Monday, March 26, 2012

Safe and Sound?

“The music cooled down
It was nice and slow
I walked up to Judy
And said, ‘Let’s go.’”
Romantics, “Friday at the Hideout”

We’ve been getting April Showers weather, and on Friday I saw a rainbow driving to work. In the car I often have on 100.3 FM (Rewind), playing a variety of genres from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, from Michael Jackson and Madonna to Bon Jovi and the Romantics (one of my favorite power pop groups whom I saw live at Valparaiso University). I still have several old Romantics albums, including “National Breakout,” on which “Friday at the Hideout” appears. I think of first girlfriend Judy Jenkins when it’s playing.

Asked to comment about the Trayvon Martin case, President Obama said, “You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Obama sounded so sincere, like he didn’t weigh the political consequences before he spoke, that it brought tears to my eyes. He added that his parents are right to expect that Americans take this with the seriousness it deserves and get to the bottom of what happened. To their undying shame rightwingers such as Glenn Beck are trying to sully Trayvon’s name, mentioning that he got suspended from school and then listing all the possible things he might have done such as bullying and robbery (authorities actually found a baggy in his book bag that had traces of pot). He was unarmed except for the skittles and can of iced tea he’d purchased at a convenience store, and his adversary who was stalking him outweighed him by more than a hundred pounds. Since Trayvon was wearing a hooded sweatshirt when gunned down, his supporters have deliberately been wearing hoodies at rallies demanding action against his killer. Even defenders of Florida’s idiotic “Stand Your Ground” law are calling for the perpetrator’s arrest.

Traces magazine accepted my article, “Mad Duck from Gary,” on Alex Karras after deleting several paragraphs due to space considerations. I argued for reinserting a section showing Gary’s ethnic diversity in the early 1950s and a sentence about Emmeline Karras being honored as Mother of the Year by the Football Hall of Fame in Canton because three sons – Alex, Lou, and Ted – played in the NFL. Editor Ray Boomhower promised to do what he could.

I received kudos for my talk at the Hobart Senior Center. Kristina Kuzma called it a “wonderful presentation” and Pam Broadaway praised my “uncanny ability to engage an audience.” Ellen Szarleta, Director of the center for Urban and Regional Excellence says she got “very positive feedback” and wants to discuss further community outreach programs with me.

The Michigan Lanes attended the midnight showing of “The Hunger Games” while I waited until Friday afternoon. Roger Ebert gave it three stars but thought it a little long at 2:22. It kept my interest, especially Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy or Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. Because it was playing in half of Portage’s theaters, attendance for the 12:25 p.m. show was just a few dozen. To get a PG rating the killing scenes weren’t very graphic (I’m glad). The Suzanne Collins book gave a much more vivid portrayal of Katniss suffering from being thirst. Becca wants to see the movie, but I don’t think she’d enjoy it. Taylor Swift has two songs on the soundtrack, “Eyes Wide Open” and “Safe and Sound.”

I came out of the theater with a stiff neck. Outside it was pouring. Home alone, I discovered the basement was without electricity. Worried that the sump pump was off and about flooding, I descended the steps, turned right to open the window blinds, and smacked into a pole. My glasses went flying (luckily without breaking) and I had a lump and bruise above my left eye. I was still icing it when Toni arrived home and with Angie holding a flashlight flipped the circuit breaker and restored power. The lump went down, but I have a shiner.

Dave picked me up and we watched IU play Kentucky in the NCAA tournament at Wades. The Hoosiers played well and scored 91 points. Unfortunately they gave up 102, unable to secure the boards against better athletes. By the end of the weekend I was totally eliminated from winning the pool since Louisville beat Syracuse and Baylor also lost to Kentucky. After Florida blew a late 12-point lead against Louisville I commiserated with Gator fan Bob Reller. In 2000 Mateen Cleaves led Michigan State to victory against Billy Donovan’s upstart Florida team. At the beginning of the second half a Gator mugged Cleaves, who went to the dressing room but emerged a few minutes later to rousing cheers. Coach Izzo loves Cleaves so much he named one of his kids Mateen.

I finished Carson Cunningham’s excellent memoir “Underbelly Hoops” about his final year with the Rockford Lightning. It has many references to Northwest Indiana, including growing up in Ogden Dunes, playing for a Gary CYO team, and starring at Andrean High School. After friend and mentor Paul Rossetti was murdered during a home invasion, Carson wore Paul’s number 43 the rest of his college career. Carson played a year for the Gary Steelheads and former Roosevelt star Renaldo Thomas was a Rockford assistant coach. Even though Coach Chris “Dales” Daleo was a fanatic, by book’s end, when he invites Carson to join a China exhibition tour after cutting him near the end of the CBA season, the reader has to admire the crazy curmudgeon’s devotion to the game. “Underbelly Hoops” ends with Carson dunking the ball (“throwing it home”) as admiring Chinese youngsters watch. John Updike’s “Rabbit” series starts with the former high school star joining a youngsters’ pickup game and ends with a middle-age Harry Angstrom challenging a young black dude to a one-on-one game of 21.

I’m using Carson’s book in my Fall course and wish Carson was teaching with us full-time. I loaned my copy to Chancellor Lowe in hopes he might get the same idea. In my Steel Shavings about the year 2000 I included a “Survival Journal” about Dave, his wife, and I being victims of a home invasion. In an email congratulating Carson and calling the book "buckets," his CBA teammates' synonym for excellent, I wrote: "The ordeal of Paul Rossetti reminded me what a close call that was. How nice to still have an annual event in Paul’s honor.” Carson uses the phrase “seashells and balloons” in describing special things and people such as his wife and kids.

At Carson’s suggestion I wrote this review for “When author Carson Cunningham played for Coach Chris "Dales" Daleo on the CBA's Rockford Lightning, he and his teammates started calling anything that was excellent "Buckets." That's an apt description of this delightful memoir about Cunningham's final year as a professional basketball player, enduring the long bus rides, cheap hotels, and daily insults and humiliations of a fanatical coach for a chance at glory. Cunningham has memorable sketches of some of the people he played for and with, from Purdue's Coach Keady to teammate Gary McQuay, who succumbed to leukemia (at his funeral service mourners passed a basketball around as a way of honoring him).”

Bob Mucci had books in the Student Union for the dollar Anthropology sale. A stalwart who got the Anthro program launched, he asked if I had any books to donate, so I took him some at lunch, including my “Vietnam Vets” Shavings.

I ran into Fred Chary leaving the cafeteria, but he stayed around to sit with me. He recently reviewed a book claiming that Bulgaria’s King Boris was the one primarily responsible for saving his country’s Jews from being sent to German Death camps. As Fred’s book on the subject proves, other leaders within Bulgaria deserve most of the credit, and Boris did not save Jews from re-occupied Macedonia from the Holocaust. Part of the cohort of “Young Turks” who came into the History department between 1967 and 1972 and grew old together, including Paul Kern, Ron Cohen, Rhiman Rotz, and myself, Fred did not realize Jerry Pierce had been denied tenure and couldn’t believe it. What a travesty.

Alan Barr showed David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” in his film class featuring a riveting performance by Dennis Hopper as the villainous Frank Booth (speaking of Booths, the Gettysburg civil war museum recently quit selling assassin John Wilkes Booth bobbleheads after receiving numerous complaints). Alan asked the class to write an essay on the film’s style. Here’s my essay, entitled “In Dreams”:

A candy-colored clown they call the sandman
Tiptoes to my room every night
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper:
‘Go to sleep, every thing is all right.’”
“In Dreams,” Roy Orbison

The most riveting scene in “Blue Velvet” is when the drug dealing pimp Ben (Dean Stockwell) lip-syncs the Roy Orbison classic “In Dream” using a worklight as a microphone, holding an obscenely long cigarette holder and wearing a fluffy shirt similar to the one featured in a “Seinfeld” episode about Kramer’s low-talking girlfriend. At the end the singer remembers that his girl left him, that things are not all right except in dreams. In other words, all is illusion.

“Blue Velvet” is exotic, bizarre, enigmatic, and lush, but the dominant style of David Lynch’s movie is naturalism of the sort found in the novels of Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Jack London, and Stephen Crane. Civilization is a veneer (like blue velvet material), symbolized by the well-kept home and lawn of the Beaumont family while just under the surface are bugs ready to feast on dead human flesh. The dog-eat-dog natural forces of the modern world - lust, greed, envy and corruption – overwhelm innocence or make that trait irrelevant. The villainous Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) has perverted the laws of nature in his descent into sexual deviancy, drugs, violence for its own sake, and keeping a mother from her child.

Sandy (Laura Dern), the innocent in “Blue Velvet,” believes in love and romance. Like Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), she is a seeker after truth until forced to come to grips with the amorality of the world around her. In the end the robin that she thinks represents goodness and love appears with a quivering cockroach in its mouth – doing what it must to survive just as Lumberton’s survival depends on cutting down one of nature’s wonders – trees.

Best line in the movie comes from the W.O.O.D. radio announcer, who says, “It’s a sunny, woodsy day in Lumberton, so get those chainsaws out.”

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