Saturday, February 28, 2009


A few posts ago I mentioned that I was interested in developing my own monogram, like Roger Thornhill in North By Northwest. I envisioned that I’d have it embroidered on a set of handkerchiefs and pretty much affix it to any custom made articles and appropriate future purchases.

When I started thinking about it I had another idea. My son’s first birthday is coming up. I previously wanted to start a tradition of giving him Christmas gifts that were quality man things he could use for the rest of his life. A valet tray, watch, belt, briefcase, etc. But I though better of it. Christmas is about toys, so I bought him blocks and a wooden truck. (along similar lines, but more baby appropriate).

My new idea was to also create a monogram for him as a first birthday gift and have it embroidered on a set of handkerchiefs. A simple enough place to start a tradition of manly accoutrement birthday gifts. I’ll need to come up with 18 or 21 things to have marked, but I have time to work on that. For right now, I’m thinking of things like a belt buckle, a watch band, a pocket knife, a money clip / wallet, a shoe horn, or a key chain. And down the road a golf bag, bar kit, lighter or brief case, culminating with a suitcase for him to pack it all up and move out. (just kidding). The more I think about it, the more nifty ideas I have: Brass buttons for a blazer, a club tie, a tool box, or a shoe shine kit. I’m also open to suggestions if you care to contribute.

Anyway, here’s where I’m at.

I chose Akzidenz-Grotesk (Light Condensed) as the font and adjusted it somewhat. It’s regarded as the first widely used sans-serif font. Dating back to 1896. The font Helvetica was created as an improved version of Akzidenz-Grotesk. So I feel it says something about being on the edge or modern and classic. As well as taking something standard back to its roots, which is kind of what this whole project is about. With the styling I tried to reflect a little Celtic flavor to demonstrate our heritage. (this should explain the similarity to the University of Notre Dame’s logo). The symbols reflect the Saints, John, Patrick and Peter. But I’m not crazy about their overall effect so I’ll probably end up losing them.

Originally I did something very similar to Thornhill’s mark. But I discovered that three unconnected letters is actually referred to as a cypher. A monogram is technically three letters that are interconnected and form one symbol.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Boom Boom Boom Boom

Peter Gunn

Before Monk and Magnum, before Rockford and Columbo, there was a television private investigator that set the standard. Peter Gunn was a smooth son of a bitch. Hard boiled like Spade and Marlowe, but cool as ice and dressed as dapper as Draper.

When I named my son Peter, my dad went out and bought me the first 2 seasons of the show on DVD. My step-son and I watched them intently, one episode after another. We were captivated. They say that cat Shaft is a bad mother f*#@er, but he’s got nothing on Gunn. He can go toe to toe from theme song to right hook. He digs jazz, has a gorgeous lady, a flawless look, and a steel persona. TV detectives typically fall neatly into the grizzled gumshoe, jet-setting playboy or the quirky character categories. Peter Gunn is his own line: Hipster bad-ass.

Starring Craig Stevens and produced by Blake Edwards, Peter Gunn stands up pretty well. If I were remaking the show, I’d keep the music, the clothes and the black and white. It has an almost timeless quality. And the title character is every bit as timeless. Tough as nails and smooth as silk. A true gentleman who knows how to get things done without shorting refinement. In my opinion, he’s the closest American counterpart to James Bond. Theme song and all.

Thursday, February 26, 2009


When my brother returned from Iraq, one of his assessments of the experience was particularly interesting. He said that life would be so much simpler if you could carry an M16 all the time. He went on to elaborate on all the incidental benefits of being in possession of a loaded M16. It can open locked doors, clear traffic, enhance communication, and help maintain focus.

I think the fact that it’s been the primary weapon for our military and other militaries around the world for 45 years is a testament to it’s design. If you consider all the technological advancements made in that span of time, it’s a marvel that it hasn’t been replaced. From all the GI-Joe I watched as a kid, I would have assumed that some variety of laser gun would be prevalent by now. Even still, the versatility and function of an M16 still holds up. Some may point to an AK as a major rival. And the simplicity of it’s design is also quite striking. But, sometimes spraying bullets in a general direction isn’t the ideal procedure.

My uncle Dave was a big time gun enthusiast. Before he died, he took me and my brother to an outdoor shooting range and we fired off rounds from a .357 Magnum, an antique Russian riffle and a few other guns. But squeezing the trigger on his M16 was a revelation. It honestly felt like an extension of my arms. It was extremely comfortable, light and responsive. And I was surprised at how accurate I was with it, especially compared to the .357. I would go so far as to say I felt more complete holding one. Like a knight with a sword or a king with a scepter, ready for action.

Though I can’t justify owning one. And in fact strongly discourage it. I do recommend trying one out. You’ll fall in love and wonder how you’ll get on with the rest of your life without it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I’ve heard that you can distinguish the truly classy from the gussied up slobs by their shoes. It’s a detail that posers tend to overlook. I admit that I’m guilty of it. It makes me feel like I’m wearing a costume sometimes. Another detail that I think demonstrates real sartorial know-how is the tie dimple. For a long time I’d get them by accident or mold them after the fact, but the more I learn about how to make a good one the more I realize that it takes experience and practice. Two things you can’t get if you only wear a tie a few times a year.

For one thing a really good dimple is a sign of a really good tie. A woven silk tie of high quality will seem like a tight spring when dimpled. Ready to burst off your chest. Also, if you consistently wear a tie with a dimple, it will build a fabric memory and will start to do it on it’s own eventually.

I’ve often formed one after the fact, pinching and molding until a fake dimple appears. But a fake dimple doesn’t last. The tie knows. Most novices will tell you that the key is to pinch the tie as you tighten it. That’s somewhat effective but lacks the impact of a true dimple. You can even by a clever little product called The Dimpler that acts like a rippled letter opener. Though, it creates more of a tie vagina than a proper dimple. The key to a real one is hand position.

The tendency is to hold the knot like a screwdriver and push it up to your face. The trick is to hold the front panel between your thumb and four fingers like a flute. Gently pull down on the center of the tie while you move it up your neck by pulling on the back panel with your other hand. See the gent in step 4 of the Half Windsor demo from the Brooks Brothers web site.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Trail Blazer

I’ve scaled back my wardrobe building considerably. For one thing, I’m continuing to lose weight. I’d like to see how far I can get before I buy more clothes that won’t fit in two months. Also, the seasons are about to change. I own zero pairs of shorts and only a handful of short sleeved items.

In the meantime, I’m carefully constructing a wanted items list that includes a Brooks Brothers white OCBD, a pair of Sperry Top-Siders, madras shorts, and a summer driving cap. I’m always looking for sunglasses, ties, socks, hats, shoes and other size fixed items.

By the end of the year I’d like to add a suit or two as well as some personalized items for which I might decide to go the bespoke route. Among those items are a pair of bold patterned but muted color tartan trousers. I’m not crazy about black watch or Stewart and those two appear to make up 95% of the selection out there. It might be fun to search for a hunk of fabric that I could have made into trousers as well as a few accessories, like a tie, hat band, vest, etc. Another item that I’m more excited and nervous about is a blazer. Not just any blazer though. A hunter green blazer. You see, I have hazel eyes. They change day to day, sometimes they’re almost entirely green. And I’ve noticed that when I wear my olive green work shirt or hunter green BB sweater I get a lot of compliments. Of course they’re hard to find. It might be the perfect excuse to delve into bespoke clothing. Touch it up with a monogram and have it cut to perfection. I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

These two offerings from Orvis are handsome in their own right, but not precisely what I'm imagining. Something about halfway between in color and texture. Not exactly a country club thing, but not quite a hunting jacket either. I wonder if I'll be able to name it if it comes out nice.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pitchers and Catchers

All weekend it was cold and windy. But Saturday was baseball tryouts for my step-son. His old mitt had endured 5 seasons and had held up pretty well. It was the trips to the beach that did it in though. Saltwater and sand were not part of the design plan. So this season, I promised him a new glove.

With the baby in tow, we braved the bitter wind on Friday night and went to the Rawlings Outlet Store. We sorted through dozens of mitts. It was a bit of a process. You see, he's a lefty. And there weren't many left handed mitts under $300. We found a nice 12.25 inch pitchers glove that seemed versatile enough to use in the outfield. It was a blemished item, marked down to $40 from $100. That pretty much sealed the deal. I was prepared and willing to spend around $100. So everyone's a winner.

We had a little over 14 hours until try-outs. So we rubbed in a little glove oil, placed a ball in the pocket and wrapped it in rubber bands. The next morning we stepped out into the unfriendly weather to work it in a little. A little warm up, some long tosses and a few dozen pitches from the wind up and we were in business.

The report form try-outs was roundly positive. And Sunday afternoon we ventured out into more bitter cold and wind for another extended round of snaps and pops. I can't put my finger on how this relates to being a gentleman. But there's something to be said for the smell of oiled leather, a little strain on the shoulder and that sweet crackling thud of a hard toss stopped just short of your chest.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pocket Squared

The main thrust of this blog is to document my exploration of refinement. I'm trying to examine every aspect of life and when it appears that I'm defaulting to an immature or crude way of doing things, I research and upgrade. Right now I'm half way through Alan Flusser's "Dressing The Man". Each chapter is a revelation.

At the outset I began wearing a sport coat and tie as much as possible and being influenced by Mad Men and other bloggers, I took to sporting a pocket square. I stocked up on some traditional linens and I've been combing thrift shops and department stores to ad some fun and variety.

For the past few days I've had a cold. I've been congested and blowing my nose around the clock. The first day, I pulled tissues out of the box on my desk one after another and all but ignored the handkerchief in my front pocket. The next day I called upon it but once it had been used once I stuffed it in my front pocket, but that made accessing my keys and cell phone a pain. It even muffled the ring and caused me to miss a call. On the third day, I grabbed two before leaving the house. Stuffed one in my jacket pocket and the other in my back trouser pocket where I used to keep my wallet before I switched to a money clip.

Not only does this reinforce the case for money clips, but it's a top notch move that I plan on continuing. In fact there's a precedent for the two handkerchiefs. A fully equipped gentleman always has "one for blowin'" and "one for showin'". This also frees up the display square to be offered to a lady or whipped out in an emergency without fear of sharing your snot and sweat.

In regards to style there is an art to choosing and folding your daily pocket square. Not wanting to get into the whole thing. I've picked up on a few rules that I'll share. A pocket square should not match your tie or your shirt, but it should compliment them both. Sort of like the rug that really ties the room together. And like tie knots, there is a time and a place for each method of folding and stuffing a pocket square. It should reflect your mood. You can be Don Draper (tight and in control), Fred Astaire (Puffed and with flair), Cary Grant (Coy and slightly skewed), The Duke of Windsor (Carefully staged) or Gary Cooper (just stuffed in there). Take note of how each of them positions their handkerchief and how it relates to what you know or assume about each of them. You can also bet that each of them has another one stashed somewhere. Depending on their personality, it might be in their back pocket, breast pocket, front jacket pocket or as debonair as stuffed inside their jacket sleeve.

This is my typical pocket arrangement:
Front Right Trouser - Money Clip
Front Left Trouser - Cell Phone
Back Right Trouser - Usable Handkerchief
Front Right Jacket - Keys
Front Left Jacket - Pocket Knife
Outside Breast Pocket - Show & Share Handkerchief
Inside Left Breast Pocket - Pen and Notebook
Inside Right Breast Pocket - iPod

Needless to say this is how a man carries on without a purse and why a sport coat is a necessity.

Motel Blues

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Black in Red

I live more or less between two breweries, Yuengling and Stoudt’s. Each produces a fine assortment of beers. In the thick of winter, when the evenings are cold and dark, I prefer to enjoy beers that match the season. On top of that, I like them to be heavy and sweet. I bear no grudge against Guinness. It is, after all, an icon of alcoholic beverages. It’s uniqueness is paramount, but sometimes it’s nice to have a thick and dark pint that’s a bit more like typical beer. For my taste, you can’t beat this selection of red labeled, tasty beverages.

Yuengling Porter is a gem. I’m sure it’s a bit hard to find outside of the region, but a few local establishments have it on tap. This beer has a more popular incarnation as half of a Yuengling Black & Tan. It’s a premixed counterpart to the Guinness - Harp tradition.

Fat Dog (Imperial Oatmeal Stout) from Stoudt’s (that can get confusing) is also recommended. Probably even harder to find than Porter, it almost resembles candy flavored coffee when you smell it. And it goes down just as smooth. I have to admit, I’m probably only partial to this one because I have an overweight black Labrador at home.

Mackeson Triple Stout is the best of the bunch. I used to frequent a pub that had bottles of this stuff and it was my bread and butter for a long time. The last time I was there the bartender claimed to have never even heard of it. I even had to petition my local take out place to invest in it. I could hardly complain when he charged me $15 for a six pack because that might have been the only one he sold. By the time I finished it, spring had rolled around and this is not what I would call a warm weather beverage.

Photos lifted from Flickr

Friday, February 20, 2009

Shamrock Shakes Are Back

It's the green kryptonite that makes Superman weak. And coincidentally it's the green McDonald's milk shake that does me in as well. It always catches me off guard. One day the sign says something innocuous. "Help Wanted" or "Big Macs 2 for $4". Then my eye is caught by "Shamrock Shakes Are Back". I swear they must come out a week earlier every year. Before I know it they'll be available before Christmas and be called Holly Shakes.

But I've been a good boy this year. Between January of 2008 and this week I've lost over 100 pounds. Seriously. The real trick will be keeping it off. But in the short term I feel I can treat myself to one deliciously minty dessert. Maybe a small or a medium just to be on the safe side. I'll give myself till the end of the month. If I can hold or drop my weight between now and March 1st. I'll stop and get one on the way home from work.

To mark the occasion, I'll wear this shirt and socks combination. I just can't resist.

I'll have to make sure not to wait too long. One year, when I was living in Hoboken and my brother was going to school on Staten Island we got drunk at the Hoboken St. Patrick's Day Parade. Which incidentally was a full week before the holiday. We stopped at the McDonalds on Washington Street to get Shamrock Shakes. They told us they had already stopped selling them, on March 10th. My poor brother's birthday no less. Luckily I had already had at least a dozen by then. Maybe that's why I ended up with 100 pounds to lose.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

1. Down

I usually go for a jog over my lunch break. But yesterday was cold and rainy so I decided to skip it. To fill the time at my desk, I decided to give the daily crossword puzzle a try. I usually end up filling in a handful and giving up. But for the sake of my gentlemanly development, I’m committed to trying new things that seem refined and sophisticated. I planned on devoting the full hour and perhaps taking it home with me if I came up short.

I enlisted the help of my cubicle mate for a couple answers and consulted with google to shore up a few hunches. We ended up finishing in plenty of time. I even conquered the Jumble and most of the 3-star Sudoku puzzle before lunch was over.

In addition to a couple helpful cruciverbalist tricks regarding abbreviations, plurals and tense, I learned that I like crosswords. It’s a stimulating, but soothing activity. And it’s challenging enough to provide a sizeable sense of accomplishment when you complete one. What I like most about it is that it calls on several different aspects of intelligence at once. It’s like playing Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune at the same time.

There’s a scene in Dan in Real Life where his large vacationing family, upon fetching two newspapers, scrambles into teams of boys and girls and proceed to compete in a crossword puzzle race. I can’t imagine any family or even loose association of mine having that combination collective intellectualism and competitive spirit, but it seemed like a lot of fun. Even just doing one as a group without the race seems like a lot of fun. I’ll have to try to make that happen someday.

Either way, crossword puzzles have my endorsement as a premium gentleman pastime.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Style Guy

I was at the grocery store and decided to purchase my first issue of GQ. Naturally, I’d been aware of GQ Magazine. It seemed more like the flag of a overstuffed mentality than something to read, but remembering that the “G” stood for Gentleman’s, it seemed to have become a necessity. It was a wise investment, though it’s essentially just the Soup to Esquire’s Best Week Ever.

I was instantly enamoured with The Style Guy’s (Glen O’Brien) advice column. It outclasses the Answer Fella and the Playboy Advisory. Plus it’s funny.

Wanting more, but not inclined to dig through years of periodicals, I luckily stumbled upon an convenient solution. I was looking for Alan Flusser books at the library and accidentally found his. He's compiled what I assume is the best of his column into categories within a fun little book. I blew through it in five or six shits (sorry other library patrons, I was very careful).

It was a good read. Fun and informative in sort of an (Everything you wanted to know about being a cool grown up, but were afraid to ask) kind of way. I highly recommend it to anyone who’s ready to cancel their subscription to Maxim and start getting GQ delivered.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Wood Panelled Consciousness

I went for a jog around the neighborhood on Sunday. For whatever reason, I was taking notice of all the different cars parked along the way. On one particular block there was an uncanny assortment of vehicles. Back to back were a Smart Car and one of those obnoxious tractor trailer wannabe things. Further down there was a Mini Cooper and a Honda Insight. As well as a Yukon and a Jeep Wrangler.

Then I saw it. A filthy, 1989 Buick Century station wagon with wood panelling. For all it’s ugliness, the context of the rest of the block demonstrated beautiful possibilities. If Detroit can put Hybrid technology in an Escape and an Escalade, why not a LeSabre Estate? Outfit it with the latest eco-friendly technology and style it like an updated Wagon Queen Family Truckster (Down to the Metalic Pea paint job). I’d line up to buy one. What could convey the idea of an environmentally geared product better than wood panelling?

Despite the turn from trucks and minivans, people still need family cars. They can put out all the “crossover” vehicles they want. But we know an SUV when we see one. The time is right for a return to the station wagon. I realize that government fuel economy standards killed the wagon and paved the way for the SUV. But it seems like all parties are primed for reconfiguring all that and ready to invest in a combination of new and classic thinking.

In this particular era it would appear much more gentlemanly than a sports car or a Hummer. And would be more practical for the guy who occasionally needs to transport kids, dogs and luggage than the supped up golf carts in vogue lately. Not to mention the manly men who need to haul lumber, camping, fishing, golfing, hunting, biking equipment but don't need it to be 4 feet off the ground as to traverse rugged mountainsides with it.

I just read on that Chrysler is planning on discontinuing the PT Cruiser, Dodge Magnum and Pacifica. (as well as the Hummer) In my opinion these offerings from Chrylser are their closest cousins to a station wagon. It makes me wonder of they've concluded that people don't want anything close to a station wagon or if their planning on clearing the way for an actual station wagon to replace all three the same way Ford did with the Taurus. On my way to work this morning, I saw a Magnum and thought that if it wasn't a psuedo muscle car, I'd totally want one. As for the PT Cruiser and Pacifica, good riddance.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidential musings

I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for a president to be a gentleman. I’m not even sure that it’s an asset towards being a good one. In fact, I think it’s fairly irrelevant. If you size up past presidents for their political performance, and then subsequently size them up by their gentlemanly qualities, you’ll see highly mismatched charting. I consider George HW Bush and Jimmy Carter to be quite gentlemanly, for instance.

There was a fascinating article in the New York Times about the difference in dress code between the Bush and Obama white house. Bush was very strict and Obama is very laid back. I feel that when it comes to things like this, the mark of a gentleman is that he presents himself well but allows others to be as comfortable as they please. Naturally, the wardrobe of a president is a carefully considered but unassuming refection of his relative modern professional attire. The way he carries himself, the way he treats those close to him and his content of his speech are how you would measure his gentleman qualities.

Presidential Quotes

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”
- George Washington

"Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"
- Abraham Lincoln

"Speak softly and carry a big stick."
- Theodore Roosevelt

"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

"I want a kinder, gentler nation."
- George Herbert Walker Bush

"I have often wanted to drown my troubles, but I can't get my wife to go swimming."
- Jimmy Carter

Presidential extra

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Golf Dreams, Goals

My dad was searching for his copy of Louden Wainwright III’s Album III to lend to me when he realized that he’d lent it to my sister. As a consolation prize, he handed me a book on tape. It was Golf Dreams. A collection of essays and short stories about golf written and read by John Updike. I just finished it yesterday.

It seems like a cruel joke now, getting me all fired up to play a round of honest golf in the middle of February. All I can do is bounce some puts around the living room and maybe set some “New Gentleman” golfing goals for the year. Here goes...

1. I’d like to get together with my poker buddies and play a dollar a hole skins game at least once. Or enlist them in a charity scramble for a decent cause. We used to play a couple times a season but I don't think we played at all last year which was a real shame. The same story applies to poker, bowling, pool and various other excuses to drink Miller High Life between turns and jokes.

2. I’d like to take my stepson out to the driving range 2 or 3 times in advance of taking a day off work to go nine with him on one of the ugly par 3s. He's about the age I was when my dad took me out. I dug the Junior set of clubs out of his basement last year and bought a bag of plastic practice balls at the end of last year. Although he's 5 times the athelete I was, he's equally prone to tears of frustration so it should be a fun little spin on the circle of life.

3. I’d like to get a new driver. My current one is a hand be down from my dad that has a nasty dent at the bottom of the club face and is probably an inch too short for me. I’d like to get one at least partially made of wood, if they still make them. I visited Dick's sporting goods and their selection was uniformly shiny and oversized. I’d also like to pick up a box of decent balls. Maybe Slazengers or Titleists. At this point my entire arsenal consists of found balls and scuffed emergency Top Flites.

4. I’d like to break 90. I’d been putting off buying proper spikes until I broke 90, but I realized that not having spikes was probably holding me back from breaking 90. So at the end of last season, when they were under $10 I bought a pair of Puma golf cleats. I know there’s a little book with tips and tricks for breaking 90. I’ll track it down and digest it. Hopefully that will do the trick.

5. I’m going to commit myself to walking every round, keeping an honest score card, playing by the rules, replacing, repairing and observing every golf courtesy. God help me if I come across a pair of knickers and argyle knee socks. Though, the tweed cap is definitely coming out.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day Extra

In all probability, I’ve lived somewhere between half and a third of my life. In that time I’ve learned a great many things, though a tiny percentage of that which is worth knowing. Some is knowledge gained through both careful study and casual coincidence. But more valuable than all the knowledge I possess is the small amount of wisdom. And the only way I’ve gained that is through persistent failure.

I have written a long history of failure in many pursuits. Some of them have been bested, others still offer torment. In examining the trappings of a good Valentine’s day, I think I’ve discovered the key to the pursuits of looking good. It all has to do with dedication and a bit of extra effort. I know that sounds a little simplistic so let me explain. If you want to look good to your boss or client, take on a little extra responsibility and see it through with dedication. If you want to lose weight or gain muscle, be consistently dedicated to your plan and always put a little extra on top, an extra 5 minutes or 3 reps. If you want to excel in sport, parenting, business, music, gardening, whatever. Work at it with consistent dedication and put forth a little more than is required.

The same applies to Valentine’s day. Your goal is to make someone happy, let them know that you love them and enhance their affection for you by looking like a great romantic companion. What’s been puzzling me for my whole life and leading to my romantic failures is searching for a specific recipe or magic gesture to reach that goal. It seems that such a pursuit is counterproductive. It demonstrates, much like the unlucky in weight loss, career advancement, or contest loser, enough effort to get it over with.

“I went to the gym every other day for a month, and lost nothing.”, “I’m always on time, but keep getting passed over.”, “The coach never puts me in the game.” Sound familiar? What your body, your boss or your coach wants is dedication and extra effort. And that’s what your partner wants. They want to see and feel like you care enough about them and your relationship that you fully dedicated yourself and went a little bit above and beyond. Sometimes this means roses, but that doesn’t take much dedication and depending on your financial situation, not much extra. Most of the time it means spending time thinking about it, going to sizeable lengths to make it happen, and offering it as a completely unselfish gesture. This generally means that it wasn’t done at the last minute and it ultimately shows that you understand, pay attention to and care deeply about him or her.

Parenthetical adjectives are key in these examples.

(Custom) jewelry

A song composed or learned (for the occasion)

(Personally delivered) flowers at work

A special (home cooked) meal

That’s not to say that you can’t get the job done with a night on the town, a store bought card or a small gift. It all depends on where the bar is set and the disposition of your significant other. I’m hoping that my attempt at Valentine’s Day measures up this year. Here’s a hint. It’s not a Pajamagram. But if it proves to be another failure, hopefully it will at least lead to greater romantic wisdom.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Universal Remote

I’m the type of guy who takes pride in his entertainment center. I have an ostentatiously large television and a broad assortment of components and hi-fi equipment to go with it. I like to get the full benefit of all of it. The AppleTV is running through the TV and the receiver. The DVD player and record player (when not broken) is running through both as well. Each component has a prescribed audio setting and proper cables. I even manually renamed the TV input channels to suit their corresponding component. The back end is a thicket of cables that could strangle a boa constrictor.

My only shame has been that since switching to the latest cable service and getting the TV, I haven’t programmed a universal remote for everything. Having to juggle up to 3 remotes was making me feel like a failure of a father and husband. These things are clearly under my jurisdiction and I was letting everyone down.

Over the years I’ve become quite the master of home entertainment electronics. My resume features mastery of such elements as:

Switching from DirecTV to Comcast, back to DirecTV and finally to Service Electric Cablevision without skipping a beat on the TiVo.

Integrating the following components into the entertainment center: Air Tunes, (iTV) AppleTV, multiple DVD players, VCR, Phonographic Turntable and a Nintendo Wii

Familiarity with RF Modulators, iPod AV docks, Piggy Back RCA cables, IR Cables for the TiVo

There is an empty cardboard box under the bar in the den so chock full of wires and jacks that it looks like a Radio Shack was crushed into a cube. The fact that I hadn’t bothered to unify the remote controls seems like a disgrace.

While joining the flock of tech vultures at our local Circuit City, I picked up a Sony model and I got busy teaching special functions with end to end laser communication like a mad scientist until all the original remote controls were stripped of their batteries and resigned to the box in the den. Including the colorful and cumbersome cable box unit that had been the bane of my existence during countless sporting events. (If you can’t tell, I’ve been reading Updike recently)

Of course to make all this magic happen, I needed to follow two important gentleman rules: Follow directions & Check the Batteries I spent a frustrating 25 minutes wrestling with the thing before deciding to allow my wife’s advice to sink in and recharging the batteries before proceeding. It was one of those did-you-check-that-it’s-plugged-in moments. Where you loose sight of the forest. I should probably add: Welcome and Heed Advice to the rules of universal remote programming as well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Morning Exercise

When I lived in Hoboken and worked in downtown Manhatten, my roommate and I would rise early a few times a week and start our day at the Hudson Athletic Club. It’s the kind of place where they hand you a towel when you walk in and you can work out with a semi-obstructed view of the city. We'd move some weights around, get a steam and a shower and be on our way to work. That was one of my favorite parts about that time in my life.

Now that I have kids and dogs and live in a considerably less urban environment, it’s a little hard to rekindle that exact feeling. I’ve met a buddy to play racquetball before work, but that was over Christmas break when the wife and kids were starting their day on their own.

I’ve committed myself to getting up 20 minutes earlier and heading down to the basement for some calisthenics. I warm up with 5 minutes on the elliptical machine. Then I alternate pushups, sit-ups, medicine ball: wood chops, twists, step-ups and front raises with jump rope or jumping jacks. If I keep moving, it takes about 22 minutes. Or the length of one episode of Arrested Development, Get Smart, 30 Rock, or half an episode of Freaks & Geeks, Mad Men or The Wire.

This weekend I’m going to figure out how to fasten a pull-up bar to the joists in the ceiling and add that to the routine as well. I’ll probably draw the line there. As much as I dig the old school approach, pins and spring cables and kettle bells are probably a little too far.

I’ve been at it for a few days and my first impressions are: It beats an extra cup of coffee for starting the day with energy. I'd go so far as to call it invigorating. It helps to keep my morning shower brief. Being more awake helps prevent those lost moments. And it makes me look and feel a little extra pumped up during the day, which is never a bad thing. Also, when I’m half awake, my brain is less able to think of excuses for quitting early.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Burgundy & Gray

I fished this tie out of a bucket at J. Crew over the weekend for $8. I threw together the rest of the outfit and got carried away. All the way down to my socks and underwear. Then when I got home I noticed that my my whole family was coincidentally coordinated as well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Wardrobe: Then and Now

In the past year or so I've lost roughly 100 pounds. Virtually every piece of clothing I owned had to be replaced. I used this as an opportunity to overhaul my personal look. I've been going for a more grown up, permanent fashion wardrobe. Here's a quick snapshot of my closet from February 10, 2008 and one from yesterday, February 8, 2009. (obscured are several sport coats, a suit and a few dozen ties.)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Public Showers

Practicing good hygiene is as much a part of being a gentleman as anything. So is physical fitness. Sometimes those two pursuits conflict. I like to take advantage of any opportunity to get some exercise. That means biking to work (when the weather and daylight cooperate), going for a jog during my lunch break, and hitting the gym on a regular basis. Naturally, these activities produce serious amounts of sweat.

Luckily, my workplace and my gym have readily available shower facilities. One is semi private. The other is semi risqué. (not only is it in full display of anyone who enters the bathroom, but there’s a spot in the hallway with a half decent view through a clear window) In any event, taking public showers is part of being a man. Especially an athletically inclined man. Still, there are some pitfalls that a gentleman will want to avoid and a few items and techniques he’ll appreciate.

Before you untie your shoes, make sure you have a secure personal locker. If there are functioning showers, there should be at least a handful of lockers. If you can have one reserved for your personal use, that’s even better. You can keep it stocked with the items that you’ll need. They would be:

Body Wash Even if you’re strictly a bar soap guy, the aim is efficiency and messing with a wet bar of soap is too much of a hassle. However, you do get manly points for soap on a rope.

Powder Gold Bond Body Powder, Shower To Shower, regular generic talc, just something to keep you cool and dry. Your body will produce some residual sweat after you’re done exercising. You’ll want to keep yourself fresh. Apply to your feet, nether regions, and anywhere your workout clothes get swampy.

Antiperspirant/Deodorant obviously.

Moisturizer I know what your thinking. Foofy, right. The thing is that the more you shower, the more your skin dries out. And if your exercising outdoors it only makes matters worse. Either way, keep your showers short and the water on the cool side to keep dry skin under control as well.

A Clean Towel This should go without saying too, but I find it wise to pack a smaller, thinner towel. Again, it’s all about efficiency and simplicity. Choices should be made favoring that over your personal comfort.

Shower Shoes They don’t call it athletes foot for nothing. Plus, it allows you to rationalize away your own Tobias-Fünke-like nevernude issues.

A few optional items include cologne, a washcloth, hairbrush/comb, pomade (other hair product) and electric razor.
Forgive me if they seem more essential to you. When you’re bearded, balding and not into cologne, it makes some typical concerns seem extraneous.

Above all, keep it quick and simple. Get the sweat off and get out. Do your serious cleaning at home. Nobody likes a lingerer in a public shower. Not only is it suspicious, but somebody might be waiting for that head and being a gentleman is about making life easier for others. Shaving, teeth brushing, nail trimming, Q-tipping, nose hair trimming and shampooing should be reserved for your home bathroom as well. And don’t leave anything damp clothing or towels in your locker any longer than you have to. Those things are like a funk incubator.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Mono means one and Gram means gram

My recent screening of North By Northwest was in part a search for elements of refinement and gentlemanly behavior to examine and adopt. Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill is a memorable example of a gentleman who has it all figured out. Since he wears the same clothes throughout the movie and is frantically avoiding peril, there wasn’t all that much to glean. But I was impressed by the fact that he had a personal mark or monogram that played a clever role in the story. His match book featured his sharp looking R.O.T. on the cover and I presume all his pocket squares, shirts and golf clubs shared the same mark.

I’d like to have something like that going. First I’ll need to create a mark. Being a graphic designer, I’ve visited the notion several times. Usually whenever I’m updating my resume or too bored to do anything else. I figured this would be as good excuse as any to finally see it through.

For a little history, the tradition of monograms comes from French and English aristocracy. Their housekeepers would sometimes share work and having a mark on each piece of laundry made it easy to separate. Even today, when using professional dry cleaning and laundry services it can come in very handy. Before I start having all my shirts and personal items embroidered, I’ll need to settle on a solid mark.

Images from Monograms Inc.
I stumbled upon the website for a monogram designer in NYC named Caroline Brackenridge. She operates Monogram Inc. and she does a heck of a job. Her $575 initial price seems very reasonable for what she provides. Naturally, I’ll be creating my own. I’ll probably spend a lot of time and energy on this. I’ll post the final result somewhere down the line.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Andy Bernard Conundrum

Without question, Ed Helm’s character on NBC’s The Office is the archetypal preppy douche bag. Andy Bernard is annoying, stupid and full of himself. But damn if I don’t love his wardrobe. I recognize most of what he wears from J. Crew. And clearly, if he learned anything from his privileged upbringing and Ivy League education, it was how to dress.

In fact, I’m more or less dressed like Andy right now. I’m wearing the green and blue university striped tie and checked shirt from J. Crew with khakis and a sweater. I would like to point out that I acquired these items before he debuted on television. But this still begs the question: What does this all say about me? Is the fictional wardrobe of Andy Bernard modeled after dudes like me? Should I be concerned that I am coming off like a douche bag?

I’d much rather be the model for a character like Jim. His wardrobe isn’t objectionable. But frankly, he dressed like a Catholic high school student. I’ve been there. I’m not necessarily trying to go back to that. Perhaps I should strive for a middle ground. Maybe Oscar, but strait.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mr. Peabody

I decided to go for broke and wear a bow tie. I picked up this one at my local thrift shop. It's from a company called Sherman. And interestingly, wearing it made me feel a bit like Mr. Peabody (quiet, you). Though I quickly got used to it and began to feel like I'd been wearing bow ties my whole life.

I was caught off guard by the lack of comments from coworkers. By the afternoon it started to get noticed. The security guard did mention that a bow tie suited me better than a regular tie. All in all, I'm calling it a success and I'll be keeping my eyes open for other bows to sport on the odd occasion. I don't think this one is too bad. It was certainly the best one of the bunch at the thrift shop. But I can't shake the idea that the little paisley guys look like Homer Simpson sperm.

I'm not going to bother demonstrating how to tie a bow tie. If you're interested it's easy enough to look up. I have to admit that demonstrating the technique was among my original ideas for blog topics. But it seems like everybody else has done it already. I will mention that I learned out of a book rather than online. And once you've done it two or three times, it's not much harder than a half windsor or Prince Albert knot. I did have a strong urge to adjust it frequently, though it barely needed it. Except when my 10 month old decided to grab and pull on it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

How-To Book Review

I just read a smart little book by John Bridges called How To Be A Gentleman: A Contemporary Guide To Common Courtesy. Essentially, it’s a litany of gentlemanly proverbs loosely compiled into a handbook. Reading through them all at once, it becomes clear that being a gentleman is basically about two things. First, being completely dedicated to making the lives of others easier. And second, when all things are equal, executing the proper techniques in refinement.

You can essentially apply those two concepts and a little common sense and score a near perfect on a gentlemanly quiz. Still, I did find a handful to be rather enlightening. Such as:

“A gentleman says ‘thank you’ on paper, and ‘I’m sorry’ on the phone.”

“A gentleman feels no obligation to wear socks after Memorial Day…”

“A gentleman introduces youngest to oldest first.” And “A gentleman introduces an unmarried couple as individuals. Avoiding phrases like ‘…and this is her live-in boyfriend/homosexual companion/lover’”

“A gentleman never says ‘If there’s anything I can do…’ Instead of placing the burden on the unfortunate to ask for help he makes a specific offer of assistance.”

“A gentleman always carries plenty of singles. You always want to be prepared to leave a tip or to help someone who is unprepared to leave one.”

“A gentleman never instigates a handshake with a lady. Though he accepts and does so gently and quickly.”

“A gentleman never wears a button down shirt with a bow tie.”

“When pouring wine form a bottle, a gentleman turns it slightly as he finishes to avoid dripping”

“A gentleman doesn’t brag, whine or make idle threats.”

However, I also have to take issue with a few of his points. For various personal reasons I don’t plan on conforming to these standards any time soon.

“A gentleman tucks his undershirt into his underpants.”

“A gentleman doesn’t waste time with pilsner or beer glasses, the can or bottle will do”
First of all, I strongly disagree. And I happen to have a very elaborate collection of beer glasses that I’m quite proud of.

“A gentleman does not lean back in his chair.”
I can agree with this to a point. No slouching and chair tipping, but putting up your feet and leaning back is one of life’s great pleasures.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sartorial Pet Peeve | Labels

Confession: I have a vintage Lacoste sweater with the little alligator that I’m quite fond of. It’s a plain navy v-neck. It’s not in the greatest of shape and could probably stand to be replaced. That got me thinking. When wearing a traditional article of clothing, why would you want a visible label of it’s manufacturer? To demonstrate how much you paid for it of course. Upon review, that seems somewhat ungentlemanly to me.

In fact, I often resist buying clothes made by Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Nautica or anyone who tends to prominently display their embroidered logo or some other obvious indicator of the brand. A gentleman should take pride in his appearance. He should wear clothes that fit his body and the occasion. But whether he had them custom tailored at Brooks Brothers or bought them off the J.C. Penny clearance rack is his business.

I understand the marketing strategy and how it benefits the manufacturer to make it obvious and advertise the appeal of his wares. But ask yourself this. If you happened to look good, would you rather have an admirer of your clothing say to himself: “I can see that he shops at Polo.” or “I wonder what his secret is.” It just seems to subtract from the benefits of dressing well and provides short cuts to style.

If the objective is observing the quality of goods and value purchasing, then there are more refined methods for determining what something is worth relative to it’s cost. It’s better to analyze thread count, stitching, button material, and weight than by inspecting a half inch patch of embroidery.

A gentleman can make a lot of different statements with his clothing: I’m on the cutting edge of fashion. I’m strait laced and serious. I’m laid back, individualistic, traditional, hip, old school, fancy, etc. But I don’t think, "I spent $X on a knit polo" should be one of them. There’s too narrow an audience that would appreciate that information. Some people might be put off by how high it is, others by how low.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Watch Carefully

Historically, I’ve never really been a watch wearer. But when I got into biking to work and running it quickly became a necessity. In fact, an unfortunate vacation incident that I won’t go into led to a hasty late night Wal-Mart purchase. That $7 digital sports watch served me well. The face was scuffed in a bike accident but it kept time, worked in the pool and I’d grown accustomed to the chronograph and indiglo features.

Still, it looked like a $7 watch from Wal-Mart. Every time I’d see a photo of myself the poor thing stuck out like a ketchup stain on a white dinner jacket. So I started paying attention to watches. I would check the wrist gear on photos of cool celebrities. I tooled around the web and men’s magazines hoping something would catch my eye. Something did. J. Crew just introduced a Timex made replica of a 40s era military watch. My brother, who’s in the military, wears a smart looking Victorinox number that I really admire.

But I couldn’t pull the trigger. For one thing, I’d miss some of the features of my sports watch. And the $150 price tag, though fairly reasonable, seemed high for a watch that probably would sell for $20 if J. Crew weren’t involved. Plus I just saw an episode of the Bob Newhart show where Emily buys him a $3000 watch for his birthday that leads to a fight. He makes a good point at the end of the show. Something like, I wouldn’t have minded if you’d spent $3000 on a piano because a $10 piano probably doesn’t sound very good. But a $10 watch does the same thing that a $3000 watch does and you can take the remaining $2990 and buy a pretty decent piano.” Basically, it’s an expanded version of the old “Don’t waste time with fancy watches” adage.

So I looked around Timex’s website and took a modest liking to their Expedition model. It seemed to be a fair compromise. Then I was at Target getting dog food and happened to notice one on clearance for less than half the regular price. Now I’m sure the model Timex furnishes for Target is a little sub standard. But I assume it will keep time and take at least a half lickin’. Besides, if you consider that I’m getting a nearly ideal mix of the J. Crew style and the sports watch function for three and a half times the price of one and a sixth the price of the other, I’m probably making out.

Funny side story: My brother was shedding possessions before going overseas and gave an almost identical cheap sportswatch to my stepson. Then he proposed to his girlfriend shortly thereafter and she bought him an expensive Tag watch as an engagement gift. It’s a Spanish tradition. But with his line of work, he’s too afraid to damage it. Perhaps it has something to do with our upbringing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Double Feature | North by Northwest + Fletch

Fletch and North by Northwest are two of my favorite movies. I was watching the latter when I realized that they are remarkably similar. Some aspects couldn’t be more different, but essentially it’s the same movie. Suave, divorced, career driven chap, by way of mistaken identity, becomes embroiled in a complex plot and has to solve a mystery, avoid being killed, travel, disguise, and bed the gorgeous blonde mixed up in it all, while dispensing the sharpest wit imaginable.

Of course there are big differences in sensibilities. East coast – West coast. Government Secrets – Drug Traffic. 50s – 80s. One outfit – Dozens of them. Suspense – Comedy. But there are so many corresponding elements. Private planes, running from cops, aliases, etc. But perhaps the most notable is the main character. Irwin R. Fletcher and Roger O. Thronhill are both remarkably smooth, funny, self-possessed gentlemen. They both think on their feet, have a way with women and above all are inquisitive and courageous.

Manners, style and knowledge are important facets of a gentleman. But it doesn’t mean much if he’s not a man of action that can think on his feet. Especially when he’s out of his element. Being able to talk your way out of a jam as well as throw a decent punch or jump a wall when talking has been exhausted is just as important. Here’s hoping that none of us get mixed up in a murderous plot. But in such an event, let’s be prepared to handle it like gentlemen.

“If you shoot me, you're liable to lose a lot of those humanitarian awards.” – Fletch

“I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – R. O. Thornhill