Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Night Still Comes

“There are so many tools that are made for my hands.
But the tide smashes all my best-laid plans to sand.”
    “Night Still Comes,” Neko Case

I spoke to Chris Young’s seminar students about doing oral history.  After finishing my prepared remarks, I discussed some memorable interviews I conducted, both good and bad.  I neglected to get Reverend L.K. Jackson to turn off his TV and missed an opportunity to ask Johnny Kyle about the 1945 Froebel School Strike, concentrating exclusively on his athletic and coaching career.  On the up side, interviewing Paulino Monterrubio gave me insights about viewing oppressed groups as active agents, not merely victims of discrimination.  I passed out my latest Shavings that mentioned recent interviews I’ve done with the likes of Roy Dominguez, Congressman Pete Visclosky, State Senator Earline Rogers, State Representative Vernon Smith, and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, all of whom had parents who played a role in their success.  Asked if I’d ever been interviewed, I talked about being on Tom Higgins’ radio show and learning to bring the conversation back to things I wanted to talk about.  My first radio interview was in Honolulu to discuss Governor Joseph Poindexter, subject of my M.A. thesis.  The half-hour show aired Sunday at 8 a.m., and almost all of the first ten minutes consisted of the host asking a long, long question that could only be answered “Yes” or “No.”  Then they cut away to Hawaiian music.  At the end of class I mentioned Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets.”

In a Thank You note Chris wrote: After you left, I enjoyed listening to the students discuss how they might include an oral history component into their final research assignment. It looks like you inspired the students to consider their projects from a different angle!”
Anne Balay wearing earrings from her mom, to whom "Steel Closets" is dedicated.

I had lunch with Anne Balay, who discussed an upcoming two-day strike by University of Illinois, Chicago campus, faculty.  She was feeling lousy because today the English Department was interviewing candidates to replace her.  My guess is that an open lesbian wouldn’t stand a chance and, at any rate, should be warnbed not to take the job if offered.  Evidently her chair is back in Illinois, not participating in the process, because Tuesday is not one of his two teaching days. In a “Chronicle of Higher Education” article entitled “Why We’re on Strike” UIC English professors Lennard Davis and Walter Benn Michael pointed out that many faculty earn less than Chicago public school teachers and that non-tenure track lecturers (who teach most freshmen courses) earn a mere $30,000 with no job security.

I told Philosophy lecturer Ed Kenar about the Gruenenfelder estate sale and suggested that he may wish to drop by before Dawn leaves and pick out some philosophy books to remember Jack by.  Thousands of books are still left.  Friday I took one of Jack’s old wool sweaters marked Large, but it’s too small, having probably shrunk over the years.

Tuesday the temperature reached the 40s, but I almost fell on my ass carrying magazines cross campus.  Whew!  Close call!  By afternoon it was so warm and sunny I gave the Corolla a sponge bath.

I had looked forward to watching IU play Iowa only to discover that the contest was postponed.  An eight-foot piece of metal fell from the rafters at Assembly Hall six hours prior to game time.  Some blamed the weather, but the building is decaying.  Last month the university announced that Cindy Simon Skjodt was donating 40 million dollars renovation of the soon to be renamed Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Photo taken by Steve Spicer on his Wednesday morning walk in Miller.

Leafing through a July 2, 1965, issue of Life from Dave Serynek showing American soldiers on the cover, the main story, entitled “New Fury in Vietnam,” described and illustrated the aftermath of a Vietcong assault on the district capital of Dong Xoai, where a Special Forces base had been located.  Dong Xoai was pretty much destroyed by the time fighting stopped.  Life also carried an essay by anticommunist ideologue Eugene V. Rostow entitled, “The Hard Realities of Power demand that We Must Fight On.”  I noticed that on eBay that issue of Life was selling for around ten dollars, less than I would have thought.

A woman in Florida inquired about a publication that profiled her great grandfather Dr. Antonio Giorgi, who ministered to African Americans in Gary, Indiana, at a time when the city’s hospitals would not accept them.  In my research into Paul Samuelson, I learned that Dr. Giorgi delivered the future Nobel laureate into this world.  I sent Meredith a copy of “Gary’s First Hundred Years, which concluded: “Giorgi’s public life demonstrated both the opportunities and limitations awaiting immigrant professionals who came to Gary during its formative years.  His old-world loyalties kept him close to the common people, and he served them well.”

Giorgi was particularly adept, I wrote, at appendectomies, Caesarian deliveries, and stitching up victims of barroom brawls and industrial accidents.  Once a 325-pound saloonkeeper known for his sadistic ways checked into St. Antonio’s with knife wounds.  Somebody murdered him during the night.  The horrified doctor feared he’d be held accountable, but police told him someone should have killed the guy a long time ago and that there would be no investigation.

My cousin Sue’s daughter Lisa Yoshitake, whom I’ve never met, wanted my thoughts and advice about her daughter Alyssa applying to IU’s Summer String Academy.  Alyssa has been playing the viola since age four and her instructor, a professor at San Diego State, suggested it. I replied: “Nice hearing from you.  Indeed the music program at Indiana University is one of the best in the country.  Bloomington is a very beautiful place, both the campus and the area. The summer program seems a great way for Alyssa to get a feel for a large university campus as well as to see what IU has to offer and even get a leg up in case she wants to apply there.  I know faculty at IU in the History Department but not the music program.  It would be great to meet you and Alyssa this summer; incidentally I have a granddaughter named Alissa (with an i).”

Indiana Magazine of History accepted for publication John Hmurovic’s article on A. F. Knotts and the Mineral Springs Race Track.  I encouraged him to submit it after Traces unaccountably expressed no interest.  John wrote: “Other than my wife, you are the first to know.”  It turns out that Steve McShane was an anonymous reader and offered constructive criticisms that John, an Archives volunteer, followed.  It’s really a tremendous article about a little known aspect of Region history.  Maybe after its publication, John and I can submit an article to Traces entitled “The Fabulous Knotts Brothers.”  A.F. was once mayor of Hammond and Tom Gary’s first mayor.

Filmmaker Nick Mantis wants to interview me about “master storyteller” Jean Shepherd.  I’ll tell about hearing Shep’s New York radio show as a teenager at Vince Curll’s and how Ray Smock gave me “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash” after I accepted a job in “The Region.”  I’ve heard Shepherd, give hilarious talks at Purdue Cal, a weekend folklore conference in Bloomington that Richard Dorson organized, and a luncheon on the day in 1995 when he received an honorary degree from our campus.  I used excerpts from “In God We Trust” in a half-dozen Shavings issues and brought the house down at a Miller Aquatorium function reading “Hairy Gertz and the 47 Crappies,” about a fishing trip with the old man at Cedar Lake.

Diana Chen-lin spoke at a CISTL brown bag event director Chris Young organized about teaching on-line, which she has been doing for 13 years.  It makes sense for courses in her field, such as Japanese History, which might not attract many IUN students, to be available to students at other campuses. The consensus was that on-line courses work best when the enrollment is small, but IU East offered courses system-wide with as many as 100 students in them.  If the trend continues, college campuses like ours might go the way of newspapers.  Wouldn’t  students prefer to work from home rather than come to Gary, especially in winter months?  What’s to prevent someone, say an IU basketball player who has trouble attending regular classes, from having someone else do his work.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but last summer the campus was pretty deserted, as many on site courses were cancelled and enrollment ceilings for on-line courses raised. 

Bill Buckley passed on a memoir entitled “Truth in Steeltown” written by an anonymous steelworker.  It’s quite good and goes like this:
Funny how this world around me always remains the same, solid, spare, matter, light.  My life or body could be falling apart, yet this earth remains.  Gravity constant – faithful bride to the universe.
            No matter how many times I look at our cottonwood trees, our sand dunes, or even those temporary flowers before our first frost, or to, above all, the wide, deep, and mysterious Lake Michigan, in its sheer beauty and roll of ancient surf – all this is eternal, and quiet, as if nature has some wisdom we look for but cannot achieve.
            This Friday night I had been walking on the shore of Lake Michigan, after telling my superior at the mill to go shove it!  My wife called me on my cellphone: “Are you ever coming home?”  I could hear my daughter crying in the background.
            All I wanted to do was listen to the waves, or to be a tree, planted, steady, quiet.  Instead, I felt like a knot on a limb, a dead branch or a manhole cover on a street in Chicago.
            My lover had been telling me to practice yoga: breathing, meditation and complex body movement.  She said I could be a tree, a bamboo shoot, after working at the mill.  She was a Buddhist.  My supervisor was a tyrant, my body a bag of tired bones.
            I stayed longer on the shore, buttoned up my work coat, and walked against the winds near U.S. Steel.  It was dusk, and I could hear the pouring of steel in the muffled roar of furnaces.  Cottonwoods on the dunes remained there, silent and indifferent.
            I wanted my wife and lover to be indifferent, to let me be a rock, a wave.  I walked back to my SUV, with its front end needing wheel bearings and shock absorbers, as my life did, and drove home vowing revenge on my mill supervisor, with his layoffs and fixation on cutting costs – financial plumbing, root causes ignored.  As I drove home to a wife who hated the smell of coal dust on my clothes, the sky turned dark, winds picked up, and clouds moved in for rain.  I tried my lover’s yoga techniques, imagining her beautiful body on her bed ready for a man like me, legs crossed, eyes closed, her glowing face in that truth I sought by Lake Michigan and its waves.  She and her family had moved north to find work in our steel mills.  She had sent me a note saying, “To live in Steeltown, you have to screw in sweet Dixie!!”
            That note I crumpled up and threw out my window on Route 12, three miles from U.S. Steel, listening to the roar of Lake Michigan waves.  I am a coal oven cleaner, and I could hardly figure out how I would clean up after her desire, heated in the oven of Dixie!  I drove home over manholes on Broadway, hearing their strong musical clank!  Click-clack!  Go Home!  Go to your wife, not your lover!  Forget the boss!
I did, listening to Lake Michigan in my blood, for good, or not.

The Engineers won 5 of 7 from Never a Doubt.  We didn’t bowl well, but they were even worse due to the difficult lane conditions.  I never saw so many splits on left ten-pins.  We would have won all three games except the other team rolled 13 strikes in the final two frames, all five in the ninth and then two guys struck out in the tenth and two others had strikes. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sending me the book with a profile of my Great Grandfather, Antonio Giorgi. I wish I had known him. My Mother (101) Cornelia Sirianni Scott tells fond stories about him.

    I have copied and sent this excerpt to my Mother, children and niece & nephew as an inspiration.

    Thank you again for your kindness.

    Meredith Scott Martin