Little Luxuries: Popcorn, Peanuts, R. Hanauer, Colonel Littleton and The Mulholland Bros.

There is an interesting blog I visit (and would recommend to you) called Easy & Elegant Life that is inviting readers to offer suggestions for Christmas gifting of little luxuries costing $100 or less. Along with the previous post's personalized grill grate (currently on sale for about $75) an the branding irons (starts at about $50) here are a few more little luxuries I've given in the past or will give this year.

Almost everyone loves popcorn. Yet, unfortunately we have become a nation of microwavers. And that means less than stellar
popcorn. Help a friend rediscover the little luxury of stove or fireplace-popped popcorn with a gift of Crown Jewel Gourmet Popcorn. Consider one of the sampler sets that include a one pound bag each of several of the nine varieties, such as Red Ruby (a rich,robust nut-like flavor); Baby Black Pearl (a no hulls, small kernel with a savory and tender taste); Blue Sapphire (pops up small and crunchy with a slightly sweet flavor); and White Diamond (pops up large and white with a classic popcorn flavor).

As an avid fan, I can attest that your recipient will enjoy--and be sure to get a sampler for yourself! Gift Samplers from $26 and 8 favorite varieties plus a sturdy classic stove popper for under $60.

Vince Guaraldi is best known by most as the creator of the Peanuts music for the various CBS specials. His trio's catalogue still sells well and his less-known music is fantastic. Consider two of Guaraldi's CDs to combine as a gift (all for under $25 via Amazon) for a full taste of Vince: A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Definitive Vince Guaraldi (a 2 disc set). The last time we threw a cocktail party at The Dog Pound the background music was all Vince, and he was a hit. It seems everyone loves his piano style but just never bought the CDs. These two provide 43 wonderful pieces of music with only one duplicate.

I count Randy Hanauer of R. Hanauer Co. a good friend from my days in men's clothing. His lineup of bow ties, handsome and unique cummerbund sets, d-ring belts, neckties, braces and rich assortment of silk, cotton, Jacquard and linen pocket squares offer countless possibilities for gentlemen on your list. His bows include prints, wovens, exquisite formals and tartans.

I am especially fond of his Jolly Roger bow and necktie, as I worked on Randy two years (well before Depp's pirate movies) convincing him to add that motif to the line. I kept telling him about paying big bucks in the early 80's for Alan Flusser's version, and being put on a multi week waiting list. Finally he added it just to shut me up, I think. I'm pleased to say JR is a big seller. Also check out the "Who's on Top" woven bow for the rake on your list. If Randy is making that one, I need to re-pitch my "4Q" bow tie again... And for your Sandlapper pals check out the Palmetto bow. Bows from $50; pocket squares from $17.
A good friend of Randy's is Colonel Littleton, purveyor of fine leather goods, personal knives and a growing list of other items for man, woman and home. The Colonel is well known for his knives and for around $75 The No. 2 Knife would be a fine gift for many a man on your list. The No. 2 features bone handles in eight different choices, brass bolsters and stainless steel blade. Personalised choices are available including name or initials on the handles or initials and date on the bolsters.

San Francisco's Mulholland Brothers make lux leather goods including their $16,000 American Alligator Hippo Duffel. There are also many gift items more in line with one's Christmas budget. You'll find backgammon or checkers/chess leather boards at $80, and even though at $120 it's over E&EL's "hungee" limit, you'll find an alligator magnetic money clip in six colors.

Life's Little Luxuries. We're Lucky Dogs, are we not? Be sure to head over to Easy & Elegant Life for more little luxuries.


All I Want For Christmas...

I've always tried to find Christmas gifts for family and friends that they would enjoy yet probably would not buy for themselves. For instance, I have a pal who loves to cook and I try to find "out there" cookbooks for him that might enhance that enjoyment in some new way. A style of cooking or some regional or country specialty, for example. My most successful effort was the artisan bread baking book that ignited his passion for baking. This year it's Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way by Francis Mallmann.

I'm thinking of asking for a little something I would never buy myself (at least not in this economic climate) that I found via Smoke In Da Eye BBQ blog. A custom-made grill grate by Huntingdon Customs. The question is, what will be the design?

SIDE's custom grate makes me think that Warren Zevon's Old Velvet Nose would be a fun choice of design and would cover several themes all at once: my admiration for Zevon; I could add the name of my fantasy baseball team (Zevonistas) and cover my joy of baseball; and the skull and Zevon reference would pretty much cover my penchant for the pirate in all of us.

What might be even more fun than the grill grate would be a small branding iron with said theme so that I could brand those thick rib eyes I love with my mark. I think I'll contact Huntingdon Customs to see what they can do with Old Velvet Nose.


A Ferrari Moment

I'm pretty sure it was a 599 GTB Fiorano.

It's Saturday and just barely dusk. I'm on I-40 East just outside Durham on the way to the Sam's Club in Morrisville. To jump start Son Number One's Honda. He's been there working his pick up job, cooking Little Smokies and offering them to passersby. Nine bucks an hour.

Anyway, I'm in the 335i (it's filthy inside and out) tooling along in the far right lane at about 65 mph. Sixth gear. Steely Dan's only live album, Alive in America, is blaring. If you don't have that CD you should get it, if you like SD at all.

My baseball hat is low on the brow. I check my left mirror, because the Buick in front of me is holding me up. I'm ready to change lanes, pull in behind the old clapped out Volvo with the Vegan sticker that just blew by me on the left in the center lane. But... But in the mirror I see something low to the ground coming up fast. It's not that dark yet but in the mirror I can't make out the marque. It's something unique, though. I stay in my lane. Suddenly, the Volvo on my left pops on the breaks strong because of something goofy ahead. I hear the downshift of a throaty engine and suddenly there is this beautiful, shiny corsa rossa Ferrari pulling even with me to my left. As I turn my head toward the beauty the immediate sight is the Prancing Horse crest with the "SF" ( Scuderia Ferrari) script emblazoned just aft of the front wheel well.

Instinctively, I raised my sight line, trying to see into the cockpit. Don't you like to see who's driving that sort of exotica? He was what I would guess to be a 30-something fellow, with longish combed back black hair. His Romanesque but handsome nose gave insight to his heritage.

We were looking at each other. I threw a thumbs up his way--the modern symbol of hello and camaraderie among autophiles. In my old college days when I was driving an MG B and another sports car came into view we would flash the peace sign. He smiled, pointed toward me, quickly moving his hand back and forth horizontally as if to confirm the legitimacy of my BMW before returning the thumbs up.

The Volvo moved back into my lane, giving the 599 just enough room to accelerate past us both and then zip to the far left lane. Gone. I so wished I'd taken the BMW by the car wash.

Oh, what a beautiful automobile. I don't think I would want one even if I could afford the total bill, but it sure does brighten the day when you have a Ferrari Moment on the Interstate.
Road & Track Review


JFK's Death And Other Trauma

On November 22, 1963 JFK was assassinated in Dallas. I was in the midst of music class, playing the flutophone. Seventh grade at Brogden Junior High School. Thirteen years old.

When the message of his death came over the the loudspeaker time stopped. I became as nervous as I felt under the lights one night during the Cuban missile crisis when, out playing tackle position for the Optimist Football team, I and other kids would steal a look skyward between plays, looking for the missile that was destined to come any minute out of the black sky above the stadium lights.

In the 60's there was something to be said for kids not paying attention to current events.

These events rank right up there with watching a film on TV on Sunday night (was it Ed Sullivan?) about the power of the atom bomb and its unfathomable destructive powers. The film depicted what would happen to a neighborhood much like my own in the event of a detonation many, many miles away. The recurring nightmare associated with that film finally went away.

The last time I felt that awful fearful pang in the pit of my stomach was on September 11, 2001.

Until recently. I was travelling with one of my sons to DC and we passed the Pentagon. Suddenly my son gasped "Oh my God!", almost scaring me out of my traffic lane. But I recovered in time to see what had caused the exclamation. He (and I), upon looking at the Pentagon immediately realized, because of the significant difference in the color of a part of the building, that we were looking at where the airplane slammed into the building on 9/11. I have added that moment to those others that I will never forget.


Love Me Do

February, 1964. The Beatles are coming to America. The Ed Sullivan Show. We (all the junior high kids I knew) already were falling in love with the music. Some, including me, were as intrigued and enamored of the style of these blokes as of the music. But don't get me wrong, the music itself was life changing. I could write a book about how the Beatles influenced my life.

Life changing. Why? Well, I am no music critic (I think I could be) but the combination of the music itself coupled with the eclectic, cold weather-based (England can be harsh environment, weather-wise, right?) and uninhibited style was diametrically different to the broad moderate clime, traditional, almost military-based American style of the '60s I was used to. And the music was more up- tempo than we were used to. Also, I don't read music, but I'm pretty sure the chord sequence of the Beatle's songs were more unique than the formula pop chord progression we were used to at the time. And then there was the sound of those Rickenbacker guitars...they were not British-made instruments, but from Los Angeles. Somehow the sound was fuller than the tinny sound of a Fender Stratocaster.

And the hair. Don't forget the hair. In this important case if no other in my life, I was an early adaptor. Perhaps I should say an early imitator. By the time The Beatles hit The Ed Sullivan Show I was already growing out my 'do. I had already ridden the bus downtown with a month's allowance to visit Gladstein's (Durham's "urban" fashion palace) to buy a pair of Chelsea boots. AKA Beatle Boots. I took those boots straight to the shoe repair shop for the installation of what I later came to realize were Cuban heels--a couple of inches higher than normal.

Although I am loathe to admit it, I even bought a Beatle wig at Thalheimer's Department Store. I was on the waiting list two weeks. I signed up for a "Paul Model". I wore that thing once, on the bus home from picking it up. Thankfully, it didn't take long for me to realize it was not cool.

I do not fault myself for the inglorious purchase of a Beatle wig. Many of my guy friends and I who frequented the YMCA during that time were stretched to the limit of our ability to remain relevant in the junior high scheme of things. You see, as if on cue, a Duke professor and his family (including twin boys slightly older than my crew) returned to Durham from a couple of years in Scotland. Of course those two boys had perfected "the look" during those two years. Awesome long Beatle-inspired hair, tight cords, real Chelsea boots, thick Scottish wool turtlenecks sweaters and they had even acquired a slight accent while overseas. How in the hell could we compete with that level of cool? They even knew the next part of the British invasion. They were so over Paul, Ringo, George and John.

" 'ave you heard o' the Rolling Stones?" they asked.

We had the Stones to look forward to, but for now, all we wanted was to see The Beatles on TV, compliments of Ed Sullivan. In color. That's where my Dad came in. In a very creative and cool way. The Beatles appeared three weeks in a row on Sullivan, beginning February 9, 1964. Either the second or third week (I don't remember which) was going to be in color! Now, my crowd was so entranced by the first appearance in black and white that the thought of seeing The Fab Four in living color was beyond our wildest dreams! And none of our families had a color TV. But my Dad had a whole showroom of them where he worked. And so the pilgrimage to Montgomery & Aldridge, Durham's preeminent appliance and tire emporium, was conceived by my Dad. So his son and his pals could see The Beatles in color.

It was a glorious occasion. Fifteen of my closest personal friends--both boys and girls--were transported to M&A on that Sunday night, and gathered together in front of the biggest RCA color television on the sales floor to watch the gods of current culture. Dad even scooted across the street with me and a couple of buddies to The Carolina Theatre and bought buttered popcorn, Coke and various candies for the whole gang. He was a hell of a host his whole life.

Finally, 8pm came and the show began. But not in color! You can imagine my Dad's chagrin, much less my own. We watched The Beatle's show-opening tunes in classic black and white, stunned that we had been robbed of living color. While I don't specifically remember the CBS excuse, it was something like "the color system was on the fritz".

Fathers have a way of making things right--at least as right as they can. My Dad was a chronic pleaser and by the time the boys from England hit the stage again, Dad had implemented the best fix he could. We were gathered around three color televisions; with one's color knob turned all the way to red, one to yellow and one to blue. We watched those last two songs in color, alright--CBS be damned. Dad was still mortified, scurried back to the concession stand of the theatre and everyone left with another large buttered popcorn. "It was the least I could do," he said on the way home.

I do not remember the songs the group did that night. I cannot recall all the names of those fifteen kids. I will, however, always fondly remember my Father trying his best to be a great Dad that night. And always. Most of the time he was a roaring success. To me, he was that night. And now, as the father of two almost-men, I can understand that when my Dad was not a roaring success, it usually was out of his control. For the times when it was in his control and he faltered, I have forgiven him. As I pray my sons will forgive me.

Dad's favorite Beatles tune was Love Me Do. Perfect for a chronic pleaser.


Got The Blues?

Thanks to Chez over at Fat Johnny's Front Porch blog for allowing me to repost this great explanation of the blues. Check out FJFP and bookmark it as a fave. It's a rollicking cyber place full of great recipes, music and more that I enjoy. You will, too.


If you are new to Blues music, or like it but never really understood the why and wherefores, here are some very fundamental rules:

1. Most Blues begin with: "Woke up this morning..."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes - sort of: "Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher and she weigh 500 pound."

4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch ... ain't no damn way out.

5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft and state-sponsored motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in the Blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or anywhere in Canada . Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, and Nawlins are still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the Blues in any place that don't get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't the Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg 'cause you were skiing is not the Blues. Breaking your leg 'cause a alligator be chomping on it is.

9. You can't have no Blues in an office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot and sit by the dumpster ... in the rain.

10. Good places for the Blues : (a) highway; (b) jailhouse; (c) empty bed; (d) bottom of a whiskey glass.

11. Bad places for the Blues: (a) Nordstrom's (b) Gallery openings (c) Ivy League institutions; (d) Golf courses.

12. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be an old person, and you slept in it.
13. Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if: (a) You're older than dirt; (b) You're blind; (c) You shot a man in Memphis ; (d) You can't be satisfied. No, if: (a) You have all your teeth; (b) You once were blind but now can see; (c) The man in Memphis lived; (d) You have a 401K or trust fund.

14. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the Blues. Sonny Liston could have. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the Blues.
15. If you ask for water and your darlin' gives you gasoline, it's the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are: (a) Cheap wine; (b) Whiskey or bourbon; (c) Muddy water; (d) Black coffee. The following are NOT Blues beverages: (a) Perrier; (b) Chardonnay; (c) Snapple (d) Slim Fast.

16. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So are the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken-down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

17. Some Blues names for women: (a) Sadie (b) Big Mama; (c) Bessie; (d) Fat River Dumpling.

18. Some Blues names for men: (a) Joe (b) Willie (c) Little Willie; (d) Big Willie.

19. Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Jennifer, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis .

20. Blues Name Starter Kit: (a) Name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.); (b) First name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Peach, etc.); (c) Last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.) For example: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Pegleg Lime Johnson or Cripple Peach Fillmore, etc.

21. I don't care how tragic your life is: if you own a computer, you cannot sing the blues, period. Sorry.
LD (thanks, Chez)


Veterans Day


We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America. From the Minutemen who stood watch over Lexington and Concord to the service members who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, American veterans deserve our deepest appreciation and respect. Our Nation's servicemen and women are our best and brightest, enlisting in times of peace and war, serving with honor under the most difficult circumstances, and making sacrifices that many of us cannot begin to imagine. Today, we reflect upon the invaluable contributions of our country's veterans and reaffirm our commitment to provide them and their families with the essential support they were promised and have earned.

Caring for our veterans is more than a way of thanking them for their service. It is an obligation to our fellow citizens who have risked their lives to defend our freedom. This selflessness binds our fates with theirs, and recognizing those who were willing to give their last full measure of devotion for us is a debt of honor for every American.

We also pay tribute to all who have worn the uniform and continue to serve their country as civilians. Many veterans act as coaches, teachers, and mentors in their communities, selflessly volunteering their time and expertise. They visit schools to tell our Nation's students of their experiences and help counsel our troops returning from the theater of war. These men and women possess an unwavering belief in the idea of America: no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who your parents are, this is a place where anything is possible. Our veterans continue to stand up for those timeless American ideals of liberty, self-determination, and equal opportunity.

On Veterans Day, we honor the heroes we have lost, and we rededicate ourselves to the next generation of veterans by supporting our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen as they return home from duty. Our grateful Nation must keep our solemn promises to these brave men and women and their families. They have given their unwavering devotion to the American people, and we must keep our covenant with them.

With respect for and in recognition of the contributions our servicemen and women have made to the cause of peace and freedom around the world, the Congress has provided(5 U.S.C. 6103(a)) that November 11 of each year shall beset aside as a legal public holiday to honor our Nation's veterans.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of theUnited States of America, do hereby proclaim November 11, 2009, as Veterans Day. I encourage all Americans to recognize the valor and sacrifice of our veterans through appropriate public ceremonies and private prayers. I call upon Federal, State, and local officials to display the flag of theUnited States and to participate in patriotic activities in their communities. I call on all Americans, including civic and fraternal organizations, places of worship, schools, and communities to support this day with commemorative expressions and programs.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


The Bucket List (1)

For weeks the movie The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, has set atop our television. Unwatched. Netflix must love customers like me. I keep seeing the disc and we keep meaning to watch it. Maybe tonight.

We all know the plot. Two men, dying, set out to do the things they have always wanted to do before kicking the bucket. Although I've not watched the movie, I've thought about the premise and about my own Bucket List for awhile.

My list is a work in progress. Which, of course, I now intend to start sharing via this blog. And, I sincerely hope readers (if there are any!) will respond with their own hopes for accomplishments b/4 kickin' the bucket by responding to this and subsequent posts.

At the moment, my BL is broken down into a few sections: Possessions; See & Do; Revenge; Create; Complete. It's simple. Or is it?

The Revenge part is easy. It is one entry on the list. Before I die, I will take a baseball bat to the knees of of an ol' boy who intimidated me for almost two years during the end of junior high and the beginning of high school... over a girl. He and his gang of red neck thugs made life miserable. Just writing down these words may suffice, as I am not a violent person.

OK, onward. We are all into possessions and so am I. The one thing I want to possess before kicking the bucket is another BMW 2002. I was the proud owner of a used '74 Bimmer (NOT Beemer) in my 20's. Bought in Durham, I drove that BMW to Nashville when I went to work for Pirelli Tire US as the Tennessee territory representative.

I loved that car...Bavarian green (ha! British racing green), tan vinyl interior, steel wheels, four speed and no air conditioner...ok, till summer in Memphis. That was the first of five BMW's I've owned. The 2002, three 320i's (one new a year while travelling), and a 335i with sport and premium packages, an awesome, thrilling and entertaining automobile.
If I ever can afford it, I will find what the classic car restorers call a donor car and trundle it up to Chicago to what most think is the best BMW restorer on the planet, one Don Dethlefsen at The Werk Shop.

I'll opt for the full restoration which means Don and his artisans will disassemble every nut, bolt and part in order to replace or refresh it. The body will be de-rusted and re-painted. The motor will be rebuilt, upgraded if you wish, and cleaned to the point that you could eat off it. All the mechanicals and electrics will be made new. Tell 'em how you want the interior--original or updated, perhaps with Ricaro seats, leather rather than vinyl and a Momo sport steering wheel to replace that goofy big circular OEM thing you're used to holding on to.

About twelve months and $60,000 later, I'll have my brand new BMW 2002.

I came by my appreciation and love of the BMW marque honestly. Durham was the home of Miller & Norburn, an internationally respected BMW tuner, Alpina distributor and racing team that at the time (mid '70s) was the only BMW authorized shop that was not a dealer. Durham was BMW Central in the USA at the time.

My ties to the tire industry gave me access to some pretty cool people at M&N... Russ Norburn, who drove the race cars along with Nick Craw, head of the Peace Corp who went on to lead the Sports Car Club of America and now a FIA big wig, I think; Preston Miller, who I never met but would talk to about tires over the phone. He was the engineer of the group; and Tom Bishop, their marketing guy.

There is one fellow I'm forgetting--I cannot for the life of me remember his name--but ironically, he was my go-to guy. He was the head of the M&N shop and took very good care of my 2002 and later my 320i while I was in Durham. A hell of a good guy. With his help we took off all the smog junk from my beautiful red over black 1979 320i and lowered the car with new shocks and springs. We put on a set of 205/60-13 Pirelli P7s and the stance of the car (not to mention the performance) was unbelievable.

Not long after that, my brand new beautiful wife and I drove that Bimmer to California, and I soon had to re-install that smog junk in order to pass CA emission laws. Thank goodness my pal kept the parts and could send them to me. Bummer, not Bimmer.

But back to the Bucket List. I want to ride again in an 02 Bimmer. An esoteric, beautiful and ergonomic Kraut car. The original sport sedan. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. It's a Bucket List thing.


Robert Earl Keen

Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen has a new album and that's all the reason I need to introduce you. The Rose Hotel became available just a day or two ago and is another great effort by this Texas Alt Country Legend.

Often called the Country Music Frat Boy, Robert Earl is an unassuming and laid back soul whose music is appreciated by a wide range of fans--from traditional county aficionados to the college crowd. He's the kind of fellow it would be easy to be best friends with. It's Texas music, often fun, frolicking and raucous, yet as often his songs are flavored with a heavy tinge of...well, read the Paste Magazine review of Rose Hotel and you'll see what I'm driving at.

Now, everything about this review is far less than fair to Keen's talent and place in Texas/folk/alt country music. And there is nothing perfunctory about the song Man Behind The Drums, a tribute to Levon Helms. But read the review anyway (and bookmark Paste Mag if you are into music even a tad).

Then, go to Amazon and listen to all the clips. And buy every damn CD from REK, put 'em on the iPod, slide on your coolest pair of sunglasses and stretch out on the couch listening to them all. Try your best to morph into that rare Texas state of mind that makes anything bearable.

He's written several songs that have become anthems, including The Road Goes On Forever (And The Party Never Ends) and Merry Christmas From The Family, the latter being a send up until after a few listens, when you come to realize just how serious and insightful the song just may be. And somehow close to home, whether that's Kerrville, Texas or the Upper West Side.



Cottage Bacon, Thanks To Food & Fire Blog

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words and when it comes to this mouth-watering delight, it's true. It may look like good old country ham but I think it's going to be better. Sweet and salty. Chewy. Delicious.

You can find the recipe at an interesting food blog I found recently called Food & Fire (where you'll find even more pictures of this bacon!). I'm drooling...

I'll be making a passel of this as soon as the Morton's Sugar Cure arrives in the mail--the Morton's web site tells me nobody stocks it around the Dogpound. Hopefully, you'll not have to wait and can start curin' right away!

It looks fun and simple and involves a pork butt, maple syrup, Morton's Sugar Cure, seven days of agony waiting for the butt to cure and several hours of good ol' smoking in the Webber. Then we fry it (or bake in the oven) and eat!

And put Food & Fire on the favorite blog list, while you're at it.


Paranormal Activity Redux

Some say Paranormal Activity is the most frightening movie ever. From the trailers (and my understanding of Psi anomalies) I'd guess "the demon" turns out to be psychokinesis (poltergeist) emanating from the girlfriend. I'm no fan of scary movies, but I've got to see this one. And I'll no doubt see The Fourth Kind (click through to see the trailer) also, if for no other reason than because the Whitley Streeber book Communion--about alien abduction--used to freak me out. TFK arrives on November 6.

Happy Halloween, all you ghosties and goblins.


The Break In The Market

October 28 and 29 of this year marked the 80th anniversary of The Great Crash of '29. We are reminded by the WSJ blog Market Beat that those days in October were not the worst nor really the beginning of The Great Depression. By April of '30 the stock market was almost back where it was...sort of like today. By Easter the New York Times was referring to The Crash as "the break in the market"...sort of like today.
Danger, Will Robinson.

The Brothers K

The Phillies got off to a great start last night, beating the Yankees 6-1 in the first game of the World Series. I am hoping (as always) for a seven game series. I hate to see the season end. At most, I've got six games to enjoy, plus whatever old games I can catch on MLB TV, until Spring Training. Currently, I have Nolan Ryan's last no-hit game saved to the DVR, just waiting for the right miserable winter weekend when I need a lift. And Gaylord Perry's 300th win game awaits me, too. I'm praying they'll re-play the Kirk Gibson Miracle Home Run game between now and spring.

No doubt I will score both of those historic games and several of the Series games. Scoring a baseball game is a creative outlet for me, not to mention a great way to keep your head in the game. I came to scoring late in life but now I am a fanatic. I feel guilty watching a game without scoring...

I have a love affair with baseball. Like most boys born in the 50's, the passion started young. For me, it began playing catch with my Dad, matured through Little League and became unrequited in the Pony League, when my skills no longer matched my desire. But my love continued vicariously through Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, John Roseboro and the rest of Walter Alston's LA Dodgers.

Baseball was (and is) an art form, passed down from generation to generation back then. Now, that father/son bonding via The Greatest Game doesn't happen so much. It did (and still does) with my two boys. And luckily, Mrs. LD enjoys the game, too. Baseball has been a glue, one of the shared, ongoing experiences that defines our family. Something to all enjoy and share together.

That's why, no matter how bad the economy gets, I will not give up our Durham Bulls season tickets (four rows up the steps, section 200, with the fourth seat in dead behind home plate). That's why (well, one of the reasons) I bought that Chrysler convertible. I wanted us to drive home from the games with the top down, still talking together about the game with the cool rush of air around us. I wanted to create the future, when, with me long gone to the never ending season, one of they boys might say to the other something like: "Remember when we were little and Daddy had that convertible, and we'd ride home from the game with the top down? That was fun." Something to hold on to, now and later.

But now the season is close to ending. The only good thing about that is taking my battered copy of David James Duncan's novel The Brothers K off the shelf for the annual winter read. This is my favorite novel and not just because baseball and its binds is a significant part of the narrative.

Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, hailed as one of the great works of literature, acts as Duncan's touchstone. Both novels portray a strong patriarch, four brothers (with similar characteristics in both works) and a family dealing with themes of religion and free will, morality and the faith (or lack thereof) that creates one's beliefs and guides one's actions. Duncan's title, other than as a short form tie to Dostoevsky, is ironic in that "K" is the symbol in scoring a baseball game for a strikeout.

The Russian philosopher Nikolai Fyodorov's view of Christianity had a strong effect on Dostoevsky (and no doubt Duncan) and that view plays out--in my mind at least--as the most significant theme in Duncan's work, if not both. It is a view of Christianity that allows redemption and "resurrection" as an earthly possibility, via sons who pay for the sins of their father through sacrifice, resulting in a more unified and universal world family. In this case, the father's sins are not those of "Papa Toe", the boys' father, but rather the sins of any of us responsible for this wicked world.

What else do we pass down to our children other than baseball? What else unifies us, for better or worse?

There is plenty of sacrifice in The Brothers K. Through the draft dodger, the conscientious objector who is sent to Viet Nam, the philosopher son and the narrator Kincaid, the reader will find himself, even if not a child of the sixties. This is, after all, a work that uses the inglorious sixties (and baseball) to explore universal and timeless themes.

There are two pristine first editions of The Brothers K on the bookshelf awaiting my sons. Soon they will be ready.

From the publisher:
David James Duncan's first novel, The River Why, met with such enthusiastic praise for its journey of self-discovery that it became a contemporary classic, with readers comparing Duncan to J. D. Salinger, Ken Kesey, and John Irving. Yet, as one reviewer noted, "His [style] is not merely a patchwork quilt....His is a genuinely new, genuinely original voice in American fiction, a voice which is not quite like any you've read before." (San Jose Mercury News)

In The Brothers K, Duncan amplifies the considerable accomplishment of his first book as he centers this tender and powerful story around a Pacific Northwest family in the early '60s. The Chance family is wild about baseball and cantankerous about religion. Papa is a gifted but luckless minor-league pitcher whose big-league hopes are fading. Mama is a devout Seventh Day Adventist, constantly in motion to save her wayward sons. When a mill accident crushes Papa's thumb, and Mama's inexplicable fanaticism threatens to shred what little the family has in common, parents and children find themselves embattled over the ideals represented by baseball and religion.

It is young Kincaid, the easygoing middle child, who chronicles the humor and spiritual beliefs that alternately sustain and confound this family in a small Washington mill town. And it is in his maturing voice, as his brothers leave town to enter one of the country's most bewildering decades, that we hear the inescapable tensions wrought from one American generation testing another's vulnerabilities. Through the Chances, David James Duncan asks sublime questions about life, self-sacrifice, and enduring love in an ever changing world.


Paranormal Activity

My Town is famous for many things including the Durham Bulls, the Duke family that made Durham the world's tobacco capital for over a hundred years and endowed Trinity College which became Duke University, and for the old Rice House and rice diet program that brought the rich and famously fat to Durham to lose weight (including Elvis, it's said). And on the outskirts of Durham Station on April 26, 1865 at the Bennett Farm, the largest surrender of Confederate forces ended the Civil War.

Yet to me, My Town's most fascinating claim is as the birthplace, in 1930, of the more formal scientific, quantitative and statistical study of "parapsychology", begun by J.B. Rhine with and under the auspices of William McDougall, head of the Psychology Department at Duke University. Parapsychology--or extra-sensory perception (ESP)--is a still controversial offshoot of psychology (and more recently electrical engineering, due to the electrical nature of the brain) that studies (simply put) the possibility of human knowledge not derived from the five senses. ESP is "the sixth sense."

There had been much earlier research. The Society for Psychical Research was founded in London in 1882. In 1885 the American Society of Psychical Research was formed in New York. And in 1911 Stanford University began laboratory experiments, yet these groups were primarily engaged in qualitative psychical research more aligned with mediumship, spiritualism and the possibility of life after death. Through the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory's use of dice and specialized cards, a statistical model of research evolved and became the standard for other researchers.

Areas of research include(ed) Telepathy (transfer of information on thoughts or feelings between individuals by means other than the five classical senses); Precognition (perception of information about future places or events before they occur); Clairvoyance (obtaining information about places or events at remote locations, by means unknown to current science); and Psychokinesis (the ability of the mind to influence matter, time, space, or energy by means unknown to current science).

The investigation of things that go bump in the night would sometimes be undertaken, but for the trained scientist, in the context of the other areas. As an example, William Roll, a researcher at the Duke Lab for many years, investigates poltergeists but from the perspective that the paranormal activity may derive from the psychokinesis ability of someone associated with "the haunting" of a place rather than from the possibility of some ghostly or demonic activity.

Through the years, J.B. Rhine and Louisa, his wife and research collaborator, became the preeminent researchers in the field and the faces of parapsychology. Upon his retirement from Duke in the early 60s, Rhine founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM) in Durham. The study of Parapsychology at Duke--already on the rocks due to the university's concern over negative publicity generated by skeptics--ceased.

The 60s and 70s were active periods for parapsychology research, but research generally has waxed and waned in the US since. Yet there are still many groups and researchers dedicated to the field. The UK became and remains a strong foothold for study. In 1995 the FRNM was renamed the Rhine Research Center and is still active from its headquarters in Durham, having persevered through the years.

This Lucky Dog is honored to be associated with the RRC. I have fostered a curiosity and appreciation for the field since a science project in seventh grade found me calling upon the FRNM for help and information. I was assisted in my research by Dr. John Freeman who was a Baptist minister and researcher. He was studying ESP in children at the time and I was to become his "assistant" in rounding up kids from my school to volunteer for testing on Saturdays.

Within the last few years I have re-established a relationship with RRC and count Sally Rhine Feather (J.B.'s daughter and RRC Director) and others associated with The Rhine as personal friends. The Rhine and other groups such as Windbridge Institute, Institute of Noetic Sciences, Parapsychology Association and other organizations do important work in the field of human consciousness.

Interest in paranormal activity seems to be in vogue again. I'm wondering what has fueled the interest. Often, bad times move us closer to spirituality and we look inward to our consciousness for solace. We want to connect to some Higher Power, whether our God or the vast unknown of human potential. The last decade certainly has been a trying time for many. We search for something bigger and stronger than ourselves. Perhaps it's just a cyclical, generational lift. Baby Boomers and their children are, in my mind, decidedly more open than previous generations to the possibility of "human potential".

Certainly television is helping fuel interest in the paranormal. Cable channels are full of ghostly reality t.v. like Paranormal State on A&E. Dan Brown's new novel The Lost Symbol includes a "noetic scientist" character supposedly patterned after the Director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Their web site is experiencing significant hits since publication, I've heard.

And The Rhine is experiencing an uptick in layman membership and general interest in part due to the recent publication of the book Unbelievable, the story of J.B. Rhine and the Duke Parapsychology Lab, by Stacy Horn. There is a movie screenplay being prepared. Horn has a great active blog about the subject of parapsychology and the book (linked above).

By following this link you will be taken to the vimeo site where you can view various videos about The RRC and parapsychology, including a program with Stacy Horn and Dr. Sy Mauskopf, whose book on parapsychology and the Rhine Center, The Elusive Science, was published in 1980.



Sometimes you just have to take a break. Whether you want to or not. The rope breaks. The mooring is cut. Blood pressure rises while anxiety, misery and ill-focused distress marinates within. Certainly, the stress manifested in your chest will soon explode from you in some Alien-like reprise.

Important duties are overlooked as concentration evaporates. There is weight loss and sleep becomes problematic as life's passions and the daily pleasures of life bleed out. What happens next, you want to know. Better or worse, of course.

I am working on better. Yesterday I watched an entire baseball game and scored the whole thing. Very enjoyable. I think I'll do it again today. I'm excited to plan some activities for The Wife's upcoming birthday and I'm writing this blog. Small but important steps.

Rule One is remembering that I am a Lucky Dog.


It's a Pirate Life for Me

As my earlier Zevon post and comments about my Father's Bilko-esque military persona might suggest, insouciance-as-lifestyle appeals to me. I guess that's why pirate themes have always appealed to me. Yes, pre-Depp.

There is something about the pirate image that appeals to almost everyone, it seems. Not the thievery. Not the killing. It's more the independence and devil-may-care attitude; the individuality of, say a Keith Richards (whom Depp structured his Jack Sparrow around), of Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville life, Frank Sinatra doing it his way, Harley riders, Hemingway in Spain, and Florida Keys residents all, Agnelli, Christopher Walken. And more, hopefully including me, mostly happily marching, dancing, whirling and boogalooing to their own drummer.

One day, I will purchase these slippers and no doubt wear them somewhere out. I'm thinking with a black blazer, silky-soft light grey Super 120's wool trousers, a soft, unstarched white dobby shirt (if I'm really in the mood along with a deep burgundy silk short scarf tied loosely at the neck and tucked in) and a kickin' pair of Pantherella socks I own that are primarily white, with a black and grey design. Alas, this may be enough for M. Lane over at The Epic and ADG at Maxminimus to ever consider linking ALDL to their exceptional blogs. See sidebar for links.

Millionaires in Maryland

According to this piece in today's WSJ, tax migration is in full gale in Maryland. An interesting take on taxes, the wealthy and who will ultimately take up the yoke of higher taxes (hint: you and me).



I'm a sucker for a good baseball movie. Or, to paraphrase a brilliant insight about "baseball movies" I recently read on a thread about the movie Sugar, I'm a sucker for a movie that uses baseball to tell a more universal story. The observer went on to say that's the difference between a good and bad baseball movie. And a good movie, period, I'd add.

But I think I understand the thread writer's point. There are good and bad "action" movies, great and awful period pieces, fulfilling and simply scary horror movies. The genre is...well, the genre.

I have not yet decided if one of my favorite baseball movies (Bull Durham) fits that universal description, although it is no doubt a very good movie. A very good baseball movie, to say the least. The threader says it does tell a more universal story.

Another favorite (Field of Dreams) came to mind immediately as more universally themed. The threader went on to say that The Natural does not pass that test. I'll have to think about that one, too.

From what I can tell without having seen Sugar, about a young Dominican pitcher who comes to the States (Iowa, to be exact) to play in the minors of a fictional Major League team, this one may very well go down as both a very good baseball movie on both levels. I'm leaning on a review by Roger Ebert and the film's trailer for this. I look forward to seeing the movie as soon as it hits town.


Memorial Day

(I realize that Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those who gave their life in the defense of The United States. Even though my Father did not die in service, I write about him here.)

My Father never wanted to talk about the war--World War II--and as he died when I was seventeen, I never had the opportunity to bring it up to him as an adult, man to man. At seventeen, memories of war were not on my radar. I was too busy trying to figure out how to stay out of Vietnam. I did not want any war memories of my own. But I would have gone if drafted.

I have pictures from Dad's Army days. He was a cook on or near the front lines during The Battle of the Bulge and was presented two Purple Hearts. I do not know any details.

Dad's favorite TV show when I was little was the TV comedy
"Sergeant Bilko." It was his favorite because during his youth when he was in the Army he was quite the rounder, like Sarge. Quick-witted, likable, good at poker, pool and no doubt dice, along with the drinking skills that usually went with such endeavors, he could procure things hard to find during the war. He had that knack. And he always was able to "procure" all I needed growing up, and more.

There are bits and pieces of information I have about his time in the service. Most are snippets that I don't really remember how I know. I just know them, maybe from when the relatives used to get together and late at night reminisce about their youth. I would be semi-asleep on the floor, while the stories would flow into my brain for later understanding.

There is the story about him going AWOL because he wanted to see his younger brother, James. Dad was in Europe somewhere and James was in a tank in Africa. He made it there and back after a brief visit. And there's the one about Dad sending $300 home to Durham's mayor with the request that he "procure" gifts for my Mother's birthday. He was anxious for her to have silk stockings and French perfume, a big cake, along with extra gas and sugar rations for her family. That made the local newspaper, of course. I still have the clipping with the photo of my Mother holding the stockings and perfume.

Just snippets. He kept getting busted down to buck private for his many small transgressions against authority. Via his gambling, he always had money to lend to his fellow soldiers, with usury, I'd guess. His Captain got him out of the brig one time because the Captain needed a loan. Later, his records were "lost" by that same Captain.

But as was the case with the fictional Bilko, and as so well put by the Museum of Broadcast Communications web site about the character, my Father, too, was a good man with a heart of gold. I can surely attest to that.
And there were the soft mutterings about the jeep wreck. I never knew my Father to drive, either by choice or because of verdict. I have never known which. I do know that my Father would have be en the type of man to inflict his own personal penalty on himself. Somebody got killed and Dad was driving the jeep--that much is clear. Whether it was his fault or not remains unknown. It cannot matter now; I am content not to know.

He served till the end of the war and received an Honorable Discharge. That, too, I know. I discount the lost records.

I think of my Father most--now forty-some years after his death--on Memorial Day. I am not sure why. He did not die in service to his country. Perhaps I think of him today because I would like to have known him in his youth--and more about him generally, so I could appreciate him even more than I do.

Like so many soldiers, his youth was scarred by war. And for him and most WWII Veterans, by a Great Depression. All that he was the years I knew him was a product of that war he fought. I remember him as quiet, reserved and as someone who kept his cards close to his vest. I don't think his scars (even though I confess to not knowing what the scars entail) ever healed, nor have the physical and psychological scars of so many who have served our country.

From our nation's revolutionary formation through our country's current campaigns, our youth has constantly been steeled by war. By sacrifice. By accepting the call of duty. Even the rounders. I pray this country remains worthy of that sacrifice.

The gratitude the rest of us owe is virtually unspeakable.

'I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration Day. I have rather felt that the flag should be at the peak, because those whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what they did. '
--Benjamin Harrison


Warren Zevon

If you have never listened to Warren Zevon or think of him as a one hit wonder with the song Werewolves of London, I urge you to investigate the creativity and sensitivity of this rock artist. His is quite a story. From classical piano to touring with the Everly Brothers to critical (if not popular) acclaim. Dave Letterman's favorite rock artist and mine, too. He appeared on Letterman often before his asbestos-related lung cancer death in 2003, including a one -guest show with Dave near the end of his life. When asked what he would say to viewers about life's frailty, he simply said "enjoy every sandwich" which after his death became the title of a great tribute CD.

His last two CDs had a rather morose vibe, at least in title; Life'll Kill Ya and My Ride's Here. At the time, his diagnosis was not made--at least it was not public. I will always think he knew.

In December of 2002 Warren appeared at The Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC, unknown to me. But not my wife. Yet since the concert was the same night as her college supper club's Christmas party (husbands invited) she kept it to herself. I'm not sure I've forgiven her yet.

I always appreciated the song Werewolves of London, but came to truly embrace Warren's work later in his and my life. It started with the purchase on a whim of the CD Mutineer after hearing snippets on Amazon and due to fascination with the picture of Warren on the cover, depicting a pirate-esk down on his luck, Florida is the end of the line kind of fellow hiding behind a pair of huge Raybans. I sort of felt that same way during that time. It is a dark and haunting compilation and still my favorite CD. Call me melancholy.

For newcomers to Zevon, go with The Best of Warren Zevon and the afor-mentioned Mutineer. If you get hooked, you'll want all the CDs--buy the anthology I'll Sleep When I'm Dead next. Leave his last works and tributes until you've memorized all the "best of" lyrics, which if hooked, you will do. Great writing.

Read ex-wife Crystal Zevon's book I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, once you become a full fledged Zevonista.

Check Wiki for more. And You Tube has 60 videos of songs and Letterman appearances.


The Sporting News Daily

For the past month or so I've been subscribed (free) to a daily helping of sports news from Sporting News Today. It is a joy to find it in my inbox each day. Reccomended highly.

When you begin to receive it, watch the brief video that, among other things, shows you how to enlarge the page so it's readable. Well, nothing's perfect. http://www.sportingnewstoday.com/


The Importance of Jack Kemp

Jack Kemp could have made a great president. It's a shame the Republican Party is and was so set in throwing its weight behind "who's turn it is" to be the nominee. Kemp/Dole could have won. He was a great and honorable bleeding-heart conservative.

American Spectator magazine published an interesting overview on Kemp's career in January of this year and is worth a read.


Fiat and the New Automotive Order

Until recently I haven't thought much about Fiat automobiles. The Italian firm's management takeover of Chrysler and maybe even some of GM's European operations has the company in the news here in the States. Remember, Fiat hasn't sold cars in the US since...oh, since a long time ago--about 25 years. Pulled out. Couldn't make it. Something about adverse dollar/lira exchange. And rust. And a weak dealer network. And...overall quality.

I know all about the dollar/lira and turn-on-a-dime marketing attitude of the Italian industrialists, having worked for Pirelli Tire for 10 years. I remember when the US tire operation would slide from the most important market to the least on what seemed like a weekly basis. But that's another story.

Really, I have thought a lot about Fiat Group automobiles--I just didn't stop to realize it. You see, I'm a softie for Lancia rally and race cars of the 80's which was my time at Pirelli and a great time for Lancia Motorsports. Part of Fiat. And who doesn't melt at the sight of a Ferrari? Part of Fiat. Like the rad styling of the Alfa Romeo? Yep, part of Fiat. Add in my often-remembered ownership of a 1974 Fiat 124 Sport Spider (my first new car) and I guess my brain is almost constantly oozing Fiat.

As recently as 2005 Fiat was in dire straits, much like GM and Chrysler today. Three billion Euro bailout from government. During this period GM actually had a limited partnership of sorts with Fiat, sharing some parts manufacturing in Europe and teaming on engineering projects. Fiat was so unstable then that GM paid Fiat two billion dollars and returned the 10% ownership stake to get out of the deal, afraid Fiat would topple right into their hands. How the tables have turned.

I have my doubts about all this. The Italians, God love 'em, hold themselves in high esteem. But at this point they have not invested a dime of their own money in these "takeovers". A gift from the Obama Administration. It is expected Fiat will obtain a 20% stake in Chrysler over some period of time. I hope they are going to pay for that. If the going gets too rough for Fiat down the road or if the infamous Italian political system comes to dislike the possiblity or reality of Fiat cutting jobs at home because of the new deal, there will be trouble.
In reality, for Fiat making all this work is a gamble they must take. Grow or die. Hopefully that's a reality that will spur a great outcome for all.

Here's a new name to remember as someone who now has a significant role in our industrial and overall economy: Sergio Marchionne, the head of Fiat Group. He's the fellow who turned Fiat profitable since taking the helm. So maybe...
Oh, and while we are remembering things...why is it that the Obama Administration and others believe Fiat is up to the task of restoring Chrysler when Daimler Mercedes couldn't?


John Mauldin Newsletters

John Mauldin is a best-selling author and financial expert (as well as a Registered Representative) who writes a couple of email newsletters I look forward to receiving each week.
Thoughts From the Frontline and Outside the Box were brought to my attention by a friend and colleague who, like me, starts with a macro top-down approach to investing. The newsletters are dense, in the good sense, and I always feel more knowledgeable after reading. There are over 1 million subscribers.
I've always believed that politics (or at least governance), of course economics and investing are intertwined more than many believe and I find the newsletters offer that theme. You must understand the environment in which you invest, yes? Good reading for the Renaissance Dog in all of us.