Welcome to The Epic! I am launching this blog as a manifesto for and a guide to living well. The title and motto of the blog are taken from the Epicureans, at least some of whom believed in the notion that not one minute of the future was guaranteed to them and that as a result they had the duty to live life to its fullest every moment.

I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What Happened In Vegas...The Summit

January, 1960. The Sands in Las Vegas. Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, Bishop. The entire Pack (although Frank hated the name). Assembled in one place to shoot the original Oceans' Eleven. And to perform at the Sands' Copa Room after cocktail hour. Epitomizing in the words of Playboy's reporter "cohesiveness in work, friendship, fun--and a wild iconoclasm that millions envy secretly or even unconsciously--which makes them in the public eye, the innest in-group in the world". Wouldn't we all like someone to apply that combination of words to our work?

Tell me, do these guys look like they are working?

Yet, they were. They worked all day on the movie set, then changed to custom made tuxedos and took to the stage to relax. Enjoy each other's company. Ply their craft. Inspired by their example, I took to the skies to rediscover the spirt of what they called their alchemal mixture of work, friendship and play. The Summit.

After concentrated study, I determined that the essence of The Summit consisted of friends, work, play and great environment. First, the location. There are certain towns people love. Or hate. No middle ground. New Orleans. Key West. Las Vegas. I happen to love all these places. But Vegas was the only place for The Summit. I am recently returned. This is my report of what happened. None of which will stay there.

Frank would say "first and foremost--friends". I was attending a conference with some of my best friends. Who happen to be my best clients. A nice combination if you can get it. Pretty rare in my business. Maybe in any business. Plus, my friends do not tend to be shrinking violet types. Fun in abundance is guaranteed. So it was a good bet that I would have the friends, work, and play elements of The Summit well covered. Which left the proper environment. Abundant in January of 1960. Not so easy in Vegas circa 2008. Post the failed attempt to convert a perfect playground for grownups into Disney Orlando. Luckily, a failed attempt. But many vestiges remain to be avoided. I have nothing against Orlando. Love going there. But when you want Las Vegas you don't want Orlando. And there is no recorded instance of The Summit breaking out in Orlando. Case closed.

Now, it is well known I am a Caesars guy. I love Caesars. But for whatever reason, the rates there were astronomical. So I was "forced" to stay at the Venetian. Poor me. I have been privileged to stay at a lot of swanky places but I cannot name one nicer than the Venetian, pictured here:

Plus, for my purposes, it was the perfect physical location. Occupying as it does the spot of the original Summit. The Sands Hotel was taken down to build the Venetian. In fact, if you come up the escalator to Tao restaurant in the Venetian, you are where the Copa Room used to be. The actual ground of the Summit. The campanile at the right of the photo is just about exactly where the sign for The Sands stood when these pictures were taken:

So this was it. There was no better place for me to be.

It is well established that you cannot have a Summit-worthy locale without great hotel rooms. Rooms that make you feel like one of the Pack. The Venetian has these in abundance. Look at my regular, run of the mill room:

The sunken living room of my room, that is. The bed room (unmade bed unfortunately...I tried putting pillows under the covers like in the spy movies to look like someone else sleeping there but then thought MUCH better of it):

A very, very cool bureau in the bed room (the white center panel lit up when you touched a small switch on the side):

A dimly lit view of the sunken living room taken from the bed room:

As ought to be the case, you had a remote control next to the bed that opened the drapes and blinds. VERY Summit-worthy. Finally, to prepare for the evening a well appointed bath is a MUST:

Do I have to add that the robes and towels are perfect? I thought not. As if all this were not enough...they always park my car right up front...

After an arduous day of work, one retreats to the sanctuary of his room to have a bath, slip into a thick terry robe, open and shut the remote control curtains, and other such preparatory activities for ..... cocktails. Sauce time. Fueling hour. And this is where Las Vegas excels. There aren't many authentic Sinatra endorsed bars left in Vegas these days, but one is the Galleria Bar, just off the lobby at Caesars. Another is at the Golden Steer Steakhouse. But more of that later. First, you have to view the late afternoon sky....

Five o' clock Vegas blue. The Chairman said you have to see it to know it. Always makes me thirsty. So, off to the Galleria (after passing by the Frank Sinatra fountains lying before Caesars) for a pre-Summit martini. Appetizer. To whet the whistle. Get the blood flowing the right way. Or perhaps the right speed. Anyhow, the first night's dining was at the legendary chef Thomas Keller's place Bouchon at the Venetian. It was Catherine Deneuve's birthday so our party had Kir Royale cocktails as a starter. Then we moved on to a marvelous meal with service so good you did not want to leave, even when the last profiterole was just a memory. As much as I love my readers, I could NOT kill the mood by snapping photos there. Not the thing to do.

What WAS the thing to do was to make the scene at the Playboy Club. With the unanimous agreement of my Summit pals. Off to the Palms Casino we went and up to the only such establishment left on Earth. Gorgeous bunnies. Gorgeous view. Nice intimate casino, in-house. Good music. A very cool fireplace stretching the length of one wall in the lounge. Just about perfect. After this, the show at the Fontana Lounge at Bellagio. A great, intimate showroom of the old style enhanced by the 180 degree view of the legendary Bellagio lake and fountains.

After seeing a few more sights, a long travel day took its toll. Back for another bout of bathing, curtain opening and closing, and lounging in my Venetian robe in my sunken living room. Listening to the late night jazz on Sirius. Another of my take-along necessities.

The first highlight of the next day was a cocktail in Havana. Or as close as Las Vegas can bring you. Casa Fuente is a fantastic little bar and cigar club where the atmosphere is warm and inviting, the drinks very good, and the air system so advanced you can enjoy yourself in perfect comfort even if you are not smoking one of the top flight cigars from their walk-in humidor. Take a look for yourself:

I had two other fantastic dining experiences with my great friends and clients during this trip. You have to go to a steak joint when in Vegas. As in New York. There are many good ones. AJ's at the Hard Rock Hotel was my favorite until I discovered the Golden Steer. Up on Sahara road. All the cab drivers know where it is. Not many people from out of town do. An unassuming location but as soon as you go inside....a time portal to 1960. Piano bar....GREAT cocktails...very good food...and best of all.....the people at the Golden Steer treat you like SOMEBODY. Every time you go. Ask for Frank's booth. Or Dean's. Or Mario Andretti's. They knew how to dine and how to have a good time while doing so. And I doubt that anything essential about the place has changed since their time. Here is the GS sign with the Sahara in the background:

The booths in the background (I have said it before and I say it again...I love semi-circular banquettes like these...they make you feel important just sitting down to dine) are Frank's and Dean's...

The last evening in Vegas I went to a favorite seafood place. Bartolotta at the Wynn Casino. This photo of the entry does not do the place justice:

This is simply one of the great seafood restaurants I have found. In the company of Aquavit in New York. And Norman's in.....Orlando. The appetizer was a cocotte di parmigiano-reggiano with sautee of wild mushrooms. One of the finest dishes I have ever had. A second course of tiny ravioli superbly done with a perfect amount of sauce. Just the right amount for a second course. All the fish is brought in from the Mediterranean daily. My main course of pink snapper (Pagello) simply broiled with olive oil and lemon was amazing. The weather was actually a bit cold for Las Vegas that night, but if you have more typical weather, reserve one of the tables in a gauzy cabana beside the lake outside the ground floor. They have silver orbs in the lake that catch rays of light from the candles on the tables. Combined with the food a marvelous experience. Take some pals there. You can buy me a drink sometime to thank me. See Bartolotta for yourself here.

I would say our Summit was a smashing success. I think all involved cannot wait for the next such occasion. But all great trips must come to an end. After a last martini at the Galleria Bar, there was only one thing left to do. Head down the strip to the Bellagio fountains. Street side. Very late at night. Just like at the end of the Clooney remake of Oceans Eleven. Stand there like they did. Clair de Lune playing. Fountains dancing. Just the right level of imbibery. Pondering what to do with the riches I had gathered about me that day. Friends. Business. Play. Luxury. Riches, indeed. At the conclusion of Clair de Lune I turned and strolled down the sidewalk toward the Venetian. The Summit concluded. For now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Freshman Memories and Soul Music

Her name was Kim. Her last name redolent of Russian nobility. Black hair. Striking Slavic blue eyes. An arresting young lady. Especially in those days. My first of High School.

I walked home from school then. After a month or so, evening came early. Snow began to fall. The street I traversed was illumined by lamps that cast a golden glow rather than the usual glare. Too diffuse to make a pool of light on the sidewalk. Perfect for refracting against the million facets of a snowflake.

One such evening in the afternoon, I turned the corner onto this avenue and saw Kim for the first time. Walking toward me. Short jacket with a fur collar. Dusted with snowflakes. As were her eyelashes. In that pale, golden light. I have never been accused of being a wallflower, but I was incapable of speech. Just attempted eye contact. Which was returned. A flicker of a smile on her face. I never spoke to her of course. When you are fifteen, just putting your toe into the social swirl, and you encounter a girl like this under circumstances that would be a great movie scene, there is no hope. Especially when you live where it snows. A lot. And you are a lot more romantic than is good for you. I needed soul music badly. The locally popular "Beer Barrel Polka" was no longer sufficient. Unfortunately, it would be a few more years before I knew what soul music was. I saw her pretty often on that street after that. Always the fleeting eye contact. The cute half smile. I never spoke to her.

Years pass. I am sitting up late at night feeding my infant son. Watching "Midnight Love" on BET. A video came on with a singer named Will Downing. Unknown to me. A very mature, smooth, sophisticated baritone. And the song. "Drowning in Your Eyes"....

I'm drowning in your eyes

I'm floating out to sea

Helpless on the restless tide

That flows between you and me...

It may have been exhaustion. Or just this fabulous song. Plus Mr. Downing's voice. And the time of night. But I thought of a freshman girl's eyes for the first time in over twenty years. And exactly how I felt every time I saw them. I went out the next day and bought the album "Sensual Journey", pictured above. If you like great soul music you should have this disc in your collection. They do not call Mr. Downing the "prince of sophisticated soul" for nothing. But be careful. You may rediscover some fundamental emotions. Formed when your world was young. That is what great music does. And all great art.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday Night Thai

A great restaurant can reside in the oddest place. The back of a car wash for example. I almost never eat at a Thai restaurant when I am traveling because the best one I have ever seen is in the back of a car wash in my town. Out on the Western Front. At the epicenter of quiet living.

I do not know how the lady who owns and cooks at this place found herself living here, but I suspect that it was through some twist of fate she could not have possibly imagined. In any event it redounded to the benefit of local diners. Taking someone from out of town to this place for dinner is a kick. Driving up a typical small city street at night. Lighting a bit limited due to budgetary issues. Textbook urban sprawl. They should ship grad students in Urban and Regional Planning schools here to get a ground level view. You drive behind the airport approach zone. See a large old-time car wash on your left. No turn lane despite the four lane street. Requiring a harrowing left-hang in the face of oncoming traffic. Exciting. But worth it.

Once you are in the parking lot [of the car wash] all is still a mystery. You drive through the deepening shadows and pull into one of several parking places, probably used by car wash employees during the day. There is a little sign showing the entry. As exotic as it gets in this town. Trust me. Once inside, the fantastic service and marvelous food combine with Thai art and music to make for a great (and for the first time guest, surprising) dining experience.

Favorite restaurants often serve as the setting for very special interpersonal moments. We all know this. Have hopefully experienced this. As I did last night. When my son, The Future Rock Star, and I had dinner. Mano a mano.

It was no special occasion. That was the point. We just had the opportunity to sit and take a meal together. And took it. Talked about nothing in particular. Watched TFRS glom down plates of pad thai and spring rolls. And several pieces of distinctly un-Thai Oreo cake. I tell you, this lady knows how to run a restaurant. We had a wonderful time. One that I have the duty to make sure does not become singular. In the whirl of what I call the "parent trying to make a living paradox". That I NEED to make sure does not become singular. And I will.

Afterward, I sat at home and pondered whether I had let an opportunity slip away. To broach deep topics. Substantial issues. Matters of import for the future. No. Later. There is a lot of value to be derived just from spending time frivolously in each other's company. Time perhaps not so frivolous after all.

One lovely part of Thai culture is the Loy Krathong. An annual ceremony dedicated to releasing stresses and troubles and refreshing life. You put small items on a little raft and send it floating away. But you don't need a ceremony. Or a raft. Sometimes just sitting in a booth with an eleven year old is just the thing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day Ninety

Armistice Day. That is what they used to call it. In honor of the moment. The final moment of the final war. The greatest bloodletting in the history of the globe. Up to that time. World War I did not create a "great generation" as some have said of World War II. It destroyed one. Sir George Clausen painted "Youth Mourning" in 1916 to symbolize generally a generation's loss. And to symbolize specifically the death in battle of his daughter's fiancee:

November 11, 1918. 11:11 in the morning. Bullets stopped. Cheering began. Tears too. Of thankfulness. Shock. Tension release. And bitter loss. Eleven thousand Allied troops died on November 11, 1918 before 11:11 in the morning. More casualties than in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, twenty-six years later. There is no better symbol for World War I than that stark statistic.

Afterward, people took to wearing bright red poppies in their lapels to let the world know they would not forget. When I was a boy, the old men from '18 formed up with their brothers from '45 and moved as best they could about our town, handing out poppies and taking donations. Everyone wore one. After a time the formations dwindled. People forgot the First World War. And the poppies. The poppy field shown above is in Flanders. Which for the several years before Armistice Day looked like this:

The use of the poppy was inspired by the poem "In Flanders' Fields" by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae. Perhaps the most famous of the many poems of the era. All but forgotten now. Of course. High time we all remembered again...

If you look very, very hard, you can find that some good things came even from this era. Stirring poetry. Great novels. And the escapism of a young British communications officer stationed in this trench system:

So horrified at what he saw each day that in every spare moment he wrote down elaborate fantasy stories. That one day charmed the world. The officer's name was J.R.R. Tolkien.


A dear friend of mine has a wedding anniversary today. Chosen with clear design. Not as a cynical indication of the cessation of hostilities. Rather, I imagine, as symbolic of the perfect moment. When peace reigned. And hope and promise glowed most brightly. I think that 11:11 a.m. on November 11 is the perfect time to marry. Even if you are not interested in history in the least.

In the New York Times for November 12, 2007, Richard Rubin wrote a marvelous piece titled "Over There--And Gone Forever". About Frank Buckles, the 107 year old man who is probably the last surviving American veteran of World War I. The article noted that neither the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the American Legion, nor the VFW have any idea how many American First World War veterans there even are, much less where they might be or whether they are alive. They received no Veterans' benefits. No job preferments or college education for their service. A few parades. One hundred thousand of them left home, only to remain in Flanders' or other fields. Mr. Rubin concluded the article by saying that with the passing of the last veteran of World War I, that era will become the sort of history we cannot touch anymore, lying just beyond our grasp. I hope we don't ever lose track of World War I, or the incredible people from the toddling world power called America who went "over there", to fight and die. For countries they barely knew existed. For reasons that historians cannot fully grasp. Even now.

In 1954, someone got the idea that "Armistice Day" should be changed to "Veterans' Day". Because it turned out that so many wars came along after the final one. The moment on November 11, 1918 that was supposed to conclude war turned out to be just that. A moment.

I saw a marvelous thing this summer. A wooden cart full of red paper poppies. Just the sort we all wore when I was small. I will be wearing one today. How about you?

Illustration from the New York Times, 11/12/07.
Addendum: Yahoo! News reported this morning that there are three surviving English WWI veterans: Henry Allingham (112), Harry Patch (110) and Bill Stone (108). Erich Kastner, last of the German veterans, died on January 1, 2008 at age 107. The last French soldier,Lazare Ponticelli, died March 12, 2008 at age 110.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Back In The Mooklife Again

Saturday night. In the Atlanta airport. Crown Room Club [thank Goodness]. En route home from Las Vegas. About which I will write much more later. It is late. But not as late as it feels just now. Made to feel even later by the fact that some guy in the next cubicle is, as I write, playing "I Got You Babe" by Sonny and Cher off his laptop. Loudly. I am NOT kidding. Trust me, it is VERY hard to work under these conditions.

But that is not why I write. It struck me on the way to the Crown Room Club how great Delta pilot uniforms look. Navy blue. Just enough gold. Caps. As it should be. Observe the photo from airlinepilotforums.com above. Respectable. Confident. Flight worthy. Combat tested. What you want in your pilots.

A convincing piece of evidence in my continuing crusade against the "office casual" movement. Call me a sartorial Don Quixote if you will, I think this is one of the great cloth-based disasters of the modern era. If not the greatest. How would you like it if your pilot showed up for work in some logo golf shirt and wrinkled khakis? Like 90 percent of workplace America? I would get right off that airplane. It may just be me. Or the bourbon talking. But I think not. The folks I am responsible for at work are attorneys. I make sure they dress like it. People pay us a lot of money for advice that most of the time is founded in art. Not science. They deserve the clothes for what they pay. It makes them feel a little more comfortable, often in very difficult circumstances. Which is also what they are paying for. I want my group to look like Denny Crane:

with somewhat moderated behavior.

There was a best selling book when I was in college called "Dress For Success". It was founded on tests where people picked out the "most competent" and "smartest" people from photos. Guess what? None of the "wrinkled khaki" crowd got picked. Whether they could fly the damn plane or not. Just something to think about when you are getting ready for work on Monday. A thought for you sitting comfortable and at home. No doubt in front of your mid-autumn fires. From the Atlanta Crown Room Club. Too late on a Saturday night. Sonny and Cher blaring. Over and out...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Style Out Of Fashion

Once upon a time, "men's magazines" used to be worth reading if you were over twenty-five. Just as "gentleman's clubs" used to be clubs for gentlemen. Esquire was probably the first magazine to combine fashion, literature, travel and food in a way that provided useful information about style and an intellectual respite from the man's world on a monthly basis. Gentleman's Quarterly had more fashion but less literature. There were others, including the legendary "M".

The spirit of the true magazine for men was summarized by Hugh Hefner in his introduction to Issue One of Playboy:

Most of today's "magazines for men" spend all their time out-of-doors--thrashing through thorny thickets or splashing about in fast flowing streams. We'll be out there too, occasionally, but we don't mind telling you in advance--we plan on spending most of our time inside. We like our apartment. We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d'oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex.

How times change. I am not sure why. Some time around 1985 or 1990 all men's publishing entered the night. And a long, dark one it was. Editors dialed the age meter of the content back to about seventeen. Tutorials on what to pack for an "across the pond" on Pan Am and how to concoct a late-night supper for two gave way to lists of the best topless bars. And catalogs of "can't miss" pickup lines. The fact that someone actually believed that there WAS such a thing as a "can't miss" pickup line summarized the entire morass. And the editorial assumption that men had abandoned the desire to live with any style at all. Or the ability to do so. Don't get me wrong, I still bought the occasional copy of Esquire or GQ. And was disappointed almost every time.

Perhaps it was the definition of male lifestyle that had changed. Perhaps I just got older. Suddenly, pages that had once held short stories by the likes of P.G. Wodehouse were bursting with freestyle mountain climbing [sans protective gear like ROPES] and nude stunt parachuting from office buildings. Now, I don't have anything against vigorous and dangerous outdoor pursuits, as long as someone else is doing them. But leave a little room for me. This did not happen. If a fellow was not committed on an average weekend to risking death shortly after an all night tequila binge and orgy precipitated by a flurry of "can't miss" pickup lines, men's publishing was oblivious to him. Us. Me. Even Playboy became boring and predictable. Well, predictable anyway.

A flicker of light appeared when I picked up my first issue of Maxim. I could not put it down. It was the most clever and funny magazine I had ever read. I eagerly watched for the following month's number. Which was singularly awful. Mystified, I closely inspected the first, magnificent copy. It was the British edition. Ours was dreck. Animal House between glossy covers.

Enter Men's Vogue in 2005. Finally, a men's magazine I could be in love with again. Although the literary element was still AWOL, at least you had to be able to read to like it. Fashion, design, art, travel. Profiles of men living lives of passion. The initial editorial introduction said that it was time for a men's magazine "that mattered". Amen, said I. In the ensuing months, I would eagerly look for each new copy and read it right through. I always learned something. And I always put it down reinvigorated. But that is all in the past. The blog Off The Cuff [listed at the right margin] posted a few days ago that Men's Vogue is soon to be retired. This horrifying news was confirmed by Jeff Bercovici of Portfolio.com. A victim of unsatisfactory circulation numbers and ad revenues. That apparently indicate that most men over age twenty-five have abandoned their interest in real style. In the unending pursuit of pretending to be seventeen. I am terribly sad. Men's Vogue, it was great while it lasted.

Requiescat in pace.

Addendum: Both the September and October issues of GQ have been very good. Perhaps there is yet some hope....ML