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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Reading Aloud

I suppose every child has one. Or used to have one. When reading was actually a favorite pass time. Before all the little video screens. A favorite book. A tale of adventure. A tale of woe. A tale of love, even if it was not recognized as such.

Whatever the topic, a lot of little children had that one book that they would drag about and push into the hands of any adult that happened to be in their path. For a little read. The one in the photo was mine. From WAY back. Before even Ian Fleming. Or Playboy. This is a story of a traveling salesman who sells caps. All sorts of caps. He keeps them in a stack on his head as he walks about calling "caps for sale...fifty cents a cap". All is well until one day he takes a well deserved siesta under a tree. Not just any tree. A tree that is inexplicably full of monkeys. That take all his caps. The rest of the story circles around the man's efforts to retrieve his caps. He gets them back. That's it.

The real story isn't about the man with the caps. It is about a little boy and his Norwegian grandpa. A man who worked on a loading dock all his life. Who had a photographic memory for numbers. Wanted to go to college. Never made it. Who had one child, a boy. That boy gave him two grandsons. I was the first. And for some period of time that I do not recall, I pestered the living daylights out of that man, making him read "Caps for Sale" over and over. Hundreds of times. He never refused. Never even sighed.

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to read "Caps for Sale" to a boy. Several times. Reading aloud is magical. It lets you directly transfer not only a story but some karma, or love energy, or just plain old good feeling to another human being. And, in the immortal words of Dee Snyder "when you throw the energy out at the audience they throw it all right back to you". It is a great thing. Try it and see.

My grandpa has been gone a few years now and I've been missing him a lot lately. When I read "Caps for Sale", he is right there with me. Even when I read it to myself.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New York, Part One: A Perfect Field of Snow

Walking past the Plaza Hotel late last evening, I stopped by the fountain. I always do. About thirty feet north of it is a spot where I had one of the happiest moments of my life.

My son, the Future Rock Star, was eight. A Florida boy who had never seen snow until that trip. A blizzard of sorts the day before blanketed Manhattan, providing the perfect opportunity for Epic play while mom was shopping. FRS discovered a little plot of ground near the Plaza fountain under six inches of new snow. A flower bed in summer. He thought he had all the snow in the world. A hectic snowball fight broke out.

One of the things I adore about New York is that you can have a snowball fight in a public place and nobody seems to mind. Nobody even demanded that we procure a permit. The only miscue occurred when the FRS overshot his favorite target (my head), pelting the backside of a Fifth Avenue Doyenne who was strolling by. I gave FRS the fatherly death-ray look and turned to beg the pardon of the 5AD. Who wheeled about. Snatched up the errant projectile. And pelted the FRS right back. Smiling, she said she had not thrown a snowball in thirty years. Went on her way. She had a good arm too for being seventy if she was a day. My kind of lady.

We eventually used up our patch of snow by the fountain and moved across 59th street just over the Central Park fence where an entire field of similarly untouched snow provided ample opportunity for more warfare, snowman building and snow angel flopping. Not another person entered that field all day. Sustained by regular trips to one of the ubiquitous hot dog carts, we spent a sparkling, cloudless day until FRS's lips turned a tad blue and he demanded an immediate hot bath. I carried him back to the hotel. He was almost too big for me. Two months of growing later the carrying days were over.

All of this played through my mind last night as I stood by the small flower bed before the Plaza. Thousands of people pass by it every day and take no notice. But I won't be one of them. You see, that little spot is Epic ground.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New York State of Mind

I will probably not post until the weekend. I plan on being highly diverted while on a trip to my favorite city. The forecast is for rain and more rain, but even a rainy New York is fabulous.

I have had quite a few experiences in NYC that most people would not consider typical. A young lady rushing to the subway stops and tells me my shoe is untied and I could fall. A young waiter at a hotel tea brings my son a third canape for free even though they are $20 extra. Two ladies sitting next to me at a very good dinner at Indochine strike up conversation about the food and offer me some of their dessert sampler. It turned out that one of them grew up about a mile from my house, a LONG way from Indochine.

My favorite experience in New York was on my last trip. It was evening, I was attempting to be on time for a dinner reservation. It was pouring. Hurricane rain. Horizontal H2O. No cabs in sight and I was way too far to walk. I stood under a small umbrella, dressed for dinner, on the sidewalk on Lexington Avenue for a good while, my "cab arm" and feet soaked. Finally a large limousine pulls to the curb. The driver asked me where I was going and offered to take me. He said "man I've been dropping off some people at the Waldorf and I've seen you standing there in the rain forever". He then took me to my restaurant which was way down town. Gratis. He said that I was too wet to have to pay. I was over an hour late for dinner. The restaurant was packed. When I left the hotel I looked good. When I entered the restaurant, I looked like a drowned rat. I would have abandoned dinner plans altogether had I been longer in town. The gorgeous, black-clad young woman at the maitre' stand smiled at me out of either pity or a shared humanity and then seated me without a moment of hesitation. The meal was great too.

I love New York. And I have not yet told you of any of my late lunches at the Palm or of my friends at Clarke's Bar...

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Unexpected Watering Hole

The best discoveries are of the impromptu variety. The sort you might easily walk right by without paying attention. Except you are an Epic. You pay attention. Walking down a side street only to find a little place that has steak frites and a nice glass of beaujolais for a long lunch outdoors. A bookshop almost hidden in a block of industrial supply stores. The little treasure on the back table of the yard sale. A glimpse of black and white polka dot sundress that leads to a chance encounter.

Finding a new saloon by accident is a particular pleasure. So it was as I strolled down the "A" concourse of Hartsfield airport in Atlanta not long ago and came to Gate 1. The end of the line. The end of the universe. Not usually a zone rife with entertainment options. I was entering a state of despair when out of the corner of my eye I saw the sign for "Bar One", a swanky little bar that had not been there before. The charm of the place lies in how small it is. Yet how inviting. How different from the usual airport "slam an overpriced, giant beer" sort of place. See for yourself:

My kind of primitive art.

Who needs phony antique tennis rackets and golf clubs? This is my idea of a wall display.

There are, of course, more bottles up behind the bar as the night goes on...or maybe there are fewer...

The idea of a "cozy" little airport cocktail lounge was an oxymoron in my experience until I came upon Bar One. The service and the drinks were first rate. Give it a try. I think you will agree. One tip. The last time I went by Bar One it was 9:30 in the morning and it was not open. I'll have to speak to the management about that...

Friday, September 19, 2008

Addendum: Roberta Gambarini

In my piece "The Greatest Voice You've Never Heard" I wrote about my introduction to Roberta Gambarini at a club in Seattle. This has been a great week for Miss Gambarini.
First, I heard a couple of her songs on Sirius' "Pure Jazz" channel. Then, she was selected as the number one Rising Star vocalist in the Down Beat Critics' Poll.
All of this is long overdue. And only weeks after my post about Miss Gambarini. Coincidence? Yes.
This photo is of her new album. Go out and buy a copy and have a fantastic weekend.


This is my twenty-first wedding anniversary. On our seventeenth, we did a "re-vow" in Las Vegas. "Elvis" did the vows. It was the Blue Hawaii package, replete with hula girls. Not an older Elvis either. A 1969 Elvis who was surprisingly good, at least after a bottle of champagne in the limousine heading to the event.

The story of that trip is an entry for another day. What sticks in my mind today is that when "Elvis" asked us how long we had been married and we told him seventeen years he was astounded, saying "Whoa, that beats hell out of the Vegas average I can tell you that!" What a shame.

As bad as I can imagine a bad marriage can be, my experience has been just the opposite. The evening we were introduced it seemed as if we had known each other all our lives. We talked constantly to the exclusion of the other people in our dinner party. Since then, we have had our share of bumps in the road but nothing that got between us. We have a wonderful son and several rather odd pets. Most ladies would probably contend that the marital state is not a natural one for men. But I would do it over in a second. Even more eagerly now. The writer Martin Amis said that it is obvious when married people get to the point when they have nothing at all to say. That will never happen to us, of that I am certain. And that is a wonderful blessing. Superior by a long way to perfect health or sound finances, neither of which we have always had the luxury to enjoy.

Here's to "beating hell out of the Vegas average". Here's to always having something to say to each other. Here's to twenty-one years. And to a hundred more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Posting Mistake!!!

Those of you who stop by regularly will notice that my newest post, "Birthday Cake", came up dated September 15th. BEHIND an older post titled "Car Washing Interlude". You will have to scroll down a little to see my newest piece as a result. I have no idea how that happened. I cannot figure out how to remedy the problem. Thus, this notice.

Thanks so much to all of you who have read The Epic in its first month! I love your comments and I will try hard to earn your visits.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Car Washing Interlude

A million degrees. Perhaps two million with the heat index. In September. The leaves are too fried to turn color. Even a little bit.

I was occupying my time in the only even remotely fun activity I could find. Washing the car. A neighborhood tot was in the driveway and wanted to fiddle with the Future Rock Star's new ($15.00) tennis racket. The following exchange...

FRS: No, you can't mess with my racket. It's NEW.

NT: Oh yeah? Well, my dad could take that thing and hit a ball out of the atmosphere...past the moon!

FRS: So? He's about fifty years older than me, that's why he can do that...

NT: No it's not. It's because HE IS A DAD.

FRS: So what? I have a dad too. He's right there, washing my mom's car.

NT: [Peering at me from a distance] Hmph. Yeah? Well my dad is HAIRIER!!! That's right! They all call him HAIRY HENRY!!

"Hairy Henry" is a VERY respectable neurosurgeon. And now I know his secret identity. I almost burst keeping myself from laughing aloud. I guess that even a mundane chore like washing the car can provide an Epic moment and (later) a loud laugh.

Dr. H. Henry.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Birthday Cake

Do you know the litmus test for determining whether or not you live off the edge of civilization? When you spend an hour calling every establishment you can find and learn that NOBODY will bake you a sugar-free birthday cake. Nobody. They cannot or will not explain why. They just won't. I suspect the nefarious influence of Big Sugar lurking somewhere. But I digress.
The Epic celebrator provides a cake for his wife's birthday. Without question. A Tarte Tatin will not do. Nor a Sacher. When the need is for a sugar-free vanilla/almond cake with white icing, one would think that in the eighth year of the SECOND MILLENNIUM one could procure such a thing with relative ease. Not so. Not here. This placed me in an odd situation where the choices were stark indeed. Neither travel to a major city to buy a cake and bringing it all the long way home (with the associated risk of loss and spoilage) nor hiring or blackmailing some one's grandmother to make one seemed quite the thing. No. The Epic way is to entertain oneself in times of difficulty by having a little baking class. And by consulting experts. Consequently, I lined up a murderer's row of authorities beginning with

In his "Republic", Plato held that "Necessity is the Mother of Invention". Although Plato is not generally considered a great dessert chef, I thought this was a good foundation for my project.
There are only two cookbooks everyone MUST own. Sure, there are millions of them, and I own a few, but only two that you must have on the shelf. The first is ...
Irma Rombauer.
The Joy of Cooking. Do I really need to lay this out for you? It is THE American Classic. It covers almost every sort of dish in simple terms that are (more or less) easy to do. I looked up her basic cake recipe. Do NOT do this on line. Please. Nowhere is a cookBOOK more of a tactile necessity than when you are actually trying to cook. All right, bake. Here is photographic proof from my counter top that I own this book...

The other great authority you must consult at all times is...

James Beard.
American Cookery. Just go out and get one. It looks like this:

Finally, for inspiration I turned to:
Duff Goldman, "King of Cakes".
My project was WAY too simple for this guru, but the Future Rock Star and I love his show on The Food Network and I could not resist adding his photo to balance out the one of Plato.
Thus armed with careful study, a bevy of experts, and a glass of cognac (for me, anyhow), the Future Rock Star and I sallied forth to bake his mother a birthday cake. Well, we also enlisted the aid of a good sous chef:

Grammy. Epic Dog.

Following the Joy of Cooking directions for baking a simple vanilla cake is not that hard to do. Simple, actually. The trouble was that due to some medical restrictions, I could not use sugar OR butter in the recipe. Or "real" margarine. But, batter was finally produced and poured into pans ...

...with only one major mishap using the mixer...

The mixer actually spewed a LOT more on the backsplash than this. Must be a product defect of some sort. The stress of this malfunction required medicinal application of more cognac. Finally, we had finished tiers of cake on the drying rack...or, rather, the COOLING rack...

The "Joy of Baking" website (http://joyofbaking.com) states that "cakes started in ancient Egypt as round flat unleavened breads cooked on a hot stone." Sounds like tortillas to me. In any case, the three cake layers produced by the FRS and me were a long sight better than the Egyptians' version.
At this point, we were very confident that the finish line was in sight and victory was in our grasp. A nice cognac was in order. Later, I was reminded of...
David Niven

who quoted a proverb in his autobiography to the effect that "warm winds blow the seed of weeds into your garden". Or something like that. Anyhow, the "seed of weeds" in this noble project was the frosting. Which also had to be made from scratch. With no sugar or butter.

Say what you will for sugar substitutes and whatever it is that passes itself off for "healthy" margarine these days, they are very difficult for the novice baker to press into service. After considerable effort (and a glass or two more of cognac), it appeared that a suitable frosting had been produced that would at least taste somewhat like "real" frosting while also adhering to the sides of the assembled cake. A bit more cognac was needed at this point to celebrate my application of frosting to cake. That gave the FRS time to use his artistic talents to finish off the decoration using pink icing gel and some star candles I found. The finished product...

TA DA! One birthday cake. The birthday girl was QUITE pleased. As were we. It had been awhile since I was able to give a birthday gift and receive one just a nice. The Food Network can reach me here if they want to sign me to a big contract...LOOK OUT DUFF!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Kansas City Here I Come

Wilbert Harrison said

Goin to Kansas City
Kansas City Here I Come
Goin to Kansas City
Kansas City Here I Come
They got a Crazy Way of Loving There
And I'm Gonna Get me Some.

When I was six, my mother made me go to a soft drink bottling plant one day. Just to see how they did it. My mom is great for things like that. I did not want to go. I had lots of things planned for that day I am sure, but she said that you never knew what you would find interesting or exciting until you went to see. An early Epic inspiration. Which I did not appreciate for twenty-five years. We spent the day on a very interesting tour and I developed a life long love of watching things being made. I never liked the soft drink much though.

So it was with Kansas City. I had a call about a bit of work in San Francisco. The call made me very happy because I like going to San Francisco. Then I was told that the job had been moved to Kansas City. Where I had never been. Or thought about going. And the job was going to last two weeks. I was overjoyed. Until I remembered my mother's voice saying "...you never know...".

General von Clausewitz

The military strategist von Clausewitz held that the first thing is to secure your home base. The Epic traveler MUST secure a good hotel. I love old downtown hotels. When they are kept up. There is a sense of grandeur when you enter. A sense of place. That you have a part in the grand scheme. Hearing Duke Ellington music in the lobby when you walk in is a good clue that you have found a superb home base. I'm not sure von Clausewitz would agree, but I'm betting on him. He looks like a swinging sort of cat.

Such is the President Hotel in Kansas City. Although there are two or three other restored classic hotels in the downtown area, the President is my place. I knew it the second I walked in, heard Ellington, and saw the Drum Room lounge. When you walk into a hotel in a new city and you feel like a movie star you cannot lose. A movie star from the 1950s. When they had STARS. Look at this lobby....see for yourself.....

This is the scene presented to you as you enter the lobby from Baltimore Street. Needless to say, the service and rooms are top notch. The dining room in which you can linger over a large breakfast and some very good coffee doesn't detract from the star treatment either...

But my favorite place of all in the President is the gym. Just kidding. My favorite place is the Drum Room. The lounge is small and classic. Pam, the queen of the bar, is a young woman possessed of an old school mixology. When a friend asked if he could have a mere single-pour vodka tonic, he was informed that at the Drum Room they do not serve singles. Only doubles. Definitely my kind of bar. The Drum Room restaurant is a level down from the lounge and has one of the best hotel menus I have encountered. There is a combo playing there at the end of the week also. The staff were superb and I made several friends among them during my stay. Years ago, in the first incarnation of the Drum Room, many of the great stars of music played the room. Sinatra. Davis. Benny Goodman. Glenn Miller. Patsy Cline. So the ghosts are good. As is the food. And the drinks. Take a look into the Drum Room from the lounge steps..

Another view looking from the stage area toward the lounge....

I was in love with this hotel the moment I walked in. An Epic home base if ever there was one. The President opened in January, 1926 to much fanfare. In the unfortunate life cycle of many grand city-center hotels in America however, by the 1970s it was in complete decline. To think of it, by the 1970s, a lot of things were in complete decline. Anyway, the President sat vacant for twenty five years until a visionary named Ron Jury followed his dream of restoring it to past glory. With complete success. As you can see.

But a city is not just a great home base. The nightlife in Kansas City is nothing short of fantastic, particularly if you love jazz as I do. Just in the downtown area there are many clubs and lounges that feature good live music every night of the week. I had a hard time picking my favorite places because there are so many to visit. Jardine's is a famous jazz and blues venue and lived up to its reputation for music and hospitality. The Drum Room of course.

Two places that I go every time I come to Kansas City now are The Majestic Steakhouse(http://kansascitymenus.com/majesticsteakhouse/) which is a prohibition era saloon with great food. Sit at the long upstairs bar for a pre-dinner cocktail, then head downstairs for dinner where the combo plays every night. If you are lucky, Joe Cartwright will be playing piano. The smoked trout appetizer brings back memories of Northern Wisconsin autumn fishing trips. The steak au poivre is perfect. Later, make the scene at the Blue Room which is appended to the American Jazz Museum. The Blue Room is located on the spot of one of the former hotels of the "18th and Vine" district which still throbs with life and the echos of Bird Parker and the other greats who caused crowds to throng the streets until late at night. When night life was night LIFE. The front door of the Blue Room tells you all you need to know:

The Blue Room has a collection of vintage albums and other jazz memorabelia that make it a mini-museum even without the hot jazz that makes the joint jump several nights a week. When the show ends at the Blue Room and if (as Jackie Gleason used to say) you still want to put gas in the tank, head for Davey's Uptown Rambler's Club (http://daveysuptown.com/) where they serve the only BLACK vodka known to man and they stay open until three. AM. Daily.

They say at Davey's that they began serving alcohol in 1925. Legally in 1934.

The day in any city is for me takes second place to the night, but in Kansas City you have plenty to occupy your time until Happy Hour. The American Jazz Museum (http://americanjazzmuseum.com/) and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (http://nlbm.com/) are both worth the trip by themselves and can take an entire day to view. Get a combo admission ticket from one of the helpful ladies in the lobby and see them both. The National World War I Museum (http://libertymemorialmuseum.org/) is one of the finest museum collections devoted to a single subject I have ever seen and is another day of exploration. And then there is Union Station.

Imagine yourself in a really good movie. A Bogart and Bacall. You are on a special assignment for the War Department in 1942. You book a first class passage on a Pullman Car. The City of New Orleans to Chicago. Then the Southwest Chief. Late the second night, a tap on your door. It's her. Another night passes. You both dress for the day. And the train delivers you here....

Union Station is the second largest railway terminal in America.

As you can see, it is railway travel of the highest fashion. Pierpont's Restaurant inside the terminal has a fabulous Kansas City strip steak with a bleu cheese crust. And macaroni and cheese with truffles. And large martinis. If you don't try Pierpont's, don't blame me. I'll be on the next train into town, pally.

Kansas City has become one of my favorite destinations. You will like it too. Listen to my mom. You never know until you go and see...

They've Got A Crazy Kind of Lovin There
And I'm Gonna Get Me Some...

Amen, Wilbert. Amen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


I never thought I would find myself actually plotting theft. Particularly in a hotel. In a small town in Central Florida. But there I was, on the last night of a two week trip, calculating how long a young desk clerk would look away from her station if distracted in a certain fashion so that I could sweep a bust sitting behind the counter into my carry-on. Ocean's Eleven, it wasn't. I've been diverted by busts before, but never committed a crime for one. Then again, this was no ordinary bust. It was a Connie.

The experienced Epic business traveler knows that sanity on the road depends upon the presence of a few essentials. A local hangout. A touch of home. A small personal luxury item or two. A vintage travel cocktail set doesn't hurt. Leisure time that allows the weary traveler to detach from the workaday world is probably the most important thing of all.

For some, leisure time while traveling involves a good stout workout. Not me. I like my taste of daily exercise, but for real relaxation I prefer a lounge with soft music and a good martini. Or two. Sometimes, I just like to flop on the hotel bed with a good book. When I'm in a flopping and reading mood. On the Connie-swiping trip, I was aimlessly looking about the hotel room pondering something to do when I found a book that had been left there. Way back in the nightstand drawer. A core principle of the Epic traveler is that you make your own fun out of the raw materials made available to you. I propped up my pillows and opened the cover.

What I found was a classic American movie script of a book. A fascinating story of a fellow who dreamed of doing what had never been done before. Let his dream become his passion. Worked like crazy. Sacrificed a lot. Made extraordinary friends. Made his dream a reality. Lost everything. Prayed hard. Worked harder. Became world famous and married a movie star. Built a mansion in Beverly Hills. Never looked back.

The book is titled "Be My Guest". The fellow's name was Conrad Hilton. A really extraordinary man. A man that dreamed his dream, kept the faith, believed in himself, stayed true to his friends. Who lost everything material but never lost anything spiritual. Who won the race.

There is a difference between being stone broke and being stone broke and having everyone know about it. Hilton built a hotel empire, then lost it during the Depression. Everyone knew. Some, of course, said they always knew he would fail. During the whole ordeal, Hilton kept a photo of the finest hotel in America pinned to the wall beside his desk, vowing that he would someday own it. His belief, his dream and his charisma were so strong that people flocked to his aid. A gas station attendant revealed that he was paying for Hilton's fill-ups for a month out of his own pocket because his boss had refused credit. A bellman at one of his last remaining hotels gave Hilton the three hundred dollar total of his life savings. So Conrad Hilton could have "eating money". Both men were very well taken care of when Hilton got back on his feet. A rhetorical question. How many modern CEOs would receive that sort of devotion? I bet that the answer is none. But then, I don't have an MBA. What do I know?

What I know is that after losing an empire, Hilton rebounded stronger than ever, eclipsing his former successes. Bought the hotel in the yellowing photograph by his desk but kept its name intact. The Waldorf-Astoria.

Forget all the nattering nabobs of modern business. Read "Be My Guest" and learn what it really takes to be a success. Even if you never make a dime. Notions like style. Loyalty. Keeping your word. Looking after people. Never quitting. Being honest to and about yourself. Being bigger than the moment.

If you do not read any other part of the book, read the final chapter in which Hilton sets out his principles for success. Not in business. In life. In case you are very lazy, I will set them out for you here:

1. Find your talent.

2. Be big-think big-act big-dream big.

3. Be honest.

4. Live with enthusiasm.

5. Don't let possessions own you.

6. Don't worry about problems.

7. Don't cling to the past.

8. Look down on nobody and up when you can.

9. Pray constantly.

Somehow, I don't think that any of Hilton's extant relatives have ever read any of this. Pity. I have these principles written on slips of paper that I put in all my luggage, scatter into my books, place anywhere I can be reminded of them on a regular basis. Goodness knows what the TSA folks think at airports when they see them fluttering out of my suitcase.

I was so taken with Conrad Hilton after reading "Be My Guest" that, over the following days at the hotel I became obsessed with procuring the bust of him in the lobby. I never really intended to purloin it but it made a good running joke with the desk clerk when I returned each evening. What I wanted was to put the bust in my office as an inspiration. And as a reminder. Of a life very well lived. Dream big. Think big. Act big. Be big. Indeed. If anyone knows where I can legally procure a bust of Conrad Hilton, you know where to find me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Men's Hat Update

Someone said once that if one person does it, it is a statement. If two people do it you've got a grass roots movement. Sounds like Arlo Guthrie to me. Anyway, I have further evidence of the Men's Hat Movement since my piece on that topic.

This morning, I saw a gentleman of about 70, dressed to the nines. Perfect vintage Oxxford suit in mid-gray, white shirt starched so hard a thrown knife would bounce off of it. Of course, a maroon tie with very small pin dots of white. A pocket handkerchief of white. Folded square. And on top of all of this splendor:

A perfect gray fedora!!! I almost "fell out" as they say where I live. It was HOT outside too. What a man. I couldn't decide whether to hug him or buy him a drink. In the event, I did neither but I walked away smiling.

Then. My son, the Future Rock Star, and his mother were shopping for some new clothes and he arrived home sporting:

this very cool pinch crown! With no input from me, subliminal or otherwise.

Gentlemen, the wave is rolling. Will you be on the crest? The quality of companionship provided by our brothers in hats will be top drawer from what I can see.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Voyages Around The World

I have a ritual that I look forward to every year. Right about now, when we pass Labor Day and I begin to yearn for the Autumn that I knew as a boy, I send away for cruise brochures.

Not just any cruise brochures, mind you. The Epics. The Around the World Cruises. Not many lines offer a complete circumnavigation any more. If they ever did. The Cunard brochure is the best one. Ninety days. Departing Ft. Lauderdale on January 13, 2009.

The fun starts with a good dose of swank. Barbados. Rio. Montevideo. Acapulco. Honolulu. Then the exotica begins. Pago Pago. The Tasman Sea. Hong Kong. Singapore. Goa. Alexandria. Then a taste of old world glamour. Athens. Rome. Cannes. Barcelona. Normandy (mais ouis, a side-excursion to Paris along the way). Then...a five day cruise across the Atlantic to New York, no doubt to recoup and refresh in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria for a bit. I do not consider myself an ambitious man. But mark my words. I WILL make this trip one day. I MUST make this trip one day.

But not this year. Or next. The needs of the Future Rock Star and the New Puppy have put the kibosh on world travel for the time being. All is not lost, however. In addition to the reading and re-reading of my Cunard brochures, I now have a new fireside companion that makes me feel as if I have made the trip already. And in the grand style.

"Voyages Around the World" by Marc Walter, Alain Rustenholz and Sabine Arque is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. Certainly the most amazing travel book. In 315 pages, this masterpiece traces a journey around the world using precise but limited text and vintage photos of the ways the lucky travelers of times past accomplished the greatest of all trips. The pyramids at Giza. The Taj Mahal. The hotels. The cruise liners. Private train coaches. Fine restaurants. Ladies and Gentlemen dressing for dinner each night. All the activities and destinations you dream about when you are a boy of ten and you live in the woods in a town of three hundred people. A boy like me.

In addition to the photos, the editors insert at strategic points reproductions of vintage tickets, fare schedules, tourist brochures and such to give the reader willing to suspend his or her disbelief the real feeling of being along with the people whose journals make up much of the text. On one page we find photos of Shepheard's Hotel in Cairo. On another page we have the menu for tonight's dinner at Baron's Hotel in Alep, Syria. From June 1937. How about this quote from a fellow traveler upon entering the Hotel Mamounia in Marrakech...

After the delightful garden came a corridor where I could hear the sound of gushing water from the entrance, and then finally I reached the large inner courtyard...it was paved with mosaics made up of thousands of tiny blue, yellow, black and white designs that glistened with moisture...the apartments that opened onto this courtyard had immense doors of solid oak.

This book is so lush, so vibrant with exotic sights, so stimulating to the senses of the armchair traveler that I found it hard to read much of it at one time. Like a Sacher-Torte (order at http://sacher.com/ for all of you sent shuddering into a chocolate fit by the mere mention of the name), there is nothing better in small slices but if you try to consume too much at once you become sated and the satisfaction diminishes. You just have to sip something appropriate and read a little of this book at a sitting. Savor it. Let it sink in. Let it envelop you. The best trips take a good while, the better to allow them to change you.

Stay the course, boy from the little town in the woods. Keep the white dinner jacket pressed and ready. A new brochure comes out every year. Soon. Soon.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Epic Puppy!

Our family has a new member today! To me, this Papillion puppy has all the makings of a true Epic. He always knows how to have fun. He is very exuberant. He enjoys food, drink and people. Plays at a moment's notice. Or, with no notice at all. He especially loves making toys out of acorns and blades of grass (most of which are taller than he is). If you can make a toy out of a blade of grass, you have Epic potential. Even at ten weeks of age. He is friendly to all. Perhaps not a surprise, then, that of all the dogs in the world Marie Antoinette picked a Papillion. Say what you will about that lady, she had a lot of style. But probably not many friends. I can tell after only one day of acquaintance that Papillions are great friends.

The rest of the family is acting like the day our son arrived. Sort of wandering about and peeking in at him sleeping from time to time. Goofy grins on our faces. Yes, I can certainly tell that this pup enjoys every minute. And he enhances every one of ours. That's the Epic way.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Merry Go Round

A few days ago I went to a neighborhood park with my son, the Future Rock Star. He is eleven and in that wonderful time when he can be cool about everything and still enjoy playground equipment like the merry-go-round. I estimate it will be about fifteen years before he gets back to this stage. If he is lucky.

This is not one of your high-end parks. The FRS's favorite thing is to sit on the merry-go-round while I spin it. While spinning, FRS chortles in that fabulous laugh of his. I get a back strain and become progressively ill watching the whirl. On this particular day, FRS yelled out "faster Dad, spin that thing like the All-American Dad you are!!" Well. So far, so good. I felt like I had just won an Olympic medal. A gold one.

The day and place took me back a decade, before he was FRS. Before he could talk. Before he had heard of an American Stratocaster, much less played one so well people would stare at him and ask his name. To a sparkling, bright winter day when I took a baby boy to the same park for some fresh air. His favorite thing then was to swing. I could push him for an hour and not even suffer motion sickness. At one point during that crisp morning's swing session, I had what to that point in my life was a singular experience. I felt as if an arrow had suddenly pierced my heart. No, not an arrow. Too blunt. A laser beam. Accompanied by the striking realization that he would eventually go off on his own journey separate from mine. Leaving me in the park...

The merry-go-round spins and spins. FRS howls with glee. I hear a whisper in the breeze as I twist my soon to be aching body in odd curves to make the darn thing turn. "Enjoy the time. Every second. It is a limited and magnificent gift. And it is running..."