The pithy, opinionated, and sometimes brutally frank Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke challenges average guys to live a life less ordinary and embrace classic style in the broadest sense. it's time to rise above the trite, the boring, the predictable, the mundane, the banal, and the commonplace. It's time to stop behaving like barnyard animals at the trough and leave behind the perpetually sloppy man-child aesthetic of the last two decades or so. It's time to learn once again how to present and conduct yourself like an adult with some grooming, finesse, and sophistication. And here is where you can learn how.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Humble Necktie. . .

The borrowed photograph comes from the Oxford Cloth Button-down blog where you will occasionally see some of the most beautiful examples of traditional repp stripe neckties work with considerable aplomb.

"I welcome opportunities to wear a necktie rather than searching for excuses not to wear one." -- Old School

Well put.  To borrow a page from the film version of Forrest Gump, that's about all there is to say about that.  Happy Monday everyone.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Useful and Timely Book for New Graduates. . .

Written by noted style author David Coggins, who has penned articles for The New York Times among others..

Well, I feel somewhat vindicated this morning.  It seems that I am not a complete crank, and I am not the only one who has noticed the problem.  This book just hit the market Monday this week, and it strikes me that it might be just the thing for those young men everywhere, who have either just graduated from, or are about to leave behind, high school and college for something that kind of, sort of resembles adulthood.  

You know.  Since we cannot depend on many (most?) parents to teach their children much in the way of basic decency and civility anymore from what I observe on campus daily between late August and early May each year, to say nothing of airports, restaurants, and other public spaces.  We might hear a mumbled "please" and/or "thank you" if we're lucky, but God knows few parents seem even to think about passing on skills like table manners or impressing upon their spawn the idea that you do not hiccup out loud or pass gas in a room full of people. 

However, these social gaffs are not the sole preserve of the millennial generation.  PLenty of baby boomers in their 70s as well as Gen X'ers are just as guilty of being inconsiderate and downright gross at times.  Sadly, being socially awkward and proud of it seem not only to transcend generational lines, but also to be de rigueur.  But let's return to the focus of this particular post and the related publication.

If you are a concerned grandparent, aunt, uncle, other relative, or close family friend who is silently appalled and dismayed by the generally crass nature of society in 2018, this particular title might be an eye-opening (and very handy) graduation present for the young, highly entitled, but no less rough around the edges Master Conner, Finnegan, Tyler, or just plain, old Ralph.  It is precisely what he NEEDS to read as he finally begins the process of standing on his own two feet, at 18 or 22, to toddle away from Mommy and Daddy toward a marginally independent way of life. 

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Thursday, May 31, 2018

How To Choose A Bespoke Tailor | Interview with Author Gary Tok

A Vintage Summer Menswear Lookbook. . .

A surprise for you this morning.  No acid-drenched observations decrying how far society has fallen with regards to what is now deemed suitable by the masses for wear in public, or the attitudes and behavior that go hand in glove with it. 

 Instead, to celebrate the 700th post since June 2012 here at Classic Style, spend some time perusing this collection of vintage warm weather wear for men from the 1930s and 40s that I've culled from the web.  Many of these delightful pictures were done by Laurence Fellows and appeared in either Apparel Arts or Esquire.  Others were by contemporary illustrators and done in a similar style.  

And who knows?  You might find an idea or two for calm, cool, collected summer comfort that nevertheless permit you to remain presentable.  Click on (most of) these pictures to enlarge them for closer inspection.  Enjoy!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Monday, May 28, 2018

Dressing for the Summer Holidays. . .

Another feast for the eyes from Esquire magazine as it once was.  Although the illustration dates from the 1930s, the basic look is still sound in 2018.

It's Memorial Day here in the United States, a day when we remember our war fallen.  It is also the traditional start of the summer season here, typically observed with parades, backyard cookouts, and sometimes larger parties, although the precise kind of event and/or observation differs slightly depending on where in the country you might find yourself.

It's an early scorcher here in Mid-Michigan today, high 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit (31C.-32.7C.), and if it's also hot where you are, you might be wondering how to dress comfortably for an afternoon or evening to mark the occasion.  Here's a small hint.  Dressing comfortably for  the heat need not involve a threadbare t-shirt from your college days, a wife-beater, grungy cargo shorts, or those flip flops you've been wearing for the last five summers.  And then some.

Instead, make the environment you inhabit and the event you'll attend, even if its just the immediate family in your back yard, a more elegant affair by kicking up your style a notch or three.  Think short-sleeve Madras, twill, seersucker, or polo shirts on top, and chino, Madras, Bermuda, or seersucker shorts on the bottom.  Or even Ghurka shorts like the guy in the red shirt sports above if you want to be a bit edgier.  

Toss on a casual belt of some sort with a pair of espadrilles, canvas, or leather deck shoes, and you've got a hot weather casual attire winner.  Not only will you feel comfortable in the heat, you'll feel better about yourself, and you'll dress up the event a bit.  Even if that's only for your spouse, partner, children, and/or any company who might drift through.  And mark my words, your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse will certainly appreciate that extra little bit of effort to look more presentable.

Whatever you do, we here at Classic Style hope you'll have the good graces not to schlepp around in anything resembling cruddy sweats or hoodies.  And guys?  Unless there is a swimming pool, lake with boating, or a beach nearby, it will probably be appreciated by everyone present if you keep those  shirts on.  No one else really wants to see those fuzzy gone-to-seed midsections and chests.  It's really best to keep that kind of thing under wraps unless you actually plan to join  the kids with cannonballs into the deep end.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Bogart on Bogart. . .

I just love this!

-- Heinz-Ulrich

The Nazz - Open My Eyes (1968)

"You can never be overdressed, or overeducated."

Another delightful old menswear illustration that, I believe, is by an artist other than Laurence Fellows though I could be mistaken.  Apparently, there were quite a few such illustrators who did work in a similar style for Apparel Arts and later Esquire.

The quote above has been attributed to Oscar Wilde.  While it seems to be in direct opposition to the current zeitgeist here in the United States, it of course resonates with yours truly.  Empty-headed popinjay that I am.

On a related note, within the menswear and style blogosphere, some observers lament, now and again, that they have been asked by friends/acquaintances/strangers on the street why they are "dressed up."  A few add that they feel the need to defend themselves and their anti-guttersnipe stylistic choices from this rather childish sort of peer pressure.  

Oddly, I have never run into this other than when a student asked a couple of years ago if I ever wore sweatpants.  No, I don't.  Pajamas, yes.  During the evenings at home and on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Sweatpants and hoodies, no.  

There was one other time, when I was asked about my day to day clothing choices, and I used Gay Talese's line about celebrating being alive, which made the class laugh, and we moved on to whatever I had planned for the day.  Of course, they had no clue about Gay Talese.  And way back in '06, a student in my May Term Film Noir course asked why I dressed the way I do, and I replied that if students were bored by the information I present, then the least I could do was to provide some visual entertainment.  This too garnered laughter before we moved on to discussing films like Double Indemnity (1944), Raw Deal (1948), or Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Otherwise, that's been it.  In 30+ years as an adult, I've never been directly challenged about my attire or felt the need to explain it.  In general, reactions have been favorable as far as I can tell.  Once in a great while, a student, colleague, or supervisor might even offer a quiet compliment about a jacket, suit, or a particular necktie.  More recently, a few students have also made favorable remarks on my Panama hat or wool felt fedora when I've worn them (not everyday).  I have also sometimes enjoyed more attentive service from clerks in stores, while traveling by air, or from waitstaff in restaurants.  But I've never experienced questions to the tune of, "What are you so dressed up for?"  

Even  in my younger, pre-academic days when I was a (usually) denim-clad long-haired metal head working an unskilled, low-paying manual job, I still occasionally pulled my hair back out of my face and donned a blazer, creased pants, a blue OCBD with necktie, and decent leather shoes if an occasion or situation called for it.  It was not something foreign to me.  I was fortunate enough to see my father and maternal grandfather dress similarly -- a few notches above a blazer and odd pants actually -- five and sometimes six days a week for work, church attendance, dinners out, and special occasions.  Even when at home with the immediate family.

Yep.  My father (from The Midwest) and maternal grandfather (from The South) taught me the importance of caring for and maintaining one's wardrobe and appearance, even during the evenings and weekends at home with the front door closed, through things like routine cleanings, pressings, hanging things up when you change clothes, shoe care, etc.  All of the other adult males on both sides of the family kept similar habits, including uncles, cousins, great uncles, et al up and down the eastern seaboard from The Carolinas, to The Capitol Region, to The Mid-Atlantic States, Manhattan, and New England.  

The point is, pulling oneself together for certain things was the practice that was taught, directly or less so.  A one-time preference, on my part, for the music of Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Motorhead, and The Scorpions notwithstanding, the apple doesn't, and never really did, fall far from the tree.  Except when it came to Sinatra.  My father was a huge fan.  I was not.  At one time, the mere sound of Ol' Blue Eyes almost induced apoplectic fits, but that's a story for another time.

Returning to the subject at hand, guess what?  If anyone, a friend, an acquaintance, a teacher, a later boss, or a stranger said anything about the clothes I wore, it was more along the lines of, "You sure clean up nicely!"  or "How come don't you dress like this all of the time?"  My mother and grandmother always said something like, "Boy, you sure look handsome when you put on some nice clothes!"  That observation usually followed the request to put on a pressed shirt, tuck it in, and add a blazer or sports jacket for things like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter dinner, or similar occasions.  It was all slightly embarrassing to a 10, 12, or 20-year-old, sure, but kind of nice to have heard in retrospect.

It took a long time, but it finally dawned on me (at 28, 0r 29) what my parents and grandparents had been saying between the lines for so many years.  Appearance and behavior matter, and they have a direct bearing on how others perceive, relate to, and treat you.  That's just life whatever utopian ideal a lot of people might hold and espouse to the contrary.  

Those who take the belligerent stance that what is on the inside is the only thing that matters are being shortsighted.  It is rather a combination of the two things.  Internal qualities AND a neat, pulled together appearance that is appropriate to a given occasion, situation, event, or religious observance.   Ignoring one or the other is foolish in my view. A well-groomed mien -- which may not always include a suit, tie, and lace-up dress shoes, or even a sports jacket and loafers -- can open a lot of doors, literal and figurative.  In turn, all kinds of unexpected opportunities are more likely to come your way when you present yourself well.  Who in his or her right mind would say no to that?  

Unwittingly, people do.  Every day through their choices and actions, both conscious and unconscious.  I'll wager, and this might ruffle the feathers of some who have read this far, that this is part of the problem in the United States in 2018 where opportunity to get ahead is concerned.  If we believe what we read in the newspapers and online, a vast majority complain about how hard they have it and how impossible it is to succeed.  Maybe part of the answer is closer to home though?  Maybe a greater degree of adaptability is called for?  Rise to the occasion in other words.  Perhaps if more people simply presented themselves just a tiny bit better in appearance -- as well as behavior, speech, and even attitude -- more doors of (legal) socioeconomic opportunity would open? 

My suspicion, simply based on looking around and following the way things have gone the last 30 years or so, is that an awful lot of people lack reasonable examples of how they might better present themselves, in the broadest sense, to the world.  In turn, this limits the opportunities that might otherwise arise, which, in turn, directly affects personal outlook, world view, and aspiration.  As comedienne Bette Midler once lamented in a very funny comedy sketch 35+ years ago, "Why botha?"

Indeed.  But keep that righteous indignation in check for just a bit longer.  The  initial reaction for many might be to sweep aside everything said up to this point with considerable loud, angry flourish.  After all, the tendency for many is to dismiss anything that challenges their way of thinking in an expletive laden cloud, to the tune of "Well, @#$%&*#!!!  So are you!"  Talk to the hand in other words.  But if we can set aside the playground mindset for just a moment and think a bit more calmly about the issue of clothing and appearance, and the messages they send to the rest of the world, a clearer answer emerges. 

Too many people give up too early in the game of pulling themselves together when it comes to appearance and behavior though, making it much harder than it might be to get ahead in a socioeconomic sense.  Much of this is within our power to change however contrary to what lots of people would have you think.  Turning one's life around starts with small things that are very much under a person's control.  For example, attitude, behavior, habit, and personal appearance.  Hell, even a clean solid color t-shirt (that fits), tucked into a pair of jeans (that fits) worn with a belt (just below the waist), and some kind of clean, casual shoe (not sneakers/trainers) look miles better than the alternative. 

None of this is to suggest that a man needs to sit around the house in a three-piece suit during his off hours, waiting for the job offers to pour in, or even put on a sports jacket and necktie now and again (Perish the thought!) before leaving home in mornings for work.  But he can dress somewhat better than the sad norm these days, yet at the same time feel comfortable (an obsessive compulsion if ever there were one in our overstuffed, supersize me era), without resembling something that crawled out from beneath Oscar the Grouch's metal abode on Sesame Street.  

How?  It's not hard.  All that is necessary is to peruse any J. Crew, Land's End, or L.L. Bean catalog or website if a man is at a loss about how he might put together combinations of casual clothing that won't leave him looking like a basket of grimy laundry in need of washing and folding.  Ignore the swimwear, cargo pants/shorts, ski cap"beanies," and hoodies, and virtually everything else shown in these catalogs would look reasonably good on most men for most office environments these days, proper sizing assumed of course, without straying into either Eastern European street thug, or neighborhood meth dealer territory. 

Of course marginally nicer clothing will do nothing for the behavior of many of your fellow passengers in the boarding area of your departure gate the next time you must endure flying anywhere.  But a more pulled together appearance when in public might be a small step in the right direction for an awful lot of people now.   My own feeling is that when we take the trouble to look a bit nicer, we tend to conduct ourselves with a bit more gentility, and we become somewhat more pleasant to rub up against in a figurative sense.  

An oversimplification?  Maybe, but I still think there is something to it, and goodness knows we could use a bit more gentility and civility in our current era where so many are boorish, uncivil, trashy, seem to take great pride in, and are confrontational about all of it.  This way of being seems to hold sway at all levels of society.  If that charming aspect of life and society in the 21st century does not concern you, it should. 

My suggestion is that something as simple as  improving our personal appearance before we shamble out the door in the morning -- plus keeping less savory personal habits in better check -- might help slow down, reduce, or one day even reverse the coarsening of society that columnists and commentators have noticed and written about  during the last quarter century or so.  Sooner or later, the pendulum has got to swing the other way.  Hey, a guy can dream, right?

Returning to the "Why are you so dressed up?" question, I have no clear idea why some people feel the need to open their mouths and, of all the possible things they might say to someone else, blurt out that one to a person who looks pulled together.  Do such people feel poorly about themselves, and this is a passive-aggressive way of compensating for that?  Do they instead feel threatened at some level (as crazy as that sounds)?  Are they reminded of something else about themselves that makes them feel ill at ease when met with a person, male or female, who has taken the time to present him- or herself somewhat better than has become the accepted average?  Are people who pose this sort of question just socially awkward?  Or is it something else entirely?  I just don't know.  For now, I suppose, it must remain one of life's mysteries.  

To wrap up today's internal monologue, I saw a great way to handle the "Why are you so dressed up?" challenge elsewhere online the other day.   It goes like this. . . 

Q: Why are you so dressed up?  

A: It's just what we do.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, May 19, 2018

"I ain't payin' no five dollars for no cup of coffee!"

 Not my photograph, but one that helps make the point nicely.  The BEST cups of coffee come from using either a pour-over pot with its special filter (at left), or a French press.  Of course, it helps if you use enough ground coffee so that the result in your cup or mug actually tastes like coffee.

The above line was overheard way back in the early winter of 2005, possibly the morning of December 26th, when a crew of roofers arrived at 7am to begin replacing the old roof of a large 19th century townhouse where the Grand Duchess and I rented a wonderfully quirky apartment for a few years prior to purchasing our first house.  We had the third floor unit just beneath the roof, so Christmas Week that year was, shall we say, a raucous affair.

Had I been thinking straight at the time -- It was still very early in the morning on Boxing Day you understand -- I would have quipped in my best Ron Popeil voice, "And you don't have to!"  

Just buy either a pour-over pot like those produced and sold by Chemex, or a French press like those produced and sold by Bodum, boil some water, and tally ho!  You have coffee every bit as good, or better than what you'll get at most cafes. 

Except that you have it at home for breakfast without the need to stand in line at your local Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Bigby, or similar establishment.  You can also easily enjoy a later cup at your desk at home, as you putter around the house throughout the day, or (hopefully) following the evening meal.  For Monday through Friday mornings, I suggest you pour that fresh pot of aromatic coffee into a plastic or steel insulated cup with a lid for the car, or a larger thermos to take with you into the workplace, and you're good to go as they say.   

My late maternal grandmother always maintained the first cup of coffee after the evening meal was the best one of the day.  I myself would say something rather more Norwegian in outlook, to the tune of "It's always time for a cup of coffee."   Morning, Noon, or night!

Keurig makers seem to be all the rage right now, and my sister swears by hers, but depending on how much coffee you load into it (or don't), the results risk being less than full-bodied or rich in flavor.  I'd suggest sticking with a Chemex or Bodum pot and a kettle of boiled water plus plenty of coffee.  Meager tendencies have no place when it comes to making a tasty pot of the magical elixir.

As for me, I am on my way upstairs to the kitchen to fetch another mug of. . .  My dark mistress!

On a related note, I am reminded of an amusing and ongoing family episode involving coffee and one of my parents' dogs, now sadly departed, who developed a coffee habit of sorts during her lifetime.  

'Babette' first helped herself to the last little bit of coffee with milk and sugar at the bottom of a coffee mug that I had next to me on the floor one evening while I watched TV in the winter of 1993 when I house sat for my parents, who were away on Semester at Sea.  Semester at Sea, at that point, was connected with the University of Pittsburgh, and my step-father (who is still teaching and running a graduate center at Pitt for two or three more years before retiring) was the academic dean on that particular voyage.  

Anyway, it quickly became the thing for Babette  to lap up the last drops of coffee, milk, and sugar at the bottom of my evening mug of coffee since I habitually sat on the floor in the TV room upstairs after supper.  When she did not get her coffee, she would sit nearby, wag her tail, lick her lips, whine, coo, and make any one of a dozen or so other noises in the vain hope that her gesticulations would get one of us, once my parents were home and when I would visit during the summers and over Christmas break, to give her the last lickings in the bottom of a mug or cup.  

Talk about having the java bug.  And then some.  Babette's apparent dependency became so pronounced after a couple of years that, if one stepped briefly away from the dining room table, and she saw her chance, Babette would hop into a handy chair (pushed in under the table mind you), and then snake her way carefully up onto the tabletop where she helped herself to any and all unattended mugs or cups of coffee.  My step-dad observed often that a particular mug had been "poodled."  

In any case, the damage done, Babette would next hop down from the table, find a quiet corner or an end of the sofa in the living room and fall into a deep sleep for a few hours.  The whole thing was terribly funny and still strikes me as hilarious 20-odd years later, but Mom was not amused at the time.  Neither were my grandparents when they visited.

Mom always blamed me for Babette's coffee habit afterwards and referred to me as Babette's enabler, or more accurately her pusher.  Eventually, I was given strict instructions on the telephone, before every visit, NOT to give Babette any coffee during my stay.  Under penalty of death.  I always laughed, but you'll grasp instantly how serious a mother's words are and the great weight behind them.  Mothers are, you'll agree, not to be trifled with.  Even when you are in your 30s.

Babette lived until she was 12.  She passed away quietly in the night in October 2004 at my parents' second house in Mexico where Mom and her dogs began residing most of each year in '02.  Babette is buried in a corner of the patio beneath a large mango tree.  During subsequent visits, Mom and I have discussed in passing the purchase of an oversized latte cup and saucer to mark Babette's grave.  It seems only fitting.  Of all of the various dogs that have been in family, I miss her the most.  Besides her coffee-induced antics, Babette had the biggest personality, the largest speaking vocabulary, and the most expressive face of all.  She was an amazing companion during her life and always gave me a special greeting whenever I visited my parents.  

Of course, I was her enabler, and Babette's hope for a lick or two of coffee from my mug sprang eternal.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Friday, May 18, 2018

Morning Dress Done the Right Way. . .

While I lack any reason to don morning dress myself this weekend (my invitation clearly must have been lost in the mail), I can hardly pass up the chance to share this old Laurence Fellows illustration of said attire.

-- Heinz Ulrich

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How to Tie Dress Shoes | Berluti Knot Method

May 17th is Norway's Constitution Day!

On May 17th each year, Norwegians celebrate the establishment of their country's constitution in 1814.  That document was based heavily on previous documents written a few decades earlier by politicians in what eventually became The United States of America and in France following The French Revolution.  Liberty, egalitarianism, and fraternity in other words.  

While Norway remained in a sort of union with Sweden until 1905, it marks its independence from several centuries of Danish political, social, and cultural dominion each May 17th.  It is worth pointing out that much of this was part of a reshuffling of the European map at about the same time as the first abdication of Napoleon in 1814 before he returned briefly for The Hundred Days in 1815, which ended during the Waterloo Campaign in June of that year.

But back to Norway.  As you might expect, there are parades of various sizes all over the country, prominent displays of the flag, and considerable "celebration" lasting into the wee hours of the following morning with pounding headaches later.  It is a viking nation after all, something many Norwegians remain very proud of.  As part of May 17th observance, most people, in addition, still dress up as a sign of respect for the day, the significant occasion it marks, and simply because that is what you do for special events.  

While many women wear traditional folk dress specific to the region(s) from which they or their ancestors came, many men wear suits, pressed shirts, neckties, and dress shoes.  Likewise, children and young people are also dressed well, a habit that an awful lot of parents in the United States, by contrast, seem to neglect in 2018 (Um, pajamas in church anyone?).  

Otherwise, things are pretty casual in most facets of daily life in Norway though I'd wager that Norwegians, by and large, look reasonably pulled together, if not stylish most of the time though not, perhaps, to quite the same degree as Swedes, Italians, or the French.  In any case, you'll also see some Norwegian men dressed in creased pants, dress shoes, pressed shirts, and neckties for Constitution Day celebrations but with very fancy cardigans or pull-over sweaters in lieu of suit coats, or sports jackets although this can be slightly uncomfortable if it is a warm, sunny day.

As for yours truly today, it's sunny and warm here in Mid-Michigan this morning, the spring semester is now well and truly over, and I have downshifted into summer gear: old comfy Sperry docksiders, faded, old soft green chino shorts with an olive surcingle belt, and an old but pressed blue, green, and red short-sleeve cotton Madras sport shirt. Perfect for some quick pruning of old growth in the flower beds around the house before the emerging perennials grow too much taller.  Yet I can go about the day, meet the Young Master's school bus this afternoon, and drive him to and from his regular Thursday afternoon appointment without embarrassing either of us due to a sloppy, slovenly appearance.  

As I have mentioned so often before here at Classic Style, it is entirely possible to dress in a very relaxed, comfortable way without taking a lot of time, spending a lot of money,  or in any way resembling the corner methamphetamine dealer.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"It's Mr. Little's tie, Sir. . ."

Not quite like Bingo Little's necktie that so offended Jeeves' sensibilities, but it will do nicely for yours truly.

I am long-time fan of P.G. Wodehouse's stories and novels about Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, and their various misadventures, and of course the Jeeves and Wooster series from the 1990s, which is the gold standard when it comes to TV and film adaptations.  It should come as no surprise then that I have been on the lookout for a red necktie with horseshoes, as worn by Bingo Little, for ages.  At long last, I turned up something acceptable at Horse & Hound for a reasonable price.  

Vain, empty-headed popinjay that I am, this will be fun to trot out from time to time once classes resume in late August.  And I can almost guarantee that none of my students, if they even notice, will be the wiser when it comes to the literary inspiration behind this particular accessory.  

And yes.  Before anyone asks, or makes a snide remark, I did ride at one time in the misty past, though I never quite got the hang of jumping.  We owned two horses plus a Shetland Pony for my younger sister, being one of several such horsey families in our small corner of Berks County, Pennsylvania who did.  Most knew each other, of course, a few of the fathers did business together in their professional lives, and the kids from the families concerned all went to school together and were friends more or less.  Now that I think about it, the children from three such families, including my sister and me, rode the same school bus together.

At any rate, good ol' Mom made sure we had plenty of English-style riding lessons privately and at summer camp each year.  Mrs. McCarty, the mother of one such school friend, lived about five minutes away by car and gave us riding lessons.  Equally important, perhaps, we learned about caring for large livestock: feeding, watering, grooming, cleaning up after, exercising, shoeing, occasional doctoring, and so forth.  Responsibility dare I say.  Horses are beautiful but fragile, skittish creatures, and there is quite a bit to think about behind the scenes to keep everything clicking along as it should.  It's a hell of a lot of work looking after horses in other words.   The saddling up, riding, possibly showing, and/or hunting is only the small tip of the iceberg.  

For all of that, a horse barn is not a bad place to spend one's days.  Not bad at all. 

In connection to our equestrian pursuits, we also attended several shows each spring and summer, including The Devon Horse Show closer in to Philadelphia.  My sister and I never rode in any of them although a few of the sons and (mainly) daughters from other families did.  There were also a few hunts in the area that my sister and mother attended as spectators each autumn. 

Yes.  I know, I know.  I can hear the populist outrage and creaking guillotines now.  If the Young Master shows an interest, though, I may very well continue the horsey tradition and let him try his own hand at a few riding lessons to see if it is something he wants to pursue longer term.  Happily, we have a few English-style stables nearby where father and son might look into this, as well as some vintage episodes of Tom Baker-era Dr. Who, this summer once school ends in mid-June.  Not long now.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Random Thoughts for (Almost) May. . .

Another vintage illustration by Laurence Fellows.  My maternal uncle's May 1982 wedding was not dissimilar.  It was held in an Epsicopal church in a Philadelphia suburb with the following reception on the lawn of my new aunt's parents' house nearby.  The attire of the men was very much like that pictured above although we didn't look quite as grand since our gear was rented.  We too wore gray spats.

The Spring semester is over, and now it is time to begin tallying up course points for about 150 students spread across the three courses just concluded.  This is a largely thankless task although it is helped by the fact that much of it is calculated thanks to an online database.  Unfortunately, said database suffers from a couple of problems in my view.  

For one, it rounds things up, which means that there are students who finish with a course grade in the A-range when, if we go strictly by the numbers, they should finish somewhere in the B-range.  Decent enough students and work, but hardly stellar.  All part of the current and highly popular idea that personal success in any endeavor, academic or otherwise, depends on other people rather then one's own blood, sweat, and (sometimes) tears.  Nothing I can do about it, however, and the database does save me from having to do it the old fashioned way with calculator and pencil where there was more margin for error.

Secondly, once all of the totals have been added and saved, you have to go into a second database through the Registrar's Office to enter final course grades.  This introduces another layer of complication and another possibility for errors.  Luckily, I have not made too many of those, which require actual paperwork to correct mid-summer.  Still, most of my students from the semester-just-ended should be very happy with their final grades (many actually DID develop and produce solid work). 

Let's get folkloric for a moment.  The number three figures prominently in a lot of world folklore.  Three brothers or sisters, the youngest of whom, typically, heads off into the world to find his or her fortune.  He or she then faces three opponents, curses, or tests.  Three magical helpers invariably assist during the quest.  And perhaps a final reward, of sorts, comes in three related parts at the end of the story.  You'll instantly recognize how, for example, Disney has borrowed from and adapted folklore to fit its own ideas of popular children's entertainment for decades now.  Good things come in threes as the saying goes.  

For all of my good to excellent students this semester, there are, oddly, three this time around in each course who will be somewhat disappointed when their final grades have been posted.  The problem comes, as it always does, from poor attendance.  However, since there is a clear attendance policy in the various syllabi concerned, and the 20 days during the 15-week term when attendance is taken are marked clearly in the syllabi with rather large asterisks, I have no sympathy.  

Yes, I have an attendance policy.  Boo!  Hiss!  Tyrant!  Off with his head!  Now, claaaa-aass.  Claaaa-aaaass.  Come to order, and let me explain.  If I did not have an attendance policy, very few bodies would bother showing up for class after the first few days of any given semester.  My courses are discussion-based, however, which means that, to participate fully and get the most from the course, students need to keep up with the reading and, in the case of a few film courses, also viewing, and they need to be present to demonstrate their learning through discussion of what they have read and seen at a deeper, more critical level than "Did you like it?"  

While I provide some structure and guidance, students are largely responsible for developing their own thinking (constructivist pedagogy at its finest) about whatever is under examination on a given day in my courses.  Much of that comes through proposing, expanding upon, and teasing out various ideas, in the company of others about issues of gender, sexuality, race, class, and ethnicity and how these are reflected in the things we read and see, which, in turn, reflect the real world in some way, shape, or form.  You can't do this when you blow off class routinely, in other words, to hang with your homies or BFF's.

This returns us to the 20 attendance, participation, and preparation points in addition to the four team projects for which the poor students are responsible during any given semester.  The interesting thing in all of this is. . .  There is some flexibility here.  Typically, we meet twice a week for 15 weeks, that's 30 meetings.  I take attendance by the collection of critical thinking "tickets out" at the end of 20 meetings.   Typically, students are asked to reflect on and respond briefly in writing two questions, part of the Ingetegrative Learning approach.  It runs like this: 

1) What was your biggest a-ha moment during today's discussion?  and 

2) How does that same a-ha moment relate to something you have learned in another course?  

The point is, that students, if they are careful, can dance around and miss up to a third of the course meetings (roughly 10) without any penalty at all to their final course grade.  Expecting the little darlings to be semi-awake and in the room with me for, approximately two thirds of the semester, for what is, after all, NOT an online course, does not therefore seem unreasonable.  

Here is yet another example of attendance flexibility on my part as the instructor charged with helping these young adults to achieve the proverbial "student success."  In a few instances each semester, non-Christian religious festivals, family emergencies and prolonged illness arise.  Most of those students affected, to their credit, almost always contact me ahead of time and keep me in the loop.  A few even provide actual documentation.  Well and good.  Not so for the nine yahoos who couldn't be bothered this particular semester.  Three is indeed a magic number. 

Parenthetically, it seems odd that observances like Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Passover, not to mention Ramadan , for example, are valid reasons to miss class time, yet Good Friday and Easter Monday are not.  And then there is the nomenclature surrounding what is now referred to as 'Winter Break' in many circles.  We should either observe everyone's holidays, or none at all in my view.  Something seems a little out of kilter here, but there we are.  Political correctness in the name of multiculturalism gone awry maybe?  That might go some way to explain why we have the political mess in this country that we do now.  But I digress.  I'm sure lots of people will read those related observations as a display of ignorance or intolerance on my part, but these points bear thinking about and examination in any case.

On a completely different note. . .  Wedding season is almost upon us.  Luckily, my immediate family has not been not involved in this particular sort of social tar baby for 2018.  Sorry for not being sorry about that, but there you are.  And you'll forgive the Uncle Remus reference (speaking of political correctness), I trust, but it makes the point clear about weddings and the whirlpool effect they tend to have on people even when they are not the couple tying the knot, the parents, the maid of honor, or the best man but simply an invited guest.  'Simply' doesn't figure into it.

My attitude toward weddings and the accompanying hoopla goes back to my maternal uncle's affair in May 1982.  That was a huge, overblown event on the Main Line outside of Philadelphia, something from which, in many ways, I have never recovered.  Perhaps I need some serious therapy to help me move on?  Kidding aside, the best thing I can say about the comedy of errors that ensued -- keep in mind this was well before wedding planners were, somehow, deemed an essential part of the process -- is that the male side of the wedding party wore morning dress for the late afternoon ceremony.  Even the teen-aged me -- in the throes of Van Halen, Iron Maiden, album oriented rock FM radio stations, plus denim and leather -- thought that aspect of it was pretty cool (although I was made, by Ogre Mom, to cut my hair in advance). 

Now, we did not look quite as good as the illustrations accompanying this post since our gear was rented.  I do recall, though, that my arms and inseam were measured at the formal shop in the weeks leading up to the actual ceremony, and my 38R (at that time) attire actually fit my rather gangly 15-year old self.  We did not look too bad the last time I came across the few faded photographs that I have courtesy of good ol' Mom.  Nevertheless, I took away three key points from this experience that have stayed with me ever since. 

One, it might seem like a sweet idea, but avoid involving small children in the ceremony.  To those with a rosy, more saccharine world view, it might seem cute, but tiny flower girls and ring bearers do not work in practice.  I've observed this in several ceremonies in the years since, and tearful meltdowns on the part of tired or scared children before, during, or post-ceremony are things that only parents should have to endure.  In private.  Kind assurances to contrary after the fact, no one wants to witness three-year old Baby Hoobie's full-on tantrum in the aisle as the bridal party processes, or attempts to, to the front of the church or temple.  Believe me. 

Two, large, floppy, oversized hats for the women in the party, besides looking silly in a Pythonesque way, act like spinnaker sails in even the slightest breeze and will result in shrill upset, discord, and circus-like acrobatics when they invariably lift off.  The closing sequence in the church during the final episode of Jeeves and Wooster (when Tuppy Glossop's Plumbo Jumbo contraption goes haywire), has nothing on a sudden breeze catching hold of eight or ten peach-colored, 24-inch circumference hats as the wedding party exits the church to the tune of Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk played on a pipe organ (I kid you not).

Three, we really need to move away from the rather adolescent fairy tale idea of the overly large, obscenely expensive, and ostentatious wedding months in the planning.  At least in so far as weddings are commonly practiced here in the United States.  I suggest, instead, small, understated, and staid affairs with only the closest family and friends in attendance.  This idea will probably be lost on many in an age dominated by things like the industry that has grown up around weddings, the rather loopy notion of "her special day" that we have been force-fed as a result, and which seems to encourage a certain kind of already entitled young woman to become even more insufferably self-centered, to say nothing of social media where people claim hundreds of so called "friends."  

Yet understated, moderate, and tasteful calm is possible when it comes to weddings.  It simply requires some honest contemplation and discussion on the part of the pair being married, some collective backbone once the bride's mother becomes involved, and clear communication throughout to the tune of scaling back and footing the bill yourselves if the bride's parents are not on board with your own wishes for restraint.  The Grand Duchess and I managed to achieve a reasonably calm, reasonably tasteful, affordable ceremony and reception while preserving everyone's feelings and sanity, including our own, during 2005-2006.  At the same time, we managed to entertain 60+ friends, family members, and colleagues.  While far from easy, it can be done.

As I say, three is a magic number.

One more piece of related advice to the, as yet, unhitched out there who might be reading this.  Think long and hard about the points above, because it will set the tone for more than you anticipate in your marriage as well as any interactions you have with the in-laws for years to come.  By all means, infer away.  Please.

Last of all, our weather here in Mid-Michigan has finally started to warm up a bit.  No dustings of snow in the night for a week or more now, and I can just about get by on warmer afternoons with a a pair of khaki chino shorts, old, worn dock-siders, and a rugby top for a while.  Evenings are still too chilly for uncovered legs though, so I'll keep the corduroy jeans handy in a bottom dresser drawer for a few more weeks by which time our newly finished screen room, off the rear of the house, should be ready to go.  Bug-free, al fresco evening meals without the glare of rather brutal (in June and July especially) late afternoon and early evening sun will be a distinct possibility.  The Grand Duchess will also have a comfortable place to work on her laptop after dinner during the warmer months following a fall, winter, and spring (so far) of confinement indoors.

-- Heinz-Ulrich

Would that we had more occasion, any occasion, to dress like this in 2018.