Thursday, December 4, 2014

Age of Anxiety Redux

“Death to all false profits
Around here we praise the dollar.”
    “Master of My Craft,” Parquet Courts

For the second straight year Parquet Courts, a band I saw at Pappy and Harriet’s, made Rolling Stone’s list of best albums of the year with “Sunbathing Animal.”  I suspect Robert Blaszkiewicz will include a cut on his “Best of 2013” CD.  A line in “Sunbathing Animal” goes, “Most freedom is deceiving if such a thing exists.”  The title refers to creatures that are more dangerous than they appear when at rest.
A young female coyote made the Post-Trib’s front page after it leaped four floors from Gary National Bank parking garage and broke its right front leg.  Yolanda Thigpen spotted it, called police, and if fled when animal control tried to trap it.  A veterinarian at Westchester Animal Clinic in Porter is treating the animal gratis, and the creature will soon be released into the wild.

In Steve McShane’s class talking about “ Age of Anxiety: Daily Life in the Calumet Region during the Postwar years,” I provided biographical background of people whose quotes students read – Louis Vasquez and the Latin American Vets, newsman Carrol Vertrees having trouble with Eastern European names, Froebel student Garrett Cope taking the South Shore from Dunes Acres to Gary, Tom Higgins appearing in Horace Mann plays, the Post-Tribune publishing the street addresses of civil rights activists Lydia Grady and Katherine Hyndman.  Explaining that historian are interested in social change over time, I pointed out such bygone phenomena as Mom and Pop stores, typewriters, home milk deliveries, drive-ins, polio, black and white TVs, daytime World Series games, and streetcars (their removal nationwide, some believe, driven by oil and auto industry tycoons eager to increase their profits).  Finally I made sure they knew about Gary pugilist Tony Zale, Olympic hurdler Lee Calhoun, and football star George Taliaferro.

I suggested to Steve that students next semester keep journals, as happened in March of 2003 and 2011.  He seemed amenable to introducing them to those in the Archives by pioneer Gary residents Harry Hall and Albert Anchors, as well as others.  Having spent ten years in Alaska prospecting for gold, Anchors was passing through Chicago in May of 1907 when he spotted an intriguing sign advertising 35-cent train fare to Gary.  He wrote:

  “[I] bought a ticket and went to have a look see.  When I got off the train and looked around about one minute, I said to myself, ‘this is my town.’  What I could see looked like a brand new gold mining camp.  Everybody busy, everybody hurrying.  Graders, carpenters, mill construction workers.  I, knew how to handle myself in a mining camp and knew what to do here.”
from the Albert L. Anchors collection, Calumet Regional Archives
Hired by a Mr. Savage to help build three buildings within Gary Land Company’s First Subdivision, Harry Hall came to the site in September 1907 and recalled:
“At the time there were no streets, no water, gas or electricity, no sewers, no telephone and no place to live in Gary.  For three nights I slept out in the park, which was known as the West Side Park, on one of the sand hills.  It was rather rough, but I couldn’t stand the camp where they had rented me a cot.  It was alive with bed bugs, so naturally I pulled out . . . .  Later the Delaware Hotel opened u, and two of my carpenters had a room there and persuaded Mr. Causer, the manager, to put up a coy in he room for me to use.”
After a steak dinner I watched Hoosier hoopsters manhandle Pitt.  Subs came off the bench to score over half IU’s points, led by Emmitt Holt, who had been suspended for four games after operating a vehicle under the influence, during which time he injured teammate Devin Davis.

Nicole showed excerpts from the 1982 documentary “The Atomic Café,” a black comedy reminiscent of “Dr. Strangelove” that ridiculed propaganda extolling atomic testing, evidence of America becoming a national security state in the service primarily of corporate interests.  One scene showed residents of Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands supposedly meekly accepting being relocated in order to make way for atomic tests.  They were described as nomadic, despite having lived on Bikini Island their entire lives.  The footage was similar to wartime government propaganda about Japanese-Americans expressing happiness at being shipped to internment camps. 

The second bomb detonated in July of 1946, as part of Operation Crossroads, was “nicknamed “Helen of Bikini.”  Exploding from 90 feet underwater, the radioactive sea spray caused much more contamination than expected, leading to the cancellation of a third deep water test.  Atomic Energy Commission chairman Glenn Seaborg called the test, “the world’s first nuclear disaster.”  The late Post-Trib manager editor Terry O’Rourke was a young seaman on a nearby ship and attributed his premature baldness to being close to the blast. 

First told they could return home after a short while, Bikini residents ended up on Kili Island, one sixth the size of Bikini.  Some returned in 1970, but tests revealed that radiation levels were still dangerously high.  U.S. policy toward the natives was hauntingly similar to what had been done to Native Americans, herding them onto small, inhospitable areas where they could no continue their traditional way of life.  Wards of the state, survivors years later received annuities to the tune of $550 yearly.  Unfit for subsistence farming or fishing, Bikini is uninhabited to this day.

In Nicole’s class I recalled that emeritus History professor Bill Neil audited Paul Kern’s class of siege warfare and spoke to my Historiography seminar students.  I had one appearance videotaped and gave him a copy.
above, Tony Bennett; below, George Van Til (photo by John J. Watkins)

According to a just-released report, former Indiana Superintendent of Schools Tony Bennett engaged in far worse illegal activities than former Lake County Surveyor George Van Til.  Bennett got off with a $5,000 fine while Van Til faces jail time. Calling it “interesting that Lake County – the traditional whipping boy in the state of Indiana for a lack of ethics,” has stricter rules than the state, Scott King, Van Til’s attorney, stated: “It’s more than a little ironic that a county surveyor faces this kind of accountability while we have a statewide elected official engaging in a far greater scale of misconduct with less impunity.”

Engineers lucked out and won a game by 8 pins.  My mediocre 430 series included 9 ten-pins, one less than opponent Bob Sheid.  By the third frame of game one we had squandered our 123-pin handicap lead but then bowled The Big Hurt almost even.  I quipped, “It takes us old guys a few frames to get our muscles in gear.”  Dick Maloney retorted, “But then we tire in the third game.” Then Ron Smith took charge, closing with a five-bagger.  After Mike Novak rolled a perfect game a few alleys down, a swarm of bowlers congratulated him.  At the beginning of game three my knee felt so gimpy I feared it might give out, but then adrenalin kicked in.
 From Southern Poverty Law Center, posted by Michael Bayer

A New York grand jury failed to indict a white policeman who used a fatal choke hold on 43 year-old African-American Eric Garner, a father of six, who had been illegally selling cigarettes on the street.  His last words, repeated over and over, were, “I can’t breathe.” People shouting “I can’t breathe” and “Hands up – don’t choke” blocked traffic, interrupted the Christmas Tree lighting at Rockefeller Plaza, and tussled with NYPD cops, resulting in more than 30 arrests.  Protests are spreading to dozens of cities.

Anne Balay commented:
Cops are not the problem, and they should ‘not’ have to wear cameras. I would not want my entire work life filmed and evaluated by my supervisors. Reread “The Hunger Games” if you need to learn what that level of surveillance feels like. THEN, we need to think about changing our whole culture - every damn one of us - so that black people are not seen as disposable. Cops are on the front line of a struggle that many of us keep distance from, but that distance makes us just as culpable as the heinous behavior of these last 2 asshats. The cop blaming pisses me off -- obviously what they did was wrong, so maybe if you object, join the force and do it differently.
         Ask yourself how many meaningful, substantive interactions you have had recently (ever?) with angry, poor, trapped urban black folks. Policies from which many Americans benefit create the anger, but few of us put ourselves in situations where we might feel its effects.  What cops do brings them face to face with that anger daily, though they are certainly not the ones who benefit most from the structures that create it.  We have to change where and how we live, and who we know and how.”

Pamela Lowe joined Ken and Peg Schoon and me at Little Redhawk Café.  She’s pursuing an MLS degree in Liberal Studies after a successful career as a financial consultant to nonprofits.  Ken pointed out that those initials also referred to Library Science.  Enrollment in Liberal Studies has been steadily decreasing, in part, I believe, from inadequate staffing, revolving leadership, and inflexible regulations.  More use could be made of emeritus faculty who wouldn’t mind being paid on a prorated basis, depending on the number of students.  Ken Schoon and I, for example, could offer an interdisciplinary seminar on “Calumet Beginnings” (the title of one of his books), stressing both geology and history. Pamela is so intellectually curious it would be a pleasure to have her in class.

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