Friday, March 29, 2013

Forty Years and it feels like yesterday

In compliance with the Paris Peace Accords forty years ago today the last US combat troops left Vietnam.

I was an Air Force NCO then, rarely left the US and never saw duty in SE Asia, yet I still get a lump in my throat whenever I think back on those years.  Our soldiers were treated horribly at home and mislead dangerously abroad.  Cynicism and mistrust have been the order of the day in America since. Someday, the world will accept my view that politicians and their children should be the first to go whenever/wherever wars are fought.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

The House at Pooh Corner

Telegraph photo

According to The Telegraph A.A. Milne's family home is once again for sale.   The Chelsea townhouse, boyhood home of Christopher Robin Milne is up for grabs for 6.95 Million GBP.  Chelsea is a bit upmarket from when A. A. lived there, but since Winnie is still pulling in over 3 billion GBP per year, the Milne's could easily afford it.

Paris Review photo

Cotchford Farm, the Milne's country retreat, home of the 100 Acre Wood went on the market in 2012 for 2 million GBP.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

White Shoe Rule 2013

Several years ago I reached out to Mr. David Bagwell, esteemed Fairhope, Alabama attorney and overall nice guy in an effort to persuade him to allow me to reprint his story The White Shoe Rule.  David graciously consented and I have been thankful ever since.  David has revised "The Rule" for 2013, it makes for required reading no matter on which side you dress, just in time for Easter Week.

 David Bagwell, by the way, lives in Point Clear, Alabama and has his own "White Shoe Law Firm" in Fairhope, Alabama, both on Mobile Bay.


David A. Bagwell

Fifty years ago, and more, the tradition in the Deep South was that beginning on Easter weekend -- well before what people now call “Memorial Day”-- it became safe to wear white pants and skirts, white shoes and spectators, and a straw hat. I lump all that light-colored stuff together into what I call “The White Shoe Rule”.

Some Southerners today don’t buy that. They say that The White Shoe Rule doesn’t start until what we now call “Memorial Day”. Most of those people seem unusually certain that they know what they are talking about. But Southern tradition suggests that they are wrong.

It’s a serious fashion question, even in this time of war and economic travail. Maybe it’s idle and frivolous to speak of the rules of fashion anytime, some think, but even during war and elections and recession, life moves on, and so must we.

So, when may we properly begin --and when must we properly stop-- the wearing of white? Good question.

Do you remember the book The Southern Belle Primer by the wonderful [late] Marilyn Schwartz, whose subtitle was to the effect that Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret could never get into Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority because she wore white shoes in Texas the wrong time of year? I’m convinced that a lot of people beyond princesses misunderstand all this “White Shoe Rule” stuff. A lot of us don’t know as much about our dress code history as we should, or as much as we think for that matter.

Oh, sure; I know that every written source on fashion which might mention it, will say that you cannot wear white or straw hats before “Memorial Day”; we’ll get to all that in a moment. What you will read in those books is just – out with it now – just the Yankee rules. It’s ok for them to have their rules, but here in the South, ours were always different.

Of course nobody should wear white all of the time. In 1880 Mark Twain wrote of his character Colonel Grangerford that “every day of his life he put on a clean shirt and a full suit from head to toe made out of linen so white it hurt your eyes to look at it.” But every day? Even in winter? In deepest winter, now, you’ll obviously make a spectacle of yourself in white. Mark Twain did. On December 7, 1906, when Mark Twain went to a copyright law hearing in the Capitol in Washington, D.C.– in December in Washington, mind you – he wore a suit of white wool flannels, not white linen. But the ruckus he raised by wearing a white suit in Washington in the winter landed him in stories in the New York Times, Herald, and Tribune the next morning. Of course, his point about copyrights was in the article, too, which just goes to show you that clothing can not only make a fashion statement, it can also help your substantive statement get published. Twain said funereally that “when a man reaches the advanced age of 71 years as I have, the continual sight of dark clothing is likely to have a depressing effect upon him”. And “a group of men in evening clothes looks like a flock of crows, and is just about as inspiring”, he said. But, if you aren’t 71 and you aren’t Mark Twain, and it is not 1906–and I’m not and it isn’t– you must pay some attention to these rules, you know. Which means that you must know what the rules are.

The first thing to understand is that there are EXCEPTIONS to all this White Shoe Rule stuff, no matter when the starting date is.

One exception is "The Southern Resort Exception". At any Southern resort, like Boca Grande or Palm Beach or farther off in Bermudan or Carribean resorts and all that, white clothes and straw hats are ALWAYS allowed, regardless of the season. My father told me that the Northerners who went to the University of Alabama with him in the early 1930s wore white shoes all winter, on the apparent theory that Tuscaloosa was a Southern resort, which is clearly twelve points off true north.

What’s a “Southern resort”, anyway, outside of Boca Grande or something? Well, the place where I live – Point Clear on Mobile Bay -- qualifies as “a Southern resort”, although locals don’t wear white shoes here in the winter. What about Charleston and Savannah and Mobile? Well, maybe, but that’s pushing it. My correspondent in Charleston reports that a man dressed in all white, especially if any of it is patent leather, tends to be called there “full Cleveland”. To an Englishman, any place where it is warm, and not raining at that moment, is apparently considered a “Southern resort”, which is precisely how H.R.H. Princess Margaret got in such hot water out in Texas for wearing white shoes in Dallas before their time– whatever their time is in Dallas. There are wonderful photos of Winston Churchill in a white suit, often wearing his favorite white panama Stetson in the “Open Road” pattern; you know, the pattern which in gray was worn by LBJ and by every single graduate of the Colorado School of Mines. But whites in London? A British judge told me once that, years before, he looked out his office window one summer day and saw his boss wearing a white suit and white panama hat in London, and that he involuntarily exclaimed at the sight “A Panamanian ponce!” [“ponce” of course being English slang for procurers for pay of the favours of exceptionally fast females].

The second exception to the White Shoe Rule is “The Yacht Exception”. I am not sure of the breadth of this exception, either, never having owned a yacht and all, but I think that weather permitting, you may always wear white clothes on a yacht, at least if you don’t change your own engine oil, and no gentleman does that. This may be a sub-theorem of the Southern Resort Rule, since one always keeps her yacht in the South during the winter, doesn't she? And, speaking of The Late Princess Margaret, since the British Royal family has sent the Royal Yacht BRITANNIA to the wreckers for scrap, I just don’t know where they wear their whites, other than maybe Dallas in a pinch. The picture on my wall of Commodore Vanderbilt on his yacht – and before “The Late Unpleasantness” his yacht was the biggest yacht in the world – shows him in black wool with fur trim, so obviously it is not de rigeur that you wear whites on your yacht in winter. What’s a yacht? Well, paraphrase what J.P. Morgan said about “if you have to ask . . .” I do know that none of my little canoes and ducking skiffs and kayaks and rowboats and motor skiffs is “a “yacht”, and so mostly I just wear khaki shorts.

OK, exceptions aside, what exactly is The Rule?

Well, everybody agrees on the ENDING date of The White Shoe Rule, namely, that after Labor Day, you cannot wear white pants or suit or shoes, unless you meet one of the exceptions.  It's just the BEGINNING date for The White Shoe Rule that causes the problem.

To Northerners, the rule was always-- at least after Memorial Day was declared, after the Civil War -- that you cannot wear white pants or skirts or suits or shoes until what Northerners have mostly called “Memorial Day” [earlier perhaps “Decoration Day”], which is now of course the last Monday in May.

But then that’s Northerners. Both my ancient memory and my research confirm that in general, over the South, Easter weekend – and not Memorial Day-- was the beginning for the White Shoe Rule. Remember that Easter was the day on which boys got a new white linen coat, if their parents could afford one? And white shoes? They didn’t wait until “Memorial Day”.

That Easter rather than Memorial Day was the starting date for The White Shoe Rule in the Deep South is not surprising, for two reasons. First, the South obviously gets hot earlier than the North does; I mean, what level are we on? Second, what we now call “Memorial Day” was originally set up as a memorial for Union soldiers in the Civil War, and when and where I grew up in Alabama, it was called “Yankee Memorial Day”. Here in Alabama the Federal workers got a holiday on “Yankee Memorial Day”, but the State workers got the holiday on “Confederate Memorial Day”, which in Alabama was April 26th [The rest of us in the private world, fusionists like L.Q.C. Lamar in John F. Kennedy’s book Profiles in Courage, always worked on both Yankee Memorial Day and Confederate Memorial Day]. Nobody in the deep South would have dated a fashion requirement or anything else from Yankee Memorial Day. Easter was it.

My theory is that the people who think that the first day of The White Shoe Rule is Yankee Memorial Day rather than Easter, and who are moving the fashion goal posts from Easter to Yankee Memorial Day, are just one small part of the general Yankee-fication of America. National Public Radio, no less, reported that Texas singer “Kinky” Friedman, late of the singing group “Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys”-- Kinky won the “Male Chauvinist of the Year” Award of The National Organization for Women with his song “Put Your Biscuits in the Oven and Get Your Buns Back in Bed”-- ran for governor of Texas in 2006 on the platform “Stop the Wuss-ification of Texas”. Kinky lost, but that is just a small skirmish in the larger battle.

But, for some reason– I don’t know why-- Easter was not necessarily the beginning day for straw hats for men. Strangely and “counter-intuitively”, as intellectuals seem to say, there was often a totally separate and clear rule for straw hats, and it certainly wasn’t Yankee Memorial Day, which was far too late to switch to straw hats in the Deep South or anywhere. There was something called “Straw Hat Day” in the old days when people wore hats, and on “Straw Hat Day” it was like some Fred Astaire musical with a chorus, and everybody in unison– men and women, but mostly men -- all doffed their felt hats and put on their straw hats.

When was “Straw Hat Day”? Well, if you research it on the internet you’ll find all kinds of things. “Straw Hat Day” in Pennsylvania was when Penn played baseball against Princeton on the second Saturday in May; some people say in Philadelphia Straw Hat Day was on that second Saturday, and some say on May 15th. Surprising numbers of people dogmatically declare that May 15th was and is and is to be “National Straw Hat Day”, as if President Coolidge or somebody had so decreed. Well, not so fast. There wasn’t ever a “National Straw Hat Day”, and there isn’t now; there was always a whole lot of local option in the deal and in the deep South it tended to be earlier. We had a “Straw Hat Day” in the cities in Alabama where I grew up, and surely in many other towns, but it was not May 15th; instead, it was both a moveable feast and a changing target. The Mobile Register on April 10, 1912 ran this story suggesting that in the late 19th century “Straw Hat Day” was April Ninth:

A number of the old veterans of the Veteran Volunteer Firemen’s Association enjoyed a banquet given at Dauphin and Jackson streets last night. Formerly the ninth of April was a day of great festivities in Mobile. The firemen pulled out their engines and paraded with them amid the acclamations of the entire populace of Mobile and music furnished by bands.

The day was the day recognized as the beginning of spring and straw hats and spring frocks made their appearance and general celebration was indulged in. This custom was in vogue up to the year 1888.

[We presume that the “veterans” part meant “veterans of The Late Unpleasantness”]. What do you suppose happened in 1888 to change this tradition? Well, in 1888 the first paid professional fire department was started in Mobile, which killed this celebration.

So what took its place after 1888 with respect to straw hats? Likely nothing in Mobile, between 1888 and 1931, other than fashion chaos. In 1915 in Jacksonville, Florida, the Mayor and Police Chief declared a “Straw Hat Day” and almost caused a revolution, and apparently they dropped it. In the twentieth century, after 1931 anyway,“Straw Hat Day” in Mobile was on whatever springtime day the Mayor’s proclamation of “Straw Hat Day” said it would be, but it was always just before Easter, usually on either Maunday [or “Holy”] Thursday, or the next day on Good Friday, just in time for the spring and Easter– read: white– finery to flower. The earliest recorded Mayor’s proclamation of Straw Hat Day in Mobile that I found in the City Archives was in 1931.

Why was it in 1931? Well, it’s hard to say for sure, but one clue is that the local paper, the Mobile Register for March 7, 1931, said "The first straw hat of 1931 appeared on Royal and Dauphin streets yesterday, far ahead of the official advent of spring. The latest model of 'head-gear' was worn by a stylishly dressed man, who did not seem embarrassed by eyes that stared and comments made as he passed along the avenues". Maybe the uncertainty of the proper beginning day for straw hats in March of 1931–sounds to me like the first day of Spring on March 20th or 21st tended to be the date to most people – prompted the male populace to demand that the Mayor set a clear official beginning date for straw hats; who knows at this point? While the files are not complete, these proclamations of “Straw Hat Day” seem to have run pretty steadily from 1931 until John Kennedy ran for president in 1960, when fashionable young men decided that fashionable young men simply did not wear hats any more. If fashionable young men don’t wear hats, then there is no need for a “Straw Hat Day”.

These old Mayoral proclamations here of “Straw Hat Day” are wonderful throwbacks to another world of springtimes filled with wisteria and azaleas, usually reciting in multiple “whereases” that “Mobile is a veritable flower garden with the air scented with street perfume and the streets lined with the riotous coloring of floral displays”, that “our birds are singing everywhere and their songs are the harbingers of new life and springtime”, noting the date of the Mobile Bears’ opening baseball game and pointedly proclaiming that the proper hat to be worn at all baseball games “is a STRAW hat” – note that it is not a baseball cap– and declaring “Straw Hat Week”. “All citizens of the city”-- and not just men-- were “urged to put away their winter chapeaux and to replace them with sparkling new STRAW HATS”. So Straw Hat Day was always just before Easter. “Straw Hat Day” in the South never had anything to do with Yankee Memorial Day.

I’m not the guy to talk about women’s Mardi Gras finery in Mobile and New Orleans, other than admiring it and paying for it, but everybody knows that women beat Easter to the punch by forty or more days during Mardi Gras, wearing light clothes and straw hats.

But, then in the fall, the Southern cities would flip back to felt hats, on some designated day after Labor Day which was proclaimed by the Mayor. Generally this was called “Felt Hat Day” and nationwide it tended to be on September 15th. In warm and humid Mobile it tended to be a little later, about the beginning of dove season. In Montgomery where I grew up, that day was called “Anti-Straw Hat Day” and back in the 1920s it was September 15, which we self-employed people now commemorate instead as a day to pay the Internal Revenue Serve its quarterly tax payment. In Montgomery on one such Anti-Straw Hat Day in the 1920s Montgomery Mayor Will Gunter issued this proclamation:

Whereas the weather has been dry and the pastures burned up and the supply of roughage for the cows, mules, and horses, as well as goats and sheep, has been exhausted, now therefore I, Mayor W.A. Gunter, Jr., do hereby proclaim that these animals will be authorized to attack anyone found wearing a straw hat on the streets today or hereafter and such citizens are at their own peril and must defend themselves without recourse to the police department or other guardians of the law. – W.A. Gunter, Jr., Mayor

[The Montgomery Advertiser reported that the next day the Mayor showed up at the office in his straw hat and told the reporters that “he was going to risk the cow’s designs upon his headgear until next pay-day came around, through force of necessity”.]

And, it’s worth noting in passing – since it is clearly forgotten by most of us– that back before air conditioning became general, there were official Mayoral proclamations banning suits and coats in the daytime in the summer, beginning about July 1st. Apparently in Mobile around which I live and work, the “Coats Off Campaign” in late summer was started by the Junior Chamber of Commerce just after WWII, and by the middle 1950s Southern mayors often proclaimed that beginning on “Sport Shirt Day” on July 1st or 2nd or something, and usually running all summer until the official first day of fall on September 21, “the proper, modest and polite attire for gentlemen in the City [shall] be and the same is hereby declared to be a neat, lightweight sports shirt instead of coat and necktie for all occasions from sunrise to sunset, and also proper evening attire except for formal occasions”. In Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the mid-1950s, the Mayor in the third week in April “proclaimed the opening of the sport shirt, straw hat and sport shoe season for the comfort of the city’s male population”, some three months before they did that here on the coast.

Now, why in the world was all of that ever abandoned in the South? Obviously the advent of air conditioning nipped it, but still, that is a tradition that Southerners ought to have preserved, just as they ought to have preserved more old buildings and houses and all of that. Here in Fairhope we still have a sportshirt tradition in both the summer and the winter, and we impart this tradition to our sons and grandsons in Homeric song before the fire of an evening. Now, admittedly, this fashion stuff was mostly higher- income people in the first place, and whether or not this date was observed by a man plowing a mule –switching his and his mule’s hats from the wool hat to the straw hat– I just cannot say for sure. But I can say for sure that a man who wore a felt hat until Yankee Memorial Day looked pretty strange indeed on a Southern street. So did a man who even recognized Yankee Memorial Day, for that matter.

But these rules seem to be moving fast. Friends – those who know – say that at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, plenty of the horse owners in the winners’ circle wear white suits in the early spring, even shortly after Mardi Gras. Maybe New Orleans always started wearing white after Mardi Gras; I don’t know, or maybe even never stopped wearing white? Is New Orleans a “Southern resort”? But, why-oh-why do New Orleanians have to wear those black shoes and bright shirts and ties with their white suits; it’s Atticus Finch morphing into “Fast Eddie’s Used Cars”, for Heavens’ sakes.

The edges of The White Shoe Rule are increasingly ragged. In the women’s fashion field, there is some analog to “Moore’s Law” in computers, such that the rapidity of changes in fashion trends tends to multiply by a factor of four every three years, or something. Attractive young women in high fashion who are inexplicably close to me report that “modern fashionistas wear white year-round to get that ‘edgy look’ as they call it”, not following any rule but their own. Examples? Wearing white leather boots in the winter, for instance; obviously not meant for summer, but still white. The apparent idea of “edginess” is “intentional fashion faux pas”. But, the edgy look of white shoes year round can only be pulled off by those who are, you know – edgy. “On the average woman, it will simply look like someone who didn’t quite know whether it was Easter or Memorial Day yet.” Which is still better than those white patent shoes and belt on Fast Eddie’s used car lot, and all. Whether white rubber boots on a shrimper are “edgy” or not, I’ll let you decide; I mean, some of these questions are pretty far out.

Well, I don’t have a yacht, and I’m not too sure this is a southern resort, but for my money, white clothes are ok from Easter through Labor Day, on clear days anyway, and being reasonable about it, like “ok at garden parties but not funerals”. Suit yourself, but if you don’t agree, then you must be a Yankee. Which is ok. But let’s just recognize the possibility of diversity on this question.

Thank you David!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013


 Let us give thanks that a proper straw hat was eventually located but too late for it to make its debut at Galatoire's.  There is a heap of snow out my backdoor which will likely postpone spring for a week or so.  Photos may have to wait until after Easter.  Today brings a quick reminder of the anniversary of events past, while I recover from too much New Orleans.

Today is the 102nd birthday of local boy Thomas (Tennessee) Lanier Williams.  We covered his St. Louis roots last year.  Newcomers may catch up here. The year before I discovered his burial place, not terribly far from my grandparents.  That tale may is located here.

On a sadder note, John Kennedy Toole died on this date in 1969.  Toole, the author of A Confederacy of Dunces, won the Pulitzer Prize 10 years after his death for his tome. We honor his achievement each year on this date and give thanks for the quintessential New Orleans novel.     

Again many thanks for your well wishes.  There's no place like home!


Monday, March 25, 2013


Out of all the traditional Jewish documents, it’s the one that’s most living. There’s an Armed Forces Haggadah and an Alcoholics Anonymous Haggadah and an LGBT Haggadah. Some people make a new Haggadah every year. It’s a real living document. … They’re just constantly made throughout time. On the decision to translate it? It was really clear when I went back and looked at texts. I’;ve always used the Hebrew side of the Maxwell House [Haggadah], which is a really great liturgy. The point is, I had never really looked at the English. And what committed me to it [was that] you should literally read the Haggadah and weep. It is so beautiful. It is just such a moving document to me.
Writer Nathan Englander tells Terry Gross why he wanted to translate the New American Haggadah. (The Haggadah is the traditional story of Passover)

Have a Blessed and Happy Passover


Grammy's Birthday

Until recently, Granddaughter Liz had two grandparents who shared today as their birthday.  Not long ago her maternal grandmother died.  Grammy was the rock of the family foundation.  A southern woman through and through, you never had any doubt about where she stood on an issue or what was going through her mind.  She told you straight up.  She told you she loved you always and often, she let you know when you were a horse's ass, she let you know that her expectations of you were higher than you had of your self, she told you how proud of you she always was. With love like hers you were loath to disappoint. She was a generous soul and a force of nature.

Today is the first time, in her family's memory, that March 25 has rolled around without her laugh, smile and guidance.  I miss her plenty, and will always remember that today is HER birthday.


BTW it is also The Suburban Princess's birthday.  She'd love for you to stop by and help her blow out (away) the candles.  

Sunday, March 24, 2013

While we are calmly enjoying breakfast at Brennan's, heavy snow is falling is falling in Mayberry.  Natch, the airline is playing chicken with the weather and haven't cancelled our flight yet.  We've elected to stay in NOLA for another day or so.  Why leave?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

NOLA or Snow?

We're between can and can't.  New Orleans is warm, in-bloom and inviting.  We've been well fed, sauced, and treated like royalty.  The cares of the real world are for others not for us this weekend.

Our reservations to leave the glorious 80 (26 C) degree weather of southern Louisiana are on Sunday afternoon.  If the forecast holds, our flight home will arrive the same time as a snowstorm dropping 5+ inches of white stuff .  We may have to stay another day.  My Heavens!


Friday, March 22, 2013

Please please Me by the Beatles

Today's milestone marks the 50th anniversary of the UK  release of Please Please Me, the first album by The Beatles.  Recorded hurriedly on February 11, 1963 to take advantage of the momentum created by their first single hit, Please Please Me hit #1 on May 11 and stayed there until the first week of December, when knocked off by With the Beatles.  The age of Rock began with One, two, three, four....

   Darin Murphy tells the story well here.

Toad, lunching at Commander's Palace, second lunch at Galatoires

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Part 1

Shea 1964

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy notes that Disaster Area, a plutonium rock band from the Gagrakacka Mind Zones, are generally held to be not only the loudest rock band in the Galaxy, but in fact the loudest noise of any kind at all.  Regular concert goers judge that the best sound balance is usually to be heard within large concrete bunkers some 37 miles from the stage, while the musicians themselves play their instruments by remote control, from within a heavily insulated spaceship which stays in orbit around the planet-or more frequently around a completely different planet....

Many worlds have now banned their act altogether, sometimes for artistic reasons, but most commonly because the bands public address system contravenes local strategic arms limitations treaties."

Shea 1968

We've all been to those concerts, half way through your ears bleed, and you pray the Costanza prayer, "Please God make it stop".  By the time you're home tinnitus has set in and your ears ring the rest of your life.

The 2 photos above are from Beatles concerts at Shea Stadium, the first 1964 the second 1968.  Look at the sum of the amplification the band provided, and compare it with the parade of trailers modern concert tours require.  It's a wonder anyone at Shea heard a tune.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

To find a summer hat

It won't be long until Straw Hat Day and mine has become a mite shabby.  I mentioned this over breakfast and Mrs. T gamely inquired what I intended to do about it.  Last time I was in need we took an excursion to the seediest neighborhood in Mayberry, a feat Mrs. T promised never to duplicate.  No, I reported, I believe I have located a purveyor in New Orleans.  It's the week before Easter, they should be well stocked.

Remarkably, she took the bait.  What's your real motive?

That the Mayberry boy Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival is this weekend, and his birthday is Tuesday didn't fly, nor did the news of the anniversary of Ken Toole's death, also on Tuesday, get a response.  Not having grown up on this planet, Mrs. T had never heard of, nor read Confederacy of Dunces.  We could fill up on Lucky Dogs was also a no go, as was it was likely to be 40 degrees warmer in the Crescent City than in Mayberry.

The last card in my deck was trumps.  I've two airline tickets and a room booked for four nights within walking distance of beignets and Galatoire's. Finally, a smile. We leave at dawn Thursday.

Could be the world's most expensive hat.


Monday, March 18, 2013

A perfectly splendid life

The late 1950's introduced the participating journalist, the most participatingist was today's birthday boy George Plimpton.  A participating journalist was one who was part of the story.  George wrote what it was like to pitch to baseball's greatest hitters, or box with the champ, play goalie in the NHL after pitching to the best, boxing the champ and playing goal.  His most famous work Paper Lion, published 50 years ago this year, related what it's like to be a rookie quarterback in an NFL training camp, by being a quarterback.  The book later became a movie starring Alan Alda as George.

George did far more than tell funny stories though.  As a founder of the Paris Review, which celebrates its 60th year this year, he created a great literary magazine, and perhaps as importantly created the Writers at Work a continuing series of interviews with notable writers discussing their craft and motivations.  Collected regularly as  Paris Review Interviews they make fascinating reading, especially for a close look at craftsmen (and women) working diligently at work they love.

If you are unfamiliar with his work, try the Best of Plimpton.  Start with The Amazing Story of Sidd Finch, finish with Fireworks.  

Happy Birthday George.


Sunday, March 17, 2013


I admit that this is childish.  I make no apologies, it's St. Paddy's day after all.  My sides hurt from laughing while reading this, and verily wish that you too enjoy it.  Erin go bragh.

From the Straight Dope: Proof that St. Patrick is not the patron Saint of Guam


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Fractured Fairy Tales

One of my favorite events in ancient American history occurred on this date in 1621. The Mayflower had arrived in the new world the prior November and spent the next month scouring the New England coastline for a suitable place for the Pilgrims (Latin for funsters) to call home. They had decided to head to Florida for the winter, when the week before Christmas they found a former Indian settlement which had been cleared by the locals and looked just about perfect for homesteading, so they stayed.

Ever been to New England in winter?  It's cold, and the weather is bad.  The Pilgrims that could stayed aboard the Mayflower.  Those that couldn't went to work building shelter.  Over the winter 7 homes and 4 common buildings were built, while 45 of the 102 newcomers died. By the end of January the Mayflower was finally unloaded, and by the end of February the menfolk had formed a rifle club and militia.

So now it's mid March.  The Mayflower is itching to return home, the weather is improving and the surviving Pilgrims somewhat apprehensively take tentative steps to build a permanent settlement in the middle of nowhere, when proud as punch, on March 16  in walks Samoset, a local (Indian to Americans) and greets the new neighbors in English with "Welcome Englishmen". The Pilgrims never saw that coming.

Later, Samoset let drop that the reason the Pilgrims found the village vacant was that the previous tenants died during a smallpox epidemic.  Samoset invited the Pilgrims to his place for Thanksgiving dinner if they survived.  The witches came later.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Beware the Ides or odds and ends

Free spirit that I am, I believe that an inventor or talented marketeer should, within reason, be allowed
to name their best products or ideas anything they want, and let the buyer beware.  Free enterprise at its best.

Perhaps I'm showing my age but I was temporarily struck dumb by a flyer we received in yesterday's post.  The local tan spa was advertising "Red Light Therapy".    Once upon a time gentlemen didn't discuss their red light therapy in mixed company, and ladies pretended to know nothing about such doings.

I've a technicolor image of a dad, putting his coat on after dinner.  His loving bride asking where he was off to, and he replies "I'm off for a bit of "red light" therapy.  Likely as not his stuff would be on the lawn when he returned.

Without thinking too hard someone could have come up with a better name for whatever it is the electric beach is trying to sell.  Just sayin'.

I had cause to wander a brick and mortar emporium of one of the oldest catalog companies in the US earlier in the week.  By chance I found myself in what passes as a cosmetic counter, most of which appeared to be left offer Christmas offerings from 1971.  Did you know English Leather is still for sale?  I did not. Should you need a bottle of Dakar Noir I know where to send you.  Charlie and most of the god awful tween girl stuff from the mid '60's, still at Sears.

Should your personal proclivities prefer something putrid, rancid, undead, you could do worse than Zombie by Dementer, for him or for her.

"While you would imagine that the scent would be culled from the remnants of a mortuary, blended with a heady mix of litter box, the gym shoes of 1000 people with athlete’s foot and week-old garbage from the organic bin, the actual product is a little gentler.
Disappointing for some, perhaps, but the Demeter chemists have focused on the literal aspects of human decomposition, combining the smell of earth, moss, dried leaves, mildew and a few mushrooms just to provide a little extra kick of fungus.
For all the lumbering ladies, your version of Zombie includes a touch of "Dregs from the bottom of the wine barrel" because dregs are delicious and, apparently, feminine."

Not at Sears though.

Land Rover Defenders have a cult following of motorists attracted by tough looking trucks, with a false go anywhere reputation.  The girl variant can be seen driving Range Rovers in up scale neighborhoods through the world.  Heaven knows when you'll need to transverse mountain streams to get to the mall.

The biggest problems with Land Rovers is their English heritage. They are expensive to own and usually don't run.  Defenders are basic, barely a step up from tractors, and like most Brit cars are as unreliable as your ex.  Maybe the new Indian owners can fix that.

In a classic we can do that too move, Land Rover, at the Geneva Auto Show, introduced an Electric Defender, for those pollution free romps across the Serengeti.  Old Polo can you imagine a why?

And finally:

By now you have seen the notice that Google Reader is going away in July.  The news breaks my heart.  To soften the blow I offer this link from PC World on Reader alternatives.  I haven't yet come to grips with this Readers demise, and I offer no suggestions or alternatives, but we gotta start somewhere.  If you have a suggestion let us know.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jean Butler

As we approach the weekend, it's good to remember that you may all be Irish if only for a few days.  My mother was a Hennessy, from county Cork.  In our household St. Patrick's Day was not a day of frivolity,  it fell in the middle of Lent, and unless St. Paddy's fell on a Sunday, Lenten obligations were to be met.  And so it was.

                                     NYTimes photo

Mother missed not having daughters.  Had I sisters, their life would have been a waking hell of Irish step dancing.  Arms down, face front...then as if by magic Jean Butler appeared.  Mother adopted Jean as her own the first time she saw Riverdance.

For those who don't remember, Jean is the American, red headed girl who captivated the world, wearing a short dress and loud shoes dancing the female lead in Riverdance.

Today is Ms. Butler's birthday. She is still dancing, still breaking hearts and enchanting the world with her grace and her smile.  The greatest Irish ambassador ever.

Happy Birthday Jean.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Technicolor Dream Coat

I have had a bit of sport over the years commenting on the longevity of some the Prince of Wales' clothing.  I honor the fact that he recognizes that the "older some things are the more comfortable and familiar they become". Sometimes familiar is taken to extremes. 

My favorite of his vintage clothing pieces may be the Barbour jacket he wore on Countryfile last weekend.  Used while the Prince builds hedges, the coat has been repeatedly patched and repaired with leather strips and odd pieces of fabric. When next it rips another piece will be sewn on.  

It's a wonder Barbour doesn't make their own version.


Monday, March 11, 2013

japanese earthquake

Two years ago today we were transfixed by television images showing the effects of a magnitude 9 earthquake off the coast of Japan. The quake, lasting 6 minutes, set off a tsunami in northeastern Japan which traveled west over 10 km inland in some areas, and east across the entire Pacific, killing 1 American in northern California.

15,000 Japanese died and a million buildings were destroyed, along with roads, bridges and utility infrastructure, in what is likely the worst natural disaster to date in world history.

Two years later the Vancouver Sun regularly reports on tsunami debris washing up on the coast of British Columbia

Feels like yesterday.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sweet Tea Apothecary

The Dead Writers evokes the feeling of sitting in an old library chair paging through yellowed copies of Hemingway, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Poe, and more. The Dead Writers blend makes you want to put on a kettle of black tea and curl up with your favorite book.   This bottle contains black tea, vetiver, clove, musk, vanilla, heliotrope, and tobacco. It can be worn by either sex.

How could you not?   Made with love by a VERY pregnant entrepreneur at Sweet Tea Apothecary


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Odds and Ends

1.  In what must feel like a cosmic joke to those battered by winter storms this week, Daylight Savings Time, once the official stamp of spring, begins tomorrow morning at 2 AM in the US and Canada.  Those in the UK  and Ireland must wait until the end of the month.  If you are unsure when or if your country is playing follow the link. 

2.  Are you blessed with color blindness?  1 in 10 men supposedly are.  I'm certain that I do not, although I do recognize that Mrs. T and I see colors differently.  She's usually wrong, and I rarely say that.

I used to believe red/green color blindness was a joke, until jammed into a car on a spring break road trip to Florida. While I was riding shotgun, at night, in the middle of Alabama, the driver would ask the color of every flashing street light in every small town we encountered.  He couldn't discern the color. I now believe.

If you are so gifted there may finally be an answer to the what color is my shirt question. The smart folks at 2AI Labs in Boston have developed a pair of glasses which may remedy certain red/green problems.  More here.   

3. I felt that this was a solution looking for a problem but my bride confirms that Inglot, a Polish company is doing the Lord's work.  The company's creator,  Wojciech Inglot (RIP) has created a "breathable" nail polish. Standard nail polishes inhibit moisture and oxygen from reaching the nail. Inglot's does not.  Wojciech imagined that he was creating a healthy product choice for women concerned for the natural health and beauty of their nails.  The marketplace however spoke loudly and clearly that health could take a back seat to by-passing religious exemptions.

Arab women, with exceptions, are required to ritually wash their hands and arms before each of  the 5 prayer times every day.  It was understood that standard nail polish blocked water from reaching the nails, so polish needed to be removed before washing before prayer.  Applying polish in the evening only to remove it early in the morning is generally a non-starter, so most women did without.  Inglot's polish has been shown in tests to be permeable to water, although they refuse to be dragged into the politics of religious debate.   They do stand by the health benefit of allowing oxygen to reach the nail.  It ain't cheap, but...


Thursday, March 7, 2013


Do you enjoy reading other people's letter?  I've a stack of books on the shelves, "The Letters of...." " The Journals of... "  letters to,  letters from...  It always starts off so well, then by page 50 meh.  What I really looking for is some sense of personality, show me the written word, touched by humans.  Lehigh University offers the fix I'd searched for.

I've become lost in the Lehigh University Library Services website.  Their comprehensive digital  library is stunning.  Click a link and follow and of the 12 special archives which include illustrated manuscripts,  legal justifications used to displace native populations when Europeans arrived in the New World, digital copies of Copernicus's writings, a different look at crime stories from long ago,  oral histories of early 20th century "robber barons" or my favorite "I Remain".

I Remain is a digital archive of letters, manuscripts and ephemera.  A simple pull down menu searches by last name and up pops a precis of the date and contents of the letter.  Click on the summary and a digital manuscript copy of the lettter, often including envelope pops open.  Finally!  Beware though. Jumping from R. E. Lee to George Washington to Orson Welles can become habit forming.


Monday, March 4, 2013

Today's History Lesson

Prior to the ratification of the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1933, all presidential inaugurations, save the first, were held on today's date*.  With the popular vote for president on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and the Electors (Electoral College) vote the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December, I'd always wondered why it took until March to inaugurate the President.

When asked, my teachers generally had glib "communications were slow back then" or "it took a long time to travel" sorts of answers. True in their way, but not necessarily correct.  So why was March 4, inauguration day?

Answer:  On March 4, 1789 the Constitution of the United States was ratified by the required 9 states.  The Congress of the Confederation marked that day, March 4th, as the start of operations for the new United States government.  Hence, presidential inaugurations were held on the anniversary of the birth of the United States. Happy Birthday to the ratified United States Constitution!!

I thought you would want to know.


* Washington's inauguration was held April 30, 1789.   Public Presidential inaugurations are never held on Sundays.  On the rare occasions Inauguration Day fell on Sunday, a private swearing in took place Sunday followed by the public ceremony the next day.  Exceptions are allowed, as necessary.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

dr seuss

Dr. Seuss National Memorial

The marching orders Ted Geisel received sound simple. "Write me a story that first graders can't put down" and limit the vocabulary to 225 words.  It took Ted, writing as Dr. Seuss, 9 months using 236 individual words, the longest being playthings, to create his masterpiece The Cat in the Hat.

Dr. Seuss who's 105th birthday was yesterday, continued to write books for children, and like most educators knew that buried within every good children's story was a message, Ted rarely skimped on the message.  As a tribute to Dr. Seuss I offer some of my favorite Seuss quotes, from The Quotations Page.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.

Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.

If you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go....

Young cat, if you keep your eyes open enough, oh, the stuff you would learn! The most wonderful stuff!

I am the Lorax, and I'll yell and I'll shout for the fine things on earth that are on their way out

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

When at last we are sure, You've been properly pilled, Then a few paper forms, Must be properly filled. So that you and your heirs, May be properly billed.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tom Wolfe's birthday

Thinking about spring clothing leads me to thinking about white linen suits, which leads on towards the Alec Guinness classic movie The Man In The White Suit, which then not to subtly leads me to explore writers famous for their White Suits and eventually skip over the Twain and ends staring at the bookshelves wondering which Tom Wolfe novel to reread.  

If Mr. Wolfe had woken up one morning in 1971, decided it had all been said and closed up shop I would have been devoted to him the rest of my life simply for his writing The Radical Chic and Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers.  Some of his other works have come and gone, all captured their time and place spot on, some were better than others, but The Radical Chic helped to make a reader out of me, and for that I'm grateful.

Happy Birthday Tom, may you celebrate many more.


Friday, March 1, 2013

Progress report

It was lightly snowing yesterday, so while stuck at home I decided to shop at home in my Spring/Summer clothes closet for the coming seasons duds. Inexplicably, a few weeks before the start of each season I usually decide that "X" will be "IT" for this season.  Sometimes its a fabric, sometimes a color.  Whatever my choice, it is always out of step with what "they" choose, and once selected I hardly ever change my mind.

Several years ago for instance I chose 2 DB jackets from J. Peterman's sale bin.  One was screaming yellow, one fire engine red.  My selections are proof positive that the most expensive purchase you ever make is clothing you never wear.  I don't particularly care for red clothing and only care for screaming yellow if it's Gallo fly yellow painted on vintage Italian autos.

The jackets sat in the closet, even after Mr. Clorox and I extensively customized them.  Look up colorfast in the dictionary and a photo of these 2 jackets appear.

Two years later, they fit much better, but still too outrageous to wear so I gave Mr. Clorox one more attempt, fully expecting to gift them to Goodwill.  This time I let the coats soak in bleach  for 2 days.

I love how the yellow turned out.  It's now a perfectly wearable Spring sport coat that doesn't draw undue attention to itself.

The red is a work in process, and still damp from the dryer in the after photo.


I blame the bleach for dissolving the thread on all the buttons. Every button on both jackets has now been resewn.