An Elogy for Imbers

The clothes make the man, goes the old saying.  If this is the case, my prospects just got a lot worse. Yesterday I found out that Imber’s Men’s store in Edwardsville is closing up.

It was never much to look at – the wood-panel decor was reminiscent of a classic station wagon, and the suits hanging on the racks were obviously intended for men well past their prime.  Thus it was easy to pass up after a casual glance, especially for someone accustomed to rummaging through sales racks to find the odd sizes that my frame supports.

While I was killing time during one of April’s frequent and lengthy shopping excursions, I wandered in to Imber’s with an interest in finding a suit coat, as well as avoiding the antique store that had drawn April in.  An impeccably dressed man greeted me and introduced himself as Alan Legow, owner of Imber’s.  I didn’t know it until later, but this much more than a polite gesture- it was an opportunity for him to size me up.  I mentioned the suit jacket, and he whipped three coats out without asking me my size or preference.

It’s a bit of an affront to a shopper with modern sensibilities – I was a bit unnerved by such close attention, and itching to slink off to a sales rack.  Alan found me a coat that was good-looking, but a bit wide around the middle.  Part of the problem was the t-shirt I was wearing – it didn’t really fit like a button shirt would.  After a cursory glance at the shirt stock, Alan said he really didn’t have any shirts I could try on that would fit me properly.  Had I ever had a custom tailored shirt?, he inquired.

I haven’t ever really had a custom anything – all my suits and shirts were from the glorious sales rack, and fit me like a garbage bag.

That’s when I was hooked – he pitched, and I swung hard.  I didn’t have time that day for a full detail of measurements, but I promised to come back.

A few weeks later, I was ready.  For 45 minutes, Alan measured every dimension of my torso, asked me what style of cuffs I liked, how long the shirt should taper, what style back, whether or not to have breast pockets, monogram style, etc.  It turns out my right shoulder is a full inch lower than the left – I think it must be a casualty of playing tuba in the marching band for so many years.

While he was writing down my measurements, I was instructed to look through an enormous book of cloth samples.  Each was only about 2″ square, but there were hundreds of them, each with a letter after the name of the cloth.  I started with the A’s and B’s – simple prints, solid colors, smooth fabrics.  C’s and D’s were more intricate pattern, finer cloth, richer colors.  I found a J that was stunning – like no fabric I’d ever seen before.  He asked if I’d made a decision about the cloth, and I didn’t hesitate to whip out the sample of J that caught my eye.  He just smiled, and handed me another sheet of paper- the prices.  A’s and B’s cost about $90 for a whole shirt, C’s and D’s between $100-$200, and so on.  J fabrics were a cool $400 per shirt.

I found a great D fabric that fit the bill.  It would be about a month before the shirt was finished, and when the day came, it was like getting my first car.  The shirt was amazing – nothing has ever fit me so well.  The real magic was the feeling of power it gave me – I felt like a prince, ready to order my servants to bring the car around and grab me a cold beer while I wait.  Compared to retail, the shirts also cost a princely sum, but I tend to think of them as long-term investments. I have several now, I was married in one of Alan’s shirts, and God willing, I’ll be buried in one.

The whole experience is unorthodox, and it leaves me with the distinct impression that if this was the way clothes used to be purchased, then we are considerably worse off than our ancestors.  Maybe not everyone is or was like Alan – a man who was clearly educated and could have chosen any field, and tailored clothes because it is his passion.  Seeing someone derive true pleasure from their work makes you wonder why everyone can’t figure it out.

Imber’s was another one of those surprises that makes life more fun, and I would do well to be as happy and successful in my work as Alan was with his.


Drinking Like A Man

At this point in my life, I’m married, own a house, have a job, speak 3 languages decently, and can tie a bow tie.  The only thing that I’ve missed in the quest to become a gentleman is being a Scotch drinker.  Now, I’m resolved to take this final step into manhood.

My first encounter with Scotch wasn’t pretty.  I was probably 20, and my Dad offered me a swiggle of his Glenfiddich.  It struck me as unnervingly similar in smell to the polyurethane I use to seal my wood floors, and the taste wasn’t much better.  The impression it left me with was overwhelmingly negative – I didn’t intend to get to know it better.

Some years later, I met Scotch again at a Christmas eve family gathering.  My uncle Rick got a bottle of 15 yr old Scotch that he insisted I try.  I held my nose and took a tiny sip.  It burned,  but I managed to get the whole thing down.

Fast forward to last week- I got to try a 20 yr old Scotch, and it was delicious.  Tradition dictates that Scotch should be enjoyed slowly and carefully, but I was the first one to finish my glass and would have asked for more, if it weren’t so damn expensive.

Yesterday, I picked up a bottle of 12 yr old single malt Glenlivet from the good people at Sam’s Club, and this evening I’m trying it out.

So far, so good.

It still burns, but I find that a little water in the glass helps ease the burn and lets you taste a bit more of the flavor.  The flavor itself is very difficult to define – slightly sweet, and a little fruity.  The predominant tastes are almond and honey, maybe some smoke.  There are other tastes too, but they’re too subtle for me to grasp.

Like so many things life, knowing a bit about Scotch helps to enhance my enjoyment of it, and, I hoped, would help me figure out what I was tasting.

The Scotch I’m enjoying is a single malt, meaning it comes exclusively from barley, a grain seemingly capable of anything.  The early stages of Scotch production are almost identical to beer – the barley is sprouted, which ramps up sugar production, then dried and ground into coarse bits.  These bits are then steeped so the sugars are released into water, and becomes malt.  From there, the path diverges from beer a bit, and I don’t quite follow all the ins and outs of fermenting and distilling.  Eventually, the unfinished Scotch is put in barrels, and must be aged a minimum of three years.

If you’re thinking that honey and almond don’t quite follow from boiled and dried barley, you’re quite correct.  My hypothesis is that yeast is a major player.  In the brewing world, the choice of yeast can have more influence over a beer’s final flavor than all the other ingredients put together.  Those little critters can somehow impart flavors of fruit, bread, flowers, you name it.

A little more research shed some light on how the drying of the barley takes place.  Instead of using plain old hot air or convection to dry the sprouted barley, some Scotch distillers burn peat in kilns and use the smoke to dry the barley.  The centuries of cumulative biomass in the peat introduce all sorts of interesting flavors, which I guess collectively comprise all those unnameables I mentioned earlier..  It’s just the sort of wacky behavior you’d expect from the folks who invented golf.

As I finish this glass, everything that went into it seems so clearly connected.  The land, the crop, the bottle, and the ceremony all belong together.  It’s humbling to think that this particular Scotch was made when I was 16, thinking about who I was going to hang out with this weekend.  Now, my thoughts turn to the men in my family who drank Scotch, and what their lives were like at 28.

Mostly wondering what they would think of me now.



Crap Translations: Episode 1

A few days ago I was thinking about a piece I sang with the SIUE concert choir called ‘The Enemy’.  It was part of a suite of songs based on the text of Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil.  It’s pretty obscure, so I was having a hard time finding a the original French text.  After a bit, I tracked it down, only to discover that the English translations I’d found online were mostly garbage.  They mistook the meaning of words, left things out or added non-existent phrases and ideas to the original.  This is not acceptable.

In that spirit, I present the first attempt to correct a litany of terrible translations with one that is faithful to the spirit and letter of the original text.  Here’s the original text:


Ma jeunesse ne fut qu’un ténébreux orage,
Traversé çà et là par de brillants soleils;
Le tonnerre et la pluie ont fait un tel ravage,
Qu’il reste en mon jardin bien peu de fruits vermeils.

Voilà que j’ai touché l’automne des idées,
Et qu’il faut employer la pelle et les râteaux
Pour rassembler à neuf les terres inondées,
Où l’eau creuse des trous grands comme des tombeaux.

Et qui sait si les fleurs nouvelles que je rêve
Trouveront dans ce sol lavé comme une grève
Le mystique aliment qui ferait leur vigueur?

— Ô douleur! ô douleur! Le Temps mange la vie,
Et l’obscur Ennemi qui nous ronge le coeur
Du sang que nous perdons croît et se fortifie!


My youth was one raging storm

crossed by brilliant shafts of sunlight;

so devastated by thunder and rain,

that few ripe fruits remain in my garden.

Now, in the autumn of my mind,

I must employ the shovel and rake

to repair the flooded terrain,

where water cuts trenches as deep as tombs.

And who knows if the tender flowers of my dreams

will find in soil washed away like the shore

the mystical nourishment that gives them strength?

-Oh pain! Oh pain!  Time devours life,

and the misty enemy who gnaws at our hearts

grows strong on the blood we lose!

Spring ist gesprungen

There’s been too much going on for me  to write these last few days.  Or maybe I’ve been to tired to do it.  Or both.

With that in mind, I’ll say that Spring has flung itself on central Illinois rather early this year.  The seventies are a magical temperature; one or two days of that warmth and little green sprouts appear everywhere.  In fact, this might be one of the only St. Patrick’s days I can remember where there was an abundance of clover on the ground.

In honor of the warm weather, I went for a hike in the woods, something I  enjoy immensely.  The pleasure of walking in the woods is hard to define: it’s not a feeling of solitude that fills me when I walk the narrow path between trees; on the contrary, it feels like I’m right at home.  The trees remind me of people, like I’m walking through a crowd.  Only these people aren’t doing anything; their only duty is to exist.  I think that’s what I like about them- if humans like me just tried existing for awhile, without appointments or distractions, without emotion, without thought, life might not feel so overwhelming.

So I tried it.

I tried to just exist in the woods- I didn’t talk, hum, sing, or create any other disturbance.  I also tried not thinking, but that turns out to be really difficult, since the act of willing yourself not to think takes a conscious effort.  Instead, I tried to only think about my surroundings, and forget about the past and future.  Emotion was out too, but that’s not as difficult to supress as thought.  Practiced meditators might be able to suspend thought and emotion, and verge on tree-like, but not me.

Instead, I tried to behave like an animal; not devoid of thought, but ignoring things that aren’t immenently affecting me.  For a couple of hours, I resigned from my responsibilities as homo-sapiens, master of the Earth.  It didn’t last, as you might have guessed, but it was interesting at the time.

I will play for Gumball

A bumper crop
A bumper crop

It’s gumball season, and this looks to be a vintage year.  This haul is just from my front yard, and is therefore only a portion of the gumball harvest.  Soon we’ll be making gumball sauce, gumball cider, candied gumballs, gumbalaya, and much more!  The best part is that I don’t even have any Sweetgum trees in my yard- 3 gargantuous trees are planted in my neighbour’s yard, which means I get all of the gumballs and none of the pesky shade.

My legs are rather sore from bending down to pick the pointy pricklies from the damp soil, but getting to spend some time outdoors is worth the effort.  A little fresh air is a welcome respite from the glue-perfumed air of the house.

Sleep, Comrade!

It’s been a week of surprises, both pleasant and otherwise.  The work on Kitchexplosion 2009 continues, and now phase 1 is successfully completed.  You can witness the results here.

Phase 1, as you may recall, was breaking open the wall between the kitchen and living room, and recessing the fridge into what was previously the pantry.  Phase 2 began even before the completion of Phase 1, with shocking results.  You see, Phase 2 was destined to be the replacement of our ugly stick-on vinyl floor.  Ape and I had our hearts set on the pinnacle of modern, responsible flooring, Marmoleum.  Sadly, our bank accounts can’t keep pace with our wishes, so we settled on a lovely bamboo remnant from a larger job (must’ve been very large, since the leftovers could easily cover our kitchen floor).  We took a sample home to make sure it looked alright, and decided that it looked nice, and we would sleep on it to be sure.

The next day, April called me at work to let me know she had a surprise waiting for me when I got home.  Perplexed as I was, it slipped my mind as the day wore on.  As I was getting ready to head home, a horrible stabbing pain seized the back of my left eyeball and refused to let go.  I laid out on the floor to try to relieve the pain, but no change.  I walked home in the rain, and by the time I reached my door, the pain was so intense I felt nauseous.  Unable to contain the surprise any longer, Ape reported that in the course of working on the kitchen wall, she’d discovered that there was a hardwood floor beneath several layers of vinyl.  Under better circumstances, I would have been thrilled; instead, I went and laid down on the bathroom floor.

The newly-discovered wood floor
The newly-discovered wood floor

I eventually made it out of the bathroom and into a bed.  After a couple restless hours, I fell asleep at about seven o’clock and didn’t wake until my alarm went off the next morning at 7:10.  Whatever had afflicted me so strongly the evening before was long gone, and I felt ready to properly celebrate the discovery of the wood floor.  Little did I know what lingering effect it would have on my circadian rhythm.

It turns out the wood is a perfect match to the wood covering the rest of our house.  Of course, there were some challenges to recovering the floor, not the least of which was a 5-layer sandwich of vinyl floors and adhesives covering the last 50 years.  Once the previous floors had been removed, there remained a layer of paper and adhesive.  For the next several days I labored with soapy water and a putty knife to peel off the sticky sh*t.  Everyday at about 8:00 I felt exhausted, and fell asleep well in advance of 9pm.  The natural sequitur to going to bed so early is rising early, and these last few days have seen me awake at 5 or 6 in the morning, an hour usually reserved for starting long trips.

I’m glad to say that the floor is now clean, and I’m slowly trying to slide back in to a more normal sleep schedule.  Here’s what I’ll be dreaming of:

The floor (not pictured: glue and other crap)

I hope for Spring eternally

The Sun has finally returned to the inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere.  Saturday saw the temperature outside my door rise to 65 degrees, which is practically unheard of for February.  Sure, there was a strong southern breeze blowing through, which certainly helped to warm things up.  But the warmth of the Sun, and the smell of wet soil reminded me of what I’ve been  missing for several months.

To take advantage of the gorgeous day, I decided to jump on my Honda and go for a ride.  To my great surprise, I rolled over 1,000 miles on Saturday.  A foregone conclusion, of course, but to cross the 1,000 mile mark in February was surprising.

What was perhaps even more surprising was that I saw a peacock in the middle of the road.  Naturally, I didn’t have my camera handy when it was most needed, but I reckon I can track the peacock down again; it didn’t move too quickly.

Kitchexplosion 2009 update:

April and I may have found our new kitchen floor; a fllooring place in Eville had about 120 sq. ft. of bamboo left over from another job, and it just so happens we like the color.  Otherwise, not much has changed over the weekend- if things go well, we should complete Phase one this week.