People at Penn: So I’m Sitting Here, Trying to Study

My assigned work station is positioned right up against a very large window. I sit at sidewalk level.The student Rec center is across the street, Wharton is right next door, and I should be reading.


I don’t know where they are going, I don’t know where they have been, but often times I can guess. I see direction, dress, and manner and I’m confident I can figure it close enough… maybe.

Then came this guy.

I want to know this guy. That is his car. He put something in the trunk, got in, and drove off. Plenty would like to know him because he owns that car.

I want to know him because he owns that car and wears that beard. I can only assume he is the Santa Claus of hedge fund investors and angel investors. He spends his off season next door.

People at Penn: Clothes

It’s just clothing. I don’t just know this I believe it.

But I like clothes. Some folks like sports, dogs, hiking, science fiction, or card games. I like a lot of those things too. To me it’s in the same vein.

I was raised in away and in a place where clothing definitely mattered but it was in an oxymoronic sort of way. One could not care or place too high a value on attire, this was materialistic and vain, but what one wears was also key in knowing who one is. Perhaps it was a sartorial version of being selfless, or conformist, which is the same thing in some ways.

“People who don’t know you, will treat you according to how you look”, my Father told me. “There is no way I’m paying $20 for a pair of jeans”, was my Mother’s lesson. My peers taught me what was cool, not why, but what. My budget taught me I was not.

I’m older now, a full fledged grown-up. I’ve travelled a bit and learned a little. The peers of my youth are not around to ask me who I’m trying to fool when I wear a tie. Dad can’t make me tuck in my shirt.

A friend used to call me “Brooks Brothers” at church. I could tell by the tone he was complimenting me, but I had no idea what Brooks Brothers was. This was only four years ago.

One thing I like about where I live is I can wear what I want. No one tells me what is cool; I’m too old to care. Shopping is still a compromise between desires and dollars and I know even better that people will decide who I am by what they see, but for the most part, clothes are like sports, dogs, hiking, science fiction, or card games.

People at Penn: People Live here

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know till you learn you don’t know it. That is ignorance. Not knowing and not even knowing you don’t know.

College is about informing one out of a state of ignorance right? I recall last semester, about three weeks in, a friend of mine, one who had obtained his post graduate degree a long time ago, asked me the question, “So what have you learned in grad school that you didn’t already know?” I had to think about that one for a minute. All these months later, here is my answer:

“I now know what it is like to eat in a student dining commons.”

Hill House dining hall

That’s right, I attended two different schools during my undergrad, and to my knowledge I had never actually stood in a student dining hall. I recall USU had a student union, which had a Taco Bell, which had a 50 cent menu, which meant I ate there, but that wasn’t this. I recall the U of U had a union… really I’m lying, I have no idea what they had but I’m assuming they had such things, I just never went there. That brings us to Penn and grad school.

My guides to college culture

To sum the experience up, I would say it was not unlike eating in the food court of a shopping mall. It was rather unremarkable. Horrible food would have been remarkable, as would great food, it was neither Here is a tidbit that is remarkable.

In the history of American higher education, if we look back to the beginning, students on campuses have on more than rare occasion risen up in unrest and oftentimes violence. Why? For various reasons, Vietnam, civil rights, concert tickets, but one motive has caused protest more than any other. One cause has driven students to proactive protest and disobedience more than any other.

Bad food in the dining hall.

I have now tasted history.

Keep Your Head on a Swivel

I have played rugby for more than twelve years now and to this day, no coach or player, has ever told me to keep my head on a swivel. I suspect most true ruggers would have no idea what that means and proffer some witty criticism of such an idea. I was reminded of the term while watching the NFL playoffs this weekend . I saw a play, rather I felt it through my TV. I felt it enough to sit down and jump back into the rugby vs. football discussion. Give ear to my argument o ye warring sides and shut up already.

The New Orleans Saints had the ball and while attempting one of those American forward passes, the defender, from San Francisco, capitalized on his assigned defender falling down, and intercepted the pass. Normal enough. The defeated receiver in a noble effort at redemption picked himself up off the ground and began to pursue his opposition who was beginning his run back the other direction. About two strides into the chase a Forty Niner came flying in from off-screen, hit this poor unsuspecting receiver right in the chest, lifting him up off the ground and sending him flat on his back. In football its called a pancake block. They hurt. That New Orlinian failed to keep his head on a swivel or he would have seen it coming.

This is the huge differentiator between the two games and one of the key factors that renders a comparison irrelevant. Most who argue which sport is better spend all their time on padding, specialists, and play stoppage, I have never heard anyone deal with blocking. I assume it is because most who huff and puff in these discussions haven’t played both games, or if one has, I assume they at one point, in either sport, performed poorly leaving the arguer bitter and likely suffering from a head injury that destroyed the part of the brain dealing with logic and reason.

I'm in there somewhere

I recall as a sophomore in high school I was excited to have an opportunity play “special teams” for the varsity. I got my chance to pursue a kickoff against a rival team and did so with gusto. In my youthful exuberance I became distracted from the ball carrier by an opposing player whose intent was to block me from the ball carrier. My intent became running over this blocker, and I did. I had a thirty yard running start, exploded square into his chest, and he landed flat on his back. It was exhilarating. I felt full of power and adrenaline as I stood over the top of him gloating. The play wasn’t over yet and upon realizing this I took one step backwards and turned to pursue the ball carrier, wherever he was.

As soon as I turned around a flying human missile planted his head right in my chest. My feet came off the ground, I lost my breath, and everything liquid or liquid like inside my face exploded onto the inside of my face mask. I was flat on my back trying to regain my breath, my bearings, and my pride.

I played football for years and every play of every game or every practice, included my hurling myself headlong into my opposition as fast and hard as I could. I loved it.

In my first ever rugby game, an opposing player picked the ball off the corner of a scrum and tried to slip by on the short side of the field. As the backside flanker I had a great angle on him and took off like a rocket. I planted my forehead in his chest, wrapped up, and drove him into the ground. In rugby a tackle does not signify the end of play, but it was the end for me and that other guy both. He rolled on the ground holding his shoulder, or so I’m told because I couldn’t see very well, my nose was broken. I never tried that again.

I'm in there, I promise.

In the years since switching to the egg shaped ball, I have never endured the type of hit I received on that play my sophomore year. I’ve never had the sort of internally deflating hit that comes out of no where. I have been trampled, knocked heads, broken my nose again, but never been completely deflated out of no where. It doesn’t happen because not only are there no pads in rugby, but because there is no blocking.

They are not the same game, lets stop arguing.

Never Thrown a Punch

When I say I had never thrown a punch, I mean I had never even been in a playground scuffle. I have lived my life avoiding troubling situations and employing what I tell myself is wit and charm in situations where trouble seems unavoidable. Upon moving to Philadelphia I decided this needed to change.

Perhaps it was one too many runs up the Rocky steps, or the fact that I stand six foot one and two hundred forty pounds, but the city of brotherly love got me wondering how I would hold up standing toe to toe with another man. I opened my journal and inked a goal, “Have two official fights, judged by an official referee.” I figured I needed one fight, just to say I did it, then a second to make sure the result of the first, whatever that may be, were not a fluke. I closed the book and set about learning how to fight.

The first thing I learned was that real boxing gyms are hard to find. My Google search sent me to one disconnected number after another with the only signs of promise being numbers that rang with no one ever picking up. On a lark I called the Legendary Blue Horizon, a North Philly boxing venue, and asked whoever answered if they knew where one could go to learn to box. I got a list of five places that regularly turned out winning fighters and began working the phone. I decided to try the cheapest one I could find, assuming I may need the extra cash for medical bills.

The cheapest was the Front St. Boxing Club.

My first lesson, my initiation I suppose, was learning that the Front St. gym is not on Front St. The second was that one does not just walk in and sign up. The owner, a gentleman who sounded as if he had spent a long life chewing glass, told me that if I wanted to get in shape I should go to Bally’s, its nicer there. I informed him I wanted to fight. I had just turned thirty; he looked at me as if I was crazy, and introduced me to a trainer. My trainer informed me he was the best and had proven that fact as the all state corrections champion. He was not, nor had ever been, a corrections officer.

I suppose I should have been embarrassed to be both the oldest and most inexperienced person in the place, but I was too excited to even think about it. I learned to wrap my hands, move my feet, and hit the bag. It felt great.

Getting hit in the face did not feel quite as good. Getting hit in the body felt even worse.

My first attempt at sparring was with another of my same experience. Only allowed to jab, we both felt  accomplished as we poked at each other lamely. My lip got bloody and his eye got puffy. I started to think I was pretty good.

I decide otherwise when placed in the ring with an opponent five years my junior and twenty pounds lighter. After two rounds my elbow hurt from throwing punches that hit nothing, and my jaw was sore from him doing the opposite.

I loved it. I began walking a little taller, smiling a little wider. I drove around North Philly and Kensington and felt at home.

The first fight loomed. I drew an opponent that more resembled Manute Bol than George Forman. I could not reach his chin but by the third round I had found his ribs and I won. I felt more accomplished raising my hand in that ring than the day I raised my diploma. The man with the gravelly voice tried to convince me to retire undefeated. I did not.

I won again then fought one more. I retired at two and one.

Now as I tie my tie to go to meetings, or drive past Rocky’s statue, I feel a tinge of pride. I now know something others will never guess. I have the new knowledge that when I use my wit and charm to avoid trouble, that it isn’t my only option… I can always dial 911.

Craig Arthur von Schroeder, the Interview: Commonwealth Proper

Craig Arthur von Schroeder of Commonwealth Proper

Commonwealth Proper

We talked about clothes, but not really about his clothes. Funny for a guy whose business and the reason for our meeting, is the fact that he makes clothes. I’m not going to tell you all about them, claim they are the highest quality, or state that they are the proper style. I won’t do that because I don’t know enough about clothes to be trusted. To learn more about what the shirts look like, the quality of the suits, all that stuff, go to his website. Better yet, go visit him. For that stuff, I’m not your guy.

1732 Spruce St. Philadelphia

But here I am; here we are. I’m going to recommend you take a look at his clothes because I believe he means it.

Four years ago or so I joined his email list. A silly thing to do in that he had no location, we had never met, and all he had was a web page advertising a custom made shirt. There were no prices listed, nor any products. But I joined. I joined because I like the look of that single page.

in the showroom.

Commonwealth Proper,” was the company, coming soon was the bulk of the text. I cannot recall how I found the page, but I paid attention once I saw it. That was then. Now he has a Rittenhouse Square location where he fits clients for custom suits. I get emails alerting me to craft liquor tastings on Thursday nights, not my thing, but the look of his spam keeps me on that list. Last week I found myself on his stoop ringing the bell. I was early, no one answered.

Just before “on time”, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was him letting me know he was almost there. By almost he meant he was the guy on his cell crossing the street. He had just got in from LA at six that morning, just finished a fitting, and was squeezing me in before another. He is no longer the guy with a web page but no products or prices. We sat down in dark leather armchairs beneath mounted antlers, and I began by making sure he understood that I was nobody. He believed me and he didn’t care.

What is on your ceiling? White paint?

He grew up playing soccer at Princeton High School. He wasn’t someone then, but most of the kids he went to school with were the children of someone. He wasn’t a style icon, he just played soccer. He was a goalie. He was a later a goalie at Vanderbilt, then Lafayette… then in London and in Guatemala. He claims his checks weren’t the big ones, but he was living the life, playing soccer in places that cared about soccer. Then he wasn’t. He had to decide what was next. Law school. Rutgers Camden.

He explained that back in the day he had a company making polos. He would hop on a plane go to places like China sourcing stuff, getting things made. “I was basically just messing around, copying other people’s stuff,” he explained. He folded the company but kept making shirts. He was in law now and needed dress shirts more than polos, he adjusted to his own reality. “Fit is king,” he touts and he practiced on himself and willing friends. He was strict about his shirts being American made, not as a job creation program, but because he had learned he couldn’t control the quality when thousands of miles and at least one language stood between him and manufacturing. He cares about quality. That’s how he got into making suits.

“Here I had all these great, quality, shirts and then realized I was still buying my suits at H&M.”

Original prints from Craig's tattoo artist.

But he was a soccer player, lawyer, shirt guy, how do you make a suit? So he went up to Brooklyn and New York and hung out with guys who had been doing it forever, asked them everything they would tell him, really tried to learn something.

“Really, I’m completely living this thing and I’m loving it.”

"I mean, Philadelphia is where everything became big-time. The country and clothing."

He is living it. Him living it is why I’m writing this. From the stoop to the showroom, to the maps on his ceiling, he was excited. He talked about Philadelphia’s place in history, both the nation’s and the garment industry’s. He talked about the taxidermy on the wall and the reclaimed wood candle holders. His perfectly curated clothing and environment are what he wants. He smiles about all of it because he did it. No really, he did it. As in he ordered the maps and the brass eagle on eBay then mounted and pasted them up himself. He takes measurements, does invoicing, and licks envelopes. The former pro-athlete lawyer licks the envelopes, isn’t afraid to tell me so, and appears to be enjoying it.

Clothing, style, and business are tricky things. If you go online, or talk to the guy next to you, ask your girlfriend or wife, read a book or talk to your boss, they will all tell you something. You can get advice and rules from every direction; some worth listening too, some not. At the end of the day you should be happy with what you wear. That is what I liked about Craig, he is doing it because he likes it, and that is helping him do it right. Not right as in, this is what the rules say, I don’t know or care enough about all the rules to know if he is doing that part “right”, but doing it right in that he cares and loves his craft. To me that is what “getting it right” is. I just so happen to like his taste and style. I’ve got my finger in the wind enough to know that others will like his style as well.

Collar stays made of brass salvaged from old Philly's garment district.

One might think he gets his taste from that same method. Perhaps a little. But here he was, talking to me, I was taking notes, and he isn’t touting his pedigree or proclaiming his greatness. He’s telling me he learned style from his older brother, whom he says is, to this day, the coolest person he has ever met. I mention a bunch of bloggers who are big time, and he writes down their names. He talked about how shopping isn’t supposed to be a condescending sales pitch. He says a guy shouldn’t have to be told what to wear, but rather talked too and taught. He asks why a guy can’t enjoy a clothes buying experience. He asked the question as I sat in a high ceiling room with portraits of civil war generals over the door, and I imagined a guy could enjoy this.

Because I did and because he does.

Because it is a Day of Service: or Because They asked

This wasn’t today, but I like it. I should probably not admit that I took the photo while driving.

I st. and Kensington

We got to paint on the walls at school today. Not my school, my kid’s. We, as in I had help. I’ve never had help before.

I’m going to offer up that cinder block walls are close to my least favorite surface to paint on, but mother’s of elementary school kids are possibly the most doting art admirers I have interacted with. Not my best work, but probably my best venue, and by far my best company/teammate.