Monday, August 29, 2011


On Roger Ebert’s recommendation I saw “Our Idiot Brother" starring Paul Rudd as Ned, a sweet idealist who cannot resist telling the truth even if it gets him in trouble and embarrasses his pretentious sisters. When a cop in uniform gives him a sob story and wants some pot, he tries to give the man some and gets arrested for his trouble. Later when he tells his parole officer he was so stressed out he smoked a joint, he goes back into the slammer. A couple talk him into a three-way and when he can’t go through with it, he worries that maybe he’s a homophobe. He has a dog named Willie Nelson that befriends one called Dolly Parton.

Speaking of weird dog names, Alissa, boyfriend Josh, and new dog Jerry Seinfeld showed up for breakfast Saturday on their way to a 50th-anniversary party for her maternal grandparents Donna and Bob. Great to see them. Her mom Beth dropped in the day before.

I made lunch for former student Sam Barnett, who brought over a special issue of “AREA Chicago” that he co-edited about the Haymarket Riot and its aftermath. It includes several oral histories that he did. I gave him volume 41 of Steel Shavings that he raved about.

Sunday’s Little League World Series final, won by a California team over Japan, was delayed a couple hours because of Hurricane Irene. Brent Musburger did a good job but sidekick Orel Hershiser was a dud as an analyst. The Japanese team ran a brilliant play, bunting with a man on first and then having the runner go on to third since the infielders were all out of position to cover the base. Orel never commented on it. Similarly, when a California player drove in the winning run a hard single to center with the bases loaded, there was no coverage of whether the runners on first and second touched second and third base – had they not, a force-out would have negated the run.

Today’s the beginning of the Fall semester, and the campus was bustling. It being taco day at the cafeteria, I indulged and had two of them. Jean Poulard was complaining that they kick him out of his SPEA office and exiled him to the fourth floor of Lindenwood.

I returned Doctorow’s “The March” and picked up Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Man Without a Country,” which came out in 2005. He wrote: “The last thing I ever wanted was to be alive when the three most powerful people on the whole planet would be named Bush, Dick, and Colon. In former V-P Cheney’s new book “In MY Time” the Dick takes credit for preventing more attacks on America after 9/11 and slams Secretary of State Powell for not being more of a War Hawk. Vonnegut also writes: “Socialism is no more an evil word than Christianity. Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Both, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.”

Talked to Gaard Logan about Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids” about her friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. They met in 1967 and lived together at the Chelsea Hotel. They were lovers until Mapplethorpe realized he was gay and friends thereafter. She compares him to a fragile emerald bird and says she was his model and he was her muse. He took the photograph that was the album cover for “Horses,” fell under the spell of Andy Warhol (whom Patti distrusted) and died of AIDS in 1989.

Another book reviewed in Magill’s (by John Nizalowski of Mesa State) is “Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters.” Ginsberg flowered after publication of his Beat poem “Howl” while Kerouac sank into oblivion shortly after publication of “On the Road.”

Three longtime IUN staff members are retiring, secretary Rhoda Burson, Janet Tayler from Duplicating and Marianne Malyj from Purchasing. All are good people and will be missed.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mexican American baseball

Richard Santillan sent me a book about Mexican American baseball that includes two great photos of teams from the Indiana harbor section of East Chicago. We have been corresponding for the past month after I asked if he could send the footnotes and bibliography for his PhD dissertation (which we have in the Archives) about Latinos in the Midwest. I have been able to collect a half-dozen of his scholarly articles for the Archives and put him and John Fraire, whose working on Region Latino teams, in touch with each other. I sent Richard a copy of volume 41 and said it contained info about “Maria’s Journey” and Sheriff Dominguez’s forthcoming book “Valor.”

I finished watching the mini-series “Mildred Pierce.” I can see why the original movie was considered film noire, and Kate Winslet at times bears a strong resemblance to Joan Crawford, who was in the original. I asked Alan Barr if he saw the HBO production. He said he doesn’t have cable but liked the original as well as my suggestion that it might be a possibility for his film course.

Tuesday’s Thrill of the Grill was a bit of a disappointment since a rainstorm forced it inside, cutting down attendance. Singer Danica Holmes was very good, but Tamarack lounge isn’t as good acoustically as outdoors would have been. I have been calling event coordinator TerryAnn Defenser “Linda” for the past year until finally being set straight. She is really nice and after I apologized said no problem.

I finished Thomas Flemings’ “Intimate Lives of Our Founding Fathers,” the selction for September’s book club. It really isn’t that intimate, denigrating stories that George Washington was banging his neighbor the night before he died and doubting that slave Sally Hemmings was Jefferson’s mistress and bore him children. Franklin was supposedly just flirting with those French women. The only real rake, Fleming believes, was Hamilton.

After two bad practice outings, I rolled a 201 in my first game of the new bowling season. Captain Bill Batalis claims he is officially retired, but we have two new bowlers, John Bulot (a substitute last year) and his friend Duke. Both bowled last night but they seem content to alternate when our regulars are back. I gave volume 41 to Cressmoor Lanes owner Jim Fowble, whose init as is his son Dave and father William (who recalled in a book put out by the Hobart Historical Society that he watched silent cartoons at the Strand Theater while Ted Coons played the pipe organ.

Filmmaker Alex Semchuck interviewed me for almost an hour about the history and future of Gary. He teaches part-time in the Department of Communication. After I answered all his questions, he asked if I had anything to add. I told him he should not forget about Latinos living in Gary and their potential contributions to turning the city around.

We are enjoying fresh tomatoes from our neighbor Gina’s garden as well as some our neighbor Joan gave us from her daughter’s garden. Gina has a stand by her street with a scale and a jar for money from customers. She charges a dollar a pound. She also gave Toni some delicious homemade sweet pickles.

An old friend, Sheila Hamanaka, is in town from new York City to see her son and spent several hours at the condo with her friend Russell, a Philosophy professor. We talked politics and told anecdotes about when she was a neighbor of ours. After a judge screwed her over during a custody fight, I wrote a letter to the judge appealing to him to reconsider, and the arrogant S.O.B. contacted IUN’s Chancellor Orescanin trying (unsuccessfully) to get me in trouble.

Monday, August 22, 2011


The Calumet Regional Archives was bustling Friday with volunteers and scholars. Fred McColly stopped in and talked about the sad state of national politics and his work place environment. Steve’s former student Doris Skinner came in for two copies of Steel Shavings, volume 41, which contains her Ides of March journal, entitled “Cry of a Troubled Heart” (the title of a sermon her pastor delivered). A German scholar was using the Inland Steel collection researching his dissertation about institutional racism, and Ken Schoon was perusing material for his book about the Indiana dunelands.

Before I left school I learned that Professor Frank Caucci died. The notice mentioned “after a long illness,” but I had no hint that he was sick. He looked good the last time I talked to him. He was a French teacher for many years before switching to Social Work. A few years ago he taught a course on gay novels. A good guy, he’ll be missed.

I saw a couple good movies recently, “One Day” with Anne Hathaway and “The Help, with a top notch cast that includes Viola Davis and a cameo appearance by Cicely Tyson. Set in Mississippi during the early 1960s, the latter deals with an idealistic writer (Emma Stone as “Skeeter Phelan) who decides to do a book based on the stories of Black domestic servants. One of them (Abileen) has raised many white babies only to see most of them grow up to be unthinking bigots, while Minnie, her best friend is so outspoken she has trouble keeping jobs and is in danger of being blacklisted despite her unmatched cooking skills. At the Archives Peg Schoon said she enjoyed the novel – written by Kathryn Stockett - but found it difficult at times to understand the stuff written in dialect. I’m having a similar time with E.L. Doctorow’s “The March” when the slave girl Pearl “talks.” A gross-out movie I cannot recommend is “The Change-Up,” about two buddies who find themselves in each other’s bodies after pissing in a public fountain. Jason Bateman does a good Charlie Sheen imitation playing a softcore porn actor who dates a slut who’s nine months pregnant and then suddenly finds himself married and the father of a couple brats. Roger Ebert found the movie disgusting, but there was lots of laughter in the movie theater.

More edifying is an HBO mini-series called “Mildred Pierce,” starring the great Kate Winslet (six-time Oscar nominee and winner for “The Reader”). Based on a 1941 novel by James M. Cain, it deals with an independent but self-sacrificing woman who opens a restaurant in California during the Great Depression and the clash between her and her equally spoiled daughter and lover.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Magill's Annual

Magill’s two-volume 2011 Literary Annual arrived in the mail, containing my reviews of the NASCAR and Comanche books. Last month the company that took over the enterprise announced that reviewers were no longer receiving hard copies but instead a web site link where for a limited amount of time we could download stuff. I protested that at the time I agreed to do the 2,000-word reviews the terms included remuneration of $100 (an amount that has remained constant for 30 years) plus the two volumes, which include first-rate summaries of many worthy books I never got to read. While I agreed that in the future, the company could change the rules, I wanted the books. Obviously, they complied. I had begun to think I had heard the last of them. Obama is on the cover. One excellent reviews, of “The Grand Design,” makes Stephen Hawking’s M (multiverse) theory semi-understandable. Two reviewed novels that I have read include “Karl Marlantes’ “Matterhorn” (about Vietnam) and Anne Tyler’s “Noah’s Compass” (about a 60 year-old laid-off teacher). Paul Kern would probably enjoy the review of Peter Krentz’s “The Battle of Marathon,” and Ron Cohen would enjoy seeing the review of Sean Wilentz’s “Bob Dylan in America.”

Fitting in with the theme of “On Their Shoulders” (the subject, perhaps, of my next book) is Condoleeza Rice’s “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family.” Rice’s parents, John and Angelena, were both teachers who hoped their daughter would be a professional pianist (her name is a take-off on the Italian musical term “con dolcezza,” meaning with sweetness). One of Angelena’s students was future baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays. John was also pastor of a Black middle-class congregation in Birmingham, Alabama. When he tried to register to voteas a Democrat in 1952, he was asked to guess how many beans were in a jar. Reviewer Timothy Lane (no relation) writes: “After being informed that the Republicans had a more reasonable literacy test, he registered and remained one the rest of his life.” While teaching a course on “The Black Experience in America,” first at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa and then at Denver University, he asked his friend Stokely Carmichael to speak. If I do a book about Region people, maybe in the intro I could make reference to people like Marvella Bayh and Condy.

I’ve been boning up on the Carpatho Rusyns, whom I’ll be talking about on October 22, although the organizers mainly want me to describe the city of Gary in 1911 (five years after its birth) when two Orthodox churches were founded. I emailed Rick Busse inquiring about the difference between Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine churches and discovered that he was at the Indiana State Fair with his fried vegetable trailer. He was there last Saturday when the stage collapsed, killing five people and said it was quite a scene.

Texas governor Rick Perry has been stealing Michele Bachman’s thunder with idiotic statements denying global warming and defending the teaching of creationism. He once suggested that Texas would be better off seceding from the union if the “socialistic” trends in Washington weren’t reversed. Conan O’Brien mocked Michelle’s latest gaffe, asking a crowd to wish Elvis a Happy Birthday even though it was on the day “The King” died. He added that Bachman subsequently apologized to the entire Costello family.

If I can find the money, I’m thinking about making volume 42 of Steel Shavings about pioneer days in the Region. One possibility, if I can find it, is reprinting a volume about early Gary settlers called “Papers of Various Hands.” Another idea – a volume dealing with the writings of nineteenth-century preacher, teacher, and historian Timothy Ball. We have several of his books about the origins of Lake County; in fact, I used a couple excerpts in the Cedar Lake issue. Maybe I could get Chris Young to be a co-editor.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thrill of the grill

Last week’s Thrill of the Grill, organized by Linda Sharma and held in the outside courtyard adjacent to IUN’s library, featured tacos and veggie kabobs plus music by My Brothers salsa band. Millerite Karren Lee accepted my invitation to tour the Archives beforehand – she has been in numerous activist groups and is the niece of civil rights advocate George Neagu, whose collection we’d like to expand and update. I showed her the chapter in “Peopling Indiana” about Romanians written by Mary Leuca, a friend of hers, and how to access the Archives online. Outside we ran into Mike Olszanski, my co-editor for “Steelworkers Fight Back,” who works for Labor Studies and whom she had not seen since the days of the Bailly Alliance. I also introduced her to Anne Balay, who had just finished a Fall semester syllabus for a class on American novels, 1865-1914. She’s using two of my favorites, Edith Wharton’s “House of Mirth” and Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie.” A neighbor of Karren’s and my old softball teammate, Omar Farag, booked the salsa band, and it was fun chatting with him. Barbara Cope also showed up at my suggestion for a copy of volume 41. Both she, husband Garrett (who calls me Jim-Bob) and Garrett, Jr., are listed in the index.

High school classmate Alice Ottinger Corman thanked me for volume 41. At the reunion she recalled that my parents (Midge and Vic) had put up Japanese lanterns for a party she’d attended, something I’d forgotten. Her dad had been Fort Washington’s chief of police. I mentioned that he had once interrupted me parking in a long driveway leading to the Van Sant farm. He once picked her up at school and then set off in chase of a speeder. Mortified, she ducked below the window. In volume 41 I wrote that after I fast-danced with her to “Bristol Stomp,” Jimmy Coombs (the coolest guy in our class) gave us the thumbs up. In her email Alice wrote: “I agree, our dance was a fun time, and we sure entertained Jimmy Coombs.”

Kevin Nevers of the “Chesterton Tribune” interviewed me for 90 minutes about volume 41 at the request of editor David Canright, who once was a summer student of mine. Kevin noted that we listened to the same music stations and seemed surprised that I wrote about my bowling league, the Electrical Engineers. We really hit it off – I just hope I wasn’t too indiscreet about my “radiclib” politics (as a-hole former Vice-President Spiro Agnew put it shortly before leaving office in disgrace). We chatted at the Red Cup deli in downtown Chesterton. I brought home a Reuben sandwich for Toni, who liked it only wished it contained more slices of corn beef.

Last Saturday Becca and James were part of a production at the Star Plaza Theater that highlighted excerpts of recent area plays performed at Merrillville’s Reinhart Theater, the Towle Theater in Hammond, and the Star Plaza. They were in several “Les Miserables” numbers, and Becca had several solo lines in a reprise of a song from “Annie.” We also got to see several songs from “Hair Spray,” one of Toni’s favorites. Afterwards Jacki Snow came up to me. She was a favorite student of mine who had been part of my Cedar Lake Group during the mid-Nineties. She has a 15 year-old daughter who was in the cast of “Hair Spray.” Angie, Toni, and the kids rushed off for what was to have been the final performance of “Disney under the Stars,” but it was postponed until Sunday due to a rainstorm.

Sunday I went two of five gaming, edging Tom pout in St. Pete and Dave in Shark. Had no interest in the PGA tournament since Tiger failed to make the cut, so channel-switched between Cubs and Sox, who both won. Managed to stay up for the new “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode, entitled “The Hero.” After accidentally tripping an obnoxious man on a flight to New York while coming out of the bathroom, he really does something to impress a woman he is interested in, hitting a mugger with a hard loaf of bread on the subway. The plot line revolves around Larry’s shoelaces being needlessly long.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Front Porch

“Will my kids be proud or think their old man is really a square?
When they’re out having fun, will I still wanna have my share?”
“When I Grow Up,” Beach Boys

Friday evening I went to the Front Porch, a coffeehouse in Valpo that has a long history, to see Ron Cohen’s friend from England Will Kaufman put on a delightfully professional performance of Woody Guthrie songs and commentary. He has a new book out stressing Woody’s hatred of capitalism entitled “Woody Guthrie, American Radical.” The IUN contingent included Librarian Anne Koehler and Sociologist Tanice Foltz. Chad Cifford of the Crawpuppies now owns the Front Porch and gives guitar lessons there. He helped set up the sound system and asked whether son Dave is still with a band. Turns out he taught Blues Cruise prodigy Steve how to play the guitar when he was about ten years old.

I’ve discovered the TV series “Men of a Certain Age” On Demand with Ray Romano and watched several episodes during the weekend. One of Ray’s buddies (Terry) is an aging stud actor and the other an overweight African-American car salesman. None is without flaws – Ray is separate, for instance, and has a gambling problem. At the beginning of the show are clips of kids playing accompanied by the Beach Boys song “When I Grow Up To Be a Man” (one of my favorites).

James and Rebecca stayed overnight Thursday and Friday because Angie and Dave had to stay late after “Disney Under the Stars” to put the sound equipment away. James suggested I take my Pet Detective stories that I made up for our car rides to Kids College last summer and turn them into a book.

Saturday was Paul Kaczocha’s sixtieth birthday party. Food included chicken and pizza, as well as Cole slaw and salad. I gave Paul a copy of volume 41, which he appears in (I mentioned being at his place for a picnic a year ago). Other friends in attendance included Ed and Monica Johnston and Alice Bush with son Shane. Alice told some hilarious stories about Shane, who is in his last year of residency at a Chicago hospital.

Sunday after gaming (I was one for four, prevailing in Acquire) the Hagelbergs took us to the musical “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at Valpo’s Memorial Opera House. The acting and music were spectacular, but it was terribly bloody. Two people behind me were letting out groans each time someone was murdered.

I received an invitation to speak at an affair in October marking the hundredth anniversary of the founding of a Carpatho-Rusyn Church. I delayed giving a reply, feeling inadequate for the job, but have been reading up on the Rusyns (from Slovakia and sometimes called Ruthenians) and will do it if they haven’t found someone else.

Got a nice long email from Paul Kern praising volume 41 and reminiscing about some of our old students with whom I’m still in touch. He mentioned that Sarah McColly once knitted him a wool muffler.

Suzanna sent me a photo of herself in an Amish style dress she sewed for herself standing in front of her garden. The tomatoes appear to still be green but the corn seems to be taller than she is. I emailed her that she looked really fetching. She hates any thing remotely like flirting.

Got several checks for volume 41, including one from Chicago’s Newberry Library, along with a couple returned packages from folks who have either died or moved away. My subscription list is dwindling.

English professor William Buckley sent me a poem entitled “Another Story as our Bridges Collapse” about the effect of de-industrialization on one of his neighbors. Had I had it before finishing volume 41, I would have included it. I’ve used his poems in both my Nineties issue and in “Ides of March 2003.” He also gave me a copy of his 2005 volume “Athena Comes to Gary.”

After running into Donn Gobbe at the P-T tennis tournament and offering to critique his PhD thesis on the history of the women’s tennis tour, I received a chapter covering the early 1970s. Interestingly, the tour was sponsored by Philip Morris, manufacturers of Virginia Slims cigarettes. Its motto: “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Donn mentioned that the sponsorship was controversial since cancer sticks and women’s athletics don’t go together, but commercialism won out in the end.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Disney under the Stars

Grandkids James and Rebecca sang and danced in a production of “Disney Under the Stars” in Highland, Indiana. The evening weather was perfect, and they both shined, especially in introducing a couple acts. Dave and Angie were in charge of the sound system, and Marianne Brush brought her dog and several friends to opening night. Sitting behind us and recognizing me was State Representative Linda C. Lawson, a former Hammond policewoman who took a class of mine 12 years ago. I told her my new Shavings contained two photos of her returning from Illinois after the Democratic delegation of lawmakers stayed away for six weeks in order to defeat various anti-union measures being pushed by Republicans. Linda told me she kept a journal during her stay in Illinois, and I expressed keen interest in seeing it and maybe starting a Linda Lawson Archives collection. I mailed her volume 31 as well as my Nineties issues, “Shards and Midden Heaps,” which includes an account of Linda’s first year as a legislator as well as an article she did about Meg Renslow, who was teaching at Hammond Eggers in 1998 but is now with IUN’s Education division. Small world.

John Fraire thanked me for getting him in touch with historian Richard Santillan. They are both interested in Mexican-American baseball teams. Coincidentally, I was walking across campus and ran into Joseph Flores, who heads the Upward Bound program at Purdue Cal. I happened to have a copy of volume 41 and gave it to him after learning that he has been working on a family history for over 15 years.

Old high school classmate Pat Zollo posted on Facebook a hatchet job video someone put together on about a Tacoma housing project called Salishan. It claimed it was set up by the Social Security administration for illegal immigrants, who get subsidies totaling $2,600 plus all sorts of other benefits. A site called The News Tribune rebutted the falsehoods, mentioning that it was built with Hope VI HUD funds, that 97 percent of residents are citizens, and that people with refugee status get at most about a thousand dollars in subsidies a month.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I started, “Marvella,” a book Sheriff Dominguez recommended about Evan Bayh’s mother (and the wife of Senator Birch Bayh, my all-time favorite legislator), who died of cancer at the age of 46. By all accounts she was a delightful woman who was born on a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma during the Depression. I recently finished “Campy,” about Dodger catcher Roy Campanella who was paralyzed in a car crash at age 35. He grew up in a Philadelphia ghetto nicknamed Nicetown. His dad was Italian, something I should have guessed from the name.

Two people in recent days claimed I looked like novelist Stephen King. From his photos I don’t see the resemblance unless it is the hair.

Several people want me to do a Steel Shavings on the history of theater in Gary to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of IUN’s Theater Northwest. I’ll think about it but will need funding to get it in print.

The Post-Trib front-page story by Jerry Davich was a bout a Vietnam vet who claimed the government was screwing him out of his disability pay. Later on Davich’s website he told readers that the guy was at least partially a fraud – that he had never, for instance, been a POW. Somebody was all set to have a fundraiser for him. Sad story, but kudos to Davich for not hiding the truth once he found out about it.

A Chicago grad student from Chicago is supposed to interview me this afternoon about urban planning in Gary. The Archives is bustling with several people who are doing regional pictorial histories for Arcadia Press. I was able to locate a scholar, Richard Santillan, who donated his 1994 dissertation about Latinos in the Midwest, to the Archives. Turns out he just finished an Arcadia Press book about Mexican American baseball in Los Angeles.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Les Miserables

We and the Hegelbergs went to the Reinhart Theater to see James and Becca in the musical Les Miserables. Three generations of Reinharts were involved in the production, from the orchestra conductor to the directors to a youngster who played Gavroche. In 1954 Jerry Reinhart started out as choral director at Merrillville High School and was responsible for starting the Ross Music Theater, which puts on tywo shows each summer. Son Michael and his wife Melinda started M and M Productions, which my grandkids have been involved with in various capacities. This was the fifth time Dick has seen Les Miserables, including with us in Chicago, and the young actors were every bit as good as the performance we saw in Chicago. The cast was about half African American, reflective of the growing Black population in Merrillville, including most of the main roles. The guy who played Jean Valjean was unbelievably talented although his make-up made him look a little like the Caveman character on TV commercials. Likewise the actress who played Cosette’s mother Fantine had a voice that was little short of thrilling. Even though the show was three hours long, it kept my attention like none I’ve seen in many a moon.

My first orders for volume 41 of Steel Shavings are coming in. Ray Smock paid me the ultimate compliment in claiming I was keeping the spirit of Jean Shepherd alive. A copy of David Goldfield’s Journal of Urban History arrived with an article I helped critique by Paul O’Hara about the city of Gary. It ends with a quote from “Gary’s First Hundred Years.” Janet Bayer was in to see Alice Bush and stayed with us Saturday night. We are all excited that daughter Kirsten has moved back to Indy – talk of Thanksgiving dinner there in November.