Monday, March 28, 2016

Lamentable Tragedy

“Let me show you my FATAL FLAW
It’s the best thing you never saw.”
         “Fatal Flaw,” Titus Andronicus, from “The Most Lamentable Tragedy”

“The Most Lamentable Tragedy,” a rock opera by a New Jersey band named after the Shakespeare tragedy that often opens shows with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are back in Town,” contains 28 songs, including “Stranded,” “More Perfect Union,” and “No Future.” NPR’s Jason Heller praised its “Replacements-worthy hooks” and compared the triple album favorably to such punk classics as “London Calling” by The Clash and “Zen Arcade” by Hüsker Dü. 

Last time I visited longtime Lake County surveyor George Van Til in federal prison the Paris bombings occurred.  This time it was the Brussels bombings during a soccer match and Eagles of Death Metal concert by ISIS terrorists that killed three dozen innocent people at the Belgium capital’s airport and metro center.  “Lyin’” Ted Cruz, as Trump has dubbed him, whom “Low Energy” Jeb Bush inexplicably endorsed, has recommended special police surveillance in Muslim neighborhoods and slammed President Obama for attending a baseball game in Havana with Raul Castro rather than focusing on a response to the tragedy.  Obama replied: I just left a country that engages in that kind of neighborhood surveillance. Which, by the way, the father of Senator Cruz escaped for America. The land of the free. The notion that we would start down that slippery slope makes absolutely no sense. It's contrary to who we are. And it's not going to help us defeat ISIL.”

To help Cruz win the Utah caucus an anti-Trump PAC distributed a racy photo of Trump’s wife Melania in a flyer asking voters whether they could imagine such a person as First Lady.  Trump fired back with an unflattering photo of Cruz’s wife Heidi next to one of Melania after first threatening to “spill the beans” on Heidi.  In 2005 Heidi suffered from such severe depression that Austin, Texas, police found her by the side of a highway, head in her hands.  After the National Enquirer claimed Cruz has had five mistresses, the reactionary Texan blamed Trump for planting the “garbage.”  Denying the charge, Trump stated: “While they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others. I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz.”  Only in America!

Terre Haute is an hour ahead of Northwest Indiana, like most of the state even though west of Gary.  The Drury Hotel served complimentary hot dogs, chili, salad, baked potatoes, meatballs, and pasta.  The IU-North Carolina game didn’t start until 10 p.m. so I catnapped after a dip in the pool and hot tub.  Sadly the Hoosiers were no match for the Tar Heels. After turning onto Bureau Road (as in Federal Bureau of Prisons) the following morning, a guard advised coming back in an hour.  When I did, there was another 20-minute bureaucratic delay before George Van Til entered the visitors room.  We talked pretty much nonstop for the next three hours.

A couple weeks ago, George, feverish, fell to the floor getting out of bed.  He’d been cold all winter and developed chills.  Hospitalized with pneumonia, he shared a ward with hardened criminals.  Guards shackled his ankles, first in uncomfortable stainless steel devices and finally on the third day more tolerable plastic devices.  George still has dizzy spells, and I suggested a cane, but he isn’t ready for that, fearing ridicule or, worse, being the object of pity.  When a prison photographer took our photo and showed it to George, the septuagenarian noted, “I look old.”  As chiropractor Manuel Kazanas retorts when I tell him I feel old, “You are old.”  With his many health issues it’s a lamentable tragedy that George is in prison.

With less than 90 days remaining on his sentence Van Til was in a less somber mood than last time and looking forward to playing the piano at next day’s Easter services.  He’s been reading “Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America” by Rick Perlstein and noted the similarities between America in 1972 at present in terms of polarization.  We traded anecdotes about 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate George McGovern, who spoke at Gary West Side High School during the campaign, and Lake County politicians we both know, including IU Northwest grads John Petalas and Roy Dominguez.  Both of us admire former mayor Richard Hatcher and hope his dream of a civil rights Hall of Fame in Gary matterializes.  George hadn’t heard that Gary civic leader Dolly Millender had passed away and told me he had participated in many Christmas programs of the Gary Symphony Orchestra that she had founded.  As I was leaving, he gave me a hug and told me that this was the highlight of his week.

In 2009 I reviewed “Nixonland” for Magill’s Literary Annual, summarizing the book as “an insightful examination of forces that polarized America, commencing with the mid-1960’s urban riots and the escalation of the war in Vietnam, making possible the amazing political comeback of cunning, tormented Richard M. Nixon, and culminating in his 1972 landslide reelection.”  Even so, “Tricky Dick” Nixon had become so paranoid about how he’d fare against chisel-faced Maine senator Edmund S. Muskie that he gave the green light to reckless criminal activities that derailed Muskie’s presidential bid but ultimately destroyed his own presidency and place in history.  Here’s a paragraph from my review:
  Nixonland documents in chilling detail the widening rift that made the rest of the country more and more like the rebel South.  Boston “Southies” defied the law, hoping to keep their schools all-white.  New York City Italian Americans formed SPONGE, the Society for the Prevention of Negroes Getting Everything.  In New Mexico, vigilantes harassed “longhairs” and burned down hippie communes.  Rogue cops in Newark and Detroit beat with impunity black people trapped in riot zones.  The liberal press glamorized “Woodstock Nation” and the “New Morality” – but ignored the “blue collar” envy of privileged collegians and poked fun of “Decency” rallies attended by thousands of “Middle Americans” in Miami, Cleveland, and Baltimore.  Hundreds of New York City construction workers went on a rampage after Mayor John Lindsey ordered the flag lowered to half-staff in the wake of the Kent State killings.  Nixon, who had recently called student protesters “bums,” confided to an aide, “Thank God for the hard hats,” and invited a delegation to the White House.  Here was an opening to create a permanent Republican majority.  Armed with the power of the Oval Office, he ordered aides, as he privately put it, to “get down to the nut-cutting.”

 Gary Martin and Roy Dominguez in 2002; NWI Times photo by John J. Watkins

Driving home from Terre Haute, I passed a sign designating a stretch of Route 63 as Gary L. Martin and Gary Dudley Memorial Highway.  Ten years ago, Lake County deputy sheriff Gary Martin, one of IUN’s most beloved professors, and Indiana State Police Lieutenant Gary Dudley were on Highway 63 participating in a bicycle rally to raise funds for families of officers killed in the line of duty.  A tractor-trailer plowed into a bread truck, which ran over and killed Martin and Dudley.  Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez, who considered Martin his closest friend and most trusted adviser, arranged for a procession to transport Martin’s casket from Burns Funeral Home in Merrillville to St. Mary’s Cemetery on Ridge Road.  In “Valor” Dominguez wrote:
  As it passed by the county government complex, we had the vehicle he had driven while chief in front of our police memorial along with a replica of the bike he had been riding.  There was an honor guard, and the county helicopter flew overhead.  Pipes and drums units from several communities met the hearse near the cemetery entrance, and the sound of bagpipes greeted those arriving at the gravesite.  It had been showering off and on all day; but as the officers started with the 21-gun salute, it started to pour.  It was a deluge, but nobody left.  I told people, “I’m sure Gary is upstairs and turned on the water faucets to have his last laugh.” Those who knew Gary concurred.

The entire IUN History Department turned out for Nicole Anslover’s talk on women and politics at the Birky Women’s Center.  She asked the audience to guess when women Senators first could wear pants.  The answer: 1993, after Barbara Mikulski, Democrat from Maryland, and Nancy Kassabaum, Republican from Kansas, defied the upper body’s rules.  Mikulski, lamentably retiring at years end, recalled: “You would have thought I was walking on the moon.  It caused a big stir.”  Nicole mentioned that FDR’s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins initially felt too uncomfortable to speak up at cabinet meetings, leading one colleague to speculate that she might be speech-impaired.   Nicole asked if we knew which country had the first elected woman leader.  Jonathyne speculated that it was India (Indiri Gandhi became prime minister in 1966), and I guessed Israel (Golda Meir took power in 1969).  The answer was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, a year after her husband Solomon was assassinated in 1959.

I passed out copies of Steel Shavings, volume 45.  Audrea Davis hugged me for including a photo and brief portrait of sister Beverly who died after a brave fight with cancer.  When I identified it as my noncontroversial issue, Chancellor Lowe quipped, “Is that possible?”  Arts and Sciences administrative assistant Mary Hackett replied to my claim, “Are you serious?”  Diana Chen Lin praised my magazine for informing her about Gary past and present.  Several folks expressed surprise their names were in the Index and, in the case of my bowling teammates, photos from last year’s banquet. 
below, Wanda Fox and kids

At Hobart Lanes the Engineers swept Spare Me to pass them in the standings. Opponents included three of the friendliest bowlers we’ve faced, Wanda Fox, Dorothy Peterson, and Dave Melvin.  Their teammate, Doug Reno, is, like me, not a happy camper when things aren’t going well.  I started with a 184 and then struggled, leaving seven-pins on apparently perfect hits.  Final frame was no exception, but I picked up the spare and ended with a strike; we won the game by a mere 8 pins.
Elizabeth “Liz” Lapovsky Kennedy, a pioneer in the field of Women’s Studies, wrote a glowing review of Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets” for GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.  Kennedy wrote:
  Balay makes the steel mill come alive as a key shaper of the conditions of work and gender and desire.  The mill emerges as a behemoth, lumbering into the contemporary world, engulfing all who cross its path.  Balay links the mill’s physical isolation from broader societal movements, through such things as the massive physical structure that workers enter through a gate, or the labor practice of the swing shift, which prevents workers from socializing with outsiders, or the practice of showering before leaving to wash the plant off one’s body.  The separation is reinforced by the overwhelmingly timeless quality of the mill, since many of the processes and therefore the building designs are over one hundred years old.  Change does not seem to be on the agenda.

Thanks to Balay’s efforts, change, in fact, took place at last year’s USW convention.

On Spring break, James and Becca spent much time at the condo, culminating in Easter egg decorating and a Vernal Equinox dinner featuring spring rolls.  Afterwards, we played Apple to Apple.  Dave and I watched Syracuse upset Virginia in the NCAA tournament.  Brady Wade came over for Acquire and Puerto Rico; we hadn’t played Puerto Rico in quite a while and, rusty, I got off to a fatally slow start.  When the UNC-Notre Dame contest turned into a rout, I picked up Richard Russo’s novel “Mohawk,” which I found in a “free books” table.  Every couple pages were penciled grammatical corrections from a previous reader, such as one indicating that “what ever” should be a single word.
egg decorating in Michigan: above, Tori; below, Anthony and Miranda 

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