From the Log of a Consumer Researcher: Reflections on the Odyssey



Citation:

Morris B. Holbrook (1991) ,"From the Log of a Consumer Researcher: Reflections on the Odyssey", in SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, eds. Russell Belk, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 14-33.

Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey, 1991     Pages 14-33

FROM THE LOG OF A CONSUMER RESEARCHER: REFLECTIONS ON THE ODYSSEY

Morris B. Holbrook

 

In Memory of

Arthur Tenney Holbrook, 1870-1968

[This chapter presents excerpts from the log kept by the author during the period of his participation in the Consumer Behavior Odyssey. It is intended to provide a narrative unfolding of the research experience encountered an the Odyssey. Different excerpts, pertinent to more specific themes, appear in other chapters of the present volume and in three previously published papers [two in Advances in Consumer Research. Vol. 14-15 (1987-1988) and one in Research in Consumer Behavior (1988).] Copies of the full document, without deletions, may be obtained by writing to the author at 504 Uris Hall, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027.]

PREFACE

When I was a boy, I used to travel every summer with my family to stay at our place on the Brule River in Northern Wisconsin. The stream was spring-fed, ice-cold, and brim-full of small brook, brown, and rainbow trout. We spent our days fishing with fly rods, poling canoes upstream, floating back down, and (on occasions of extreme bravery) swimming in the crystal-clear, frigid water. In the evenings, we read old books from the musty shelves, sang campfire songs, and played cribbage.

Everything in this tranquil place had its own special name. To the constant consternation of novitiate guests, a boat was a ..canoe"; its front, back, and sides were its "bow," "stem," and "gunwale"; its oar was a "paddle." I dutifully mastered these -terminological refinements. More difficult for a small boy to remember, our house was "the lodge"; and its central living space was "the council room."

Tucked into the top drawer of a large desk near the window of this council room, my family kept a book called"The Log." Every day or so, my dad or grandfather would take pen in hand and, in a meticulous version of his best physician's scrawl, would enter a record in this logbook. Such entries contained the names of all guests and visitors, the number and sizes of trout caught on the river that day, the magnitudes and durations of significant storms, the dates and times of canoe-poling feats or sports-related accomplishments, and any other informational tidbits that he chose to immortalize in this fashion. Sometimes, lists of numbers would appear in the log; sometimes, passages of well-crafted prose.

One year, when I was about ten, something extraordinary appeared under our Christmas tree. It was a book written by my grandfather, based on the accounts he had entered into the log over a lifetime of trips to the Brule River and published at his own expense, complete with photographs. Everyone who has ever read this book has loved it. It contains wonderful evocations of life on the river. It beautifully conveys my grandfather's sense of humor and magically captures his spirit of playfulness. It plumbs the depths of his soul by recreating his most cherished moments. It is called From the Log of a Trout Fisherman.

I suppose that, ever since I initially encountered my grandfather's marvelous accounts of his experiences on the Brule, I have secretly wanted to write my own log. His introspective, deeply personal narrative provided the first quasi- phenomenological portrayal of a lived world that I had ever read. Given that it came from a man who had studied under William James at Harvard, I ought not to have been surprised by its eloquence. But, in those days, I did not know such things. I only knew that it felt good to read and that, someday, I would like to try something similar.

But I lacked a suitable subject. For many years, my life's most dramatic moments consisted of studying for school (which largely involved reading other people's books), playing the piano (which only David Sudnow has managed to make experientially interesting), and football practice (which I would rather forget). Probably with justification, I found it hard to imagine these as topics in which others would find any interest. Only recently did I discover "consumption" as a heading under which I could meaningfully collect some of my more self-reflective thoughts. I have put together such musings in short pieces entitled "I Awake," "I'm Hip," 'The 25-Cent Tour of a Jazz Collector's Home," "I Am an Animal," and"The Turtle." But these amount to little more than tiny vignettes, brief stories that some would charitably call introspective or interpretive in the humanistic tradition but others would harshly characterize as egocentric or narcissistic in self-indulgent excess. Having grown up reading people like Samuel Johnson, not to mention my grandfather, I do not shrink from such accusations. Yet, until now, I have lacked a subject broad enough to command my sustained attention. finally, in the Summer of 1986, I got my chance.

During the Summer of 1986, several consumer researchers banded together on an excursion that they called 'The Consumer Behavior Odyssey." They rode in a van -- a 27-foot recreational vehicle -- from California to Massachusetts, observing different aspects of consumer behavior in a wide range of settings along the way. During a two-week period in July and August, they and their RV stayed with me at our house in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. This house is a modest weekend retreat in a developed area called Hemlock Far-ins. Hemlock is not exactly the Brule River, but at least it is in the woods.

This log represents my experiences -just before, during, and after that visit by the members of the Consumer Behavior Odyssey. I intend it as a companion piece to the field notes and journals written by my friends and colleagues who participated in the Odyssey by riding on, sleeping in, and often nearly clinging to the van. Like good naturalistic inquirers, they followed accepted anthropological practice by endeavoring to split their observations between the more objective and interpersonally verifiable (as contained in their field notes) and the more subjective and personally introspective (as contained in their journals). But, from the start, I questioned the tenability of this distinction and opted instead for a medium that combined both in what I called a "log," partly to distinguish it from the documents created by my traveling companions and partly to remind myself that I followed in a tradition started by my grandfather.

My log reports reactions to what I observed around me on the Odyssey. It stems from the data collected in my travels, but it reflects the filtering of those data through my own sensibilities. In other words, it tries to capture the research experience as I lived it in the Summer of 1986. Thus, in a sense, one might say that my colleagues have written about the Odyssey across (across the country, across consumption situations, across informants) whereas, by contrast, I have written about the Odyssey within. I have peered, as far as I can, into the depths of my own responses to our observations of consumption phenomena. And here is what I have found.

JULY 29: LEAVING

Yesterday, in getting ready to leave town, I experienced a really bad scene -- weighed down by tremendous pressure ... to cram sixteen hours of last-minute work into a ten-hour day.... All this meant that I did not start my packing for the trip until about midnight when I turned the dregs of my dwindling attention to the issue of what I would need for two weeks on the Odyssey.

I had been buying film, notebooks, and pens, so these went into one pile. I sorted through my tapes and filled a little carrier with interesting jazz cassettes. Along with these, I would need my ancient Walkman and various extension cords. I added this stuff to the pile.

The question of what to bring for reading -- and whether it was worth the bother -preoccupied me for some time. First, I sorted through my various stacks of papers and pulled out everything I thought was a near-emergency. Then I gathered together some working papers, Xeroxes, and reprints that I'd been wanting to read. Then I snatched up about eight or nine of the books that I ordered several weeks ago while working on a semiotics paper ... and threw all this into my shoulder satchel and a bag from J&R Records.

By this time, it was 2:00 a.m.... I was very keyed up and, despite being so tired, had a lot of trouble drifting off to sleep. This was really the first time that I've become viscerally excited about the Odyssey and all its promising uncertainties....

Today, Tuesday, I awake with the radio alarm at 6:50 a.m. I enjoy some tender moments with Sally and then arise with difficulty, very sleepily beginning to throw any clean clothes I can find into a gigantic shopping bag. This includes mostly socks, underpants, t-shirts, polo shirts, khakis, jeans, and a few odds and ends (belts, suntan lotion, Weenex). After orange juice and a financial consultation with Sally, it is past time to leave.

This will be our longest separation (by far) since we were married 21 years ago, and I'm not looking for-ward to it. Originally, I think I took it for granted that Sally would spend at least part of the time with the research group in the field. But, with her psychotherapy practice, this begins to look less and less likely (except, maybe, on the weekend).

I barely reach the car by the 8: 00 a.m. deadline when they start to give parking tickets and then find that I literally cannot make it move forward. Total panic! Ultimately, I pinpoint the problem in the parking brake, which is not releasing properly. After fiddling with this recalcitrant device for some time, I finally persuade it to snap loose so that I can get the car going. Maybe I should suspend use of the parking brake for a while....

On the way up the Hudson, I stop at school to drop off some emergency mail.... After buying two large black carry-out coffees at Chock Full o' Nuts, I finally take off from Columbia at 8:45 and head for the West Side Highway.

The Hudson River Drive is free of traffic going north, but the southbound lanes feature one of the worst traffic jams I've ever seen. All vehicles are literally stopped dead in their tracks from 125th Street to the George Washington Bridge. In the midst of all this, as a symbol of inefficiency, a police car sits with its siren blaring and its lights blinking, but with absolutely no hope of moving as much as an inch in any direction.

After passing through what seems like even more than the usual number of near-accidents involved in escaping from Manhattan, I cross the bridge, successfully breaking out of the right-hand lane to avoid being swept helplessly up the Palisades Parkway, and head west on Route 80. 1 open my first cup of coffee and rejoice that WBGO is playing an Art Pepper record as I leave town. This piece is a fiery blues from the late lamented Artist's House label (former home for one of my rare consulting projects)....

Once free of the City traffic, I decide to see if I can successfully write and drive at the same time. I find that I can -- up to a point -but only if I don't look at the paper. Conceivably, I muse, what I have written thus far will be totally illegible. Also, the practice is doubtless rather dangerous. But, at least it keeps me involved....

I make such good time to the Delaware River Bridge that I decide to stay on Route 80 to East Stroudsburg where I can pick up a couple of needed items (peanuts, paper towels, and toilet paper) at the Weiss supermarket.... on entry, I feel overwhelmed by this store. It is about four times the size of even the largest NYC grocery and fills me with a sense of containing countless products that I desperately need to buy and will be instantly sorry I haven't the moment my friends arrive and start asking for them: "Do you have any parsley, Morris? Where do you keep the celery'? Excuse me, but is there any cayenne pepper in the house?"

To cope with the bountiful variety of the offerings at Weiss, I adopt the simple heuristic of walking around the store and picking up everything that looks important until I can't carry any more in my arms. During this voyage through the aisles, two people ask me if they can get me a shopping cart. I must look very strange, if not pathetic, but I assure them that I am shopping in this unprecedented manner on purpose as a self-limitation to my purchasing activity. Finally, I know I must stop when I need to ask a lady to put a can of peanuts on top of the growing pile in my arms. After this last desperate gesture, I can barely stagger to the checkout counter.

It turns out that what my arms can carry is: two rolls of Scott paper towels, four rolls of Scott toilet paper, one bag of instant-lighting Kingsford charcoal, two pounds of ground round, two half-gallon bottles of Diet Pepsi, two half-gallons of Diet 7-Up, and one big can of Planter's peanuts. While picking up these items, I overhear an elderly couple who (as if out of a marketing textbook) are literally agonizing over which toilet paper is the best buy for the money. I picture them on social security, barely able to scrape together enough cash to afford to wipe their behinds, but together and therefore happy nonetheless.

Meanwhile, I am confident that my own toilet paper selection (Scott) was probably the worst buy for the money. I have compensated for this by grabbing the Diet Pepsi -- on sale at 99 cents, about 70 cents cheaper than at the Red Apple down the block from us on 87th Street, where the prices preserve direct proportionality to the general scuziness of the atmosphere and decor.

I leave the supermarket at 10:30 and stop at the Burger King -- site of the only known public bathroom in East Stroudsburg -- to pick up a Whopper for what will undoubtedly prove to be a rather cold and soggy lunch in a couple of hours. My order prompts the comment that they have just started serving hamburgers so that I shall have the official honor of being their first lunch customer of the day. I quip that I hope the burger isn't left over from last night and am assured, with horror, that serving day-old burgers would violate company rules....

I climb back into the Olds and drive up Route 209, stopping at the beer depot to pick up a case of Budweiser in cans before hitting Route 402 North, My second fantasy about the Odyssey people is that they will guzzle vast quantities of beer and wine -- I know I will -and so I have laid in a fairly generous supply of both these commodities. I hope that I can be a good host, but I have little experience with this sort of thing. How does one take care of people who live in a van with their own supply of electricity and water? Besides lending them a hose and an extension cord, I am not sure what one does.

As I pass the Pickerel Inn, heading toward the Hemlock Farms entrance, I notice that it is already 11:07. Writing notes in the car turns out to be a completely absorbing experience, and the time has flown. I entertain the sudden fantasy that I might find the van waiting for me at Horseshoe Lane, with several angry friends pissed off that I wasn't there to meet them. But I calm myself with the thought that it is much more likely they will arrive in the late afternoon, in the evening, or even in the middle of the night. I expect Jeff Durgee at 4:00; so we'll see what happens.

At the Hemlock Farms gate, I tell the unbelievably officious guard that I expect some visitors at Horseshoe Lane. This uniformed employee makes me spell my name three times, inquires solicitously about the names of all my visiting friends, and wants to know their exact times of arrival. I hope and pray that the van will pass his scrutiny without incident.

When I first heard that the Odyssey would be coming cross-country in a van, I pictured one of those cute little Dodge wagons with the pointed noses. In Chicago, the sight of the actual behemoth that my friends had rented in California filled me with something between astonishment and dread. I am sure that it will be the largest privately owned vehicle ever to seek access to Hemlock Farms. While I know of no specific rule against inviting your friends to visit you in something larger than a hairy mammoth, I still cannot picture this gigantic RV breezing past our gestapo-like sentry without some sort of incredible hassle....

On arriving at the house, I unpack the car, put away the groceries, stash my clothes, and open all the windows. I get WBGO going on the FM, retrieve the rest of my lukewarm coffee from the Olds, and settle into the Sears gazebo. Here, surrounded by our slim white chairs and the rusty hibachi, I experience a moment of utter tranquility. A grasshopper, probably injured, lurches across the terrace. The sun comes and goes from behind its cloud cover. Distant rolls of thunder seem to underline the heaviness of the humid air. From the house, I can here a Latin-tinged jazz band performing Chick Corea's "Spain" with some heavy bongo drums and screaming trumpets. The announcer says that it was Tito Puente. Meanwhile, I wait.

I wait for the arrival of my friends and who-knows-what kind of activities to come. I do not even know in advance which friends and colleagues will remain on the van by the time it reaches me. I'm more or less counting on Russ and Melanie, probably Rick, maybe Tom, probably not John, and almost certainly not Hal (who said that he would again join the van at Beth's house). Jeff will arrive separately. John Pfeiffer might join us, as might Wendy Bryce, T. J. Olney, or Grant McCracken. It should prove quite interesting to see who actually shows up. During the delay, I've got the doubtless soggy Whopper, the need for exercise, and plenty of paper work to keep me busy....

The van, with Joe Cote at the wheel, arrives at about 2:00 p.m., edging down the driveway and barely missing trees on both sides. On board are Russ Belk, Rick Pollay, and Melanie Wallendorf. After general greetings and welcomes, they show me the RV, I show them the house, and we settle down to a general discussion of possible venues for the next few days. I have collected piles of promotional literature from the surrounding area; so we go through these with everyone calling out various points of special interest.... To my relief, it seems that people do show some curiosity about several possibilities in the vicinity.... Later, over dinner at Verands Italian Restaurant, the group considers a list of possibilities that Rick Pollay has compiled and votes on the first three choices of each member. This democratic approach clearly demonstrates a general interest in the Green County Fair, but that is about all it demonstrates. Other options receive more mixed support -- for example, Buckhill Falls, bed-and-breakfast inns, weight-reduction centers, candle shops, and white-water rafting. In a triumph of democracy, we leave all such decisions for the future and decide to spend tomorrow practicing on each other to introduce new members to the necessary interviewing skills and equipment-handling procedures....

Joe, Jeff, and I share a few thoughts on our feelings about the direction of the research. I express my own reaction to the field notes and journal entries completed up to the arrival of the van in Chicago. These hinge on what I sense is a gap between the relatively matter-of-fact field notes and the more interpretive journal entries. According to the perspective of Naturalistic Inquiry, accuracy, completeness, and consensus regarding the field notes are the touchstones of rigor and truthfulness. This emphasis extends to a preoccupation with research audits and member checks. I acknowledge the potential value of such procedures but fear that an overemphasis on the mechanics of collecting and recording field notes might lead to a "new orthodoxy" in which we just latch onto a surrogate for the old positivism. For me, increasingly, the emphasis on data collection needs to be tempered by an openness to interpretation -- including interpretation that is subjective, personal, and introspective. The clearest opportunity for such an interpretive thrust lies in the journals; so I favor a greater value placed upon the diary-like journal entries and their potential contribution to developing interpretations of what is happening in the research process....

Melanie, Rick, and Russ retire to the van. Apparently, they prefer its womblike coziness to the relatively spacious but unfamiliar house. Also, as the ingroup who have been together for several weeks, they are protected by the van's privacy from the outgroup of relative newcomers. Meanwhile, Jeff takes Christopher's bed, Joe chooses the "library," and I keep my usual spot in the bedroom upstairs....

JULY 30: INTERVIEWING EACH OTHER

When I awake at 8:00 a.m., Melanie has already left to take Russ to the Newark Airport (en route to the AMA Doctoral Consortium at Notre Dame). I offer Jeff and Joe their share of the remaining juice (about three ounces each). Jeff accepts; Joe declines.... A curious phenomenon, thus far, has been that those who arrived on the van continue to live "off the van," returning to their cocoon for food. beverages, and other sustenance.... In this, the van stands as an emblematic womb -- linked to the house by its umbilical hose and extension cord, linked to its inhabitants by a kind of invisible chain that keeps pulling them back inside to perform all necessary functions of the body and spirit....

After a while, Rick appears. We discuss our plans for the day's activities, which include a projected round robin of interviewing each other on camera. Soon, we realize that, in discussing what we plan to do, we have slipped into actually doing it. Rick has begun to hold forth on his collection of advertisements. We therefore decide to stop the breakfast table chatter and to get the cameras rolling in earnest. At 9:45, we turn our efforts in this direction....

Joe, Jeff, Rick, and I take turns interviewing each other and practicing the art of operating the video camera and audio tape machine. My turn on the camera comes first and coincides with Jeff s interviewing Rick on the subject of his advertising-related artifacts. They have prepared the round table with a display of these "advertiques" and now dive into the topic of how, why, and where one would amass such a collection. The conversation is clearly fascinating. However, I find myself completely absorbed by-the visual aspects of the task. The simple act of panning, zooming, and focusing offers a myriad of possibilities for framing the picture and moving from one shot to another. These are visually intriguing, and I can practically feel the right side of my brain rev up while the left side clicks off. I find myself immersed in what is happening spatially and how I can use the camera to try to capture it. About an hour goes by before I realize that standing in one place and struggling to steady this heavy camera has made me tired.

Next, it is my turn to interview Joe on the subject of pet consumption. Around a general discussion of Joe's Rhodesian Ridgeback, Terra, I try to elicit some material on the status of pets as family members. We explore the subject of whether a dog might serve as a surrogate baby and related topics....

After a quick break for lunch, it is my turn to be interviewed -- in this case, by Rick on the subject of jazz collecting. Rick leads me through what I think is a well-conducted interview on my jazz fanaticism. Much of the material repeats stuff I've discussed in the "Bird," "I'm Hip," and "25-Cent Tour" papers. However, I do have one minor flash of self-insight when Rick asks me what I find so compelling about musicians like Chet Baker and Art Pepper, who have expressed so much pain in their playing. I suddenly realize that what moves me so deeply is not the pain that they convey per se, but rather the extraordinary power of their ability to express it. The clear analogy is my reaction to great acting in the theater or movies, where I am so often moved less by the emotions at stake than by the expressiveness of the acting. The ability to express those feelings is the crux of the matter -- whether the emotion happens to be love, joy, sadness, anger, or fear.

The taping concludes with an interview of Jeff by Joe on the subject of Jeff s rowing activities. I play the role of audio engineer and thus have plenty of opportunity to attend to the interview. It provides a wonderful example of fanatic consumption....

We finish the taping at about 4:00. Desperately in need of exercise, I discretely excuse myself and retire to the balcony upstairs to do my huffing and puffing. This location requires me to use the bare wood floor and to listen to my music through headphones, but those compromises seem worth it for the sake of a little physical exertion.

After exercises, I write for about an hour in the log and then join the others for some chat before beginning to watch the day's tapes.... The tape of my interview with Joe brings back all sorts of feelings as I relive the experience of what I was trying to accomplish with my questions. I am again aware of how hard I must resist my temptation to interrupt and how difficult it is to steer the conversation back on itself in a way that does not seem totally arbitrary but that still returns Joe to issues that I want to pursue. For example, I really have to work to try to establish a link between pets as children and Joe's family relations. I find myself once again tensing as I try to struggle for unobtrusive ways to bring out these tenuous connections.

After the Morris-Joe interview, we break for dinner, which turns out to be hamburgers cooked by me and three previously opened bottles of red wine with some rolls that Melanie brought back from Dover on her return trip from the Newark airport.... When we have finished eating, Rick and Joe plan potential sites for tomorrow while Jeff and I clean up the kitchen. I identify some key locations on the map. Rick proposes taking the van with a view toward spending the night. I object that the van might be a little crowded for five people, two of whom might rather not sleep in a van, but am gently informed that this viewpoint is absurd.... Everyone agrees to depart at 8:00 a.m., and we all retire at about midnight....

JULY 3 1: CHUCK OLDBOYS CIMMARON AND BEYOND

We arrive at Chuck Oldboy's Cimmaron at 9:00 a.m. and slip past the guard at the gate with the excuse that we have come to eat breakfast (ergo to spend money).... We cannot find the restaurant; so Melanie asks at the desk, and it turns out that we need to take a shuttle bus to the place where we can eat. This dining room is the size and color of three bams placed end-to-end and, like everything else at Cimmaron today, has an empty feeling. Roughly five percent of the tables are occupied. The maitre d'hotel guides us to a table next to a group of eight who are talking about Leavittown.

The most exotic things on the menu are French toast, English muffins, and Danish pastries. The main fare consists of things like omelets, pancakes, and hash browns. Just beneath the hot chocolate for 85 cents, the menu proudly announces (without apparent intended irony) that "the Chef and the Staff at Cimmaron wish you a happy joyful day."

After a long (not so happy joyful) delay, the waiter finally comes to take our order. Melanie, Rick, and I request bagels and cream cheese with tea or coffee. The waiter asks if everyone is on a diet. Apparently, most customers go for the more substantial meals, as we might also infer by watching the heaping mounds of edibles that soon begin to arrive at the table next to us.

The cavernous dining room is filled with white table cloths, crimson napkins, matching chairs, and huge portraits of four stars who look like rejects from Woody Allen's "Broadway Danny Rose." Rick and I muse on why the place seems so dead and decide that this effect results from the large spaces with few people to fill them, the lamentable Muzak, the lack of living plants, the listless air of the staff, and the low energy level of the guests (who seem to wander around aimlessly with absolutely nothing to do).

I take Melanie and Jeff to see the pool, which contains numerous bulbous bodies bobbing up and down. According to Melanie, the five women whom we see in the pool, bouncing like boisterous beachballs, are performing some sort of ritual aerobic dance. Presumably, this explains why they revolve in a big circle like slightly demented show ponies....

The glass in the pool area has grown opaque from condensation between its double panes. This prompts the comment from a young bearded lifeguard that Cimmaron will soon close the pool area for renovations.... According to this lifeguard, the "old" management let things run down. This "old" management turns out to be none other than Chuck Oldboy himself. He used to come here in a helicopter to sing. But he did not put money into the place. It deteriorated and got poor word of mouth. our lifeguard speculates that Chuck bought the place because he thought that gambling might be legalized in the Poconos. However, the locals fought this innovation, tooth and nail. When the potential legalization fell through, Chuck lost interest and let the place decline. 'Mis led to the bad word of mouth, which the new management must now overcome.

Still according to this lifeguard, the new management is a group of bankers from Oregon. They are trying to fix the place up and hope for better word of mouth and more traffic. The lifeguard thinks that the best hope for success lies is sales conferences, business meetings, and trade conventions. Recently, they have had several group gatherings here. This has been good for business, but he does not know much about how the conference attendees behave because he is not supposed to get friendly with them. Unlike a boat, Cimmaron discourages the staff from fraternizing (or sororitizing) with the clientele. It occurs to me that this might be a wonderful place for next year's ACR conference. Just before it goes bankrupt, Cimmaron might offer some truly economical rates. Besides, how else could you top Las Vegas?...

On the stroll back to the lobby, we stop at the bulletin board that lists coming entertainment attractions: Maureen McGovern (July 26), Greg Bonham (August 1), Rhonda Hansome (August 1), Sal Richards (August 9), Corbett Monica (August 15). Julius LaRosa (August 16), Scott Record (August 27), and Lionel Hampton (August 3 1).

Nearby, in the bar area, people are playing a question-answering trivia game. About 30 vacationers are seated with pads of paper, answering questions like "What Aesop animal assumed that the grapes were sour anyway?"'What did Moses do for a living before he was called by God?" or"What island is the boot of Italy kicking?"... The lady standing next to me says that they do "something like this" in the bar area every morning. I find it interesting to speculate about what else could possibly be like this.

I take a cup of coffee from the pot near the registration desk. Jeff and I wander into the night club. The curtain is down, and some gentle piano chords drift from behind it. Soon, a muffled vocalist sings along. The night club is enormous. It probably seats a couple of thousand customers and must feel devastatingly empty with so few people around.

Next to the nightclub area, we find color photos of (among others) Frankie Vali, Norm Crosby, Alan IUng, Lola Falana, Donny and Marie Osmond, Robert Goulet, and Ben Vereen -- an almost perfect compilation of my eight least favorite performers. Apparently, this place caters to the same crowd that constitutes the major target audience for the "Tonight Show."...

Melanie and I join the group that Jeff made friends with at breakfast, allegedly to play some poker. I give them all my pennies (which more or less disqualifies me from further participation in the game) and then concentrate on talking with a trim, nicely dressed lady who tells me all about her discontent with Cimmaron as a vacation site.

It has been raining hard all day and much of yesterday. She feels that, under these conditions, there is nothing to do here. It is OK for younger people. But she and her husband do not play tennis and pingpong or swim much, and there is little else to do indoors. Accordingly, this group of about six friends have organized their own poker game with pennies for chips. But she does not play poker: so she seems willing to talk with me.

She first came to Cimmaron about five years ago when it was much nicer and they gave you free pizza by the swimming pool and had a cocktail hour with free drinks at the bar. She feels that Cimmaron was nice then. They gave you more for your money and much more food, which was also better prepared.

The last time they came here was after Chuck Oldboy had bought the place, and things had really deteriorated -- no more free food, worse service, renovations closing various areas, and intense overcrowding due to the presence of a national convention of tap dancers.

That time, their vacation was-especially unpleasant. This hurts because her husband can get away for only a few days each year. He works as an electrician for "Circle Time," which operates a chain of stores in the boroughs and on Long Island. They live on the Island with their 23-year-old son who attends a local community college part time and wants to be an electrical engineer -- or just an electrician like his dad if the more ambitious plan does not work out. They do not charge their son rent, but she sometimes wishes that he would contribute more to the household expenses.

Because of his responsibilities with Circle Time, her husband can only take a few days off (Monday-Thursday) and must leave immediately after breakfast tomorrow. For this reason, she feels especially upset about all the rain in the past 24 hours, feels bored, but feels especially frustrated right now because she has just heard that there is a problem with her husband's blood medicine. She just returned from shagging pennies in her room, where she happened to get a call from her son saying that there was an error in her husband's prescription so that he has been taking the wrong dosage.

She feels: (1) worried about her husband (who was recuperating from pneumonia when she first met him, who got the same thing on their vacation last year, and who has been suffering from blood problems ever since, such that if he takes too much medicine, he bleeds and, if he takes too little, it clots); (2) angry that she got no phone message from the hotel but just happened to be in the room when her desperate son called on one of his repeatedly unsuccessful attempts to reach her; (3) frustrated that the medical clinic gave him the wrong dosage (which puts her in mind of a malpractice suit); and (4) disappointed that, once again. her tiny annual vacation has been ruined....

I ask my informant why they returned to this place after their bad experience with the crowds of tap dancers. She says that last year they had an even worse time visiting Villa Florence in the Catskills, which they had trouble finding down in some valley and where her husband got walking pneumonia. She did not enjoy Villa Florence, even though she is Italian and they served Italian food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. According to her, the place was "too food orientated" and there was nothing to do but eat and sleep. This bad experience apparently persuaded them to return to Cimmaron, partly as the lesser of two evils and partly in hopes that it might have improved. Also, she feels the entertainment is better at Cimmaron -- particularly a multitalented singer- magician -comic named Marty.

For her, this year, Cimmaron has improved somewhat but still lacks good food and service. The first night, their chicken and veal (not to mention their steaks) were not fully cooked so that her table complained. After that (by inference, because of the complaining), the cooking improved. (This lady feels that, if things are unsatisfactory, you have to complain or they won't know. The last time she was here, she complained so much that they did not charge her for her room. I am surprised that they let her come back.) But, in spite of her remedial actions. the restaurant is still empty ("you could count the people"), the service is still slow ("today it took two hours for breakfast"), and they still do not give you enough to eat "except at breakfast")....

All things considered, my informant strikes me as heroically thin in spite of the general obesity of the people around her. She also shows a kind of tough stoicism in coping with her emotions on what has to be a very disappointing occasion. Here she is -- in this God-forsaken tacky place, beset by rainstorms and bored out of her mind on her one four-day vacation of the year -- with poor food to eat, lousy service, and nothing to do except watch her seven friends play poker and worry about her husband who might bleed to death or get a blood clot at any moment thanks to the incompetence of her son (who just panicked instead of calling information to get the Cimmaron phone number), the hotel staff (who only slipped a note under her door to tell them about the medical emergency), and her doctor (who is himself away on vacation, probably a lot more pleasantly than she, one surmises). In that light, this lady seems rather noble, managing to keep her cool and to remain amazingly cheerful in the face of having her already short vacation ruined by the weather, illness, and culinary vagaries. I enjoy a moment of admiration for her remarkable self-control before responding to Jeff s announcement that it is time to head for the van to push off for Buckhill Falls....

We arrive at Buckhill Falls, which I have said is about ten miles from Cimmaron but which turns out to be about fifty feet away (thereby helping to establish my current reputation as the group's most incompetent navigator), at about 1:00 p.m. I spend the first few minutes finishing some notes in the van and then head up the hill in search of answers to the question of what on earth people find so fascinating about this place....

I take two photos of the main falls framed through the trees. It seems incredible to me that anyone would pay $3.50 to come and see this dinky little trickle of water....

At the top of the hill, I find a mediocre view of a valley and a couple of small mountains that I photograph only for the sake of documentation. A family of three has preceded us there.... They come from just south of Allentown and happened to be passing by on their way up north of Hawley to visit some family or friends. This was their first tourist-type stop of the one-day trip, and they feel it is something they should see since they live nearby and have never seen it. In general, they seem satisfied that they have come and think they might return after they are old enough to buy a ticket at the reduced price for senior citizens. They say they think it must be really pretty in the autumn with all the fail colors....

I talk to a couple who have driven here from the western part of Pennsylvania. They definitely think the view is worth it in terms of the climbing and the ticket prices. They have arrived rather out of breath, with him worrying that his camera is not working properly. To be safe, he takes two pictures of the valley. He thinks maybe he needs a new camera. 1, too, take some shots of the valley to document my impression that this is really a most ordinary view, comparable to what one sees all along Routes 80 and 84.

My informants are on their annual vacation. They have driven here in their camper, have spent the night in a camper park south of Stroudsburg, and will pass a few days wandering around the area, looking at scenery, and shooting pictures. They have just come from New Jersey, near Hackettstown. They had gone there because they have never seen New Jersey before and thought they should look at it while they were here. They have grown children who are not with them and feel that their 21 -foot camper is quite comfortable for two people because, if it rains, you can stay inside and do something. Somehow, they make the RV sound like Cimmaron-on -wheels.

There is something rather engaging about interviewing people while they are actually engaged in consumption. I am amazed that everybody seems to think that this experience is worth it. Here they are, often obese, lugging themselves up this big hill to look at something that is less spectacular than what they can see for free all up and down the sides of the road. And yet -- while huffing and puffing and reeling financially from the blow of the outrageous ticket prices -- they still feel glad they came and think it was worth it. Cognitive dissonance run rampant? A flow experience? Who knows? I don't. Either do they....

We leave Buckhill Falls at about 3:00, headed for the candle shop, massage parlor, factory outlets, and other points West. The candle shop is one place where the tactile and olfactory matter enormously. People touch and smell almost everything. Numerous families with multiple children crowd and scrape through this tacky little two-story store -- sniffing the colored candles and fondling the little wax statuettes. Some carry plastic baskets full of prospective purchases. Others stare vacantly at the paltry merchandise. One bedraggled woman clutches a tiny baby that has the good sense to look completely miserable. I secretly gloat with self-satisfaction over having passed this wretched shop literally countless times without ever having felt the slightest temptation to enter.

In the parking lot, several men stand near their cars, apparently having sent their womenfolk into the store without them. In this, their good judgment appears thoroughly vindicated, the only danger being that their girlfriends or wives might appear at any moment with armloads of bought wax. One couple in a white Pontiac pauses before leaving to take a photo of the red-and-white striped building. Perhaps, someday, this snapshot will evoke happy memories of their fun-packed visit to this Pocono paraffin paradise....

On the way back up Route 402, we pass the Greenfield Manor weight-loss center. Melanie, Jeff, and I agree that this would be a fabulous venue for some depth interviews on body image, transformation of self, complementary changes in grooming rituals, anticipated effects on social relations, etc. We vow to approach the fat farm people for permission to observe....

We arrive back at Hemlock by about 7:30, early enough for me to squeeze in some exercise. This seems especially important tight now in light of my day of sitting in the van, my aching back, and my late lunch on Route 209 at "Burgers' R Us," whose "Big Dude with Cheese" has sunk to the bottom of my stomach like sludge, whence it sends out evil and bitter sensations of indigestion. I therefore throw myself into the calisthenics with gusto and manage to fight off the dyspepsia long enough to stage a full workout....

Meanwhile, Rick's job is to prepare the sauce for a pasta dish that Melanie has planned to prepare. Because I cooked hamburgers last night and because I am still undressed, I decide to let the others get started on the cooking. But, after about 15 minutes, I go down in search of their company ... and beer.... Joe, Rick, and Jeff put together a tasty sauce for Melanie's pasta along with a nice salad and a pleasant wine. I busy myself with trying to create a friendly ambience in the living room, with subdued lighting and the free candle from the candle shop. I persuade the others to forsake the kitchen and eat at the round table atop the platform. I feel that this setting provides a sort of cozy atmosphere for what turns out to be some good conversation centered around the events of the last couple of days and plans for tomorrow. We seem to converge on the fat farm as our next target site.

AUGUST 1: GREENFIELD MANOR

I awake at 7:59, about a minute before the alarm is scheduled to ring, to the sounds of soft rapping and thumping from below. Because I live in dread of malfunctioning alarm clocks and this seems like a good test case, I force myself to wait for the clock to erupt into its buzzing tumult. It turns out that this particular chronometer delivers a sort of symphonic crescendo that starts with a soft click changes into a quiet murmur and then quickly swells into a violently grating wail. Apparently, I have always been so dead asleep when it has sounded in the past that I have never before heard anything except its obstreperous squeal. This supplies one more piece of evidence for my theory that some of my soundest sleeping gets accomplished just before, during, and after the alarm clock goes Off...

We leave the house at about 9:30 and drive down Route 402 to the Greenfield Manor weight-loss center. With some trepidation, on my part at least, Jeff, Melanie, and I walk to the front office and introduce ourselves to the proprietress -- a stocky, pleasant looking, well-dressed lady of about 60 years in age, named Francine. We explain ourselves to Francine. To my relieved surprise, she welcomes us warmly, encouraging us to come right in and ask our questions. She says she'll join us shortly but, meanwhile, suggests that a couple of her guests show us into the dining room.

I half expect to see feed troughs lined up in rows along one wall but instead encounter a very tidy, fresh-smelling, pine-paneled area with about ten tables, all neatly set in preparation for lunch. The manor sleeps 33 people; so I infer that there must be about that many place settings in view. My tour guide -- one of the guests at the hotel (a slightly heavy, dark haired lady of about 50 from Central Park West) -- tells me that she has found the place a wonderful retreat for purposes of dieting and exercise. CPW has come for ten days to relax, have fun, lose weight, and learn how to do aerobics properly. In particular, she wants to learn how to monitor herself so that she can feel when her pulse reaches the desired rate of 130-140 beats per minute. CPW says that she participates actively in the manor's exercise programs, which begin right after breakfast at 9:00 and rim until lunch at 12:30. She does the walking and aerobics classes; she also swims, but has not yet worked up to jogging. CPW`s husband is a real runner and does the bridal path in Central Park, which is a little longer than around the reservoir, once a day at lunchtime instead of eating. She cannot exercise with her husband, but she does hope to keep up an active regimen when she gets back home. CPW has an exercise bike, which she finds boring, though people have told her that she should try listening to music or watching television while pedaling. TV does not help because there is nothing worth watching except on Channel 13, she says, in what strikes me as a typical New York elitism. She might try music because her son has a portable tape player. CPW says that she will try to maintain her better eating habits when she leaves this place, though she knows that this will be hard to accomplish. She knows that you can't lose very much weight in just a few days, but has come for both the good eating habits and the exercise training, with hopes of continuing the latter when she returns home. Since she works, CPW will have to cut back on her exercise, but intends to do something in the evenings when she gets home from the office. She does not worry that she will feel too tired to exercise after a full day of work because, at the manor, she has discovered that exercise picks you up. For her first couple of days here, CPW had a headache and felt sluggish, but then someone told her to go for a walk. She did and, by the time she returned, felt refreshed and wonderful. She thinks that exercise makes you feel good and wants to continue.

During my conversation with CPW, an older lady of about 70 pushes past us several times, walking with some difficulty and nearly spilling her (forbidden) cup of coffee (which she has smuggled downstairs from her room). (Cigarettes are also prohibited in the manor and must, if at all, be smoked outside.) She is heavy set, but not enormously fat, with medium-length white hair, piercing blue-grey eyes, and an extremely animated countenance. She lives in Wilmington, is an old friend of the proprietress (Francine), and has come here many times. She already knew about the place from knowing Francine, whereas CPW had read the manor's tiny (holding up thumb and forefinger) advertisement in the New York Times. Wilmington does not come here for the exercise. Rather, she cannot get around easily, but does enjoy the routine, the people, and the atmosphere.

We are immediately joined by a fairly rotund 65-year-old with grey-red hair who, like Wilmington, has been visiting Greenfield Manor for many years. She lives in Paterson and also heard about the place from the tiny ad in the Times. However, after coming here repeatedly, she has established friendships with innumerable fellow patrons. There is a lot of repeat business here, and she already knows many of the people who return frequently. 'Ibis gives the place a feeling of "home" to her. That homelike feeling is further enhanced for her by the fact that her regular room, which she reserves year after year, is the nicest room in the manor. Francine promised this to her the first time she called and, to her husband's initial surprise, kept her word. Her husband stays home while Paterson comes up here to eat moderately and shed a few pounds. She always takes off some weight, but it creeps back during the winter months, especially whenever she visits her family in Berlin. Because of encroaching arthritis, Paterson can no longer join the exercise program (which she once frequented with abandon). Sometimes, she and Wilmington limp partway around the walking course with the others, but they quickly run out of steam and don't exercise much at all. Rather than engaging in aerobics or calisthenics, Paterson finds this a wonderful place to relax, to chat with friends, to read, to think, and (one surmises) to escape from her husband (a fitness freak) for a few days of tranquility. Again, she emphasizes the homelike atmosphere and demonstrates this point by leading me upstairs to her room, commenting on the way that the one flight of steps is good for her and thereby recalling an earlier comment that she gets enough exercise by just doing the housework. Her room, indeed, is quite nice with a large double bed, a dresser, a card table covered by a pink table cloth (which Francine places there so that she can read or write), a little black-and-white TV (which she brings from home and plugs into the antenna hookup on the wall), and a private bathroom (which looks capacious but which I do not presume to enter). The room looks out over an expansive lawn onto Route 402, whence emanate the whooshes of some passing cars. These do not bother her during the day and subside at night. The room also has an airconditioner, which she needed last week but not now.

We return to the living room and rejoin Wilmington. I ask about the typical guests at the manor and learn that there is really no such thing. Almost all the visitors are women, with only one or two men staying here at any one time. They range in age from teens to near-octogenarians. Both Paterson and Wilmington can recall many pairs of teenage girls who have checked in for a visit. The oldest guest whom either can recall was 76 years old. Most are between 40 and 60 years in age. Further, not all of the women who come here are fat. Many are thin and simply want to get in better shape. Also, many are former fatties who want to avoid sliding back into their previous ways. One fabled woman, currently staying at the manor, took off 160 pounds over a period of time and has checked in for a tuneup. I do not meet this heroic lady, but I do encounter a chirpy little 45-year-old blonde who prances through the living room several times -- wearing a stretch swimming suit under a t-shirt, wagging her slim fanny, and claiming facetiously that she has lost 150 pounds in only two days. She has a lively spirit, appears to enjoy joking about the fact that she is not exactly skinny, and clearly relishes the opportunity to show off her best asset (namely, her derriere). Apparently, she likes to flaunt the fact that, though hardly svelte, she is thinner than everybody else in the place.

I ask Paterson and Wilmington about the greatest weight losses they have witnessed and the farthest distances people have come to stay here. Both these achievements appear to have coincided in the accomplishment of one chubby 25-year-old who journeyed all the way from Hawaii, stayed three months, and lost 40 pounds. I ask Paterson about the effect of this remarkable transformation. Unfortunately, she was not there at the end to compare the before-versus-after difference. At any rate, her own "transformations" come from feeling cleansed. She has tried fasting -- nine days at another weight-loss place with medical supervision. She felt wonderful and totally cleaned out as a result of this experience. However, fasting for several days is too dangerous to do without full medical supervision and, consequently, Francine (who has no doctor on her staff) will not permit It.

These ladies and, in fact, everyone at the place (including or even especially Francine) seem to have a clear sense that any weight loss will be temporary at best. However, in Paterson's phrase, they feel cleansed. This theme is picked up by a man named Jack, here with his wife, Betty.

Jack, who now joins our group, is almost alone among one or two other males staying here. Earlier, to Wilmington and Paterson, I had suggested that, with about 30 unaccompanied females running around, many men might find this an attractive place to visit. They replied, rather wistfully, that most guys would not want to meet a bunch of women like them (meaning overweight). I commented that men who tended to be heavy themselves might want to meet ladies with the same proclivities. They agreed that sometimes "common interests" do attract.

This attraction theory seems born out, in part, by Jack. As he sits down, I realize that Jack is, if anything, more obese than any of the ladies I have interviewed. Yet, he has come largely at the insistence of his wife Betty. Jack and Betty have been here three times together. Jack, too, feels cleansed by the experience of being here for a few days. He comes mostly to rest and to relax, avoids participating in the exercises, and most of all does not take photographs. At home, he works as a professional photographer who used to do weddings (at $1500 per day on the current market) but who now focuses mostly on commercial photography, by which I infer he means products (such as Pabst Beer, whose logo adorns his t-shirt and for whom he says he has done some work) and people in the entertainment industry (such as a "famous actor" whom he discreetly refrains from mentioning by name). However, he never takes pictures on his holidays, which would be too much like work. If he visited a wonderful scenic area, he night use an Instamatic, but would probably just buy post cards. So much for being intrinsically interested or involved in the art of photography. And so much, as well, for the possibility of raiding his collection of before/after fat photos.

For Jack and Betty, there is no "after," only a "before." Betty arrives and turns out to be painfully obese. After what was presumably a rather mild workout of some sort, she is so out of breath that she can hardly regain her composure. Now, she joins the group and at first sits panting on a piano bench nearby -- inviting a visual comparison between herself and the piano, which (it being only a spinet) she easily dwarfs. She is the only person I have encountered here so far who has what I would call a profound weight problem.

Betty has come here ten or twelve times (a good trick in the five years the place has been open for business). She once lost a lot of weight, but quickly gained it all back. Some of this weight first appeared when she gave up smoking. Betty says that, when she quit tobacco, she lost her creativity as an amateur writer of short stories or poems (it's not clear which). I ask her if the tradeoff was worth it (referring to the linkage between tobacco and creativity); but she misses my point, assumes that I mean the smoking/eating connection, and declares that being heavy is healthier than smoking. According to Betty, medical studies have shown that, in your middle years, you are better off if you are a little hefty. By this logic, she would be very well off indeed.

But, of course, she understands that she has a drastic problem in this regard. Indeed, Betty seems quite intelligent. However, she seems to comfort herself a bit unrealistically with the thought that you can be too thin. On this score, she is definitively out of danger.

Earlier, to establish rapport, I have confided my own weight problems (former heaviness and continuing tendencies toward succumbing to temptation). Meanwhile, Joe Cote (who has joined the discussion) commiserates with Wilmington and Betty about their most disastrous temptations -such as ice cream, candy, and bread. Wilmington replies with her characteristic wit that, for her, candy is no particular problem. She just loves to eaL... Virtually anything that is available will do, though she and Paterson agree that an especially problematic recurring temptation is a "glass of wine."

Wilmington also appears to aim, indirectly, at consoling Betty by expounding her theory that obesity is genetic and by announcing that, if she had it all to do over again, she would take up the study of genetics and discover a cure. Wilmington illustrates this nature -versus- nurture hypothesis with a rather touching story about her own daughter who, in every way, resembles her late husband's family -- with dark hair and a dark complexion but, most of all, with no tendency to get fat. As a little girl, this daughter would buy a candy bar, eat a little piece, put the rest in the fridge, and keep it for a few days. Pack agrees that such restraint is a physical impossibility for a heavy person.) Wilmington's daughter has grown up to be a (distinguished sounding) psychoanalyst. One of her kids, at ten, has a tendency toward pudginess. Another remains skinny as a rail no matter how much she eats. Wilmington attributes this to differences in metabolism and remarks sardonically that she herself has no metabolism and, as a result, no energy. Her witty insights and animated conversation belie this claim: she is loaded with intellectual if not physical energy. But I get the point that Wilmington wants to make. She wants to relieve some (though not all) guilt by establishing factors beyond her control. Soon, she comments that one of her granddaughters looks just like her late husband's family. I ask mischievously if that is the skinny granddaughter. She knows damned well that I am tweaking her genetic theory but admits anyway that, no, it's the pudgy granddaughter. I would not have raised such a potential discrepancy with anyone who did not have such a nice light touch. Wilmington excels in this respect. She is anything but fat and jolly. She is heavy with a marvelously elfin sense of humor.

Wilmington's light touch also characterizes her tongue-in-cheek theory of the fashion industry, oriented both toward injecting humor into her weight problem and toward protecting her own self-image. She feels that the world of fashion is dominated by homosexuals who have no fondness for the female form and who therefore design their clothes to fit inhumanly skinny models with figures so emaciated as to appear unhealthy. Also, to her distress (shared by the other ladies in the group), the clothing stores carry sizes only up to about 12 or 14 so that there is nothing in the typical retail outlet that she can wear. Occasionally, she and Paterson buy men's items, such as jogging suits or shirts, but this purchasing strategy does not work very well for party dresses. In general, Wilmington feels that people are pressured by commercial interests to "be thin" -- in defiance of their genetically determined "set points," which just happen to lie at "be fat." Indeed, the "megabuck"weight-loss industry would crumble if word got out that you can't defeat your biologically predetermined weight level. So, in her world view, nature dictates what you will weigh while designers establish what is fashionable. A century ago, it was stylish to be a real woman with a little plumpness on you. Today, the pendulum has swung to favor extreme skinniness (as in the Twiggy look a few years ago, with miniskirts that did not flatter most people). I resist the temptation to suggest that, logically, textile manufacturers should rejoice at the thought of a demand for larger dress sizes and instead try to console her with the thought that maybe soon her "pendulum" will swing back in the other direction. But Wilmington outfoxes me once again, replying with her usual animation and bright grey eyes, "Not in my lifetime."

At this point, we are joined by Francine, the proprietress, who graciously asks if we have any questions. I immediately reinforce her by telling her that everyone has been raving about her place -- how well it is run, how nicely it is kept, how clean it is, and how friendly it feels. This feedback is completely truthful, and she responds appreciatively.

Francine began this business about five or six years ago. She was a school teacher in Queens. At 38, she had gone back to school for her MA in English and had then taught English and film appreciation in high school for 10 years. (This makes her about 55-60, 1 would guess.) She had always had a weight problem -- plump as a little girl and more ponderous with each successive child. She and a friend visited a weight-loss center and decided that they could do better themselves. They searched for a suitable place and finally found this spot -- a former inn with a restaurant and, what clinched it, a private bath in every room. Starting in 1981, she has built up the place by investing heavily in renovations, redecoration, a new pool, an exercise room, and an annex with additional sleeping quarters. The friend dropped out in 1982 because the facilities needed an additional $40,000 and the friend was afraid of the risk. Francine willingly assumed the necessary debt with some encouragement from her CPA husband (who passed away about three years ago).

Rather than offering a fancy beauty parlor or a luxurious spa with lots of expensive services, Francine's philosophy is to provide a streamlined, inexpensive place that people can afford. A few celebrities have come here (names withheld for obvious reasons), but she prefers plainer folks (many of whom, judging from the parking lot, do happen to drive Mercedes).

Francine is obviously quite proud of what she has accomplished. She broke even the first year, made money the second, and did well by the third (much to the amazement of her husband, the accountant). She keeps the place open from May through October (seven months) and spends the rest of her time in Queens (with hopes of eventually moving to Manhattan), with an annual trip to visit London and a British health spa. During the winter months, Francine closes down the manor and lets her son use it for ski trips. By living in this way, she earns enough to be comfortable. She does not need much. She has enough. She does not have eyes to make more money by expanding or by opening up another establishment (which "they' invited her to come down to Wilmington to do). In fact, she prides herself on offering a fair price -one that is less expensive than anyone can believe and that keeps her friends coming back. Last year, the manor got a write-up in Shape magazine. They quoted the wrong price ($240 per day instead of per week). (jokingly, she says that, at those rates, she expected Elizabeth Taylor to come running.) This incorrect price information seared away business. But, to atone in part, she later got listed by the same magazine as one of the ten best new weight-loss establishments.

Earlier, we had spoken briefly with Heidi, a portly lady in a jogging suit with heavy peroxide and makeup so thick that it seemed to give her face a permanently puckered expression. Heidi lives in Bergen and raves about last night's production of "Barefoot in the Park" at one of the local theaters (better even than Fonda and Redford, she says). She eagerly recommends the same theater's upcoming production of "Funny Girl." But, in spite of this surface cultural patina, Heidi strikes me as somewhat less refined than her compeers. She has a bit of a Bronx-style accent, rather flashy taste in clothes, and little apparent involvement in the weight- or health-orientation of the manor. She does not do the exercises and knows she'll gain back any weight she happens to shed (so does not try very hard to lose any). When somebody mentions the existence of bears in the woods, Heidi jokingly vows never to go into the woods again. On rainy days, Heidi goes shopping in Stroudsburg (where she probably finds some of her flashy wardrobe). She has visited the Stroud Mall but not the candle store (at least, not yet). However, for all her torpor, Heidi does show interest in a nature trail where she wants to take Paterson. Later, after lunch, they depart on this expedition into the nearby forest. Heidi drives her Mercedes.

AUGUST 2: THE GREEN COUNTY FAIR

I first stir at 7:20 with -Sally (up for the weekend) crumpling paper nearby, but drift off to sleep again only to be jarred into full consciousness by the importunate Sunbeam at 7:55.... We depart in a cheerful frame of mind at about 8:50, heading out the north exit from Hemlock to Route 84 on our way to Centertown. As we learn on our arrival at 10: 00 a.m., the Green County Fair opens at noon: so we shall have about two hours to kill.

Toward that end, I embark in the general direction of the goat show, which seems to be the only action in the vicinity. My first sight is a row of about six female goats indifferently displaying their rear ends to a judge who thoughtfully strokes his chin as he ponders the derrieres of these four-legged charmers. I shoot several photos of the goats, their masters and mistresses, and the judge. The goats seem very calm. Finally, the judge picks up a microphone and rattles off a bewilderingly complicated explanation of why goat 1 dominates goat 2 dominates goat 3 and so on. The complexity of his explanation evinces an intricate multiattribute scoring system that, I later learn, classifies criteria into categories such as general appearance, straightness of the back, slope of the rump, and size of the udder. Clearly, the procedure resembles the Miss America pageant -- except that, here, talent is even more irrelevant and the criterion of breast size is made somewhat more explicit.

After waiting until he has a free moment, I approach the winner and ask him how it feels to take first prize. He is pretty blase about the whole thing because, for him, this is a fairly frequent event. He has a family of about five animals that take turns winning these contests. He and his own family spend every weekend traveling all over the area entering and winning competitions. He rattles off a long list of places they have recently visited. I ask him if he does it for fun or business, and he says it's mostly business. Prizes help to sell his goats for breeding purposes, apparently the name of this particular game. I ask how far people travel for these competitions. From all over the country, he says. This year's national event is in Texas, but he does not think he'll go because it is too far to drive. One lady he knows did take three goats to California last year on an airplane and won something. I inquire if she bought them seats on the plane. He says they rode in the baggage compartment. We both agree that the animals were probably quite frightened.

I wander over to another area where several people have set up folding chairs and are watching the show with great interest. After the next round of judging with its bewildering explanation over the public address system, I approach a distinguished looking grey-haired man wearing top-siders, jeans, and a Gant-type short-sleeved shirt. I ask him what "all that" meant, and he very patiently explains the scoring system. According to my informant, everything centers on the characteristics likely to promote the longevity, reproductive capacity, and milkgiving performance of the goat. These functional characteristics include a flat back (to avoid spine problems), a sloping behind (to promote entry for mating purposes), and a large udder (for milk) that is tightly hung (to avoid dragging on the ground). He says that, though he has no entry in today's contest, he watches it with great interest to get a feel for this particular judge's key criteria. Strategically, he figures out what each local judge looks for and then makes selections from his stock of 50 animals to determine which eight or so to bring to a given show. Silently admiring his marketing savvy, I ask if today's judge favors his herd. "About in the middle," he says. There are two big-winning competitors here today, and he's anxious to compete against them. I ask if he and his wife (pretty and dressed entirely in white, which seems especially incongruous amidst the filth that surrounds us) are excited. "More tired," he replies. I inquire whether they do this for fun or business. "Not fun," she emphasizes. He explains that the shows are motivated mostly by the desire to win ribbons for purposes of increasing the value of their animals for breeding. He and his wife do this as a hobby that "got sort of out of hand." She runs the goat farm and almost breaks even. He helps her on weekends. During the week, as his full-time job, he runs his own advertising agency....

After taking some notes, we leave the van at 11: 30 with the camera, the tape machine, and several miscellaneous packs of gear, all headed for the fairground.... We walk through one undercover area of displays (mostly because it is misty if not actually raining), and I pause to watch a salesman of electronic keyboards at the booth of Keys and Pipes, Inc. from Birmingham, NY. A couple with two young boys and one older teenage son show some interest in a particularly unmusical- looking piano-like object. The salesman begins his pitch by explaining to the man that he will get a free rubber boat complete with oars and an outboard motor if he buys a keyboard (priced at $700 and up). While the two men enthusiastically examine this nautical vessel, I corner the wife and ask her if she would buy such an instrument. She says that it might be good for the kids to learn music. They are in second and third grade, 11 months apart in age. They will learn to play the recorder at school, but she wants them to have the opportunity to study music because there are teachers in the area, though she does not want to push it because they already play baseball. She herself does not play but might want to try a keyboard like this one (a Viscount that bears a disconcerting resemblance to my own Casio 701). However, she thinks it might be better for the kids to learn on a real piano. I ask her which she thinks would be easier to play, and she says an electronic instrument.

In spectacular verification of this prophesy, her husband returns from looking at the rubber boat and gets the real sales demonstration. Just prior to this, her 9-year olds have themselves demonstrated what they would do with the electric piano by fighting bitterly over who got to push the buttons while their mother screamed at them. She says that she would need to buy two to keep peace in the family. Now the salesman starts an obviously canned spiel. He "positions" the keyboard as like a player piano with a box that plugs in and contains the equivalent of twelve of the old piano rolls. As he speaks, he inserts a little cartridge and pushes some buttons until the electric piano begins to emit a truly contemptible version of "Stardust." The man, amazingly, seems to enjoy this rendition. So the salesman switches to the next mode of man-machine interaction by explaining to the man and his sons that they can control the volume by using the pedal for "expression." This "expression" pedal will allow them to vent their emotions by varying the loudness and swelling to a crescendo at just the right moment to convey a peak of excitement.

However, just in case the expression pedal does not offer enough room for artistic outlet, one can move to an even higher level of man-machine interfacing at the flick of another switch. Now, this switch allows one to perform the tune for oneself by following the red lights that flash when each successive note needs to be played. Unfortunately, this manner of performing does not permit any rhythmic continuity, but it does generate a sort of faltering melody with snatches of harmonic accompaniment. The man pushes keys fitfully with predictably embarrassing results. Then his 16-year-old son takes over and, by alertly following the flashing lights in the proper order, punches out a melody that almost sounds like "Stardust. " After this display of adolescent virtuosity (no doubt honed on extensive experience with video games), this family wanders away -- never, I suspect, to buy a Viscount.

I share a few thoughts with the salesman, who promptly tries to sell me a keyboard. I tell him that I play the piano and already own two electronic instruments, one almost identical to what he has been trying unsuccessfully to sell, plus a real Steinway baby grand (which I mostly play). He then establishes that I live in New York City and have a summer house nearby. With this as a lead, he pounces and tries to sell me a reconditioned piano for our summer home.

Actually, the Viscount salesman is a nice man, and he knows I'm not going to buy a piano -- partly because I've told him that I'm just waiting for my friends, carrying this enormous camera, and partly because I've already insisted that I don't want another piano, especially not one that would just sit around in the damp woods at Hemlock Farms and inexorably go out of tune. But his inveterate selling instincts just won't quit. He can't turn it off. As we move on, I wish him good luck, hoping for his sake that there are many people in the region who need or want a rubber boat....

We wander further and move into another area where we ... tape an interview with a young blonde-haired girl of about 23 years who sells ferrets. She sees these pets as her children -- especially Elvin, whom she removes from the cage and fondles and kisses. She "falls in love" with some of her ferrets and hates to sell them. Her business is called "Superior Ferrets," and her name is Stacey.

Stacey takes great pains in the quality of her breeding and refuses to sell animals to anyone who wants them for the wrong reasons. She will not send her ferrets home with just anyone. Her animals are her babies; she is mommy; her boyfriend Brent (who does not wear a shirt or speak) is daddy. Indeed, these ferrets serve for Stacey as child substitutes.... She was hurt in a car accident and cannot have kids. These are her babies, she says; these are her life....

Stacey's $70 ferrets have extensive pedigrees with complete bloodlines because, according to her, people want to know this information, just as she wants to know her own bloodline. She thinks that people choose ferrets in a way that matches their own personalities. How do they know which ferret is right for them? They just know.

Stacey wears a "Superior Ferret" t-shirt. She says she could see a million ferrets and still love them. I believe her but wonder, secretly, if she has ever considered in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, or adoption....

I next interview a man named Bruce who raises and sells parrots. He breeds twelve species, most of which reproduce fairly readily. Bruce spoon feeds his birds with tender loving care. He has parrots living and breeding in every room of his house except his bathroom. In all, he has about sixty birds ,qround the house and plans to move to larger quarters. He wants the birds to have more space; but clipping their wings is essential for their own welfare.

Bruce's daughter, Hope, is there with him and tells us- that she joyfully plays with the parrots, particularly a yellow bird named Tequila, which is her favorite. She has had Tequila for a few years. A parrot usually lives from 70 to 100 years. That's one of the great things about these birds; you don't have to worry about grieving over their death. She would rather have a par-rot than a dog or cat because she does not want to feel sorrow over the loss of her pet.

I ask Bruce how he got into raising parrots. He traces it back to when his wife was very ill and her parrot guarded her until she recovered. He, too, has a personal favorite -- a Macaw named Blue -- that would protect him with its life. Blue is exactly like a human friend. Bruce has a bond with this bird. Yet he does want Blue to be able to mate so as to fulfill her (sexual) needs. Blue shows signs of wanting a mate by turning her back and rubbing up against him.

Parrots can cost as much as a Cadillac. His domestic babies cost about $250. But, like Stacey (the ferret lady), he won't sell them to just anyone. Rather, a potential customer must prove worthiness. You don't just sell a parrot to anyone because the bird is intended to be a sweet lovable friend. A friend for life. So he screens people very carefully. It's important when you're dealing with something alive to make sure that people know there's a responsibility attached to owning it. So he has a buyback policy and will take the bird back at any moment (with a full refund). an this, his birds resemble the mogwai in "Gremlins.") The only such return happened because, one night at a dinner party, Tequila imitated the sound of the owner's wife making love. Apparently, this woman's sense of humor fell short of the parrot's.

Bruce believes that his parrots understand the language they use. Some have vocabularies of up to 500 words. He believes that they communicate intentionally, that he can carry on a conversation with them, and that the birds understand him. He feels very good when one of the birds tells him it loves him.

Bruce thinks that parrots have emotions and feelings. If you leave a bird for a week. it gets angry. In partial disconfirmation of his communication theory, they don't actually say they're angry: but you can tell because of the way they act. Last year, when he returned home from a week at the hospital, his favorite bird bit him on the cheek. Parrots also feel grief He recently lost a bird; its mate is now grieving and may never mate again. Parrots feel joy, too, as when the two birds were mating; they would kiss and display great affection. But parrots show no fear. They fear nothing in defending what they love.

When pressed, Bruce concedes that some people fear parrots because they bite. Imported birds often do bite. His birds, by contrast, are raised with tender loving care and won't bite. The ones that have bit him have acted because of a past history of abuse. Bruce can make friends with a bird, even one that hasn't been properly handled and can handle it safely. Thus, he won't admit that people have any reason to fear these birds. Here, Bruce seems to be practicing some denial. He acknowledges that his own birds (albeit imported) have almost torn his eye out and have dislocated his fingers, that his most cherished friend bit him because he went to the hospital for a week, and that -- by handling birds incorrectly -- many people get bit by them. But he still won't admit that people have any reason to be afraid of parrots.

Bruce sells only the young birds. If a parrot stays around long enough to have a name, then he keeps it. Once it has a name, you can't let it go. He doesn't mind selling the birds for money because it*s a business. But he does accept the responsibility to sell to the right customer. He is not an unscrupulous salesman who will do anything to make a buck.

Bruce believes that people buy a parrot to have a friend, one that will be with them for the rest of their lives. It's a companion for the duration. This status of the bird as a consumer durable is a major selling point. So he doesn't sell birds; he sells friends. He agrees that they are like children because they will live longer than you do....

Though Bruce disavows any intention of salesmanship, I feel overwhelmed by the sudden urge to buy a parrot. Perhaps fortunately (in view of our avocation as cat fanciers), I did not bring my checkbook to the Green County Fair. If I had the funds handy, I might find myself returning to New York with a feathered friend sitting on my shoulder, nibbling at my ear, and perhaps saying that it loves me....

Earlier, when I first saw the statue of Big Chief, we were walking into the fairground in the rain with me carrying the video camera and lacking my Mamiya. I asked Russ to take photos, but I want some for myself too. Now, I venture into the night to capture some time-lapse shots of the Chief in all his glory. Bright lights illuminate the big statue from all angles. I am almost speechless with admiration for the sense of humor displayed by the otherwise unsung artist who created this monument to mischievousness. First, I photograph the Chief from the front. He raises his right hand in the Indian "how" gesture; his left arm stretches stiffly downward at the other side. The positions of this arm, his hand, and especially his left thumb appear unusually awkward, even for the work of a primitive artist. What can account for this sculptural anomaly? The answer lies in the side view of Big Chief -- the view that greets all visitors to the fair almost as soon as they walk through the gate. This commanding perspective on the Chief from his right side transforms his otherwise awkwardly held thumb into a perfectly proportioned and accurately placed phallus, hanging out for all to plainly see. Now, we leave the fairground, as I silently bid farewell to this noble savage.

AUGUST 3: THE RENAISSANCE

FESTIVAL

After sleeping late, we kill about an hour and a half debating on where to go today and packing the van. At about noon, we pull out of the drive (itself a 15-minute adventure), bound for the Renaissance Festival in Sherwood Forest Park, down near Buffern, New York.

On arriving, we head for the Mud Show (which ... features four young buffoons in a sort of slapstick romp through a filthy pit filled with deep slime). We shoot quite a bit of footage of these clowns building audience excitement and hustling for coins. The spectators respond enthusiastically and are especially receptive to the aspects of the performance that include wallowing in the mud and putting it into the mouth. In one superb piece of terpsichorean mastery, the ruffian actors place large quantities of dirt into their mouths and spit (most of) it out. The crowd goes wild.

After the show, one of the actors (a tall thin young man of about 22 or 23) comes over, takes an interest in the camera, and begins talking with Jeff. I get the tape rolling, reposition the tripod, and begin filming the interview.

This fellow intends to pursue a career in comedy. He graduated last year from Columbia University, where he majored in Urban Sociology and worked with a comedy-improvisation group. He has been driving a cab, but got this opportunity for a comedic gig and grabbed it. (I think about my ambitions for Chris to go to a good school like Columbia and wonder how I would react if he did all that and then ended up in a pit eating mud.)

Jeff asks our informant how it feels to commune so intimately with Mother Earth. In response, the buffoon minimizes the importance of his culinary actions. Before long, he begins clowning for the camera and occasionally lapses into what sound like canned routines. He does have a serious side, however, and makes some earnest statements about his career plans. He first realized he had a flair for comedy when he gave the valedictorian speech in high school (as first in his class, an achievement that he mentions several times). Everybody laughed in the right places (thereby providing positive reinforcement). Now, he works on improvised comedy -- something he illustrates at the end of the interview when he indicates his phone number by raising the corresponding number of fingers to represent each digit. The last digit in his phone number is "I." So he concludes the conversation by giving us the finger....

AUGUST 4: HONEYMOON HEAVEN

The alarm wakes me at 8:00. 1 shave, brush, and work out to the sound of Hampton Hawes and Oscar Peterson.... I shower, put the kettle on the stove to bod, and begin rapping at Melanie's PC.... We dilly and we dally for a while and then decide to venture to East Stroudsburg for laundry, chores, and anything else of interest that we can find along the way.

On the trip down Route 402, 1 begin typing some more of my handwritten log entries. This endeavor proceeds fitfully due to the bumps and bounces, every one of which flings my fingers off the keys and causes typos that I have to keep backtracking to fix. For the rest of the morning and most of the afternoon, I persevere in the typing, while the others fiddle with laundry, bicycle repairs, bulk film loading, groceries, and beer.

When we have completed these chores, we decide to drive to Mt. Adams and to check out the honeymoon resorts. First, however, we stop at Nostalgiaville, where ... I wander around taking photos of firearms, deer heads, musical instruments, woodworking tools, beer signs, and other atmospheric props.

From here, we travel to the Breezy Peaks Lodge for a look around. This place is indescribably awful. I thought that Cimmaron scraped the bottom of the hostelry barrel, but Breezy Peaks sinks leagues below anything that Chuck Oldboy could imagine in his wildest wetdream.

Breezy Peaks' main building boasts ugly furniture, dirty carpets, hideous pictures on the walls, and crowds of guests that look deprived, depraved, depressed, demented, degenerate, debased, or various combinations thereof We shoot some photos of the activity board, some especially tacky furnishings, and tasteless formal portraits of a couple in their heart-shaped bath tub. But I cannot bring myself to turn the camera on what honestly does look like a group of people suffering from severe mental disorders. This sight makes me sad, uncomfortable, and filled with the desire to leave Breezy Peaks Lodge now. After a brief tour of the squalid dining facilities (jacket and tie required, apparently any jacket and tie) and the cheapshot gift shop (with tennis balls at $4.95 per can, twice the going rate), we flee.

Settling into a pleasant, cozy restaurant for sandwiches and beer, we enjoy some good conversation about evangelism and other phenomena encountered in previous phases of the Odyssey. During this chat, I am somewhat distracted by the presence of a huge projector-TV screen showing Roger Clemens pitching a Red Sox game against Chicago. I wonder how my Yankees are doing. I fear that they are not doing well. I think about Chris at summer camp on Cape Cod and wish I had time to write him....

We drive the one-hour trip back to Hemlock Farms and arrive at about 12:45. 1 feel very tired, rather humiliated by the tawdry side of the Poconos that we have seen today, and glad to be home where the deer if not the antelope play.

AUGUST 5: THE WOMEN OF WOODVILLE

When the van has been packed and loaded with water and wine, we depart in the general direction of Woodville, PA, where we plan to spend some time visiting Martha Park Keeler -- an old school chum of Melanie's and now a decorator (who has offered to let us interview some of her clients, friends, and family)....

Our first interview in Woodville is with Nan Schlinger (a. k. a. "Bunny' by virtue of a nickname with which she seems to identify, as indicated by her large collection of rabbit-oriented statues, sculptures, and figurines).... Bunny welcomes us warmly and settles us onto the terrace where I begin by shooting some stills during the initial stages of the interview in progress. Soon, I enter the house and take snapshots of everything in sight -thinking little, shooting reflexly....

Everything in this house has the feeling of being new. Everything smells new, clean, and freshly painted. Doors stick because of the new paint whose odor permeates the premises. This new smell contrasts vividly with the visual impact made by the traditional decor. The older objects -- photos of family, weddings, graduations; books; rabbit artifacts -- seem lost In this pervasive aura of newness.

To document this impression, I try to capture two particularly salient manifestations of the prevailing decor nouveau. First, I photograph ... a comfortable pair of chairs near a window that looks out on a very similar new brick split-level house directly across the yard. Presumably, this is where Bunny sits -- darning socks or stitching flags -- while she waits for her husband to return from work on cold dark winter evenings.

The second emblematic shot shows the hearth scene -- surrounded by a picture on the wall, various small statues on the mantel itself, two tables on either side with lamps and innumerable family photographs crowding their surfaces, a beautiful brass fireplace set -and, last but not least, the fireplace itself absolutely empty with its brand new white bricks gleaming brightly....

We next arrive at the house of Martha's parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rick Park.... Valerie Park greets us at the door, wearing a white dress and full of warm welcomes. She steers us toward the patio in search of enough light for the video camera....

After snapping Valerie and Russ in conversation, I slip back inside and start photographing the garden room. Immediately, I begin to observe profound symmetry everywhere I look.... Soon, upstairs, I encounter a magnificent bedroom with everything put neatly away and hardly any signs of habitation except a stack of magazines topped by Architectural Digest and a copy of William F. Buckley's latest spy novel. The bed is flanked by two identical lamps and by two wallpaper-disguised doors on each side, with a double curve of small pictures hung carefully above it and a flowery bedspread that exactly matches the wallpaper....

I notice that my batteries in the flash are beginning to wear down. By the time I finish the upstairs shooting, the flash will barely recharge, and I still have most of the downstairs to do. Panicked, I run to the van to see if there are any batteries in my shoulder satchel. None. I see two boys with a bicycle in the yard next door. So I wander over with my best "hi, I want to be your friend" smile and offer them five dollars if they'll bike to the nearest store and get me two double A's. One of the lads disappears briefly and returns with two batteries. Overcome with gratitude, I give him the five dollar bill....

With my engines thus revitalized, I return to the house and begin canvasing the first floor. Again, more symmetry greets me at every turn. I capture the symmetrical displays on the dining room wall, including the spoon collection and the other wall decorations.... I move through the dining room and begin on the rubber plants, which were the first things that Valerie showed us when we entered.

Valerie obviously loves her rubber plants and takes great pride in how she can cut them back and root them. Earlier, she showed me how to drip paraffin on the exposed stumps to stop their milk-like bleeding. I started to comment on how they resemble wounded people, but the group moved on without me. Now, I am just snapping the five or six sprouting rubber trees when the others return and commandeer my attention to shoot some (additional) photos of the spoons and the bedroom. Not wanting to brag about the extent to which I have already penetrated the inner sanctum, I comply.

After this exercise in redundancy, I launch into some photographs of center stage, the living room.... I shoot the central seating area with some red roses positioned effectively against a white armchair. The house is full of plants and fresh flowers. Though incredibly neat and tidy, it exudes a warm lived-in feeling. I photograph some objects that remind me of my own parents -- some eagle bookends, some flowers, the dining room table and Chippendale chairs. In many ways, this house is decorated in a style my mom might like. It reminds me of home....

On the way back to the van, I pause to take some photos of the tree-lined street on which the Parks live. Maples and oaks line both sides of the road and arch together over the top to form a wonderful cathedral-like ceiling of green leaves. This recalls my childhood neighborhood with its marvelous tall trees before the Dutch elm disease wasted them all. I feel a moment of intense nostalgia as I see some yardworkers in a pickup truck take out their lawnmowers and start to work the way I used to do when I spent long summers cutting the grass in my parents' yard. I think about the old house that has now been sold and the old street that has lost its trees; and, for a moment, I feel sad....

After our day of interviewing, we drive the short distance to Martha and Mark Keeler's house. They cordially greet us as we lumber into their driveway and hook up to their electrical outlets, promptly blowing the circuit breaker a few times with our air conditioner, setting off their burglar alarm, and thereby causing the police to call.... Mark seems nice and very anxious to please a bunch of total strangers who have moved into his space with a major piece of vehicular equipment that has converted his driveway into a campground and made his own respectable Cadillac look somewhat out of place....

My worst fears about sleeping in the van are more than confirmed. While the mattress is pretty comfortable, the air conditioner blows frozen blasts of icy wind directly at my face and neck. I realize that I'll need to spend the night with my head under the covers, something that I have not attempted since I was a small child and thought that a wolf came into my room every night. I wonder why these great van-haunting outdoorspeople cannot survive in this cool climate without their gigantic fuse-blowing artificial air machine. Predictably, I toss and turn all night.

AUGUST 6: NEW AND OLD, ARTIFICIAL AND REAL

I drag myself out of bed at about 8:00 and decline Melanie's persistent offers of a warm shower (though, Heaven knows, I need one). Instead of bathing, I ponder questions concerning how I might go about turning some of that hot water toward the purpose of making coffee....

Martha arrives, and we start our interview. During this exchange, I try hard to keep her own thread going while still sticking to some of our main themes. We touch on entrepreneurship and how her decorating business emerged from an unhappy marriage in which she wanted kids and a career as an independent business woman while her husband wanted childlessness and a desk job for her (9-to-9 in New York City). Ultimately, Martha also wanted out of that particular marriage. So she took the plunge, attended the Parsons School of Design, moved back to Woodville, and began her own decorating business....

Unlike her first husband, Mark has supported her venture, while her dad has also encouraged her entrepreneurial flair. Indeed, Martha believes that she has learned her business skills from her father, who owns and manages a successful company that manufactures hollow candies (such as the chocolate Easter rabbits that roam the stores every March and April). Further, Martha's mother has served as a role model for many of her decorating activities....

In general, Martha feels that her own house shows a kind of "schizophrenia." The front part (living room, dining room) is decorated in a traditional style intended for guests and formal meetings. The back part (kitchen, family room, deck) is more contemporary for family and intimate gatherings. This distinction thereby sets up a contrast between the old and the new. I inquire which part reflects the "real" Martha. She appears unable to answer and pauses a long time.

My own hunch is that the traditional furnishings in the front part of the house represent what Martha feels she is -- as defined by old school ties, social status, Junior League membership, and parents who worry that her actions reflect back on their own reputations. This "front" embodies that from which she would like to assert her independence. Implicitly, such independence would involve a break from tradition in everything, including furniture. Thus, part of her likes the contemporary. For her office, she designed hi-tech furniture (which clashes violently with that area's wood-paneled walls). She also has modern things in her back rooms (surrounded by the clutter of children's toys).

In other words, the modem side of Martha's house has not fully coalesced, and this disarray parallels some tensions in her personal life. She cannot quite make a break from the old ways or completely assert her independence. She feels that, with a new baby on the way, she might have to cut back on some of her commitments. I ask her, if she had to choose one, would she keep the Junior League or her decorating business? After a long pause, she says, "the business." But the length of the delay seems to indicate her degree of conflict.... In the living room, I find an emblem of this conflict -- a large abstract oil painting hung next to a set of built-in shelves housing a collection of quaint figurines.

Our interview also touches briefly on the contrast between the artificial and the real. In her work, Martha uses fake flowers and cloth or plastic plants -- both because they are easier to care for and because some places do not have enough light for live foliage. Indeed, her garage contains several imitation ficus benjaminas waiting to be used in various decorating jobs. Martha's own master bedroom features both a vase of phony flowers and an artificial ficus, which resides in a brightly lit spot between two windows bathed in sunshine. Martha also feels that sometimes one cannot arrange to own real animals, no matter how much one loves them. For example, she adores horses and dogs (not cats) but cannot keep such livestock because Mark has "allergies to everything that walks or crawls." Hence, they own no live pets. Later -when photographing the family's hearth -- I notice that, unlike some of the others I've seen in Woodville, it serves to burn real logs. Given our earlier conversation, I am quite surprised to see a large dog asleep directly in front of the fireplace. However, upon closer inspection, Martha's dog turns out to be stuffed. Empty. As hollow as the centers of her father's chocolate Easter bunnies....

AUGUST 7: TYPING

After our exertions on the excursion to Woodville, I crash. I realize increasingly that I have only the slimmest chance of finishing the typing of my log entries before leaving tomorrow for my holiday with Sally and Chris. I therefore coax Russ and Melanie into spending the day on such bookkeeping activities....

Consequently, after rising, exercising, and showering, I sit at the round table and start typing to the sounds of Andre Previn and Russ Freeman. Six hours later, I am still at it. By this time, from sitting tensely in the slant-backed chair, my lower back is aflame with agonizing pain. I desperately want to reach closure on this task; so I persevere. But afterwards, I feel physically and mentally drained and in no mood to visit the Clyde Beatty Circus (an option that Russ and Melanie have cheerfully proposed as a possible way to spend our evening).

It makes only moderate demands on my rhetoric to persuade the others to designate this as an evening of reflection, conversation, and catching up on the video tapes I haven't seen yet. In fact, they graciously offer to take me to dinner, and I jump at the chance, making a reservation at the Settler's Inn for 8:30....

We take the van to Settler's so that I can watch videotapes on the way. I screen the footage on Nan Schlinger and Valerie Park, using this opportunity to verify the overall impressions that are already in my log. I would backtrack and make changes only if I found something factually incorrect. I don't.

Dinner is most pleasant. We talk about issues like "What does It all mean?"'Where do we go from here?" and "How should we present this stuff at ACR?" We find no answers to any of these questions, of course, but we have a nice chat.

During the drive back to Hemlock, I watch more tapes. On our return, I retreat into the house with a PC, the diskettes, and some hard copies of the notes written by Melanie, Russ, and Rick. I sit up until about 2:00, reading the printouts and scrolling through the discs....

AUGUST 8: GOING HOME

I arise again at 8:00, push myself through the familiar grooming and exercise rituals, exchange some tender thank yous and farewells with Russ and Melanie, and leave for home and Sally at about 11:00 a-m....

On the trip back to New York, I ponder my experiences during the past ten days. When I drove out to Hemlock Farms on July 29, 1 had a deep sense of uncertainty over what to expect. I was right. The ensuing events have differed considerably from anything that I might have anticipated.

First, the monster RV hardly raised an eyebrow at our security gate. Apparently, the guard really is intended for security and not to hassle the residents of the "Property," as the real estate agents like to call it. Presumably, thieves do not usually arrive in mammoth six-wheeled recreational vehicles that stick out like sore thumbs; so vans are OK.

Second, I devoted much less time to being a host in our house than I had originally expected. For the first couple of days, I tried to play this role. But, especially after Joe and Rick left, I began to understand that the others really did prefer being in the van; so I spent as much time as I could on wheels.

Third, I learned that the boundaries of my eagerness to live on a van extend from about 9:00 a.m. to about 10:00 p.m. I vastly prefer sleeping in my own bed and also feel much more comfortable trying to exercise, shower, and change in a house....

Fourth, I do not think that this particular Odyssey could have functioned without the van. The RV provided a good place for a group of people to work for about eighteen hours a day. For everyone but the driver(s), a long trip meant a chance to type field notes, journal entries, or log material; to watch videotapes; to compare thoughts; to eat; to sleep. Thus, the van introduced very real efficiencies in terms of time.

Fifth, I'm not so sure that efficiency is everything. As elsewhere, there may be an efficiency/effectiveness trade-off. In this case, some effectiveness may have been lost to the driven quality that characterized the feverish collection of data, writing of notes, entering them into the PC, and other compulsive research activities (my own included). As I have discovered, it is easy to get sucked into the need for a sense of completeness. I still wonder, however, if it might not be better either to proceed more slowly and reflectively or to collect the materials now and write them up for Christmas. After all, that is what my grandfather did when he wrote his log.

Sixth, I wonder if the emphasis that some of us place on the distinction between field notes and journal entries might not be misdirected. True, it adheres to the traditional practice in naturalistic inquiry. Yet, often, the field notes amount to little more than a partial transcript of what is already on tape, whereas the journals sound like "Dear Diary" material that has no real support in concrete events. Hence, the all-important interaction between objective reality (if there is such a thing) and the researcher's subjective impressions (or personal introspections) may tend to slip through the cracks. I am aware that, by tradition, anthropologists and ethnographers prefer to do it this way. But that does not necessarily make it right for purposes of projects related to this particular Odyssey.

Seventh, as an alternative, I have tried to focus on writing a "log" that combines aspects of field notes and journals by describing my own experience of our sites and interviews. These experiences involve an interaction between the objective reality of the data and the researcher's own subjective interpretive responses. A positivist wants to eliminate the latter. But, increasingly, postpositivists have recognized the impossibility of such a reduction. The log format may help us put the researcher back into the research. I hope so.

Eighth, such a device will help us only to the extent that we really do care about our experience of the research process. When I began the Odyssey, I thought that the main point was to study other people (as consumers). Increasingly, however, I have realized that, for me, the main point has been to study myself -- myself studying other people as consumers and myself as a consumer. The Odyssey experience seems well-suited to providing the latter kinds of insights. Most of what I have learned on the Odyssey and tried to convey in my log concerns the nature of that research experience.

Ninth, I remain aware that any conclusions coming out of my log should be viewed as preliminary and tentative. The log provides an interpretive, personal account of what one researcher experienced during a tenday portion of a summer-long journey that involved many people. Their reports will doubtless differ from mine and should be studied and compared accordingly.

Tenth and last, I am more grateful than I could have anticipated for being allowed to participate in this research experience. The Consumer Behavior Odyssey was, for me, a great adventure in which several colleagues permitted me to share their most private and profound thoughts and feelings. Where else could I have found such friends and fellow travelers? Where else, indeed, could I have pursued a project so vast, so heroic, and so inspiring as to raise Ulysses -- that archetypal traveler -- from the dead?

----------------------------------------

Authors

Morris B. Holbrook



Volume

SV - Highways and Buyways: Naturalistic Research from the Consumer Behavior Odyssey | 1991



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