Monday, March 3, 2014


“It’s the starkness of the dawn
And your friends are all gone
And your friends won’t come
So show me where you fit.”
    James Blake, “Retrograde”

An advance copy of Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets” arrived from North Carolina Press, which The Times has asked me to review.  Like all great oral historians, Anne was a good listener and started her research with no set preconceptions or theories.  After winning their trust, she let 40 narrators tell their stories and made these the central feature of the book.  In the Acknowledgements she thanked a dozen people, including me, Steve McShane, and, most of all, daughters Emma and Leah, stating: “I thought that I would teach them about the things that matter: books, school, love, rainy days.  And that happened.  Then they turned around and taught me about courage.  Thanks for raising me.” She mentioned being denied tenure, which, she wrote, “made the steelworkers’ hostile work environment uncomfortably personal.”  Thanking the 40 gay, lesbian, and transgender steelworkers whose experiences she relates, Anne added: “I have some sense of the guts it took for them to sign the consent form and open up their hearts and histories to me so I could share them with others.  For that, and for their lives packed with hardship and beauty, I am eternally grateful.”

Choice asked me to review “Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America’s Image Abroad” by Martha Bayles.  It looks like a truly important book, but why, I wonder, did Yale University Press include no photographs.  Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets” has some great photos, several provided by IUN’s Calumet Regional Archives.

Concerned about IUN disassociating itself from Steel Shavings, Fred McColly wanted to know how he could register his protest (I told him to hold off until I knew the full story).  Shavings Co-founder Ron Cohen wrote a mutual friend that the decision made no sense and that the magazine gives the university great publicity and prestige.
 Professor Bob Lovely
Thinking about breakfast yesterday with Anne, Riva, and Roy Dominguez at Cracker Barrel, I suddenly felt sad Sociology professor Bob Lovely wasn’t still with us.  The best teacher IUN ever had (Jerry Pierce was a close second), he was an inspiration to Roy when he attended the university during the 1970s.  In his autobiography “Valor” Dominguez wrote: “Professor Robert Lovely was a big influence.  He was an extremely caring, patient, and dynamic professor, and I wanted to take more advanced Sociology courses with him.  He’d explain a concept and say, ‘OK, did you get it?’  If not, he explained it another way or would set up special Saturday morning sessions for those who needed additional help.  Sometimes I’d attend them even if I understood the subject matter because he cared enough to hold them for his students.  Dr. Lovely taught Statistics, two semesters of which was required for majors.  Since I had never had calculus, I had to get special permission from him.  I hadn’t had algebra, let alone calculus or trigonometry.  It was a tribute to Dr. Lovely that I got through it.  I made a ‘B’ the first semester and an ‘A’ the second.” 

During the 1970s Lovely was in the closet about his sexual orientation.  I’d see him at social functions with a plain-looking women and think: “He should be able to do better than that.”  How naïve and sexist I was back then.  As I know now from auditing Anne’s Gender Studies class, I suffered from a number of unconscious biases. For example, I regarded homosexuality as a form of arrested adolescence – a phase many go through at puberty but some don’t outgrow.  Because having oral or anal sex with men didn’t turn me on, I tended to look down on those who enjoyed these practices.  A friend told me about a guy in his neighborhood who gave blowjobs to young teenagers who enjoyed the experience; it doesn’t take much to “get a rise” out of pubescent boys.  Allen Ginsberg bragged about deflowering hundreds of kids who often came back for more.

I interviewed Bob Lovely while doing an oral history of IUN and he mentioned agreeing to teach an independent study course to a struggling student who failed Statistics, which she needed in order to graduate.   She just couldn’t get the material.  Bob told her she wasn’t going to pass, and she claimed to the Dean that Bob had asked for sexual favors in return for a passing grade.  Bob was notified of the charge and recalled: “It seemed ridiculous given the fact that the woman was very overweight.  From that day on I always left my door partially open.”  After his chair didn’t think he deserved merit pay increases because he didn’t crank out enough journal articles, Bob was shunted out of Sociology and became director of Continuing Studies.  He would have loved Anne and been a fantastic mentor for her.

Terry Lukas was a mutual friend.  Sometimes when Doc was helping me lay out a Steel Shavings issue, Bob Lovely would drop by his office; he was always considerate not to interrupt beyond saying hello.  Doc was as close to being “out” as anyone on campus 25 years ago.  Once after he did me a huge favor, I gave him a Dandy Warhols CD because supposedly the band had a gay following, but he didn’t like their music.  He often wore pink shirts, and one time I stupidly remarked that he wasn’t wearing his trademark pink that day and got a dirty look. After being picked up in a police round-up at a secluded park, his name appeared in the paper (along with a Baptist preacher and a dozen others) and he worried about the consequences.  He was grateful when I told him I’d do anything necessary to help him, but no charges were filed and Chancellor Richards simply warned him not to frequent that place again.  We both attended a male body-building contest in the IUN gym a few weeks later and waved to each other.  I loved how he educated me and miss him.

Post-Trib Columnist Jerry Davich has begun research on a book about “Lost Gary” and is looking for stories about the old days.  I hope this isn’t yet another attempt to slam Gary as it is today.  Last week veteran P-T editor David Rutter titled a column “A city and its schools dying slowly, together.”  While he cited loss of jobs and tax revenue as key factors in Gary’s exsanguination (meaning, being drained of its life blood), he also claimed wrongly that “Mayor Richard Hatcher’s vitriolic administration started the middle class white flight.”  That phenomenon was well underway by 1968, when Hatcher took office.  What was truly vitriolic or venomous were Post-Tribune articles by the likes of Gary Galloway, who took every opportunity to poison anything the Mayor tried to do and depict him as a demagogue or “black racist.”  Nothing was further from the truth. I emailed Rutter my objection and he replied: I accept your criticism. My only advantage is being able to see Gary without the filter of living there. Other perceptions of Gary have as much value as do mine. My main point is that it's possible that a place can collapse, and the event remain unseen by those who live there because they are part of it.”  I assured Rutter that residents are well aware of their city’s plight and acting accordingly.

Carrol Vertrees’ Sunday column included sage sayings from a book a keyboardist gave him at church.  I particularly liked Oscar Wilde’s advice, “Be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”  Vertrees liked this Kurt Vonnegut quote: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”  (I’d seen that one before as well a Vonnegut’s comment about the country being run by a Dick, a Colin, and a Bush; soon it will be my sons’ classmates).  I hope Jerry Davich’s “Lost Gary” includes reminiscences by 90 year-old Vertrees.  For my Postwar Shavings I interviewed him about moving to Gary from downstate as a young reporter in 1948.  He recalled:
         Shortly after I came to Gary, I was at Gleason Park in June watching a high school baseball game when the wind changed.  It turned from warm to almost freezing.  That was my introduction to the Region’s fickle climate.  At a football game at the old stadium by the mill I got to wondering, ‘How can they play here?’  You could hardly see, there was so much dust and smoke.  But there was a real flavor to it.
           I was impressed by all the nationality clubs and churches.  I had never seen such ethnic enclaves before.  That was what made Gary.  I never realized how many nationalities there were until I came here.  I had a terrible time with some of the names.
            The Post-Tribune was located at 451 Broadway, near where the Sheraton was later built.  Across the street were a couple of bars, including the Ingot, where mill workers cashed their checks.  It was a colorful, friendly place, and guys from the paper would sometimes pick up information there.  Nearby were City Hall and the County Building.  Right down the street were marvelous stores.  Lytton’s was on Fifth and Broadway, across from the bank.  Despite the smoke from the mill, it was a heck of a nice setting, a picturesque place.  You could walk up and down and find anything.
            It’s hard to believe haw cramped the newsroom was.  The noise and the cigarette smoke and the choice words created a real loose atmosphere.  There was a lot of yelling and banter and camaraderie.  It was fun but hard work.  You knew what everybody was doing.
            In the newsroom the Teletype machines were our connection with the outside world.  We had them from the UPI and AP, and they’d run all the time.  Stories would come through a line at a time.  Sometimes you’d stand there waiting for what the next line would be.  Paper piled up in a big box, and you could rip it off.  Bells would ring if something important was going on.  The copy desk editor would sort out what he’d want to use.
            The printing process was almost medieval.  I never quite understood how the linotypes worked, but it was fascinating.  A molding process was involved, and then they made a steel plate.  The machines would clank and people would get dirty.  It was a marvel of production.
            The paper couldn’t just go out to the mills and cover stories.  U.S. Steel had public relations people you had to go through.  Once there was a fatal accident, and we had a terrible time covering it.  Mill officials were very protective of their turf.  Reporters couldn’t just go walking around.  It was too dangerous, for one thing.   The mill to some was almost like a holy institution because of the jobs.  We didn’t cover it adversarily as we could have because it was truly the lifeblood of the community.
 Trinidad Snider

Porter County got hit with another 10 inches of snow Sunday.  That didn’t prevent Dick Hagelberg, just a week after prostate surgery, from taking us to Memorial Opera House for the Cole Porter musical “Anything Goes,” set aboard a luxury liner during the 1930s.  I knew several songs, including “Friendship” and “It’s de-Lovely,” and the title tune.  The cast, headed by Trinidad Snider, was first rate.  The Playbill mentioned that Trinidad, whose features resembled Rosie Perez, had four children.  I’d have never guessed; she was very young-looking and in terrific shape.  Veteran Kevin Sherman played gangster Moonface Martin, humorously referred to as Public Enemy No. 13, with verve and panache.

Season two of “The Americans,” my favorite show, debuted.  Too bad it isn’t on HBO, where the sex scenes could be more R-rated.  In one provocative scene daughter Paige walks in on her parents who are naked and in a sixty-nine position.  “True Detective” still holds me interest, but the women characters are pretty much one-dimensional and not very appealing beyond being sex symbols. 

The Academy Awards, as usual, went on too long.  There were no surprises, but I was pleased that “12 years a Slave” won best picture and Lupita Nyong’o won Best Supporting Actress for portraying slave Patsey. I was hoping the film’s director, Steve McQueen, would have taken home an Oscar as well as Judi Dench for her role in “Philomena.”  The real Philomena Lee attended the ceremony.  What validation after 60 years - the dark ages really for young Catholics, both male and female.

On IUN’s current website is a photo of Academic Success advisors Beth LaDuke and Cynthia Robles.  By clicking on it one discovers a second photo of them with boss Cathy Hall, who will be a wonderful mentor.  Robles is a Purdue Cal grad while Beth was an IUN English major, writing lab consultant, and supplemental instructor under Hall.  After graduation, she worked in Admissions.

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