Monday, January 15, 2018


In July 1972 my dad took us to see the Tony-Award-winning musical “Purlie” at the McVickers Theatre in Chicago.

In 1970 “Purlie” had won two Tony Awards. In 1971 Melba Moore, one of the show’s Tony Award winners, was nominated for a Grammy. Her debut album had her contending in the “Best New Artist” category. (She was beat out by The Carpenters.) “I Got Love,” from “Purlie,” was on Moore’s debut album as well as the original Broadway cast recording. When I pluck a few songs from my teen years, one I get is “I Got Love.” My sister Jennifer loved it. Played it often, played it loud. The entire Broadway cast album was also played, at family dinners and such, and once it caused a stir as an uncle visiting from elsewhere made use of the n-word while commenting on it. He said what he said not, I think, in a malevolent way, if that is possible, but in his own jocular, ignorant way. His comment was stupid, someone pointed this out, he shut up, dinner went on. So did the music.

When I think of “Purlie” I think of this dinner, I think of “I Got Love” blasting in the back room, I think of the other great songs in the show. But if you ask me the story “Purlie” tells, I come up with a blank. I am this way about a lot of musicals.

It being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I decided to listen to “Purlie” and this got me wondering about its story and origin. It was written as a play, “Purlie Victorious,” by Ossie Davis, and in 1961 it had 261 performances on Broadway. (Here is a review of a more recent production.) Davis translated the play into a movie, “Gone Are the Days!” It came out in 1963. (Here is a review.)

In 1970, the musical took stage. The musical was televised in 1981. Fast-forward to 2005 and a new musical production. Now people were feeling a bit uncomfortable with the show. Maybe not so much with the story (told in the reviews I have linked to and the actual movie and musical are below thanks to YouTube), or with the songs, but with the comedy of it. As described by Davis, it was meant “to point a mocking finger at racial segregation and laugh it out of existence.”

Well. Gone are the days.

Here is the movie.

Here is the televised stage musical.

Now I’m going to go listen to all those great songs again, maybe play “I Got Love” a little too loud.

Friday, January 12, 2018

some unabashed personal observations on a president who calls certain countries “shitholes”; and, thank you, rachel, for your vision

I once knew a man from Haiti. We were both motor route drivers for the Chicago Tribune—we delivered newspapers from our cars. His name was Jean, he was a few years older than I, and he was fussy, liked things his way, and, in his way, was rather bossy. His skin was very dark, he stood tall, erect, he never hurried. I could not understand him very well when he spoke, but as far as I know we had no problem with each other, were pleasant to each other, got along fine as we prepped our newspapers, loaded our cars, drove off separately into the night to do our jobs.

Jean and I worked alongside three men from Guatemala. These guys always came in together and worked together on several routes. They were brothers, or maybe cousins. We called one “el jefe” as he seemed to be in charge. Whenever a route was down, meaning either there was no permanent driver for it or the driver had not shown up, Felipe (“el jefe”) was on it. Unless, of course, Jean got to it first. Often who got the extra route would involve some heated discussion. Me, I always just did my route and went home. It took a while for me to understand that most of the other drivers were looking for as much work as they could get. The Guatemalans were all shorter than I, and quick. They conversed in Spanish. After a while I let them know that I could understand a bit of what they were saying, and that seemed to amuse them. We got along pretty well.

These men and all the route drivers, that job, the whole scene of delivering newspapers starting in the garage where we all showed up in the middle of the night to roll or bag our papers to being on the road, tossing papers as close to front porches as possible or hustling down an alley hurling papers onto the back porches of three-story apartment buildings in all kinds of weather, came back to me first with the news of the Salvadorans who are being told to leave the U.S. No, they are not Guatemalans, but my mind drifted to Felipe et. al. (Here is an editorial on the Salvadoran subject.) Then, reading about the mudslide in Montecito, California, in the L.A. Times, I saw this photo of a newspaper delivery person. The photo, taken by Sky Gilbar for The Times, was in a slideshow. The caption read: Newspaper deliveryman Rudy Corona of Santa Barbara, walks out of mud and debris with his dogs after his car became blocked.

Then this morning, as I learned of an American president asking why would we want Haitians here, my old co-worker Jean came to mind.

A clipping from my digital Chicago Tribune delivered electronically January 12, 2018.

How an American president could say such a stupid thing as is quoted in this article and many others is beyond me.

I understand that many will excuse the president’s words in any of the numerous ways we have become accustomed to, but I am steadfast in my belief that Donald Trump speaks his mind, and his mind is an unholy mess.

Since the Trump Debacle began, I have not felt able to adequately describe the impact of this presidency on my ability to be an American, which is, after all, part of my identity. I have lived with presidents I did not support, some of which tried my respect, but this is not that at all, and this is not then. This is living now with a president who attacks this country relentlessly. He inflicts suffering every day. He threatens Americans, he denigrates Americans, he calls us liars, he holds us hostage—it is unfathomable. Yet, like a mudslide, there it is.

Trump’s presidency has affected me to the core. It has changed my perception of many I know. It has changed my perception of where I live. For the world, there will be broader, graver consequences, but every day I am conscious of the changes this presidency has brought to my own daily life.

I cannot help but spend whole parts of days thinking how sad, how misguided, how foul is this presidency and thinking that the responsibility for it lies with those who voted for him. Donald Trump is, after all, who he is, and he has been plainly who he is for many years. But where he is—No, Donald Trump would not be where he is without the votes of nearly 63 million American people. Yes, I know, his main opponent got more votes, but if not for each vote he did get Donald Trump’s every inane remark would not be news. His every stupid, illogical, factless and tactless tweet would not be news. His every foul, ignorant comment would not be news.

More than a year ago I was mocked by friends who were Trump supporters for expressing similar feelings of sadness and dismay. By my choice, I no longer have those friends. I remember being sent a ready-made graphic about how if “we” survived eight years of Obama, “you” can survive four (or was it eight?) years of Trump. I thought that was so stupid, on so many levels, but first—isn’t it about more than survival? For the average American, isn’t each day about a little bit more than just surviving? About more than just having what you need to be alive one more day? For some, I know, it is not. And there is no need not to be grateful for mere survival—it can be the greatest thing, especially when the nutty leaders of the world are bragging about the size of their nuclear buttons—but for most of us and surely, as a country, isn’t life about more than stark survival?

More than anything Trump is a killer. He is a killer of thoughtfulness, intellect, wisdom, compassion, spirit, scientific inquiry, fact, hope. He is the incessant dripping faucet—the sound you cannot stop that grates more and more until you manage to tune it out but all the while the costs build and build and one day you get the water bill and say “Oops. I should have done something about that leaky faucet.” And Donald Trump is like the creep who blocks your path as you amble along peacefully. The creep teases you and taunts you and won’t let you move forward and there’s no purpose to it except he’s getting your attention. Another word for the creep is “bully.” How not to engage? How to keep moving forward?

My friend Rachel Biel, of Paducah, Kentucky, began a recent blog post with this: I want to move from the house that I live in.

Well, this past year, I have had the same feeling. I’ve wanted nothing more than to get away from a place where people believe a man like Donald Trump makes a great world leader. (Both Rachel and I live in so-called red states, and the U.P. is especially red.) But Rachel and I are different. You see, she does not want to leave Paducah. She does not want to get away, flee, find a better place, a more politically comfortable place. Rather, Rachel wants to build a place in Paducah where she and others from Paducah, as well as from around the country and indeed from around the world, can come and feel welcome. She sees her home in that new place, and she sees that place as a spot where people from various cultures and walks of life come together to learn from one another, to share with one another. A place people come to be inspired and to inspire others. Rachel describes it also as a place for people to leave from in order to explore the world. She describes it as a cultural center, a cultural exchange, an eco-village, and please, Rachel, save me a spot at the table.

I am one of the least multicultural people around, until I think of all the multicultural spots in which I have spent much of my adult life, like the garage where I rolled and bagged newspapers. The university I worked at. The social service agency I worked for. The cities I’ve lived in. The restaurants I’ve enjoyed. All a mish-mash of people from different places, different countries, some born in America, some recent immigrants, some (I imagine) undocumented immigrants, some students and professors on various visas. Different languages, different customs, different religions, different colors, different foods, different life experiences, and, even here, in this incredibly white Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I think of the slightly foreign (to me) Finnish inflections and customs and experiences that are a part of everyday life.

But I wasn’t raised in a multicultural setting, and I didn’t go out looking for it. I just went out looking for a job, for a place to live, and there it was. However trite to say it, that is America: a conglomeration of people, cultures, languages, and skills. And Donald Trump, judging by the crap he tweets and says everyday, strikes me as so ignorant of that fact that I wonder if he is even American. If so, I marvel at how limited his experience is. How limited his education is. And I wonder how he can not know and cherish who we, as Americans, are. He strikes me as one of the most unAmerican men I have ever had the displeasure of having to listen to.

Yes, Rachel and I are different. I knew this from the start. She was raised in a multicultural environment and has always sought it out to the point of creating it. We met at that social service agency. I worked in the office with mostly white folks. Rachel worked in and managed a store the agency ran. The store involved folks of all color. It was intended as a place where people could sell their art and craftwork or sell art and craftwork imported from other countries, usually their home country, and people from all over the world, now living in Chicago, were part of that store. Rachel knew these people, was friends with some, worked with all, and seemingly got along with and so enjoyed this wide array of cultures—it overwhelmed me. I was intimidated by it. Managing the store, keeping it organized, seemed to me somewhat of a nightmare. I served as an assistant in certain aspects of paperwork and sometimes manned the cash register. The store—there was nothing tidy or neat about it. Not that the store wasn’t clean—it was—it was downright beautiful with all its different colors and textures and aromas and delightful surprises. So many interesting things. I guess what I am saying is that it was not sterile. Rather, it was crazily alive. And that can be frightening. Rachel’s ability to create this space, to nurture it and manage it, seemed a skill I couldn’t quite grasp.

Rachel and I left the social service agency, went our different ways, and didn’t keep in touch. When we reconnected a few years ago, our affinity, differences, and respect for one another was apparent. If I had to put it in three nutshells, I would say Rachel is a leader, I am a follower. Rachel’s convictions make her feel strong, my convictions make me feel vulnerable. Rachel is a doer, I am a muller.

Rachel is also an artist and an entrepreneur. She has created two websites that bring artists together. One in particular—the one I am familiar with—is Artizan Made. It promotes a wide variety of artists and craftworkers from around the world. Rachel is also a prolific writer. She tells her life stories freely, tells you of her beliefs and how she comes by them. She shares the work of so many others. For the past twelve years, she has done this via websites and social media from her home in Paducah. After Trump’s election, she created a Facebook header that portrayed her as a blue dot in a red state. Now she wants to move from the house she lives in, but not from Paducah. She wants to create her vision—a vision she first had many years ago—right in place.

A part of me does to Rachel’s vision what I often do to my own: Get excited, cut it down. Label it: Pie in the Sky. Believe it: Unattainable. And if somehow attainable: So what? To what value? Why do I react this way? I wish I knew. I see the value in everything Rachel is talking about, and I have had visions, dreams, if you will, of my own, and I have chased them or, rather, plodded after them with a measure of success and a measure of oh, so this is reality, this is the sacrifice, this is where it all falls short, falls apart—but in the end, why be a naysayer? Why be a party pooper? What is to be gained by that? Especially in the face of an American president who calls other countries “shitholes” and who gauges the value of people by where they are from. Following his example, someday whatever the value is of being American will be greatly reduced. Maybe that day is already here. Maybe that is what is troubling me. That this part of me that identifies as “American” is, has already been, or is becoming worthless. Unless, lo and behold, we find a way to survive Donald Trump.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

candle studies: ozokerite & gunplay maxwell starring in “Wax of the Wild West”

When starting this candle studies series I had no idea it was going to lead to an American outlaw killed in a classic gun battle in the middle of a dusty street in the Old West. Welcome to the Wonderful World of Wax. Enter Gunplay Maxwell, ozokerite, and the wax mines of Utah.

Photo with caption lifted from “The American Ozokerite Company,” Will C. Higgins, Eighth Biennial Report of the State Mine Inspector of the State of Utah 1911-1912.

At the time of our story, ozokerite (also known as ozocerite) was found in only two places in the world: about 100 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, Utah, and in Boryslaw, Austria, which is now Boryslav, Ukraine. It is a naturally occurring earth wax, or mineral wax, first mined in 1854 in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. A fellow named R. J. Kroupa, described as “one of the prominent engineering chemists of the United States” in Higgins’ report, visited the wax mining operation in Austria, and his description, included in the report, reads in part:
The ozokerite is found in the shales and sandstone with oil and salt water. The mining is all done by shaft work, and at the time of my visit was at a depth of about 800 feet, since that time they have gone down to a depth of 1,400 feet in shaft mining and about 3,000 by drilling.¶  The wax, as extracted, comes in a brecciated form, mixed in shale and sandstone. The lump form of wax, as a rule, is soft, and is something like butter half way hard. Part of this wax oozes into the drifts from the crevices in the walls and fills up the drifts charged with oil and gas. Sometimes this exudation of wax comes so suddenly that the miners have to leave the mine, and afterwards the oil has to be pumped out. At one time a large body of this soft wax, called at the mines ‘Blassen Wachs’ (Blow Wax) filled the drifts, shaft and house, over night, to a depth of 800 feet.
Kroupa also described the initial refinement process, which sounded familiar.
All the wax hauled from the shafts is sorted and the brecciated matter is placed in large cast iron caldrons containing hot water. The wax was skimmed from the surface, remelted, and cast into wooden tubs.
Higgins described ozokerite as “a residue formed by the receding of oil from the fissures, leaving a certain amount of paraffine in the cracks and crevices … ” Does this mean ozokerite is paraffin?

In a report a few years later by Heath M. Robinson (“Ozokerite in Central Utah,” US Geological Survey Bulletin 641, 1916), Robinson states that “[Ozokerite] is a mixture of hydrocarbons in various proportions, the exact nature of which is a subject of dispute. Some authors consider that it is composed of members of the paraffin series; others place its chief constituents in the olefin series.”

Either way, ozokerite has a melting point ranging from 154 to 190 degrees, which was much higher than the commercial paraffins of the time, which, according to Higgins, had melting points no higher than 130 degrees. Both Higgins and Robinson list the many uses of ozokerite, which included everything from phonograph records to waterproofing surfaces, to wax paper and dolls, to candles (Robinson: “Candles made from ozokerite have qualities superior to those found in other candles” and Higgins: “The illuminating power of such candles is stronger than that of others, while they drip but little and never lop over when exposed to ordinary atmospheric heat”). It seems whatever one wax can be used for all waxes can be used for, depending on some of the finer points such as melting point, specific gravity, solubility. Ozokerite proved especially useful for insulating electrical wires. It could also be converted to the highly refined product ceresin.

Both Higgins and Robinson expressed optimism for the future of Utah’s wax mining industry, though one a bit more effusively than the other. Higgins:
Comparing the Utah to the Austrian ozokerite field even the layman can see the wonderful possibilities possessed by the former. At Colton, near which place almost inexhaustible deposits of ozokerite exist, the field is so extensive that an industry could be established that would make our state as noted and famous for the production of this commodity as it now is in its yield of gold, silver, lead, copper, coal and other minerals.
Robinson tempered his optimism with reality.
The first prospecting of this region was done in 1886. Since that time mining and prospecting have been carried on at irregular periods, for litigation has prevented continuous development. Exact figures for the production of the field are not available, and at the time of the writer’s examination all the mines were inactive.
Inactive mines, litigation, opportunity waxing and waning. Maybe not so surprising to learn that one fellow laying claim to an ozokerite mine in Utah was the outlaw Gunplay Maxwell.

Gunplay, born in or near Boston in or near 1860, was thought to be an educated, intelligent man, but he spent most of his life in Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada robbing banks and stage coaches, stealing cattle, getting in gunfights, shooting folks, getting caught, spending time in prison, changing his name (everything from James Otis Bliss to William H. Seaman), trying to get in with Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, shooting morphine or some such into the veins of his arms, drinking, gambling, marrying (whether or not he was already married), and generally making his way through a somewhat messy life. For a short while or two, Gunplay was a deputy sheriff. For another short while he was a mine guard for a Utah coal mining company, whose workers were on strike, and as well a bodyguard for the company’s lawyer—a man who became his lawyer and who subsequently helped Maxwell dodge a bullet or two, so to speak. But Maxwell’s seemingly legitimate jobs always appeared to have angles attached to them that helped his illegal pursuits. From what I’ve read, I would say he was a dirty, double-dealing, scheming kind of guy. He died in 1909 around 50 years of age after being challenged in a saloon. There was a gunfight in the middle of the street. Maxwell was shot dead. Whether it was high noon or not, I do not know. These Wild West tales do seem to get a little … wild.

Lifted from where it is attributed to
The Garland Globe, September 4, 1909, Garland, Utah.
The headstone pictured at FindAGrave tells a different
story of Gunplay’s death, but I’m sticking with the one
in the Globe.

Maxwell also was a founder of the Utah Ozokerite Company. Here’s a notice from Mineral Wealth, Vol. 6, March 1, 1905 (page 164).
The Utah Ozokerite Company, has been incorporated with a capitalization of 300,000 shares of $1 each. The incorporators are C. W. Shores, Grand Junction, Colorado; C.L. Maxwell, Scofield, Utah; B.F. Caffey and H.A. Nelson of Salt Lake, Utah. The company will mine mineral wax and ozokerite near Colton, Utah. The company’s headquarters will be at Salt Lake.
It’s an interesting group. C.W. “Doc” Shores was a lawman, C.L. “Gunplay” Maxwell was an outlaw, and Caffey and Nelson were saloon keepers. What brought them together in a wax mining venture? Did it have anything to do with the 1897 robbery of the Pleasant Valley Coal Company’s payroll at Castle Gate? (See pages 116-119 and 138 of Whispering Smith: His Life and Misadventures, by Allen P. Bristow.)

Well. So. Litigation. Outlaws. Robberies. Idle mines. But somehow, somewhere down the line Utah’s wax mining industry came together and wax was indeed mined until 1951. Now all that’s left are the dusty trails, and ozokerite just ain’t what it used to be.

Ah, but once:
In some instances the walls are almost as smooth as glass, and can be followed for considerable distances before a break is encountered. The veins are from three to thirty feet in width, and carry an average value of three per cent ozokerite. The ozokerite exists in the crevices and fissures in the vein matter, and is easily distinguishable, being a glossy black shading off into deep browns or a pronounced yellow. In places in the vein the ozokerite occurs in solid masses ranging from two to six inches, or even a foot in width. This requires to be melted to be rendered marketable, and is practically 100 per cent pure. (Higgins)
[Ozokerite] cuts easily, somewhat like hard cheese, but does not adhere to the knife. (“Ozokerite Deposits in Utah,” Joseph A. Taff and Carl D. Smith, US Geological Survey Bulletin No. 285, 1905.)

Selected Readings: Gunplay Maxwell
Who was that masked man?, D. Robert Carter, Daily Herald (Provo UT), June 3, 2006.
Gunplay became a creative convict, D. Robert Carter, Daily Herald (Provo UT), June 10, 2006.
Gunplay followed path of lawlessness to the grave, D. Robert Carter, Daily Herald (Provo UT), June 24, 2006.
Jones Exhibit. (Sketch of life of C.L. Maxwell …), Industrial Relations: Final Report and Testimony, Volume 11, United States Commission on Industrial Relations, 1916.
Gunplay Maxwell – Utah Gunfighter & Outlaw, Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, August 2017.