Thursday, April 2, 2015


     Dave Letterman said it the other night. The Indiana on display in the last week is "not the Indiana I remember."
        Letterman continued, "folks were folks.  We breathed the same air. We were all carbon based life forms. We all wore shoes, had the same organs, had hair, went to the barbershop…" Indeed!
       My dad had patronized the Main Street Barbershop in Muncie, since he was school kid and later when he played on the famed Muncie Central Bearcats basketball team. Though back in the mid '30s if they lost or had not played well they might get their "ears nicked a little."
      I looked forward to our Saturday morning visits.There behind the big plate glass window next to the rotating  red, white and blue barber pole was a social mecca of sorts. It was a bright, cheerful gathering place which is probably why dad took my younger brother John and me to the venerable spot every other week. It was a kind of magic place.
      The long mirrored room with ceiling fans smelled great. Hair tonics, shave cream and lotions were exotic aromas. Claude, the owner and one of three or four barbers, always greeted dad like a hero. He'd open his pop machine and invite John and me to pull out our own bottle of Coke. Sometimes he'd toss us a bag of salted peanuts, pulled from a metal clip stand near the cash register.
     As dad and the others in the crowded room chatted about all manner of things, I tuned out and instead got absorbed in the stacks of magazines. This was very special. There was of course Field and Stream, Argosy, Life Magazine, Look and Science Digest. But what I liked most were True Detective, Stag and Confidential.  
     The art of True Detective featured woman in nightgowns, or garter belts, perhaps a revealing a stretch of leg. They appeared to be being rescued and/or there was a guy with a gun in the picture-or some such. It's been a while. Stag and Confidential though were the big score and those images are more fixed.  
    As dad and the guys chatted, I sat there and saw things probably not intended for an 8 or 9 year old. What exotic things they were!  I think I became aware that women had breasts by scanning those pages. That is where I met Jayne Mansfield. And it was there I discovered women wearing high heels in a bathing suit had a certain, something. I didn't know why, but I liked it.
     Understand, those glimpses of Stag and Confidential were furtive. They were also short lived adventures, especially when using the eyes in the back of his head, dad would grumble from the barber chair "hey, what are you looking at there?"
       To be certain I spent more time looking at the fascinating photo journalism of Life and Look or being awed by the futuristic designs of Science Digest. What cars, houses and cities  we had to look forward to.
     I also listened to more of the conversations than I  understood but I got a sense of different opinions about ball teams, insurance plans, politics, politicians and people.
     There was a guy who would come in frequently and he was just different. Jerry's voice was different and he walked differently but he was greeted just like all of the other guys. One Saturday when the door clicked closed behind Jerry, Gil, one of the barbers, said "Old Jerry sure is as queer as a three dollar bill." There were quiet chuckles from a couple of the chairs.  
     Claude looked down the line of chairs at Gil and said something like "But he's sure a good customer. Regular as prunes. Same time every week." 
     "He's been a great piano and organ player since he was kid" my Dad offered, surprising me with his wide knowledge.
     "Oh, he's all right, but you know," something to that affect Gil rejoined.
      On the way home I asked Dad if he had any three dollar bills and then asked what is a queer?
      Dad was always straightforward and he didn't miss a beat. He said some men were born differently and for whatever reason they weren't meant to marry a woman or have children. He said they wouldn't be interested in those men's magazines at the barbershop.  But he also admonished us to never use the word Queer. It's not nice he said. Everyone deserves your respect. He said we'd understand when we got older and he promised to tell us more sometime.  
      When I was older we had that talk, complete with old Army health information he used as a drill instructor-but that is a story for another day.
       Sometime after the "three dollar bill incident" dad introduced me to a legless man on a rolling platform. He was selling pencils on the street, not far from the barbershop. He explained he'd lost his legs in the war and sold pencils to make ends meet. They chatted a bit and I could tell they'd known each other since school. Dad gave him some money and told him he still had plenty of pencils from the previous purchase. On the way home he told me to never tease someone who is different, again reminding me everyone deserves respect.
       That's exactly what my old college friend Dave was saying on his program and it's what many others have been saying to Governor Mike Pence and his Indiana political allies who tried to used a so called religious freedom bill to treat others with less than respect, to treat them differently.
       I hope the "fixes" they are talking about will repair Indiana's image and maybe fix their own hearts.

     See you down the trail.


  1. Amen seconded. Some day I'll tell you about the bachelor farmers from my home state including one in our family.

  2. It's interesting to see the religious far right start to actually come out and say what they really want to do to the country. The sane part of the country (the west coast and isolated pockets eleswhere) is starting to feel like an island.

  3. A fine personal essay on how we ought to place humanity first, ahead of incidental variations like sexual orientation. I know 2 male couples and 1 female couple raising children who were abandoned at hospitals --and that's in my constricted retirement social circle. My impression? Dads are still dads, even doubledads and doublemoms are moms and kids love their parents and try to boss them around just like kids always have. There are a lot of kids without parents who need these loving and willing people. Do I respect them ? I am awed by them. No state, including Indiana, can afford to turn love out of its borders.

  4. beautiful essay TC ...
    what a great man your pop was!
    but we all -- you, me, Letterman -- remember the past a bit better than it was.
    as you know better than most (based on your Emmy award winning investigative reporting of the KKK in the 1980s) there is a strain of nativist know-nothingism that is embedded in the culture of Indiana. And in the period you describe that sentiment was powerfully alive and well at the apogee of County Seat Indiana.
    The embarrassing stupidity of fringe Republicans here in Indiana will be a long time being repaired. But the truth is that Indiana is a MUCH more tolerant and open place than ever in its history -- which is why this brush with stupidity is even more devastating. Today's front page story in the Indianapolis Business Journal on Bill Oesterle is instructive about the life and times in Indiana which are a-changin' positively.

  5. Your dad sounds like a great guy. Yes, that seems like the Indiana of reputation, not the one now passing laws that can only be intended to legitimize exclusion.