Friday, January 30, 2015

Mr. Cub

“You must try to generate happiness within yourself.  If you aren’t happy in one place, chances are you won’t be happy anywhere.”  Ernie Banks

Chicagoland is in mourning as Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” is being laid to rest after his big heart gave out at age 83.  He played for the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs before becoming in 1953 the Cubs’ first black player.  Twice MVP on a last place team, Banks set a record for shortstops by hitting 52 HRs in 1958 and retired after 19 years with a total of 512 round trippers.  In 1970, our first year in Northwest Indiana, Banks was in the twilight of his career but still had a sweet swing (similar to his contemporary, Hank Aaron) and quick wrists that could propel line drives into the leftfield bleachers.   Since retiring, he was Chicago’s premier goodwill ambassador best known for saying, “It’s a beautiful day.  Let’s play two.”  At bowling when my final ball of the night is a strike, I’ll yell out, “Let’s go four” and think of Ernie.

On he new cover of Sports Illustrated is a young Ernie Banks in a Cub uniform.  Chicagoan Rich Cohen wrote:

  “When I’m feeling down, I go online and watch Banks hit homeruns 498, 499, and 500.  It’s a pleasure to see Wrigley Field as it used to be, those ancient afternoons with weak springtime shadows, the air as chilled as a frosty malt, Jack Brickhouse – the broadcaster who once forgave the Cubs with, “Everybody is entitled to a bad century” – shouting ‘Hey, Hey’ as Ernie rounds the bases.”

Ernie is Technicolor.  Failing with him was not always fun; failing without him would have been intolerable.  His philosophical position was existentialist.  He seemed to say, Yes, you will lose, yes, you will die, but it’s a beautiful day, a wonderful park.  His great saying, ‘Let’s play two’ is as defiantly hopeful as anything by Sinatra.”

Explaining how Western Europe’s economy went from deprivation to prosperity during the decade following World War II, in part due to Marshall Plan grants, Jonathyne Briggs mentioned that as part of the arrangement countries such as Germany and France had to accept American consumer items such as Coca cola, movies, records, cars, and comic books.  Some of these exposed European youth to symbols of rebellion. For example, the leather jacket Marlon Brando wore in “The Wild Ones” was suddenly the rage.  In America, I told the class, motorcycle gangs adopted the skull and crossbones from the logo on Brando’s jacket.  Unlike America, poor Europeans lived in public housing projects located not in the inner city but in suburbs located on the urban fringes.
above, Brando; below, Webkinz

An award-winning teacher, Briggs is a master at establishing rapport, drawing out those reluctant to speak, and not discouraging others prone to ask questions or remark spontaneously without waiting to raise their hand.  His persona is someone who’d you’d really like to know better.  Erudite but not patronizing, he apologized for making popular culture references to the Eighties (“Footloose”), Sixties (Beatles), and Fifties (Bill Haley), but he seemed familiar with contemporary fads and gadgets, such as the online Webkinz craze that allows kids to adopt stuffed animals but worries some parents because of its addictive tendencies.

Asked to comment on American youth during the 1950s, I thought back to my teen fascination with sex, cars, and rock and roll (I started smoking but cigarettes, not reefers, like many city kids my age).  It was the golden age of drive-ins, both movies (“passion pits”) and diners.  In my Fifties Shavings, entitled “Rah Rahs and Rebel Rousers: Relationships between the Sexes during the Teen Years of the 1950s,” I wrote:

  “Kids logged thousands of hours in front of “the tube,” and practically overnight their buying power transformed popular music.  If adults wanted stability after years of depression and war, their sons and daughters sought freedom and excitement.  They didn’t necessarily join motorcycle gangs or become beatniks but probably emphasized with such symbols of rebellion as James Dean and Jack Kerouac. A generation gap was arising between those born before Pearl Harbor and those weaned on postwar prosperity.  By the end of the decade the so-called “Silent Generation” was giving way to baby boomers whose ebullient teen spirit would accentuate America’s youth-oriented popular culture.”
above, Ice mounds on Lake Michigan, photo by Jim Spicer; below, Clay Street by Jerry Davich

Jerry Davich pointed out the sorry state of Clay Street, which links Gary and Lake Station.  Apparently neither community is willing to repair the many potholes nor clean up the trash callous people dump on the side of the road.  It is barely wide enough for two cars to pass one another, even if the ruts didn’t make it an obstacle course.
 Marvin Rea; Times photo by John Smierciak

Gary Bowman Academy administrators fired Coach Marvin Rea, whose men’s basketball teams have won two state titles in the past four years.   The official explanation: he purchased team jerseys without permission.  A parent, Tawanna Staples, claims the real reason is because at a recent game against Crown Point, she passed out a letter, apparently with his knowledge, complaining about a mold issue in the building and inadequate efforts to upgrade instruction after the school received a grade of “D.”  Staples demanded for an emergency board meeting for the purpose of reinstating Rea.  Otherwise, she intimated, a student walk-out might occur.  The shabby treatment of Rea by charter school honchos is similar to the dismissal of Jeff Karras as Roosevelt head coach because he gave players rides who had no other way to get home.  Rea starred on the 1987 Roosevelt Panthers, which reached the Final Four, and at Purdue, like teammate Carson Cunningham, learned coaching fundamentals from Gene Keady.

IUN adjunct Corey Hagelberg took over Valparaiso University professor’s Gregg Hertzlieb’s printmaking class for a day when Hertzlieb had to elsewhere.  Corey recently posted on Facebook a photo of a new woodcut “Tree” and thanked environmentalists who have worked many years with the Grand Calumet Task Force, He wrote: “Kate (Land) and I saw a bald eagle sitting on a branch over the Calumet River, and while I feel bad for the eagle, I take it as a positive sign.”
Most critics panned the new Kevin Costner movie “Black and White” as a well-intentioned failure.  Steven Rea of the Philadelphia Inquirer termed it a “brave and wondrous miscalculation,” adding: “Oh, the bathos!  The loony wrongheadedness of the screenplay.”   I enjoyed it.  Both Costner (Elliot) and his chief foil, the father of Elliot’s biracial granddaughter Eloise (a charming Jillian Estell) play flawed addicts (in Costner’s case, alcohol), but Octavia Spencer (Minny in “The Help”) as Aunt Rowena (Aunt Wee-wee) is enchanting and Mpho Koaho as Eloise’s tutor brightens every scene he’s in.  African-American critic Lisa Kennedy hit the nail on the head, I believe, when she wrote:
It may be helpful — or vexing — to think of ‘Black or White’ as the great grandchild of ‘Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?’ No, it won't be as enduring — not even close. Yet it shares that message movie's desire to acknowledge change and also speak to the personal aches and shared possibilities that come with it.  That it comes by this honestly makes it a sympathetic, more than simply sentimental, journey.”

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