29 February 2012

Ties & Name Tags

Ben Silver Special Forces Tie

I remember when I first saw the tie. The colors represent the Special Forces Green Beret as well as the unit patch in a nod to UK regimental unit ties. The rep runs from the heart up, as opposed to the UK rep running from the heart down. The Ben Silver catalog describes the tie design,

"This elite branch is best known by their distinctive green berets. The stripe takes its design from the official branch color, “jungle” green and unique turquoise and gold “arrowhead” arm patch, featuring a dagger piercing lightning bolts. Earned the nickname “Saigon Electrical Works” during the Vietnam Conflict. (Black, forest green, King Fisher blue, silver-white)"

I thought Dad would love it but found it last week, unopened in the gift box, on his closet shelf. What I forgot about my father in selecting the gift was his new found love of name tags. And like a tie, they can say volumes...

28 February 2012

The Test

The main post pool was divided into 10 lanes. At both ends were 10 NCOs wearing green berets with the white training cadre flash. The test consisted of two surface laps in fatigues and boots. No kicking off the side. I thought it would be fun to do the laps underwater.

I earned the senior life saving card in high school. I told the old man who promptly suggested if I ever swam out to save someone I should take a 2"x4" with me. "Why?" I asked. "Cause when people are drowning they're gonna look at you like you're the pier." he said.

Half way across the pool my boots and fatigues turned into anchors. What was an easy underwater lap, with air to spare in trunks, was turning into no air with a quarter length of pool to go. I frog kicked harder and swam to the surface breaking water and gasping in front of a sergeant watching my lane. He smiled down at me, "Nice one, smart ass. Now swim back underwater."

My father reached the river that ran by Vinh Thanh and saw two bodies floating on the surface. He knew what happened before anyone said a word. An officer was drowning. A sergeant went to his rescue. The officer took the sergeant down. Two men dead because one man didn't take a swim test.

I nodded to the sergeant and went back down. I made it a quarter of the way before surfacing. I looked back to see the sergeant laughing and side stroked the rest of the lap. Checked off a clip board, I squeaked to the showers for a change into dry fatigues.

He stood in the locker room waiting for me. Parker was a medic and friend from East Texas. He asked if I would wear his shirt and swim his laps. No one would ever find out. I remembered my father's men, told Parker no and walked past him. He failed the swim test and never spoke to me again.

24 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: Phred & Anne

Phred and Anne, New Mexico or Arizona, May 1984

I called from Ft Bragg through a Watts line. I was coming home for a three day weekend just before ETS'ing and was gonna clear it with him. The operator answers and I tell her, "Sgt Tinseth calling for Colonel Tinseth. Please patch me through to..." and I gave her the home number.

He tells me he doesn't think it's a good idea. He and my mother are getting a divorce. Things just didn't work out. I hang up and break down. Sgt Murphy asks what happened. I tell him and he tells me to take the rest of the day off.

Four years later I get this picture. I am stunned. Not only at the beauty of Anne but mostly because he's wearing a name tag. He hated name tags and the disingenuous BS that went with them. But there he was. Obviously happy. Wearing a name tag.

He met her while she was painting a spare tire cover on the back of an RV. He thought she looked pretty good. He'd been in the New Mexico desert following old stage coach trails with a metal detector. I had this picture of him in shorts with black socks waving his detector back and forth in the middle of nowhere.

They never married but lived with each other almost 30 years until Anne passed away last November. He was positive he would go first. His last plan spoiled by Murphy's Law. His health declined rapidly but he lied to his children for fear he'd be a burden. He talked of assisted care and a trip to Sweden. And then he told me, "Being a helpless fucking fool is no fun."

23 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: Over The Top

Pvt. FM Tinseth, 1953

"You'll recall, that I was also an Army Brat for 18 years. My dad (your grandfather), a WWII officer and later Command Sergeant Major, almost never gave me advice on anything. I was expected to learn from observing his behavior -- both personal and with his troops.

Throughout his life, he and I never had a serious conversation. When I asked for his approval to marry (your mother) at age 18, (hoping he'd refuse), he simply wrote "approved." He complimented me on very few occasions: your birth, my university degree, my jump wings and Combat Infantry badge, my final promotion to "Lite" Colonel.

We're of Norwegian stock. Cold on the outside (not huggers), but warm enough on the inner. We care, we just don't show it. Main thing I learned observing your grandfather, was that an NCO or Officer's primary duties was "take care of your troops."

So, in "my" Army, as an NCO and Officer, you put your ass on the line to look out for your troops. Sadly, in today's Army, NCOs and Officers often put their troops asses on line in order to protect their own sweet, perfumed asses." FMT

He had been an enlisted man. He knew the ropes. He knew his men. Cared about them more than he did himself. More than he did his own family -- I'm guessing.

He drove up to Ft Benning to pin jump wings on my chest. After the graduation ceremony he was ready to drive me back home. Problem was, I had leave papers but they had not been signed by the company commander. A nasty little man who liked to call men, "Honey" and go on leave without signing leave papers.

I explain this to him standing in the hallway outside the 1st Sergeant's office. There's about 30 of my classmates in the same situation. We're all hoping the 1st Sergeant, or 'Top' as 1st Sergeants are known, can do "something."

He takes my leave papers and strolls down the hall. I see him knock on the door frame and enter Top's office. He's been retired just over a year. I'm thinking there's not much he can do when I see him walk out of the office carrying my leave papers and doing the silent whistle -- That purse of the lips with nothing coming out.

"Let's go," he says. "What?" I say. He hands me my leave papers and I see Top has signed for the C.O. "Grab your shit and lets get outta here." I look at 30 guys looking at me. "Do you think we could help them?" "We?" he snorts. "No, we can't help them." I follow him as he strolls down the hall past 30 guys looking at me.

He tells me somewhere on I-95 that Top was "chicken shit" and "scared shitless" he'd get his "ass in a sling" signing for the captain. He tells me the captain is a "fuck stick" for what he did but what Top did was worse. "It's a gutless fucking army." he moans.

I just realized that 80% of my vocabulary is in the above paragraph.

22 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: White Flags

Cpt. Tinseth, 1965, Ft Bragg, NC

With apologies to those who know the story...

Early one morning, I watched him stick the first of many white flags in our front yard. Made from wire hangers and a bed sheet, the miniature flags, over a week's time, filled our postage stamp yard and soon it looked like a putting green. No one ever asked him what they were for.

On Saturday, he invited the neighbor over for late afternoon beers and BBQ . Earlier in the day, I was treated to a top down drive in his Berkley, a chain driven British sports car that rarely ran, and slot car racing at the Hayes Hobby Store. We raced a blue Ford GT 40 with a Cox hand control. It also rarely ran. I wanted to ask about the flags...but didn't.

Later that afternoon he and the neighbor are drinking beers on the patio when the neighbor laughingly asks, "What's up with all those little flags in your front yard?" He takes a drag off a Marlboro, looks the man in the eyes and replies through a blue stream of exhaled smoke, "That's where your dog shits in my yard."

21 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: Sophie's Choice

Sophie's 8 x 10

What Sophie wanted

What Sophie got

His mother begged him for a retirement photo in dress blues. He didn't like the idea. Already displayed in Sophie's living room was a framed 8x10 of him from 10 years earlier. It was B&W but Sophie had it hand colored. He detested it. There was an air of the '40s about it. Not in a warm Kodachrome way but in a badly colorized movie way.

He was at Ft Belvoir while his family was stuck in Colorado Springs trying to sell a house he put too much money into. Instead of the kitchen or bathroom, he threw it into a finished basement with darkroom and wood shop. He even installed underground sprinklers. Down the street, a new model of the same house was considerably less. Donald Trump he was not.

My grandparents lived in Arlington, VA and he saw them every Sunday while stationed at Belvoir. Every Sunday Sophie begged him for the dress blues picture. Full color, textured and Olan Mills, would have made her day. He only relented when he realized he could do it his way.

An ersatz daguerreotype from one of the many cheap studios so popular in the '70s. Take your pick from Civil War costumes, saloon floozies or wild west gunfighters. He picked his dress blues. Only decorations were what meant the most to him. Combat Infantry Badge and jump wings. It was 5x7. Sophie mounted it into an oval frame. She was ecstatic. So was he.

20 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: Shooting

2nd Lt. FM Tinseth, First Row - Far Right, Ft Bragg (?)

"Keep the rear sights focused and the target fuzzy. Only Joe Shit the Rag Man needs to focus on the target. Always focus on the sights." FMT, 1973

He competed for a time. Tried for the Olympics but didn't make it. "Shot shitty that day." He'd tell you it was, "Murphy's Law." Whatever could go wrong -- would go wrong. He liked to remind me that, "When everything is going well, your plan is obviously faulty."

Years later, when something he was working on went terribly wrong he'd whine in a high pitch, "Why me, God?" He'd lower his voice to a dark rumble, "Because Phred, you piss me off." They were old gags based on older jokes. His father did this. So do I.

What made him unique was his odd take on almost everything. In the early '70s, he planned a new army at CONARC Command that was split in two. One half was admin and all that went went with it including parades, dress uniforms and other 'REMF' paraphernalia. The other half was only concerned with killing and winning wars. These men would be better paid, advance more rapidly and be spared the 'horse shit' of the paper pushers.

40 years later, special operations in all branches look similar to his vision. Sadly, the horse shit element is still pervasive. "Oh, well..." he'd say. Something for the, 'My Ass' file. As in, "Here, stick this document in My Ass."

19 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: His Sound Track

Major FM Tinseth, South Korea, 1971

A change - due to my father's death - is the ability to suffer fools. I've always considered myself the biggest. Impatience with others and myself have taken a toll. I find I'm a lot less judgmental and more aware than ever since his death -- No one is perfect. It's such a release, I can't understand why I never saw it before.

Maybe Monty helps. Sunday mornings my father made a foul smelling breakfast of garlic, eggs and onions to the cascading violins of Mantovani piped through our house. He loved jazz, folk, Bossa Nova and riverboat, but I think Monty was his favorite.

No doubt an early influence from his father, a sergeant major who managed Army radio stations and probably resembles, more than I'd like to ever admit, the easy listening, Sergeant Major Dickerson in, "Good Morning, Vietnam."

I picked up a taste for Montavani (Warning: Cheesy Video) as well. Listening to, 'The Very Best of,' while driving from Chicago to Denver one summer, the lack of lyrics lent a "closing credits" sound track to the two day drive past Iowa farms, Nebraska slaughter houses and too many hours of the Rockies.

But it's the Sundays growing up that I remember the syrup melody most. It must have soothed the old man. It does me. And as much as I like him, it is hard to listen to Joe Strummer as background music. Trust me, I tried.

But Monty allows conversation and rumination. And on a slow Sunday, with nowhere to go but a lazy crawl through newspaper, garlic, egg and onions, coffee and lots of memories, it ain't bad at all. Time. Place. Occasion.

18 February 2012

Seven Days of Memories: Ft Bliss

1st Lt. FM Tinseth, Ft Bliss, TX

"... You, age 6 or so,
had seen me play records, but didn't notice the power had to be turned on.
You managed to get a disc on, but nothing happened.
You tried turning the disc by hand; nothing. You then continued turning
by hand while pressing very hard on the cartridge; nothing except you destroyed the very expensive cartridge and almost the player motor.
I think I came very close to driving you 100 miles out in the Mexican desert and dumping you."

He couldn't remember when when he first remembered him. Ft Bliss comes to mind. The desert, horny toads and tumble weeds pushed by a dusty wind were the back yard to their small house on post. But army posts blend into each other and it's hard to keep the commissary at Ft Bragg from turning into the commissary at Bliss. White fame, warning sign-yellow curbs, empty cement coal bins and asphalt roofed sameness.

He supposed it was Bliss. He was six and crew cut. His father was 28 and crew cut. One hot El Paso Saturday afternoon, he filled an empty brown beer bottle with water and joined his father and a neighbor on the small concrete porch. Their surprise turned to laughter when he sat next to them and tilted the bottle back. It was the first time he saw light in his father's dark brown eyes.

Little was said when his father came home. He heard the shaking of ice and knew it was a cold gin martini. Always Beefeater. He studied his father's after work ritual of a sipped martini and an inhaled cigarette for years. 44 years later that ritual turned into throat cancer. He would win that battle but lose the war. Too scarred and decimated from the chemo. Too pissed off to quit smoking or drinking. Too proud to allow his children to see him.

His father didn't give a crap what anyone else thought. A salesman sold him a car and threw his arm across his father's shoulders. "Take your fucking arm off me." said his father. Lots of things tried to kill his father -- Quiet pride got the job done but not before there was laughter.

17 February 2012

Sweet Warrior

Lt Col (US Army Ret.) F. M. Tinseth, Birth: 11 April 1935 Death: 16 Febuary 2012

15 February 2012

Late Valentine Bluchers

Waiting For Bastian

I'm not a big Fashion Week kind'a guy. I live less than 10 blocks from Lincoln Center and have avoided the place like it had the plague. There's a sameness to fashion and the strap hangers (Army for, along for the ride) that is no longer all that surprising to me. Michael Bastian is different.

I don't like or get everything. Bastian's inspiration came from a 1974 NY Times piece about men in NYC who were favored for party invites due to their charm, intelligent conversation and, I presume, they were always single. A reprint of the article was included with the show notes and I was proud to see an insurance executive on the list. We're not usually included with intelligent conversation.

It's outta the box inspiration for a collection that stands out mostly because of what it's up against. The work wear, heritage, denim apron, chop wood, aesthetic lacks sophistication and probably owes more to bad taste than anyone, certainly in the media, is willing to admit. Those people are not gonna rock a boat they may be getting on someday.

Most of what came down the tarmac (I refuse to use that other word) was easily wearable. And what wasn't could be toned down without too much effort. The navy chalk stripe with red gingham spread collar shirt was right outta London and kicked the show off with an audible, "Whoa" from the crowd.

I'm guessing the men in that NY Times piece knew London well. One button single breasted peak lapels, contrasting and cutaway collars, suede tassel loafers, windowpane, moleskin, quilted coats...These terms are not native to New York in the '70s as much as they were brought to NYC from London.

Where ever Bastian's inspiration comes from -- it's obvious he didn't pick it up from watching Barney Miller reruns. What amazes me is Bernardo Rojo from Joseph Abboud did.

14 February 2012

Happy M Day

"M" Magazine Volume One, Number One

I once gave a stripper a Whitman's Sampler for Valentine's Day. She was on the stage and on the pole but slid down with a huge grin when I held my offering over a front row of thugs with a dollar to stuff in her fluorescent green panties. I was 19 - and can say with confidence - it was my most successful Valentine's Day ever.

I've managed to screw the rest up. Mostly out of a belligerent disdain for mendacious 'Greeting Card' holidays. One of my middle aged (32) missteps involved a Victoria Secret white Teddy. She complained the fabric was itchy. I happily answered it wouldn't be on that long. She suggested the gift was for me and not her.

So, I give you something not so itchy but very selfish... the first issue of "M" Magazine. I had hoped to make an announcement today about my true love, "M" but it didn't happen. I think it might be payback for all those "V" Days I blew. But something is coming soon and it does not involve my wearing a white Teddy.

13 February 2012

John Fairchild

"'He has by the nuts three of the most insecure segments of the population: Jewish garment manufacturers, homosexual fashion designers, and would-be socialites,' said a Seventh Avenue figure who usually hates anonymity but begged for it in this case."
From. 'Dr Fair & Mr Child' by Bob Colacello, Vanity Fair Magazine, May 1986

10 February 2012

Friday Belt: Chardonnay & Drill Sgt. Hunt

Bramito del Cervo - $20

Eatlay Restaurant, NYC, 2012
Ah, Mr Tinsetta...so good to see you again. Ess cold out, no? I like'a that coat. Here, let me take that'a for yooo... We have'a today some wonderful feesh specials but I suggest the bruschetta with shrimps grilled in a' Limoncello and garlic to'a start. I have a very nice and'a reasonable Char-doe-nayy from Ooombria to go with it. You'a can't beat the price and it's from the same Antinori vineyard, Della Sala, you know - where your favorite, Cervaro comes from...It's not Cervaro but'a -- I like to say it's close for'a half the mooney...

Fatigue Web Belt - Four Years Active, Two Years Inactive

Ft Jackson, SC 1976
Tinset, you red faced maggot. If you're brains were gasoline -- there wouldn't be enough to run a piss-ant motorcycle half way 'round a fucking dime. Don't call me, sir. I work for a living. Did you know you move like old people fuck? Did'ga know that? Do you like me Tinset? You do?! Well, liken leads to lovin' and lovin' leads to fuckin' and you ain't fuckin' me, Tinset. I will guarantee you this... any trouble your sorry ass ever had sleeping will dis-A-fucking-ppear here. If I turned your brains into cotton there wouldn't be enough for a piss-ant Kotex...You think you could sound off with your general orders like you got a pair?

09 February 2012

Inspiration: Givenchy & The Viet Cong

I was recently asked how women might mix patterns. I started digging around the Trad archives and found this Givenchy Couture sketch I bought without really knowing why. I put it away with the intention of framing it but never did. I have a whole lotta stuff I need to frame.

In the same folder was this watercolor I've been meaning to have framed. The dealer who sold it to me called it "Commie Art" and it's of a VC squad attacking a U.S. Army camp. It's dated 1968. I also bought this without knowing why.

Sometimes I'll see something -- art, clothes, pictures -- and think it's something else. Once corrected, I almost always enjoy what I think I saw more. I'm not sure if that's creativity as much as as it's nearsighted stealing.

The Givenchy fabric on the top reminds me of the camouflage pattern on the '50s French Foreign Legion Paratrooper smock. The green, orange and black tartan echos the night attack with its tents, fire and shadows.

With the understanding that inspiration can come from anywhere, and it's Fashion Week in New York...I propose trousers in the top camo and a jacket in the tartan. With a white oxford button down of course. Now where's my tent?

07 February 2012

Mining the Vintage Vein: Part III

I love places like this. They are the rock candy for my inability to focus.

John figures brand is less a consideration than stripe, pattern and details.

Green dress shirts are despised by retailers which must be why I like them so much.

A rag for many but at the stage of patina perfection for me.

Almost voile in weight and looking very '70s whether it is or not.

John and I talked a lot about the origins of clothing. To know why US Army issue khakis were always 8.2 ounces is to understand that military specifications had to be consistent regardless of who made them. Not 7 ounces. Not 11.2 ounces. 8.2 ounces. Otherwise...chaos.

My Norwegian fisherman's sweater goes back to 1986 and it's damned near like the day I bought it. Over a white cotton turtleneck and under a bright red down vest, we ran over sand dunes in South Haven, Michigan and later found ourselves covered in sand and Ladybugs. We didn't realize it then but our good luck had already happened.

I know I look back a lot. I guess it's the age or maybe there's just a lot to look back on. I'm still pissed off I left my swim trunks with the YMCA Shark patch in the pool locker room at Ft Bliss.

I was only six but that long ago regret has never gone away -- A slow shaking of the head as you look down at your feet knowing it's all your fault and there's nothing you can do about it -- The shoes change but the rest feels the same.

I've saved 4o or 50 empty cigar boxes. Each one is a story.

The Four Seasons bar in Chicago. A bunch of us from work and I crack open a cedar box of double coronas. A waiter brings the huge bar humidor over to a table of fellas sitting next to us. "Looks like my box is bigger than your box" says one of the fellas. I sadly look at my little box. After making their selections the waiter takes the humidor away. I lean towards their table and smile, "Looks like you don't have a box."

The Zippo burned a leg more than once. Careless overfilling with lighter fluid resulted in a red chafe-like circle on the thigh from seepage thru the pocket. I still have my grandfather's Zippo, a gift from his son -- But I long for the son's Vietnam Ronson engraved, "Fuck Communism."

Echos of French Souleiado. Hand carved block designs going back over 200 years to the south of France and made famous by Pierre Deux in Greenwich Village.

All the more special since the recent bankruptcy of Pierre Duex and the suburban success of insipid Vera Bradley knock offs.

Quartermaster Laundry starched fatigues cardboard stiff. I remember field stripping a cigarette butt by rolling the hot ash off between thumb and index finger. Butts were deposited in trouser pockets only to be pressed like tiny lumps if you forgot to take them out.