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, December 29, 2009

Alabama Casino Afternoon (For HTJ)

I spent the day yesterday in a casino in Atmore, Alabama. Don't ask why. I was sitting at the bar whiling away the hours playing video poker and I happened to ask for a bourbon on the rocks. Not an unusual request. Under the circumstances. Even in the early afternoon. Trust me. What promised to be a very long day was made somewhat tolerable by the bourbon and by my debut of my new jacket. The only jacket I could see in the entire casino.

All the fellows sitting near me at the bar were getting their drinks in plastic cups. The bartender put my bourbon down in a heavy, perfect, rocks glass. As they say in Atmore, "just the nicest little rocks glass you ever saw." A guy sitting to my right scratched his baseball cap and asked the lady behind the bar how come he got stuck with a plastic cup. She turned to me and asked...

That jacket you are wearing, is it Brooks Brothers?

No. It's Hickey-Freeman.

It's beautiful. You get a big boy glass.

Then she gave me a wink and walked away.

Hickey-Freeman. Cashmere and wool tweed in rusty-burgundy and gray. Mint condition from Ebay. Thirty bucks. No matter what happened at poker, the day had become a very successful one, indeed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The 2009 Christmas Tour Part 1: Kansas City

A quick return to one of my favorite towns at the end of the business travel year took place in November. The start of the trip was inauspicious at best...

The weather remained lousy, but a return to one of my favorite hotels anywhere helped restore balance...

As did a pint of Belhaven Wee Heavy Ale at the wonderful Flying Saucer bar. Nothing like Scots-made libation in foul weather.

Or two...

No more than two.

Dinner at Pierpont's, which is located inside Union Station in space previously occupied by the private quarters of J.P. Morgan, was certainly on the agenda. Must have been nice to be a railroad baron...

Looking toward the entrance to Pierpont's...

Train sets in a huge annual holiday display...

Christmas trees at silent auction for charity...

Dozens of them...

A large illuminated wreath at the door of Union Station...

A drink and a swanky light fixture at my table inside Pierpont's...

A hundred wrapped gifts added a very festive decor to the meal...

If you find yourself in K.C., you must try Pierpont's. It is glamorous in the proper sense and the food is marvelous. Beef predominates, as is proper in Kansas City, but the seafood offerings were marvelous also.

No trip to Kansas City would be complete without dinner at Pierpont's. Or without making the scene for the combo playing at the Blue Room jazz club in the 18th Street and Vine district...

Or without a late nightcap in the equally famous Drum Room bar at the President Hotel...
The Drum Room's great bartender Pamela always has a bottle of Pinch scotch behind the bar. God bless her. She also has Yukon Jack. Don't ask.

Taken outside the Drum Room after a hefty and thoroughly satisfying evening...

If a huge monetary sponsor appears for The Epic in 2010, they will need to send a good camera on my trips. A good photographer would not hurt either. And a driver. Perhaps a valet also...

My second visit to Kansas City this year proved to be cold, wet, and altogether wonderful. I cannot wait to return next year.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Redux

If please ye, listen to my lore...

Lore: (n). Accumulated facts, traditions or beliefs about a particular subject.

Come listen to my lore.
Essential to my fabric.
My faith. My life.
Entwined within me from earliest days.
Causing love. And shame.
Change. And growth.
Action. And peace.
Not "better". But mine.
Come listen to my lore.
A lore of life. And of love.
That causes me to make and send these notes.

A blessing/ananda/dana/baraka/b'rakha. From me and mine. To you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Epic Listening: Six Great Christmas Albums

I firmly believe that it is never too late to buy or play Christmas music. I play it all through the season, at least until New Year's Eve provides significant distractions of its own. Also, a great album of Christmas music makes a nice last minute gift or stocking stuffer. Five of my favorite Christmas albums are:
1. Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails, Volume 1.
This album is another of the fabulous releases from the Ultra Lounge project. The highlights are "Christmas Is" by Lou Rawls and "I'd Like You For Christmas" by Julie London. Oh Julie, how can it be that we never met?

2. Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails, Volume 2.

Another superb album. "Baby It's Cold Outside" by Dean Martin is the greatest version of this great song. "Christmas Waltz" by Nancy Wilson is another highlight.

3. The Sinatra Christmas Album.
There are a lot of Sinatra Christmas albums but this one is my favorite because it has duets with Bing and some other surprises. The aching "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" steals the show pally.

4. Making Spirits Bright, Dean Martin.

This is my favorite of the lot. Every song on this is perfect. My highlights are "Christmas Blues", "Winter Romance" and, of course, "Baby It's Cold Outside".

5. I'll Be Home For Christmas, Joe Grandsen.

Atlanta trumpet man and vocalist Joe Grandsen is one of my favorite performers. His Christmas album is full of jazzy swingin' arrangements and has lots of energy. You can buy it here.

6. Snowfall, Jackie Gleason.
Many people do not know that Jackie Gleason was very well regarded as a band leader and put out several albums of big band and orchestra music. Not many people have this album but it is easily available. It is all instrumental and all swanky. My favorites are "Snowfall" and "I'll Be Home For Christmas". When I play this album, people invariably say "wow, that is fantastic...what album is that?"

I hope that you add one or more of these great albums to your collection. Put one on and have a holiday martini on me...

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wrap Star

My holiday gifts do not look like this. Trust me. I am an awful package wrapper. It seems that no matter what I do, the critical points end up mushed and scrunched and generally untidy.

Some years ago, I was in the middle of a particularly crazy Christmas season due to family medical issues. My wife was due home from a lengthy hospital stay right before December 25 and I thought it would be nice for a lot of pretty presents to be under the tree when she arrived. I took all my gifts to a gift shop and I hired one of the ladies to wrap them for me. They were gorgeous. Almost too pretty to open at all.

Another year, I had a wonderful assistant who, in a prior life, had worked in a department store service center. A true wrap star. Sensing that I was a lost cause in the creative arts department, she actually asked me if I had packages that I would like wrapped. They were even prettier than the ones I got from the gift shop.

Those were my only experiences with really well wrapped gifts. I gave up on them because I discovered an odd thing. Although I got the usual joy from giving gifts to people I love, I did not get as much joy as when I wrapped them myself. No matter how visually inadequate the end result may have been. I found that it was the investment of myself in the act of giving that made all the difference. That investment was my feeble effort at wrapping the packages.

Gifts do not make the holiday. But if you do give gifts, put on a little holiday music, pour a nice neat cognac, and do the best you can with the decoration. You will feel all the closer to the recipients because you will be giving them a bit of yourself, of your affection. The sort of giving that we are supposed to be about. During the holiday season. And throughout the year.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Treat Your Children Well

The martini glass sconce! This newspaper photo just arrived in an envelope of clippings my mother sends to me from time to time. A wonderful treat that lets me know she is thinking of me during her day. And proof positive that she knows her son very, very well.

Now, if I can convert our living room into that lounge I've always wanted...

Procurement note: I did not find this sconce at Juno Lighting, but I did find it at Alfa Lighting Group. Do not ask what they cost.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rites of Passage 1: First Sweater

My Dad was away a lot. All the sunny months. Every so often, he would return to our little town in the north woods for a weekend. Resplendent in penguin or crocodile shirts. Alligator belts and shoes. Driving a Thunderbird, Toronado or Eldorado. Back in the day. When driving an Eldorado or Toronado or Thunderbird actually meant something.

In those days, telephoning home was prohibitively expensive. Writing letters was out of the question for men of action. So men of action brought gifts. Bushels of corn purchased at roadside for a Saturday boil. Little trucks painted like gas station chains seen along the way. And, once, a sweater.

You did not call them hockey jerseys. You called them sweaters. And, when you lived in Wisconsin circa 1966, you called them Chicago Blackhawks sweaters. The grandest of the grand. A team of the National Hockey League "Original Six". When Dad pulled that Blackhawks sweater out of the trunk of the Eldorado, you knew some things as fact. That he believed in you as a man in training. And as a Blackhawks fan.

Think of it. In 1966 era Wisconsin, there were no North Stars playing hockey in Minnesota. No Milwaukee Bucks playing basketball in the NBA. Just the sainted Packers playing football in the Autumn. But when the snow started falling in earnest and winter set in for the period after football championships were distant, frozen memories, there was hockey. And the Blackhawks. Every little out of the way nowhere town like mine had a hockey rink. Often flooded outdoors. And an amateur or semi-pro hockey team. Like the one in our county seat of Eagle River. A little town in the farthest part of Wisconsin that had the first indoor hockey rink in the state. Where my Dad would sometimes take his sons to watch guys sweat and skate and bleed for ten bucks a week. If that. The fellows that played in Eagle River never had to buy a drink in a local tavern. They were heroes. Rock stars. For ten bucks a week and no chance of ever playing in the NHL. A fellow like my Dad who played golf for nothing against Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead on the PGA tour, then opted for a business life in order to support his family must have recognized a lot when watching the men playing hockey in Eagle River.

Those teams were so poor, you could not buy one of their sweaters. Even if you wanted to. So the lucky few wore a Blackhawks sweater. Nobody was a fan of the Detroit team. Or the Boston or New York teams. Nobody even recognized where Boston or New York was. Forbid, you were a fan of Toronto or Montreal and admitted it in public. That left Chicago. The Blackhawks were the only hockey team in the free world known to us then. In those snow-covered, lost days of long ago.

One day in late summer, when the long shadows of encroaching Autumn were already apparent, the Eldorado eased into its spot in our back yard, Dad emerged, and he presented my brother and me with Blackhawks sweaters. We had never seen anything more beautiful. In the realm of sports apparel, there is still nothing more beautiful than a Blackhawks sweater. We put them on. Refused to take them off for weeks. Until the snow and ice fell. And Dad was home all the time. And we got into the Eldorado and drove thirty minutes to watch a hockey game in Eagle River.

I do not remember who won the game. It does not matter. What matters is the two little boys, clad in over sized embroidered nylon shirts, leaning into their father while he explained the intricacies of the offsides rule and interference with the goalie. As our lips turned blue and steam from our breath rose into the frozen Wisconsin night...

You grow out of the sweater. You grow into the memories. The cheers of the crowd. The spray of ice particles as the players crash to the boards. Men giving it up for nothing but love of the game. Your dad putting a Hudson's Bay blanket over you to keep you from shivering. Hot chocolate steaming in thin paper cups that almost scald your fingers. Horns sounding. Your dad somehow getting your sleepy self into the car and home, way past bed time. Where you slept under mounds of covers. Dreaming of being a guy that found glory for ten bucks a week. Still wearing your Blackhawks sweater.

Decades pass. Your dreams bloom and fade in turn. Last week, out of the blue, my twelve year old son, the Future Rock Star, asked for a Blackhawks sweater for Christmas. I guess he saw me wearing mine. And, unlike his requests for more technological items, this Christmas wish is going to happen. His first sweater. A link to history. Of the NHL. Of his father. And of his grandfather. Who, on Christmas day, will lean on the hood of that long-gone Eldorado, hold out a 1966 era, boy sized Blackhawks sweater, and give me a nod of approval.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Epic Ads: The Elegance of a Woman's Jacket

I was in Manhattan last week. My favorite time of year to be in New York. In addition to the window displays, the Holiday lights and the general hustle and bustle, I had the occasion to observe many very well dressed people from around the world as I walked about the town. En route from one Epic watering hole to another.

The loveliness of this season in New York always enchants me. It also brings to the front of my mind that there is no time of year in which the elegance of the Manhattan woman is so well displayed as the winter. This is due to the need for, and wearing of, any number of amazingly elegant top coats. Long and short. Fur and wool and cashmere. Weird techno fabrics and vintage finds. Large hounds tooth prints and plain colors. The ladies of Manhattan really hit their sartorial stride in December and January. Take for example two ads from today's New York Times. The first for a magnificent coat by Tommy Hilfiger...

Honestly, I did not think Mr. Hilfiger had the chops to create something this pretty. Lining the placket of a man's shirt with contrasting fabric is one thing. Making something that turns the head of everyone who sees it is completely another. This is design of Coco-esque stature.

The second ad displayed a fur jacket and did not state the designer. It appears to be in sable or black, has a stand up collar, a very wide textured [studded?] belt and bell sleeves!

I imagine that both jackets are incredibly expensive. But, for a garment with timeless design that makes you look like a movie star, how much is too much to pay? Actually, I am glad I did not see anyone wearing either of these jackets in person. They would have certainly derailed me and put me off a rather tight schedule. Standing immobilized in the midst of one of the greatest cites in the world goggling like [an admitted] provincial tourist will do that for you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

From The Epic Den: Gentlemen of Leisure

Years ago. Bachelor times. I saw this ad in a magazine for the Southwick company who was marketing a line of suits call "Nines". I'm not sure what happened to the suits but, being a club man at heart, I loved the art work in the ad. So, I wrote a letter [then, before email] to the company asking them if I could possible buy a print of the ad art. Which led to the ad agency sending me a photo slide of the art! I had it printed out and framed and the possible only copy now resides in my den. Where I look at it every night. Often while sipping scotch in a heavy glass. While thinking of the club man's time. Of long ago...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shopping Survival and Three Elegant Snacks

Here is a challenge of Epic proportions: accomplishing holiday grocery shopping without going mad. There seem to be only two schools of thought on the issue of grocery shopping, love it or hate it. My view is that if you are going to have to spend a certain amount of your life-time in the provendering process, you had better find some way to get enjoyment out of it. These are some tips I have developed over the many years since my first personal grocery shopping trip in 1981.

First, give yourself as much time as possible. Nothing done in a rush is as enjoyable as when done in plenty of time.

Second, take time to realize how lucky you are to be able to provide sustenance for yourself and your family if you have one. It may be trite, but the truth is that if you are in there pushing a shopping cart around, able to actually purchase what is in it, you are significantly ahead of a lot of the people in the world. Remember that and be thankful.

Third, make a list and ponder what you are about when you are at the grocery. Forethought never hurts to make an activity maximally enjoyable.

Fourth, and most Epically, keep on the lookout for interesting treats and surprises and seize them as soon as they manifest themselves. They will manifest themselves. All we have to do is notice. In this regard, I noticed these three items on the shelf last week when grocery shopping rather too late at night. They are so marvelous I had to pass them along to Epicurians wherever they may be found. May I present Exhibit One...

The Ritz cracker is one of my all time favorites, and a staple of our kitchen cabinet. Whoever came up with a snow flake motif Ritz for the Holidays gets an Epic style award. Perfect for putting out on your Holiday snack plate when the unexpected but welcome pal pops by for a cocktail. You do have at least one cool Holiday plate, don't you? From my Holiday tradition, I like a classic like Spode...

or this wonderful annual edition plate from Bing & Grondahl...

both available on Ebay right now. If you tell them The Epic sent you, you can ask for a discount. The vendors won't give you a discount, but you can ask.

Getting back to the unexpected Holiday guest, what weary traveller would not experience an immediate rise in spirits while sliding a slice of summer sausage and some fine, stout, cheddar cheese onto a snow flake Ritz cracker? Can you tell I am having a Wisconsin Holiday flashback? Typical for me this time of year. But life is not all savory. The sweets have their honored place as well. Take, for example, Exhibit Two...

I admit it. When I saw this package on the shelf I almost skipped about. If I ever did skip about, that is. It was a close as I come to skipping about in any event. Not only a snow flake motif but peppermint cream!!! With peppermint sprinkles inside!!! Reports from my 12 year old son and his pals say that this cookie is almost beyond comparison. Almost, that is, until they tried the top of the line. Exhibit Three...

The mint creme Oreo coated with mint fudge. I am stopping this now. I cannot take any more. Suffice to say, a mix of these three treats on your Holiday guest plate should serve to delight any but the most jaded health-food requiring visitor. And if the visitor demands health-food, why are they paying a visit during the Holiday Season anyway?

Hm. Taking one's time. Giving some thought in advance. Being grateful for what you have. Staying alert for the treats and surprises and capturing them when they appear. Now that I think of it, not bad ideas for creating our pleasures in any context. Or in any season, Holiday or no. Call me sensuous. I can take it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Shopping As Blood Sport

I love shopping. I really do. But not on this day. When I religiously stay at home to avoid local mall and shopping center carnage like that depicted above. The only good time I have had at a store the day after the Thanksgiving holiday was eleven years ago...

My wife and the then one year old Future Rock Star were on our first trip to my parents' home for Thanksgiving dinner. All went well until afterward. When the FRS, displaying his now legendary inability to go to sleep until the wee small hours, howled mercilessly as soon as we returned to the motel room. His poor mother was even more exhausted than I. Finally admitting defeat at about one in the morning, I bundled up the FRS and we got in the car and drove across the highway to a 24-hour discount store. Where I pushed him about in a shopping cart for about four hours while his mother slept.

The town where we were staying isn't really a town. It is more of an interstate highway exit with a couple of motels and a shopping center. I mean, this is in the country. And the surrounding woods and fields are populated with deep country folk. Which in my neck of the woods means mainly big, heavy folk.

We saw many odd and horrific things during that four hours. The first was the fact that there were shoppers in the store at one a.m. Lots of shoppers. The second was the realization that the FRS and I were the only male shoppers. The third was a strange merchandising technique.

The store had placed huge pallets of mystery goods, six or seven feet high, at extra-low sale prices, out in the aisles wrapped up like big Christmas packages. The notion was that at certain times of the night/morning announcements would be made that "package A is ready to be opened" and then the shoppers would advance and in an orderly fashion remove the wrapping paper and get the individual goods underneath into their shopping carts. Obviously not a marketing idea that was run by the legal department beforehand.

Despite my own level of exhaustion, I had just enough sense left to realize that I did not want to be anywhere close to those packages when they were subjected to the "orderly" unwrapping efforts of the other shoppers. But I wanted to be in viewing range. Safe viewing range. The first pallet was due for unwrapping at 2:00 a.m. At about 1:30, a huge woman came up to me and said "Honey, you don't want that baby anywhere near that package when they say we can undo it". I thanked her and backed even farther away. Like a civil-war artillery colonel looking for better ground.

At 1:45 a.m., my fellow shoppers began circling giant package "A". I could see that, in shopping as in the rest of life, experience is everything. There were two kinds of ladies in this store shopping. Very big. And very small. The more experienced ones seemed to have a team-mate who was responsible for the cart while the leader would charge the package. A crowd of women, some with carts, some without, began circling giant package "A" as the loudspeaker announcer counted down the time to the unwrapping. It reminded me of the start of a yacht race, when the boats all jockey and circle about so as to cross the starting line at precisely the moment the race begins. Only this circling was more malevolent. And drier.

At 1:55, I felt like the lookout on the Titanic, seeing the iceberg coming but not able to avoid it. I backed our shopping cart farther away. Wished deeply for a martini. Or a beer in a long-neck bottle. It is universally accepted that, if needed, a long-neck bottle makes a far better weapon than does a martini glass.

When the announcer stated at 2:00 a.m. that package A could be unwrapped and that "all shoppers should be careful and watch out for the safety of other shoppers", all hell broke loose. Utter carnage. The little, skinny ones hit the package first, due no doubt to their greater speed and agility. You had to admire their boldness and lack of concern for personal safety but they forgot they had to get the wrapping paper off the stack of merchandise. Hands were tearing at the wrapping paper from all quarters. What struck me was the total silence of the shoppers. The only sounds were piped-in Christmas music, tearing paper, and the exertional sounds of the crowd of ladies mashed around the pallet. I leaned over and whispered to the FRS, "behold the ferocity of nature run amok". Or something to that effect.

From my vantage point, it became immediately apparent that the largest shoppers were holding back waiting for an optimum moment to charge. Rather like a medieval force of mounted knights waiting patient in their armor for the foot soldiers to slug it out a bit before smashing into the melee at full gallop. The optimum moment was when the littler, faster ladies had torn all the paper off the pallet, thus identifying for the first time what kind of item was stacked there on deep discount. At that moment, the cavalry charged. With historically proven and gruesome results. Scattering their smaller sisters before them like chaff. Groping boxes of toaster ovens two or three at a time, then elbowing their way out to their waiting team-mates with the shopping carts. I saw more than one ninja-level shopper actually pull toaster ovens off the stack and throw them over the other shoppers to a waiting accomplice who would put them in their team's cart. One lady was talking on her cell phone when the unwrapping time was announced and she missed her moment of attack. Seemingly unhinged, she tried to recapture her advantage by ramming her cart into the throng around the now-denuded pallet. The FRS and I agreed that this was a time-honored and acceptable tactic. At least in naval warfare. Not so much in shopping. The shopper was ejected from the store. Rules must pertain at all times. Or civilized society breaks down.

Over the next two hours, the FRS and I watched the same scene repeat itself four times, on the half-hour. I have never since seen anything like it. If I could have put video of that night on YouTube I would have been famous. I have never been back to that town again on a Thanksgiving night. But if I ever find myself there....

No. I am a lot older now. More easily injured, more prone to psychological trauma, etc. Besides, now they probably charge us mere spectators an admission fee. Whatever the ticket price is, I can testify that it would be the true bargain.

After my one, unintended, entry into post-Thanksgiving shopping, I now shop primarily on line. Today, I hope that all my readers in countries where this madness prevails will sit back, have a martini or a nice glass of wine [or both], and sink into the fantasy and beauty of a lovely web site such as the 2009 Brooks Brothers Holiday Shopping Web Page. It is just gorgeous. I could sit and gaze at the twinkling of their Christmas tree lights all day. Perhaps I will do just that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Ahhhh, Florida...

Nothing like fresh tangerines and lemons in your yard on November 26. Lemon meringue pie, anyone? Martini, up, with a twist? Oh, I think so.

Let us find things right around us to be thankful for today. They are there. For all of us, if we but look.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Epic Chapbook: An Alternative Omelet

My mother gave me this little composition book a while back. I carry it around with me and use it as my chapbook, the repository of various scribbles. Items to be submitted to Six Sentences. The first lines of poems. Blog ideas. Random notes.

My last post was, in part, about making omelets for my son. A few days after publishing it, I was in an airplane seat paging through my chapbook and I realized that I had written another version of my omelet post some weeks earlier. It went like this...

Late Night Omelets.

A man needs to know how to cook. All the books say so. My wife says so. If there is one thing I learned from pouring over old copies of Esquire and Playboy during my formative years, it was the utility of being able to make up a little something to ear at one in the morning while a painfully chic and leggy date sipped a martini on the sofa of my penthouse apartment.

As luck would have it, I ultimately found my cooking skills most useful after a long night at the office rather than at a swanky night club. Possibly a function of the fact that there are no swanky night clubs where I came to live. My mistake. In any event, the ability to put together a nice meal with a minimum of chaos is, in my book, a mark of the well finished man.

So too the man-in-training. My son, the Future Rock Star, has always loved to cook. But he loves more watching me cook for him. Especially late at night. In my house, it is not unusual for the FRS to manifest at my side of the bed around midnight, hair sticking out all over, hazel eyes sparkling. Wide awake. Needing an omelet. His special omelet. Derived by us over many late nights at stove and table for half of his twelve years. I hope the music thing works out for him. He certainly has the internal clock for it.

So I rub my eyes open and stumble to the kitchen. Where we end up cooking the FRS Special Omelet while laughing, talking or doing nothing at all. Here is the recipe:

1 large [preferably brown] egg;
1 slice American cheese;
Garlic powder
"Hot Shot" pepper blend [cayenne and black pepper in one bottle]
Valentina hot sauce

Crack the egg into a bowl and scramble it up. Pour it into a small saute' pan and sprinkle the top surface with garlic powder and Hot Shot pepper mix. As the omelet is firming up, slice the cheese into little ribbons with the tip of a paring knife. Add the ribbons of cheese to the top of the egg and watch them melt into interesting shapes. The shapes are more interesting at midnight, I can tell you. When they are melted, fold the omelet with a spatula and serve with the hot sauce on the side.

Repeat as necessary until hunger abates. Sleep comes. And nourishment, physical and emotional, is stolen from the ordinary events of another late evening. Bon appetit.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Early Morning Doughnuts, Late Night Omelets

Someone at my son's school is a real sharpie. Every so often, they have a "Dads for Doughnuts" event when we can visit our child in class, sit in an excruciatingly confining chair or desk, and have doughnuts with them for half an hour. It is a lot of fun, but amazingly it always falls on the day that some big fund raising event is kicking off. Book Fair. Holiday Greenery Sale. You get the picture. I imagine that Dads for Doughnuts mornings are very effective for fund raising. If the number of books I typically purchase at the book fair is any indication.

When I can go, that is. As return readers know, I have a rather brutal travel schedule most months. Which makes it an almost certain bet that when DFD morning is announced, I will be in some far flung location. That makes me feel really awful, the "hunting/gathering" issue aside.

A few weeks ago, I thought we should have a make up day for Dads for Doughnuts. I woke my son up extra early (he loved that) and we skipped car pool and drove down to an old-time local doughnut store that opens early. They have great doughnuts and great coffee. Which you can still consume while at a counter seat. As it most certainly should be. We had a doughnut. His favorite is chocolate glazed. Mine is anything with sprinkles on top. We had some coffee. And a chat. About nothing in particular. But is was such fun. I wished we could have stayed at that counter all day. Just laughing, talking, and letting the world pass us right on by. Cardiologists be hanged. But the siren calls of the office and the opening school bell served to pull us away. As they will.

Most nights my son has problems going to sleep. No huge medical issue, it is just that his internal clock runs in a different zone than mine. Perpetually. So, often times, he will be hungry and in need of some sort of food. By the time he skulks out of his bedroom looking for chow, I am usually in my library, working, reading or writing for The Epic. Some times, I am so very tired it is hard to muster enthusiasm for a late night cooking event. But even with a growl of sorts, one feeds ones child. I haven't failed him in this regard, at least, to date. His favorite dish in the wee small hours is an omelet. He can make it himself, of course, but I make it anyhow. We have shared many a laugh, a story, or just nothing at all, while cooking and eating an omelet. This, then, is the Future Rock Star's "special" omelet recipe:

1 extra-large [preferably brown] egg
1 slice of processed American cheese
Garlic Powder
"Hot Shot" pepper mix [cayenne and black pepper in one bottle]
Valentina Mexican hot sauce

Crack the egg into a bowl and scramble it up. Pour it into a small saute' pan. Sprinkle the top surface with garlic powder and Hot Shot pepper blend. Slice the cheese into little ribbons with the tip of a paring knife. When the surface of the omelet firms up a bit, distribute the cheese around on it and watch it melt in little ribbon shapes. This is actually a zen like experience, especially at midnight. Then fold the omelet with a spatula [no flipping of omelets for us, especially at midnight] and serve with a bottle of Valentina sauce. This is a very fine hot sauce by the way, and inexpensive at that.

When I was a small boy, my grandfather was cutting my hair at his kitchen table one morning and nicked my earlobe. I bled like a pig. My poor grandfather thought he had killed me. I thought he had killed me, since this was my first experience with the drama of seeing ones own blood spilled. The only thing my traumatized grandpa could think of was to put a big bag of multi colored marshmallows in front of me and let me eat them all. Worked like a charm. That was when I first discovered the magical [and life saving] powers of food.

The nourishment, spiritual and physical, that my grandpa provided to me that morning long ago is something that I am proud to be able to pass along to my son. Early or late in the day.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Epic Ads: A Bon Vivant and A Bed

Ah, my favorite times are when I am in my favorite role...flaneur...strolling down some leafy boulevard or another...and I have to be reminded that it is time for luncheon.

Then again, sometimes you just see an image that makes you want to run out and buy a new bed...

Both images from the New York Times Style Magazine, 11/8/09.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Under Pressure

Monday morning early. I roll into the parking lot of the "rent-all" joint in my father-in-law's pickup. To divest myself of my nemesis. The friendly and helpful fellow comes out. Sees that I can barely move my office bound and lounge trained limbs enough to get out of the cab. The unfiltered Camel hanging from his lips, he drawls...

So, did ya'll get enough of pressure washing this weekend?

Oh yes.

I am now fully qualified to say that pressure washing your house and all the horizontal cement surfaces appended to it fits squarely in the category of "a hell of a lot harder than it looks". Gather around my brothers and sisters, and hear a cautionary tale...

A rule that I have found to be universally true is aptly described as the Occasional Accomplisher's Paradox. Simply stated, the rule holds that

When one manages to actually do something one didn't think one could do, and one finds oneself increasingly confronted with other tasks and thinking "I'll bet I can do that, it doesn't look that hard", the subsequent tasks will turn out to be a exponentially more difficult than the first one and very hard indeed. Gruelling even.

A second rule which I hold dear is commonly referred to as the Age/Activity Imbalance. This ancient wisdom is summarized as follows:

Do not under any circumstances attempt any new, demanding, physical activity after the age of fifty. Especially if it involves the out of doors.

Of course, when one is trying to hold up the side, stand for one's family home, be fiscally conservative [an unnatural act for me, I confess] impress one's spouse and child [not to mention father-in-law], etc., even well established rules tend to go out the proverbial window. Often with garish results.

The device shown in the lead photo should have told me all there was to know as soon as I spied it at the pickup door of the "rent-all" joint. Simple yet somehow deviously complicated. The friendly fellow told me early Saturday morning that all I had to do was "attach the hose and crank 'er up." Oh, and do not under any circumstances turn loose of the hose after "'er" is cranked up or dire consequences result. Oh, and if by some minute chance a horrendous leak manifests itself in one of the hose connections, don't worry, we gave you these extra o-rings here for that. In two sizes. You just pop out the old one and pop in the new one. It may take one of those special awls with the curved tip, you know? Awls? Special awls? ML, put the sprayer down and back away slowly...

At this stage, I should have just left the thing sitting on the tarmac and demanded my money back. But when one is trying to hold up one's side and impress one's wife and all that...you get my point. We loaded the 4200 p.s.i. washerdemon into the back of the truck. As I was driving away he called out...

Oh, and another thing....don't ever, ever, ever, let any sand get into the hose fittings because......

I was busy pulling through traffic and did not hear much of that last part. Whatever. Pressure washing looks pretty easy. How hard could it be?

The answer, of course, is plenty hard. The first thing you have to do is get the thing off the truck when you get home. Not too easy when it weighs about 200 pounds and there is only you to wrangle the thing. After considering this problem a minute or two, I decided to meditate on it in hope of Divine communication of a solution. Finally, my wife and father-in-law returned home from an appointment to find me sipping a Miller High Life and pondering the physics of extracting the washer from the truck bed. After considering all the options, I was ready to opt for detaching the dining room table top and using it as a ramp when my F-I-L, ingenious man that he is, suggested backing the truck up to the sloped bank of our front yard and then merely rolling the sprayer straight off the tail gate onto the ground. I took this under advisement for a moment. Despite the fact that I had solved the problem via an act of table dissection, I had to admit it that the "backing to the sloped bank" was a stroke of genius. My father-in-law had nullified the forces of gravity and saved my back (not to mention the dining room table) with one suggestion.

Once I had the infernal contraption unloaded, I hooked a garden hose to some fitting provided for that purpose. Looking back on it, when I twisted the water hose into the fitting, it made a sort of scratching noise and had a bit of a grinding feel to it. But, how could that be important? I wanted to "fire 'er up". Which I did, even remembering to hang onto the spray nozzle as I did so. Even the nozzle is rather intimidating...

especially when it has 4200 pounds per square inch of pressure bounding through it. Think about it. That is almost a ton and a half of pressure directed at one square inch when you pull that handle. That is why you have to be certain of hanging onto the thing when you fire "'er" up. Failure to do so is to know what it is like to have a tiger by the tail. Let me say one more time though, I never let go of the nozzle at any significant time.

Before continuing, I must address the issue of proper apparel. I live in a geographic area which acts historically as a catcher's mitt for hurricanes. This unfortunate fact has required occasional massive mobilizations of manpower over the years to clean up storm debris. In each such occasion, I have worn the same gear. The "up country" surplus hat and heavy work gloves...

I have the names of all the hurricanes written on the inside of the hat with a permanent Sharpie marker. Now, I am adding "power washing--October 2009" to the list. That should tell you a lot. With my quasi-military uniform on, and at least one Miller High Life down the hatch, I felt bucked for a couple of hours of power washing. I seem to recall that some annoying sticker or label on the unit mentioned something about eye and breathing protection, but I am not completely sure. Because I did not read the label.

In any event, I launched into my assault upon the mold, dirt, mud, leaf acid stains and fungus with gusto. The thing is, power washing is, if you will forgive me the term, a blast. It is very effective and provides the user the satisfaction of immediate evidence of progress. At least when you have 4200p.s.i. at your command. In fact, you can do power washing TOO well. With 4200 p.s.i. you can strip vinyl siding off and rip painted surfaces off if you are too zealous. Nothing like flying clouds of vinyl siding and formerly painted surfaces to earn you a raised eyebrow from your spouse. I was very diligent not to cause actual damage to anything. Or anyONE. They told me at least two or three times at the "rent-all" joint to make sure to wear good, sturdy shoes and to not use the nozzle to clean them [or my legs] off. This is because careless contact between 4200p.s.i. and human skin does not produce a pretty sight. I carefully avoided personal injury as well during this odyssey.

I powered through the vertical vinyl surfaces [eves, garage doors and the like] with barely batting an eye. They gleamed. Then, overwhelmed with my superman-like powers, I moved on to the brick facing. Which comprises about 98 percent of the exterior surface of my house.

If you do not live in a subtropical environment, you do not really know about mold and fungus. You may think you do. But you don't. Where I live, a brick home may well look perfectly fine as long as you only look above the hedge row line. Back behind those hedge rows though, where it is shady and damp, is where green and black mold will grow. And where 4200 p.s.i. really comes into its own as a cleaning weapon. In very close quarters. You either have to poke the nozzle through the hedges to hit the bricks behind them, or you have to get yourself behind the hedges and work down the sides of the house that way. Since hedges are not planted by houses with an eye toward getting a fifty year old male body and a spray nozzle and hose behind them with ease of movement, the latter option is not easily accomplished. Unfortunately, the "squeeze it all between the hedge and wall" option is mainly what one has to do. But, man, does it work well. And, man, is it a mess. You are almost immediately covered from head to toe with water and mud. And mold. And small mold and mud dwelling creatures. I wear prescription sunglasses, so I had a modicum of protection for my eyes. I was not worried about my eyes in the least.

So, I plunged ahead. Forging my way down the (maybe) three foot wide space between home and hedge. Wreaking havoc on legions of microbiotics unfortunate enough to find themselves in my path. Which brings me to the subject of "rebound". I had never performed the work before, but through certain rather tedious professional obligations, I know quite a bit about sandblasting. You know, the job in which the worker directs a stream of sand at high pressure at an object to scrub off paint or rust. One of the things that sandblasters are very, very concerned about is the issue of rebound, the term for being hit by sand flying back at the sandblaster off the surface they are shooting at. Sort of like a micro-ricochet.

Well, waterblasters need to worry about rebound almost as much as their big brothers and sisters in the sandblasting field. At one point, a bit too close to my target, I pulled in the old handle and caught a massive blast of water, mud, and mold right in what Jackie Gleason would have called "the old kisser". Spluttering and temporarily in retreat at the biological counterattack, I thought to myself...

Wow, that is amazing! I have been pulverizing this mold and fungus all day and getting hit in the face all the time with it and its a miracle that I have not breathed in...a.....ton....of.....it...

Thoughts of that annoying and unnecessary label on the unit and some mention of breathing protection flashed across my mind. But, six hours in, I strode boldly forward. By the way, at this point, my faithful companion and assistant, Skippy the chow/Aussie shepherd mix, abandoned me. He had done well to hang in around the project all day. But even loyal dogs have their limits. Skip resided here the rest of the weekend as I inflicted my 4200 p.s.i. on the bricks...

One other unexpected benefit of the project was a bit of family archeology. As I blasted away at the back yard brick, I noticed a few round objects covered in dirt and mold. Intrigued, and not willing to grant a reprieve to any fungal creatures in my path, I hit them with a little taste of 4200 p.s.i. Only to uncover these...

Hand prints and foot prints. Squished into concrete when our son, the Future Rock Star, was very small indeed. I had forgotten all about them. But I found them again due to the great power washing of 2009. And in finding these old weekend projects, I found a little bit of the FRS as little boy. So very long ago.

Day One of the project ended at sundown with our side way ahead. I felt manly and effective. Until I woke up Sunday morning. Feeling aged and incapacitated. Stiff as a board. Looking back on it, a day of fighting the non-business end of a nozzle applying 4200 p.s.i. to something is about twelve hours of concentrated, continuous, isometric exercise. Not my usual weekend. In fact, not my usual decade.

The second day of work was occupied with even more horrid activity as I tackled the sidewalk, back patio and driveway. To "easily" clean these horizontals, the "rent-all" gents had generously provided me (at no additional cost) "the swirler"...

See, what you are supposed to do is unhook the pressure hose from the nozzle and re-hook it to this thing. Simple, right? Not exactly. A decided cloud drifted over Day Two of the project right off the bat when I could not get the hose fitting disconnected from the nozzle. I think the combination of me swearing and hopping madly about the back patio awakened my F-I-L who luckily appeared on the back patio and got the infernal fitting unhooked and re-hooked to "the swirler." Amazing how an octogenarian can have hand strength of iron. Anyway, "the swirler" was a complete joke and a waste of time. And it was VERY hard to use. You are supposed to move it about like a floor polisher as it is supposed to be supported on a cushion of high pressure water provided by a rotating arm under it. Except for some reason it didn't work that way. It was more like trying to drag a canoe across a gravel river bed with half an inch of water under it.

Finally, I abandoned "the swirler" and did all the horizontal surfaces with the nozzle. If I moved about like Frankenstein when I started Day Two, I looked like his aged brother by the end of the day. And then I tried to unhook the water hose from the unit. It had taken me less than two minutes to attach the thing on Saturday morning, despite the grinding feeling of what, on Sunday evening, occurred to me was probably sand in the fitting. When you get sand in a brass fitting, it is like cramming boulders into a small, rotating space. That then lock the thing down and prevent rotation. Thus precluding detachment of your garden hose. Which is essential to returning the rented machine. After ninety minutes of exhausted, stiff bodied effort, I conceded defeat in removing the hose. I reached for the pocket knife proffered by my F-I-L who had what could only be described as a look of deep sympathy on his face. Then I amputated the offending hose and put the whole rig back into the truck. Awaiting my return to the "rent-all" joint early Monday morning.

But. The whole place looks amazing now. The brick and driveway and sidewalks just sparkle. And my wife is really proud of me. When I realized I was finally finished, I staggered out into the front lawn again covered head to foot in mud. Then I leaned back and fired that nozzle straight up into the air like some kind of microbial Taliban. It made a huge rainbow.