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. 



C. Matthew Curtin said...

I like your question, “Do you re-read books?” Vladimir Nabokov opened his Lectures on Literature with an essay entitled “Good Readers and Good Writers.” Therein he wrote, “one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.”

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

Enjoyed revisiting your summer trip to Charleston with your "girls." Hope you've had a restful and renewing holiday weekend.

CeceliaMc said...

Goodness! Your mama is beautiful!

So is Charleston, as always.

That city is rivaled (and bested) only by Savannah.

If you could put them in a beauty pageant, Charleston would be bright, ebullient, and smugly of a set (just like those vivid topsiders), but Savannah's beauty is resplendently weathered and serenely weary (as a lovely old lady).

All slumbering feelings and secrets long kept.

Toad said...

"A quiet Sunday" has got to be one of life's greatest phrases. Enjoy it lad, you deserve it.

Brian said...

I'm a huge fan of re-reading books, I am not a fan of when they make most of the books i enjoy into movies though.

As for the southren women and there Caddys up this way the all like there Lincolns for that same floaty experience. Heck my dad even tried to get my mom a Jag one year with an air supension and she still didn't like it as much as her town car. Let's just hope we are never so old that we prefer those rides.

Anonymous said...

Strongly concur with rereading a book.Don't buy it unless have the intention of doing so. Books are like old friends. Never been able to stomach Pat Conroy, he is goofier than a huntin dawg....prefer Padgett Powell for that genre.

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - Sweatpants, flip-flops and a t-shirt ?! You've all but shattered my illusions! Please, PLEASE don your Charvet with a cravat and velvet embroidered slippers in time for your next post...
Right now I'm re-reading some of James Lees-Milne's elegantly written diaries. In fact I'm so engrossed that when I saw your heading '..and Charleston Redux' I assumed you were talking about the Bloomsbury Circle... JL-M (1908-97) was an English architectural historian and writer; his diaries portray (with not infrequent gloriously gossipy passages of breath-taking snobbery) a strata of British society that is almost extinct - the footnotes read like an unexpurgated Debrett's. Highly recommended.

Anonymous said...

"One never skips the same parts of Proust twice." -- Roland Barthes

ADG said...


Belle….thanks. We’ll be back down to Charleston for a day during Christmas.

Cecelia…I love your Charleston-Savannah beauty pageant metaphor

Anonymous ...The goofiness of Conroy I think-is why I keep reading him. He’s a crazy bird.

Brian ...No worries about me defaulting to one of those rides. They are so damn big compared to what I’m used to that I’d wreck one a week.

Toad ...Thanks buddy. I was a complete slug the entire weekend…it was great.

Anonymous English Female ...Please. Don’t give up on me. Thanks for the J. L-M suggestion. I just ordered the first volume.

Patsy said...

I thought of you when a fellow on my office floor said his daughter was disappointed in his outfit when he took her to school today - he wasn't wearing "anything fun". I think he would feel right at home in some of your rigs.

It's odd to be reminded of someone you don't even know, though.

In The Littoral said...

I have to agree with re-reading a book. I really don't feel I understand what is being said unless I do. The best part is when you pick it up the second time, you KNOW it is a good read or why bother.

I too love grits but have never heard of them referred as redneck risotto, I love it.

Your daughter is truly bless to have such a devoted father! I know I don't have to tell you how blessed you are, its evident.