Friday, May 23, 2014

The Brew Tour, Part 2

September 14-September 29, 2013.  Bar Harbor, Maine.
From the beginning of planning for the Caravan of Wonder, we knew that an abiding concern for Waller Grant, or at least for Major Dude, would be local craft beer.  I have reported on the allure of the grain for the first 6 weeks of the trip in the post “The Beer Tour.”  However helpful or entertaining that post may have been for the general, random thirsty reader, it was a dangerous precedent and set Major Dude, with the oddly encouraging enable-ment from Knightsmama, into constant search for even more tasty brewskies,  Most likely it was Ommegang and its kitchen, which matches their amazing beers with delightful morsels, that propelled Mr and Mrs Dude into their desperate search.  Sadly, the Dude has found few beers that equal Ommegang’s, yet.  I’ll leave it to Knightsmama to report on the culinary aspects of the journey. 
A Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale
            at Little Anthony's
I began this particular blog post sometime in the fall, but the process of double checking facts, consulting web pages, and such matters just kind of stopped me as we continued moving from one state to the other.  The other problem was that I just didn’t want to make it seem like I was merely drinking my way across America.  So today, here in May in California, the kids have requested a rest day.  And for some reason, I decided to return to this unfinished blog.  I remember now what a pain it is.  I had almost rather write the research papers for the classes I am taking. 
Mid-September the Caravan headed out of from Salisbury, Massachusetts, and travelled north toward Bar Harbor, Maine, with a brief afternoon tangent in Freeport and the Mecca that is L.L. Bean.   I believe it was the second day in Bar Harbor, that Dr. J. and I celebrated a not-warm-and-really-kind-of chilly day by riding our bikes in Acadia National Park.  We completed our 16-mile ride earlier than expected.  Knightsmama and Captain Crunch were still exploring other parts of the park, so Dr.J and I headed into Bar Harbor.  Once we survived the frightening automotive assaults by New Jersey drivers—Dr. J.’s assessment, as I was too nervous to look at license plates—we settled in Little Anthony’s, a sports bar, just as the Patriots game was ending.  We ordered some fries and soda for Dr. J.  I scoped out the beer selection and noticed a pumpkin ale.  Remembering how much I enjoyed Schlafly’s Pumpkin Ale, I gave Shipyard’s a try.  I was not impressed.

Shipyard Brewing (Portland, Maine).  Pumpkinhead Ale.        2 Bunnies.  I am glad they tried.  But this one was just too watery.  Pumpkins deserve better.  (If you have forgotten The Major Dude’s rating system, please see the end of this post for a refresher (pun intended.).

A couple of days later, Knightsmama was ready to repeat our lovely afternoon in Newburyport—a happy married couple out for some happy hour snacks.  First, we hit Finback Alehouse where Knightsmama and I shared some crabcakes , and I tried a Porter without much enthusiasm.  I thought I would remember the name, but the beer was not memorable, it would seem.
Atlantic Brewing's Real Ale

It was still early.  The boys were, no doubt glad that mom and dad had left the ship and were joyfully satisfying their addiction to xbox.  So we wandered a few blocks and reluctantly decided to join the tourists at the Cherrystone Bar in last 30 minutes of happy hour:  flatbreads and draft beers half-priced.  In another of those lessons about not judging a bar by its awnings, we thoroughly enjoyed two flatbreads, a glass of Malbec and AtlanticBrewing Company’s Real Ale.  Of course, wait staff always makes or breaks an experience.  Our waiter was a wonderfully charming man who was handling a very busy bar by himself with grace and aplomb.

Atlantic Brewing Co.  Real Ale.  5.2% ABV.  An English Brown Ale Style. 4 Walters/3 Dudes.  I began this year on the road thinking I did not like this style.  Maybe it is the cooler weather, but the English Brown Ales are growing on me.  This one had a bit more carbonation than some others. 

A few afternoons later, Knightsmama and I returned to Bar Harbor and again left the boys at the campground for a little time without parental supervision.  Just a bit up the block from Cherrystones is the Bar Harbor Brewing Tasting Room.  We wondered around the store a bit, slightly off put by all the merchandise, and finally made it into the tasting room where a young man and woman stood behind the bar.  The woman was occupied with a couple—he in a muscle shirt and she in a pink halter top.  Knightsmama will probably correct me about their attire, but I have given you the tone of my impression.  The young man behind the bar gave me the perfunctory nod and “Would you like to taste some of our beer?” come on.  My feeling is that he had placed Knightsmama and me in the same category as the other couple.  Bar Harbor Brewery is a small outfit, one of the first in the area.  I think Atlantic Brewing has bought it or something.  The tasting includes four brews.

Bar Harbor Brewing. (Bar Harbor, Maine).    True Blue. Blueberry Wheat Ale 5.2% ABV.   1 Donnie.  I guess I drank this.  I wasn’t interested.  The guy talked.  I wanted to get to something that was not a tourist trick.
Lighthouse Ale.  2 Donnies.  The guy asked me how well I liked it and I didn’t.  I could quite put into words what it was.  It just seemed dull.  The aftertaste just disappeared.  The something in the beer needed more presence—the malt, the hops, something.  He said that he agreed.  And after that, I guess seeing that I just wasn’t in there for light beer, we began to chat and enjoy the afternoon.
Thunder Hole Ale 4.8% ABV.  An English Brown Ale style.  Here is where the server and I began enjoying talking.  Here we had a tasty, malty brew.  It felt good and full in the mouth.  Some caramel flavor. 4 Walters.
Cadillac Mountain Stout 6.8%.  This is an Irish Dry Stout.  Good, dark, rich.  Full creamy chocolate flavor.  4 Dudes.  I would like to have some of this around the house.
Atlantic Brewery's Scottish Ale
The Buckaroo Standing Guard

At the tasting room, I also purchased Atlantic Brewing Company’s Scottish Ale with heather tops.  I drank it a few days later while barbecuing some chicken. It was a slightly chilly day with a threat of rain that never developed.  I enjoyed it.  It rested on the tongue pretty well.  I could taste heather tops, but then I wouldn’t know what heather tops taste like.   There was a kind of sweet earthy taste with fruity or flowery tastes on top.

Atlantic Brewing Company:  Scottish Ale.  7.1%  4 Dudes

Colleen’s dad, The Buckaroo, flew up from Texas to visit us for a week.  We did all sorts of fun and exciting things, including playing putt putt.  And, although he does not drink, Knightsmama and I took him to Cherrystone’s for happy hour.  Again, the place was very busy, and the waitress was a bit brusk and off-putting as she took our orders.  Knightsmama was craving the flatbreads.  Six months later she will remember the one with white sauce and clams.  She had her Malbac and I enjoyed Atlantic Brewing Real Ale again. The other beers on draft included a couple of Longtrail, but that was a Vermont brewer and I decided to remain loyal to Maine.  Then, since the waitress began warming up to us as we stayed longer and spent more money, I asked her what she would recommend of those they had in bottles.  She made a special Shipyard Pumpkin, in a pint glass rimmed with honey and a cinnamon and sugar mixture.  It was her mother’s favorite.  It was fine, a lovely drink on an sunny, early fall day.  She was so kind to go to the trouble.   And to my taste it vastly improved the experience of the rather light beer.
My Special Pumkinhead Ale
We are in Maine and in Bar Harbor so we had to experience a Lobster.  I had somewhat enjoyed a couple of lobster rolls at road side establishments.  I had not been particularly over-whelmed by them.  But, you know, everyone talks about what great lobster is to be had in Maine, so I tried again.  There is a friendly service that delivered.  A nice fellow showed up at the door of The Monster with a thick brown paper bag all steaming and such.  We paid him, tipped him, said good-bye and prepared for our family the lobster experience.  The Buckaroo was still with us, so he helped.  The problem was that nobody knew how to break open a lobster.  So we got on the internet, viewed a couple of videos, and began pinching and whacking.  Juice squirted as I tackled the two lobsters.  Juice squirted again as The Buckaroo twisted and disjointed the crablegs from the two crabs included.  Knightsmama and the boys tasted the corn and potatoes.  All was fine until, we noticed Captain Crunch in the corner of the couch, bent over crying lightly and almost silently.  While we had all been glorying in our new found savage enjoyment of ripping once living creatures to pieces, he had been remaining true to his compassion and tenderness.  When it was all said and done, The Buckaroo and I enjoyed the lobster and crab. But I remained unenthusiastic about this supposedly wonderful delicacy.  By the way, I drank a 22 ounce bottle of Slumbrew’s Lobstah Killah.

Slumbrew (Somerville, Massachusetts)  Lobstah Killah.  Imperial Red Ale.  8.0% ABV.  3 Walters.  I am living and learning.  A wonderful alcohol content to the beer.  A good punch.  More or less smooth.  But I am learning I am not a huge fan of Red Ales either.
Lobstah Killah!

We stayed in Bar Harbor for two weeks, so we had a lot of time to explore and wander.  One last thing we accomplished was a wine tasting and another Brewery Tour. First, we hit Bar Harbor Cellars and enjoyed the wines they bottled.  They purchase grapes from Europe and California and then work their magic in Maine.  Knightsmama greatly enjoyed their wines and bought several bottles to share with our hosts on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Next, we headed off on one of the smaller roads and found Atlantic Brewing Company.  Atlantic pretty much has the Bar Harbor region sewn up.  It tends to be the beer in the various restaurants.  So we went to the center of the action.  The entire family enjoyed the short but informative tour of the facilities.  The tour guide was a lovely young lady with obvious high regard for the founders.  We caught them on a day when they were not bottling.  But one thing stood out.  What we love about craft brewers is that they are in it for the love of brewing.  These are small operations with very smart and dedicated people.  Let’s raise a class to all the craft brewers across America.  After the tour, about twenty of us stood in the gift shop and tasting room and drank our little ounces in plastic cups.  The tour group included folks of all ages—my sons received tastes of their craft sodas and gave them thumbs up.  After the tasting, we walked to the adjoining building and ate a late lunch at Mainely Meats.  Knightsmama and I shared a combo plate of ribs, brisket, chicken, potato salad.  I ordered an Atlantic Brewing Company beer I had not tasted, their Ellen Coffee Stout.
Thunder Hole Ale

Mount Desert Island Ginger, 5.7% ABV.  A wheat beer.  Sure, pretty good. Unique.  Has a punch of alcohol.  2.5 Bunnies
Blueberry Ale 5.1%.  In our group, the middle-aged women liked it.  I know I am here in Maine and it’s blueberry country, etc. etc.  Call me a spoil sport.  I just can’t get into the fruit beers.  2 Special Lady Friends.
New Guy IPA.  6.0% I am not remembering much about this one, except that as the group tasted it you could sure see the difference between the hop lovers and the malt lovers.  As I remember it, the hops stood out, but not in a really big way.  It was fine, but not special.  2 Walters.
Real Ale 4.8% ABV.   A repeat tasting from evenings at Cherrystone’s. This is a beer I would by in six packs and drink on a regular basis.  It would not be my only and every beer, but I would like having it around.  4 Walters/3 Dudes.
Coal Porter. 5.6% ABV.  A nice rich dark color.  Chocololate notes.  Very tasty.  And my favorite of the Atlantic regular line-up.  4 Walters.
Ellen’s Coffee Stout 5.4% ABV.  Yuck.  I will like the occasional coffee stout.  This is not one of them.  To me, it tasted like scoops of instant coffee mixed into a dark beer.  If you look on Beer Advocate, people tend to like this one.  Brave try to be arty, but on my tongue a bust.  2 Special Lady Friends.
Ellen's Coffee Stout at Mainely Meats

The rating system:
I rate the beers with a scale of my own creation,  based on the Guardian Saints of this journey, characters from the Cohen brothers’ classic movie, The Big Lebowski.   The basic idea is 1 to 5.  One being a beverage I would prefer not to drink, and five being one I really, really enjoy.  But there are different kinds of ones and twos and so forth based on the brewers goals and the mood I would be in to have to drink it. 
·    
Dudes:  This is what I really like.  I have no idea what others say about it, and I don’t care.  Be careful.  I am holding a beverage here. A beer can get 3, 4, or 5 dudes. 
Walters: Good stuff.  I like it. You should like it, too.  But it ain’t fancy.  Back in Nam . . . .  A beer can get 2-4 Walters. 
Donnies:  Look, you can drink this if you like.  Others do.  If you love craft beer, these might be out of (below) your league. 2-3. 
Nihilists:  Nobody cares. Drink it, if you don’t care either. 1-2.  
Special Lady Friends:  Somebody’s getting artsy and it might work. 2-5. 
Bunnies:  Dangerous stuff. Could be fun if there is an ATM around. 1-5


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

L.A. Freeway

From Joshua Tree National Park, we headed west on California 62 and caught Interstate 10.  We had avoided 10 back in Texas, crossing it twice, once going south on Texas 17 toward Balmorhea, and again, heading north on US 90 at Van Horn. Can’t say I missed it much.  Here in California, it left me white knuckled, a state of being to which I was soon to grow accustomed, if not fully acclimated.  On the outskirts of Los Angeles, I grabbed the 605 south, until I drifted into 105 west.  The 105 just sort of peters out south of LAX and becomes the Imperial Highway.  At the light, we crossed Vista Del Mar, and after conferring with a county official, took a bend down a small rise and arrived at Dockweiler County Park.  Dockweiler is an RV Park on the beach, little more than a parking lot with water, gas, and sewage hook-ups.  Yet, it is remarkably inexpensive, when compared to the capitalist RV parks in the area.  This time, I backed The Monster in fairly quickly and without high drama.  We were settled for six nights.  
A View of Los Angeles
We had arrived about 2:00, which is quite early for us.  So Knightsmama and Dr. J headed off in the Big Ass Truck.  They drove north on Vista Del Rey, took Culver to Lincoln into Santa Monica, where they left Dr. J.’s bike at the Performance Bike Store.  They also accomplished some random shopping while I stayed in The Monster and caught up on my reading for the class I am taking.  At this moment, it was The Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Enlightenment France is the perfect counter-point to Twenty-First Century LA.
We had arrived at Dockweiler on a Friday, of Mother’s Day Weekend. Saturday morning, Knightsmama and I retraced some of her previous driving and gathered information at the Marina Del Rey Visitor’s Center, strolled around a bit and imagined, once again, a life on a sailboat.  In the afternoon, we retrieved Dr. J.’s bicycle.  At Dockweiler, the parties continued, and through deep breathing and faint memories of my reading from Tich Nhat Hanh, I survived the hubbub of several large family barbecues, twelve-packs of Bud Light, and very loud accordion polkas.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not really complaining—it could have been revving families of tattooed bikers blaring 90’s L.A. Metal.
Sunday morning, my friend Francine and her two sons treated my two sons to a full day and night at Disney Land.  Knightsmama and I took the 105 to the 405 and spent a lovely Mother’s Day afternoon at the Getty Museum, perched high on the hill.  It’s a truly gorgeous museum, which I enjoyed more for the architecture than for the art.  We did catch Jackson Pollock’s 1943 Mural, which he painted for Peggy Guggenheim.  The Getty had studied and restored the painting, and in one room, through wall displays, took us through their analysis of Pollock’s technique, materials, and process.  Another fascinating display, in context of this trip, was a series of Ansel Adams photographs, including several from Yosemite and other national parks.  
The Getty.  photo by Knightsmama
Leaving The Getty, on the spur of the moment, we decided to avoid the 405 and just ride along Sepulveda until we turned right on to Santa Monica Boulevard.  We parked a few blocks from The Third Street Promenade.  We strolled, watched jugglers and mimes, listened to Middle Eastern pop, male and female singer-songwriter types, and some lovely light jazz on guitar.  This guitarist sat near George’s Bistro Restaurant, so I decided this was a perfect setting for our late lunch/early dinner.  We sat cozily at a table for two in the sidewalk seating.  Knightsmama enjoyed her fish, as I did my cobb salad and glass of Reisling.  The crowd was thick with people worth watching.  After dinner, we went in search of a light sweet and wi-fi, which we eventually found at the El Segundo Starbucks, a mile or so away from Dockweiler.  Finding reliable, fast wi-fi is, sadly, always a goal because at most RV Parks, especially those run by governmental agencies, the wi-fi is neither.  A case of you get what you pay for?  Sometimes.
Monday, if memory serves, we avoided driving The Big Ass Truck completely.  We biked up north to Santa Monica, where we made our third visit to Performance Bikes.  This time the primary reason was to solve a shoe issue for Captain Crunch.  Throughout this trip, he had been wearing his mother’s clipless shoes, because his needed the cleat replaced and we couldn’t get the old cleat out.   (I don’t know why these shoes are called “clipless,”  because with “clipless shoes” you clip in with a cleat and special pedal.)  Our family is partial to the brand Eggbeaters by Crank Brothers, because that is the brand that Dr. J.’s mountain bike team tended to use.  Well, nine months into the trip, we finally got the Captain’s cleat removed and a new set installed in the old shoes.  He is now all set.  Also, I purchased a new tire, since I had been getting lots of flats lately (including one riding up to Santa Monica.)  We enjoyed a quick lunch at Shophouse, a new Asian-based fast food restaurant that I would invest in if I were looking for a franchise opportunity.  
Dr. J. Working on His Core
Then we headed back south to Venice Beach.  We hung out, quite literally, at the Muscle Beach area, watching some very handsome men, and one woman who was a dead ringer for Knightsmama twenty years ago.  The boys found the rings particularly enticing.  At one point, a very ripped, glistening dude strolled over to offer Dr. J. some advice.  After an hour of watching the boys, I took off on my bike, first, to explore the back streets of Venice Beach, and next to add some miles to the day’s ride.  After all, it was a beautiful day, the wind was light, and the beach bike trail is flat.  Lately the rides I have been able to get in have at some point always proven difficult.  At Canyonlands, the elevation change was quite difficult and required some stopping mid-climb before my heart jumped out of my throat.  The wind at Joshua Tree caught me head-on a couple of times when climbing some slight or moderate rises, but it was enough to  strain the legs.  This day was an almost perfect day, so I left the family in Venice Beach and rode south past Dockweiler to Hermosa Beach, where a poet friend from Texas, Brady Peterson, often vacations.  I can see why.  In fact, on Wednesday morning, Knightsmama and I rode our bikes there for breakfast, and on Wednesday night we made the boys ride with us for a final dinner with Francine.
On Tuesday, Knightsmama, the boys, and I did our only really LA tourist day.  We headed out on the 105, caught the 110 north toward downtown, then connected to the 101 and the Hollywood area.  We had a fun morning just being tourists on Hollywood Boulevard.  Captain Crunch and Knightsmama had a good time in Sweets watching folks make hard candy.  I enjoyed Grauman’s Chinese Theater (I am not going to call the theater by his new corporate name—I am sick of corporations buying everything and destroying history to highlight some fake civic spirit) and the walk of the stars.  I learned I could not afford to hang out in the famous writers’ restaurant Musso and Frank’s.  But I didn’t let that fact deter me from imagining a lunch with Scott Fitzgerald back in the day.  Instead, we sat on stools outside Skooby’s Hot Dog Stand, enjoyed our dogs, and fried potatoes and cold lemonades. 
Lunch on Hollywood Blvd.
            We walked up and down several blocks.  The boys peaked in windows and I read names of  the stars.  It made me think of a few things.  First is how little my sons know much about things that happened, say, between World War II and 9/11.  Second is how important Hollywood has been in my understanding of the world, even though, as an English major, I have traveled a fairly serious, somewhat highbrow track through life.  The third is that I know that I have missed an incredible amount of life, and that there are so many accomplished people who deserve our respect, and we have no idea who they are. 
            So we strolled down the street and pointed out P Diddy or The Olsen Twins for Dr. J to notice.  I see my contemporaries like Kevin Costner, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Barbra Streisand.  I guess Dr. J. will know who they are, sort of.  But does he appreciate them in the way that I did/do Jimmy Steward, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Barbara Stanwyck, and Doris Day?  And let’s step further back:  Clark Cable, Hedy Lamarr, Betty Davis, James Cagney, Charlie Chaplin.  How much do I really know of them?  I know, fairly well, movies from the forties, but I am pretty weak on those from the thirties, and I am intellectually mute on those before the talkies.
            So there is a way to walk Hollywood Boulevard in which one star gazes, in the way that I would watch the Oscars or Grammy’s and admire dresses, film clips, and various levels of real and faked sincerity.  Another way is to remember our nation’s history, as reflected in the history of Hollywood, which includes the content of the films made, and the kinds of roles and actors and writers and directors that the American people elevated in fame and appreciation. 
A Star for America
            I mean it is a long way to go from Buster Keaton to Bob Hope to Lenny Bruce to Eddie Murphy to Adam Sandler.  Or from Douglas Fairbanks to Clark Gable to Sidney Poitier to Tom Selleck to Matt Damon.  Or from Lillian Gish to Carole Lombard to Dorothy Dandridge to Elizabeth Taylor to Susan Sarandon to Kristen Stewart.  Of course, lists like these are always inaccurate and deceptive.  There are always the great and the inconsequential, the over-rated and the under-rated.  Here, though, are two themes that are haunting me in the Caravan of Wonder.  One:  How does the past relate to the present?  Are we better off? Worse?  Probably neither.  But we are different.  We see the world differently.  Don’t we?  I mean, at moments, Kelsey Grammer reminds me of Jack Benny.  But I can’t see Jack Benny “making it” today.  Two: who and what do we honor and how, and when.  And who is the “we” doing the honoring?
            So I had one bit of honoring to do.  As I wrote in a previous blog back while we were in New York, Scott Fitzgerald is one of my heroes.  As an undergraduate at the University of Texas, I obsessed over his writings and his life.  One of my favorite books and movies was Beloved Infidel.  The book was written by Sheilah Graham, who was a society writer in Hollywood.  In the late thirties, as Scott attempted to make enough money to support his daughter and keep Zelda cared for in the asylum, he, like many writers, turned to Hollywood, where the pay was good.  Sheila and Scott met and fell in love.  Scott climbed on the wagon, fell off, climbed back on, and began his final book, The Last Tycoon.  Sheila was generally uneducated in literature and art, so Scott developed a curriculum for her, which she presents in another book, College for One.  I had always found this curriculum fascinating in that it said a great deal about Fitzgerald as a serious, well-educated, and ambitious writer, and because it helped guide my own outside-the-classroom reading.   
Sheilah Graham's Apartment
            I remember I watched Beloved Infidel on television.  I suppose it was either on late at night—stations used to put on old movies after midnight—or on a weekend afternoon—stations used to do that also when they did not have a sporting event to broadcast.  I remember first seeing The Razor’s Edge one afternoon in my father’s house.  He couldn’t understand why I was in the back room instead of the den watching a ball game.  But I was totally captivated by Maugham’s story and by Tyrone Powers and Gene Tierney.  In the same way, I totally and fully romanticized Beloved Infidel with Gregory Peck, playing Fitzgerald, and Deborah Kerr, as Graham.  I think I had recently seen Kerr in Tea and Sympathy and was temporarily smitten with her.
            So I am telling you all this because I had a pilgrimage to make.  Already this year, I had visited Scott’s and Zelda’s graves in Rockville, Maryland.  I wanted to pay homage to Scott in Hollywood.  Some web page listed where Scott lived and where he died.  It turns out that he suffered his heart attack in Sheila’s apartment, 1443 North Hayworth Avenue.  He lived elsewhere in Hollywood, but had moved in with her because he was having trouble with the stairs at his own apartment.  When I read this, I had one of those funny flutters in the heart.  Three years ago, it was climbing stairs at my office at Austin Community College that triggered my awareness that I needed to see a doctor.  It was just a little tightness, a little twinge, but it slowed me down and caught my attention.  I went in for some tests and by the end of the day, I had two stents in the Lower Anterior Descending Artery, the so-called “Widow Maker.”  The doctor told Knightsmama that, if I hadn’t come in, the probability was that within two weeks I would have been mowing the lawn and pop.  That would have been it.  Well, that is basically what happened to Scott Fitzgerald, at age forty-four, in Hollywood, in Sheila Graham’s apartment, listening to music.  You are here; then you are gone. 
            In Scott Fitzgerald’s case, he left a daughter, who by all that I can tell, grew up to be a wonderful lady who guided her father’s legacy well and who raised her own fine and happy family.  Scott left several short stories and novels that will be read as long as people are reading.  Back on Hollywood Blvd, all those people signified by all those stars and hand prints and foot prints and sloppy signatures, they, too, left or, as in the cases of the living, will leave something similar, a song, a character, a script, an invention, a technique, a film, a dance, a joke or two.  I think I am past the point of having heroes.  But I am not past the point to appreciating what they have created.  I don’t need to see Brad Pitt or get his autograph or buy him a drink or snap his picture.   I can watch him in Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life” or in “A River Runs through It.”  That’s enough. 
            I suppose I should say the same thing about Fitzgerald.  That I don’t need to visit his grave or the apartment where he died.  I have his books and those terrifically honest essays about his “Crack up,” that state I have tried to avoid since I read about it.  However, I think there is something substantially different about celebrity hunting and my little pilgrimages.  While both activities are about me, not about the writer or celebrity, my pilgrimages affect only me.  Scott and Sheilah do not have to draw the curtains, lock the door, wear hats and sunglasses to avoid me, or smile kindly but distractedly while I frame them in my iphone.  Maybe their spirits are hovering somewhere, wondering when they will be free of fans. Just as likely they are held in purgatory until a certain number of homages are paid.  But I doubt it. 
            My pilgrimages are for me, and I think, concern two things.  The first is that I should continue to aim high.  Most likely in thirty or forty years, when my last friend has died, no one will remember a single word I wrote.  Still that doesn’t mean that I should not keep trying to hit the bull’s eye with the arrow of some sentence. I should have some goals.  I should still strive to be excellent at something.  Reminding myself about someone else’s excellence guides me toward my own.  The second is that I believe that I am improved, educated if you like, when I acknowledge skill and achievement.  It cleanses me of the shit of daily life, and replaces it with something beautiful or strong or courageous or sweet.  I walk down Hollywood Boulevard and see Bing Crosby’s star and then I think of “White Christmas,” and that makes me think of the duet with Rosemary Clooney, “When I am tired and lonely and cannot sleep, I count my blessing instead of sheep.”  Corny, sure, but it is a better thought to have in one’s head than “What’s wrong with me that I can’t afford to take my family for lunch at Musso and Frank’s?”
            Anyway, I have drifted far off topic.  (Even though, in the long run, I have not, since I am supposed to enjoy this adventure and learn from the wondering.)  After taking a photo of what I guessed was Sheila Graham’s apartment (There is no sign announcing the importance of the address, and I have not done the scholarly work yet to double check on possible changes of addresses or razings and rebuildings.), we made our way over to Wilshire Boulevard and took the boys to Petersen’s Automotive Museum.   
Rolls Owned by Liberace
            This little adventure was solely a treat for the boys, especially for Dr. J., who is obsessed with automobiles, especially fast and expensive ones.  While he took the extra guided tour of the “Petersen Vault,” Captain Crunch and I wandered the standard museum.  Knightsmama met up with Francine at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts.  Captain Crunch and I wandered through the life-sized dioramas on the history of the automobile.  As at The Henry Ford and Smithsonian, I particularly enjoyed the displays illustrating how the automobile transformed travel vacation and American Culture from motel architecture to kitchy roadside art and fast food.  We also got to see a series of Town Cars, including Liberace’s silver mirrored Rolls Royce and Fred Astair’s 1927 Rolls.  In addition, we caught the exhibit called “Mustangs Forever: 50 Years of a Legend.”  I have to admit to being somewhat immune to the siren song of the Mustang.  If I were to acquire an older car purely from love and affection, it would probably be a Woody Station Wagon from the late forties, or a mid-seventies BMW 2002, maybe a late sixties VW Hippie Van.  What can I say?  I am not cool.  Yet, when across the crowded room I caught a glimpse of a powder blue 1964 Mustang Convertible, I momentarily fell in love, tripped over my cane, and began babbling nonsensical phrases.  Here was the starlet, as fresh and appealing as young Farrah Fawcett, perfect in her innocent sex appeal.  Oh, everything done to her over the years was just unnecessary surgery. Who cares if styles and cultures change?  Just let the classics age naturally.
            Meanwhile, Dr. J. received his own education in beauty and excellence and history, but for the life of me I can’t get him to spill the beans.  He saw one of the cars that survived the filming of Thelma and Louise. When we were in Utah, we made him watch the final scene on YouTube.  There were autos associated with FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower, with Elvis and Saddam Hussein, with Audrey Hepburn and Katherine Hepburn, with Steve McQueen and Tom Selleck.  Model T’s, Model A’s, Franklins, Packards, Volkswagen Beetles, Mercedes, Ferraris, Rolls Royces, Cadillacs, Chevrolet Fleetmasters, Ford GT’s, Porsches, Jaguars, and more.  He saw over an hundred cars on a tour limited to 20 people, which took two hours.  For someone like Dr. J., I can’t help but think the tour was priceless.  He loved it for the engineering and automotive style.  I think I would have enjoyed the history and gossip.  After the tours and such we met up with Francine and Knightsmama, enjoyed milkshakes at Johnny Rockets (I had coffee), and then let Francine return to her family. 
We had had a complete day, but Dr. J. had one more request:  Rodeo Drive.  Dr. J. had wanted to see just one real life amazing car on the road, and I think Knightsmama just wanted to catch sight of just one amazing Hollywood star.  But no luck on either count.  We decided we would have been better off at Whole Foods.  That’s where People Magazine gets all there discreet shots.  Now it was time to head back to the trailer, in full on Los Angeles traffic.  I wish I could tell you the route we took back to the trailer, but I can’t.  Occasionally, Knightsmama gets a hankering to explore and lets her telephone guide her.  Oh, boy.  This is what I can tell you: we saw parts of L.A. we would not have normally seen from the highways.  And we did make it back to the trailer.
Hermosa Beach
On our final day, Wednesday, in Los Angeles, Knightmama and I began the day riding our bikes to Hermosa Beach for breakfast while the boys slept in.  Then the entire family went in search for wi-fi.  Our usual destination, Starbucks, was too busy, so we wandered over to the El Segundo library.  Knightsmama took care of business for her dad back in Texas.  I combed through JSTOR for articles for the essay I had to write by Sunday.  The rest of the day was equally low key, hanging out on the beach.  We ended the day with another bike ride to Hermosa Beach, this time with the boys.  Francine joined us for dinner at Hot’s Kitchen.  For our tight budget, it was a little pricey, but we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.  The basic idea is “Family Style.”  Given the size of the portions, I think more of “Tapas.” The restaurant also has a terrific craft beer selection, with brews from all over the U.S. and several from the local area. 
          Knightsmama and I enjoyed our time so much that we sent the boys home before dark. Then we lingered over a second beer and another plate of delicately flavored tacos.  When we left Francine to make her way back to her home in Los Angeles, it was dark and nearing 9:00.  For our five days and six nights, Francine had been an amazing and generous host.  We all hugged, then Knightmama and I rode our bikes the five miles back to Dockweiler Park.  The moon was almost full, and the bike path mostly deserted except for a few couples walking, speaking softly. It is amazing to think, but four months ago, the first week of January, the family was walking on the beach facing the Atlantic Ocean at Wilmington.  We had spent the entire fall working our way south from Bar Harbor to North Carolina.  This night we are riding beside the Pacific.  Tomorrow, we hit the highway again.  But that’s tomorrow.  Tonight, the wind is light, the air perfectly cool.  We are just cruising along, going slow, enjoying the ride.       

Soundtrack Triple Feature.  Guy Clark:  "L.A. Freeway."
Gladys Knight and the Pips.  "Midnight Train to Georgia."
Randy Newman:  "I Love L.A."

Possessed by Reputation

An essay for the class I am taking.

            In Book Eight of The Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau begins, “I had to pause at the end of the last book. With this one starts the long chain of my misfortunes, in its very beginnings” (328).  The story he is about to tell is how he came to write his First Discourse, The Discourse on the Sciences and Arts, and how intellectual celebrity followed.  In 1750, at the age of thirty-eight, he became a writer, one who wins prizes, an intellectual celebrity in Paris.  In quick succession, over the next fifteen years, he published the Second Discourse, On the Origin of Inequality (1755), Julie, or the New Heloise (1761), The Social Contract (1762), Emile, or Education (1762), and various public letters concerning music, theater, religion, and politics.  The misfortunes that Rousseau refers to in the opening of Book Eight include his rise and fall in fame, in public reputation, in fortune, in acceptance at the homes of nobility, in tolerance by the censors, and in his legal standing in France and in Geneva.  He concludes The Confessions with his leaving Europe for England in 1765.  However, his troubles did not cease there. In England, his friendship with David Hume ended in acrimony, just as his relationships with Voltaire and Diderot and so many others had.  He returned to France, where the authorities tolerated his existence so long as he lived a private and obscure life.  There, an impoverished and emotionally compromised Rousseau continued to write for the next twelve years, until his death in 1778, producing three books, two of which (The Confessions and Dialogues) were published by 1789.   

Jean-Jacques Rousseau
            Of the many questions that arise from such a chronology, for me two dominate 1)  Why does Rousseau locate this moment in his life, at age 37 or so, to believe that his “misfortunes” begin there? and 2) If things were so bad, why didn’t he just remove himself, willingly, into obscurity and return to the life that he claimed to love so dearly?  I don’t see that Rousseau answers these questions directly, but perhaps ideas contained in Rousseau’s works suggest a path to an answer. 
             To the first question, Rousseau offers some explanation in Book Eight.  While walking to visit Diderot, who was in prison, Rousseau learned of a contest for an essay on the topic of “Has the progress of the sciences and arts done more to corrupt morals or improve them?” The question so animated Rousseau that he paused to make notes.  Later that day, he read his notes to Diderot, who encouraged him to pursue those ideas.  Rousseau writes,
My feelings rose with the most inconceivable rapidity to the level of my ideas.  All my little passions were stifled by an enthusiasm for truth, liberty, and virtue; and the most astonishing thing is that this fermentation worked in my heart for more than four or five years as intensely perhaps as it has ever worked in the heart of any man on earth. (328)
He concludes:  “All the rest of my life and of my misfortunes followed inevitably as a result of that moment’s madness” (328)
            On a purely biographical level, it appears that Rousseau is claiming that his misfortunes began because he had entered into the rough and tumble world of literary celebrity.  “The moment my essay appeared the champions of literature fell upon me as if of one accord” (341).  But Rousseau survived these attacks in 1750 and even triumphed and prospered.  Still he did not find celebrity to be easy employment.  Eventually, he felt that the negative reactions to his essays were becoming personal. 
In the storm that has engulfed me, my books have served as a pretext; the attack was against myself.  They cared little about the author, but they wished to destroy Jean-Jacques; and the greatest crime they discovered in my writings was the honour they might bring me. (379)
In particular, he notes, if the ideas in Emile and The Social Contract were so controversial as to provoke arrest warrants, censorship, and religious condemnation, why didn’t these same ideas when expressed in The Second Discourse and Julie incur the same reaction? (379).  The unsolved question here, of course, is to what is extent is Rousseau accurately reading the barometer of his personal and public relationships, and to what extent is he mistaken, delusional, or  paranoid.  
            And this leads to a consideration of the second question:  “If things were so bad, why didn’t he just remove himself, willingly, into obscurity and return to the life that he claimed to love so dearly?”  To a certain extent, one could argue he actually attempted to find his idyllic lifestyle on several occasions.  Yet it would seem that in most, if not all, cases, as with Mme d’Epinay and his stay at The Hermitage, Rousseau found ways to destroy his peace and good fortune.  It would not be until the final years of his life that he would find a private, if urban life, in Paris.  He worked as a copyist of music, made long nature walks, visited with friends, and allowed his wife sternly to turn the curious away (Damrosch 465).  It was a humble, yet far from comfortable life, one he was allowed, not one he chose.
            But to a greater extent, I would argue that Rousseau was incapable of living the peaceful, rural, private lifestyle he wished for, and the reason is disclosed in his works.  This reason is related to our first question concerning the ingredients in Rousseau’s First Discourse  that made his life such a misfortune.
            What Rousseau realized about “Truth, Liberty, and Virtue” is that they were inextricably tangled with talent and thus with inequality.  “This is the most obvious effect of all our studies, and the most dangerous of their consequences,” he writes. 
People no longer ask about a man whether he has probity, but whether he has talents; nor about a Book whether it is useful, but whether it is well written. . . . There are a thousand prizes for fine discourses, none for fine deeds. (First Discourse 23) 
Here is Rousseau, at thirty-seven, a relatively old age for a beginner.  He has struggled and failed in a number of enterprises.  He is decidedly working class.  Primarily, he has been self taught and lived in the provinces.  And he has already suffered at the hands of the established and entrenched “talents.”  For instance, at one point, he thought he had found his path to fame and fortune by inventing a new system for noting music.  Like an innocent, he traveled to Paris with his new idea, placed it before the Academy of Sciences, and awaited word of his genius and guaranteed success.  The word he received was not promising.  “I was always astounded by the ease with which they refuted my arguments with the help of a few high-sounding phrases . . . .” (267).
            By the time Rousseau completed his Second Discourse, he had deepened his understanding of the complex relationship between talent and social hierarchy.  Essentially, he says that, of course, humans have different levels of natural talent, but, since Rousseau imagines early human life as solitary and non-competitive, these differences are unimportant.  It is only with the assertion of property ownership and the development of society that individual talents become intertwined with social inequality. (And then social inequality perpetuates itself through social institutions.)  From that social schism emerges a psychological schism.  I assert that in diagnosing and exploring this schism that Rousseau provides the answer to my two questions. 
            The psychological schism that I am identifying is that between a healthy self-regard and unhealthy vanity, between Amour de soi-meme and Amour propre.  Amour de soi-meme is a natural sentiment humans and all animals have that allows them to care for themselves and, through pity, for others. One eats, procreates, works, and develops skills for one’s own personal health and development.  One observes oneself from the inside, and is not aware what others think about one.   Amour propre sets humans against other humans for personal gain, in comparison with others.  One wishes to be seen eating better food than others do, procreating with more or more attractive mates, developing skills higher levels for personal profit.   One observes oneself from the outside, mirrored through others’ envy (Second Discourse 218).
            In a recent essay, Niko Kolodny, points out that Rousseau views amour propre in two lights.  The first is a “desire to be evaluated by others as having a certain value in comparison with others” [emphasis Kolodny’s] (169).  The second is a desire to be valued highly in comparison with others.    Granted this might be a distinction without a clearly definable difference, but the second form appears to be a more internally generated comparison without regard for the evaluation of others.  It seems to project an outward, objective definition of value, rather than one generated by multiple subjectivities.   
Philosopher Alain de Botton, who often refers to Rousseau, identifies Amour propre as “status anxiety.”  At the beginning of his book, de Botton offers a definition that sounds amazingly like the recurrent themes developed in The Confessions:
 A worry, so pernicious as to be capable of ruining extending stretches of our lives, that we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society and that we many as a result be stripped of dignity and respect; a worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one. (4)
            I think that, in one regard, Rousseau is correct in identifying his moment of insight and inspiration on the path to visit Diderot as the moment that changed his life and, if one chooses to look at it his way, invited the list of miseries he suffered.  It is, after all, the moment when he conceived the book that would thrust him into the public eye as a person to be reckoned with.  Similarly, it is the moment when Rousseau became possessed by an idea that would separate him from his contemporaries, the idea that society—one’s friends and fellow citizens—are always attempting to diminish one’s individuality.  The arts create a social construct that we cannot escape; human are born free, but are in chains; traditional education reduces our individual development—so many ideas that Rousseau developed and explored emerge from this one walk in the countryside. 
            In another regard, however, I think we can argue that at that moment on his way to visit Diderot, Rousseau had simply discovered the philosophical and political implications of his own psychological make-up.  I believe we can argue that Rousseau struggled his entire life with the tensions created by “status anxiety,” or as it was called in his day “amour propre.”  At this moment in this essay, I cannot list the many instances throughout The Confessions in which Rousseau shows himself desiring the acceptance and regard of successful members of society and conversely defending his individuality from the criticisms of others.  His venture to Paris to deliver his new system for noting music can serve as emblematic.
            In conclusion, I will return to Rousseau’s break with Mme d’Epinay.  Such a traumatic moment usually has many causes, but one important factor was Rousseau’s refusal to accompany his friend and patron on a trip to Geneva.  Many people became involved in this disturbance, including Diderot, who wrote a letter to Rousseau to persuade him to change his mind.  In Rousseau’s reply, he says, “Other people might perhaps speak better of me if I were more like them.  God forbid that I should ever go out for their approval” (The Confessions 443).  Here is a clear instance of Rousseau’s constant tension between Amour de soi-meme and Amour proper.  He seems unable to arrive at a simple, direct healthy self-regard, but must come to viewing and understanding himself through and with the eyes of others.  Even while he demanded his independence of thought, he paid homage to his bad reputation.  However, the discord did not end with Diderot.  Eventually Frederick Grimm, another important philosopher of the time, wrote Rousseau and thus received a heated reply, which ended their already fragile friendship. 
Finally, Rousseau wrote to Mme de Epinay, that “When you no longer want me for a slave you will always have me as a friend” (as qtd. in Damrosh 280).  She replied, essentially, that their friendship was finished, and he was free to leave The Hermitage.  Rousseau claimed that he was shocked by her response (The Confessions 452).  Others may wonder why she indulged him so long.  I find that Rousseau’s language is telling:  “When you no longer want me for a slave . . . .” In another letter, he states he would be seen as “her valet” (as qtd in Damrosh 280).  Rousseau appears incapable of avoiding politicizing his personal relationships as he attempts to protect his reputation (while, ironically, destroying it).  He is obsessed with how he will appear.  Of course, he was not being asked to be Mme. De Epinay’s valet or slave, but as one possessed by Amour proper, Rousseau was afraid of how he would appear in others’ eyes.  His anxiety over his status prevented him from living the life he knew best suited him.           

             



Works Cited
De Botton, Alain.  Status Anxiety.  London:  Penguin.  2004.
Damrosch, Leo.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau:  Restless Genius.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin.  2005.
Kolodny, Niko.  “The Explanation of Amour-Propre.”  Philosophical Review.  119:2 (2010).
            165-200.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques.  The Confessions.  Tr. J.M. Cohen.  London:  Penguin.  1953.
----------.  “Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality among Men.”  The
Discourses and Other Early Political Writings.  Ed. and Tr.  Victor Gourevitch.
Cambridge:  Cambridge UP.  1997. 111-222.
----------.  “Discourse on the Sciences and Arts.”  The Discourses and Other Early Political
            Writings.  Ed. and Tr.  Victor Gourevitch.  Cambridge:  Cambridge UP.  1997.  1-28.