“The old man has no time for people that don’t go to Saint Michael’s down on Thirteenth Street or to Sokol picnics at Whiting Park.” Edward J. Nichols, “Hunky Johnny” (1945)
Region humorist Jean Shepherd perfectly captured the “old man” stereotype in his book “In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.” “Hunky,” originally used disparagingly to describe Slavic immigrants, became a badge of pride for some white ethnic Region politicians. Here’s how novelist Edward J. Nichols describes “Hunky” Johnny Opalko’s world:
Gary south of Tenth. “Jak scmas?” “Dobre zdjekujem.” . . . “See you at Korba’s. Some game you caught yesterday. Sure knocked ‘em god-damned Polaks off” . . . “Heard you was puttin’ on the hop wit’ Mary out at Gay Mill. You lookin’ hot, boy. How’s about Slovenski Dome Sat’day, yea?”
Opalka’s Gary. Froebel High Gym, with the floor yellow under the lights and that last dribble in for a lay-up shot before the game. Or after the wedding at Kolarik’s and Mike doing the Czardos. Or the Easter basket for Father Bohdol to bless at Saint Michael’s and filled with kolbusa, roski, kreply, pogachi, and bulbalki. Or after the Sokol’s picnic – some pivo, little bit palenka, and then “Nasdrave, drobra noch!”
Clark Metz invited me to the 53rd annual Hunky Hollow Athletic Club summer steak cookout at St. Elijah’s picnic area in Merrillville. The tradition began at Country Lounge, nicknamed Hunky Hollow by Eastern European politicians who patronized the place. In fact, caricatures of old-time regulars lined the walls in the bar area. The owner evidently had a child with cerebral palsy, and the mission of the fundraiser was to support ways to improve the quality of life for those afflicted. Money raised at the cookout will go to the Center for Possibilities in Hobart. I sometimes took students to Country Lounge on the last day of class, but it closed down a couple years ago and, though reopened, seems to be struggling. When Danilo Orescanin became IUN chancellor in 1975, President John Ryan recommended he hang out at Country Lounge to socialize with area muckety-mucks. Orescanin would scribble names and phone numbers on a placemat and ask his secretary to type it his hen scratchings.
I arrived at Clark’s house in Miller and asked if I were driving. “That’s why I invited you,” he quipped. We stopped at Woodland Village Mobile Home Park in Portage where manager Joe Johnston had left two tickets for us. The meal was delicious – not only a huge cut of tender steak but corn on the cob, baked beans, green peppers, and salad. Johnston, a friend of Clark’s for over 40 years, talked about a recent trip to Vietnam and an upcoming one to India. He was very knowledgeable about Ho Chi Minh, our ally against the Japanese, and the tragic consequences of America’s refusal to recognize Vietnam’s independence from the French after World War II.
In the early 1990s Clark Metz was appointed by Gary mayor Thomas V. Barnes to a select committee to assess bids for two riverboat casinos as authorized by the Indiana legislature in 1993. Clark’s committee met several times with Donald Trump, who initially had opposed casinos in the Midwest, concerned that they’d undercut his Atlantic City holdings. Unimpressed by Trump, Clark’s committee recommended syndicates headed by African-American Don Barden and Bob Farahi of Monarch resorts. Both promised to guarantee $100 million for local investment and help restore Union Station and the Sheraton Hotel. Governor Evan Bayh persuaded the Gaming Commission downstate to overrule the Gary recommendations and replace Farahi with Trump, allegedly after a large cash contribution to state Democratic coffers. In Indianapolis prior to the final decision, Clark ran into Trump, who asked about his three daughters. Clark was surprised and slightly apprehensive that Trump knew about them. Trump made extravagant promises that he never kept, leaving Gary after he maximized his profits.
above, Don Rickles; below, Johnny Carson
“My Cold War” protagonist John Delano watches Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” with his parents. Guests included drummer Buddy Rich and comedian Don Rickles, in Tom Piazza’s words “a manic Jewish snapping turtle with no inhibitions” who calls Carson “a dummy from Nebraska.” After a stellar performance by Buddy Rich, Delano’s father, a sour note if ever there were one, grumbles, “I never liked his band. I went to hear them once at the Riverboat. They were so GD loud we had to leave.” An animal trainer brings out a jumbo turkey who starts flapping its wngs wildly and dropping finger-length turds as Rickles, Rich, and Carson sidekick Ed McMahan collapse laughing on the couch. Rickles’ final words to Carson:
You poor sap! When this is over you’re going to be back on Saturday morning doing Farmhouse Frolic – “Okay, kids. This is Mr. Ducky, this is Mr. Donkey . . . .”
When home from college, I’d sometimes watch Carson in my parents’ room while they were in bed snuggling, especially when comedians like Rickles or Jonathan Winters were guests.
In “The Second Amendment Cannot Be Abolished by Hillary Clinton or Any President” Ray Smock (above) wrote:
Why can't all the TV pundits point out the obvious as they ponder the meaning of Trump's latest suggestion that “2nd Amendment People” might have to find their own solution if Hillary Clinton is elected president and appoints liberal judges who will take away their right to bear arms. What he said was beyond all comprehension of the kind of language one would expect from a presidential candidate. And, naturally, the NRA backed up his outrageous statement. But leaving aside the ugly and dangerous suggestion, let's look at how the Constitution is amended. Trump needs to read Article V which lays out the two ways we can alter the Constitution. Neither of them involve the President or any Supreme Court Justices.
Star Plaza staff; former student Stevie Kokos second from left
The Star Plaza Theatre and Radisson Hotel will be razed to make way for a fancier hotel, but there are no plans to build another theater. Home to the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra, it was a venue for many performers I’ve seen including Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Gordon Lightfoot (three times), Warren Zevon (twice), Buddy Guy, Don Henley, Moody Blues (a half-dozen times), ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, the Kinks, and others. Granddaughter Becca performed there in “Annie,” and Bob Farag produced first-class “Oldies” shows while brother Omar Farag put on an annual Elvis tribute night.
A judge refused to reduce former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence reduced even though an appeals judge threw out five counts against him. Almost all the charges have to do with unsuccessful attempts to extract favors in return for appointing a replacement to the Senate seat vacated in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president. In other words, a victimless crime. Rapists and murderers have served less time.
At lunch Cynthia O’Dell said she was between phone interviews with candidates for the position of Registrar. I told her I did not miss meetings and being on search committees although I’m glad I played a role in hiring those presently members of the History department – good scholars and people all. In the plan she plans to take piano lessons. I told her that Peter Aglinskas gives guitar lessons, that I was looking forward to attending his class on Music for Film, and suggested it be cross-listed for Liberal Studies MA students. Chuck Gallmeier, the new head of Liberal Studies, promised to look into the matter.
On the Indiana Toll Road a semi-truck loaded with apples and potatoes caught fire near to the Portage tollbooth, causing extensive damage and stalling traffic in both directions. After getting a haircut in Portage, knowing that the Tri-state expressway was jammed, I tried to take Airport Road to Lenburg, but a train was stopped dead in its tracks, so I found an alternative route past Robbinhurst Golf Course to I-149.
“Trials of the Century” by Mark and Ary Phillips contains a chapter on comic actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, framed by a scam artist who brought a woman who had just underwent an abortion to a party in his suite who later accused him of raping her. After the accuser became drunk and went into convulsions, Arbuckle found a place for her to lie down and summoned medical help for her. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. Demonized in the press and pursued by a politically ambitious prosecutor, Arbuckle, though found not guilty, was black-listed from the movie industry.