High Style

In the back of my closet are some lovely tweeds, a raw silk sports coat, button-down shirts, and khaki and grey pants. Part of the wardrobe of my days working on the management end of things.
Suits, though, were never part of that. Now, if I dug deep enough, we might locate a single, very plain brown suit. The lack of suited attire was my rebellion against the quiet dress code of the office. The day my last government job ended was the last time any of that was worn. Just thinking about it now gives me gas.

I am a jeans and T-shirt type of guy now, except when I sport some of my collection of Hawaiian shirts. I especially save the raw silk one with the embroidered Hula girl on the back for special occasions, though.

So you can see that I am definitely out of my comfort zone when The gentleman at the LL Bean store asks how the purple rain jacket looks on his pear shaped frame. I tactfully say “just nifty” while feeling a bit bilious at the shade of purple and the oversize contours of the jacket. But, of course, his wife is standing there glaring at me. But hey, If she wants to step on his style choices, it’s on her.
I grab the plain yellow foul weather gear off the rack and try it on. Style-wise, in some things, I am a creature of tradition. And yellow foul weather gear is the epitome of it. I doubt I’ll ever be out in a gale again, but If some flashback to an earlier phase of my life should occur, I’ll be ready.

So if you ever see a guy on the dock with a broad-brimmed Panama hat, ratty cargo shorts, a WoodenBoat T-shirt with holes in it, a loud Hawaiian shirt, and yellow foul weather gear, please come on over and let me know what you think of my blog. I can take it. Honest.

LULU

The Hancock street place was more of a studio than an apartment. The only window opened onto the alley behind the building, and you could time noon from when the sun lit up that window. But it was a step up from the rented room I had been in the month before. It was cheap and cheap was what I could afford.
It’s Sunday morning. I sit on the bed, running some simple scales on the guitar for flexibility. It was what I could afford in the confines of an apartment without a radio, television, or other entertainment.
A group of friends had run off to Cambridge for breakfast, but I had begged off because payday wasn’t till Friday. In the meantime, I had ten dollars to cover everything. My friends liked me but were not so well off themselves to pay for the meal.
I switched to chord progressions and let the chords take my hands where they would. In times like this, I wished things happened as they did in the fantasy and sci-fi novels. A luminous door would open, and I’d be invited to a world of opportunity and adventure.

When the knock came, I gladly put aside the guitar and went to the door. There was my next-door neighbor, Peggy. Our apartments shared a common kitchen, and we only saw each other when we met in the kitchen.

I’ll keep this story PG, but there she stood, all five foot two of blonde beauty asking, “Wes, how does this look on me?” Well, how does any costume made to be stripped off a beautiful woman in layers look to a twenty-one-year-old heterosexual male? Peggy was an exotic dancer and asked my opinion on new outfits. Some of the males reading this might think I was lucky, but this was stressful because the chances of Peggy and I having a meaningful relationship were nil. However, I helped gauge the male reaction to her costumes and her dance moves just by her reading my face and body language. I was a captive audience.
Peggy had killed several developing relationships when visiting girlfriends had been there while Peggy sought my opinions. It wasn’t so much that Peggy was seen as competition as the whole thing of an exotic dancer asking their prospective boyfriend for his opinion was not seen a being harmless, it was a relationship killer.

So there she stood in some little sheer thing I could not look away from. She then did something unexpected and offered me a cup of coffee. Over coffee, she told me she was moving but wanted to thank me for my support in the several months we had been neighbors. She then whipped out a photo of herself in very little and signed it ” to Wes, with great love, Lulu.” It seemed that she danced under the professional name of Lulu. Then, reaching over and kissing me, she again told me what a great neighbor I had been.

Since my financial abilities did not extend far enough to own a simple AM/FM radio, I wasn’t in a position to follow the career of Lulu, even if I had the hankering to do so. So she rapidly faded from memory.

The photo lingered long enough to go through multiple moves, shipment to Philly for grad school, and shipment back. It eventually became lost in one of my files. I came across it the other day while sorting out old photos and purging old tax documents. There she was, just as she had looked over fifty years ago—five foot two, blonde, and in some skimpy outfit.

OK, I ran to the computer, Googled her, and looked her up on Facebook – married to some Boston Mob prince, divorced, and living in Boca Raton with her five poodles. So Peggy had managed to orchestrate an exemplary life for herself.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to toss the photo, so back into the folder, it went. But, on consideration, I’d like to think that my fashion advice had something to do with Peggy’s success.

Mr. Gloss

For most of us, sixth and seventh grade fall into the half-light zone of twilight. Too much came afterward for us to remember much more than fading recollections of what happened. In fact, most of us would gladly eschew any intense investigation into those awkward days. Shudder!

I have to say that I have gladly forgotten most of those pre-high school days. They represented the beginning of a determined attempt on the part of the New York City school system to package me, tape me up, and ship me off to storage. I turned out to be challenging to teach.

Surprisingly, one teacher retains a name and vivid recollections of his appearance and take on life. That person is the joyous Mr. Gloss. Mr. Gloss appeared in music class daily in his signature bow tie and houndstooth tweed jacket. He was always waving his hands, gesturing, smiling, and encouraging. Somehow, and this was the unique part, he seemed to exude the confidence that every glee club member, everyone in the band, and all who just casually showed up would be an incredible artist.

Mr. Gloss just seemed to exude this positive attitude daily, despite the lack of involvement on the part of many students. He was one of the first to exclaim how thrilled he was that I had taken up the guitar. He had labored tirelessly to involve my interest first in the violin and then in the flute, so perhaps he was just plain grateful that some seed had sprouted – at last.

Not long ago, the subject had come up in a conversation about which teachers we remembered. There were glowing recollections of high school teachers who’d made a difference. But unfortunately, high school for me was a blank spot between junior high and going to be a folksinger in Greenwich Village. The City of New York had successfully warehoused me, and not being willing to be wheeled into their storage, I had walked out.

So when the memories of Mr. Gloss came pouring out, I was more than a bit surprised. Then I thought about it. All the emphasis was placed on academics in school. How well do you perform in math, science, and language? The message we got was that these were what would make us successful in life. – make money.
But the music and art teachers gave a gift that probably was not aimed at profit. On the contrary, they directed us towards inner richness that made us more complete individuals. And yes, some of us turned this into economic gain as well.

Appreciation and participation in some form of art and music is one thing that does not depend on your ability to spend on it. You come equipped with hands, feet, and a voice. Instruments have been improvised since the first musician discovered percussion. It’s one thing that elites can not rob from you even if they selfishly emulate you.

It’s all aided and abetted by someone like Mr. Gloss. So take the time today to thank that person for the gift.

Gurry

I have never been overly fond of lobster.

Everyone has their limits. For me, filling the bait bags was it. Lobsters are not fussy eaters, so the stuff in the bait bag does not have to be high-class vittles.
I was not squeamish. You don’t last in an operating room if you can’t put a bung in your roiling guts during a septic case when the odor is powerful. But the job of filling bait bags was disgusting.
The long gloves I was issued for the job reeked on their own and seemed to make the odor persist on my hands and arms long after I had washed with the Fels Naptha soap.

The Cap’n who had secured this “plum” job maintained that I had too delicate a disposition. He made this statement while tucking into his second lobster over Sunday dinner. Lobster that I had obtained at a reduced price for the family. Let’s see… my wife, Grace, Cora, The Capn’, brother-in-law Franklin, nephew Douglas, and Franklin’s wife, Maryanne. Counting in myself and a couple of spares, that was nine prime lobsters – not the sort you’d get from the supermarket. The Capn’ hauling over one of the spares smiled at me and said, “Wes, this is the best job you’ve had!”
I looked down at my hands which I’d swear still smelled of gurry (liquified fish guts). But then, I asked myself. ” are these the hands of a famous anthropologist? Will I dine out on my tales of filling bait bags in coastal Maine?”Somehow I do not think so.
” Spinney says he’ll put me on at this boat yard four days a week.”

Silence at the table. Then Cora asked, “you’d rather paint and varnish than become a lobsterman?” The Cap’n opined,” more like scrape barnacles and put on bottom paint!” Everyone else at the table had the sense to stay out of this. The goal was to convince Wes that life on the coast was superior to fieldwork as an anthropologist in Spain or the Philippines. And incredibly more authentic than teaching bored undergraduates and engaging in bitter academic feuds. Of course, I now know they were correct, but back then, it was a matter of self-determination. I had a hunger for the life they were putting down and had a right to choose my path.

If it turned out that anthropology didn’t work, there were worse things than being a carver or working in a boatyard…like sitting in the lobsterman’s shanty all winter knitting netting for the lobster pots or discussing the cost of the oak stock needed to repair or make the pots. Of course, now I know that not all lobstermen were like the one I worked with, but then I was working with what I experienced. I worked at the boatyard, and the bottom paint is pretty awful. In fall I returned to school.

Many years later, the anthropology jobs played out, and interestingly I wound up back at a boatyard for a while scraping, painting, and varnishing. I took up the carving tools again and remastered the art of carving an eagle.

I am still not too fond of lobster, and I swear I smell gurry when I pick one up.

Ratty

An awful lot can be expressed in nuances: reputation, success, and failure among them. So it can be nothing less than a colossal error to assume that someone is either a success or failure by appearance. Yet it’s probably one of the most common failings.
You see someone near an artist’s booth at a show and wish the scruffy bum would make way so you could appreciate the photo display better. But, instead, you give the beggar a withering glare and make a shooing gesture with your hand.
And where might you find Todd Winter, you ask the artist in the neighboring booth? ” Todd, that’s him over there in ratty clothes, not much to look at but a genius with a camera.”

Oops.

Selection Bias

Conflating a certification, license, or degree with actual ability is easy. We look on the wall, see the certificate, and assume that the paper implies ability. These days we especially pay attention to online reviews. A glowing five-star review with a paragraph of praise is worth money. If only reality was so easily aligned with glamour. Use of other criteria seems to vanish when compared to just a few simple guides.

A cross-cultural study done years ago looked at top-rated medical practitioners in various cultures, not just western ones. The finding boiled down to a few basic features.

Across cultures, there seemed to be three common traits between the folk practitioner in Mexico, Papua, and the MD in New York. Things they had in common? All possessed:

  1. a very effective bedside manner
  2.  expensive fees
  3. a piece of impressive technology that they used in treatment.

So, note that I described the practitioners as top-rated, not necessarily effective. 

But I don’t want to pick on the medical profession. Unfortunately, we apply the same criteria to selecting services from financial advisors and other “professionals.” Related standards select schools, certification programs, and consumer products.

Here’s my evaluation. In a world where there were never so many research tools available for the considerate and intelligent user to manipulate, There was never so much lousy research. So what do people base their analysis on? I suspect that it’s Yelp reviews – how effective the bedside manner was; Cost – is it expensive and therefore better; and how unique the technology is.

So here is my challenge. Broaden your evaluations. Take into account more factors.

It’s a challenge and may take more time, but hey…you’re not chicken…are you?

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