Wednesday, June 3, 2015


“Americans are inclined to look everywhere but under their noses for art.” Carl Van Vechten

Checking on my pathetic peony plant in the backyard, I tripped and fell on my chest pulling muscles that caused me to miss John Ban’s Reiner Center talk on World War II-era comedians.  When Toni returned from exercising, she quipped, “I see you’re still alive.”  A day later I feel much better and wonder if Ban included the Three Stooges or African Americans Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, and the brilliant Tim Moore, who went on to play Kingfish on Amos and Andy.  Before Foxx was lovable Fred Sanford on TV, he was a raunchy “chitlin’ circuit” whose ribald albums had such titles as “Racy Tales,” “Sly Sex,” and “Wild Party.”
above, Tim Moore; below, Carl Van Vechten
I finished J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” – the lengthier “Zooey” was less interesting than “Franny”  - and started Edward White’s biography of Carl Van Vechten, “The Tastemaker,” which Ron Cohen loaned me.  Remembered chiefly for writing the lamentably titled salacious novel  “Nigger Heaven” (referenced in the HBO biopic “Bessie”), Van Vechten was a true iconoclast who fled Cedar Lake, Iowa, and made New York City his home for his entire adult life.  A gay esthete, he nurtured the careers of Harlem Renaissance notables, such as poet Langston Hughes, actor Paul Robeson, and singer Ethel Waters.  White concludes:
  [He was] a modernist pioneer who lived a fast-paced cosmopolitan existence in its fullest aspect and a prophet of a new cultural sensibility that promoted the primacy of the individual, sexual freedom, and racial tolerance and dared put the blues on a par with Beethoven.  Across those decades when the United States began to push itself from its nineteenth-century moorings into a chaotic but exciting new era, Van Vechten’s hyper-individualism and radically eclectic tastes were perfectly suited to flourish.
 Taylor Swift from "Bad Blood" video

The music video for Billboard’s number 1 hit “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift, featuring Kendrick Lamar, resembles a superhero teaser and features a vast, sexy wardrobe for mega-star Swift, who attended but did not perform at the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.  Her silver dress and guitar are on display, however, in the Hall of Fame museum.

According to the New York Times, the best-selling nonfiction hardcover is David McCullough’s worthy “The Wright Brothers” (no historian understands the Progressive Era of 100 years ago better than McCullough).  Heading the fiction list is “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins, a mystery thriller that, according to NPR’s Michael Schaub, evokes to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and “Strangers on a Train.”  The leading nonfiction paperback is Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.”  On my To Do list: see if the books are at Westchester Library.
Dr. Mark Lawrence McPhail, IUN’s incoming Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, is a Communication professor whose PhD from UMass dealt with “The Language of Racism: A Contemporary Rhetorical Analysis.”  Much traveled (IUN is his sixth academic stop), McPhail describes himself as a poet and photographer who enjoys bicycling and martial arts.  With his diverse experience and professional credentials, he should compliment Chancellar Lowe well.  Let’s hope he takes after predecessors Kwesi Aggrey in wisdom and Lloyd Rowe in tact.
An Annie Leibovitz photo of the former Bruce Jenner, now a woman named Caitlin, adorns the cover of Vanity Fair.  The 65 year-old former decathlon gold medalist told writer Buzz Bissinger, “If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘You just blew your entire life.’”  People magazine reported gratuitously that Jenner has not undergone genital surgery and sexually prefers women.  Most media outlets have praised Jenner, but, according to the gossip site RADAR, former wife Kris Kardasian called Jenner’s transition “the most passive-aggressive thing I think I ever experienced.”  In July Jenner will make a public appearance to receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs.
Anne Balay, Alison Bechdel, Riva Lehrer; cartoon from "Fun Home"
In New York City to pick up the Lambda Literary (Lammy)) Emerging Writer Award Anne Balay, hung out with Alison Bechdel, author of “Fun House: A Family Tragicomic” (2006) that combined comics and autobiography.  Her father is the heavy.  She also authored a comic strip entitled “Dykes To Watch Out For.”

Karina Haro attends IUN, works at Petco, and is an “Escaramuza” (competitor) for a “Charro” team called “Las Monarcas” (the Monarchs).  Karina rides a horse sidesaddle doing synchronized exercises on a horse with seven other women.  Here are excerpts:
March 2: Being a groomer at Petco and managing the salon is a headache.  The big corporation wants us to conduct a dog food survey on every customer, as well as sell dog training classes and add-on packages.  I wish they’d have to wash a dog’s butt, squeeze anal glands, and try to cut a moving animal’s hair before they criticize employees.
March 6: I went shopping for a dress for a Charro banquet fundraiser and invited my friend Melissa to be my guest because my husband had to work.  I changed in Petco’s bathroom – not cool at all putting on a long flowing dress where dogs run all over and probably pee.  With no time for a shower I put on extra deodorant and body spray so I wouldn’t smell like dogs.  At the banquet was Chuy Garcia, in a run-off for Chicago mayor against Rahm Emanuel.
March 8: My husband and I got ten bales of hay at his cousin’s ranch in Lowell for 5 dollars each.  They are a good mixture of grass and alfalfa.  We took our cattle dog Pepa along since he loves the ranch.  We fit the bales into our new 2006 Dodge RAM diesel truck.  We had breakfast at Mi Ranchito in Lowell, where I drank a margarita to calm my nerves before delivering the bales and riding my mare and gelding.
March 16: At Petco I mentored someone who had started groom school elsewhere, so all I had to do was clean her up.  She was a quick learner but seemed a little too confident.  If you aren’t slightly scared to fail, it means you might cut the dog you’re grooming. 
March 18: I had a bad dog, but he didn’t get to bite me.  Our official policy is if a dog shows aggression or tries to bite, then send him home.  Well, if we did this, we’d have no dogs to groom.  I usually groom the bad dogs in my salon.  I’ve been doing this for nine years.
March 20: My mother left me breakfast on my Jeep.  I thank god for giving me such a caring mother.  Seven years ago she opened a hair salon in Hammond.  She has built up a good clientele but gripes that there’s no money to be made in Hammond.
March 22: I woke up at 5 a.m. for an 8 a.m. practice.  My horse is beautiful and has lots of stamina but is ornery.  He needs to be worked at least five times a week.  Since we do ballet, he has to be one tired mule to get him to do his routine.  Normally I keep our horses at a barn located near the border between Gary and Lake Station, but during competing season we move them to Beecher, Illinois.
March 30: My husband got all three of our vehicles oil changes and washed. I married a good one.  We got engaged nine months after we met and married a year later.  Besides my father, I never met such a hard-working person.
April 1: I was in the fishbowl, which is what I call Petco since we groom surrounded by windows.  My store manager got written up for not selling enough dog training classes.  We don’t have an assistant manager, so everything falls on him. 
April 5: With my family coming over, I cooked chicken legs and arrachera (shirt steak for taco filling) on the grill. My husband displayed the American flag on the porch.  We have a small house and only have celebrations outside when the weather cooperates.  At night my grandma washed the dishes.  I do the same at other people’s homes.  It is a Mexican tradition.  Both my mother and grandmother were born in Mexico.  I was born in the U.S. but still carry on ethnic traditions.  In fact, Charro is Mexico’s national sports; some claim it’s bigger than soccer.
above, Las Monarcas; below, BP workers: NWI Times photo by John J. Watkins
Union stalwart Terry Steagall added to his already impressive Calumet Regional Archives collection of materials on OCAW (Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers) and USWA (United Steelworkers of America) with primary sources about the nearly three-month long strike at BP’s Whiting facilities.  Kisha Tandy at the Indiana State Museum wanted materials for an Indiana Bicentennial exhibition about Mayor Richard Hatcher and Mexican Repatriation.  I told her about a chapter I wrote on Hatcher for “African-American mayors” and recommended she make use of a ten-minute segment on Mexican Repatriation that appeared on the WFYI PBS series “Across Indiana.”

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