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Saturday, August 13, 2011
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Sunday, July 31, 2011
So I was at a recent art opening, sipping some cold white wine and talking with a gentleman wearing a pair of slacks festooned with big shrimp when I noticed the strangest sight: A man wearing a starched brown seersucker shirt.
When I asked where he purchased such a shirt, he said he thought Brooks Brothers, but I knew that just couldn't be. The label, when we looked, said Banana Republic. This conferred upon it a sort of hipness, I suppose, but
I had to wonder that if the point of seersucker is to keep you cool, why wear it in such a dark color?
Seersucker is a thin cotton fabric, commonly striped or checked and usually presented in a light or bright color paired with white. It’s one of summer’s ubiquitous fabrics, along with linen and madras.
Like madras, seersucker originated in India. The unique way it is woven keeps one yarn at a normal tension while the other yarn is held at a slack tension. When filler yarn is added in, it causes the slack yarn to scrunch up, giving the fabric its signature wrinkled texture. The effect is to hold hot air away from the body, thereby keeping you cool.
If you’re enamored of the word “seersucker” like I am, it might surprise you to learn that it actually comes from the Hindi, Urdu, and Persian words “shiroshakar,” meaning “milk and sugar” and referring to the smoothness of milk and the rougher texture of sugar.
The man most responsible for introducing milk and sugar into American men’s fashion was a New Orleans suit maker named Joseph Haspel. He began creating inexpensive blue and white striped seersucker suits in 1909. Over time, the suit took on a sense of panache, helped no doubt when Princeton university boys back in the 1920s started wearing them.
A student named Damon Runyon is credited with launching the seersucker craze at Princeton. Runyon went on to achieve some fame as a writer. Several of his stories were adapted into Broadway plays, including Guys and Dolls. He was quoted as saying about wearing seersucker that his peers couldn’t tell if he was broke or vogue.
Supposedly, Brooks Brothers began selling a seersucker suit as early as the 1930s. The fabric began to reach the mass markets when Joseph Haspel started promoting it at textile and clothing conventions in the 1940s. Though it has had its ups and downs in terms of popularity since the advent of air conditioning, seersucker remains a stylish statement.
A decorator friend whispered to me one evening in the Blue Moon that one of his signature looks was the black and white powder room – white porcelain sink, black toilet, with black and white seersucker padded walls. They love it in Virginia.
A certain Baltimore Avenue merchant told me he has been busy this summer stitching up all sorts of unique seersucker shirts and pants for slim hipped fabby boys.
A gentleman from a fine old Sussex County family confided to me that when he wears seersucker pajamas to bed, it makes him feel “all crazy,” to which I just nodded, unsure I wanted further clarification.
My favorite seersucker story, however, is the one where my some friends were having Friday lunch at Galatoire’s in New Orleans. The foursome was attired, naturally, in blue and white seersucker suits. Don’t worry. None of the suits were the same because there is great diversity among blue and white seersucker garments -- width of the wale, shade of the blue, cut of the lapel.
It was a typical Friday crowd: ladies in hats, large groups of celebrants, diners roaming from table to table visiting with old friends or trying to make nice to new ones, and everyone sipping Sazeracs. To their immediate left, however, was a table of ladies who were clearly tourists. They were wearing nothing of interest and, worse, they were eating Chicken Clemenceau with green peas.
As the fellas sipped and gossiped, gossiped and sipped, the chatter got looser and louder. Finally, one of the ladies to the left felt emboldened and turned to the group sweetly and said, "Excuse me, but we couldn't help but notice that all of you are wearing seersucker suits. We were just wondering if you all were in some sort of a club or something?" One of the gentlemen, who will not be named, simply replied: “Why, as a matter of fact, ma'am, we are C***suckers in Seersucker." "Oh my, I see," she said and turned back to her chicken and peas.
I’ve never worn a seersucker suit. It would be a tad too comical for someone my size. That said, I do own a half dozen seersucker shirts, a seersucker jacket, a pair of seersucker shorts, one seersucker bowtie, a pair of chartreuse seersucker tennis shoes. My collection is not limited to clothing. I’ve got two seersucker bedspreads and a set of seersucker placemats with matching seersucker napkins. I came very close once to purchasing two purple striped seersucker lampshades. The price, not the color, was just too extreme.
All of this brings me back around to that brown seersucker shirt. Seersucker should be about celebrating the dandy and creating a little ruckus. Lime green? Yes indeed. Hot pink? Hell yeah! Brown seersucker just seems too serious, a little prim even, and most certainly a waste of a good indulgence.
My advice to those who feel compelled to go brown in the summer is very simple. Either do it in linen or go get a tan. Better yet, order a Manhattan cocktail and get your brown on that way. Anything, I beg you, but please don’t sully the seersucker.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Friday, July 1, 2011
I found myself one Saturday morning on my knees in front of a wooden gate with a paintbrush in my left hand and a cold tumbler of Nicaraguan rum and Diet Coke in my right. By nine o’clock, the temperature had climbed into the high 80s already, and I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, with a little "help" the gate might actually revolve around the brush.
No such luck. But at least the chore was made more bearable.
For most people, morning drinking implies a visit to a coffee bar. French roast or Blue Mountain. Lattes, cappuccinos, and mochas. But it wasn't always that way. There was a time when gentlemen used to drink brandy before breakfast or take a slug of rock and rye while shaving. Still others sipped a little Medford Rum, a robust and molasses flavored spirit, while dressing. It helped them tie their ascots, no doubt.
Men on Wall Street during the Gilded Age often slipped away before lunch for a Manhattan, a sour, or a milk punch. Midmorning was the first well-established masculine cocktail hour. It firmed one’s moral fiber.
Let's face it, morning drinking today has a stigma attached to it unless, of course, it’s done on the weekend and called brunch. Or, when facing a daunting morning chore like painting a gate.
Morning drinking, however, is perfectly acceptable in certain cities. Las Vegas promotes it to lure you to the gaming tables. In New Orleans, well, it seems to be just a reflection of how everyone was raised. Drive-thru daiquiri bars open at 8:00 a.m. Local package and convenience stores offer "Six Packs for the Road." Who can resist a soothing Voodoo Mojo at 9:30 in the morning?
In Palm Springs, there’s an older gay crowd that likes to drink during the day because they don’t like to drive at night. And, being Palm Springs, there are an awful lot of these old boys. At The Street Bar Named Desire, which opens at ten, one covey of jigglers have discovered that if they park in the lot behind the bar, they can sneak in through the back door at 9:45 and claim not only the best seats but also first service. No tedious delay in ordering their morning wake-me-ups!
No doubt you are wondering where are the best places in Rehoboth to find a drink in the morning. Under the guise of research, I went exploring one Saturday, where by law an establishment can provide alcohol starting at 9:00 a.m. On Sunday you have to wait until noon.
I learned that The Crystal, on Rehoboth Avenue just outside the city limits, would serve you a cocktail at nine o'clock on the dot and not one minute before. Be forewarned, though, that people sitting nearby may “tsk tsk” when your waiter shows up with a big Bloody Mary alongside your omelet and scrapple. It’s that kind of place. If this bothers you, slip on over into the back bar, which is more conducive for a morning drink. Plus, you can arrive and depart mostly unnoticed via a separate door.
The Robin Hood on the first block of Rehoboth Avenue is another breakfast joint that starts serving cocktails at nine o'clock. Believe it or not, the Robin Hood actually encourages morning drinking with a big ol’ sign in the front window advertising a $4.95 Bloody Mary. If you go, I suggest you grab a booth in the back and keep your sunglasses on. Though it's family-oriented, the owners know that even daddy needs a drink now and then.
Grotto's Beach Bar right on the Boardwalk opens at ten, and on the morning I visited there were already two gentlemen in Penn State tank tops nursing big beers. While this bar has a certain charm in the afternoon, in my opinion, it's just way too bright in the morning. The people walking by tend to stare.
The Purple Parrot, on the other hand, is dark and cool and nobody stares. It's my choice for the best morning bar in Rehoboth. And when the fans and the disco music are going, a breakfast margarita suddenly seems very a propos.
To my surprise, Obie's, the Frogg Pond, and Rigby's weren’t open early enough for the purposes of this research. John and John, the owners of Rigby's, however, have expressed some interest in holding a morning happy hour. Let ‘em know if you like that idea.
Down in Dewey, there’s no need for a morning happy hour to draw the crowds. By 9:00, packs of hung-over guys and girls in baseball caps and sunglasses are staggering like zombies toward the Starboard, the Mecca of the morning drink. By 9:05 there's already a line at the Bloody Mary bar. At the back bar, I count a half dozen unshaven bros hunkered down already over beers and Orange Crushes. One collective mentality in flip-flops pursuing the morning buzz.
All in all, this little excursion into the world of morning drinking was pretty lame. I’d expected so much more from a town that, according to some alarmists, is rampant with loud lewd behavior and teetering on the edge of the abyss. Frankly, there’s more drinking and lascivious language going on in the family rental house next door than in any bar downtown.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
The first thing that catches your eye is the broad back fanning down to a well-proportioned seat. And you can’t help but notice the beefy arms. The epitome of summer, you’re thinking, as your glaze lingers a little too long upon the fine All-American specimen before you.
I know I'm not alone when I say I have a thing for the Adirondack chair.
Seriously, though, nothing says easy breezy summertime living like sinking back into a well-built wooden Adirondack chair with a gin and tonic in your hand and a lush green lawn tickling your bare feet. Surrender.
The historians mostly agree that this simple icon of American furniture originated in the Adirondack Mountains of New York back in the 1870s, as enterprising families began establishing mountain camps for summer tourists. They made their tables and chairs from natural and local wood. This rustic furniture, however, didn’t have a name until 1903 when a man named Thomas Lee decided to build a comfortable lawn chair for his family.
Mr. Lee and his family were vacationing at a summer cottage near the town of Westport, New York, on the shore of Lake Champlain. The Adirondacks back then were second only to Newport, Rhode Island, as a summer enclave for wealthy Eastern families. The simple chair Mr. Lee designed and built had a slanted seat and back design, which allowed people to sit in an upright position when placed on a hill. Each was made from a single pine board and had with wide armrests.
Thomas Lee offered the design to a carpenter friend in Westport who was in need of money. The friend, Harry Bunnell, quickly realized the chair would appeal to summer visitors. So without asking permission, Bunnell filed for a patent for what he called the “Westport Chair.” He got it in 1905 and manufactured it for the next several decades. The chairs were made of hemlock wood and were painted green or dark brown and sold for less than four dollars. It garnered a following in and around the region.
The chair, alas, fell out of style after World War II as modern materials such as aluminum tubing and plastics began to be used for lightweight folding chairs and loungers. It wasn’t until the 80s that we see a revival of the Adirondack chair. Some aficionados credit the New York Times for fueling the revival when in 1985 it ordained the chair a symbol of summers past and present, as important to American culture as baseball and ice cream parlors.
My Adirondack chairs are close to fifteen years old. They’re Amish-built and painted white. Only just this year have they begun to get a little creaky. I'm not exactly panicking yet, but I am concerned because getting the right chair is not easy.
Adirondacks come in many shapes and sizes and with all sorts of evocative names: Nantucket, Muskoka, Chattahoochee, and Charleston. Interestingly, the basic design has hardly changed since the early 1900s: slat construction, wide flat arms so you can rest your drink or food, and angled backs and seats. They do cost a lot more than four dollars; at least the good ones do. A quick look around Rehoboth tells me most are starting in the $200-$300 price range.
Oh sure, you can get an inexpensive white, blue, or green plastic one at Lowe’s for $17.98. It holds up to 250 pounds and claims a spine-friendly design that gives good lumbar and head support. But, really, why would you?
If you’re gonna buy an Adirondack chair, I suggest you invest a little money for something splendid. A chair made of teak tends to be the most expensive, but it will last a lifetime and cost you about $600. My favorite – cedar -- has a life span of about two decades, more if treated properly and painted a nice white, green, or red. Some places tout pressure treated pine that will last forever. I’m skeptical; my neighbor’s pine chairs lasted only three years before the termites got ‘em. But, then again, his back yard is probably “wilder” than most.
I’ve been noticing more and more Adirondacks made with polywood, a hard plastic spun from recycled milk jugs. While the tree hugger in me likes the concept, my inner snob won’t have anything to do with such a maintenance-free chair that comes in colors like grape, lemonade, mango, and hot pink. And don’t get me started on Adirondacks built to look like fish, surfboards, or sea shells.
All that cutesy stuff might work fine down in Bethany Beach. But here in Rehoboth, I think we should aspire instead towards the classic Adirondack. Sturdy and stoic. Purposeful and proud. The way it was meant to be.
Friday, May 20, 2011
Back when I used to rent my house, this was the time of year I came face to face with all sorts of interesting characters: a church group who held Sunday morning hootenannnies on the front porch, a compulsive sweeper, a lawyer with a thing for my Black & Decker weed wacker, and an antique dealer who looked like Stevie Nicks and who swore up and down there were snakes in the ceiling.
I didn’t have snakes in the ceiling. A couple of oil paintings nailed over some holes where light fixtures had been removed in previous decades, but definitely no snakes.
Yes, a lot has transpired in my little cottage over the years, but I’ve never seen anything like this…
It began about a month ago with the moths. Not the kind that eat your cashmere sweaters and get into the French milled flour stock. And most certainly not the small Psychodidae you sometimes see around kitchen and bathroom drains and that turn to powder when you crush them. These were big luscious gray moths found hiding on the backside of an aqua colored shower curtain from Bergdorf’s and inside the cheetah-trimmed burlap chandelier shades. Luckily, I was able to shake and shoo them out of the bathroom before they caused any damage.
Next came the crickets; a hundred strong and traveling east to west across the living room floor one Sunday night during an episode of Brothers & Sisters. I put down my glass of wine and grabbed a Chinese cricket cage to try and tempt a few to stay. It brings good luck, you know, the cricket. My effort was in vain. They were just passing through.
After the crickets, the ants arrived. Just a few on a sticky sugar spoon left out on the counter. They were easy to get rid of, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled. A good friend recently arrived back after spending way too much time in Fort Liquordale found his Mercedes convertible crawling with ants. Thousands of ‘em, he said, running up and down the dashboard. So many he had to set off a bug bomb. Even his moped was infested. When he started it up they came pouring out of the throttle.
Then he found a snakeskin on the pool pump. Thought it was a Dolce & Gabbana belt, but it wasn’t.
Back at my house, you’re not going to believe what was spotted in my rose garden: a pair of red foxes. Not the mangy kind occasionally seen running around Rehoboth, but handsome ones of Middleburg quality. Like those in the classic fox hunting print pursued by hounds and red-jacketed men on horseback.
The red fox, you might not know, is rather common in this region and frequently observed out on hunting forays in the spring. They’re solitary animals, so seeing two together was quite rare. They paused for a while in the rose garden before continuing on their way.
Foxes aren't the only ones enjoying my garden. Just the other day, I spotted a small possum among the boxwoods up on its back feet sipping delicately out of the birdbath. A raccoon rambled by too.
Then there’s the skunk…
While I do enjoy the faint whiff of skunk on a summer night, I don’t particularly like one loitering around the neighborhood. This particular skunk is trim, healthy looking, and walks in a very determined manner. A neighbor was hanging his wash on the clothesline one morning when the skunk appeared, tail raised and stomping his feet. My neighbor dropped the laundry on the ground and fled.
The determined skunk has been seen in my rose garden and at the composter. He’s been spotted over across the street pawing for grubs in the neighbor’s croquet lawn. If you’re thinking skunks only come out during the day when they’re rabid, you are wrong. It’s a myth. Skunks actually are crepuscular, which means they come out around dusk and dawn in search of food.
Yes, it’s wild over here on Columbia Avenue and the summer has just begun. All I have to say is good. Let the wild rumpus start!
Friday, May 6, 2011
With spring in full swing and summer soon upon us, many of you are no doubt wondering what the well-dressed garden will be wearing this season. Pink or lavender? Blue and yellow? All white perhaps?
How about black?
You heard me right. Black flowers have intrigued gardeners at least since 1850 when Alexander Dumas published The Black Tulip, his historical adventure novel about a Dutch contest to breed the first black tulip. Plants men, in fact, tried for centuries to produce a black tulip until “Queen of the Night” came along in 1944. Considered the closest there is to a true black tulip, the Queen is actually a very dark maroon. In fact, most so-called black flowers aren’t black; most are extremely deep shades of purple, maroon, or burgundy.
Though the tulip is the most popular black flower, the gardener seeking something unusual and elegant today has his or her pick of more than two dozen black roses and several types of black irises and lilies. Carnations, dahlias, geraniums, hollyhocks, and pansies even come in basic black too.
This year’s black sensation is a petunia called “Black Velvet” developed by flower breeder Jianping Ren for the Ball Colegrave Company. It took her four years to breed the extremely dark petunia -- what some are calling the Birkin bag of the garden -- using traditional methods of pollination and not genetic modification. Two years is what it usually takes to produce a new color of petunia, according to Ren, who boasts over a dozen patents on new varieties of petunias.
Petunias are a classic summer annual, a cousin to tobacco and the tomato and a native of South America. Flower hunters introduced the petunia to Europe in the early 1800s and breeders immediately began crossing them in search of larger flowers and more colors. The first true red petunia was brought out in 1953. Yellow was introduced in 1977.
Those in the know claim it is rare to get a flower as near to true black as “Black Velvet,” which is why gardeners around the world are snatching them up despite a rather high price attached to what is still regarded by many as a rather common plant. I bought all I could find over Easter weekend.
Now, looking at flats of the black petunias still sitting unplanted in my garden, I had to wonder: was I was following in the tradition of great botanical explorers of the 17th and 18th Centuries whose pursuit of exotic flowers took them across the globe? Or, was I merely a garden fashionista sucked in by the power of a horticulture industry that still thinks about plants like next season’s shoes?
There’s even an ad campaign touting the “Black Velvet” petunia as an instant classic, the most unique flower of the year, and one hot plant sure to make your garden the envy of your neighbors.
Moreover, what does this black petunia means in the grand scheme of gardening, which has been trending towards more natural, nativist plantings? Am I out of step in my desire for the trendy annual? Last year I went gaga a for a chartreuse colored zinnia called “Envy.” Before that it was blue batik irises and an heirloom tomato called “Mr. Stripey.”
While I mull this conflict and, more importantly, try to figure out what do with all these black petunias I bought, at least I can take comfort in knowing they’ll look great with the black and white striped awnings on my white house.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
I never knew there was so much white trash in Sussex County. You just don’t see it very much over here on the “fashionable shore” where everything sparkles and shines. That is, once you bleach away the winter’s mold and mildew…
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
Feet spread apart, my left hand grabs the wooden handle of the maul near its bottom, my right grips the thick shaft. Power surges from my legs up through my groin to my shoulders and down through my arms as the heavy blade swings through the air and sinks into the flesh of the wood. There’s a cracking sound as the log splits in two, followed by a burst of scent, oak or pine perhaps. I can see my breath.
Having grown up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you might think I gained an early appreciation for manly outdoor activities. Not so. I wasn’t brought up to hunt, fish, or chop wood. My father didn’t even like to fill his own tank at the gas station. The only thing I recall him teaching me to chop was a lime.
As a matter of semantics, though, that probably ought to be called slicing. My father taught me to slice cocktail garnishes. And, I’m very appreciative.
It would be decades later, here in Rehoboth, a beach town of all places, where I would discover the only thing better than sitting by a nice fire with a glass of good bourbon on a cold February day in Rehoboth is to be outside chopping wood. The colder it is the easier it is to split. The wood fibers become more brittle.
And, chop I do, about a cord per winter. That’s 128 cubic feet of wood stacked four feet high by four feet deep by eight feet long.
I get mine from a local farmer named Sammy, who used to run a popular fruit and vegetable stand out on Route One. Every autumn, he delivers my cord just in time for the cold weather, right after the snakes leave the wood piles, says Sammy. It’s good wood: custom cut, seasoned, and, snake free.
Okay, so I don’t actually chop the wood. Sammy does that with a chain saw. I split it, using a classic splitting maul, which for those of you who don’t know is sort of like an ax with a wedge-shaped blade. My favorite is an old eight pounder from Ace Hardware that was made in Michigan. I also have a special Swedish forester’s ax, for use in cutting small-diameter kindling wood.
In case you’re thinking this all sounds like some sort of lumberjack fantasy, let me quickly dispel that notion. It’s not at all unusual to catch me outside in a pair of boxer shorts, Crocs, and cashmere sweater, maul in hand. You should see the looks I get from passersby. Though I must admit the boxers are plaid. And when it’s really cold, I wear a fur hat.
As a brain worker, I’ve come to believe it’s important to pursue some manual labor in order to balance the intellectual with the physical life. It’s why I rake my yard instead of waving around one of those ridiculous little leaf blowers. It’s why I chop my own wood.
Sometimes, I will admit, it feels unsafe chopping wood. A little unseemly even, to one who works for an environmental group. Mostly, though, it’s darn satisfying.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
As a native Floridian, I’m a sucker for a good tourist trap. Give me a couple of trash-talking parrots and a balsa wood backscratcher and I’m in heaven. It’s a taste acquired, no doubt, during long family car trips in the late 1960s.
If the Sunshine State didn’t invent the tourist trap, I think its fair to say it perfected the art. As automobile use increased and new North-South highways lured millions of tourists to the country’s new exotic southernmost destination, entrepreneurs in small towns along the way figured out how to trap some of that lucrative trade.
For miles and miles along flat highways, billboard signs beckoned weary travelers with promises of alligator farms, dolphin shows, glass bottom boat rides, and real live mermaids. Key lime pies and fresh squeezed orange juice were always just a few exits ahead.
It was vintage Florida, baby, back in the days when you didn’t need million dollar special effects to hold an audience’s attention. Promoters capitalized on the myth of Florida as both Garden of Eden and jungle underworld to capture the imagination and the wallets of passers. As a little boy, I couldn’t get enough.
Imagine my excitement then when I heard that the local chamber of commerce was championing a proposal to build a new Rehoboth Beach tourist attraction. Sure, there are several places where you can buy a hermit crab and a puka shell necklace, but we don’t have any real good traps in this town.
Destination Station Center is what this new tourist trap is being called. It’s described as an exploratory, transportation hub, and visitor center that will attract hundreds of thousands of visitors per year. People driving down Route One will pull in, park their cars, spend some time learning about energy issues, use the restrooms, and then happily pile onto buses to come into Rehoboth Beach for the day and spend wads of cash.
Busloads of students will come. Fathers will take their sons to the bus depot on rainy days while their wives go shopping. If you believe what you read, this $12-14 million, mini version of Disney’s Epcot Center is going be a major tourist East Coast tourist attraction. And, it will help alleviate car traffic in Rehoboth.
Hmm… as a natural skeptic, yours truly can’t help but wonder if kids will really look up from their video games and beg their parents to pull the SUV into Destination Station when they’re this close to getting to the beach. Will teachers really want to bring their students here than to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia? And what dad is gonna take his kid to hang out at a bus terminal on the side of a highway with Hooters now being so family friendly?
As someone who loves a good tourist trap, I’m less than enthused. The whole concept seems so ordinary, so unimaginative, and so off the mark. Why the focus on energy issues and programs called Whatzits and Spy Eyes (whatever they are) when you’re headed to the beach? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to engage visitors about the environment and development challenges facing the region’s greatest natural asset, the place they’ve come to vacation? That would be unique.
Throw in some Rehoboth Beach snow bubbles and backscratchers while you’re at it and you’d have a pretty nifty little tourist trap, don’t you think? Just make sure the bubbles are made of real glass and feature horseshoe crabs instead of flamingos.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
As soon as a hurricane watch had been issued for coastal Delaware, I began clearing the decks at work. Meetings were postponed. Deadlines changed. Even Ted Turner’s people were gonna have to wait to discuss a charitable contribution. Earl was coming and I needed to be in Rehoboth.
Hurricanes, for those of you who don’t know, are in my blood. Most families bond around holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. For me and mine, its hurricanes. September and October is our holiday season and my ninety-four year old grandmother is the high holy empress, watching over the tropics, calling with warnings, and spinning tales of hurricanes past. A native Floridian, she has experienced many a hurricane and is mighty proud of the fact that she’s only ever evacuated once. Against her will, of course.
I arrived in town on the Thursday night before Earl was due and found the Blue Moon hopping. It wasn’t a hurricane party per se; most people were there for karaoke. But at least the TVs were tuned to the Weather Channel. There was a hint of excitement in the air and much amusement about this storm named Earl.
For me, the name Earl conjures up an image of a big ol’ bubba who enjoys Garth Brooks music, Bojangles Fried Chicken, and pontoon boats. He owns a countrified yellow dog, the kind you see riding in the back of pickup trucks and on tractors.
A few of the fellas I spoke with in the Moon, however, had other ideas. They thought that Earl could be kind of hot. A former high school jock with big biceps, a big belt buckle, and the beginning of a beer belly. A good-looking, goateed-guy in an Auburn ball cap who likes nothing better than to kick back with a Budweiser and let someone else do all the work.
It was the liquor drawing forth these fantasies. But in any case, there was unanimous agreement that Earl was a name better suited for a Gulf coast hurricane rather than one threatening the Mid-Atlantic, Long Island, and Nantucket. This led naturally into a discussion of who actually names hurricanes. On that note, I ordered another dark rum and tonic and began telling what I knew.
For hundreds of years, hurricanes in the West Indies were named after the particular saint's day on which the hurricane occurred. There’s a saint’s day for every day, so this wasn’t as random as one might think initially. Following this practice, Earl would have been named The St. Gregory Hurricane.
In this country, hurricanes were originally referred to by the year or by the place they hit. When meteorology was still new, our weather service wanted a more scientific method by which to track storms, so they began using a cumbersome latitude/longitude designation.
This all started to change during World War II, when Army Air Corp and Navy meteorologists began naming Pacific storms after their girlfriends and wives. Made them easier to keep track of. From 1950 to 1952, hurricanes were identified by standard radio names: Able, Baker, Charlie, etc. But, in 1953, the US Weather Bureau switched back to women's names.
The practice continued until the late 70s when in a politically correct move, the World Meteorological Organization and the US National Weather Service added men's names. Since then, names and lists have been revised again to include common English, Spanish, and French names – the languages of the Atlantic and Caribbean countries most impacted by hurricanes.
Nowadays, there are six lists of hurricane names that are reused every six years unless a storm creates enough havoc to have its name retired. Think Hugo, Andrew, and Katrina. No names begin with Q, U, X, Y, or Z, and if names are used up in one season, forecasters use letters from the Greek alphabet to name late season storms. A storm is named when it reaches tropical storm strength with winds of 39 mph. A storm becomes a hurricane when its wind speed reaches 75 mph.
So back to Earl. Friday in Rehoboth was gray and somewhat ominous-looking. People all over town nervously watched the sky, looking to the east, waiting for the storm. Despite Weather Channel warnings of tropical force winds and rain, very little happened. There was significant enough surf to close the beaches, but nothing special. Wind? A mere two blocks from the ocean, it was deadly still. Rain? I had to water my garden.
I think its fair to say Earl was a big disappointment. A lazy fella who couldn’t get it up. It happens. But, as we know, there’ll be another coming along – Karl, Matthew, Otto, and – should we get so far – Richard. Rest assured he won’t have that problem.
(Originally published Sept 17 in Letters from Camp Rehoboth)
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
The blue ball ricocheted off a tree, across the lawn, and up onto the back porch steps where it came to rest against a silver shell-shaped serving dish of residual shrimp. ‘Twas a highly improbable yet entirely plausible shot. For cocktail croquet, that is.
A variation on the classic game, cocktail croquet originated, so to speak, in New York and Boston of the late 19th Century. Originally fashionable with high society, croquet soon lost much of its shine due to a growing association with gambling, drinking, and philandering. It’s true! The game was banned in Boston because the behavior of players so alarmed the local clergy. By the early in the 20th century, though, the game generally had regained its luster among the gentile class.
Cocktail croquet has been played in Rehoboth at a certain discreet home in the Pines neighborhood since the early 1980s. There is no set schedule, no regular teams, and no ordained uniforms. It happens when it happens, perhaps when a special guest is visiting, possibly after Peyton Manning quarterbacks a particularly good game, or, as in this case, when a certain challenge has been issued.
I wouldn’t label the game “a tradition” because that sounds way too formal and cocktail croquet is anything but.
This summer’s marquee match pitted “Lewd and Lascivious Lower Columbia” versus “Millionaire’s Row,” also known as Sussex Street, the place where dreams are realized and fortunes are lost. As a neighbor and a friend of the hosts, I was playing on the salacious squad.
On the day of the match, the oppressive heat had lifted and a light breeze was blowing from the east. The lawn was in excellent physical shape. Lush. Green. Mosquito-free. Such a lawn, few of which remain in todays chopped up, over-built Rehoboth.
The bar too was ready for the competition and well furnished with vodka, gin, and scotch. Ice was plentiful. The Italian antipasto was handmade: asparagus wrapped with proscuitto, sweet peppers stuffed with boursin cheese and served popsicle style on a pretzel stick, and bruschetta with a spicy black olive tapenade. Shrimp cocktail platters shimmered in the sunset.
At six o’clock, the athletes began arriving on foot, by bicycle, and in cars. Soft boogie woogie piano music wafted from the house. “Millionaire’s Row” was turning out in mass for its inaugural match. To use a college football phrase, they were “traveling well,” bringing a multigenerational entourage of old party boys and young fabby boys, homeowners and summer renters. Those too nelly to play came to cheer, brandishing red and blue pompoms.
They even brought a member of the opposite sex – a first for cocktail croquet. Miss Kissy embarked from a silver Mercedes convertible, nattily attired in Connecticut country club couture. Her little navy blue needlepoint slippers with embroidered anchors and bows were the envy of every fellow.
Cocktail croquet, however, is where expectations are turned upside down. Rather than polite, it is cut throat. Pomp and circumstance? Dismissed. White wine and beer? Absolutely not. Rules? The hosts “interpret” them. And it is difficult – embarrassingly so.
The course is always set up in a classic nine-wicket, two-stake, double diamond arrangement. Rather than being arranged in the middle of the lawn, most wickets are placed on the perimeter, along slopes that lead directly into gutters and flower beds where seventy-odd low-slung azaleas and rhodos await. Hit your ball under one and you must play it as it lies, no matter what contortion you must go though in order to do so.
Back on the eighty-foot course, huge oak trees with ancient roots disrupt your path. And then there's your opposition, every one vengefully poised to send your ball careening across Columbia Avenue, bury it in the ivy, or force you to play off concrete steps next to the shrimp tails.
Uninitiated, “Millionaire's Row” didn't stand a chance. Mercifully, the game was called on account of darkness.
As I stood on the course, mallet in hand and enjoying the smell of cut grass and the flickering of the fireflies, I began to reconsider whether or not cocktail croquet was indeed “a tradition.” The beauty of this particular match was the generation exchange of values, i.e. the old guard showing a fun group of newcomers a side of Rehoboth they hadn’t seen. Certainly there was rowdy drinking going on. I didn’t witness any gambling. And, I’m not sure I saw any philandering. But, then again, the way some of the fellas were backing up against the bushes for their shots, one never knows.