Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Helplessness Blues

“Yeah I’m tongue-tied and dizzy
And I can’t keep it to myself.”
“Helplessness Blues,” Fleet Foxes

In the news: Destiny Myles (3) and brother Jeremiah (18 months) died of asphyxiation in a Chicago apartment fire that broke out while their six year-old brother was attempting to heat up a box containing pizza at three in the morning while his pregnant mother was asleep. How tragic their life was snuffed, trapped helplessly inside when the door slammed shut after their brother and mother escaped.

I decided to teach a Fall course on Tuesday afternoons and put Chris Young and Jonathyne Briggs on notice that I will enlist them to discuss their favorite journal, diary or memoir. Jonathyne loaned me “A Midwife’s Tale,” based on a 200 year-old diary. Chris is leaning toward “The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover (Virginia), 1709-1712. The entries focus on the wealthy planter’s relationship with his wife and servant, his daily diet, contemporary medical practices, and his observations of the world around him.

I bowled two practice games Tuesday and mentioned to owner Jim Fowble about recently being in Hawaii. He took R & R in Honolulu in 1970 halfway through his 365-day Vietnam tour of duty. Imagine, a brief respite in paradise from a year in hell. I mentioned that Jim Tolhuizen operated in the Parrots Beak area then and was grievously wounded during the Cambodian invasion. “I went to Cambodia, too,” Jim said, adding that it’s hard to believe that was 42 years ago.

Post-Trib teen advice columnist Dr. Robert Wallace, a Gary native, apologized for an earlier column where he told a girl to simply ignore repeated notes from a guy asking whether she was a virgin. After many feminists complained, Wallace realized that he should have told her to report the sexual harassment to authorities.

Got an old-fashioned letter from Terry Helton in Montana. It’s common procedure at the nursing home where he works to waken folks four times a night. No wonder, he concludes, that so many of them are in foul moods. He’s sad over two friends deciding to move away from Ennis and quite soured on politics. An African American himself, he writes that it is funny how electing a black man president can turn some people into “raving lunatics.”

Because Indiana Republican legislators are striving to pass a right-to-work bill, a group has formed calling themselves “lunch bucket Republicans,” unionists who may run candidates in the primary against anti-union incumbents. My question to them would by, why even bother to remain Republicans? If Romney proves to be the Ed Muskie of 2012, the Wall Street establishment might try to draft Chris Christie (could he survive the SNL parodies bringing attention to his humongous weight?) or Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, convicted of possession of pot while a student at Princeton and an SOB of the worst kind. My favorite current example of mudslinging – that Santorum’s wife Karen lived for years with an abortion doctor 41 years her senior. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

Ray Smock wrote: “Lunch Bucket Republicans, Log Cabin Republicans, I say they should stick their logs in their lunch buckets and munch away. The Republican Party is experiencing what Democrats have had to live with for a long time: a disorganized party flying off in all directions. This is hard for conservatives to grasp, since part of the conservative mind-set is to avoid thinking about consequences. The Republicans may end up with a brokered convention if Newt doesn’t completely self-destruct by then. I still think what’s left of the old Republican Party likes Jeb Bush best. But could the country stomach a third Bush? A Bush/ Christie or Christie/ Bush ticket would make the Republican establishment happy.” In a previous email Ray wrote, “Newt is no Dick Nixon. He is just a dick.”

During the post-WW II Red Scare Gary-born actor William Marshall was fired from the 1953 TV series “Harlem Detective” after the rightwing group Counterattack targeted him. Paul Robeson fared even worse, not only blacklisted but also arrested for circulating a peace petition when the Korean War erupted and denied a passport due to sympathetic remarks he made about d├ętente with the Soviet Union. When the Gary school board prevented him from giving a concert at Roosevelt School, the Reverend L.K. Jackson hosted the concert at his church. W.E.B. DuBois met a similar fate, joined the CP in his eighties, and died in Ghana, where the Pan-Africanist received a state funeral.

Looked up “Othello” quotes that William Marshall would have uttered playing the Moor commander. The most famous is from his farewell speech where he says, “Then must you speak of one that loved not wisely but too well.” In the end racism is at the heart of the tragedy. In the opening act evil Iago tells the father of Desdemona that “an old black man if tupping (fucking) your white ewe” and advises: “Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.”

In the opener of IUN’s Homecoming basketball double-header against Andrews University, located in Berrien Springs, Michigan Sharon Houston led the Lady Redhawks to their tenth straight win. Thanks to Student Affairs coordinator Mary Lee, about a hundred kids from the Northwest Indiana Boys and Girls Club cheered on the Redhawks and boogied with the cheerleaders during a time-out. The deejay was blasting out music whenever there was a break in the action with the bass so loud the stands seemed to vibrate. One contest required a boy and a girl to spin around 15 times and then pick up a ball and make a basket. They were both so dizzy they could hardly stand.

At halftime I ate chili and a hamburger with Chuck Gallmeier and staff members Delores Crawford (University Relations) and Sandra Hall Smith (SPEA). We talked about Bob Lovely, whom Chuck characterized in a press release as perhaps the best friend IU Northwest ever had. Nobody ever had a more appropriate surname. Bob handled his illness with amazing grace and courage. He and Dolores once beat me in a jitterbug contest during a holiday Gala. “We practiced during lunch hours,” she admitted. My partner was an Education professor whom I’d never met before.

Home in time for most of Obama’s State of the Union address. He touted immigration reform and taxing millionaires at least as much as their secretaries. Sitting next to the First Lady was the secretary of Warren Buffet, who suggested the idea. “America Built to Last” was the central theme. Obama gave Congresswoman Gabrielle “ Gabby” Giffords a long hug where they appeared to rock from side to side, demonstrating that he understood how incredibly brave she has been since a rightwing nut shot her. Pretty classy – like the Prez singing a line from “Let’s Stay Together” a few days ago doing a perfect falsetto Reverend Al Green impression. Afterwards CBS showed an episode of “Big Bang Theory.” Sheldon (Jim Parsons) reminds me of Bucknellian Roger McConnell, who roomed with me in an unheated attic my junior year. If we left the door to the second floor open the temp would only go down to about 40 degrees overnight.

I stayed home to watch Gabby Giffords’s farewell appearance in the House of Representatives. After Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a University of Maryland grad, said, “We’ll miss you,” she whispered back, “I’ll miss you, too.” Tears flowed freely even from the eyes of normally heartless Republicans. Watching her walk with effort to the podium to deliver her resignation letter to Speaker John Boehner was unforgettable. Even though Gabby’s husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, ruled out running to replace her, I won’t bet against a future in politics for either or both of them.

I emailed LeeLee Devenney three photos from my trip to the Big Island that nephew Tom Dietz sent me. In one I wearing an AT Auto cap that Bruce Allen gave everyone at my high school reunion. Another shows me in the Pacific Ocean body surfing, and a third is of three goats staring at us from lava rocks. I wrote: “The ocean photo of me and 65 year-old nephew Nick isn’t the most flattering, but at least I had the good sense to keep my bathing suit on at the clothes-optional beach. How about those old goats (the ones on the lava rocks)?”

LeeLee replied that she and Bob were house sitting four dogs, two cats, and a mother-in-law in Reading, Pennsylvania. I emailed: “When I first played Monopoly after moving to Indiana, someone pronounced
Reading, as in the Reading Railroad, like "reading a book." My dad commuted to Philly on the Reading Railroad, as did I two summers when I worked in a law firm mailroom, thinking I'd be a lawyer in the future.”

I can’t get Dylan’s “Idiot Wind (blowing like a circle around my skull, from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol)” out of my head. One side one of “Blood on the tracks,” it expresses disillusionment, helplessness and outrage at a “howling beast” (Nixon?) who covered up the truth with lies. Referencing the Grand Coulee Dam, troubadour Dylan pays tribute to his mentor Woody Guthrie, who recorded a song by that title.

I picked up a 12-inch Subway for $5.35 (half for today, half for lunch tomorrow) and found a parking spot in the small lot north of Thirty-Fifth between Washington and Adams. Someone had left a half-full Red Bull nearby, and I spilled some on my shoe when I picked it up. Yuck! Supped on yogurt and cookies at 5:15 before departing for bowling. Engineers took all seven points from Here 4 the Beer, as we all bowled above average. Melvin Nelson led the way with a series of more than a hundred pins over his average. On the lanes next to us Joe Piunti and his sons opposed the Dingbats, a team that was right behind us in the standings. Joe has been hobbling on bad knees and his average is down about 40 pins from what it once. With each team having won a game, Joe barely missed a triple in the final frame but converted the spare and then struck out, finishing the night with a series in the 520s. The Dingbats’ anchorman left the 4-10 “baby split” and needed to pick it up and then strike for his team to win. His ball veered to the left at the last moment and knocked down only the four-pin, putting a smile on Joe’s face. Like me, he’s a competitor but seems to be able to enjoy when things go well without brooding when they don’t.

In the bar afterwards, Bob Scheid and Ken Cichocki asked me how Hawaii was. I was glad to oblige. On the drive home listened to “Ten at Ten” with Bob Stroud on WDRV (“The Drive”). The year was 1968, and the first three tunes were “Going to the Country” (like many hippies did) by Canned Heat, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye (featured in the 1983 movie “The Big Chill”), and “Piece of My heart,” by Janis Joplin singing with Big Brother and the Holding Company. Called Bill Batalis with the bowling good news and put Letterman on mute since it was a repeat and got mellow listening to Foster the People.

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