Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Political Relfection

The late 80'' and early 90's were, for me, exciting times at work. We were moving to computerized classrooms, and the Post Secondary Enrollment Option Program was bringing to my classes many more bright, motivated students. In these first years, it seems to me, many were home schooled (principally, I think, to not have to study evolution).

Early on, I was in the library with a class which was being helped with research. Some could be done, or supplemented with computers, and some still needed to be done on the in the library. I happened to be by a computer that had a disk in it with a comprehensive list of all the names and addresses in the U.S. I started typing in names of childhood friends (with no idea where they were living) and getting, as I remember it, way too many options. Then I typed in Al's last name, and there were only 2, a Jr. and Sr. in Colorado.

I called Al Sr. the next day and left a message: “If you lived on School Street in Lombard, Illinois, call this phone number. This is Dave...”

He called on his Watts line later, and we talked for probably an hour. Among other things, he told me th at when he was going over his father's papers when he died, he discovered that the subdivision we lived in was covenanted. To buy a lot, one had to be a member of the caucasian race.

And then, sort of bang bang, Time Magazine had a two page article about how, when lynching was practiced in the south, it was memorialized by post cards of the often times mutilated body hanging from a tree. The article showed samples of them. A local entrepreneur, like a druggist, would take the pictures, have them developed into postcard sized pictures, and sell them. There were old post cards showing that the sender had circled his position by the body, proud to have been part of the action.

At about the same time, PBS had a program on Levittown, the Long Island housing development that started just after WW II, offering housing for veterans for no money down, and modest monthly payments—unless the prospective veteran was black. Then one could not buy (or rent) at all.

I began to use this information to challenge some of my more conservative students about what America was and is. And I thought of it in terms of my own family.

My father came to the U. S in 1922 or '23 when he was 18. He died in 1958. He was here only about 35 years, and even though he was widowed with 6 children in 1942, 5 of them graduated from college (3 with Master's Degrees). It happened, at least partly, because of where we lived. We went to the excellent York High School. Put what my father was able to do, and how that benefited me in some context,

I am positive that in the Chicago area, there was a black man as bright as my father, and as successful, but that man would not have been able to live where his children would get the benefit from such a good school system. There are other possibilities. It is likely that in 1922, young black men were migrating north, maybe a young man whose father had been lynched, the extremist form of racism.* Confused, angry and ill educated, restricted to ghetto areas, what chance did that man or his kids have? How many generations of his family would be affected by this loss of opportunity?

Or maybe, he was a World War 2 vet with an honorable discharge, and could not get his family out of New York's ghetto to Long Island because loans were not even offered to him. And again, his children, and maybe even his children's children would be affected. Between about 1924 and 1930, my father sort of wandered around the upper midwest. Swedes were frequently foremen of construction crews, and he could come onto one, talk a little Swedish and get a job for a few days. He told a story of claiming to be a bricklayer, and then being found out on the second day of his tenure on the job when he got to something really complicated. But the foreman was from Smoland too, and he got another couple of day's work as a hod carrier, something he did know how to do. Such a chance for a black man at the time would have been rare to impossible.

It is fashionable among some circles to use Lincoln's words against him, to make him out as a racist, and some are not nice by today's standards. But even in his 20's when he was running for his first political office in Illinois, he thought and said that slavery was wrong because all men should be allowed to earn their own bread by the sweat of their own brows. He could never offer any great solution to the problem, but he did understand that slavery was fundamentally opposed to the standards of the republic. This position seems to me to be even more remarkable considering that Lincoln was queasy about the mixing of the races.

Even if blacks were lesser men, they were men and The Declaration of Independence should protect them, too. What I offer is not a solution, either, but at least something to think about.

None of what happened to my mythical black men was constitutional, either literally or more comprehensively in the words of the Declaration of Independence. But that it happened makes me suspicious of the notion that devolving power to the local, or smaller political movement would somehow bring more liberty. How long was the South able to prevent blacks from voting? As long as they were a permanent minority, bad things would happen to them. It was, ultimately, the federal government which changed the South. Of course we should be suspicious of the federal government. But we should be suspicious of our state legislators, town councils, and school boards, too.


*There were about 5000 lynchings between about 1870 until 1950. This is likely a conservative number because of the difficulty in counting. It is interesting, that even in fairly modern times, apologists of lynching used the claim of governmental inefficiency to condone it. If the government—generally meaning the federal government—got on the blacks for their rapes of white women, good citizens would not have to do it.

If you Google lynching numbers, you will have a lot to read and think about.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Loop from afar

I was born and raised in Du Page County, Illinois. When I lived there, there were commuter towns stretched along the rail lines that ran west from Chicago, but north and south of them were farms. The Washington Street that ran in front of my house in Lombard was said to be on the exact latitude as the one in Chicago--we were straight west of the Loop, in other words.
About once a year, I'd hear from someone who was driving east on a particularly clear morning--usually it was told to me by a kid reporting what his father had said--that they saw the tall buildings of the Loop from Lombard. I always doubted it. It is 20 or so miles, and I just thought it couldn't be true.
My wife and I went back to spend Thanksgiving with her sister, and for a night we stayed on the eighth floor in a hotel on Butterfield Road, maybe the most rural place I was able to get to as a boy, at least in bike riding distance. Maybe 3 miles, no more, south of where I grew up. It is not rural anymore. I woke up before light, and looked out the window, trying to get my bearings, wondering which way the window was facing. The beginning of the sunrise told me I was looking east. When I came out of the shower, and looked again, there on the gray horizon, it looked like I could see the Loop. I did not believe it at first, but it sure enough was. I'm pretty sure I made out the shape of Big John.
Is the eighth floor 80 feet off the ground? I still don't think anyone saw the Loop from ground level, but if the light were right.....?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Entry Door Saga

Since moving into the house we live in now, I have been bugged by the garage entry door. It had no door knob, but just a lock. If the door were unlocked, the key stayed in the lock. On the bottom 1/4 of the door the veneer was peeling, and there were general scuff marks everywhere. When I took it off about a month ago, I saw it was beyond repair.
I ordered from Lowe's a similar door, and when I went to pick it up, it came to the will call desk with some of the veneer pulling away from the slab on one of the narrow edges. I took the door home when they knocked $25 off the price. It was a smooth slab, with no hand holds, a heavy thing to load on my truck. The first thing I did when I got it home was to glue and clamp the split in the veneer, and then to prime and paint it. The closer I looked, the worse it looked.
As I expected, underneath the veneer, it consisted of 1 1/2" fiberboard piped with 1 by 2 pine. The veneer, though, was something I did not expect. It was not a layer of veneer glued to the fiber board, but a layer of Masonite onto which the thinnest veneer I had ever seen was glued. Paper thin, a film of wood if that's possible. That means that any bump on the surface will poke through the veneer, and disturb the Masonite, turning it to fuzz. To patch it, both the veneer and the Masonite needs to be removed and then a patch of wood glued on, and then filled and sanded.
Almost every time I moved it, there would be a separation of the veneer from the slab underneath. Just walking it on its corners across the floor would cause it to splinter on the bottom, making me take time to do more gluing and clamping.
My neighbor came over on a Sunday to help me hang it. He also thought the veneer was inherently unstable. And even with 2 of us, the door's weight made working with it difficult. There would be slips and bumps that would lead to spits, nicks, and contusions.
Later, when I drilled through the door for the lock set, I found another problem. The fiber board separated. I used a hole saw, and all the other times I have done this, the saw goes all the way through the door, and getting the billet of wood out of the saw is a problem. This time, after about 3/4 of an inch, the fiber board crumbled, and the billet came out in 2 pieces with lots of sawdust in between. That was it for me.
I put the core of the lock set into a bag, and took it to Lowe's. When you order a custom door, the clerk makes it clear that it is a non-returnable item. But this seemed like a defect, and I went back to the door department with a chip on my shoulder, and showed them the crumbling fiber board, and also complained about how easily the door got scuffs, and Lowes made no effort to knock the chip off. The clerk agreed that I should get my money back. Good for her, and good for Lowe's.
This story will continue. I have another door ordered, a steel one, the one I probably should have ordered in the first place. I'll post about that one when my neighbor and I get it installed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Interview Story

My first college teaching job was in West Virginia. I wanted out (and maybe my dean wanted me gone too) when one of the many applications I sent out struck fire. I had an interview in North Dakota. It was already late summer, and the school was 1,200 miles away. But there was no question that we would go to the interview. We made arrangements to drop our son and dog off at my wife's sister's where she lived near Chicago, about a 12 hour drive to North Dakota.

The drive north and west was neat. It had been our dream to live in the north, albeit the woodsy north, and it became clear as we drove west and north of Minneapolis, we were moving away from the woods. But, with some differences, it reminded us of Illinois when we were very young. The land was flat, and between the little, clean towns, there were prosperous looking farms with big red barns. We made good time, and instead of registering at the Holiday Inn, we decided to drive the 30 miles to the town the school was in. There was plenty of daylight left to check it out.

It was immediately clear that we did not need to go back. We found a motel that would lodge us for $8 instead of the $20 or $25 that the Holiday Inn would have charged, and a good, inexpensive place to eat for the evening, and a diner for the morning that baked its own sweet rolls. We were impressed.

I was really impressed with the school. It was a residential campus, with many buildings from different eras, with lawns and mature trees—it looked like a college. The interview itself was, well, another thing.

The dean was a small man, apparently totally dedicated to the school. He lived nearby and, for after hours and weekends, had a school phone extension that rang in his home office. When the tour stopped and the interview started, he invited my wife into his inner office with us, and included her in the conversation. Odd, I thought. What he had to say was typical for the day. Two year schools had a special mission, a failure of a student is like a failure of the school itself. I was of course nervous, and I can't remember my responses, but things seemed to be going well. Then the phone rang, and the dean, a little short, reminded his clerk that he was not supposed to get calls, and...and then he said “Oh,” and excused himself with apologies. It was a very important call.

He did not, however, punch the hold button on his phone and hang up. Rather, he placed the receiver right on his desk and went to the outer office to talk. With a little straining, we could hear both sides of the conversation, and we learned that there was only one other candidate for the job I was applying for, and that the fellow on the line was he. Oh, man. I have no exact memory of the dialogue between the two, except that we could hear it all fairly clearly. If the exact words are wrong, they reflect what I think I heard:

“University of Colorado at Boulder? I undergraded there. “

“I thought maybe that was true. When I told Professor Gould that there was an opening there, and gave your name, he said maybe he knew you...”

“George Gould? He was my mentor. I don't know if I'd have made it through...”

And my heart sinks. Let's see, we've already driven 24 hours out of the last 48, and by 1 PM, we'll be on the road again for the 12 hours back to Chicago...

“As long as we are dealing with coincidences, your last name is Aldrich...”

“You know my dad? He thought maybe it was you when he saw your name in the announcement.”

“Well, small world. You'll be here tomorrow, then...”

And I stopped listening. Maybe the part about being the son of a long lost friend is a trick of my memory, but it could have been, judging by how I felt. He came back into the office with a smile, and got back to his business at hand. Did he notice that we were a little down? I don't know what happened next except that, finally, we shook hands, and the head of the English department met up with me for a chat, and told me to ignore the stuff about not failing students. I remember nothing more. Even the drive home was glum. First to Chicago, then to West Virginia.

And in West Virginia, I heard nothing. A week passed, and I called North Dakota. It seemed like no one had heard of the dean, until I finally got a hold of the English Department head. “No,” he said, “you're the guy. Both Vernon and I wanted you. I don't know what the problem is.”

I couldn't quit a job and pack up and go to North Dakota on that slim hope, and I stayed another 2 years where I was. I found out that I had won the job, but that the dean got ill, was rushed to the Mayo Clinic, and in the meantime, the college president put a hold on hiring.

Friday, October 29, 2010

HP Population Control

Have you seen the HP printer commercial depicting a little baby in his walker, all alone, cruising in and out of automobile and semi traffic!? Is HP nuts? Well they got my attention, albeit in a horrible, irresponsible way and I guess that's the point. Why not just depict the baby being squished by the semi while we're at it. I've got to stop watching TV.

Wal-Mart Caring

Went to Walmart today to buy shampoo for our mutt and got a real friendly checkout clerk who looked at my purchase and said, "Ooh! Baby's getting a bath! Just be careful--my chihuahua was itching so I took him to the vet and the vet said I was just washing him too much! Well I wanted him not to smell like a dog. Ooh be careful when you use this (pointing to Sulfodene) --it hurts if it gets into eyes," etc. etc.
I usually take care not to buy anything too embarrassing or exciting at Walmart, still it would be nice if clerks wouldn't give me advice and opinions about my stuff.

October Fishing

I went fishing last Sunday, likely for the last time this season. Since moving where I live now, I have gone fishing with my neighbor, Henry, almost every spring and summer Sunday morning. This time, we couldn't launch my boat because the water in the reservoir was too low. There was hardly 6 inches of water at the end of the paved launch, and the docks that parallel the launch were not floating.

We fished for a while on the city boat docks that jut out into much deeper water where boaters can rent a space for a season and watched as others, some with more persistence than we had, tried to launch. None made it into the water while we were there.

We had a conversation with a sail boat owner whose problem was not getting in the water, but getting his boat out. The reservoir is owned by the city of Columbus, and he thought there should have been some warning from them about the low water. He made an arrangement with the sailing club to the east, and under the power of the outboard on his sailboat, headed out across the water. I thought he should be thankful that the water is there for his use. We see the same boats there, week after week, sail and pontoon boats, and sometimes wonder out loud about how often they are used. If he'd used his boat in the last couple of weeks, he'd have known about the water level.

This is a little commercial. There is a fishing bait and tackle store, the Old Dutchman, on Sunbury Road near Central College Road in Westerville, Ohio. It is a family owned place, and is full of cats. I brought them a spinning reel with a bad bail spring (they fix them right on their premises). The reel was a gift from a while ago when I was honored for working at the same place for 30 years, and was not cheap to begin with. It was worth something for me to get fixed. When I went to pick it up, it cost me $5.63. $5.63? Wow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Some years ago, with painful feet and shoulders, I was diagnosed with arthritis. Expensive medication helped the pain in my feet. In my case, toes and feet are different kinds of arthritis, so what helped my feet has no effect on my shoulders, but my shoulder pain was largely gone--until a couple of months ago. The Dr. said I needed an MRI.
An MRI is a non invasive technique, and I have never been afraid of needles, or the dentist, and I drove to the imaging lab, thinking about walking through Dick's Sporting Goods when the session was over to see if any fishing tackle was ridiculously on sale. At the lab, the nurses were professional and kind, explaining what would happen, what I needed to do, and how long it would take.
The MRI apparatus is a long thin cylinder, and the patient is strapped on a board attached to a track, and the track slowly feeds into the cylinder, and then for 40 or 50 minutes, takes its image. It seemed simple. I was strapped in, with special care taken with my left shoulder, and my right hand held a bulb attached to a narrow tube, and if I had trouble, I was supposed to squeeze the bulb. What trouble would I have?
Well, my head hardly made it to the tip of the tube, and my heart started beating, and my breath came short. The roof of the tube I was being eased into, which seemed now like a round coffin, was inches from my eyes, and before I was up to my neck I was saying, "This has to stop. I can't do this." 40 or 50 minutes in this. No way. I didn't know I was claustraphobic.
The attendants were kind, seeing this happen to other patients before I am guessing, and my body started moving the other way. "We can't make you do this," they said, but I was embarrassed. I still had the residue of the panic, too, and they were not going to talk me back into that thing. That was not their intent. Another lab in the system had what was called an open MRI, and they made me an appointment for that one.
This time, because I had some trepidation, my wife came along. In this different lab, while the preparation was happening, it seemed things would be all right. Certainly this "open" tube looked bigger to me. But when I was again strapped to the board, and properly adjusted, my eyes again were just inches from the door of the closed coffin, and I knew it even though they put a towel on my eyes. I don't think I got much past my forehead before I started yelling about not being able to so this. More palpitations and short breaths, and I was on my way out again. My wife said I hardly moved before I started yelling, but I just couldn't do it. The only other option now was drugs.
The Dr. said, though, that maybe the ex-ray had enough information, and scheduled me for some physical therapy. I am still embarrassed when I think of my panic, but it was absolutely real.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Okay. This is my first posting on my blog. I am a retired community college professor and a fisherman.

My original intent was to keep a kind of public fishing log, but where I live now, the season is almost over. But I am also interested in more than fishing. I will comment--maybe eccentrically—on what I am reading, the news, the world around me. If I get a few responses, great. Let's see what happens.