Friday, December 19, 2014

Write That Down

“Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” John Adams

My cellar-dwelling Engineers swept three games from a team of 200+ bowlers called Write That Down, as Dick Maloney and Robbie Robinson finished the night 70 pins above their averages.  Stringing together a four-bagger, I rolled a 202 in the only close game, which we won by ten pins.  Their ace, lefty Mike Novak, who has several dozen perfect games to his credit, left seven-pin after seven-pin on apparently perfect hits.  Rather than gripe, he was philosophical about it and quite friendly.

In 1979, flushed with having been recently tenured, I taught a History of Journalism course and advised IUN’s student newspaper, the Northwest Phoenix, which had published a single issue the previous semester.  Under my tutelage, one came out each week, often causing controversy.  It was invigorating, and I became friends with several students, including SPEA secretary Michele Yanna and the Nommensen brothers, Neil and Mike, whom I first knew as neighbor kids.  Mike Nommensen’s cartoons in the student newspaper gave new meaning to “Airin’ My Beef.”  Neil and Jeff Vagnone [son of Arts and Sciences administrator Helen Southwell] house-sat our pets during a family trip to the Bahamas with some of the Porter Acres softball gang; the walls shook during their Nerf basketball games, Neil admitted later. 
At Country Lounge following the final class Michele presented me with a drinking mug inscribed, “Write It Up.”  The phrase had become my mantra whenever someone pitched a good story. 
The brothers Nommensen: above, Mike as santa; below, Neil

Titillatingly titled “Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood” investigates the unsolved 1922 murder of actor-director William Desmond Taylor.  Police questioned a dozen suspects, half of them women; one on her deathbed confessed 40 years later.  In all likelihood, a blackmailer, Blackie Madsen, did it.  Taylor’s primary lover, George Hopkins, was a skilled set designer for such movies as “Casablanca,”” Aunty meme,” “Hello, Dolly,” and “The Day of the Locust.”  The latter was based on a Nathaneal West novel describing Hollywood outcasts much like Blackie Madsen.  Author William J. Mann has written biographies of Barbra Streisand, Liz Taylor, and Katharine Hepburn, as well as “Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood.”

Chuck Gallmeier and I exchanged badinage at lunch about campus characters, and he introduced me to Natalie Haber-Barker (above), an IUN grad and niece of former Nursing professor Donna Russell, who went on to earn a PhD in Sociology and is now an adjunct.  Board president of the North Central Rural Crisis Center, Natalie recently visited in Durban, South Africa, which gave me an opportunity to talk about my brief sojourn there ten years ago prior to an oral history conference in Pietermaritzburg.  From an oceanfront hotel I called home using a special card that required me to dial 30 numbers.  First evening I walked around in search of a sports bar until it became obvious the area was dangerous, a fact later confirmed by a tour guide who took a group of us to the  highest peak in the Maloti mountain range, located in the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho. 

Communication adjunct Alex Semchuck dropped off two copies of his documentary “Stagnant Hope: Gary, Indiana,” one for me and the other for the Calumet Regional Archives.  If critics thought “My Name Is Gary” was negative, it was downright cheery compared to “Stagnant Hope.”  Describing “The city of the century . . . a century later,” Semchuck stated:

  “It took Gary, Indiana less than 20 years to grow from a fledgling company town to a mini-Chicago.  After several decades of prosperity, it took roughly the same amount of time to resemble a post-industrial ghost town.  For decades the place known as the ‘Miracle City of the 20th Century’ has been plagued with a series of social, economic, and perceptual problems that is keeping it fighting for its life in the 21st century.”

Tim Sutherland invited the Archives staff to the annual library Holiday lunch.  With plenty of meat choices, I opted for a juicy beef sandwich, salad, scalloped potatoes, and chocolate cake.  I told Anne Koehler, who earlier in the day had ordered William Mann’s “Behind the Screen: How Gays and lesbians Shaped Hollywood” for me through interlibrary loan, about Alissa’s recent visit to Berlin, where her sister lives.
 Dr. William Scholl

At Lake County Welcome Center John Davies hosted the tenth annual Legends Wall of Fame ceremony with customary enthusiasm and panache.  The only living honoree still alive, Frank Borman, 88, currently resides in Montana. The three others were inventor Neil Ruzic, Medal of Honor recipient Frank Ono, and podiatrist William M. Scholl, founder of Dr. School’s, one of the most successful businesses of the twentieth century.  For the occasion I had on a pair of Dr. Scholl’s shoes.  Like me, Tim Sutherland attended, in part to validate Steve McShane’s invaluable participation in a worthy endeavor.

Nearly a half-century before Gary’s birth as a company town, Frank Borman’s great-grandfather moved to Tolleston, a German community later annexed to Gary.  A native of Hanover, Germany, Christopher Bormann had found work as a tuba player in a traveling circus.  Anxious to avoid conscription during the Civil war, he planned on moving west and boarded a train. According to family lore, at the Tolleston depot a conductor bellowed: “All immigrants get off here.” Bormann dutifully obeyed, perhaps thinking he had reached his destination, Texas.  He opened a trading post that housed Tolleston’s first post office.

Born in Gary, when Borman was six, his family moved to Arizona because the polluted air from the steel mills cause Frank to suffer from chronic sinus infections.  In “Countdown” Borman recalled that in 1933 his father paid five dollars o take his five year-old son for a ride in a biplane with a former barnstorming pilot.  Frank recalled: “I sat next to Dad in the front seat, with the pilot in the cockpit behind us, and I was captivated by the feel of the wind and the sense of freedom that flight creates so magically.”

On January 14, 1966, Gary dignitaries honored the West Point graduate and NASA astronaut who’d completed the 14-day Gemini 7 mission months earlier.  Mayor A. Martin Katz presented him with a key to the city.  An estimated 50,000 spectators lined Broadway for a parade that featured marching bands from local schools.  Prior to an evening banquet, Borman spoke to school children, civic leaders, and students at IUN.   On Christmas Eve 1968, Borman, James Lovell, and Bill Anders orbited the moon ten times.  Their unprecedented accomplishment, coming at the end of a turbulent year of assassinations, urban riots, and setbacks in Vietnam, prompted Time magazine to name them “People of the Year.” In 1976 Borman returned to Gary to accept an honorary degree from my esteemed institution.
 Chancellor Dan Orescanin, President John Ryan, Borman, trustee Carolyn Gutman

At the end of the program four Portage High School junior ROTC cadets (including a Latino and an African American) performed a complicated rifle exhibition drill in honor of Private Frank Ono, a Japanese-American who grew up in North Judson and fought with the famed 442nd Regimental Combat team. During the battle for the town of Castellina Marittima in Italy he almost singlehandedly held off an attack on his unit’s position by German forces.
above, David Ruzic; below, Jim Brix.  NWI Times photos by John J. Watkins
In attendance were numerous relatives of Ono and Ruzic, plus Borman’s hippie-looking nephew, Jim Brix, whom I’d love to know better.  Filling in for Scott Bocock, who nominated Dr. Scholl.  Scholl, whose father was a cobbler, became interested in repairing shoes at a young age and practiced his trade in Cedar Lake.   He invented and patented an arch support that was the secret to his initial success.  In my seminar on Cedar Lake Carnahan’s son Scott interviewed both beloved town historian Beatrice Horner and his dad, who recalled working at the Cedar Lake roller rink, staring at age 11.  Bob Carnahan recalled:

            I put skates on kids and later did the announcing and floor guarding.  I learned to set counters up and how to put paint on a wood floor.  I even learned a little about plumbing and furnaces.  It was a practical education.
            I worked as a kid in a lot of places, including Kohler’s Bakery and Grocery Store, where they would stack cereal boxes all the way to the ceiling.  They had this stick device that you would use to lower the boxes down.
            Edgewater Beach had a bathhouse where you could change clothes.  One day in March the owner said he lost his fishing pole out in the lake. I jumped in the cold water and rescued the rod and reel.  It actually had a fish on it when I pulled it out.  That summer he let me operate his pier concession, charging folks a quarter to put their clothes in a basket.  Many customers came from a picnic grove located across the street. 
            I used to caddy for Nick Schafer, the golf pro at South Shore Country Club.  When we got to the refreshment sand, he’d buy me a hot dog and coke.  Then after we got back to the clubhouse, he’d buy me a hamburger, French fries, and coke and pay me two dollars for caddying 18 holes.
            I remember Stan Kenton’s band playing at Midway Ballroom, where I parked cars as a kid.  Sometimes they had live entertainment in all three rooms.  One night they had the Everly Brothers in in the back section, Bobby Vee in the center section and a local group from Hobart called the Sundowners in the front section. 

The United States will finally establish diplomatic relations with Cuba after 53 years, and a full quarter century since the Cold War.  Perhaps President Obama finally feels free to follow his instincts.  Predictably, save for libertarian-leaning Rand Paul, Republican presidential hopefuls are howling, but Colin Powell and Pope Francis are all for it. Shame on Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz for not embracing this new page in Cuban-American relations, which promises to improve dramatically the lives of their poor cousins.

I asked Blandine and Frederic for permission to subtitle my forthcoming Steel Shavings “My Name Is Gary” and use photos from their noteworthy documentary by that name. Blandine replied:

  “Hello Jimbo, it¹s good to hear from you (we still follow every post on your blog) and of course you can use ‘My Name is Gary’ as subtitle and photos of the film and of us for the cover. In fact, we are really proud to be included in the new Steel Shavings.  We are trying to think about the next documentary project, which is a little difficult for us for the moment because our mind and our heart are still in Gary!  But we would like for sure to come back to the USA. I think that all the people we met in Gary, and you especially, gave us the desire to come back for a next film in the USA.”

Wouldn’t it be awesome if the French filmmakers next focused on Miller Beach, Gary’s unique “jewel” by the lake?  They’ve entered “My Name Is Gary” in film festivals in Toronto and Chicago and eventually will make a copy available to the Archives.  Blandine invited us to stay at her Paris apartment.  I’d love to see them again, perhaps with Toni and Victoria.
Time’s Persons of the Year are the Ebola Fighters in West Africa.  Other finalists included the Ferguson protestors, Vladimir Putin, and Alibaba CEO Jack Ma.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2015 inductees will include Green Day, Lou Reed, and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.  What a show that will be.

Grandson James is studying the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark Expedition.  He knew about Shoshone Indian guide Sacajawea and the slave York but not about the monster blue catfish caught by a Private Goodrich in the Missouri River that weighed 130 pounds and was 51 inches long.  With Alissa, Miranda, Beth, and Toni, I visited Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the explorers made camp during their second winter after finding sites closer to the Pacific inhospitable.

Gasolineos down to near two dollars a gallon, good news for folks counting their pennies, such as secretary Vickie Milenkovski, bowling teammate John Uylocki, and unemployed English professor Anne Balay.
On WXRT I heard “Meet the Flintstones” by the B52s, who promised that when you’re with that “modern stone age family,” you’ll have “a yabba dabba doo time, a dabba doo time, . . . a gay old time.”  Twenty years ago, when John Goodman was Fred and Rosie O’Donnell played Betty Rubble in the Flintstones movie, I tried to get Alissa to check it out while we were at the theater for a different film to see if she might want to see it later.  She recoiled at the suggestion, as if I were asking her to break the law.

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