Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lot to Learn

“When I was a young boy, advice I would scorn
now I'm gettin' a little older, I know I got a lot to learn
yesterday's illusions are tomorrow's smiles
I'll look back and laugh baby, sometimes in a while.”
            Savoy Brown, “When I Was a Young Boy”

As usual, Chad Clifford and the Crawpuppies opened at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, this year for headliner Matthew Sweet, best known for the 1991 hit “Girlfriend.” Like when I saw the Gin Blossoms, the day started rainy, putting the kibosh on plans to check out the parade (instead I played board games with Dave and T. Wade, winning 2 of 3, St Pete and Acquire after getting slaughtered in Amun Re).  By mid-afternoon the sun came out.  In East Chicago on Sunday, one of the ten best days of the year, as Channel 7 weatherman John Coleman used to say, the annual Mexican Independence Day parade took place.
Five year-old Nancy Vanega in Mexican Independence Day Parade; NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano

Titling his SALT column on classical guitarist Peter Aglinskas, “Guitar over piano, noir over ‘Psycho,’” Jeff Manes led with repartee between Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as husband and wife in “Double Indemnity” (1944).  Growing up in Chicago’s Marquette Park ethnic neighborhood with Lithuanian parents and Palestinian friends, Aglinskas started first grade not knowing much English, but a Lithuanian-American teacher took him under her wing.  Wishing to avoid piano lessons, he purchased a guitar from Polk Brothers department store and in high school joined a glitter band called Mist.  Peter told Manes: “We played a lot of David Bowie, KISS, Alice Cooper.  It was a riot, man.  As kids, we opened up for Savoy Brown.”

Aglinskas incorporates film noir in his IUN course on “The Soundscape of Pulp Fiction.”  Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” he asserted, drove a stake into the heart of the genre by employing graphic violence.  He related that in “Pulp Fiction” director Quentin Tarentino deliberately copied a scene from “Psycho” where a character sees her boss walk across the street at a stoplight.  Aglinskas quipped, “Like Igor Stravinsky said, “Hicks borrow, genius steals.”

Monday morning Peter emailed me:
  Thank you so much for connecting me with Jeff Manes. Being an avid canoeist and fisherman, especially in the Midwest, it was a thrill for me to find out during our interview that Jeff did that fantastic documentary about the Kankakee Wetlands being the Everglades of the North.  I had many fond recollections of canoeing and fishing the Kankakee that I was able to share with Jeff, and I think that this established a very nice connection during our interview.  I loved that documentary and have viewed it several times on PBS.

Over the weekend I binged on “The Night Of,” an eight-part HBO series starring John Turturro as a struggling attorney who defends a Pakistani-American charged with a murder that he in all likelihood did not commit. Examining the legal system, from cops on the beat and detectives on the case, to the flawed judicial system and ugly reality of prison life, “The Night Of” abounds in moral ambiguity, according to Aglinskas a key element in noir, as exemplified in the Orson Welles movie “Touch of Evil” (1958) that I saw last year when Aglinskas hosted a film series at VU.  Several violent Rikers Island prison scenes in “The Night Of” had me shielding my eyes.  Ellen Gray of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote:
  From the start, it's a murder mystery, but one that raises questions beyond whodunit, including: Can anyone, once accused, ever be presumed innocent?  Riz Ahmed delivers a beautifully calibrated performance as Naz, who, while he may not be quite the innocent he first appears, can't help but be changed by his experiences at New York's notorious Rikers Island. There, he quickly finds a mentor and protector named Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams, The Wire), whose help, naturally, comes at a price.

Turturro, whose character's many quirks include a nasty skin condition that makes it hard for him to wear shoes, is reason enough to watch The Night Of. As he shuffles from doctor to herbalist, seeking solutions (and trying to off-load a cat, in a running plotline), he's a study in downward mobility, a man who understands the system and may be able to get it to work for others, but has never quite made it work for himself.

An evocative soundtrack is an important ingredient in film noir.  “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955), for instance, opens with Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer listening on the car radio to Nat “King” Cole’s “Nothin’ But the Blues.”  In “The Night Of” were songs I recognized by Hall and Oates (“Abandoned Luncheonette”), Gloria Gaynor (“I Will Survive”), and Roberta Flack (“The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”).

Post-Trib Indiana Bicentennial correspondent Nancy Coltun Webster wrote about the “Ideal Section,” a stretch of road between Dyer and Schererville completed in 1924 and intended as a model for future highway construction.  The brainchild of Carl G. Fisher, whose Prest-O-Lite Company manufactured automobile headlights, the Lincoln Highway Association hoped to bring about a transcontinental highway from New York to California.  Fisher, founder of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, also promoted Dixie Highway linking the Midwest to Miami Beach, which he developed.  Webster wrote:
  The Ideal Section was a four-lane highway and each lane was 10feet wide.  The road had curbing, a pedestrian walkway, the first highway lighting, specially designed bridges and culverts. The concrete was 10inches thick and had rebar buried in it.
Profiting from the “Ideal Section” construction was Hammond banker Joseph Meyer, who acquired 17 adjacent acres and between 1927 and 1931 financed the building of a $2 million mansion, Meyer’s Castle, designed by architect Cosbey Bemard.  A replica of a fortress Meyer had once visited in Scotland, Meyer’s Castle is now used for wedding receptions and other special events. East Chicago Central’s senior prom took place there a few years ago.

Halloween items have begun showing up in stores. NWI Times marketing columnist Larry Galler advised merchants to keep an account for future use of what does and does not sell and be on the lookout for hot new sellers.  Examples are zombie puppets and super skins that zip up over one’s face.

I learned from Ron Cohen’s “Depression Folk” that Carl Sandburg was not only a poet (i.e., “Smoke and Steel,” 1920) and Abraham Lincoln biographer but a folk music collector and editor of a 280-song anthology, “The American Songbag” (1927).  Sandburg often sang and played ditties on guitar at recitals.  In 1940 the onetime Socialist Party organizer wrote an FDR campaign song that mentions Republican Wendell Wilkie.  Ron Cohen found these lyrics in Gregory d’Alessio’s “Old Troubadour: Carl Sandburg with His Guitar Friends” (1987):
Goddamn Republicans
Scum of the earth
We will meet them
And beat them
And show them what we are worth
Out of Wall Street
Came a Wilkie
He’s a silkie
Goddamn Republicans
The G-e-e-e O-h-h-h P-e-e-e!

For his Crusades course David Parnell assigned The Alexiad, Anna Comnena’s account of her father, Byzantine Emperor Alexius’s reign.  In 1081 at age 25 Alexius overthrew unpopular Nicephorus III and exiled him to a monastery.  The eldest of seven children, Anna received a classical education and plotted for her husband to be her father’s successor.  Outmaneuvered by her brother John, Anna spent her last years in a convent, where she wrote The Alexiad. 

When Parnell first interviewed at IUN, I asked how he planned to work women into his courses, and he is doing that very well.  The Byzantine Empire was his primary research field.  Needless to say, I’m learning a lot (i.e., I had never heard of The Alexiad).  The Catholic schism taking place a thousand years ago, Parnell summarized, was over the meaning of the Trinity, the primacy of the Roman pontiff, and, believe it or not, whether or not to use unleavened bread during the Holy Eucharist.
 Jose Rizal

In Arizona visiting national parks, Ken and Joy Anderson requested that I preside at the book club meeting.  Roy Dominquez reported on Austin Craig’s biography of Philippine nationalist José Rizal (1861-1896).  A remarkable poet, novelist, painter, and ophthalmologist fluent in 22 languages, Rizal wrote several essays chastising the Spanish rulers for discouraging Filipino progress toward self-sufficiency. In 1871 a reactionary governor-general forced Philippine nationalists into exile, causing Rizal to retaliate by characterizing friars and governmental officials as “a double-faced Goliath.”  Rizal wanted the islands to be made a province of new Span with guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly. When he returned to Manila in 1892, he was declared an enemy of the state and deported to a remote island, where he built a school and hospital.  Even though he condemned the 1896 revolt as premature and sought to travel to Cuba to fight the yellow fever epidemic, Rizal was arrested en route and ultimately executed for his supposedly incendiary writings.  The Filipino firing squad was told they would be shot if they failed to do their duty.  Indeed, a Spanish squadron was ready to mow them down if they refused. 

Spanish rule ended two years later, not in independence but with the United States seizing control of the islands.  Roy brought his Philippine-American wife Betty as well as daughters Maria and Veronica and their husbands.  He noted that Rizal was the George Washington of his country and that his execution became a rallying cry for more militant leaders.  Betty helped him with the pronunciation of his novels, “Noli Me Tángere” and “El filibusterismo.”  In attendance was former Lake County surveyor George Van Til, pleased to be back after almost two years.  Roy told the group that Rizal’s obtained a land surveyor and assessor’s degree. Van Til noted that Muslims (called “Moros”) settled in the Philippines over 500 years ago and that over the centuries many countries desired to control the Philippines, including China, Japan, the Dutch, the Germans, and ultimately, the United States. Roy mentioned that Betty’s grandfather had fought with allied forces in World War I and that her father, who came to America after World War II, had survived the Bataan Death March.     
 at his 2013 retirement party Father Gaza sits between MichaelRichards and speaker James Harris

As usual, I ordered a pale ale on draft and a BLT salad and knew in advance that the bill would be for $23.50 including tax and 20 percent gratuity.  George Van Til told me he had lunch with Father J. Patrick Gaza, a retired pastor from St, Mark’s in Gary who was active in civil rights organizations and twice visited George when he was incarcerated in Terre Haute.

Home after dark (September days are definitely getting shorter), I watched Cub Kyle Hendricks take a no-hitter into the ninth against St. Loui, due in part to brilliant defensive plays by Addison Russell and Jason Hayward, nicknamed “J-Hey.”  For the second year in a row I started the Fantasy Football season with a miracle win, 104-98, against grandson Anthony because Carlos Hyde of San Francisco scored two TDs while Adrian Peterson gained only 31yards with no touchdowns.  The only reason I played Hyde was because Seattle running back Thomas Rawls had been listed as questionable.  Rawls only would have gained me 5 points as opposed to Hyde’s 20.

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