Fitzgerald down and out in Hendersonville

“In Hendersonville…  Today I am in comparative affluence, but Monday and Tuesday I had two tins of potted meat, three oranges and a box of Uneedas and two cans of beer… and when I think of the thousand meals I’ve sent back untasted in the last two years. It was fun to be poor — especially if you haven’t enough liver power for an appetite. But the air is fine here, and I liked what I had — and there was nothing to do about it anyhow….

“But it was funny coming into the hotel and the very deferential clerk not knowing that I was not only thousands, nay tens of thousands in debt, but had less than 40 cents cash in the world and probably a deficit in the bank….

“The final irony was when a drunk man in the shop where I bought my can of ale said in voice obviously intended for me, ‘These city dudes from the East come down here with their millions. Why don’t they support us?’ ”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald, writing in his diary, autumn 1936

Scott vs. Ernest over fame’s long haul

But still no green-light for ‘It’s Hash Browns’?

Back before newsroom budgets so discouraged serendipity, I happened onto Stan Woodward and his quirky documentary “It’s Grits” (both will appear Wednesday evening at Wilson Library).

This was in 1979, after “It’s Grits” had unspooled at the Museum of Modern Art (good eye, MOMA!), but before it went national on PBS.

Though reared in Spartanburg and living in Columbia, Woodward had only recently come to see the glory that is grits. “It was invisible, like crickets,” he said. “You don’t hear them until somebody mentions them, and then you hear them all the time…. I accidentally hit a taproot of American culture.”

And of course I can’t resist firing up the old Ngram Viewer to address (though surely not to settle) this most eternal of questions.

Death noted: A playwright who caught the pitch

“During the Depression, my [physician] father went back to Boone, and I lived for four years of my early life in Boone…. The other plays are OK, at their best, but the pitch of the voices… in my Appalachian plays…  is a little sharper because I heard that when I was a child.”

— Playwright Romulus Linney, recalling for an interviewer in 2002 one of his many North Carolina influences. Romulus Zachariah Linney IV’s great-grandfather was a Taylorsville lawyer and three-term Congressman.

Linney died Saturday at age 80, prolific and widely respected though never having achieved the fame of an August Wilson or a Horton Foote (or of Laura, his actress daughter).

What? The sky wasn’t always Carolina blue?

Those industrious elves at Google Books Ngram Viewer must never sleep! Here are their latest offerings for North Carolinians’ provocation and speculation:

Carolina blue was adopted on campus about 1800, but the rest of the world seems to have taken a while to catch on.

— Jimmie Johnson vs. Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Maybe if he wins six consecutive championships….

— Great Dismal Swamp vs. Okefenokee Swamp. The 1980s spike coincides with an environmental conflict over the Okefenokee.

— chitterlings vs. chitlins. Of course, when the Ngram measures not American usage but British….

— Don Knotts vs. Barney Fife surprised me — but now that the actor is dead, the immortal deputy is closing fast.

Hey, Texas, it’s not just our BBQ that’s better

“This week in Raleigh, N.C. the newest major art museum in the U.S., and the first to have a collection fully subsidized by state funds, opens its doors with more than a million dollars’ worth of paintings already hanging on its walls….

“On a preview visit Art News Editor Alfred Frankfurter pronounced the results to date ‘the only important public collection south of Richmond and east of the Pacific.’ Said he: ‘Those Texans, who boast about giving away Cadillacs as souvenirs at dinner, had better sit up and take notice. They’ve nothing to match it.’ “
— From Time magazine, April 9, 1956
And this just in: architectural kudos for the West Building’s “gently luminous setting.”

‘Enuf to make Shakespeare raise an eyebrow’

On this day in 1956: Jack Kerouac, Beat Generation icon-in-the-making, sits down at his sister’s kitchen table in Rocky Mount and begins writing a novel.

Since Kerouac, 33, arrived last spring he has been drinking moonshine, suffering nightmares about H-bombs and waiting for a publisher to accept his oft-spurned “On the Road.”

With his hosts away on a trip, Kerouac begins filling a tiny pocket notebook with the story of his brother Gerard’s death a year earlier. Fueled with benzedrine, he will write furiously for 15 straight nights. After each session he walks across a cotton field to a pine forest to meditate with his brother-in-law’s hunting dogs. He sleeps in a sleeping bag on a cot on the back porch with the windows wide open.

When the manuscript is finished, he will write a friend that it is “a beaut, my best. . . . Enuf to make Shakespeare raise an eyebrow.”

Reviewers are less enthralled. When “Visions of Gerard” is finally published in 1963, Newsweek calls it the work of a “a tin-ear Canuck,” while The New York Times Book Review dismisses it as “garrulous hipster yawping.”

Check out what’s new to the North Carolina Collection.

Several new titles just added to “What’s New in the North Carolina Collection?” To see the full list simply click on the link in this entry or click on the “What’s New in the North Carolina Collection?” link under the heading “Pages” in the right column. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the North Carolina Collection Reading Room.

Cussing with Impunity

Cover of Herbert Hyde recording

You may have heard about an Orange County Superior Court judge’s recent ruling that a 98-year-old state ban on profanity is unconstitutional. The news has traveled far and wide. The story has also caused some to recall another time when the state ban came under scrutiny.

In 1973 two state senators proposed an amendment calling for Swain County’s removal as one of two counties exempted from the ban (the other is Pitt County). The possibility that cursing would be outlawed in Swain County led Buncombe County representative Herbert Hyde, a son of Swain County, to take to the floor of the House chamber in defense of his native county’s exemption. Hyde, who was known for his oratorical skills, quoted the Bible and Shakespeare in his 8-minute speech and discoursed on Cherokee culture. The Cherokees, he said, do not curse and their language does not include swear words. But Hyde’s oration is best remembered–and often titled–for words that he didn’t utter: “Mr. Speaker, there oughta be somewhere a person can cuss without breaking the law.”

Nevertheless, when Hyde ran for Lieutenant Governor in 1976 his campaign distributed a recording of the famous speech using the apocryphal lines as its title. The liner notes for the recording point out that “a specific price tag has not been placed on the recording. However, Herbert Hyde will be most grateful for the contributions you make to his campaign.” The flimsy disc itself is attached to the sleeve on top of a picture of Hyde.

Hyde portrait

The Buncombe County representative’s bid for lieutenant governor was unsuccessful. But his oration may have played a part in keeping Swain County a safe haven for cussin’.

We’ve got Hyde’s full speech digitized and ready for your ears.

Moses Cone’s monetary mischief

“In the controversy over whether the country should remain on the gold standard or convert to silver [Greensboro industrialist Moses] Cone was ardently pro-gold….

“In June 1896 he decided to pay his finishing mill employees in Mexican silver dollars. These coins had a bullion value of 54 cents, and Cone handed them out as 50-cent pieces. His goal was ‘to demonstrate in a practical way the inconveniences of a dollar that does not represent a hundred cents.’

“Puzzled local merchants… were probably reluctant to refuse the coins, since the Cones were so powerful. In the end, some redeemed the coins at 50 cents, [but] others unwittingly took a loss and redeemed them  at their face value of one dollar. The Greensboro Patriot reported, in what was probably an understatement, ‘Opinions are divided as to the  success of his scheme.’ ”

— From “A Mansion in the Mountains: The Story of Moses and Bertha Cone and Their Blowing Rock Manor” (1996) by Philip T. Noblitt