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.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Epic 15 Minute Vacations: Vintage Postcards

I have a lot of small collections. Some watches. Some pens. Some plastic key cards from Epic hotels. One thing I find to be a refreshing break in the midst of a typical business day is a look at a few old post cards. Like the one of the Sands in Vegas, above. A place I wish I could have gone.

Or, a place where a great man lived, dreamed and found his peace...

The Mount Vernon card is addressed to Miss Elizabeth Fay of Sherborn, Massachusetts. "Mr. Rice and I have a party of the school girls in Washington this week are having a fine time....this is G.W.'s back yard." April, 1914.

A place I did not want to leave...

A place I know from long ago. Though I have yet to visit...

A place where a hero's service was born...

Once in awhile, an old card gives a tantalizing glimpse into a romance of long ago. The Country Club card was addressed to Miss Mary Clarke of Anadarko, Oklahoma. "I sure like it here. And me for the Navy. Now don't forget to ans[wer] for I would like to hear from you and all the people around there. [signed] Guy G. Aero Station Florida". April, 1917. From one of the first American airmen. I wonder if she heard of him again. Perhaps in the skies of France. Fighting the best in the world in a rickety second-hand plane. When the life span of a new Allied fighter pilot was less than three months. Or if he ever heard from her.

Later, they put up a World War I memorial in Anadarko, Oklahoma...

I wonder if Guy G's name is on it...

Finally, from a perfect little hideaway long ago lost to the blight of high rise development...

The message reads "My Paula...I mustered out last week. It sure is pretty here. I'm resting, drinking, soaking up sun and trying to figure out where I can find...[unreadable]...Wish you were here. My love always, Stan." March, 1946. Old post cards are easy to find. Generally cheap. Stimulating. Instructive. And, with a little imagination, the perfect escape from a busy day. Buy yourself some and take a little vacation.

I hear you Stan. When you find it, let me know.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Test Of A Great Suit

You read a lot about what great clothing is. Construction. Draping. Fabric. Particularly for men. I think the test of a great garment is not what it is but rather what it does. For your attitude. Your carriage. Even your memories.

In the back of my closet there are several garments I cannot do without. Not that I wear them any more. Or even could if I wanted to. The first suit my dad bought me. My dad's old tuxedo. I never saw him wear it. I do not know if he did ever wear it. Things like that. That have lost their utility (at least to me) but which have gained in emotional value with each day that passes.

One of the first suits I ever purchased that I considered "expensive" was a Joseph Abboud three button. A bird's eye weave in charcoal gray. Made before Mr. Abboud reportedly left his eponymous company. A lovely suit. Fits me to a tee. Even now. One day I arrived home from work wearing my new and prized JA only to spy my then six year old son running around in the front yard lawn sprinklers. Almost naked. The Future Rock Star has always been a nature boy.

Afternoon sunlight of the Deep South was slanting through the trees in my West facing yard. It was broiling hot. I had an old Atlanta Rhythm Section favorite of mine playing...

Paper fans
In sweaty hands
Shoo the flies away
Reflections on the porch
A shelter from the scorch
When dog days came around...

I ran down the driver's side window, allowing a vapor of auto air conditioning to escape.

"Hey buddy....having fun?"

"Dad! This is the greatest thing EVER! C'mon, try it!!"

Oh. Well, I uh, um.... Oh. Return readers will know what happened next. Off with the shoes. Damn the sprinklers--full speed ahead. The FRS does not allow himself to show surprise that often. Only under the most extreme circumstances. But that day he looked surprised. As my Abboud bravely deflected the first few waves of sprinkler fire. Then slowly succumbed to one sluicing after another, hanging soggily about my not so slender frame. As the FRS ran circles around me chortling with glee. Finally I ran out of steam and had to retire, dripping, from the field. Due in no small part to the hundred pounds of soaking wool in which I was draped.

The suit survived, no doubt because of superior fabric and construction. I'm wearing it as I type this. But whether or not it had weathered that self-inflicted storm, it had earned a place in the back of my closet. As a Great Suit. Adorned with memories I'll carry the rest of the way.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Winter Encampment

Where I grew up there is a unique right of passage. When you find yourself tall enough. To be handed an implement of winter survival. The ice scraper for the car windows. Without the scraper, vehicular travel in the northernmost climes comes to a halt. Thus the exalted significance of the position of window-scraper.

Once you get older and move away from Deep Snow Country, you lose contact with some of the essentials. Some good things. Some not so good. Suffice to say, I did not mourn the loss of the ice scraper. Many years ago. Luckily some skills become part of your survival kit early on and do not simply vanish because you change where you live. You never know when you may need them again.

As was the case this past weekend when I visited Philadelphia. I stayed in Plymouth Meeting, to the West of town. Where I was reintroduced to one of my least favorite aspects of the winter season. The ice storm. Or more appropriately, "storms", as more than one occurred during the trip. Which lead to rumination on how best to deal with the bone deep chill that an ice storm [or two] can induce even when you are dressed in your winter best cashmere blend topcoat and cap.

The first thing is not to feel sorry for yourself. Ice storms are actually productive of a beautiful tableau. When viewed from your hotel window. The tableau assumes limited significance as you are trying to keep from freezing while scraping your car windows with the key fob because your rental company failed to put a scraper in the car. As they did last year. When it wasn't needed.

The best way to not feel sorry for oneself is to go where winter ice had true historical significance. And real personal impact. Valley Forge for example. The entry to the visitor's center is very impressive, particularly dusted with snow...

And the place is vast. Washington's lines of defense were stretched thin in all directions. This photo is from the beginning of the park looking out over only one of the fields but it gives one a sense for the expanse...

...and for how exposed the troops were. In their ragged uniforms. To the wind. Rain. Snow. Ice. Eventually the soldiers were able to shelter themselves in cabins they constructed themselves...

I'll bet they were damn glad to get inside one of these [surprisingly wind-proof] little cabins. I know I was, when I probably violated about a dozen Federal laws by diving into one to hide from the horizontal ice and build up my stamina. Not for walking a perimeter post. For attempting the fifty yard traverse back to my CAR. Thank goodness I had a flask. And that its contents were made in Scotland. And not easily freezable. Sitting in this hut in my expensive top coat with my flask thinking of the troops who suffered out there with so little in the way of clothing or food was humbling to say the least. Especially when they were there for me. With no inkling that so many generations later there would be "Citizens" thanking them for the nation they created.

Suitably humbled, I staggered back through the blowing crystals and circled the Memorial Arch. Staying in the car. It is an impressive monument, even with inclement weather...

Then I had to leave the park. My first award for irony this year is based on the fact that Valley Forge was two-thirds closed that morning. Due to the weather.

In any event, I felt that further and immediate restorative efforts were in order. As I was in a Revolutionary mood, I decided to seek out a little place I know not far from Valley Forge. A place the soldiers wished had been there in 1777. Perhaps the best bar anywhere. The Whitemarsh Valley Inn.

I discovered this gem on an earlier trip. Regina the bartender is a classic. Attractive. Knowing. Attentive. In command of her bar. One of the best ever. Like Duck Warner who channels Nat King Cole in a little bar in Kansas City, Regina practices her art at the highest level in relative obscurity. She remembered me from last year. Of course that may not be that surprising. This is not a "young" or "trendy" bar. It has dim lighting. Low-ish ceiling. Great bar food. Perfect glassware. VERY fair prices. Horse races on the television. As it should be. But...not a young guy bar. Not even when you are soon fifty. Which is a great thing in my book. Just a place to hide away. Rejuvenate. Thaw out. Imbibe. You can always tell a great joint when there are a lot of entertainment glossies in the entry foyer...

And when they have the extra large "sabre" swizzle sticks...

When I went to WVI for the first time last year, there were about a dozen older gentlemen sitting at the bar. No beer drinkers here. Cocktail men. At noon. Being the new person at a small bar is not a role I shy away from. You see, I'm not exactly a shrinking violet when it comes to new bars. Or anything else for that matter. But another sign of a great bar is the way in which you are enveloped in the security of the place immediately upon sitting down. No entrance exam required. Immediate acceptance into the society of swizzlers. I placed this bar on my top five list that many minutes into my first visit. What awarded the joint Epic status was this year when I returned. At about the same time. And discovered the same guys at the same seats at the bar. My bar stool sitting there open. As last year. It is a great comfort to know that there are positive constants in the universe. Like the crowd at the Whitemarsh Valley Inn. Watching the horses on television. Ragging on Regina as she fires right back at them in a sisterly fashion. A really cool sister who happens to give you cocktails whenever you want them.

About two, an older couple came in from the sleet and were warmly greeted by Regina. They sat down at the bar and immediately ordered martinis. Up. The proper way. A hefty and admirable start for an afternoon. Albeit I was slightly ahead of them. The best moment of all was when Regina slipped away to the kitchen and came back carrying a birthday cake for a fellow who was having his 80th birthday. I think she paid for it herself. The gent looked so pleased and happy. There on his birthday. At his bar. With his chums. Regina cut big squares of cake and gave us all a piece. We regulars. Of the Whitemarsh Valley Inn.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Everyday Drinking: The Hangover

The hangover. An appropriate topic for this time of year. The comedian Sinbad said once that when you are over forty the one thing you cannot do is break a bone. Because over forty you will never heal. I beg to differ. When you are over forty, approaching fifty, the singular thing you cannot do is get a hangover. To do so is to enter an experiential definition of "endless".

That being said, there is SOME likelihood that one or two Epics may find themselves in need of some instruction in this subject. From a master. Not me. Rather, no less a personage than Kingsley Amis. In the marvelous anthology "Everyday Drinking". Simply put, this book is intellectually stimulating, urbane and hilarious. Vintage Amis. Thus far, the Epic Bookshelf contains only four "must have" volumes. If you never take another piece of Epic literary advice, go out and get a copy. Stop reading. Do it now. Then pour yourself a toddy and continue. Unless you have a hangover. Then skip the toddy. For now.

It does not take a long venture into this little book to realize that you are in the presence of a master. Of prose. And of drink. I will have more to post about Everyday Drinking later. At present, his ruminations on the hangover are a more than adequate appetizer.

Amis postulates that a hangover is two phenomena occurring simultaneously. The "physical hangover" ("PH"). Of which imbibers are well familiar. And the more insidious "metaphysical hangover" ("MH"). The trick is that you have to defeat both syndromes at once. NOW I finally understand why hangovers are so horrid. From apparent long experience, Amis sets forth a plan for conquering first the PH:

Immediately upon waking, start telling yourself how lucky you are to be feeling so bloody awful. This, known as George Gale's Paradox, recognizes the truth that if you do not feel bloody awful after a hefty night then you are still drunk, and must sober up in a waking state before hangover dawns.

A stroke of genius. Nothing worse than to wake up only to realize the hangover has not yet begun. I'm glad I have not experienced it. That I recall. After revealing this ancient truth, Amis announces his disdain for the "go getter" sort of morning-after person...

...I must assume that you can devote at least a good part of the day to yourself and your condition. Those who inescapably have to get up and do something can only stay in bed as long as they dare, get up, shave, take a hot bath or shower...breakfast off an unsweetened grapefruit...and coffee, and clear off, with the intention of getting as drunk at lunchtime as they dare.

Further components of the PH treatment are to stay in bed "until you can stand it no longer"; avoid cold showers "at all costs"; skip bicarbonate of soda, food and smoking; then...

By now, you will have shot a good deal of the morning. Get through the rest of it somehow, avoiding the society of your fellows. Talk is tiring. Go for a walk, or sit or lie about in the fresh air...You can start working on your MH any time you like.

About 12:30, firmly take a hair (or better, in Cyril Connolly's phrase, a tuft) of the dog that bit you...By now, one way or another, you will be readier to face the rest of mankind and a convivial lunchtime can well result. Eat what you like within reason, avoiding anything greasy or rich. If your PH is still with you afterwards, go to bed.

Amis goes on to address the "under forty/over forty" paradox I mention above...

At this point, younger readers may relax the unremitting attention with which they have followed the above. They are mostly strangers to the MH. But they will grin or jeer at their peril. Let them rest assured that, as they grow older, the MH will more and more come to fill the gap left by their progressively less severe PH. And, of the two, incomparably the more dreadful is the metaphysical hangover.

Goodness. That means that it gets even WORSE after fifty. I did not think that anything could eclipse in dreadfulness the effect of a full-on PH. Amis is certainly correct on this point. As I have made increasingly serious efforts to limit my exposure to the PH, my exposure to the MH has increased proportionally. The only variants from when I was twenty-five are a decrease in the volume of intake. And an increase of twenty-five years.

Amis' first step in attacking the MH is to convince yourself that what you have IS a hangover, not a minor brain lesion, and that

...you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk. If this works, if you can convince yourself, you need do no more...[to defeat the MH]

Assuming that you do not succeed in convincing yourself that all that is really wrong with your life is that you have a hangover, you must then proceed to a specific course of hangover reading and listening, both founded upon the principle that "you must feel worse emotionally before you start to feel better. A good cry is the initial aim." To this end, Amis recommends reading Paradise Lost, Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, battle poems, etc. Followed or accompanied by music such as Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony (the Pathetique), recommended because it "evokes total despair". Or my countryman Sibelius' score for the play Pelleas and Melisande which

...carries the ever-so-slightly phoney and overdone pathos that is exactly what you want in your present state.

Nor is vocal music ignored. The recommended tonic here is Brahms' Alto Rhapsody. Which begins with the words "who is that standing apart? His path is lost in the undergrowth" and ends with a plea to God to "open the clouded vista over the thousand springs beside the thirsty one in the desert." Amis says of this sugary lyric and its utility in dispatching the MH that

You can restore some of your fallen dignity by telling yourself that you too are a [person lost in the undergrowth]. This is a piece that would fetch tears from a stone, especially a half-stoned stone...

Cap off your treatment of the MH with some jazz. Amis states that slow Miles Davis tracks are just the thing...

It will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly be as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be. There is also the likely bonus to be gained from hearing some bystander refer to Davis as Miles instead of Davis. The surge of adrenalin at this piece of trendy pseudo-familiarity will buck up your system, and striking the offender to the ground will restore your belief in your own masculinity, rugged force, etc.

This should give you not only a feel for this fine and useful book, but also some insight into the terrors of the PH and MH and how to treat them. The perfect initial weapon in your arsenal for striding ahead into 2oo9. The thoughts of a man of obvious vast experience and intellect. Presented as my Epic New Year's gift to the imbibers among you (us). Carry on...

Kingsley Amis.