Monday, March 30, 2015

Open for Business

“The superior man knows what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.” Confucius
March 28 protest, Indianapolis Star photo by Cherlie Nye
A firestorm has erupted all over the country over the recently enacted law passed the Republican-dominated state legislature and signed by Governor Mike Pence allowing establishments to discriminate against gays under the ruse of religious freedom.  A “Boycott Indiana” movement is underway, and corporations are threatening retaliation.  Angie’s List, for example, has announced that it is suspending expansion plans that would have created a housand new jobs in Indianapolis.   Appearing on ABC’s Sunday news show, Pence looked like a horse’s ass, bewildered that his has become such a big deal.  Six times George Stephanopoulos asked him point blank, yes or no, can a florist or baker refuse to do business with a gay couple, and he would not give a straight answer.  He refused to agree to support a civil rights bill protecting gays from mistreatment but lamely pledged to ask the legislature to clarify some aspects of the misguided law. 

On its spoof of the news Saturday Night Live joked that signs will indicate which stores won’t serve gays and then showed one reading “Going out of Business.”  The Post-Tribune front-page story on the impact of the new law contains this quote from Anne Balay:

What it does essentially is it tells these people in Indiana that they need to stay hidden.  That’s an incredibly concerning message.  Now life is just this minefield of humiliation.  It’s not so much that people are turned away, as they could be.  Bow before you go into a business, you’re just going to kind of curtail your behavior.  You don’t need public embarrassment.

Jerry Davich wrote that felt shame when Governor Pence signed the so-called religious freedom bill.  Noting that March is National Women’s History Month, he profiled Tonj’a Robinson, named “Wanda” in Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets.”  Robinson told Davich, “To my knowledge I am the only open lesbian in U.S. Steel’s Gary Works.”  An electrician, she’s had women tell her that men aren’t allowed in the locker room and she generally avoids taking showers with other women.  “People talk about me, I’m aware of this fact,” Tonj'a (below) said, “but no one has really gotten in my face specifically about my race or sexual orientation.” 
Good things are happening on Valparaiso.  Several entrepreneurs, including Christopher “Pino” Pupillo, are distributing “Open for Service” stickers to small businesses opposed to the recent legislative action that would allow bigots to refuse service to gays.  Valpo native Josh Driver started the movement in Indianapolis.  Pupillo told Post-Tribune correspondent Joyce Russell that “our goal is to show that Valpo is an open, welcoming, inclusive city.”  Meanwhile, VU History professor Heath Carter is leading a campaign to prod the Valparaiso political establishment to embrace diversity in deed as well as name.  He met with Mayor Jon Costas to discuss hiring more minorities, at present comprising just three out of 250 city employees.  Last month Costas participated in a civil rights forum organized by Carter and seems somewhat amenable to persuasion. 

Chuck Bednarik

Legendary Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarick passed away.  Born in 1925 in Bethlehem, PA (near my hometown of Easton), the Slovak-American flew 30 combat missions during World War II as a B-24 gunner before becoming an All-American at Penn.  The last of the 60-minute men, he not only played linebacker on defense, he was the Eagles’ center on offense.  He once hit Giant running back Frank Gifford so hard, Gifford was out of commission for more than a year.  On the final play of the NFL championship against Green Bay, he tackled Packer Jim Taylor a few yards from the end zone, then sat on him until finally saying, “The game’s over, you can get up now.”  I was at the game sitting near the opposite end zone and feared that Taylor had scored until I saw Bednarik raise an arm in triumph.  His nickname was “Concrete Charlie” because during off-seasons he was a concrete salesman. Peter King wrote:

They will bury Chuck Bednarik in his Hall of Fame blazer and a bolo tie with a pendant of an Eagle spreading its wings. They will bury the Philadelphia 60-minute man exactly as he was remembered, with hands that looked like gnarled tree limbs and a face distinguished by a razor-sharp jawline and a slight smirk.

Ron Cohen treated Julie Jackson and me to dinner at Miller Bakery Café.  Nancy stayed home to watch the Bulls and Steve Spicer turned down an invitation in order to watch his beloved Wisconsin Badgers win to get into the Final Four with Kentucky, Michigan State, and Duke.  Ron teased me for ordering what I always get, steak salad.  To the best of my recollection this was only the second time I’d been there with him, but, of course, he reads my blog.  Julie thanked me for revision suggestions I made after reading a chapter of her manuscript about Chicago theater director Frank Galati.  I had made suggestions on shortening paragraphs, and she said they were virtually identical to an earlier draft, before an adviser had told her to lengthen them.She informed me that she had been married to one of his collaborators, Michael Maggio.  Maggio died in 2000, nine years after having a double lung transplant. 

Across from Miller Bakery Café at the Gardner Center was an “Art from Excess” exhibition.  Chris Toepfer explained that some materials came from cleaning out a former hardware store.  One piece made use of old cardboard boxes while another contained hundreds of Starbucks cups.

Last week Nicole Anslower showed an excerpt on feminism that included appearances by novelist Judy Blume, historian Sara Evans, writer Sara Davidson, and Ms. founder Gloria Steinem.  With Nicole’s permission I decided to take a few minutes of her class time to describe the importance of these beautiful, remarkable women, now qualifying as senior citizens.

Born in 1938, Judy Blume first wrote children’s books, such as “The One in the Middle Is the Green Kangaroo” (1969).  She has written books for young adults on such subjects as bullying (“Blubber”), racism (“Iggie’s House”), teen sex (“Forever”), masturbation (“Deenie: Then Again, Maybe I Won’t”), and menstruation (“Are You There God?  It’s Me, Margaret”).  Several of her novels for adults, including “Wifey” and “Summer Sisters,” have been best sellers.  After suffering through a  “suffocating” first marriage and a second one she described as “a total disaster,” she’s been married to George Cooper since 1987.
above, Judy Blume; below, Sara Evans
Sara M. Evans popularized the phrase “Personal Politics,” the title of her path breaking book subtitled “The Roots of Women’s Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement.”  She found that men in the movement expected women to follow their lead and be content with fixing coffee, typing memoranda and other trivial tasks.   Once, when asked about the role of women volunteers in SNCC, Stokely Carmichael infamously answered, “The only position for women in SNCC is prone” – meaning to be there to satisfy male sexual desires In 1989 she wrote “Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America.”  The current protests over Indiana’s new law is a good example of the phrase, “the personal is political.”

When I taught a course on the 1960s I assigned Sara Davidson’s “Loose Change,” which traced changes in the lives of three women, a Berkeley campus activist (Susie), an artist (Tasha), and a writer, Sara, based on her own life experiences.  All three were searching for sexual and spiritual fulfillment, and the men they interacted with generally acted like chauvinists.  One reviewer called “Loose Change” “the searingly honest story of three young women who found that sex was easy but love more difficult.”  Some critics thought the book sex-obsessed.  Susie told Sara that she spent the Sixties searching for a good orgasm and achieved one in seconds with a vibrator.  The book ends with Sara disillusioned about life.  She wrote: “I was approaching thirty and my assumptions about the future were crumbling. I strained to see the visions of the sixties. Had they been a mirage? Nothing felt certain anymore.”   As a character asks in “The Big Chill” (1983), “Was it all just fashion?”  Ron Cohen told me his roommate at Berkeley once dated Davidson.
 above, Sara Davidson; below, Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem, who recently turned 81 years old, became a feminist after covering an abortion speak-out for New York magazine in 1969.  Her next article, “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” brought her national prominence.  In 1971 she was one of 300 founders of the National Women’s Political Caucus,” dedicated to passage of an Equal Rights constitutional amendment.  Steinem founded Ms. magazine in 1972 started as a special New York magazine supplement, but it sold out within days and tens of thousands of women wrote promising to be subscribers.  Unlike Betty Freidan, she welcomed lesbians to be active in women’s liberation.  Although Steinem once said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bike, she got married at age 66o David Bale, who died of brain cancer three years later.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Promised Land

“I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode.”
“Promised Land,” Bruce Springsteen
In Sara Davidson’s “Loose Change: Three Women of the Sixties” (1977) an FM radio host spends hours while high on drugs in his man-cave putting together seamless music medleys that seem to have synchronicity.  Driving to IUN, I heard a WXRT set that brought to mind that character.  After James Bay’s “Hold Back the River” came “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac followed by “Crystal Village” by Peter Yorn, “Come with Me Baby” by Kongos, and “Promised Land” by Springsteen.  British sensation James Bay ruminated about the impossibility of recapturing the past:

Tried to keep you close to me,
But life got in between
Tried to square not being there
But think that I should have been

Hold back the river, let me look in your eyes
Hold back the river, so I
Can stop for a minute and see where you hide
Hold back the river, hold back

Once upon a different life
We rode our bikes into the sky
But now we call against the tide
Those distant days are flashing by

As in many Springsteen songs, “Promised Land” paints a bleak picture of contemporary America but ends on a note of hope.

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

The dogs on main street howl,
'cause they understand,
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man,
And I believe in a promised land
I believe in a promised land.
Responses to Steel Shavings, volume 44, have been gratifying.  On the cover of Cindy Karlberg’s nice “Thank You” card was Edward Hopper’s “5 A.M.” Secretary Delores Crawford asked me to sign her copy.  Chuck Gallmeier wanted a second for former student Thora Evans; her son, who worked for IUN’s Physical Plant, got gunned down last year on one of Gary’s “mean streets.”  From Paris filmmaker Blandine Huk wrote: “Dear Jimbo, Thank you for having used the pictures of My Name is Gary. When we received the book and I saw it, I had the feeling that we also belong now a little bit to the city of Gary and its history and that makes me really happy.”

I got a call from IUN’s Career Center that a Bob Lane was looking for me.  Could it be my nephew Bob, I wondered?  No, it was a Steel Shavings fan, on campus for the Anthropology dollar book sale, who grew up in Black Oak.  I asked if he’d read Joe Klein’s “Payback” about Vietnam vet Gary Cooper; he turned out to have been a neighbor and recalled Hammond police killing him after he turned violent while suffering a flashback.  At the Archives I showed him my dog-eared copy of “Payback” and gave him my Vietnam Vets issue that contains a 45-page excerpt about Cooper that brilliantly captures the blue-collar, counter-culture milieu of Black Oak during the 1970s.

In “The Imaginary Girlfriend” John Irving equates writing to wrestling – “one eighth talent and seven eighths discipline” -  in words that ring true.  The author of “The World According to Garp” wrote:

Good writing means rewriting, and good wrestling is a matter of redoing – repetition without cease is obligatory, until the moves become second nature.  I have never thought of myself as a “born” writer – anymore than I think of myself as a “natural” athlete, or even a good one.  What I am is a good rewriter; I never get anything right the first time – I just know how to revise, and revise.

On the way to Birky Women’s Center for a talk by sociologist Kevin McElmurry on “Music, Masculinity and Mega-churches,” I didn’t even bat an eye when a guy approaching said, “I love you.”  I’m used to students talking with an ear piece.  In Moraine was a large graffiti board on which people drew and wrote short statements.  One announced, “Serbs are awesome.”  Next to “I love being a lesbian” someone had scrolled, “That’s hot!”
 above, Dr. Kevin McElmurry; below, Rev. Joel Olsteen
Kevin McElmurry showed illustrations of ten mega-churches. Most were in the South and non-affiliated evangelical Baptist.  Joel Olseen’s Lakewood Church in Houston was by far the largest.  I’ve come across Olsteen on TV after the Sunday news shows.  McElmurry studied a mega-church in Missouri whose main mission is to attract un-churched male seekers even though, ironically, about two-third of attendees are commonly women.   Services, carefully scripted down to the last minute, resemble rock concerts, with giant video screens, extravagant lighting, and other high-tech special effects.  Rather than stressing intimacy and audience participation, the idea is to put male audience members at ease. No hugging or shaking hands with fellow congregants, something I’ve never enjoyed.  Producers make use of both Christian rock selections and mainstream standards to illustrate the lesson of the day, such as R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” which begins:

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you're sure you've had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don't let yourself go
'Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts.

A good crowd was on hand, and Connectionz adviser Ausra Buzenas asked particularly insightful questions.  Kaden Sowards, an F to M transgender, had a deeper voice than last time we spoke and except for breasts looks like a young man.  Like me, Scott Fulk had a somewhat cynical view that high-living evangelists were scam artists, like a modern day Elmer Gantry or Billy Sunday.  Kevin noted that scandals have tarnished the reputation of mega-churches but believes many leaders are sincere in their desire to reach those in need of spiritual nourishment or help overcoming addiction and dependency.  I asked whether there are any prominent female evangelists, such as Aimee Semple McPherson of 90 years ago.  Kevin replied in the negative, one reason being that most Baptists don’t countenance women preachers and restrict them to subservient roles.
Alissa and Miranda wished Phil a Happy Birthday with photos and loving words.  Miranda compiled a YouTube video and wrote of her dad: “You are so driven in life but you still manage to have a sense of humor and make everyone around you laugh.”  Sweet.  In the evening Toni and I sang to him while he was en route to a soccer game.
above, from "Mother Jones"; below, sign used by tolerant businesses 
Suzanna Murphy told me that Indiana made national news over the law allowing businesses to discriminate against gays. Good old Jerry Davich railed against Republican politicians’ latest move that “reinforces our state’s backward image,” noting that even Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, opposed the measure.  Davich wrote:

Embarrassed is the word that best sums up my feelings toward Senate Bill 101. Not angry. Not disappointed. Certainly not surprised.  The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is a poorly perfumed piece of legislation for what smells to me like legal discrimination and an obvious backlash to same-sex marital equality in our regressive state. 
New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz quipped: “In a history-making decision, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana has signed into law a bill that officially recognizes stupidity as a religion. . . . [even if it] costs the state billions of dollars.  While Pence’s action drew the praise of stupid people across America, former Governor Jan Brewer was not among them. ‘Even I wasn’t dumb enough to sign a bill like that,’ she said.”

Snow showers created near white out conditions as I drove to Quick Cut in Portage.  Two days ago a beautiful Chinese teenager at Aqua Spa in Chesterton clipped my toenails.