Fiat Linx

1. I researched and wrote an article about the Private Press movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century, and posted it over at the Salisbury House blog. Here ’tis, with pretty pictures. If you live in Des Moines, you can actually come see some of these extremely rare books, up close and personal, this Thursday night as we host our inaugural Treasures Tour. Mind blowing, for real.

2. For most of my professional career in Albany, I held down at least two paying jobs at the same time, and occasionally I had three or more, depending on how onerous the main job was. I’ve been missing the fresh perspectives provided by my freelance work, so now having some 15 months in the Des Moines market under my belt, I’m ready to re-hang my shingle to explore consulting and other opportunities to supplement the daytime gig. Want to hire me?

3. A tip of the cap and a warm “thank you” are due to the folks at the Des Moines Is NOT Boring blog, both for offering this kind plug via their widely-read Facebook and Twitter feeds, and then for giving RAYGUN head honcho Mike Draper the chance to affirm his taste and refinement when evaluating the strength of the local creative community inh is answer to question number six here. Thirteen months since its launch, Indie Moines continues to pretty regularly break its own daily, weekly and monthly readership records, with no marketing plan, no paid advertising (inbound or outbound), and only one grumpy old expat South Carolinian by way of New York providing content for a primarily Iowan audience. So it is satisfying to occasionally receive external validation like this to affirm that the website and its words are resonating with folks hereabouts.

4. I recently finished Bob Carruthers’ 2012 book Jollity Farm: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which incongruously uses perhaps the most iconic Iowa image imaginable on its cover, despite the fact that the Bonzo Dog Band were about as English as English can get. Go ahead. Click that link. You need to see it. Done? Alright, weird cover design notwithstanding, Jollity Farm was a very entertaining read about a band I’ve long loved, especially their masterpiece albums Keynsham and The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse. One of the glories of the internet era is that many of their television appearances from the 1960s (they starred on a show called Do Not Adjust Your Set with proto-Pythons Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and also appeared in The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour) are now available for easy viewing. Here’s a live performance of one of my favorites, featuring a legendarily awful guitar solo by Neil Innes, along with all sorts of other tomfoolery by these amazing showmen:

As Sure As Eggs is Eggs

1. John Crowley’s Engine Summer is among my all-time favorite books. It has such an unexpected, poignant and profound ending that I immediately re-read the whole book after finishing it the first time, just to experience the text while knowing what was coming at the end. Superb!!! Marcia read it soon after I did, and also counts it as a favorite. Katelin just finished reading it for the first time yesterday. I am glad to (finally) have someone new to discuss it with!

2. To the best of my knowledge, Jim Hodder sang lead vocals on only two commercially released songs: “Dallas” and “Midnight Cruiser” by Steely Dan. “Dallas” was intended to be the group’s debut single, but it was recalled at the last minute and, along with its b-side, “Sail the Waterways,” has pretty much been completely expunged from the Steely Dan catalog by mainstays Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. (Poco did release a cover version of the song years later, though). “Midnight Cruiser” appears on the Dan’s 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, when the group were  more democratically apportioning lead vocal tracks, Hodder taking his turn alongside David Palmer (who left the band soon afterward), Fagen and Becker. Once the Fagen-sung “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years” became hits, though, he became the full-time voice of Steely Dan, and Jim Hodder (who was also the group’s drummer) became the second original member of the band to depart after 1973’s Countdown to Ecstasy. (Hodder’s photo appears on the back of Steely Dan’s breakthrough album, Pretzel Logic, though the drum tracks on the album were played by Jim Gordon, with Hodder appearing only as a backing vocalist on “Parker’s Band”). After some spotty session and studio work in his post-Steely Dan years, Jim Hodder drowned in his own swimming pool in 1990, at the age of 42. So does it seem weird for me to claim him as one of my all-time favorite singers based on just two (amazing) songs? Click those links above to hear them yourself, before calling me crazy . . .

3. I’ve pretty much given up on most social networking of the Facebook and Twitter variety, but still maintain a current LinkedIn presence, simply because it’s a good way to keep the professional slate hanging out in front of my (virtual) office without a lot of idle, time-wasting chitchat from people I knew in third grade. If you use LinkedIn yourself, then InMap’s LinkedIn Labs is an interesting application that allows you to visualize your professional networks, and it becomes especially interesting if you have a lot of connections, as I do. (About 700 at this point). Here’s the summary map of my professional connections:

J. Eric Smith's professional network, visually mapped.

J. Eric Smith’s professional network, visually mapped.

You can click here to see a larger version, with me as the focal point in the center. The huge blue blob at right is my oldest social network: my classmates and colleagues from the Naval Academy, with whom I’ve maintained particularly close connections over the years as Class of 1986 Secretary, President and (now) Treasurer. The orange cluster at far left represents my time writing for Metroland and then being heavily involved in a variety of capacities in Albany’s music community for the better part of two decades. Adjacent to that cluster is a green group that represents my contacts from the greater nonprofit sector in Albany, outside of the University at Albany, which has its own blob in purple at bottom left. Between (and often overlapping with) those three groups is a light orange flavored cluster which is largely composed of folks I connected with during my four years as a blogger at the Albany Times Union. At the top of the chart are two fairly discrete clusters, the light blue one to the left representing the American Institute for Economic Research (where I worked for two years, and am still involved in a volunteer governance capacity), and the dark purple one representing my new professional community in Des Moines. Spidering among these various groups is a grey cohort (mostly above and to the left of the blue Naval Academy cluster) primarily representing my colleagues from the Supply Corps and Naval Reactors, who are apparently not terribly social.

Seis Snaps

Marcia and I went to a talk at the Drake Observatory about Trans-Neptunian Objects. Because that's how we roll.

Marcia and I went to a talk at the Drake Observatory about Trans-Neptunian Objects. Because that’s how we roll.

Belly dancing night at Open Sesame in the East Village.

Belly dancing night at Open Sesame in the East Village.

Ride the party bus . . . to Salisbury House. Ooo yeah!

Ride the party bus . . . to Salisbury House. Ooo yeah!

A wonderful pot of real Anson Mills grits, with great thanks to Leo for a thoughtful gift.

A wonderful pot of real Anson Mills grits, with great thanks to Leo for a thoughtful gift.

Katelin came home for Thanksgiving and announced that bowling is her new favorite thing. She infected me and Marcia with the bug, too.

Katelin came home for Thanksgiving and announced that bowling is her new favorite thing. She infected me and Marcia with the bug, too.

Still doing our part to light up America's Prettiest Christmas Block

Still doing our part to light up America’s Prettiest Christmas Block.

Visions of Angels

1. As November turns into December, Ashby Avenue in Des Moines is once again rapidly transforming into America’s Prettiest Christmas Block. Despite my deeply-seated Grinchly tendencies, I have already done my neighborly duty and hung an entirely credible (if not extravagantly complicated) string of blue and white lights around the front of our house. We had to take down a very big (but very sick) old tree in our front yard this fall, so when we replace it in the spring, we’ll have something else out front to hang lights on next year, adding a bit of depth to our holiday presentation. Cars are already beginning to slowly cruise our block with their headlights out, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll be watching similarly-darkened limousines and tour buses crawl by, filled with folks paying their chosen livery professionals for the privilege of gawking at our festively lighted neighborhood. How nice to be able to see it every night, for free!

2. Marcia and I went to see Ang Lee’s Life of Pi at our neighborhood movie theater on Friday night. We paid the premium price for the 3-D version, got our absurdly expensive popcorn and bottled water, and walked into a movie theater with a shockingly, oppressively tiny screen, so that no grand theatrical experience was going to be possible. When the film started, the projectionist didn’t make the adjustment from 2-D to 3-D correctly, so we had a black bar blocking the screen for part of the previews, and throughout the movie, the edges of the print were cut off, most glaringly during an important scene with subtitles, that we could not see fully, because they were projected under the bottom of the screen. I turned to Marcia at some point during the evening and said: “That’s it . . . I am done leaving home to see movies.” And I meant it. We have a large TV at the house with a good sound system and a Blu-Ray player, and it is cheaper for me to buy used Blu-Ray discs of movies than it is for us to go see a film in theater, and the experience is orders of magnitude better at home than it is in a theater. The movie itself was good, for what it’s worth, though its visuals were washed out and muddy for me because of the crappy 3-D effect that does little more than give me a headache and make the film on the screen look blurry. I may have to buy this one as a used Blu-Ray disc a year from now and watch it in the way it deserves to be seen, in the privacy of my own home.

3. USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was deactivated this week after 51 years of active duty Naval service. The Big E was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, steaming on the power provided by eight A2w reactors. While I never actually served onboard the Enterprise, she does have some special significance and resonance for me. First, her prototype reactors (A1W-A and A1W-B) were located at the Naval Reactors Facility at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, where I worked from 1991 to 1993. The A1W reactors were still being used to qualify sailors for fleet service at the time, and I did my qualifying training as a radiological controls worker in those plants. Second, in my last Naval Reactors job, I was the contracting officer who negotiated and managed a lot of equipment contracts related to Enterprise‘s mid-’90s refueling complex overhaul, so when Big E retired this week, she still had a lot of instrumentation, control, steam generator, circuit breaker and refueling equipment onboard that I would have priced and purchased on behalf of the nation’s taxpayers. She’s a legendary and important ship, and I’m proud to have played a tiny role in Enterprise‘s amazing career. I’m hoping the Navy turns the Big E into a public museum somewhere at some point, so I can go check up on the stuff I bought for her.

Evidence of Autumn

1. Marcia and I went to see President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalyn Carter speak at Drake University’s Knapp Center last night, some five minutes from our house. The last time we were there, we watched the Drake Bulldogs Men’s Basketball Team beat nationally ranked Wichita State in triple overtime.  I like the building, a lot. The Carters were incredibly spry for a couple marking their 66th year of wedded life in 2012, and they spent the evening talking about the great work they’ve done over the past three decades with the Carter Center, working on issues of social justice and equity around the globe. They were tremendously impressive, and I certainly hope that I am as sharp as they are when I am eye-balling my 90th birthday, as they both are.

Rosalyn and Jimmy Carter speak at Drake University last night. Lousy photo, but tremendous presentation.

2. Last Friday, Salisbury House hosted the annual Gatsby Gala, a major fundraising benefit that’s built around a 1920s/Prohibition-era theme. Folks dress to the nines for the party, and I felt like I had to go along, as much as I dislike grown-up dress-up fun on principle. But work is work, so I went with a 1920s G-man look, figuring that the Executive Director of the House should be on the side of the law, not the bootleggers. The event was very successful from both a fundraising and media standpoint, so I am grateful for that on both fronts.

J. Eric G-Man introduces next year’s Gatsby Gala Chair.

Me monitoring the check-in station, managed by delightful staff members Bonnie and Katie. They get things done. I appreciate that.

3. Tonight and tomorrow, our neighborhood celebrates the annual Beaverdale Fall Festival. We walked about tonight and then watched fireworks from our back yard. Tomorrow, Marcia is running in the neighborhood 5K Race. I will root her on from the finish line. I love living in the city.

Band playing in the middle of Beaver Avenue during Beaverdale Fall Festival 2012.

When I snapped this shot in front of our neighborhood Catholic church, the band was playing The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” Explication on this interesting fact is left to the reader’s discretion.

Dusk over Urbandale Avenue, two blocks from our house.

Big neighborhood fireworks display snapped from our back yard. Did I mention that I love living in the city?

Keep It Dark

1. I launched a new blog for my day job yesterday, here. I exported some stuff from Indie Moines just to stock it up a bit for the indexing spider bots, but also added a few new pieces about our upcoming fall programming at Salisbury House. I’m especially pleased with this piece about our Shakespeare program, which allowed me to do some primary source research in our incredible library. I don’t exaggerate when I say that there are few (if any) venues on the North American continent that can lay as deep a claim to being a perfect Shakespeare venue as we can. Even if you don’t live in Des Moines, it’s worth following us on Facebook, as we’re posting articles from our collection daily during the work week, and they’re pretty damn cool, if I say so myself. We have our biggest fundraising events of the year this weekend, so we’re a bit heavily focused on those right now, but we’ll be back into the guts of the collection next week, and there’s amazing stuff to see there. Go hit that “like” button, yo!

2. I often like things that conventional wisdom says I should not, especially when it comes to my musical tastes. Case in point: everybody knows that Donald Fagen is the voice of Steely Dan, as all of their best-known and most-popular songs have featured his nasal, sardonic vocal stylings. But . . . back when Steely Dan first got started, they actually had another vocalist, named David Palmer, who took leads on a couple of songs from their 1972 debut album, Can’t Buy A Thrill, including deep cut radio favorite “Dirty Work.” Some people are aware of that fact, but not many. Even more obscurely, though, Steely Dan’s original drummer, a fellow named Jim Hodder, sang lead vocals on one song on Can’t Buy a Thrill called “Midnight Cruiser,” and also took the lead on the Dan’s long lost (or suppressed) debut single, “Dallas.” Few people have ever heard either of these songs . . . but I love them both, dearly. (“Dallas” was actually covered by Poco some years later, but nobody heard that version, either). Jim Hodder was the first of the original members of Steely Dan to get the boot from the band, and was also the first to die: he drowned in his swimming pool in 1990. Here are his two vocal spotlights, just because they deserve to be heard and remembered as important parts of the Steely Dan canon, even if you’re not supposed to think that:

Midnight Cruiser

Dallas

3. I’m really kind of appalled that the Democratic Party operatives gave Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren a featured position at their National Convention. Per bullet number three in this post, having once been given the chance to trade in on my own (real) Cherokee heritage for professional reasons, and having declined to do so, I am profoundly bothered by her having opportunistically claimed minority status for personal gain — as well as by her continued refusal to come clean and/or meet with representatives of the Cherokee nation to discuss her fraudulent assertions about her heritage. Boo! Boo! And, again, Boo!

4. I just learned last week that intense singer-guitarist-songwriter Zoogz Rift passed away in March 2011. I guess he was so obscure that he didn’t make the obituary pages of any of the newspapers, magazines or websites that I was actively reading at that point. When I discovered that he’d flown away from this mortal coil, I went online to see what his long-time collaborator Richie Hass (an amazing percussionist) was up to. Last I’d heard, Richie was playing with the amazing Saccharine Trust, one of the few early SST Records bands still functioning deep into the 21st Century. Sadly, I then learned that Richie Hass had died of cancer in 2008, even more obscure (apparently) than Zoogz Rift was, since it took me even longer to learn of his passing. Sigh. Rift and Hass were great players, though, and they created a very impressive body of work together, cut from a Frank Zappa/Captain Beefheart sort of mold, only much more offensive, much of the time. If you haven’t heard Zoogz Rift and Richie Hass (and I’m thinking that includes 99.44% of those of you who are reading this post), here are three of my favorite songs from them, with fair warning given right up front that they contain very strong language and are not recommended for the faint of heart or weak of constitution. The first song is from the album Water (1987), while the other two are from Island of Living Puke (1986). See? I told you so . . .

I’ll Rip Your Brains Out

The Mo-Fo’s Are After Me

Shiver Me Timbers

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 (see bullet number five on this page for more about that), 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.

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 on September 9, 2012. 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 Indie Moines, Indie Albany, and J. Eric Smith Dot Com . . . 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 was 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.” Huttah!

Five Things That Make Me Happy

Let me note right up front that this is a shallow post . . . I’m talking about little things that make me happy, not profound ones. The big things don’t lend themselves to list-making of this online variety, because my family, and my home, and my work, and my friends please and delight me on such fundamental levels that they’re beyond reducing to a piffle and tripe blog post like this one. The fact that they make me happy goes without saying, so these five items are just the sorts of little details that make me smile amidst the rush and hustle of life. Simple pleasures. Easy thrills. Happy happy happy.

1. The “Metalocalypse” Theme Song: I love everything about this cartoon centered around a death metal band called Dethklok, who — despite its members’ idiocy and disregard for the consequences of their actions — become the world’s seventh largest economy, worthy of attention from a shadowy supernatural cabal called The Tribunal. But I particularly love the way that the series’ opening theme song boils everything stupid and happy-making about the death metal genre down into a perfectly nuanced 30-second nugget of brutal excellence. We tape “Metalocalypse” on our DVR, and for most shows, that would mean that we fast forward through the opening and closing credits. But I don’t allow that in this case, and make my family watch it in its entirety, every week, because it makes me smile with glee every time. Here ’tis, if you’ve not seen it:

2. Our Backyard Ecosystem: Marcia quickly created an amazingly beautiful series of gardens in our backyard in Des Moines, just as she had done in Albany. My role when it comes to these gardens is to provide brute labor when heavy things need to be moved, and to provide the required elements of chaos, either by sowing Johnny Jump-Up seeds that will propagate and blossom for years to come in places where they aren’t supposed to be, or by putting out feeders that bring critters to lively up the space. I have to refill my two bird feeders pretty much every day at this point, as we get an incredible assortment of avian visitors, and the seeds that they scatter also attracts fox squirrels, chipmunks and bunnies galore. We also have bats and cicadas aplenty, and I like seeing and listening to them, too. Sometimes when I look out at the backyard from our dining room, I can see literally dozens of mammal, bird and arthropod species going about their business, blissfully unaware of how much I am enjoying watching them do it.

Dining room at Alba, Des Moines. (Photo from their website).

3. Alba: This exceptional East Village venue is rapidly cementing its stature as my favorite restaurant in Des Moines, as we keep having outstanding dining experiences there. The menu is eclectic, with most of its dishes based on sautes involving fresh, rough cut vegetables and meats, served with beautifully balanced and tasty sauces. The service is knowledgeable and attentive without being obtrusive, the dining room is comfortable and spacious (it’s situated in a converted car showroom), the decor and location are appealing, and the wine list is strong, creating a complete dining environment that’s hard to match, in Des Moines or anywhere else I’ve been in recent years. We went there for dinner last night, and I had an incredible English Pea Soup followed by a prawn gnocchi dish to die for. Sublime, divine, and deliciously pleasurable.

4. The Lyrics of John Balance: It’s hard to explain why these make me happy, as you’d be hard pressed to find someone more different than me, on some plane, than John Balance, a proudly gay English musician with the group COIL whose chronic alcoholism led to his untimely death by misfortune in 2004. (His long-time musical and personal partner, Peter Christopherson, also flew from this world in 2010, which I wrote about, here). Balance’s subject matter was often dark, and reading many of his lyrics after his demise creates an uncanny sense that he knew it was coming, perhaps even down to the manner of his passing (e.g. “When I find you I will remind you: most accidents occur at home.”) But I still listen to his music on almost a daily basis, and I am regularly moved by the beauty of his words and the imagery that they evoke, regardless of their seemingly insurmountable surface darkness. As I type, I am listening to COIL’s “Are You Shivering?“, which contains the following lines: “In the oceans of the moon / swimming squidlike and squalid / This bright moon is a liquid / The dark earth is a solid / This is moon music in the light of the moon.” “Squidlike and squalid”?!? That’s lyrical magic, and it makes me happy to know that such creative beauty can emerge from such seemingly dark spaces.

5. The Library at Salisbury House: I said I wasn’t going to write about obvious things like my work, and this is equally obviously work related, since as Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation, I am responsible for the care and promotion of this incredible collection of books and documents. But the happiness this collection evokes in me is deeper than sheer professional responsibility would dictate, as I am legitimately moved — deeply — by the objects that are housed in my workplace.  I have spent a lot of my time at Salisbury House researching this under-utilized and under-promoted resource, and the more I study, the happier I get about the objects that have been placed under my supervision and care. I have held in my hands a leaf from an original Gutenberg Bible, and a letter signed in 1492 by King Ferdinard II of Aragon, and a hand-illuminated Book of Hours from the 14th Century, and galley proofs hand-edited by James Joyce, and a first edition Book of Mormon, and countless other epic historic and literary works, experiencing their corporeality and presence in ways that few people will ever have an opportunity to share. I spent most of this week working on a grant application to the National Endowment of Humanities to allow us to better catalog and share this awesome material, and among my many aspirations for Salisbury House, few would make me happier than reaching a point where our library receives the international acclaim from scholars and researchers that it deserves.

So those are some things that are making me happy these days. What sorts of things are rocking your worlds?

The library at Salisbury House. The shelves to the left of the fireplace contain some of the world’s most amazing D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce collections, which make me shiver every time I walk into the room. How could I not be happy to spend time here?

Automobiles, Architecture, Artistry and Awe

One of the biggest events we do each year here at my place of work is the Salisbury Concours d’Elegance, an exhibition of exquisite classic automobiles which will be held on Sunday, September 9, 2012. This event is a good fit for our organization on a variety of planes, first and foremost because we have three exceptional automobiles of our own in the House collection — two Packards (1929 and 1933) and a Cadillac (1932) — and it’s nice for them to have classy company and eager visitors on occasion.

But I think there’s also a deeper resonance between the aesthetics of classic car design and the artistic and architectural presence here at Salisbury House. To explore this theme further, I wrote a piece for the Concours d’Elegance Planning Committee’s newsletter about how we fit and work together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. You can read it by clicking on the image of our ’33 Packard below, parked in front of our cottage. It includes some other awesome shots of art, architecture and automobiles, all taken where I go to work each day, at Salisbury House and Gardens.

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