Friday, August 2, 2013

Denise Thomas

“Then I wake up, Mom and Dad
Are rolling on the couch
Rollin’ numbers, rock and rollin’
Got my KISS records on.”
    “Surrender,” Cheap Trick

Ron Cohen gave me the July 11 New York Review of Books containing rock critic Michael Chabon’s article “Let It Rock.”  When he was at Pitt in 1983, poet Ed Ochester, gave him a copy of “Rock Lyrics as Poetry.”  With Bob Dylan recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Chabon analyzed elements that poetry and song lyrics have in common.  Of course, they serve different purposes.  Only rarely (Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” for example) do lyrics retain their power when spoken.  Even so, Chabon includes memorable lines from Cheap Trick, Warren Zevon (“Little old lady got mutilated late last night”), and Jim Morrison (“There’s a killer on the road, his brain is squirming like a toad”).  As rock critic Robert Christgau wrote: “Dylan is a songwriter, not a poet.  A few of his most perfect efforts – ‘Don’t Think Twice,’ or ‘Just Like a Woman’ – are tight enough to survive on the page.  But they are exceptions.”

Hermione Lee’s article, “Willa Cather: A Hidden Voice,” mentions that Sharon O’Brien’s 1987 biography claimed the novelist (“O Pioneers,” “My Antonia,” “Lucy Gayheart”) was “a lesbian artist writing a story of desire in her fiction that had to remain coded and covert.”   Her lover Isabelle McClure, daughter of magazine publisher S.S. McClure, married a guy who gave her kids, social status, allowed her to keep her own money, and even tolerated Willa accompanying them on vacations.  The one ultimately guilty of possessiveness – love’s evil twin - was Willa.  When Isabelle McClung, died, Willa obtained possession of letters between them and promptly burned them.  Many others have survived, including one to Louise Pound, whom Willa had a crush on at school.  She lamented: “It is manifestly unfair that ‘feminine friendships’ should be unnatural.”  She wrote frequently to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, whose 1924 novel “The Homemaker”  examines a couple switching roles for which each is better suited – she goes out into the working world and he becomes a house-parent.
above, David Schalliol and Jimbo; below, Corey Hagelberg

Samuel A. Love sent along great photos of our Wednesday excursion with University of Chicago photographer David Schalliol and artist Corey Hagelberg, including two from Carolina Park in the old Pulaski neighborhood.  Even though the park is in bad shape, many nearby homes are well kept by Gary’s unsung heroes, residents eager to reclaim their neighborhoods.
above, Samuel A. Love with Pastor Katura Johnson; below, Karren Lee

The Buddhist monks completed their mandala sand painting at the Gardner Center, hopefully home base for Camilo Vergara’s dozen photographs of murals honoring Martin Luther King.  Let’s hope the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District embraces the project, gives them adequate space, and is open to a reception.
above, 4 Brothers Market; below, Memorial Auditorium ruins; photos by David Schalliol
David Schalliol reported to Camilo Vergara that we hoped to use the Gardner Center as a home base and then to regularly transport the photographs out of gallery into the city to visit everything from youth programs to more official places. Possible sites include the Central District Organizing Project (2452 Massachusetts Street), the Carolina Pavilion (1395 Carolina Street) and 4 Brothers (1139 E 21st Ave). The photographs may eventually be installed in an abandoned site, likely the Memorial Auditorium Building lobby.”  Camilo sent this status report around the country: Gary is moving along with the help of David Schalliol, Jim Lane, Samuel Love and Corey Hagelberg.  The posters will rest for a bit in Miller Beach and then travel to community organizations where they will become the focus of community meetings and discussions. The poster show will end its days at the [Memorial] Auditorium, a very impressive ruin where it will decay.”

In Chuck Gallmeier’s Juvenile delinquency class a lively discussion ensued over whether Paula Cooper’s actions were premeditated and whether she should have been allowed to go free after 28 years.  I mentioned how much Paula has changed since 1985; as Bill Pelke said, she really isn’t the same person.  The crime was so ill-planned that Paula left her demin jacket at the murder scene with her name on a bottle of birth control pills in the pocket.   We talked about the pros and cons of judicial discretion – in some case much, in other cases such almost done, as in the case of some drug laws or where state have passed “three strikes” statutes.  Also Indiana and other states reduce time to be served for good behavior.

During the second half of the three-hour class I showed “The Central Park Five,” a Ken Burns documentary.   Five teenage boys were convicted in a 1989 assault and rape case involving a jogger who nearly died and had no memory of what happened to her.  Matias Reyes, whose DNA matched blood and semen samples, later admitted acting alone.  The verdicts were set aside but only after the five had served their jail terms.  The two-hour film humanizes the five victims and casts a harsh light on NYC officials’ eagerness to quickly solve the case and the racism of the tabloid press, inventing such phrases as “wolf pack” and “wilding” to portray black youth as a menace to public safety.  Unlike this case, the four teens involved in killing 78 year-old Glen Park resident Ruth Pelke were tried as adults and received sentences ranging from 25 to 60 years (and originally for Paula, the death penalty).  Led by Pope John Paul II and Pelke’s grandson Bill, opponents of executing Paula sent 2 million signatures to Indiana lawmakers, who subsequently proscribed the death penalty for those under the age of 16 when they committed a crime but specifically excluded Paula.  Nonetheless, in a separate case the U.S. Supreme Court in 1988 commuted the death sentence od someone under 16.  A year later the Indiana Supreme Court reduced Paula’s sentence to 60 years.

The girl I feel most sorry for is Denise Thomas, 14 at the time of the murder.  She probably joined Paula Cooper’s circle for security or a need to find acceptance and probably didn’t realize Paula would kill Ruth Pelke when they went to her home on that fateful day.  At her trial Chicago Tribune reporter John O’Brien described her as slightly built and looking younger than her years.  She claimed that she cried in horror when Paula started stabbing Ruth Pelke and refused to hold the knife in her even though Paula threatened to kill her.  She denied hitting Ruth with a glass bowl that contained her fingerprints, claiming she just picked it up to examine it.  She wrote a note to a friend saying she hit someone with a vase but may have just been fabricating the story.  Even if she did hit the victim with an object, it probably was at Paula’s orders and hardly a fatal blow. Instead of being tried as a juvenile, which is where her case should have gone, she received a sentence of 25 years.  Both she and her attorney, Richard Wolters, Jr., cried when the judge pronounced the sentence.  By the time she was released she was a middle-age woman in poor health.

Her plight reminded me of what Kathryn Hyndman wrote about Willa Mae, forced by circumstance into situations which resulted in her being incarcerated most of her life. They were in Crown Point jail together when Kathryn was a political prisoner during the Red Scare.  She wrote: “Reading her obituary, I thought of lovely Willa Mae’s wasted life and wondered if anyone came to the funeral.  All she was now was a notice in the paper.  Did anyone except myself weep for her?  How many more Willa Maes are there in this rich country?  Who cares about them?  To the solid law-abiding citizen it was just one more sinner being put into the earth, six feet down.  Dear Willa Mae, I wish you could somehow know that I will never forget you.  Rest in peace, dear child, you knew so little of it in life.”

The new Illinois medical marijuana law would allow purchases of 2.5 ounces every two weeks.  I doubt if even Cheech and Chong consumed that quantity.

Nephew Beamer Pickert, like me a Bucknell alum, sent along a policy statement by university president John Bravman banning further Homecoming Weekend events.  Last spring, he announced, 15 inebriated students had to be hospitalized and other offenses ranging from burglary to public urination were widespread.

Marianne Brush found on YouTube a 2011 Russian TV broadcast entitled “Dying Industrial Town Gives Look at the Ghost of America’s Future.”  Anastasia Churkina interviewed Steve McShane at City Methodist Church and me in front of an abandoned building near IUN.  My only line was that the city’s two growth businesses were strip clubs and truck stops.  Leave it to those Russkies to slam the good old USA.

The Archives was bustling Friday with David Trafny researching Glen Park, three volunteers at work, and a visitor from Indiana Dunes national Lakeshore.  I left early and watched the season two opener of “The Sopranos.”  I’ve already noticed how much the Tony Soprano character’s gestures resemble brother-in-law Sonny and almost fell out of my chair at a scene where he is playing solitaire like Sonny often does.

Phil arrived for a long weekend, so we dined at Sage Restaurant and then played Uno with Angie, James, and Becca.  Because of rain delaying Phil and Dave’s morning golf date, we got in five-player games of Amun Re and Acquire with Tom and Brady Wade.  Dave finished a close second to me in Amun Re and to Phil in Acquire. In the evening we played four pinochle games and reminisced about Little League and softball highlights.

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