“Trials to test our hearts, doubts to make us strong,
Cheered by loved ones that from the graveyard say
All my tears surely gone after I fly away.”
Robbie Fulks, “America Is a Hard Religion”
Jeff Hagelberg on right (2014). Now Jeff is a black belt
On Christmas Eve Toni and I visited the Hagelbergs in Miller. Dick and Cheryl’s son Jeff, home from Massachusetts, gave us a CD of music he composed and performed as part of his Tae Kwan Do regimen. We left mid-afternoon when Jeff and Dick went to choir practice at Hobart Unitarian Church for a midnight program, one of its few Christian services. Christmas Day was quiet at the condo (kids and grandkids being at other festivities) until late afternoon, when folks began arriving for the traditional tree decoration and March of Presents. Next morning, we opened gifts, later than when kids were young. My stash included a belt and a Head and the Heart CD I had asked for, plus several jars of exotic jelly, two nice shirts, a pair of classy ties, and candy, including three boxes of Whoppers and chocolate turtles made by Kevin Horn’s mother. The weather was mild enough for several Lanes to be on the beach for sunset.
The long weekend went by in a haze of rich meals and late nights, board games and cards, as up to 18 people were in and out and, in most cases, spent the night. I met Miranda’s boyfriend Sean, who was definitely not shy but kept calling me sir until learning I preferred Jimbo. He was touched that Toni had made a Christmas stocking with his name on it. In a 17-person game of Werewolf nobody had briefed him about the need for silence when the villagers were asleep. He kept making a sound that was a cross between a fart and a snore despite being told to stop, bringing a halt to the proceedings. Frankly, not being a Werewolf fan, I thought the stunt was a riot. When he left, I told Sean I considered him a new friend.
Miranda and Sean
Miranda selfie of Lane Christmas
On Jeopardy the category for the final question was “The Civil War,” and nobody, myself included, knew the name of the Confederate vessel made from a boiler. Answer: the submarine CSS H.L. Hunley. Three of us guessed the Merrimack, the ironclad renamed the CSS Virginia.
In the Coen brothers farce “Hail, Caesar” George Clooney as 1940s actor Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped by Communist writers exploited by studio executives with a pet dog Engels. The Marxist dialogue was both compelling and hilarious. The film features cameos by Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Channing Tatum, and Scarlett Johansson (as an Esther Williams doppelgänger).
Black Elk with Lucy Looks twice and Anna Brings White (circa 1910)
Back on a South Dakota Sioux reservation shortly after the Battle of Little Bighorn, Lakota visionary Black Elk decided to join Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show, performing at Queen Victoria’s 1887 Golden Jubilee. After missing the return steamboat to America, he joined Mexican Joe’s Western Wilds of America. While in France Black Elk fell in love with a wealthy Parisian admirer and, in all likelihood, fathered a child. Returning to South Dakota, he became a Catholic catechist for 30 years because, in his words, his children had to live in this world. Shortly before his death Black Elk told daughter Lucy Looks Twice, “The only thing I really believe in is the pipe religion.”
At Hobart Lanes I learned that all my teammates and many others got deathly ill following last week’s banquet. Fortunately, I had stayed away from the pulled pork, thought to be the culprit. The Engineers took a single game, thanks to a 197 by Melvin Nelson, against a superior team anchored by Steve Huffman, who rolled 267 in game one and a 600+ series. I had two 155s and a lousy middle game featuring five splits. One frame my ball failed to break, picking up only the 3-6-9-10. On an adjacent lane retired bricklayer Gene Clifford, whom I had bonded with the week before, quipped, “You left yourself quite a mess.” I spared and retorted, “You gave me extra incentive.” Delia’s Uncle Phil Vera asked who the tall guy was in her Christmas card. Answer: Miranda’s boyfriend Sean.
A half hour after I arrived home, old Porter Acres softball teammates Dave Serynek, Paulie Van Wormer, and Sam Johnston dropped by. We toasted dear, departed Mike Kubiak, told old stories, drank much beer, and (as Toni pointed out) made many bathroom trips. Many anecdotes touched on a trip 30 years ago to the Bahamas. Paulie and I recalled trips from our hotel (where a bottle of beer cost 4 bucks) to a local liquor store, where all cases cost the same: $24. Our beer of choice became Beck’s. Sam (nicknamed the “Bahama Llama” by Ivan Jasper) brought along a group photo from our 1981 championship season. I fed them turkey sandwiches before they left.
On the day of Henry Farag’s musical “The Signal” in Munster, the Post-Trib ran a story about my Art in Focus talk on Vivian Carter that was excellent except for referring to me as Jim Lang. I don’t blame the reporter so much as whoever her editor was – or maybe such a position no longer exists, given the sad state of the industry. Sometimes African American students called me Dr. Lang, replacing the “e’ with a “g.”
The NWI Times ran an excerpt from Mary Wisniewski’s “Algren: A Life.” Exactly 60 years ago, the author of “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1949) fell through the ice at Marquette Park lagoon upon returning to his Miller cottage from a beer run to Pignotti’s on Lake Street. Wisniewski wrote:
Neighbors heard Nelson screaming, and three brothers working on a nearby house saw him hanging on to the breaking ice in more than 15 feet of frigid water. Nelson warned them that the ice was too thin for them to come out and asked for a rope. But his hands were numb, and he lost his grip several times before the men told him to wrap it around his arm. Nelson was taken to a neighbor’s house for dry clothes, then to a local hospital to be treated briefly for exposure.
Algren had been depressed recently, and close friend Dave Peltz was suspicious about the incident. Wisniewski concluded:
It was likely not a suicide attempt, but an act of inattention by a clumsy man who was distracted by stress and deep blues. “It is so much like you, honey, to fall in a hole!” Simone de Beauvoir said when she learned of the accident. A year of ice-water reviews had ended in real ice water. Wrapped up in blankets in deep midwinter, Nelson wondered whether anything he wrote was even wanted anymore.
Jef Halberstadt hosted a four-day Game Weekend that attracted dozens of friends and inspired memories of Robin. I learned three new games: Kingdom Builder, Splendor, and Machi Koro. A highlight was winning a five-player Amun Re against Evan Davis, Tom Wade, and Brady’s friends Jacob and Hanna, neophytes whom he advised from the sidelines. I made surprisingly successful sacrifices, normally Tom’s forte, but he was thrown off by unorthodox moves from the new players. Tom declared Amun Re to be the greatest game ever, except for Air Baron, which Evan Davis invented.
A character in Herman Wouk’s 2004 novel “A Hole in Texas” declares: “That’s the most fun I’ve had with my clothes on in the last 20 years.” Good line. The protagonist, a scientist, is caught in the crosshairs of politics and unfairly dubbed the “Deep Throat physicist.”
In the final duplicate bridge hand of the night I bid and made four Spades but discovered that most others playing the hand had garnered an overtrick. I had a losing Diamond and held the bare Jack, King of Clubs. We speculated that opening lead at those tables was the Club Ace, setting up declarer’s King, but I could have made 11 tricks by leading a low Club from the board and playing the Jack, since the player on my right had the Queen. Instead I played the King and lost both Clubs.
Stephen, Emma, Leah, Anne Balay
At Flamingo’s Pizza with Anne and Leah Balay, Greg Reising at an adjoining table heard us talking about steelworkers and interjected that he worked at U.S. Steel summers and called the wages his mill scholarship, in that it paid for his college tuition. Anne has almost completed a manuscript about gay, lesbian, and transgender truckers. Unlike closeted steelworkers, most subjects were eager to be photographed. When I brought up my holiday reading, it turned out that Anne had used “Black Elk Speaks” in a Literature course, along with “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee and photographer Walker Evans.
Region top stories of 2016 included indictments and convictions and mass protests: of contaminated apartments in East Chicago, the threat of an immigrant detention center coming to Gary, opposition to liquor served at Dunes State Park, and against police harassment in Valparaiso. Top sports story involved the saga of Griffith’s boys basketball team, first disqualified from the state tournament after a nasty brawl on court until a local judge overruled the IHSAA. Then the team bus overturned on the way to a match-up against eventual state champ Marion, which defeated the Panthers five days later on a last-second put-back.
Carrie, Max, and Robert Blaszkiewicz
Robert Blaszkiewcz’s 2016 Mix CD is a delight - eclectic, personal, and, as always, containing both new bands I didn’t know about (Car Seat Headrest, Big Thief) and tunes by old favorites like Wilco (“If Ever Was a Child”) and Bob Mould (Losing Sleep”). Robert wrote:
So what did we learn this past year besides good people sometimes die and assholes sometimes win? Perhaps this year’s CD is a way of me working through these issues and still finding threads of hope. The CD starts with two of my favorite albums of the year. Car Seat Headrest was a revelation, the kind of guitar-rock album that finds my sweet spot. That’s followed by The I Don’t Cares, made up of artists from my younger years: The Replacements’ Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield, making such fun music together.
Anohni (formerly Antony and the Johnsons) made the angriest dance-protest album of the year. When she sings “it’s an American dream,” it is not in a good way. Chicago’s Robbie Fulks delivers a classic protest song and the year’s best song title. Drive-By Truckers show the South isn’t just red, putting their stamp on the politics of 2016 brilliantly.
Wye Oak’s swirling melodies lead into the emotional climax coming in the final tracks. Nick Cave’s son died in a fall from a cliff before he completed this album. It’s haunting, much like this other-worldly song that Leonard Cohen summoned up shortly before his death. At the very beginning of the year, Bowie died. He left us with this final song on his final album. It’s both an acknowledgement of mortality and an affirmation of life – and a fitting way to look toward a new year.
At the end of “You Want It Darker (we’ll kill the flame)” by Canadian Leonard Cohen I swear one can hear a Lakota chant. What was shocking about Black Elk’s culture was the degree of self-flagellation in ceremonies such as the Sun Dance in order to induce visions.
Bowie in costume; below, Ray Smock
Ray Smock posted this warning:
We have put a charlatan and a fraud, a double-dealer, and a con man at the head of the greatest nation in the world. We can lose everything unless we are vigilant and strong in building a wall of law and order and decency around Donald Trump. We will not survive this experiment in insanity if we sit by idly. Hating government got us to this sad place. We the People have to learn to like and appreciate the value of government again if we are going to survive this mess. This will be hard to do with such a jerk at the head of government.
We will have to prove once again that we are a nation of laws that no one man can transcend. Trump will have a learning curve of his own and he will be frustrated by the checks and balances built into the system, which make it slow to change. But this time around the slowness to change may be what saves our bacon. My old boss Tip O’Neill used to say that government was inefficient by design. And he would add “if you want efficient government, get yourself a dictatorship.” We need to insure that Trump does not become a dictator even though he has told us over and over again that he and he alone can fix things. We have to make sure that the federal government does not become a one man operation or an oligarchy run by his billionaire friends.
Strangely enough, it is the Republican controlled House and Senate that could save us from Trumpian excesses and in the process the Republican led Congress could save America from the excesses of its own party. What kind of party would let itself be hijacked by such a con artist? The Republican Party bears the brunt of the responsibility to mitigate this disaster. This may not sound very hopeful to most people who might read this. But it’s the best I can come up with at this juncture. When Trump starts trying to walk all over Congress, we will see if there is any part of the government that still works for the people.
Ray makes good points, but my faith in Republicans in Congress is about zero. The last time I voted for a Republican (other than for local office or for Dick Lugar in the 2012 Republican Senate primary, defeated by a Tea Party fanatic who believed rapists couldn’t impregnate unwilling women) was for Pennsylvania Hugh Scott, who in 1972 labeled George McGovern, a World War II veteran and as decent a politician as they come, the “Triple-A candidate of acid, amnesty and abortion.” Trump’s blue-collar supporters voted for change – and they’ll sure get it in spades, for better but, more likely, for worse.
This email arrived from good friend Paul Kern:
Thank you for the Christmas card. Sadly I have decided that I can no longer send Christmas cards because my hand has become so shaky that writing is almost impossible. My mother had the same problem. I can type fine so I am turning to email to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Both boys are here for the holidays and everything is jolly. Next month we head back out to California, having rented a cabin on Cobb Mountain for February and March.
It is hard to believe that this unspeakable man has been elected president. I was so upset on election night that I had to medicate myself. My goal is to outlive the bastard. It's depressing to think that he might be the last president I know.
Life goes on. Sigh!