Lemon meringue pie from daringgourmet.com

from writer and Obama pal Marilynne Robinson in the Paris Review Interviews Vol. 4:

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Merry Christmas, everybody!  Remember to let your kids smoke a cigarette!

Special Snowflakes


Wandering into a hipster-type boutique in the East Village to buy a present for an Evil Santa/White Elephant type thing during a brief stop in NYC, I heard this song playing:

I really liked this album when it first came out, still do I guess.  From the wiki page for the album:

In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Pecknold admitted that his girlfriend of five years found the stress this album placed on their relationship too much, and ended things. Upon hearing the completed album, she realized that Pecknold’s efforts were worth it, and they tried to work it out. The couple has since split up.


Added to this, he stated they wanted to record very quickly, saying he wanted to do the “vocal takes in one go, so even if there are fuck-ups, I want them to be on there. I want there to be guitar mistakes. I want there to be not totally flawless vocals. I want to record it and have that kind of cohesive sound. Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, to me, is the best-sounding album because it sounds like there were only six hours in the universe for that album to be recorded in. So I want it to have that feeling.

(Remember now that after reading this for the first time when the album first came out, I went back and gave a good hard listen to Astral Weeks, which I found totally boring even though I’m obsessed with the Van Morrison song “And it Stoned Me”:

Morrison, in 1985, related the song to a quasi-mystical experience he had as a child:

I suppose I was about twelve years old. We used to go to a place called Ballystockart to fish. We stopped in the village on the way up to this place and I went to this little stone house, and there was an old man there with dark weather-beaten skin, and we asked him if he had any water. He gave us some water which he said he’d got from the stream. We drank some and everything seemed to stop for me. Time stood still. For five minutes everything was really quiet and I was in this ‘other dimension’. That’s what the song is about.)

Anyway, we’re talking about snowflakes.  Here are the opening lyrics of the song Helplessness Blues:

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me
But I don’t, I don’t know what that will be
I’ll get back to you someday soon you will see
What a striking and succinct summation of what we might call “the hipster dilemma.”  The same album starts out with these words:
So now I am older than my mother and father
when they had their daughter
now what does that say about me
Now, ain’t that exactly an anxiety that drives sensitive youngish people of “my generation,” what I will crudely call hipsters, crazy?

A snowflake, from the wikipedia page “snowflake,” which I am free to use and remix provided I attribute the photographer, Dakota Lynch.

The snowflake is a powerful image.  At what point did the idea that “every snowflake is unique” get taught to every schoolchild in America (or at least snowy America)?  Here is George Will turning the idea of “special snowflakes” on its head, in a piece about the recent fusses at Yale and elsewhere:
On campuses so saturated with progressivism that they celebrate diversity in everything but thought, every day is a snow day: There are perishable snowflakes everywhere. The institutions have brought this on themselves. So, regarding the campuses’ current agonies, schadenfreude is not a guilty pleasure, it is obligatory.
It’s possible Peggy Noonan beat him to it.  Addressing (more or less) young people in a May column about “trigger warnings”:
I notice lately that some members of your generation are being called, derisively, Snowflakes. Are you really a frail, special and delicate little thing that might melt when the heat is on?
Forget the point they’re making about kids today, let’s stick with the metaphor.  There’s something interesting in the fact that snowflakes are wondrous and individual, our symbol for special uniqueness, but also that snowflakes are weak and useless unless heaped in an enormous pile of other snowflakes, completely subsumed as individuals and lost forever into a mass of snow.

Snow and ice: how are they different?

The song could equally be “I was raised up believing I was somehow unique, a snowflake distinct among snowflakes” etc “but now after some thinking, I’d rather be a snowflake in a huge snow pile melting into individual nothingness but perhaps collective somethingness among other snowflakes.”
Snowflakes: worth thinking about!  More from wiki:
In 1988, Nancy Knight was documenting snowflakes for the National Center for Atmospheric Research and found two identical snowflakes of the hollow column type.
Was all set to have a laugh at whether this was the best use of Nancy’s time but then found this wonderful obituary of her.  No one who took part in the National Hail Research Experiment will be mocked on this page.
Nancy’s colleagues recall her spirited approach to hunting for hail and other items of interest. “Some of my most hilarious memories of Nancy on field campaigns were driving,” says Karyn Sawyer, the former director of UCP/JOSS. “We’d be rocketing along a dirt road somewhere, and she’d insist that we stop because she had spotted an interesting bird.”

Nancy Knight w/hail

Helytimes Top Ten Albums Of 2015

3) Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music.

Technically came out in 2014.

Ordinarily I hate people’s photos of concerts but look how Sturgill & gang look like a little colored diorama here at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles:


2) Fleetwood Mac, Rumours.

Technically came out in 1977.

1) Grimes, Art Angels

Thank you, and please nominate your faves to helphely@gmail.com

In searching for these found this video for Tusk which I suspect will also appeal to Helytimes readership.


New Paintings For Barry


Reuters pool photo

Why did Obama talk in this weird way, and not sitting at the desk?  I dunno, but it looks like he got some new paintings for the Oval Office to replace Childe Hassam.  I learn they are Josephine Hopper’s, on loan from the Whitney:


Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

Says Whitney curator Dana Miller:

How did you feel when you saw the works installed on the Oval Office wall? Does their new context change the way they read?

There was something pretty wonderful about the way the light was streaming into the Oval Office the day we hung the works, in that it mimicked the lighting in Cobb’s Barn. With Hopper it is so much about the quality of light, and I think the early morning light at that moment echoed what we were seeing in the painting and I remember remarking upon that to Barbi Spieler, Head Registrar for the Permanent Collection, who was there as well. For obvious reasons we don’t often see Hopper paintings in natural light at the Museum.

When I saw the official White House photograph taken by Chuck Kennedy of The President standing in front of the two paintings, I thought it looked like a Hopper composition. Hopper’s urban scenes are often of a solitary figure caught in quiet contemplation, and that’s what the photograph captured. The light in the office and the sense of stillness are very Hopper-esque; the sun even seems to be coming into the office at the precise angle of the sun in the painting. And the back of The President recalls the back of the figure in Hopper’s most famous painting, Nighthawks. I’m guessing Chuck Kennedy knew exactly what he was doing. And of course, it was deeply gratifying to see an image of President Obama so intently focused on the paintings.

The paintings are of Cobb’s Barn in South Truro, Mass. — Cape Cod.  Both Hoppers were like obsessed with Cobb’s Barn, here is Edward:


Far as I can tell Cobb’s Barn isn’t there anymore.  Bit of a bummer, maybe they should put up a plaque or something.

Josephine Hopper:

Jo Hopper by Robert Henri

That’s her painted by Robert Henri, who loved to paint babes:


Henri was, by this point, at the heart of the group who argued for the depiction of urban life at its toughest and most exuberant. Conservative tastes were necessarily affronted. About Henri’s Salome of 1909, critic Hughes observed: “Her long legs thrust out with strutting sexual arrogance and glint through the over-brushed back veil. It has far more oomph than hundreds of virginal, genteel muses, painted by American academics. He has given it urgency with slashing brush marks and strong tonal contrasts. He’s learned from Winslow Homer, from Édouard Manet, and from the vulgarity of Frans Hals”.

More Helytimes coverage about the Hoppers.

Now, what painting is in the Oval Office may seem meaningless but I gotta tell ya: I like living a country where the President is expected to have some taste and make some choices about putting some cool art on the wall.

Presidents have different art on the wall, but it means something to them.  George W. Bush made a real point of having a bust of Churchill in there.  Obama allegedly returned it, right?  Ted Cruz definitely tells the whole truth about that?

New president, new art.  We can all find American art we like, that’s a great thing about us.  You can bet in the Reagan days they made choices about the art:

Looks like Reagan has The President’s House up there.

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From the “Artwork” section of the Wiki page on Oval Office:

Most presidents have hung a portrait of George Washington – usually the Rembrandt Peale”Porthole” portrait or the Charles Willson Peale three-quarter-length portrait – over the mantel at the north end of the room. A portrait of Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully hung in Lyndon Johnson’s office, and in Ronald Reagan’s, George H. W. Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s. A portrait of Abraham Lincoln by George Henry Story hung in George W. Bush’s office, and continues in Barack Obama’s. Three landscapes/cityscapes by minor artistsThe City of Washington from Beyond the Navy Yard by George Cooke, Eastport and Passamaquoddy Bay by Victor de Grailly, and The President’s House, a copy after William Henry Bartlett – have adorned the walls in multiple administrations. The Avenue in the Rain by Childe Hassam and Statue of Liberty by Norman Rockwell flanked the Resolute Desk in Bill Clinton’s office, and do the same in Barack Obama’s.

What a slam!  “minor artists”.  The friggin’ President looks at your painting every day and you’re still minor.  These art world guys are tough on each other, I tell ya.


Reader reaction is encouraging me in a White House kick.  Be sure to weigh in to Helytimes if you know any facts about Oval Office art.  Somebody out there knows what Bartlett had up.

The White House Pool


LBJ in the White House pool, from Michael Beschloss Twitter/NARA: https://twitter.com/beschlossdc/status/411277928991707136

There used to be an indoor swimming pool in the West Wing of the White House.   From the White House Museum website:

As the men and women of New York opened copies of the New York Daily News on March 14, 1933, they learned of a campaign to raise money for building the president a swimming pool at the White House. The effort was a way to honor President Franklin Roosevelt, a New York native who suffered from the crippling disease, poliomyelitis. The President often swam at therapy pools at his Hyde Park home in New York or at a center in Warm Springs, Georgia.

The campaign was a success, and the workmen gathered around the pool on June 2, 1933 to listen to President Roosevelt, who spoke from his wheelchair and thanked them for their work. The pool was built inside the west gallery between the White House and the West Wing in place of the old laundry rooms, which were moved to the basement of the mansion. Arched ceilings and high rows of half-mooned windows surrounded the rectangular pool. French doors opened into the Rose Garden. The president’s pool was a modern-day showcase of technology, featuring underwater lighting, sterilizers and the latest gadgets. For several years, he used it multiple times a day. Harry Truman swam in it frequently—with his glasses on.

Pool 2

When his son was in the White House, Joe Kennedy paid French artist Bernard Lamotte to paint a mural of sailing scenes and the harbor of Christiansted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands:


Christiansted, from Wiki

I cannot find a picture of JFK in the pool.

Pool 3

Here’s what the White House Museum says about the pool in the Kennedy years:

John Kennedy sometimes held swimming races with Cabinet members. He liked the pool so much that he made a habit of stopping by at noon, stripping down for a swim, and padding back to his bedroom for lunch and a nap in nothing but a robe. He did the same at the end of the day, dressing again for dinner. As a result, Chief Usher JB West observed, “John F Kennedy wore three separate suits of clothes every day of his White House life.”


I believe this was pre-mural?

Here is JFK’s sometime doctor Janet Travell in the pool.

Once Upon A Secret

In her book Once Upon a Secret, Mimi Alford describes the pool as like the center of JFK’s sexual life.  Frequent poolers, in her memory, were two staffers, one from the President’s Secretary’s office and one from the Press Secretary’s office, with the nicknames Fiddle and Faddle:

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Can’t really sort out the origin of this photo. The Daily Mail cites it as being from “Wikipedia”

A lot of stories about JFK get thrown around as true without a lot of investigating into the source.  Who can say now what was happening in the pool?  Caitlin Flanagan reviewed Alford’s book here, her takes are always engaging:

The overheated White House swimming pool, painted in a lurid Caribbean theme (its renovation a kinky father-son gift from Joe to Jack), was, according to a number of respected sources (among them Seymour Hersh and three on-the-record Secret Service agents), the locus of endless lunchtime sex parties. Two young secretaries named Priscilla Wear and Jill Cowen—the now infamous Fiddle and Faddle—often left their desks to splash and skinny-dip with Jack, returning to their desks with wet hair so they could go on with their important work of autographing his photographs and wondering how to type. They, like Mimi, were regularly packed along on official trips, apparently so that the president could always get laid if there was any trouble scaring up local talent. Although neither has ever commented on their relationship with Kennedy, their joint interview for the JFK oral-history project is astonishing for the number of trips they casually allude to having taken with him; they were the sex-doll Zeligs of JFK’s foreign diplomacy, their eager faces just out of frame in Berlin, Rome, Ireland, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Nassau, to say nothing of their extensive domestic work in places like Palm Beach and Hyannis Port.
It’s impossible to think Jackie had no idea that any of this was taking place. Once while giving a Paris Match reporter a tour of the White House, she passed by Fiddle’s desk and remarked—acidly, and in French—“This is the girl who supposedly is sleeping with my husband.”

Say what you will about Nixon, he wasn’t frolicking with secretaries in the pool:

President Richard Nixon arranged for the construction of a press briefing room above the old pool to accommodate the growing demand for television news.

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The old mural is now in the Kennedy Museum & Library in Boston:


The single best picture I can find of the pool shows astronaut Edward White throwing his daughter into it:


It’s from an old National Geographic.  Seven years later White died in the Apollo 1 fire:

Apollo 1

Pool 2

There is still an outdoor pool at the White House.

pool 3