“Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act,” Truman Capote
NWI Times ran an interesting profile on John Cain, executive director of Munster’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts, who has an annual Christmas reading, often something by Jean Shepherd or Truman Capote (whom Cain resembles and has portrayed in a one-man show). A Gary native whose parents were 1946 Horace Mann graduates and encouraged John’s interest in theater, Cain is a marvelous storyteller and is a Miller Beach Arts and Creative District board member. Growing up, Cain said, he played his mothers albums and sang along to Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, and Lena Horne. Cain told reporter Denise DeClue that his Uncle Rob “was a Noel Coward sort of figure, witty, urbane, threw his head back with rollicking laughter, and threw fabulous parties. He and his ‘friend,’ as we called him back then, traveled extensively.” Cain chose to attend a college in Ohio in order to be close to Uncle Rob and is candid about himself being gay. Asked why he liked Truman Capote, he replied: “Seriously? Do I have to spell it out for you? Let’s see . . . he was odd looking, he liked rich people, he was bitchy, he was a brilliant artist, he came from a semi-dysfunctional family (I know, who doesn’t), he drank too much . . . have I forgotten anything? Oh yes, he was gay! Do you see any similarities here?” What a great guy! He’s also a good friend of IU Northwest and always affable when I converse with him even though he probably doesn’t know who I am.
When Pam Broadaway and Kristina Kuzma learned that I was planning to attend John Ban’s talk on popular music during the WW II years, they invited me for breakfast, scrumptious cheesy hash browns, blueberry pancakes, scrambled eggs, and a slice of orange. John’s wife Doris spotted me and introduced me to a Korean War vet named Frank, her brother I think. John had attended my previous talks at Reiner Center, but I had never seen my old colleague in action except as chair of IUN’s Faculty Org. He was very entertaining - witty, relaxed, andknowledgeable. He interacted well with the 40 or so folks in the audience, several of whom had served in the war. Mostly he introduced YouTube clips, often taken from movies of that era. My favorite were the McGuire Sisters performing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and Jimmy Durante doing “Inky Dinky Doo.” Growing up, I was fascinated by Jimmy Durante’s ability to convey such a range of emotions with his expressive face and gestures. He asked Kristina, assisting with the visuals, to jitterbug with him, but she declined. At one point John slow-danced with Doris, and they seemed truly in love. What good people they are. They organize excursions both for Reiner Center seniors and members of their church.
I was familiar with most of the band leaders of that time, Glenn Miller, Guy Lombardo, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Harry James, and the like; but some singers who performed with them were new to me, including Vera Lynn, most famous for “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Ban discussed reasons for the decline of Big Bands, including wartime travel restrictions, the 1942-44 musicians strike, and losing performers to the military. John noted segregated practices the military, and the contributions of Black units such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the 761st Tank Battalion.
Retired English professor Bill Buckley, who has a library carrel, was complaining that his ten year-old computer keeps malfunctioning. I showed him the new Emeritus Faculty space near my cage, with what looks to be a new computer, and he’s going to try to move there. It even has a phone, unlike his carrel.
Preparing for my talk to Steve McShane’s Indiana History class on the dual topics of postwar anxiety and Vee-Jay Records, I found You Tube clips of bluesman Jimmy Reed performing in Houston in 1975, Betty Everett lip-synching the “Shoop Shoop Song” on “American Bandstand,” the Beatles at Shea Stadium joking that when first released (on Vee-Jay) “Please Please Me” didn’t sell many records, and John Lee Hooker singing “Boom Boom” backed by ZZ Top. Steve put out a display of my books and gave me a flattering intro.
Perhaps influenced by Nicole Anslover’s teaching methods and inspired by John Ban’s sterling performance earlier in the day, I made the class very interactive. Several “Age of Anxiety” Shavings readings drew big laughs, in particular the descriptions of a 300-pound Calumet City stripper, Hampton Hinton’s 15 year-old bride’s cooking deficiencies, and the temper eruptions of Louise Manna’s boss Mr. Hippensteel. One student thought he knew Marcella, who when 15 went to Chicago to celebrate V-E Day without telling her parents. Carlton Davis knew one of The Dells, who recorded the classic “Oh What a Night.” James Mlechick had fun as Bill Figueroa describing a maternal grandmother who, Bill recalled, “came to live with us when she was in her 80’s. My father thought she came to die. She stayed for 20 years. She smoked homegrown marijuana every morning and had a daily shot of wine. She made a lot of money crocheting initials and designs on handkerchiefs.”
On the cover of the December 2013 Journal of American History is a 1903 Harvard Lampoon cartoon of squirrels begging for food with the caption, “Hi mister! Scramble a nut?” It mocks young Irish street panhandlers known to solicit students, using the phrase, “Scramble a cent?” It goes with an article by Etienne Benson entitled about “The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States.” Though some saw gray squirrels as a nuisance and threat to songbirds, urban planners in the mid-nineteenth century sometimes provided food and nest boxes to help the transplanted newcomers survive and multiply, which they did, especially after the urban parks movement got underway. Once people were encouraged to feed squirrels, but with the emergence of an ecological vision, such a practice began to be discouraged.
Nicole Anslover’s students discussed readings having to do with Nixon’s foreign policies toward China and the Soviet Union. I pointed out that at a time when the world was becoming multi-polar, Nixon paid too little attention to lesser powers other than to recklessly intervene to overthrow leaders such as Salvador Allende who seem to threaten American business interests abroad. Nicole added that the CIA-supported coup against Allende resulted in the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Returning to her office after attending a Grand Valley State Study Abroad function, Alissa discovered that somebody had broken in and stole some money. She called the authorities and had to stay late to file a police report. They apparently caught the culprit the next day. I’m relieved the person wasn’t inside the offices when she arrived.
Bowling against the Legends I had a 507 series and 204 in the third game, my first 200 game in some time. I started with four strikes in a row and then had a double in the eighth and ninth. Good-natured opponents Ruben and Walter were giving me high fives. I drove home through a heavy rain, but at least it wasn’t freezing. Plugging “The Hunger Games” sequel “Catching Fire” on Letterman was 23 year-old Jennifer Lawrence, a woman of many different looks.