Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Almost There


“Hey, sweet Annie
Don’t take it so bad
You know the summer’s coming soon
Though the interstate is choking under salt and dirty sand
And it seems the sun is hiding from the moon.”
            “Winter Valley Song,” Fountains of Wayne, on “Welcome Interstate Managers

Best known for the teen fantasy song “Stacy’s Mom,” the pop punk band Fountains of Wayne (named for a now-defunct lawn ornaments store in Wayne, New Jersey), had several other clever tracks on their commercially successful 2003 album “Welcome Interstate Managers,” including “Hey Julie,” “All Kinds of Time,” and “(I got a new computer and a) Bright Future in Sales.”  “Valley Winter Song” was the soundtrack for an L.L. Bean ad, and “Stacy’s Mom” has been used both in Dr. Pepper and Cadillac commercials.  The band considered “Stacy’s Mom” a tribute to the Cars; its intro is similar to “Just What I Needed.”  In as tawdry a musical video as I’ve ever seen, a kid is a dead ringer for a young Ric Ocasek and Stacy walks into a bathroom and catches her boyfriend pleasuring himself while staring at her mom, who, as the lyrics indicate, “has it going on.”
above, Peter Anton; below, Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden

According to NWI Times correspondent Joseph S. Pete, the documentary “Almost There” took producer/directors Dan Rybicky and Aaron Wickenden eight years to complete.  It’s about oddball Peter Anton whom they met at Pierogi Fest in Whiting drawing pastel portraits of festival-goers and telling corny jokes to attract attention. Rybicky and Wickenden discovered that Anton was a compulsive hoarder and lived in a crumbling-down hovel with no heat or water that was later condemned.  Rybicky told Pete:
  Anton’s just a funny guy and an extreme character.  He had scrapbooks he was making all his life.  It was absolutely riveting.  It was clear his art was an overriding obsession.  He’s an at-risk person, so it’s an intense drama.  It’s a documentary about an outside artist who’s on the fringes of a community.  It’s a human story and meditation on the way people take care of each other, yet it ends in a quietly satisfying way.

Pete quotes from Dmitry Samarov’s thoughtful review in Belt Magazine:
  It is also a searing portrait of postindustrial Indiana as it attempts to resurrect itself after decades of neglect.  Just as Anton has to leave the wreck of his past behind, so the Rust belt – brilliantly evoked in the film by David Schalliol’s environmental cinematography – must find some new way to grow, prosper, and move forward.
 
Columbia College professor Dan Rybicky was the next-door neighbor in Miller of “Sweet Annie” Balay (she’d cringe if I called her that to her face).  Dan invited Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk to talk to his film students while the French filmmakers lived nearby for two months.  David Schalliol, a University of Chicago urban sociologist, is friends with “American Ruins” author Camilo Vergara and frequently visits Gary both to enjoy the dunes and, like Vergara, photograph industrial and urban decay.

The final portion of my Portage Historical Society Edgewater talk will profile such memorable individuals as Désiré Defauw, music director for Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Dr. Woods, who had a colonics clinic specializing in enemas at his home, later purchased as a leaseback by environmentalist Lee Botts.  A slum area of shabby apartments on John Laue’s newspaper route gained the nickname Hillbilly Hill. John Arden recalled, “Every family seemed cut from a different cloth.  We had some real characters.  You had to be pretty independent to live in Edgewater.  The parents didn’t have that much in common, but the children all went to the same school and rode the same school bus.”

John Laue recalled that friendly driver Harry Johnson the long bus rides palatable.  He wrote:
            One technique that Harry used to relieve the boredom and tedium was to teach us every song he knew.  I’m sure we were quite a sight travelling down the highway singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” at the top of our lungs.
            Harry was a great guy, but he ran a tight ship.  One afternoon he pulled the bus over to the side of the road after someone in the back had lit up a cigarette.  We sat there for what seemed like forever until one of the young hoods from Hillbilly Hill finally confessed.  That’s the last time Harry had a smoking problem on his bus.
 Fleming house in middle; Father and Son; drawings by Dale Fleming
Mike Halpin told John Laue that Edgewater residents “were certainly looking for something other than a big house in the suburbs.”  He called artist Dale Fleming “the prototypical Edgewater resident,” one who lived “a very simple existence with minimum luxuries.”  Fleming grew up in Merrillville and became infatuated with the dunes when an art teacher brought his class to Marquette Park. He moved to Edgewater in 1964 and opened a coffeehouse in Miller.  After It closed in 1967, folk musicians would gather Wednesday evenings at Fleming’s house.  Dale recalled: “We would sit around and eat popcorn, drink hot Dr. Pepper, talk about politics, and play music.  It was great fun.”

Dale Fleming told John Laue:
  I’ve always loved living in the dunes.  As far as being a parent is concerned, the dunes is the great equalizer. My son Carl and I became more than father and son – we became best friends.  Whether it was flying kites, skipping stones across the lake, or sliding down a dune on a piece of corrugated cardboard, we really got to know each other.  We built a solid foundation with a lot of fine memories.

When I included John Laue’s “Oral History of Edgewater” in “Tales of Lake Michigan” (Steel Shavings, volume 28, 1998) Dale Fleming contributed about 50 Edgewater drawings for a mere $200 plus a dozen others on such landmarks as the original Michigan City Lighthouse and Marquette Park Pavilion as well as characters such as Diana of the Dunes and hermit George Blagg.  My goal is to bring Dame back as an artist in residence in Miller Beach or some other duneland community.

Al Hunter wrote about Showman’s Rest, a plot of land at Woodlawn cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois, dedicated to deceased circus performers.  Among the first to be buried there were victims of the 1918 Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Train disaster that killed 86 people and injured 127 others.  It occurred in Hammond when a Michigan Central engineer fell asleep and plowed into the rear of the circus train. Even though no animals were killed, surrounding the plot are statues of five elephants.  Hunter wrote:

  The five elephant statues each have a foot raised with a ball underneath, and the trunks lowered. (Raised trunks are a symbol of joy and excitement; lowered trunks symbolize mourning.)  Some nearby residents say the trumpeting sounds of ghostly elephants can often be heard at night, even though there were no elephants buried there and the statues weren’t added until years after the train wreck. And for those looking for an explanation for the sounds, Brookfield Zoo is only a few miles away.
When I get back from Palm Springs, I plan to edit Fred McColly’s March journal.  One of my first students, who tends IUN’s community garden, Fred (above, with family on Fathers Day), now a proud grandfather, is a guitar player who stopped drinking and started eating healthy years ago.  He is my most frequent blog commenter.  His daughter Sarah, a talented poet, is on the cover of my Nineties Steel Shavings (volume 31), along with Samuel A. Love.

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