Where The Sour Turns to Sweet

1. We went to the Iowa State Fair last week, along with over a million other paying guests who were drawn to Des Moines by the promise of live entertainment, rides, livestock and really appallingly unhealthy food. (Note: The population of the entire state of Iowa is just over three million people, for perspective on just what a huge draw this massive regional event is). We each decided that we would pick one appallingly unhealthy food, then share the fruits of our foraging. Katelin went with the foot-long, batter-dipped corn dog, I got the fried macaroni and cheese bites, and Marcia got the pork chop on a stick. We sucked those down (with beer), then decided that we needed some appalling desserts to chase them with. Marcia went for the salted nut roll dipped in chocolate, I went high-brow and got a roasted ear of corn lathered in butter with a side of bacon on a stick dipped in chocolate, and Katelin got a red velvet funnel cake on a stick. More beer was necessary to wash it all down, though much of the second course ended up in the trash cans, as we were overcome by collective lard shock midway through our treats. Here’s some of the photo evidence, to prove the gustatory horrors we endured in the name of experiencing the best of Iowa in all of its summer glory:

Marcia and Katelin are technically not livestock, so they were allowed on the sidewalks.

Katelin and her corn dog in the Iowa Craft Beer Tent.

The looks on our faces are caused by lard shock, I believe.

Red Velvet Funnel Cake on a Stick. Yes, you read that right. Red Velvet Funnel Cake on a Stick. Note powdered sugar explosion all over Katelin’s shirt.

Even in the name of research, we couldn’t bring ourselves to attempt this one.

2. I had placed St. Vincent’s album Strange Mercy high on my Best Music of 2011 Survey, and my belief that it’s a masterpiece was made even stronger when I saw the series of live videos Annie Clark (St. Vincent’s real name) made for 4 AD Records (her label, once home to some of my ’80s faves like Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Clan of Xymox and others) that add a whole ‘nother level of mystique and majesty to some of the album’s stronger songs. This video has four songs from the live set, and then there’s a fifth song here that for some reason didn’t get edited into the long form one. Really nicely done . . . and they’re high definition videos, so blow ’em up to full screen and enjoy! (Note: Annie Clark’s live drummer is Matt Johnson, who I once saw tear the roof of the sucker in Albany when he was a member of the mighty Jed Davis’ Jeebus).

3. I grew up hearing stories about the time that my Dad stole the Frogmore Frog and found himself branded as a felon on Paul Harvey’s national radio broadcast. This story had enough resonance beyond my own immediate family that a Low Country South Carolina author has written a book about it, complete with a confession from another one of the perps. One of the Marine Corps Lieutenants referred to in the article was my dad, and I laughed reading the story, because his memory of the Paul Harvey radio broadcast was almost word for word what’s reported here. (Note: Don’t bother trying to find Frogmore on a map . . . the Coastal Development Carpetbaggers who descended on Beaufort County’s Sea Islands in the 1980s decided that the town name wasn’t posh enough, so it was changed to St. Helena, after the island it’s located on. I don’t consider this to be progress).

A Message to Garcia (Up Close and Personal)

Elbert Hubbard’s A Message to Garcia (1901) is an incredibly meaningful document in the lives of generations of United States Naval Academy graduates (like me), as it has long been used as an early and important part of the Plebe Summer training curriculum. It’s fundamental message? When you are a given a job to do, you just go and you get the job done. End of story.

Seems pretty obvious on some plane, but the language of the piece — not to mention the crucible within which most Naval Academy alumni first encountered it — leaves it looming large in our collective subconsciousness. In fact, there are few insults that sting as much as having a fellow member of the august Naval Academy community look you in the eye and say “message to Garcia” when you’re whining about not being able to get something done. It’s a powerful piece that resonates.

A couple of days ago, I was going through the database of rare books and documents contained in the Salisbury House Library, working to pull some records for an Iowa history project we’re working on. There was a long section in the database citing “Hubbard, Elbert” as the author of a variety of periodicals, books, or the initiator of various pieces of correspondence, including a hand-made Christmas Card sent to Carl and Edith Weeks, who built Salisbury House.

It took a few seconds for the proper neurons to close, and for me to realize that this was actually the author of A Message to Garcia. So I scrolled back up into the database, and discovered that we have five rare copies of early versions of this formative masterwork here at Salisbury House, along with scores of other tomes by its author. Hubbard was an accomplished man, until tragically being killed (with his wife) in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Carl Weeks admired him and his writing, and maintained correspondence with him for some period of time, and after his passing, continued what appeared to be an affectionate relationship with his son, Elbert Hubbard II, who provided Carl with some of his father’s original manuscripts.

Needless to say, it was a real treat for me to be able to grab a key out of my file cabinet, walk up a flight of stairs, and put my hands on some of these rare, early editions of A Message to Garcia, including a reproduction of the original hand-written manuscript provided to Carl Weeks by Elbert II. I reproduce some images below for those who have also been moved by the power of these words over the years. Enjoy!

Front cover of the 1901 edition; Fra Elbertus was a Hubbard pseudonym.

Front-page of the 1901 edition. Hubbard’s Roycrofters printed high-quality, limited edition books with exquisite designs and bindings.

First page of text of the 1901 edition. Much nicer looking than the smudged mimeograph version I first encountered in 1982!

A personalized manuscript portfolio provided to Carl Week by Elbert Hubbard II.

Cover page of the manuscript portfolio.

Certification of authenticity signed by Elbert Hubbard II.

First page of Hubbard’s hand-written manuscript of “A Message to Garcia.”

Last page of Hubbard’s hand-written manuscript.

You Can Go Back (Wyoming ’92 and ’12)

As noted yesterday, we took a unique approach to vacation over the past week, opting to visit a place where we actually lived 20 years ago — in part so that Katelin could have memories of it that weren’t based solely on photographs and tall tales told by me and Marcia. One of the benefits of taking such an approach to vacation is that we were able to go back to places where we had taken pictures years ago, to see how they (and we) looked, then and now. Here are some examples.

Marcia holding Katelin under the elk horn arches at Jackson, Wyoming’s town park, summer of 1991.

Marcia and Katelin under the arch in 2012. The park (and city in general) had a lot more people in it now than it did then.

Me holding Katelin in Cascade Canyon, in the Cathedral Group of the Teton Range, probably August of 1991.

Katelin and I at the same spot, more of less, August 2012. It was much easier for me to get up to that elevation when Katelin did it on her own steam, rather than on my back!

Katelin and Marcia in Cascade Canyon, circa 1991.

Katelin and Marcia in Cascade Canyon, August 2012.

Marcia at Hidden Falls, above Jenny Lake in the Teton National Park, probably summer of 1992.

Marcia at Hidden Falls last week.

Marcia at the summit of Grand Targhee Ski Resort in Alta, Wyoming, winter of ’91-’92.

Marcia atop Targhee, summer of 2012.

Sledding hill in Tautphaus Park, Idaho Falls, Idaho, just a couple of hundred yards from our house, our first winter there. We could ski out of our garage into the park!

Summer on the sledding hill, 2012.

We took a lot of photos that weren’t recreations of old scenes, too, including a bunch from various mountaintops around the region. If you’d like to see those other new photos, then click on the photo of my tired feet below, showing my hiker’s tan after a long day on the trails in and around Death Canyon and Phelps Lake in the Teton National Park. It was a great hike, on a great family vacation, in a great destination, then and now.

Good hiking boots do a pretty job of keeping the dirt, sweat and grime at bay.

Back from Wyoming

We’re back in Des Moines tonight after a week in the Jackson Hole, Wyoming region, near where we lived from 1991 to 1993. When we left the Mountain West to move to New York, I was still carrying Katelin up various steep mountain trails on my back. This time, she hiked them on her own, and we found and recreated some great photos from her earliest years. It was a wonderful vacation, and it was very cool to go back to a place that we knew well from prior experience — since we knew what we wanted to do, and didn’t waste time making tourist mistakes. I’ll post more about the trip soon, along with other piffle and tripe, once I’ve decompressed from all of the relaxing, and am back at my normal frenetic operating pace.

On the deck of our apartment in Jackson, Wyoming, with the slopes of Snow King Resort behind me.

Dodo/Lurker

1. For as long as I’ve been blogging, I’ve titled omnibus posts — meaning those with short, multiple topics — after songs by specific artists. In the beginning, these posts all had titles from songs by The Who. Then I used Bee Gees song titles for several years, and I’ve been using Frank Zappa song titles since around 2010 or so. Tonight, I feel inspired to honor a new band. Props to the music geek who identifies the new omnibus post titling band first. I should note that I am making the switch after watching about five hours of documentary interview footage online about this band’s back catalog. Because that’s how I roll, yo.

2. Marcia and I went to Omaha last weekend. It was our first time in Nebraska’s largest city, and we went to see a classic car exhibition at a restored historic manor house there, as a prep and research tour to support the exhibition that my staff and volunteers will be offering at Salisbury House. We stayed right downtown, and really enjoyed the Old Market area, with loads of stores, restaurants and bars packed into about a sixteen square block area abutting the Missouri River. We had an absolutely divine dinner at V. Mertz in a subterranean passageway in the Old Market, with excellent, knowledgeable service, an outstanding wine list, and some truly innovative and perfectly prepared entrees and small plates, largely featuring fresh regional meats and produce. I had a rock shrimp appetizer over polenta with a buckwheat fritter and great, tasty fruit and sauce accompaniments, while Marcia opened with a heritage tomato salad that looked like a work of art. I don’t care for tomatoes, but Marcia reported that its taste lived up to its appearance. For our main courses, Marcia had a duck dish that was built around the best tasting, most tender duck breast I have ever eaten, and I had a salmon entree prepared over a creamed wild rice bed, livened up with apples, turnips and fennel. We capped the evening with a beautiful, leathery 30+ year old Pedro Ximenez sherry and a flourless chocolate cake served with almond ice cream. We even had a perfect table, tucked into a little niche in the corner of the restaurant, where we could unobtrusively people watch, without being overwhelmed by other peoples’ conversations or traffic in and around the restaurant. It’s definitely a contender for the top ten list of greatest meals I’ve ever eaten. Highly, highly recommended the next time you find yourself in Omaha. Or anywhere nearby even, since it’s worth a trip in and of itself.

3. On our way to Omaha, we stopped in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to play a round of golf at the Dodge Riverside Golf Club, immediately adjacent to a large Harrah’s Casino. The course was pretty busy, so we waited at the tee box at most holes behind a foursome who were good golfers, but of that obnoxious variety who spend way too much time thinking about club selection and walking back and forth from their carts and swinging a dozen practice swings before each meaningful stroke of the ball. When we rounded the ninth hole, we headed straight for the tenth without stopping, hoping that we might leap frog the guys who had to throw grass in the air before every stroke, since we are pretty much “ready golf” kinds of players who just want to keep moving. When we got to the tenth hole, however, things did not look good: there was another foursome there who were clearly inebriated, having a loud conversation with a ranger. We sat back from the tee box so as not to crowd them, but one of the players saw us and waved and invited us to play through. We gratefully accepted. In the tee box, the foursome introduced themselves to me by first names, mentioning that they were in Council Bluffs for work, and that they lived in Los Angeles. I politely inquired as to what brought them to Iowa, and they said that they were in town to play a concert at the casino the following night. They asked me where they could get a good steak in town, and I apologized for not knowing the area well enough to give them a tip. We chit-chatted a bit longer, and then my music geek curiosity got the best of me, and I asked, “So what’s the name of your band?” Their answer? Weezer. Oops. I think they were kind of disappointed that I had to ask but, hey, I was really too old for college rock when they were at their creative and commercial pinnacle, so they aren’t on my “recognize immediately” radar screen. We thanked the four of them for letting us play through, though, and then amusedly watched them fall farther and farther behind us throughout the back nine. I think they must have stopped golfing altogether at some point and just decided to hold court in a bunker around the 16th hole.

4. One of the more entertaining things about being a long-time blogger is when people who have been reading my words for years without ever commenting decide to de-cloak and reveal themselves to me. Since I know the total traffic levels that my sites generate, and I know how many of those folks actively comment, I can deduce that something like 90% of my readership falls into the category of “lurkers:” people who happily read from the sidelines, without ever actively participating in the conversation. I appreciate this, since there are lots of sites where I do the same thing. So in honor of this post’s title, I formally applaud the lurkers of my various website . . . and if the spirit moves you to de-cloak via e-mail or comments, I’ll be delighted to have some idea of who you actually are. Holla!

5. My sister the artist honored by one her region’s leading arts businesses as the Asheville Area’s Artist of the Month, which she has concluded entitles her to assume the title of “Miss August.”