Friday, July 8, 2016


“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.”  Frida Kahlo
Frido Kahlo; below, self-portrait

On the 108th anniversary of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s birth it is well to remember what an inspiration she was to oppressed people around the world. Born with spina bifida (like Anne Balay’s lover Rive Lehrer), she contracted polio at age six and at age 18 was severely wounded when on a bus that collided with a trolley.  She spent three months in a full body cast, underwent three-dozen operations, and for much of her life was in intense pain.  She eventually lost a leg to gangrene.  Married to muralist Diego Rivera and bisexual (among her lovers was Parisian cabaret sensation Josephine Baker), Frida was a revolutionary whose paintings mixed surrealism with elements of folklore.  Shortly before she died in 1954, Frida took part in a demonstration against the CIA invasion of Guatemala.  At favorite student Shannon Pontney’s wedding reception, tables were designated for some of her heroes, including John Lennon.  Toni and I sat at the Frida Kahlo table.

It’s been a horrendous week of violence in America.  At IUN flags seem to be at half-mast more often than not.  In Baton Rouge 37 year-old Alton Sterling had been selling CDs outside a food mart when a homeless man asked him for money and then called 911 claiming he’d been threatened with a gun.  Two officers arrived, wrestled Sterling to the ground, shot him several times, and allegedly removed a weapon from his pocket.  Even more egregious, in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, 32 year-old Philandro Castile was stopped for a broken taillight and asked to produce identification.  While reaching for his wallet, he was shot to death while his horrified girlfriend Diamond Reynolds captured the scene on Facebook. Ironically, anxious to be cooperative, Castile had told the cop that there was a licensed firearm in the car.  Castile had managed a Montessori School cafeteria and, according to teacher Anna Garnass, was beloved by the kids.  Minnesota governor Mark Dayton stated: “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?  I don’t think it would have.”  In the aftermath of these killings captured on cell phones, a gunman killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas, at the conclusion of a peaceful protest march. 
Earl Reaves (above), who has lived in Gary's Miller Beach neighborhood for over 40 years and is a founder of the Miller Beach Arts and Creative District initiative, wrote:
ANY life that is lost as a result of terrorism, racism, sexism, gay bashing or for any reason is one too many. I fear for my son and young nephews and secondarily myself on a daily basis. I pray that they are never stopped and the incident escalates to death.  I cannot count the times I have been stopped for DWB, Driving While Black, a gun drawn, it is one of the most unnerving experiences in my life, one that I will never forget. Because of my proclivity to date outside of my race only exacerbated the stop as the officer generally asked: “ma'am are you ok?” Many officers asked the young lady to step out of the car for a verbal scolding for dating a black man (when I was younger, they always threatened to take them home to their parents to ensure that the daughter would stop this behavior). It also never helped that I was driving an MB (mom's) that clearly had to be stolen. I am 50+ and I am tired of racism on any level.
Please pray for the families of the officers killed in Dallas as well as the families of the two men of color recently executed at the hands of officers. Pray for the lessening of these social injustices and abject senseless killings. But most of all I ask that you pray that this nation puts love first; it will make this a better place for ALL of us.  Am I tired and mad as hell? Yes, but I will transition that anger into LOVE and continually try to make a difference by exemplifying behavior that accepts and respects everyone, most importantly speaking up and speaking out rather than pretending that all is well in my world and ignoring the struggles of those less equipped to articulate: ENOUGH! 
Leslie Green and Jennifer Taylor of Beach Art Studios
photo by Jerry Davich

On the way to Miller I passed a shed at the South Shore station that had been converted into a work of art. Flying overhead were planes rehearsing for the Gary Air Show.  In a PBS ad Jerry Davich promised to talk on “Casual Fridays” about flying over Gary with Aeroshells aerobic team, at one point being upside down over Lake Michigan.  My son Phil had taken similar flights, taking footage for WGVU during air shows in Muskegon, Michigan.

I met Anne Balay for lunch at Flamingo’s in Miller.  Anne’s daughter Emma is planning to get married next spring by a pond in Miller where she fed snapping turtles and beaver while living nearby.  Anne had planned to go on an eight-to-ten-day cross-country trip with a female trucker, and but the driver cancelled at the last minute.  So far Anne has interviewed several dozen lesbian and transgender long-haul truckers for an upcoming book. Having accepted a full-time appointment at Haverford College beginning in August, she will have a decent paycheck for the first time since denied tenure by sexist Luddites who had a stranglehold on IUN’s promotion process.  Her acclaimed “Steel Closets,” according to WorldCat, is in over 1,300 libraries.  Anne posted this on Facebook, along with her email address:
  I have some time for interviews now. If you are a trucker and we haven't talked yet, PLEASE contact me. If you know a trucker, please lean on them a little. Offer donuts. Offer beer. Offer the chance to make a difference.  My goal is to hear people's stories -- to learn what it's like out there so that my book can be real AND effective. I especially want to hear from lesbians, gay people, minorities, transfolks, women, or other oddballs in the business.

Driving home from Flamingo’s I listened on PBS to Democracy Now!  Guests Marc Lamont Hill (author of “Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond”) and Mychal Denzel Smith (author of “Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education”) talked about the debilitating effect of inner city firearms deaths and police brutality on the mental health of its residents.  Afterwards on sports talk radio the SCORE’s Dan Bernstein compared and contrasted the present violence to 1968 and 9/11. 
Charles Halberstadt posted: “There’s a Rattata in my mom’s hospital room - not very hygienic.  Don’t worry though, I caught the punk.” Pokemon Go is all the rage, and one critter even invaded a hospital room.  Since she learned she had cancer, Robin Halberstadt has been truly brave and inspiring, an example to those who love her of strength and endurance.  A close friend of mine took his own life, not wishing to be an object of pity.  I don’t blame him, but should I have a terminal disease, I hope I’d choose Robin’s path, enjoying friends and family for as long as she can and seemingly at peace with whatever fate has in store for her.

In the June 2016 Indiana Magazine of History (IMH) is a review of “Winesburg, Indiana,” an anthology of 41 stories produced in homage to Sherwood Anderson’s classic study of small town America, “Winesburg, Ohio” (1919).  According to Scott Russell Sanders, the most compelling characters have a depth, dignity, and air of mystery, such as a pregnant teen who realizes she is gay or a young woman who stages a sit-in after her mother’s home goes into foreclosure and they are facing eviction.  I’m hoping for an IMH review of my latest Steel Shavings or at least mention in the “Briefly Noted” section.
 Wilson Grant from 1930 IU yearbook

The main IMH article, Peggy Seigel’s “A Minister’s Son, A Haunted Town, and the Spanish Civil War,” focuses on Walter F. Grant, who in 1936 at age 27 boarded the SS Normandie bound for Spain in order to fight to preserve the legitimately elected popular front regime.  Disillusioned by the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana and the 1930 double lynching in his hometown of Marion and radicalized by the widespread suffering during the Great Depression and the timidity of American policymakers in the face of fascist aggression in Europe, Grant died taking part in his first combat assignment.  With the International Brigade, he was aboard a truck that mistakenly ended up behind enemy lines. Seigel concluded:

  [Walter Grant] committed his life to living out the ideals of brotherly love and social responsibility he had learned in his father’s [Congregational] church.  Grant once wrote, “If you make no contribution, you had better leave this life at once, for you burden the world with your presence” and he made sure he would not leave this life until he had made his contribution.

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