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, March 31, 2009

April Food Day

There is a place in your town. And mine. A place where a direct connection is made between people in need and people who can help. A place where hunger is confronted straight on and, for a time at least, defeated.

Minimal bureaucracy. Maximum effect. Just sleeves rolled up, helping out. One hand reaching out for another. Making a difference.

When you look into it, you will be shocked at how many little kids there are without a home. And without a decent meal. Not to mention parents. The elderly. Sons and daughters. Wives and husbands. Here in what is still the horn of plenty.

That place in your town is called a food bank. This is a day on which several good folks decided to make a difference. The fine blogger of the Easy and Elegant Life [listed at the right margin] has taken it upon himself to make a call for others out here in the blogosphere to stand against hunger. And to make a difference in the most direct and immediate way possible.

Please take a moment today to bring some food to your local Food Bank. Or if you like, click over to http://feedingamerica.org/ and hit the donation button. They will make sure your donation gets put to immediate, direct and good use. As my son would say..."It's just the right thing, Dad."
Thanks to Chris at Easy and Elegant Life for taking this initiative. And thanks in advance to all of you Epics for helping out. Now is the time. Take a hand.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Epic Cinema: On A Clear Day [2007]

Gilgamesh. The Odyssey. Sir Galahad. Don Quixhote. Indiana Jones. Frodo Baggins. The quest as a dramatic theme is as old as storytelling itself. For a great quest story, you have to have a worthy but damaged hero. Who seeks reclamation by performance of an heroic deed. Involving a long journey. Against tremendous odds involving great danger. Perhaps even waging a contest against Nature itself.

The quest hero is almost always accompanied by a group of great pals who support him and never leave his side. At the end of the long, arduous journey, the quest hero usually seeks to acquire possession of a prize of great value. And by this possession repair himself. A final essential feature of a true quest is that it is never undertaken on a whim. Only when there is no other option to obtain redemption. When the choices are either glorious success or abject failure.

Against this backdrop, an attempt to swim the English Channel seems the perfect topic for a modern day quest story. Since August 1875 when Captain Matthew Webb made the first trans-Channel swim, this feat has been regarded as the ultimate in lone exertion and accomplishment. The web site http://doversolo.com/ states that from the time of Webb's crossing more people have been to outer space than have swum the English Channel. A crossing typically takes fifteen hours or more of open water swimming to cover the twenty miles involved. Without accounting for tides. In fifty degree water. If you are lucky. The shortest route runs from Dover to Calais...

Even looking at it from a satellite is daunting.

Consider then the case of Frank. The main character of the lovely independent film On A Clear Day [Uni Dist. Corp. 2007]. One day Frank finds himself in upper middle-age and laid off from the job he has performed all his adult life. Distant from his wonderful wife Joan (played by double Oscar nominee Brenda Blethyn). Estranged from his son. Unable to rid himself of the distant but vivid memories of his second son's death. A death by drowning. Frank's primary philosophy is that "nothing can be fixed nowadays". And, implicitly, that everything is broken. Frank is nearing the end of the line. With no other options open to him, there is only one thing left for Frank to do. Attempt his dream to swim the English Channel.

On A Clear Day is the story of a very regular man's quest. Which, if successful, will let Frank gather prizes more than worthy of those involved in the pantheon of great quest stories. Self-respect. A relationship with his wife. His son's love. Freedom from guilt for his child's death. Triumph over nothing less than nature itself. Frank attempts to gain all this in the company of a loyal but eccentric group of pals including the ubiquitous (in Glasgow cinema anyway) and talented actor Billy Boyd who constitute his training team.

I stumbled upon this wonderful movie late one night a few weeks ago when I should have already been in bed. I was immediately gathered into the company of the characters and could not leave until the end credits were rolling. I am confident that you will enjoy and perhaps even love this film. As I do. Most of the time, the hero of a true quest realizes that, win or lose, the biggest prize is found in the journey. That is what Frank, and we, ultimately learn. In this time of widespread feeling that "everything is broken", we could all use a dose of Frank's dream. A dose of his grit. And we can learn what Frank learns. That things can indeed be fixed.

On A Clear Day, starring Peter Mullan, Brenda Blethyn, Billy Boyd and Jamie Sives. Directed by Gaby Dillal. See a trailer at http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi3941860121/. And another trailer below...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Four Years Old At Fifty

Check Spelling
Today is my fiftieth birthday. I have always been a believer in birthday festivals, not birthDAYs. Also, I do not understand the angst people say they experience when they have a birthday, particularly one that marks half a century. The alternative to having a birthday is just a bit more sticky it seems to me. I just like an excuse for a celebration. Dedicated to me. What other guaranteed day like that is there in the year?

If as an Epic I had not been inclined to these views anyhow, the events of four years ago would have caused a mid-course correction. December 8, 2005. The day I had a heart attack. At forty-six. With no family history, no high blood pressure, no smoking, no arterial placquing, no blockages. No risk factors at all. Just Norwegian genetics that virtually insured that I would live to 180 or so. And a tiny undetectable spot in the wall of my largest artery that decided to pop open that morning while I was getting the Future Rock Star his breakfast before school. True to their mission of stopping hemorrhages, my platelets rushed to the rescue as I was stumbling about the kitchen, sealing off the largest of arteries.

My wife had just been released from the hospital. Had she not been ill, I would have been on a flight to New York that morning.

As my readers may have deduced already I have done plenty of strange things in my life. Mostly by choice. A heart attack tops the surreal event list. When, on your first ever trip to the hospital, they are wheeling you into an operating suite and you have to face the interesting notion that you might be at the end of the line, that counts as surreal. Or perhaps uber-real. At that moment though, I received a priceless gift. The realization that I was very pleased with how my life had gone. Family. Friends. Work. Play. Travel. One thing occurred to me as needing amends. If I get a chance, I'll certainly take care of it. Because it was very poorly done. But that is a secret of my own.

Want to believe in the notion of miracles? That day was a sequence of them. Stacked one atop the other. I wasn't on an airplane when it happened. Despite closure of the big artery, I didn't have any blockages anywhere else. Allowing me to live. With no impairment. I skated from a major heart attack. Went to rehab. Felt like I was 100 years old for about four months. Got a lot of slippers as gifts. Returned to my career. Launched a blog. And here I am. Four years down the line. Ready to happily accept any congratulations on my half-century birthday you might think I deserve. But spare me the kvetching about aging. I have a long way to go. Because today I am only four years old.

I wonder if the AARP has a discount at liquor stores?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Esquire Man Batting Averages

Many a stolen Epic hour has been spent with a good magazine. Just lying about. On a raft. In the pool. Or a hammock. Great magazines have a special part in the Epic routine. The problem is finding one these days.

Return readers will know that I have a love-hate relationship with Esquire. My continuing disappointment with the 2009 era magazine is in large part a reflection of the depth of my love for the Esquire of the 1960s and even the 1970s. I grew up as a magazine reader with old copies of Esquire. Through the mid 1970s, I eagerly awaited each copy that would arrive at my parents' home. Later in that decidedly odd decade I watched for my monthly issue to arrive at my college dorm. All the magic of Esquire is gone now that I am apparently beyond the boundary of its age demographic. Now I buy vintage copies on Ebay and pretend they are new. Call me a romantic.

But I love a list. So when I saw in an email recently that Esquire had posted lists of the seventy five albums a man has to have, the seventy-five books he has to read and the seventy-five things he has to do before he dies, I was lured into an immediate examination. Certainly, I thought, this would confirm that deep within the current magazine there was a faintly beating heart of the classic that almost single handedly made American men's publishing noteworthy throughout the world. Certainly, these lists would confirm that a man like me still had something in common with the magazine I had loved so long ago...

I have hundreds of albums of music from many genres. I love music. That in mind, I cannot say how amazed I was at the Esquire list of albums a man "must have" before floating off on the evening tide. Not one by Elvis Presley. I had not even heard of many of the artists. Of the seventy-five albums no doubt selected after hours and days of editorial office debate, I own exactly...four. Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours", the Buena Vista Social Club and the Traveling Wilburys, Volume I. An Esquire Man musical batting average of 0.053. The crowning piece of evidence that Esquire has abandoned men of my vintage and interests is that my eleven year old son has two of the albums on this list. His Esquire Man musical batting average is therefore 0.026. Not bad for someone THIRTY EIGHT years younger than I am. If I sneak into his room tonight and lift his copy of Guns N Roses' Appetite for Destruction [an album I really, really like] I will raise my average to the heights of 0.066. Not worth the effort really. No wonder Frank has that lost, sad look on his face on the cover of Wee Small Hours...

He saw the writing on the wall.

Speaking of writing. If I love music, I TRULY love writing. I read a lot. All sorts of things. And I have been known to scribble a bit. In hope of a rebound, I turned expectantly to the Esquire list of seventy-five books a man must read before the clouds close in on him for good. Eight books. EIGHT lousy books. Has my intellectual life been so wasted? So un-Esquireish? Rabbit Run by Updike, For Whom The Bell Tolls, Tropic of Cancer, Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis, Master and Commander by O'Brian, Moby Dick, The Right Stuff by my fellow Washington and Lee alumni Tom Wolfe, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. An Esquire Man batting average of 0.11. I rounded that upward. If you remove the books that someone MADE me read, my average falls to 0.08. Pathetic. I cannot even raise my average by theft in this category. At least I had heard of SOME of the other authors. I felt a literary fog descending upon me. Did I mention that I went to the same school as Tom Wolfe?

Desperate for redemption at this point, I rapidly scanned the list of seventy-five things an Esquire Man MUST do before he shuffles off the mortal coil. Make a perfect omelet. Can do. Recognize the accomplishments of others. One of my fundamental principles. Cultivate a reputation. I've devoted my adult life to it. Learn three or four chords on the guitar and play a song with them. Check. Throw a real party. Done it. Do something that scares you. I did. Once. Overspend. Oh, RATHER. Sing in public. At AJ's in Vegas. With a pianist, not karaoke. Check. Give up your seat. How sad that this should be so rare as to be on the list. Just good manners. Take a vow and keep it. Marriage for twenty-two years. check. Spend time working for tips. Did it. Almost starved. Give a panhandler all your money. Yes. Raise a dog. What? THIS is a "must" to do before I die? Only a dog? Not any other species? Well, all right, check. At least in the experiential category I raised my Esquire Man average to a double digit apogee of 0.17. Still pretty lame.

The conclusions I drew from this exercise were:

1. The people running Esquire are totally disconnected from men like me.

2. I am proud of my musical and literary tastes, and very satisfied with my life experience this far down the road...no matter what they say. And no matter how far down my Esquire Man averages may sink.

Oh happy day!! I just won a new copy of Esquire on Ebay. June 1965. Now THIS looks like a magazine for a man of my tastes...

Forget the grunge/fusion/groaner albums, the mystico-coming of age-in-a-bathtub stories and the "thrill" of living nude for a year at high altitude with a dog you raised yourself. I am going to put on Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" [not on the list], read a chapter of The Great Gatsby [not on the list] and make a perfect cocktail [not on the list]. It is the Wee Small Hours and it is time for a martini...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Cognac, Oh Cognac

The living soul of good grape wine, one of the purist of spirits, a ministering angel without wings yet visible, always ready to act and to help.--Andre Simon

My first experience of Cognac was inauspicious at best. During dinner after an interview for my first real job. The waiter came by with a humidor and Courvoisier. Yes, it was THAT long ago. We had cigars and Cognac. Nobody dropped dead from the smoke either. To be honest, I have never cared for Courvoisier from that day. Too heavy and strong flavored for my taste. It actually rather ruined the night for me and I never drank it again. I stuck with cigars. For a time.

Despite my poor first experience, I clung to at least the notion of Cognac. I finally discovered that, like Scotch whiskey, there are many different sorts of Cognac suitable for many different tastes. My romanticized view of cognac finally intersected with fine taste and a very reasonable price. In the form of Ansac VSOP. About $23.00 a bottle at my liquor store. Or an even nicer bottle of Remy Martin VSOP for $50.00 if I am really flush that month. In any event, there is nothing like a nice tot of Cognac to cap a great meal, defrost your body after skiing, or lace your coffee on a cold, rainy winter night.

Cognac comes from special ground located here:

They say that it takes ten casks of wine to make one cask of Cognac. There are only certain grapes from which it can be legally made. It is distilled twice through copper pot stills. Then aged in NEW oak barrels for at least two years. The youngest spirit used in the assembly of the Cognac determines the rating of the finished product. VS [Very Special] Cognac has a youngest spirit of at least four and a half years, while VSOP [Very Superior Old Pale] Cognac has a youngest component spirit of from four and a half to six and a half years old. These are minimums. If you regularly drink the eldest Cognac of the XO, Imperial or similar class, then I can't tell you anything you don't already know. If you want to see a really nice web site that has an animation showing the Cognac distilling process look at http://getinteresting.com/. The Esquire Drink Book [circa 1956] stated that there is no benefit in quality or taste to be gained from drinking ancient Cognac at astronomical prices. I cannot comment on this statement since I have not had the opportunity to drink ancient Cognac at astronomical prices. But I can vouch without qualification for Ansac and Remy.

The Ansac VSOP answers all my needs in a Cognac. It does not overpower me. I can use it for a flambe' if need be without calling my [former] investment man. If, through some horrid miscue, I should fumble the bottle I do not have to throw myself on the shards. And I find it a very fortifying drink. Also, you would not want to make one of my favorite after-dinner drinks with $500.00 a bottle Cognac. The Stinger.

I put in an extra large photo of this cocktail because I am particularly thirsty writing this. Also, there may be some of those 1970s era air-brushed ad agency tricks in this photo that hide the word "sex" in the shadow patterns to allure us and make us rush out and buy things. I'll report on the content of the photo later. After a few Stingers.

I digress. The Epic lifestyle requires developing a knack for entertaining one's self. Try this for interesting effect. Try going into any bar or restaurant and ordering a Stinger late at night. A true bartender will not blink an eye. If you find yourself in a town where true bartenders reside. Out in the hinterlands, you are more likely to be given a blank look and an attempt to palm off a Singapore Sling, a Slider, or goodness knows what else. You have to be on your guard in these things. Not always easy after a hefty night. Luckily, this is a simple recipe. Easy to keep in mind even after a couple of cocktail hour martinis and a bottle of wine at dinner. Three parts Cognac to one part white Creme De Menthe. Shaken. Then served on the rocks. A very fine way to cap an Epic evening. Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield thought so in "Kiss Them For Me" as they were seen numerous times downing Stingers. As did James Bond and Tiffany Case in the book "Diamonds are Forever". And Bond another, more dangerous, time. With Felix Leiter. At the Nassau Casino bar. A little caper called "Thunderball".

So we are in good company, you and I. With Cary and Jayne. James and Tiffany. Having Stingers. In some bar where it is always midnight.