A lot can be explained by my early affinity for Kurt Vonnegut, the writer from Indianapolis.
The first thing that can be explained is my tendency to resort to eighth grade humor and to poke fun at things that a lot of people think are serious. Like nuclear war and herpes. Kurt Vonnegut taught me that. I read “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” a dozen times in high school. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that it wasn’t high literature at all.
The New Yorker magazine at the time called Mr. Rosewater “a series of narcissistic giggles.” What a great description and what a great way to go through life.
Another thing that can be explained by my affinity for Kurt Vonnegut is my attitude toward Indianapolis, the capital of our state. We are three hours away from Indianapolis in a corner of the state that is really more Chicago than farm-filled Indiana. Up here it’s highways, railyards, oil refineries, steel mills, truck stops, strip clubs and cigarette shops. We even have beaches. The rest of the state has little or none of this.
What they do have is Indianapolis. And ask anyone who lives south of route 2 and they’ll say that Indianapolis is one of the great cities of the world. They’ll say it has high-tech development, sports museums, Butler University, the state capital and, of course, the Indianapolis Colts.
It really isn’t a bad city. I have a bunch of relatives who live there. Some of the kids go to the big Catholic school downtown. I can’t remember if it’s Chatard or Cathedral, so I’ll refrain from saying.
One time, I congratulated the attorney general of the state of Indiana, live on the air, for his son’s achievements in the state finals game as a wide receiver for Indianapolis Chatard.
“It’s a good thing that we are not on the air in Indianapolis. It’s Cathedral, not Chatard. They’d crucify you for making that mistake down here.”
“Sorry about that.”
I didn’t explain at the time to the attorney general that I remember things backwards all the time. Just tonight, my wife said to me.
“You’re really gonna love ‘Paterno.’ You should watch it soon so we can talk about it.”
“Is it a series or a movie?”
“I’ve told you this three times. It’s a movie. Jeezus.”
My wife knows all about me remembering things backwards. As a matter of fact, it is precisely an amazing stroke of numbers luck that led us to getting together in the first place.
I won’t bore you with the details of our first encounter, at which time I knew I was going to marry her. That’s a story I may have told the three or four of you before. I met her in a bar. I lied to her about not having a place to stay, that I lived in Chicago and was gonna have to drive back in the wee hours. Alexis knew a dozen Dedelows, so she did what any gracious Region Rat would do – she offered to let me sleep on her couch.
There’s a couple parts to the story that I gotta leave out. It had to do with where I had to go for a couple hours after meeting Alexis. I had, let’s say, other obligations that I had to take care of. So it wasn’t until three in the morning that I was driving around her neighborhood looking for her apartment. She lived behind the old Venture at the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Griffith.
All of the apartment buildings look the same, even to this day. They’re all four units. I had an address and that’s all. The danger was, however, that I had that address in my head, where all of the dyslexia lives.
121 35th court. I remember the address to this day because I would wind up living there with Alexis and her son, Steve. That wouldn’t happen until later. The challenge for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, 1988, was to
Luckily, 121 is a reasonably reflexive number. And it’s only three digits. If she lived at 8439 Rennsellaer Street, I’d still be driving around looking for 8934 or 9438. Instead, I wound up driving around looking for 212 35thCourt. When I couldn’t find that address, I switched over to 121 and that has made all the difference.
There I was standing outside her apartment – 121 35thCourt - in the middle of the night. There were four buttons for apartments number 1, 2, 3, and 4. I hit them all. Someone buzzed, and I walked into the little lobby. The next challenge was what door to knock on. I stood there literally scratching my head. A future marriage was at stake.
A door creaked opened. A guy in his underwear holding a pipe in his hand peered through the crack.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes. I’m looking for Alexis. I’m her cousin.”
The man pointed upstairs. And then he closed the door. I walked up the stairs to the landing between the two apartments. Another dilemma. There were two doors. The guy with the pipe in his hand didn’t specify which door. I thought for a moment about knocking on his door to get him to specify, but he looked like a guy who worked shift work at the mill and needed his sleep.
Besides, I didn’t like the look of that 10-inch piece of metal pipe in his hand. It looked as if it had been used before.
So I started thinking.
“Hmm, there has to be a clue as to which door to knock on.” I looked to the left. It was just a door. And then I looked to the right and there were these little kid athletic shoes on the ground.
Now this was a moment that could have turned history. I realized at that moment that she had a kid. I knew this, of course, from our conversation at the bar. But it got real when I saw these shoes. They were high tops, and they smelled.
I could, at that point, have turned and hightailed it out of 121 35thcourt. “Don’t walk, run” was the message running through my head. Instead, I knocked. Alexis opened in her nightie. And that, my friend, has made all the difference.
I know what you’re thinking – “So your whole marriage started with a one night stand.”
This is not the case at all. Remember, Alexis used to bartend with my cousin, Doug, who has been a doctor for 25 years. She and other relatives drank regularly at Edo’s bar. I was the wayward cousin returning from California. I slept on the couch, drove back to Chicago the next morning, where I immediately started to plot how I was gonna get the Mexican girl with the amazing dance moves to marry me.
I am sorry to the three or four of you who faithfully read my blog. I once again have drifted off the path. What I wanted to tell you was that my attitude toward Indianapolis is tainted more by Kurt Vonnegut than anything else.
For whatever reason, I don’t respect Indianapolis. I know that they control our government from down there and that they control our high school sports and that they have a competitive NFL franchise. I have a ton of relatives who are always talking about how Indianapolis is turning into an international city. But I don’t buy it. I still hold to the old images:
This can all be blamed on Kurt Vonnegut. He grew up in Indianapolis and had deep roots in the community. One of his grandfathers brewed an award-winning beer called “Lieber Beer.” And his dad and his dad were architects in downtown Indy, just like my cousin’s ex-husband.
Here’s what Vonngut says about his own hometown. It kind of sums it up.
“I have a relative who is secretly writing a history of parts of my family. He has showed me some of it, and he told me this about my grandfather, the architect: ‘He died in his forties – and I think he was just as glad to out of it.’” By “it,” he meant life in Indianapolis….”
I know as dozens to doughnuts that because I hold this relatively negative opinion of Indianapolis that I am doomed to live there someday. I already go down every month for one thing or another, a graduation or a high school state championship game or, now, with my wife for work. She goes down for judicial conferences and we make a date out of it, sort of. She goes to the conference for four hours. I stumble from bar to bar. We meet for dinner at Izzy’s, and by 10pm we’re back at the hotel watching CNN. Indianapolis is a great city after all.
There was a time, by the way, that I hated the Calumet Region. This is of course the the land of soot and cigarettes that I write about so fondly about now. But it wasn’t always that way. At one time, I hated this place. During my last two years of high school, I was the kid who everyday in the lunchroom would say to anyone who would listen, “I can’t wait to get the hell out of the Region. You watch. I’m leaving and I’m never coming back.”
So it goes, as Vonnegut would say. Granfalloon, and don’t forget that we must be really careful about what we pretend to be. Good night. I got a radio show to do in a few hours.