Monday, November 2, 2015

The Weekend

“I’ve got some problems I know
Driving too fast but just moving too slow.”
“Dark Times,” The Weekend

A “Flight Paths” workshop at IUN attracted three-dozen attendees who gobbled up free copies of Steel Shavings, volume 44, “My Name Is Gary.”   After welcoming remarks by CURE (Center for Urban and Regional Excellence) director Ellen Szarleta and Chancellor Bill Lowe, co-directors Allison Schuette and Liz Wuerffel described how the Welcome Project has expanded in scope from exploring the relationship between Valparaiso University students and the community to looking into the relationship of Valpo residents, many with Gary roots, to Northwest Indiana cities.  After showing  excerpts of interviews with Gary mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Valpo’s Jon Costas, recent VU grad Christina Crowley led a discussion on points they made, such as the importance of neighborhood role models and reasons for white and green flight.  Even though Freeman-Wilson’s parents were not college grads, on her block were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, women professionals, storeowners, and steelworkers.  Costas called events of 1967, when his parents decided to flee Gary, racially a “perfect storm.”

On the program was VU History professor Heath Carter, whom I congratulated on the excellent reviews for “Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago.”  I told him that my book “Jacob A. Riis and the American City,” discussed Social Christianity efforts in New York City.  When Carter noted he’ll be teaching a class on Hip Hop America, I asked whether he’d seen the latest Rolling Stone with The Weekend, AKA Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, on the cover.

The Weekend, whose hip hop style includes ingredients of R and B soul, indie, and punk, recently performed his two consecutive number 1 hits “Can’t Feel my Face” and (with Nicki Minaj) “The Hills” on Saturday Night Live.  Born in Ethiopia and reared by a stong-willed mother in Toronto, Canada’s working-class Scarborough neighborhood, he shot to fame in 2011 after releasing three nine-track mix tapes, including “House of Balloons.”  Tesfaye explained that at parties he and his friends often inflated balloons to add atmosphere.  There was a house of balloons in the 2009 Pixar flick “Up.”  The Weekend’s lyrics are often profane and larded with drug references.  The title of “Rolling Stone,” refers not to a vagabond like in Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” but to smoking weed while rolling on ecstasy.
 Michael Jackson in 1984

Tesfaye’s childhood hero, Michael Jackson, co-wrote (with Lionel Richie) “We Are the World” (1985) to raise money for famine relief in African countries such as Ethiopia.   The Weekend employs a tremulous falsetto evocative of “The King of Pop.”  Hearing Tesfaye’s stage name, I thought of “Jersey Shore” TV reality personality Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, who has fallen on hard times.  In the chorus to “The Fall” The Weekend declares: “I ain’t scared of the fall, I’ve felt the ground before.”  Brave words indeed, but it isn’t easy being poor, especially after savoring the spoils of fame and fortune.

The workshop theme was “Identifying and Addressing Fault Lines in Our Communities,” and the final topic involved a Saturday evening confrontation in Valpo’s Hilltop district between a Burns Harbor police officer and a 21 year-old African-American student, Darryl Jackson, who double –parked for a few minutes while picking up a friend.  Jackson never left his jeep and was pulled over after he had resumed driving.  A Porter County gang task force “Saturation Patrol” was in progress, using officers from a half-dozen local forces.  The arresting officer later claimed he suspected a drug deal was going down, but a search for weapons or drugs came up empty.  When Jackson complained about being forced to exit his jeep and refused to take his hands out of his pockets, he was handcuffed, taken to jail, and charged with resisting arrest.  Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel refused to pursue charges, and Valparaiso mayor Jon Costas charged that the officer’s conduct “fell short of the level of professionalism our citizens expect and deserve.”  Costas added: “Valparaiso is a vibrant and welcoming city that celebrates its diverse and talented citizenry.”  Two FOP lodges subsequently questioned the mayor’s “level of professionalism.”

Workshop participants viewed video excerpts of the confrontation, the police report, a NWI Times news article, and a statement by victim Darryl Jackson, who claimed to have a tremendous respect for officers of the law and even knew some Valparaiso officers personally. Jackson said:
  Last summer I worked with potential first-generation college students in Trio Upward Bound, and I told the kids. “You don’t have a safety net.  You do something wrong, you’re going to jail.”  And these kids only know what they see.  Sometimes they aren’t given good models.  I wanted to give them a different choice.  But these kids can watch me on YouTube right now, seeing me go to jail.  And they’re going to say, “If he’s going to jail, there’s no reason to stay in school.  What’s doing the right thing going to do for me, if the program is to put me in jail anyway.”
If he was slow to react to the officer’s unexpected demands, Jackson stated, it was because he was confused, disoriented, and fearful, given recent incidents in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere, rather than intentionally disrespectful of authority.  Jackson expressed gratitude for the subsequent outpouring of support.  His statement concluded: “If I can hope for anything, it is that I can use my experience to help show people that it is on all of us to stop the cycle of disrespect.  And I humbly accept that as my responsibility.”

Much to my chagrin, sweeps similar to the Hilltop “Saturation Patrol” have taken place near IU Northwest.  In that case, prior to the dragnet operation, cops were told to be aggressively on the alert for trouble. Valparaiso police undergo sensitivity training, but that evidently is not the case with Burns Harbor officers.  Chancellor Lowe, who comes from a family of NYPD officers and stayed throughout the program, wondered if something other than racial bias may have been at work.  Perhaps a degree of resentment existed against privileged VU students whom police perceived as arrogant.  At Bucknell a half-century ago such a gulf between “town and gown” existed, as is the case presently in Bloomington, where busting underage drinkers helps finance police operations. 

Saturday I took Welcome Project co-directors Allison Schuette and Liz Wuerffel on a tour of Miller neighborhoods, including where we rented a Hoosier Home for four years starting in 1972 on Jay Street two blocks east of Grand Boulevard between Third and Fourth.  The houses seemed in good shape and the neighborhood more stable than 40 years ago when a rapid turnover took place due to white flight.  Allison and Liz wanted to see Anne Balay’s old place since they know her and she will be speaking at VU in February.  At Flamingo’s for lunch they told me about having interviewed homeless people in collaboration with several agencies and shelters, including Gabriel’s Horn and Dayspring Women’s Center.   On the VU campus vandals defaced sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz’s “Homeless Jesus” installation depicting a figure sleeping on a bench.  In the afternoon Allison and Liz got a tour of Aetna from two former residents who now live in Valpo.
Checking out the Welcome Center’s Invisible Project, one interview titled “Don’t Know How I Survived” is by a homeless woman who suffered from beatings and sexual abuse.  She came from a broken family and ran away quite a bit.  The person interviewed concluded: “The most difficult thing about homelessness as a female is maintaining your level of dignity.”  For a time she was on drugs, living in a car about to be repossessed.  As she put it, “I was dealt a shitty hand, but my actions only made it worse.”  Once she got off drugs, she was able to see her grandchildren and realize that just because she was homeless didn’t mean she was worthless.

above, Becca and James; below, Tamiya

Inclement weather cut down on trick-or-treaters, but James and Becca got into the spirit of the holiday and made jack-o-lanterns with houseguest Tamiya Towns, who on Sunday took off for army basic training in Oklahoma.  In my basement “man cave” Toni installed a wall hanging of two birds perched precariously on a tree branch that my cousin Dick Hopkins brought back from Vietnam for Midge a half-century ago.  When we’d visit Aunt Aurie and Uncle Johnny in McKeesport, PA, Dick, though several years older, would take me to the community swimming pool, included me in social activities, and showed me how to fire a rifle.  I wish I’d known him better.

 “Final Jeopardy” being about Colleges and Universities, the clue was “Founded in 1873 with an endowment from America’s wealthiest man.”  The answer was Vanderbilt.  Like me, all the contestants guessed Carnegie. I should have realized that the steel magnate made his fortune a couple decades later.

According to Jay Winik’s “1944,” many medical researchers now believe that Franklin Roosevelt’s paralytic illness was not poliobut Guillain-Barre syndrome, something former Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez overcame with massive dosages of powerful drugs not available in 1921.  Winik implies that if FDR had not been so ill and indisposed during the final year of World War II he might have turned more attention to rescuing Jews from Nazi Death camps.  Winik quotes Barack Obama’s great-uncle Charles Payne who participated in the liberation of Ohrdruf, a satellite camp of Buchenwald.  During the liberation of Bergen-Belsen Winik revealed:
  American GIs trying to be helpful, handed out chocolate bars to the emaciated survivors, but the chocolate was too rich for their systems, and many died as a result.  The soldiers also gave away cigarettes.  He inmates ate them rather than smoked them.

A Bloomington radio station will broadcast Hoosier basketball games in Mandarin, as approximately 3,000 Chinese students attend Indiana University.  Attracting foreign students is a real moneymaker for state universities.  Mayor Costas encourages Chinese students to attend school in Valpo.

Steve McShane gave Vice Chancellor Mark McPhail a tour of the Archives that ended at my “cage.”  I told McPhail that my wide-screen computer was compensation for having interviewed FACET members for his predecessor, and he told me about oral histories he had done with veterans of Freedom Summer.  McPhail expressed interest in meeting Richard Hatcher after I told him that the former Gary mayor had gone South in the summer of 1965 to photograph Jim Crow signs at facilities such as bathrooms and water fountains even though the 1965 Civil Rights Act had outlawed segregation in public places.

Coincidentally I received a letter from McPhail noting than in a recent Academic Affairs survey three students identified me as a faculty member who had a positive impact on their academic development – pretty good for someone who has been retired for eight years.

Nicole Anslover invited me to her class on the 1970s, my favorite decade, which often gets short shift from historians compared to the 1960s   Nicole had students analyze Richard M. Nixon’s “Silent Majorit California appellate judge Mildred Lillie y” speech of November 1969 where he announced his Vietnamization policy and got into Watergate, something I found difficult to teach as time passed and students were unfamiliar with the personalities involved.  Nicole showed part of an HBO documentary on the White House tapes where Nixon in 1971 discusses the possible political advantages of floating the name of California appellate judge Mildred Lillie as a possible replacement for retiring Supreme Court justices Hugo Black or John Marshall Harlan.  Nixon privately told aide H.R. Haldeman, “I’m not for women in any job.  I don’t want any of them around.  Thank god we don’t have any in the cabinet.”  He told Attorney General John Mitchell that women were too erratic and emotional.  Thus, Nixon never intended to select Lillie and included her as a finalist for the sole purpose of currying favor with women voters.  Nixon ultimately nominated the able Lewis Powell and young reactionary William Rehnquist.
 Judge Mildred Lillie

Chuck Logan wondered if I’d rooted against the Mets in the World Series (yes).  Chuck’s dad took him to a pre-season exhibition game at Ebbets Field in the Fifties between the Dodgers and the Yankees.  Laughing stocks when first formed in 1962, the 1969 “Miracle Mets” had a pitching staff that included Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, and ug McGraw.  They last won a World Series when Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner let a ground ball go through his legs.  Ironically, the turning point that allowed Kansas City to prevail was when the same fate befell NLCS hero Daniel Murphy.
 Anthony Lane

In a battle for second place in fantasy Football I squared off against grandson Anthony.  QB Drew Brees got me 46 points after tossing 7 TDs.  Anthony had Eli Manning, who had 6 TDs of his own, on his squad but played Andrew Luck instead.  In the Monday night game against Carolina the Colts kept settling for field goals, so Luck only got 17 points while kicker Adam Vinatieri, who had done much for me all year, got me the exact same total.  Final score: Jammers 101, The Powerhouse 86.

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