Monday, April 29, 2013


“Lenny Bruce is not afraid,” REM, “It’s the End of the World”

Satirical comic Lenny Bruce’s name appears twice in “It’s the End of the World,” once in a nonsense line with composer Leonard Bernstein, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, and rock critic Lester Bangs.  Bruce died of a morphine overdose in 1965 at the age of 40 after being hounded by puritanical authorities who considered his shows obscene.  He has rightly become a poster boy for free speech.  Phil Spector said, “Lenny Bruce died from an overdose of police.”    What he did during a time of repression was incredibly brave.  When Dave sperformed “End of the World” with Voodoo Chili, I marveled that he knew all the words, sung in such rapid succession.  Sometimes he faked it a little, he recently admitted.  The punch line to “End of the World,” is Michael Stipe proclaiming, “And I feel fine.”  WXRT, featuring the year 1987, played it in a set with seven-time married Steve Earle’s “I Ain’t Ever Satisfied.”  Dave started college that fall, emptying our nest, so to speak, but I felt fine, confident that we had given him and Phil before him a good foundation.

“The Shackles of Power: Three Jeffersonian Decades” by John Dos Passos was on Chesterton library’s free cart, and it begins on January 1, 1807, with Thomas Jefferson waking before dawn in the still unfinished Executive Mansion.  In the Northeast High Federalists were talking secession, while in the Southwest Aaron Burr was involved in a madcap, treasonous adventure, but Jefferson was excited over the success of the Louis and Clark Expedition.  “In 30 months,” Dos Passos wrote, “they had led their Corps of Discovery up the Missouri almost to its headwaters, across the Continental Divide and down the green Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, and back to St. Louis with the loss of only a single man.”  They brought with them crates of dried specimens, notebooks filled with invaluable data, and “a family of palefaced Mandans from the upper reaches of the Missouri and two grizzly bear cubs.”  

I also picked up “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout, about a retired math teacher who at first glance seems dour and insensitive but who becomes more sympathetic with each passing chapter. Taking place in coastal Maine, the novel contains a baker’s dozen linked tales of grief, quiet desperation, loneliness, and loss reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s classic “Winesburg, Ohio.”  The main characters are senior citizens with ailments that I can identify with.  One guy who thought he just had a stiff neck (like me right now) was suffering from lymphoma.  Several characters are suicidal or shackled by situations that offer little hope of escape.  Strout was 52 when the Pulitzer Prize winning book was published in 2008, and her mother was a high school teacher perhaps not unlike Olive in the strength of her convictions.

Sports Illustrated carried a story about East Chicago native Gregg Popovich, who played basketball for Merrillville High School and Air Force Academy prior to his fabled coaching career.  Led by Tim Duncan, his Spurs swept the Lakers (with Kobe sidelined with a season ending injury) in the first round of the NBA playoffs.  The most exciting game over the weekend, however, was Chicago’s triple overtime win against the Brooklyn (formerly New Jersey) Nets.  Nate Robinson scored 23 points in the fourth quarter (one shy of Michael Jordan’s record) to fuel a remarkable comeback. 

At the Camelot Lanes bowling banquet James won an award for Best Attitude.  Teammate Kaiden Horn got a trophy for Most Improved.  Tina, his mom, needed a topic for a paper dealing with big issues in history.  Since her Purdue North Central professor had assigned articles by Thomas Paine, Karl Marx, Adolf Hitler, and Martin Luther King, Dave and I suggested she concentrate on civil disobedience and the question of when citizens have the right, indeed the duty, to resist unjust laws.  I had two large, delicious pieces of J & J’s sausage pizza.  A cute kid named Elijah Muhammad won several awards.  Each time his name was called, Dave added “The Honorable” to it, as the Nation of Islam founder liked to be called.  Dave wondered how many folks in attendance recognized the name.

Sunday’s Post-Trib contained a full-page SALT column by Jeff Manes about Butch Grimmer, whose family-owned service station has been in business since the late 1940s.  Only Teibel’s Restaurant has been in operation longer in the Schererville area.  Butch’s father Norbert returned from WW II and hired in at Gary Works but soon decided, in his son’s words, “Well, I survived the war, why would I want to spend the rest of my life in the mill or possibly get killed?”

Carrol Vertrees wrote a column entitled “Puff Piece: Don’t get burned by smoking.” When growing up on a farm downstate, smoking, he claimed, “was a sin, even worse than dancing, dozing off during the Sunday sermon, kicking a dog [or] going near a pool hall.”  Once he had “a near death experience” smoking “behind the hog barn at the county fair.”  Cultivating his hayseed roots, Vertrees twice employed the phrase “I reckon.”

We picked up Cheryl Hagelberg on the way to the Hobart Area Concert Band Spring Concert at Hobart Middle School.  First chair in the horn section, Dick had to be there early.  Also in the band formerly known as Rusty Pipes was Robin Halberstadt, whose son Charles attended with his girlfriend.  Encountering genial Carrol Vertrees in the lobby, I worked an “I reckon” into our brief conversation.  His stock answer when asked how he’s doing: “I’m old.” As they say, “Better than the alternative.”  I hope I’m still writing at age 90.  I mentioned seeing Kathy O’Rourke at her mother’s funeral service, and he said, “All my friends are dead or dying.”  He and Kathy’s dad Terry were good buddies and co-workers at the P-T.  Near the back of the auditorium were Pat Hecker’s husband and son, positioned so they could watch her playing the cornet.  Glancing at the band roster, I noticed the name of Tim Duncan, a mail carrier (not the basketball star), and Bruce Webber, a retired reporter (not the coach).

The band performed W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and selections from “Les Miserables,” but the funniest of its 11 numbers was Ph. Fahrbach’s “Musical Chaos,” during which band members pretended to go on strike and paraded around with protest signs while an ever-diminishing number of fellow musicians continued to play.  My favorite was “Washington Grays,” a march composed by Claudio Grafulla in 1861 for a New York militia regiment about to fight in the Civil War.  The Hagelbergs invited us to join them at Longhorn Steak House, but we had eaten a big lunch and were full after enjoying the complimentary cake after the show.  I also sampled some raw veggies and dip, not noticing a sign that read, “For our patrons who can’t eat sweets.” 

As has become habit, I watched “Game of Thrones” with the sound off and a Steve Earle CD blaring and will watch it again with audio tonight.  Jon Snow and Ygritte had steamy sex and a bath afterwards, and Jaime and Brienne also shared a bath (no sex though – that would have been so cool), but two young gay men went at it.

John Fraire emailed a copy of his PhD dissertation for the Archives.  Entitled “Mexicans Playing Baseball in Indiana Harbor: Ethnic Identity Development among Mexican Youth in Indiana Harbor, Indiana, 1920-1942,” it is based in part on 14 oral interviews, including one with his mother, whom I knew when she worked for Gary’s Director of Social Studies, Marie Edwards.  Born in 1924 to Mexican parents, Gloria Fraire served as a WAC in England and India during WW II before playing ball for The Gallinas.  Fraire argues that human choice and decision-making play an important role in ethnic identity and that identity development is dynamic in nature, the result of decisions and choices rather than the inevitable result of historical conditions and social forces. During the late 1930s both the Gallos men’s team (translated meaning roosters) and the Gallinas (hens) were very popular; fans often traveled to away games to neighboring cities.  The time and place of home games were advertised by writing in chalk on streets.  The Gallos once played the Kansas City Monarchs whose pitcher was the legendary Satchel Paige.

As Indiana Governor Pence further shackles public education, Ray Smock posted a link to this quote by Garrison Keilor: “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together.  You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”  Ray also sent me this note: The latest issue of Steel Shavings is a keeper. I appreciate your account of my talk at the U. of MD.  Very interesting issue all around. You have created a storehouse of local history and culture, not to mention the national issues that find their way in.”

Phil Arnold called the issue impressive, adding: I probably won't read it all, but fortunately your blog has a search feature.  I will type in a bunch of Upper Dublin classmates’ names and will read all those entries.  I'll do like last time and yellow highlight the names in your text, so I can find them again easily to reread.”  Ellen Szarleta thanked me for highlighting work done by IUN’s Center for Urban and Regional Excellence, of which she is director.

Exactly 21 years ago a jury acquitted 4 LA cops caught on video beating Rodney King after a high-speed car chase.  A six-day riot ensued, resulting in 58 deaths and 2,000 injuries.  Many of the stores looted and set aflame were owned by Korean Americans.

In his memoir Mike Certa relates asking his wife of 43 years for a date.  In IUN’s student lounge a friend was lamenting his inability to get up the nerve to ask someone to an upcoming dance.  Mike said, “Do you see that girl sitting over there?  She’s in my psychology class, and I’m thinking about asking her out to the dance tomorrow night.”  The friend said, “You’re just going to ask her out?  What if she says no?” “Well,” I said, “I don’t have a date now so I won’t be in any worse shape than I am now.  I might have to ask someone else, but she might say yes.  Let me show you how to do it.  Remember, it’s just a date.”  After securing a date Mike reported on his success.  “I don’t know how you can make yourself to that,” the friend said.  “Remember,” Mike said, it’s a date, not a marriage proposal!”

Chancellor Lowe announced the appointment of James Wallace as the new Director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs (quite a mouthful, his title, almost as bad as Vickie being secretary of the Department of History, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Political Science).  A good man and IUN grad, Wallace had been Interim Director following the departure of Ken Coopwood to greener pastures.  The blue ribbon committee that selected him included Scott Fulk, Paul Sharpe, Sandra Hall Smith, and Regina Jones, who was recently denied tenure and promotion.  I wish James well and hope he remains an advocate for LGBT activities.  Anne Balay tells me he has been very supportive in the past.
  above, James Wallace (l) with SAAB Brother 2 Brother members and Calumet H.S. students; below, Jason Collins
NBA center Jason Collins came out of the closet, the first male major team sport player.  No longer shackled by having to live a lie, Collins told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “I, right now, am the happiest that I’ve ever been in my life.” Supposedly not even his twin brother knew he was gay.  President Obama called to offer him his support.  Martina Navratilova, who declared she was a lesbian 30 years ago, predicted he’d be able to devote more energy to improving his game and hoped that others will follow.  It’s a human rights issue, she concluded.  Let’s hope members of the Supreme Court are paying attention.

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