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.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Hank And Me On New Year's Eve

To be honest, I don't think about it all that much any more. I mean, it has been fifty-eight years. A lot of other things have happened to me in that time. I've had a successful business. A great family. Decent health. I have no complaints.

Every so often though, my mind drifts back to New Year's Eve, 1953. The coldest, darkest night I ever saw. I got tangled up in it because my dad asked me if I wanted to earn some extra cash. A sound idea. I was eighteen years old, home from my first semester at Auburn. A college man can always use more money in his pocket. So I said yes. I didn't really have much choice since Dad was pals with him. From way back. And all I really had to do was drive him up to Charleston, West Virginia for a New Year's Eve show. Then maybe on to Canton, Ohio for another show the evening of New Year's Day. Simple enough. Except the weather had other plans for us.

I knew who he was, of course. Everyone knew his songs. That he was a hell raiser. That his career was in the shade at the time. But he still had that voice. That made all the difference.

It was cold and cloudy all afternoon as we got ready to leave. Oddly dry for a hard winter day in the deep south. We met and shook hands. He had a whimsical, crooked smile. You immediately liked him. I remember he was a lot quieter than I expected. And a lot thinner. We got in that powder blue Cadillac convertible and headed north. Any other day, I would have killed to drive that car. That night all I could think of was how cold it was going to be under the drop top. I drove in a respectable way until we got out of Montgomery, then he chuckled and told me to get on my right foot and "let her eat". So I did.

It was snowing as we got to Birmingham and spent the night. One of those rare southern snow storms that just fall on you when you least expect it. On the way up there, "Jambalaya" came on the radio and he asked how I liked it. I told him it didn't make any sense. He just laughed and said that was because I didn't know any French. We had dinner that night in a diner and he gave the waiter a $50 tip. He said "that's the best tip you'll ever get!" Nothing much else happened that night. Compared to the rest of the trip, anyhow.

New Year's Eve it was still awful weather but we managed to get to Knoxville. He cancelled the show for that night in Charleston because we were making such slow progress but he actually got on an airplane in Knoxville headed toward Ohio that came back to the airport because of the weather. A little after six in the evening we checked into the Andrew Jackson Hotel in Knoxville and I ordered steaks for us at the restaurant. It was the nicest hotel I had ever seen. The steak was great. He didn't eat much.

Later, he wasn't doing too well. He had been complaining of back pain and who knows what all the whole trip and I thought we should get out of there and drive all night if we had to to get up into West Virginia then over to Ohio for the New Year's Day show. We checked out at 10:30 p.m. and I had to get a couple of the bellmen to help me get him into the back seat of the Cadillac. He seemed really ill by then, but the doctor I called to the hotel said he could go on to the show. The doctor gave him some sort of shot. We hit the road. What did I know? I was just a kid. A car driver. I was no paramedic. It's hard for people to understand now. No cell phones. No OnStar system in the car.

Everybody knows, or thinks they know, the rest of it. I've really tried to forget it. I got a traffic ticket someplace on the way to West Virginia and the weather remained dangerous for driving. He didn't talk much, just lying under the blanket in the back seat. The fact that he said little was of no concern to me since he was known for being quiet when he was off stage. We stopped for gas once or twice and he looked to me like he was resting. He had a real peaceful look on his face. It was eerie, as if we were in a powder blue, leather wrapped space capsule flying through the pitch dark. Snowflakes dashing against the windshield, the headlights plowing ahead into the night.

Finally, he wouldn't respond to anything I said. We were somewhere in the middle of no place in West Virginia and I pulled into a gas station. His arm slipped out from under the blanket and I touched it. I'll never forget how cold he felt. So I found out where the hospital was and I took him there. That was it.

I'm seventy-six now. Like I said before, I don't think about it much. But sometimes, like tonight, when the wind blows cold from the north, the great-grand kids are asleep, and the night is brutally dark, it happens. Brown whiskey finds itself in a crystal rocks glass. The fireplace burns with that low crackle that fights off the cold and the dark places. I put "I'm So Lonesome" on the stereo. And I just look out the back porch window. And I think that, for all his amazing gifts, all his money, all his fame, I am the lucky one. He taught me that. So I raise my glass against the reflected firelight in the windowpane. Here's to you Hank. Happy New Year, buddy.

Background Note: George Carr was an 18 year old college man who drove Hank Williams on the night he died in the back seat of the blue Cadillac shown above. I pieced this together from various stories on line. The first time I read about Mr. Carr's experience, I realized how good my "bad" days really were. I share his story and my realization as Epic New Year gifts for all of you.

Monday, December 27, 2010

An Epic Bond New Year's Eve

My Dad's best friend, A.J.I., was a saloon manager. A real professional partier. He never went out on New Year's Eve. Once I got old enough to care, I asked him why he seemingly ignored what seemed to be a natural night of revelry for him.

Simple kid. New Year's Eve is amateur night, man. Every joker who doesn't drink all year goes out, gets bombed, and then drives his car around. Not my kind of scene.

Sage advice. Just the sort of thing Dean Martin might have said. Every year since I heard Mr. AJI's rule I have adhered to it. This year, however, Holman and Finch Public House and Restaurant Eugene, two of my favorite places in Atlanta, Georgia, have teamed up to host the ultimate James Bond party. Check out the Holman and Finch website for the particulars of what promises to be a truly Epic event.

I will probably not travel to Atlanta for the party. Tedious cost issues may well prevail. But that doesn't mean we can't all enjoy a James Bond New Year's Eve. Put on a DVD of Dr. No or Goldfinger, put on the white dinner jacket, and treat yourself and your favorite Bond or Bond Girl to the best cocktail anywhere...the Vesper:

3 parts gin [Gordon's from the Bond canon]
1 part vodka [brand not specified by JB in the canon; in the movies, Smirnoff usually]
1/2 measure Kina Lillet [a French aperitif, not a vermouth]

Shake vigorously until very cold and serve up. Garnish with a long, thin slice of lemon peel.

Do not even try to make a Vesper without Kina Lillet. Amazingly, I can get it from the only decent liquor store in my town, so you should be able to find some too. No matter where you live. Trust me. But be warned. This is no drink for amateur night. You have to be in training to drink Vespers. With that in mind, have one anyhow. The perfect Bond welcome for 2011! Cheers!

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Wish For All

That the friends are close.
The foes few and far away.
Peace surrounding us.

And that the chaos
Comes with a bit of warning
And our own choosing.

It has been a year in these parts that severely tested Epic philosophy and which I am looking forward to closing out on New Year's Eve. With that in mind, I scrawled these lines on a bar napkin last night and I send them out to you with my fervent best wishes for Christmas and for the whole of 2011 as well.


Inspirational and Attribution Note: I never attempted Haiku until I read hers. She knows who she is. I got the photo somewhere on line and will take it down if someone tells me to. ML

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fuzzy Photos From Great Bars

The Drum Room, President Hotel, Kansas City, Missouri. November 2010.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Magic Scarf

I had been waiting all year for the moment. When I would stroll down 60th Street in New York City, on a day so clear and cold the air crackled, dressed in my big-city topcoat of wool and cashmere. Cross Park Avenue. Then turn left into the nondescript doorway. Down the stairs. Into my favorite place. Populated by all the familiar, friendly faces.

Last week as I reached for the brass handle, the door opened toward me and a lovely young woman stepped out into the Manhattan air. She stopped just a moment to peer at my outfit, then, going on her way, she gave me a big grin.

"I LIKE your scarf"!

Nothing like a bright compliment to jump-start lunch. I was already jolly and warm well before the bottle of Bordeaux touched down on the cloth covering my table.

Looking back, the event should not have surprised me. Because, you see, I was wearing my Magic Scarf. I always meet nice people wearing it. I always have fine experiences with it wrapped snugly about the pale Norwegian/Irish skin of my neck. The magic of the garment brings those experiences and people to me.

Consider the time I was on campus at my Alma Mater. It was a brisk autumnal day, not requiring a coat but a day when a scarf was just the thing. Tossed loosely around the neck and shoulder. A nice young couple stopped me and asked if they could bother me for any tips on restaurants in Paris as they were going there on their honeymoon. Amused, I explained that I had never been to Paris and could not help them as a result. They apologized for the imposition on my stroll, but said that they assumed I was familiar with Paris because of the cool way I wore my scarf. Magic.

The first time I visited Kansas City, it was during a brutal Holiday blizzard. When I climbed out of my rental car at the front door of the President Hotel, the doorman looked at my scarf and cheerfully said "Yes! A Chiefs fan!". Later that evening, he got me a table in the apparently booked up hotel restaurant.

My favorite magic scarf experience also took place in Manhattan. I was ambling toward my club after a taste of whisky with a pal at Sir Harry's bar in the Waldorf-Astoria. A dazzlingly cold late afternoon. A group of school children was walking in front of me. Detained at a crosswalk stop light, one small boy of about ten turned and saw my scarf.

"Sir? Is that a Hogwarts house scarf"?

His companions giggled softly at what they considered a silly question to pose to an adult. Immediately recognizing a fellow literary romantic, I peered down at the young Harry Potter fan and knowingly replied...

"Yes it is." Then, leaning forward a bit for added emphasis, I continued in a stronger tone...

"Wingardium Leviosa".

The boy goggled and his pals quit laughing to assume the same astounded look at hearing an adult businessman type utter the famous levitation spell. The light changed and the group of newly energized boys took off, leaving me chuckling all the way to my room. I still feel delighted every time I recall the event.

There is no question that a certain few gifts bear special charming powers. Most people assume that this magical influence stems from the gift's provenance and price. I heartily agree, but not in the way one might imagine. My magic scarf was a gift from my dad. He bought it at a flea market for a couple of dollars on a day when he was not particularly flush with cash. Because he was thinking of me away at school in a place where winter was setting in. It is made from one-hundred percent virgin polyester fiber. But it carries the provenance of a father's love. And his desire, years ago, to help make sure his boy was warm. That is the essence of the magic it contains. A power that never fails.

During this great season of gift giving, it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that we too can give magical gifts. The trick is to take the time to use our hearts in the selection process rather than other, more earth-bound, influences. The investment of love in the giving of a gift, no matter how humble it may be, is what imbues it with magic. This, then, is my Holiday wish for you. That you give, and receive, all the magic of this wonderful time of year. And that the magical things you receive continue to charm and enchant you. As my inexpensive, plastic fiber, flea market scarf has repeatedly charmed and enchanted me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Epic Listening: More Great Christmas Music

Last year, I wrote about some of my favorite Christmas albums. I always refer to them as "Christmas" albums but many of the tunes are secular in nature. In any event, I am pleased to dip into the Epic stereo cabinet to submit a few more of my favorite seasonal selections for your consideration:

1. Louis Armstrong, The Christmas Collection.

You know, we just do not hear enough of Louis Armstrong any longer. This is a perfect Holiday album. Christmas in New Orleans has a particular poignancy in this post-Katrina era. Winter Wonderland and Cool Yule are also superb. Add in guest appearances by Mel Torme ["The Christmas Song/Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire"], Peggy Lee, Dinah Washington and the incomparable Lena Horne, and you have one memorable listening experience. Here is a recipe for Holiday success...one bottle of your favorite red wine, your favorite sofa, your favorite companion next to you on the favorite sofa, and this album. You can leave a little something in my stocking to thank me.

2. The Beach Boys, Christmas Album.

Because it has a cool cover. Because "Merry Christmas Baby", "Little Saint Nick" and their rendition of "Auld Lang Syne" are classic. Because perfect harmony is always lovely. And because at the beach it is Christmas too. This is a great album for easing back the Holiday stress level, California style.

3. Emmylou Harris, Light of the Stable.

During the rest of the year, there are songs from the Holiday season that can carry you through the dark places. Harris' version of the bluegrass classic "Christmas Time's A Comin' " is one of those songs. The rest of this album is perfect. A marvelous effort from one of the best vocalists ever.

3. John Denver, Rocky Mountain Christmas.

Another one of those songs that carry me through the year is "Aspenglow" from this album. It is easy to forget how great Denver's voice was now that we don't hear it on the radio so often. "Christmas For Cowboys" is another unique and lonesomely lovely song. Denver's rendition of "Jingle Bells" is also rollicking and fun. You can see his big happy grin in your mind when you listen to it. Skip the regrettable "Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas" and you have a portal to a little town deep in the sparkling snow of the Rocky Mountains. That you can use all the year around.

4. Brian McKnight, I'll Be Home For Christmas.

In case you are not already familiar with Brian McKnight, he is perhaps the best young R & B voice out there. His album "Superhero" is one of my very favorite of this genre. He has a fine voice and his arrangements are suave. Check out his version of "Silver Bells" [can you tell that it is one of my favorites?] as well as the title track, an impressive cover of "Adeste Fideles" and "Bless This House" sung stunningly with the vocal group Take 6. Slide back up the page to my comments about being on the sofa with that special person and a bottle of wine. Make this album one of your musical choices for the event and you will still be there when Santa arrives.

5. Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas II You.

I tried not to like her. I really did. For years, I resisted her. Then, this year, I just gave in. I like Mariah's songs. There. I said it. Sanction me if you will. I love her rendition of "Christmas Time Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Her original "Oh Santa!" is great fun as well. Yes, some of it is overproduced, but Mariah Carey has a pretty amazing vocal range and when she just sings a quiet song she sounds, well...., ok...., cuddly. There. I said that too. The album winds up strong with "All I Want For Christmas Is You" and a "pre and post midnight" version of "Auld Lang Syne" which is traditional [and cuddly] in the pre-midnight portion then jumps to a pounding club beat for the post-midnight portion. This is my favorite 2010 purchase for Christmas music [I already had the other albums in this post]. Why? Because sometimes you need to put down the Bordeaux and fill up a crystal glass with fizzy pink Champagne. Live it up. It's Christmas!!