“Now you know that I’m about to act a fool
Me you can go toe to toe, no maybe
I’m knocking suckas out of the box, daily
yo weekly, monthly and yearly”
“Straight Outta Compton (clean version).” N.W.A.
In the IUN library courtyard was a guy wearing a black t-shirt with white lettering that read, “Straight Outta Gary.” He said he bought it at a stand near Twenty-Fifth and Broadway, about a mile north of campus. I definitely want one and found the guy, who was sharing the space with a vendor selling watermelons from the back of a truck. He only had size 4X black shirts and blue ones but promised to find an extra large black one for me overnight and was true to his word Friday.
Like many Fifties rhythm and blues classics cleaned up for popular consumption, such as “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” the original “Straight Outta Compton” contained language deemed unfit for airplay. The word “suckas,” for example, was originally a longer, rhyming “m” word. One line that survived intact: “I’m down with the capital C-P-T” – the C-P-T standing for Compton in South Central Los Angeles.
Only one woman author, Flannery O’Connor, made Esquire’s list of “80 books every man should read” – no “To Kill a Mockingbird” even. Shameful. Two historians, Studs Terkel (“The ‘Good War’”) and David McCullough (“The Great Bridge”) made the cut as well as several books about Vietnam, including Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Favorite authors Hunter S. Thompson, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, and Graham Greene showed up, but no “Catcher in the Rye” or “Catch-22.” Spotting Phil Roth’s “American Pastoral,” I found it in IUN’s library and discovered it deals with an adored daughter radicalized by events of 1968.
Philip Roth in 1973
Former student Jim Daubenheyer has retired from teaching Social Studies and wanted advice on what to do next – possibly teach a college course or write a history of Merrillville. He wrote:
Every few weeks I look in on an elderly Gary woman, who was our part-time housekeeper from 1953 until my parents left Merrillville in 1980. I then sometimes drive around Gary, searching for the past. On one of those recent visits, I asked myself if the decline of Gary could have been avoided.
As a young kid, my brother, some friends, and I would ride the Crown Point/Gary bus downtown to watch matinees at the State and Place theaters. And of course my mom would take us along when she “went shopping” downtown. Sometimes we stopped at the “Bank Building,” where my dad had once had his dental office, for a booster shot from our pediatrician. Until I took your class, I thought Gary was just a tired, decaying, unappealing, rust-belt city. You opened my eyes to its rich history!
So many great people I talked about in Nicole Anslover’s class recently passed away – among them my mom, theater director Garrett Cope, radio personality Tom Higgins, newsman Carrol Vertrees, and civil rights activist Lydia Grady, who in 1949 participated in an effort to desegregate Marquette Park in Gary’s Miller Beach district. On the way to the beach detractors tossed rocks at the caravan from the Grand Boulevard viaduct, breaking several windshields. In 2008 Lydia provided housing for Obama volunteers during the Indiana Democratic primary. She was a sweetheart.
In Steve McShane’s class to explain the oral history assignment, I read an excerpt from an interview with Anastasia Tsoutsouris Polite that appears in my Steel Shavings issue “Froebel Daughters of Penelope.” Tasia, a master storyteller who passed away in December 2014 at age 82, recalled:
I never learned the facts of life at home. You learned from your friends. When I first got my period, I got a box of sanitary napkins. My mother said, “Who’s that for?” I told her, “For me.” She said, “Oh, we have to have a talk.” I said, “OK.” She said, “Never let a boy see your underpants. Because then you’ll get pregnant.” My grandmother used to make me these blue panties. Sometimes they would break and hang down. I was so afraid that someone would see them and that I would get pregnant.
Katherine’s mother told her a different story, which left her equally in the dark. One day she said to me, “Anastasia, I’ve got to talk to you. I think I’m pregnant.” I said, “Oh my God, Katherine, how do you know?” She said that she had walked behind a bush with some dopey guy. I had never heard that story. So I said, “Well, did he see your underpants?” When she said no, I said, “Oh, then you’re not pregnant.” She said, “Oh, I feel so much better now.”
Can you imagine? Here both of us were at the head of our class but very ignorant about the facts of life.
I didn’t learn the facts of life from my parents although they had a book on the subject available. On the eve of my wedding Vic asked if I had any questions and was palpably relieved when I say no. High school friend Vince Curll showed me pornographic playing cards, including one of an Asian lady performing oral sex. Not only was that an eye opener, it caused me to wonder if American girls also did that. It took me several years to find out. What would the old man have said, I wonder, had I put that question to him.
Tom Wade’s new job prevented him from playing duplicate bridge, but Charlie Halberstadt needed a partner and we did quite well until the final hands when our opponents made two straight small slams in a row. I asked affable bridge director Alan Yngve who he pronouncing his Swedish name; it’s two syllables, the first like “ing” and the second like the letter “v.” When we first moved to Gary, Toni and I played a few times at Temple Israel and invited one couple to our house. They arrived fresh from a radio appearance where they talked about being nudists.
I wore my “Straight Outta Gary” t-shirt when six of us dined at Applebee’s. I got a few stares and double takes but no frowns or disparaging comments.