Living in Style: Brian Bent

Brian Bent is not pretending or acting. He is what, and whom, he presents himself to be. And he is great.

What he presents, is a hot-rodding rockabilly surfer circa 1968, or maybe 1953, I can’t pin down exactly when. You can find images of him all over the internet riding a checkered surfboard while wearing a striped shirt and captain’s cap, ya know, like the one Thurston Howell III wore on Gilligan’s Island.

The pics look great. But what is even better, is that on any given day you can easily run into Brian out in the lineup at Doheny or San Onofre, and he will look exactly like he does in those photos, and he will ride that log for all its worth. He can surf.

When he is done he will haul that log into the parking lot, load it onto a homemade hot rod, and head home to paint.

His paintings are what first caught my attention.

People have been paying attention to his art for decades. He is not new. His work is a loose mix of what appears to be fashion illustration, shapes, and storytelling. He renders spindly stylized characters like you might imagine would exist if Jack Skellington targeted the world of Gidget. He made a splash back in the 80’s when he was designing the interiors of the Becker surf shops and his work was eventually picked up by galleries. He has been and still is, producing.

Producing as in continually creating. Making. All sorts of stuff.

I met Brian as he and his wife were headed from the beach back to their car. I was (still am) just some soggy kook in a wetsuit hollering “Hey Brian” and they stopped and graciously listened as I told Brian I loved his art. He was gracious. They were nice.

Then last weekend he opened up his home for a “garage sale” and Mrs. Hammas and I went to check it out. The Bents were exactly as they appeared at the beach, super gracious, and their home is the best representation of a stylized life I have ever seen. They execute a designed life to perfection.

In front of their modest sized house is a teal, tailfinned car with anchors painted on the cab, then three steel home-made hot rods, and of course all the vehicles are outfitted to carry a surf board. In the garage are tools upon tools and a quiver of hand painted longboards next to a pile of banged up single tailed skateboards.

The house is a collection of mid-mod vignettes made up of furniture, instruments, and art. Skatalites played on a record player, easy going people not wearing shoes milled about the kitchen, and the Bents appeared sincerely happy we were there. They showed us around, shared a bit about their life, and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.

And I was. Thanks to them.

This comfort came largely from the Bent’s authenticity. The 60’s, or 40’s for that matter, are long gone and most of us do not dress or design a life like the Bent’s so it might be natural to assume they might be a little… weird. Or act eccentric. But they don’t. They are, again, normal. In the best possible way. In the way that makes a person a real person rather than a performance. In a way that makes Brian a master of style rather than a relic.

Brian is not living in the past, he is living in style.

And I didn’t even get to his music.

I Just Wanna Kick It: LeatherHead Sports Rugby Ball

Twas the night before the night before Christmas and all over campus… it was really quiet because all the students have gone home. The only sound to be heard was my high pitched excited squeal as the UPS man brought me a LeatherHead Sports rugby ball.GDXF7476

Once upon a time, in places like Oxford and Auckland men wore sports jackets to sporting events and football was called rugby. There were striped (hooped) pullover shirts with collars, bloody noses, and an inflated leather ball shaped a bit like an egg.164218684_1ec8029c21_o

That egg was kicked, punched, and tossed between goal posts till one day Teddy Roosevelt wielded a big stick and the NCAA legalized the forward pass. The ball flew forward better when the laces were turned inside out and the ends were made pointy. Hence those who listened to Teddy play football, and don’t get me wrong I love that game, but I respect my elders.

Rugby remains, but finding a ball that hearkens back to its origins is not as easy. Well, maybe it is easy if you know where to look, and where you should look, is LeatherHead Sports.


Leatherhead Sports has been featured on theartofmanliness, acontinuouslean, GQ, Esquire, and pretty much everyone mostly thanks to thier custom hand made footballs and old school baseballs. Those are great (especially the medicine balls that I currently covet), but that rugby ball is my sugar plum equivalent and if you hold on to the ball after being tackled expect your head to be danced upon.IMG_8737


In the Studio: Leatherhead Sports

Leatherhead Sports makes hand made footballs and rugby balls. They are the coolest. I thought they should have an illustration equally as cool.












I like to think Leyendecker would be flattered.

Colonial Capitol: places I love

In 1774, two years before the declaration, delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia’s Carpenter’s Hall. They met to discuss what could or should be done regarding their collective issues with England.

In 2013 you can gather to the same location to see National Park employees in period dress wander around. They will tell you stories, answer questions, but mostly they are ambiance.

Just a few blocks away is a small row of homes that have continuously  housed private citizen’s from the days of the tri-cornered hat, all the way through our Phillies hat wearing present. Once or twice a year the residents open their homes up for tours. It is a mix of history and modern home and garden. When we went we hung out drinking wassel with Ben Franklin.

Christ Church was built in 1695 and is the original home of the American Anglican faith. Ben Franklin is buried in their grave yard and anyone who was ever important while wearing knickers and stockings worshiped here at least once. Joseph Smith, who I doubt ever wore knickers, even preached a sermon here.

On the first Friday of every month the place is surrounded by homeless looking artists and street performers. We love Christ Church on first Fridays.

City Tavern, was in fact a tavern back in the days of George W. and the other revolutionary types. Legend has it that more got done at the tavern over a pint of mead than was ever accomplished over at Independence Hall. I accomplished eating orange braised duck and leg of lamb with mint jelly. The last time I was there our waitress was a PhD student in history. She should talk to her advisor about that stipend.
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We park right next to City Tavern all the time. There is a movie theater across the street; the independent kind that shows artsy stuff.

The most American part of town is called China Town. I’m not exactly sure what was there back in the colonial days, but I do know that the colonials came here seeking the freedom to seek their fortune. That’s the same reason folks come to China Town.

On one side of the street is Independence Hall, where they signed the declaration, and on the other side of the street is the Liberty Bell. We rarely go in to see it, there is a large window right on the sidewalk. But the bell is turned so that if you want to see the crack you have to go inside. Sorta like the media. America is great, but we have some issues, but we don’t really like to show those off.

We drive past the bell all the time, usually while looking for a parking space to go to the park. There is a park a block away that has a carousel and a playground that is all fenced in. Ya know, the kind where you can set the kids free and not have to worry about them escaping. Which is ironic since most kids don’t want to escape a playground. Playgrounds are awesome.

Just like Philly. Happy 4th.

Mancation: Leather Head Sports

Kaleo called shotgun, climbed in and said, “My five year old told all our neighbors I’m going on a bro-trip.” We agreed that was a good moniker but we were sticking to “mancation”.

It was getting much later than we had planned, and against my own rules, the first stop was actually planned.

“I told Paul we would be up there maybe around ten, we gotta get moving.”leatherhead sewing

Around noon we pulled into a gravel parking lot and parked next to a tractor. We knew we had the right address but there was no sign, no awning, just a red brick garage and a craggy old man dragging something toward a dumpster. He told us we would find Paul inside and upstairs.

Paul makes footballs.leatherhead multi balls

He likes the idea that people will go have a catch, maybe kick the ball around, but really, mostly these footballs end up on bookshelves and in trophy cases.

He makes some in zebra stripes, some in chrome, all sorts of ways. But it isn’t just footballs. He also does medicine balls, old school basketballs, medicine balls, and these old fashioned baseballs he dubbed the “Lemon Ball”. But really, the draw isn’t really the sporting equipment. In no small way, the draw is Paul.

Paul once had one of those dream jobs. Maybe not a dream job exactly, but more the sort of job that is sidled up right next to the dream. He was a photo editor for Major League Baseball. He worked for the League! Sure he wasn’t throwing out pitches or swinging for the bleachers, but he was in the building. A reasonable man would be content.

But what does reason have to do with baseball?

Leather Head Rugby ball at the headquarters.
Leather Head Rugby ball at the headquarters.

One day Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones pulled up to Paul’s office in an old VW bus and asked him to join them in Iowa. Not really, but after talking with Paul for a couple hours you get the feeling his is a byline in the Field of Dreams story line that you might find in the special features directors cut. It has that sort of romance.

Paul left MLB to work with a company that made baseball mitts. He wasn’t making the mitts, just advising those that did. Still not satisfied watching, or standing next to those doing something tangible, Paul left again; to make footballs.

Not advise those that make footballs, not to take pictures of footballs, but make them. With his own hands… and a sewing machine.IMG_5213

Walking into Leather Head Sports is a bit like stepping into the equipment room of an old movie. There are boxes full of balls, bats leaning up against the walls, and stacks of dye cut leather strips waiting to be sewn into treasures. Paul straps on a denim apron, sits down at a workstation, picks up a hammer, and starts pounding on a stack of something that will soon be a football. As he snips thread, cuts edges and works, we get him talking. He talks about why he does what he does, talks about the ridiculous things people ask to get monogrammed on the balls, and all the while his employees stand around impatiently trying to get some business done. They look maybe a little bit annoyed, they are trying to run a business, but you can’t get too upset when watching your boss do something he obviously loves.

He isn’t the only one who loves it.

An online search of Leatherhead sports will turn up feature after feature on Paul’s products. Guys are eating this stuff up. When we visited the shop he was busy sewing up a run of special edition balls for Urban Daddy, a website that specializes in keeping men up to date on whatever is the newest and the coolest thing around. Leatherhead balls are the coolest. He has been featured or contracted by USA Basketball, an Oscar winning movie (Silver Linings Playbook), the Wall St. Journal, Fox Business Report, Men’s Journal, and on, and on.threads

It’s not almost like, but exactly like, some voice whispered “If you build it, they will come.”

And we did.

And Paul, who has been featured by the who’s who of everything, took way too much time to host three vagabonds in his shop.

the Sagamore on Lake George

I hear the train goes there from the city, but not my city. I had to fly on a little two propeller plane into Albany then drive another hour north. Spring doesn’t hit upstate NY till sometime after it is summer everywhere else, so as I drove through woods and resort towns all I saw was boarded up windows and stacks of canoes with tarps pulled snugly over. Then after crossing a small bridge, winding along a manicured little path, I was at the Sagamore.up front

The hotel opened in 1883 as a place where robber baron types could vacation in each other’s company. I’m no robber baron but after three days at the Sagamore I considered becoming one.back porch cushions

Mine were not the fanciest of furnishings but the staff treated me as if I was in fact somebody. They were a little like those crazy people who work at Trader Joe’s. They work at a grocery store yet appear to like their jobs, which in turn makes me like to shop there. I liked staying at the Sagamore, even if it did snow in April.fireplace

I was there with an organization that puts potential science students in contact with science schools. I represent a science school. This means I eat at fancy dinners with youngsters and while looking down my nose say “So, young chap, what do yoooooou want to do with your liiiife?” To which the say “IDK maybe like, research and stuff? What-evs.”

set tableAt one point I found myself at a black tie ball listening to a live band, sitting at a table with five students, all of which were looking at their phones, one wearing headphones.

red carpetYet this was not cause to begin a rant on the loss of hope for tomorrow but rather a lesson to the adult in the room to relax a little. These aren’t bums from the street, crooks and hoods from the corner, but straight A students. These were kids who know a thing or two about working in a lab and smart stuff like neuroscience and microbiology. But they are still kids.

Its OK to be a kid.lobby

The Sagamore sits right on Lake George. Back in 1920 they hosted boat races and according to the old photos lining the walls, all sorts of festive occasions to which one would wear a skimmer hat and knickerbocker pants.

I wore neither of those things but simply sat in the Adirondack chairs and asked the staff to keep me well supplied with pitchers of hot water so I could sip mate while doing important work. Like blogging.adirondack mate



Its about that time of year when we talk about Duke.

Now we talk about a lot about other basketball teams, UNC, Ohio, Georgetown, but when it is March, we will surely bring up Duke. Love them, hate them, every March they are there.

I was there late last fall.


So it turns out that Duke is also a school. Been that way since 1838. By all accounts its a pretty good one too. U.S. News & World Report ranks Duke as the nations 8th best school overall. That is almost as good as their basketball team.


My visit was rather uneventful. Not many were on campus, just me and a few folks I was scheduled to meet with. We met. i walked around taking pictures.


I could have been on any number of New England Ivy covered campuses. Gothic church? Check. Tree lined quad? Check. Granite relief of Confederate General? Wait… they do actually have one of those. Check.



Bryn Mawr: the Big Hill

Ten miles up the mainline from Philadelphia is Lower Marion Township. Driving up route 30 rowhouses give way to stone houses and trees. I pass St. Joe’s, the French International School, then after Haverford I take a right. There not quite all the way to Rosemont or Villanova, is Bryn Mawr.ImageQuakers founded the school in 1885 but the board soon decided the institution would have no religious affiliation. It is the first school in America to offer a PhD to women.ImageBryn Mawr is one of the seven sisters. It brings to mind images of knee high socks and plaid skirts I saw none of that when I visited. I did see a chemistry lab filled with glass tubes and DNA models.Image