Saturday, November 28, 2009

Literary Slothiosity and Charleston Redux

I trust that everyone remains amidst all that is important to you and your holiday traditions…family, food, friends, football games-college or neighborhood. I remain happily exiled in a weekend of restoration. I’ll have LFG for the Christmas holiday so Thanksgiving has me happily alone. I begged off of a solo trip to South Carolina for the simple and selfish reason of needing a recharge.

I don’t necessarily enjoy solitude over camaraderie even though I’ve gotten a lot better at being alone with my thoughts over these past seven and a half years. However, I’ve hit the proverbial wall of business travel burnout and being at home-essentially alone for a long weekend of slumming is a welcome respite. I might see LFG for a bit on Sunday but otherwise I’m reveling in my slothiosity.
I’ve eschewed this morning my Charvet silk dressing gown for sweatpants-rubber flip flops and a t-shirt. LFG owes me another round with the PedEgg. I've got gnarly runner's feet.Shut Up.
More formal efforts at donning loungewear have usually resulted in complexity that I choose this weekend to not invite. As evidenced here-even with a milk moustache-when I rig up in loungewear, women can't keep their hands off of me. Remember those pyjamas with the tight-knit cuffs-on the legs? My Aunt Inez gave me a pair every year-along with a robe.
William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes. I can't imagine Holmes not being dressed this way when lounging at home. Sherlock-not John.
 The l.b. t-shirt is an oldie-from the late 1980’s when my weekends were spent in Gotham. Not sure what the status of Live Bait is today but in 1988 it was our standard pre-whatever cocktail joint. Pre-dinner, pre-more drinks…usually at the Surf Club.
It was a heady time for a lad from South Carolina to be hanging out in Gotham.
No deadlines per-se. No sense of urgency around here. I did finally get around to folding some laundry that had been sitting on the kilim chaise for three weeks. Shut up.
 I have nothing to hide around here but every now and then I’ll find an errant talisman or remnant of a female visitor. Could be an earring-back that has languished in the corner for god only knows how many years. I do have a small lost-and-found cache of items too valuable to throw away but not valuable enough to call around and ask former lodgers if they might be missing a bauble. I did though, in the midst of sorting out shoes in my bedroom, stumble upon these little shoddings amidst Gucci and R.M. Williams. Who in the world might have padded into my chamber and left these behind? Do tell.

Do you re-read books? I’ve been thinking about Richard Merkin quite a bit this weekend after re-reading some of his columns from the late 1980’s and it motivated me to tap back in with two of his friends-George Frazier and Tom Wolfe. Merkin was friends with both and all three manifest sartorial proclivities that impress me-as if any would give a damn. Here’s a quote from Frazier that hit me head-on this morning…

“It is my own conviction that there can be no style without a certain aloofness, a certain inaccessibility, an immense honesty and inviolability in the manner of one’s craft, a relentless being-true-to-one’s-own-image.”

Frazier sums up for me the moral tension associated with balancing the desire to fit in with the appetite for individuality and why so many people f_ck up in their quest for said balance. Butcept me. Shhhhh.
If you are interested in knowing Tom Wolfe beyond his Bonfire of the Vanities persona you might enjoy this compilation…Conversations with Tom Wolfe. There's a lot more to know.
 I dawdled for a bit with South of Broad before getting fully sucked in but when I did-I was as usual-completely caught up in the Conroy craziness. I’m a language dilettante so the much criticized style of Conroy and…that of Tom Wolfe’s fiction by the way…is fine by me. I love Conroy and his latest takes me back home to South Carolina and Charleston particularly. To that end-I resurrect (or re-run as my erudite buddy Tintin calls it) my Charleston post from the summer.


Robert E. Lee stated that “Duty is the most sublime word in the English language”. I did my duty as a son last week in South Carolina. LFG and I spent a week doting on my mom. She’s seventy eight years old-lives alone and does a pretty good job of managing lupus-a very ugly chronic disease of the immune system. She remains fairly independent-Still drives her car and steadfastly refuses to move out of my childhood home and into a “retirement villa”. Trust me, we’ve tried. 

Miyamato Musashi in The Book of Five Rings teaches that “there are walled cities that aren’t meant to be attacked”. My sibs and I have long since given up on attacking the wall of resistance that our mother has mounted regarding a move out of her home. I understand it. All of her identity is attached to her home-she raised three of us there. Outlived two husbands there. She’ll only leave kicking and screaming. 
The lupus has ravaged her physically. A once beautiful woman with dark hair and blue eyes-she’s a frail shell of her physical self now. 
Understand that I love my mother-like all Southern boys. Like all good boys I suppose-it’s not a regional thing. However, I have to gear up for these visits. My reservoir of emotional resolve and what Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk so aptly defines-loving kindness, was at an all time low. Mostly because I’d just come off of that manic ass two week business jaunt and hadn’t really replenished the reservoir from that effort. (God-I know you are listening. I’m not complaining-I know how blessed I am. I’m just stating facts) Additionally, I have to get LFG prepped for these visits. My sister has four kids and they had a different “Grandma Frances” than LFG has. My mom was younger and healthier and was able to really engage with them. The “F” in LFG is Frances so they do have a special connection. However, I have to let LFG know that my mom can’t move fast-that she gets fatigued easily-that she may have to go to bed during the day and finally, that we can’t go and visit her and then leave her alone while we visit friends. It’s a tall order for a nine year old who doesn’t understand chronic disease. 

I have to say that LFG once again demonstrated to me what a child we’ve been blessed with. Not one time in five days did she complain about anything. She was lovely to say the least. She was so sweet to my mother-even though my mom who is hard of hearing and slow moving can’t engage but to a certain degree. Lupus is a mutha of a disease. I told LFG a million times on the way home how proud I was of her. I mailed her a letter with a surprise in it before I left for NJ this week-recognizing again her maturity and kindness. 

We pack a couple of LL Bean duffles and head to see my mom. We roll in and after a day at my mom’s I decide that we need a dose of Charleston.I book us at the Mills House Hotel and begin the hour and thirty minute jaunt. The weather is hot as blazes this time a year in the South and Charleston particularly. I fully expect my mom to spend more time in the room than out and about but that’s ok-she just needed a change of scenery and I know that LFG and I damn sure did.Now I don’t mean to be sexist or racist or provincial or xenophobic or whatever the hell else I might be accused of in this next observation but…What is it about elderly Southern White Ladies and their cars? They drive tanks and in my mother’s case-a Cadillac tank. I drive a Saab that lets you feel every bump in the road-you know-the “European Ride” …the one that in marketing parlance allows you to be “one hundred percent engaged in the driving experience”. Cadillacs take you out of the driving experience and transport you to marshmallow land. They float.And float in my mom’s Caddy we did-Driving Miss Daisy style. Me in the front and my two charges in the back.We rolled in just in time for a late lunch in the Barbados Room at the Mills House.I love She Crab soup and even when it’s hot outside and not necessarily optimal for heavy-cream based soups, I’m going to have it. Trust me, it will kill you and moderation is key.
After strolling through the Market and doing a couple of other walking around the shops kind of things, my mom and LFG retired to the room. I then had the opportunity to scoot over to King Street for my sartorial reconnoiter. Charleston is a superb Trad Town. Charleston is a superb town in many ways and to me, the only elegant enclave in South Carolina-save Hilton Head, Kiawah and a few other coastal patches.Ben Silver was my first stop. Always the best quality stuff and the two college student guys working in there when I rolled in were cordial. I would have taken more pics at Ben Silver but didn’t feel comfortable doing so. It was sweltering hot outside and the store was empty so I kinda caught these guys off guard. They were throwing coins “to the line”…tossing them down a kilim runner seeing who could land closest without going over. The three of us had a good laugh as I shared with them stories of doing the exact same thing in the old haberdashery that I worked in during college. We had two old Morgan silver dollars from the 1800’s that lived on a shelf in the store. When nobody was around, we’d toss those Morgans “to the line”.

Next stop-M. Dumas and Son. Been on King Street for 92 years. I worry that independents like Dumas won’t be there when I return. I feel this way about all small retailers who are struggling. M. Dumas has been around forever. They evolved from kind of an upscale Army-Navy Levis type store to super duper Trad Central. Again, I didn’t feel too comfortable taking pictures while inside but the place is heaven. It’s kind of a Perlis-Vineyard Vines-J. McLaughlin hybrid.
When I was a kid, we’d go to Charleston to get our corduroy and denim Red Tag Levis-M. Dumas was the destination. Don’t let the modest storefront fool you. The place is packed to the gills with good Trad loot.
They even have a shoe department especially devoted to the Tintin style of Tutti Frutti Topsiders.
Speaking of loot. I pounced on two Berle items. I was pleased to purchase things with some South Carolina legacy. Berle was started by a Charleston family in 1948. I was more pleased to get these mini seersucker flat front trousers and the pink martini shorts for half price.
Gotta love not only the linining in these trousers but the marketing jargon as well...."Washed-Stoned and Beaten". Sounds Biblical to me.
The Pink Martini Shorts are still full price in the Orvis Catalogue
Now for a sad story-Berlins. I think that Berlins has “jumped the shark”. They seem to have gone “disco”. It’s especially tragic given their tenure and legacy. Fritz Hollings-James F. Byrnes and my great uncle for whom I am named all bought their clothes at Berlins.
You know that I love FBI lore and I used to listen  an old FBI man tell the story about arresting the gangster Trigger Burke at Folly Beach. They got a tip from Berlins on Burke, who was renting a Folly Beach cottage. It seems that not only Senators, Governors and Supreme Court Justices shopped at Berlins. Trigger Burke re-kitted himself there as well. Here’s an excerpt from the headlines:
TRIGGER' BURKE TRAPPED BY F. B. I. By The Associated Press. August 28, 1955, Sunday Page 1, 391 words WASHINGTON, Aug. 27 -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest at Folly Beach, S. C., tonight of Elmer Francis (Trigger) Burke, 37 years old, described as a "self-professed New York killer." 
Lovely old sign. Nothing inside to complement the Trad origins seen here though.
Room service for my mom and LFG that early evening. A couple of cocktails back down in the Barbados Room later in the evening for me and that brings us to Room Service in the morning. What is it about Room Service that little kids love so much?
I eat lots of things when I’m home in S.C. that I just don’t pursue otherwise. Country Ham is one of them. I love it and the salty slab you see here was divine. Along with Grits….Redneck Risotto. Shut up.
LFG and I walked down to the bookstore at Charleston Place. I bought a book on the history of Charleston Sea Grass Basketry and snagged the quintessential Charleston cookbookfor my mom.

Mom and LFG on the verge of giddying up for a Charleston Carriage Tour.
Our carriage tour was fun. I’ve been on these a zillion times but this guide was very good and I can pretty much discern the truth v. fiction on these Charleston tours. This guy was a great mix of historian, architectural history devotee, and gardener-agronomist because his mélange included all of it. Really nice.
Meet Shirley Manigault. The Sea Grass-Sweetgrass basket makers are a special group of South Carolinians. These Geechee Gullah folks are mostly descendants of West African slaves and have been plying their wares in Charleston for over a hundred and fifty years. LFG got her first basket while visiting Charleston. Shirley was sweet and ebullient and so kind to LFG. We visited with her for about an hour. She regaled LFG with stories about learning to make baskets and how she to this day, will not go out and harvest from the tidal areas, the three types of grasses she uses. She’s scared of snakes and critters and says that gathering the grasses is “man oriented work”. Her mother in law has a fanner basket in the Smithsonian. If you’ve never heard these beautiful people speak in their dialect, get your ass to Charleston soon because it’s fading away.
Geechee youngsters with grass baskets atop. "Head Porterage" was a West African skill that naturally stayed with them.Charleston Watercolour by Alive Ravenel Huger Smith. Huger by the way, is pronounced "Hugh-Gee". Difficult to mention Charleston without mentioning the Charleston Renaissance artists…my favorites include Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Elizabeth O’Neil Verner and Alfred Hutty. I love what Hutty said about Charleston when wiring his wife to urge her haste in coming down…."Come quickly, have found heaven."
Pastel on Silk by E.O. Verner.
Quintessentially Charleston-to me.
I wanted to buy this for my mom but they weren't open.
Alfred Hutty-Charleston Drypoint. 
Either A.R.H. Smith or Verner.
And finally Dubose Heyward, a son of Charleston wrote Porgy. Porgy and Bess then became a George and Ira Gershwin contrived opera.
The Dubose Heyward Home in Charleston. 


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Pilgrim Shoes

I think one of the most repulsive sartorial turns was made when the square toed clunky men’s shoes stumbled on the scene. I remember discussing their obtuseness with the Flusseroids and naming said shoes “Miles Standish Shoes” much to everyone’s amusement.

No offense to Standish but the shoes are just butt ugly. It isn’t surprising that they all look cheap as hell too. Shoemakers who take pride in a high quality creation wouldn’t spend time crafting such an aberration. The guy who would wear such things probably wouldn’t pay any more than eighty bucks for a pair of shoes anyway. The best evidence that Cole Haan has jumped the shark is the Nike influenced “Air-Standish” looking shoes.

I’ll take the output of the Cleverly inspired toes of the Edward Green-Purple Label shoddings any day.
Maybe the Pilgrims-in the midst of escaping the oppression flung upon them by the Church of England had other things top of mind than shoe selection so let’s leave the square toe pedal contrivances to Colonial Williamsburg re-enactors and misguided fellas trying to channel the spirit of The Backside Boys or the boy stars of Beverly Hills 90210. You know the look-clunky shoes-two day beard-all sleeves too long-shirt and coat-shirt cuffs unbuttoned. The American Indians should shoot ‘em on sight.

So what are you thankful for this year? Here’s my list:

I’m thankful for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloons. They represent to me the culmination of my childhood Thanksgiving Day memories. The den of my family home-smells of my mom’s incredible Thanksgiving meal in progress-the dichotomy of seeing everyone on television swathed in coats-hats and scarves while the sun of a sometimes seventy degree Thanksgiving Day tumbled through the window.

I’m thankful for the health of LFG. Nothing else really matters in my world than the wellbeing of my child.

I’m thankful for a family that loves me-regardless of the sometimes infrequent communication and visits.

I’m thankful for the very few long time friends who still for some reason-take the lead in staying in touch in
ways that define friendship other than the silly ass Facebook version of a “friend”.

I’m thankful for Alden and Edward Green who provide non Miles Standish looking shoes.

I’m thankful for solvency. Seriously-this economy has been nothing short of frightening for an entrepreneur.

I’m thankful for the commitment the LFG’s mom and I have to showing our daughter that even though we
don’t live together anymore-we can remain mature-respectful and focused on the well being of our precious gift of a daughter.

I’m thankful for my business partners who put up with my rants and tantrums that I disguise as creative outbursts that are part and parcel of my genius. They know better.

I’m thankful for the camaraderie of fellow bloggers. Kindness and sincerity can’t be faked for long and there are tons of kind, sincere and just really cool people in the blogosphere.

So I wish for all of you a superb Thanksgiving Day. And for our non-U.S. friends-take the damn day off. Tell your boss that Miles Standish said you could.

Onward Pilgrims.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Not sure how this yellow theme manifested but it began yesterday. Our weather remains the twain of moderate-chilly-wet-dry…wreaking havoc on the sartorial decision model. I threw on green cords yesterday with yellow wool socks and Ralph shell cordovan tassels. 

While walking to lunch I began channeling the line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience…."greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery". Ever get a line intractably stuck in your head? The more you attempt extrication, at least for me, the more recalcitrant and embedded the mutha becomes. The greenery yallery line quickly became tenaciously sticky-more so than echoes of bad 1970’s songs and admonishments from LFG’s mom that used to hang on forever.

I loved learning about the genesis of The Grosvenor Gallery-late of Bond Street in London. A serious retort to the establishment centric and traditionally ensconced Royal Academy. The infamous Whistler-Ruskin spat manifested courtesy of a Whistler exhibition at the Grosvenor Gallery.

Ruskin was a crotchety mutton chopped crank by the time he and my boy Jimmy Whistler had a run in. Proof positive of my assertion is reflected in the Vanity Fair image of Ruskin.

As opposed to the jaunty ass style of white forelocked captured for Vanity Fair by Sir Leslie Ward "Spy". Whistler's mama was from North Carolina.

Ruskin said of this Whistler painting…. “For Mr. Whistler’s own sake, no less than for the protection of the purchaser, Sir Coutts Lindsay ought not to have admitted works into the gallery in which the ill-educated conceit of the artist so nearly approached the aspect of willful imposture. I have seen, and heard, much of cockney impudence before now; but never expected a coxcomb to ask two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face”

Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket

Bottom line on the controversial painting-at least for me is this…If you can’t see that this is a view of Battersea Bridge then you are flat out not smoking enough dope or drinking enough hooch. I mean come on-anyone can see it. WTF was up with Ruskin?

The Freer Gallery here in D.C. had a brilliant show many years ago that faithfully reproduced two rooms of the Grosvenor Gallery and displayed authentically the identical Whistler works in the exact locations on the same yellow washed Grosvenor Gallery-esque walls. I visited the exhibition three times.

Read At the Temple of Art: The Grosvenor Gallery, 1877-1890 by Colleen Denny if the late 19th century London art scene and its key players interests you. No, you can’t borrow my copy-I don’t lend my books.

Yellow ... and Green-who knows-I sure don’t. I do know that yellow isn’t a flattering color. Wait till I muster the courage to finally post my senior prom pictures and you’ll see what I mean. I looked like a damned banana. Not sure what yellow evokes but it seems to evoke something.

I love my Macintosh and actually had the Flusseroids create one in a shade brighter than the de rigueur yaller offered. Shut up. 

It's obvious that I like women in yellow. 

Big women and regular sized honeys. I just like women...damn.

Since I accidentally contrived yesterday’s rig-I’ve seen green and yellow…mostly yellow… everywhere.Gearshift knobs included.

 I think I’m coming down with something. 

Shit man-malaria? Yellow Fever?

I'm seeing it on LFG-Halloween

LFG-Yellow Pajamas

LFG Caricature of Me-Daddy in Yellow

Yellow and Green Merkin

I unknowingly began the yellow and green thing years ago it seems.

Yellow shirt-baseball hat from two weeks me. Shut up.

Oh...and we've got green suede Flusser shoddings over here as well.

Even my two sartorial mistakes…or at least one of the two lands in the “greenery yallery” realm…

“….many a smile you put on my face. But I paid dearly with the tears I taste….” 

Marvin Gaye

My Mistake….I can remember the song playing on the jukebox at the fratty house. Three in the morning, soggy waxed paper cup of draft beer in hand, navy blue Weejuns on the south end of my contrivance. I'm belting out lyrics with Marvin, Diana and some date. I was, at that moment, seriously in love with my date. Can’t remember who she was but I’m sure at that instant I wasn’t thinking about making mistakes.

My regrets are few. Hindsight is breathtakingly arrogant methinks. I do have two rather pricey clothing gaffes. I wish I could take a mulligan on these two sportcoats. Seemed like good ideas at the time. Funny how that changes when they arrive from the tailor. Both of these sartorial boondoggles come from Mssrs. Flusser et al. Not blaming them in the least for these indiscretions. My bad. They just executed my requests.

Mistake Number One-Bottle Green Flannel Blazer
I'm a walking snooker table in this thing. Alan Flusser did an article a zillion years ago highlighting best dressed men. Phil Miller, then CEO of Saks was featured in a bottle green blazer. I’m thinking I gotta have one of these. It also harkened back to the days of the green flannel staple at Brooks Brothers. They offered this alternative to the navy flannel blazer for years.
Part of the tragedy of this one is the fact that it fits better than almost anything in my closet. Something about how the fabric and thread came together for this one that just fits like a glove. My “house” model-single breasted peak lapels. Three button rolled to the second. Open patch pockets. Side vents. Simple enough alternative to navy right? I don’t know. It’s departed my home maybe three times since I took possession of it in 2000. Bottom line on both of these babies is that I can’t accessories them. Don’t know how to rig it up and trust me-riggin’ ain’t a defined weakness of mine.

The guy who wrote this was lying his a*s off.
Mistake Number Two-Orange Sherbet Shady Acres Retirement Sportcoat
What a cluster fox trot this one turned out to be. This thing just begs a complementary Full Cleveland. Ditto the model and almost ditto the fit of the abovementioned Green Hornet. I wanted a solid color summer sportcoat. Something a bit less wrinkly than 100% linen so out comes the wool-silk-linen swatch book. Seems to me that in swatch ganders past; the size of the cloth scrap was large enough to be representative of the impending creation. This one showed up and was much more “orange” than I figured it would be. Bottom line, it’s too “resorty” looking and I don’t hang out in South Florida enough to warrant this one. Powder blue cotton lisle knit shirt and white linen trousers knock this one out of the ballpark. But only if you are chairman of the social committee at Club Del Boca Vista. And I ain’t ready for the Del scene yet.
This one also has a vaguely redeeming element. The hand felled button holes are stellar. LBJ Gallbladder keloid and then some.
Ralph Colony Model cream gabardine couldn't resurrect this retirement party rig. Oy.
Alas, I’ll keep them both and who knows, one day I’ll have a breakthrough and suddenly land on a reason, destination or rationale for rigging these bad boys up again.

Enjoy Marvin and Diana….