Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Polar Vortex

“I’ll see your arctic blast and raise you a polar vortex,” Tim Rowland

Due to what meteorologists have termed a polar vortex, Northwest Indiana is experiencing its coldest start to a new year in decades snow, subzero temperatures (down to minus 17), high winds, blizzard conditions, and lake effect whiteouts.  Salt doesn’t work on the streets, reminding me of the days when you’d utilize tire chains or special snow tires only employed in winter.  While I missed the blizzard of 1967, this arctic blast reminds me of 1979, when record snowfall paralyzed Chicago and cost Mayor Michael Bilandic his job to primary opponent Jane Byrne.

On the cover of Time’s “2014: The Year Ahead” issue is SNL’s Seth Meyers, primed to host NBC’s “Late Night,” replacing Jimmy Fallon, who moves to Jay Leno’s old slot.  The “Milestone” page notes the death of 94 year-old Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47, and the posthumous pardon by Queen Elizabeth of Alan Turing (1912-1954), computer pioneer and breaker of the Nazi’s Enigma Code.  Convicted of “gross indecency” for engaging in a homosexual act, Turin was castrated and subsequently committed suicide.

January 1 was a “pajama day,” as grandson James likes to say.  I enjoyed Michigan State’s Rose Bowl victory over Stanford and watched VCS tapes of “Mad Men,” season two, which Marcia Gaughan loaned me.  Episodes take place in 1962, and characters react to Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, riotous protests over James Meredith’s enrollment at Old Miss, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  After a gay guy gives Betty gets an adult hairdo before taking her to a Bob Dylan concert, she gets her own office and starts calling Don “Mr. Draper.”
above, from Steve Pickert; below, Josh, Jerry and Alissa at Lanes
At IU Northwest January 3, first time in ten days, I found 150 emails awaiting my attention, including jokes from Steve Pickert and Christmas photos from Miranda.  I ate a ham sandwich and carrots with Beth LaDuke by the Hawthorn Hall vending machines.  She had swordfish at Tommy B’s in Valpo – something we frequently ate in the 1970s until warnings about mercury levels.  Camilo Vergara called from New York, hoping to meet next week for breakfast after he and David Scalliol go on a midnight excursion photographing abandoned Gary buildings.  Running out of windshield wiper fluid, necessary due to the messy roads, I noticed the Corolla was due for an oil change, so killed off two birds with one stone, thanks to Tom Klaubo at Lake Shore Toyota.

Horrid weather cancelled our weekend plans.  Felt woozy all day Saturday, perhaps from too many Stellas the night before.  A guy meticulously plowed and shoveled our courtyard only to have his work obliterated a few hours later by drifting snow.  I watched NFL playoffs (Eagles lost a heartbreaker; Colts, down 28, made a miracle comeback) and movies On Demand.  “The Seige” held my interest due to Denzel Washington, Bruce Willis, and Annette Bening.  “Five Year Engagement” was mediocre but had several hilarious moments amidst over the top bids for laughs.  Jason Segel wears an apron making him appear naked, penis and all; in a restaurant kitchen a wiseguy simulates masturbating with a carrot and whipped cream.  Like “Engagement,” “Admission” with Tina Fey and Paul Rudd (HBO’s latest addition) takes place on a university campus.  Tina’s professorial lover comes off as a pompous jerk, par for movies.  Lily Tomlin as Tina’s mother is a hoot and gets her groove back with a studly Russian English professor. 

Far superior to “Admission” was the documentary “Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley.”  Born in 1894 and raised by a burlesque comedy duo, Mabley became a Chitlin’ Circuit star and headliner at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, pulling down $10,000 a week.  While on stage she claimed to lust after young men, her sexual preference was comely female dancers.  Off stage she dressed in suits, had close-cropped hair, and answered to “Mr. Moms.”  When I saw her on Ed Sullivan and the Smothers Brothers, toothless and resembling nobody as much as Red Foxx, I thought she might be a man in drag.  A staunch supporter of civil rights, she stayed at the top of her game right up to her death at age 79.  On “Playboy After Dark” she did a haunting rendition of “Abraham, Martin and John.”  When she sang the verse about “little Bobby,” as she called Robert Kennedy, tears were streaming down my cheeks.  She was the oldest performer ever to reach the Billboard charts, replacing Walter Brennan, born the same year, who had a 1962 hit with “Old Rivers.”

Managing editor Terry O’Rourke once joked, according to Carrol Vertrees’ P-T column about Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite,” that if ballet dancers were taller, they wouldn’t have to stand on their toes.  Jeff Manes interviewed Highland student Jeffrey Kroll, who is researching the Kankakee Marsh for a History Day project.

Previous to the season four premiere of “Downton Abbey,” I had trouble understanding the characters, especially the servants, but this time used the subtitles option and got hooked.  Maybe Marcia Gaughan, also a big fan, taped seasons 1-3.

With the temp still frigid, I located my seldom-used long underwear and heavy pajamas.  I called Palm Springs, CA, where the temp is 75 degrees.  Anne Balay, Roy Dominguez, and I had a conference call rather than meet, as planned, at Cracker Barrel in Merrillville.  I-65 is still closed, as is 80/94.  Anne reported that transgender prisoner CeCe McDonald will soon be released, adding, “Activism does work.”  I worked on an Editor’s Note for volume 43 and planned my February talk on Vietnam Vets at Reiner Center.  Trying to find something to lighten up a tragic subject, I wrote down good memories soldiers had of Vietnam, including white sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets, friendly people, good comrades, R and R experiences, and Black Market bargains, including packs of marijuana cigarettes laced with opium.   Perhaps prompted by a “Mad Man” character reading “The Sound and the Fury,” I perused a Faulkner short story, then watched “Frankie and Johnny” (1991) starring two favorites, Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer.  They were so compelling I cried when they were hurting.  Parts looked familiar, but don’t think I’ve ever seen it straight through.  If I did, I’ve forgotten.  In a great bowling alley scene Pacino pisses Frankie off by interfering with her night out with friends.
By noon Tuesday the temp reached zero, first time in days.  I ventured as far as Speedway and Strack and Van Til, low on some items but at least with bananas, unlike one Jerry Davich visited.  The streets were still in bad shape, even Route 49, but everyone was proceeding cautiously.  IUN was virtually the only school open, even though classes don’t start until next week and most folks these days register online.  It had something to do with otherwise having to give staff the day off.

I watched a documentary focusing on the Russian punk protestors Pussy Riot, sentenced to two years in prison for performing “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away” for a few minutes at the Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior.   One of their demands was freedom for LGBTs.  At a Moscow concert, Madonna, wearing a balaclava, took off her blouse to reveal the words “Free Pussy Riot” on her back.  Yoko Ono, the Mother of Happenings, is solidly behind them. 
above, Madonna in Moscow; below, Brayden Schenn
The Flyers’ Brayden Schenn got a nasty cut to the stomach after he checked an opponent off his feet.  The announcers estimated it would need 17 stitches, but Schenn returned and scored the winning goal. Ice hockey skates are razor sharp, and a puck to the face can be career ending.  Nonetheless, players still fall to the ice to block shots.  Called Fred Chary expecting to rehash, but he doesn’t start following the Flyers till March.  We talked about Gruenenfelder, and he said he and Diane would be on a cruise at the time of the next Temple Israel “Trivia Night.”

Paul Kern wrote this about Jack Gruenenfelder that I hope to read at a memorial service: “I learned most of what I know about Jack at our weekly lunches.  He was a great lunch companion, whose cultivated conversations lifted my cultural level considerably.  Jack had his likes and dislikes.  He liked philosophy, classical music, and Notre Dame football.  He disliked the avant-garde, academic fads, and the superficial.  He wrote letters to the Lyric Opera complaining about modernist stagings of old favorites.  The letters were hand-written because Jack never became comfortable with computers.  He enjoyed academic administration, but his dislike of cant, academic fads, and administrative jargon thwarted that career path.  Jack was deeply religious.  Characteristically, he preferred the calm reasoning of Thomas Aquinas to the personal angst of Augustine.  Jack had six children, four of whom were mentally retarded, the term he preferred to the various euphemisms currently in favor.   He devoted much time and effort, not only to the care of his own retarded children, but to the cause of mental retardation in Lake County and the state of Indiana.  He delighted in the accomplishments of Tom and Dawn Marie.  He was too politically conservative to talk politics with Tom, but they found common ground in their love of Notre Dame football.   Dawn Marie’s wonderful letters from remote and strange places describing her interesting life fascinated him.  He recognized in her a common religious spirit, even though that spirit did not manifest itself in exactly the way he would have preferred.  He was devoted to his wife Mildred, who shared his religious faith and his love of literature, classical music, and, yes, Notre Dame football.  A librarian, she loved books.  When she could no longer read toward the end of her life, Jack read to her every evening.  Jack was old-school, believing in academic integrity, the liberal arts, the importance of ancient Greek philosophy, civilized discourse, and the truth of the Catholic faith.  Love and constancy were his greatest virtues.  He agreed with Aristotle that virtue is a habit and Jack cultivated the habit of virtue all of his long life.”
above, photo from Karren Lee; below, from Anne Balay
On Facebook I found a photo from Karren Lee of the Lake Michigan shoreline and a flag that some clever fellow had planted on a dune.  Anne Balay posted one of dunes she hiked with Leah.  Phil sent me a reproduction of a postcard showing the Ogden Dune Ski Slide during the 1920s.  I put Miranda’s Christmas photos on a travel drive for Toni and caught up on my journal.

The Engineers took five of seven points from Valpo Muffler despite a 700 series from John Redmond.  In game three he and son Matt both had perfect games through seven frames; Matt ‘s lasted till the tenth.  Still they only won game three by 18 pins, as we bowled over 1200 (nearly a hundred pins over average) in all three games.  Liney (pronounced Lenny) Neal bowled for the first time since his hip replacement and rolled a 550.  I quipped that it would take a week or two for bad habits to click in.  Got a New Year’s hug from Shannon McCann, topping off the night.

Frank Thomas (“The Big Hurt”) and Greg Maddux got voted into the baseball Hall of Fame their first year of eligibility.  A columnist remarked that it might be the only thing for Chicago fans to cheer about in 2014.  The Cubs were too cheap to keep Maddux, the smartest pitcher I’ve ever seen, who went on to have his best years with Atlanta.  He did return to Chicago in 2004 and won 38 more games with the Cubs, many of them classics.  In 2005 I saw him hit a HR and steal a base.

Former Gary Council member Marilyn Krusas received a year and a day in prison for avoiding payment of income taxes for about 20 years.  She claimed that once she failed to file during a time when she was involved in lawsuits and suffering from depression, she felt too ashamed and embarrassed to deal with the problem.  She has cancer and never used her office to fleece the city, and I agree with her attorney, Scott King, that she shouldn’t have to go to jail.

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