Tag Archives: Americana

Birdwell Beach Britches:

In 1961, back in the days of Gidget and the Endless Summer, a seamstress named Carrie Birdwell Mann started making and selling swimshorts at her Orange County home. More than 50 years later the company is still in O.C. making pretty much the same thing, and for the most part- only that one thing.IMG_6570

We call them boardshorts. The world knows about boardshorts thanks to Old Navy and Target, but surfers know about boardshorts largely thanks to Birdwell. Mrs. Mann invented the shorts specifically for them.

Not to take away from what Quiksilver, O’neill, or any other surf brand have accomplished, but when it comes to boardshorts, Birdwell is what all of them are trying to be.IMG_6498

Like any responsible adult, the folks at the factory were a little leary of me when I showed up asking questions. But once they determined that, as they put it, “wasn’t up to any weird @*!!” they were more than happy to show me around.IMG_6492The family sold off the business, or as the current owners say “entrusted” them in 2014. Since then, a couple things have changed, while some other significant things have not.

For instance, they started using actual patters.IMG_6489While this may have removed some whimsy from the whole purchasing experience, it did make predicting if the shorts were going to fit a little more reliable.

They also updated the van.IMG_6597And by updated I mean they painted it not fixed the engine, which is why I found it parked comfortably in the factory parking lot.

What they didn’t change were the people working the floor. They have remarkably low turnover and most of the folks sewing the shorts today, are the same folks who sewed them ten years ago.IMG_6494

This might be in part an explanation for what else hasn’t changed, which is that these shorts are nearly bomb proof. I think these shorts are what the authorities use to identify the victims of shark attacks since the shorts are what always survive.

*I said that not them*IMG_6506

It is interesting that in our modern world of fast fashion and quarterly shareholder returns, there can exist a company and brand that survives without attempting to broaden offerings in order to capture market share or lowering quality to widen the margin and spur more turns.

They didn’t do that and they are still right there.IMG_6566

Like I said before, I don’t surf.

But if taking steps past big box mass retail is a sign- I might be on my way.IMG_6594

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What I am is What I am: American

IMG_9146 (8)

While spending some time with an expat friend of mine I reflected on my own level of worldliness and cosmopolitan life. Turns out, I’m not really much of either. I am, very much, an American.

The following are points that helped me realize this in depth:littlemopuntainbrothers

I appreciate Leanardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. They are masters. Matisse, Goya, Rembrandt, and Frida Khalo, all genius, but if I am honest with myself my very favorite artists are Leyendecker, Eakins, Wyeth, and Justin Bua.

I have read O’Henry and Keats, but I prefer Hemmingway or Fitzgerald. Twain is the greatest.

I know all the words to the Fifty Nifty United States, Proud to be an American, I know the pledge of allegiance, I can sing all the words to almost every Beach Boys song, do a perfect Enter Sandman by Metallica, and know almost all the words to Rapper’s Delight. I think that high note in the national anthem is impossible and generally horrible.

I had ancestors on the Mayflower, ancestors who crossed the plains as pioneers, and one who lost almost everything in the great depression.DSC02515

I went to public elementary, middle, high school, and even a public university for undergrad. I played little league basketball and American football. I grew up in a house with a basketball hoop in the driveway.grandandchrysler

I have been to the tops of the Space Needle in Seattle, the St. Louis arch, and the Empire State Building. I’ve been to Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Sumter, and Fort Bridger. I’ve been to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Hollywood sign, the Alamo, and sat in the nose bleeds of Chicago’s Soldier Field. I’ve been to the Liberty Bell, the Lincoln Memorial, driven across Kansas, seen the Grand Canyon, camped in Yellowstone, and been inside Mammoth Cave. I have seen the Erie Canal, Hoover Damn, and the levies in New Orleans.archandflag

I have skied in Utah, been SCUBA diving off the Florida Keys, and whitewater rafted in North Carolina.

I can use wicked smaht, youze, ya’ll, and stoked correctly in a sentence. I know the difference between a Sioux (Lakota), Navajo, Nez Perce, and Iroquois. I can tell the difference between a Hopi and Zuni kachina doll.

I own a gun.littlemewithgun

I like root beer and Lucky charms. I like chimichangas and General Tso’s chicken but dislike corn tortillas. I only speak English and when I hear another language my mind defaults to the ten Spanish words I know thanks to Sesame Street. I eat portions that are far too large at almost every meal. I got a driver’s license when I turned 16, didn’t vote in the first election I was eligible for, and later did volunteer work on a presidential campaign. I am more familiar with the workings of the English government than Canada’sCIMG0958

90% of my clothing was purchased at a shopping mall. I still own a G.I. Joe action figure. I have watched years worth of Warner Bros and the Smurfs. I regularly watch the Super Bowl, March Madness, the World Series, and the NBA finals. I think the college bowl system is a farce.soldierfieldme

I have been to Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Arlington, the Hermitage, the Mission San Diego, and had dinner in a Duwamish long house. I have been to a pow-wow, homecoming, and prom.

I am so completely American there is nothing I can do about it.

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A Continuous Lean, Interview

Michael Williams

“… my apologies again about the coffee — I’m an idiot.”

MW

http://www.acontinuouslean.com/

I was once again unreasonably early and stood outside the coffee shop in Soho waiting for him to arrive.  I watched a man in a fedora, skin tight jeans and knee high fur boots walk past, two guys in skinny suits with Moses beards, wearing work boots, and a six foot tall, waif thin woman in high heels and fur shawl all walk past.  Seeing them, and knowing I was about to meet the blogger whose work is known as the go-to place for all things hipster, I began to really wonder who it was I was about to meet.

When he walked up, right on time, he was above all else… normal.

He told me he isn’t fashionable.  He referred to fashion as the “F” word.  He retold how style industry people meet him and say, “Really?  This is the guy?”  I must admit meeting with the knee high boots guy would have been pure visual entertainment, but Mr. Williams was the kind of normal that isn’t a disappointment.

We went inside and I ordered a hot chocolate, they were out, so I got apple juice.  The normal line of questioning followed, completed by him saying, “So it’s kind of like I invited a Jew to have bacon?”  I tried to convince him it was a complete non-issue, coffee is my favorite flavor of jelly bean, but I’m not sure he completely believed me.  This wasn’t supposed to be about me.

In Michael’s case normal is not boring, but it does require you to pay attention.  He does not act or speak in a flash of flamboyance to draw attention to him or his point, he and his work just are.  That is in essence what A Continuous Lean is.

I had trouble describing to my wife what the site is, Michael helped by saying it’s a men’s interest blog focusing on Americana.  “Why Americana?” I asked.

“Uh, I guess because I’m American.”

Great answer.  He put me, and might I say a whole lot of other skeptics, in our collective place.  He put me in my place because he is not some Soho sleuth trying to figure out what is cool and market it.  He is not polling or trolling the streets for the next cool thing and trying to pass his version of it off as authentic.  He is simply a guy from Ohio with a history degree.  A  guy from Ohio, not in the “let me cover up my fly over country past to become NYC” kind of way; nor is he the “Look at my Crocodile Dundee woodsy shtick and love me” kind of way either.  He is simply from Ohio.

“I like traditional stuff.  I figure if something has been around for 100 years it’s probably because it’s good.  If you go to Istanbul you can get a traditional wet shave that has been done the same way for hundreds of years…. I’m American.  Not in the flag waving, we’re number one kind of way; it’s just what I am… Americans didn’t invent the suit, we invented jeans.  The clothing and things we perfected were work wear and utilitarian things.  I like that stuff and I just started posting stuff I like.”

Approximately 350,000 people per month like it too.  Such a large number makes me feel a little sheepish, but I have to admit… I’m whole heartedly one of them.

He posts things like trips to flea markets, how to tie a monkey fist knot, and most recently a company that makes shoe horns.  Shoe horns?

This brings us back to normal.  Michael Williams has a way of making normal cool.  He has crafted a strange world where the Varsity quarterback is envious of the second string nose guard and finds himself trying to dress like him.  He has urbanites scouring the countryside and searching attics for old military tents and ammo cans.  He has me interested in shoe horns.

I got the idea he finds this all a bit funny but he doesn’t laugh very loud.  I’m not sure if he does many things very loud.  He was apologetic and modest.  He had a dangerous way of distracting me with questions about myself, preying on one of my weaknesses.  He even volunteered that he thought his site might appear too materialistic.  How unfashionable.

As if he was sorry for it, he admitted he liked a lot of “things”.

“It‘s not that I’m telling everyone to go out and buy this stuff (the comments on an infamously expensive notebook are priceless) its more that I’m exercising demons.  I see stuff I like and after I write about it I no longer feel I have to own it.”

Preach on my good man, preach on.  The only problem is he does it a little too well and in exorcising his own demons; he’s passing them all on to me.  I’m sure those featured don’t mind at all.  I’m currently saving up for a new notebook.

This is completely unrelated but right around the corner what did I see... a major award!

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Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown

Celebrating the Phillies winning the World Series.

 

I should preface this by stating that I have never played a game of baseball. 

No, not even an inning. 

I don’t recall ever playing a game of catch with my dad.  Now don’t assume I was neglected, but rather my family’s “All-American” summer past time involved a tipi and black powder, but that’s another story. 

I have played maybe ten games of softball, all of which were during my elementary school days; since then I have probably been in a batting cage twice.  I have never felt this was a void in my life, or that my sporting experience has been lacking.  I enjoy going to the the park, be it Citizens Bank, Turner, or Camden Yards, and spending a summer evening eating sunflower seeds and yelling “hey batter-batter,” but I will not spend more than 1 minute watching the sport on a TV.  I do not really have a team, but I love my city, and enjoyed hugging strangers on Broad St. after the World Series win much more than I enjoyed the game. 

With all this in mind, I veered off course and headed for Cooperstown. 

Brohammasmobile at the Hall of Fame.

It’s a quaint little town, well groomed and well keeping of the theme of the place.  As I walked toward the front door, a young employee opened the door for me and smiled.  Inside another young employee smiled, and showed me toward the ticket counter.  The man at the counter took my money, handed me a map, and smiled. 

What I found inside was unlike anything I have seen before.  It was amazing. 

The "hall" in Hall of Fame.

Why amazing?  Because inside was America as we hope it is. 

There were jerseys from players whose names we all know; Babe Ruth, DiMaggio, Hank Aaron.  There were seats from ballparks long gone and memorials to players and events.  Here was a game documented and celebrated from its birth down to the present.  There were artifacts with information to give context to what you were looking at, presented in a style that brought it to life. 

Hammerin' Hank's uniform, worn while he hit the record breaking ball.

I loved looking at photos of fans in ties and hats, teams that no longer exist, and trophies won before any of us were born.  I liked the handle bar mustaches, the knickerbockers, and the stories. 

Philadelphia Athletics.

But none of this is why I call it amazing. 

I cannot recall being in a place where everyone there was so excited to be there… except possibly Broad St. after the Phil’s won. 

I have surely been to no other museum where the patrons were so enthralled by what they saw or read.  I watched a grey haired man with a Red Sox hat and khaki shorts, happily arguing with a mohawked and pierced young man who was wearing an Oriels jersey, as they were both hunched over a list of statistics. 

I saw families all dressed in matching jerseys, all doing the same activity, and all enjoying it. 

Generation gaps were closed, people dissagreed agreeably, and lambs layed down with lions.

A father and son staging a photo with a statue.

If you think the Utopia I have described is as fictional as the Field of Dreams, consider I almost bought a mitt from the gift shop.  What would I do with a mitt?  Play baseball?

My experience with sport has always been participant first, then when ability or opportunity render me unable, I become a follower.  Cooperstown has nearly made me a fan.

Satchel Paige, great player, better story teller.

Now I doubt I will start tuning in my television, nor will I join the beefy and sleevless guys on the weekend beer league, but I will claim to be a fan of baseball.  I am a fan of what it represents in Americana.  I am a fan of anything that gets a father and son happily on the same page.  I am a fan of summer, and mostly, I am a fan of a museum that would enshrine Barry Bond’s record smashing home run ball with the asterik carved by the fan who caught it, prominantly displayed.

Barry's "flax seed oil injection" record breaking ball.

The place was about the game and ALL its history.

"There's no crying in baseball!"

The only enshrined guy I looked for.

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