Friday, September 30, 2011

Esquire's 75 Best Dressed of All Time

Put little stock in these dumb lists.  See for yourself:

The List (from 2010).

Either way, these are some of the images that I found the most pleasant, starting with Arnold Palmer.  Note his masculinity that does not rely on freakishly built biceps or tight clothing.

 There is little that needs to be said about this fellow.

 Clint shows us that tough guys can wear V-neck sweaters.

 Paul Newman makes boating/painting/floor scrubbing clothes look great.

He was odd, but he often wrapped himself in good clothing.

Obviously, the list was thrown together by a small team of young people under a deadline.  Missing are actors like William Powell, David Niven, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Gary Cooper, etc., though they listed characters in films.  The list could go on and on, but at least they're putting something out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Charge It

When the summer gets too hot, the sea gets too lively, or the previous evening was too indulgent, club soda fills the prescription just right.  It gives cigar-mouth a sorbet effect and livens up any liquor.  I take it with bitters and ice almost daily.  The problem is hauling the bottles all over.  I hate buying it in an sort of meaningful quantity, and the liquor stores refuse to deliver it in any manageable count.

Of the dumb things we do as a culture, the enthusiastic purchasing of water quickly comes to mind.  I bought a seltzer bottle and a dozen boxes of cartridges.  "Charged water" (as my Nanna calls it) is far more handy than throwing away (or recycling) bottles or cans constantly, because you fill it from the tap (Boston and NYC have some of the cleanest municipal drinking water in the world).  Once filled and bubble-ized, the seltzer works just fine and holds its charge surprisingly well.  The bottle can sit in the refrigerator until its ready to pep up your whisky or whiskey, your rum, brandy, gin, etc.  While they were once indispensable as Vaudeville sight gags, they are pretty rare now.  Several of you will likely chide me for not buying an antique seltzer bottle, but the gaskets never work so I went for modern.

You save about a dime per bottle, and the recyclable (bin) cartridges get mailed to your house... no more schlepping Schweppes.

I also found this old number at an antique sale.  One spot for bourbon and another for Scotch.  I paid about $12 for it.  It's kind of crappy, but charming.

Between the seltzer bottle and the whisky holder, autumn picnics are looking more inviting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vintage Knitwear for Ladies

On her recent trip to Brimfield's textile market, Mrs. picked up a new (very vintage) suit for herself.  It actually came with the original catalog.

This is the suit she bought.

I dig these older photos, and the styles they portray.  Some of them have some real gravity.  Made in Italy, the Giana catalog shows outfits that were warm and heavy, likely held the smell of cigarettes for days, and were the garments of some excellent parties.  The hair is fantastic, and reminds me of a certain Grande Dame who was feared by most people around her... all but her hair dresser, who provided a vengeful torrent of sass when he felt that she had spoken abrasively or in a manner that indicated her privilege.

Good weekend to all.  My immediate travel plans include a stop over to one of the most generous style/clothing bloggers, the grain belt's own Mr. Midwester.  Tales to follow.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nothing Wasted

From the age of ten until college, I spent two weeks every summer at a fishing lodge with several similarly aged cousins and family friends, all dropped off by our fathers to the chaperoning of a middle aged widow. The widow was a semi-retired college professor, whose husband had died just after my first summer there.  Her father originally owned the land and had built a large but rustic lodge between the lake and the cold river that ran on the other side of the hill.  When she had inherited it as a young graduate student in the 1960’s, the lodge was a revenue-generating fishing club, sought after for its rainbow and brook trout who naively gulped the flies presented to them.  She stayed there every summer and henned over the small local lodge staff who tended to the guests.  When we arrived, all but one of the lodge employees were sent away, and she did the cooking and caring for us herself.

The widow/hostess’s late husband Charlie was a professor of engineering of some kind, and he had prospered by holding patents on some complicated weaponry-related technologies.  He was about twenty years older than her, and she never fell out of love with him, even long after he had died.  During the winter, she lived in Boston, in a large townhouse on a fashionable street, purchased for something like seventy five thousand dollars decades ago, where she sat in her large study and wrote her papers and refined her research for publication.

Everything about her was sharpened.  She was handsome in the way a predatory bird was with sharp eyes, statuesque build, wavy blond hair cut in a bob, and tall slender limbs, almost wiry, that occasionally revealed spear-point elbows and knees.  She never formally exercised, but she was always lean and tautly drawn, with an intimidating gaze from perpetually serious blue eyes.

We would arrive each summer and be sent to “the dorm”: a room full of ancient bunks and a small wood stove where we would live for two weeks.  We were up at four thirty or five every morning, at the rousing of our hostess. Hot chocolate or tea was offered to the groggy boys (coffee when we were older) and we were sent out fishing (with a teenaged “guide” when we were younger than 14) until seven o’clock, when a full breakfast was served back at the lodge.  Our hostess prepared and served all the meals with the help of one young lady who drove in from the neighboring town each day at seven, and we were expected to wash the dishes.  On Thursday and Sunday, we had to wear a coat and tie to dinner, and she would require us to say grace before each meal (though she was actually an atheist).  She served hot roasts with potatoes, and light vinegar salads for dinner.  Lunches were packed for everyone, and nearly always consisted of sandwiches made with the cold meat of the previous evening’s dinner, like cold roast beef on buttered bread with lettuce and thin tomato slices.

She was strict and cold, and she spoke sharply and briskly, even in the early hours.  She smoked two cigarettes per day: one at five in the afternoon and another after dinner.  She only wore navy blue sweaters in thick wool and small-waisted but sturdy and conservative skirts.  When it was hot, she wore khaki shorts. 

One afternoon as we fished from our various canoes on the far side of the lake, a summer storm caught us, and we tried to make for the shore to beach the boats and wait it out.  Out of the rain and wind appeared a Boston Whaler, driven by our hostess in her dark green rubber rain coat and black sou’wester.  We lashed the canoes in a train and she towed us back through the violent-but-short storm, like Mother Goose with her goslings.

During one summer at the end of our stay, she gathered us together in the front room by the hearth and told us that she would not be returning the next year.  Her writing and research would require more of her time and she would remain in Boston.  We all looked down.  She said that Sarah would be taking over the Lodge duties and that all of the usual member-groups would still be booked for as many years as they wanted.  We knew that that we had just had our last summer there. 

“I want you all to know that I’m proud of each one of you.  You’ve turned into nice young men, and I’ve adored watching you grow up.  I always thought of you as my family somehow, and I love all of you.” 
We were stunned by the tenderness of her admission, delivered in her typical untender tone.  She brought us all into her small office and gave each of us something that belonged to either her husband or her father.  Among other things, there was a small old camera, some binoculars in a leather case, a collection of briarwood pipes, a compass, a leather billfold for holding flies and tippets, and some beautiful brass candle lanterns.  I was given two pipes and a fly reel and a silver stop watch.

Ten years later, when I was in my twenties, my father called from Florida to tell me that I would have to attend a reception in his stead as he was unable to fly back for it.  I put on my blazer and tie and made my way over to the campus on the subway.  The school was dedicating a research grant to Charlie, endowed by his widow.  When I saw her, my stomach tightened unexpectedly, partly from nostalgia and love, but mostly because she looked frail and weak and much older than the seventy or so years that she was.

She smiled when she saw me, and said “Your father told me you were coming.  I’m sorry that he couldn’t make it.  You’re looking well.”

“You too.” I said unconvincingly and trying to keep it together.  Her hair was still cut the same way, but it was white, and though she moved slowly, her voice and flickering eyes were still sharp.
She kept me next to her for the whole evening, literally leaning on my arm for stability and refusing to sit when I’d offer.  At the end of the reception, her Haitian nurse appeared and helped her to her car.  The nurse casually mentioned the advanced breast cancer that had spread, as if I had already known about it.  Typical.  The old gal was too stubborn and beak-sharpened to tell us she was dying. 

I visited her a few months later at her home and she was unable to talk at all.  A month after that she was gone.

Her nurse was at the service, and told us that our hostess had kept a photo album of “her boys” next to her as her treatment-battered body failed.  It had been compiled over years, and had photos of us from each summer and photos that our parents had sent during each school year.  We were also told that she had wanted to see us all during her cancer battle but had been too embarrassed of her “undignified” state and her homecare.  Very typical.  Her service had one (and likely only) distant relative attend.  Charlie was her family first and foremost, and after it was too late, we realized that we were too.  We had always thought that she was annoyed by us.  I recently asked my father how much he paid every year for us to go to the lodge.  He candidly told me that she requested a check from each family for $35 at the end of the summer... a little over $2 per day.  I called my uncle a week ago to verify this, and he said "The old goat would ask for a check from us, and in all the years we sent you boys there, she never cashed a single one ever.  But every year we sent one."


Spreading her ashes at the lodge was probably against her wishes, as she was always unsentimental about herself.  At the slightest hint of attention or care towards her (especially admissions of vulnerability) she would clip the conversation dead.  We put her remains under the cedar tree and smoked Charlie’s pipes while we tearfully sang a hymn she somehow loved.  As we headed to the car, my short-tempered cousin suddenly ran to the front door where the brass bell hung and twisted the clapper free, hurling it into the lake inexplicably.  Somehow we understood.

Every autumn, two or three of us go to the campus to present the small research grants to promising young geeks who could use a boost doing all of the engineering magic that I can’t even pretend to comprehend.  We wear Charlie’s bow-ties that she gave us… a little too thin and a little too 1950’s… but we wear them.  We all have good eyes, but we secretly wish that we needed glasses just to go with the suits and the tweed... the way Charlie did, and the way that only a few souls in academia still do.
Whisky or Brandy afterwards at a local college bar, though we skip the cigarettes, and when it rains, we buy drinks (anonymously) for any gal who strolls in with an unfashionable-but-practical sou'wester.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


An exclusive club that is actually not exclusive and not even a club.

 A tower of collars.  Excellent.

A newly renovated interior hosts the Arctic Club.  Big Band and cocktail bossa nova smooth out the first floor, and the barman adds the martini shaker to the rhythm.  The billiard balls clack occasionally, and the walrus head stares curiously out over the touches of Alaskan mineral and dark wood paneled walls.  This "club" is actually just a DoubleTree (Hilton) hotel, and the rooms are offered at very reasonable prices for business travelers who want to stay downtown.  The odd thing is that this hotel is a bit nicer and actually clubbier than many of the actual private clubs in the area.  Of the great features, one is treated like an adult with windows that open wide to the city, even on the high floors.  There are also no TV's in any of the lobby or bar areas, and it has a nice (though affected) older feel to the place.  My room has a French press, a kettle, and enough coffee for a week.

Not too many ties or suits in Seattle, but the fresh seafood is of astounding quality.  I make it back here a few time a year, and my early-riser East Coast clock has me up at a lonely hour to stroll the city in search of someplace that serves eggs and bacon before six o'clock... none found.  Coffee here is strong and thick, the way I make it, and a dear Boston friend who relocated here to launch his latest tech innovation takes me in and out of the great gin-joints as he plays liquor tour-guide for the week.

I see endless hotels that try and miss the mark, and it's nice to be in one that hits it.  My lime-green gingham check shirt and striped gray suit pairing also missed the mark, but I'll do it again.  With the sunshine, the oysters, and the fresh Olympic air, it's a great week to be alive and in Seattle.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Douglas Fairbanks Auction - No Thank You

I have been watching half-heartedly since word got out that it would happen.  I received several generous invitations from organizers and individuals to attend some of the preamble concerning the auction.  While I appreciate the aesthetic beauty of both the sum and the parts of the clothing items, I can't seem to be anything other than repelled by the estate auction.

I love old clothing, family hand-me-downs and thrift store finds.  I also have many great jackets, ties, scarves, pocket-squares etc. from elderly friends who though (correctly) that I would appreciate them.  I do.

As for his collection, it is impressive, and is a snapshot of an era that will never again exist, including landmark firms that have gone extinct.  Men's style bloggers write about this subject at great length and to sometimes intense debate and the auction is very in-the-moment.  It is appropriate to mention it and to take the opportunity to salute a great style heavyweight from a romanticized period.

What is being left out of the discussion is the fact that it is being auctioned off in the first place.  Was there not a single relative, friend, God-child, heir, etc. who could lovingly take respectable stewardship of these things, ensuring that they remain in appropriately sentimental hands?  Perhaps the seductive power of liquidation was too great to overcome.

As for buying the clothing... then what?  Wear the blazer around to parties, letting everyone know that it was from Douglas Fairbanks?  It would be a barely tolerable conversation piece if it had been a gift to you from his family ("Doug was very fond of your father, and he would have wanted you to have this"), but to then disclose that you bought it in an auction as a salivating gawker makes the name-dropping unforgivable.  Fairbanks was an impressively decorated Naval officer in the century's most epic conflict, famous actor with unbelievable personal stories, and man of the world, achievements that were earned, and not purchased at auction.

In our typically pleasant exchange, another writer of a blog was also a bit off-put, and likened the enthusiasm to "vultures dancing on a carcass", "itching to swan around" in one of the purchased suits from the Fairbanks estate.  I agree.

If Doyles produces a glossy catalog, it will be worth sending away for, but for God's sake, imagine that it was your family, and you were now witnessing the looting of beloved items at the hands of unsentimental heirs one generation closer to the deceased than you, gleefully dissolved by overseas collectors and the smug rapping of an auctioneer's gavel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Summer Round-Up and Rot

 A few shots from late summer.  Many days of bright sun with cool sea air.  The city air gets a cool milky mist in it, and the smell of salt.

 Roofdeck: Carrots.  This one was excavated before its time by a critter.  
The tomato and herb plants were untouched.  

 Roofdeck: Banana Pepper.  Zucchinis were sterile for some reason this year. 



 Pre-Dawn on the Harbor: USS Constitution

 Roofdeck: Beans

 Boston Common: Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Shoes: LL Bean.

 Father's Old Tie: Puritan Shop, Hyannis, Circa 1970.  Now mine.

Roofdeck: Strawberries. Chipmunks DO live in the city... and they climb up old houses to feast.

Giuseppe and I took the children for a quick hot-weather sail around the harbor.  He's in the Quoddy's, I'm in white-soled blue canvas.  When it's very hot, my feet bark at leather shoes.

The boys all went out to the great Anna's Taqueria for their excellent fresh lunch.  I noticed a guy in line with nice pink shorts, and when I looked closer, I realized that the happy grappler was handling his burrito.


I went to college in the early 90’s, when things like not recycling an aluminum can or speaking abrasively would trigger infantile-but-mandatory group discussions with no constructive endpoint.  These discussions were useful however, in determining who to avoid, befriend, or possibly which weaknesses of your classmates and dorm mates could be later exploited.  The required discussions were invariably centered around anything that could possibly cause someone else to “feel uncomfortable”.  While we should have been discussing literature, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, etc. that entire decade saw it fit to regularly piss away precious free-time venting over things like gender roles, anything ending in “ism”, and trying like hell to somehow get a blanket and pre-emptive apology from the men. 

In one wretched discussion, a particularly annoying hippie (from Palm Beach!) was insisting that all food scraps could and should be saved for composting.  She somehow drummed up support from the school, who went so far as to actually promise materials and construction of the simple wooden system.  Another meeting.  We were all called to hear this vapida lecture us about food use, waste, etc., and boast about the support she had brokered from the college.  A dean was present, smiling and likely dreaming of the photos that he would work into school materials of students standing around a stinking compost heap, smug because their two cubic yards of rancid decomposition would surely single-handedly save the entire Earth from immediate destruction. 

Halfway through the meeting, mutiny was brewing.  Our carefree lives and careless daily uses would be burdened with the putrid agenda of some Florida heiress, and we all felt the threat acutely.  While several students were nodding and smiling, most others grumbled and squirmed.  We all knew that no matter what the issue, the only way to survive such meetings was to remain quiet at all costs.  One could even agree to actionable promises and vows of conduct without ever risking accountability for later ignoring them… but one had to remain QUIET.

“The only issue we have now is where it will be built”, the insufferable girl proclaimed.

“NO!” A gal piped up dangerously.  All went immediately wide-eyed, as she initiated debate… the last thing anybody wanted. “The real question is what do you plan to do with all that compost?” she demanded angrily. “We don’t have gardens, we’re not a farm, and in case you didn’t notice, WE’RE ON A CAMPUS!”  It was a simple question that nobody had yet asked.  She then finished sharply with something along the lines of:  “We've had three meetings about this. Just build it! Can we leave now?!”

The compost project died that evening, almost audibly, and soon after, the hippie set her crosshairs onto paper recycling and the drug-addicted drummer from a local band, both of which were disasters.  At the conclusion of the meeting, I made a bee-line for the angry gal who turned out to be from Bath, Maine.  She was tall and pony-tailed, wore dark jeans (before they were cool again), a scratchy old flannel shirt with an earnest repair at the elbow, high-miled running shoes, and pearl earrings, and I asked her out that night.  She accepted. 

We remained friends for years and then lost touch.  I always think about her question when I see enormous piles of diligently kept compost, rotting away, never to see a garden plot or bed.  Now, in the city, there is a compost project within a block of me, but I don't know where... somewhere to the south, clearly detectable when the wind blows southerly.  I hope that they're using it for something.