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.