many joints, and grass and red sorrel and poison ivy spread underground, like creeping diseases that cannot be cured.”

My 2,000-word review of the stock car racing book “He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back” is in its fifth revision. Since I like to push the button to see what I can get past Magill’s censors (if there are any), I quote driver Curtis Turner’s comparison of drag racing to masturbation (“It’s a little bit of fun, but it ain’t much to look at”). Jimmy Carter invited NASCAR’s leading lights to the White House in 1978, but old Ronnie Reagan was more their type of guy with his sunny optimism and cowboy persona. Seeking re-election in 1984 against Walter Mondale, Reagan flew aboard Air Force One to Daytona Beach on July Fourth and was on hand when Richard Petty won his two hundredth and final race. "Dutch" was a decent ceremonial president but stuck us with policies that were a millionaire's dream and set the country back a generation. With jingoism in vogue the lavish pre-race productions of Charlotte Motor Speedway impresario Humpy Wheeler (he inherited the nickname from his father, also a Camel smoker) knew no boundaries. In 1984 he staged a bogus reenactment of Operation Urgent Fury, the 1983 invasion of Grenada, which, according to Mark Bechtel “featured thatched huts being strafed by planes and palm trees splintered by simulated gunfire.” Ugh!!!

The Archives was a busy place, with several researchers interested in Gary, Steve going through treasures we recently got from old county records, and a fellow named Ron Trigg was organizing a new collection on Porter, Indiana, based in part on photos he has taken and publications in which they have appeared. These include booklets commemorating Porter’s 150th anniversary celebration in 2008. The Bailly Homestead in Porter goes back even further, to 1822. 1858 was the year the Augsburg Lutheran Church was founded by Swedes who emigrated to the area. The Swedes settling in Gary’s Miller district were confirmed at the Augsburg church until they started Bethel Church in 1874. In addition to wonderful photos of woodlands, dunes, and the flowers and wildlife that can be found near the lakeshore, Trigg took numerous shots of nineteenth-century homes that have been restored. In the section of one booklet on Porter businesses there’s a photo of Leroy’s Hot Stuff, a bar and restaurant where Dave’s old band Voodoo Chili played numerous times.

After assuming the position of Court One representative and giving out our email address, I received a half-dozen emails within three hours. That’s OK though. I’m getting familiar with my neighbors and problems they might have.

Rebecca’s play “Annie,” opens Saturday, and we are expecting not only the Michiganders but the families of nieces Michele and Lisa, each with two young kids. The Star Plaza is offering a special hotel discount, so we are all staying there overnight. Should be fun.

In the news: a grizzly killed a camper at Yellowstone Park. The hunt is on to blow the offending animal away. Also army private Bradley Manning has passed on thousands of documents about our fiasco in Afghanistan to a website called Wikileaks. The rumor is he will be court-martialed.

Thanks to James showing me how to use Comcast’s “On Demand,” I watched my first two episodes of “Curb Your Enthusiasm:” with “Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David. In one he is repelled when he sees his shrink on the beach in a thong bathing suit. To help a charity raising money for research into Groat’s Syndrome (a made-up disease), Larry agrees to have lunch with a fan who paid $4,000 for the honor, then gets into an argument with the guy, who doesn’t want him to start eating until his own meal arrives. Larry wonders whether the disease was named after Pirates’ shortstop Dick Groat, who played next to second baseman Bill Mazeroski on Pittsburgh’s 1960 championship team and closed out his career with the Phillies seven years later. In the other episode Edward Asner (old “Lou Grant”) appears as a lecherous old man.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Porter County Fair

No gaming Sunday but got in six games the day before. I won Acquire (barely) and Amun Re (in a rout). From noon to three I worked the IU Northwest booth with Stela Pudar-Hozo at the Porter County Fair. We chatted with interested passersby and handed out literature, plus all kinds of stuff containing the university logo, including balloons, jar openers, envelope openers, computer screen cleaners, fans, pencils, Frisbees (they went fast), and things that we guessed was intended to be used as business card or cell phone holders. Born in the former Yugoslavia, Stela told me that her grandfather was in the Russian army during World War I and would have been killed by the Nazis during WW II had villagers not saved his life. I ran into five people I knew, including Cressmoor Lanes owner Jim Fowble and his wife, Robin Halberstadt (whose house we had been to Friday for a cookout), State representative Ed Charbonneau (the Republican Party booth was up from ours), and Sue Darnell, who once worked for the IU Northwest Credit Union and threw nice parties. I knew three of her boyfriends. I promised two guys wearing Vietnam Veteran caps, Mike Garza and David Guernsy, that I’d send them “Brothers in Arms.” Hungry, during a break in the action I secured free samples of fudge, mixed nuts, malted milk balls and Culligan water. I walked around after my shift and bought a hot dog, but it was too hot to venture into the exhibit halls where the animals were. Years ago, my kids and nieces Alanna and Cristin loved to watch the pig races. You could “bet” on one of them (it didn’t cost money) and win a prize if your pig finished first. I called Cristin to wish her happy thirty-second birthday, told her I had been at the fair, and the first thing she said was, “Did you go to the pig races?” Sadly they are no longer there. She and Alanna have such good memories of summers with us at the house on Maple Place.

Vice Chancellor David Malik asked about 20 other interested faculty to discuss ways in which IU Northwest could be more involved in interacting with the Gary community and how we could better inform community residents about existing programs. Conducting the meeting was an African-American consultant that the university has hired named Jeff Johnson, who is a correspondent for BET (Black Entertainment Television) and hosted “Rap City.” With long dreadlocks, lean body and handsome face, he reminded me of SPEA lecturer (and friend) Jackie Gipson. After mentioning the Archives, I talked about how the academic corridor idea along Thirty-Fifth should be resurrected and community outreach things Garret Cope has done, including Senior College and the Glen Park conversation. Once after my Gary book came out, Garrett had me on a program with tattoo artist Roy Boy, who was so interesting that there was hardly any time left for me. Roy Boy died recently, and the obit mentioned that he was world famous and celebrities such as Greg Allman and Cher would come to Glen Park for tattoos. I hope Jeff Johnson gets a chance to talk with former Mayor Richard G. Hatcher, who still teaches at IU Northwest and is a priceless community resource. Also at the meeting were kindred spirits Chuck Gallmeier, DeeDee Ige, and Rick Hug. When I said that the biggest disappointment about the university in my 40 years here is that it has remained an island without any nearby restaurants, shops or dorms, Rick jumped in to say it was his, too. Several of us, including Malik, continued the dialogue at lunch. Medical school director Patrick Bangston passed by and kidded the Vice Chancellor about not being invited to the meeting. Bankston told me he was enjoying Ken Schoon’s “Calumet Beginnings” but found the type awfully small. I sent him my Gary book, which has a large font.

For my review of “He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back” I needed the author’s year of birth. I located Mark Bechtel’s email address through the Sports Illustrated website and got an answer from the author himself within 20 minutes. I told Jim Tolhuizen, a racing fan, that I was reviewing Bechtel’s book, and he knew the details of most of the key events of the 1979 season. I also traded emails with Stela about the fair. “Same time next year?” I asked. “Sure,” she replied.

NFL training camp begins in a few days, and Sports Illustrated had an article entitled “Cutler’s Last Stand,” a take-off, of course on General George Armstrong Custer’s Last Stand. The Bears hired offensive coach Mike Martz to work with their prize quarterback, but there is the feeling that if Chicago misses the playoffs, Coach Lovie Smith will be fired. The best article dealt with a fan’s long crusade, ultimately successful, to get former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little into the Hall of Fame. Just inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame was Andre Dawson, one of my favorite Cubs, who hit 49 homeruns in 1987, his first of six years in Chicago. In his speech he thanked the Wrigley Field fans for making the games so enjoyable. The cover story in the latest Rolling Stone magazine is on Leonardo DiCaprio. It mentioned (I had forgotten if I ever knew) that he played young Tobias in one of my favorite movies, “This Boy’s Life” starring Robert DeNiro (in it his character Dwight uses the expression “Shut your pie hole”). Ellen barkin plays DiCaprio’s mom, and when the principal tells her that her son wrote obscene words on school property, she asks which ones. When the guy says, “Fuck You,” she replies, “That’s just one obscene word.”

TRACES editor Ray Boomhower sent a copy of my article on Vivian Carter and Vee Jay records to proofread. Most of the corrections (there weren’t many) were my fault. Twice I mentioned YJean Chambers, a teacher at Gary Roosevelt who was a friend of Vivian and knew the Spaniels, whose song “Goodnite Sweetheart” helped launch America’s first black-owned record label. Like many Fifties rhythm and blues songs, a cover version with the slight title change to “Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite” outsold the original. James “Pookie” Hudson, the Spaniel who wrote the song, got no royalties. Vee Jay also had hits by the Dells, Dee Clark, Gene Chandler (the immortal “Duke of Earl”), the Staple Singers, and even the Four Seasons. Thinking YJean was a typo, the press changed it to just Jean. In my article I quoted several times from Henry Farag’s autobiography “The Signal” (Steel Shavings, volume 32). Henry was turned on to doo wop music listening to Carter’s radio show “Livin’ with Vivian” and went on to become a leading producer of Oldies shows.

On The SCORE the morning sports jock talked about a friend from Italy whose only words of English were: “Magic Johnson Coast to Coast.” Whenever something excited him, that’s what he’d say. Pretty soon the radio jock and his friends adopted the saying as well, whenever they were excited. Pretty funny. A few days ago there was a mild earthquake in the Washington, D.C., area. Steve Pickert sent a humorous email showing the damage – an outdoor set of table and chairs with one chair on its side. I forwarded it to Terry Jenkins, along with comments about the surging Phillies and received this reply: “I had the "privilege" of going to the game yesterday which was rain delayed. The guy that took me is a cheap bastard, and we parked about a mile away for free. We left at the rain delay while it was light, but ended up getting soaked by the time we reached the car. But they won!!!!”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Condo Board Meeting

The Sand Creek Condominium Association holds board meetings every three months, to which all residents are invited. Since Court One presently has no representative (the previous owner of our unit having moved), I attended in order to bring up the matter of ruts made by a lawn mower in the common area behind our unit. Also I welcomed the opportunity to meet some neighbors. The meeting lasted two and a half hours (sigh!), but I did get a promise that landscapers will fix our ruts in the fall. I also received permission to plant ground cover in a bare spot along our side yard. Jamison Menacher, who recently moved into the old board president’s unit and was talked into becoming his successor despite often being on the road, asked if I would agree to be Court One’s representative. I agreed to do so only if nobody else volunteered. I’ll distribute a form to see if anyone else would do it. I hate meetings, but the board only convenes four times a year. Our neighbor Sue Harrison, who did it for a few months, warned us that people would constantly be calling with petty complaints, but I’d just be a liaison and would demand that people put complaints in writing. Being on the board would be a good way to learn more about the history of our little neighborhood. I really liked the hosts, Craig and Mary Henderson, and an old hand named Leo Rondowho also seems like someone I should get to know better. If someone else volunteers, I’ll be fine with that.

WXRT is starting to play LCD Soundsystem, the dance punk music of genius James Murphy. I’ve heard both “All I Want” and “Drunk Girls.” I don’t usually pay much attention to lyrics, but “I Can Change” contains these words: “Love is a curse shoved in a hearse, love is an open book to a verse of bad poetry.” The song ends: “I can change if it helps you feel real love.” Two bands currently on my “to get” list are Arcade Fire and The National. On “The Drive” (WDRV) on the way to work I heard “Your Wildest Dreams” by Moody Blues, a band I’ve seen a half dozen times in Merrillville and Chicago. Today was the first time in three weeks grandson James wasn’t with me. His Kids College class finished up with a show that included “Greased Lightning” and James doing a break dance. My final Pet Detective Agency story had James catching a dog thief with some help from German Shepherd Sammie.

In Updike’s “Rabbit at Rest” Janice realizes while Harry is hospitalized with heart problems that widowhood might be an interesting adventure plus allow her to eat soup straight out of a can and watch whatever she wants on TV without being subjected to ridicule. Harry’s tastes run more to sports than “Unsolved Mysteries.” Watching a Knicks – Bulls playoff game he grouses about Michael Jordon’s pink tongue “rolling around in his mouth as he goes up for a dunk.” Envy perhaps by the former round baller, but Harry always was slightly wary of blacks. As the Eighties are coming to an end Updike mentions Pennsylvania voters rejecting tax reform and concludes: “If there’s anything you can count on Americans to be these last ten years it’s selfish.” Prior to being seduced by his daughter-in-law Pru (before disrobing she produced a condom), Harry says, “Me, all they need to do is nail down the coffin. I can’t run, I can’t fuck, I can’t eat anything I like. I know damn well they’re going to talk me into a bypass.” Looking back to when he met Janice while both were working at Kroll’s department Store, Harry claims he first started realizing that nothing was permanent when Kroll’s went out of business after whites were afraid to go shopping downtown. Listening to an Oldies station playing “the music of your life” (for codgers), Harry realizes that the syrupy songs of his pre-rock ‘n’ roll era (“the doggies in the window and Mommy kissing Santa Claus and the naughty lady of Shady Lane”) were “as moronic as the rock the brainless kids bnow feed on.”

After Yankees owner George Steinbrenner died, former student Gary Hinton, who teaches and coaches at Culver Military Academy, was quoted in the paper about Culver’s famous alumnus. I contacted Gary, and he wrote: “Great to hear from you! I've thought about you, Dr. (Bill) Neil, Dr. (Rhiman) Rotz and Dr. (Ronald) Cohen often. I truly enjoyed your classes and I even borrowed your testing format (I.D.'s and Essay). I married in August of 09, and now live in Valparaiso (the drive to Culver allows me to listen to a lot of audio books)! Please send me a copy of your latest Steel Shavings magazine. I'm sure it's a great read. When time allows I'd like to visit sometime and get caught up. By the way, your Phillies are looking to make some moves here shortly - it may cost you a nice right fielder though!!!!” Despite defeating the Cardinals last night on a one-hitter by Cole Hamels, Philadelphia is mired in a slump and may not even make the playoffs. Rightfielder Jayson Werth, the subject of trade rumors, is a power hitter with speed. I’d hate to see him go.

Searching for additional quotes for my “Age of Anxiety” talk about the postwar years in the Region, I came across a photo of reporter Carrol Vertrees with county auditor Stanley Olszewski. I bet he’s related to Merrillville history book club member Mike Olszewsjki. I’ll use this quote from Lydia Grady describing segregation in Gary: “One doctor at the Gary National bank Building hired a black secretary, and the only place she could eat was downstairs in the drugstore or at the Gary Hotel restaurant because it was for people from out of town. There was a black architect whose wife was very light-skinned. She’d go to the beauty parlor in the Bank Building. I don’t know of anyone else who’d come downtown for that. Blacks were allowed on the first floor at Methodist Hospital only if they were mill employees hurt at work. If they had something really serious and had to get into Methodist, their black doctor had to turn them over to a white doctor.”

IUN student Jean Cullen interviewed East Chicagoan Bill Figueroa, who recalled: “My father thought he had my life arranged. I was to go to Mexico and study medicine, then marry a beautiful girl named Hilda whose father did business with him. My older sister got married that way. Her husband was ten years older. Hilda waited for me while I was in the service, but I married someone else. My mother’s mother came to live with us when she was in her 80’s. My father thought she came to die. She stayed for 20 years. She smoked homegrown marijuana every morning and had a daily shot of wine. She made a lot of money crocheting initials and designs on handkerchiefs. We had a very low crime rate because we were brought up to respect our parents. If I got in trouble, my older brothers got punished. It was like a spy system. Basically, that’s how it was in most families (and not just Mexican-American households). The worst thing you could do was bring disgrace to your family. The girls didn’t have much opportunity to get into trouble. They never left the house unchaperoned.”

Three books arrived in the mail from John Fraire that he and his bother Gabriel wrote, including a play entitled “Who Will Dance with Pancho Villa?” “Cesar Died Today” is of course about the great union leader Cesar Chavez. A novel entitled “Latino Jesse” has a cover photo of Gabriel with as a kid with his grandparents. I knew Gabe, whom we called Rocky, back in the days of Porter Acres, a former motel where my softball team and our many friends would have parties and picnics, often featuring live bands.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Down Memory Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day at the Office

James knows his way around IUN’s campus and walked from the library to his Kids College classroom in Raintree Hall although I observed him until he went in the back door. He also announced that he could walk by himself to the Archives after class. Yesterday he forgot his water bottle after class and the other boy in the class, Xavier, ran after him and caught up to us. My Pet detective Agency story for the day featured their pet cockatoo Razz. In Canberra, Australia four years ago I saw an entire tree full of them. What a pity to take them out of their natural habitat.

I told secretary Vickie Milenkovski, in charge of signing up to county fair volunteers, to put me down for Porter County a week from Sunday. I’ll get a free pass plus an IU Northwest t-shirt. Last time I got a classy crimson one. I chose the noon to three shift even though it will cut into gaming because my partner will be Stela Pudar-Hozo, whom I had such a good time with two years ago. The Fairgrounds are quite close to our condo, just a few miles south on Route 49. Chris Young, happy to get my critique of his article on Haym Solomon, has a son in three Kids College classes with a lunch break between the second and third. Like Boston Tea Party casualty Crispus Attucks and Polish patriot Thaddeus Kosiuszko, Solomon’s importance is largely symbolic of Jewish support for the Revolution.

Archivist Steve McShane was back from vacation and three volunteers were doing their thing. John Trafny, author of several photo books on Gary neighborhoods, was looking through a folder documenting when the Senior Little League World Series took place in Glen Park’s Junedale subdivision. I attended a game in 1971, and hundreds of Chinese-Americans were cheering for the team from Taiwan. A few white fans booed Mayor Richard Hatcher when he threw out the first ball. Trafny had started researching and gathering photos about Glen Park a few years ago, but all the files on his computer were destroyed when his basement flooded. Bummer.

I picked up Chicago style hot dogs loaded with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers - the works - from Depot Dog on the corner of Route 20 and County Line Road. Nephews Bobby and Joe loved them when they visited. The owner has beautifully manicured a once shabby corner lot. At Maple Place Toni packed Christmas decorations into two big Kmart tubs while I cleaned square plaster molds that grandkids gave us six years ago. We found a place for them at the condo and did some weeding.

Ensconced in my basement “cave,” I listened to the Romantics’ 1980 breakthrough album featuring “What I Like About You” (voted one of the best songs to dance to of all time). At the time of my twentieth reunion, I gave it to Terry and Gayle while staying overnight with them. I saw the Romantics at Valparaiso University after they had faded from sight and their power pop style was no longer in vogue. Playing before a few hundred people, they were terrific and played like they were entertaining thousands. Opening for them was Digital Hair, whose frontman Chad Clifford, a former student, is now with the band Crawpuppies.

Fell asleep in the sixth inning of the All-Star game with the AL ahead 1-0. I was happy to learn that the National League won and that Cubbie Marlon Byrd not only scored a run but made a brilliant play in rightfield, catching a bloop hit on a bounce and throwing out David Ortiz before “Big Papi” could lumber from first to second. As a result, if the Phillies can get in the World Series for the third straight season, they’ll have home field advantage.

In the news: seven year-old Kyron Horman of Beaverton, Oregon, is still missing more than a month after mother-in-law Terri supposedly dropped him off at a school science fair. Terri, a body building 40 year-old narcissist, has become the chief suspect. She allegedly tried to hire a guy to kill husband Kaine and has been sending a paramour nude images of herself. Sexting, I think it’s called and normally involves teenagers. The press is salivating. Also Bristol Palin is engaged to Levi Johnston, the father of baby Trip, who angered mama by posing nude for Playgirl magazine but is the father of Bristol’s baby Trip. Bristol announced that she is not pregnant again and is practicing abstinence until the marriage. No word yet is Sarah will attend.

Post-Tribune columnist Rich James wondered who came up with the city of Gary’s official motto “City of the Century.” It goes back to the early days of boosterism and is also an oblique reference to having been founded at the beginning of a new century (the twentieth). We also talked some politics as is our wont, and I suggested that he interview IUN’s new chancellor William Lowe.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Udders Up

Chuck Walla sent along this inquiry: “I've been a follower of your work for quite a few years now. I've purchased all your books and have enjoyed them completely. I was born in 1948 and raised in Gary. But enough of that. With all your vast knowledge!!! Do you have any information about the South Gary Dairy Company??? It came up the other day on the Miller Beach FB page and I'd never heard of it and all the people I know that would have known have passed away.” After doing a little research, I replied: “I pulled out some Gary City Directories that we have in the Archives and found South Gary Dairy Company listed in several 1920s editions, but no listing after 1929. Its address was the corner of East 43rd and Georgia in Glen Park. Among the dozen listed in 1925-26 were two I’d heard of, Cloverleaf Dairy and Tolleston Dairy. The first mention of Dixie Dairy, whose unofficial motto was “Udders Up,” was a year or so later. I’m glad you like my books. I also have a blog. The best way to access it is to Google Steel Shavings (my magazine) and then click on James B. Lane blog midway down the left column.”

Dear friend Suzanna is heading to Houston, Texas, to be with a new granddaughter. A great-uncle, Edward Martin, was a governor and senator from Pennsylvania. I had never heard of him even though I was a high school senior living in the Keystone State the year he left office. I replied: “Congrats on the grandkid. Shyanne sounds a little like a Texas name. The only time I was in Houston was in 1985 to catch an Aramco oil company charter plane that took me to Amsterdam and then Saudi Arabia, where I taught for three weeks as part of an Indiana University program. I had just thrown out my back compulsively trying to complete all the spring yard work that I wouldn’t be home to do, so it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I never left the airport hotel. I did on to Saudi Arabia, however, and eventually it loosened up, but the first several days it was murder getting out of bed in the morning. The class (on Intellectual History in Early America) was great fun and very stimulating. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of Senator Edward Martin. The Eisenhower years were truly a nonpolitical siesta time compared to the 1960s. His successor Hugh Scott was the last Republican I ever voted for. He posed as a moderate but in 1972 called George McGovern, a truly honorable man, the ‘Triple A’ candidate for abortion, acid, and amnesty.”

Udders Up for Toni, who set up our stereo in such a way as to make it easy to play old albums, most of which I hadn’t touched in over 20 years. “Duke” by Genesis had been a favorite, but I never got around to finding the CD, so hearing it again was a treat. Ditto an old EP .45 by the Shoes containing a live version of my favorite “Hate To Run.” I don’t recall buying a Psychedelic Furs 1988 album “India” and its lyrics were beyond me. Lines in the song “Fall” went: “see the wall/ the wall is black/ we will have a heart attack/ we will be along and we’ll fall.” In the condo basement we recently hung a crazy quilt over the fuse box circuit breaker that once belonged to stepfather Howard and dated from the 1880s. One patch promoted GOP candidate Benjamin Harrison for President. The Hoosier attorney and grandson of “Old Tippecanoe” was a pawn of Senator James B. Blaine, the so-called “Plumed Knight” and like Henry Clay the canniest politician of his time (the Gilded Age). While Secretary of State Blaine launched America on an imperialist course.

Tom Wade purchased Stone Age after enjoying it during Game Weekend. We played a learning game Saturday and introduced it to our rotation Sunday. By dumb luck I won, mainly by emulating what Tom and David were doing. It has potential even though it takes a little longer than most games we play. That may change though after we get used to it.

White Sox have won 25 of their last 30 games (I’ve shifted loyalties from the lowly Cubs, but I once was a Pale Hose fan when Dick Allen had his MVP year in 1972 with them). Phillies swept a four-game series from Central Division leader Cincinnati. In one contest they trailed 7-1 in the ninth. Two others ended 1-0; in one the Reds pitcher had a perfect game going into the ninth. Reds manager Dusty Baker looked stunned in a postgame interview. The World Cup was a mild disappointment with Spain winning 1-0 on the strength of a goal with less than four minutes to go. I’m glad, however, that it didn’t end in a shoot-out. Elsewhere in the news: the U.S. and the Russians traded spies, BP is still trying to stop the oil leak, and it’s been six months since the devastating Haitian earthquake.

Aaron Pigors and I met with Vice Chancellor David Malik to show him the French Lick interview DVDs, including an imaginative intro. Malik was impressed and had a few productive suggestions. We intend to put together short clips based on the theme of IU’s seven campuses being dedicated to teaching excellence. I picked up grandson James from his Kids College class, took him to my office (cage), and he accessed some of his favorite sites on my computer. I went to check my emails and clicked on the icon next to Entourage by mistake. It was Photo Booth. Suddenly an image of the top of my head appeared and of James laughing behind me. All the way home I said, “Photo Booth? Photo Booth/” like actor Paul Stooler says, “Refund? Refund?” in the movie “Breaking Away.” In reply James would mimic me with a couple “Photo Booths” of his own. The name must come from those old booths like you’d come across at the shore or in the mall where you’d get three small snapshot photos for a quarter or half dollar.

Colleague Chris Young asked me to critique an article on a Chicagoan, Barnet Hode, who went on a mission to honor an “almost forgotten Jewish Patriot of the American Revolution” Haym Solomon. Told him I’d be glad to. During the late 1930s there was a debate among American Jews whether a statue commemorating Solomon was a good idea. Some believed there was not enough evidence that he was deserving of being on a monument with George Washington and Robert Morris and that it would somehow lead to an anti-Semitic backlash. Leaving the library, I spotted a man whom I suspected was IU Northwest’s new chancellor, William Lowe, whose academic field was Irish history. I introduced myself and we chatted briefly. I sent him “Education the Region,” Paul Kern and my social history of the campus where we labored during our entire academic lives. In a cover letter to Lowe I said he might enjoy in particular the section about the History department during the Seventies.

I attended the Merrillville History Book Club program at the Patio. The book discussed was Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” who died of cancer and whose cells were harvested by doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital without her permission and have made billions of dollars for the pharmaceutical industry while Henrietta’s family received virtually nothing and went years without even health insurance. Fascinating and scandalous. I had a Beck’s and the beef tips dinner for $18.45 plus tax. The bill, including tip, came to $24.00.

Vietnam vet John Zehner, whom I met at Brendan and Becky’s, sent me a thank you note for “Brothers in Arms” and ordered my Portage Shavings. I threw in my Eighties issue for free.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

French Lick Redux

During nephew Joe’s annual visit from Seattle, I took him to French Lick, where Philip and I recently worked and bonded. Toni couldn’t go because of condo stuff, so niece Michele, husband Tom and their precious, precocious kids Nickolas (10) and Sophia (8) stayed in the second room. On the two-hour ride from Indianapolis Joe played a CD of thrash metal band Megadeth’s greatest hits as well as numbers by Norah Jones, including the Hank Williams classic “Cold, Cold Heart.” The facilities impressed Joe. We were on the first floor near the pools with a garden view yet because the Dietz family brought their small dog. On the second day we went on a cool two-hour train ride through forest, farmland, and a 2.2-mile tunnel (the many electronic devices prevented it from being pitch black). Sophia and I tossed a beach ball back and forth in the ample outdoor pool and attracted a bunch of kids. Everyone loved the buffets, and, as before, I had a sundae at every meal. The friendly omelet maker Josh was a summer intern from Illinois majoring in Culinary Arts. On the way back to Indy Joe and I listened to the Seattle band Nevermore whose CD I had managed to find at a Best Buy near Tom and Michele’s, much to Joe’s delight. Michele later confided that at trip’s end Sophia declared that I was her favorite uncle.

In a nice thank you note Missy claimed she loved the MGMT CD “Congratulations” that includes “Song for Dan Treacy” (track 2), who was in a band called Television Personalities, and “Brian Eno” (# 7), one of the founders of Roxy Music. The best song “Flash Delirium” is almost as good as their hit “Electric Glide” on their previous CD “Oracular Spectacular.”

Alissa arrived home from Athens, where she saw the Acropolis and the Parthenon. While playing ZZ Top on her IPod, she told friend how I had introduced her to the “little old band from Texas.” We saw them live at the Star Plaza in Merrillville. The two drank a toast to me, she said.

At Rebecca’s birthday Saturday, Angie’s Aunt Cindy recalled taking an upper division course from me back some 30 years ago and coming upon her lecture notes during a move. Robert Blaszkiewicz, a member of the Times editorial board, interviewed Lake County sheriff hopefuls and various Republican Senatorial candidates. In Croquet Dave and Tom ganged up on me, but I still got to be poison and knocked them out only to finish second to Cindy’s husband Ben. In all three games of Wits and Wagers I led going into the final betting round only to lose. Dropped in on Paul Kaczocha’s picnic, but only family members remained. We chatted about politics and mutual acquaintances with a White Sox game on in the background. Stopped for a few items at the old homestead, including a six-pack and my favorite pan for cooking onions and mushrooms at breakfast.

As part of Comcast’s introductory offer we get all sorts of movie channels, and over the weekend I watched all or part of “L. A. Confidential” (Kim Basinger was delicious) “My Cousin Vinny” (Marisa Tomei deserved her Oscar), and “Royal Tenenbaums” (Gene Hackman at his best). Having cable allowed me to watch World Cup matches. Brazil and the rest of the Latin American teams got eliminated, so now I’ll pull for the Netherlands. When they beat Uruguay 3-2, ESPN showed tens of thousands of celebrants at Amsterdam’s museam square. I have a sentimental attachment to Amsterdam from a visit 25 years ago and visited those very museums.

Sunrise Family Restaurant down the street from our condo has delicious dinner meals for seniors costing $7.69, including a nonalcoholic drink and dessert. Including tip, the bill is around twenty bucks with enough leftovers for a doggie bag or two (except when I order fried clams). Last time we were there two flies were bothering me, but I zapped them against a window with my paper place mat, causing an alarmed manager to rush over to see what the fuss was.

Am rereading John Updike’s “Rabbit at Rest” about the aging Harry Angstrom. He’s a Florida snow bird at age 55 and laments, “The saddest loss time brings: the lessening of excitement about anything.” On retirement he remarks: “You fill a slot for a time and then move out; that’s the decent thing to do: make room.” Concerning aging he writes: “Life is a hill that gets steeper the more you climb.” Harry professes to hate seeing the word “redux,” meaning “brought back,” claiming he can’t even pronounce it, an inside joke since Updike titled the second book in the series “Rabbit Redux.” The action takes place in the winter of 1988 and is filled with references to popular culture and current events (the last months of the Reagan administration when nobody was minding the store). Hospitalized after a heart attack, Harry watches on TV the infamous “fog bowl” in Chicago when the Eagles lost to the Bears in a game that was almost impossible to see. He pronounces the sitcom “Roseanne” totally stupid “starring a fat woman whose only talent is talking fast without moving her mouth” (actually I thought it was pretty good).

Dozens of emails awaited me at IUN after French Lick and the July 4 weekend. Old girlfriend Suzanna reported long ago giving her career army father fits by announcing that she was a liberal Democrat and a pacifist. Similarly, when I’d come home from Bucknell, I’d drive my dad close to apoplexy by criticizing his hero Eisenhower and supporting JFK and LBJ. Salem press sent me a list of possible books to review. My three top choices, all on sports history, included biographies of Celtic great Bill Russell and centerfielder Willie Mays (the “Say hey” Kid”) plus one called “He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back: The True Story of the Year the King, Jaws, Earnhardt, and the Rest of NASCAR's Feudin', Fightin' Good Ol' Boys Put Stock Car Racing on the Map.”

Ronald Cohen loaned me “Admirable Radical” about Staughton Lynd. Various colleges, including IUN, blacklisted him during the late Sixties despite an impeccable academic record because of his strident opposition to the Vietnam War and visit to Hanoi. The forward is by New Left historian Howard Zinn. Staughton was a guest in Ron’s class and conducted a “Rank and File” Labor History Workshop in a Glen Park storefront where I met lefties Joe Norrick, Mike Olszanski, and Kathryn Hyndman. He almost always wore a frayed blue t-shirt under a dress shirt and was a lifelong advocate for the downtrodden – whether it was Southern blacks, steelworkers, Palestinians or death row inmates. Ron attended Jack Weinberg’s seventieth birthday party. Jack’s name is an answer in the Baby Boomer version of Trivial Pursuit, having once quipped, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” I was at his fiftieth and gave him a tape of my favorite songs (including tunes by the Clash and the Ramones).

I’ve been chauffeuring James to his Kids College class called “Broadway Bound.” He is singing and dancing to “Lion King” songs and asking for a “Pet Detective Agency” story while in the car. I met John Fraire in the Archives to discuss his fascinating PhD dissertation project on postwar Mexican-American baseball teams (both male and female) in the Indiana Harbor neighborhood of East Chicago. So far he has done about 18 interviews, including with my buddy Louis “Weasal” Vasquez. Thousands of fans attended the games, and some of the exploits have become legendary. A campus administrator at Washington State, John doesn’t get back to the Midwest often. His brother Rocky was a friend back in my Porter Acres softball days. What a time we had partying. The Seventies, now that was a decade worth getting nostalgic about. John and Rocky’s mother, an assistant to the social studies director for the Gary schools, played and coached on one of the teams. She was an ardent supporter of Steel Shavings in its early days and was one of the main editors of a book about Latina women called “Harbor Lights.”