Saturday, March 9, 2013

Being Rooted

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul,” Simone Weil

Reverend L.K. Jackson’s nephew wanted information about “The Old Prophet” for a family reunion.  Interviewing him 40 years ago at his home, I was too timid to ask him to turn off the TV.  In a closet I spotted about a hundred hats.  In the 1940s the dabber minister was a one-man civil rights movement.  He’d go into banks, downtown stores, streetcar companies, and newspaper offices and threaten to organize a boycott unless African-American tellers, clerks, drivers or reporters were hired.  When Gary school board officials prevented Paul Robeson from singing at Roosevelt, Jackson hosted the affair at his First Baptist Church.  What a great man.  It was an honor to interview the self-proclaimed rabble-rouser and write about his accomplishments.

Ron Cohen and I got talking about Palm Springs, where I’ll be going in two weeks.  One of his relatives was a beautician for Hollywood celebrities residing there, including Lucille Ball.  Like Marian Merrill, she was a liberal who ended up in an assisted living community with a bunch of conservatives.  Ron bought some early 1930s documents about Peter Billick, including police reports of raids on liquor joints during Prohibition, and donated them to the Archives. In 1949 Billick was put in charge of a Vice Squad after Mary Cheever was murdered and the Women’s Citizens Committee demanded a crackdown on brothels and gambling dens.  Five years earlier, he helped capture two German POWs who had escaped from a Canadian prison camp and made their way to Gary.  In “Gary’s First Hundred Years” I wrote: “Hungry and without funds, they tried to pawn a watch at Busch Jewelers.”  Suspicious clerk Freta Trainor phoned Billick and stalled them until he and officer Joseph Hopkins arrived and apprehended them.

Henry Farag, whom Jeff Manes recently interviewed for a SALT column, learned that IU Press recently launched a digital imprint, INshort, which will publish e-books.  He made a pitch to editor Raina Polivka for them to publish “The Signal,” in the series, writing: It is a story of family, culture and music in Gary.  It’s good.  It’s interesting and informative - a gem of national musical importance that occurred practically in your backyard.  The Signal is informative, most especially, on a genre of music that is pure Americana and originated in Gary, Indiana, with the ground breaking music label, Vee Jay, and its first hit group, the legendary Spaniels (Goodnight Sweetheart).  I am, of course, speaking of Doo-Wop music, which is the subject of so many PBS specials today.”

On the cover of Time is 43 year-old Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg, whose book “Lean In” urges career women to aim higher even at the risk of being bossy (an insult almost never used against men).  At Harvard, she studied under Paul Samuelson’s nephew Larry Summers, who hired her at age 29 to be his Treasury Department chief of staff.  As Wes Moore said, it is vital for young people to have mentors.  He speculated that had the other Wes Moore’s mother not lost a Pell grant due to budget cuts, the family’s life might have been much different.

Brady Wade posted this on Facebook: 15 years ago, my best friend was Emma Nicole Schenck, 10 years ago it was Brian Buchwak, 5 years ago it was Joey Witkowski, 3 years ago it was Kazmir Zaranski, 2 ago it was Jacob Bloomquist, Austin Johnson, and Jon Rensburger. Now I'm lucky enough to have some great guys by my side. It's been a beautiful life thus far, thanks for sharing it with me.”  Tom Hagan replied: “You forgot a friend (cough, cough).  LOL.”

Hopefully Brady’s friends will still be in his life years from now, like Terry Jenkins and me.  Brady’s parents and Janet Bayer posted messages in connection with International Women’s Day, celebrated much more in Europe than the U.S.  Perhaps feeling nostalgic and all alone (Toni having gone to Indy for Becca’s dance recital), I called high school friend Mary Delp, who is having rotator cuff surgery next week.  I recalled the exercises I had to do after my operation ten years ago, including placing my hand on a wall and moving my fingers to go up the surface.
 Becca (on left) with her Jazz group
Steve Pickert forwarded a photo from Luanne Zimmer that was part of an illustrated email entitled “Why we love children.”

Hoping they’d continue unbeaten after 30 games, I watched the Blackhawks until the Avalanche scored five straight goals, then watched the Bulls eke out a one-point victory over the misnamed Utah Jazz (formerly the New Orleans Jazz), thanks to a three-point shot by Italian-born Marco Belinelli with six seconds left.

After a traumatic dream I discovered I’d scratched my face again, this time the right side and deeper than usual. Damn!  Maybe I need to wear a pair of Archives kid gloves to bed.  I think I’ve earned them.

On WXRT’s show about 1980 I heard nutty David Byrnes singing “Once in a Lifetime” with the Talking Heads (“You may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful house.  This is not my beautiful wife.’”)  Then came a bit about actors who kicked the bucket that year, among them Peter Sellers, David Janssen, and Steve McQueen.  Director Alfred Hitchcock, who made cameo appearances in all his films, also passed away.

Monday’s History Book Club topic is President Warren G. Harding.  I picked up a biography written by Watergate scapegoat John Dean that tries to resurrect his reputation as one of our worst Presidents.  The chief rap against him was the corruption of his cronies known as the “Ohio Gang.”  In reality the graft was petty compared to scandals under Reagan and George W. Bush.  Credit Harding for ending the period of intolerance known as the “Red Scare,” unlike Bush, who parleyed 9/11 into a “War on Terrorism” in order to eke out a second term.  As Harding himself admitted, he was unprepared to be President and at first tried to delegate most duties to able cabinet members, including Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover and Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes.  By 1923, the year he died, he was showing the potential to be his own man and a decent chief executive.

On Westchester Library’s “Free Rack” was a biography of Simone Weil by one of my favorite authors, Francine du Plessix Gray.  I wrote a glowing review of her 2005 memoir “Them,” about her narcissistic parents.  Weil was a French philosopher, mystic, and leftwing activist whom Albert Camus called “the only great spirit of our times.”  So terrified of germs she eschewed physical contact, including sex, Simone died of malnutrition at age 34 after refusing to eat more than French people suffering under German occupation during World War II.  More interesting would have been Gray’s “At Home with the Marquis de Sade,” about the Frenchman’s wife and mother-in-law, who tried to curb his libertine ways and ultimately had him committed to a mental asylum.  One reviewer wrote, “Whether one sees Sade as the ultimate rebel hero or the ultimate monster, du Plessix Gray’s thorough, riveting telling makes him irresistible.”

American History magazine had an article about the ruthless conquistador Hernando de Soto, who did so much to destroy Mississippian Indian culture in southeastern America, much like Cortez did to the Aztecs and Francisco Pizzaro to the Incas.  In fact, De Soto fought with Pizarro and adapted his tactic of taking chiefs prisoner in order to extract things from his tribe, and he encouraged Indians to think he was an immortal god.  When he died on the bank of the Mississippi River, his men concealed his death.  The diseases they carried with them decimated the tribes they encountered.

At McDonald’s a fairly young dreadlocked white guy appeared to be just hanging out rather than eating anything.  I wondered whether he was homeless, but he wasn’t panhandling.  From the value menu I ordered a double cheeseburger, fries, and a side salad.  The bill came to $3.41.

I found “The Prince of Tides” among the OnDemand free movies.  I’m a big Nick Nolte fan and also enjoyed Barbra Streisand as Dr. Susan Lowenstein, a shrink trapped in an unhappy marriage to a snobbish concert violinist.  As Tom Wingo, Nolte coaches Lowenstein’s son (played by Strteisand’s real-life offspring Jason Gould) to be a decent football player, much to his dad’s displeasure, and has an affair with Barbra before returning to his wife and kids.  Pat Conroy wrote both the screenplay and the novel it was based on.

I had planned to see Planetary Blues perform at Leroy’s Hot Stuff, located not far from the condo, but on the band’s website I noticed that former student from ten years Joe Hengstler was no longer their drummer.  It was such a big part of his life, I hope he’s doing well.   Was tempted to go just to ask about him, but they weren’t going to start until 9:30, so I popped a beer, then another, and retired early.

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