Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Private Beach Clubs in the Northeast

This is in response to a few emails I've received regarding private beaches and beach clubs.  Generally, if you choose to join one, I suggest going many times per week to make it worth it.  Some of them are quite affordable, and some are priced for suckers.  People were wondering how one dresses at a private beach club.  I realize that writing about this makes me sound like a pretentious twit, but as I composed the emails, I realized how strange and subtle some of the customs are.

At a Cape beach where young hungover groundskeepers wake up early to pitchfork the seaweed into a small trailer behind a New Holland tractor.  My 5:30am alarm clock wants to go look for shells, and I won't disappoint him.  My Yankee skin is nearly flammable in translucent paleness, and SPF 30 is usually deployed after breakfast.  The beach is quiet and the sky is pink at sunrise... I should have brought a coffee or a club soda.  A man in his seventies swims beyond the jetties in the calm sea for what must be several miles, slowly but steadily and ably.  We dig around in the sand and explore the pockets of the jetty for crabs, shells, and seaglass and I teach him how to make a sword and shield from a dead horseshoe crab body as I did when I was his age.  As we leave, a young gal is setting up the umbrellas for the day, and the morning is hinting (or warning) that the sun will be full and hot soon.

As uptight as the day-time attendees on this beach are about nearly everything else, the body is seen as honest and honorable.  The dress code is interesting.  If you tan well, you are expected to be nearly naked so that the pale-skins can live vicariously through you.  The pale (me) never last over an hour without retreating to an umbrella, hat, or loose cotton shirt (preferably a ratty one).  Athletic physiques aren't noticed, but intentional musculature is viewed as suspicious.  Bathing suits mustn't be seen as an attempt at "sexy" and since most of the men there have had numerous crushes on a lifeguardess or two throughout childhood and their teen years, a woman in her twenties or thirties will do well wearing a red one-piece and aviators... call it muscle-memory I guess.

Vanity is openly mocked and any aftermarket parts on women are the stuff of scandal.  Body shapes and sizes are not fretted over, as the beach is intended to be a refuge from concerns about love-handles, thinning hair, etc.  Extra pounds on women are not even noticed.  Nudity is not welcome (unsanctioned midnight skinny dipping excluded, of course), but there exists a refreshing welcome of natural and honest.

Men wear polo shirts, old button-downs, baseball hats, straw hats, moderate bathing trunks (no long board-shorts) though for the past few years the shorter Thomas Magnum-style are coming back.  Shirts come off once you set up your chair or towel, but are put back on even to use the clubhouse bathroom.  If you are 50 and have a large gut, feel free to strut it, as you will be in good company.  Flip-flops and boat shoes are the norm for footwear, so don't bring your running shoes or socks.  Do not smoke, turn off your cellphone, and if they have wait staff on the beach, order your drinks as quietly as possible.  Only children are permitted to be boisterous, and never bring your own chairs... the club will have better ones.  If you go as a guest, no cash will be exchanged, so don't pull out any money at the bar... it will all be signed for by your host (so buy him or her a drink later in the week).  It is also fine to bring small snacks, but if there is a restaurant or grill there, don't pack a picnic, and for God's sake, no coolers.

If you have a thing for a young female lifeguard, don't try to chat her up.  Instead, make friends with her male colleagues because the guys will invite you out drinking with them, and guess who will also be there... yup.

Why they can suck
If you are single, and over 17, you may be out of luck for any kind of scene.  You also won't have anything awesome like a popsicle truck parked nearby, and if you get stuck talking to some grandmother, she will likely corner you into legitimately pretentious prattling about her grandchildren and their schools.  Parking can also be a pain, and during the summer, clubs are always seduced by wedding revenue, so you won't be able to go to your own club a few times per week, and rarely on weekend evenings because Jennifer and Tom have to have their seashell and starfish barefoot-in-the-sand dream wedding be picture perfect.

In the end, the beach should be enjoyed.  Playing cards with your Navy buddies is fine, digging in the sand is fine, and chasing your kids is fine.  Don't spread your crap out, don't bring anything inflatable, and don't be creeped out by having to wade or swim through seaweed.  Don't freak out about your small children changing or undressing right on the beach, because nobody cares.  Unless you go often, they can be a rip-off. 

There are times to wear nice clothing, and times to not wear very much.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer... Jobs... and Summer Jobs

When the large machine cut into the ground, it only took a few scoops to reveal a cache of of granite cobblestones from the days of horse-urine stained streets.  A $20 bill and an excited 3 year-old in tow made the operator's generosity go far enough to deliver a large stack of the cobbles to my house.  Cleaned, and stacked (hidden) behind a thick hydrangea in the courtyard, they await an autumn fountain project (mosquito incubator if it goes wrong).

Were they ballast from Portsmouth or rail cargo on an extinct rail manifest?  At one point, they were everywhere, but now you have to creep over to Acorn St. to see the rounded river stones still under foot.  Either way, they are worth recycling.

I spent a summer building a stone wall on the Cape during college, which even withstood a direct hit from an intoxicated landscaper's truck.  He wasn't fired, but when word got back to my father that I had mentioned possibly not working that summer, the drunk landscaper instantly had an indentured helper.  Things like "taking the summer off" and anything that even sounded remotely like young people trying to leech off of their parents were not dealt with kindly.  John Hughes would have you believe that "the rich kids" spent their time lounging around drinking and making fun of people.  While this did happen in some circles, the Northeast is unashamed about it's children working during highschool and college.  Unlike many families, Yankee parents don't like sending children to college with large wads of money, and while college was paid for, spending money came at one's own efforts during summer.  Some generous parents would pay their children a stipend or equivalency if they secured rigorous volunteer work for a charitable cause.

Some kids had impressive internships, but the rest of us taught sailing, painted houses and fences, worked for catering companies, lifeguarded, attempted to take census of birds at the protected beaches, and caddied for our friends' parents and our parents' friends.  Tourists were served ice cream and sandwiches by girls whose parents arrived by private aircraft, and in some cases, the parents themselves would get summer jobs as well.  In one house, the father worked at the boat yard stripping and repainting wooden hulls during the summers before he returned to his wildly successful Palm Beach law practice each autumn.

During the summer in question, most of my friends had Monday off (because they worked all weekend), and I walked over to the house of one fine gal on a warm and pleasantly salty-aired afternoon.  Her house had tennis courts, and she invited me for a game.  When I arrived, there were about ten or so sitting by the courts on their day off.  One could tell the job each had that season: painters flecked with whitewash, lifeguards deeply bronzed, and day-camp counselors drinking heavily.  Our grandparents had been friends, as were our parents, and now we gathered whenever possible as friends in our own right... all of us with summer jobs.  In a different yard somewhere, others gathered every day to drink, smoke, and get high in mid-day.  These were the kids who were given luxury cars and were not required to work.  They had "summers off."

I accepted a challenge for a game of tennis from my hostess.  We stepped onto the courts and I saw her make the motions of a serve.  A nano-second later, I heard something hit the fence behind me.  I turned around, and a tennis ball was bouncing to a stop.  I accused the hostess of ventriloquism.  She served again, and this time I saw a flash of yellow/green go past me.  I looked over at my friends, all of whom immediately  looked away and rattled the ice in their glasses.  One staunchly honest gal (a Pennsylvania Quaker) confirmed with a charitable shrug and half-smile that the serves were fair.  On the last serve, the speed was patronizingly reduced, and I lunged impotently at the ball which slipped easily past me.  A heckle about my successful senior year of lacrosse was quickly launched at me, followed by laughter, and I sulked off the courts to a can of club soda.  Even the lovely Quaker gal giggled at me.

That summer I learned about the dignity of work... of showing up every day on time, of not equating the collar-color of the job to differing worth, and of self reliance.  While other groups of 20-somethings crashed their cars and had to fly in family lawyers to "handle" things like DUI's and date-rape accusations, the majority of us spent our summers walking, biking, or driving to dawn-start jobs where we were worked raw.

Non-sequitur Nantucket Reds/RL loafers shot

These days, I worry that my son will be the only one working when he's older.  I hope that he will be able to extract pleasure from more simple moments, and to not equate "luxurious" with "expensive".  He and all of his cousins will work when they're older, but will their peers?  Parents these days try to shield their children from far too much, including the toil and dignity of work in any form.  Stick-to-it seems long gone (if the current batch of young employees is any indicator), and stardom and internet fame seems to cue children to seek instantaneous results instead of belief in perspiration.  In the future, a young man or gal of any background who dresses well, shows up on time, and perseveres may well own the country (if it's still available)... he or she will have few competitors.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer on a Different Kind of Farm

A few weeks ago, we spent a very pleasant weekend at Shelburne Farms and Shelburne House outside of Burlington, VT.  It was still early in the season, so the population was low at the Inn.  If you go early you can enjoy dinner anywhere you'd like, delivered to your indoor table, outdoor table, brick wall, or patch of grass.  The food is hyper-local and the excellent chefs are part mad scientist, part architect, and part balloon sculptor.
The approach's first glance
The house looms in the distance
Impressive in scale
Two more curves until the entrance
Recent Vermont flooding has changed the shoreline

A game of badminton, iced tea, and my son's toy aircraft
We did play badminton.  I found a brand new set for $19, and when the lawns were all occupied with weddings, we went to the yet-unopened tennis court and thwacked the shuttlecock around... yes, you read that right.  Look it up.

Outdoor seating next to the formal dining room

Lake Champlain.  Across the water is New York
Sunset over New York State
 The following day, a trip down to the property's farm.

The immense barn's south interior face
The north interior face

Center facility connected to the west

Stables and pens
Chatty hens eradicate the caterpillars
The cock of the walk
The house tells an interesting story about sustainability.  It was simply too big to keep going, and like so many families, fell victim to opulence and top-heavy operating requirements.  For the same reason that most of the old great houses of past industrialists and barons are now deeded to historical trusts (Asheville and Newport being the obvious examples), an obsession with creating showy ostentatious holdings is the fastest method to ensuring that your offspring will be hosting large sell-a-thons.  Can you blame them?  Living in a 30,000 square foot house which requires a staff of 30 (not to mention the grounds) might be fun for the first season, but would grind a bit once most of the interesting guests left.  The others who show up are professional hangers-on who want to live like royalty and either abuse or buddy-up to the staff, sleeping late every day and snubbing out cigarettes in jade orchid pots in the windows.  After the 18-40 year old Euro-mooches, coffee-house hippies, Middle-Eastern cologne dousers, and American drop-outs finally leave several months later (will you miss their sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts on Auntie Laine's ancient velvet couch?) you confront the fact that you have spent the past winter existing in a total of five rooms.  The white and blue electrical cords of  modern devices insult the architecture and befoul the threadbare Turkmen rugs, and you decide that selling the entire thing to the town/city/state is the only remaining option.

Dinner will see the occasional blazer or jacket and tie.

Dress during dinner is hit or miss... a few jackets, several legible undershirts, and everything in between.  Breakfast will see sweatpants and tank-tops as well as a few jackets, with the usual American white socks and athletic shoes.  Focus on your dinner companions instead.

Oysters and Lemon wedges... gift from Mrs.
I took my Martini out onto the lakefront lawn, and as I passed a young gentleman who was just absorbing the interior of the main entry.  He told the woman on his arm the following (this is a direct quote):

"This is just the place that I would expect to see Chris Cox from that blog I showed you."

I considered doubling back to chat with him, but young Jr. was pulling my sleeve toward the lawn.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Cup Spilleth Over, Trickleth Down The Street

A few blocks away, we saw this

Dear City of Boston,
You had almost four decades to plan for this parade of 1 million visitors.  Did you forget that mammals tend to urinate after drinking liquids?  Did you also forget that when those liquids are alcoholic, a wider array of perceived-as-acceptable urination targets open up?  It's true, I assure you.  The parade attendees assumed that since you provided no facilities, our nearby window boxes, front garden, and street-side planters would make adequate recipients for their createnine.  When those were exhausted, the brick and ivy sufficed for their purposes, worsening as the draw wore on.

Pressure-washingly Yours,


...and speaking of plants and flowers, after the pleasant parade families left and only the goons remained, we posted a guard at the entry way and headed to the Seaport Convention Center for the World Association of Flower Arrangers Show, in what was EASILY the most odd juxtaposition of style and sensibility for our eyes that morning.  From lung-bursting screams of jerseyed/shirtless knuckle-busting blood-lust-drunkards to the tranquil dark air conditioning of an international flower show populated almost exclusively by dames of the well-dressed retiree crowd...

I do the no-sock version

Bermuda shorts and blazers for the men were the uniform at the show, and I happily wore it.

Barbados will host the show in 2017

The flower show did serve beer.  Am I actually blogging about a flower show?  Oh, Boxing The Compass... how you've fallen from almost nothing to truly nothing.

On the way home, we stopped by James Hook for a few lobsters to bring home, and were surprised to see several twelve-pounders in the tubs.  Customers may roll their sleeves and fish one out, if you are friendly with the staff.

My adult hand could be taken off by this old-timer's immense claw

These tough geezers weren't for us... the best are usually the 1-2 pounders.  A stroll home past a gourmet grilled cheese truck, and just in time before a heavy rain deluge washed the Hill clean of confetti, piss, trash, streamers, and flopped-drunk bodies strewn about the sidewalks.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Cup Runneth Over

Dear Boston,
Yes, you may borrow this for the year.

Lord Stanley

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inside the Mind of a Men's Style Blogger

Over the weekend, I continued a pleasant exchange with a fellow blogger, and we agreed in our sensitization to rock throwing versus glass-house living.  It's nice to agree.

Using NASA-grade technology, and cutting-edge neuro-eavesdropping devices on loan from several Government agencies, I have been able to compile an exact transcription of the actual thoughts of men's style bloggers.  Below, I give you a rare glimpse into the the minds of these males... myself included.

[Alright... I found this LL Bean summer cotton shirt at their outlet for $4.  Let's blog.]

[Hmmm... it's missing something... and boring.  Wait, add a sweater, some loafers, a belt, and khakis... yes.  That'll seal my bona fides.]

[But I need to gratuitously drive home my upbringing... Aha!  A squash racquet!  Perfect!]

[Oh, wait... nobody dresses like that while they actually play squash, and I'd have to have the racquet in the bag to indicate that I'm going to the club in those clothes.  They'll call me out in the comments section.  I'll just show a squash outfit.]

[Crap... it's boring too.  Wait, I seem to recall entire blogs dedicated to all things pink and green.  I'll throw in some of those colors.]

[Uh-oh, those are all girly blogs... better throw in a neutral racquet... still a dude.]

[Still not doing much, and I need to make people think that I live the life of a Ralph Lauren model.  Badminton!]

[Getting there... but still not fashion-shooty enough.  They'll peg me for a fake instantly.  How about croquet?  I could blog about my expansive lawn which is cared for by imported goats... no I live in the city and don't actually have any grass.  The one time I tried to play croquet in the Public Garden, I was nearly arrested by a Park Ranger*... this might not work...]
*Actually happened.

[...unless I add a tie, and it becomes more abstract and general-aesthetic/vibe/mood.  Yes, I'm closing in on it.  But what else could I add to this?  I don't own any sunglasses over $20*, and an English saddle would be overkill... c'mon, think... THINK!  A Martini glass?  No... too contrived.  A cigar?  No.  Running out of ideas.  Just throw in the tie.]
*Also actually true.

[Screw it.  An odd racquet just to bulk up the look a bit.  It doesn't make any sort of sense, but... will they care?  Will I get nasty comments?  It almost looks like a crest.  This is total horse-crap, but maybe they'll buy in.  Hang on here, I'm an adult and I'm still talking and writing about how people dress in college... isn't that a bit weird?]

[Wait, SHOES!  I nearly forgot to show shoes.  What men's style blog is complete without fancy shoes?  This will let people know that I somehow simultaneously play croquet and squash dressed like a 1950's line judge.  It makes no sense, but I'll pull it off.  I need exclusivity and envy in every post.  I guess I could do that stupid thing where I put my hands in my pockets and look down, smiling bashfully like every model does in every catalog... God, I hate that.  Nevermind, I'll throw in some shoes and call it a post.  Maybe I'll say something like "The perfect outfit for leisurely days of sport."  Should I say "mansion" or "estate"?  Maybe Uncle will let me take a photo of myself in his luxury car, and I can pass it off as mine in the blog.]

[This will have to do.  Even though the Ivy League is largely populated by people who dress like sloppy dorks and bros, I can make people think this crap is real.  I can always go back and sprinkle in some blog-only shibboleth... like OCBD and GTH.  Some of the abbreviations may also work.  Do I also blow the lid off of some of the popular summer colonies?  No, better let people think that everyone still dresses like they're in a catalog... I have a brand to uphold.  They'll never know that I'm actually in my underwear, eating burritos, and cruising other blogs.]

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lobster Buffet, Yankee Thrift, and Philadelphia

--Down in Philadelphia consuming heroic quantities with The Main Line Sportsman.  Liver transplant blogpost pending...

--Early rise for a sunrise summer stroll through Philadelphia and a quiet cup of coffee...

--Water being re-introduced into body...

--Small porterhouse and two fried eggs for breakfast...

--Taxi to 30th Street Station...



I return to Boston via Acela just in time for the lobster dinner.  As a child, I was reminded that I was merely a cog in the ancestral mechanism of attending this specific event.  A staggering buffet table with the unique smell of steamed lobster, melted butter, Sterno, and assorted seafood is lit by candles and centered with several impressive ice sculptures of lusty mermaids.  As a child, I was fascinated by the fact that under the table were stacks of milkcrates and shimmed-in scraps of wood to support the ice statues.  When I wasn't looking at the slowly melting anatomy of the voluptuous frozen ice mermaid, I was being elbowed along in the buffet line by the hoards of tight-jawed Yankee women with hand bags.

They approached the large simmering silver trays of lobsters... some cut lengthwise, others whole, others dissected.  The dish they were after contained the shelled meat from claws and tails, served with long tongs and forks and serving spoons.  The buffet was strictly self-serve for the lobster, and when the older women approached, they served themselves by plate, and then dropped large tongfuls of lobster meat into their handbags, where a generous open plastic baggie waited.  These women were the wifes and daughters of men who financed things like canals and railroads, men who pioneered tropical fruit exportation to New England, and men who directed companies with household names.  They filled their little bags with as much lobster meat as possible with clandestine ladling of flickering silver, pretending that the entire thing was not happening, and having a prepared line about a relative who could not make it that evening should anyone ask.  Several generations later, college girlfriends and soon-to-be spouses were still evaluated based partly by their willingness to participate in the poaching.  Back at the house, the women, still in their evening wear, met in the large kitchen and compared the takings... a particularly sporting young lady who had recently agreed to marry the young man of the house had quickly earned favor when it was revealed that her bag was the heaviest.  The following evening's dinner saw her seated directly next to Grandmother, who lavished (for Grandmother's standards) attention on her, and encouraged the younger cousins and grandchildren to take note.

One summer, during a food committee meeting, a new member hastily raised an off-agenda item, saying that she had come to learn that some of her fellow members were smuggling out lobster meat from the buffet and possibly even slabs of roast from the carving station during dinner.  She was indignant that something so "low-class" would occur in her club, and she thought that the food committee should intervene.  The committee chair listened carefully and quietly, knowing that his mother, grandmother, and even great-grandmother had been and were the chief practitioners of the maneuver in question, which was a family tradition.  The new member suggested that staff should serve the lobster from then on at all functions, and pressed further, stating that others also had this concern.  The chairman asked for the names, and wrote them down.  He did not like the threats, and further, he rather liked having delicious cold lobster salad for two days after the buffet as he always had.  He and his sisters were quite accustomed to the rich homemade bisque made from pilfered lobster meat that was served at home three days after the buffet, and on the fourth day, the last succulent pieces were unfrozen and stuffed into a beautiful haddock for baking.

The rabble-rouser was quickly dealt with.  The food committee chairman quietly consulted a "COMMITTEE SCHEDULE" and saw that the tennis clubhouse committee met on the same day and time.  The anxious vigilante was immediately appointed to the clubhouse committee, and the lobster would continue to fill handbags for years.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Also Brings...

Now that summer is here, it's "open season" (as the Elegantologist correctly says).  It is now safe to switch to striped woolen one-pieces for mustachioed beach-side dumb-bell lifting and straw boaters for afternoon velocipedary (not actually a word).

I knew that summer had arrived when I saw the following during my stroll to the waterfront:

In a blog-world where socklessness seems to occupy innumerable debates, very few are facing the reality.  Cloth interiors of shoes will eventually spell (smell) disaster.  Leather shoe-innards resist stinkfoot a little better than cloth, and the images above tell me that (1) a male lives there and (2) he has a female romantic interest.  In college, I sailed in sockless converse low-tops (not Top-siders as I now tend to).

converse ox low top

One summer, I lost four pair of them by romantic interests demanding that they be thrown away.  During a sail passage from Bonaire to Haiti, the third mate threw a pair overboard while I slept in my bunk.  The ship's medical officer then ordered the entire fo'c'sl to immediately powder with Gold-Bond on a thrice-daily interval.  It worked well, and I got to keep my next pair of converse.  Keep it on the feet ONLY unless you like adventure.

And speaking of mix-ups, I recently ruined a morning when I blindly grappled for a toothpaste tube (my son's)  in the dark as the boat swayed at anchor.  These were side-by-side.

Dear Tom's of Maine,

Please discontinue putting toothpaste into flip-top dispensers.  The world is fully accustomed to toothpaste with screw-top closures, and this reinvention has caused me severe trauma.  For God's sake... why use tubes associated with skin topicals anyway?  It was bad enough when every water bottle decided to take cap designs from imitation-syrup containers and call them "sport" tops.


- - - - - - -

Dear Burt's Bees,

Your sun-screen (30 SPF) seems to work very well at preventing sunburn, but the taste leaves much to be desired.


Tan-suited, stripe-socked, and spot-tied.  May your only summer mixes all be drink.