Monday, December 19, 2016

Clark Metz R.I.P.

"What goes around comes around." Buddhist proverb and political saying
Clark Metz (right) with Mayor Tom Barnes after passage of casino authorization bill

My good friend Clark Metz passed away over the weekend.  Evidently he went to bed and never woke up.  A tenant heard his dog Freddy barking the next morning and discovered why.  Daughter Alicia informed me after awkward small talk on the phone that filled me with trepidation.  She said that at Thanksgiving Clark had called me his best friend.  After establishing a successful fire extinguisher company, he served as a Lake County commissioner and took pride in founding several county parks.  He was a political consultant to Mayor Thomas Barnes, State Senator Earline Rogers, and others.  In short, he was an insider and knowledgeable about Lake County government past and present.

Clark and I go back 45 years, to when he and Gloria came to a reception at our house following a talk at IUN by Studs Terkel against the Vietnam War.  He invited us to breakfast the next morning and proved to be a great cook.  Our kids attended the same alternative school in Glen Park.  We’d play touch football in the Metz backyard or on the school playground nearby (daughter Sloan was a fierce competitor who could throw a mean spiral) and make zany movie videos (one featured a tag team wrestling match) on his Betamax.  Once he suggested we go for a ride, and we ended up in Momence, Illinois, where Clark once lived, for the annual gladiolus festival. In the parade was the elite Gary Roosevelt marching band.

I was often Clark’s guest at the annual Hunky Hollow Athletic Club summer steak cookout at St. Elijah’s in Merrillville. I’d often stop at his place on Oak Avenue in Miller around the time Jeopardy came on to banter with him.  We loved to tease one another and had a similar, some would say warped, sense of humor. He did an imitation of me driving, hunched close to the steering wheel with eyes darting around.  One time he was at a party and won the host’s shoe on a bet.  Clark actually took the prize home, to the loser’s shock and amazement.  On another occasion he lost a bet to me and had to part with his La-Z-Boy recliner.  Unbeknownst to me, he’d actually just bought a new one but confided later that it wasn’t as comfortable as the one I took from him.  He refused to sub for my poker group because the stakes (nickel, dime, quarter, half) were too puny.   He knew a hustler at the old Gary Country Club (now Innsbrook) who’d say to braggarts, “I bet I could beat you standing on one leg.”  The guy could actually shoot a respectable round of golf with a foot in the air and made lots of money from suckers who took him up on the boast.

Clark once found for me a rare EP album by the Shoes, my favorite band, which contained a live version of “Hate to Run.”  At the home of his friend George, who had a spectacular stereo system, the three of us shared a smoke.  When “Hate to Run” came on, Clark suddenly turned the volume way up.  I thought George would have a heart attack even though the speakers handled it just fine. Sitting in front of Clark’s garage one day sucking down Miller Highlife 8-ouncers, we watched his aged dog Duke chase cars.  Clark said, “I used to worry about Duke getting seriously hurt doing that, and he sometimes did, but it’s about the only thrill he gets and now he’s too lame to catch up to them.”  In the 1970s I’d sometimes had a few beers with seminar students at a joint in Glen Park, and Clark occasionally joined us.  The place showed movies such as “Car Wash” and “Blazing Saddles,” but the last time we went there, to my disbelief, an X-rated film was on the big screen.  I tried to ignore it but stole several glances to confirm that it wasn’t my imagination.  Wouldn’t you know, Clark came up with an imitation of me sneaking a peak at porn to add to his repertoire.
Timothy Downs with attorney Matthew Fech; Post-Tribune photo by Mark Davis

Lake County sheriff John Buncich’s chief of police Timothy Downs, a 37-year veteran and, according to those who know him, a decent officer, pled guilty to wire fraud and promised to cooperate with federal officials in providing information relative to the wrongdoing of others.  The plea agreement will certainly make things tough for his old boss.  Downs told Judge Rudy Lozano: “Even though I knew it was in violation of the law to accept direct cash payments in exchange for favorable towing contract consideration, I did so to continue receiving my salary as chief of police for the Lake County’s Sheriff’s department.”  Rumor has it that a scorned woman went to the feds with info about Buncich’s towing company scheme.

In connection with their “Flight Paths” project VU professors Allison Schuette and Liz Wuerffel interviewed Jerry Davich, who in turn wrote a Post-Trib column about the experience.  Calling himself a poster child for white flight from Gary, Davich talked about a snowball fight outside William A. Wirt High School in Miller between white and black students:
              What started as a playful battle with my band-geek friends in a blizzard quickly turned into a race-related power struggle at my school.
I caught myself throwing snowballs fiercely at black kids whom I considered my friends. And they zinged snowballs at me with anger in their eyes.
That's when I remember things changing.
In the late 1970s I moved to Portage as a teenager with my parents.  It wasn’t my call to leave Gary, but I understood why we did.  Still, my memories there are more idyllic than corrupted.

When Phil went to Marquette School in Miller, his best friend, Andre, was African American.  Years later, Phil discovered that Andre was living a half-block away from us at Miller Village Apartments.  They tried to renew the friendship, but it didn’t pan out, perhaps because of Andre’s friends giving him grief or maybe simply that too much time had elapsed and they had different interests.  One of my childhood pals, Penny Roberts, moved away from Fort Washington around age 13.  I remember being envious when he proudly showed me, Terry Jenkins, and Sammy Corey that he had hair under his arms – and, he intimated, elsewhere.  We both attended Bucknell but didn’t renew our friendship in college beyond the superficial level.
 from Frank Leslie's Illustrated magazine

In “City of Dreams” Tyler Andinder wrote about the 1871 New York City Orange Day Riot between Irish Catholics and protestants, which resulted in at least 67 deaths and an untold number of serious injuries.  The previous year a brawl had broken out when Orangemen paraded on the anniversary of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, in which Dutch Prince William of Orange defeated ousted English King James II, assuring Protestant ascendency in Ireland.  Marchers sang anti-Catholic songs such as “Croppies Lie Down,” the word “Croppie” a slur referring to a Catholic hair style.  The following year Tammany Hall officials tried to ban the parade, something successfully done in Great Britain after similar clashes, but the politically ambitious governor of New York overruled them and sent in state militia, supposedly to keep the peace.  Instead, scared, inexperienced, soldiers fired indiscriminately into the melee.  “The street literally ran with blood,” reported the New York Sun.

Granddaughter Alissa is planning to be part of a Women’s March on Washington the day after Trump’s Inauguration to demonstrate solidarity and concern over the new President’s policies.  Trump’s Inauguration Committee is attempting to prevent the protestors from gathering at the Lincoln Memorial.  In 1969 my friends and fellow Marylanders Ray Smock and Pete Daniel took part in an anti-Inaugural protest of Richard M. Nixon taking office as President.

With the weather dipping below zero grandson James had a so-called Learning Day at home, using a school IPad to receive homework assignments.  That way Portage High won’t have to make up the snow day.  Some schools opened two hours late to avoid the same fate, but there is always a danger that students won’t get the message and be left standing outside in the cold exposed to the elements.  On 80/94 traffic suddenly came to a standstill.  I was in the left lane and noticed cars making illegal U-turns.  Virtually no vehicles were coming from the other direction, so I edged toward the left shoulder when another car buzzed by, nearly clipping me, followed by an SUV.  Whew!  Close call.
Vernon Smith at the Glen Theater; Post-Trib photo by Jim Karczewski

State legislator and IUN Education professor Vernon Smith was inside the Glen Theater on Ridge Road in Glen Park waiting for a roofer when 41 year-old Keith Sanders robbed him at gunpoint and stole his car. Several days later Veronica Sanders used Smith’s debit card to withdraw $400 from a gas station ATM machine, an action that was captured by video surveillance.  Somebody recognized the woman as an employee at a nearby pizza restaurant, and Smith subsequently pointed out Keith Sanders from a police lineup.

Two AmeriCorps VISTA workers visited the Archives doing research in connection with a walking tour of downtown Gary that they are planning for next summer.  Sam and Alex recognized my name as the author of “Gary’s First Hundred Years” and were excited when I showed them Gary city directories that would enable them to trace the history of street addresses.  The VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program started in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s anti-poverty initiative, sort of a domestic version of the Peace Corps.  My fiend Dick Hagelberg first came to Gary as a VISTA worker, and he expressed interest in meeting with Sam and Alex after the holidays.  I’d also like to get them together with Dick’s son Corey, who teaches Fine Arts at IUN, and Gary community organizer Samuel A. Love.

While most scenes in “A Christmas Story” are from Jean Shepherd’s “In God We Trust” the feud with the Bumpus family next door is in “Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters,” only it is an Easter ham rather than a Christmas turkey that the Bumpus hounds burst in and devoured.  Shepherd described the moment 30 minutes before H hour when his mother removed the ham from the oven:
  She laid it out on a big sheet of wax paper, right in the middle of the kitchen table, to let it cool a bit and sit – the thick, sweet brown molasses and sugar oozing down over the sides, the pineapple slices baked brown, the cloves like tiny black insects soaking in the thick ham gravy.
  My father picked up the carving knife again, for one last stroke on the whetstone.  He held the blade up to the light.  Everything was ready.  He went into the living room and sat down.
  His eyes glowed with the primal lust of a cave man about to dig into the kill, which would last us at least four months. We would have ham sandwiches, ham salad, ham gravy, ham hash – and finally, about ten gallons of pea soup made with the gigantic ham bone.
  When it happened, he was sitting knee-deep in the Chicago Tribune sports section. I had been called in to wash up.  My mother was in the bedroom, removing the curers from her hair. I had just left the bathroom and my kid brother had just gone in for his fumigation when suddenly and without warning:
  The kitchen door flew open.  It had been left ajar just a crack to let the air come in to cool the ham.

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