Monday, April 11, 2016

Throwing It Down

“I've had 36 orthopedic operations, have two fused ankles, my knees, hands and wrists don't work, I now have a fused spine, other than that, everything is great.” Bill Walton

Bill Walton’s autobiography “Back from the Dead: Searching for the Sound, Shining the Light and Throwing It Down,” discusses the unbelievable series of injuries that not only curtailed his NBA career but, for three years beginning in 2008, left the “Big Redhead” barely able to move.  After leading UCLA to two NCAA championships, Walton’s pro career highlight was spearheading the previously lowly Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, 109-107, over a Philadelphia 76ers team that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Darryl Dawkins, Doug Collins, Caldwell Jones, and World B. Free (who was mugged at the end of the sixth and final game though no foul was called).  Dr. J had 40 points in a losing effort.  A sometime hippie who loves the music and mellow philosophy of the Grateful Dead, Walton calls himself the luckiest Deadhead in the world. One of Walton’s memorable expressions while announcing NBA games was “Throw it down big man, throw it down.”

At Gardner Center for a poetry reading, I recited three Gib Laue compositions that appear in my latest Steel Shavings.  One poked fun at his endless home improvement projects; another described pre-schoolers learning Baptist hymns at the Frietag’s next door; the third lamented the destruction of sand dunes during the 1960s to make way for steel mills.  Laue grew up in Gary, and his father (Gilbert, Sr.) was one of the city’s first dentists.  In 1951 he and wife Dot bought a log cabin just east of County Line Road in Edgewater on the proceeds of Gib’s book, “So Much To Learn,” about being house-husband to son John.  Following me was N. Davina Stewart, who recited a Sonia Sanchez poem about a black girl who once believed she was ugly and worthless.

Across the street at Miller Bakery Café 80 people opposed to GEO building a detention center near the Gary Airport heard passionate pleas by speakers Diana Twyman (owner of the restaurant, who provided excellent food), Samuel A, Love of 219MIGHT (Mass Incarceration and GEO Halt Team), Fred Tsao (attorney for the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights), and Reverend Cheryl Rivera (director of the NWI Federation of Interfaith Organizations). All stressed GEO’s shabby reputation and that the proposed facility would break up families and further tarnish the city’s reputation.  Sam mentioned that his dad was once a lifeguard at Miller Beach and that he and Brenda recently bought a house in Miller. 
I had told former Lake County sheriff Roy Dominguez (above) about the meeting, and he came with wife Betty.  A month ago, on St. Patrick’s Day at Crown Point Fire Department he had his hair shaved off to help the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to raise funds for the purpose of curing childhood cancers.  He showed me a video of the head-shaving, at the end of which he posted photos of his sister Maria, brother Eloy, and Uncle Vicente, whose lives were shortened by cancer.
 In the audience at Miller Bakery Cafe; Ron Cohen, below.  NWI Times photos by Jonathan Miano
GEO failed to get approval for a facility in Hobart last year and in Gary just months ago.  Now the company is throwing down the gauntlet again and perhaps spreading money around to grease the system.  Four city council members attended, including Ragen Hatcher, who is against the project, and Ron Brewer, who claims to be undecided.  Carolyn McCrady passed out a flyer, titled “NO Gary GEO,” publicizing a prayer vigil at City Hall Tuesday in advance of a Board of Zoning meeting.  The flyer stated:
  It is immoral and unconscionable that a city 90% Black, descendants of slaves and marginalized by Jim Crow structural racism, would consider supporting suffering, terror, fear and dismantling of poor immigrant families in a detention/slave center.
City Hall Protest; P-T photo by Jim Karczewski

James had a weekend bowling tournament in South Bend, so we watched their dog Maggie.  Dave drove through a blizzard to get there, and Toni welcomed them back Sunday with a steak dinner. I channel-switched between the Cubs (a winner thanks to a home run by pitcher Jake Arietta) and the Masters in Augusta (defending champ Jordan Spieth shockingly had a quadruple bogey when he put two balls in the water on the par-3 twelfth hole, allowing Brit Danny Willettt to lay claim to the green jacket.

Thanking me for Steel Shavings were Lowell librarian Robert Bussie, who appreciated my references to civil rights hero Richard Morrisroe, and ace Chesterton Tribune reporter Kevin Nevers, who admitted, “What I do for a living is a bit like yelling into the wind in the desert, if you catch me drift.”  I felt the same way during my advocacy for IUN English professor Anne Balay.   Nevers wrote:
  I admire your range off passions and preoccupations, your feel for people and places, the way the past really isn’t the past for you but more a murmur of whispering voices, a clamor of ghosts looking for a medium.  Not everybody hears them, almost no one does really, but it’s your great gift to make the hauntings human and meaningful.

Mary Schmidt wrote about her father, Frank L. Schmidt, born on October 24, 1954, at Gary Methodist Hospital. His father, Robert Bernard Schmidt, was injured during the Korean War and on a hospital boat met a Japanese man who introduced Robert to his sister, Shigeko Sudo.  They soon fell in love.  He wanted to take her to America, and the only practical way was to marry her in Japan.  She took a flight to America and stayed with Robert’s mother and father on Garfield Street in Glen Park for a month until Robert arrived home on via army troop ship. Shortly thereafter, Shigeko got pregnant with Frank.  Mary wrote:
Robert’s father owned Emil Schmidt and Sons Plumbing Company.  Growing up, Frank went to an elementary school named after poet James Whitcomb Riley.  He participated in science fairs and was a safety patrol boy.  On an East Glen Park Little League baseball team, in his first game, he hit two triples. He remembered, “Every time we won our coach would take us to eat at Ricochet’s Pizza in Gary. They had the best pizza you’d ever taste. My best friends on that team were Scott Moore and Michael Martinez.” Robert loved the carnival rides, pony rides, and games at Kiddieland on 61st and Broadway.
Robert and his three brothers learned the plumbing trade and took over the business after the war. Robert and Shigeko moved to Tennessee Street and visited his parents every Saturday. Frank recalled: “We’d get to my grandparents’ house at about six or seven a.m.  Grandma Emma would already be cooking pancakes for us.  She made the best homemade pie and bread and let me use the rolling pin to thin out the dough. She’d make a special loaf of bread for me to take home.”  Joined by uncles Dean, Earl, Rich, and Jim, they’d go fishing over by Deep River on Route 51.
Shigeko’s father once owned a movie house where Charlie Chaplin performed. However, the family lost most everything during World War II.  Once Shigeko was on a train going to school when suddenly bombs were falling. She got under her seat and stayed there until it was quiet.  Many of her friends died that day.  In 1961 Robert, Frank, and Shigeko traveled back to Japan to visit her family. They stayed for three months. My father recalls:  “Their house had bamboo floors, not carpet.  Wearing shoes in the house was considered rude. Their kitchen table was close to the ground, and to eat we had to sit on the floor. My grandmother tried to make us fried chicken but couldn’t figure it out because it wasn’t commonly made there.  At age seven I met my Japanese cousins. We had no idea what the other was saying but communicated just by playing.  We watched typical television shows you’d see in America but all in Japanese. We also watched baseball and Sumo wrestling. And we rode trains and busses everywhere.  One day my 12 year-old cousins and I snuck out of the house, took a train to Tokyo, and played Pachinko, a popular Japanese game, all day at an arcade.”
 Frank and Paerents
Frank often took empty coke bottles to the grocery for two cents a bottle.  He recalled: “I used that money for baseball cards. A nickel could buy you five baseball cards and a pack of gum.  I’d use one to stick in my bike tire to make it rattle. Back then a candy bar was five cents, a bottle of pop was twelve cents, and a popsicle was five cents.”  Frank’s father forbade him to ride his bike away from Tennessee Street.  He recalled: “When I was ten, a couple friends wanted to go to Joe Plezac’s Grocery, a small store in Glen Park that sold baseball cards.  My dad wasn’t home so I went with them. We were walking our bikes across Georgia Street when I spotted my dad’s car.  He rolled the window down and said ‘You get that bike home right now!’” 
At Bailey Junior High Frank’s best friend was Marty Johnson. During lunch hour they’d go to Dog N’ Suds for pork tenderloin sandwiches and run back to Marty’s house to eat. Marty’s mother would drive them back to school. On Halloween, Frank told me: “We’d start at Tennessee Street and keep moving until we reached Mississippi five blocks away.  That was enough to fill up a big paper bag of candy. Then we’d take that home and head west on Delaware Street and do five more blocks. Next day we’d walk to school and pick up any candy we found in the grass!”
              Typically Frank would spend Christmas Eve opening presents and then spend Christmas day with grandparents Emma and Emil and all his aunts, uncles, and cousins.  An uncle would dress up as Santa Claus, complete with the hat, suit and beard. One year it was his father’s turn.  Frank recalled: “My dad got a pair of nice new shoes.  Santa walked in and I realized that he was wearing the same shoes as my dad! That’s when I realized that it was really my dad in a Santa suit.”  Each of Frank’s aunts would have a party every day after that until Grandmother Emma passed away and the get-togethers came to an end.  By that time everyone was older.
              Frank  ice skated and played hockey at Lake George in Hobart. He remembered: “One day the puck got away from me and I was chasing. All of a sudden I heard a man yelling ‘Stop! Stop.’ Some of the ice ahead of me was cracked and melted away.”
              During Freshman Week at Lew Wallace it was customary for upperclassmen to haze freshmen. Frank recalled: “A bully came up to me and tried to make me carry his books. My friends who were juniors went up to us and told him to scram and to stop messing with me. Nobody bothered me after that!” “Frank was on the National Honor Society and took German classes but his favorite subject was Physics. He played football for two years as a Tight End and baseball for three years as the Catcher. Unfortunately, he broke his shoulder and had to quit football. He told me:
“We were playing football and I had caught a pass and was going backwards, but this guy ran into me and I fell on my shoulder and I hurt it. But I didn’t want to tell my dad because I thought it might just go away. But when I looked at it in the mirror it was swooped down. The next morning I couldn’t move it up at all, so I finally told my dad and he took me to the emergency room. I got my x-rays and they said it was officially broken. I had to wear a harness for weeks. My dad told me I couldn’t play both baseball and football and told me to pick one sport. Well, football season was almost over so I chose baseball!”
My dad got his first job at a Shell Gas Station on I-65 and Ridge Road. That’s where Frank learned to tune-ups and oil changes. He said: “On a typical Saturday during my high school friends and I would go to Harvey’s Department Store on 38th and Broadway, Dickerson’s Drug Store on Broadway and Rudge Road, and then we would walk to the Village Shopping Center on Grant Street and spend the whole day there. During the summertime we would go to East Glen Park Senior League Field and play baseball from 9 until 5 when the seniors came to practice.”
              In 1972 Frank was driving his father’s brand new Cadillac. He picked up two girls, and went “Cruisin’” up and down Broadway between 45th and 55th Avenue. He recalled: “I had to have my father’s car back by 10 P.M. But one of the girls wanted to try driving it. So I switched seats with her and let her drive for a while, but then she hit a telephone pole. Broke it in half and totaled the car! So what I did was I switched seats with her before the police and my dad showed up and told both of them that I was the one driving, not her. Man, was my dad mad! But he got a new car from the insurance so he wasn’t mad for too long. To this day, to his dying day, I never ever told him that it was the girl who was driving that day and not me. But I think he always knew anyway.”    When Frank graduated high school in 1973 fiftieth out of 550, he got a 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass as a graduation present.
             Frank told me: “My dad was very strict on my haircuts. Well, in 1973 the hot hairstyle back then was longer hair on men, about right below the ears. I wanted to grow my hair out but my dad wouldn’t let me. So I was the only one of my friends who still had short hair. Then one day my dad visited Bloomington for a parent conference and observed young guys' hair styles. He came home and apologized for making me get short haircuts, and said that if I wanted to grow my hair out, I could.”
              At IU Frank pursued a degree in Chemistry. And roomed with his next-door neighbor Dave Charbonneau. He told me: “During our first few months of college, other guys were afraid of us because we were from the Region, cussed a lot, and talked differently than guys from southern Indiana.” Frank played baseball for his dorm team called The Commanches (above), and won the championship in 1975. One Spring Break he went to Florida with Nick Psimos and Dave Smelko. Nick’s dad was a lawyer and owned a condo in Florida. He told me: “One day we went deep-sea fishing. My friend caught a 3-foot shark. My line started wiggling and when I started reeling it in, it was a 10-foot Hammerhead Shark! I got it up to the boat, but it jumped back into the water and tried to swim away but still had the line. Our boat started going in reverse. Well the owner of a bar/restaurant called Jansem Landing, John Jansem, was on the boat with us and really wanted it for advertising his restaurant. So we got it back up to the boat again and the captain shot it to keep it from struggling. Finally I got it and we put it into the boat. That shark was ten feet long and 350 pounds.”
During Frank’s senior year he tried getting a job in construction, but the market was down.  U.S. Steel was hiring summer help, and he landed a job there as a Lab Manager at the North Sheet Mill at Gary Works.  After he graduated with a degree in Chemistry, U.S. Steel hired him full-time to work in Quality Assurance. Working for U.S. Steel gave him opportunities to travel to Mexico and Serbia.
One day Frank's American Legion softball teammate Ron Ramos wanted him to trick his sister, Christine, into thinking he was Gary Fencik of Chicago Bears, whom he resembled. Frank and Christine started dating in 1988 and five years later had their first of five children, Jessica, my older sister. They were married on August 6, 1999. They reside in Hebron on Lake Eliza. Frank  (61) still works at U.S. Steel and Christine (52) is a stay-at-home mom. The people and places in Gary that Frank once loved may not exist physically anymore, but they are alive in his memories.  (below, author Mary and Frank, her dad)

Nicole Anslover’s students are reading “All the President’s Men.”  I was surprised to see Carl Bernstein as first author since the Washington Post reporters are always referred to as Woodward and Bernstein – or in the movie, “Woodstein.”  When Nicole asked about the legacy of Watergate, I mentioned that except for the first Bush, all successful Presidential candidates starting with Jimmy Carter have had little or no “Inside the Beltway” experience.  Some students slammed Gerald Ford for pardoning “Tricky Dick,” but, as much as I loathed Nixon, jailing him would have been counter-productive and just increased sympathy for him.  On the other hand, he should have been denied all the perquisites given to former Presidents.

When a student mentioned seeing Bob Woodward on the FOX Sunday news show, I thought of Woodward’s “Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate” (1999).  Woodward concludes that the new inquisitorial environment led to abuses by Independent Council Lawrence Walsh (investigating Iran-Contra) and Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr (appointed to probe the Whitewater land deal, he went on fishing expeditions into the suicide of White House Counsel Vince Foster and Bill Clinton’s sex life that uncovered the Monica Lewinsky affair and led to Clinton’s impeachment).  Nixon had appointed and then fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. In 1979 Jimmy Carter signed into law the Ethics in Government Act, which called for the appointment of a special prosecutor when the Attorney General received allegations of misconduct by a senior government official.  The first time it was invoked was to investigate a charge that Carter’s chief of staff Hamilton Jordon had used cocaine at New York City nightclub Studio 54.  Jordon was cleared of any wrongdoing but his reputation was tarnished and it cost him all his savings, $67,000, in legal fees to his attorney. Starr’s overreach made most people realize the dangers of special prosecutors abusing the office.

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