Last Saturday morning, Dan Wakefield and I had just been seated at Cafe Patachou when I saw a woman seated at the bar who looked nearly identical in profile, even in 3/4 profile, to a museum laboratory scientist that I recently interviewed.
(full disclosure: I did not have my glasses on)
I told Dan I needed to say hello quickly and asked if I should introduce him. He shook his head with an expression of “Please, do not do that to me”.
As I was just about to tap the woman on the shoulder, I hear her say to a staff member across the bar and to her left (all I had was the back of her head at this moment),
“Please tell him my ass doesn’t look like a waffle iron.”
All rightly then…I clearly had the wrong woman.
So she turns and I politely introduce myself and tell her she looks very familiar and expressed my apologies for realizing when it was too late that she was not whom I thought she was but it was worth the risk of embarrassment.
She says, “Well at least you didn’t tell me that I looked like the dead, homeless woman you stepped over on your walk over here.” (2 for 2)
I told her that indeed, she did not and quickly left her side. I shared it with Dan after I could speak again.
A couple nights later, I was with Dan again, this time attending his Uncle Dan’s Story Hour, a radio show recorded in Dan’s beloved watering hole, The Red Key Tavern. His featured guest was Mark Vonnegut, Kurt’s oldest son. Dan was friends with Mark’s father and it seems only natural that Mark would have an affinity for Dan, especially in the wake of Kurt’s passing. However, I believe the two would be friends, irregardless of the friendship Dan shared with Mark’s famous father.
My relationship with Dan is one of friends, as I have written about before, but Dan is one of my closest friends, a best friend. He’s trustworthy and a great listener, which is what every great friendship should be based upon. Dan is also one of the funniest people I know, in his own way of course. He speaks volumes with an expression, he can react with sincere annoyance, such as the poor crop of movies he’s receiving right now from the Screenwriter’s Guild (Oscar contenders) and trigger my laughter.
To be clear, I am not laughing at him, but his outbursts are funny, even when he is not trying to be. He doesn’t get annoyed with me for laughing (note: another friend trait). Both of my grandfathers died prior to my 6th birthday, so it seems natural for me to have a relationship like this with Dan, although he prefers “mature father figure” to that of “grandfather”. Watching Mark reach over and touch Dan’s back during the taping of the show, or as evidenced in the photo where I stand in the middle, is an act of affection by Mark.
Ok, so Dan Wakefield and I share a meal frequently. He’s a mentor of mine and we enjoy finding quiet restaurants with good food where the tables are not too close together so we can talk.
On Friday, April 1st, we planned to go out to dinner. Midday I receive an email from Dan that we have been invited to a gallery exhibit of his friend, Will Higgins, who is a writer for the Indy Star.
En route to The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (IMOCA), Dan offers full disclosure of the exhibit. “It’s a collection of presidential urine samples that Will has amassed. I hear Bill Clinton’s is the largest bottle.”
WHAT?! I thought perhaps Will had a hobby of painting or photography, but urine collection? Presidential urine specimens?
Dan and I find a place to park and proceed around the block to the assumed location of IMOCA, per my GPS. We search the Murphy Building in Fountain Square, which hosts an array of artists and restaurants. We pass a gaggle of people gawking at a window, but they look as if they are overflow from one of the popular restaurants along the strip waiting for a table. We finally locate the IMOCA and enter.
Alas, where is the urine?
Accepting the inevitable conclusion that we have been taken for April Fools, we cross the street to a restaurant appropriately titled End of the Line (where the street trolley ended back in the day) and commiserated about the prank. At Dan’s behest, I email Will from my phone to enquire about the location of his urine, copying another friend of Dan’s, Travis Dinacola. Travis was also invited, yet declined (the smart one at this point).
During dinner, I erupt in spontaneous fits of laughter given the circumstances. Dan holds up his glass and says, “Look, I have found the urine of President Buchanan!”
Walking back to the car, we pass along the Murphy Building frontage. Immediately in front of the IMOCA was a large display window with the entire collection of Presidential urine! The gawkers I noticed earlier may have been waiting for a dining table, but they were certainly entertained by the exhibit behind glass (which is as close to Presidential urine as I’d like to be).
Celebrating 100 Years of Presidential Urine: a salute to the ASPUC (American Society of Presidential Urine Collection. Mission statement: To foster integrity, cohesion and (where possible) dignity within the U.S. Presidential urine collecting community.
Curator: Will Higgins
When was the ASPUC founded?
Presidential urine collecting began in earnest right after the Civil War and became a source of status among wealthy New York families. The ASPUC, however, was not formed until August 9, 1916.
Why not until then?
The discovery nearly 1915 of a previously unknown vat of Martin Van Buren caused widespread excitement, but later when it was revealed as a hoax, public outcry threatened to undermine presidential urine collecting. Amid calls for strict government regulation, or even a total ban, and in the absence of an over-arching sanctioning body, leading urine collectors gathered at the Willard Hotel in Washington D.C. July 4-6, 1916 to hammer out best practices. The ASPUC was incorporated one month later.
Who collects presidential urine?
Our members are cross-section of America. They include doctors, lawyers, firefighters, civil servants, clergy, and shoe sales personnel.
What does a membership cost?
Dues are just $10 a year, which entitles members to a subscription to ASPUC’s semi-annual electronic newsletter.
Can anyone join?
Sure. We welcome anyone with a sincere interest in presidential urine, whether they be serious collectors, scholars or just interested members of the public.
Dear God. I thought I did crazy things to entertain myself. It’s time to up my game!
“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” -Anais Nin
Dan Wakefield has done several favors for me. One of them was introducing me to the book, Autobiography of an Orgasm by Betsy Blankenbaker, which he reviewed in the Indianapolis NUVO magazine. The cover of that issue read “Dan Wakefield on Orgasms page 32”. I quickly turned to page 32 to discover how they knew each other. Betsy created the documentary “New York in the Fifties” based on Wakefield’s book of the same name. He has since been a mentor to Blankenbaker, much like he has been to me.
The second best favor Dan has done for me was introducing me to Betsy at the launch of her follow up anthology, Autobiographies of Our Orgasms. During that event, I had the pleasure of listening to several of the women who shared their stories of healing.
Autobiographies of Our Orgasms is a collection of life experiences – and no, it’s not porn. The memories, challenges, and experiences shared are all different, yet the connective elements in each story may resonate with someone on a surprisingly deep level. The hope is to inspire a spark of healing in others.
When I first spoke of Betsy’s first book, I would occasionally receive an eyebrow raise as a reaction. I had to laugh when I realized some people are not comfortable saying the word “orgasm”, even with today’s societal acceptance of shock culture. When I first started instructing Pilates fifteen years ago, it took me years before I was comfortable saying “pelvic floor” in class, so I understand this hesitation towards certain words that aren’t commonly used, but I have to laugh at it nonetheless.
I am so grateful to Betsy Blankenbaker for having the ovaries to speak out about her healing process, and amazed at the courage displayed by her and those that contributed their stories so that others may share in that courage to heal themselves. Courage is from the Latin root “cor” meaning heart. The whole-hearted approach Betsy took to her own healing, then bravely shared with raw authenticity is helping others find their inner strength to heal their own wounds.
The connection and awareness that is sparked by books by Betsy, by Naomi Wolf, by Dr. Christiane Northrup, or by Brene Brown all have valuable messages for their readers seeking validation that what they are going through merits attention and loving care.
Brown, in her TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability says that vulnerability was embraced by those she studied in her research. She was surprised by this and she realized that what made people vulnerable made them beautiful. Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love and those that cope with their struggles with authenticity find a way to emerge better than they were before.
Like The Beauty Myth, like Goddesses Never Age, Autobiography of an Orgasm was nearly impossible for me to put down, taking it everywhere I went until finished. Betsy is so brutally honest with herself and her experiences, I just can’t thank Betsy enough for sharing. Many of my friends who have read it resonate with her. Her journey, while not exactly like mine or my girlfriends, is certainly similar enough to know we are a part of the same tribe. We want to heal, empower, instill confidence, create strong women, influence positivity in body image, inspire creativity and fan the flame of individuals to be their authentic selves.
“Muriel Rukeyser asks, “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.” Betsy Blankenbaker did the thing I haven’t read anyone else do before. She said all the things out loud.” -Rochelle Schieck, creator of Qoya
I have been influenced by and have the privilege of knowing many brave women who are creating conversations that are healing for all of us. Betsy is one of them.
Kurt Vonnegut was wrong. In a satirical review in Life magazine of Dan Wakefield’s first novel, Vonnegut concluded from reading Going All The Way, that Wakefield would not be able to move back to Indianapolis, forced to forever watch the Indy 500 on television.
“It’s the only book review I have ever seen that uses the word ‘putrid’,” jokes Wakefield. In truth, Vonnegut and Wakefield were great friends, and Vonnegut never passed up an opportunity for his classic satirical banter. Not only does Vonnegut use the word “putrid” but also gives his “Word of Honor” that the book is good.
Two years ago, Wakefield quietly moved back to Broad Ripple, around the corner from where he grew up. In looking for a new home, Wakefield commented, “I could have moved into my 3rd grade classroom,” referring to the condos of repurposed School 80.
When asked why, after teaching for the last 17 years in Miami at Florida International University, would Wakefield move back to Broad Ripple, his response, “The Central Library and The Red Key”.
The Red Key is a vintage bar, renowned internationally as one of the top best bars in the world for book nerds. Along with The White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village and VesuviO Cafe in San Francisco, these are the only ones to make the list in the United States. “Vonnegut supposedly hung out at The Red Key, but there isn’t proof of this,” comments Wakefield.
Wakefield started writing in elementary school at School 80, for the Rippler. While at Shortridge, he wrote for the Daily Echo, writing the sports column on Thursdays. Dick Lugar wrote this column on Tuesdays. Max Schumacher, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Indians, was also in the same class.
One summer during college, Wakefield worked for the Indianapolis Star and had “a great time.” After graduating from Columbia University, Wakefield was offered a fellowship at Harvard. He spent the majority of his life living in Boston, although he lived for a time in NYC and Hollywood before moving to Miami.
His first novel and bestseller, Going All The Way, was made into a movie two decades after it was published. Wakefield had another novel turned into a movie, Starting Over (1979). “I had to buy my own movie ticket to see Starting Over,” shares Wakefield.
When director Mark Pellington contacted Wakefield about making Going All The Way into a movie, he asked Wakefield to write the screenplay. “Mark read my book off his father’s bookshelf. He wanted to keep the essence of the novel, honoring the original setting in the 50s, whereas other initial offers for the movie rights wanted to modernize it,” shares Wakefield.
Much of the filming of Going All The Way, starring Jeremy Davies and Ben Affleck, was filmed here in Indianapolis. The crew used The Red Key, Crown Hill Cemetery, Herron Art School, and the Broad Ripple High School football field. “We had a great time filming,” shares Wakefield, “I was able to get a dozen of my friends into the film as extras.”
One funny side story about the movie is that a scene was filmed inside an art museum, which was really Herron. To create the artwork used in the scene, the producers held a contest for the students at Herron to create the ugliest, worst piece of modern art, and the winner’s piece would be used in the film. “I had friends from Boston and New York trying to guess which notable artist created that piece,” laughs Wakefield.
Wakefield lived on Winthrop and 62nd street, in a double with his grandma living in the other half. Wakefield remembers sitting up on the roof, looking for enemy planes during WWII. This memory came back to him while he was walking through Boston, and thought, “If I could explain why a 9 year old boy would be on a rooftop in Indianapolis during WWII watching for enemy planes, I would have a novel.” This became Under The Apple Tree. Inspired by an older cousin who was a tailgunner on a B17 in the Army’s 8th Air Corps, Wakefield had another bestseller.
Before leaving for Miami, Wakefield became a member of King’s Chapel in Boston. This is the oldest continuing pulpit in America and is on the Freedom Trail. It was through joining this church that Wakefield expanded his writing into the spiritual realm. He describes finding a church is like “falling in love, each church is beautiful, but what attracts is the deep chord of resonance” you feel that touches your soul. That is the feeling of spiritually coming home.
Wakefield has also found love, which is the topic of his latest work. While teaching at FIU, he was befriended by a Cuban family. The youngest daughter, Karina, Wakefield met when she was just 3 years old. He became her Godfather. “I knew when I met her that she was special, so sweet, so adorable, and we just had a connection,” shares Wakefield, who has been married twice and had never wanted children. His latest book is a memoir of his relationship with Karina.
One time, while walking home after having lunch with Kurt Vonnegut in NYC, Vonnegut said, “We never had to leave Indianapolis. There are people there just as kind, just as mean, just as smart, and just as dumb as any place else.”
Wakefield has worked on two projects for Kurt Vonnegut, both after his dear friend passed. The first was Kurt Vonnegut Letters, edited by Wakefield, and the other is a collection of graduation speeches that Vonnegut had made over his lifetime. If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? is a result of those efforts. “It started when the estate attorney called me up and asked if I would look through some boxes of Kurt’s to see if there was anything to work with for publishing. I found the graduation speeches to be worthwhile,” shares Wakefield.
Broad Ripple has changed a bit since Wakefield left. Fortunately, he discovered The Red Key was still the same. As we walk away from Hubbard & Cravens, Wakefield recalls attending a film at The Vogue in 1938 when he was 6 years old, the year it opened. Wakefield asks me, “When did Broad Ripple start calling itself a ‘village’?” Welcome home, Dan.
This article originally appeared in Broad Ripple Community Newsletter, February 2015
What I love most about Dan Wakefield is his sense of humor. He is really funny. It is uncanny how close in humor he naturally is to his dear friend Kurt Vonnegut. Dan’s wit and satirical sense of humor is not lost on me.
Wakefield is starting a blog called “Vonnegut’s Oldest Living Friend” which has an asterisk beside it, since it isn’t
exactly true. Vonnegut’s lawyer is older and so is one other friend, so I suggest the title should be “Vonnegut’s 3rd Oldest Living Friend Who Writes Almost As Well As He Did”
The truth is, Wakefield can hold his own against anyone.
Wakefield will soon be releasing a soft cover version of “Under The Apple Tree”. He was inspired to write this from memories of his childhood, creating the older brother he longed for, modeled after his WWII hero cousin who grew up next door to Dan on Guilford.
When I interviewed Dan a couple months ago for an article in the Broad Ripple Community Newsletter, atBRip.com, Dan told me he moved back to Indy for two reasons: the Indianapolis Central Library and The Red Key.
Spending an evening with Dan Wakefield at his favorite hang out, I understand the draw.
After we sit down at a booth with a small table, the waitress immediately brings him a glass of red wine.
No one’s head turns when you walk in. This isn’t a place to see and be seen, it’s an intimate gathering place, for quiet and friendly conversation.
The owner is behind the bar, representing the 2nd of 3rd generations of their family. The name could be “The Red low-Key” The lighting is just right and the furnishings are all cozy originals (and still comfortable, thank God).
After I order a drink, Dan deposits his change into the jukebox, filling the place with his favorite music, which compliments not only the ambiance, but Dan’s life. ”The Rose” sung by Bette Midler comes on first.
Wakefield shares a story about a friend of his who met her husband at The Red Key. As the story goes, the gal was at the bar and a man sat next to her, hoping to make a new friend. She got up to use the bathroom and the owner (Russ, the founder) came over to the guy and told him that his intentions better be honorable or else. These two ended up marrying.
The proprietor wanted to establish a place where a woman could come in and feel safe.
Dinah Washington sings, “Love Walked In”
As I comment that the menu is comfort food, Dan responds, “it’s comfort everything.” For him, no truer statement could be made.
Dan is a vegetarian unless he is at The Red Key. Simple options on the menu make for quick decisions, the burgers are good and so is the chili and potato salad.
In the article I wrote about Dan, our graphic artist used a painting of Dan by artist Ellen Crabb, based on a photo taken at our booth. Dan shares that he met the artist, Ellen Crabb, here at The Red Key.
Dan was dining with a couple of friends and asked Ellen if she was a relation of Cecil “Buddy” Crabb, a former star halfback of the Shortridge Blue Devils. Buddy had been 2 years ahead of Dan at school, and had no idea who Dan was, but everyone knew Buddy. Turns out Buddy was Ellen’s uncle who lived on Meridian Street, had been a fighter pilot in Korea and a General in the USAF.
“I can’t get started” plays on the jukebox with Bunny Berigan on trumpet. The lyrics are hysterical and Dan (as am I) is highly entertained by them:
I’ve flown around the world in a plane, I’ve settled revolutions in Spain, The North Pole I have charted, but I can’t get started with you.
“It’s the first song, written in 1936, that uses contemporary references,” shares Wakefield, “I thought Cole Porter wrote it, but he didn’t.” It was Ira Gershwin. I looked it up. Everyone from Bob Hope, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, have all covered it. Great tune.
Dan asks me if I have seen the latest Nuvo, which I hadn’t but fortunately it was on a stand by the door. He told me that the front page reads, “Dan Wakefield on Orgasms. Page 21” I immediately jump up to grab a copy.
Betsy Blankenbaker wrote a book about her orgasms. It is an important work, truth be told. Apparently Betsy directed a documentary on “New York in the 50s” which is Wakefield’s favorite of his works (I believe he said this, if not exactly his favorite work, this was his favorite class he taught at Florida International University.) So in thanks, he writes a book review of her Autobiography of An Orgasm. I ordered my copy.
Dan explains that while they are friends, they weren’t close friends and reading this book was the first he’s known of her orgasms. Now that that’s out of the way…
Sammy Davis Jr. is singing “Something’s gotta Give”
Looking at the planes hanging from the ceiling, Dan shares that during filming of Going All The Way, any planes that were not WWII were taken down. A few scenes were shot in The Red Key. (then it hits me – I am in a pub where Ben Affleck has been! – actually, I just thought of that. I don’t care about this aspect. At all.)
“I wrote the book Going All The Way while living in Boston,” says Wakefield, “In it, I mistakenly wrote that The Red Key was located at 54th and College, and I heard about it from many a local critic…”