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Musing #31: Bizarro King Lear and The Port Chicago Disaster

Welcome to what is not really a continuation of Musing #30: Oscar, LeVine-Style (Teach Your Children Well, Part IV). The following doesn’t count among my film-based “Teach Your Children Well” series of posts, but it is tangential to the last one.

After this month, I’ll stop writing about my dad for a while. I swear!

(Not that y’all don’t love him. I know you do.)

In all my talk of “Da Fadda,” I’ve never consciously shared an image of him; always using the avatar of Gene Wilder as “Willy Wonka.” That’s partly because I was raised “in a world of pure imagination,” and partly because Dad looks a hell of a lot like Gene Wilder. I’ve decided that I want to show you, dear readers, the real face of Mitchell Lee LeVine, MD. And you should know that he is 100% cool with (even, truth be told, thrilled at) my selection of the image that shall henceforth be tied inextricably to his name.

Presenting the man I have so frequently described as a “progressive Baby Boomer” (virtual drumroll):

Dr. Kheal 1971

Mitch LeVine, OG Hipster (1971)

That’s Dad, on the campus of Emory University at age 19.

Assuming with full confidence that my writing doesn’t appeal to idiots, I’d be willing to bet (were I a betting woman, which I am not) that your intelligent stream of consciousness processed the information I’ve just given you thus:

Progressive Baby BoomerDefiant “Flip of the Bird” on a Microphoned Stage 1971→ University Campus = VIETNAM WAR PROTEST!

Had I bet correctly (which I didn’t, ’cause I don’t), you would be entirely in the wrong (though I would give you props for knowing your history). Protest is nowhere close to what you behold. And the meta-text is far more interesting than the amazing image.

Here’s the only existing documentation (aside from oral history) as to what the image in question actually depicts:

Emory Wheel 05-11-71

Note the chronic misspelling of our last name. Capital “V,” people! (And rhymes with divine!)

Read the caption closely. (Emory’s, not mine.) The operative phrase is “courtesy of Emory Theatre.”

Teenage Mitch LeVine was still years from being an actual doctor when he performed the character of “Dr. Emmanuel Kheal” for PARENTS DAY(!) at Emory University in the spring of 1971. This was not a character of his creation. Someone wrote this one-man show. It was never published, as far as I can tell, and Dad can’t remember who that someone was.

But if the original creator is reading this, both Dad and I would LOVE to hear from you!!!

Here’s where it gets really interesting. Among all those who saw Dad’s performance on that spring day in 1971, someone took it literally. Dad was subsequently invited to be a guest lecturer at an Emory University religion class. It says a lot about the man’s indefatigable sense of humor that he accepted the invitation. He soon found himself lecturing his own classmates in character, astonished at the sight of them TAKING NOTES!

This is the man I have dubbed “Bizarro King Lear.”

And now, the excerpt from my last post that pertains to this one:

Travel — Like some kind of Bizarro King Lear, Dad divided evenly among his six children 50 American states, 10 Canadian provinces, two of three Canadian territories (no one got Nunavut) and all four U.S. protectorates. Hence the working title for my proposed biography of the man, Guam Belongs to Scott. This delegation of sovereignty pertained to our annual family road trips in a church bus (a/k/a the family car). These so-called “vacations” had everything to do with education and nothing to do with relaxation. (More on that next month!) And if you were the sovereign kid for the land on which we found ourselves, you sat in the front seat and navigated the maps…regardless of your age (within reason). Needless to say, we were quite often lost.

Port Chicago #1

Teaser for My Tribute to Our Trips, Our Troops and Black History Month
Which Won’t Be Posted Until March (Sorry about that!)

I told you that I never before “consciously” shared an image of my dad. That’s because I only just noticed that I inadvertently captured him in the upper-left corner of this photograph (yes, actual film) that I took in the summer of 2000. He’s the one in the dark pants.

We’ve now reached the point at which I must break down and define everything I’ve written so far, because I fully appreciate that there are several generations (and, thus, several levels of cultural consciousness) among my readership…

BIZARRO — From Wikipedia: “Bizarro is a super villain who appears in comic books published by DC Comics. The character was created by writer Otto Binder and artist George Papp as a ‘mirror image’ of Superman and first appeared in Superboy #68 (1958).”

Understand, that means a distorted “mirror image” of Superman.

Renaissance Man Dad is, among myriad other things, a comic book collector…and amateur artist.

Dad Comic Sketch - Declaration of Independence

Dad’s Never-Finished Sketch of Superheroes Signing the Declaration of Independence

Dad Comic Sketch #01

More Dad Comic Sketches, Including Full-Color “Thor” (Top)

KING LEAR — From Wikipedia: “King Lear is a tragedy by William Shakespeare. The title character descends into madness after disposing of his estate between two of his three daughters based on their flattery, bringing tragic consequences for all. The play is based on the legend of Leir of Britain, a mythological pre-Roman Celtic king.”

Understand, Dad was clearly born mad as a Lewis Carroll “hatter,” and he’s got four daughters (plus two sons). But I only use this admittedly horrific allusion because it pertains to dividing one’s kingdom among one’s children. (Here’s hoping our story ends better!) And the man who represented Emory Theatre at PARENTS DAY(!) in 1971 loves him some Shakespeare…as do all six of his scions.

The next definition is for my older readers (including Dad)…

OG — From Urban Dictionary: “Original Gangster; someone who has been around, old school gangster.”

Understand, older readers (including Dad), this is a modern term of the utmost respect!

And, finally, thereal point of this essay…

THE PORT CHICAGO DISASTER — From the National Park Service: “On the evening of July 17, 1944, residents in the San Francisco east bay area were jolted awake by a massive explosion that cracked windows and lit up the night sky. At Port Chicago Naval Magazine, 320 men were instantly killed when two ships being loaded with ammunition for the Pacific theatre troops blew up. It was WWII’s worst homefront disaster.”

WWII’s worst homefront disaster, and I’d be willing to bet (were I a betting woman) that this is the first you’ve ever heard of it.

I’ve only ever heard of it because Mad Dad showed it to me. At the time (the summer of 2000), the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial was not open to the public, because it sits on what is still an active military base. We got to see it because of special military clearance arranged for by Mad Dad on the grounds of his father’s WWII service (the subject of my in-post-production documentary film, SERGEANT ZAYDIE).

According to today’s NPS website for Port Chicago: “Tours are only available on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 1:30 PM. Access for tours is granted based on U.S. Army and NPS scheduling availability.” That’s fantastic. I’m delighted that you can now go see it. But, assuming you (not being Mad Dad) won’t drive out of your way to see a plaque on a California military base, permit me to share with you the only other two photographs I took of it:

Port Chicago #2

What’s Left of the Actual Site

Port Chicago #3

The Memorial Chapel on the Base

What follows is the most shocking thing about the Port Chicago disaster; the aspect of it that pertains belatedly to Black History Month (which is, in fact, every month of American history). From Wikipedia:

The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial is a memorial dedicated in 1994 recognizing the dead of the Port Chicago disaster, and the critical role played by Port Chicago, California during World War II, in serving as the main facility for the Pacific Theater of Operations. The memorial is located at the Concord Naval Weapons Station near Concord, California, in the United States.

The 1944 Port Chicago disaster occurred at the naval magazine and resulted in the largest domestic loss of life during World War II. 320 sailors and civilians were instantly killed on July 17, 1944, when the ships they were loading with ammunition and bombs exploded. The majority of the deaths were African American sailors working for the racially segregated military. The explosion and its aftermath led to the largest Naval mutiny in US history, and it and the subsequent trial became major catalysts for the United States Navy to desegregate following the war.

An odd story to remain largely untold in an era saturated with WWII nostalgia, don’t you find?

I’ll refrain from pontificating as to the racial implications of this story’s absence from my high school history textbook. But they do not escape me. And I’m damn glad they don’t.

I’m damn glad I was raised by a progressive Baby Boomer; a man who told young me about witnessing both segregated water fountains (ah, Florida!) and the long-overdue end to that disgrace; a man whose love of culture everyone’s culture runs so deep that he (rightly) finds no conflict between his passionate Zionism and his appreciation for the beautiful aspects of Muslim civilization. (He read the Qur’an in its entirety, in addition to every single one of the Arabian Nights. For fun.)

Here’s another thing Dad showed me that same summer of 2000:

Manzanar

Manzanar National Historic Site

That’s what’s left of a WWII Japanese internment camp.

Again, our family “vacations” had everything to do with education and nothing to do with relaxation. And I’m grateful for every minute of them.

In true Stacy fashion, this post is too long. (If you think I’m verbose in written form, you should hear me talk. I’m extremely annoying.) So here’s summing it up…

DON’T BE IGNORANT!!!

We live in a bleak, hateful world that’s also full of beauty. Hunger for knowledge of all things, the bleak and the beautiful. Soak up all that you can in your lifetime, and pass on that which you know…with a healthy sense of humor.

I’ve said repeatedly in this space that I don’t want to be a mother. So I’m passing that which I know on to you, dear readers.

Tag, you’re it.

Until next month, “Damn the willfully ignorant, full speed ahead!”

Stacy
@IvyLawEditor

 

 

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