The Trad, Interview

John Tinseth, "The Trad"

“Hey, get some trad advice for girls while you’re at it,” Mrs.Hammas shouted from the drivers seat as I stepped onto the curb.  It was funny then because the Mrs. is the least trad person alive.  Looking back after spending the morning with John Tinseth, it was even funnier.

He blogs under the name Tintin, on a blog called the Trad.  He claims it isn’t about clothes; everyone else seems to have missed that point.  Of course “everyone” includes writers at Esquire Magazine, The New Yorker, any clothing manufacturer who’s paying attention, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 80,000 unique visitors a month. The two of us sat down over some eggs and bacon to sort this whole thing out.  His were scrambled, mine were over easy, and the consensus was that neither were worth mentioning.

I note the failure of the food only to help illustrate our first topic of discussion; Philadelphia.  We had argued online some time ago about the merits of my town.  He claimed there were none.  He mocked my city with a scorn not normal to those who don’t actually live here, now I know why.  He told me he lived here once and loved it.  A job and a wife tore him away from this love and once both ended, he returned.  But like many things, you simply can’t go back. Everything had changed.

 We laughed over a tale of a little Italian restaurant just south of Washington Square where an old Italian man tried to set him up with beauticians from across the park. Instead of a girl, he got a nine year sneak preview of Jersey Shore.  The magic was gone and he broke up with this town once and for all.  He didn’t use the line, but I will insert it here, “Philadelphia, it’s not you, it’s me.”

He was telling stories about his Dad. I'm not sure because he said the words "A-Team" and my twelve year old brain went right to an old theme song.

I quickly learned what he meant when he said his blog isn’t about clothes.  It’s about stories.  He has all kinds of tales; about bars, the Army, past loves, and adventure.

“Pour some Old Bay seasoning on it and I can eat anything. Clothes are just the seasoning for my stories.”

I feel about Texas Pete’s the way he feels about Old Bay, and I like his stories.

Back when he was sergeant with no sense of direction, he got lost.  He and his driver pulled into a posh hotel on the outskirts of Fort Bragg, and he took his regulation map up to the concierge to ask for directions.  On his way back to the Jeep he saw his lanky companion cupping his hands to the window to get a better look at an article of clothing on display. 

“What the _ _ _ _ is that?” the man drawled.  Sgt. Tinseth looked in the window and matter of factly replied, “It’s a madras sport jacket.” 

With his hat pushed back on his head like Gomer Pyle, the man just looked him in the eye and said, “Two questions; One, who in the _ _ _ _ _ would ever wear that? Two, why in the  _ _ _ _ do you know what it is?”

 Such is Tintin and such is the Trad.

His version  of the story (unedited) is told here on The Trad.

We sat for quite some time telling tales.  As I reflect upon the morning now I smile at how fitting it was, or rather how fitting he is to his monicker.  He may not like that.  He says he has some regret he ever chose that name, “The Trad,” and how some old friends quite enjoy mocking it, and him.

Trad is short for traditional.  Traditional as in tweed jackets, J. Press, and expensive but sturdy shoes.  It’s what my wife would describe as, “old white people clothes.”  It is the aesthetic born from grumpy old men who ascribe to a bunch of old rules, and who will one day all be proven correct.  John Tinseth is at some level all those things.

He isn’t really that old, unless compared to most bloggers, but he is a bit of a curmudgeon (his word not mine), and yes, he truly knows what he is talking about.

That’s why right now, he is big time.  That is why right now, lots of people want to know what he has to say.  I guess I’m one of them. 

With a smile that half passes for a scowl, he said he likes to tell stories but all anyone wants is clothing advice; but he won’t give it to them. 

Of course then he went on to tell of how one time, long ago, he bought an ascot.  He had never worn one before and was excited to do so.  There was a party one night and he wore his double breasted blue blazer with his Canadian military crest on the pocket, slicked his hair straight back, and to top it off, the ascot.

He proudly presented himself to his date and she told him he was a fool.  He only smiled and said “Ascot, (then pointing to himself) A_ _  _ _ _ _!”

The whole night, he was never quite comfortable.  He couldn’t get over the fact that he had this silk thing around his neck.  One woman, sounding like Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, even commented how she hadn’t seen anyone wear one of those in years and that it suited him (refer back to him pointing to himself). 

He summed it up by saying, “If you can’t forget you’re wearing it– you probably shouldn’t.”

We bussed our own table, shook hands, and I went back to the Mrs. thinking that maybe I need to re-think my Kenneth Cole shoes.

The City’s Sword Has Two Edges.

 I enjoyed my last post just as I enjoy my city.  I wrote both tongue in cheek and from my heart, if those two things can be done at once, but as with any good story, there are two sides.

Just blocks away from the expensive cafés and swanky spots, are the homes of everyone else.  Most of us who read these sorts of things don’t know these other people.  Most of us who read these things do not drive on these streets.  Despite this, these places and people do exist.

They deserve some attention.

A staple of these places is the street side memorial.  I drive past them all the time.  They are piles of things left outside to memorialize a person who has passed.  The bulk of these memorials are built from stuffed animals; childhood toys that speak to the age of those who have died.  I have seen tables of candles, wreaths of flowers, and murals on walls.  They are shrines built by those who remember, in an effort to prevent others from forgetting.  To me they have always been part of the landscape.

These memorials are usually just an extension of the evening news.  They are points on the map that give just a bit of added context to the stories of murder and violence.  They are a dark contrast to the bright lights of my Friday Date-Nights.  They bring a touch of reality to why our friends might not want to venture in.  Some fears are legitimate.

One morning while reading the paper, I recognized a name.  The headline read,

“Teen dies after fistfight at North Philly playground.” 

Usually when I read such stories I just skim through looking for a street address; hoping to know a little better what exactly happens where.  Good stuff to know.  As I skimmed this time, my eye caught at the name, Eric Dixon.

I had known Eric for a couple years.  He started coming to my church with his mom and little brother, a small, tight little family.  They made the church their home.  They were unremarkable in many ways; they fit in with all the rest of us.  Good people.

Eric’s mom later lost interest and stopped attending.  She allowed her oldest son to continue coming, but a fourteen year old can only do so much.  When we stopped seeing him on Sundays, myself and a friend would stop in from time to time and check in.  My friend would occasionally leave church meetings to just go chat with Eric.  Eric was one of those good kids; worth investing some time and interest in.  He seemed to be one that if given some support and instruction would make everyone around him proud some day.

Eric had been at the park with his best friend.  The two of them had an argument and the friend punched him.  He only punched him once.  Eric fell, hitting his head on a bench in the process.  An ambulance was called, a pronouncement was made, and the best friend is facing murder charges.  The kid didn’t run away, he stayed at the scene and waited for the cops.  I never heard a verdict.

A little time later I went to visit Eric’s mom.  She was having a rough time.  To people who don’t have much, relationships and people mean more.  She was offered many shoulders and hugs but became more steely and hard.  It would be hard to do otherwise.  While leaving her stoop and walking to the corner I saw Eric’s name painted on a wall.

Those memorials mean a little more to me now.  No longer do they represent crime and fear.  They represent people.

Not Eric... I don't know his name.

People with stories that are worth knowing.  People worth remembering.

Around Town, the weekend

After ten years of marriage and two kids, my wife still likes me.

I’m not quite sure how this initial like was achieved, I vacillate between blaming it on blind luck or superior sales skills, but despite how I got it, I intend to keep it.  Doing this requires a combination of changing diapers, running errands, and taking her on dates.  In our home all three are necessities.

We once belonged to a babysitting co-op with a bunch of associates in a more “uh-hm… safe”, part of town.  It worked out great as when it was our turn to watch a rabid pack of 2 year olds on a Friday night, no one would show up.  This inequity would normally be to our advantage but the arrangement soured due to the lack of dining options in this so called safe haven.  Since this period of our life I have successfully avoided Applebee’s and hope to extend this streak for years to come.

We now pay for a babysitter.

Having abandoned the suburbs, we now brave the notorious crime infested streets of Philadelphia on our Friday nights. 

A distinguishing feature of the notorious inner-city is the candy store… or wait… how bout what looks like a candy store but is really a soap store.  Yes friends, all these treats are really body washes and bubble baths.

Not only are our weekly ventures tainted by falsely advertised treats, but the mean streets become even scarier when we realize they are lined by restaurants we cannot afford.

Mrs.Hammas is street savvy and can find the safe spots.

Max Brenner is one of these.  They have food, but we came for the dessert.  I went for chilli spiced hot chocolate and she went for chocolate pecan egg rolls.

The food was food, the company even better, and because we are ten years older than when we started this nonsense, the evening was over before ten.

For the younger set, the morning after can oft mean regret.  For me it means ballet practice.

Littlehammas 1.0 has a deep-seated desire to be a princess ballerina scientist.  Never one to hinder ones climb to greatness, we have obliged her in these pursuits.  These endeavours have brought me in touch with another type of inner city street hoodlum; the ballet mom.

Now in the past I have been around the relaxed parent who chuckles at their kid’s mistakes and smiles as they stumble through pretend lessons… not at this place.  Intimidated by their thuggery I nod faux agreement as they complain that the teachers feet are not properly visible due to her pant length, squabble over how skill levels are measured, and then shrug off how the Nutcracker after party comes with a $10 “chaperone” fee.  Littlehamas 1.0 is six years old.  It’s amazing how the streets target our youth.

Having rescued Littlehamas 1.0 from these treacherous mobs, we stumbled upon a bike gang.  Not biker, but bicycler.

These bikers weren’t the new harmless youth, they were old school.  Old school like tweed and argyle socks.

Another staple of the ghetto, er… city, is graffiti.  This unauthorized painting of other people’s property is done to claim a territory and serve as warning to those who are out of their own turf to beware.

In Philadelphia this problem has gotten so bad that it has spread to the inside of people’s homes.  Not only is it on interior walls, but hooligan graff-heads are taking credit for other’s artwork.  Pictured is proof, as I caught the Mrs. signing her name to  one of my pictures.  Is nothing sacred?

Its rough here in this town.  I’m not sure how much longer we can last.


Inside wall of the Brohammasmobile.

 I aspire to one day own a home, or a space, that is both comfortable and interesting.  A place that is more curated than decorated.  On occasion I will peruse import stores with all their exotic statuary or fabrics and I always leave with none of those things.  My wife, tired of accompanying me on such ventures inquired why I never procure any of these treasures. 

 “If I want a Persian rug, I want to have gotten it in Persia, not South Philly.”

One day I may get myself to Persia.  While there I will still not get that rug; I don’t like Persian rugs.  I do hope that while I am there I will obtain some little something that I could only get there, or possibly get something I should only get there.

In travels past I have gotten a beer stien in Germany, an Eifel tower in Paris (a smaller one of course), and a sunburn in Mexico.  This year has been no different.  I made acquisitions of things that would remind me of a time and place, in hopes that one day said articles will have a spot in that place; the one I hope to one day create.

The spoils of war, without all that messy fighting.

 1. Ukule from Haleiwa Hawaii.

2.  Hat from J. Press in New Haven Connecticut.

3. Logo tie from Lionel Smith Ltd. in Aiken South Carolina.

4. Vintage print from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

5. Pennant purchased in the bookstores of every Ivy League school  (can you see which one is missing without using digital assistance?).

6. Across America By Gen. James F. Rusling, printed 1875.  Its take on my native people was, shall we say, “interesting”?

7. Maple box sold to me by a young Amish boy in Nowheresville, upstate New York, while his father peered eerily through the curtains of the house.

8. “All Right!”: The Narrative of Henry Box Brown as a Test Case for the Racial Prescription of Rhetoric and Semiotics, by Marcus Wood.  Purchased at the American Antiquarian Society in Massachusetts.

9. The Wanderer the Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails, by Erik Calonius, purchased at a thrift store in Wilmington, North Carolina.

10. The American Sporting Scene, written by John Kieran, illustrated by Joseph W. Golinkin, printed 1941.  Purchased in Cambridge Mass.

11. E Pluribus Venom, the art of Shepard Fairey.  Purchased at the Andy Warhol museum in Pittsburgh,

12. Fashion 100 Years of Apparel Ads by Jim Heimann and Alison A. Nieder.  Purchased in Newport, Rhode Island.

13. Sports as reported by the New York Times 1908-1984 (reprints of sports stories from the NYT). Purchased in NYC.

Of course, not everything experienced whilst travelling can be collected.  Some things while collectible, should probably not be collected.  Somehow my collection of craft brewed soda bottles has been sent to the cellar.

Kinda makes me wonder who really is the king of my castle.