Monday, July 11, 2016

Heavy Things

“Things are falling down on me
Heavy things I could not see
When I finally came around
Something small would pin me down.”  Phish
 Toni, Alissa, and Beth at Alissa's bridal shower

Home alone while Toni attended granddaughter Alissa’s bridal shower in Michigan, I worked on an upcoming talk about Vivian Carter and Vee-Jay Records, looking over what I wrote about Gary’s colorful deejay and America’s first successful black-owned record label for Traces magazine and “Indiana’s 22: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State.”  I’ll amplify on the postwar era being time of anxiety and slow, unsteady racial progress.  For example, African-American physicians gained the right to practice at Methodist Hospital, but the wards remained segregated.  Black golfers could finally play North Gleason Park’s 18-hole course but were physically assaulted when they attempted to use Marquette Park beach.  After disgruntled Froebel white students staged an unsuccessful School strike, the Board of Education adopted a neighborhood school policy that had little impact since housing patterns remained segregated.  Steel mill jobs were plentiful, but blacks were restricted to the dirtiest jobs in the coke plant with scant opportunity for promotion.
George Taliaferro in action and with wife Viola and sign he once removed from Bloomington theater

For those fortunate few who found a measure of success, it often came at an onerous price.  Football star George Taliaferro, who graduated from Gary Roosevelt a few years after Vivian, led IU to an undefeated season and Rose Bowl victory in 1945, a time when blacks could not live on the Bloomington campus.  The first black player drafted by the NFL, he was not given the chance to play quarterback, his natural position, because coaches didn’t think African Americans could handle the responsibilities.  Roosevelt graduate William Marshall was a distinguished Shakespearean actor but his career languished; he is best remembered for the role of Blacula in a Blaxploitation film of that name and appearing on the TV series Pee-Wee’s Playhouse as the “King of Cartoons.” Roosevelt and IU grad Garrett Cope started a Black Theater Guild after Gary’s white theater group gave a cold shoulder to him or other blacks.

During the height of Vivian Carter’s success the IRS routinely targeted successful black entrepreneurs for special scrutiny; and while Vee-Jay’s decline was partly self-inflicted and the result of many factors, including a spendthrift accountant with a gambling addiction and young America’s changing musical tastes, racism certainly played a role.

In Traces I wrote that Vivian and Jimmy Bracken (the “J” in Vee-Jay) started the record label with money borrowed from a pawnbroker.  I’ve since learned that the pawnbroker supplemented his income as a policy wheel bookie.  Bracken knew his way around Gary’s Tenderloin and the Chicago club scene where he met musicians he recruited for Vee-Jay, beginning with Jimmy Reed.  The first time Bracken introduced Reed to Vivian Carter’s brother Calvin, electric blues prodigy was asked if he’d written any songs and replied, “No, but I’ve got some made up.”

Charlie Hobson has invited me to an “appreciation reception” for Mark McPhail, who resigned as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs after his attempts to implement policies mandated by the Indiana Higher Education Commission and endorsed by John Applegate, IU Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs, were continually undermined by IUN’s powerful “Old Boy” network.  It will be illuminating to see who attends and learn if their support for McPhail, a nationally known scholar and good man, was staunch or tepid.  I’d bet that, like during Anne Balay’s tenure case fiasco, many admirers stayed on the sidelines when enemies registered feckless, unwarranted complaints that he was too pushy in insisting that sabbatical requests be legitimate and that he have a deciding role in selecting recipients of Chancellor’s professorships.  One rumor making the rounds – similar to bullshit that enemies used against Anne Balay -  is that McPhail dared tell a professor whose unbelievably loud voice could be heard throughout Hawthorn Hall’s second floor to either tone things down or shut the door..

In the New Book section of Chesterton library I found Bill Lascher’s “Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WW II Correspondents and Their Epic Escape Across the Pacific.”  Upstairs in a room used mostly by patrons seeking DVDs I checked out Little Feat’s live CD of 1977 performances “Waiting for Columbus.”  On the cover was a red-faced tomato head (symbolizing Native Americans perhaps) sitting in a hammock waiting to be discovered. Until recently, I thought the band, which performed the cut “Don’t Bogart That Joint” at George Washington University, was “Little Feet.”  “Feat” makes more sense.  I noticed several available copies of “Dirty Grandpa” starring Robert De Niro, a great actor reduced to playing dirty old men.  I haven’t seen “Dirty Grandpa” and don’t intend to but caught him in a similar role as “The Intern.”
Shelly Berman, 91, plays my favorite fictional dirty old man in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as Larry David’s Jewish father Nat.  He’s half deaf and a hoot guessing what Larry says to him.  In an assisted living apartment he watches triple-X porn turned up at a volume high enough to be heard down the hall. Larry hires a masseuse for him who gives “happy endings,” and the old man starts dating her, telling Larry, “She really likes me.”  When Larry tries to explain what’s what, Nat won’t hear of it.
 Dean Bottorff

This Ed Bierschenk lead in a NWI Times article could use a Dean Bottorff headline: “Gary - The City Council's interest in a proposed ordinance to combat the wearing of sagging pants in public appears to have bottomed out and it doesn't appear members will take a crack at passing one this year.”  Our former neighbor during the 1970s, Bottorff was responsible for laying out the Post-Trib’s Sunday edition.  He replied to my post: “Great newspaper writing, the kind of story that would keep guys on the copy desk busy for an hour.  How about, “Council Pants Crackdown Sags”?

Nancy Coltun Webster’s Post-Trib article Sunday on the Works Progress Administration quoted me accurately several times and went into detail about the Gary Public Library newspaper index compiled by unemployed scholars during the 1930s.  Webster’s lead: “Prior to Google, library card catalogs – filing cabinets with small drawers filled with typed and sometimes handwritten index cards – were a primary navigation tool for books, newspapers and periodicals.”  Discarded IUN card catalogs are now in the Calumet Regional Archives housing audiotapes of my oral history interviews.

After going 0 for 2 gaming with Brady and Tom Wade, I won three of four Lost Cities contests.  Tom, reckless after triumphing in Amun Re and Acquire, finished in the hole each time.  The Cubs salvaged a game from the Pirates, 6-5, to go into the All-Star break with a seven-game lead in the NL Central.

In Ogden Dunes VU French professor Karen Rake Berrier hosted a party for Paul and Julie Kern, back in the Region for the first time in 7 years.  Karen’s sumptuous spread included, among other things, tacos and all the makings, including delicious guacamole, and cookies that melted in one’s mouth.  Paul recent visited the dying town of Sanderson, Texas, where he lived as a child.  He purchased a 650-page history of Terrell County that included information about his father, who practiced medicine there.  Karen inquired about IUN faculty she knew, many of whom have passed away, including the notorious John Dustman, who taught a course to Nursing students on Human Sexuality.  Rita Smith recalled taking an exam in Hawthorn Hall, whose walls were definitely not soundproof, and hearing a porno tape Dustman was playing.  He’d pass dildos around and take students on field trips to nudists camps and adult bookstores that featured peepshow booths.

Mike Certa claimed he remembered first meeting me 40 years ago in the IUN cafeteria and that I was eating a salad.  Xiaoqing Diana Chen-Lin thanked Paul for mentoring her when she was untenured and told him I was still helping out younger History faculty.  Rita Smith, who took classes from both Paul and me, said she’d read Steel Shavings while cat-sitting for the Kerns and wanted to know more about Anne Balay.  She asked how to purchase it.  I just happened to have one in the car and gave it to her.  Home by dusk, I noticed that the sky was a half-dozen shades of blue with gray spots from clouds and pink hues from Gary Works.  A crescent moon was visible, and leftover fireworks were going off in the distance.
Disco Demolition Night; AP photo by Fred Jewell
At Gino’s Chris Young talked to book club members about Andrew Jackson.  In my intro I cited his academic credentials and that one of his many publications dealt with the 1979 Disco Demolition Night riot at Comiskey Park.  Speaking without notes, Chris elicited lively comments and questions.  Rich Maroc was a huge Jackson fan while Brian Barnes was especially critical of his Indian Removal policy.  Connie Barnes read a clipping about Jackson’s black servant being buried in a Logansport cemetery.  I injected myself into the conversation more than usual, talking about how an unruly crowd trashed the White House after Andrew Jackson’s inauguration and about the President’s rotation-in-office policy (dubbed “the spoils system” by opponents), allowing Chris to eat his salad and drink a beer.  I mentioned that Unionist Texas governor Sam Houston visited Jackson, arriving after an arduous trip right before {Old Hickory” passed away.  In 1861 Houston was removed from office after refusing to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy.
Sam Houston, "The Raven"
At Gino’s was former IUN History major John Wolter, who is mentioned in my oral history of the university in an interview Sara Morando did with Milan Andrevich concerning campus doings 45 years ago.  Morando wrote, “One day Milan and his friends were discussing a concert they had attended the previous night.  John Wolter was considered pretty conservative on matters of popular taste, and people were teasing him for not going.  Somebody said something that struck john as hilarious while he was drinking milk, and suddenly milk started coming out of his nose and mouth.”

Hollis Donald wrote a eulogy to onetime e heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali, entitled “A Champion’s Heart.”  “Against injustice,” Donald asserted, “Ali “stood like a tree” and “did not bend his knees because he did not want to see another person left up under someone else’s feet. . . .  Because some were down, he stood up for them.  He pitted their every cry and forced his heart to beat 30 minutes more.”
Touting a third volume of “All Worth Their Salt: The People of NWI,” Jeff Manes posted a photo that included books by Pete Seeger, Ernest Hemingway, Mike Royko,  Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets,” and Steel Shavings, volume 44.  Yes!
sunset at Dunes State park, by Tom Coulter, July 2016

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