I am quite skilled at a number of things that have no practical use. Like most suburban kids, all of my time and efforts during youth were spent acquiring those abilities. But unlike those other kids, my dad never taught me how to properly throw a spiral, I don’t think we ever played a single game of catch.
But he did teach me how to throw a tomahawk.There really isn’t much to it. The secret is all in your distance, the number of paces you are away from the target. At five and a half paces I can stick a hawk in block of wood every time. So can my little sister. At seven paces I flip the blade around backwards and the hawk sticks upside down.
I have labored to teach my daughter about things like oligarchy and the risks of confirmation bias but I was recently excited to teach her something much more important.
A young woman must be prepared to defend herself against the onslaught of tree stumps.
I’m not exactly sure why throwing a hatchet at a tree is so satisfying but trust me when I tell you that it is. It feels primal, is only slightly challenging, and makes a nice little “thunk” sound when the blade buries itself in the wood. It also makes a disturbing “ping” when it ricochets off into the bushes.
But perhaps the most satisfying thing about the tomahawk is that I have yet to find a tournament in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Maybe there is one in Portland but I haven’t heard about it. Not that I don’t like Silver Lake, I rather like the place, but I also like that I have something in my roots that, much like my youth, lacks any social cache’ but is packed with personal enjoyment.
Special shout-out to my brother-in-law for pulling off the perfect tomahawk version of the “Robin Hood”. You owe my Dad a new handle.
My father has never been hip. I have not asked him if he was ever cool, but I’m guessing he would happily agree with me. Hip isn’t high on his priority list.
Growing up with him I never saw him doing the cool things, saying cool words, or even paying attention to anyone everyone else said was cool. We lived in a place that we all knew wasn’t cool (Utah) and while in this backwater we didn’t even do the only thing people did there that was considered cool (ski).
Imagine my surprise when years later I began seeing the cool kids of the coolest place (Brooklyn) doing things I used to see my dad do. I was, and to some extent still am, confounded. To make matters worse, The cool kids were not just doing things my dad did but they were for the most part doing it poorly.
Not everyone (Hollister Hovey does taxidermy right) but I saw dudes buying axes who have never, nor will ever, chop wood. I was confused.
I had been away from my Dad’s home for longer than I thought and was struck by the volume and variety of objects in his home that meant something to me, and even more struck that the quality of his collection was even better than I remembered.
His collection of Native American rugs were not purchased but rather they were either inherited or bartered. I remember artisans from New Mexico and Arizona who didn’t speak Spanish or English weaving rugs that would make any Urban Outfitter designers swoon.
The antlers on the wall were shot and mounted by either my father or one of his friends. The lattice throne was brought back from Berlin back in the 60’s, kachinas and baskets from off the reservation, and Michelangelo’s Moses from Italy.
Dad spent hours sitting in the same room as the television completely ignoring whatever was on. He was engraving on tusks of mastodon or walrus, powder horns (either cow or buffalo), and now he even has wild boar tusks. A ship carved into an imitation whale tooth makes sense, but looking at it now, the plains warrior scrimshawed onto a walrus tusk-not so much. It didn’t seem odd to me when he did it back in the 80’s.
While Dad’s flintlock normally hangs on the wall of his living room, it has also shot an elk.
Wandering the loft I touched the objects and experienced tactile nostalgia. I remember the times years ago when those things were part of my environment, and like all things in youth I took them for granted. Now that I am older than Dad was when he created or collected these things, I recognize their value independent of my memories but mostly appreciate them through my appreciation of him.
I look up to him and strangely enough I look up to his things.
His things represent experiences, places, and all the various aspects of him. They are him. They are him so much that as long as he lives he does not collect things as much as he earns them. For instance the the objects from Samoa do not come from my youth but from his old age.
He tells me the staff and fan were gifts. They are symbols or talismans representing speech giving, talking, or pontificating. If you have met my father this makes sense. I don’t need to know anything about Samoa or her traditions to believe my Dad. Not because I trust his expertise in this South Pacific nation, but rather I know for a fact that were he to ever earn anything, it would be for talking.
I appreciate things that are earned. Especially things with a good story. That stick is inherently both.
Those things are cool. They are real in so many ways. They have not only aesthetic value-which I’m glad people are recently appreciating-but more so they meaning. Not a fad. Not an a crafted image. No irony.
You can’t have a collection this cool without some it it rubbing off on you. Or maybe its more likely that the objects got some of the cool as it rubbed off from him.
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”.
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.