“The bright nature of man is peerless and surpasses all jewels. The aim of learning is to bring out this bright nature. This is the best thing in the world.” Kaiten Nukariya, “Zen: The Religion of the Samurai”
The word “peerless,” meaning matchless or having no equal, has been used to describe great beauties, such as Cleopatra and Lady Godiva, and leaders, such as tyrant Kim Jong-Il and the “Great Commoner” William Jennings Bryan, as in “Peerless Leader of the Democratic Party. “Peerless Leader” was also the nickname of Chicago Cubs first baseman (of Tinker-to-Ever-to-Chance doubleplay fame) and manager Frank Chance, who guided the Cubbies to World Series victories in 1907 and 1908. In “Pitching in a Pinch” (1912) Christy Mathewson wrote: “If Frank Chance has to choose between accepting a pair of spikes in a vital part of his anatomy and getting a put-out, or dodging the spikes and losing the put-out, he always takes the put-out.”
Peerless assembly line, now silent; NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano
Peerless has also been the trade name for countless businesses, ranging from pest control and gutter cleaning to pump companies and movie theaters. And, for 89 years, potato chips. Alas, Peerless Potato Chips, based in Gary, Indiana, is going out of business. The company, located at 1661 West Eleventh Avenue, was a casualty of the unhealthy concentration of food chains - in this case, Central Grocers, the parent company of Strack and Van Til supermarkets, which has declared bankruptcy. Founder John Hogg, a British fighter pilot, emigrated to America after World War I. He started the company in 1928 and survived gangsters shutting him out of the Chicago market and then the Great Depression. Children of immigrants attending Froebel School could stop in and witness potato chip production and expect to get samples for their personal consumption. In 2008, Mike Sula of The Reader wrote of Hogg’s son, current owner Jack “Boss” Hogg:
Jack grew up working in the plant, and after a tour in Vietnam with the Green Berets, he took over from his old man. Peerless used to do its best business with walk-ins, but they started locking the factory doors in the 80s as the neighborhood went downhill. Over the years, taverns and small groceries have become less important to chippers, and the industry has come to depend more and more on supermarkets, a niche just as cutthroat. “I've had buyers for supermarkets sit there, look at me across the desk, and say, 'You give me a thousand dollars per store,’” Jack says. “He'll guarantee us four feet for six months. Then that guy's gonna get caught . . . and he'll be gone, and another guy wants a thousand out of you.”
Jack Hogg in 2008
Scott Hogg in 2017; photo by Carole Carlson
Jack Hogg, battling lung cancer, is planning to move to Las Vegas. He told Post-Tribune reporter Carole Carlson that Central Grocers “owe me a bunch of money” and that Jewel-Osco, which has made an offer to purchase Strack and Van Til stores, is taking Peerless off the shelves of its own outlets. The original factory was across the street from the present one, built to accommodate larger equipment, such as the peeler machine and the continuous fryer. Once a shipment of potatoes from Florida arrived that contained alligator eggs. Plant manager Scott Hogg told Post-Tribune reporter Carole Carlson, “People are calling from all over. One guy was crying.”
Similarly, despite protests by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, First District Councilwoman Rebecca Wyatt, and Miller Business Association President George Rogge, Walgreen’s is closing its Miller store in Gary, which opened in 1993. It is one of 200 nationwide shuttered by the heartless policymakers of America’s largest pharmacy chain in an effort to cut costs and increase profits, consequences to local communities be damned. When we first lived in Miller, Frank’s Pharmacy served our needs just fine, but behemoths like CVS and Walgreen’s drove Frank and countless independent druggists out of business. Because Walgreen’s pharmacy closed at seven p.m. during the week, many customers went elsewhere to have prescriptions filled.
Dee Van Bebber and I played 18 hands of bridge Tuesday evening and 27 more on Wednesday. I had more than my share of marginal hands where I had to decide whether to open light. We played two hands in a row after first both passing. In each case our opponents bid 1 Diamond followed by 2 Diamonds, and then one of us we bid 2 Hearts. In the first case, I had four Hearts to the King, and Dee made ten tricks for high board. In the second instance, I had 7 Hearts to the Jack and bid them a second time when an opponent raised to 3 Diamonds. Dee had a lone Heart, and trumps split 6-0, so I went down two; but it wasn’t a complete disaster since two East-West couples made 3 Diamonds for a better score than our opponents.
Dee asked if I knew about Bergen Raises and proceeded to explain that they are responses to a partner opening one Heart or Spade with a 5-card major. If you have four of their suit, a proper response would be 3 Clubs with 7-9 points or 3 Diamonds with 10-12 points. Marty Bergen, winner of 10 national championships, has also popularized a concept called “The Law of Total Tricks,” which, for the time being, seems too complicated for my taste. I’m willing, however, to try Bergen Raises. In Barb Walczak’s Newsletter Wes Adamczyk, in a tribute to the late John Chmielowiec, wrote that when they played together, they used more than a hundred alert bids, including his invention of two-way raises of overalls.
Walczak congratulated Mike Brissette and Alan Yngve for their fine showing at the Great Lakes Regional in Bay City, Michigan, tying for third in the Knock Out round. Under the headline “The Longest Day,” Walczak wrote: “Alan Yngve, who oversaw three bridge games in one day and was still on his feet after 14 hours, deserves a hearty round of applause for providing us with a fun-filled day and the Alzheimer’s Association with a generous donation.”
For over 30 years, beginning in the 1970s, I wrote reviews for “Magill’s Literary Annual,” a digest covering 200 distinguished books of that year. The 2008 volume, for instance, included my essay on Marc Fisher’s “Something in the Air: Radio, Rock, and the Revolution That Shaped a Generation.” “Something in the Air” was also the title of a Thunderclap Newman record that captured the existing antiestablishment mood of 1969. My piece opened with this Hunter S. Thompson witticism:
The radio business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.
While conceding Thompson’s point about the medium’s cash nexus, Fisher was a true fan who appreciated radio’s potential, albeit rarely achieved, for greatness. He gives kudos to Jean Shepherd, an eccentric genius from Hammond, Indiana, who invented talk radio. Twice fired for persistently digressing from the music format, he migrated to WOR in New York, where held forth nightly for four and a half hours mixing occasional jazz recordings with acerbic tales of festering youth that had a universal appeal. As an adolescent, Fisher listened to Shepherd on a cream-colored transistor hidden under a pillow.