In Praise Of Eccentricity

In one of my favorite scenes in Bull Durham, Crash Davis upbraids rookie Nuke LaLouche for having filthy shower shoes along these lines:  “When you’re in the Majors, you can have dirty shower shoes and they’ll call you ‘eccentric’.  Until that time, you’re just a slob.”

Nuke’s not alone.  The awful Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, is often called “eccentric” by the fools in the entertainment media;  but what doesn’t show in the photographs is that because she hardly ever showers or uses deodorant, she has body odor that can stop a buffalo.  Ditto Johnny Depp, who seems to confuse his Jack Sparrow character with real life.  Apparently he seldom brushes his teeth,  which means the unfortunate female co-stars who have to kiss him in a love scene should demand danger pay because of his toxic bad breath.

They’re not eccentric;  they’re just slobs.

I love eccentric people — or to be precise, I love people who do eccentric things.  The above two don’t qualify, but the other night I watched a Brit TV series called A Stitch in Time, in which a “fashion historian” gets period clothing made for her by a team of seamstresses so that she can see what is must have been like to wear them.  But the seamstresses don’t make the clothing using modern technology or material;  they make them by hand, using only the tools and materials available at the time.  So, for example, cotton thread has to be run through wax so that it doesn’t fray or come apart, and buttons and such have to be manufactured to be as historically accurate as possible.  (New Wife was astonished that I would not only watch such a show, but enjoy it utterly;  but as I explained to her, I’m a historian, and seeing how clothing was made and worn is as interesting to me as seeing how contemporaneous weapons were made and used.  It’s all history, and I’m quite promiscuous about the topics thereof.)

And they were very ambitious projects.  Here are a couple of the dresses they made:

The Amalfini Portrait

La Chemise De La Reine

What I loved about the show was not just the garments, lovely though they were.  What got to me was that this group of seamstresses has spent literally decades learning how people made clothing in every period of history, not just contenting themselves with the tailoring skills, but learning all about the materials, the dyeing processes and the constraints which faced the tailors and seamstresses of the various eras.

And it wasn’t just them.  At one point, the head seamstress pulled a book off the (very full) shelf, and I caught the title of the book next door to it, entitled something like “Dressing Customs In The Restoration”.  I asked myself:  “Who would be driven to write a book like that?” And there were lots of books on the shelves, in similar vein.

That, my friends, is true eccentricity:  doing something that’s so different, so outside the modern idiom that perhaps only a few people in the whole world have done it, let alone mastered it.

Here’s another example of eccentricity:

A Victorian-obsessed graduate has snubbed the 9-5 life to pursue her dream of living like a 19th century duchess in a country mansion.
Jacqueline Brown, 25, from St. Louis City, Missouri always thought she’d take an office job after university, but decided to pursue her passion for the Victorian era after coming across the opportunity to be the live-in caretaker of a 19th century manor house.
The graphic design graduate, who estimates she has spent over $5,000 on period clothing in the last three years, whiles away her days showing guests around the 1853-built Oakland House and tending to the property’s upkeep.
And her time staying at the house has made Jacqueline re-think her ambitions and she now hopes to move to the home of the Victorians themselves — Britain — to work in a museum devoted to her favorite period in history.

Here she is:

Jacqueline said: ‘Living in a Victorian mansion was never my original career plan, but it has allowed me the opportunity to live my dream.
“I’ve been the caretaker here for just under two years and I don’t want to leave. I’m in love with everything about the Victorian era. The clothing is my favorite thing. I love the shape of the dresses. I love that women were feminine and I love the romance of courtship. I try and dress in a historical way whatever I’m doing and I almost never wear trousers.”

Is this not wonderful, this eccentricity?  Is she not magnificent?

I have often said that if it were possible, I’d like to live as a gentleman in the Edwardian era (1900-1913) in Britain or the U.S., because I like everything about the period:  the manners, the clothing, the way of life, the conservative outlook, everything.  I might not live that life openly — I don’t wear the clothing and so on — but in every other way, I am as obsessed with the period as young Jacqueline is about the Victorians.  I’m not eccentric, at least not truly eccentric.

Compared to the people above, I’m nothing.  But at least I am never a slob.

A Stitch In Time is on Amazon Prime.  And by the way, I always believed that the merchant’s wife in the first painting was pregnant.  She isn’t.  Watch the show to see why.

Temporary Living

A little while ago I talked about how I used to dream about living in various cities around the world, and realized that I wouldn’t do it even if I could, because freedom and guns and stuff.

But then I saw this photo essay about Amsterdam, and I have to admit I felt a tug.

You see, I’ve actually stayed in a hotel on this very canal — I have several pics similar (in subject matter, not in quality) to this one — and so maybe, just maybe, I could live here:  not forever, but for just a few months.  Long enough to submerge myself in the city’s ethos, not that long where I start to get twitchy about not being in America anymore.

Which got me to thinking.  In my dreams of what I’d do after winning the lottery, travel would of course be a definite;  and with sufficient funds, “travel” would mean an extended stay rather than just my normal five days.  (I’ve always thought that you can figure out a city, any city, in about three days.  Add another couple-three days, and you can pretty much say you’ve seen it all.)

But a longer stay — say, for three or four months — would enable you to really dive into the city, beyond visiting museums (a must-do in Amsterdam, by the way) and the usual “places of interest”.  Renting a decent apartment for that long a time, as opposed to just staying in a hotel, would mean having to get to know the city properly:  where to shop for food, which foods to buy, finding restaurants whose menus you love and are therefor worth multiple visits, the best places to buy clothes and shoes, and so on.  (Best would be to arrive with empty suitcases, to be filled during your stay.)  Finally (and this is important), a longer stay would require you to learn more of the home language than just which foods to order off a menu.

Having spent so much time over the years in London, I already know all these things about the place.  I have favorite restaurants, shopping destinations, places simply to walk around, and of course pubs.  That doesn’t mean I couldn’t find more of the same — London is amazing in that regard — but my deeper knowledge of London, I think, needs replicating in other cities around the world.

So a list of major cities to be visited in such a manner would include, in order:  Amsterdam, Vienna, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Milan, Barcelona and Lisbon.

Smaller cities (with a stay of only a month or so) would be, once again in order:  Porto, Dubrovnic, Graz, Bruges, Bratislava, Nuremberg, Brest, Bristol and Valetta.

Alternative suggestions (from experience) in Comments.


This article got me thinking — or rather, its title did:

Rules for a deconfinement dinner party

I thought about it for a while (about 30 seconds), and came up with Kim’s Rules For A Post-Lockdown Party:

  • invite a group of really good friends, or family members you get along with, or both
  • have an ocean of fine booze at the ready — in my case, Glen Morangie single malt;  Sipsmith gin;  champagne (for New Wife, her favorite tipple);  a case of Barefoot wines, in different colors;  two cases of decent beer;  a bottle or two of Tawny Port;  Richelieu brandy;  and whatever the guests want to drink (prearranged)
  • a huge rib roast (or leg of lamb), accompanied by roast potatoes and -parsnips, asparagus, and some other veg TBD by New WIfe, along with crusty French bread and farm butter;  with peach cobbler dessert and vanilla ice cream (dieters, vegans and teetotalers, needless to say, are persona non grata).

And that’s it. Good food, lots of booze and good company, all seated together round the dinner table at the proper social distance (12″-18″ apart), and have at it.

Of course, those are my ingredients for any decent dinner party, but let’s not get all bogged down with details.

Quality Stuff

I try to be sensible and logical and so on, but I will admit to a weakness for quality (“luxury”) items, across almost all categories of living.  Of course, I don’t have the wallet to afford any of them anymore, but I’d still prefer to drive, say, an Audi instead of a VW.

This philosophy does clash — frequently — with commonsense as I muse on such things, but the lure of quality still gets to me.  And as Longtime Reader Mike Of The Dueling Pistols so eloquently said when talking about watches“You know why I own a Bremont and an IWC? The same reason I own a Hammerli… I like it. My bills are paid, why not buy something I enjoy with the money?”

Amen.  In Daphne du Maurier’s novel The Progress Of Julius, the protagonist is a man who starts off as a street urchin in North Africa and ends up becoming enormously wealthy in Britain.  I don’t remember the exact words, but one night he thinks about the fact that he now wears silk shirts, and wonders if he could ever go back — and realizes that he couldn’t, because luxury is seductive.

And it is.  On the very few occasions when I’ve been able to afford a real quality item, I always felt good about it, and it always repaid my investment in spades.  An example:  back when I was a pro musician, I could have got by with playing a $400 Fender Precision bass guitar, but instead I bought a $1,200 Rickenbacker.

The very first time I played the Rick, I felt a rush of something — enjoyment and satisfaction, I suppose — because I was playing the best bass guitar in the world and good grief… it sounded fantastic.  That’s not a knock on the Fender, by the way:  the old P-bass has been played by bassists far better than I, it’s super-reliable and sounds just fine, and if for any reason the Rick hadn’t been an option, I’d have got the Fender and been quite happy with the thing.  But it wasn’t a Rickenbacker, and it became my (and the band’s) signature sound over the years.

I feel the same about lots of life’s little toys:  cars, watches and guns being the categories where I’m most prone to going for the spendy, so to speak, and which tendency will be well-known to Longtime Readers.

So just as an intellectual exercise, I’m going to do the same for them as I’ve done for bass guitars:  post a perfectly-good choice, against what I’d really like to own.  Note that I’m not going to post a “budget” item — I never even considered a cheap bass guitar like Epiphone or Squier, for example, even though I was quite poor at the time — but only something that’s of (very) acceptable quality.  So here goes:

1911s:  Springfield G.I. and  Ed Brown Kobra

There’s nothing at all wrong with the Springfield — there’s one on my belt as we speak — but the Kobra is exceptional, and I lust after it bigly.

Bolt-action rifles:   Ruger Hawkeye and  Mauser M12

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with the Ruger — I got one for Boomershoot, as you’ll recall — and it’s a perfectly good rifle… until you fire a Mauser M12.  (Both the above, by the way, are chambered in 6.5x55mm Swede.)

Side-by-side shotguns:  AyA No.2 and David McKay Brown Round Action (note:  as we all know, you can go nuts when it comes to fine shotguns — Purdey, Holland etc. — so I gave myself a price ceiling of merely “expensive”, and second-hand to boot)The kicker here is that you can get a new AyA for about $6,000, and a second-hand McKay Brown can run around seven times that, because machine-made vs. handmade.  Indulge me…

Watches:   Longines Flagship and Jaeger-LeCoultre Master

…and I didn’t even have to go super-pricey on this:  the Longines runs just under a grand, and the Jaeger just under five.  I’ve owned a Longines before, and I still regret getting rid of it (because poverty);  but Jaeger watches are both lovely and super-reliable.

Fountain Pens:  Sailor 1911 and  Pelikan Souveran 800

For when you want to sign that important contract, and the Bic just won’t cut it.  The Pelikan costs nearly three times the Sailor, but Pelikan… I don’t think they make a “regular” pen — all their models are excellent.  If you have big hands and need a thicker barrel, then try the Cross Peerless 125. (And Montblanc Meisterstuck pens are fine — they’re the Rolex of pens — for those who want to be seen using one.  My budget Pelikan writes better, in my hand.)

Classic Sports Cars:   1967 Corvette Stingray and  1957 Mercedes 300 Roadster

This one’s not even close.

Modern Saloon Cars:  Mercedes S560 (4-liter V8) and  Bentley Continental GT Speed (6-liter W12)

Y’all know that I’m holding my nose with this one, because modern cars are almost all fugly.  If I had  to own one, however… but I cheated.  Because while a new S560 costs around $130k at the above dealer, an extra 5 grand gets you a secondhand Bentley, with less than 10,000 miles on the clock.  As with the earlier car choice, this one isn’t close, either.

Feel free to list your “quality” options in Comments — they don’t have to be the most expensive you can buy, just better than the average or typical.  And please:  I’m not interested in hearing from people who are perfectly happy with their 1983 Dodge Whatever, Casio Digital and inherited Winchester 100, and see no reason to upgrade any of them, ever.  Play the game.

Don’t Bother

I am really, all evidence to the contrary, a fairly even-tempered man [quit yer sniggering, it’s true].  Whenever people who only know me from this website meet me in person, they’re all astonished to discover that I’m quietly-spoken, placid and quick to laugh or chuckle at life’s many little hassles.  Even behind the wheel, I am not — and never have been — prone to road rage;  automotive dick-headedness will almost always just get a shake of the head and a quiet “What an asshole” from me.

The one thing, however, which is guaranteed to turn me into an instantly-violent psychopath is pranking, whether in public or in private.  I don’t play pranks on people — I actually think it’s a form of cruelty — and I have absolutely no tolerance for pranksters.  (And for any who want to test that, having read this, please don’t.  It will not end well for you.)

So when I watched this video at the Knuckledragger’s place, my response was immediate — I roared with laughter, frightening New Wife out of her chair in the next room.

All pranksters should meet a similar fate, or worse.