Monday, April 20, 2015

Bringing the Heat

"all-american boy
w/karl & walt in his
pocket on the elevated
to wrigley. turning to
me sez in chicago-nasal
I scare people on the el
cuz they know I'm a so-
cial realist wit' nothin'
to do. good baseball is a
communist daydream."
         William Buckley 
William Buckley; photo by Jeff Manes
On my suggestion Jeff Manes profiled William Buckley in his Sunday Post-Trib column.  The totally appropriate title: “Poet, professor, fan of region brings the heat.”  After mentioning that Buckley was nominated for the distinguished Pushcart Prize and that he edits the online journal Plath Profiles, Manes asked the inevitable question, “Are you kin to the late ultraconservative William F. Buckley?”  Answering in the negative, Buckley added: “I don’t have his money or his arrogance.”  Calling Plath “our best poet since Emily Dickinson,” Buckley lamented that the severely manic-depressive author of “The Bell Jar” committed suicide at age 30.

Asked his thoughts on Northwest Indiana Buckley told Manes:

When I went out to the lake (Michigan) on West Beach for the first time, I was stunned. I was stunned by the juxtaposition between the beauty of the lake and the steel mills. My imagination exploded. I started writing about the lake, the mills and the people who live here.

There is no place like Northwest Indiana in the United States. And I've been all over this country. It's incredibly positive and yet the people can be really cranky and negative. I can see why. I was here during the '80s when one million men were laid off from Pittsburgh to Chicago and they weren't rehired. People forget this. I had a woman come into my office and tell me that she had to drop out of school because her steelworker husband had committed suicide after being laid off. I saw whole families hitchhiking on I-65 heading back to the South where they came from. Couldn't even get a U-Haul.

Holding forth from an IUN library carrel located near the Calumet Regional Archives, Buckley brought up about a Swing Shift course he taught for a Labor Studies program.

I toured U.S. Steel in Gary because I was going to be teaching steelworkers freshman composition right here at IUN. The school wanted me to be familiar with the world that the workers came from. Let me tell you, they earned every penny they ever made. I've never seen more dangerous work in my life.

They were strong, tough guys and really smart people. One guy worked in the department where they actually make the steel. He invited me to check it out. He said, “This is where I work, Bill. And I'm proud of it.” He reached down and picked up what he called a piece of the heat. He said it was something that was almost steel, but not quite. He said he wanted me to have it. I asked him how long he'd been working in that department. He said, “30 years, but I'm retiring next year, moving to Chicago, and opening an Italian restaurant.” To this day, I have a piece of the heat on my mantle above my fireplace.

Here’s how Manes ended the column: It was a pleasure chatting with William K. Buckley. He's much more educated than I am, but we share some similar beliefs and obviously enjoy writing.  It wasn't until I was exiting his office that I told him I'd spent more than half my life in a steel mill. Professor Buckley appreciated that.  You see, Bill’s that kinda guy.”  That he is, and I’m certain he enjoyed talking about Region steelworkers as much as Manes enjoyed listening.

Historian James Madison called, asking for suggestions of people from Northwest Indiana who might contribute to a forthcoming book about the Indiana Bicentennial.  Buckley came immediately to mind, as did former Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez and IUN graduate Marla Gee.  The editors want young people to contribute to a “Voices” section, so I thought of VU student Christina Crawley and asked SPEA professor Monica Solinas-Saunders for a couple names.

In her class on Twentieth-Century Women Nicole Anslover mentioned that according to a recent survey the two most influential American women were Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton in that order.  When the discussion turned to specious criticisms of Hillary in the press, I brought up that today’s lead article in the Post-Trib mentioned her visit to Bronko’s in Crown Point during the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary campaign.  Hammond mayor Thomas McDermott was expecting to have a beer with her and Crown Point mayor Dave Uran when the bartender brought out a bottle of Crown Royal and offered her a shot.  McDermott recalled: “At the time I was very scared.  I thought, ‘she’s going to lose the presidency because of this’.”  I assume he worried that folks would judge having a shot of whiskey to be un-ladylike.  After I finished, a women student interjected that all her friends drank Crown Royal.  In other words, what the bartender did was more gender appropriate than offering her a beer. 
In 2008  Bronko's owner Nick Tarailo watches Hillary Clinton drink a shot

Bronko’s owner Nick Tarailo, one of my very first students, told Post-Trib reporter Cristin Nance Lazerus that Hillary was very approachable and that he has featured a photo of the visit on the restaurant’s website.  He said: “I’m a father of three daughters.  My feelings [on her running again] are based on something my mother used to say: Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman.”

A recent Time magazine issue on 100 influential Americans included transgender actress Laverne Cox (in the TV series “Orange Is the new Black”) and Kim Kardashian, whose stepfather, former decathlon Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner, is evidently transitioning to a female.  When historians look back on he year 2015, the sudden publicity given to transgendered people will probably catch their eye.   Virtually everyone in Nicole’s class knew who Cox and Kardashian were and didn’t question their being on a list that also included Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Elizabeth Warren.

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