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Hassle House poster panel

That’s what many thought when they first saw the poster for Hassle House, in Durham, North Carolina, back in ’76 or so. As soon as any of the posters went up, they disappeared, becoming instant collectors’ items. At the time, all I wanted was to hire the cartoonist who did it, so he could illustrate some of the ads I was creating for a local audio shop. That cartoonist was the polymath Ray Simone, who went on to become the creative leader of Hodskins Simone & Searls (HS&S), the advertising agency I co-founded with Ray and David Hodskins, in 1978, and which thrived in North Carolina and Silicon Valley for the next two decades.

When I put up Remembering Ray, which (among much else) expressed my wish to re-surface the Hassle House poster, Jay Cunningham said in a comment that he could scan his copy. Which he did, and the results are here. In another comment Rob Gringle gives more of the back-story than I had known at the time.

Before HS&S, David and Ray were both with a small “mutilple media studio” called Solar Plexus Enterprises, which grew out of the Duke Media Center. Also there was Helen Hudson Whiting, who was a first-rate epicure as well as the fastest and most capable typesetter I had ever known. I just looked Helen up and found this nice write-up from Duke Magazine Books:

In Helen’s Kitchen: A Philosophy of Food


By Helen Hudson Whiting. Regulator Bookshop, 2000. 241 pages. $17.95.

In the text below is this:

Helen Hudson Whiting ’75 was, among other things, a bookseller and co-owner of Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, a reader, a writer, and an amateur chef. For nineteen years, she wrote food commentaries for Triangle area publications: first for WDBS-FM’s The Guide, and then for The Independent.

In Helen’s Kitchen, organized posthumously and edited by her friends and colleagues, features an eclectic selection of these columns, as well as remembrances from people who knew Whiting and cherished her enterprising, adventurous culinary attitude and her zest for pleasure and her keen intellect.

I worked with Ray, Helen and David at Solar Plexus before we founded HS&S, and Helen continued to work alongside the new agency, doing most of our typesetting. So she became a good friend as well.

But that’s not my point here. My point is that ours was a special community, and at the beginning of many things, although we didn’t know it at the time.

At Ray’s memorial gathering in Pacifica last Sunday, Steve Tulsky made that point beautifully. He said our artsy-hippie community in Durham and Chapel Hill back then was a special group. Much was born there, in music, art, performance, writing, publishing, business, events, and other fields. The Independent, modeled by The Guide, is still going strong. So is the Regulator Bookshop. WDBS is long gone. So are WQDR and WRDU (as what they were then, anyway), which carried forward the radio torch WDBS lit when it went on in 1971. But their spirits survive in Good Radio everywhere. The Festival for the Eno, still going strong, began as the Folklife Festival, in 1976, on the country’s bicentennial. WDBS was highly involved, as the station broadcasting the many musical acts playing there. (Perhaps some old tapes still survive.)

While I was working with David, Ray and Helen at Solar Plexus in ’77, I also worked with the Psychical Research Foundation, which studied scientifically evidence for life after death, and was located at Duke University. The PRF spun off of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, led by J. B. Rhine, who launched the whole parapsychology field out of research he conducted at Duke in the 1930. Among the many decendents of that work is the Institute of Noetic Sciences, headed by Marilyn Schlitz, another member of our community back in the decade.

Here’s another weird connection. One of the central institutions of that time in Durham was the Durham Bulls single-A baseball team, which played at an old athletic field surrounded by brick tobacco warehouses. It was a special team at a special time and place. You might remember the movie about it.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring back to the foreground some of what we’ve lost or forgotten from that wonderful formative period in so many lives, and in so many ways.

The best Romans we ever knew were former ex-pats there: Charles and Doris Muscatine. We didn’t know them well, having met only once, for dinner in the early ’90s, at their son Jeff’s house in the Bay Area. But it turned out we were going to be in Rome at the same time, not long after that dinner, so we arranged to hook up there for lunch. We felt like we were imposing a bit, but hey: both were authorities on Rome, and Doris was the author of A Cook’s tour of Rome, among many other books on food and cooking.

They told us to meet them in a small alley-sized street next to an obscure church in a part of town that was all cobblestone and stucco over brick that went back to the days of empire, if not earlier. There we would find a restaurant with no sign, they said: just a curtain for a door. It was, literally, a hole-in-the-wall. It was also their favorite. Just about the only patrons then were locals, and the food consisted of Roman staples, perfectly prepared. It was wonderful.

But Chuck and Doris are now both gone; and, when we arrived in Rome a few days ago, we had  no memory of the restaurant’s name, much less its location, since Rome has no shortage of old narrow streets and obscure churches. Instead the first place we aimed for was one we read about in an airline magazine.

To our astonishment, it was the same place. The curtain was replaced by red ropes (see above), but otherwise it was unimproved. Margherita herself is now too old to cook there, we learned, but it’s the same home cooking as ever. The fried artichokes (“carciofi alla giudìa”), which have leaves as delicate as potato chips but infinitely more character, are a must if you’re ever in town.

The name is Sora Margherita and the church next door is Santa Maria del Pianto. It’s located in the Jewish ghetto district. Highly recommended.

Typo du jour:

I think what I ordered was the souris d’agneau à l’estragon (lamb testicles with estrogen).