Monday, February 24, 2014

I'll Take You There

“I read an old quotation in a book just yesterday
Said, ‘You gonna reap what you sow,
The debts you make you have to pay.’”
    “Can You Get To That,” Mavis Staples

74 year-old gospel singer Mavis Staples started singing with her family group, the Staple Singers, at age ten and was featured on the 1956 Vee-Jay Records classic “Uncloudy Day.”  With Stax Records during the 1970s the group had two number one singles, “I’ll Take You There” and “Let’s Do It Again.”  Mavis’ most recent album, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, won numerous awards, and the single “Can You Get To That” made Robert Blaszkiewicz’s “Best of 2013” list. 

Ron Cohen told me about a new biography of Mavis and her family by Greg Kot entitled “I’ll Take You There.”  Mavis grew up friends with Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, and Lou Rawls; neighbor Mahalia Jackson was a frequent dinner guest.  Other performers who found mother Oceola’s cooking irresistible were Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight. New York Times reviewer Dwight Gardner quotes author Kot: “Nancy Wilson would call ahead before she came to town and order her favorites: creamed corn, greens and hot-water corn bread.  When Redd Foxx couldn’t make it over to the house for dinner, he’d call to ask Mom to send a plate to him backstage at the Regal Theater.”  Mavis was able to have the freedom Oceola never enjoyed but clearly stood on her shoulders.

Alissa stopped by the condo on her way to and from Chicago, where she helped a friend check out bridal dresses.  Toni is proofreading Shavings, volume 42, hopefully the final step before it goes to the printer.  I checked out the HBO series “True Detective,” starring two of my favorite actors, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, and, as I suspected, got hooked.  I was initially disappointed that each episode doesn’t stand on its own but have assurances that the case will be solved by season’s end.

Re-reading “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, I found it sadder that I remembered but clever and poetically written.  One brief chapter (actually they’re all short) is about a boy named Juan Ortiz, whom everybody called Meme (the nickname can mean several things, including pea brain).  Meme’s big sheepdog, Cisneros wrote, resembled “a man dressed in a dog suit, and runs the same way its owner does, clumsy and wild and with the limbs flopping all over the place like untied shoes.”  A huge tree in Meme’s backyard was the site, Cisneros wrote, “for the First Annual Tarzan Jumping Contest.  Meme won.  And broke both arms.”
 Magnum Jamal pointing to meat package specials at Four Brothers; photo by Jeff Manes

Jeff Manes did a tremendous job profiling Four Brothers owner Magnum Jamal.  Upset that his tape recorder malfunctioned the first 20 minutes of their interview, Jeff used some info I provided about Camilo Vergara photographing the exterior of the market for many years and our displaying the Martin Luther King prints of mural there last summer.  Jamal was a tailor in Palestine but couldn’t get hired by big chains such as Sears or J.C. Penney.  He said most of his original customers moved to Indy, and most of his customers now recently moved to the neighborhood from Chicago.  Manes wrote: “Magnum Jamal appears to have a gruff exterior.  It’s probably necessary.  Pushovers won’t last long on Gary’s east side.  We’re not talking Martha’s Vineyard here.  With that said, while I was interviewing him, a lady came in needing to purchase two items.  It turned out she didn’t have the money for both.  Jamal simply told her: ‘Pay me the rest when you come back next time.’” 

On ABC’s Sunday morning news program Thomas Friedman and Bill Crystal discussed the crisis in the Ukraine and other hot spots.  Cold Warrior Crystal wanted America involved in some way or another in all of them, including Syria and Venezuela.  Friedman countered that crises tend to turn out better when the U.S. exercises restraint.

The Sochi Olympics ended without major incident save for the mistreatment of Pussy Riot members by Cossack militiamen hired as security guards, a story that didn’t get much attention in the press or on TV.  One horsewhipped women as they attempted to stage a protest performance.  As Bloomington officials appear to be turning a deaf ear to Anne Balay being screwed in her tenure and promotion case, students at IUN are eager to emulate the Russian feminists, but so far Anne has discouraged them.

Phil called at 7 a.m. to wish me Happy Birthday number 72, and several dozen Facebook messages to that effect greeted me at work.  Suzanna Murphy wrote: “Make it a memorable day of significance and at the very least, have fun . . . . happiness always.”  Mark Zuckerman announced that Facebook would pay 19 billion dollars to purchase the mobile messaging service WhatsApp.  The company has just 55 employees.  Hope they’re all stockholders.

Toni and I dined at Applebee’s; and while I wasn’t looking she told a manager that it was my birthday.  After we finished our steaks, our waitress brought me a sundae with a cherry on top, and a half-dozen servers sang Happy Birthday to me.  Back home I got serenaded by phone by grandkids in Michigan and Portage.

I fell asleep Sunday during the season finale of “Downton Abbey” (it lasted 93 minutes) but was awake long enough to enjoy appearances by Shirley MacLaine and Paul Giamatti.  Thanks to OnDemand I caught it the next day.  On Discovery Channel episode, airing at the same time as “Downton Abbey,” was “Unusual Suspects.”  It dealt with the 1979 Kenneth Conrick case that went unsolved for 30 years until Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez reopened the cold case and detectives amassed enough evidence to put away killer David Bowen.  Roy discusses the case in detail in his autobiography “Valor.”

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