Monday, December 19, 2011

The Concept

“She wears denim wherever she goes
Says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo.”
“The Concept,” Teenage Fanclub

On the sleazy reality show “Jersey Shore,” a hit with many young adults, there’s a character that calls himself The Situation. With that precedent I should call myself The Concept.

Friday an apparently homeless man was sitting outside the IUN library wrapped in two blankets. A half hour later, the blankets remained but he was gone. In contrast to cities like Chicago and Boston, you rarely see such scenes locally. About a year ago a beggar came into the cafeteria, but a campus cop quickly whisked him out. Former Chancellor Peggy Elliott told me this anecdote from the early 1980s: “One night I got a call from security around two a.m. An officer making his rounds had discovered two young children in the shadows near the fountain. They had been abandoned. The boy remembered he had been to a friendly place and somehow found his way, with his little sister, to the campus. A desperate child saw our campus as a refuge. Our investment in beauty and security brought us returns in ways we never could have imagined.” Could the man wrapped in blankets have been the same person 30 years later?

Fred McColly stopped by my “cage” after checking on his Native American garden. He needs a ground cover of four inches of snow to insure the survival of his winter wheat seeds. Daughter Sarah, one of my best former students and on the cover of my Nineties issue, is about to give birth.

I ate free courtesy of IUN for the third time in as many days: fried chicken and the trimmings, including Cole slaw and scallions with just the right texture and bite, at the Arts and Sciences Holiday party. Dean Hoyert gave a witty poetry recitation that began, “Twas the week of the finals,” a take-off on the 1823 Clement C. Moore poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” He devoted a stanza to excuses used by students petitioning for an incomplete: “My brother’s in jail and I have the flu, I had to work and grandma died too,” followed by the dean’s advice to “fail the transgressors” and “ignore the complaints, the whines, the begging.” He ends on this note:

“While most of our students are the best of our youth
There are some that can drive you to gin and vermouth!
In the end, teaching’s a calling, it’s honored, it’s right
Happy end of the semester and to all a good night.”

I sat with historian Chris Young, Vice Chancellor David Malik, and Fine Arts faculty Jennifer Greenburg, who has produced a unique photography book called “The Rockabillies.” At first glance the representations appear to be from the postwar period, but they depict modern day emulators of Fifties styles, from the pompadour haircuts and slicked back hair to the sounds of Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins. Prominent are tattoos, classic cars, period furniture, radios, comics and albums and, most striking, clothes styles harkening back to my high school days, including white bucks and saddle shoes. Curator Karen Irvine wrote: “By making photographs worthy of a glossy fashion magazine, Greenburg places the rockabilly’s nostalgia in a contemporary context, revealing a tension between the traditionalism and rebelliousness of their subculture.” Jennifer mentioned that a recent trend in museums is deleting explanations about the work. In an experiment for an Aesthetics class at Bucknell I showed a painting to different groups, telling some the piece was untitled, as was the case, and then making up titles. Except for art majors, most preferred a title.

Suzanna Murphy sent me a self-published book entitled “Stories from the Old Stone House” about her “grama,” who lived to be well over 100. She rode a horse, Old Sam, to her one-room schoolhouse. Old Sam returned to his stable on his own after dropping her off.

Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” plays Mavis Gary, a self-absorbed writer of books designed for teenagers who returns to her “hick” hometown hoping to lure old boyfriend Buddy Slade into leaving his wife and young baby. Diablo Cody, responsible for “Juno,” wrote the excellent screenplay and, so far as I know, coined the word “Ken-taco-hut.” Mavis hangs out in such places in order to pick up the latest “young adult” dialogue. On the drive from Minneapolis Mavis puts on a Teenage Fanclub tape, including her and Buddy’s song “The Concept,” which makes reference to the English “boogie band” Status Quo, whose number one UK hit in 1975 was “Down, Down.” At a bar Buddy’s wife sings “The Concept” with her band Nipple Confusion, sending Mavis into a jealous fit. After her inevitable comeuppance she goes back to Mini-Apple (as local wannabes still call the Twin city) sadder but wiser.

Saturday at Miller Pizza Joe Petras hosted the annual Men and Boys Holiday Benefit Brunch. Proceeds help maintain the Marquette Park playground. I sat with Tom Eaton, Ted Prettyman, and the Spicer brothers. Years ago, Prettyman ran for Miller Beach precinct committeeman against Dick Hagelberg and Mike Chirich and lost to Chirich by a single vote. Mike has remained in the post ever since. Purdue fan Jack Tonk and IU booster Matt Diltz were razzing each other, and George Rogge talked about getting all groups interested in the future of Miller Beach together. I invited Melvin Nelson, thinking Joe’s brother-in-law Jim Walton, on our bowling team years ago, would be there, but he was in Kentucky due to a family emergency. Joe announced that total donations in 21 years reached $5,000.

In an all-Indiana doubleheader Purdue lost to Butler on a last-second tip-in, while IU defeated Notre Dame in a grinder. Evening at the Hagelbergs featured southwestern chicken and two rounds of bridge.

Sunday I went two for four gaming, winning Acquire and Viking, then watched Seattle slaughter the Bears in another abysmal performance by their backup quarterback Caleb Hanie. If only they had Kyle Orton, cut from Denver earlier in the year, who led Kansas City to a win over previously unbeaten Green Bay. Dave and Angie teased me about going to Hawaii without them. I called Seattle Joe while listening to an Accept CD he had given me and talked about the awesome time ahead on the Big Island.

Monday I picked up macadamia nuts at Albanese in Merrillville and stopped at the Lake County Library. I gobbled up a rare copy of my Sports Shavings issue that was on sale for a quarter. A label on the inside of the front cover identified James Mulloy as the former owner.

Lunched at Gino’s with lawyer Tim Sendak, whose dad was Indiana attorney general for eight years. He provided me with great anecdotes about grandparents Jack and Annette, whom I will be writing about in “On Their Shoulders.” Annette was evidently a pool shark in London who paid for her fare to America from her winnings. When Jack wouldn’t buy her a car, she started a fur company and bought a Buick once she saved enough money of her own. At their summer place on the St. Joseph River, Tim recalled, Annette had a massive clock collection set at different times so that one chimed every few minutes. Apparently she didn’t like a quiet house. I ordered a delicious steak and portabella sandwich, half of which I took home.

Grandkids were in a school Christmas program. James played the xylophone and drums, and Rebecca sang with her fourth grade class. It was a mob scene getting in and out but fun seeing the kids shine.

Steelers-49ers contest in San Francisco was delayed due to a power outage (reminiscent of the 1989 earthquake during a Cubs-Giants playoff game), so I put on a Decembrists CD.

Time’s Person of the Year is The Protestor, a fine choice given Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street. Among its year-old RIP tributes are essays about actor Peter Falk (I loved “Columbo”) and “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney, who was on the show 31 years, starting when he was 61. Like Walter Cronkite, he had been an ace World War II correspondent. His longevity reminded me of newsman Tom Cannon, who came to Gary in his 60s and commenced a new 30-year career highlighted by his “Flue Dust” column.

Republican officeholders, realizing that Newt would be a disastrous party standard bearer, are flocking to Mitt, who helped Letterman do the Top Ten list of things he’d like to say to the American people (number 9 was, “What’s up gangstas, it’s the M-i-double tizzle”). Newt’s 1994 Contract with America got him elected Speaker of the House, but his downfall was causing a government shutdown and impeaching Clinton for receiving a blow job when he was guilty of much greater moral lapses. Number 2 on Mitt’s list was, “Newt Gingrich, really?”

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