Thursday, August 25, 2016

Nineties Nostalgia

“Nostalgia is a seductive liar,” George W. Ball

In “The Past Has Another Pattern” (1983), George W. Ball (1909-1994) discusses highlights of a long, distinguished diplomatic career.  Best known for being a lone voice of reason opposing escalation of the Vietnam War while JFK and LBJ’s undersecretary, Ball loved James Bond novelist Ian Fleming’s quote “Nothing propinks like propinquity.”  From “Diamonds Are Forever” (1956), it means the closer one has access to a leader, the more power he wields, regardless of official position.  A “national interest” realist, Ball cautioned against mythologizing America’s role as a disinterested world power.

Interest in a time period often spikes a couple decades later.  Certainly this seems the case currently about the 1990s (the last decade without I-Phones, Facebook, and I-Pads) with recent books and documentaries galore about the O.J. Simpson trial and the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan ice hockey feud.  Pearl Jam, Green Day, U2, and The Cure are as popular as ever, and Nirvana albums have become collectors’ items.  Reruns of Seinfeld and Friends attract young millennials.  “Goodfellas,” “Groundhog Day,” “Pulp Fiction,” and “The Big Lebowski” have achieved cult status.  Iconic sports moments include Muhammad Ali carrying the Olympic torch in Atlanta in 1996 and Michael Jordon winning his sixth NBA title with the Chicago Bulls in 1998. Despite the Monica Lewinsky affair and impeachment fiasco, President Bill Clinton presided during a time of peace and prosperity compared to the terrible George W. Bush years

During the 1990s I became a grandfather and witnessed Phil and Dave embarking on fulfilling careers.  Toni and I returned to Hawaii and visited exotic locales as far away as Scandinavia and New Zealand.  I was on a championship softball team in the twilight of my career, bowled two 600 series, and edited Steel Shavings on Steelworkers, Lake Michigan Tales, and the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties filled with oral histories and nostalgic personal musings.

Barbara, a comely, competent ATI physical therapy instructor working out of Dr. Joeoph Koscielniak’s office in Merrillville, taught me a dozen exercises intended to strengthen my right knee.  Afterwards my thigh muscles ached.  Recently I saw an ATI ad behind home plate during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field.

When asked if he were glad to be back from California, sculptor Neil Goodman pointed to IUN’s Savannah Sculpture Garden and said he missed his creations. Neil said he enjoyed reading Steel Shavings over the summer.  When I claimed to be back in the IUN administration’s good graces, he replied, “You said what you said [about the Anne Balay case], and people could either take it or leave it.”  True enough, but academicians are notorious for holding grudges.

Former student Terry Helton’s GPS got him lost driving from Helena, Montana, to British Columbia.  On the return trip he visited Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia and observed: “It looks just like it does in the pictures.”
Sonny Jorgensen then and now

Paul Kern informed me that Sonny Jurgensen, my favorite football player of all time, turned 82 years of age.  Paul recalled my frustration when Redskins coach George Allen played journeyman quarterback Billy Kilmer rather than the future Hall of Famer in Superbowl VII against undefeated Miami.  Born Christian Adolph Jurgensen III, the North Carolinian started his pro career with the Philadelphia Eagles (backing up QB Norm Van Brocklin on their 1960 championship team) and still broadcasts Washington games.  My childhood baseball hero Richie Ashburn, one of the 1950 “Whiz Kids,” also went on to became a broadcaster following a playing career with the Phillies, Cubs, and Mets.  “Whitey,” Ashburn’s nickname, died in 1997 after working a Phillies game at Shea Stadium.
above, ironweed; below rosinweed

According to IUN professor Spencer Cortwright, ironweed, now in bloom, is a prairie wildflower native to the Calumet Region, unlike the invasive purple loosestrife of Eurasian origin.  Other “roadside natives getting ready to bloom,” Cortwright notes, are wild sunflowers, goldenrod, New England Aster, and rosinweed.  He added:
  Suppose it is the year 1711 and you are 11 years old and have a hankering for some chewing gum.  Corner drug stores or Walmart’s are a long way off, so what do you do?  Apparently, the gum of choice was resin from the classic prairie plant, rosinweed.  Native Americans would break the stem and collect the dried resin.  Apparently it helped clean teeth and had an ok taste! Bees adore the flowers and seed-eating birds gorge themselves on the seeds prior to migration!

I asked David Parnell how his Crusades course was going.  The first week he concentrated on Islamic civilizations that would come under attack from invading European armies.  I speculated that, like with the Conquistadores who later wreaked havoc on Native Americans, the main motivations were Gold, God, and Glory in that order.  Recent research, he told me, has emphasized religious zeal.  Funding Crusades was expensive, and while there were possibilities for plunder, Parnell compared the odds to winning the lottery but only after investing an entire year’s earnings.

For a New York Times crossword puzzle, Toni needed the sports legend who wore number 3. I guessed Gehrig; when she said it was just 4 letters, I knew it was “The Babe.”  In the 1920s the New York Yankees first assigned numbers based on batting order.  Ruth must have gotten a decent share of good pitches with Gehrig behind him in the lineup.  Other athletes who wore number 3 were 76er Allen Iverson (A.I.), Mariner Ken Griffey, Jr., and Harold Baines of the White Sox.
 Sharon D. Allen

Andrew Carroll’s “Operation Homecoming” contains Sergeant Sharon D. Allen’s nonfiction account of how music served as a cultural icebreaker.  A petroleum supply fueler in an Ohio National Guard engineer battalion, she was deployed in northern Iraq in March 2004.  Allen soon realized that being in a diesel truck with the word FLAMMABLE on the side was not such a good idea and took corective action without waiting for authorization.  Many comrades in her platoon had been prison guards, including 240-pound friend Shannon Bear, who in his spare time learned to play the fiddle.  Allen wrote:
  One of our guys brought his guitar to the guard shacks and played some American music.  Note to Enrique Iglesias: Iraqis know you.  For what it’s worth, you rank right up there with Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Shakira.
  Sometimes they’d try to join in.  You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a bunch of Iraqi soldiers, complete with AK-47s, sitting around and singing with gusto as they mangle the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
  “In times of trouble mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom . . . Little Pea.”
  They really got into it.
  “Little Pea, Little PEA!  Little Pea, yeah, Little Pea. . . Whisper words of wisdom, Little Pea.”
  That was a good day.

Sharon D. Allen has written “100 Things I Learned in Iraq: Lesson 55, Try Not to be Outside When a Chinook Lands.”  Lessons include “Human Beings Were Not Designed to Breathe Dirt” and “Military Logic Will Forever Elude Me.”  Revealing her skepticism about her mission while in Iraq, Allen wrote:
  Along with the whole question of mixing faith and politics, we’re also dealing with a schismatic religion and people who loathe one another.  A Sunni won’t even use a toilet after a Shiite has.  Now we want them to work together to create a new system of law?  Then you throw in the Kurds, who are mainly Christian, of an entirely different culture, and whose claim to fame is that their mere existence is the one thing that brings the Sunnis and Shiites together.  The Muslims and Kurds hate each other with a bloodthirsty passion most of us cannot even conceive. 

In “Hot Sex and Young Girls” New York Review contributor Zoë Heller critiqued “American Girls” by Nancy Jo Sale and “Girls and Sex” by Peggy Orenstein for exaggerating the pernicious effect of social media on young women and being overly nostalgic about “their own halcyon youths” (both authors were born in the1960s) versus “the frenzied, romance-free social lives of today’s young women.”  Heller also questioned the authors’ narrow line of questioning, noting: “If you gathered up 200 young women and asked them exclusively about their pets, you could probably write a shocking exposé of the outsized role that domestic animals play in the lives of American girls.” Heller wrote, “Notwithstanding the vicious influence of pornography and Miley Cyrus, 15 year-olds may go online to learn how to perform fellatio but they also post fearsome rebukes to boorish boys on Facebook.”  She concluded:
  Much of the recent discourse about girls and sex has tended to reinforce rather than to challenge the idea of female vulnerability and victimhood.  It would be a salutary thing to have some old-school feminist pugnacity injected back into the culture.

Earthquakes killed hundreds in Italy and tornedos wreaked destruction in central Indiana, but the lead story on the news is that in Jackson, Mississippi, Trump called Hillary a bigot.  WTF?  He accused Clinton of branding his followers as racists.  Of course, many of them are, but Hillary never said such a thing. “Final Jeopardy” used the P.T. Barnum quote: “The public appears to be amused even when conscious of being deceived” – something that might apply to crowds at Trump rallies. Barnum also said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Marla Gee has delayed studying in Liverpool for a year and will work on an MA in “Arts and Entertainment at Valparaiso University.  She wrote:
I'm also going to be working part-time as a Hillary for America fellow (unlike my Indy internship, we aren't getting paid for this gig – “fellow” in this case is a fancy word for volunteer).  We have to commit to two weeks in one of the swing states, so I'm not sure yet where I will be heading.  I'm mainly just doing it for the adventure.  There is no way I could do this as a law student.  Now, I've chosen on-line classes and the “atmosphere” is so different.  I feel guilty, it's like still being on vacation.  My stress level is lowering with every hour!

More photos of Alissa and Josh’s wedding reception are appearing on Facebook, and they have arrived back from Hawaii with many great memories.
Dave and Jimmy performing; Phil, Lynn, Toni and Beth hamming it up

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