Friday, April 25, 2014

Final Curve

“When you turn the corner
And you run into yourself
Then you know that you have turned
All the corners that are left”
    “Final Curve,” Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes
 Langston Hughes
In “Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto” Camilo Vergara illustrates how specific buildings change over time, a practice he has employed when photographing in Gary.  The Korean Toy Store that in 1996 was located at 319 West 125th Street had previously been the Baby Grand Bar and by 2007 had become Radio Shack.  Similarly, the Smoke Shop at 65 East 125th had previously existed as a bar and a fish-and-chips joint and would later morph into a mattress store and then a storefront church.  As parts of Harlem gentrify, some residents fear that it is losing its distinct feel.  In New York Review of Books Darryl Pinkney wrote: “Part of what can seem like a sanitizing process is that Harlem’s black history is now a heritage tour.  Hardly anyone pays attention to the old-style black nationalists on Harlem’s streets haranguing passersby on weekends, while European tourists – Vergara doesn’t neglect to include shots of them – line up around the block to gain entrance not to the Apollo but to gospel services at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.”
photos by Camilo Vergara
While Vergara is most interested in physical structures, his new book, according to Pinkney, contains photographs of “old black women in their church hats, pastors, a street evangelist, the new African immigrants, the evicted, the addicts, newly released prisoners, the homeless, cooks, video salesmen, liquor store customers, corner basketball players, a Chinese woman selling pet turtles, police arresting a black women in front of Samuelson’s Restaurant, the Red Rooster, and of course subway riders.”

The title of Vergara’s book is a take-off on Gilbert Osofsky’s classic “Harlem: The Making of a Ghetto” (1966), a publication that influenced David Goldfield and me when we co-edited “The Enduring Ghetto” (1973).  A half-century we concluded that for European immigrants ghettoes were way stations whereas for most African Americans they resembled permanent colonies. We concluded: “To remove the scar of the ghetto and transform America into an integrated society, a new urban ethos and total commitment to pluralistic cultural values are required.  The solution is not to make it possible for everyone to flee the inner city – blacks, Latins, immigrants, Appalachian whites, and the like – but to work to create a palatable urban setting as well as an open society everywhere.  The advice given by urban reformer Jacob A, Riis over a half-century ago is even more relevant today: ‘I know of but one bridge that will carry us over safe, Riis stated, “a bridge founded upon justice and built of human hearts.’”
 cast of "The Signal: A Rhapsody"

The Post-Trib’s Bob Kostanczuk sent me articles about Vee-Jay Records and Henry Farag’s “The Signal: A Rhapsody,” which he termed “a salute to Gary’s music,” in advance of Sunday’s Gardner Center performance, adding: “Entertainment royalty is to be represented at the show in the person of Willie Rogers, an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame through his membership in the Soul Stirrers.”

At the IUN Redhawks athletics banquet Mary Lee received a Staff Member of the Year award.  Mary enjoyed chatting with former athletic director Linda Anderson, a 2014 Hall of Fame inductee.  Three basketball players who won academic awards are carrying perfect 4.0 grade point averages – Justin Dexter, Rebecca Theriault, and Bernadette Grabowski.
Copies of my new Steel Shavings arrived with Anne Balay’s book on the cover and a rear view of her on the back cover under the caption: “Thanks for eight exciting years!”  In two weeks she will be unemployed.  I’ve given out a dozen free copies so far, starting with Ryan Shelton, who helped me through problems laying it out.  He asked me to sign it, as did Mary Lee and Will Radell.  There are photos of Mary dancing the salsa with me and in the Archives with French filmmakers Frederic and Blandine.  I also used a shot of Civil War re-enactor Will Radell in uniform at Gettysburg last summer.  I also mailed copies to IU Board of Trustees member Philip N. Eskew, Jr., Vice President John Applegate, and IU South Bend Women and Gender Studies chair April Lidinsky.

Balay posted an article by Rebecca Schuman that called student evaluations biased and absurd – in short, useless.  Those faring best are easy graders; those faring worst challenge students to view things in unaccustomed new ways.  Schuman writes: “Only in the rarest and most politicized cases do even scathing evaluations harm tenured big shots – who, unsurprisingly, often care about undergraduate teaching the least.”  On a site called Rate My Professors one such IUN big shot was criticized for being sarcastic, showing favoritism, and demeaning students by making bad jokes at their expense.  Unfair to judge him on this basis? – surely – as others found him to be a fun guy who was very knowledgeable and helpful.

It’s been 50 years since I first saw my favorite movie, “Dr. Strangelove,” while on a date with Toni.  It was both hilarious and scary as hell.  According to David Bromwich, Peter Sellers was scheduled to play B-52 pilot Major “King” Kong, in addition to President Merkin Muffley, British Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, and mad German scientist Dr. Strangelove but broke a leg falling 15 feet from the fuselage.  Slim Pickens, a former rodeo cowboy, was perfect in the role.  Bromwich called director Stanley Kubrick’s war room set “an immaculate profane sanctum, with its polished Formica floor, its enormous circular table, and the suspended halo of florescent light above.” It symbolized what Bromwich termed “the bureaucratization of terror.”

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