Monday, December 5, 2016

Let's Be Still

“The world's just spinning
A little too fast
If things don't slow down soon we might not last.
So just for the moment, let's be still.”
         The Head and the Hand, "Let's Be Still"
 The Head and the Heart

I have been playing the CD “Signs of Light” by The Head and the Hand, a Seattle indie rock group formed in 2009, on heavy rotation along with albums by Weezer, Blink-182, The War of Drugs, and Phoenix.  The Head and the Hand’s “All We Ever Knew” reminds me of my favorite Roy Orbison song, “In Dreams” and contains these lyrics:
When I wake up in the morning
I see nothing
For miles and miles and miles
When I sleep in the evening, oh lord
There she goes, only in dreams
She's only in dreams
At Chesterton library I checked out “The Hawaiian Quilt,” a novel about an Amish young woman (Mandy Frey) on a cruise who gets stranded on the island of Kauai and is taken in by a Hawaiian couple who run a bed and breakfast.  Having lived in Honolulu in 1965-66 and spent a memorable week in Kauai, I am finding the book interesting.  My friend Suzanna Murphy has been living an Amish lifestyle for more than a decade and is a fan of authors Wanda and Jean Brunstetter.  I even watched a few episodes of the reality TV series “Breaking Amish.”  Like Mandy, I’m descended from Pennsylvania Dutch settlers on my mother’s side.

Post-Trib correspondent Nancy Webster interviewed me about remembering Pearl Harbor at a time when the last few survivors of the December 7, 1941, attack are dying off.  I talked to her about writing my University of Hawaii M.A. thesis on territorial governor Joseph B. Poindexter, unfairly blamed by islanders for allowing military rule under martial law for the duration of World War II.  Historians regard the Japanese attack on our fleet at Pearl Harbor as one of the pivotal events of the twentieth century because it was dramatic proof that America could not isolate itself from what was occurring in the rest of the world. Bullet holes on buildings at Hickam Air Force Base are still visible as a reminder to be ever vigilant. Over two million people visit the USS Arizona Memorial annually, including Japanese tourists.  In three weeks Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Obama will visit the site together. There was a time when Japanese-Americans were not allowed to work there due to a misguided fear that some veterans might object.
 Hickam Air Force base building

Jermaine Couisnard game winner, Post-Trib photo by Jim Karczewski

With son Dave announcing from behind the scorer’s table East Chicago Central defeated top-ranked Merrillville 69-67, as Jermaine Couisnard drove the length of the court and scored with four seconds left.  Jonah Jackson, who had drained two threes to tie the game with 10 seconds left, got off a final desperation shot that bounced off the front of the rim.

After taking grandson James to Inman’s for bowling, I told Kevin Horn that my knuckle sometimes rubs against the side of my new ball’s thumb hole.  He told me that one can buy special strips of tape to remedy that problem and introduced me to friendly teenager McKayla Smith, who uses them on her thumb. Inman’s pro shop didn’t have the brand she recommended, Genesis, so McKayla opened a container that resembled a fishing tackle box, containing all sorts of accoutrements, and gave me two of hers.  She refused to take any money for them.

Sunday at Temple Israel Ron Cohen spoke about folk music during the 1930s.  Introducing him, I plugged the Archives (which we founded) and Steel Shavings magazine (ditto).  Thirty years ago, Ron and I talked about another joint venture, our book “Gary: A Pictorial History,” a similar Temple Israel brunch.  On hand were old friends Bobbi and Larry Galler.  He and I were discussing music and I told him about the CDs that Robert Blaszkiewicz made at Christmas of his favorite song of the year.   “He was my editor at the Times,” Larry exclaimed, referring to his Marketing column in the paper’s Sunday Business section.  Union stalwart Robin Rich introduced me to a lesbian couple, Sandra and Nancy Hagen Goldstucker, who moved from Chicago to Miller because of Anne Balay and have known her since her daughters Emma and Leah were babies. 

Ron played a half-dozen folk songs, including selections by Lead Belly, the Almanac Singers, Earl Robinson, and Woody Guthrie and mentioned the odd fact that in 1931 Gene Autry, the singing cowboy, recorded “The Death of Mother Jones,” whose lyrics included these lines:      
The world today's in mourning
O'er the death of Mother Jones;
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners' homes.
This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land;
She fought for right and justice,
She took a noble stand.

Ron speculated that Autry had never previously heard of labor champion Mother Jones; I countered that the Great Depression temporarily radicalized many people.   I asked Ron if Pete Seeger, when performing in union halls during the 1940s, got workers to sing along, something that became his trademark later in his career.  Pete started the practice when he was blacklisted and appearing mainly on college campuses and for kids at school, at progressive summer camps, and eventually on Sesame Street..
above, Gene Autry; below winter scene with deer by Marianne Brush

below, Becca second from right

As several inches of snow covered trees and slickened streets, we drove to see granddaughter Becca perform in Chesterton High School’s forty-fourth annual Madrigal Feast fundraiser.  Dressed as a maid, she was a bell player, server and singer in the chorus.  CHS cafeteria resembled a medieval baronial hall, and a herald (Wyatt Lee) introduced guests with fanfare after banging his staff to attract attention.  Becca escorted us to the Prince James of Wessex table.  Before dinner the herald read off 11 rules of etiquette, including not to pick your teeth with a knife, wipe your greasy fingers on your beard, rest your legs on the table or dip your thumbs in your mead. The program featured music, dancing, and jesters performing for the guests of honor, many whom I recognized from the musical “Godspell.” Although too religious for my taste, the production was impressive.  At any rate seeing Becca in action was worth the price of admission.

Son Phil knocked me out of the Fantasy Football playoffs by a mere four points.  My receivers, the strength of my team all year, let me down.  Mike Evans, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jason Witten combined for just 7 points compared to 25 for Phil’s trio of Jordy Nelson, Brandin Cooks, and Eric Ebron.  Top draft pick Rob Gronkowski was on injured reserve, and T.Y. Hilton was questionable, so I didn’t play him and he racked up 29 points.  Go figure. In the CBS Office Pool I picked Atlanta over Kansas City and got done in on a freak play.  Atlanta went ahead 28-27 late in the fourth quarter and elected to go for a two-point conversion. The pass got intercepted and run back 100 yards, giving K.C. 2 points and the victory.

At the IUN History Club program on Weird History I talked about flour sacks once becoming fashionable dresses and Abraham Lincoln’s wrestling prowess. In fact, Chris Young had linked me to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame website where I learned that George Washington had been a county-wide champ and at age 47 defeated seven challengers from the Massachusetts Volunteers.  David Parnell cited weird facts about Roman emperors, and Diana Chen-Lin talked about Chinese women who gather in parks, sidewalks, and other public places and dance in groups – perhaps harking back to when they were in the Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution and participated in parades and other syncopated activities. Jonathan Briggs compared the marketing of the Ku Klan Klan in the 1920s as a money-making enterprise to Amway’s pyramid scheme of enlisting followers to find others to sell memberships and other paraphernalia.  Coming up with additional weird facts were History Club officers Sylvia, Scott, Tyler, and a handsome ROTC officer I recalled from Nicole Anslover’s class on World War II.  The group was still going strong after two hours when after a gross story about a New Orleans spinster I exclaimed, “On that note I’m out of here.”
 Ralph utters the "f" word in "A Christmas Story"

An Vanity Fair article entitled “How A Christmas Story Went from Low Budget Fluke to an American Tradition” contains some great anecdotes about by the late Hoosier humorist and screenwriter Jean Shepherd, including this retort to critics who labeled his work nostalgic: “[It is] anti-sentimental, as a matter of fact. If you really read it, you realize it’s a put-down of what most people think it stands for—it’s anti-nostalgic writing.” Of Ralphie’s mother, played by Melinda Dillon, Shepherd said she “is the kind of woman I figure grew up in a family of four or five sisters and married young. She digs the Old Man, but also knows he’s as dangerous as a snake.” During the filming of “A Christmas Story” Shepherd became so disruptive that he was barred from the set. 

My favorite “In God We Trust” Jean Shepherd tale (incidentally, not part of “A Christmas Story”) is “Leopold Doppler and the Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot.”  During the Depression theater owners employed all sorts of gimmicks and giveaways to lure customers during week days, including Dish Night.  Each week at the Orpheum in Hohman, Indiana, women customers received one item from a 112-piece dinnerware set, starting with a bun warmer, a cup and saucer combination, and an egg cup.  “The town was hooked,” Shepherd wrote:
  Ladies in the last stages of childbirth were wheeled into the Orpheum, gasping in pain, to keep the skein going.  Creaking grandmothers, halt and blind, were led to the Box Office by grandchildren.  Ladies who had not seen the light of day since the Crimean War were pressed into service.  They sat numbly, deafly in the Orpheum seats, their watery eyes barely able to perceive the shifting, incomprehensibly images on the screen, their gnarled talons clasping a sugar bowl for dear life.
  There was only one Big Platter in every complete set of dinnerware, the crowning jewel in Doppler’s diadem.  For weeks we had filed past the magnificent display in the lobby and there in the exact center, catching the amber spots, glowing like the sun, was the Big Platter.  And tonight it was ours.
  One of the saddest sounds I have ever heard was the crash in the darkness by some numb-fingered housewife, carried away by a brilliantly executed scene by Joe E. Brown loosened her grip in laughter.  A sudden panic and her platter was no more, scattered in a million Pearlescent slivers among the peanut shells and Tootsie Roll butt ends that formed a thick compost heap underfoot.  Recriminations, suppressed sobs, and the entire family rose and filed out, their only reason for being there gone in a single split second.  My mother held ours with both hands clamped over her chest in a death grip.

All went well until gravy boats kept arriving over and over again each week.  Finally, when Doppler took the stage to assure the crowd that they could be exchanged later, a “blizzard” of gravy boats filled the air.  Shepherd wrote:
  A great crash of Gravy Boats like the crashing of surf on an alien shore drowned out Doppler’s words.  And then, spreading to all corners of the house, shopping bags were emptied as the arms rose and fell in the darkness, maniacal female cackles and obscenities driving Doppler from the stage.
  High overhead someone switched off the spotlights and Frankenstein flickers across the screen.  But it was too late.  More Gravy Boats, and even more.  It seemed to be an almost Inexhaustible supply, as though some Mother Lode of Gravy Boats had been struck. The eerie sound track of The Bride of Frankenstein mingled with the rising and falling cadence of wave upon wave of hurled Gravy Boats.  Outside the distant sound of approaching Riot Cars.  The house lights went on. The Orpheum was suddenly filled with blue-jowled policemen.
  The audience sat among the ruin, taciturn, satisfied.  Under the guidance of pointed nightsticks they filed into the grim darkness of the outside world.  The Dish Night Fever was over, once and for all.  The great days of the Orpheum and Leopold Doppler had passed forever.

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