Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Winter Winds

“But if your strife strikes at your sleep
Remember spring swaps snow for leaves
You’ll be happy and wholesome again
When the city clears and the sun ascends.”
Mumford and Sons

Told granddaughter Alissa I was listening to Mumford and Sons, and she couldn’t believe it. It’s her favorite group, too. To get to our house from Grand Rapids she has to pass through the infamous Lake Michigan snow belt. Winter winds continue to send lake effect snow to Chesterton, but it’s not as bad as the blizzard of ten days ago, not to mention London, where Heathrow Airport has been shut down for days or the West Coast where torrential rains are causing mudslides and other horrors.

IU Northwest’s cafeteria was nearly empty. I had a chicken salad sandwich for $3.30 plus got charged a quarter for a single pepper. Most cashiers wouldn’t have rung it up, but the one on duty is a real stickler. I ran into Nursing student services coordinator Anne Mitchell, who served on several committees with me (there was a time when the paucity of African-American faculty overburdened their committee assignments). Anne lives in Miller and understood when I told her that high property taxes put the kibosh on hopes of finding a place in Gary near Lake Michigan. I told her how much fun it was when Dave and Angie lived at the end of Shelby, within a few yards of a beach entrance.

Sent an email to Aaron Pigors about a DVD collaboration featuring the late, great FACET founder Eileen Bender for possible viewing at the next retreat. It will combine comments about her from last spring’s French Lick interviews, followed by the 90-minute taping we did of her in South Bend. It is all so good that I am reluctant to edit out portions. Retired Bethlehem Steel photographer Dave Mergl is frequently at the Archives making jpegs for us from his extensive collection. He confided that he’ll be sorry when the library closes for ten days over Christmas and New year’s because he’s a caregiver for an Alzheimer’s sufferer and about to be inundated by kids and their families and pets.

I asked all faculty members if they wanted to assign an Ides of March journal next semester; hopefully I’ll get a few responses besides Steve McShane and Chuck Gallmeier. Chuck invited me to his place in Miller to see his train set and other decorations. In the foyer is a nineteenth century miniature English village with various Charles Dickens characters from “A Christmas Carol.” In his office a train weaves its way around a town that includes a Coca Cola factory and a couple dozen other buildings. A movie marquee advertises “Rebel Without a Cause.” In front is a facsimile of the car Dean drove in “Rebel.” Having found African American figurines, including a Black Santa, he has thoroughly integrated the circa 1950s scene. Chuck showed me a just-published journal article he did with Stephanie Shanks-Meile on Deaners who gather in his Hoosier hometown of Fairmount on the anniversary of his death. Chuck is reading Nora Titone’s “My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy.” Sons of famed British thespian Junius Brutus Booth, Edwin was evidently the much better actor of the two, and more successful, and the sibling rivalry played a role in John Wilkes’ warped decision to kill President Lincoln. Chuck had high praise for “Dutch,” Edmund Morris’ controversial biography of Ronald Reagan. Maybe I’ll give it a look.

In “Colonel Roosevelt” Morris opens the chapter “Two Melancholy Men” with these lines from poet Edwin Arlington Robinson: “The coming on of his old monster Time/ Has made him a still man; and he has dreams/ Were fair to think on once, and all found hollow.” During the winter of 1914 TR was suffering from symptoms of incipient old age as well as “power deprivation.” President Wilson was grieving the death of his wife and feeling helpless in the face of his country drifting inexorably toward the war raging in Europe. The progressive rivals would clash over how to respond to the carnage overseas.

Searching for holiday reading matter, I picked up Sue Miller’s “The Good Mother.” On the back is this blurb: “Recently divorced, Anna Dunlap had two passionate attachments: to her daughter, four year-old Molly; to her lover, Leo, the man who made her feel beautiful – and sexual – for the first time.” The fly in the ointment: Anna’s ex-husband charges that Leo has been sexually abusing Molly. The books opens with the main character recalling her grandparents’ summer cottage in Maine and crossing a lake in a rowboat to get to the nearest post office. Inside was an array of brass-trimmed letterboxes, a worn wooden floor, nicked counters, and an opening where you’d ring a bell to summon the postmistress “from the mysterious bowels of her house.”

Anthony asked Facebook friends their favorite memories with him. I mentioned shooting hoops outside his house and playing cards; I should have added our trip to California five years ago. We played wiffleball with nephew Bob, and Anthony perfectly mimicked him, including pretending to spit tobacco juice before each swing. Another young friend (not Anthony) is into something called The Modern Church of Satan. I was alarmed enough to Google their website, which extols the virtues of living life to the fullest and being a free thinker. There are quotes from beat poet Jack Kerouac, libertine Marquis De Sade, and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. My guess is that some followers like being regarded as nonconformists and is call themselves Satanists in part for shock value. The beliefs don’t appear to be violent or morbid. In fact, claiming to worship the devil seems a provocative way of declaring oneself free from the grip of organized religion. Perhaps it’s like when people call themselves witches or warlocks – there’s even a faction within the local Unitarian Church.

Ron Cohen recommended attorney Donald Evans as a good choice to help us update our wills. We met him in his Valparaiso office that he shares with several other lawyers, including Rick Busse. Busse has a PhD in Theology and teaches part-time in our department. In the summer he has a fried vegetable wagon that he takes to county fairs. Evans claimed we met at Al Samter’s house after Al contracted throat cancer and needed a will drawn up. We had several other friends in common besides Ron.

Ron has shingles but found time to read Roy Dominguez’s “Spirits from the Fields: An American Odyssey” and email IU Press that it’s a wonderful, insightful rags-to-riches story. Roy plans to visit places where he grew up in Texas after leaving office January 1, and we’ll resume our tapings when he gets back. Hopefully a book contract will be awaiting him.

Bowling opponent Tommy Pleasant struck out in the tenth and then suddenly said, “I going to have a heart attack.” Moments later he fell to the ground. A Gary policeman took charge until paramedics arrived. As they carried him out on a stretcher, Tommy was breathing, but it didn’t look good. Engineers won all seven points, and I rolled a 541. Robbie changed the way he held the ball after seven miserable frames and caught fire, finishing with a 562 series. His style reminds me of my dad, Vic, a 180+ bowler who released the ball almost in the right gutter. Frank had a 616, “pretty, pretty good,” as Larry David would say. I hope I have his competitive drive in ten years. Next week he and his wife celebrate their fifty-fourth anniversary.

Arrived home to find Alissa and Toni chatting. I provided them with m ore bowling highlights than they probably cared to hear (24 marks, one split, and five blows) and then phoned captain Bill Batalis with news of our sweep. I stifled an urge to call Bob and Nike or Chuck and Gaard on the West Coast and do more bragging.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Cave

“So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker's land.”
Mumford and Sons, from “Sigh No More”

My new favorite band is the English folk rock group Mumford and Sons, whose album “Sigh No More” features two jewels, “Little Lion Man” and “The Cave.” Toni has nicknamed our basement the “Jim’s man cave” because I retreat there to read, play music loud, and watch sports and premium channels in high definition on our flat screen TV. Niece Andrea in Seattle refers to her bedroom as her cave and admits that some mornings she finds it difficult to come out and face the day. WXRT plays Mumford and Sons a lot and has had them in the studio for a live jam. Marcus Mumford explained that they chose the name because they thought of themselves as a family business even though the members are not related. Some of their lyrics come from Shakespeare, but as Mumford quipped, he’s been dead for centuries, so we don’t have to worry about being sued. I expect “Sigh No More” to be in their top ten listeners poll.

Speaking of lairs, Plato wrote “the allegory of the cave” to explain the distinction between appearance and reality. In his cave prisoners mistake puppet shadows for actual images. In Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago’s “The Cave” an aging potter whose skill seems obsolete in the modern world discovers a cave beneath the sterile “Center” where he lives with his daughter and son-in-law. Saramago died this year and is remembered fondly in Time’s year end issue along with Lena Horn, J. D. Salinger, Robert Byrd, Wilma Mankiller, Richard Holbrook, Tony Curtis, and others who departed the scene.

On Saturday morning WXRT featured songs from 1994. On the way to the library I heard Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and Phish (nephew Bob followed them around Europe after graduating from IU). The Seattle sound and dreadlocks were in style. Like 2010 it was a bad year for Congressional Democrats. Clinton subsequently faced off successfully with Newt Gingrich. Obama and the lame duck Congress have been cooperating. Gone is the stupid “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military, and hopes are high that the Senate will ratify the Start nuclear arms limitation Treaty. Republicans did prevent the so-called Dream Act from coming to a vote. It would have allowed children brought to the United States illegally to become citizens if they attend college or serve in the military for two years. Hopefully the GOP will pay a price for their racist position.

I re-watched the season finale of “Boardwalk Empire,” having fallen asleep the first time. It ended with federal agents raiding an Irish-American St. Patrick’s Day banquet in Atlantic City and Nucky screwing the widow Schroeder, like her seducer a schemer in the best immigrant tradition. Meanwhile, in Chicago Jimmy’s girl, a high-class prostitute, commits suicide after a gangster disfigured her face, provoking a visit to an opium den. He had promised to take her to California. It reminded me of Michael Caine smoking the pipe in “The Quiet American” and his mistress dreaming of life in America.

Watched “A River Runs Through It,” directed and narrated by Robert Redford. Brad Pitt, looking like a young James Dean, plays Paul Maclean, a free-living, chance-taking second-born with a penchant for drinking, smoking, gambling, and fly-fishing. He vows he will never leave his home state but defies Montana convention by dating an Indian woman, and he ends up shot to death and left in an alley. Two years ago Tony Mochus read a moving excerpt from the book retired English professor Norman Maclean, in real life Paul’s older brother. Giving the movie three and a half stars and a thumbs up, Roger Ebert wrote in 1992: “Redford and his writer, Richard Friedenberg, understand that most of the events in any life are accidental or arbitrary, especially the crucial ones, and we can exercise little conscious control over our destinies. Instead, they understand that the Reverend Maclean's lessons were about how to behave no matter what life brings; about how to wade into the unpredictable stream and deal with whatever happens with grace, courage and honesty. It is the film's best achievement that it communicates that message with such feeling.” In the credits was this strange announcement: “No fish were killed or injured during the making of A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. 
The producers would like to point out that, although
the Macleans kept their catch as was common earlier
in this century, enlightened fisherman today endorse
a “catch and release” policy to assure that this priceless 
resource swims free to fight another day.”

Edmund Morris’ “Colonel Roosevelt” uses excerpts from the poet Edward Arlington Robinson, whom TR provided with a sinecure while President. In Speech class at Bucknell I attempted to read “Miniver Cheevy” and instead of saying “child of scorn” said “skild of chorn.” I made up for it by correctly reading the entire poem in my upper division class on the Progressive Era. TR visited Gary, Indiana, during his 1912 Bull Moose campaign. The city had been founded just six years previously. A chief organizer of the Progressive Party was U.S. Steel board member George Perkins, who probably persuaded the former President to make the trip. The next day Roosevelt was shot in Milwaukee, and the bullet came to rest within an inch of his heart after passing through the manuscript of the speech he insisted on giving before going to the hospital. David McCullough believes TR wanted to die on stage, so to speak, and in the arena. The deranged would-be assassin John Flammang Schrank, angry over his decision to seek a third term, had been tracking TR for some time and apparently was in the Gary crowd that cheered the candidate as he rode in an open car down Broadway.

In 1913 Roosevelt embarked on a Brazilian expedition to chart the path by which the River of Doubt (subsequently renamed Rio Roosevelt) flowed into the Amazon River. Relentlessly attacked by ticks, mosquitoes, termites, bees, horse flies, and other insects, drenched by relentless rain, and slowed down by impassable waterfalls and rapids, 54 year-old Roosevelt almost died after his temperature rose to over 104 degrees from a reoccurrence of malaria that had periodically ravaged him since his days as a Rough Rider in Cuba. At one point, finally forced to confront his own mortality, he asked the others to go on without him. Of course, they did not. Subsisting on monkey meat and jungle fruits as food supplies dwindled, TR lost over 35 pounds in four months. Afterwards he admitted to a friend that “the Brazilian wilderness stole away ten years of my life.” He did have grit.

Got shut out gaming (Dave and Tom each won twice) and watched the Eagles make a miracle comeback against the hated New York Giants, scoring an incredible 28 points in the final seven and a half minutes with Michael Vick showing why he is an MVP frontrunner. They pulled off an on sides kick, and after NY punted with 14 seconds to go, De Sean Jackson returned the kick 65 yards for a touchdown. I called Fred Chary and rehashed the highlights with him. Terry Jenkins was watching on tape delay, so I nonchalantly acted like I wanted to talk about was the Phillies’ acquisition of Chris Lee. Wouldn’t you know, now that I had been eliminated from the FANTASY playoffs Ray Rice had a career day. My total of 117 points in a consolation game against Dave was 21 points higher than Phil (who with Michael Vick beat Pittsburgh Dave) and 31 points more than Bobby (who with Philip Rivers defeated Kira).

Jeff Manes wrote about Bob Meyer, a fourth-generation steel worker who is president of the Northwest Indiana Steel heritage Project. The group’s overall goal is a steel museum, but Meyer is lobbying for space at the Lake County Tourist Bureau Welcome Center to set up a learning center. Right now there’s a permanent display devoted to bank robber John Dillinger that more fittingly could be in Crown Point. The Calumet Regional Archives has been supportive of the project. Manes used this quote from his short story “Appalachian Apologia”: “After the war he returned home but did not stay. His people told him of big money up north, near Chicago. He took a job in the steel mill and was placed in the coal-handling section of the coke plant, a good job for a hillbilly. And he figured it was not as cold as Korea, but atop the coal bridge, on an East Chicago January day, it was colder than Kentucky. And the steel mill could hurt you, the same as Korea or the mines of Kentucky.”

My only ventures into Kentucky have been on its interstates on the way south. I have not been to the Kentucky Derby or Mammoth Cave, its premier tourist destination. We took Alissa on a caving trip but settled for Marengo Cave in southern Indiana. At one point our guide wanted everyone to turn out all lights so we could experience it being pitch black; one person in the group balked, saying she was too scared to do so. Then close your eyes and we’ll just do it for a few seconds, the guide said. You’d think if someone were claustrophobic, she’d stay out of caves. In “Roll Away Your Stone” Mumford and Sons sing: “The darkness is a harsh term don’t you think? And yet it dominates the things I seek.” The excellent banjo playing reminded me of a Flatt and Scruggs album I played in law school. Earl Scruggs could really strum.

English prof George Bodmer commented on my Henrietta Gibson quote concerning the deer whose horns “got fast against the bale”: “I've long been interested in that use of ‘fast.’ I used to work in a can factory in Cincinnati, which also employed a good number of workers who came from Appalachia. One came to me one day because he had locked his keys in a supply area and thought I might be able to slip in through a crack because I was slight (this was obviously a good while ago). As I squeezed through, he said, ‘don't get fast,’ which I interpreted to mean, ‘don't get stuck fast.’ That wording has always stuck with me.” I wrote back: “Very interesting. I had never heard the expression before and double-checked the quote in case I had gotten it wrong. I’m sure the Southerners in the can factory were called worse things than Appalachian. So many Kentuckians moved to Cedar Lake IN during WW II that some people nicknamed the town Cedartucky. Their kids who went to Crown Point schools were called Lake Rats. I expect your holiday will be more enjoyable than a year ago.” Last year a car struck him as he was crossing Broadway on his way to the parking lot. He replied that at this time a year ago he “was just home from the hospital and very happy to be sprung and getting around kind of on my own steam.”

Heard from Suzanna, who as feared had been in the hospital with heart problems. She came out of it OK and plans to live to be 106 “like my Grama.” My great grandmother Grace Frace lived into her hundredth year in Easton, PA. Near the end she had delusions that her daughter (my great Aunt Ida) was entertaining college boys from Lafayette, who’d move her out of her bed so they could use it for immoral purposes. My straight-laced maiden aunt was mortified when she started talking like that. Aunt Ida lived with us for ten years and baked wonderful crumb pies and cinnamon rolls. One time my brother and I talked her into letting us eat an entire sponge cake by complimenting her on how yummy it was. In Michigan with us she was so lonely my mother dragged her to a senior citizens activities center. She joined a bridge group that met in each other’s homes. Prior to her hosting it, she sheepishly asked if she could serve the ladies wine. Normally she frowned on the partaking of alcohol. I called her Aunt Potato (for Idaho potato patch). As the Eddie Cantor song went, she was truly sweet as apple cider.

Reverend Richard Stazesky sent an update on Marion Merrill’s condition in lieu of her traditional Christmas letter. At age 96 my former PhD adviser’s widow is wheelchair-bound and can no longer read but voted Democratic in the last election and retains a sense of humor. Stazesky writes: “I told her I planned to say that her long term memory was very good but her short term memory is not so good. She quickly responded, ‘That’s because I have so much to remember.’” She also wanted everyone to know she’d rather be in Vermont, a continuing lament for ever since I met her 45 years ago.

Received a 50-dollar coupon for a Honey Baked Ham, which I ordered and picked up (pre-baked and sliced) in Merrillville along with “Sigh No More.” Stopped at Quick Cut and tipped favorite hair stylist Anna eight dollars (it being the holidays) on orders from Toni.

Brett Favre was a surprise starter against the Bears but suffered a concussion in the first half. Chicago won in a rout thanks in part to Devin Hester’s record breaking punt return and clinched winning their division.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holly Happy Days

“Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
If only in my dreams.”
Bing Crosby

The folk duo Indigo Girls (Amy Ray and Emily Saliers) put out a holiday album entitled “Holly Happy Days” (a take-off maybe of the phrase “Happy Holidays”). One track is called “It Really Is a Wonderful Life” and the wistful (because so many soldiers were overseas) 1943 Bing Crosby hit “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” In the Editors Note to “Age of Anxiety” I mention that Terry Jenkins and I sang a duet for a Fort Washington Elementary School Christmas pageant, and the original program included “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Because of sensitivities towards families with members fighting in Korea, the director made an eleventh-hour change to “Frosty the Snowman.” The Indigo Girls are openly lesbian although not a couple. In “Rock and Roll Heaven’s Gate” that Amy wrote are these lyrics: “No one wants to hear the truth coming from three political queers plucking the punk rock groove.” The song appears on a commemorative album from the 2007 True Colors Tour put together by Cyndi Lauper for the benefit of groups that support the GLBT community. Pink has also recorded it.

Missy Brush and James are now Facebook friends. On News Feed Missy wrote: “Some ignorant lady in my class just really pissed me off. She said gay people have a higher chance of getting AIDS than "normal people." Wtf is that shit about?” I replied, “The lady shouldn’t have used the word “normal,” but active gay males do need to be aware of AIDS risks and take precautions.”

Daughter-in-law Delia left a Facebook message that her dad (Gun) had a cardiac defibrillator inserted and afterwards was joking with the nurses. When Sonny got one, they purposely stopped his heart to test if it worked. Suzanna mentioned that she was having heart problems, too. I’m a little worried that she hasn’t answered my last email.

Vietnam vet Jay Keck sent my “Jingle Bells, Mortar Shells” blog to all his comrades. In an email titled “Wish You Were Here” LeeLee Devenney mentioned that she enjoyed our card and family photo and that she and Susan McGrath were having lunch today at Suzi Hummel Slacks’ house and might take along the “Missing Tiara” story. I think they have already seen it. I replied: “As I write this, you are probably on your way to Suzi’s. Indeed I wish I were with you. Are the husbands invited? I had a nice conversation with Susan Mcgrath the other evening. We have a lot in common politically, and her daughter is a historian. Glad you liked the Christmas card photo. Some years I do a newsletter, and 2010 was certainly an eventful year – with our move to a condo and the reunion – but we wanted to get the cards out early since some people didn’t have our new address. Cheers, Jimmy”

Nephew Joe Robinson wanted to know what I wanted for Christmas and called me his wing-man. I got him a subscription to Rolling Stone. I asked who he’d want with us if we went to French Lick next year. His dad and Tom Dietz, he replied. He’ll think about whether to include any women or children.

In “Boardwalk Empire” Stephen DeRosa plays vaudevillian Eddie Cantor, a song-and-dance man who once played Gary’s Palace Theater. His famous songs include “Makin’ Whoopee,” “If You Knew Susie,” and “Ida, Sweet as Apple Cidar.” I recall him hosting the Colgate Comedy Hour during the 1950s. It was on Sundays at the same time as Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town.” My favorite hosts were Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. When I was a kid, Jerry Lewis could literally have me rolling in the aisle.

I talked at length on the phone with Mayor Hatcher about the public radio interview and daughter Ragen running for mayor. When I told him that the quote Mike Puente used went counter to the main drift of the interview, he replied that he knew more than anyone how the press can manipulate statements to fit their own purposes. He asked me to provide Ragen with reading matter to familiarize her with Gary’s history and in particular his 20-year administration. I plan to send her “Gary’s First Hundred Years.”

I’d love to know more about James W. Lester, who was secretary of the Lake County Old Settlers and Historical Society. He put together “Papers by Various Hand” and like me was proud to be an oral historian. In “Pioneer Stories of the Calumet,” published in the Indiana Magazine of History he wrote of being interested in the home life of Northwest Indiana pioneers. He interviewed 90 year-old Eleanor Phillips in 1922. In 1836 her family built a log cabin between present Merrillville and Crown Point. She recalled: “There were a few scattered settlers. We used to get together and have husking bees. The old settlers would cut their corn and set it up, then call on their neighbors to help husk it. The would serve cider and a cup of tea, and sometimes Johnnie-cake pancakes.” Johnnycake is cornmeal flatbread, a Native American food and early American staple. Southerners call it hoecake. Sometimes Phil and I call our pancakes hoecakes, saying, “Nobody don’t like hoecakes.” It’s one of our inside jokes.

Lester interviewed Henrietta Gibson whose mother-in-law Anna kept a “stage house” (Gibson Tavern, Gary’s first permanent building, located near the future site of Froebel School). Henrietta’s husband was Tolleston station agent for the Pennsylvania and Michigan Central railroads. One winter day in 1865 she had cooked potatoes for dinner and put the parings in a pail that she set on a bench behind the house. “Pretty soon,” she recalled, “we heard some bumping and knocking against the side of the house and I went outside to see what the matter was. A deer had been attracted to the salt in the potatoes and put his head in the bucket to get at them. His horns had got fast against the bale and he couldn’t get out. He shook his head, then started to run with the pail still sticking. He jumped the high board fence and the pail came off. He ran for the woods, but my husband started after him with a gun and soon brought the deer back.”

Alfred Anderson moved to Miller in 1855 at age nine, traveling with his family on a wagon pulled by oxen. Six years later he spotted a black bear while picking wild grapes for wine. As Anderson recalled, he and Andrew Wall “were in the hills about a mile and a half west of Miller and had climbed a big jack pine. We heard a noise down in the hollow and then we saw him coming right towards the tree we were in. We got down in a hurry and hiked for the beach. I don’t know how far he followed us.” A more common sight were wolf packs, potentially dangerous but scared off by gunshot.

Feasted on fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, Cole slaw, grapes, carrots,and scallions at the Arts and Sciences Holiday lunch. Dean Mark Hoyert’s witty greeting mentioned programs offered at other colleges that we might think about adapting, such a Celebrity Studies (Madonna, Oprah, David Beckham), Parapsychology, Surfing, and the Philosophy of Star Trek. Wearing a more subdued tie than his normal Christmas one (perhaps son Matt still has it), he claimed that people had warned him not to sing like in past years. Some people clapped, but most of us were disappointed. I sat next to Vice Chancellor David Malik, who is about to step down as director of FACET. Tanice Foltz reported that her cookie exchange party went well despite Sunday’s blizzard. Neil Goodman has to move out of the Fine Arts Department’s old digs in condemned Tamarack Hall before going on sabbatical. Only one person made a crack about my being retired. Not only had I been invited, there were other “friends of Arts and Sciences” in attendance. No other historians attended despite my recommendation that they attend more university social functions.

Sports Illustrated put “The Fighter” co-stars Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale on the cover, and the movie lived up to the rave review. Set in Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of the industrial revolution in America, by the 1980s the city had fallen on hard times. Wahlberg plays “Irish” Mickey Ward and Bale gives an Oscar-worthy performance as his crackhead older brother. Based on a true story, it explores the tension within Mickey’s dysfunctional family, which includes seven sisters with such nicknames as “Pork,” “Tar,” Red Dog,” and “Beaver.” They treat Mickey’s girlfriend (played by lovely Amy Adams) as an interloper and a skank, leading to a great catfight scene (pardon the chauvinism).

By email vote the condo board approved work to begin on the gutter above the porch. I took the estimate to the treasurer, who had an old-fashioned sled on her porch with the inscription “Rosebud.” I recognized that “Rosebud” was the last word uttered by main character in “Citizen Kane” but didn’t know the meaning – that it had been what he called his boyhood sled. Director Orson Welles modeled the main character somewhat after newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. According to Gore Vidal, Hearst called his mistress Marion Davies “Rosebud” in a ribald reference to her clitoris. I doubt the condo treasurer had that meaning in mind. Like in the movie it probably symbolized the carefree days of our youth.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jingling Bells

"Jingle bells,
Mortar shells,
VC in the grass,
Take your Merry Christmas and jam it up your a*s!
Jingle bells,
Mortar shells
Charlie's in the wire,
Take your Merry Christmas and set your a*s on fire!"
“Songs by Americans in the Vietnam War”

Vietnam veteran Jay Keck, a dear soul, sent me the Echo Company “Two-Seven Tooter” (motto: “Ready for Anything, Counting on Nothing”) for December 15, 2010. It contains excerpts from an anonymous songbook put together between 1965 and 1968 and recently donated to the Library of Congress. In the “New York Review of Books” is an article about the novel “Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes entitled “The War We’ll Never Understand.” The book had been published privately and eventually picked up by Atlantic Monthly Press. Time listed it as one of the ten best nonfiction books of the year. Like at Hamburger Hill, the marines had taken the Matterhorn, named for a Swiss mountain peak, then under orders retreated. A colonel who needed impressive body counts in order to get promoted commanded them to retake it even with the enemy above them in bunkers the marines themselves had built. This passage by a navy nurse, according to reviewer Jonathan Mirsky, helps explain why author Marlantes and so many others suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome: “You’ve got to understand what we do here. We fix weapons. Right now you’re a broken guidance system for 40 rifles, three machine guns, a bunch of mortars, several artillery batteries, three calibers of naval guns, and four kinds of attack aircraft. Our job is to get you fixed and back in action as fast as we can.” Dr. Ronald Glasser made the identical point in “365 Days.” No wonder the cynicism of “Jingle Bells, Mortar Shells.”

Speaking of “Jingle Bells,” a great Christmas song is “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms, who also scored a number one hit in 1957, “(You Are) My Special Angel.” Helms died of emphysema in 1997. Dick Hagelberg saw him on stage near the end of his career with an oxygen tank by his side.

Having saved 130 stamps from Jewel Osco (one for every ten dollars worth of groceries), Toni and I were able to purchase a 90-dollar roaster (one of a half-dozen pots available) for a penny. We used to save S and H green stamps. There’d be distribution centers where you’d redeem the stamps for merchandise. Several other competing stamps were offered at gas stations and other stores. Now a common gimmick is to offer frequent flier miles. We use a Discover credit card whenever possible because we get a refund check (usually around two hundred dollars) every year. Santa’s helper was ringing a bell outside Jewel. Toni always gives generously. A Quickly contributor complained of getting dirty looks if she doesn’t donate. That’s never happened to me – in fact, usually just the opposite – a smile and hearty “Merry Christmas” – without a hint of sarcasm to make me feel guilty.

Gregory Gates read my Gary book and seeks more info about Drusilla Carr, a Miller Beach pioneer who fought U.S. Steel’s attempts to take her land. She stood her ground in the face of legal action by the behemoth corporation. Her main concern was the desecration of the lakefront ecology. A relative, Clara Harmening, recently sent the Archives a book tracing the Carr family genealogy that contains photos and a brief autobiography that first appeared in a partially handwritten manuscript entitled “Papers of Various Hands.” In it Drusilla tells of protecting her small child from an attacking eagle with a sunbonnet until husband Robert, a fisherman, drove it off with a paddle. Historian James Lester, who edited “Papers,” published several stories 90 years ago in volume 18 of the Indiana Magazine of History.

Colleagues Frank Caucci and Chuck Gallmeier are envious that I have no finals to grade nor tenure, sabbatical or pre-tenure dossiers to peruse. Learned at lunch that Bill Dorin was once a lecturer in john Maniotes’ Communication Information Systems Department at Purdue Cal, and they traveled together to a conference in San Francisco. Looking for a Chinese restaurant, Maniotes told Bill they should search for one that had Chinese customers.

Having read my account of his Uncle Art Daronatsy traveling south with Richard Hatcher during Freedom Summer, Tom Daronatsy showed up at the Archives. I gave him “Age of Anxiety,” dedicated to “Old Lefties” and containing Art’s photo. Also showed him a photo of Art in Gary: A Pictorial History.” His uncle, an adviser to Hatcher, recommended naming a branch library in honor off W.E.B. DuBois. In 1970 Tom skipped school to pass out leaflets about Earth Day. Hauled into the principal’s office, he was asked what his uncle would say if he knew he’d played hooky. “Which one?” Tom replied. Another uncle was an East Chicago businessman and civic leader, but Art would have been proud of him. Tom remained in the Archives all afternoon, except for cigarette breaks, pouring through books and yearbooks.

The Senate passed the compromise tax extension plan 81 to 19. Voting no were five Republicans including Tea Party hero Jim DeMint of South Carolina, 13 Democrats including liberals Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Carl Levin (MI), Tom Harkin (IA), and Patrick Leahy (VT) plus socialist Bernie Sanders (VT), the bill’s most outspoken critic. It may stimulate the economy as Obama asserts (and his re-election hopes depend on a recovery), but it further leads the country down the path toward bankruptcy.

Fred McColly recently wrote: “Being an industrial worker in Northwest Indiana must have something of the same feel as being a communist part boss in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in November 1989...just waiting for some bureaucratic drone like Gunter Schabowski to make an inadvertent slip and expose the whole fiction of a well functioning system for the sham it is...it's only a matter of time.” Gunter Schabowski gave a misleading statement at a press conference implying that his government had immediately ended travel restrictions into West Berlin. Huge crowds forced border guards to open the gates, thus rendering obsolete the Berlin Wall. His subsequent criticism of GDR policies led former comrades to label him a Wryneck (a bird that can turn its head 180 degrees).

On Facebook Paul Kern’s son Colin wrote: “Got my hair cut by a girl with an orange Mohawk. I can’t stop thinking about how boring my hair is now.” His friend Nathaniel Pearre commented: “Funny, I think in that situation I’d be wondering if a girl with an orange Mohawk is qualified to cut my hair.” Colin, bless him, replied: “It was a very well done orange Mohawk.”

Bowling on alleys 15 and 16 at Cressmoor Lanes, in game one I got seven strikes on the latter (including three in the tenth frame) and none on 15, finishing with a 199. Starting game two, I struck on alley 16 in the first, threw a gutter ball in the third, and struck in the fifth. In other words, nine strike frames out of ten.

A Christmas card came from Peggy Renner, the widow of longtime mechanic Frank. He probably worked 60 hours a week. After he suffered a heart attack, his insurance company dropped him and due to his “preexisting condition” there were no other affordable plans. After he had a second attack, Peg feared he’d lose his shop. So much for the American dream. He died soon afterwards, one of those cases where the operation was a success but the patient died.

In the third episode of “Boardwalk Empire” Nucky tells the black mobster Chalky White, in reference to how he is treating his employees, “You’re a real Simon Legree.” Not catching the reference to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Chalky replies, “If they don’t agree with me, I’ll kick their ass.” MILF Gretchen Mol plays Gillian, Jimmy’s mother, who reminds Nucky of their agreement that he would keep her son out of trouble. Nucky orders Jimmy to leave town, and off to Chicago he goes, where he hooks up with Al Capone.

“Sports Illustrated” has articles on the suicide of golfer Erica Blasberg and the “Long, Painful Farewell” of Brett Favre. In both cases the athletes had domineering fathers. Andre Agassi hated tennis because of the way his father drove him so hard. Could that be Tiger Wood’s problem as well? Mickey Mantle’s dad was like that. Was the price worth it? I’d say a resounding “maybe.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is “Time’s” person-of-the-year, at age 26 the second youngest. Aviator Charles Lindbergh was only 25 in 1927, the maiden year of the designation. The success of “Social Network” probably played a role in the selection, but it is a good choice.

Airing recently on National Public Radio was Michael Puente’s report, “Is Gary Ready for Another Mayor Hatcher?” Even though he spent a and I spent most of his defending Richard Hatcher as a visionary and concluding that the Hatcher name would help daughter Ragen in her bid to become mayor, the one brief quote that Puente used was this: “Out in the suburbs Hatcher’s name has a negative connotation. Many blame him for having to sell their homes at bargain basement prices, but that trend might have been hurried by Hatcher’s election but that trend was already going on.” I shouldn’t have been surprised. Thanks to me he was able to use an excerpt from “Eyes On the Prize 2” of Hatcher’s 1972 speech at the Black Political Convention and get a quote from Richard thanks to the phone number I provided him.

Had a chance to read Tom Higgins’ “The Fabric of Froebel” about Gary’s immigrant school, where educators from around the world came to observe how Superintendent William A. Wirt’s work-study-plan system worked. Explaining the “fabric” symbolism, Higgins wrote: “The faculty served as The Stitching Corps. They kept everything together and maintained a special uniformity with the threads of teaching, counseling, practical application, and guidance through the years the students were in their charge.” Higgins dedicated the book to the memory of Gary’s first athletic hero, John W. Kyle, in his words “an integral part of the formation of sports in Gary with Emerson, Indiana University, The Elks, Gary College, and Froebel as a player, coach, and athletic director.” In his inscription Tom wrote: “Dr. J, it’s too bad I didn’t finish this some time ago. We could have discussed it on ‘Wally’s World.’” Tom’s humorous memoirs appeared in Shavings volumes 22 (WW II), 28 (Lake Michigan Tales), and 34 (Age of Anxiety).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Wonderful Life" Redux

“I can see my mother in the kitchen

My father on the floor

Watching television,
It’s A Wonderful Life

Cinnamon candles burning, snowball fights outside

Smile below each nose and above each chin

Stomp my boots before I go back in.”
“Boots,” Killers

I’ve been listening to CDs nephew Bob gave me by the Killers (“Hot Fuss”) and Ray Lamontagne (“Trouble”). He is also a big fan of Stevie Wonder and the Grateful Dead. Bob and I are facing off in the first round of the Fantasy football playoffs. The Killers have released a Christmas song in each of the past several years, and their latest, “Boots,” is getting airtime on WXRT. The “snowball fights” reference reminds me of building snow forks as a kid in Fort Washington. My dad (Vic) captured a snowball fight on 16-milimeter film.

Toni bought a rug for the foyer for people to stomp their boots or shoes on when they enter the condo. We keep a pair of boots that we both use in the foyer for trips outside for the newspapers or to sweep and shovel. Water from the gutter has been settling on our front porch and freezing, making it hazardous. Handyman Jason Ruge gave us an estimate of $200 to repair and reseal the gutter. I have emailed the condo board members and expect they will approve the request as they did a similar repair job in another court.

Saturday was mild and rainy, the calm before a blizzard. I shoveled off the slush in front of our garage. Neighbor Tom Coulter saw me and did the same in front of his. Ditto the neighbor in unit 413. At the library read a “Vanity Fair” article about Jackie O as book editor and then checked out Edmund Morris’s “Colonel Roosevelt, about TR’s life after leaving the Presidency in 1909. In his syrupy farewell speech to his staff, Richard Nixon referred to TR’s useful last ten years after leaving office. The prologue deals with TR’s African safari; he slaughtered hundreds of game, satisfying his blood lust and need to test his manhood. The rationale: he was collecting specimens for the Smithsonian. Touring Europe, he was treated by heads of state like royalty. On the voyage back to New York he spoke at a Sunday service on deck and then insisted on addressing a thousand passengers in steerage, mostly Polish immigrants, on the great adventure that lay before them in America. According to Morris, many wept openly and clamored to touch him. The authorized biographer of Ronald Reagan, Morris wrote a controversial “memoir” called “Dutch,” where he invented a gossip columnist and an older version of himself, to make the story more lively. “Colonel Roosevelt” seems generally accurate, with no invented characters.

Ron and Nancy Cohen and Tanice Foltz stopped to see our condo on the way to Tracy and Fred Trout’s Holiday party. Nancy brought us butter cookies that melted in your mouth. They liked all our closet space and that the bedroom was on the first floor. Ron gave me a copy of “New York Review of Books.” Ronald Dworkin, bemoaning the 2010 election results and the Citizens United Supreme Court case that allowed secret funding of conservative candidates to the tune of 110 million dollars, wrote, “Why do people vote in such numbers for the party favored by the bankers and traders who brought on the economic catastrophe? If someone burned down your house, you would not fire your new contractor because he has not rebuilt it fast enough and then hire the arsonist to finish the job.” During the 1936 Presidential campaign FDR compared opponents of the New Deal to a rich old drowning man first grateful to have been saved but then angry because the rescuer didn’t also save his silk hat.

Great food, wine, and company at Tracy and Fred’s party. Jeff, a classmate of Tracy’s at Merrillville High School, mentioned that they had appeared in numerous theatrical production together and as back-up singers to Vic Damone and Barry Manilow. Tracy’s mom, Martha Sass, is a mainstay at Valparaiso’s Chicago Street Theater. Jeff recently played the part of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a production of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” People in the audience threw toilet paper, toast, rice and hot dogs just like at the movies. He mentioned taking an awesome dance class at IUN 30 years ago with Garrett Cope and was amazed to learn that Garrett is still at the university. I talked sports with Cindy and Mark Hoyert’s 15 year-old son Matt, who is about six foot six and plays on Valpo’s freshman team. He had on the same tie Mark wore at last year’s Arts and Sciences Holiday party. The Valparaiso varsity had a game earlier, and he was required to wear a tie.

Another guest at the Trouts, Greg Lasky, graduated from Portage the same year as son Phil. Wife Jana was the niece of former Congressman Adam Benjamin. I told her about how helpful Adam was when I was writing “City of the Century.” The house we rented at 54th and Maryland when we first came to Northwest Indiana was through Adam, who represented the owner in Texas. We looked like hippies, but when he learned I was a professor at Iu Northwest, he had no qualms about letting us move in. His office at the Gary National Bank Building contained a plaque naming him Assyrian-American of the Year. I hadn’t even known there were Assyrian Americans. Jana showed me an Assyrian pendent she was wearing. She and Greg used to work for Congressman Pete Visclosky. During his successful campaign against incumbent Katie Hall and Prosecutor Jack Crawford he came up our isolated road and driveway at Maple Place to solicit our vote. He got it even though I had intended to vote for Hall.

Got home in time for Saturday Night Live hosted by actor Paul Rudd (in a new comedy, “How Do You Know,” with Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson). Musical guest was Paul McCartney, who also appeared in several skits. Though my age (born in 1942), the former Beatle rocked out to “Jet.” Some think the song is about an old girlfriend or maybe John Lennon (“the wind in your hair of a thousand laces”) or David Bowie (“I thought the major was a lady suffragette”), but the lyrics are nonsensical. Jet was the name of Paul’s dog at the time he wrote it.

With the Gary Public Library budget cut in half down to 3 million dollars, there is talk of closing all five branches or even the downtown anchor, since it is dire need of repair, and keeping just the DuBois branch at 1835 Broadway. It would make sense for Gary to become part of the county system, but board members would have to give up perks in that scenario.

Dick and Cheryl picked us up for the Sunday matinee of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Angie had told us it was a sell-out, but due to the weather there were about 50 empty seats, enabling Toni to move up after a tall person sat right in front of her. I wish daughter-in-law Beth, who recently asked me to be her Facebook friend, was around. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is her favorite holiday movie. By intermission blizzard conditions had developed outside. When the play was over, we congratulated Becca, James, and Angie and went to a nearby restaurant, One Fifty Seven, with Tom Eaton and Pat Cronin joining the four of us as planned. Only six other brave souls were at the restaurant. My petite filet minion was so good I didn’t need a doggie bag. The wind was blowing so hard, Dick could hardly see the ramp connecting Ridge Road with Route 49. After a cast party, Angie and the kids came to our house with much difficulty rather than try to reach Portage. The Northwest Indiana weather conditions made the national news, as did Minneapolis, where the storm caused the collapse of the Metrodome, forcing postponement of the Vikings-Giants football contest.

Talked to Mary Delp Harwood on the phone about Wendy and the tiara mystery. She had no recollection of my driving home from a dance and attempting to pass a car on a three-lane highway in a 1956 Buick. I barely made it before a truck came barreling down the middle lane from the other direction.

No school Monday for the kids. IU Northwest stayed open because Monday was the first day of finals, but I didn’t go anywhere. On Dave’s advice I queued up On Demand and watched the first episode of the HBO Twenties gangster series “Broadway Empire” written by “Sopranos’ screenwriter Terence Winter, directed by Martin Scorcese, and starring one of my favorite character actors (i.e., “Fargo”) Steve Buscemi as boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson. The show has plenty of violence and frontal nudity. Among the real life gangsters written into the script are Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Johnny Torrio, and Arnold Rothstein (responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series, the so-called Black Sox scandal). The series was inspired by Nelson Johnson’s nonfiction book subtitled “The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City.” Dabney Coleman, whom I didn’t recognize, plays Nucky’s mentor, the Commodore. The first role I saw him play was slimy Mayor Merle Jeeter in the night time Seventies soap opera “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”

Going into Monday night Bob had a 15-point Fantasy lead on me with each of us having one player left; I had Baltimore running back Ray Rice and he had Houston kicker Neil Rackers. As I told Phil, I was looking good after DeSean Jackson caught a 90-yard TD pass Sunday evening but then the Cowboys’ Jason Witten caught a meaningless TD at the end of the game, adding ten points to Bob’s total. Oakland tied Jacksonville near the end of their game, allowing Maurice Jones Drew (MJD) to get Bob 11 points on the final play on a long TD run. On draft night I should have taken MJD rather than Ray Rice when I had third pick but was scared away by his knee problems. Ray had no TDs and I lost by 13 points.

After half a grapefruit, cheerios with sliced bananas, bacon, and two cups of coffee, stopped off for a talk with good friend Clark on the way to work. The roads in Miller were slippery, as the city of Gary apparently lacks the money to lay down salt adequately.

IU Press wanted a description of Roy Dominguez’s autobiography “Spirits from the Fields” for an upcoming meeting. This is what I sent: “Scholars will find Spirits from the Fields a significant and original contribution to the social, ethnic, and political history of Northwest Indiana. Hoosiers throughout the state will recognize in this intimate, informative, and inspiring narrative elements familiar to their own family histories. Like so many immigrants, Roy’s parents Jesse and Inocensia traveled to the heavily industrialized Calumet Region in order to earn a decent wage and provide their children with opportunities for a more fulfilling life than had been possible for them. Their core values served Roy well as he encountered hurdles growing up in the gang-plagued “Steel City” of Gary, on the way to becoming the first Hispanic Indiana state trooper, graduating with distinction from Indiana University Northwest, getting through Valparaiso Law School after a rough start, and maturing into a successful attorney and officeholder. Emulating his Dad, he was a “good Joe” with the knack for putting folks at ease. Like his Mom, he viewed politics as an honorable path to public service.

“Once as a group largely neglected by historians and social scientists, during the past half-century, starting in the consciousness-raising Sixties, a rich literature has documented the lives of Hispanics in the Midwest, and in particular, Northwest Indiana, not only scholarly output but also notable biographies and memoirs. As overt forms of discrimination abated after World War II, it became possible for talented individuals to obtain leadership positions in business, commerce, law enforcement, and industry, run successfully for union and political offices, and achieve distinction in areas ranging from athletics and advertising to the arts and academics. Spirits from the Fields exemplifies the American promise for those persistent enough to beat the odds and muster the resilience needed to confront life’s vicissitudes. Just when Dominguez was ready to start a family and embark on a promising legal career as a deputy prosecutor, he was stricken Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome. How he coped with and eventually overcame this debilitating affliction is a compelling subtheme of Spirits from the Fields. The experience matured him, required patience and humility, and steeled him to meet future crises with wisdom, perspective, and grit. As Chairman of the Workers Compensation Board under Governor Evan Bayh, Dominguez made an impact statewide. Consumer groups, labor unions, and enlightened employers alike heralded the long overdue overhaul of workers compensation regulations that he shepherded into being.

“Dominguez truly stands on the shoulders of forefathers – and mothers, Texas landowners on one side, migrant workers on the other, who believed in family first and instilled confidence in a remarkable public servant whose compassion for people comes though vividly in the pages of his autobiography. His preferred leadership style emphasizes achieving outcomes through consensus; but when decisiveness is called for, he does not back down from necessary fights. Strong as the steel forged in Northwest Indiana’s mills, he rebounded from physical and political setbacks that would have felled lesser men and comprehends that life is fleeting and unpredictable and that one should put his talents to the best possible use. He is a proven leader capable of meeting whatever challenges the future holds for him.”

This just in: The Phillies signed pitcher Chris Lee to a five-year contract worth $120 million. An all-star who played for them in the 2009 World Series and for the Rangers in the 2010 Fall Classic, he will make Philadelphia an odd-on favorite to go all the way in 2011. This more than compensates for losing Jayson Werth to the Nationals.

Magill’s manuscript editor Christopher Rager emailed about my review of “Empire of the Summer Moon.” He “greatly enjoyed” it but noticed that three times I referred to the Comanches as Cherokees and wondered if it was a misprint. I replied: “I am so glad you caught that. I can’t believe I did that although as an editor I know that sometimes the most obvious things are not caught. Please change to Comanche in all three instances. Again, I apologize.” He wrote back: “I figured it was an oversight--those things definitely happen--but I just wanted to double check given my ignorance on the subject. Thanks for your quick response and great review.”

Suzanna sent me a cute animated flash ecard by Jacquie Lawson about a dog and a cat, home alone, breaking open presents and knocking balls off a Christmas tree before hearing carolers outside their house. I emailed back: “The cat reminded me of Marvin, who liked to get under our trees and play with the ornaments. He was very gentle, but occasionally he knocked some off. For several years we had carolers even though we lived in isolation on a hill. Two families we knew (Mack-Wards and Warricks) would go out with their combined four daughters and included us on their route.”

As the Killers sing in “Boots,” “brand new year coming up ahead.” Just 16 days to go.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight

“Goodnight, sweetheart
Well, it's time to go
I hate to leave you, but I really must say
Goodnight, sweetheart, goodnight.”
Spaniels

I’ve been working on Henry Farag to be a speaker when Vivian Carter is honored by the Legends committee for starting the first black-owned record company. Right off the bat, Vee-Jay records had a hit with the Spaniels’ “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Henry’s lifetime love affair with doo-wop music came from listening to Vivian’s radio show. Pookie Hudson, who wrote the song and performed it for Vivian in a nursing home shortly before her death, died three years ago, but original member Willie C. Jackson is still going strong, leading the revamped Spaniels into Oldies concerts.

I helped Toni put up the artificial Christmas tree in the condo recreation room. Some young’ns complained when we stopped buying real trees, but I never had enjoyed the holiday ritual of going to Jansen’s Nursery on a quest for a flawless tree and hated cleaning up the pine needles, not to mention being stabbed in the hand or foot with them months later. Toni is threatening to go with a small table model. We do have a large variety of ornaments with sentimental value, so I expect we’ll stick with what we have for some years to come since we bothered to lug the one we bought after the holidays ten years ago at a 90 percent discount from Maple Place.

Post-Trib Quickly readers have been complaining of blow-up balloons making lousy yard decorations. It’s rather funny to see them lying on their side or in a heap, deflated. There are much worse eyesores. One Quickly labeled Republicans two-faced for claiming to be concerned about the deficit while insisting on tax cuts for millionaires. Jeff Manes wrote about food pantry volunteer Marilyn Bennett. During the blizzard of 1967 her family lived and took in many motorists stranded on Highway 41, including a priest, two Brink’s drivers (who took turns guarding the truck), and a van full of college students. Some sent Christmas cards to her parents for many years.

Spotted the headline, “City Hall Gadfly arrested for yelling expletive.” Culprit Jim Nowicki talked to me at Lake Street Gallery about the disappearance of art pieces from Gary schools. At a City Hall meeting he started yelling when ruled out of order during the public comment period. Kicked out of the building, he supposedly started cursing out Mayor Rudy Clay. Reporter Jon Seidel wrote, “Nowicki routinely criticizes city officials during public meetings. He was arrested for disorderly conduct in 2009 for trying to carry a bag of trash in Gary’s Board of Public Works and Safety meeting in protest of the city’s garbage collection contract. After a jury trial, a city judge dismissed the charge.” I admire his gumption.

Re-watched the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode where Larry and Cheryl renew wedding vows. Larry was fine with being faithful till death but balked at vowing to pledge fidelity through all eternity. Shelley Berman plays Larry’s father, and I just love how he mumbles things under his breath. Each time I watch the episode I catch more of what he says. When his friend Solly spills something on Larry’s suit, Larry’s mother-in-law yells, “Somebody get a sponge.” Larry wonders why she doesn’t move since she’s the closest to the kitchen. Berman’s stand-up routines a half-century ago featured him smoking a cigarette and pretending to talk on the phone.

David Yaros wants me to get involved in the Northwest Indiana Steel Heritage Project whose main goal is to establish a museum. Archivist Steve McShane has been active with the group. I’ll lend it any support I can but no meetings. On his Gary website (GDYNets.WebNG.com/gary.htm) Yaros, a Milwaukee resident, laments the decline of his hometown (from City of the Century to Murder Capital is the way he puts it) and reprints articles about crime and alleged corruption within the Clay administration. Taking the Post-Trib to task for underreporting such things, he writes: “The residents of Gary deserve an advocate. Jim Nowicki cannot do it alone.” Although I don’t share his negative views about Gary, I told Yaros that I would mention the Heritage Project on my blog and sent him Gary’s First Hundred Years. His uncle, police officer, George Yaros, was gunned down in Glen Park 39 years ago while responding to an armed robbery. One of the killers, Rufus Averhart, had recently been released from jail after several community leaders, including Post-Trib reporter Ernie Hernandez, vouched for him. It seemed to them that he had been rehabilitated. An excellent artist, he had received his GED and been accepted at Purdue. Averhart received the death sentence. His appeal process went on for 26 years until he accepted a plea bargain arrangement setting his sentence at 74 years. A law firm representing Rufus, who changed his name to Zolo Agona Azania. asked if I would be a witness attesting to racism in Northwest Indiana and in the selection of judges. I demurred. Although he still maintains his innocence, in my opinion Rufus had his chance to go straight and blew it, unable to disassociate himself from lawbreakers.

Leafed through Gore Vidal’s novel “Myra Breckinridge,” about a transgendered, self-proclaimed liberated woman. It seemed contrived, dated, scatological, and frankly boring, despite a graphic chapter detailing an orgy Myra attended (writing in the first person, she notes: “My own participation was limited. I watched, and only occasionally helped out: a tickle here, a pull there, a lick, a bite, no more except for a sudden intrusion from the rear which I did not see coming”). In our present age of hardcore pornography, it’s hard to imagine what all the fuss was about when it appeared in 1968. Even if symbolic or simply satirical, I found nothing hilarious about Myra raping young stud Rusty with a dildo, thereby turning him queer. The bisexual Vidal could be insufferable in his criticisms of the country’s cult of masculinity. In “Myra” one character claims that “in every American there is a Boston Strangler longing to break a neck during orgasm.” Poppycock.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, on the cover of Time, was arrested in England on charges of rape. The American government claims the whistle blower has threatened national security and jeopardized the way diplomacy is conducted. All the furor over what he did seems like a gross exaggeration. Rather than reveal wrongdoing and deceit, like the Pentagon Papers did 40 years ago, the revelations tend to show that American officials are doing their job skillfully. Will Assange be Time’s person-of-the-year? I’d vote for the Chilean miners but fear it will be Palin even though her coattails weren’t that significant, even in Alaska.

LeeLee Devenney sent a copy of husband Bob’s interesting memoir about coming to America from Scotland. In a Glasgow tenement his family shared a toilet with two others and had to put a coin in a box to receive gas or electricity. Emailed LeeLee that Toni and I have friends in Glasgow, Linda and Charley. We met in a hot tub at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee on the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis’ death. Phil Arnold had talked me into going there for some Elvis-related concerts. We had two extra tickets and offered them to Linda and Charley. They were so grateful (Charley being a huge Elvis fan) that they bought us champagne and have been in contact with us ever since. We hope to visit them in Scotland some time soon. LeeLee and Bob met in Afghanistan when she was in the Peace Corps. They’ve visited Bob’s childhood haunts several times. She seems eager to stay in touch even though she put the kibosh on continuing the tiara story.

On Facebook Missy Brush wrote: “Omg I totally got my hair to look like anime hair!!!! Epic win!!!!!!!!” Angie gave a thumbs up to her new photo with “anime hair.” In her Ides of March 2003 journal Jonna Clazton wrote that she was a big fan of anime and into Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon.

The Wall of legends induction ceremony for Vee-Jay Records founder Vivian Carter and John Maniotes (a computer pioneer) at the Lake County Tourist Bureau Welcome Center went well even though no black people talked on Vivian’s behalf. Henry Farag reminisced movingly about tuning in WWCA at age ten on his crystal radio set and hearing Vivian playing the Dells’ “Oh What a Night.” Following Henry to read the inscription, which mentioned her breaking racial and gender barriers and producing revolutionary music, Steve told the audience he wished he had a voice like Henry’s. Al Evans provided comic relief, inadvertently touching the keyboard and changing what was on the big screen. At one point instead of an image of Vivian previous Legends inductee Tony Zale’s picture appeared. Master of ceremonies John Davies was dynamic and dramatic, pausing, raising his voice for emphasis and passionate about his mission. For my work with the committee John gave me a plaque similar to the one on the Wall honoring Vivian that I plan to donate to her alma mater, Roosevelt School.

Chancellor Howard Cohen, whom I met when Dave was honored as teacher of the year, spoke on behalf of inductee John Maniotes, who taught at Purdue Calumet for 38 years. In the audience was Gordon Keith, who formed Steeltown Records in 1966 and put out two Jackson 5 singles before the group was signed by Motown. Also in attendance was retired Purdue Cal History professor Lance Trusty, who wrote an epilogue to Powell Moore’s “The Calumet Region: Indiana’s Last Frontier” and was a contributor to several Shavings issues. Lance, Steve, George Roberts and I did a session together at an Indiana Association of Historians conference in Terre Haute. Toni agreed to come with Alissa if we stayed at a motel with a pool and hot tub. When we arrived, we learned they were out of order, but I was able to switch to a different motel that had both.

A photo of a mature-looking, pensive John Lennon, shot dead thirty years this week, is on the cover of Rolling Stone. Arcade Fire’s Suburbs CD made the top albums of the year list, coming in at number four. Ahead of them were Kanye West, The Black Keys and the Elton John/ Leon Russell collaboration. LCD Soundsystem was number 10. “We Used To Wait” was named the fifth best single (right behind Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”) as well as one of the top videos.

Enjoyed “The Tourist” starring Johnny Depp (great as always) and Angela Jolie (exotic-looking with the fullest lips imaginable). The villains were realistic, and the movie had a nice twist at the end. In contrast to “Burlesque” last week, there was a large audience.

Just when I was ready to settle down to watch Bulls-Lakers, Dave and Tom announced they were coming over for gaming. I had a decent night, winning two of six.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Feed the Tree

“Take your hat off boy
When you’re talking to me.
And be there when I feed the tree.”
Belly

My ancient CD player swallowed two CDs and wouldn’t open or shut all the way until Toni fixed the problem, turning the unit upside down and shaking it vigorously. Now I have to decide whether to play Steve Earle’s “Jerusalem” on it again on the assumption that I just didn’t have it placed properly. Meanwhile I listened to WXRT and was rewarded with a Belly song, “Feed the Tree.” Tanya Donelly, the lead singer in Belly, a Nineties alternative band from Boston, is referring to dying or self-destructive tendencies. The lyrics hint at reincarnation and the “take your hat off” line seems to be about demanding respect and loyalty even unto death. According to Wikipedia, Tanya embarked on a solo career without great success and recently became a postpartum doula (one who furnishes non-medical support to mothers of newborns).

Hearing “Feed the Tree” reminded me of my autumn efforts to keep the two newly planted Court One trees alive. The installers didn’t remove all the previous roots and dug the holes too shallow. We’ll find out in the spring if one or both made it.

Addressed a hundred Christmas cards stuffed with a family photo of all 13 of us (Beth included) from last Christmas. The goal was to get them out early to people who might not have our new address. In need of stamps and to have the one going to Pat and Ruth Tyler in Birmingham, England, weighed, I went to the main Gary post office. Georgia, a pleasant African American formerly at the Miller post office, waited on me. Taking the Fifteenth Avenue route to school – down Martin Luther King Drive to Twenty-First, past the Three Brothers Market to Georgia, and then south to Thirty-Third, I spotted a spry old black man with snow-white hair, mustache and long sideburns.

Added this paragraph to the “Somewhat True” mystery, which I sent to “JayJay” for possible additions, corrections and deletions: “JayJay told Jimmy she’d try to attend Wendy’s reunion bash. When he mentioned Lake Minneola, her memory conjured up the sticky flypaper strips on the cabin porch that the two families shared. Gross! After she told her mom about the dive-bombing bats, Gussie warned her that they sometimes got stuck in women’s hair and recommended wearing a scarf next time in a boat at dusk. She recalled a mostly empty Minneola Pavilion with two pinball machines that cost a nickel for five balls. She, Jimmy, and Terry learned how to rack up multiple free games and played for hours. More patient and less reckless, she often won. Once on a hike they came upon a cute girl their age named Cookie. Next day, Jimmy and Terry went off without her, hoping to run into Cookie again. Sensing that her feeling were hurt, JayJay’s dad took her shopping in town. Reminiscing on the phone, Jimmy frequently mentioned how cool Ted was – with a sports car, always the biggest Christmas tree, and a gleam in his eye for a pretty lady. All that was true, but he had quite a temper and didn’t spare the rod when she or Terry misbehaved – like the time he discovered that someone had raided his liquor cabinet.”

Turns out “JayJay” doesn’t want to be in the story and got LeeLee to recommend scrapping the epilogue about planning a party at Wendy’s. I passed on that information to Wendy, along with this latest paragraph” “Jimmy was amazed at Wendy’s generous offer and flattered that she wanted him to persuade others to participate. He had first met her at a party at Ray’s upon returning to Fort Washington at age 15 after living in Michigan for 18 months. Two years before, Ray’s dad had introduced guests to the games of Post Office and Spin the Bottle, the dirty old man. At this ninth grade party the physical contact took place on the dance floor, not in a closet. Jimmy found Wendy pleasant, smart, and self-assured. She kept her body close to his when they slow-danced but not in a suggestive way – more like to infer, “I’m enjoying your company.” After she started going with Jimmy’s best friend Vince, they went on several double dates with Wendy’s friend Mary the fourth person. Vince was Jimmy’s mentor in the ways of the birds and the bees. Once the four of them were in Mary’s recreation room, which contained two adjacent couches. After Vince and Wendy started necking on one coach, Jimmy, on the other one, kept eyeing Vince surreptitiously for instructions on body positioning and other techniques. Another time the four of them were on Mary’s bed working on a homework assignment without any thought of sex or that the situation was indecent. Vince and Wendy befriended with English teacher Delphine Vandling. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, given Wendy’s curiosity and adventurous spirit. Though probably in her fifties, Delphine kept herself fit and could get boys aroused talking about Shakespearean lovers or reciting Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky. In fact, she’d get a gleam in her eyes reciting these lines:
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird,
And shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”
When Jimmy returned from college at semester break and last saw her prior to the reunion, Wendy looked as happy and resilient as ever, as if there was no challenge she couldn’t handle. Fifty years later, she had that same confidence, as if to say, in the words of the old salt, if adversity strikes, I’ll just reset my sails.”

Wendy wrote back, “Let’s clean it up a bit. No sexual descriptions.” But then she added: “I think we should think about an encompassing interesting story.” I’d love to do a whole book about her, but what would be the fun without any sex. As I told LeeLee, my goal was to capture the spirit of Fifties years when teens were reticent but infatuated about sex. I think I have written my final “Somewhat True” paragraph. The couch episode actually happened but Vince was with someone other than Wendy. I wrote about “getting to second base” that night in my “Survival Journal” that can be found in Shavings, volume 33.

Somewhat bummed out over classmates’ sudden cold feet, I started leafing through the reunion booklet and discovered most classmates had included their current phone number. I couldn’t resist calling 2010 no-shows Carol Schuman, Pam Illingworth, and Virginia Lange. They were surprised to hear from me, to say the least. All, I believe, liked me at one time. Pam was a neighbor and seventh grade study partner who faithfully corresponded with me while I lived in Michigan. Virginia’s dad was our dentist, and she had the warmest smile imaginable. Both were taller than I so I didn’t even think of asking them out. Carol was short and fiery: in sixth grade she stabbed my palm with a pencil – a trace of the lead is still visible. I still don’t know why I never asked her out except that in high school the common trend was to ask younger girls out.

Exchanged emails with IU professor John Bodnar, author of the definitive immigrant history, “The Transplanted.” I wrote: “I received Ray Boomhower's call for proposals for the February 26 conference of the Indiana Association of Historians to be held at the Indiana Historical Society. What would you think of a session featuring "Maria's Journey"? I could deliver an expanded version of my Forward, Ray and Trish Arredondo could then say something about how the book came about and read an excerpt from the chapter where Maria travels back to Indiana Harbor pregnant and with eight children, and then you could deliver something similar to your introduction. The deadline for submitting proposals is December 15, so let me know if this sounds feasible and worth pursuing.” He quickly replied, “Sounds like a very good idea. I can tell you now, however, I speak at the Univ of South Carolina on Feb. 25 on a war and memory conference and don't think I can guarantee I could be in Indy for a conference on the 26th.” Bodnar is an expert on the analysis of memory. I sent this reply and forwarded the exchange to Ray and Trish: “The Arredondos' schedule then is a little iffy (with a 98 year-old mother in ill health), too, so why don't we think of doing it at a more convenient date. Thanks for your interest though.”

DeeDee Ige said plans to use my example as a model when she retires, coming to school to be useful but still remaining flexible enough to travel whenever she wanted. Jim Migoski just set up a week’s vacation for us in Cancun in January. Being do-director of the Calumet Regional Archives gives me a useful purpose. Guest lecturing every couple months, I don’t miss teaching like I thought I might.

In his Historiography class Jonathyne Briggs is using “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard,” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and based on Ballard’s diary covering the years 1785 to 1812. I promised to bring him the Shavings issues on “Ides of March” and “Age of Anxiety.” I also have the American Experience dramatization of “A Midwife’s Tale” on videotape.

Finished stuffing, signing, addressing, sealing, and stamping our hundred Christmas cards while Toni put together five packages that need to be mailed at the Chesterton post office. In the news: Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts for all and Elizabeth Edwards succumbed to cancer. Estranged hubby John, Kerry’s 2004 running mate, fathered a child with mistress Rielle Hunter while they were still married and he was seeking the 2008 Democratic nomination.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees is “Sports Illustrated” 2010 Sportsman of the Year, not only for his Superbowl win but his charitable efforts in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There was also an interesting article on Kansas City GM Scott Pioli, one of many Bill Belichick assistants who has moved on to greener pastures. Pioli has this Sherwood Anderson quote written in calligraphy on his wall from “Winesburg, Ohio” about a young man leaving his sleepy hometown for bigger things: “The young man, going out of town to meet the adventure of his life, began to think but he did not think of anything very big or dramatic . . . . He thought of the little things.”

IU Northwest student Lex Williams interviewed me for a show on Gary he is working on for a Television Production class. He started by asking if I believed the election of Richard Hatcher was the most important event in explaining the city’s decline. I told him I thought the election was a high point and praised Hatcher as an enlightened leader. He asked if I thought he was corrupt, and I replied that he was probably the most investigated mayor in history and if he had any skeletons in the closet, Republican U.S attorneys would have indicted him in a heartbeat. Williams was very polite and complimentary and told me I had given a copy of Gary’s First Hundred Years to his father Floyd. I was tempted to mention that in the 1920s Gary had a racist mayor named Floyd Williams, a former undertaker who captured City Hall with help from U.S. Steel and the KKK.

Jim Spicer will be in California over New Year’s visiting John and Lillian Attinasi and wants to see Wisconsin play in the Rose Bowl. Someone told him that all Big Ten schools get a certain allotment of tickets to sell and maybe I could help him get four. I made inquiries on my campus and then called the IU athletic department ticket office. Indeed IU did get a few tickets, but they are all sold out. I gave Jim the number to call in a couple weeks in case some more become available. Jim and brother Steve (who started a Miller Beach website) are also big Packer fans.

Electrical Engineers won the middle game against a superior team. I was the only team member to bowl above average (498 series) and won the five-dollar pot. John Bulot brought me a cloth cover for my left shoe (my sliding foot). The woman who made it only charged five dollars. I desperately need new bowling shoes, but the new ones I’ve tried on bring me to such an abrupt halt I almost fall down. With this apparatus I can go to Ray’s Lanes and buy new shoes. John complained his ball was not breaking and plans to put it in the oven to get the buildup of oil off it. Never heard of that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Getting Into The Spirit

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me
Twelve lords leaping, Eleven ladies dancing

Ten pipers piping, Nine drummers drumming

Eight maids milking, Seven swans swimming
Six geese a laying, Five gold rings

Four colly birds, Three French hens

Two turtle doves and, A partridge in a pear tree.

Got a blast of lake effect snow, which would have depressed me had we still lived on the hill at Maple Place. We had no trouble driving to Dick and Cheryl’s for afternoon bridge. Dick has a new snow blower and had his driveway clear. We got two rounds in before going to Lake Street Gallery for Joyce’s annual Christmas sing-along. Joyce’s assistant Susan and husband George talked about being interviewed by the “Abandoned Planet” crew. They couldn’t get into the train station, so they were filmed at Memorial Auditorium – at least what’s left of it. Like I did, they told the director she needed to interview African Americans. A woman organist played Christmas songs. The highlight was “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” where were a dozen groups each sang their particular verse. Al Renslow and George McGuan really got into “Five golden rings.” Tanice Foltz and a friend twirled dramatically while singing “Eleven ladies dancing.” Joyce’s boyfriend conducted after a couple false starts with the turtle dove and partridge groups.

Jim Nowicki and the Miller Improvement Association are trying to renovate the old town hall plus get Lake Street designated a historic district. For some years he has been trying to retrieve paintings that once hung in various Gary schools. A valuable Frank Dudley landscape ended up in an Indianapolis museum. Nowicki learned about it when the museum loaned it to Valparaiso University gallery for a Dudley retrospective. He has also tracked down an even more valuable piece by Hudson River School artist Asher Durand. He estimates that literally hundreds of art pieces dating back to when William A. Wirt’s work study play system was in full flower mysteriously disappeared.

Jeff Manes wrote about steel union officer Rosa Maria Rodriguez in his Post-Trib SALT column. Molested as a kid and sent to reform school as a teenager after robbing a store, she started in the mill shortly after the 1974 Consent Decree and worked many dangerous jobs – once nearly falling to her death. One of her goals is to mentor girls in the correctional facility where she once was incarcerated. Jeff used this quote by United Farm Workers leader Delores Huerta: “Among poor people, there’s not any question about women being strong – even stronger than men – they work in the fields right along with the men. When your survival is at stake, you don’t have these questions about yourself like middle-class women do.”

Tom and Dave won two games each, but I prevailed in Stone Age, my current favorite, by using the starvation strategy (quickly acquiring men but not feeding them) and buying up many huts as well as two cards that multiplied their worth by a total factor of five. While Toni and Cheryl heard Dick sing with Rusty Pipes, I watched the Bears squeak out another nail-biter against the lowly Lions. Later Peyton Manning threw four interceptions in a Colts loss to the Cowboys.

I leafed through my “Ides of March 2003” issue and plan to send it to English Composition lecturers in hopes they will get their students to keep journals. In my rambling personal journal I talked a lot about music and used song lyrics by groups such as the Flaming Lips to introduce sections. Hank Ballard died on March 2, 2003, and I mentioned some of his ribald songs, including “Work with Me, Annie” and “Open Up the Back Door” (double entendre intended). Also discussed the crazy decision to invade Iraq (we were on a cruise at the time) and Gary’s 2003 mayor’s race won by Scott King. In the editor’s note I wrote: “Is Clio, the muse of history, truly served, one might legitimately ask, by diary notations of a 61 year-old’s favorite musical groups (Wilco and Sonic Youth)? Or by reprinting the profane chorus to 2003’s most provocative hit by 50 Cent (You can find me in the club, bottle full of bub . . . . so come give me a hug if you into getting rubbed)? Call me jaded, but from my perspective as a social historian who came of age intellectually during the Sixties I see merit in this.” I still do. Some memorable students contributed to volume 36, including basketball player Edwina “Eddie” Aponte, rock band drummer Joe Hengstler, union activist Pat Lane (no relation), former marine Charles Mubarak, and single moms Shirley Starkey and Shelley Weldon. On the cover are participants in an antiwar march down Broadway; my friend Mike Olszanski is carrying a sign reading “WAR IS TERRORISM.” Former student Sam Barnett was a participant and took colorful photos along the Glen Park route.

Looks like Obama will sigh a bill extending the Bush tax cuts to everyone, not just those making under $250,000 in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, the findings of the nonpartisan commission to reduce the deficit seem dead in the water. So much for election year rhetoric.

At lunch Chuck was asking if anyone had an Advil because his knee was killing him. Hope he doesn’t need a replacement like was my fate six years ago. Anne expressed pleasure that both her teenage daughters were now dating females. I asked her if was a matter of trusting them more than boys. She replied that she was pleased they were being adventurous. It is nice when young people have the freedom to experiment without worrying about drastic consequences.

WBEZ’s Mike Puente interviewed me about Richard Hatcher in connection with a story for National Public Radio about daughter Ragen’s decision to run for mayor of Gary in 2011. On the phone he had said that most information he had gotten about Hatcher was negative. I tried to correct that misconception and lauded Hatcher as a visionary. In the past Puente has reported on filmmaking in Gary, on the Coast Guard patrolling Lake Michigan, on Michael Jackson Gary upbringing, and many more local stories. I gave him a copy of Gary’s First Hundred Years and showed him the chapter I wrote on Hatcher in the book African-American mayors. He wanted audio clips of Hatcher, so I found the Eyes on the Prize II episode dealing with the 1972 National Black Political Convention at West Side and a room for him to view the tape. He promised to let me know before the bit airs.

On LeeLee’s advice I amended my “Somewhat True” paragraph about Judy where I mentioned getting excited by the whites of her thighs. She wrote: “Do I sound like a prude? Honestly I am not. But I think my grand daughters might disagree. I stopped buying them clothes because what I bought wasn’t HIP enough. I am not into the naked belly look for school.” I replied: “You don’t sound like a prude. I often push the envelope in the journals I have published and your suggestion was appreciated, especially if the original would be embarrassing for Judy. I was trying to capture the Fifties tendency for sex to be repressed and unacknowledged but in the forefront of many people’s minds during those Teen years. When I started teaching in 1970 at IU Northwest, the no-bra look was the rage. More recently it has been low-cut blouses, Low riding jeans have supplemented the bare midriff look, often revealing tattoos right about the butt.”

Janet Bayer, living in Montauk, Vermont, wrote on Facebook: “Barn owl swoops onto the porch. I see his eyes looking at me. He crashes into the French doors. Dog comes running. I grab Watson away from the owl laying on his back, talons up. Owl flies away safe tonight from tooth and claw. OK kids, so the rural life is sometimes not so great.” And later: “I can hear the owl hooting now. Life is OK!”

I looked to be in big trouble in Fantasy football. To make the playoffs I needed to win my final regular season game and trailed Garrett by ten points going into Monday night. I had Patriots QB Tom Brady, but he had both Jets running backs. Brady three four TD passes and New England got so far ahead that the Jets runners hardly touched the ball. I squeaked out the win by six points.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's a Simple Man To Do?

“I know I said I’d never cross the border
I know I promised to return to you
But I lost my job in the maquiladora
What’s a simple man to do?”
Steve Earle

Put on Steve Earle’s Jerusalem CD, the one containing “John Walker’s Blues,” and really dug song number six, also about someone in jail, an immigrant to got arrested in San Diego doing something to earn needed money. Looked up maquiladora and first got definitions for make-up artist but then discovered that it is a factory in Mexico where workers make products for the American market. Also put on a Jayhawks CD. The Minneapolis band is together again and will be performing their 1992 album “Hollywood Town Hall” in its entirety at Chicago’s Vic Theater (where I saw Graham Parker years ago).

Jonathyne Briggs was at the lunch table with Anne Balay and Chuck Gallmeier, also a big Steve Earle fan. Jonathyne’s delivering a paper in London during semester break and received a Summer Faculty Fellowship. He hopes to take his daughter Ragen to Paris next summer when he goes there to do research on the Seventies French punk music scene. He usually rents a flat from someone who is usually elsewhere. I’ll look into staying there, too, if I take my granddaughters to Prague and Paris like I’ve talked about. He wants his Historiography students to use the Archives next semester. I suggested an assignment using the Post-Tribunes, and maybe he can have them keep journals and make use of journals in the Archives, such as the diaries of Stanley Stanish and Katherine Hyndman.

Spoke to Steve McShane’s class about Gary’s First Hundred Years and had them read from Age of Anxiety like when I appeared before the Ogden Dunes Historical Society. Steve read this charming excerpt from Sthe Stanish’s diary: “My army buddy Stanley Sprecher visited with his wife, who was really into sterilizing all their glasses and dishes.” It was an age when diseases such as polio and scarlet fever made some people paranoid. And later: “We bought a movie camera and projector and took pictures at Grandpa and Grandma Rybicki’s golden anniversary celebration in Hessville. I got one of Ronnie’s temper tantrums on film.” When I was a kid, my dad took 16 milimeter silent movies that lasted about four minutes.

Reading Katherine Hyndman’s reaction upon hearing of Willa Mae’s death almost left me in tears. The prostitute and dope addict had befriended Katherine when she was in a Crown Point jail cellblock after passing out antiwar literature during the Korean War. Katherine wrote: “Willa Mae’s family had been evicted for nonpayment of rent. They had no place to go. Their father disappeared, and her mother and two younger children found relatives to live with until they got relief. It was then that she turned to prostitution. Taking dope made it easier for her to live the life thrust upon her. Willa Mae was one of the nicest persons I met in jail. She was intelligent, had human sympathy for people, was generous and hardworking, and was class-conscious in the way she spoke and rich and poor. We both wept when she left for Indianapolis. 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.”

Student questions are a highlight of my class visits. Asked my favorite Gary research topic, I mentioned the 1967 election where Richard Hatcher triumphed over the corrupt Democratic machine. In fact, I treasure the many hours I spent interviewing the former mayor. Doing oral histories is a little like participating in a scavenger hunt. The most fun is when you discover something unexpected. Paulino Monterrubio patiently answered my inquiries about times he’d been discriminated against what he really wanted to talk about were his accomplishments. He showed me prized possessions – citizenship papers, a union card, a World War II warden’s hardhat. He made me realize that the way to write about immigrants is not as passive victims but as active agents developing strategies to survive and adapt to new surroundings.

I talked to the students about interviewing the Reverend L.K. Jackson – “The Old Prophet,” as he called himself. I knew that he had participated in efforts to desegregate Gary’s Marquette Park and had invited Paul Robeson to sing in his church after the school board refused to allow him to perform at Roosevelt School. That was only the tip of the iceberg so far as his civil rights activities were concerned. During the 1940s he threatened to organize a bus boycott if the transit company didn’t hire black drivers. Similar threats against downtown department stores resulted in black clerks being hired. He persuaded the Post-Trib to hire a black reporter and the Gary National Bank to employ black tellers. I interviewed him at his home and recall that he had an entire closet full of hats. He was convinced the ob burned down his church – St. paul Baptist – because he was an outspoken critic of the vice and gambling establishments that the city government tolerated. What a character.

Beloved Cubs broadcaster Ron Santo died at age 70 of complications from bladder cancer. A former player on the 1969 team that blew a mid-August nine and a half lead over the “Miracle Mets,” he struggled with the effects of juvenile diabetes and had both his legs amputated but still continued as the team’s color commentator on WGN. He never had anything good to say about New York, and there’s a famous photo of a black cat at Shea Stadium walking past him while he is in the batting circle during a crucial September game. He bled Cubbie Blue, as the saying went, and was famous for yelling when Cubs players did something right and groaning when things went bad. My favorite was when leftfielder Brant Brown dropped a ball against Milwaukee in 1998, turning a 5-3 lead into a sudden loss. Ronnie kept repeating “Oh, Noooooooo!!!!” as if his heart was breaking. Tied with the Mets with three games to go in the Wild Card race, the Cubs did manage to make the playoffs, so Brown does not have the notoriety of Steve Bartman, the fan who prevented Moises Alou from catching a foul ball in game six of the 2003 playoffs against Florida. Ten years later when Carlos Zambrano no-hit the Astros in a game played in Milwaukee because of Hurricane Ike, Ron was beside himself, shouting “Yesssssss!!!!!” and using some of his favorite expressions, like “Unbelievable” and “Oh, man.” On the SCORE Cubs President Tom Ricketts said that “Ronnie will forever be the heart and soul of Cubs fans.”

With encouragement from elementary school girlfriend Judy Jenkins (hope she doesn’t have second thoughts) worked on the next chapter for the tiara mystery, having to do with planning a U.D. Class of 1960 rendezvous at Wendy’s plantation. Here’s my first paragraph, which I sent to LeeLee to see if it’s too over the top: “Judy promised Jimmy that she’d think about going to Wendy’s bash. At the one reunion she attended 20 years before, she had felt out of place – like she didn’t remember anybody - but since then had been in touch with several old friends, including LeeLee and Wendy, and from their descriptions of the fiftieth reunion regretted not having gone. Jimmy remained close friends with her brother and emailed or called her from time to time. Their parents - Midge, Vic, Gussie, and Ted - had been best friends, and the families had vacationed together in the Poconos several summers in the early 1950s. Midge and Gussie would thoroughly scour the cabin when they arrived and then again the day before they left. The bugs were thick in August at the Poconos, and bats consumed thousands each day or it would have been unbearable. One evening Jimmy and Judy were out in a rowboat on Lake Mineola at dusk when a bat seemed headed right for them. Judy ducked, and her head went into Jimmy’s lap. He leaned over and hugged her with his body against her back for a few seconds to protect her.
“Wow,” he said.
“How exciting,” she replied.
“Want to go in?”
“No, that was fun.”
Bats bombarded the boat a dozen more times before Judy’s dad called from the shore for them to come in for the night.
One rainy day they were playing cards and both had on shorts. Judy’s legs were a deep tan, and Jimmy found it hard not to stare. The summer Judy turned 13 she visited relatives and came back bragging that she knew how to French kiss. She offered an explanation but not, to Jimmy’s regret, a demonstration. They never dated in high school – she had plenty of admirers, and Jimmy was too timid to ask her out. But they loved to fast-dance together at sock hops after basketball games to anything by Chuck Berry or Fats Domino’s “My Blue Heaven.” One New Year’s Eve during a party at Ricky’s house, at the stroke of midnight Judy gave LeeLee’s brother a long kiss and then turned and looked Jimmy in the eye. He hugged her, pecked her cheek, and hated himself afterwards for being such a wuss.”

An Asian man – probably Chinese – is often on campus with a toddler. They are so cute, and the man, most likely the grandparent, lets the kid walk wherever he wants. At noon he followed me into Tamarack Hall. He loves the rocks that the geology department put down near Marram Hall. I said something to the gentleman but he didn’t appear to speak English. His son or daughter probably is a medical student; many live in nearby apartments. After lunch the man was by himself, having given the child to one of the parents in all likelihood. SPEA professor George Assibey-Mensah reminded me about the Holiday Party or I’d have missed it. Chris Young talked about visiting his dad in Sarasota over the holidays – just him and his brothers. Chris has three kids and is a great dad but probably can use the break from parenting.

Was virtually alone in the Portage theater watching Cher and Christina Aguilera in “Burlesque,” a glitzy but less than exciting flick that didn’t even get an R rating. Stanley Tucci was very good as Cher’s gay buddy, but I have never been a big fan of Aguilera’s caterwauling, or Cher either, who looks like an aging transvestite.

Saw “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Memorial Opera House in Valpo, built in 1893 by a chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic (there’s a ancient framed picture in the lobby of local members) to honor Civil War vets and renovated during the 1990s. Grandkids James and Rebecca played the main characters kids and had a few lines and sang some of the songs. At the last minute the director asked Angie to fill in for someone whose main job had been to move scenery on stage in full view of the audience. In addition to participating in many, many set changes, Angie and two others also did a dance number with mops. They were all great.

Fred McColly stopped in to my office for a chat and later wrote this comment on the above blog: “I found my Carpatho-Russian granny's citizenship papers at my mom's not that long ago. She arrived in 1912 and became a citizen in 1943: three decades of wavering. Her sister had returned to Europe a few years after their arrival leaving her virtually without family until my mom and her siblings came along. Lonely, always with her husband's family, she never quite fit in and always talked about "going home". The folks from "the old country" that I knew all seemed a bit unsettled and insecure. Not their kids though. The first generation became American to the extent that they abandoned their parents’ culture and traditions. Sad. I only know because granny lived with us until I was a teenager and I caught bits and pieces of the culture by chance (I must have been the only fourth grader at George Earle elementary school that got a small glass of beer with a bologna sandwich at lunchtime..."peeva...good for you, drink!") and the only thing left that my kids know about is the traditional pyrohy (pierogi) on good Friday and Christmas eve. She adapted as far as she could...any success had to wait for her children's generation.” Fred probably has 200 credit hours by now but still needs a Math course to graduate. I told him (half joking) that I’d go to his graduation in full regalia and try to be on stage to hand him his diploma personally.