A Fine Man Once Said:

"Part of the 10 million I spent on gambling, part of it on booze, and part of it on women. The rest I spent foolishly."

- George Raft

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Man in the Baggy Tan Suit

It seems that the leader of the free world has been getting a lot of grief because he chose to wear a tan suit to a press session on foreign policy. The criticisms seem to center on 2 main points: (1) the President wore a whimsical summer outfit to what was a somber session on the very serious current events taking place throughout the world; and (2) the tan suit was actually embarrassingly ill-fitting and poorly tailored.

Most assuredly, there are probably others who can speak to what is appropriate wear for a "serious" policy discussion - many people seem to be of the opinion that the President's normally ill-fitting grey or navy suits would have been more appropriate for the occasion. And that may be true, but the notion that a tan cotton suit is something of a leisure suit or clown outfit is at best a canard and, at worst, a malicious lie.

Certainly, tan cotton or khaki suits of the type that Haspel of New Orleans became famous for during the 20th Century are a warm weather, seasonal option. Of course, this stems from the fact that the cotton is supposed to breathe better in warm weather. It seems odd that of all the people that have chosen to wear a cotton suit in a business setting in order to keep cool during the dog days of summer in the last 75 or years or so, it was the President who was considered to be unprofessional or insufficiently serious.

As to the second point, the suit certainly appears to be rather ill-fitting. When I wake up to Al Roker and Matt Lauer commenting on the shockingly poor fit of the shoulders on your jacket, things are not going well for you, at least from a sartorial standpoint.This, of course, is in line with the rest of the President's business attire, generally speaking. In this instance, I wonder how much of the negative commentary has to do with the distinct drape of the cotton suit. There is generally a stiffness to the fabric so that it does not seem to "adhere" to the shape of the body. Basically, there is a bulbous aspect to a cotton suit that is well-tailored.

In the President's case, if someone were to announce tomorrow that the suit worn by the President to the press briefing was made by Haspel or Joseph A. Banks, would anyone be surprised? The suit has the rather bland, amorphous fit of an off the rack item - the arm-holes of the suit jacket look enormous, in keeping with the one size fits all ethos of ready to wear made for morbidly obese Americans. The fact that the President is rather trim has apparently lead to this sorry state of affairs wherein the President had probably purchased this suit based on tag size rather than actual fit. What we are left with is an unflattering jacket with armholes that are too wide and sleeves and a waist that are probably too long. The tie is too long and incredibly wide and he only seems to want to show some shirt cuff from one of his two sleeves. On the other hand, the President did pair the suit with dark brown wingtips and he also buttoned the appropriate button on his jacket, so there may be hope for him yet :-)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Little Things In Life

Its funny (or sad) how you rush through life missing the little things that are right in front of you every day. The photograph above, which I believe was taken by Michael Smith, has sat on a wall around the corner from my office for about 5 years. There are many works of art on the walls of the law firm that I work at, but one rarely stops to really get a good look at them. I had seen this photograph before, and it just dawned on me last week that its a picture of Canal Street in New Orleans, which certainly looks a lot different than when I was there in April, but that looks a lot like a portion of the facade of Rubenstein's, the venerable New Orleans men's clothing institution.

Of course, it took me about 6 years to realize that the artwork outside of my last office was an original Andy Warhol, so this counts as progress :-)

I think it was Ferris Bueller who said "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it. Good words to live by.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

One Night at Rao's

Into the wee hours at Rao's:
Frank Pellegrino, Frank Schipani, Dan Flores, and Joe Gallo

Having grown up in East Harlem, I'd often heard about Rao's, the almost mythical Italian restaurant at the corner of 114th and Pleasant Avenue, across the street from Benjamin Franklin High School (which later became Manhattan Center). When I played in little league games by the FDR Drive near the back of Jefferson Park, my father and I would often pass the restaurant on our way to Rex' Italian ice shop on 118th street and First Avenue for a cold treat before heading home after a long, hot summer day playing ball. Of course, even back then, everyone talked about Rao's as a great place that you just couldn't get into, no matter how long you waited or how hard you tried. And so the restaurant was always in the back of my mind as something of a mystery that signified the East Harlem of another time and another neighborhood.

So imagine my surprise when I had lunch with Frank Schipani (Frank S. for short), who had just recently reached out to me after having read The Best Dressed Man In The Room. He mentioned in passing that he had actually been introduced to the book one night while dining at Rao's with a large group that included the owner, Frank Pellegrino. Apparently, Mr. Pellegrino had received a copy and (I would hope) enjoyed it as well, and so Frank S. suggested that I drop by some time and introduce myself. A few months later, when I thought that I would be up around that way, I mentioned to Frank S. that I might drop in for a drink if he wanted to join me. He agreed, and so we arranged to meet at the restaurant one night for a drink or two.

I was running late (having stopped at my sister's place to drop off a sweater she'd left at my house) and so I cut through Jefferson Park, which really hadn't changed much since I was a kid, although the pool certainly looked a lot cleaner than I remembered it. I came out of the park at the entrance right across from Rao's, where I found the two Franks sitting at a table outside the restaurant, sipping on white wine and enjoying a a nice breeze from a pleasant summer evening.

This is probably an understatement (and probably not much of a surprise to anyone who knows him) but Frank Pellegrino is one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. If I had only spent an hour and a half sitting outside the restaurant discussing men's clothing and East Harlem with the two Franks and a whiskey sour in hand, it would have been a night to remember. But Frank went out of his way to introduce us to customers and friends as they came and went - you're really made to feel like you've been coming to the place for years, and this was a constant refrain that I heard from people throughout the evening. They come for the atmosphere that Frank has cultivated over many years -the fact that the food is amazing is an added bonus!

After awhile, Frank asked us if we would join him at the bar. We had a few more drinks there and I met a few more people from the neighborhood. Someone mentioned that it was only a matter of time before Frank got up to sing with the customers, which I thought was a joke until he got up and started crooning - he looked like Sinatra working the room at the Sands (I think it was something from Dion & the Belmonts).

A short time later, as I was talking to someone about the old Dee-liteful diner on 116th and First, Frank came by, put his arm around me, and said that he was having a few people at his table for dinner and asked if Frank S. and I would like to join them. Needless to say, it was an offer that I couldn't refuse.

It probably goes without saying, but the dinner was tremendous: Pasta in a white wine sauce with yellow zucchini, eggplant parmesan, sausage and peppers with sauteed chicken, and I washed it all down with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Through it all, it felt more like I was having a big family dinner in the cozy dining room of old friends or relatives. Frank was literally passing the food around the table himself and asking what we thought of this or that dish, and whether we wanted a little more of this or whether we'd had a chance to try that. When I wasn't eating everything in sight, I had a chance to talk about the book, which was passed around the table. Everyone seemed to enjoy the photographs and the essays, which is always enjoyable and quite humbling.

All in all, it was a great night filled with good food, wonderful people, and interesting conversation. I'm sorry it took so long to make my way over to Rao's - I hope to return in the near future.

Many thanks to the two Franks - Schipani and Pellegrino - for an altogether unforgettable evening. Their graciousness and generosity is truly heartwarming and genuinely appreciated.