Monday, July 22, 2019

A couple of classics.

When I was a kid, the dads tended to fall into one of three camps: Old Spice, Aqua Velva, or Skin Bracer. You'd meet the occasional Brut or even Hai Karate dad, but they were more likely to see overly friendly, like a salesman who couldn't turn it off at home. My dad found that Skin Bracer hit him just right.

But there were some classic colognes and aftershaves that had and have a recognizable scent, ones that just were not much in use by dads in the time and place where I grew up. I've not made a collection of them, but sometimes curiosity has overwhelmed me and I've felt obliged to try something like...

Clubman by Pinaud has been around since 1810, and smells like every just-for-guys barbershop I've ever entered. The omnipresent scent probably comes from the Clubman powder, with which every neck got brushed following the haircut. It's a nice, manly scent, a little floral but mostly woody, a little musky. I do find it a bit strong in the aftershave, though, so I will use a little Purell with it in my palm when I slap some on. I never want to be That Guy, the one who knocks people a step back because of his strong cologne (good or bad, a strong smell from a guy makes people react poorly).

This cologne, however, I found to be a little scary:

Supposedly Florida Water, an even older product, on the American scene since 1808, is named for the legendary Fountain of Youth that Juan Ponce de Leรณn sought. It's got a very spicy scent, clean rather than musky, and I would not have guessed that it contains oils of lemon, orange, and lavender, but it does. It also supposedly has a lot of spiritual uses for all kinds of pagan practices, but arrant nonsense aside, it's a pleasant enough product. I tend to thin this also with Purell, which may be why I have enjoyed no spiritual cleansing. The one mystic power I feared was that using Florida Water might turn a guy into a Florida Man, but the company that makes it is in New Jersey, so I think it's safe.

What do I usually use? Well, I like an alcohol-based aftershave because it kills germs (keep that flesh-eating bacteria out of your razor nicks!), it dries fast, and it feels clean. So I keep a pump bottle of Purell by the sink and usually just use that. For special occasions I may break out some fancy-pants cologne I got as a gift. But, every once in a while, I'll buy a bottle of Skin Bracer and use that, and remember my dad.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Why can't a man be more like a woman?

I had an idea to do a modern update of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady, the beloved musical based on grumpy ol' George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion.

In my modern version, manly and rugged fishmonger Eric Doolittle one day self-identifies as the dainty Eliza, upon which he (with full beard) stomps around London's West End in high heels and a bad wig. Etiquette expert Henry "Hank" Higgins makes fun of this Doolittle character's gruff voice and poor dressing skills. Shortly thereafter, Eric shows up at Higgins's office, demanding his help.

ERIC: I'm come to 'ave lessons, I 'ave, and pay for 'em too no mistake.

HANK: Well!!!! What shall we do with this baggage, Dickering?

ERIC: I want to be a lady in a flower shop 'stead of selling smelly fish in a rubber apron. But no one believes I'm a lady 'cause I ain't genteel-like. You said you could pass me off as a duchess, you did!

HANK: Oh, well, why didn't you say so? To the shaving mirror, my lad! We'll make a lady of you yet!

Following are various scenes of Hank teaching "Eliza" how to dress like a lady, including sashaying in high heels without looking like stilt-walking gorilla on training day; how to talk like a lady and not drop F-bombs all over the scenery; how to be genteel at tea and clever at conversation; all the sorts of thing Eliza wants to know.

Mind you, this is not a comedy. It's a deadly serious drama. What, are you crazy? This isn't Benny Hill or Milton Berle, you know! There's nothing funny about a burly man in a dress! NOTHING! Please don't burn down my theater!

The big twist comes in Act Two, where Eliza is exposed to society and finds out that these days all the wealthy toffs go swanning around in ripped-up jeans and trackies, like a glossy magazine image of working-class heroes, swearing like, well, fishmongers, acting like the oiks that they still despise. Crushed, Eliza returns to Higgins, who takes him in.

Now, I must confess that this story just seems to be sitting there for the grabbing, and for all I know it's the plot of every musical currently running on Broadway and the West End that is not based on the work of a Boomer band or a movie. I wouldn't know; I gave up on theater years ago. If not, and someone wants to pay me a million dollars for the rights, I would not put up a fight.

I think Shaw would like this idea, though. Like a lot of modern love stories, it has a ton of hate, and Shaw seemed to hate nearly everybody.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Moon men.

I'm not sure what to say about the Apollo 11 mission that put men on the moon for the first time fifty years ago today. So many have said so much that we've run out of intelligent or even reasonable things to say, and major media outlets are resorting to the stupid and offensive.

I take second place to no one in my admiration of the astronauts. I think they were brilliant and maybe a little crazy. You look at the size of the three-stage rocket in comparison to anything man-made you know, and someone tells you, "Okay, Neil, we're going to put you in the top of that thirty-six story thing and blast this bastard out of the atmosphere. You'll go about 239,000 miles as the crow flies, as far as all the planets in the solar system shoved together. That is, if you don't blow up, and if all the right parts fall off when they're supposed to and none of the wrong parts falls off at all. Then we're going to plop you on the moon in a little vehicle, and then we're going to get you back off the moon, and after a little rendezvous with the bigger vehicle, you'll all come back, another 239,000 miles, then a fiery death plummet into the ocean."


"You and Buzz will hit the moon surface while Mike stays up top."

"Sounds good."

"None of this seems crazy, does it?"

"When do we go?"

Now, I'm not saying that the conversation went like that -- they probably used a lot of smartypants mathematics -- but I think when you got it to its essence, that's where it was.

And it was glorious.

If I'd been a grown-up watching these guys, and could grasp the scale of the mission, I'd have probably thought they were crazy. When I was a kid at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and I saw the cockpits on World War II airplanes, I thought those guys were crazy. If everybody was like me, we'd have never gotten off the ground.

Oh, I have my moments, but when it comes to heights, find another pigeon. I know plenty of guys who made it through jump school; I would have washed out for sure. Literally -- rather than evacuate the airplane I'd more likely have evacuated my innards. I can be brave about a lot of things, but I literally cannot make myself do things like that.

Or get on top of a gigantic rocket and blast off the planet.

Fortunately, it's never come up at work.

So you'll never hear any bad words about astronauts from me. Amazing bunch of folks.

The moon, however, is another matter. As we've examined before on this blog, the moon is a publicity hound that likes making trouble for me. I hope Neil and Buzz gave it a good kick in the moon pants while they were up there.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019


I had mentioned on the site of the Great Lileks, where we are mourning the loss of Great Lileks Senior, that I had a funeral to go to Wednesday in the city. The father of one of my childhood friends, a man who was like a second dad to every kid who knew him, had died. It seems like we're losing a lot of the good ones these days.

I've lived almost two decades away from the friendly confines of NYC, and the longer I spend away from it, the more I notice things I never did, things that were just the water in which this fish used to swim. For example, the singer at the funeral had a classic New York nasal voice, the kind where you send the voice directly from the vocal cords up into the sinuses. He was otherwise a very good singer, but I wouldn't have been in the least surprised to hear something like:

An’ He will raise youse up on eagle's wings
Bear youse on da breath of dawn
Make youse to shine like da sun
An’ hold youse in da palm of His hand

They did not do bagpipes at this funeral, despite the deceased's Irishness. I guess they only break those out for firemen and policemen, and he was neither. He was, however, a veteran, and they buried him with military honors; two soldiers, flag, and taps.

"I was okay till they played taps," said one of his sons to me, red-eyed. "I didn't know they were going to do that."

Cemeteries in the city are funny, in a way. In the movies, and often in real life, even in places like the massive Evergreens Cemetery that spans the borders of Brooklyn and Queens (which is not even the biggest in the five boroughs), you have the bereaved on a hillside in a shady spot while the final farewell is said, a peaceful and quiet place. Although in films, often raining.

Here we were on a hillside by a major road, traffic whizzing back and forth, swallowing the priest's words, one guy in a truck honking his horn in tribute. A flag is folded, passed on to the widow; roses are placed on the coffin. Good-bye; see you in a better place. Thanks for always being good to me.

I passed that cemetery a million times while growing up. I never knew anyone in it. Now I do.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


I'm happy to report that the car search was a success. Well, perhaps I shouldn't call it that. I think I'd better wait until we clear the first monthly payment without dipping into savings before I can totally call it a success.

What did we get? I'll leave it to you to figure it out. I'm planting subtle clues in this blog entry....

When shopping for a car I wish I were like Ralphie's father in A Christmas Story: "The old man loved bargaining as much as an Arab trader, and he was twice as shrewd." That's not me. However, I have two traits going for me when I go to buy a new car: desperation and cheapness.

When I bought my first new car, as a callow youth, the salesman asked me what I hoped to spend on a monthly payment. I thought about it and -- as I had no idea what it could work out to be -- I named a preposterously low sum that literally made him blanch. It also made him work hard to get me a payment I could live with.

This time, the salesman told us that the 0% financing offer we'd seen advertised was not actually available on all models, including the one we'd taken out for a drive, but the financing was very low, better than we'd find anywhere else and... I said we'd go home and think about it. I was serious; I figured we'd ultimately agree, but I wanted to go home and play with the numbers. Sensing that a fish was about to escape just when he had it netted, the salesman dashed off and -- mirabile dictu! -- they managed to bring the interest rate down to zero. And gave us more for the old car than I thought they probably should.

My wife is really digging her new wheels. I got a lower-end model from the same outfit just a few years back, and compared to the technology in her car, I'm driving a Studebaker. I got a CD player, no backup camera, no Bluetooth link, no all sorts of other things she got. I mean, I'm fine with that, having grown up in the "just another damn thing to go wrong" school of tech-skepticism, but I'm glad she has this groovy bells-and-whistles mobile.

Although I guess a car with actual bells and whistles would be an ice cream truck. Never mind.

So that's the story, and I'm glad it worked out. The old car served us faithfully, but had a lot of issues from the get-go, like the exceptionally touchy theft alarm that was dealer-installed and ate batteries. More recently it needed new tires, brake pads, maybe shocks, and then the fuel tank developed a problem that, as the mechanic told me, "Won't leave you stranded but you'll never pass inspection." That meant the clock was ticking, with New York State Inspection due this fall.

Now, all those worries are gone! Replaced by the one worry of paying for the new car.

Good thing I'm a desperate skinflint and therefore drive a hard bargain by accident!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Editliest Catch.

Mike Rowe: In the Reading Sea, men hunt for books. But the sea -- the sea has a price to be paid. 

Captain Fred: Books... We search for them, we draw them, we wrangle them, we haul them on board, and then we beat the ever-lovin' snot out of them. It's the only way in the Reading Sea.

Mike: Fred Key, captain of the Red Pencil, knows a few things about books.

Fred: People think we just throw out a line and come back with a boatload of words. Nothing could be further from the truth. Half the time they're too short, too long, too stupid -- we won't sell the stupid ones, not on this boat. All of them need editing. That's the real work. That's when the knives come out.

Mike: The dangers of the profession are nothing short of legend.

Fred: I've seen men with paper cuts down to the bone. Writer's cramp so bad -- turned them into pillbugs right there on deck. Bad backs from cheap office chairs. Overwritten tomes that had to be hauled up by hand. I've seen books so awful they make grown men cry for their mamas. Sometimes there's a misplaced modifier, and if you can't find it in time... that's 30 for you, brother. This is no job for pansies. Well, actually, yeah, there are a lot of pansies in the book business. But they're tough pansies.

Mike: It's a dirty job. And dangerous.

Fred: We once had this greenhorn, a kid named Terwilliger Thistlewaite, who got a little careless. A participle that was dangling from the winch smacked him in the head so hard he started speaking French. He's never been the same. Ol' Jane Magee, she lost her editing hand to a split infinitive. Hell, my pal Tom Btfsplk went down with his ship, the Ink-Stained Wretch, last year. Tried to take on the new Stephen King book, The weight of that monster capsized him. I ... I don't even like to talk about the old James A. Michener days. So many editors lost.

Mike: Many leave the job.

Fred: I've known editors who left the business to become emergency room nurses. Said it was more peaceful. Others went on to teach small children. Said that screaming children were easier to deal with than authors. I think one went on to drive a nitroglycerin truck. Lucky bastard.

Mike: Good thing that editing pays well.

Fred: Sorry, I was too busy laughing to address that statement. Say, Mike, haven't you written some books? Maybe we ought to have them on deck, give them a look?

Mike: Uh... as the Red Pencil sails off into the Reading Sea, we close this episode of... The Editliest Catch.