31 May 2011

The Burning House

Foster Huntington created a blog last month and came to me for advice. I have an email from April 13th documenting my fear "The Burning House" might be considered silly and shallow. I suggested too many responses would ring of, "I'd grab my Purple Label suit, Rugby tie and double monks 'cause they're so awesome. I wouldn't worry about socks 'cause I never wear 'em."

Foster came back with, "Maybe the title is a bit intense but it's the idea of neccesity weighed against aesthetics weighed against sentimental attachment." To which my gut told me and Foster, "I have no idea what works with blogs. Donald Trump will probably be elected president so my insight into intelligence and taste are usually wrong.

Foster's blog has been an overwhelming success with attention from the NY Times, NY Magazine, NPR and as many as 40k visits a day. There was even a spoof blog, "The Burning Asshole" which, while just recently shut down, was pretty damned funny if you don't take yourself too seriously.

Foster asked if I'd contribute. Pretty hard to argue to with his success. He came over and I shot him while he shot me. This may seem very hipster-ish but I remembered doing pretty much the same thing 30 years with a best friend and photographer who comments on this blog (DB) today. This 'stuff' grabs something in us. Whether it's history, family or, and sometimes this is all it is, just something that looks cool. As much as I hate to admit it. Check out the blog here.

30 May 2011

"He's Coming Home" May 1967

I can't remember who delivered the green foot locker but it sat on the living room floor with white stenciled lettering, postage and the news, "He's coming home." And not as a captain but as a major. The good news, much like bad news then, seemed to come in packs of three or four.

The locker was his advance and filled with what he didn't or couldn't travel with. My mother lifted the lid open and Julie London and her black turtleneck stared back at us. I remember she was nestled in a camouflage cargo parachute and the earthy smell of Vietnam filled our living room.

The cargo parachute later hung from the ceiling of my army barracks and college dorm room where it gave everything and everybody beneath it a strange green cast. I lost the parachute but still have the reel to reel tape of Julie and thank my father for introducing me to her. Like so many things -- then and today -- I had no idea how lucky we were.

27 May 2011

A Man's Movie: The Big Kahuna

The Big Kahuna airs tomorrow night on the Sundance channel at 7:55PM and at 2:55 AM Sunday morning.

There are people in this world, Bob who look very official while they're doing what they're doing and do you know why?


Because they don't know what they're doing.
(a beat)
Because if you know what you're doing, you don't have to look like you know what you're doing. It comes naturally -- You follow me?


Ok. So now, do you know how you can tell the difference?


Alright. The way you tell is, a little voice pops up in the back of your mind to say that this guy sitting before me -- or she -- is lying through his teeth and telling me stories.
Now once you get that little piece of information...
(points at Bob)
Whad 'ya do?

Uh, I don't know.

Here's what I would do. I would say, buddy...
I've heard a lot of horse shit in my time because, God knows, I'm a salesman and we all have to wade through our share of snow to get to the cabin, but you...
(points at BOB)
take the cake.
I don't believe you have the first idea of what you're talking about.
Your children admire you, I'm sure, as we all hope they do, and maybe your wife doesn't know...but I know.
And my knowledge forces me to call you on the fact that you're a god damned, cock sucking liar from the word... GO! And then I would sit down and finish my soup.

I first met the writer of The Big Kahuna, Roger Rueff, in Chicago five years ago when I took his play writing class. Roger created a philosophy of story telling called G.R.O.K -- which stands for, Gain, Regain or Keep. Roger calls these the, "central vectors of intention for a main character." I call it, the hero is trying to get something, get something back or keep something.

I've always had a place in my heart for this film, which was based on Roger's play, Hospitality Suite. Three industrial lubricant salesmen (Larry, Phil & Bob) from Chicago host a hospitality suite in a Wichita hotel where they try to bag (gain ) a 'big kahuna prospect.'

The Trad: When did you write the play and how old were you?

Roger Rueff: I wrote the first draft in 1990, when I was 34. It’s an interesting question, because when the play was produced at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago in 1992, one of the older patrons (a man who looked to be in his 80’s) who happened to be following me out to the lobby after the play and recognized me as the playwright slapped me on the back and said, “You must be very old.”

TT: You were still working a day job. Where did you find the time?

RR: I was working as a research engineer for Amoco Oil Company. In fact, an experience I had on a business trip to Wichita, Kansas to hawk white mineral oil is what inspired me to use the little hotel room as the setting for the play.

I wrote at night, sometimes staying up until two or three in the morning… and getting up the next morning to go to work. Fortunately, years before I had learned the secret of reducing one’s need for sleep. It has to do with getting sleep in 1-1/2 hour increments. (Long story, but based on scientific research.)

TT: Did you outline it first, and if so, did you know how it would end?

RR: I did not outline the play, nor do I generally do that. I sort of watched it come together by itself. One day, the ending came to me, and once that happens, everything comes together, because I can see where it’s all been headed all along. But I did not impose the end. It just happened.

TT: Where did the characters Larry and Phil come from?

RR: I had been thinking about the issues of the play for a long time, working them out in my mind and thinking about possible settings and scenarios. Then (as I noted above), I found myself in Wichita, Kansas on a mission for Amoco in a small, dingy hospitality suite. With me in the room were a salesman and an account representative.

Nothing in the play actually happened in the room—and my beliefs about life differ strongly from those of Bob, the guy from the research center—but when I encountered the other characters, it all came together in my mind, and I knew it was time to write the play.

TT: The film is book ended with two amazing monologues by Spacy and Devito -- One hysterical while the other is heartbreaking. Where did they come from?

RR: They came from inside me. There’s a little bit of Larry in me and also a little bit of Phil. By the time I knew where everything was headed, I was just kind of watching as the characters spoke. That’s why the monologues work so well… they’re very honest. And thank you for calling them “amazing.”

TT: It's been 12 years. Where do you see Larry, Phil and Bob today?

RR: It’s actually been 19 years since the play premiered at South Coast Repertory Theatre in 1992. But to your point, 12 years out, Phil is retired and doing something he’s always wanted to do, enjoying a good relationship with his daughters (not so much with his ex-wife).

Larry has moved on from selling industrial lubricants to selling other things and probably heads up a department somewhere, which he would consider a bureaucratic headache but accept as long as he got to go out in the field.

Bob has risen in the ranks of the company, where he remains. He might well have divorced his wife before they had children, realizing that what Larry said at one point was true: Sometimes, two principled people find out that it was their principles that got married… and they just kind of came along for the ride.

If he hasn’t completely abandoned his religion, he has certainly tempered his expression of it. At his core, Bob is an existentialist, and his main arguments in the story have to with being “human,” not being Christian, which is why Phil is able to say what he says at the end.

Bob is concerned with “what is the best way to be human,” and at that point in his life, it means following Jesus. But Bob is a smart guy and capable of self-awareness, and it would not surprise me at all to see him abandon the formal faith in Jesus and go searching for deeper and broader meanings in life.

The question is, do you have any character at all? And if you want my honest opinion, Bob. You do not. For the simple reason...you don't regret anything yet.

You're saying I won't have any character unless I do something I regret?

No, Bob.
I'm saying you've already done plenty of things to regret.
You just don't know what they are.
(a beat)
It's when you discover them.
When you see the folly of something you've done, and you wish
you had it to do over but you know you can't 'cause it's too late.
So, you pick that thing up and carry it with you to remind you that
life goes on... The world will spin without you...
You really don't matter in the end.
Then...you will attain character because honesty will reach out from inside
and tattoo itself all across your face.
Until that day -- however -- you can not expect -- to go beyond a certain point.

26 May 2011

Le Veau d'Or Wins James Beard Award

"You go from one place to the other and you bullshit." Robert Treboux

"It's not classic old - it's classic ancient at this point." Cathy Treboux

It's far from hip. Michael Williams of 'A Continuous Lean' thinks it's an 'old folk's home.' Maybe, but it has more heart than any restaurant in this city. I've taken a lot of people here and insisted a lot of people take me here. There's no place I feel more at home and I'm not from anywhere.

The first time I stepped down into the dark and, at the time, smoke filled room was in 1988 and it immediately spoke to the part of me that is always looking for... I don't know - It's hard to describe. It's: Wrigley not Comiskey - J. Press not J. Crew - Jumbo lump not Krab. It's not 'distressed.' Instead there's an honesty that's perfectly happy with itself. Know what I mean?

I've met authors here and magazine publishers, photographers, film makers, fashion designers, teachers, wine merchants and insurance salesmen. So far I haven't met anyone from the NFL or a reality show. They're all down the street eating in a place they read was cool. No, Veau d'Or is not cool and I suspect it never will be. For that alone Robert and Cathy Trebeaux deserve congratulations.

25 May 2011

The Gun Room: Holland & Holland

On the 19th floor of 10 East 40th Street is the Holland & Holland gun room. Gun rooms in NYC are as rare as places you can smoke. I'm always surprised how friends react to my love of guns. I don't know how many big city Republicans have told me the one thing we agree on is gun control -- only to drop their mouths when I tell them we don't.

Last night some gun lovers gathered at Holland & Holland for Burgundy (white and red), wild boar sausage and some real estate investment advice which, being the only poor Democrat in the room, I never really understood. "Save, schmave, I want that 20 gauge."

Everything about this room is tradition, and while I'm not into taxidermy it certainly suits Holland & Holland.

I was never much of a hunter until I was served a brace of smoked pheasant for lunch during a bird hunt in northern Illinois. I converted immediately.

I don't hunt that much and I promised myself after the army I would never go camping again. My idea of enjoying the four seasons is checking into one.

But the lore and history of guns speaks to the love of a well aimed shot. The smell of sulfur. The ejection of a shell and the sound of brass. The sweet banana smell of Hoppe's cleaning solvent...

and all that goes with it.

It's hard not to be impressed by the luxury of Holland & Holland. I have no idea what that cartridge box retails for. I don't want to know.

But the really interesting stuff isn't for sale. A small museum curated by H&H holds amazing treasures of history.

This is an 8 bore "Wild Fowling Hammer Gun' or what we would called in the army, "a B.F.G."

If you do work in fashion design and are still reading this...check out the imprint of the barrel above and below. This was done during manufacture and I think the same pattern would make for a pair of smashing batik trousers.
My favorite of the night was one of 10 replicas of the English Brown Bess. This musket was standard issue to the British soldier during the American Revolution or, what H&H might call, "The American War for Independence."



and barrel.

24 May 2011

Operation Crazy Horse - 16 May - 5 June 1966

CIDG Camp - Vinh Thanh, May 1966

Back of photo - Pencil notes (all cap) added later.

Here's what I remember. Shortly after being promoted to sergeant I spent a week home on leave. After dinner my father and I smoked cigars and for the first time he told me about Operation Crazy Horse. He started the conversation with, "Never use men like they were office supplies."

23 May 2011

Sam Castan 12 May 1935 - 21 May 1966

45 years ago Look Magazine senior editor and journalist Sam Castan was killed trying to break out of an ambush that, save two men, wiped out an entire platoon on Hereford Mountain in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Castan's body was looted of cameras and film only to be recovered from Viet Cong killed in a fight later the same day. These photographs were taken moments before Casten and the men in these pictures were killed.

I grew up staring at the images and wondering about Sam Castan. In many ways I felt like I knew him but it was a romantic image I created. Belted safari jacket. Nikons hanging from his neck. A cigarette dangling from his lips. War photography speaks to me in a terrifying but alluring way.

The photographs were published in S.L.A. Marshall's 1967, 'Battles in the Monsoon.' Castan stayed at my father's Special Forces camp the night before the ambush and remembers the journalist winning at a card game with soldiers of the 1st Air Cavalry and his A Team.

Fran Castan, a poet from Brooklyn and Sams's widow remembers Sam in her poem, 'Operation Crazy Horse.'

A grand Kowloon hotel. A hedge
of red hibiscus. A tiled pool.
A masseuse who pressed fragrant
oil of almond into my body
in the full heat of the sun.
Elsewhere, northeast of Saigon,
a man beheld you, and fired.

At the undertaker's you were
all made up and your hair
was parted wrong, so I smoothed it
the way you would have liked.
Someone shouted Stop, as if we were
caught making love on the couch
in my father's house. God knows

what they feared. Unfamiliar
streaks in your hair must have paled
at the moment of terror
and grown longer in the time since,
eerie as strands of ticker tape
still printing. Such dark hair
shocked white. How afraid you were.
All I could do was hold you.

20 May 2011

NY Tailors: Leonard Logsdail

Len's kitchen

Cool Italian wool

Matching...in a good way


Gekko's Pattern

More patterns

and even more patterns

Kenny G?

View of the courts

$850 for ready made

$6,500 for bespoke

Jacket canvas

Len Logsdail has a solid reputation as being approachable and about as down to earth as you can get without digging a well. He reckons his nature has a lot to do with his success. When you're gonna drop $6,500 on a bespoke suit it helps to like the guy you're giving all that money to. It's hard not to like Len.

Len's studio is on 53rd Street just east of Paley Park and above Hamburger Heaven. Like Len, the front of the house is comfortable, relaxed and happily void of any pretentious bullshit. Even the celebrity client photo is of a no bullshit celebrity, Frank Langella. There was beautiful Spring light streaming in through open southern windows the day I visited and I couldn't help but think what a great restaurant Len's space would make.

Len takes me to the back of the house (plenty of room for a kitchen) and shows me a sport jacket he's working on in an Italian plaid. Not to my liking but you can't help but admire how feather light the fabric is. Len explains his house style is not so much Henry Poole-like as much as Poole is Lenord Logsdail - like. This is said as a matter of fact. There's nothing wrong with being down to earth and confident.

There's an old-world ostentation that you frequently see on Savile Row and in most Polo stores. Len isn't afraid to say it's a haughtiness that's born more out of resentment than station or rank. I'm a long time believer in the origins of arrogance being born of stupidity. The more you know, the less you have to pretend you know. You know?

Len isn't faking it. He has a great sense of humor and it shows most enjoyably in his linings. Whether a suit, sport coat or a pair of tweed boxers...Len's linings surprise, amuse and generate ideas and inspiration I've never thought of before. Really crazy ideas.

If you don't have $6,500 to drop on a suit or $5,000 on a sport coat or $1,600 on a pair of trousers, you may want to consider an affordable ready made line Len has recently come out with. You can see it on line here.