Monday, September 22, 2014

On the Border

“After a hard day, I’m safe at home
Foolin’ with my baby on the telephone
Out of nowhere somebody cuts in and says,
Hmmm, you in some trouble boy, we know where you’ve been.”
    Eagles, “On the Border”

The most popular songs on the Eagles’ “On the Border” album were “James Dean” (my favorite) and “Already Gone.”  Concerning the “Rebel without a Cause,” the “James Dean” lyrics go:
You were just too cool for school
Sock hop, soda pop, basketball and auto shop,
The only thing that got you off was breakin' all the rules.”
Recorded in 1974 while the Watergate scandal was reaching a crescendo, the song “On the Border” has to do with “Big Brother” (the federal government under “Tricky Dick” Nixon) spying on private citizens.  At the very end the Eagles’ Glenn Frey whispers “Good night, Dick,” borrowing a line Dan Rowan addressed to Dick Martin at the end of “Laugh In” but referring to the President who would shortly thereafter resign in disgrace.  Ron Cohen has a book for me to read by Rick Perlstein, author of “Nixonland,” entitled “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.” 

Texas governor Rick Perry’s latest grandstanding stunt was to authorize 2,200 National Guard troops to patrol the Mexican border against illegal aliens and “narco-terrorists.”  Of course, the federal government has over 18,000 Border Patrol agents there already, and the Obama administration (unfortunately) has deported a record number of Mexicans for illegally crossing the border.  It’s another cheap shot at the President.  In my opinion, America’s immigrants are our best hope for the future, just as they formed an invaluable source of labor and talent in the past.

Saturday morning I dropped off grandson James at Camelot Lanes and gave a copy of volume 43 to Sheet and Tin League bowling opponent Anthony Forbes, there with his wife and nine year-old daughter.  He is in the issue because he substituted for the Engineers a year ago.  I drove to Grand Rapids for Anthony’s soccer game.  Playing the second-ranked team in the state, Grand Rapids Christian (known to recruit talented members from year-round “Crew” squads), Anthony and his teammates never gave up in a losing cause.  Tori was across town for a volleyball tournament.  Her team finished third, thanks in part to her hard overhand serves.

Nine of us dined at On the Border, including Phil’s entire family plus Josh and Alissa’s friend Stephanie, passing through after a wedding.  I split a fajita meal with Alissa and still had some left over.  Our table devoured a half-dozen bowls of chips and tasty salsa, which left several of us thirty for beer that came in ample pitchers.
 Tori, Alissa, Phil, Miranda, Anthony

Back at Phil and Delia’s, Phil won SOB and then several two-handed games of Pitch.  We reminisced about the ten years beginning in 1974 when we attended Gary high school basketball games, rooting for Emerson and then, after the school dropped its sports program, Lew Wallace.  In all those years we encountered only three instances of racial animus.  Once at West Side I was at the urinal when one guy said to another, “I hate white guys.”  I piped in with, “I don’t like them either” after his buddy said, “Are you going to do anything about it?”  That broke the tension.  Another time, leaving Roosevelt with the crowd surging for the exit, only one door was open.  Toni, fearful Phil and Dave would be crushed, spread her arms to create some space.  A woman elbowed her, but another chastised the culprit for doing so, saying, “She’s not your problem.”  The last game we attended at Wallace, a kid tossed something at Phil and put gum on my seat while I stood for the “National Anthem.”  By this time Phil and Dave were in high school, so I started going to Portage games.  The final Wallace game I saw was in 1986, the great Jerome Harmon’s senior year, at Chesterton.  After one of his trademark dunks, Chesterton fans held up signs like you would in a dunk contest, reading 10, 10, 9.5, and 10.  Harmon later won the McDonald’s All-American Game dunk contest before attending Louisville.
 Jerome and Jeromey Harmon in 2013

A few years ago, Phil taught a special course on the use of video equipment at an inner city school.  One day a student walking past him in the hall muttered, “Jimmy.”  He learned from a teacher that the wisecrack wasn’t as bad as “Cracker” but not exactly a compliment.

The cats Piper and Rascal gradually stopped being skittish every time I drew near.  Rascal eventually managed to get into Anthony’s room where I was sleeping but, unlike, last time I stayed over, settled for a pillow in the corner.  Piper sleeps with Phil and Delia but no longer on the headboard, once his favorite spot until he slipped and landing on my son’s head.  Phil cooked breakfast before his round of golf, and I read in the paper that IU beat number 18 Missouri a week after losing to lowly Bowling Green.        

I was home for an afternoon of football.  Detroit beat Green Bay despite Lion Stephen Tulloch tearing an ACL celebrating a sack on Aaron Rodgers while attempting a bump-and-grind dance move.  He’ll be out for the season.  Because the noon game ended early, FOX switched to the exciting conclusion of the Eagles’ victory over Washington.  Shockingly, running back LeSean McCoy only rushed for 22 yards; his entire starting offensive line got injured or, in one case, ejected for fighting in retaliation for a cheap hit on QB Nick Foles, causing me to lose my Fantasy contest by a single point (!!!!) against Dave. I stupidly stuck with Dallas tight end Jason Whitten instead of inserting Martellus Bennett.

I chuckled at a State Farm “double check” ad featuring the SNL characters Hanz and Franz (Dana Carvey and Chris Nealon) helping Aaron Rodgers pump up after ridiculing his “girly man” workout.  Actress and stunt performer Vanessa Carter tells Rodgers he has “puny arms.”  After Rodgers follows their advice, he’s too bulky to throw a football.

The endless commercials provided plenty of time for reading.  “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand begins with 12 year-old Louis Zamperini witnessing the German airship Graf Zeppelin passing over the small town of Torrence, California, at night in August 1929.  The enormous object seemed to block off the stars.  The era of hydrogen-filled airships ended with the 1938 Hindenburg disaster, and in 1940 German Air Minister Hermann Goring ordered Graf Zeppelin salvaged for scrap.

mill photos by Jerry Davich

After touring the Burns Harbor ArcelorMittal plant on the steel mill’s fiftieth anniversary, Jerry Davich wrote: “Working in a steel mill is not the job for everyone, including me, despite its great salary, boastful benefits and retirement security.” Donald Binkley responded:
      “I work here and I see the workers slowly losing ground of how it once was.  Every contract, more and more gets chipped away.  There once were 25,000 workers; now it is just 4,000.  We are slowly becoming extinct.  I have seen the highs and lows in this industry.  My father was a steelworker.  He didn’t live to see retirement.  I just hope we remember the steel workers whose lives were taken during these 50 years – the people who fought for us to work today.” 

Sherri LaFrance Larson added: “My dad was diagnosed with mesothelioma and other ailments associated with the mill.  And although we had a comfortable life growing up, he died WAY too young.”

In a New York Review of Books essay about same-sex marriage entitled “I Do, I Do,” Edmund White declared that 2013 could rightly be labeled “The Year of the Gay.”  In New York City the African American wife of Mayor Bill de Blasio, in White’s words, “proudly announced that she had been a lesbian before her marriage.”  One reason for acceptance of gays was due to something White himself does not believe – that sexual identity is genetically determined as opposed to individuals making a conscious choice at some point to be gay.  As White cynically summarizes the genetic argument: “If the poor buggers can’t help being pansies, then why persecute them?”  Similar to what Anne Balay found in steel mills, White contended that visibility and publicity about gays has produced a backlash among bigots and religious fanatics, most notably in Russia, Africa, and Muslim countries.

Quoting from “Redeeming the Dream” by David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, White quibbles with their description of gays and lesbians “as normal, loving, decent members of our lives and our communities,” adding sadly: “As a gay men in his seventies I don’t quite recognize in that description most of the flamboyant, creative, edgy, promiscuous, deeply urban gays I have known.”  White sees a danger on what Kenji Yoshino termed “covering” or toning down one’s gayness  – what White calls “downplaying a discordant trait in order to blend into the mainstream.”

On the way to Heath Carter’s class on race-relations, after obtaining a visitors parking pass in the library, I drove around the Valparaiso campus several times before an elderly officer friendly escorted me to Mueller Hall.  I found Room 108 at 2:50 on the dot.  The seminar students were discussing Gary during the 1920s and 1930s based on readings by Ron Cohen, Ray Mohl, and myself.  Mayor Hatcher was due to arrive at 4, so during the break the students moved to a larger room while Carter waited for him.  I had a chance to show the class my Traces article about Hatcher’s father Carlton and tell about his escaping from Georgia before a boss could have him locked up on bogus charges in order to chain him to his job.  He learned to read at age 80 so he could understand the Bible.

Hatcher was one of three incoming black VU law students in 1958; the other two didn’t survive first year.  After attending classes all day, Hatcher worked an 8-hour shift as a psychiatric aide at Beatty Hospital.  In Constitutional Law Professor Burton Wechsler called on him every day.  Believing the man to be prejudiced, Hatcher confronted him and said, “I know what you’re doing but want you to understand that I’ll always be prepared.”  Wechsler, who lived in Miller and belonged to the Gary NAACP, claimed he just wanted students, who had probably never been with an articulate black person, to benefit from Hatcher’s intelligence.  The two became friends, and after Hatcher moved to Gary, he was a frequent dinner guest at the Wechslers.   Wechsler and fellow Jewish liberals, dubbed the “Miller Mafia,” encouraged him to run for city council in 1963 and mayor in 1967.

Hatcher told of receiving an invitation to Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity’s rush party, a social affair that required a date.  Someone set him up with the lone African American VU undergraduate.  Next morning a fellow student asked Hatcher if he’d heard what happened last night at Phi Alpha Delta.  Yes, he was there, he replied.  No, afterwards, the friend said.  Members stayed up all night debating whether to accept Hatcher into the fraternity before narrowly voting to do so.  Taken aback, Hatcher wondered why they’d invited him if it was so controversial.  They never expected you to show up, his friend told him.  He joined anyway.

Hatcher rarely talks about his childhood, never about the accident that left him blind in one eye, but he did mention that in the 1930s there were only two Michigan City neighborhoods where blacks could live.  One was a waterfront area known as the Patch where his mother gave birth to a dozen children, several of whom died young of pneumonia due to hardships of the time.  Hatcher also told of his father being in a store when a man nearby made racist comments, such as telling a friend, “An Ace of Spades sure is black.”  Knowing he’d probably be arrested if he accosted the tormentor, Carlton kept silent but was shaking with rage and shame at the dinner table that evening as he told his children, “Don’t ever let anybody disrespect you.”
 Mayoralty candidate Richard Hatcher (r) with USWA leaders John L. Haywood, Peter Calacci and Joe Germano, Oct. 27, 1967, from the Calumet Regional Archives

Hatcher was in his third year as mayor when I started at IUN.   Our first house at 54th and Maryland was just south of the city limits.  Neighbors had previously lost money during the white flight from Gary and feared an influx of blacks into the subdivision.  A few blocks to the west was “The Border,” a ten-block strip where teenagers cruising Broadway sometimes parked in a strip mall lot that divided Gary and unincorporated Ross Township.  Richard Lugar became mayor of Indianapolis in 1967, the same year as Hatcher’s election, and, with the support of corporate leaders, pushed through a Unigov plan that kept the city’s black population a permanent minority.  Hatcher foiled similar plans in Northwest Indiana; but since he’s left office after five four-year terms, Gary home rule is basically nonexistent.  When area banks decided to develop the area along Route 30 and stores like Sears relocated, Gary’s downtown never recovered. 
 Richard Lugar in 1977

Heath Carter took his students to he ruins of City Methodist Church on the day they visited the Archives.  Part of the roof near the sanctuary recently collapsed, probably curtailing future excursions by photographers and others who still regard the structure as awe-inspiring.
NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano

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