Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Empress of the Blues


“No time to marry, no time to settle down; I’m a young woman, and I ain’t done runnin’ around.”  Bessie Smith
The HBO movie “Bessie” about Blues legend Bessie Smith, starring Queen Latifah, was well worth watching, no matter that critics found it somewhat flawed.  From beginning to end we meet a character who refused to take crap from anyone and slept with whom she pleased, man or woman.  As she proclaimed in a 1923 recording, “Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do.”  At a party hosted by Harlem nightclub frequenter Carl Van Vechten (Oliver Platt), poet Langston Hughes (Jeremie Harris) warns Bessie to clean up her act.  Instead she ends up throwing a drink in Van Vechten’s face when he makes a reference to his book “Nigger Heaven.”  The supporting cast was brilliant, especially Mo’Nique, who captured Ma Rainey so thoroughly one longed for her to be in every scene.  At one point she tells Bessie the secret of singing the Blues: “It’s not about people knowing you.  It’s about you knowing people.”  My only quibble was the lack of mention at the movie’s conclusion of Smith bleeding to death in 1937 at age 43 due to an auto accident.  Afterwards, record producer John Hammond circulated a false rumor that a white hospital had refused to treat her injuries.

After reading Joanna Rakoff’s “My Salinger Year” I checked out “Franny and Zooey” and was blown away by the scene at Sickle’s Restaurant when Franny visits boyfriend Lane for a college football weekend.  Salinger brilliantly captured what guys like me were like during the Eisenhower era – worried about appearances, caught up in one’s own desires, and clueless about the needs of the opposite sex.  Chain-smoking cigarettes, Franny finally opens up to Lane about her disillusionment with academic life and interest in spiritualism (telling him, “in the Nembutsu sects of Buddhism, people keep saying’ Namu Amida Butsu over and over again”).  Rather than feign interest, all Lane could do is retort, “You’ve got a goddam bug, today – you know that?”  In exasperation Franny stared “at a little warm blotch of sunshine, about the size of a poker chip, on the tablecloth.”  What is so devastating is that Lane isn’t an especially bad guy – just bewildered at his girlfriend’s mood. 
Saturday at European Market in Chesterton I met three of my closest friends from the 1970s, Ivan Jasper, Omar Farag, and Dave Serynek – former students and Porter Acres softball teammates.  We ended up at our condo for lunch and shared memories of wild and crazy times and characters from the past that enriched our lives.  All three looked great.  Serynek participates in bicycle rallies; Ivan is a golf pro in Florida; and Omar just returned from trips to Brazil (for Carnival) and Hawaii.  While Ivan was outside having a smoke and chatting with Toni, who was gardening, Serynek was explaining to Omar details about signing up for Social Security.  Harsh reality indeed.

Sunday I hung out at Porter Beach and visited Miller Market, where I purchased a delicious taco and said hey to IUN professor Eve Bottando, who was with a vendor selling homemade soap.   Suppose you are invited to a party but weren’t told it was the host’s birthday, Eve casually said, then added: “How fortunate if you happened to have a bar of homemade soap with you.”  I complimented her on her seamless sales pitch.  In the NWI Times Business Marketing columnist Larry Galler had identified two contrasting sales techniques: the dreaded “limpet”  (in zoology a snail with teeth used to attach to surfaces) character who won’t leave customers alone and the politely persistent helper who creates a relationship with potential buyers that keeps the door open for further communication.   
We stayed in Northwest Indiana throughout the Memorial Day weekend, dining Monday at Bartlett’s and then playing bridge with Hagelbergs. They had just returned from an overnight trip (eight hours each way but they’re pluggers) to southwestern Pennsylvania to tour Fallingwater, the historic house Frank Lloyd Wright built in 1935 for department store mogul Edgar Kaufman.   We talked on the phone with Alissa, at Newark International Airport awaiting a flight to Dublin to join sister Miranda, who had been in Ireland with other Grand Valley State Social Work students on the historic day when by referendum over 62 percent of voters supported legalization of same sex marriage.  Also both son Phil and grandson James reported on their separate trips to Washington, D.C. 
above, Miranda Lane in Ireland; below, Phil Lane in D.C.
On Charles Osgood’s CBS Sunday Morning Laura Palmer, author of “Shrapnel in the Heart: Letters and Remembrances from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,” discussed the often overlooked work able-bodied vets are doing to aid their less fortunate brothers.  News coverage of Memorial Day ranged from parades in Crown Point and Portage to interviews with Battle of the Bulge survivors.  And this oddity: ancestors of a seaman killed at Pearl Harbor and buried with his comrades at Punchbowl crater in Honolulu who for some reason want his remains returned.

Some would say I’m not a true Hoosier because I missed “The Race,” the Indy 500, won by Juan Pablo Montoya.  Bowling buddies Melvin Nelson and Jim Migoski used to attend time trials every year, and Kirsten Bayer has continued the tradition with friends (and this year sister Shannon).  Tony Panepinto, on Phil and Dave’s Little League 30 years ago, was there with good-looking women, Katelyn Nicole and Kristen Zellers, below, on each arm.
I managed to stay awake for two more unique overtime games in the epic series between the Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks.  On Saturday Chicago had a 3-1 lead before yielding three goals within just three minutes, before finally prevailing.  Two days later they fell behind 3-0 within the first ten minutes but tied the game with two Jonathan Toews goals in the final minute, then lost just 45 seconds into the extra period.

I learned from his student journal that Jeff Griggs is a huge Blackhawk fan and attended two games within a month. He wrote about spending a night in Chicago at the W Lakeshore Hotel:
  February 19: We left about 2:30 and took 80/94 to Lakeshore Drive, making the trip in less than 90 minutes.  At the hotel we were greeted like famous people rather than just a 21 year-old taking his girlfriend on a little vacation.  We took pictures of our room and the scenery from the window of Lake Michigan and Navy Pier.  It was like something out of a movie.  We put our stuff in proper places and before getting ready for dinner, we had to break in the room.  We went to the Cheesecake Factory, whose ceiling looked like it was made of a gold chocolate that was about to drip on us.  We stared at each other like it was our first date, and I fell even more in love with her.  We had an amazing meal that left no room for dessert, but we couldn’t leave without cheesecake so we ordered two pieces to go.  I had never gotten a check for two people that was so steep, but it was worth it.  Back at the hotel we relaxed and broke in the room some more.
  February 20: The bed we slept in together was the most comfortable thing ever.  I called for my car, and we were off to the Blackhawks Store and then the Chicago Auto Show.  At our first stop was interactive software that allowed you to take a picture with your favorite Blackhawk.  I took like four, and my girlfriend bought a hoody.  At the auto show we discovered we couldn’t use her dad’s discount for parking so paid the full price and then grabbed some pricy food. In the exotic cars section I spotted my dream car, a Lamborghini Aventador.  My girlfriend got to sit in a Chevy Cruze.  We arrived home in time for my brother Alex’s birthday party.  We had gotten him a Marian Hossa shirt plus a hat I received at a recent Blackhawks game for being one of the first ten thousand fans.
above, Albert Shane; below, Robert Parker
When Albert Shane is feeling overwhelmed by work, school, and life in general he tells himself he has to POR – push on regardless – a saying used by his mentor, Portage History teacher Robert Parker, as he explains in his journal:
March 1: My brother started his Purdue Calumet intramural basketball league with his fellow golf team buddies.  He is a notorious trash talker and bragged that he was going to start raining threes and score 30 points. Needless to say, he struggled throughout the game and was held scoreless.  
March 5:  One of my closest friends is moving away from Indiana.  We took one more trip to Taco Bell, as has become a tradition.  I am going to miss my friend.
March 8: Game day once again for my brother and the “golf boys” at PUC.  After the first week, you would think he would be less cocky, but you would be wrong.  As the game got closer, his mouth would not stop jabbering about how well he was going to play, and that the last game was a fluke because he was nervous, and the other team had better players.  This proved to be a preview of things to come sadly.  The team ended up losing by slaughter rule once again after they fell 40 points behind. The opponents looked like an NBA team compared to these guys.  Most were from East Chicago.  One even played in high school; almost all the others were on soccer teams. 
March 16: Spring Break has been a major disappointment.  The original plan was to go to Panama City Beach with four friends, but they all pulled out, so my Spring break has consisted of studying and working.  A second cyst has formed on my wrist and has caused serious pain to the point where I made a doctor’s appointment. 
March 26: I received new assignment in every single class.  This put a serious damper on my nightly plans.  I have to POR, however, as this is an acronym of Robert Parker, a former teacher of mine at Portage; it means push on regardless, as he used to say.  He is a big reason I am now a History major.  He was very outspoken and never forgot a single name; he could pick you out of a crowd and call you by name.  From what I heard, this is his final year.  This actually does disappoint me.  My dad and uncles all had him, and then my brother and I had him as an Advance Placement course.
April 2:  My baby cousin Bradley went to see the Easter Bunny at Bass Pro Shop. The line was insane, almost circling the entire store.  It took nearly an hour and a half to get a couple pictures done with a guy in a Bunny suit that I could have put on like I have the past two years.  The most work was keeping this eight month-old boy entertained. Luckily, we all survived the crying baby and went out to eat in the restaurant in the store.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Leaving Gary


“There's a trick to the Graceful Exit. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, a relationship is over - and to let go. It means leaving what's over without denying its value.” Ellen Goodman
"Will Philadelphia have this?": Anne Balay
It appears Anne Balay is really leaving the house and community she loves so much to take a position at Haverford College in Philadelphia.  She also was awarded a research fellowship.  Anne isn’t the first and won’t be the last to say regretfully, in effect, “Good-bye, Gary” and hopefully will come back to visit and perhaps lecture at IUN once her troglodyte enemies are gone. They are outnumbered by her many sympathetic campus friends cognizant of her unfair treatment.
Miller Woods hike, photo by Samuel A. Love; below, Jerry Davich talks to Merrillville sixth graders
Samuel A. Love grew up in Glen Park, moved south with his family but now resides in Miller and is active with Gary grassroots organizations.  Jerry Davich grew up in Miller, lives in Portage, but since embarking on the “Lost Gary” book project has been finding pleasure revisiting childhood haunts.  I lived in Gary for five years when we moved from Ross Township just south of the city limits to 337 Jay Street, a neighborhood in Miller that went from almost all white to virtually all black in the space of 18 months.  Then we lived a block east of County Line Road (and took shit about it from Miller lakefront snobs) within the National Lakeshore for 35 years before our leaseback expired and we bought a condo in Chesterton.  Working at IU Northwest, I haven’t left Gary and will always have a spiritual attachment to the “Steel City,” I my spiritual hometown.

Retired English professor William Buckley lives in Crown Point but retains a carrel at IUN’s library.  One of his poems will be in an Indiana bicentennial book.  He recently composed “This Is the Place.  This Is the Point (Steel City, 2015):
It’s too heavy, the way we do our dreaming here,
the way we drive on streets  in Lake County.
  dreaming where we’d like to dream
  by the shore of Lake Michigan
the way hearts are reluctant to meet there.

Dreams are easy in tested rooms of Northwest Indiana,
  as if lures of oceans and mountains
  should not be where they are
by their cold nights and invitations.

Our places here are shouting places,
  under our sulfurous clouds
  and in our intense mill rooms
by the hissing lip of Lake Michigan.

This is the place.  This is the point:
  in “The Region,”
we have our inner space for dreaming
  while gulls adjust to our sandy winds
and deer browse in our windy grasses
and where the sudden crunch
  of quick waves
  pound on our beaches
reflecting the sound of our mills, in the night.
A bus driver leaving Gary’s Majestic Star Casino had a mishap resulting in his vehicle dangling precariously off the side of a bridge.  No passengers were on board, and the driver was hospitalized with undisclosed injuries.  What was he thinking, I wonder, the moment he comprehended the blunder.  A couple weeks ago, a guy drove off the end of Cline Avenue Bridge due to an obsolete GPS.  Could something similar have happened?

I addressed Steve McShane’s Summer I class about keeping journals that emphasized family and community history.  I told them that the Newberry Library “Encyclopedia of Chicagoland” was a good source for towns and cities and that “Peopling Indiana,” published by Indiana Historical Society Press, contained chapters on the many ethnic groups that settled in the Region.  Giving students copies of my 1980s Steel Shavings, entitled “The Uncertainty of Everyday Life,” I suggested that they utilize the popular culture pages as a way of getting family members to elicit memories.  I encouraged them to include photos and noted that both students and their families enjoyed seeing the articles in print.  I pointed out the value of social history and the efficacy of recording contemporary events, emphasizing that history encompasses every meaningful thing that happened up to this instant and that years from now, historians may profit from coming upon their publications. 
 statue in Gary's Marquette Park
Just as Lewis and Clark kept journals of places they explored, I told students to think of theirs as explorations into the past.  In 1673 Father Marquette kept a journal when on a Mississippi River expedition with Louis Joliet that took them through Northwest Indiana.  Laying unread for nearly 200 years in a Jesuit archives in Montreal, Marquette’s journal contained valuable observations on Native American tribes that resided in the Midwest prior to the arrival of Euro-Americans.

I read excerpts from “Gary’s First Hundred Years” about geological features relating to a receding glacier, leaving a succession of sandy beaches across Lake County where mastodons once trod.  Between 2,000 and 3,000 Lake Michigan’s southern shoreline approximated its present boundaries.  I noted James Madison’s  use in “Hoosiers” of up-to-date scholarship regarding Native Americans, the first wave probably crossing the Bering land bridge from Asia over 10,000 years ago.  With considerable understatement Madison concluded: “While these initial settlers altered the environment as they hunted and gathered, they accommodated their lives more fully to the natural world than did later arrivals.”

I selected this passage from Ken Schoon’s “Calumet Beginnings,” in order to demonstrate how historical interpretations evolve over time:
  It is generally agreed that the name Calumet is a French substitution for the Indian name for the river.  What that word was or what it meant has been debated for over 150 years.  Early maps had more than a dozen spellings in French and English.
  In 1945, geographer Alfred Meyer noted that it may have meant “little reed” or “pipe of peace” (pipe stems were made of reeds).  Father Marquette described peace pipes called calumets in his journal of 1673.  Others ascribe Calumet as a corruption of another Indian word meaning “a deep, still water.”
  More recent scholarship has uncovered another meaning.  In a 1696 manuscript written by Jesuit missionary Jacques Gravier, researcher John Swenson found that the oldest recorded Indian name for the river was Kinoumiki, meaning “ship that draws a lot of water.”  Had the Indians seen a ship on the Calumet River?  It’s possible, says Swenson.  The Calumet River was much larger in the days before various drainage ditches diverted much of its waters.  And the French explorers certainly had the means to build ships.  LaSalle himself had one built on the Great Lakes in 1678-79.  Called Le Griffon, during its brief life, it sailed on Lakes Erie, Huron, and northern Lake Michigan.
Brandon Grubl scores against Chris Diehl, 12-4-2013, NWI Times photo by John Smierciak
According to Brandon Grubl’s journal, the highlight of an otherwise humdrum month was watching his Duke Blue Devils win the NCAA tournament. Grubl, the leading scorer for the IUN Redhawks in 2013-14, set a school record with 49 points against Kuyper College.  His journal contains a surprise ending:
March 2: On my way out the door I smelled something burning in the kitchen. I went to investigate and discovered our garbage can in flames. I carried it out the front door and threw it into about 8 inches of snow on the ground. I grabbed some snow and put the fire out. In my panic I accidentally pick up a burning piece of plastic.  I quickly buried my hand in the snow to stop my finger from burning.  My left pointer finger was black and I had to scrape off the burnt plastic on it. The incident left me with nasty blisters. My mother must have thrown a match in the garbage can. After class I had an intramural volleyball game at IUN. Our team has won the tiny tournament two years in a row. Tonight was just the second regular season game. We dominated, winning 25-5 and 25-13.
March 9: My volleyball team won to go 2-0, but it wasn't easy. We didn't play very well but a win is a win. Leaving for home, I wasn't very smart. I blew two stop signs on Ridge Road and got pulled over.  The female cop wasn't amused by my act of confusion that I blew two stop signs.  Luckily she only gave me a verbal warning.  The ride from Gary to my home in Valparaiso generally takes 40 minutes, and instead of cutting it down by a minute or two my stupidity delayed the trip.
March 14: I worked out and then went to Valparaiso University to play basketball on their outdoor courts. It's the first time I have played since before I had surgery 7 months ago. It felt really good. The weather cooperated, and it was nice to play outside. I went to a bonfire at my brother’s house, and a few of my friends were there. We just sat by the fire, had some good conversation, and relaxed.
March 30: At IUN we had our first spring basketball workouts today.  I was dying. Having surgery and being out for six months has killed my conditioning. I am ready though and excited for next season.  The team has some new players.  In intramural volleyball we won our semifinal match pretty easily. 
April 1: Holy cow it was nice out today, in the 70s and sunny. I ate an amazing breakfast. Then I stopped at the gas station and bought a ten-dollar scratch-off lottery ticket. Guess what - I won $2,500 and was freaking out. I checked the ticket multiple times and even asked other people to look at it. It was real, and I won that money. Later I received a text from my first love and high school sweetheart. We dated for two years starting when I was 17, and I thought I really loved her. We had our ups and downs like any couple. I went off to Elmhurst College. She was a senior at Morgan Township.  Everything stayed smooth until after she graduated high school.  She wanted to start a fresh life and be single in college. She broke up with me and broke my heart. I have been thinking about her ever since and constantly wondering “what if.” Well, she wanted to meet up, so I took her to Olive Garden. The chemistry just picked up where it left off. She talked about trying things again slowly. I could not have been happier. This has been the best day of my life! 
APRIL FOOLS! I didn’t win any money on a scratch-off, and my ex who broke my heart sure as hell didn’t text message me. It was just a normal boring day. However, I did tell the truth about something: it was sunny and in the 70s.