Monday, August 11, 2014

Father Abraham

“All men, honey, I tell you men
Are created equal.”
    “Abie Baby,” Hair”

In Abraham “Abie Baby” Lincoln’s day all white men in theory may have been created equal, but women could not vote nor, in most states, own property or divorce an abusive husband.  The Fifteenth Amendment (1870), much to the chagrin of suffragettes, extended the franchise to black men, but women would have to wait another half century.

Abraham Lincoln lived 14 years in southern Indiana, beginning when he was seven, and had few fond memories of those years.  James Madison’s new book "Hoosiers” contains this poem Lincoln wrote as an adult:
“When first father settled here,
‘Twas then the frontier line:
The panther’s scream, filled night with fear
And bears preyed on the swine.”

Jay Winik’s “April 1864: The Month That Saved America” contains a moving description of African Americans greeting Lincoln when he visited Richmond on April 4 shortly after Rebel troops abandoned the Confederate capital.  In the early afternoon, wearing a high silk hat and long black coat, he walked with just a ten-man naval guard two miles to Capitol Square.  Winik wrote:
            Out came a sound: “Glory to God!”  It was a black man working by the dock.  Then again: “Glory!  Glory!  Glory!”   Leaving their squalid housing and their tar-paper shacks, an impenetrable cordon of newly freed blacks followed Lincoln down the rubble-strewn streets, starting with a handful and swelling into a thousand. “Bless the Lord!” they shouted.  “The Great Messiah! I knowed him as soon as I seed him.  He’s in my heart four long years.  Come to free his children from bondage.  Glory hallelujah.”  And Lincoln replied, “You are free.  Free as air.”  “I know I am free,” answered one old woman, “for I have seen Father Abraham and felt him.”
            Weeping for joy, they strained to touch his hand; dizzy with exultation, they brushed his clothing to see that he was real; fearing that it was only a dream, they wiped their tears to make sure they were in fact looking out upon his face.  Moved, Lincoln ignored his bodyguards and waded deeper into the thickening flock.  One black man, overcome with emotion, dropped to his knees, prompting the president to conduct a curbside colloquium on the meaning of emancipation.  “Don’t kneel to me,” said the president.  “That is not right.  You must kneel to God only, and thank Him for your liberty that you will enjoy hereafter.”

The Biblical Abraham played a prominent role in Islam as well as the Judeo-Christian tradition.  Yahweh supposedly ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac only to call it off at the last moment.  Abraham has not yet become a popular name like Noah, Joshua, Benjamin, Leah, and other Old Testament characters.  The only famous Abe’s that come to mind are actor Abe Vigoda (“Barney Miller”), Supreme Court justice Abe Fortas (forced out by conservatives), Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff (called by Mayor Daley a “Jew son of a bitch” at the 1968 Democratic convention when he said, “We wouldn’t have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago” if McGovern were president), and author Abraham Cahan (The Rise of David Levinsky, published in 1917). 

IUN Math professor Abe Mizrahi was a handsome unforgettable character, a staunch union man and supporter of Israel.  He was department chair during the 1970s to a veritable cast of characters, including Black Panther wannabe Art Conn, born-again Christian Lary Schiefelbusch, and slightly scatter-brained Leroy Peterson, brilliant in his field of specialization but one who needed help making change in poker games.  If AFT stalwarts Abe Mizrahi, Lou Ciminillo, Fred Chary, and Esther Nicksic were still around, they wouldn’t tolerate what the university did to Anne Balay.
 Albert Cohen; NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano

Albert Cohen, 89, is closing his furniture store, Union United Corp., at 761 Washington Street in Gary after 59 years.  I had no idea it was still open.  It must be the only business left on the block.  Cohen said that some days he has no customers.  He extended credit to the vast majority of his customers and estimated that people owe him more than four million dollars.  But he has few regrets.  A widower for the past 39 years, Cohen commuted from Chicago six days a week and told NWI Times reporter Joseph S. Pete:
“I think I owe my longevity to the store being my mistress. Having something to do and a place to hang your hat is important.  You become attached to a community and the friends you make there.  Gary’s been very good to me.  I could have left and moved to Chicago, but my heart has always been here.  I have a lot of fond memories here.  I’m eternally optimistic and always hoped it would come back.”

Chiropractor Manuel Kazanas adjusted my back, which had been out of whack for three days.  A libertarian, Manuel calls me his favorite liberal.  Lake County treasurer John Petalas, a Democrat and former student, is godfather to his son.  When Petalas used to razz him about George W. Bush, Kazanas would retort, “Don’t blame me.  I didn’t vote for him.”  Thirty years ago, right before a three-week teaching gig in Saudi Arabia, I threw my back out.  Manuel worked like a Trojan to enable me to go.  At the top of his class in chiropractic school, he almost had an opportunity to work exclusively for a Saudi prince and travel with him for $300,000 a year, but the offer fell through at the last minute.
 Crash site photo by John J. Watkins (NWI Times)

On the way to take Anne Balay and Riva Lehrer to Miller Bakery Café two trains from opposite directions took forever to cross at the intersection of Lake Street and Miller Avenue.  That was a minor glitch, Anne told me, compared to an earlier accident that completely shut down that main route into Miller for hours.  A driver foolishly attempted to outrun a freight train and paid with his life, as did her passenger.    
Dave flanked by Christine Scott and Castulo Perez

Son Dave was one of six special guests at a banquet organized by The Circle, an East Chicago Central student group. The event took place at Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal Emmanuel Church.  Also honored were Biology teacher Elizabeth Rivera, longtime receptionist Christine Scott (Denzel called her “seasoned”), and junior high coach Kenneth Monroe, as well as Circle benefactors State Senator Lonnie Randolph and Pastor Gilberto Novales (a former Inland steelworker).  Students formed The Circle two years ago in reaction to classmates, often innocent bystanders, being shot.  They dedicated themselves to making East Chicago a better, safer community and have held peace rallies.  While most young people are caught up in their own lives, the several dozen Circle members, many college bound, are devoting energy to helping others. 

In accepting his award to a standing ovation, Dave mentioned that several Circle leaders were considered at-risk teenagers and that it is tragic when teachers give up on kids.  What all honorees had in common was a willingness to help kids in need.  Words like family were used to express that sentiment.  Circle president Denzel Smith, for example, called Dave “my white uncle.”  Keon Brown announced that he earned a 3-point average i three summer classes at IU and promised that he and other Circle members would never forget where they came from.

I was shocked to learn from a NWI Times column by IUN dean Patrick Bankston that there are no medical school residencies in the 20 area hospitals or community health centers.  As a result, IU School of Medicine Northwest grads have to seek residencies in Chicago, downstate or elsewhere.  Establishing local residencies would create jobs, pump millions of dollars into the economy, and help retain physicians once their training is complete.

Thanks to Times columnist Marc Chase, I learned that Clifford Pierce Middle School in Merrillville was named for a longtime bus driver and custodian and that Homer Iddings Elementary was named for a physician who settled in Merrillville in 1882.
1954 issues

In the Sports Illustrated sixtieth anniversary issue is a photo of a newsstand vendor reading SI’s inaugural issue.  In the background are such “dirty” magazines as Playboy, Figure, Nudist Annual, and Bare plus the homoerotic periodicals Physique, Muscular Health, and One.  In the 1970s a Glen Park storefront carried such fare, and men would linger to examine them until told to make a purchase or move on.

At the Gardner Center installation artist Christopher Cozier discussed his video “Gas Men” or “Globe.”  Born in Trinidad, Cozier was fascinated by kung fu and cowboy movies that he’d see “pit section” of Port of Spain’s Globe Theater.  He also loved Carnivals, especially characters who’d wear masks and crack whips. “Gas Men” lasted less than a minute and ran on a continuous loop; in it two Caucasian men in suits are on a beach waving gas pump hoses, perhaps symbolic of big oil companies despoiling the environment.

Afterwards Corey Hagelberg introduced me to artist-in-residence Melissa Dunn (above, and one of her art pieces), who is staying with him and Kate.  She does work in acrylic and has an interest in murals.  She said she goes on daily walks and that the lakefront area has inspired her to do several pieces in the first half of her two-week stay.
Donald "Duck" Dunn

From Memphis, Melissa is the niece of Donald “Duck” Dunn (1941-20120, the legendary session bassist for Stax Records during the 1960s and member of Booker T and the M.G.’s.  His grooves can be heard on Otis Redding’s “Respect,” Sam and Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” and Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.”  In Blues Brothers” he played himself and uttered the line, “We had a band powerful enough to turn goat piss into gasoline.”

As darkness approached due to two-hour rain delay, Rory McIlroy won the PGA tournament, held at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, by a single stroke over Phil Michelson.  “Lefty” lost two strokes when a chip shot rimmed the lip of the cup and instead of going in skidded ten feet away.  An official afterwards thanked the fans of Kentuckiana, a two-state amalgam I’d never heard before. Disappointed that Michelson didn’t win but impressed with young Rory, I called Chuck Logan for a rehash.  In the course of the conversation Chuck said, “Jas am star covjek,” meaning, “I am an old man” in Croatian.

The Lake County Fair came to an end.  I didn't attend, but Samuel A. Love posted photos.

With Brady Wade back from summer camp for a week or so before heading to IU, parents Tom and Darcey took us to Bon Femme in Valparaiso.  Brady has funny stories about the kids, ages 7 to 11, under his charge, and the many foreign counselors hired as part of an international program.  A piano man entertained while we enjoyed our meals (in my case meat loaf and house salad).  We were disappointed that gone was Brady’s beard stubble that we’d gotten a look at on Facebook.
Apples Vasquez, a former IUN student who drives a truck for Swift Transportation, was one of many followers of Jerry Davich who mourned the death by suicide of comedian Robin Williams and reaffirmed that depression can be a devastating disease.  Terre Haute native Sherdizzle Ashley wrote: “How deep in despair he must have been to not realize how much he is loved.  I am trying hard to not think of his final moments of loneliness.  I am heartbroken.”

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