Thursday, January 8, 2015

Skeletal Remains

Skeletal Remains

“I clearly saw the skeleton underneath
all this show of personality.
What is left of a man
and all his pride but bones.”
  Jack Kerouac, “Scattered Poems”

In preparation for Steve McShane’s first class on Indiana History, in which I will outline a journal assignment, I’ll mention how they are related to diaries and memoirs but less intimate (usually) than the former and more present-oriented than the latter, even though they can contain elements of both.  In fact, I’ll recommend that students include both events from their daily lives and histories of their families and communities.  I’ll read from the chronicles of Lake County’s first historian Timothy H. Ball.  He was living in Cedar Lake in October 1870, when human skeletons were exhumed.  Workers were plowing ground for a mill site on a grassy knoll a few feet higher than the sandy beach and sloping slightly in every direction, unaware that they were tampering with an ancient Indian burial mound.  Ball wrote about an unexpected discovery, human skeletons:
  “As the surface soil was removed, and as the plowshare cut into a second layer of earth, it struck a mass of human bones, evidently entire skeletons, until the plow reached them, and in a good state of preservation.        
  As many as 20 skeletons were taken out from a small space of ground, and a tree, under the very roots of which some of them were buried there, apparently in one promiscuous heap, 200 years ago.”

Frigid weather caused school cancellations throughout Chicagoland. At 9:15 on Tuesday I arrived at IUN to find the doors locked.  Someone told me the university was scheduled to open at ten, and fortunately campus police officer Michael DeVries let me in after a short wait.  Steve McShane’s in California, but volunteer Maurice Yancy came in.  Vickie Milenkovsky told me that Communication secretary Dorothy Mokry’s father died at age 100.  Until the former Chetnik fighter broke a hip recently, the Serbian-American had been in apparent good health.

New York City cops have turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at ceremonies honoring the two policemen, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were basically assassinated in the line of duty.  After no indictment was handed down against the cop who put a choke hold on Eric Gerner, leading to his death, the Mayor had dared admit that he’d “given the talk” to his biracial son how to act – deferential, not disrespectful - if confronted by policemen.  Maybe one such gesture of protest was OK, but to defy not only the mayor but Police Commissioner William Bratton was shameful and outrageous.  As Bratton said, “Come demonstrate outside City Hall or police headquarters.  But don’t put on your uniform, go to a funeral and engage in a political action.”   This racially insensitive behavior can only inflame an already tense situation.  Comedian Chris Rock commented: “Maybe the NYPD can use their newfound love of back-turning the next time they see a dark-skinned man walking the street doing nothing wrong.”

Michael Bayer passed along an article by Andrew O’Hehir that excoriated “arrogant blowhard” Patrick Lynch, leader of the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, for orchestrating the “mini-rebellion.”  O’Hehir wrote: Many people inclined to feel sympathy for the police, and skittish about the street protests of recent weeks, were dismayed to see cops turn the funeral of a murdered officer into a petty political confrontation, against the wishes of the dead man’s family. It was, or should have been, a moment of mourning and contemplation, when the city and the nation were poised to reflect on the uniquely difficult lives of police officers, who so often bear the brunt of policies they did not create and attitudes they cannot realistically be expected to escape.”
above, Mike Bayer with Rhiannon's toy "Stuffie": below, Bernie Sanders
New York magazine profiled New Hampshire Independent Bernie Sanders, a socialist who proudly hangs a photo of Eugene Victor Debs in his Senate office and who may run for president.  The son of Jewish parents who,emigrated to New York City not knowing a word of English, Sanders graduated from the University of Chicago, was a civil rights activist, and moved to Vermont in 1964. Mayor of Burlington for four terms, he won elected as Senator in 2006 after serving as Vermont’s at-large Congressman for eight terms.  Go, Bernie, go.

CHOICE named Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets” an “Outstanding Academic Title of 2015, just one of 651 books so honored, or less than three percent of volumes submitted for review.

The Indiana legislative session has begun, and 61 year-old IU Northwest grad Marla Gee, scheduled to start Valparaiso Law School in August, sent this report on her first days as a Democratic intern:

  Spent my first week PANTING my way across the State House.  My tongue was hanging out so much from heavy breathing that first day I gave myself a sore throat!  I have never WALKED so much on a job in my life.  Endless halls and corridors, double wooden doors that you can access getting in but can’t getting out, tunnels, and of course, the marble staircases which are not meant to be climbed by humans.  I’m here in the bowels of the building, (the basement), and I share an office space with 5 other interns and I think 4 legislative assistants.  This was once a STABLE.  As in HORSES. (This is what happens when you’re the minority party and the Republicans grab all of the sweet offices.)  I am still finding my way about, getting lost every day, the map still in hand everywhere I go.  Part of the reason why I’m so exhausted is because I’m backtracking so much…the walls are painted an industrial yellow, and everything looks the same.  It’s like walking through an enormous maze.  We are expected to dress professionally, you know, the “corporate” look.  It looks stupid, but with my pants suit I am wearing Nikes; otherwise, my right knee could not take the pain of walking on these beautiful marble floors.  I keep a pair of heels in my desk drawer if I need to go on to the House floor or chambers for any reason…but once I’m behind my desk, the heels come off!

I will be attending a Welcome Back reception this evening for the Indiana Black Legislative Caucus, which is funny for me because I rarely go out to social events.  There are so many of these kinds of things we are expected to attend!  Yesterday the pub across the street offered free cheeseburgers and fries to all the legislators and their staff, and someone’s office always has some kind of baked goods going on, or there is some lobbyist putting on a huge spread either for breakfast or luncheon…I swear, this is the EATING-EST place!  Very easy to gain weight…but I think I should be okay because I am WALKING so much!   I should say, though, that by now I have discovered the whereabouts of the elevators.

Before Marla Gee left for Indy, I had suggested she keep a journal or, if she didn’t have the time, email me from time to time.  One’s impressions are most vivid upon initially encountering an unfamiliar environment.  I till recall Joanell Boyyorff’s first letters from Hong Kong and Alissa’s “couch surfing” across Europe.

An archeologist excavating below Marla’s quarters might find skeletal remains of horses – or, who knows, maybe even politicians.  Marla’s remarks reminded me of when Linda Lawson wrote about her freshman term as a State Representative in 1998.  The former Hammond police officer, now House Minority leader, comparing her first month to being a freshman in high school.

  “I didn’t know anyone, didn’t know the process, didn’t know what to wear, who to trust, where my staff was, who the best teachers were and couldn’t find the bathrooms.  It was a nightmare.  In the first three weeks I packed my suitcase three times to come home.  I was confused, frustrated, had a total loss of control, and things were moving so fast I couldn’t really get a handle on something until we were moving on to something new.”

Lawson coped, as I’m certain Gee will.  They both have grit.
I noticed bowling mate Mike Sebben’s photo with a newspaper article about bowling and figured he’d rolled a 700 series or won a tournament.  Instead, to my shock, I learned he died.  For many years Sebben worked at Cressmoor Lanes for Jim Fowble, and recently he and wife Tammy bought an alley in Hebron.  He had a ready smile and looked much younger than 53.  Some nights he’d be trouble-shooting if something went awry on one of the lanes and then return and without hesitation usually throw a perfect ball.  Some bowlers are slow as molasses; Mike was just the opposite.  In a Jeff Manes column a few months ago someone compared him to the Energizer Bunny.
From Ray Smock: “Phyllis and I started the new year by inviting a friend from Canada to dinner.  He was delicious.”

I checked out the premiere of the HBO series “Looking” a year after I first aired.  Some LGBT critics thought season one was too tame, but it opened with a main character in a park receiving a blow job (interrupted when his cell phone rang) and also featured a three-way involving a gay couple and someone they’d justmet.  Too tame?  I think not.  There was no frontal nudity of course, but for those wanting actual sexual organs triple-X porn is readily available.

They first gay silent screen idol was jack Kerrigan, born in New Albany, Indiana, and a warehouse clerk before he joined a vaudeville touring company.  Beginning in 1913 he appeared in over 300 films, but his popularity waned after he said he wouldn’t volunteer to fight in World War I.  Coy about his homosexuality (lover James Vincent lived with him, but so did his mother, to whom he was fiercely devoted), his final two movies were “The Covered Wagon” (1923) and “Captain Blood” (1924).

Next month Ron Cohen has yet another book coming out, co-authored with Will Kaufman and entitled “Singing for Peace: Antiwar Songs in American History.”  On the cover is a photo Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen singing “This Land Is Your Land” at the “We Are One” event on the day of Obama’s 2009 Inaugural.”  Typically Seeger entreated the crowd to join in.

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