"You make our black-eyed peas and our grit, Mame,
Seem like the bill of fare at the Ritz, Mame,
You came, you saw, you conquered
And absolutely nothing is the same."
After Myrtle Bennett killed husband Jack over a bridge hand in 1929 in retaliation for being slapped, silver-tongued former Missouri Senator James A. Reed successfully defended her in a nationally famous trial. Just 35 at the time, Myrtle lived another 61 years, traveling the world working for a hotel chain and continuing to play bridge while living in New York City and in exotic locales. Born on a hardscrabble farm, she lived out her final years in Miami and remained close to niece Carolyn Scruggs, who called her Auntie Mame from the Broadway play and 1958 hit movie. Scruggs related this incident to Gary M. Pomerantz, author of “The Devil’s Tickets: A Night of Bridge, A Fatal Hand, and a New American Age”:
At a hotel restaurant, here came 87-year-old Auntie Mame into the room, and the piano man, on cue from Carolyn Scruggs, struck up the theme song from the long-ago Broadway musical. Myrtle Bennett, in the twilight of a robust life, sang aloud the lyrics
You make our black-eyed peas and our grit, Mame,
Seem like the bill of fare at the Ritz, Mame,
You came, you saw, you conquered
And absolutely nothing is the same.
Like a burst of light, Myrtle danced a jig in the restaurant and sang about a 1929 party girl who coaxed the blues out of a horn and charmed the husks off the corn. She never changed. She was always Lorelei Lee, always Auntie Mame, forever Myrtle.
“Auntie Mame” by Patrick Dennis was a 1955 bestselling novel about the adventures of a young man who lived with his eccentric aunt. In October 1956, a Broadway production began a 20-month run starring R. In 1966, a musical version called simply “Mame,” starring Angela Lansbury, enjoyed great success. Lorelei Lee was an unconventional Jazz Age character in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
My mother had an Aunt Mamie Ackerman, who lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, and was married to a prominent dentist. She enabled Midge to attend Grove City College and bequeathed some furniture items now in our condo. From what little I know about Aunt Mamie, she was tolerant and sophisticated and, in all probability, played contract bridge.
On Facebook Brenden Bayer (above) shared a 1994 YouTube clip of Green Day singing “Basket Case” on the David Letterman Show and wrote: “James Lane turned me on to these guys right around the time of this performance. Thanks, Jimbo, for a lifetime of being a great influence.” Nice. The other main character in Gary Pomerantz’s book, who exploited the Myrtle Bennett trial to launch The Bridge World magazine, was bridge expert and master showman Ely Culberston. After his wife and favorite bridge partner Josephine divorced him, Culbertson became a basket case, spending much time in a soundproof hideaway located behind a sliding bookcase working on a plan to save the planet. In the bridge world, by mid-century Charles Goren’s system supplanted Culbertson’s. Even so, nobody popularized contract bridge during the 1930s more than Culbertson.
I met old Porter Acres softball teammates Ivan Jasper, Dave Serynek, and Omar Farag at Sunrise Restaurant up the street from our condo. Omar noted that while we once got rowdy at bars, now we were meeting for breakfast. Responsible for booking the entertainment at next week’s Hammond Fest, Omar offered me free tickets to see Bush and Kool and the Gang. At Chesterton’s European Market, a boy came up to Omar, who was wearing his 101st Airborne Vietnam veteran cap, and thanked him for his military service. Nice. I had a 12-pack of Yuegling cooling in the fridge, but Omar was planning to take Ivan on the Miller Garden Walk that afternoon. One garden walk highlight was Steve Spicer’s “secret garden,” dedicated to Cara. Cullen Ben-Daniel, noting that it was gorgeous, added:
Today during the Garden Walk, I was reminiscing with Steve about how much I liked coming over to his house and playing in his yard as a child. Steve's wife, Cara was friends with my mom back when I was a little sprout growing up in Miller and Cara would sometimes babysit my brother and me. We have fond memories of playing with their son Sam on the Jungle Gym that used to be where this beautiful garden is now. Steve barely remembered the Jungle Gym, but that's understandable because that was at least 35 years ago!
Steve Spicer "secret garden"
At Jef Halberstadt’s several of us tested a new, simplified version of Evan Davis’ train game, which he hopes to market. With Evan were sons Tyler and Aaron, the latter soon to embark on a perambulating cross-country bicycle trip. I asked if he kept a journal and he agreed to keep me posted on his travels by email or Facebook.
Haus of Polka
Kate Land at Miller Market; photo by Karren Lee
Sunday at Miller Market, open mike volunteers were nowhere to be found, so Eve Bottando and Jordy Novak were performing as the fusion band Haus of Polka. I learned from Kate Land that Corey Hagelberg has been offered a one-year fulltime Fine Arts teaching position at IUN.
Glen Ryan poetry workshop participants; photos by Samuel A. Love
Samuel A. Love, holding forth at a poetry project booth, recalled that around 20 years ago, realizing he’d be late for my American History class, he phoned me to apologize. At Glen Ryan Park, he and workshop participants scouted around for public places to exhibit poetry.
The recent Cubs acquisition (from the White Sox) Jose Quintana shut out the Baltimore Orioles for a sweep of the three-game series; maybe the world champs about finally about to go on a run. Just one game over .555, they trail the surprising Milwaukee Brewers by four and a half games. It’s been 35 years since the Brewers made their only World Series appearance. An American League team then, they were nicknamed Harvey’s Wallbangers (the name a takeoff on the mixed drink Harvey Wallbanger, featuring vodka, orange juice and the liqueur Galliano) because their manager was Harvey Kuenn. I rooted for Kuenn as a kid when I lived in a Detroit suburb and he played shortstop for the Tigers). The Brew Crew were led by sluggers Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Gorman Thomas, and Cecil Cooper. In the 1982 Fall Classic they lost to the Cardinals in seven games, primarily because their star closer Rollie Fingers was injured and St. Louis had Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter.
Among the poems Bill Buckley dropped off was “Another Story As Our Bridges Collapse” from “my neighbor Jim, who worked on the Calumet Bridge”:
Today, as I walk on the shores of Lake Michigan,
with its waves splashing quietly on the beaches,
and with my unemployment notice in my back pocket as a bridge-builder,
I find bikinis, zero black coke cans, and rubbers,
Jack Daniel bottles and lotion tubes
washed up, I presume, from yachts, the dead leavings of our rich folks,
or maybe, too, from working-class boaters
in their laid-off, fishing for free, party-ass girls.
I can’t help thinking about the past victory and wealth
of our steel mills,
where on these shores America produced.
That, is the word, isn’t it?
Now, in my garage, I take professional pride
in working on the red Pontiac Grand Am my wife wanted,
with its shitty Quad-4 engine
to get my kids to school and my wife to work at K-Mart,
while the bastards in Washington debate cuts to veteran benefits.
Tonight, while my cranky kids sleep
and my wife works the night shift, thinking of divorce,
I swig down another damn beer
listening to the speeches on C-Span from our “House of Representatives,”
in their pasty faces with their own free medical care
talking about people like me,
or the laid off workers I know in this “Land of the Free.”
For each morning of my life,
before I look for work as a bridge-builder or a mechanic,
I get up and help my crippled son put a brace on his deformed leg.
And so, I say to you senators and congressmen
and to you, neo-conservative talking heads on your lucrative radio programs,
you, who have never served in political office or on our forced battlefields
you, who call our workers, teachers, firemen and police
“slugs” and leeches,”
and with my laid-off friends here, in Northwest Indiana,
we say to you that we are not beggars, although you see us as such,
so here goes, you fake Christians and union-busters:
kiss my royal, working-class ass!
For we are the ones, in our labor who provided you with your riches!
We are the ones in our factories and steel mills
in our classrooms and coal mines,
in our precincts, K-Marts, and burning buildings
who serve and protect you and provide you with capital.
And even with our deaths on your invasions of sovereign, foreign oil fields
[I’ve been there]
we still provide your sorry, privileged asses
with safe vacations on your yachts, or in your summer homes
on the East Coast, or on your California beachfronts.
Am I jealous?
It’s just that my laid-off friends and I
call for something that has always characterized our country
for over a hundred years:
a God-given fairness!
Under the Constitution you D.C. politicians
claim to hold dear,
for you have balanced your greed on our backs long enough!
While my diabetic son hobbles in his brace to school,
with medical bills I cannot pay.
Posting a photo of a hornworm caterpillar (above), Bill Carey wrote; “Somebody likes my tomato plant.” Ted Sautter replied, “They can destroy a tomato plant overnight.” While they are several inches long, their color makes them hard to spot. Agreeing that they are destructive, Carey wrote: “This one ended up being eaten by a robin.”
Frank and Joan Shufran had green tomatoes for me, so I visited them up in Hobart and met their friendly dog and cat, both rescued from the local pound. I told them about Anne Balay’s cat, also rescued, who whenever company arrived, hid under a blanket in an upstairs bedroom. It was probably abused, Joan said. She’s been reading Jerry Davich’s book on Lake County political corruption and mentioned that, years before, a Gary city official gave her a box of neckties for her to use as material for quilts. She washed them and then hung them up to dry. Next morning, she noticed several 50-dollar bills on the floor under the ties – no doubt some sort of payoff that had been hidden inside the gifts from a previous exchange. That evening, Toni made delicious fried green tomatoes along with chicken and panned fried noodles. Yummy!
In “Self-Service versus Public service” Ray Smock wrote;
Donald Trump is our first president who does not comprehend the meaning of public service. He has spent his entire life in an elaborate multi-billion-dollar family real estate business of self service and self-branding. He was so good at it that he could charge megabucks just to have the name TRUMP emblazoned on a hotel in gold letters.
In the process of creating the Trump brand, he used hundreds of lawyers to fight legal challenges, deal with bankruptcies, and defend him in fraud cases. Just as he was taking office a court settlement of $25 million went to individuals duped by Trump’s fraudulent Trump University. While this fraud was reported in the press, it did not stop voters from voting for Trump for President.
When government officials are serving themselves rather than the public this is a pretty good sign that corruption is afoot. Donald Trump is suspected of corruption, collusion, conspiracy, and feathering his own nest since he became president. If he was seriously able to conceive of himself as a public servant he would bend over backwards to end all this speculation and help heal the country of the national and international stress he has brought to the presidency. But President Trump seems incapable of doing anything but circling the wagons around a shrinking White House. His brazen act of bringing his family into the inner circles of executive power was Nepotism with a capital N. He cannot function without his family and they are killing his presidency.
His long financial involvements with Russia, going back thirty years, are hidden and minimized in importance. He will not show the American people his income tax returns. Why? They will eventually be subpoenaed. Why not come clean now? He never divested himself of his business enterprises and one of his first acts after being elected president was to double the fees to join his golf club at Mar-a-Lago. A Trump hotel in DC is in a building leased from the federal government. How can this be?
Does Donald Trump, or the Trump Organization, owe a ton of money to Russian interests? Is there something more than loans that the Russians have on Trump? Why can he slam and criticize everyone except his friend Vladimir Putin, who it was an “honor” to meet? Will Donald Trump ever become a public servant, or will he always remain self-serving? Our country’s future hangs in the balance until this considerable fire and its billowing clouds of smoke can be extinguished.