Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Name Is Gary


 “It’s important to lighten up the corner where you are.”  I think a lot of that is taking place in Gary,” Ken Edwards
I first met Ken Edwards (above) when he was project director on the Gary Centennial Committee.  Born in Gary Methodist Hospital, Edwards grew up in the Tarrytown and Tolleston neighborhoods and graduated from Purdue Calumet.  In 1997 he was working for a South Holland software company but still living in Gary when in September of 1997 he had an epiphany while attending his father’s funeral in Midtown.  His father had opened a hand car wash on Eleventh Avenue and, in his words, “hired guys who were hanging around on street corners.  An enormous crowd came.  So many people talked about how my dad had touched their lives.  It was so poignant it inspired me to devote more time to my community.”  As I wrote in “Gary’s First Hundred Years:
            “Edwards quit his high-status job and became an independent entrepreneur. He got involved with God’s Grace Church at 4580 Broadway not only as a singer but eventually as an assistant pastor.  He made a conscious effort to make his expertise known locally, and eventually his diligence paid off.  He did a needs assessment, for example, for the Gary Housing Authority.  Living in Miller, he helped establish the Charter School of the Dunes.  Involved in after-school tutoring with Gary Art Works, an organization that shared quarters with the Charter School near the end of Lake Street, he branched off into setting up supplemental educational services with students struggling with the ISTEP.”
I am so excited.  James Wallace and the Office of Diversity, in conjunction with the Black Film Festival, has arranged for a World Premiere of Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk’s documentary “My Name is Gary” on October 17 with a special showing of a trailer on Wednesday, September 24, as well as a skype session with the filmmakers.  While the blurb inadvertently left off Blandine’s name, it calls “My Name Is Gary” a “loving and well balanced tribute to the people of Gary.”  Frederic and Blandine couldn’t have described it any better.
houses demolished: below, the mayor and the lieutenant governor look on; NWI Times photos by Jonathan Miano
Lieutenant Governor Sue Ellspermann and Mayor Karen Freeman Wilson toured the site of where two vacant houses will be razed, the first of an estimated thousand, thanks to a $6.6 million grant from the Hardest Hit Fund Blight Elimination Program.  They were at the site on the 800 block of Virginia Street when the wrecking ball began reducing the first house to rubbl;e.

After food shopping with Toni, I discovered that the L.A. Nails outlet in Chesterton closed down, so I tried Aqua Spa nail salon and loved how they treated me, first soaking my feet in warm water before cutting the toenails, following by cleaning then off with soap and a brush.  Total cost: just eight bucks plus tip.  Before heading to school I picked up a cold cuts 6-inch Subway for 4 dollars.
above, Ray Smock; below, Senator Robert Byrd
IUN celebrated Constitution Day with speakers, cake, t-shirts, and an America banner to sign.  I enjoyed the cake, didn’t sign the banner, and turned down a t-shirt since I got one last year.  Ray Smock wrote an essay for the Washington Times entitled “The Power in Senator Byrd’s Shirt Pocket” – West Virginia’s Robert C. Byrd carried a copy of the Constitution in his pocket at all times – and also hosted a Constitution Day program at the Byrd Center for Legislative Studies featuring author Clay Risen, who wrote a book about passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as well as one on the history of American whiskey.  Ray wrote: In my introduction to Clay Risen I will ask the audience what Whiskey has to do with the Constitution and then answer the question for them. The story of whiskey in America is American history in liquid form. It was central to the economy. And what does in have to do with the Constitution?  How about TWO Constitutional Amendments, the 18th and 21st.”  I replied: “Near as I can tell, your two favorite holidays are Groundhog Day and Constitution Day.  What they seem to have in common are permanence yet uncertainty.”  He agreed.

Poet William Buckley stopped by to give me a drawing he did of steel being loaded at Burns Harbor plant of Bethlehem Steel (now ArcelorMittal).  Though retired, he is hoping to obtain travel money for a conference in Philadelphia where he will publicize his Sylvia Plath journal.  IUN brags about being associated with such prestige publications, so I told him Vice Chancellor Malik should be open to persuasion.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Handle Me with Care


“Been stuck in airport, terrorized
Sent to meetings, hypnotized
Overexposed, commercialized”
    “Handle Me with Care,” Traveling Wilburys
At Chesterton library I traded in two Spin Doctors CDs for ones by the Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup composed of Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison, whose unforgettable voice shines on the choruses of “Handle Me with Care.”  I like the line, “Reputations changeable, situations tolerable.”  I knew there were only two Traveling Wilburys CDs, the second coming out after Orbison (“Lefty Wilbury”) died, and was puzzled that one was marked volume 3 until reading that George Harrison suggested it as a joke.

To the tune of “Frosty the Snowman,” grandson James provided lyrics about Nathaniel Bacon, who led a rebellion against Virginia Royal Governor William Berkeley in 1676.  Instead of regarding Bacon as a hero, James recognized his treacherous behavior toward Native Americans and was power hungry.  Interestingly, a hundred years later, opposition to England protecting tribes in what was then the West fueled revolutionary support among those anxious to have that territory to exploit for their own profit.
Jeff Manes interviewed 70 year-old Jill Sturgill, whose father was Slovak and mother Serbian.  They had a mom-and-pop store called Mores Food Shop.  All four grandparents migrated from Europe.  Sturgill recalled the Harbor during the 1950s:
  It was the heart of everything.  There were steel mills all aglow at night and you could hear the hammers pounding from Standard Forge.  Every Saturday afternoon I’d walk with my cousins to the Indiana Theater and take in a movie.
  I remember as a youngster going to the Greek and Serbian dances on the weekends.  You’d go down to the bar area and you’d hear some old Serbian guy bringing up [Marshall] Tito.  They’d be speaking Serbian, but when I heard the word Tito, I knew it was time to go upstairs or hide under a table because there was going to be a fight.”

Off to California for five days, I touched down in Denver, first time I ever set foot in Colorado, if being in an airport counts.  I completed Barbara Neely’s mystery novel, “Blanche Passes Go,” about a strong, full-bodied, middle-aged black woman detective.  Waiting for my connection to Palm Springs, I sat across from a man who fired a guy by phone while simultaneously using an IPad.  Calling the victim a “bad resource,” he told the guy’s superior that he “could either go down with Mike or jettison him.”  Observing his expression, I noticed he obviously was enjoying the power trip.  Quite a few men in the airport terminal had shaved heads and what looked to be three-day-old facial hair (achieved with an electric razor, perhaps), including dead ringers for Dr. O and Bruce Willis.  Someone was in my aisle seat and wanted to trade places with me.  I declined until learning his mother had just lost a loved one and needed consoling. 

The manager at the Rancho Mirage Holiday Inn greeted me like an old friend and upgraded me to a suite for free.  After a visit with my mother at Mirage Inn, I had a nightcap at Applebee’s.  Natasha, looking fit and as happy as I’ve ever seen her, gave me a big “hello.”  Daughter Sunshine is 14 months old and scooting around, she reported.   Fellow bartender Andrea later told me that the two of them had been working out together.
 Cracker Campout X logo

I took Midge out to lunch before driving my Kia Optima rental to Pioneertown for Cracker Campout X. While the temperature had been 110 degrees in Rancho Mirage, it cooled to the mid-90s due to the higher elevation.  A couple weeks before, flash floods had blocked roads nearby.  At Pappy and Harriet’s a friendly hippie type named Boo directed me on where to park.  I told him that for the Traveling Wilburys’ second album Bob Dylan called himself “Boo Wilbury.”  “Far out,” he replied.  Friday was billed as Punk Night, and one guy wearing a Devo hat accompanied a woman in an X t-shirt dressed like Exene Cervenka.  Several guys had Mohawk haircuts or wigs.  At the bar I met a couple from New Jersey; he hooked his wife on Cracker after an appearance by the band at a record store.  She had on a Ramones shirt and torn Levis.  Camper Van Beethoven shined, but I didn’t last for the midnight performance of Johnny Hickman and the Dangers, whom I enjoyed when they were an opening act a year ago.

At the Yucca Springs Best Western complimentary breakfast, wearing my Cracker Campout shirt from last year, I got several smiles and a thumbs up from a train aficionado I sat with a year ago.  I drove back to eat lunch with Midge, who has fallen on her noggin two days in a row (we’ve finally convinced her to let an aide wheel her to meals).  Back at Pappy and Harriet’s, I chatted with Cracker bass player Sal Maida and drummer Frank Funaro, temporarily on the DL with tendon problems.  Opening act featured teenagers from Los Rios Rock School in San Juan Capistrano, who did a rousing set of Cracker songs, including  “Shine,” about never giving up (on the 2002 “Forever” album) that the band rarely performs. One verse goes:
           “You come to the party.
You say, ‘What’s new pussycat?’
Someday you’re gonna shine
You’ll see.”
(The 1965 movie “What’s new Pussycat?” starring Peter O’Toole as a womanizer and Peter Sellers as his shrink, was Woody Allen’s first.  He initially intended Warren Beatty for the main role with Groucho Marx as the psychiatrist.  Tom Jones made the Burt Bacharach song famous).
While Los Rios Rock School band rocked out on stage, I was sitting on bleachers next to the LaBlancs, the drummer’s parents and grandparents.  They said Cracker members were very friendly to the kids earlier in the day.  Sal and Dave Lowery were in the crowd smiling at how good the young’ens were covering their standards.  A 16 year-old belted out “Eurotrash Girl,” including these lines:
“Got a tattoo in Berlin
  (and a case of the crabs)
A rose and a dagger
  On the palm of my hand.”
The scene reminded me of when Missy Brush told Johnny Hickman that Blues Cruise did several Cracker songs and how he beamed.  Tyler Marolf started Los Rios Rock School about five years ago, and Mary LaBlanc was his first student.
Los Rios Rock School band with members of Cracker
Saturday being Circus Night, many clowns, bearded ladies, and trapeze artists were strolling around.  Entertaining prior to Cracker’s appearance was the heavy metal band Brant Bork and the Bros.  Brant was a showman and the guitarists quite tight.  When Cracker began “The King of Bakersfield,” I moved directly to the right of the stage, with a great view of charismatic guitarist Johnny Hickman, who often turned to fans there and flashed his trademark smile.  His terrific guitar riffs and charming stage presence were for me the highlight of the show.  What a great night. 

Sunday we took Midge to Mamma Gina’s Italian Ristorante in Palm Desert.  The Tuscan Feast included an appetizer, entrée, and dessert for just $19.95.  I had Mamma’s delicious salad, a five-ounce filet mignon smothered in mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, and crème brulee.  Midge shared her fried zucchini sticks with everyone and talked about her friend Shirley about to turn 100.  After final goodbyes, I caught the second half of the Bears game at Applebee’s.  Down 17-7, Chicago held the 49ers to a field goal and then scored three straight TDs to win 28-20.  On the final play of the game San Fran’s Michael Crabtree almost caught a pass in the end zone.  Cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman, my favorite Bear, left the game in the third quarter with what is probably a career-ending injury.  His replacement, rookie Kyle Fuller, made two interceptions to turn the game around. Jerry Davich wrote: That old cliché about ‘watching a grown man cry’ hit home last night while watching Charles "Peanut" Tillman's tears after his injury, obviously hinting that his great career may be over.”
above, Charles Tillman; below, Martellus Bennett with Kyle Fuller
Arriving at Palm Springs airport Monday, I learned that my flight was delayed, jeopardizing my connection in San Francisco.  Not to worry.  After three gate changes it took off an hour late.  My seat companion was a Jehovah’s Witness worried about making her overseas flight to Munich; on the previous leg a young woman headed to Reno called me a doll when I offered to turn on my air vent after she complained of being hot.  Several passengers wore Bears jerseys, and guys in Matt Forte and Jared Allen shirts bragged about having been at the game.  I finally finished a USA Today crossword puzzle after figuring out he answer to “e.g., in the doghouse.”  I had the first four letters, idio, and first wrote down idiot, but the answer was idiom.

Doing an O.J. at O’Hare, I made the 6:15 airport bus with minutes to spare and got home around 8:20, driving the final leg on 80/94.  Dave informed me that if the Eagles beat Indy, I’d win the weekly pool.  Philadelphia was down 17-6 when I tuned in but triumphed 30-27 on a last-second field goal.  The Colts seemingly had the game won when with minutes to go, leading by seven and in field goal range, they inexplicably called a pass play and Andrew Luck threw the ball into the hands of Eagle Malcolm Jenkins.  The Eagles seemed to hold up the Colt receiver, but thankfully no penalty was called. 

While I won the weekly pool, I lost my Fantasy match to “Pittsburgh Dave” by five points because both my wide receivers, A.J. Green and DeSean Jackson, left early with injuries.  His wide receivers, Jordy Nelson and Demaryius Thomas, rolled up 38 points, compared to my one point from Jackson.  If I had to win one of two, however, I much preferred being on top of the CBS Sports office pool, besting 22 others, including Dave, who came in third and also picked the Eagles but only laid down one point compared to my 11.  I celebrated by putting on the Traveling Wilburys and popping a Coors.
 Hodge and Shannon Patel with Senator Joe Donnelly
A priority mail package arrived from brother-in-law Sonny Okomski containing the Sports Illustrated issue with Ernie Banks on the cover plus a special ESPN magazine on Michael Jordan, subtitled “The Best Ever.”  Sonny is a fellow Eagles fan, so I called to thank him and rehash Philadelphia’s amazing victory against Indianapolis.  Attending the game at Lucas Oil Stadium were my favorite former student Shannon and husband Hodge Patel with Senator Joe Donnelly.  They preferred Saturday’s outcome at Notre Dame to what happened in Indy.

Back at IUN, Chris Young hosted a brown bag talk by anthropologist Michelle Stokely entitled “Using Postcards as a Classroom Teaching Tool.”  The Post-Trib’s Carole Carlson called wanting info on the Gary Holiday Inn at 461 Broadway that after a short run became the Sheraton that’s now being torn down.  She was told it went up in 1968, but that seemed too early to both of us. It’s listed in the 1971 city directory but not in the 1969 edition. 

Crossing campus, I ran into grounds supervisor Tim Johnson on a grass-cutting tractor and Biologist Spencer Cortwright on his way to to tend a patch of land south of the Little Calumet River where he is cultivating native vegetation and about to collect seeds for next year.  I commented on what a beautiful day it was to be working outside. 
architect's rendering; below, Mayor hatcher and ironworkers foreman  Paul Demo; P-T photo by Jim McGill, May 29, 1969

The Post-Trib’s Carole Carlson, the rare reporter who goes beyond gathering quotes for a story, visited the Archives in search of photos and info on the history of the Gary’s downtown Sheraton, an eyesore about to be razed.  It was first a Holiday Inn.  Somebody told Carole it opened in 1968, but that seemed dubious.  Using city directories, we discovered it opened in 1971,and Steve McShane found photographs of when construction began in May of 1969.

Anne Balay and her trainer are driving a load of trident gum to Mississippi.  She reports “getting the downshift but can’t reverse for shit.”  Bill Tortat told her not to let the cargo “gum up the gears. LOL.”  Meanwhile tattooed daughter Emma went to the St. Louis World’s Fair and Heritage Festival with Autumn Wiggins.