Friday, September 30, 2011

Talk On Indolence

“Now I've grown too aware of my mortality
To let go and forget about dying
Long enough to drop the hammer down
And let the indolence go wild and flying through.”
Avett Brothers

Last night I went to an Avett Brothers concert at the Star Plaza. Beforehand, I met Robert Blaszkiewicz at the Old Chicago Pizza and Pasta place next door. Robert first turned me on to the Avett Brothers by including “Talk On Indolence” on the Christmas CD of his 20 favorite songs of 2010. While I was at the bar, a guy interjected, “Mr. Lane?” It turned out to be Jeff Kessner, who played soccer with Phil more than 25 years ago and attended parties at our house on Maple Place.

The warm-up group was the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, old Hippie Seventies Bluegrass Rockers most famous for the song “Mr. Bojangles.” They joked about being on a tour bus with Willie nelson and visiting John Mellencamp’s hometown of Seymour, Indiana, in connection with Farm Aid. The lead singer reminded me of the ageless Jackson Browne. Their violin player was outasight, as was the drummer/harmonica player, and the band got a standing ovation after their hour set.

In the lobby during intermission was former student and head of security Stevie Kokos, a Shavings subscriber, who like many folks was more familiar with the Nitty gritty Dirt Band than the main act. Softball battery mate and concert producer Omar Farag, whom I’d called to plug the show, greeted me heartily accompanied by Miller Beach mainstay Joe Petras, who 40 years ago first turned me on to the importance of Gary’s history. I told Robert and Jeff that Omar had put on a festival during the early Nineties at the lake County Fairgrounds featuring Poi Dog Pondering, the Jayhawks, and WILCO. Amazed, both of them said that they had gone and it was one of the best concerts ever.

The Avett Brothers, who are playing to a sold out Aragon Ballroom audience tonight, were fantastic, often bouncing up and down like yo-yos while singing and playing guitar and banjo. They did “Head Full of Doubt/ Road Full of Promise” about halfway through the show with Scott Avett on keyboards, bringing down the house, and mixed in numerous melodious a capello numbers, including “Murder in the City,” before ending with “Talk On Indolence.” I was in the seventh row, but nearly everyone was standing so about halfway through I went near the back and found a seat with an excellent view. Robert and his friends had front row balcony seats, and I was tempted to join them.

A storm was brewing on the way home, the wind knocking my Corolla around on 80/94. Back home while having a Leinie nightcap, our lights flickered several times. Had we been at the old homestead on Maple Place, we’d still be without power, I’m sure. Put on Robert’s “Top 20 2010” CD, which starts out with “A More Perfect Union” by Titus Andronicus.” In a recent NY Times Sunday magazine article about school experiences Titus guitarist Amy Klein about an eight year-old overcoming stage fright: “I volunteer as a guitar teacher and a band coach at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls. It’s totally punk. Many of the girls have no prior musical experience — and that’s the point: We present them with a challenge and encourage them to grow. I was coaching a band of 8-year-olds. On the day of the concert, the lead singer was suddenly overcome by stage fright. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whispered. I told her that she would be amazing and that her bandmates needed her right now. About a minute before the performance, I finally asked, “What would make you feel safe right now?” She responded, “If you held my hand.” I stood in the wings with my arm outstretched, the singer holding on. When it was time for the chorus, she chimed in, at first shyly, then louder. By the end of the chorus, she had let go of my hand. She ran out to the center of the stage, and an enormous cheer swept through the crowd. Hundreds of hands clapped to the beat. Fists were raised. Eyes teared up. A huge smile broke out on the singer’s face. She had grasped what it is to feel powerful.”

Today I checked out “55/55,” a so-called comedy about Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a young cancer victim. Seth Rogen played the guy’s buddy and Anna Kendrick his therapist. Trying to get his buddy and himself laid, he suggests that the two pick-ups go back Adam’s apartment and smoke some medical marijuana. “Game on,” one of them replies. When he first saw her, his reaction was something like, “Is this a Joke? Am I your first client?” Actually he was her third, and she was really fetching. In one scene she gives him a ride home, but her car is so full of fast food wrappings and other junk he makes her stop the car by a dumpster and starts throwing things away. At one point she stops him, saying, “That’s my dinner.” Anjelica Huston is great as Adam’s mom.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Gary's Next Mayor

I interviewed Karen Freeman Wilson, Gary’s next mayor, at her law office downtown across from The SteelYard, where the minor league baseball team, The Railcats, play their home games. We talked mainly about her parents for my book “On Their Shoulders.” She’s a Gary native who went to Harvard after graduating from Roosevelt High School. Then I attended her Press Conference at IUN where she introduced members of her “New Day Task Force.” There was a big crowd, including Chancellor Lowe and legislator Charlie Brown.

Steve Walsh had me on his noon Lakeshore radio program, along with Times reporter Bill Dolan and Cal Bellamy, a former bank executive and President of something called the Shared Ethics Commission. The occasion: the recent indictment of former Lake County Clerk Thomas Philpott, who evidently paid himself $25,000 in incentive money without getting approval from the Lake County Council. I mentioned how the two former Gary mayors who went to jail were popular and effective, only they made enemies in high corporate places. Lake County graft is small potatoes compared to the millions Governor Daniels’ law firm has made and the tens of millions Dick Cheney raked in as he went from the Pentagon to Haliburton to the Vice Presidency. In his new book “Keeping the Republic: Saving America By Trusting Americans” Mitch Daniels trashes Northwest Indiana, calling it corrupt and union-driven. Labor organizations, of course, were responsible for moving steelworkers into the middle class and the main protector against worker exploitation. He has been bent on destroying public schools just as he wrecked the state welfare system by privatizing it. He also sold away the Toll Road so he could claim he balanced the budget. What a slug. Mitch is a pawn of big business, whose lobbyists have corrupted the system much worse than former Gary City Clerk Katie Hall making her staff sell candy or former East Chicago Mayor Pabey having city employees make improvements on a house.

One more “High School Confidential” paragraph: After Wendy got off the phone, Jimmy opened his yearbook to see what he recalled about classmates. Often it was embarrassing stuff, like so-and-so farted in class, or this guy had such a small dick he was ashamed to shower in gym class. One guy was a total klutz in every sport but tumbling, for which his roly-poly body was perfect. If they got talking about classmates at Wendy’s, Jimmy hoped he could censor himself against making any cruel remarks. What a wide variety of characters in the Class of 1960, and how few had aspirations to attend college. On the first senior page under Clyde Alexander was the caption “a future auto mechanic” and under Mildred Armstrong “wants to be a receptionist.” Bruce Allen’s ambition was “to buy a Ferrari” and Joanne Arnold hoped to be a nurse.

Love the new Jayhawks album. On WXRT I heard a cut off it, “She Walks In So Many Ways.” Also am enjoying my new Avett Brothers album. I’ll be sitting in Row F tomorrow. Good single tickets are always available.

I sucked at bowling but did pick up a 8-7-10 split.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Family Matters

Last Thursday I watched the East Chicago Cardinals tennis team, coached by my son Dave, defeat Lake Station 4-1. He’s back teaching three weeks after he was struck by a car, injuring his leg. His number one singles player Armando Nunez, played great, and his number two player has improved greatly and gutted out a three-set match. He lost his third singles player, Amaad, when the car also rammed him, breaking his kneecap and leg.

Friday we took a two-hour road trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to see Miranda, named to her high school’s Homecoming court, participate in an afternoon parade and then a halftime ceremony at the football game. Miranda looked radiant in her orange formal dress. Saturday we watched Tori score a goal in soccer and then took her, Phil, Anthony, and two of the kids’ friends out to a favorite diner. Delia was doing Miranda’s hair for the dance that night, so we took home a burger for Miranda.

Sunday I went one for three gaming with Dave and Tom, then after a Fun Day at James and Becca’s school Toni and I went to Anne Balay’s for dinner. We met four interesting characters from Chicago. Later I discovered that I had lost my Fantasy match with Anthony despite being one of the week’s top scorers. Not only is my top draft choice, Jamaal Charles, out for the season, but a Johnny Knox TD punt return was called back and the vaunted Jets defense only got me one point (all I needed was 10 points – should have played the Lions D; I’d have won in a breeze). In the Saints-Oilers game four times in the Red Zone Houston couldn’t get the ball to Andre Johnson and settled for field goals by Anthony’s guy. Then twice the Saints went for two-point conversions instead of letting my kicker gety an extra point. With ten seconds left and the Saints up by seven my guy kicked a field goal only Houston was off sides and the Saints coach took the three points off the board and instead had Drew Brees go back in and take a knee. What friggin’ luck.

Monday my computer wouldn’t open because I had not re-registered it. Lena at IUN’s HELP desk walked me through the procedure.

In the mail: a check from the Lowell Public Library for Shavings, volume 41, plus a letter from Terry Helton. He mentioned a book by Richard Laskowski called “Region Rat” that deals with Gary and the surrounding environs. Laskowski also put together a two=minute YouTube segment that looks like the pilot for a larger project.

I picked up a ticket for Thursday’s Avett Brothers concert. The opening act is the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose big hit was “Mr. Bojangles.” Best Buy had a 2007 Avett Brothers CD called “Emotionalism,” and then it was on to see “Moneyball,” a tour de force for Brad Pitt, who also produced it. It deals with Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, who used computer-generated statistical info to put together a ball team that won a hundred games, including a record 20 in a row. Jonah Hill is great as his assistant, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (for my money, the best actor in the business) was perfect as curmudgeon manage Art Howe.

In my “On Their Shoulders” book will be a chapter on Leo and Minna, the parents TVA administrator David Lilienthal, who grew up in Valparaiso and Michigan City. Lilienthal kept a journal starting at age 17 on the advice of a young lawyer from Gary. We have six volumes of his published writings from it in the Archives. I have an interview with incoming Gary mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on Wednesday. Chris Young thanked me for the close reading of his article on commemorative statues and passed along the info that Robert Paine, who did the Haym Solomon sculpture, was from Valpo.

Here’s the latest installment of the clandestine memoir about high school days: “Wendy most wanted to see Anthony Stuempfig, who arrived in eleventh grade looking for all the world like he belonged at Penn Charter, Germantown Academy, or some other private school. He wasn’t particularly handsome but oozed sophistication. Molly could have dated any boy in school, not to mention collegians, but chose to make him her steady, giving him instant credibility with classmates. In homeroom, curious as to the basis of his charm, Wendy couldn’t penetrate his air of mystery. During graduation ceremonies the school superintendent read out full names, to frequent guffaws at such middle names as Milton, Ebeneezer, and Buchanan. Anthony had two of them, Alex and Penn. Could he have been a descendent of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania colony? It was not out of the question, giving his signs of breeding. Years later, Wendy discovered an Anthony A.P. Stuempfig antique store in Center City Philadelphia. When she paid a visit, dressed to the nines, he waited on her, impeccable in a dark suit and pink shirt and tie. They looked one another in the eye for a few moments and in unison said, “I remember you.” She purchased a rare Victorian-era doll and asked him to explain its history at lunch. At the Bellini Grill they talked about old times, mostly about Molly, who had married an All-American type two classes ahead of them. Anthony traveled all over the world in connection with his business. They discovered that both evidently had both been in Florence, Italy, on the same date and even visited the same shops. He was a lifelong bachelor, explaining, “I never met anyone who compared favorably with Molly.” He made no attempt to flirt or follow up on their outing. Afterwards, Wendy couldn’t help wondering if he were gay. Perhaps part of his charm with Molly was that he wasn’t trying to paw her or get into her pants like so many others she had dated. Or maybe it simply was a case of others not measuring up against her.

“Wendy asked Jimmy’s advice on get together activities. She could imagine a long weekend of partying with Fifties music and movies such as “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Gidget,” “Rock Around the Clock,” and “King Creole” playing. She knew a promoter of Oldies concerts; maybe she could get Dion or Little Anthony and the Imperials to perform live. Her grandkids warmed to the idea, imagining hula hoop contests and dress-up contests and trivia games. Jimmy suggested flying down hoagies and steak sandwiches from Philadelphia. Better yet, Wendy replied, she could hire the owner of Geno’s in South Philly to come and make them on the spot. Those attending could plan a subsequent reunion – maybe a 50s cruise or maybe something that would take place on the same date as Sissy’s Class of 1958 fiftieth reunion. Around the pool and hot tub area they could open their yearbook and take turns recalling everything they remembered about teachers and classmates. At the 2005 reunion, which Wendy didn’t attend, Jimmy gave a short talk on memorable teachers, including exotic Rene Polsky, old maid Miss Le Van, lantern jawed coach Mr. Gilronan, dirty old H.M. Jones, gap-toothed Mr. Gebauer, and principal Norman ‘Sneaky Pete’ Jones.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Raffle Winner

Yesterday I had a nice chat with Chris Young about his excellent article comparing the efforts in Chicago to have statues honoring American Revolution heroes Haym Solomon and Nathan Hale. Interestingly, during the late nineteenth century statues went up for Civil War heroes, but then in the twentieth century the interest was in Founding Fathers. I discovered that there is at least one Haym Solomon Memorial Park in Pennsylvania and a statue dedicated to him in Los Angeles. There are several Hale statues in Connecticut as well as one in New York City.

At my suggestion Eva Mendieta, who is working on an article about a Mexican-American Benevolent Society, interviewed Oscar Sanchez (Roy Dominguez’s former chief aide) who was active in its successor, the Union Benefica Mexicana (UBM), and a past president. Oscar brought an old-timer with him, Daniel Lopez, who was very helpful. He was more comfortable speaking in Spanish, which Eva, a native of Spain, handled with ease.

Troy Davis was executed in Georgia even though seven of nine witnesses recanted and someone else confessed to the murder. What barbarism. Recently when someone during the Republican debate brought up all the people executed in Texas, the Tea Party crowd applauded, just as they did when it was mentioned that someone died due to lack of health insurance. This, rather than being a beacon for freedom, is the reality of American Exceptionalism.

At lunch with Alan Lindmark and Karl Nelson I mentioned a TV show dealing with people who hoard things until there’s virtually no room left in their house. Karl, a Psychology professor, said that it is an obsessive-compulsive disorder and that there are varying degrees and that it is similar to people taking in dozens of stray animals.

TerryAnn Defenser in University Relations informed me that I was a raffle winner at last Friday’s Back-to-School celebration. They called my name after I left. I received a tote bag containing stuff similar to what we handed out at the County Fair but also a White Sox flag and a clapper for use, I guess, at Redhawks basketball games.

At the library courtyard the Business Division distributed free hot dogs, chips, cookies, and pop – an annual tradition. Seeing former Vice Chancellor Marilyn Vasquez hard at work reminded me of when Vice Chancellor Marion Mochon had her assistant, history colleague John Haller, flipping burgers at a Faculty-Staff picnic at Wicker Park, looking for all the world like he’d rather be anywhere but there.

I made contact with Karen Freeman-Wilson, Gary’s next mayor, about interviewing her for my book “On Their Shoulders.” She was born in Gary, so I hope to learn about her parents’ influence on her. Talking to Mike Cherich about politics past and present, he said Karen was a good person who should bring solid leadership qualities to City Hall when she takes office in January. He is good friends with tamburitza maker Milan Opacich, and mentioned that whenever his Serbian mother needed a favor from the Eastern European politicians who were in power 60 years ago she would take them some of her homemade strudel.

LeeLee Minehart keeps encouraging me to add to the “tiara” story, and I keep pushing the envelope, so to speak. Here’s the latest: “As LeeLee, Sissy, and Susan touched bases to plan their trip, they discussed Wendy’s edict about no spouses and realized that they had a revolt of sorts on their hands. Their husbands had decided that they’d fly into Atlanta with them and have fun on their own. On their agenda were a ball game and Road Atlanta, a 2.5-mile oval where they’d race against one other in SuperKarts on an indoor track designed by Mario Andretti. They were planning a canoe trip down the Chattahoochee River and a concert at Centennial Olympic Park. There was talk of a visit to the Blue Flame Lounge, where one of their friends had been for a bachelor party. If you bought one of the waitresses a drink, she’d do a pole dance for you. A stripper evidently treated the groom-to-be to a lap dance, at the end of which with the quick flick of the wrist she somehow managed to remove the guy’s jockey shorts. Unbelievable. The guy still hasn’t lived it down. At least he had the sense not to enter the Blue Flame’s inner sanctum, where more than one bachelor party got out of hand and doomed the groom’s marriage.

As the big event neared, Wendy asked everyone to name the one person still alive not at the reunion that they most regretted not seeing. Without hesitation LeeLee answered “Ricky H.” As she recalled, “We were super friends in seventh and eighth grades. Then Pam T won him over, and I just had to get over it. Ah, young innocent love . . . and we move on.” LeeLee still had in her possession a crushed flower inside an invitation from a dance they attended together as well as a sterling silver charm bracelet Ricky gave her with a heart; one side says Ricky and the other says LeeLee. Looking back, she wondered whether his mother had helped him pick it out. She was quite beautiful, a romantic, and someone girls could talk to in confidence. Ricky’s father was a six-footer, so being tall and handsome was in his genes.

“Jimmy pondered answering Vince, Wendy’s high school sweetheart and first husband, who for 40 years has rebuffed all efforts to get him back to reunions. He was one of a kind and seemed to seek out other unique characters to befriend rather than being interested in fitting in with the “in” crowd. Jimmy felt honored to be his friend. For a tenth grade project they boiled a dead cat and reconstructed its skeleton only to be edged out at the science fair by Ray B, who had 21 specimens of fertilized chicken eggs, opened each day of the incubation period. During an overnight Vince introduced Jimmy to Jean Shepherd’s all-night radio show that they were able to pick up from New York. Shepherd spun tales of growing up in Northwest Indiana; Jimmy never imagined that he’d end up living there. Vince also had a deck of X-rated playing cards that educated Jimmy to the concept of oral sex as well as three-way combinations. Vince enjoyed visiting Charley Thomas, a self-professed atheist and nonconformist who lived on a small farm and had a cynical view of the world. One time Charley took Vince and Jimmy to see his sheep and quipped, “You can learn a lot about sex from them.” Charley often threatened to write a “Peyton Place” type expose of his class. “Too bad the title ‘High School Confidential’ has already been used,” he said, referring to a 1958 movie. What a shame he never followed through. Or perhaps there’s an unpublished manuscript somewhere among his remains. The old curmudgeon never came to a reunion, but in 2005, shortly after his death, a woman who worked at a hospice where he spent his final days showed up. She thought him to be a warm, wonderful person and wanted to meet some of his old friends. Truth be told, loner that he’d been, he hadn’t had more than a handful. Jimmy gave her directions so she could go past the homestead where he grew up.

“Rel put down Paula T, his old girlfriend Marianne’s cousin, as exotic and mysterious as Marianne was down-to-earth and outgoing. While Marianne had fair complexion, there was no mistaking Paula’s Italian ancestry. Once in Mrs. Vandling’s English class for a Word Power assignment Rel had to use the words “laconic” and “loquacious” in a sentence. He was tempted to use the two cousins as examples of each. While Rel was pondering his decision, his wife, who was very religious, got wind of the husbands’ tentative plans to go to Atlanta. Maybe I’ll join them, she teased. “I don’t think you’d approve of the Blue Flame Lounge,” he said. “It sounds like a perfect place to proselytize, she replied.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened

We attended an end-of-the-summer party at Marianne Brush’s. I went undefeated in beanbag toss and bocce ball but missed not being able to have Dave as a partner. He is off crutches but still on the DL as far as sports are concerned. He did play his guitar along with John Shearer for a couple hours and sang a lot of Cracker songs plus a couple of my requests, “The Man In me” and “Werewolves of London.” He did one by Lady Gaga that Missy sang to – Voodoo Daddy’s daughter was looking good with her hair a dark purple. One of her friends taught me a drinking game they were playing with cards called Kings. I didn’t join in, to their disappointment, but it involved people drawing cards, and each number means something – like all women drink, or everyone drinks. If a seven comes up, the last person to point to the ceiling (“Heaven”) drinks. Nine is the rhyme card; you go around the circle until someone cannot come up with a word that rhymes with the previous one.

Sunday Tom won all three board games before we quit to fill out our football picks. In the afternoon we saw “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” at the Dunes Summer Theater in Michiana Shores. Dick Hagelberg had won four tickets at a silent auction. One of the cast members playing a courtesan was ill so a very tall, hairy man took her place. Afterwards, the four of us went to our condo’s annual picnic. It took place in a garage because of rainy conditions, but it was fun. I had a hot beef sandwich similar to what was served Friday at IUN’s end-of-the summer bash. The host and hostess (the Garzas) were very nice, gave us a tour of their unit, and promised to invite me back when he next hosts a Texas Hold-‘Em tournament. Afterwards we played a round of bridge while I watched the Eagles game (a loss) out of the corner of my eye.

LeeLee Devenney attended a celebration of the Fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps in D.C. Among the festivities was a dinner at the Afghan embassy. In Afghanistan she was a nurse and met husband Bob. With her encouragement I am continuing the “Missing Tiara” story, adding these paragraphs: Jay played right guard when Jimmy was center on Mr. Beck’s Hundred-Pound team. When they went against an Ambler team, half of the guys lined up against them seemed to have mustaches. Jay went on to be a starting varsity lineman even though he probably didn’t weigh 140 pounds soaking wet. At a party at Ricky’s house he set up his drum set and jammed with a couple guitar players. Jimmy recalled Sissy sitting on his lap and helping him with the cymbals. He had an ancient pre-WW II car that devoured almost as much oil as it guzzled gas. One time on a double date at the 309 Drive-In Jay made a deal with Jimmy that the couples switch seats between features. It took some maneuvering to pull that off. Jay responded to Jimmy’s nostalgic email: “Suddenly I feel thrust back in time – all these memories come flooding back.” He recalled a half-dozen guys piling into his 1940 Buick Monday afternoons, tooling down Bethlehem Pike, and picking up WIBG’s latest top 50 list at a Flourtown record store, then maybe bowling a couple games before stopping for milkshakes back in Fort Washington. For sock hops the record sstore loaned DJ Jimmy several dozen .45s on condition that the school purchase four of them. They went right into Jimmy’s collection, compensation, he rationalized, for the gas mileage.

Jay was glad Rel could make it to Wendy’s. Voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” Rel seemed destined to be a banker or CEO but first ended up in Vietnam and then opted to start a small business rather than stay on the corporate treadmill. In high school he dated an Italian-American named Marianne during an age when many thought a Catholic-Protestant romance scandalous. He had gone to grade school with Zollos, Grassos, Mallozzis, Tambourinos, and Tucciaronis and saw it as no big deal, and in fact he paved the way for others. The so-called Italian girls fascinated Jimmy when he started junior high. They seemed to have the bodies of women and weren’t shy when it came to interacting with him or anyone, including Blacks from North Hills. Jimmy had been in a project group with Marianne and loved her gravelly voice, infectious laugh, and trendy glasses. She was so un-self-conscious about wearing them that Jimmy got over his fear of being called four-eyed. They were buddies in tenth grade homeroom, and when she started going with Rel, Jimmy thought, “Good for him, he’s a lucky guy.” Once at a sock hop a crowd formed around an Italian couple dirty dancing to a Gene Vincent song, “Lotta Lovin’.” Standing next to Jimmy, Marianne said with a wink, “Wanna have a go?” Turning beet red, Jimmy was speechless. Fifty years later, on the dance floor during the reunion Jimmy mentioned the incident to Marianne, and she replied, “You should have taken me up on it.” “Better late than never,” he replied, as DJ Fred put on “Summertime Blues.” Jimmy ended up dating a Catholic girl from North Philly– Polish, not Italian – and it led to what some back then called a “mixed marriage.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Going Away Party

Chancellor Lowe a group called the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) hosted a farewell party for Vice Chancellor for Diversity Ken Coopwood, who accepted a position in Missouri. On hand was Fred Chary, who presented me with his recently published history of Bulgaria. It looks great and reads well. The emphasis is on the past 100 years. Historian Dolly Millender asked us to pose with Lowe and Coopwood for a photo that she intends to include in her Legends of Gary book. I was quite flattered. Former A & S Dean F.C. Richardson attended, and I told Dolly that he was a historic figure who helped start at IUN one of the first Black Studies programs in the country in 1969. Chris Young asked me if I wanted to participate in a forum about the 1962 Freedom Riders and if I would proofread his latest article. I said yes to the latter and remained noncommittal about being a panelist, suggesting most should be African Americans. During the program a SAAB member who couldn’t be present delivered via the Internet a moving poem about how important Ken was in stressing academic achievement as the best path to success. The sound and picture weren’t in sync, which was disconcerting until I closed my eyes and just listened.

Walking across campus, I spotted Geologist Bob Votaw examining rocks along a path that he had designed years before. After five years in retirement he started teaching one course a semester three years ago. I told him I was thinking of doing that. Now that his book is out, Fred Chary ought to consider conducting a seminar, too. The department hasn’t offered an Eastern Europe or Soviet Union course since he retired.

Steel Shavings checks are still coming in, the latest from the Regenstein Library of the University of Chicago. As many of my “Standing Order” people die or move away without leaving a forwarding address, libraries are my most faithful subscribers.

I’ve written a draft of a chapter about the parents of Timothy H. Ball (Hervey and Jane), Northwest Indiana’s first historian, for my “On Their Shoulders” book. The first paragraph goes something like this: “The parents of Reverent T. H. Ball, Northwest Indiana’s preeminent nineteenth-century historian, were transplanted New Englanders whose ancestors emigrated to America in the seventeenth century. Most originally came from England, but Ball’s mother’s side of the family included French Huguenots. Tenacity, Christian faith, and love of adventure abounded in both sides of the family, perhaps Hervey and Jane Ball’s most important legacies passed down to their children, including the Reverend T.H. Ball, teacher, preacher, and scribe in the service of Clio, the muse of history.”

LeeLee liked my latest tiara paragraphs and suggested I produce something on Jay and Sissy’s teen romance. So here goes: As much as he was looking forward to seeing Susan, Jay was even more eager to be with Sissy again. She was his first real love, and even though they chatted at the reunion, time went by so quickly that their conversation in retrospect seemed to lack intimacy. Even so, she had a spiritual, Earth Mother quality that was completely in keeping with his vivid memories of her and, in fact, her entire family. He first knew her as Molly’s little 13 year-old sister, a tomboy who once broke her arm falling from the shoulders of someone messing around on a bike. He was next to her in the back seat when her mother rushed her to the hospital, and her salty tears wet the arm of his shirt endearingly as she leaned against him. The experience excited him and left a lasting impression. A couple weeks later, after playing in the Schady Acres woods, the gang decided to bike to Ambler for hoagies, and he offered Sissy a ride. With her good arm around his waist and her body pressed tightly against him, she exuded a pleasant odor that reminded him of a wood nymph. During games of hide and seek in the Schades’ spacious house, she often followed him into dark places where they would hover together so close he could hear her heart beat. Three summers later when one of Jay’s friends questioned her out to the movies, he realized he was jealous. How did your date go, he asked her the next day. Uncomfortable, she replied. She confided that the guy positioned his hand on the top of her seat so that his fingers were touching her far shoulder. She sat forward in her seat, so both of them were in awkward positions the entire time.

A few weeks later Jay got up the nerve to ask Sissy if she wanted to go to Willow Grove Amusement Park with him and another couple. She exclaimed, “On a date?” Trying not to blush, he nodded. On the Ferris wheel, they were at its apex when the ride suddenly stopped to unload passengers. Noticing Sissy shiver slightly, Jay put his arm on the seat behind her and touched her shoulder with his fingers. “You’re silly,” she laughed and lowered her hand to her waist, snuggling against him. Before the summer was out, they returned twice more to Willow Grove, where on the Ferris wheel they kissed for the first time. It almost took Jay’s breath away, and he was relieved that they didn’t have to exit the ride for another five minutes. She talked him into getting tickets for the Tunnel of Love, and in the dark she made moaning sounds as if Jay were ravishing her. To his embarrassment, at the end of the ride, people in the adjacent boats clapped. Afterwards, they found a photo booth advertising three candid shots for 25 cents. Sissy made him use up a dollar’s worth of quarters mugging in front of the camera and at one point sticking her tongue in his ear. He wondered whether Sissy still had those pictures. What he wouldn’t give to see them again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Popcorn Festival

Back at South Bend to see Mary and Sonny, we visited their son-in-law Fritz on the Notre Dame campus and had lunch at a classy but reasonably priced restaurant. Fritz pointed out Father Theodore Hesburgh, the 94 year-old former President (for 35 years) of Notre Dame who was a member of the United States Civil Rights Commission for 12 years until fired by Tricky Dick Nixon. He had a bit part in the film “Rudy” and holds the Guinness World Record for most honorary degrees (150).

I intended my first Popcorn Festival in Valparaiso in order to see the band Cracker. I ran into old softball teammate Dave Serynek and, as expected, Marianne, John, and Lorraine, who’d made a sign wishing guitarist Johnny Hickman a Happy Birthday. The band rocked, and the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Johnny when Lorraine and Marianne unveiled the sign. The Crawpuppies opened for Cracker and were great as well. David is on the mend from being hit by a car but still on crutches and wisely skipped the event.

IUN held a memorial service on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. A surprise guest was Clarence Green, who worked for Physical Plant and just got back from Iraq. His wife Suzanne, who works for SPEA, was by his side, as were their kids. The next morning Steve McShane appeared in a Times photo of the event.

After Robin Halberstadt told me that former student Linda Parker was chair of Portage High School’s History Department I sent her volume 41 of Steel Shavings. She thanked me in an email and added: “You were one of the most informative professors that I had in my teacher preparation. Perhaps because of the content, but more because of how you taught. There was never any down time. You kept the class moving and interesting. And, you taught me a very good lesson when a student makes a mistake. I mixed up Clarence Darrow and Wm Jennings Bryan on a quiz. Your comment to me was very supportive; you said you knew that I knew the difference between the two. Of course, it was still marked wrong. I learned to support effort and never make a student feel badly when they make an error, but to always hold them accountable so they learn from their mistakes. I've always wanted to thank you for that lesson. Now, I have.”

There was a big turnout at The Patio for the History Book Club discussion of Thomas Fleming’s book on the intimate lives of the Founding Fathers. Borrowing from what a Rolling Stone reviewer said about the second to last Harry Potter movie, I said the book, though well-researched, was like a teenage girl’s padded bra, all tease and no put-out. In other words, the title was misleading when it came to sexual revelations.

I won my first Fantasy Football match thanks to a record night Monday by Patriots QB Tom Brady. Also helping my cause were Bears RB Matt Forte and the Jets’ defense.

A Deejay was playing soft rap music on campus as part of Welcome Back Week, and several coeds were doing a suggestive line dance where they leaned way back and shook their boobies and then thrust their upper bodies forward and shook their booties. Passing out free condoms was a GLBT group, and the Muslim Student Association had an active table. Women at the Student Guides table were swaying to the music, and the Anthropology Club was signing up new members.

After my fiftieth reunion I wrote a semi-fictional saga based on someone taking Wendy’s Homecoming Queen tiara that she had brought with her, a mystery solved by one Captain Cardinal who in some ways resembled athletic star Percy Herder. Several people expressed the hope that I’d write an “all-encompassing” epilog, so here goes: Around the time he was planning a get together with classmates Rel and Jay in Gainesville, Jimmy heard that LeeLee, Sissy, and Captain Cardinal were delivering the tiara to Wendy in person at her Georgia plantation and that others were welcome to join them. Jimmy quickly convinced Rel and Jay to accept the invitation. Meanwhile, Susan decided to be part of LeeLee’s entourage. She still felt slightly regretful about skipping the reunion and was intrigued at the prospect of seeing Jay, whom she dated, and Rel, whom she had had a secret crush on, like many girls in her class. Delighted at the burgeoning number of guests, Wendy sent out a group email laying down two ground rules: no spouses but no sex. In response Captain Cardinal promised to leave his Viagra at home. Jimmy wondered if the Captain would be wearing his famous tiger-striped skivvies. Informing Jay that Susan was coming, he reminded him that they had double-dated to a ninth grade dance and afterwards Jay bragged that he had managed to rest a hand on Susan’s bare knee.

In school after Susan and two of her close friends were nicknamed the “Three Sues,” she started going by her given first name and Sue H became Suzi. She and Jimmy often were together at Terry and Judy’s, and both had become loosened up by the counter-culture phenomenon of the late-Sixties. At the 1990 reunion Jimmy was shocked but delighted when Susan asked him to dance to “Proud Mary.” They seemed to hit it off and traded anecdotes that the other had long forgotten. Jimmy recalled how disappointed she was one Christmas when her main present was a clock. He was interested to hear that her parents were political Lefties, an often persecuted group he greatly admired. “They probably voted for Henry Wallace in 1948,” he said. “They knew Henry Wallace,” she replied. Through Terry they had kept up on what each other was doing. Learning that Susan’s daughter was, like himself, a social historian, he sent along copies of a magazine that he edited for her to pass along. When Susan described doing physical labor on rental units, he imagined her looking like Meryl Streep in “Momma Mia!”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I cancelled my trip to Cristin Donahue’s wedding in Philadelphia after Dave got struck by a car while coaching during a tennis match at East Chicago Central. He was talking with a player who had just finished his match when someone hit the gas instead of the brake and pinned him next to a utility pole. His leg swelled up to twice its size due to internal bleeding and an emergency operation took place. Fortunately no vein or artery was affected, and most of the blood was near the surface, so the surgery wasn’t as invasive as first feared. He got out of the hospital Sunday afternoon and though in much pain is on the mend.

I got a chance to join the Labor Day week-end gathering of Toni’s family in South Bend. The day before Alissa and Josh were at the Notre Dame game when lightning struck right after authorities had evacuated the stands. In Ann Arbor the Michigan game was cancelled due to lightning, the first time ever. Mother nature is pounding the East Coast with rain and fires have been devastating Texas due to draught conditions.

Tuesday I interviewed Congressman Peter Visclosky about his parents for my forthcoming book tentatively called “On Their Shoulders.” Beforehand, Chancellor Lowe showed him the new computer facilities in the library. Pete’s father was mayor of Gary for a year after popular boss George Chacharis went to prison. During the Depression he quit school to work at a CCC camp after his father died. He evidently was a great athlete and in the navy during WW II. Later the Chancellor mentioned meeting with Richard Hatcher and that my name came up.

The final Thrill of the Grill featured Chad Clifford and Aaron Hedges of the Crawpuppies, who were great doing two acoustic sets. I gave Chad, a former student, volume 41 (he’s in it four times), and he gave me their new CD. In addition to familiar songs by Dylan, Lennon, Petty, Sting, and the like, they did the original song “We,” which sounds a little like the Jayhawks. Back home, popped a beer and was impressed with how great their CD sounded. They’re opening for Cracker at Valpo’s Popcorn Fest Saturday.

With help from Toni and Phil I was at the ESPN site where our Fantasy Football draft took place. Drafting fifth in the first round I took running back ,Jamal Charles; I also have Matt Forte and Andre Johnson, among others.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Frank Caucci

I attended a memorial service for IUN professor Frank Caucci, who died unexpectedly at the age of 58. He taught French and Canadian Studies for many years in the Modern Languages Department before making a career change into Social Work. He was a beautiful man both physically and spiritually whose most recent research project had to do with Argentineans who were murdered, tortured or disappeared during a rightwing dictatorship. An overflow audience of over a hundred heard words of remembrance from faculty bigwigs as well as colleagues who knew him well. I sat between Chris Young and Laura Kittle and spotted Fred and Diane Chary a few rows up. His children Matthew and Emmanuelle were in attendance as was his longtime life partner Brian Bates. English department members admitted that Frank was probably more widely read than they were, and Frank developed a Literature course on gay novels. His social work included involvement with homeless men as well as transgendered folks. He evidently was a rigorous teacher but much beloved with students. On the program was this Carl Jung quote: “An understanding heart is everything in a teacher and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling.”

Engineers won 5 of 7 points for the second week in a row, but I left hobbling after falling and twisting my ankle trying to apply body English on a shot for the 4-7 pins to pick up a spare. I converted it but caught my right foot under the ball return. It’s swollen and my left elbow also hurts.

Got an email from nephew Joe recommending a Finnish metal band called Amorphis. Replied that I listened to "Black Winter Day,""Battle for Light," and "The Beginning of Times" on YouTube and will see if
the Best Buy in my neighborhood carries any of their CDs.

Suzanna sent me a photo on some of the tomatoes and corn from her ample garden along with some of her favorite parts of volume 41, including a Gilbert Laue poem, Raoul’s moment of truth in Vietnam upon making eye contract with an elderly Vietnamese woman who reminded him of his grandmother, and the anecdote about niece Lisa’s daughter Grace putting toothpaste in an Oreo cookie. She was worried about two of her kids affected by the flood and a son in Texas driving around in a truck without air conditioning in 100+ weather. I replied: Thanks for such a flattering and informative letter. We are having beautiful weather here – I feel so sorry for those in the Eastern flood zones and those sweltering in the Southwest. I’m going to a wedding in Philly on Saturday (my niece and god-daughter Cristin) at the same church – St. Adelbert’s – where Toni and I tied the knot in 1965. I wish we lived near you – we’d be hinting around for green tomatoes to fry up. Your photo, “A little bit corny,” looks delicious. My niece Grace in South Bend – the “mint” cookie trickster – is quite a character. Later I write about how she enjoyed hugging her dad and getting the front of his clothes wet after just coming out of a swimming pool and how she figured out how to open our cookie jar without it making a sound. The Gilbert Laue poems remind me of our days living within the National Lakeshore. Even more poignant to me are the Gary poems of John Sheehan on page 18. He was a former priest and gentle soul who married a Black woman and after she died a white woman (I think the same was true for Frederick Douglass). I’m reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “A Man without a Country.” He writes: “I know what women want: a whole lot of people to talk to. What do men want? They want a lot of pals, and they wish people wouldn’t get so mad at them.”

The Archives was busy this morning with Ray Boomhower back working with the Jim Jontz papers and volunteers working next store. Roy Dominguez dropped in with a few changes to his autobiography. He has decided to run for county commissioner, which pleases me. He is a dedicated public servant who loves the political arena.