Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Social Studies

“The Sun Goes Down
The stars come out
And all that counts
Is here and now.”
“Glad You Came,” The Wanted

The Wanted, one of the better current pop groups, have a song called “Warzone.” The lyrics would be compelling – “I throw my armor down and leave the battleground, I’m running from a warzone, I can’t do this anymore, What are we fighting for?” - if it weren’t simply about losing a girlfriend. The Brits remind me a little of Fifties cool cats singing Doo Wop under a street lamp.

I watched two excellent HBO documentaries. One was about Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial married couple jailed in Virginia during the late 1950s for violating the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. They were given suspended sentences and told to leave the state but with the help of the ACLU eventually got the heinous statute ruled unconstitutional in a unanimous 1967 Supreme Court decision.

Martin Scorsese’s “Public Speaking” is about Fran Lebowitz. Known as a modern-day Dorothy Parker for her sardonic New York wit, Lebowitz said that while she supported the rights of gays to marry or serve in the armed forces and is herself a lesbian, she couldn’t imagine why anyone would wish to surrender their freedom to these institutions. An unapologetic meat eater and smoker, she claimed that most of her friends after she moved to New York City were older gay men. She wrote two bestsellers, “Metropolitan Life” in 1978 and “Social Studies” in 1981 but claims that she has suffered from writer’s block ever since.

In junior high I had Social Studies in place of history. It was a mismash of geography, civics, comparable cultures, and social sciences. I don’t recall any teacher explaining exactly what it was or its purpose. I learned that coffee was Columbia’s chief export (maybe drugs have replaced that crop) but not how peasants there were exploited. As a social historian, I know it wasn’t social history, and the subject matter bored me, in contrast to when I took history in tenth and eleventh grades under H.M. Jones.

“The Book of American Diaries” reports that Puritan Richard Mather wrote in April 1635 that his fear of what lay ahead was lessened by the “clearness of my calling this way.” On March 14 some 213 years later Ralph Waldo Emerson opined that “the facile American sheds his Puritanism when he leaves Cape Cod [and] runs into all English and French vices with great zest.”

On Facebook grandson Anthony “Lights Out” Lane reports winning a staring contest with his cat. LeeLee Minehart Devenney wished math lovers a Happy PI Day. Yes, there is such an animal. Mr. Taddei would have been proud she remembered.

While Information Technology network specialist Jim Lopez installed my new phone with features I’ll probably never utilize, I read a Traces article by James Thom about editing “Nuggets,” primarily a morticians’ trade magazine, for its last 25 years in existence, beginning in 1968. As Thom’s title “Never Use the D Word” suggests, its contents dealt with everything but death. Instead there were uplifting essays, articles, poems, cartoons, witticisms, and epigrams. The magazine barely limped along but his salary gave the former marine the opportunity to be a novelist on the side, and he even was able to work on the magazine while researching such novelized biographies as “Long Knife” (about George Rogers Clark) and “Panther in the Sky” (about Tecumseh). His semi-autobiographical “Staying Out of Hell” employs a word that he hardly dared use in “Nuggets.” While attempting to sell the magazine to new clients, he discovered that some confused it with “Nugget,” a “Playboy” imitator.

Archives volunteer David Mergl gave me a handsome black briefcase, a definite upgrade over my old one. He took a look at my battered one with a defective lock and mentioned that he had several just lying around unused.

MSNBC carried live President Obama greeting Prime Minister David Cameron at the White House. Most cabinet members were present except Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, in Afghanistan doing damage control in the wake of a rogue U.S. soldier murdering 16 civilians. They joked about the British having sacked the Executive Mansion 200 years ago during the War of 1812 and that Barack gave Cameron a lesson in “bracketology,” a reference to making NCAA tournament selections. In the poll I entered I picked Michigan State to win it all against Syracuse.

Beach Café is reopening next week, and Michael Chirich wanted old photos and historical background info. Using Gary city directories I discovered that an establishment called the Beach Place was at that location starting around 1940 and that the proprietor was an Ernest Smith. In the Post-Trib photo collection I found an interior shot from 1967 (when it was called Smitty’s Beach Café) and an exterior shot from 1982, where a sign identified the place as simply Beach Café.

I talked with Nell Kendrick about her actor cousin, William Marshall, whose father Vareen had a dental practice in Chicago next to his brother Bill’s medical practice. The brother evidently talked him into moving to Gary when the mills were booming. They both graduated from Claflin College in Orangeburg, South Carolina and were in a singing quartet that toured to raise money for their alma mater.

Normally I post my blog entry in the afternoon, print out a copy, and revise it in the evening, adding anything I did the rest of the day, such as bowling (tonight Cressmoor Lounge took 5 of 7 points from us as only Duke Kaminsky shines). In those rare instances when I get negative feedback or discover errors, I make changes.

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