Category Archives: Harry’s Diary

Good Long Day

Late last night I worked on my Reader column. It’ll be a doozee. I sent it in an hour ago after sleeping on the last few edits but I’m not ready to upload it to my website yet. Just be patient.

The Northland Reader is undergoing staff changes. Richard, my trusty old editor is stepping to the side. He’s still working in the wings but a new, possibly temporary, editor sent us an email asking us to turn our columns in almost four days earlier than I used to. Even Richard had been trying to push our deadlines up. I was probably the most laggardly of the columnists.

Fortunately, I have a number of ideas circling my head so if I’m forced to push up the deadline I should be able to manage.

I worked on the column yesterday afternoon after a mile swim. My better half and I both went to the fitness center together. Afterwards we found a new restaurant on Superior St. Its a great place! Va Bene. Its manager rushed over to give us instructions on ordering which you do from the counter. He suggested ordering one course at a time. Its italian themed. I had a lovely soup and panini – pear and proscuitto and goat cheese and finished with a chocolate gelato. I skipped the wine so as not to dry out my vocal chords. The fellow sitting next to me in the Symphony Chorus told me that alcohol and coffee are killers. I abstained from the sauce to give my all to Verdi’s Requiem tonight. “Tuba mirrum spargens sonum.”

Claudia is on the Symphony Board and we were invited to dine at the Kitchi Gammi Club just before the performance. I went in my tux. Claudia said they would expect me to serve. Ha Ha Ha.

I ordered a bison ribeye but thought better of it when our waitress heaped praise on another 20 oz steak that was on special that night. I wasn’t that hungry but when another diner ordered a half portion I regretted that I hadn’t thought to do the same. A couple minutes later the server popped back and explained that the chef could only do this if someone else ordered the other half. I jumped at the chance and said I’ll take it.

When, ten minutes later, the server brought me my dinner and explained that it was my Bison ribeye I was a little flummoxed as were the other’s at the table. When someone commented on this she explained that my half portion of beef would be up shortly. Heck, I only had ten minutes to wolf down the ribeye before rushing off ahead of the others at the table to get to my seat on the risors. I had to start eating while everyone else waited to be served. Then when I was almost done my second meal arrived.

After the Verdi Requiem and lots of emoting and bellowing and an exhausting round of applause from an appreciative Duluth audience we went to Pizza Luce to hear my son’s band Sight like December. One of his bandmates, the violinist, conveyed his best wishes for my singing tonight at the DECC before I had gone on. Afterwards it was my time to reciprocate. They were really groovin and the audience was getting into it. I told him after their set that they sounded great. He told me he knew I was lying but thanked me for the thought. Lousy little cynic!

I’m leaving shortly for my Brother’s house in the Twin Cities (one of the suburbs actually). My niece/god daughter is having her first communion today and I must be there. Its a big event in the Catholic church and all the little girls will look like brides. My niece is determined to wear the dress she wore as the flower girl at my daughter’s wedding almost three years ago. I hope it still fits.

Family Gossip

I got a flurry of email yesterday concerning a proposal to set up a center for the history of World War I, named after my Grandfather George Seanor Robb, at his alma mater Park College.

I forwarded the email to eight siblings and cousins for their feedback. It would be an honor. The Center would be associated with America’s only museum devoted exclusively to World War I which is in Kansas City. My Grandfather shipped out to the great war from Kansas City. In fact he had written to a “mormon girl” hoping to meet her at KC on his way to New York. Somehow he missed her in the hustle and bustle of the station. He may have been thinking of proposing to her but that did not happen. When she wrote him later to tell him that a wealthy, older, New Yorker had proposed to her my Grandfather wrote back from the trenches of France and told her that as he could not be certain of returning home she should accept the marriage proposal. Had she waited for my Grandfather I would never have been born.

I know this story because my Mother loved to tell me stories about her family. I guess you could call it gossip but my Mother so loved her family warts and all so that what she told me never seemed like gossip with that word’s spiteful overtone. Even so, not all the stories were flattering. This is the email I sent my second Cousin this morning.

“Ellen,

I’d love to see that letter. I’ve wondered about Mina for years. Mom had some stories about her and the family.
I believe her husband, Mr. Burke, was disabled. That may be too euphemistic a way to put it. I think Mom reported that one or both of his legs had been amputated. Mom never met him and I have no idea how long he and Mina were together.
Mina was the oldest and from what I understand the least popular of the Robb kids. She was close to her temperamental Father, Thomas, and regularly tattled on the boys who often got lickings because of her. I think she was supposed to be very bright.
She apparently made it her responsibility to make sure that her sickly ,maiden, sister Susie got an education and a teaching degree which, as we all know, Susie put to formidable use keeping errant, third-grade, Salina boys in line.
Apparently homemaking was not Mina’s cup of tea. On one occasion, perhaps before WW I her little brother, George, helped her clean up her house. Grandfather was disgusted with the state of its house keeping, it being the human equivalent of the stables that Hercules cleaned out in one of his seven labors. He told sister Susie that he “would never take a wife of his” into Mina’s house and I don’t believe that he ever did.
He did visit California once and Aunt Susie evidently warned Mina to clean her house like crazy so as not to appall her little brother. Evidently Mina must have worked feverishly to pass muster because Grandfather never expressed any disapproval of Mina’s California home.
Mom remembered meeting Mina’s daughters at some point. I’ve got their names somewhere in family records and a few years ago I googled them but since I don’t know what their married names are I have no idea where they are now. If I find some clues for you perhaps you could follow up as California is a likely place for their descendents to be hanging out. I’d be fascinated to hear any recollections from Mina’s side of the family story about her ratty little Robb brothers. My guess is that three generations on their Kansas stories have been all but washed away.”
  

People have always been too obsessed with being remembered for being paragons of virtue. Frankly paragons are boring. I wouldn’t mind meeting one but I wouldn’t hang out with them. I’d prefer a person with a little vinegar in their veins any day of the week.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast with a convict

Last year I wrote a column about an ancient local political scandal involving Jim Oberstar’s questionable funding sources for his 1974 campaign. I mentioned Don Boyd, a fellow who was accused of, but never found guilty of, embezzling a million dollars from the government. A few days after my column hit the stands I got an email from Don suggesting that we meet over a cup of coffee. He’d written a book. He did spend time in prison but not for stealing a million bucks. (There’s always something a fellow can be found guilty if you’ve got the help of a willing perjurer)

Sitting in prison and having his family’s honor tarred gave Don a lot to reflect on. If Don was innocent, as I rather suspect he was there could be a good book in it.

Unfortunately, Don hasn’t written it. His head is too full of details and at six or seven hundred pages no one but a crank like me would ever read or publish it. So I’ve decided to give him a hand. I’ll have more to say about this in my next Northland Reader column. Let the chips fall where they may.

No time to blog

I’ve just started two posts on topics so big it would take a day to edit my thoughts into coherence. I’ve saved but not published them in case I decide to attempt the editing.

I need something bite sized to start blogging this week so I’ll just list today’s preoccupations. At noon I’m gathering with some like minded folks to figure out how to organize next Tuesday’s meeting which is intended to kick-off an effort to raise millions of non tax dollars for the Duluth Schools.

Sometime between now and tomorrow night (when I go to a begining ballroom dance class w/o my dance partner) I have to write my column for the Reader.

Tonight I’m spending three hours rehearsing for my choral part in the upcomming Verdi Requiem with the Duluth Symphony.

I will probably have to skip my church’s men’s group dicussion of Deitrich Bonhoffer at noon tomorrow in order to get my Reader column written. Meanwhile I’d really like to finish the Erdman book “Misquoting Jesus.”

All the while in the back of my mind I’m trying to figure out how to tell my wife that I want to spend the summer doing an incredibly hair brained thing. I’m just too chicken to do it right now. Maybe one of my readers will broach the subject to her.

Lesson in the Sub Caucus System

Like the Republicans the Democrats that met at Woodland Junior High managed to put the platform on the backburner. In the case of the Republicans the platform is kept like the Ark of the Covenant and trotted out for modest amendments during convention years.

There were a hundred or so resolutions handed out to the delegates to vote on but not debated. When the convention neared its end they were collected. There was a line for us to indicate whether we wanted to debate them but we never got any debate. A 50% vote would be required to be passed on. I have no idea what passed.

I told Craig Grau that the convention seemed to confirm Will Roger’s comments from the thirties. It was not exactly disorderly but it was only loosely stage managed. The sub caucus system was the most mystical part.

About 20 of the 172 delegates lined up to announce the category of their sub caucuses. Some were for one candidate, some for a couple candidates, some were for issues some for candidates and issues. To elect a delegate to the next level of convention each subcaucus to gather 8 participants.

I jumped from one to another mostly interested in finding other centrists. The biggest group of the eventual six or so was led by AFSCME. The whole process was like a party mixer.

I was content to watch and didn’t try to get elected to the next level so this is the end of the convention system for me this year. Maybe I’ll get farther in 2008.

Off to the races

I’m off in ten minutes to the DFL District Convention. I’ve got an early meeting of the Rules Committee to attend.

Listening to Weekend Edition on NPR was a treat. A very interesting commentary by Joe Klein on how consultants have ruined politics…Amen. He made an surprising comment about Dubya. I think I agree….its too damn late though.

And a bio of the composer of “Brother can you spare a dime”

And an interesting tidbit on the iconic 60’s lefty and victim of the HUAC, Lillian Hellman, who did her best to keep Martin Luther King and later the NAACP from being given the bequest from Dorothy Parker’s will. Today’s leftists ought to look to her example for a little taste of humility before getting too puffed up about the self righteousness about religious conservatives.

A Good Reading

The Sedaris reading was great fun. Its the first reading I’ve been to since college when I heard Dick Gregory. Guess I’m just not the literary type.

He began with an animal story he’d just written about a mother crow and a mother lamb. Well written and with enough of an “ick” factor to make it memorable. He got a rise out of the largely urban audience when his crow asked the sheep mother whether she had eaten the placenta. Then the crow made the contemporary scornful comment about straying vegetarians who dismiss their straying. After that reading he mentioned that a young woman who was the daughter of a hippy had told him at a recent book signing that her father had cooked and eaten her placenta.

I couldn’t help but remember my Mother telling me about the Doctor in War torn Europe bringing a surprisingly regular supply of meat home for the families dinner. He was an obstetrician and it kept his family alive.

 

David Sedaris

I’m going to hear a reading by David Sedaris at the DECC tonight. Never heard of him? He’s a hoot. Sometimes an x-rated hoot.

This one isn’t x-rated and its a Christmas classic. Santaland Diaries was recorded on This American Life in 1996 at the beginning of his story telling career. Be patient. It starts after a four minute introduction. Its worth the wait.

Pre nup

An hour ago I was sitting in the sauna at the fitness center after my mile swim. A couple of guys were complaining about their girlfriends/mothers-of-their-children. The girlfriends had let themselves go. One was still wearing maternity cloths two months after giving birth. The other had been told that if only she lost weight her fare to Hawaii would be paid for. (Overweight people just look out of place on Waikiki) She didn’t manage to qualify for the trip.

After listening for a while I commented that something should have been written into the pre nup.

Salva me!

I carry lots of quarters in my car to avoid parking tickets but last night I got stung at UMD. I drove over to practice the Verdi Requiem with the Symphony Chorus. I usually drive in from the College street side and park at a meter but a hurried dinner at Bulldog’s Pizza (best burgers in town) put me on the opposite side of the campus. Construction prevented me from driving across it and when I saw another chorus member hop out of her car in the nearly empty lot by one of the residence halls I figured she knew what she was doing. Maybe she had a sticker but I got the shock. $31.00! It will be a long time before I get another one of those.

The chorus still has two weeks to practice before the performance. I’m listening to a digitized 1957 mono recording of the Requiem now. Its a grand piece that one might expect to be written for a Napoleon or some Emperor with the sobriquet “Great.” Verdi, however, wrote it as a memorial for a friend who was a fellow composer. Because the friend is relatively obscure today the requiem stands as a testament to depth of feeling anyone might experience at such a  loss.

That’s enough music criticism for me. I can’t afford the tickets.

Bookin it 1

I took two books with me to San Antone. The first was Pox Americana by Elizabeth A Fenn. Its a very interesting investigation of a smallpox epidemic that circulated all over North America during the Revolutionary War. I skipped over some of the middle chapters. They were a little too thorough in describing the various routes by which different groups of infected soldiers took the disease to uninfected regions. Consequently, I won’t add the book to my list of completely read books. I did finish most of the later chapters however.

I was particularly interested in the ebb and flow of the plains Indian tribes and the impact Smallpox had on them. I was also interested to learn about the brutality of the Russian fur traders. The native Americans along the coast suffered tremendously from the pox.

I also began Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman on the flight back. The first two chapters were well written. I had recently read a fairly dismissive critique of Ehrman.  The critique found little fault with the first four chapters of his book but battered him on the rest of the book. I’ll reserve my judgement.

Remembering the Alamo

Pinch me. I have to remember that we took this trip as a vacation. Usually my better half lets me tag along when she travels for work. This time our schedule, when its not being delayed by aircraft maintenence problems, is our own.

Making a couple more stops after the Ranch to sample and purchase Texas wine we finally made our way back to San Antone by a little before eight. It had been a long day, although a rewarding one. We ordered a room service dinner which we downed with some Texas cabernet.

We slept in late then walked over to the River Center next door for a Starbucks and muffin. From there we walked a block away to the Alamo. We got into the courtyard as a guide gave a good little talk on the subject. Notwithstanding my comment from a couple days ago I’d say it was an event very much worth remembering. I’d just amend that by saying it ought to be remembered well.

After a little walk round we headed to the the block long stretch of La Villita that has art and craft shops. We picked up another pair of pottery mugs from one shop (we’re slowly replacing a bunch of miscellaneous old mugs two by two on our travels) and a fun little teapot which we are shipping home. (Several bottles of wine we’re carring back on the plane will be more than enough to lug)

We we’re content to sit on our balcony overlooking the Riverwalk with its busy little tourist boats for lunch. We took in the sounds of distant traffic while we supped on sandwhich’s accompanied by a nice Becker Vineyard Claret.

A pan piper playing the theme from the Good the Bad and the Ugly wafted up to us. It was from the South American musical troupe that was playing a block away in the River Center.

When we had our vente coffees at the same place this morning a tall white egret swooped over by our table while I fumbled fruitlessly to take its picture. As I commented to Claudia from our balcony this afternoon, San Antonio has one of the loveliest downtowns I’ve ever visited in a major American City.

 

Ladybird II

We pulled into the LBJ Ranch joint National Park/State Park Visitor’s Center with five minutes to spare for the tour. The area was suffering from an infestation of caterpillars which dangled in the hundreds from the live oaks overhead.

We stopped at the reconstructed home that LBJ was born in. It was rebuilt by Johnson after his retirement from the Presidency. It was furnished with fancier furnisings than the more modest stuff the Johnson’s owned at the time of LBJ’s birth in 1907. Johnson probably wanted to commemorate both the poverty of his own Lincolnesque “log cabin” beginnings as well as the well-to-do life that his parents achieved. 

We stopped at his family grave. His was the tallest stone in the plot but it was modest by the standards found in almost any big cemetary in the US. The 300 year-old live oaks inside the stone fence surrounding the cemetary made it a lovely setting.

At the Ranch the  bus stopped so that we could wave to Ladybird who happened to be sitting on her porch with a friend in a rocking chair. We waved and she waved back. When she was younger (Ladybird is 93) she would often board busses to say howdy to the tourists.

I was reluctant to take a picture but in the last instant decided that she wouldn’t mind. It’s not the most flattering. I caught her just as she was nibbling at an envelope in her hand.

Our guide ended the tour by playing the soapy Peter Paul and Mary rendition of Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind. Johnson never got to send me to Vietnam. Apparently he used to weep over the casualty lists. Damn him.

We drove past the drive-by showroom he built for his old cars, a couple lincoln continentals a hunting car with a bar and a sky blue german vehicle with the prow. We heard a recording of some advisor telling about his visit to the Ranch and being driven around the Ranch in the car by LBJ. As Johnson drove towards a pond on the ranch he began yelling that the brakes had failed.

The visitor tried jumping out as the car splashed into the water. Johnson roared with laughter and accused his guest of being too eager to abandon the President in his moment of crises.

Ladybird

Woke up at 6AM. Left at 8 and got to the Ladybird wildflower center in Austin shortly after it opened. We spent a couple hours looking at the natural landscape and trying to commit wild flower names to memory.

Ladybird took on the role of highway beautifier while she was the first lady. She tried to get rid of highway billboards and the wildflower center is one of her pet projects. 

Five years of drought have made the bluebonnets and other wild flowers much less numerous but where they were well watered in the more formal plots in the center they were colorful.

We bought some gifts for friends and some fun garden stuff including our own garden armadillo to join Lebeau in our patio garden. We also bought a\ “Texas traveling music” CD’s which we intend to listen to while traveling through the Hill Country today. This one is a Willie Nelson CD dedicated to the wildflower center singing Tejas classics like the Yellow Rose of Texas.

Stops for wine tasting lay ahead. Texas Hills was the first winery after which we stopped at Johnson City to visit the Lyndon Johnson boyhood home.

I bought the third Caro book Master of the Senate at the visitor center and one of the Park Service Rangers told me about meeting the author a few years ago when he was doing research. Caro had broken his arm body surfing and the Ranger had heard this somehow. He had told Caro not to do any more surfing until he’d finished his tetrology on Johnson. 

We slipped past the Ranch so I could make a stop at the Becker vineyard for a quick tasting before slipping back to the LBJ Ranch for the last bus tour of the day.

Mariachi Music Makes the world go round

Walked a small portion of the river walk. Its beautiful. Ate at Casa del Rio. I think. (It was last night) Wonderful meal and cheaper than Taco Johns except for the Margaritas and Sangria. Made up the difference by paying to have a wonderful mariachi band give us two serenades. Even the braying grackles shut up for this performance.

Remember the Alamo

I’m getting up at 4AM tomorrow to fly out to San Antonio. The cat will be left in the tender mercies of my son. Don’t feel sorry for the cat!

I’ve tidied up my preparations for the Endowment meeting. Emails have been sent to all the potential recruiters and I put a message on the answering machine letting potential registrants know that I’ll get back Monday to add their names to the list. I even concluded my message with “Adios.” I do that all the time. It has nothing to do with the marches on Immigration or becaue I’m going to the Alamo. I wonder if we’ll see any remnants of the Immigration brouhaha this weekend?

I’m also hauling Claudia up to the Hill Country to see that other war president’s home – the LBJ Ranch. Its nestled in Texas’s best wine region so I’ll do a little sampling while there. I’ll ship a case of the Hill Country’s finest back home. Imagine, Texas with its own wine and cheese set! That should bring tears to the eyes of all the people in the blue states.

OMG

Incredible! I just discovered that I don’t have to e-mail my posts. I can do it from our new laptop. I’m such an old fogy! All the under 20 WordPress users are just rolling their eyes. You’ll get yours you little techies! Your children will be able to do something even more remarkable in a couple decades. Maybe download babies instead of bothering with caesarians.