Friday, May 2, 2014

Stormy Weather

“Don’t know why
There’s no sun up in the sky
Stormy Weather.”
        “Stormy Weather,” Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler

The weather has been cold and dreary all week – autumn-like according to Channel 5’s Andy Avalos.  It’s been so windy it’s been hard to open the doors to Hawthorn Hall.  Ethel Waters first performed “Stormy Weather” in 1933 at Harlem’s Cotton Club, and virtually every female blues singer has recorded a version, including Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Etta James, and Sarah Vaughan.  The Five Sharps released a doo wop version in 1952 that is a collectors’ item.

On Anne Balay’s final day on campus she was giving away books, and I grabbed “Stormy Weather” by Floridian Carl Hiaasen, whose novels “Skinny Dip” and “Nature Girl” I previously enjoyed.  I also took “Nappy Hair,” the children’s book a few disgruntled students cited as evidence that Anne was “teaching to an agenda.”  She didn’t want plaques and certificates for winning the 2010 Dean’s Award for Distinction in Service, the 2010 Diversity Champion Award, and the 2011 Excellence in Teaching Award because they were painful reminders of the shabby treatment she received at the hands of her superiors.  Anne may enter an apprentice program with England Truck Driving School.

Back home, Anne wrote: Well, that chapter ended. Their loss.  My classes gave me standing ovations. A colleague (adjunct) said that when I came to the college, suddenly students felt freer, and came out - the whole atmosphere changed because there was a visible queer person not squashed by fear. I know of one student whose life I saved (queer kids teeter near the brink of suicide too often - an outspoken advocate can make a real difference) and countless others who I pushed, even dragged into literacy and cultural awareness.”   In addition to 71 “likes,” a dozen others castigated her detractors.  Brenna Echterling wrote: “Shame on IUN.”  Tom Panelas said: “What buffoons.”  Members of Connectionz are hoping to meet with President McRobbie and Vice President Applegate when they arrive for commencement.

Richard Violette wrote this review of “Steel Closets” for Library Journal:

America was forged in steel, as Balay notes in the book's introduction, "it is both a material and a metaphor…a part of the idealized American spirit." And that tough metal conjures up myriad images—molten rivers and glowing slabs in forgeries, smokestacks, skyscrapers, and automobiles. In this examination of LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual transgender) steel mill employees, Balay (English, gender studies, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago) examines a different side of the industry. The author interviewed 40 men and women (including transgender individuals), chiefly in the Rust Belt city of Gary, IN. Their graphic descriptions of the toll of the remaining closeted individuals in this traditionally masculine, tightly knit, blue-collar milieu punctuate a detailed examination of the gritty mill culture, in which homophobia (and, for the women, sexism) is an ingrained part of the camaraderie. For most of these workers, coming out is not an option, and the hazards inherent in their jobs are compounded by physical and mental health issues and a lack of union support. VERDICT If this well-wrought contribution to LGBT studies has a flaw, it's that it may be too academically oriented for its working-class subjects, who need most to read it.

I disagree that it is too academically oriented; the extensive use of narratives makes it very intimate, as the feedback from LGBT steelworkers attests.

Henry Farag of Stormy Weather (the doo wop group) is in Atlantic City promoting an Oldies concert and looking for venues for “The Signal: A Rhapsody.”  One possibility is Wirt Emerson School.  He liked my latest suggestions for fine-tuning the script except having Stormy Weather sing the “National Anthem” beforehand.  I heard them do an awesome rendition at a function honoring former mayor Richard Hatcher, but Henry thought it a bad fit mood-wise.  “The Jackie Wilson Story” recently attracted a large audience at West Side, so there’s every reason to believe that “The Signal: A Rhapsody” would do the same, given the successful Gardner Center gig.  “Motown the Musical” is presently at the Oriental Theater in Chicago, so the time seems right.
Posting photos from the EC Central prom, Denzel Smith wrote of his “mentor, teacher, and friend” Mr. Lane: “We had to take a walk on the red carpet.”  My son was clean shaven for the occasion.  He called, pumped, after his Lady Cardinals won a tennis match, 3-2, against previously undefeated Hammond High.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” has finally come to Hobart and Michigan City.  The movie was more fun than anything I’ve seen in months.  Wes Anderson also directed two favorites of mine, “Rushmore” and “Moonrise Kingdom.”  Ralph Fiennes is marvelous as concierge M. Gustave, although I expected more sex scenes between him and elderly guests. Trusted apprentice Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) in one clever scene draws his thin mustache between his nose and mouth.  William Dafoe and Adrien Brody were great villains, but the cameo appearances by Bill Murray and Owen Wilson were distracting.  As critics noted, it was sophisticated, exotic, quirky, madcap, and charming

The Republican establishment favorite now appears to be Jeb Bush, while Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive Democratic frontrunner.  Both might be too moderate to win their respective parties’ nomination.  This poem. “Case Closed,” by Calvin Trillin about with New Jersey bridge scandal appeared in The Nation:
       “His lawyers did a thorough job.
       The governor has been absolved.
       They’d interviewed all Christie aides,
       Except, of course, the ones involved.”
 Larry Klemz, 1942-2013
Home Mountain’s Shavings invoice arrived, and to my amazement owner Doug Klemz gave me a huge discount.  He ran into a mutual friend at Menard’s Sunday who told him about IUN disassociating itself from the magazine due to my championing Anne Balay’s tenure case.  Doug wrote: I immediately made up my mind that if the University wouldn’t support your work, we would do what we could.  Dad always valued your friendship, and, now, so do I.  Keep them coming!”  How sweet is that!
Justin Beecher, 24, was fatally shot in Gary last week.  On Chuck Gallmeier’s recommendation he had recently started working the night shift at IUN with Physical Plant.  I’ve been distraught over this all day.  Both Chuck and Chancellor Lowe attended the emotional funeral service.  Fifteen years ago, Justin’s mother, Thora Evans, wrote about taking her first step “toward self-esteem” by enrolling at IUN.  “Before I became enlightened and validated as an African American female,” she wrote, “I went through life in pursuit of beauty in all the wrong places.”  A turning point was Sociology professor Chuck Gallmeier telling her, after she received a low grade on an exam, “Come see me, you can do better.”  She concluded: “With his help I pulled my grade up and gained perspective to the many questions I had all my life.  Even though I grew up in an era where African American women had two strikes against them, college taught me to be a critical thinker and convinced me that I can go as far as I can.  No longer do I believe the playground rhyme, ‘If you’re black get back.’”  My heart goes out to her. 
 Tio Roberto
Juan Carlos Hernandez is looking for photos of East Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s when his parents lived there.  I emailed him the link to the Calumet Regional Archives website.  On the blog “Latinowrites” Hernandez credits his Tio (uncle) Roberto’s storytelling with inspiring him to write about his family history.  Hernandez wrote: “Sometimes your voice boomed.  Sometimes you whispered and your bright eyes closed as your hands swung in front of you to convey the pain or joy you felt.  The emotions were just as alive as when you lived them.  In doing so, you filled me with wonder and made my imagination fly back in time.  Through your stories I walked with you to school, picked mangos from a tree and stood next to you red with embarrassment when your mom made you wear an oversized suit for eighth grade graduation.”

An afternoon nap enabled me to stay awake to the conclusion of the Blackhawks 5-2 victory over Minnesota despite the late (8:45) starting time.

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