Radcliffe, the lost sister

Books, tweed, scarves, glasses, rowing, and bicycles. Cambridge.radcliffe

I went looking for Radcliffe but all I got was Harvard. The sign at the gate still says Radcliffe but once inside it is all Harvard.stairway

What was once a sister school to its Ivy male equivalent, is now just part of one co-ed whole. No distinction other than a sign on an old brick wall.jake library

W.A.S.P.y blue bloods still swarm around but it is no longer a singular hive. This is a good thing but still I feel a little loss on behalf of Radcliffe.equations

No. That isn’t true. I don’t know Radcliffe and I cannot mourn for her. We never really met. Really, I’m just a little perturbed that in my quest to collect pennants from all seven sisters, they no longer manufacture one for a school that was absorbed long ago.

front of librarySo I settle for Harvard. Typing that phrase makes me smirk.  So, like a suitor late to the dance, the music has already started, I see Radcliffe has gone off with another. I look a little to the left, “Sup Barnard? How you doin’?”

Who Belongs

They are both from small towns in Idaho. Did you ever see the movie Napoleon Dynamite? She is from there.

When I met them she was in PA school and he was working in a lab extracting stem cells from rats. She graduated and they moved away so he could go to med school. He’s done now and they live in Boston. I was there earlier this week.

The night before I got to town he called me and asked if I was free in the evening. I replied I was and he said, “great, I’ll make reservations.” He’s not normally the kind of guy who goes to places where you need reservations but I didn’t think too much about it. I was perfectly happy to see some old friends and wouldn’t have felt put out if we were dining at the gas station. We weren’t going to the gas station.

We knew jackets were required because she checked the dress code online. He thought his jeans with a jacket looked “snappy”, she made him go change. Walking through Cambridge toward campus we chatted about a bit we had both seen on Jimmy Fallon recently. Jimmy had Napoleon Dynamite as a guest on the show, not the actor, the character. The two of them used atl atls to launch spears at a faux mastadon. It was marginally funny but strangely enough we both have experience with an atl atl. Both of us not only knew what that was, but in our respective youths, had actually played with one. In true Napoleon style I offered to one up my companions by bragging that I also know how to use a sling ala David and Goliath and that it does not involve any helicopter swinging of the stone over one’s head. He retorted that he had no experience with actual slings but in his youth he would simply tie bailing twine around a rock, and then “I would huck that thing.” She was walking a few steps behind us and dryly remarked that she doubts anyone wearing a sport jacket had previously said “huck that thing.” She can’t possibly be right.

She hesitated at the door and admitted to being a bit nervous. She looked at him with that sort of spousal distrust that comes with knowinng someone too well. He walked right in feigning confidence but I could see it falter just a bit when there was no greater inside the door just a living room with a leather sofa and piano. The sofa came complete with a grey haired man wearing a bow tie.  After looking nervously around a bit we found a woman behind a counter talking on the phone. We waited for her to finish and explained we had reservations for three. She explained the dining room was through those doors over there and they could help us, over there.


Once we were seated  she  again confided she didn’t feel like she belonged there. She loved the place, wanted to be there, but explained she couldn’t escape the idea that someone was going to come ask us to leave at any moment. He continued to keep his cool even but did admit that he was wearing the first jacket he ever owned that didn’t come with matching pants.  I chuckled because I bought my first odd coat just two years ago and being much older than him, he wins by at least two years. I acted like I belonged, which is amusing, at least to me, since I was the only one who didn’t really belong.

You see, they actually asked him for his card when we were seated. He had the card, a real one, with his picture on it. He is in fact a member of the Harvard Faculty Club. Card Carrying, bona fide, legit. We were sitting at the table of the Harvard Faculty Club, them as members and me as thier guset, but they didn’t quite feel it. Not yet at least. I know that feeling; have felt it for most of my life.

I would feel it when I would get sent out to the farm as a kid, when I visited family in Wyoming, or when I was at home with all the other suburban kids. I felt it the first year I tried out for football and then when I went away to college. I didn’t think I belonged when I climbed into a boxing ring nor when I sat in a class at Penn. I know that feeling of not belonging, of fealing like a fake. It never really matters if you are carrying the card or not, you just feel it.

It is two things really. First is learning to get over that feeling; or at least learning to ignore it. I decided some time ago, after countless numbers of rude rejections, that things could get no worse so I might as well show up and assume if I don’t belong someone will ask me to leave. That theory has for the most part held true. I assume I belong everywhere unless told otherwise.

Second is the value of a friend. I imagine that dinner, while it was very nice, would have been so much better if someone, anyone, would have noticed our awkwardness and said, “are you new? Welcome to the club. I remember when I was new, we are glad you joined.” A friendly face or welcoming gesture is of great value. I’ll bet it would have made my leg of lamb taste better. Awkward has an odd taste.

Most of us need a friend or a guide, and more often or likely, could be one.

I am One of “Them” and so are “They”

I am not an expert on clothing. The Trad’s fascination with my footwear will tell you as much, yet I would wager I spend more time thinking about clothing than your average man. The level to which I fail in clothing myself properly yet still appear more focused on doing so than normal, says something about the sartorial state of the modern American male, but I don’t think it is completely our own fault.

Take for example a recent experience.

J. Press Cambridge

Much has been said and written about the Ivy style and the traditional brand J. Press. I recently found myself in the neighborhood. I was in town for business at the University and was wearing a charcoal suit, sky blue shirt, and straight fold blue pocket square; nothing groundbreaking but no visible mistakes (cue shoe joke here). I stepped inside.

Fall racks at J. Press

The shop is beautiful. Orderly racks of jackets and coats intermixed with collegiate memorabilia. I would have loved to spend hours just touching the tweeds and checking the dates on old deflated footballs. A grey haired man near the register was roused from his boredom by my entry and giving me a once over asked, “Can I help you?”

I had no money. I would be buying nothing and felt a little ashamed because of it. Not wanting to be too intrusive on a business I replied, “I just wanted to look around and check things out a bit.” He shrugged a “very well” and went about fidgeting with folded sweaters whatever else. He did surprisingly well at lingering around but avoiding anything close to eye contact or, heaven forbid, a smile.

coats and scarves at J. Press

I made a couple rounds of the racks, touching very little, thanked the man and walked out of the store. What fools the two of us were that day. Yes, both of us.

The man showed little to no interest in me or my business, which is fair as I was not likely to be business that day. But that once over and his curt manner did not communicate helpfulness but rather he was the steward of something to be protected from outside intrusion and in our case it felt as if he was more of a security guard at a museum watching to make sure I didn’t cross the velvet rope and touch the paintings.

I didn’t need a security guard I needed a docent, a tour guide.

Perhaps he would have been one but when I looked at the crusty old man I froze. My normal bold self retreated. Not only did I refrain from asking my long list of questions but I lost all desire to ask. I had small things like wanting to know if the stripes and colors on the scarves represented schools, which I know they do, but which represents who, I have no idea. I would like to know. I like hats. I also have one of the largest heads on the planet and am conformist enough to not want to look like I’m headed for a costume party. In that store was a long table piled high with head wear options and I didn’t touch a single one.


I should have asked. I could have asked but I didn’t.

I am surely not the only one struggling with personal insecurity and sartorial ignorance. It is a shame, and this is not the only such store where I have experienced this, that those who man the floor of such a menswear legends are repellent rather than receptive.

So what do I do now? Maybe I go to the Gap or some other affordable box where teenagers flirt with each other and expect me to unfold the entire stack of sweaters. I’m sure young Tiffany would be happy to tell me what Sarah thinks is so “way cute” for old guys like me to wear… which means my ignorance, and the ignorance of all like me, will continue.


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.