Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"I Thank You"

“Every day is something new
You pull out your bag and you’re fine to do
You got me trying new things too
Just so I can keep up with you.”
  “I Thank You,” Sam and Dave

1968 may have been a revolutionary year featuring such topical songs as “Hey Jude,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Born To Be Wild,” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” but as WXRT’s Lin Brehmer pointed out, some real clunkers reached the top of the Hit Parade, including “Honey” by Bobby Goldsboro, “Simon Says” by the 1910 Fruit Gum Company, and “(The day my Moma socked it to the) Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C. Riley.  In the latter a young widow, chastised for wearing dresses “way too high,” exposes her accusers as hypocrites.  Mr. Baker’s secretary, for example, had to leave town, and Mr. Harper “couldn’t be here ‘cause he stayed too long at Kelly’s Bar again.”  Two 1968 favorites are Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Susie Q” and Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You.”  Before Credence revived the 1957 Dale Hawkins rockabilly number, the Crew Cuts, Everly Brothers, Lonnie Mack, Gene Vincent, Johnny Rivers, Rolling Stones, and Quicksilver Messenger Service all covered “Susie Q.”
Purdue’s Mitch Daniels ordered Purdue Cal and Purdue North Central to merge their administrative operations.  Meanwhile, for a fundraiser, Valparaiso University’s president Mark Heckler and provost Mark Schwehn recently put their heads in whipped cream, located bubble gum, and then competed to see which one could better execute blowing a bubble.  I couldn’t see Chancellor Lowe agreeing to such a thing. I think he’d resign first.

Fred McColly and Ellen Szarleta have started on IUN’s community garden, which they’ve moved to the south side of Thirty-Fifth near Washington where apartments formerly stood.  Ellen looked so cute in jeans and a sweatshirt that I impulsively hugged her.  Meanwhile, at Camelot Lanes James bowled a 138 a week after rolling a 148 at a tournament in Fort Wayne.
 Alissa Lane in San Diego with Addison Lane; photo by Niki Lane
Nancy Gabin’s Indiana Magazine of History review termed Ray Boomhower’s “Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana” an engaging biography “of an inspired and inspiring Indiana leader whose career belies today’s cynicism about politics.” I agree both with Gabin’s assessment of the book and its subject.  Two IMH articles dealt with the controversy over Fred Wilson’s proposed “E Pluribus Union” sculpture depicting a freed slave holding a flag representing the African Diaspora, a takeoff on the crouching freedman depicted in the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis.   Local African Americans stopped Wilson’s piece from being erected on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.  Some objected that the figure was shirtless and shoeless and that its reference to slavery wasn’t appropriate for Indiana.  Others resented their having no input in the process and wanted something more celebratory by a Hoosier artist.
Duluth, Minnesota’s lynching memorial, the only one of its kind in America, preserves the memory of three young circus employees -  Elias Clayton (19), Elmer Jackson (22), and Isaac McGhia (20) -  falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman in June of 1920.  According to historian Erika Doss, after they were arrested, a mob of 10,000 people stormed the jail, dragged them to a hill, and hanged them from a light pole.  Near the bronze figures are the words compassion, respect, and atonement.  Attending the 2003 dedication was the great-grandson of a leader of the lynch mob, who apologized to the victims’ families.  One quote on the memorial wall is by Albert Einstein, who said: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Commenting wryly on “March Madness,” the NCAA tournament finally concluding a week into April (seventh seed UConn prevailed over Kentucky), Carrol Vertrees wondered if women players have as many tattoos as the guys.  Revealing that he once played for the Elnora Owls, the diminutive, 90 year-old Post-Trib columnist wrote: “Our big center was Johnny Ping, who was a tad over 6 feel tall, . . . had short hair and no tattoos.” 

Dave, Tom Wade, and I played board games, first time in a month.  My lone victory was in St. Petersburg.  A single orange upgrade card came up on the final round.  Had none or two been turned, Dave would have won four of the five contests.  Later Phil called, pumped after teaming with Anthony in an indoor soccer game.

Quite a few “narrators” whom Anne Balay interviewed came to her “Steel Closets” autograph party, most with their partners.  People shared stories and really bonded.  Steelworkers love to talk, but those in the closet have to be guarded in conversations of a personal nature at work.  I met the guy who cooked Anne dinner and his partner who washed her car during the interview.  “Gayle” had so many work related anecdotes that she suggested Anne do a sequel.  She’s originally from Pottsville, once a coal mining town and now most famous as the home of Yuengling Brewery. 

At the party was Amanda Board, who reported that her talk in South Bend went well.  Due to graduate in May, she is postponing grad school until she decides what field she wants to pursue.  An National Lakeshore intern last summer, she has a job lined up there.  She spoke highly of Lloyd Rowe’s son Bruce, who works at the visitors center.  Anne’s daughter Emma, in from St. Louis, was convivial as always and did all the dishes after everyone left.

This is how Anne inscribed my copy of “Steel Closets”: “When I started this book, I hardly knew you and now you’re among my best friends.  Your contributions are all over this book.  You probably recognize some.  Thanks for being such a friend and mentor.  Love, Anne Balay.”  Nice.

On the University of North Carolina website, Anne wrote:
Over dinner recently, I met with three straight male steelworkers to ask why they feel their union is so inhospitable to gay people. I had just given a radio interview about my forthcoming book, Steel Closets, during which I had remarked that the United Steelworkers is not a very progressive union. Organizers and staffers from the USW had heard this, and were pissed off. Several called me to inform me about cutting-edge worker advocacy efforts spearheaded by their union, both nationally and globally. I was glad to hear it, yet this doesn’t change the fact that the queer steelworkers whose stories my book relates are not adequately protected by their union. I had organized the dinner to give union rank and file a chance to respond to my book’s critique.

 Paul Kaczocha has worked at the same mill (now owned by Mittal) for over 30 years, and he assured me repeatedly over dinner that his local was very accepting of gay people, and that discrimination or harassment claims from gay workers would be taken seriously. He believes that any mistreatment of gay people would simply not be tolerated at his mill. I asked him to recall all the people he has worked with—all his union brothers and sisters, down through the years—and count the gay ones. Almost surprised, he said there were none. Of course, he knew as well as I do that there have been many, but that they did not identify themselves as such. My task is then to convince him that their silence was not simply a choice, but rather that it was made in fear, and comes with crippling consequences.

Paul and his colleagues had to listen to me because I have the data. I have met with, and gotten to know, these silent co-workers. They have told me their stories, explained the reasons for their silence, and described the price that they pay for it. In cold, hard, about-to-be-published print, these facts could not be denied, and the union felt that it had to respond somehow.

Historically, Mike Olszanski points out, working-class white guys are kind of blind and bigoted, and need to be forced to make change. African Americans and women each in turn compelled the union to recognize and include them. What Mike emphasizes is respect. A union provides respect to its members by endowing their work with a priori value, rather than requiring ass-kissing or special pleading. A union is strong only if it endows ALL workers with this respect, and Mike wants to find a way to extend this to gay steelworkers. Yet some still insist that their union—any union—can’t advocate for people until they come forward.  Which would mean, in this case, that gay workers will simply never find protection, since they believe that identifying themselves would make them more obvious targets for harassment and violence than they already are. The unions will have to take first steps, such as putting protections in place that make gay folks feel safe, or changing the structure of benefits before gay people are willing to become visible and identifiable.”

On Steve Walsh’s Lakeshore Radio show with Anne Balay and Mike Olszanski, I emphasized how skilled Anne was as an oral historian in eliciting stories.  Had she not been an auto mechanic, an open lesbian, and a warm, caring person, I very much doubt whether her narrators would have been so open and trusting.  After Anne mentioned that a young gay man was recently elected steward, Oz stated that, as in the past with blacks and women, change needs to come from the rank and file. A consummate professional, Walsh had read “Steel Closets” in preparation for our conversation and is working up a segment to air nationally on NPR. 

At Penney’s for tan Chinos I picked up a gray second pair because one cost $44 and a second was only $15 more.  Driving back to the university, I exited I-65 at Ridge, where the traffic light was blinking red.  Cars were going straight on Ridge plus folks were making left turns onto I-65; I was in a line of motorists waiting to make a left turn onto Ridge.  A two-car fender-bender added to the chaos, but I took it slow without a problem.
Back on campus in time for a program celebrating “A House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, featuring a dozen East Chicago Central Drama Club members who performed on stage while others read book passages.  They were great.  Salsa dancers Ricardo Sanchez and Irais Ferreiras wowed the sparse crowd, as did two Gary Poets from the Glen Park group ARISE, whose director Alicia Nunn greeted me warmly and bonded with Dave. 
Thanks to modern technology, Cisneros was watching from Texas and interacted with students who told her why they identified with the book and asked her questions.  She was very warm and genuine, remembered the names of the students who spoke, and told the girls to be independent and not to look for a Prince Charming to take care of you.  She said she prefers the word Latina to Hispanic, a label others gave to Mexican Americans like herself.  She began to write to rid herself of insecurities and went from feeling shame about where she came from to rage that others looked down on her. She urged students to find a way to express their feelings and insecurities, whether by writing poems, short stories or diaries or by painting or drawing.

Chancellor Lowe was on hand to welcome the guests and stayed to announce next year’s “One Book . . . One Campus . . . One Community” selection, Michelle Alexander’s “The new Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”  As the EC Central students were leaving, he praised their performances and thanked teachers Dave Lane and Rachel Poracki, both IUN UTEP grads, for helping to make the program a success. 

One Book” committee member Kathy Malone informed me that St. Paul Baptist Church would be celebrating its hundredth anniversary in two years and she hoped I’d participate.  We got to talking about the legendary Reverend L.K. Jackson, virtually a one-man civil rights pioneers during the 1940s.  Kathy’s father was a deacon in the church and very close to “The Old Prophet.”  Paul Robeson spoke and performed at the old church, which burned down under suspicious circumstances, retaliation perhaps for Jackson’s outspoken criticism of corrupt politicians in cahoots with mobsters.  The invitation to Robeson came the Gary school board refused to allow him to appear at Gary Roosevelt.  L.K. was fearless and took part in the Beachhead for Democracy, an effort to desegregate Marquette Park.
 NWI Times photos of Anne Balay by John J. Watkins
Joseph Pete’s article about Anne Balay (“Author could not find books on gay steelworkers, so she wrote one”) dominated page 1 of the NWI Times.  Pete wrote: “When she started to teach in Gary eight years ago, she became fascinated by the steel mills – by how they hulked majestically like prehistoric dinosaurs and yet were mysterious.  She wondered what it was like for gay and lesbian steelworkers who toiled inside.”  What comes through in the piece is that despite suffering harassment, isolation and ostracism, the people she interviewed are strong, proud workers who loved to tell stories once Anne won their confidence.  She told Pete: “They live exciting and dangerous lives.  It isn’t boring – there’s always something happening, always danger and excitement.  Being gay isn’t boring.  There’s love, excitement and fun.”

In a sidebar The Times ran an excerpt from my “Steel Closets” review and mentioned a link to the full review online.  While Pete’s article’s did not touch on Anne’s being terminated, I stated:
Anne Balay’s shabby treatment at IU Northwest, in her words, ‘made the steelworkers’ hostile work environment uncomfortably personal.’
Although the two workplaces share little in common, both are hostile spaces for un-closeted LGBTs, with newcomers better off hiding their ‘queerness’ and concentrating on fitting in. At a university that would mean not making waves, keeping one’s nose to the grindstone, being deferential to superiors, and accumulating published articles that few people ever read. In the mill fitting in meant doing your job well and learning to work as a team, but also adopting a tough persona, a rough sense of humor, and never showing weakness or vulnerability.
Women steelworkers are generally perceived as masculine by themselves and others. In contrast to the ‘butch’ image tolerated in Calumet Region steel mills, being outspokenly queer is not a recommended path to acceptance, at least not at IU Northwest.”

A staunch union supporter, Anne discovered that many LGBTs felt alienated from the United Steelworkers of America. In those rare cases where one filed a grievance, the union allegedly did little or nothing to help them. Several felt that instituting a complaint, in Balay’s words, was “tantamount to painting a target on themselves.”  On the defensive for 30 years, the USW has chosen its battles carefully and avoided potentially divisive issues. As Balay concluded, “When the economy is bad and jobs are scarce, the union wants economic issues to trump all others.”  African Americans and women facing discrimination, unlike LGBTs, could visually identify allies. So long as steelworkers stay closeted, they are part, in Balay's words, of “a community that feels rewarding – almost like a family” - albeit one that might ostracize a member who challenges its tenets.

1 comment:

  1. it's true that Ellen and fred have started moving the garden...but let's not leave out the more than substantial contributions made by Rebecca Bogucki and her brother Rick who did every bit as much in the course of the work so far...props to them for their hard work.