“Beware the Ides of March,” soothsayer in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare
On March 15, 44 B.C., Roman Senator Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger, one of 60 conspirators, stabbed Julius Caesar to death on his way to the Theatre of Pompey. Roman historian Suetonius wrote that on February 15 at the festival of Lupercalia Caesar sacrificed a bull that seemingly had no heart. A seer named Spurinna believed this to be a portent of death and warned the Roman dictator and chief priest (Pontifex Maximus) that his life would be in danger for the next 30 days. Shortly before his death Caesar passed Spurinna and joked, “The Ides of March are come.” Spurinna allegedly replied, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” Four years later Emperor Octavian (Augustus Caesar), whom Caesar had adopted as son and heir, avenged his great-uncle’s assassination by executing 300 noblemen suspected of having taken part in the plot.
In March of 2003 my students kept journals, concentrating on their daily lives, especially on the weekend of March 13-15, for a special Steel Shavings issue (volume 36, 2005) dealing primarily with the contemporary history of adolescence in the Calumet Region. In the process I learned about anime (highly stylized Japanese animation) and slash fiction (fan fiction screenplays pairing same-sex cast members romantically). Students wrote about well-endowed waitresses at Hooters in Merrillville and strippers at Club O in Harvey, Illinois. They patronized tanning salons and fitness centers, sports bars and myriad eateries (Olive Garden being a clear favorite), played video games on Play Station 2 and Xbox, rented last season’s movie hits from Blockbuster, took younger siblings to Chuck E. Cheese, and watched Reality shows and syndicated situation comedies (with women Friends was hands down the most popular while guys tended to favor Seinfeld). Like at present some spent Spring Break in Florida and St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.
Topping the pop charts in March of 2003 were “All I Have” by Jennifer Lopez featuring LL Cool J and “In Da Club” by 50 Cent (“You can find me in da club, bottle full of bub . . . so come give me a hug if you into gettin’ rubbed”). Some headlines have faded from memory (i.e., Elizabeth Smart’s reappearance months after being kidnapped by a religious nut), while President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq still provokes debate and consternation. Indeed, on March 15, 2003, anti-war protestors gathered at IUN’s Hawthorn Hall and, led by Professor Raoul Contreras and Reverend Charles Emery (below), marched down Broadway. Participant Samuel A. Love wrote, “People came out of their houses and businesses: most waved, smiled, flashed peace signs, and raised clenched fists in solidarity.”
On Friday when I speak to students from Twenty-First Century Charter School about (at their request) white flight, affirmative action, and gentrification pertaining to Gary history, I plan also to have them read excerpts of student journals from the section in “Gary’s First Hundred Years” called “Ides of March 2003.” Here’s what 50 year-old Louise Cunningham wrote:
I feel like Alice in Wonderland when she fell down the rabbit hole. I’m scheduled o work 10 hours today and 13 tomorrow. It’s my pound of flesh before my vacation in Las Vegas. My husband sleeps with the TV on. With all the predictions of war, it reminds me of the Edwin Starr refrain, “War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
B.W.'s ambition was to be a rapper. His journal mentioned riding around in a Pontiac 6000 listening to 50 Cent’s “In Da Club.” He especially liked tracks six (“High All the Time”) and seven, “Heat,” which contained the lines, “If there’s beef, cock it and dump it, the drama really means nothin’ to me.” At a gas station a crack head begged for ten dollars for gas. B.W. wrote:
He didn’t even have a car. Then he offered to pump my gas, which pissed me off. I stopped into a barbershop on 45th and witnessed a cop jump out of a squad car and chase someone. The barbers and I hoped the man would get away.
Before bed B.W. wrote some raps in his notebook.
In that same section I made use of Post-Tribune classified ads. In “People Network,” for instance, an ”SBM, 21, 5’9’’, 165 lbs., with a nice smile” sought a “petite SWM, 25-30, for LTR” – in other words, an interracial long-term gay relationship. I also used obituaries, such as that of 100 year-old former Tradewinds volunteer and YWCA board member Leona Hill and 87 year-old Ophelia Marsh Davis, a Gary teacher for 40 years. I concluded that one was left to speculate over the passing of 19 year-old West Side grad Angela Lorraine Windom-Robinson, 27 year-old Wallace grad Rodney L. Pace, Jr., and 30 year-old Wirt grad Terrance “Sean” Ligé.
My NCAA picks have all four number 2 seeds – Oklahoma, Xavier, Villanova, and Michigan State - reaching the Final Four, with ’Nova beating Xavier, 80-74, in the title game.
At lunch with Mike Olszanski at a mostly deserted IUN cafeteria, we discussed the Republicans’ idiotic strategy of refusing to hold confirmation hearings on moderate Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. Donald Trump could win points if he recommended that Senate Republicans change their tune but is on record counseling “delay, delay, delay.” When Marco Rubio, now out of the race after losing the Florida primary, called for reversing Obama’s Cuba policy, Trump merely stated, “I’ll get a better deal” – meaning, I suppose, permission to build gambling casinos.
Anne Balay wrote: “A man in a security uniform followed me into the bathroom at the Penn Museum today to pound on the stall door and tell me to leave because it was the woman's bathroom. New lessons on what life is like for trans* people and gender nonconformists. I'm sorry, folks.” From Great Britain Jo Church responded: “What a wanker! Happens to me all the time (just this morning in fact). I've yet to learn how to deal with it in a way that doesn't leave me feeling rubbish afterward. Sending love and solidarity from this 'garden variety dyke' across the pond.”
above, Jo Church; below, Drew Boetel in 2011
For Steve McShane’s class Drew Boetel wrote about grandparents Robert and Gloria Boetel, who lived in South Dakota, Kansas, and Nebraska before moving to Valparaiso in the late 1960’s.
Born on December 12, 1935, Robert grew up on a farm near Cavour, South Dakota, and attended a one-room school and high school in Huron, South Dakota, where’d stay with his Aunt Marie and occasionally go back to help on the farm. A pastor who noticed his skill teaching Sunday school helped him apply to Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Nebraska. During his senior year he met Gloria Kolterman, a freshman, who grew up on a farm in Nebraska. Graduating in 1958, Robert was teaching in Junction City, Kansas five years later when the school hired a new primary grade teacher. In walked Gloria Kolterman. My grandma claims that the school secretary caught my grandpa and a friend flipping a coin to see who’d date her.
While dating Gloria, Robert heard about a job opening at Immanuel Lutheran School in Valparaiso. After a visit, he accepted a fifth grade position after learning that he’d be able to teach art, which was his passion. Valparaiso University also played a big role in the move. He was working on a Master’s degree in English at Kansas State and could finish at VU. Robert and Gloria got married and had three children, my dad followed by sisters Yvette and Megan. Once Megan started kindergarten, Gloria substituted for a third grade teacher getting married and then was offered a kindergarten position. The salary was minimal, so Gloria joined a babysitting pool to avoid the cost of childcare. This required time on her part but helped establish friendships. To save money she fixed school lunches for the kids.
Robert was quite a disciplinarian. A fifth grade girl talked incessantly. After three stern warnings he told her the next time she spoke she’d be put outside. Sure enough, she wouldn’t shut up, and he walked her outside. It was winter and very cold. After a half hour, he asked if she were ready to come in as she stood there shivering. Another student bullied others. After Robert had had enough, he took the class to the gym and had the culprit sit in a chair. He told classmates to vent their frustrations and tell the boy about the things that they didn’t like about him. The boy apologized and they forgave him. That boy became my grandparents’ neighbor and recently reminded Robert how that ordeal steered him off the path he was on.
In 1970 Robert started teaching eighth grade and became involved in theatre and drama until he retired in 2002, three years after Gloria. He also established a gallery for his students’ artwork in order, in his words, “to share other children’s efforts with the students, to beautify the school, and to provide a sense of continuity and school history.” Many parents were VU professors who appreciated the fine arts.
Two brothers worked at their family pizza restaurant on the corner of Routes 49 and 6. Robert had them bring in dough, flour, cheese, and sauce to demonstrate how to make a pizza. Then they baked it in the kitchen, and the whole class enjoyed the pizza. Robert once set it up a projector incorrectly, and a big film disc went flying across the room. From then on, he had someone else set it up. Being near Chicago, Robert took students on field trips to museums, the Art Institute, the aquarium, the planetarium, Lincoln Park Zoo, and McCormick Place for a dress rehearsal for The Nutcracker, followed by window-shopping to see Christmas decorations. Each spring there was a school trip to Lake Michigan where kids could hike the dunes.