28 January 2009

Antiques, Alan Flusser and Appreciation

Pretty impressive invite, huh? Actually, "Joe Shit the Rag Man" can score this. You want to be at opening night.

Last night I walked up to the Armory for the 55th Winter Antiques Show. My first one was in 2002 at the Hilton. The venue had been changed since the Armory was in use following 9/11. I attended the '02 show with a Brit and Scot who drank copious amounts of beer while insulting each other. Employees of an auction house, they steered me into their favorite NYC pubs and into their favorite stalls at the show. Our first stall was Tom Devenish. Just writing the name gives me chills and makes me smile at the same time.

Devinish scolded my guides and said the auction house they worked for was, "fookin useless, yea." The Scot hopped right in and asked what had happened. Devinish complained the auction house wanted to be paid right away and he needed time to sell the piece first. There was a moment of silence before the Scot firmed up his hunch, "You're telling me Tom that you wanna take the lot to your store, sell it and then pay us?" Tom replied, "Yeah, what's so fookin' hard to believe about that?" Tom looked over at me and added, "Who's this asshole. He gonna buy anything or just ask me a bunch of stupid questions." The first stall of my first Winter Antiques Show and I'll never fookin' forget it as long as I fookin' live. I later learned Mr. Devinish passed away just nine months after I met him.

This year was very different. Alone, I ambled slowly and noticed the Taylor Williams stall. Taylor passed away about four years ago after a fight with cancer. A charming man who I had the pleasure to work with on some odds and ends. We had lunch together a couple of times on the 4th floor at the Union League Club in Chicago where Taylor educated me about the antiques business.

You rarely sell for a profit. But when you do it can be massive and feed you for years

She's a generalist and a lousy one at that

This auction house asked me to appraise a large collection of enamels. It was like letting the fox in the hen house

I paused outside the stall and saw Taylor's partner behind the display case of English enamels. I thought about saying hello but couldn't. I had no idea what to say.

Across from the William's stall I struck up a conversation with a dealer from Malcolm Franklin Antiques. It was good to talk to someone from Chicago. There's a real decency about people from the Midwest that's crystal clear in a New York City antique show where money talks and shooting the shit can walk right out the door. Alan Flusser appeared and walked by. I thought of interrupting my conversation and excusing myself to chase Flusser down...but that would have been rude. Not many "Sold" stickers this year. Big surprise there.

Beautiful things that you hang on the wall and call your own. People come over to your house and nod approvingly at your stuff. Ponder what it cost and wonder if you have a trust or if you just found all this at a flea market.
$24,000 for the white mahogany French cabinet circa 1930 and $35,000 for the chair and it's mate off camera. I looked at this stuff and thought about friends missing friends. People who, simply by living their lives, made a mark in my life. More valuable than anything I saw last night.

26 January 2009

For Dana

The East River at 57th Street. There's something about a bridge that makes me think of a journey.

A friend died this morning after a long fight with cancer. We both started work at a brokerage in Chicago on the same day in May of 1992. At the time I thought Dana was a light weight. As head of the small business unit he knew little to nothing about the technical side of our job. I worked on large commercial accounts and knew little to nothing about selling. Selling is where Dana excelled. Despite my looking down on Dana's knowledge - - he always treated me decently and with respect.

I watched Dana and two other friends take down a Chicago Icon. Our former boss. That businessman was all over pay-to-play Illinois politics. You've heard a little something about this phenomenon recently. Today that iconic Chicagoan is in jail and won't get out until after Obama's first term ends.

Dana had balls. That's for sure. He also had the kind of humor that was bodacious, intelligent and way off the reservation. Presenting to a client after getting whacked with a $10.00 haircut the day before - - he spoke no truer words, "My haircut is a good example of what can happen when you buy price."

At a Chicago Bull's game in a luxury box, both of us were so bored that while our clients oohed at Michael Jordan, we wiled away the time throwing cubed cheese at each other. We left the game early and Dana took me home in his new Infinity. I think he was prouder of his new ear muffs that stayed on like little suction cups than that car. A year or so later I heard of the cancer. He put up a long fight and a couple of years ago he had a party to celebrate his life. It was a massive blow out with some of Chicago's hardest drinking and partying I've ever seen and we all knew why we were there.

After the party broke up, Dana treated me to a late dinner with his girlfriend and a model. The model was young, tall and beautiful and I had no idea why she was so interested in me. All through dinner she told me about the cosmetic company she wanted to start. Dana was in tears laughing. When I called Dana the next morning he admitted to telling the model I was extremely sad over my divorce and my personal net worth was over fifty million dollars.

In the last 5 months Dana's health declined fast. I phoned him and for the first time he didn't return my call. We were co-workers who became friends. In the plain vanilla - white bread world of my profession he was a colorful and grateful man who feared no one, played it straight and always reminded me to lighten up and have fun. I'll never forget him or his laugh. My heart goes out to his family and his many friends.

22 January 2009

Trad Duffel Bag

There were a lot of bloggers going through attics over the holidays. Maybe we're all looking to the past for inspiration as well as waist sizes to be proud of. Hey, I wasn't always a fat bastard.

Last winter Rugby came out with a pretty snappy field coat. It was a dead ringer for the Army Issued Field jacket. Rugby wanted $350 for their version. Mine was free. Actually, I paid $20 for this at a Army Surplus store and had the patches from my issued field coat sewn on. I did this for two reasons: 1-The purchased field coat is from the early 50s and looks better than what I was issued in the 70s. 2- I can't fit into my issued field coat.
A mixture in a duffel bag of my stuff and my fathers. Like a Bordeaux, the tannins have softened and the material has taken on a patina. A mishianza of issued (my stuff) and purchased (Dad's stuff) apparel made by manufacturers long gone.

The helmet graffiti from a Cold War steel pot hardly means what it used to. How I miss godless communism.
I wore my Dad's dress blue trousers to high school. The old man would have never allowed this so I put a pair of jeans over them at home and took the jeans off when I got to school. While shooting for a John Wayne like effect --it came off more like F Troop. I do not recommend this to the Army Brats of today.
My father was on a couple of rifle teams in the Army and I was given this ^ jacket when I joined a rifle team at Ft Monroe at 15. I remember wood blocks of .22 LR cartridges and my father coaching me. Kneeling next to my prone position he whispered, "Don't look at the target. Put the blur of the target on top of your sight." Four years later on a M16 range I qualified second highest in my basic training company (76/80) and got to ride back in the Mess Hall truck rather than force march back to the barracks with the sadistic, Drill Sergeant Hunt. I never did thank my father for this.

Fatigues from the late 70s and early 80s. All cotton before the wash and wear started popping up everywhere. U. S. Army stood for, "Uncle Sam Ain't Released Me Yet"

A Judo Gi. Soft as cashmere today but I remember it hard and crusty in high school. A third degree brown belt. Sankyo was it? My father was taking Judo as well. I beat him to the Brown and offered him a Randori. He told me he would bite my adam's apple out and spit it in my face. I never brought the subject up again.

A bespoke hybrid of sorts. A Vietnamese field jacket custom lined with a U.S. Army issued poncho liner. My father wore this in Vietnam along with the much sought after French Foreign Legion Paratrooper smock. Currently in my collection as well. Army poncho liners from the 60s were the softest things going. Having your sleeping bag lined with one of these beautiful babies was real luxury and if not the sign of a lifer...certainly the sign of an erudite hedonist.

The label ^ appears to be all the rage in fashion today. Knocked off by RL and his designers (I'd still like to know if any of his people ever served?). I guess they like the realism of washing instructions. Army labels were always written for morons. For instance, the always interesting warning on a Claymore Mine, "This Side Towards Enemy" Good to know your audience.

That's ^ a Class A Blouse or jacket. I love the name of the manufacturer. Saddly, a Google search only brings up Ebay listings for old uniforms.
Those ^ are Canadian Fatigue trousers secured via a trade while going through Canadian Jump School. Worn throughout college with boy's size 20 Polo oxford buttondowns. That was one advantage to being short and skinny.

The Army loved permanent creasing. Tennessee Overall Co? Gone. Long gone.

I am so bloody proud of those wings. It took a lot of Labatt's Blue and Export A's to get them.

19 January 2009

1965 Southern Trad - The Yackety Yack

The best thing the Army ever did was kick my family off post. My father had left Ft. Bragg and was bound for Vietnam. Procedure back then was the family had to leave. We moved to Chapel Hill, NC sometime in 1966.

It was the first time I lived in a civilian town. It was the first time I lived in a college town. And I've never forgotten it. Ivy League in the south has some major differences from her cousins in the north. Casual, slow, friendly, warm and much more Madras.

Despite her Yankee origins -- Roxanne has adapted well to North Carolina. I learned many years ago to stay away from girls who owned and knew how to operate guns. That looks like a Browning Automatic 12 gauge. You do not want to piss off a girl with a shotgun.

This is the Interfraternity Council. 1965 really nails it for me when it comes to the Trad element. Earlier college images and especially those in the 40s and early 50s didn't seem to be quite there. I'm not sure when it happened but I know it was banging 12 on the Trad meter in '65. Not too early and not to late. By 1968 this apparel was, if not a memory, something that kept you from getting laid.

And who wouldn't want to get to know these folks better. A beautiful group of girls, Fair Isle, Shetlands, cardigans, headbands and pearls. According to a poll conducted by Glamour Magazine only 3% of men favor the "Preppy" look today. Count me in the minority.

Ray Bans seem at home here...with the Weejuns and a gentle laid backness. Grass was about sitting on and not smoking.

They're all 62 to 65 now. Retired for the most part. Parents. Grandparents. Puttering around a beach house somewhere on the Outer Banks - - if they didn't invest with Bernie Maddoff.

A lot of drinking at UNC in 1965. A lot of parties. I remember we lived in the country but still close to a number of small houses like our own. Some of our neighbors were graduate students and professors. Late one night my mother watched a Sheriff's deputy as he drove up our drive. By the time he opened our door she was in tears. He asked what was wrong and she said, "My husband is in Vietnam. Aren't you here about..." My mother told me his face turned white, "Dear, God. I'm sorry." He said. "I'm looking for a house where there's a complaint about noise from a party."

The noise is what I miss when I look at these pictures. The southern racket above Motown. The "bee-ahh," "darlins," "bless his little heart" and, "...should I call you for breakfast, shugah, or just nudge you?"

God, how I envied them when I was a kid. And I didn't know the half of it.

But I do now. There's that girl with the shotgun again.

I hope he went to Med School.

Anyone got a light?

The captain of the basketball team went on to some big things.

This is for my family. It's an odd thing to look through a yearbook and find your next door neighbor. I understand he's doing pretty well.

16 January 2009

Trad Winter

Bored outta my mind.
Kalustyan's is where it's at.

It's cold in NY. It's what I call, "Chicago Cold." My ex wife, a Chicago native, told me upon moving to Chicago, "Never listen to the wind chill factor. Close your ears and hum loudly. Anything not to hear it because it will -freak -you- out." When I moved to Chicago a friend from NYC saw my gloves. "You'll have to get rid of those." "Why, I said. "They're warm." "They're New York gloves. You're gonna need Chicago gloves." He was right. Yesterday my doorman teased me the about my timing in coming to NY from Florida. "Man, did you pick the wrong time or what?" Or what?

I could care less how cold it gets in NYC...I'd rather be here than anywhere. The desert is warm. Panama is warm. But what the Hell are you going to do? That's the problem with Florida. It's a thumping bore. And what are the kinds of people boring places attract? Exactly.

Interstate 10 cuts across the panhandle of Florida - - I like to think of it as the crack of America's ass. Passing through so much vulgar mediocrity can suck the life out of you. Cities poorly planned with horrible little shopping strips. Soulless. Clueless. Ugly. Warm. I am not going to spend my life somewhere because the weather's nice. A long time ago I went through a police academy. It's a long story but one of the instructors was an ex California Highway Patrolman. A motorcycle cop no less. I'll never forget his warning about warm places. They attract nuts. Why? The living is easy and nuts like easy living.

Chicago and New York have their share of nuts but nothing like Miami, Phoenix or LA. You can't really appreciate having dinner on a sidewalk cafe without suffering brain freeze to the face. Maybe you can --but I can't. I need to suffer for my Spring and Summer. To pay my dues and earn it. Charles Bukowski said, "The ocean's boring." I think he got it right.

14 January 2009


I have a love of uniforms. I guess they represent a stability and security I grew up with. The photo above is my father about the time the photo below was taken of me preparing a bivouac.
I grew up immersed in starched khaki and olive drab. Dress blues and green berets. Jump boots and Jungle boots. I couldn't wait for my first uniform.

And here it is. Cub Scouts not only provided a uniform but also a closed world of shopping at Belks in the Boy Scout department. Only open to members you see. Jack knives, balsa wood scarf holders that I never could finish and a library of books and badges. My introduction to the love of bobbles.
Next came Junior ROTC. Certainly the Naval uniform stood head and shoulders above those Army and Air Force affairs laden with ugly patches, ranks, ribbons and medals for brushing your teeth five days in a row.
The Army was not junior ROTC but I'd be lying if I told it wasn't close. A common chorus among the troops, "What's the difference between the Boy Scouts and the Army? The Boy Scouts have adult leadership." Still, that beret was a jaunty piece of head gear. I ripped the lining out of mine and wore it in the shower a few times until it molded to my head. I was not alone in doing this. I also had my fatigue trousers tapered and spent hours shining those jump boots
After college there was another uniform. Ivy, Trad, North American Traditional (NAT?), whatever you wanna call it - -I called it home. It was (and is) the prefect uniform for someone who doesn't have a uniform anymore. The picture above is at a friends wedding on the Main Line in the late 80s. I was wearing the Summer uniform. Seersucker suit, white bucks, argyle socks, rep tie and braces. I'm not saying it's the only thing to wear. I'm just saying it's simple.
When my Grandmother asked for a retirement portrait of my father in his dress blues - - I don't think the above is what she had in mind. Olan Mills would have sufficed but as I've mentioned before--my old man is a bit out of the box. A genius. But out of the box. Still, he wore what meant the most to him and his career... his Combat Infantry Badge and Jump Wings rather than the three rows of medals - - some for brushing your teeth five days in a row. Of course, he never had a girlfriend paint his portrait.
I miss uniforms. They made me feel like I belonged to whatever it was I was doing at the time. Cub Scouts, ROTC, Paratrooper, Deputy Sheriff, Park Ranger...even a salesman. Starched oxford cloth button down, pressed khakis, shell cordovan shoes, a navy blazer or suit...It's still about feeling a part of something. Whether you belong or not doesn't really matter.

08 January 2009

For Tucker

He will be missed. An engineer's perspective of khaki and oxford. A Georgia Tech alum who probably chanted at UGA /GA Tech basketball games,"That's alright. That's ok. You'll be working for us someday." I will miss his blog, travels and unique southern take on getting dressed.

02 January 2009

The Yuma / Langsford

At 57th and Park. Even in NYC people stare at you when you're taking a picture of your shoe. What I do for my art.
After days of scanning images from Take Ivy - - I may have been slightly influenced.

Lets establish one thing up front. I never was a Florsheim customer. I'm not being a snob here. In fact, I'm showing more of my ignorance than anything else. Florsheim made some great shoes in Chicago. But I always associated the company with a cheap black loafer that had a little chrome square stuck on the outside of the vamp. Called the Riva it was (and still is) a creepy little shoe that must be comfortable as all get out because I can see no other reason for wearing them. By the way, it's Florsheim's best selling shoe. Now you know my prejudice.

Last summer I wrote about the Florsheim Yuma and it's release in Japan here. I found out the Yuma was made in Australia for the Japanese market. That means a EEE width and a $350 price tag. Ouch. Customer Service types in Wisconsin (very nice people) told me the shoe was due in early November. I called the NYC store the Monday after Thanksgiving and was told the Langsford (same as the Yuma but Yuma sounds so much cooler) just arrived. Only normal width. $140. Made in India.

Have you noticed very few shoe stores/departments have anyone who knows how to measure a foot? Nobody pushes on the toe anymore. It's pretty much, "Well, how does that feel, sir?" As long as the shoe isn't sliding off my foot or piercing my high instep in pain I usually reply, "Uh, I guess it's OK." Later I can barely take them off. Much less put them back on. My advice for the Lansford/Yuma customer is this - - Try them on. Wear them at home on your carpet before you commit. Although, they're on sale for $105.

The Langsford has a great look. A beautiful shape with a toe that is perfection. The vamp is high and while I thought the beef-roll would be larger -- the overall look is sleek and clean. I am crazy about the look of the shoe but the leather is corrected grain, the sole reminds me of cheap Indian made Gucci knock offs by Cole Haan and that vamp is murdering my instep. The "cushioned foot bed" in sheepskin is peeling up after only a month and still...

I can't stop looking at them. Kinda like when Walter Crow Horse tells Ray Levoi in Thunderheart, "You're wearing brand-new shoes that are a little too tight in the instep... but man, they look cool, and that's what counts. Am I right?"