Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Humane Ideas

“We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane.”  Kurt Vonnegut, “Breakfast of Champions”

Miranda’s boyfriend Sean told me that he loved Vonnegut’s books and that “Breakfast of Champions” (1973) was his favorite.  Me, too. Vonnegut sometimes referred to Pall Mall cigarettes as Pell Mells, also cancer sticks.  Sean didn’t know about the 1999 movie starring Albert Finney as Kilgore Trout, Nick Nolte as cross-dresser Harry LeSabre, and Bruce Willis as crazy Dwayne Hoover, who had a Labrador retriever named Sparky.  Vonnegut wrote:
  Sparky could not wag his tail - because of an automobile accident many years ago, so he had no way of telling other dogs how friendly he was. He had to fight all the time. His ears were in tatters. He was lumpy with scars.  Dwayne would get down on the floor and roll around with Sparky, and he would say things like, "You and me, Spark," and "How's my old buddy?" and so on.
A minor character in “Breakfast of Champions” kept a greyhound dog named Lancer all day in a one-room, New York City, sixth-floor apartment:
His entire life was devoted to unloading his excrement at the proper time and place. There were two proper places to put it: in the gutter outside the door 72 steps below, with the traffic whizzing by, or in a roasting pan his mistress kept in front of the Westinghouse refrigerator.  Lancer had a very small brain, but he must have suspected from time to time, that some kind of terrible mistake had been made.
Brenda Ann Love (above) shared this poignant story on Facebook:
  When I was younger, there was a nice older Slovak couple who lived across the street. The wife had Alzheimer's and her husband took care of her as best he could. As he was also elderly, he had a difficult time getting around sometimes, too. I used to go over and sit with her about once a week so the husband could go run errands (and on occasion, he would go to the Slovak Club and bring me back some pierogis).  He always apologized that they didn't have a lot of food in the house for me to snack on while I sat with her, and his need to apologize always saddened me.  One day, their Meals on Wheels delivery arrived while I was there and I then realized that Meals on Wheels was their main source of food.
    He had worked in the mills for most of his life and had a modest pension. Her medical expenses had drained their savings and he was doing the best he could. Those meals kept them from going hungry. So, as I sit here reminiscing, I find myself saddened again. I realize the Feds do not fully fund MOW, but cutting any funding for programs that feed elderly and home bound people seems to be the opposite of compassionate.

At Boston’s Fenway Park a fan threw a bag of peanuts at Baltimore Oriole outfielder Adam Jones, one of just 62 African-American major leaguers, and repeatedly called him the “N” word.  Red Sox management condemned the behavior and notified Jones of steps being taken to assure it wouldn’t happen again.  The next day, as Jones came to the plate, fans gave him a standing ovation.  Red Sox pitcher Chris Sales stepped off the mound so not to interrupt the reception. Afterwards, Jones appreciated the gesture and told Boston fans: “Boo me, tell me I suck, just keep the racial stuff out of it.”
Katherine Langford as Hannah

The Netflix miniseries “13 Reasons Why,” about a girl who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 audiotapes for classmates who, in her mind, contributed to her tragic decision, is all the rage with teenagers.  New York magazine’s Anna Silman termed it “a lightning rod of controversy with many mental-health professionals arguing that it romanticizes or glorifies teen suicide.”  Many teachers see this as an opportunity to talk candidly about such subjects as bullying and sexual assault. Amelia, 17, from Massachusetts told Silman:
     All my friends were really obsessed with it. I watched it as sort of a guilty pleasure. But once I finished the series, I still had a lot of issues with it — not that it was difficult subject matter, because I thought the way it addressed the culture surrounding sexual assault was really great.  My biggest issue was that it didn’t address Hannah’s depression at all; it just makes it seem like you kill yourself because of things other people do to you, and not because of what’s going on inside of you. I think they had an opportunity to make it a lot more introspective and talk about the toll and effect it had on her — I think they really missed the mark.

Trump is taking heat for claiming that slave-owner Andrew Jackson had a big heart and could have prevented the Civil War had he been in office when Southern states seceded. New York Times analysts Peter Baker and Jonah Engel Bromich ridiculed the President’s tenuous knowledge of history and elicited this quote from biographer Jon Meacham: The expansion of slavery caused the Civil War.  And you can’t get around that.  So, what does Trump mean? Would Jackson have let slavery exist but not expand? That’s the counterfactual question you have to ask.” Paul Starobin, author of “Madness Rules the Hour: Charleston, 1860 and the Mania for War” (2017), analyzing the mass psychology favoring secession following Abraham Lincoln’s election that precipitated the confrontation at Fort Sumter that caused the unthinkable to become inevitable, said: “History is not tidy. Trump likes tidy. He likes slogans.  History doesn’t offer any.”  My view: the Civil War was unpreventable and necessary to rid the country of its cursed “Peculiar Institution” and that there is no “deal” that Southern firebrands would have accepted short of disunion. Time’s Lily Rothman wrote that, unlike the 1832 Nullification crisis over taxes, the slavery dispute could not be “worked out” (to use Trump’s phrase).  As President Lincoln eloquently put it in his 1865 inaugural address:
  Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.  One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. 

Ray Smock commented:
  Yes, we have a real honest-to-God historian as president. He makes up history on the fly and never gets it right. We need a Constitutional Amendment that all future presidents should know about American history, and a good dose of World History wouldn't hurt either. Trump's tweets since occupying the White House constitute an amazing display of stream of conscious nonsense with a large part of it consisting of him congratulating himself on his big win. What will Trump do when he discovers that Andy Jackson is coming off the 20-dollar bill only to be replaced by a black woman, Harriet Tubman? He may feel the need to stop the printing presses and bring Old Hickory back.

Dean Bottorff added his two cents:
As a resident of a county with 10 percent of the population being native American, I can assure you that Andrew Jackson is widely reviled by many here and is not considered a role model for anything except slavery and bigotry - come to think of it, a perfect fit for Donald Trump.

Along with her mom’s rhubarb/strawberry crunch recipe, Judy Ayers wrote about Laura Jones, who turns 100 next month, in the Ayers Realtors Spring Newsletter:
            One hundred years ago, while the world was involved in World War I, Albert Einstein was applying his general theory of relativity to the universe as a whole, Houdini was performing his buried alive escapes, T. S. Elliot published his first collection of poems, Al Capone became “Scarface” from a knife fight, Buffalo Bill died, Woodrow Wilson was president, the Chicago White Sox beat the New York Giants in the World Series, and Ella Fitzgerald, John F. Kennedy and Laura Jones were born.
Gene and I grew up just down the block from one another, went to the same schools, had the same friends, graduated, went to college, married spouses from outside our community, divorced, and got reacquainted when we were 35 years old. Laura Jones and her husband, Sam, lived between us when we were growing up on Hancock and Henry Streets and played a huge part in the village it took to ready me for leaving the nest. As a kid, I shoveled her snow and cut her grass; and while sitting on her front steps, I was given lessons on how taking chocolate milk left by the milkman in the milk box compartment of Mrs. Valentine’s house and drinking it with my sister and another friend wasn’t the right thing to do. Nor should I pick tulips from her yard even if I was giving them to my mother. And picking Mrs. DeGear’s rhubarb was not the best way to show my mother I was sorry for whatever I had done to make her angry.
Along the way, I became the nurse for Laura’s family doctor, she became my mother’s very good friend and she has consistently been a good neighbor, good counsel and friend to me. Laura has fabulous stories to tell about her childhood in Miller, her work with Railway Express for 40 years - 30 of which were at the Gary depot - and her involvement with the Chapel of the Dunes Church in Miller since 1919.
 from left, Pat and Karren Lee, Judy and Gene Ayers in 2015, at Gene Siskel Center

Valpo U. profs Allison Schuette and Liz Wurffel posted an interview with Karren Lee on its Flight Paths website.  Here’s an excerpt:
      I grew up in Lake Station, which was East Gary then. It was very working class - everybody’s parents made about the same amount of money. They worked in the mills. So, none of us were aspiring to be the rich kid in school. There were no rich kids in school. Gary was the place you went to shop.  My parents drove us there – or when we got a little older, we would just take the bus to downtown Gary. And there was every kind of shop you could think of; at Christmas, it was shoulder-to-shoulder, walking up and down Broadway Christmas shopping. It was thriving.
      Patrick and I were married in 1966, and we moved to Miller in 1967 with a young baby. At that time, Miller was thriving. The downtown area had every kind of store you can think of: jewelry stores and bookstores, coffee shop and dress shops, and Jack Spratt’s ice cream shop, which drew people from all over. And it was the funnel to the beach for hundreds of people during the summer, from all over.
      It started to change in the early seventies.  A lot of the people moved to Munster.  Most who stayed are still here. But the whole dynamics of the community changed. The money went with them to Munster. So, yeah, that’s the impact. 
      If Gary doesn’t thrive, the rest of the area doesn’t thrive. We can’t have part of our population barely surviving. The city of Gary has all the infrastructure, you know, the steel mills – it has so much going for it, we can’t ignore it. It’s like somebody in your family who has cancer and you’re just going to ignore them because it’s not going to affect you – well, it is going to affect you. We all need to be good neighbors, and it’s not just in Gary and Lake County, but in Porter County, in Indiana. As a country, we have to not be so polarized because nobody’s moving ahead.

Jeff Manes interviewed Angelique McKeny, 21, who attends Ancilla College in Donaldson, Indiana, on a bowling scholarship. She is a gymnastic instructor, hopes to become a first-grade teacher, and plays the saxophone. Hearing that, Manes replied: “My mother was always a big Boots Randolph fan. Boots once said he was the greatest hillbilly saxophone player of all-time because he was the only hillbilly saxophone player.”  Kentuckian Randolph scored a 1963 top ten hit, “Yakety Sax,” and was a frequent guest on “Hee Haw.”

At Chesterton library, I checked out rock journalist Ray Connolly’s “Being Elvis: A Lonely Life” (2016).  It starts out: “His beginnings could hardly have been more humble, his expectations more limited.”  The final line was a Bob Dylan quote: “Hearing Elvis for the first time was like breaking out of jail.”

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