Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Naked City revisited

Of the several hundred posts in this blog, I've received the most comments on one called “The Dark Sideof Naked City.” I wrote it during my exile years from late 2003 to the summer of 2009, when I lived and worked apart from my family. At the time I wrote it, I was working in Normal, Illinois, had an efficiency apartment in nearby Bloomington, and would drive back to Elkhart on my Wednesday-Thursday “weekend.” The route I often used took me past the Sun Aura Resort, an adults-only, clothing-optional resort. I never drove into it, as the resort was some distance from the highway, I was curious. It seemed strange that such a place would exist in northern Indiana. There was even a second nudist resort, the Ponderosa Sun Club, across the highway.

But it was the Sun Aura Resort that piqued my curiosity, with its numerous signs. So I looked it up on Google, and learned that it had a long and varied history, beginning in 1933, when Chicago lawyer Alois Knapp, “the father of nudism in America,” founded the Zoro Nature Park, or Club Zoro. I don't know the meaning of the word Zoro, but is was also used in a San Diego nudist park. Knapp was the proprietor until the mid-1960s, after which it was taken over by Albin and Mary Drost, who, in 1968, passed it on to their son Dick, who renamed it Naked City.

Nudist colonies have a reputation for being prudish—almost puritanical—about sex. But Naked City celebrated sexuality, with its Miss Nude Universe and Miss Nude Teeny-Bopper contests, and the Erin-Go-Bra-less dance on St. Patrick's Day.
One commenter, writing under the name of Westflyer, said, “In the 1970s and '80s Dick Drost's Naked City, actually a small tacky surreal collection of plywood and tin-foil structures, represented a cross between a blue collar strip joint and a beer chugging stop for long distance truckers. During the summer months strippers turned nudists paraded around a crude stage while men howled their approval as they quaffed liquid courage and added to their already exploding stomachs.”

Obviously the place appealed mainly to men, though some women seem to have enjoyed working and visiting there. But, as I wrote five years ago, the place had a dark side. Dick Drost had a thing for teenaged girls, and in 1985 he was charged with molesting a 13-year-old girl and showing obscene materials to minors. He pled guilty to ten sex-related misdemeanors and avoided prison by agreeing to stay out of Indiana for ten years. He moved west and promptly created Naked City Los Angeles, or NCLA, in Homeland, California. And according to one of the commenters, that was destroyed in a brush fire, and he relocated to Palm Springs. One anonymous writer said he died in a California state nursing home.

Drost was a bizarre character—a quadriplegic from muscular dystrophy who apparently had a group of female admires who tended to his every need, including the sexual ones. (As one commenter wrote, “His equipment worked just fine, the ladies just had to do all the work.”) In a clip from the 1976 movie “Miss Nude America,” he speculates about becoming President, or head of the Soviet Union or China, though he made it clear he wasn't interested in becoming mayor of Roselawn. According to the lawsuit Naked City, Inc. v. Aregood, Drost ran for Governor of Indiana in 1975 (the election was in 1976, so he may have filed for his candidacy in 1975 or the statement was in error).

The lawsuit, which went nowhere, alleges numerous raids against the property and illegal wiretapping and filming, along with illegal seizure of property. It also alleges that the charges Drost pled guilty to were without merit, and that his guilty plea was made only “because of the severe oppression against him...” Nonetheless, he did plead guilty.

And it seems almost certain he was. One woman wrote, “I, unfortunately, worked for Dick for a couple of days before I realized I had to get out of there.” Another woman, who, at the age of 16 was at the Roselawn Naked City with her recently-divorced mother, wrote, “after he figured i was comfortable working nude it moved on [to] being a personal assistant and helping Diane take care of him and eventually working the front counter checking in people and being up front with the 'adults' pretending I was 18 they knew how old i was, end of summer it moved on to sleep with me or you get to be on the street. needless to say that wasnt EVER going to happen.”

Her comment reads like a stream-of-consciousness narrative and ends with, “its too bad i was too young to realize what was happening till it was too late. it wasnt all bad i made some good friends there. My interactions with that man and his sick girlfriend ruined a perfectly good time in my life and today if that bastard was alive id sue him for everything he he has. im not sorry to hear hes dead but i def know know if theres a hell hes getting what he deserves for what he did.”

I don't know where Dick Drost's soul has gone. He surely had personal demons of his own. But I hope the woman who, at 16, had to deal with Drost's unwelcome advances, has found some peace and happiness.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

St. Martin still speaks to us

In the United States, today is Veterans' Day.  Europeans still celebrate it as Armistice Day, to mark the end of the Great War--"the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, 1918."  But it is also the feast day of St. Martin of Tours, patron of soldiers, the poor, innkeepers, and drunkards. I wrote the following piece for "The Winged Ox," the newsletter of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, back in 2004, when the United States was at war in both Iran and Afghanistan. But while America's wars seem to be winding down, the fourth-century saint still speaks to us.



"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," wrote British historian Lord Acton.  The feast day of St. Martin of Tours, November 11, celebrates a man who fought the corruption of power in the church.
Until the fourth century, the Christian church had little or no power.
When the emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion in
314, this struggling church was endowed with great, if not absolute

Martin was born in 316, in Pannonia (modern-day Hungary), of pagan
parents.  At the age of 15, he was conscripted into the Roman army,
where he was eventually stationed at Amiens, in Gaul (modern France).  By this time he
had become a catechumen, or inquirer into the Christian faith.  One
winter day, according to legend, he met a half-naked beggar outside the
city gates.  Moved with compassion, he cut his military cloak in two and
gave half to the beggar.  In a dream that night, Christ appeared to him
wearing the half cloak.

Martin then appealed to be released from the army.  He was accused of
cowardice, but offered to face the enemy armed only with the cross of
Christ.  Before the battle began, the enemy sued for peace, and Martin
was allowed to leave the army.  He might be considered the first
conscientious objector.

Martin eventually made his way to Poitiers, in southern Gaul, to become
a disciple of Bishop Hilary.  He lived as a hermit, but attracted so
many followers that he had to establish a monastery.  Legend says that
he did not want to become the Bishop of Tours in 371, but was persuaded
to visit the city to give last rites to a dying woman, and was there
made bishop by acclamation.  As bishop, Martin had no qualms about
destroying pagan shrines.  But he would not accede to the taking of
human life.

Priscillian, bishop of Avila, preached asceticism: vegetarianism,
teetotalism, and celibacy.  His call for the renunciation of marriage
brought him the censure of Church authorities.  The Council of Saragossa
condemned his teachings in 380.  After unsuccessfully appealing to Pope
Damasus I and Ambrose of Milan, Priscillian and six of his followers
appealed to Emperor Magnus Maximus at Treveris (modern-day Trier,
Germany). It wasn't a good move.  The emperor, at the urging of Bishop
Ithacius of Ossanova, had Priscillian and his disciples condemned to death.

For Martin, excommunication, not execution, was the proper punishment
for heresy.  He made the long journey to Trier, where he persuaded the
emperor to remove Priscillian and his companions from imperial
jurisdiction.  But soon after Martin left Trier, Ithacius prevailed on
the emperor to have the men beheaded.  They were the first, though sadly
not the last religious dissenters to be executed at the behest of church

Martin refused to communicate with Ithacius after learning of his
treachery.  But later, when Martin returned to Trier to plead for the
release two rebels held by the emperor, Maximus would agree to the
pardon only if Martin would make peace with Ithacius.  Martin did so to
save the lives of the men, though he later reproached himself for his
weakness.  For me, Martin's compassion was his greatest strength.

Martin is the patron of soldiers and beggars.  Because his feast day
coincided with the pagan feast of Bacchus, he is also the patron of
drunkards and innkeepers.  But he also needs to be remembered as a man
of Christlike love, who stood against the abuse of power by church and
imperial authorities.

Illustration: La charité de saint Martin from Heures d'Étienne Chevalier,
illuminated by Jean Fouquet (1420-1480)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Junior L. Crews, 1922-2012

Last month we had to temporarily remove part of a chain-link fence in our backyard so a tree removal service could come in. As I was undoing the wire ties, I realized how expertly that fence had been put together. It wasn't done by a professional, but by my father-in-law, Junior L. Crews, who died September 8. For him, it was a labor of love.

He wasn't supposed to be named Junior, but James Lee Crews, Junior, when he was born July 11, 1922, on a farm just outside Ravanna, in north central Missouri, just south of the Iowa line. His parents never completed his birth certificate—he was Baby Boy Crews, according to legal records. When it came time to get a proper birth certificate in order to receive Social Security, he had been going by Junior for so long that he made it his legal name.
He didn't have an easy boyhood growing up on a hardscrabble farm in the 1920s and '30s, and a father with a drinking problem didn't help. When he was a teenager, he had worked all summer to buy an air rifle. His father took Junior's prize possession and hocked it to buy whiskey. And one of his regular chores on the farm was to kill and pluck the chickens. He rarely ate chicken for the rest of his life. When Kathleen and I visited and cooked chicken, we tried to disguise it as much as possible. He'd eat a little bit to please us, but he never really liked it.

Like most young men of his generation, he was eager to join up and fight after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He tried more than once, but a farm accident had left him with no feeling in parts of his right hand, including his trigger finger. The Army wouldn't take him. But the war had affected him. His father had moved his family to Davenport, Iowa, to work in the factories. And for Junior, the move to the city meant he could complete high school. For someone with nerve damage in his right hand, he had quite a bit of artistic talent,from the drawings I've seen. He was older than many in his graduating class because he had to skip a lot of school to work on the farm.

It was at Davenport High School that he met the love of his life, a big-city girl from Milwaukee whose family had also come to Davenport for war work. Marilyn Margaret Moon, a lovely brown-eyed brunette, also had a parent with a drinking problem. Both wanted the stability of church and family. After attending several churches in Davenport, they settled on the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). One fellow parishioner was so impressed with this bright young man from Missouri that he offered to send him to Drake University, a Disciples school, to study for the ministry. But more practical things intervened, especially after Junior and Marilyn were married in the church on October 8, 1944. He got a job with the City of Davenport and worked for the municipality until he retired at the age of 62. But he stayed with his church, and became a deacon.
Junior and Marilyn's first child, Constance Carol Crews (Jackson) was born August 4, 1946. Six and a half years later, Kathleen June Crews (Wylder) came into the world on December 30, 1952. Junior and Marilyn loved the outdoors, and took their girls on extended camping trips to many of the National Parks and Monuments, including Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Wind Cave, Mount Rushmore, the Great Smokies, and Mammoth Cave.
Junior set his own pace. One legendary story happened on the trip to Mammoth Cave, when, fascinated by all the cave formations, he lagged so far behind the tour group that the lights were being turned off just behind him.

Junior wasn't perfect. He had a temper, as well as a streak of stubbornness. That stubborn streak may have kept him alive for many years longer than anyone expected him to live. Decades of working in Davenport's sewer system had given him a case of emphysema. But he lived to be ninety, and was physically strong into his eighties.

I didn't get to know Junior until 1972, when he was fifty, and I was courting his daughter Kathleen. He seemed a bit scary at first—he was protective of his little girl--but when it was clear my intentions were honorable he helped Kathleen and me immensely. During the summer of 1973, before Kathleen and I were married, he took her to estate sales and secondhand shops to get furniture and tools for us. We still have the table he found, along with some tools that will last for generations longer. And when he learned I loved trains, he found two Milwaukee Road railroad lanterns and a switch lock from the Davenport, Rock Island and Northwestern (the DRI Line) for me. I worried a bit about the switch lock, but so far as I know, there weren't any derailments on the line.
After he retired, he remained active. He and Marilyn spent many summers at Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, where they kept a trailer and Junior fished on the Mississippi. We enjoyed the bass and Northern Pike he caught in abundance. When our children were born he made child-size furniture, as well as doll beds for the girls. And when we moved to Indiana he came up and put up that fence in our backyard.

He was deeply in love with Marilyn right up to the end. In early August, when both of them were in the Good Samaritan Rehabilitation Center, they were able to eat together in the dining room. It was wonderful to see them together, for even in poor health they treasured each other's company.
When I posted a brief notice of Junior's passing on Facebook, a friend of ours wrote, “I enjoyed meeting him and will always remember Kathleen calling him an 'old coot' with fondness in her voice.”

He loved and supported his wife and family, and was generous to all. I was privileged to be his son-in-law.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A day for us of little faith

The second Sunday of Easter has been a special day for me since my conversion to Christianity more than thirty years ago. And it isn't just because of the beautiful hymn, “O Sons and Daughters Let Us Sing,” though that certainly adds to the experience. But for me, who came to the faith after years of questioning and doubt, St. Thomas's Sunday is something to look forward to. It's called that because the Gospel reading for Roman Catholic, Anglican,and most mainline Protestant churches is John 20:24-29:

24But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, [the Twin] was not with them when Jesus came.
25The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the LORD. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28And Thomas answered and said unto him, My LORD and my God.
29Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. (KJV)

Too often, Thomas gets a bad rap from preachers because of his unwillingness to believe instantly in the resurrected Jesus. Thomas had not been present when Jesus first appeared to the rest of the disciples in the upper room, where Jesus showed them his pierced hands and wounded side. They had the advantage Thomas lacked. Had one of the others been in the same situation as Thomas, he might have done the same thing. His honesty in not believing blindly has always impressed me. He is the patron saint of those of us who don't always have the mustard seed's worth of faith that Jesus asks of his followers.

But lately I've wondered whether we “of little faith” have had ours strengthened by the fashionable trend of atheism. I'm not talking about people whose atheism comes from honest inquiry, but those who have declared themselves atheists because it's now the popular thing to do.

I first recognized the new reality four years ago, when I was in Chicago for Amtrak block training. It's a two-day training session, so as an out-of-towner, I had a hotel room at the Holiday Inn for two nights. And since I don't have cable TV at home, I was watching MSNBC. Bill Maher's show came on, and I was interested in one of the guests: Reza Azlan, a brilliant Iranian-American writer who has done so much for our understanding of Islam and the Middle East. But first I had to sit through Maher's conversation with the two men behind the cartoon South Park. As usual, I was impressed with Azlan.

It was an intelligent discussion until Maher brought up his atheism. The two South Park guys chimed in that they were atheists, too, and Maher said to Azlan something to the effect of “But you're not an atheist. You're a Muslim.”

Azlan asserted that he was.

And Maher asked him why he didn't join the atheists. I don't remember the exact words, but it had an “everybody's doing it” sound to it.

I realized I had more in common with the Muslim Azlan, a man of faith, than with Maher or the two South Park guys. I do not know how any of the three men arrived at their atheism, but they did not try to persuade Azlan with logic or reason, but with fashion. I do know that Azlan's God is the same compassionate God most Christians and Jews worship. The details—the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, etc.--are far less important than the compassion.

Something is not necessarily wrong because it's fashionable. But it's always best to question anything in the current vogue. And I fear that too many people are embracing atheism without a great deal of thought or introspection.

As for us of little faith, we have the example of Thomas, who had the courage to declare his doubt among an audience of believers. I pray to have the courage to maintain my faith in a popular culture of unbelief.

Friday, April 06, 2012

My ancestors at Shiloh

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, as it was known in the North. Two of my ancestors, James Robert Melton Wylder, my great-great grandfather (pictured), and his father-in-law, John H. Reddish, (add another 'great" there), were officers in the 61st Illinois Regiment. Leander Stillwell, in his classic work The Story of a Common Soldier, includes vignettes about both of them. Reddish had fought in the Black Hawk War, which explains his comments.

Not everyone can say his ancestor was jumping up and down "like a hen on a hot griddle, as Stillwell describes Lieutenenant Wylder:

"Stillwell! shoot! shoot! Why don’t you shoot?" I looked around and saw that this command was being given by Bob Wylder, our second lieutenant, who was in his place, just a few steps to the rear. He was a young man, about twenty-five years old, and was fairly wild with excitement, jumping up and down "like a hen on a hot griddle." "Why, lieutenant," said I, "I can’t see anything to shoot at." "Shoot, shoot, anyhow!" "All right," I responded, "if you say shoot. shoot it is;" and bringing my gun to my shoulder, I aimed low in the direction of the enemy, and blazed away through the smoke. I have always doubted if this, my first shot. did any execution --- but there’s no telling. However, the lieutenant was clearly right Our adversaries were in our front, in easy range, and it was our duty to aim low, fire in their general direction, and let fate do the rest.

And here's Stillwell's account of Captain Reddish:

When we "went in" on the above mentioned position old Capt. Reddish took his place in the ranks, and fought like a common soldier. He had picked up the musket of some dead or wounded man, and filled his pockets with cartridges and gun caps, and so was well provided with ammunition. He unbuckled his sword from the belt, and laid it in the scabbard at his feet, and proceeded to give his undivided attention to the enemy. I can now see the old man in my mind’s eye, as he stood in ranks, loading and firing, his blue-gray eyes flashing, and his face lighted up with the flame of battle. Col. Fry happened to be near us at one time, and I heard old Capt. John yell at him: "Injun fightin,’ Colonel! Jest like Injun fightin’!" When we finally retired, the Captain shouldered his musket and trotted off with the rest of us, oblivious of his "cheese-knife," as he called it, left it lying on the ground, and never saw it again.

Stillwell's book is in the public domain, and is available through Project Gutenberg.