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, March 29, 2010

Notes From Phoenix: The Clearance Sign Man

Do you know what the sun is like in the desert? Even in March? Even when there is a city built over the top of the desert? Last week on a trip to Phoenix, Arizona I received a welcome late winter dose of the sun's rays, and an extra Epic benefit as well.

The trip went extraordinarily well. My travel companions and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves, as, flushed with success we found ourselves driving down a Phoenix boulevard when we came upon a fellow working on a street corner. Outdoors. At noon. In the desert sun.

You think you have a lousy job? Try being a clearance sale sign man. You know. The poor blighter that, for a minimum wage, gets to stand out on some corner holding a sign. All day long. With no protection from rain, wind or sun. Wearing out his epidermis in the service of a store that is rather continually in a state of "clearance sale" or "going out of business". There are worse jobs. But the sign man's is on my short list of lousy ones.

As our car approached this particular desert corner, we noticed something out of the ordinary. Something Epic. This man was spinning his sign. Around his shoulders. Then around his torso. Under one leg. Then the other. Then up in the air. Finally he caught the sign, slapped the long edge of it on the broiling sidewalk, and sat on it with chin in hand. A huge grin on his face. Look what I can do. Look how good I am.

The light changed to green and traffic began to move. One car of astounded business travelers, with all four windows down, cheering and giving the thumbs up. Saluting a grand performance. The Clearance Sign Man grinned our way and gave the slightest of bows.

I do not know if the store was really going "out of business". I don't really care. What that sign man gave us was a living example of joy in what could only be described as trying circumstances. Nobility and Art in the midst of a concrete desert. A job very well done. Putting whatever it was we thought we had accomplished that morning squarely in the shade.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pad Thai Paradox

I have this friend. He is good looking, successful, very happily married, and an accomplished Thai cook. I should dislike him intently, but I don't. I owe him my love Thai cuisine because I had never tasted the amazing complexity of flavors in true Thai cooking before he took me out to a Thai restaurant for the first time some years ago.

If you poll a group of occasional Thai diners, they will probably say that "Pad Thai" is one of their favorite dishes, as it is mine. I discovered recently, however, that this is really a name without much meaning. Literally translated, the term "Pad Thai" means "Thai style stir-fried noodles". Leaving a wide range for interpretation. A wonderful recipe (from a wonderful web site and blog) can be found here.

In any event, reading up on this dish on the Thai Food and Travel site, I became aware of the American controversy in the preparation of Pad Thai. Apparently the typical way the noodles are made in Thailand renders the noodles dry and a natural tan color. Some American restaurants put catsup in the noodles to color them and give them more flavor or they add hot pepper sauce with a similar but kicked-up effect. I eat the "red" Pad Thai noodles at restaurants and I always like them. Even though I was uninformed of their lack of "authenticity". I have only had the "drier", tan Pad Thai once. At Trader Vic's. I have a multitude of good Trader Vic's stories that will have to wait to another time. Suffice to say, the difference between the "dry" preparation and the "red" versions is dramatic. A completely different flavor, much more delicate and sophisticated. And, no, I had not imbibed multiple Mai Tais at Trader Vic's before my dinner. Only one. Or perhaps two.

Although I prefer the "dry" style of Pad Thai, I certainly like the "red" style also and I'll eat it again the next time it shows up on my plate. The Epic notion is that if you like the flavor, don't worry about the authenticity. Just enjoy what shows up for you during any given meal. Or in the course of any given day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fuzzy Photos From Great Bars, 51st Birthday Edition

Sazerac Bar, Roosevelt Hotel, New Orleans, Louisiana.

"Drink to me. Drink to my health..."--Paul McCartney

Onward and upward!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Epic Cinema: The Quiet Man

My mother's maiden name was Sullivan. I married an Irish Redhead. Is it any surprise that The Quite Man is my favorite movie? And I am not much of a John Wayne fan in general. Here, however, as a life-worn man returning to his family home in search of peace and quiet, Wayne is at his humble finest. Peace and quiet? What he finds is a magnificent woman and a lot of trouble. What you will find is a lovely bit of film making by John Ford in which the Irish countryside itself is every bit as much a star as the cast. A cast, by the way, which is chock full of fine performances by every single actor. I am confident that you will fall in love with each character in this movie just as I did many years ago. And with memorable lines such as

Ah, it is a fine, soft night. I think I'll be goin' to talk a little treason.

Oh, that's no angel. That is Mary Kate Dannaher. But pay her no mind Sean, that red hair is no lie.

You little squint!

Well, I can't say its true, and I won't say its not...but there's been talk...

If you have not had the pleasure of seeing the film, you can watch one of my favorite scenes here. It is my gift to all Epics on this St. Patrick's Day.

I watch a lot of movies, but if I had only one to keep forever, it would be The Quiet Man. It is like a trip to the Ireland of which one dreams. With a wee taste of Powers whiskey in a glass. On a fine, soft night.

Monday, March 15, 2010

From The Epic Valet Box: My Medal

In these days immediately after the Winter Olympics, I still feel the excitement generated by a world of amazing young men and women compressing a life of effort into a day or two. With only one goal in mind...

Years ago, my Dad gave me a valet box. I think every man should own a valet box. My first one looks like a pirate's treasure chest, made of dark wood and brass. Apropos since one uses a valet box to store valuable things. I have not used this particular box on a daily basis for some time, but I still keep it in my closet. It contains some of my most prized possessions. Such as my skiing medal.

In 1973, Gustav Thoeni was certainly the best ski racer in the world, in the midst of a run of four World Cup overall championships in five years. In 1973, I was certainly one of the worst ski racers in the world. Not just the state of Wisconsin. The entire world. I began skiing when I was very small. Typical for a Norwegian boy. I was pretty good at it too. But, as any competitor in any sport will testify, there is a big difference between the sort of skiing required to navigate a steep hill in style and the sort required to navigate a steep hill rapidly while weaving between a series of poles stuck into the snow.

As I started High School at age 15, I was highly excited to learn that there was a ski racing team. That even I could join. It was a small team, with only six boys racing every week. Six of the seven of us racing every week, that is. I raced in qualifying runs for each week's meet, but I could never defeat one of the other six boys to make the varsity team. It didn't bother me too much. I could see that the other fellows were a lot better than me. And I could see that I was getting better each week. At least I thought that I was a ski racer. Finally, one week, I made the competition team. Due to some vacation or illness of one of the others. But there I was. Adorned in my competitor racing numeral, standing atop the slalom run in the starting gate.

It was an overcast, brutally cold day. Even by Wisconsin standards. Since I had no competition history, I was required to start in last place, after all the other skiers. When the snow in the many turns of the course was worn into deep, icy, choppy ruts. Slow, deep, icy choppy ruts. That made the edges of your skis jump and chatter as you tried to bend your body into each turn. The combination of ice and ruts threatened, with each turn, to eject even the most skilled racer from the course into the snow fencing which outlined its edges. And those of us going last were not the most skilled racers. Not by a long shot.

Each competitor races two times down the course and the fastest time counts as your official team score. The course we were running that day was set down the middle of the steepest hill in the state. As I made my way toward the starting gate, my stomach clenched as I looked through my goggles at a seemingly incomprehensible forest of red and blue flags. Around which I was supposed to weave at a high rate of speed. In theory. When you put your ski poles into two holes in the snow cut for them at the starting gate, you cannot see anything on a steep course but the tops of the first few flags. On this particular day I could not see even that. Due to a slashing snowfall and dark gray skies which resulted in significantly obscured vision. Another stomach clench ensued. As I waited my turn at the starting gate, behind the second worst racer in the meet, the captain of our team appeared at my side.

Out team captain was a skiing god. A gifted racer. Dashing good looks. Long blond hair. Sort of a ski racer version of a singer we would learn about years later. A fellow named Jon Bon Jovi. A natural leader, the captain clapped me on the back, flashed his big white grin, and said

Hey, isn't this great!! You are going to kick it today man!!

Then he glanced at me and added one tip...

Um, but you probably want to put this on right side out...

My racing jersey numeral was on backwards. We pulled it off and fixed it, which provided a comic interlude and discharged a lot of tension. But not all the tension. I fell about half way down my first run. I was not the only one. But my team needed all of us to post a time to have a chance to win. The other fellows had been pretty good that day. I had to make it through the second run. I had to.

As I approached the starting gate a second time, the snow was really falling hard. And blowing sideways. I was the last skier down the course. Several more falls had resulted in a chance that we could take one of the first three spots in the meet. If I could finish upright. And if I could post a decent time. Imagine the fifteen year old, pre-Epic. Standing at the top of a mountain. Facing either redemption, or doom. I felt like Charlie Brown of the Peanuts comic strip. Again, The Captain appeared beside me.

This snow is awful...is there a ski race out here someplace?

Again, the big grin. Again, it made me laugh.

Lots of guys fell that first time man, this time...you OWN this thing. Let it fly man!!!

Another clap on the back. The starter turned toward me....ice and snow crusting his wool face mask. Looking like a not so good character from Lord of the Rings. A cloud of breath-smoke came from his mouth as he called my number and motioned me to the starting gate. I put the tips of my ski poles into the starting holes, now deep and worn. The start was called. I shoved myself forward into the abyss. Unable to see much of anything in the fading light of a winter's late afternoon.

I do not really remember how I got down that course without falling a second time. Or how, from dead last position, I managed to make the fifth fastest time of the day. Enough to secure a team bronze medal. One for each of us. The other guys were so shocked that I even finished they all stared mute for a second at the bottom of the run before they ran over en masse [we ski racers all use a lot of French words] and almost beat me to death with excited congratulations. We each got a little bronze medal as a keepsake. It is just about one-half an inch long and it came in a plastic box of a size sufficient for a tie tack. I keep it, to this day, in my valet box.

Later that year a lot of things happened. Gustav Thoeni won the overall World Cup skiing championship and the gorgeous cut crystal trophy made by Baccarat that comes with the title. I never qualified for the varsity team again that season, and after its conclusion my family moved to tropical climes, ending my putative career in slalom, giant slalom and downhill. But every time I open my old valet box and look inside, I know one thing. For one three minute space within one winter long ago, I was a Ski Racer. And I have the medal to prove it.

This is Mr. Thoeni. Not me. We did have the same brand of skis though. Spalding is not paying me for this post. I wish they were.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Restaurant Interlude: The Long Suffering Wife

Tonight found me sitting in a very nice restaurant in a town which is the crown jewel of what has been aptly described as the "Redneck Riviera". I am alone, of course. As I considered the merits of a new brand of California Old Vines Red Zinfindale, a party of three couples was shown to the table next to me. All of these people were my age.

Of the three couples, the one closest to me was a fellow wearing jeans and some kind of long sleeve tee shirt. Bearing a designer logo, no doubt. His wife an attractive, age-appropriate [as my Irish Redhead would say] woman wearing a little black dress and a vaporous scarf double-twisted about her slender neck, a'la Parisienne. Great hair. Tasteful jewelry. Nice looking lady.

No sooner had this couple decanted themselves at the table, when the Mr. loudly chortles:

"Darlin' tell everyone about your eye surgery!"

To her credit, she did not even flinch. Just carried on her conversation with the person dining at her elbow. The muffled laughter from my direction notwithstanding.

I hope he makes plenty of money. She certainly deserves it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Travel Haiku [For Mrs. Scoffs]

Why drink in first class?
Flying bar, free drinks, that's why.
I'll have another.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Epic Listening: Uptown Lounge

It is freezing outside. The skies are gray and bleak. Time to take the hand of your CEP [Complimentary Epic Person], light a fire, sit close with a glass of scotch on the rocks, and listen to some great music. Such as the best compilation album ever. My proof? Check the play list:

A Kiss To Build A Dream On, Louis Armstrong
My Baby Just Cares For Me, Nina Simone
Manhattan, Bobby Short
You Stepped Out of A Dream, Sarah Vaughn
Confessin' The Blues, Joe Williams
Baby Won't You Please Come Home, Gloria Lynne
The Very Thought Of You, Arthur Prysock
Walkin' My Baby Back Home, Nat King Cole
Sufferin' With The Blues, Nancy Wilson
The Lady Is A Tramp, Della Reese
Lush Life, Sammy Davis, Jr.
Unforgettable, Dina Washington
You're The One, Lou Rawls
Crazy He Calls Me, Dakota Staton
Stormy Weather, Lena Horne
Exactly Like You, Carmen Mcrae
Taking A Chance On Love, Billy Eckstine
Girl From Ipanema, Esther Phillips

This album is a jewel box of marvelous performances, many of which I had never heard before. That being said, it is Sammy Davis, Jr.'s turn with Lush Life that steals the show. It is simply one of my favorite recordings. Number three in the Epic list of top songs of all time. That one track alone justifies both the price of this out of print album and the effort you will make to procure it. But make sure you have plenty of booze if you listen to this version of Lush Life more than once in a sitting. And you will.

The back of the album says...

The club fades into darkness. Then the stage lights go on.
The audience falls silent. Slowly, carefully, the curtain parts.
The house band is cued. The music starts.
Showtime...Excited, you hold your lady's hand.
Here, at the Uptown Lounge, the parade of phenomenal performers begins...

It is still snowing/sleeting/raining outside. The fire crackles. You hit the play button the second time. Go ahead. Pour yourself and your CEP another whiskey. Snuggle into the sofa. You've earned it.