Friday, December 20, 2019

Second Chances

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
Longtime IUN Sociology and Anthropology secretary Delores Crawford loaned me “An Astronaut’s Story of Grit, Grace, and Second Chances” (2017), an inspiring autobiography written by her cousin Leland Melvin. Reared by nurturing middle school teachers in a black middle-class neighborhood in Lynchburg, Virginia, Melvin begins by stating that, growing up, his hero had been African-American  tennis star Arthur Ashe, who trained under Lynchburg physician and coach Robert Walter “Whirlwind” Johnson.  A star athlete in high school, Melvin dropped a critical pass in a championship game only to score the winning touchdown when given a second chance. He took it as a life lesson that helped him overcome several traumatic events that might have overwhelmed a weaker person.  When just five, he was sexually abused by two older boys.  In college he was accused of cheating on a chemistry test because he’d overheard students discussing a similar exam they’d taken earlier. Drafted by the Detroit Lions, Melvin saw a promising NFL career derailed by injuries.  Joining NASA, he was training for space flights when an injury left him deaf.  Rather than quit the program, he eventually recovered partial hearing, served as mission specialist on two Atlantisshuttle flights and worked on the International Space Station.  An inspirational speaker, Melvin tells young people, “The two most important days of your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”
Rapper-singer Lizzo (Melissa Jefferson) is Time’s 2019 entertainer of the year. Nominated for eight GRAMMYs, the 31-year-old struggled with various female groups before finding solo commercial success in 2016 with “Good As Hell” and subsequent hits advocating body positivity and self-love such as “Truth Hurts” (2017).  Los Angeles Times critic Gerrick D. Kennedy described a recent sold-out concert at the Hollywood Palladium:
    The church of Lizzo is one of blissful liberation and self-care. She’s a sweat-soaked preacher delivering her message through witty, razor-sharp testimonies.  It’s why she starts her show standing upon an actual pulpit (wrapped in gold and affixed with glowing strobe lights), cloaked in a cropped metallic choir robe. “Can I take you higher? This is a safe space,” she said before diving into her rollicking, funky romp “Worship” — a brassy call for lovers to get on their knees and worship her “patiently, quietly, faithfully” that was nearly drowned out by 5,000 fans chanting the lyrics back to her.
    Much of the night went like this, Lizzo stretching out soul ballads like “Cuz I Love You” and “Jerome” into hymnals with a raw-throated wail that sent her eyes bulging out of her head and doling out bits of positive preaching to a devoted congregation answering back with the occasional “yass, queen” and “amen” (although Lizzo welcomes all who want to hear her word, she spent the evening making sure the “big girls” and “gay boys” were especially listening).

I’ve been given several second chances in life. Growing up watching Perry Mason on TV, I wanted to become a lawyer but decided to quit Virginia Law School to pursue a teaching career as a historian.  Toni agreed to marry me and move to Hawaii, where I embarked on a master’s degree. One day I started to cross the street just as a bus drove by.  It would have killed me had Toni not suddenly grabbed hold of me. Needing a book publication for tenure, I sent a manuscript titled “Jacob A. Riis and the American City” to Richard C. Wade, editor of a prestigious urban history series. I waited two years for a reply and then heard that it was rejected because the series already had enough books dealing with that time period.  Fortunately, Raymond A. Mohl, my urban history predecessor at IUN, was editing a series for Kennikat Press and agreed to publish it. I later met Professor Wade at an American Studies conference in Dubrovnik, who proved to be a self-centered snob and had no recollection of ever perusing my manuscript.
Ray Mohl
In “Mrs. Fletcher” Brendan’s college adviser asks him what he hopes to get from his undergraduate experience.  “A job that makes six figures,” he answers, adding that he hopes to join a fraternity (“go Greek”).  He joins a group of jocks at a lunch table who are discussing global warming, tries to show them a YouTube video of a guy surfing during a tsunami, and says his philosophy is to just ride it out if disaster strikes. That night, he turns down an invite from nerdy dorm-mate Sanjay (Cheech Manohar) to watch nature docs and drink Beaujolais wine. Critic Ali Sciarabba wrote:
The contrast between the sullen, lonely Brendan and Sanjay, who is completely comfortable in his own skin and seems to be thriving at BSU, really demonstrates not only that Brendan is a fish out of water but that his inability to open himself up to new experiences and people (especially other guys) is a huge impediment to his growth.  Brendan is exactly the same guy he was in high school, and that is not a good thing.
Brendan hooks up with sexy coed Farah, his partner in a skit at a Consent lecture and has rough sex with her, talking dirt as she replies, “Oh, give it to me, daddy.”  Attracted to biracial Chloe, who invites him to attend a session on interacting with autistic family members (such as Brendan’s half-brother John-John), he is told not to use the works retarded or normal (the politically correct word being neurotypical).
Ray Smock posted “The Battle of the Bulge – One Son’s Story:
    December 16, 2019, marked the 75th Anniversary of one of the greatest battles of World War II in the forests, woods, and hills of the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg. Most of us know it as the Battle of the Bulge, the shape of the massive German counteroffensive that caught the Americans off guard. The battle lasted until late January of 1945. More than 19,000 soldiers were killed and another 89,000 wounded.  My father, Richard Smock, of Harvey, Illinois, was one of the 610,000 Americans who fought in that battle. He passed in 2010, at age 92, but today my thoughts were with him and with the immensity of that battle. 
    Dad joined the Illinois National Guard during the Great Depression, partly to earn a little extra money pulling targets on weekends at the shooting range. He was a corporal in 1938. His day job was that of a surveyor and he got a job with the DuPont Company helping to lay out a huge munitions plant in Charleston, Indiana. The United States was not in the war yet, but Franklin Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program finally allowed the United States to aid Great Britain, already at war with Germany. In February of ’41, I was born in Jeffersonville, Indiana, the place with the nearest hospital to Charleston. 
Dad was drafted into the Army in the spring of 1944 and shipped overseas that fall. He was 27 years old and was assigned to the 1262 Combat Engineers, a detached unit of General Patton’s 3rd Army. Detached units often got assigned where they were most needed and for a while his group was under the command of Field Marshal Montgomery. 
    Dad made sergeant in no time. Most of the men were much younger so they called him “the old man,” a title sometimes reserved for generals or senior officers. He told me, “We built bridges or tried to blow them up. We laid mines or swept for German mines. War needs a lot of construction to go with all the things we blew up.” When he returned from the war, he became a construction superintendent and built hospitals, power plants, and factories.
    I have only a handful of the V-mail letters he sent home from the war. My mother died when I was 18 months old in the summer of ’42, so I was being raised by dad’s mother, a widow, then in her fifties. She would read dad’s letters to me, even though I didn’t understand much. But he always ended the letter’s with “How’s Daddy’s Little Man?” I would eagerly wait for this. And Gram would always give me a big hug right after she read it. 
    One letter, written in the vague terms soldiers used to get past the Army censors, written not long after the Ardennes Campaign, simply reported that he had been in combat, and this might result in a little extra pay, which he would send home if he got it. He never talked much about the war, until he was in his late 70s and his son, by then a professional historian, kept after him. He always started a story with “War is the god-damnedest thing mankind ever invented.” After a night of constant bombardment in the snowy forests of the Ardennes, dad told me that the wad of tobacco he had in his cheek had turned to powder. “No juice left,” he said. 
    He liked to tell the story of how in boot camp they would put heavy pack packs on you and march you until you dropped. “But when I got overseas,” he said, “they gave me a Dodge Weapons Carrier to drive and I never had to march anywhere. I drove all over Germany, once we got there.”

I had a good week at bridge (first with Joel Charpentier, second with new partner Al Marks.   Pressed into bowling with two Electric Engineers on the DL, despite the ailing shoulder, I rolled a 470 series, well above my average.  Former student Jim Daubenhower subbed for us; years ago, I spoke in his History class at Wheeler H.S. The holiday buffet included homemade corn pudding, Puerto Rican rice, Polish sausage and sauerkraut, and teammate Joe Piunti’s wife’s potato salad.  I offered my condolences to Terry Kegebein, whose wife Charlotte passed after a brave fight.  A friend named Stephanie wrote this touching message on the funeral home guest book:
Charlotte and Terry were our landlords. They’re the most loving and kind-hearted people we have ever met & consider them family. Hearing the loss of Charlotte has left us broken & speechless... she was truly a wonderful woman and both of them were a blessing to our family! Our hearts pour out to Terry during this emotional time.. endless prayers!

Liz Wuerffel posted a photo of a tree and water tower in Valpo near Northside Tap on Poplar Street along with the caption, “Consider this my Christmas tree.” She received about 80 likes and this comment from Isabel Coffey, a creative writing VU student who works at Uptown Cafe: “A very American ornament – large, industrial, obtrusive.”
At the Arts and Sciences Holiday luncheon Dean Mark Hoyert continued his practice of singing clever lyrics to a popular song.  This time it was “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music” only he changed the lines to Psychology things, Business Manager things, and Recorder things while listing onerous duties a dean must perform.  He followed that performance with a poem that included humorous lines recited by his assistants. I met his daughter, who is graduating from University of Evansville and hopes to be an elementary teacher in Gary.
 drawing by Rick Brandt

The concluding chapter of Holly Jackson’s “American Radicals” describes how the depression of the 1870s, combined with repressive corporate and governmental policies, crippled the organized labor movement.  For example, in 1874 Pennsylvania anthracite coal barons refused to renew an 1869 union agreement, stockpiled coal, closed mines for six months, pressured starving laborers into accepting a 20% pay cut, and accused militant leaders in Schuylkill County, PA, branded Molly Maguires, of murder and destruction of property. Jackson wrote: “Twenty workers were publicly executed for their [alleged] crimes in 1877, declaring their innocence until the end.  Although the whole thing was likely fabricated by the owners to destroy workers’ agitation, the episode added to growing public sentiment that labor organizers were dangerous, foreign criminals.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Legend Mourned

“This community has lost a giant.  I am humbled to be a recipient of his wisdom and guidance and will always be grateful for his influence on my life.” Gary mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson on the death of Richard Gordon Hatcher at age 86
Phoning from Florida, Paul Kern called to commiserate on the passing of Richard Gordon Hatcher, a civil rights icon and the first African-American mayor of a significantly sized city. That’s how I learned that a heroic figure was dead. The Post-Tribune, which had demeaned Hatcher during his 20 years in office, ran an excellent in-depth piece titled “Pioneering Gary leader mourned” that was free of rancor and contained tributes from Lake County and around the state.  My name appeared in a section describing his decision to challenge the entrenched, corrupt local Democratic machine:
  Hatcher saw the inequality in a city whose population in the 1960s was already half African American, according to James Lane, but took steps during his time on the City Council to push for civil rights and equality for all Gary residents.
Congressman Peter Visclosky stated: “Mayor Richard Hatcher was a historic and exemplary leader for civil rights and racial equality in our nation, and he was always a true public servant for the City of Gary and the Northwest Indiana region.” From Governor Eric Holcomb: “Mayor Hatcher was a state and national trailblazer who committed his life to serving and helping his community.” Longtime Calumet Township Trustee Dozier T. Allen, described as both an ally and adversary, recalled:
    Richard and I met in 1959.  He was a student at Valparaiso University selling Hoover Vacuums on the side, and I was a liberal arts, business, and political science major working for my dad.  We lived in the same dorm, and we were the only two black men in it.  We had a great many things to talk about, and he always had great thoughts about civil rights, open occupancy, voting rights and fair employment.  He also believed that the only way to challenge belief systems was at the ballot box.  I miss those talks on the stairwell.  I also remember his car, a lavender and purple convertible.  I used to put gas in his car when times were tough.
 Hatcher in the White House with Jimmy Carter, 1980
The most heartfelt comments came from former Lake County surveyor George Van Til, who told The Post-Tribune:
    He was like a rock.  It’s just a real sense of loss. He was a good a decent man, a man of real faith.  A lot of people didn’t know that. I never heard him swear, see him drink or smoke or behave inappropriately.  He was a devoted family man and a faithful churchgoer and, but he never talked about it.  He just lived it.  That’s kind of what I admired about him.  He had strong political beliefs, but he never talked bad about those who disagreed with him.
In “African-American Mayors: Race, Politics, and the American City,” edited by David R. Colburn and Jeffrey Adler (2001) I wrote:
    Rarely has the advent of a mayoral administration taken on the symbolic importance of the inauguration of Richard Gordon Hatcher on January 1, 1968, in Gary, Indiana, the self-proclaimed “City of the Century” of approximately 170,000 people.  To the chagrin of the local political establishment and economic elite, and to the delight of African Americans and liberal well-wishers across the country, Hatcher, a 34-year-old community activist, had captured city hall after a bitter grassroots struggle.  At his inauguration Hatcher referred to the special problems and opportunities he faced and vowed to bring about a “healthy black nationalism.”  Sympathetic federal bureaucrats were eager to embrace the new mayor by turning on the faucet of Great Society funds, so that Gary would prosper as a truly multiracial city and a model of black empowerment.  Major changes in the racial and political climate of the United States and in its antiurban biases would have to take place, however, before this could occur.

In “Gary’s First Hundred Years” I wrote this epitaph on his 20 years in office: “Hatcher survived five terms as mayor despite unrelenting opposition by those who, in all likelihood, would have relocated to suburban environs no matter who controlled City Hall.  He left office as he had entered it, unbossed, unbought, and with head unbowed.” Hatcher once summed up his political philosophy in this manner: “All other considerations are secondary to this moral requirement; that there must be opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race, regardless of status.”
CBS Sunday Morning aired a segment about humorist Mo Rocca, whose “Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving,” contains portraits of personages ranging from Founding Father Thomas Paine to black entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr, as well overlooked forerunners such as Elizabeth Jennings, a black woman on a Manhattan streetcar who refused to give up her seat a century before Rosa Parks’s similar action.  
Rocca profiled singer Laura Branigan, whose 1982 pop hit “Gloria” became the theme song of the St. Louis Blues during the 2018-19 season.  The team had finished in last place the previous year but won the Stanley Cup in game 7 against the heavily favored Boston Bruins and celebrated by singing “Gloria.”  Branigan died in her sleep, probably of a brain aneurysm at age 52 in August of 2004.  A close friend said that if Laura were alive, she would have loved performing “Gloria” at the final Blues home game and the victory celebration.  First recorded by Italian Umberto Tozzi as a love song, Branigan’s “Gloria” portrayed a party animal running too fast for her own good.  Initially, it became the rage at gay dance clubs.  I first heard “Gloria” at Marcy Velasquez’s son’s wedding reception where, responding to audience demand, the deejay played it several times.  It’s still one of my favorite songs and a worthy successor to Van Morrison’s garage band “Gloria,” Patti Smith’s “Gloria” anthem and forerunner to the Lumineers unsettling contemporary hit of the same title about an alcoholic.

I am in the Lane Fantasy Football finals against Phil, barely surviving the semi-final round against Dave despite scoring 171 points. His 165 is probably a record for a losing effort.  Drew Brees would have won it for him had I not played the New Orleans kicker Wil Lutz.  Phil’s team is loaded with talent, starting with QB Lamar Jackson and running backs Saquan Barkley and Dalvan Cook.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Heavy Fuel

“If you wanna run cool
You got to run on heavy fuel.”
    Dire Straits, “Heavy Fuel
 Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits

Heavy Fuel” is a track on the 1991 Dire Straits album “On Every Street,” the band’s final studio effort.  I frequently play “Brothers in Arms” (1985) and the greatest hits CD “Money for Nothing,” but rarely listen to “On Every Street,” so it was a pleasant surprise discovering unfamiliar tracks. One “Heavy Fuel” couplet (“When my ugly big car won’t climb this hill/ I’ll write a suicide note on a hundred-dollar bill”) could have been the epitaph for self-destructive gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson.  Mark Knopfler wrote several topical numbers for Dire Straits.  One with relevance for Gary steelworkers, “Industrial Disease,” is from “Love Over Gold” (1982)  Here is the first verse:
Warning lights are flashing down at Quality Control
Somebody threw a spanner and they threw him in the hole
There's rumors in the loading bay and anger in the town
Somebody blew the whistle and the walls came down
There's a meeting in the boardroom they're trying to trace the smell
There's leaking in the washroom there's a sneak in personnel
Somewhere in the corridors someone was heard to sneeze
'goodness me could this be Industrial Disease?
When IUN Business and economic History professor threw a farewell party before moving to Indy, I gave him mark Knopfler’s solo album “Sailing to Philadelphia” (2000), on which he sand duets with James Taylor and Van Morrison.
On Jeopardy, in the category “Second largest cities,” with the help of clues I came up with Baton Rouge (LA), New Haven (CT), and Jacksonville (FL) but not Worcester (MA) even though the hint indicated it was pronounced differently than spelled.  A famous blunder occurred two years ago in Final Jeopardy of the IBM Challenge when the supercomputer Watson answered Toronto in the category “U.S. Cities” to this clue: “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest for a World War II battle.”  The answer, of course, is Chicago, with O’Hare and Midway airports.   The computer still prevailed.  Current champion Jennifer Quail’s 8-day winnings are well over $200,000.  On Final Jeopardy only she knew what “Woman Author” testified before Congress that “Song of Russia” (1944), directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Robert Taylor, was allegedly Soviet propaganda.  Answer: ultra-conservative fanatic Ayn Rand.
In 1824 Revolutionary War general Lafayette (Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette) commenced a grand tour of America as guest of the nation.  Congress paid Lafayette’s expenses for two years and sent a ship to France to bring him to New York, where 50,000 well-wishers, a magnificent flotilla, and the West Point band greeted him at Castle Garden. The hero of Yorktown, according to Holly Jackson’s “American Radicals,” was a robust 67 and an unabashed womanizer The French writer Stendhal described the Marquis as “solely occupied in spite of his age in fumbling at pretty girls’ plackets, not occasionally but constantly, not much caring who saw.”  He carried on an intimate relationship with notorious freethinker Fanny Wright, his frequent grand tour companion.  At Monticello Wright’s mannish attire and comportment scandalized former President Thomas Jefferson’s cousin Jane Cary.  Nonetheless, Lafayette remains enshrined in the pantheon of War for Independence heroes.  Named in his honor are cities (i.e., Lafayette, IN, Fayetteville, NC), townships (more than 50), parks (Washington, DC), and Lafayette College in my hometown of Easton.  We lived literally across the street from campus, and I recall homecoming parades passing by our house on the corner of High and McCartney.

Bette Roberts passed away at age 73, George Van Til informed me.  The daughter of Ann and Joe Domagalski, Bette was active in several IU Northwest campus organizations during the turbulent 1960s, including the Humanist Society.  She married Political Science professor George Roberts 52 years ago and became active in the Crown Point Historical Society. For an event celebrating the fortieth anniversary of IUN’s move to Glen Park, I persuaded Bette to be a panelist. In a retirement tirade Dr. Roberts had vowed never again to set foot on campus but relented then and when former student Congressman Pete Visclosky presented him with the Sagamore of the Wabash Award. Few present faculty knew George and Bette, but I called former colleagues Fred Chary, Paul Kern, and Ron Cohen to report the sad news.  The obit read in part:
    Bette and George worked tirelessly to elect Rep. Peter Visclosky, as well as candidate George McGovern when he ran for President.  One of the highlights of Bette’s life was serving dinner to Mr. McGovern in her home.
    Bette and George travelled extensively, but her true love was Paris, where they visited annually for over 30 years.  Bette was a generous, witty, loving soul who cared deeply about her family, friends, and animals.  She was a tried and true liberal, who always said “If George even thinks about a Republican, he’ll find a pair of socks and underwear on the front lawn.”
I started re-watching the seven 30-minute episodes of “Mrs. Fletcher,” concentrating on Eve’s college-bound son Brenden.  While she struggles to pack his things, he is on his cell phone making plans for the evening.  He cuts short Eve’s farewell dinner, skipping the special dessert, to attend a wild party.  Spotting Julian, whom he has bullied throughout high school, he tosses candy at him, pretends to apologize, then sticks Julian’s phone in a drink. With keen insight Julian accurately predicts that at college Brenden will by seen for what he is, a jerk.  Back home, he sends a nude photo to an ex-girlfriend, who arrives next morning to give him a blow job send-off. At the bedroom door Eve hears him moaning and calling the girl a filthy slut, a scene that will repeat itself in college with humiliating consequences. In his dorm room, as Eve makes the bed and unpacks for him, Brenden is back on his phone and impatient for her to leave.

No Billy Foster piano stylings nor choir performance enlivened IUN’s annual Holiday celebration; hence no group singing of “12 Days of Christmas.”  I spoke with Zoran Kilibarda (Geosciences), Joe Gomeztagle and Suzanne Green (SPEA), historian Chris Young (whose oldest son will start at Bloomington next year), and former Health Information Technology chair Margaret Skurka, so far as I could tell the only other emeritus faculty present.  Health and Human Services dean Pat Bankston, whose Christmas sweater lit up, thanked me for DVDs of our interview that Samantha Gauer had prepared. I also brought along free ten copies of Steel Shavings, volume 48, which were gone by the time I left with a plate of delicious buffet fare for Toni.

From nephew Beamer Pickert:  
    So, while making pierogi, I can't help but wonder what my Grandma Blanche would think of the adaptions I've made to the process. I think she'd like most of them. She did introduce me to Star Trek after all. But I use the pasta roller attachment to my kitchen-aid for rolling out my rounds, I use the mixer for making the dough, I color code my dough to indicate what filling is inside. I like to think she'd think these were good improvements.
Liz Wuerffel, Allison Schuette, and I met to discuss the VU Flight Paths interactive website grant project. When we arrived at Hunter’s Brewery in Chesterton around 4 p.m., it was inexplicably closed.  Liz Googled Hunter’s website and discovered that they’d open at 5:30, so we checked out Chesterton Brewery, owned and operated by veterans and located in a century-old former glass factory. After ordering craft beers and fried pickles, we got down to business.  One of eight scholars selected to document Gary neighborhoods and interview former and present residents, I was assigned Brunswick on the far northwest side, south of the Gary airport and bordering Hammond and East Chicago.  It was a mostly white ethnic community until 50 years ago, when massive flight transformed the district.  According to the 2000 census, the Brunswick population of 4,400 was 84.6% African American and the rest white or Hispanic.  Longtime IUN stalwart Ruth Nelson grew up in Brunswick.  In “Gary’s First Hundred Years” I wrote:
In 1928 Carl and Lydia Nelson sought to escape Indiana Harbor’s noxious pollution.  They bought a lot just north of the 5200 block of West Fifth Avenue, across from an Italian neighborhood and in a sandy new settlement populated mainly by Swedes, Irish, and Poles.  Selecting their house from a Sears catalogue, they paid 1,800 hundred dollars for a model that contained an attic, a basement, a front and back porch, and six rooms.
In “Valor: The American Odyssey of Rogelio “Roy” Dominguez” (2012) the former Lake County sheriff wrote about moving in 1962 from Mercedes, Texas, to a two-bedroom ranch house in the blue-collar Ivanhoe neighborhood of Brunswick that his father rented from a friend.  They arrived just as the weather turned cold and a couple months after school had started (Roy was in the third grade at Ivanhoe School), so, Dominguez wrote, “it was a difficult transition for all of us.” Three years later, the family moved to a three-bedroom Brunswick residence north of the Eighth Avenue railroad tracks. Dominguez recalled:
The girls had a bedroom and we five boys shared another.  Jesse and Eloy had bunk beds, and the other three of us slept in a single full-sized bed.  At the time we were the only Hispanics on the block, surrounded mostly by Southern whites. By the time we moved to Glen Park in the summer of 1970, we were still the only Hispanics on the block but had African-American neighbors. We didn’t understand the “white flight” mindset of those who did not want to live in an integrated neighborhood; but because gangs and drugs made our schools and neighborhood unsafe, we subsequently moved.

Morning fog was so thick I could barely see ten feet ahead.  Home from college 57 years ago, I visited Sig Ep fraternity brother Jack Nesbitt and came within inches of crashing into a tree on a winding country road.  In the Seventies Toni and I were on Ridge Road returning from a New Year’s Eve party at Ron and Liz Cohen’s in Valpo when I literally couldn’t see on a stretch near present-day Portage H.S.

The IUN Lady Redhawks coasted to victory against Judson University, located in Elgin, IL, thanks to deadly 3-point shooting by Michaela Schmidt and dominant inside play by six-footers Breanna Boles and Jocelyn Colburn.  In the bleachers I met Coach Ryan Shelton’s Uncle Bill Bednar, a 1963 Hammond Tech grad and, like me, a big “Hoosier Hysteria” basketball fan. We discovered that we’d both attended the 1975 and 1991 Regionals, first when Gary Emerson defeated a Hammond High squad with Rich Valavicius on a last-second shot by Emmet Lewis and 16 years later, when Glenn Robinson scored 40 points in a double overtime, one-point thriller over East Chicago Central, including a game-winning, 16-foot, turnaround jump shot.

Saturday Evening Club host Valpo doctor David Kenis, whose specialty in psychology, argued that the best film biographies, in addition to seeking to entertain and make money, strive for authenticity – what Terry Brendel called verisimilitude -  rather than complete factual accuracy as documentaries would be expected to do.  He cited complaints about “Green Book” (2018) exaggerating the degree that gay classical pianist Donald Shirley was estranged from his family and the current brouhaha over “Richard Jewell,” director Clint Eastwood’s depiction of the security guard who discovered a pipe bomb during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and went from being a hero to a suspect. The film implies that an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter got her scoop from an FBI agent whom she slept with. Even if that is not true, it is undeniable that the press unfairly tarnished Jewell’s reputation. Kenis noted that in “Hurricane” (1999), about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a black pugilist framed for murder, the villain is a single racist cop rather than, more accurately, the entire law enforcement system.  The film also claimed inaccurately that Carter was robbed when judges ruled that Joey Giardello had won a 1964 middleweight title fight, which can be viewed on YouTube.

My remarks concentrated on sports flicks, which rarely match the authenticity of real events.  Kenis brought up “Rudy” (1993), an undersized Notre Dame practice squad senior who, with less than 30 seconds remaining, gets into the final home game and is carried off the field after supposedly sacking the quarterback.  For dramatic effect the directors invented a scene where players threaten to revolt if Rudy is not allowed to dress for the game. Coach Dan Devine, unfairly made the heavy, was not pleased.  In “42” (2013), about Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson, who broke baseball’s color barrier, the film needlessly embellished events to add emotion when the truth is dramatic enough.  There is no evidence, for example, that Dodger shortstop Pee Wee Reese put his arm around Robinson in Cincinnati to quiet the crowd from shouting racial taunts.  The first movie 94-year-old Mel Bohlman could remember was “Steamboat Willie” (1928), the animated Walt Disney cartoon about Mickey and Minnie Mouse. His rural elementary school required those attending to get tuberculosis shots.  Mel also loved Charlie Chaplin movies, especially “Modern Times “ (1936), a critique of industrial capitalism. 

Monday, December 9, 2019

Of Monsters and Men

“I am open and I am restless
Let me feel it out
Let it all come out.”
         “Alligator,” Of Monsters and Men
Of Monsters and Men is an Icelandic folk/pop group that supposedly got its name because several members believed in trolls. After winning a battle of the bands contest in Iceland in 2010, Of Monsters and Men scored an international hit, “Little Talks,” the following year.  The 2019 album “Fever Dream” contains the up-tempo “Alligator,” on heavy rotation on WXRT,  with haunting vocals by Nanna Hilmarsdottir.  The lyrics of “Waiting for the Snow” remind me of the city of Gary’s present situation, as U.S. Steel lays off steelworkers and residents await the impending changing-of-the-guard at City Hall:
This steel can’t carry me now
That things are rough
    . . .
I’m waiting for a vision
So I can feel brighter
I can feel lighter
I was surprised to find a “Parental Advisory – Explicit Content” label on “Fever Dream.”  I couldn’t imagine why until I read the lyrics of “Under the Dome,” which contains the lines “Fuck the way we were” and “Fuck all the times that I’ve fallen.”  I’d have never noticed the dreaded “F word” just listening to the melodic song that bears a slight resemblance to the 1990s Swedish synthpop group Ace of Base. 
When Toni staged puppet shows for Phil and Dave and school audiences, my favorite was “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” based on a Norwegian fairy tale popular in Iceland about a troll who lives under a bridge that goats must cross in order to reach the grass in the meadow. When accosted by the troll, the smallest billy goat convinces the troll to wait for his brother, who is bigger and juicier.  The second goat uses the same tactic with similar success.  After Big Billy Goat Gruff” was accosted, he knocked the greedy ogre into the water, and the troll was never seen again.
Initially, I mistook the band’s name for Of Mice and Men, thinking it was named after the 1937 John Steinbeck novella about two migrants, George and Lenny, in search of employment in California during the Great Depression. Lennie is strong but mentally disabled, George quick-witted but deluded into thinking he could be Lennie’s protector and one day own a piece of land.  Praised by critics, the book was banned by many library and school boards, supposedly for its vulgar language, anti-business slant, and seeming acceptance of euthanasia. Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” (1939) initially met a similar fate. Now they don’t even rate a “parental advisory.” “Of Mice and Men” opened as a Broadway play in November 1939 and became a Hollywood movie two years later starring Lon Chaney, Jr. and Burgess Meredith.  A 1981 TV movie starred Randy Quaid and Robert Blake.
I was pleased to find Holly Jackson’s “American Radicals” in Chesterton library’s New Nonfiction display.  The book opens on July 4, 1826, when America was celebrating its semi centennial Jubilee with parades and speeches.  In New Harmony, Indiana, a utopian community set among 20,000 acres of timber forests and fertile farmland near the Wabash and Ohio rivers, founder Robert Owen, a Welsh-born industrialist and social reformer, warned his followers that in order to form the “more perfect Union,” as envisioned in the Declaration of Independence, it would be necessary to slay “a Hydra of Evils” -  the threefold horrid monster of private property, religion, and marriage.”  Owen concluded: “When we tore off the mask, the same hideous features were behind it – a sneering and gibbery spectre.”  This was America.” Of similar mind had been Revolutionary War hero Thomas Paine, author of “Common Sense” (1776).  Paine had coined the phrase United States of America but by the time of his death in 1809 was so despised for attacking organized religion that, to quote Holly Jackson, “no cemetery would bury him.”

At Chesterton High School’s 47th annual Madrigal Dinner, a fundraiser for the musical groups Sandpipers and Drifters, the room was made to resemble a sixteenth century manor hall.  Becca was cast in a starring role, Lady of the House.  Toni and I dubbed ourselves Lord and Lady MacBeth, and a herald announced our arrival; then a wench escorted us to the Lord Byron table.  While too religious for my tastes, the program was cleverly done, and the Christmas songs were enjoyable and enhanced by a 20-piece orchestra.  Becca had two solos, including “Oh Holy Night” as the Madrigal lords and ladies filed out. Jesters, jugglers, and lackeys entertained.  Afterwards, Becca’s friend Josh Sweet introduced me to his mother, a school nutritionist, and brother Jordan, a Purdue Northwest Hospitality and Tourism Management major.
A CNN “Heroes” special honored Staci Alonso, who started Noah’s Animal House at Shade Tree shelter in Las Vegas for women seeking to escape abusive relationships who wanted to keep their pets. Many abused women, she came to realize, continued to remain in abusive relationships rather than leave their pet behind.  The nine others honorees included Woody Faircloth, who donated RVs for wildfire victims, and Richard Miles, an advocate for ex-convicts.
building sewer on Gary Works construction site, July 21, 1906, courtesy CRA
Retired steelworker Robert “Mouse” Kolodzinski donated to the Calumet Regional Archives a letter book containing the correspondence of construction engineer Ralph E. Rowley during his first month on the site of the future Gary Works. Hired the previous winter by U.S. Steel Corporation, he began making plans for the railroad yards and what he termed the “New Indiana steel plant.”  Rowley moved into facilities purchased from the Calumet Gun Club, whose members for two decades had used the beachfront retreat for summer fun in Lake Michigan and winter trap shooting, tobogganing and sledding on sand dunes, and skating on the Grand Calumet River.  The B & O Railroad had established a Calumet Heights station for wealthy Chicagoans’ convenience.  Rowley’s progress reports often noted the inclement weather – snow, ice, cold winds -  that hampered work crews.  Rowley’s letter of April 8, 1906, included an inventory of items left in the clubhouse and 15 cottages by gun club members, including a bowling alley and shuffleboard.  “I think,” Rowley wrote, “we could devise some scheme by which [they] would pay for themselves in a short time and afford some amusement for the men after work hours.”  Rowley represented Steel interests on the Gary City Council for over 20 years, beginning in 1913, to the detriment, I believe, of working-class residents.

Friday, December 6, 2019


“The readiest surest way to get rid of censure is to correct ourselves.” Demosthenes

At bridge Terry Brendel argued that Congress should censure Trump for his actions regarding Ukraine rather than go through an impeachment trial that will inevitably end in him remaining in office and hand him an issue in his re-election bid.  A Los Angeles Times editorial laid out the rationale:
    A House vote to impeach President Trump appears inevitable. So how can the country be spared the further division that would come from a wrenching impeachment trial? One solution would be for House Democrats and Republicans to take an unprecedented step in American history: Adopt a joint resolution censuring the president for improper conduct. Such an action would put presidents on notice that manipulating foreign governments to extract personal political gain is unacceptable. In return, Democrats would agree to drop impeachment articles.
    Censure is neither endorsed nor prohibited by the Constitution, which makes it a good escape hatch. And it’s not a completely novel idea. Former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, two great public servants of different political stripes, courageously advocated for censure in December 1998 to ward off a trial in the Clinton case. The country would have been better off if Democrats and Republicans had embraced the idea.
The only problem with this scenario is that the Republicans remain in lockstep with Trump, the Constitution be damned. Dean Bottorff replied to my post:
    Your argument makes sense. However, in the words of H.L. Mencken: "For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." I will posit that a simple censure is wrong, if only because the facts of what Trump did are undeniable and present a fundamental threat to American democracy. Obviously, the Republicans, who have become the Party of Party (not unlike the former Ba’ath Party of Iraq or the NSDAP of Germany), act only as sycophants of their leader. Conventional wisdom says you are correct about the outcome. But I would argue that even if impeachment ultimately fails, it is not necessarily a given that this will improve Trump’s re-election prospects; and, quite possibly, will weaken the re-election prospects of the Republican senators who vote to acquit despite overwhelming and damning evidence of wrongdoing clearly within the scope of what the framers considered “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Moreover, this modern Republican party should forever be damned by history.
Ray Smock
Ray Smock also disagreed with the L.A. Times, arguing:

Censure is a joke. A slap on the wrist with no consequences. Why would we censure a president for committing high crimes and misdemeanors when the Constitution provides the remedy?  The Democrats have the high moral and legal ground no matter what happens in Mitch McConnell’s Senate.
Anne Koehler Wrote: “Another way out would be for Trump to resign like Nixon.  Fat chance.”
Trump reached a new low, if that is possible, with a fake orgasm mockery of former FBI lawyers Lisa Page (above) and Peter Strzok at a campaign rally. On a lighter note Senator Kamala Harris responded to Trump’s sarcastic tweet that he’ll miss her now that she’s dropped out of the Presidential race by answering, “Don’t worry, Mr. President.  I’ll see you at your trial.”  During a House impeachment hearing, after Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan stated that under our current system a President may name a child Barron but cannot anoint a nobleman, the White House put out a statement under Melania’s name chastising her.  Karlan subsequently apologized, something foreign to Trump’s DNA.

In a Banta Center club championship game Norm Filipiak and I, partnering for the first time, finished fifth out of fifteen with 53.2%, good for.83 of a master point.  After working as a manager for JC Penney and Sears in several locations, including Jackson, Michigan, he purchased a bakery and an entertainment center in Michigan City.  On the way home at Route 49 and the tollway entrance I got caught in a horrendous traffic jam due to the light being out.  There was no cop on the scene to direct traffic.  Because my rotator cuff has been giving me problems, I asked Joel Charpentier to bowl for me. Joel, who hadn’t bowled in three years, struggled for seven frames, then tripled and finished with a 169. I left early and got a holiday haircut from Anna in Portage.  At Nativity Church I picked up two packages of oplatki Christmas wafers, a Polish tradition, one for our family and the other for Toni’s sister Marianne. In Nativity’s office was a former student named Guernsey from my Vietnam war course.
 oplatki wafers; below, Sandy and Sara Carlson at Valparaiso University

Neighbor George Schott hosted the annual condo owners meeting, my first since serving as secretary for eight years.  Three longtime board members, former president Ken Carlson, Treasurer Kevin Cessna, and President Sandy Carlson, all announced their intention to retire, and only one person was willing to serve in their place.  Sandy tried to get me to come back onto the board, and I offered to do so in two years if she served another term.  She reluctantly agreed and persuaded two women to jointly serve. The issue of snow removal came up.  The company charges $400 each time it plows and $350 to shovel sidewalks.  Most residents enter their units through their garage and don’t mind taking caring of their own sidewalks, but the condo could be liable if someone delivering packages has an accident.

Jimbo Jammers finished the regular Fantasy Football season 10-2-1, usually good enough for first place, but Phil edged me out by a half-game.  We both have a bye in the initial round of the six-team playoff and hope to meet in the finals.
The guilty pleasure HBO series “Mrs. Fletcher” stars Kathryn Hahn as Eve, a horny divorced housewife suffering from empty nest syndrome after her lunkhead son Brendan (Jackson White) goes off to college.  It opens with Eve, a senior center administrator, hearing loud moans emanating from the common room where folks are knitting and playing checkers.  The source: an old man’s computer. The geezer’s son tries to stick up for him by telling Eve, “He has no pleasures in life.  You have any idea what that’s like?”  After a friend calls her a MILF (Mom I’d Like to Fuck), Eve looks up the definition on the computer and becomes attracted to porn, has rough sex with a stranger, tender sex with a woman, and fantasizes about being serviced at a massage parlor, participating in a threesome, and starting an affair with a teenager bullied in high school by Brendan (I was relieved that she did not act upon that urge). Labeling the series a “fascinating misfire,”Sophie Gilbert, reviewer for The Atlantic, wrote: “Like her biblical namesake, Eve senses she’s been missing something crucial. It isn’t porn that is fascinating Eve so much as the idea that, in her mid-40s, she can reject every assumption she or anyone else has ever had about herself and start over.  For Eve, porn is freedom.”  “Mrs. Fletcher” is a bleak commentary on contemporary life when people, to quote Gilbert, “are too busy tapping their phones to forge meaningful connections.”

I was asked to teach an IUN second semester History class and be a consultant on a Valparaiso University grant to contribute material to the Flight Paths interactive documentary website.  I declined the offer to return to the classroom but accepted the latter.
At the first annual IUN Artist Collective Holiday Pop-up Market in Savannah Gallery, I was delighted to find Casey King’s work and that Casey was on hand to show me his most recent work, including a mock ad for the Frank N Stein Drive-In that once attracted crowds to the Miller Beach neighborhood when Dunes Highway was a heavily traveled route between Chicago and the Lake Michigan dunes communities prior to construction of the Tri-State expressway.  Corey Hagelberg’s environmental coloring book was also on display.