Hollister Hovey, the Interview

Hollister Hovey

 Hollister Hovey is a great name, very alliterate.  There is something in the number of syllables or the near symmetry that gives it a pleasant flow.  Better than the flow, or than the name itself, is that it is genuine.  Ms. Hovey was gifted this name by parent, not agent.  Who needs an agent when you are born into this sort of thing?

Ms. Hovey enduring my humor.

By, born into it, I mean her mom did PR and her Dad had a clothing and wares shop in Nebraska.  Add to those roots a dash of New York polish, some Washington and Lee refinement, and you have the genetics to create the sort of blog both Teddy and F.D. Roosevelt would appreciate.  The presidents Roosevelt would not be alone as approximately 2,000 people per day visit Hollisterhovey.blogspot.com.

I admit I am one of them.  Or possibly I am three of them.  I go often.

When we sat down at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station to talk I asked Ms. Hovey if she could in any way guess how many New York apartments sported taxidermy before her blog, as compared to now.  She simply laughed and sort of rolled her eyes.  She claims it started when Freemans opened and that she doesn’t deserve the blame, but as I had never heard of Freemans (my loss), I give her full credit.

The blog began as a place for Hollister to display her paintings.  She was doing custom wedding invitations, a hobby of sorts, and needed a venue to “show off”.  Around the same time she hosted a string of international visitors who were in want of destinations centered on a certain taste, and the advice she gave grew into the string of recommendations on the right hand column of the blog today.

I think taste is the right word.

When eating, one enjoys flavor.  One wants the ingredients to compliment and play off of each other without getting lost in a mess of confusion or clutter.  Some chefs take the tact of scaling things back in minimalist fashion.  Ms. Hovey does the reverse in a way that would make Julia Child proud.

Ms. Hovey at home.

The blog displays shots of places and things, the Hollister apartment mostly, that are usually old, outdoorsy, and often European.  She stews together stuffed pheasants, pewter miniatures and pith helmets, in a way that doesn’t appear dusty or distasteful, or even messy.  She does it well enough that her apartment was recently featured in Elle Decoration UK.

This is not her training or even her job.  Hovey does PR for the medical industry and quite likes it.  By the way she talked with me, relaxed without ever losing her polish; I assume she is quite good.  But her blog is better than good.  She explains it by saying she doesn’t post anything she doesn’t truly like.  The taste she portrays is truly hers, as opposed to some learned theory or prescribed list dictated by others.  I suspect her taste is somewhere being written and dictated to others.  She has created spaces that are more curated then decorated.  In fact, I think she wrote that line on her blog somewhere, or at least it was written about her somewhere, and I later wrote it on my own blog… so in some way she is dictating taste to me.  I am comfortable with that.

Comfortable like our conversation at the Oyster Bar.  Comfortable enough that she confessed to buying men’s shoes (they are made better) and I confessed to feeling in costume when wearing a hat.  She smiled and quipped that we all love the costumes in period pieces, even if we would never wear them.  That is how she summed up her blog.  It is a reflection of things she has always loved; quality craftsmanship, the finer things, and cool costumes.  Things you can like even if it isn’t your thing.

I think it’s more, things we like, and wish were more our thing.

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. http://thetrad.blogspot.com/2008/05/not-so-trad-visit-to-pinehurst.html

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.

Brohammas Goes into the Fields to Find the “Angry Black Man” and Instead Finds Wayne Bennett

Wayne Bennett a.k.a. "Field Negro"

There is a blog out there in the digital landscape where race is discussed openly.  Names are called, fingers are pointed, and oft times naughty words are written.    Sounds like my kind of place, except for the naughty words of course.

One should know that this is not the normal race baiting sort of forum.  It is not the land of David Duke or even Farrakhan, but a place where things are looked at logically, pragmatically, frankly, and sometimes surprisingly fairly.  What sets this place apart is that punches are never pulled, no matter who is getting punched.  White, black, cops, lawyers, accused, and acquitted, all may find themselves targeted if the author deems it justified.  This brings us to the author.

Any writer who will entertain my inserting Bob Marley quotes where they don’t belong merits my affection and this blogger not only allowed but occasionally encouraged them.  Interesting.  Through repeated reading I realized this blogger was local to myself, or possibly the other way around, so I decided to pull back the curtain and see who was running the machine.

I embarked on this fact finding venture unsure of what I might find, or rather, how my inquiries would be received.  I, a devoutly religious white man raised in the heart of Republicanism, was arranging to sit down with a man who titles his blog in homage to a Malcolm X quote, and regularly rants against religion itself in his writings.  This could go very badly… if I were meeting with someone else.  I found the “Field Negro” to be decidedly friendly.

We met at Moriarty’s, an Irish Pub downtown, for lunch.  He chose the place, possibly as a nod to my pastiness, but more likely due to proximity to his place of employ.  You see, Wayne Bennett is not a professional blogger, he is a lawyer.  He works for the Family Division of Philadelphia’s First Judicial District, “Support Master” being his official title.  To the uninitiated this is pretty much a family court judge.  He has the pleasure of listening to cases of child support, custody, and any other sort of domestic disagreement that progresses to litigation.  How fun.  He explained all this to me while waiting for the waitress to bring him his salad.  I had some sort of meat sandwich that was decidedly less healthy.  Our meal was not large, nor hard to eat, yet the time it took us to finish lunch was impressive.  I would say how long but I would hate to cast doubt on Mr. Bennett’s dedication to the people of Philadelphia.

He, like I, is not a native of this fine city.  He was raised in a respected Jamaican family where the likes of Mr. Marley were not simply listened to, but met; hence his allowing my itations to be entertained.  He left the island to attend the University of Alabama on a track scholarship.  Upon graduation he took a good job in California and began to enjoy life.  As can often be the case when one is enjoying themselves, family stepped in to shake things up.  Mr. Bennett’s uncle, a barrister, thought his nephew should be more like himself, and told him to attend law school.  Which he did, at LSU.  (I am thinking of convincing Bennett to attend my alma matter so we can get a national football championship, they seem to follow him.)  Graduation, a job fair in Atlanta, and a phone call from a politician, landed Wayne Bennett in Philadelphia.  Now we knew each other, our meals had arrived and been half eaten, and then we began to talk.

I was not present at Obama’s beer summit with Professor Gates and Officer Crowley, but I have no doubt it was not as productive as was ours at the pub.  The two of us, assumed to be polar opposites, both love this city.  He loves that it is close to both NYC and DC, has a small town feel in a big city, and that he can visit a neighborhood and know he will find black people, white people, Italians or Poles. 

I like that I can eat somewhere other than Applebee’s. 

I tend to talk too much. 

When I asked him to tell me the one best reggae song ever, he gave me a list of eight. 

His wife does not read his blog; neither does mine. 

We were into some ground breaking stuff here.  Lunches like ours are not completely unheard of, but lunches with those of our respective demographics do not discuss the topic I brought up next.  I asked him why he blogs about race.

“People are dishonest about race.  I wanted to have the real conversation,” was his answer.  He believes that thanks to the computer, and people’s propensity to hide behind them, individuals finally feel they can speak freely.  He has created a forum where they do.

He sees the black community as running in place.  “Things are surely not as bad as they were 20 years ago, but we aren’t going anywhere.  It’s the same old, same old.”  I expressed a more dour view.  I asked him why it seemed so many young black men were falling behind in Philadelphia.  In his animated way he told me a story along these lines:

“When I first started hearing cases I would get all these divorced families where Mom works some fast food job, dad works construction, and they spend thousands of dollars a month to send their kids to private school (I knew exactly of what he spoke as he described perfectly my whole neighborhood).  The Dad would consistently be unable to keep up the child support payments and hence find himself standing before the bench.  I used to think all these folks were sending their kids to private catholic schools to keep them away from black people (which knowing these people would not surprise me).  But when I started to look more into it I saw how bad the schools were and realized that maybe this wasn’t racism but that these folks simply cared about their child’s education.  Racism wasn’t the issue; it was that we need to do something about these schools.”

He contrasted this with how many limos he sees at high school graduations.  “Since when was graduating from high school such a big deal?  You haven’t done anything yet?  Why is the bar so low?”

I asked him if race still matters.  He said, “of course, but its class too.  Hey, even rich black people hate poor black people.”

We talked well past the check.  I was sitting at the table of a black man who blogs about racism as a way to unwind and relax from the work day, (what a way to relax, right?) and he made me feel completely comfortable.  He was not angry; not even grumpy.  In fact I rather liked the guy and he had the sort of demeanor that whether true or not, would make others think he liked them too.

He insisted on picking up the tab and we wrapped up lunch with the conversation feeling unfinished.  Funny that as a reader of his blog, one might think the world of race relations spinning into a black hole, but having lunch with the author was the bright spot of my week.

There is hope for us yet.