Observations, Photos

White Caps

Big white mushrooms are popping up all over Rehoboth because of all the rain over the past several weeks.  Or are they toadstools?  Each term goes back centuries and isn’t very well defined.  Generally speaking, a mushroom has a stem, cap, and gills.  Toadstool is a term applied to a poisonous mushroom or a fungi with a classic umbrella-like cap and stem form.

Columns, Photos

Sometimes a Rose is Just a Rose

Why does it seem whenever there’s an extreme weather event or natural phenomena that evangelical right wingers fly into a tizzy and start hollering about how it’s God’s punishment for something they don’t agree with?

Seriously, who can forget the numerous claims that Hurricane Katrina was God’s retribution against the sodomites and licentiousness of New Orleans?  Seems America’s abortion policy was to blame too.  Haitians, according to televangelist Pat Robertson, brought the earthquake that racked their nation on themselves by making a deal with the Devil during the 1791 slave rebellion in exchange for getting their freedom from France.  Then there was the anti-gay activist who made headlines earlier this year by blaming all those unexplained bird deaths on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

So when Hurricane Irene threatened, I knew it would merely be a matter of time until some kook stepped forward to say something outrageous. How could they not? This storm was so irresistibly dangerous, threatening as it did the “Left Coast” of the United States and New York City, less than a week after an earthquake!

Sure enough, Presidential candidate Michelle Bachman, bless her heart, just couldn’t resist.  At a rally in Florida she told supporters that Hurricane Irene and the recent earthquake were God’s way of telling America’s politicians to rein in spending.  Naturally, her spokespeople said it was a little joke to emphasize her commitment to smaller government.

I’m skeptical. After all, Bachman claims God called her to run for Congress and then told her to sponsor a law in Minnesota defining marriage as between one woman and one man.  The girl’s got a pretty good pipeline it seems to the Almighty.

This concept of “divine retribution” is neither new, nor limited to American evangelical conservatives. Minister Louis Farrakhan asserted that Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of punishing the nation for its warmongering and racism. The governor of Tokyo said the deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami were payback for what he termed national egoism.

Seriously, are we still living in the 18th century?

I ask this because I’ve just finished reading a book called Hurricane of Independence about the September 1775 hurricane that crashed into the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia, and then raced up the East Coast in a path very similar to Hurricane Irene, striking all the important colonial capital cities.

People back then had very little understanding of hurricanes. Most attributed big storms to divine Providence. Americans believed in a wrathful God who punished their sins and a merciful God who protected them from their enemies.  So when this hurricane struck on the eve of the Revolution, the American patriots were confused.  Why would God punish them rather than sending a storm against the fleet of British redcoats trying to rob Americans of their liberties?  Could the storm be a divine signal that their cause was not quite as favored as they believed?  Or was it merely a heavenly reminder to live virtuous lives?

Because the hurricane killed both colonists and British, the consensus seemed to shake out that God was indeed on the side of the Americans in their glorious cause for liberty and was punishing the British for their tyranny.  How about that for a rationalization?

I have to wonder what kind of meaning the evangelical right wingers would give to the fact that the wrath of Hurricane Irene seemed to pass Rehoboth by.  We had less wind and rain than expected.  Yes, the beach lost some sand, but the dunes held. At my house, we never lost power.  It blinked a couple of times while I was preparing a pork roast and some patty pan squash, but that’s all. The front porch didn’t even get wet, despite my removing the protective canvas awnings.

And get this, a rose bloomed in my garden during the middle of the hurricane. A pink rose.


Keep Calm and Rave On

Gays getting married. Gays having babies. Gays serving openly in the military.  Yes, we’re seeing some amazing things in this new century.  Here’s one I wasn’t prepared for: gays playing beer pong.

You heard me right. The ultimate beer drinking game is no longer the province of straight frat boys and Snooki wanna-bes. Now the gay twenty-something pocket boys – those wispy lads so thin you can slip into your back pocket – are playing pong right here in Rehoboth Beach.

“Pong” is shorthand for a drinking game in which you try and land a ping-pong ball in your opponent’s cups of beer. If you succeed, your opponent must drink the beer.  It sounds easy and in concept it is.  Except that there are numerous variations on the game and every group of players seems to have its own special rules.

The National Beer Pong League — yes, there is such an entity– counts more than sixty recognized variations that can be played without paddles and more than a dozen with paddles. You’ve got Dartmouth pong, Cornell pong, Bounce pong, Long Island style, Philly style, Beirut East Coast style, Auburn rules, Virginia rules, and so the list goes on.

There’s even a set of rules for strip beer pong. And special names for players too. A camel toe, for example, is someone who always shoots before consuming the beer. A Che (Guevara) is someone who refuses to play by the house rules.

Pong tables vary too, though you can basically play the game on any flat tabletop.  The most popular size today is eight feet by two feet, and you can order one online in plastic, wood or aluminum at prices starting as low as $89. Handmade elegant wooden ones are available too and can cost upwards of $700. Picnic tables work well in a pinch.

The game has become so popular that there are leagues all over the country dedicated to pong. There is even a World Series of Beer Pong, held annually at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas where hundreds of players compete for a $50,000 grand prize.

How did this all come about?

Most historians — and I use that term loosely — believe beer pong originated at Dartmouth College in the 1950s and 1960s. Some older alumni think it grew organically from the simple fact of putting cups of beer on the table when playing the game of ping-pong. However it started, by the 1970s, the game of beer pong had developed rules and spread up and down the East Coast through the college and university circuit. At Dartmouth, it became so popular the school sanctioned it as an actual intramural sport for a short period of time.

I played pong for the first time in the fall of 1979 in the basement of a UVA fraternity. It was hot and heady with the scent of college boy sweat, Polo cologne, and marijuana. Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus album was playing on the stereo. Juanita my sweet chiquita, what are you up to?

A paddle was thrust into my hand and I was steered to a ping-pong table set atop a pool table with arranged with plastic cups of beer. A neophyte to beer pong, the brothers no doubt considered me an easy target.  Little did they know I’d been playing ping-pong for many years in my own basement. I had a good lob and I knew how to deliver some wicked topspin.

Yes, back then we played pong on real ping-pong tables and with real paddles. Old school.

Things started to change in the early 1980s when the frat boys at Lehigh and Lafayette chucked the paddles and started chucking the balls by hand. They called their new variation “Beirut” in reference to the Lebanese civil war. The rival schools are located but seventeen miles apart in eastern Pennsylvania, so, naturally, each claimed to have invented the game.  While the origin might be at issue, the raison d’etre wasn’t: to get bombed.

Today you find diehard fans of both the paddle and paddle-less versions. It’s a matter of preference. The pocket boys of Rehoboth toss rather than paddle. And though I’m personally partial to the classic version of pong, I am quite impressed by the boys’ sense of sporting style. They’ve got a specially designed table, balls, and even plastic cups all emblazoned with the slogan “Keep Calm and Rave On.”  I was told it’s a riff off of the British government’s “Keep Calm and Carry On” campaign to buoy public spirit during WWII.  Crowns for queens.  I like that.

Columns, Photos

Queer for Seersucker

So I was at a recent art opening, sipping some cold white wine and talking with a gentleman wearing a pair of slacks festooned with big shrimp when I noticed the strangest sight: A man wearing a starched brown seersucker shirt.

When I asked where he purchased such a shirt, he said he thought Brooks Brothers, but I knew that just couldn’t be. The label, when we looked, said Banana Republic.  This conferred upon it a sort of hipness, I suppose, but I had to wonder that if the point of seersucker is to keep you cool, why wear it in such a dark color?

Seersucker is a thin cotton fabric, commonly striped or checked and usually presented in a light or bright color paired with white. It’s one of summer’s ubiquitous fabrics, along with linen and madras.

Like madras, seersucker originated in India. The unique way it is woven keeps one yarn at a normal tension while the other yarn is held at a slack tension. When filler yarn is added in, it causes the slack yarn to scrunch up, giving the fabric its signature wrinkled texture.  The effect is to hold hot air away from the body, thereby keeping you cool.

If you’re enamored of the word “seersucker” like I am, it might surprise you to learn that it actually comes from the Hindi, Urdu, and Persian words “shiroshakar,” meaning “milk and sugar” and referring to the smoothness of milk and the rougher texture of sugar.

The man most responsible for introducing milk and sugar into American men’s fashion was a New Orleans suit maker named Joseph Haspel. He began creating inexpensive blue and white striped seersucker suits in 1909.  Over time, the suit took on a sense of panache, helped no doubt when Princeton university boys back in the 1920s started wearing them.

A student named Damon Runyon is credited with launching the seersucker craze at Princeton.  Runyon went on to achieve some fame as a writer. Several of his stories were adapted into Broadway plays, including Guys and Dolls.  He was quoted as saying about wearing seersucker that his peers couldn’t tell if he was broke or vogue.

Supposedly, Brooks Brothers began selling a seersucker suit as early as the 1930s.  The fabric began to reach the mass markets when Joseph Haspel started promoting it at textile and clothing conventions in the 1940s.  Though it has had its ups and downs in terms of popularity since the advent of air conditioning, seersucker remains a stylish statement.

A decorator friend whispered to me one evening in the Blue Moon that one of his signature looks was the black and white powder room – white porcelain sink, black toilet, with black and white seersucker padded walls. They love it in Virginia.

A certain Baltimore Avenue merchant told me he has been busy this summer stitching up all sorts of unique seersucker shirts and pants for slim hipped fabby boys.

A gentleman from a fine old Sussex County family confided to me that when he wears seersucker pajamas to bed, it makes him feel “all crazy,” to which I just nodded, unsure I wanted further clarification.

My favorite seersucker story, however, is the one where my some friends were having Friday lunch at Galatoire’s in New Orleans.  The foursome was attired, naturally, in blue and white seersucker suits. Don’t worry.  None of the suits were the same because there is great diversity among blue and white seersucker garments — width of the wale, shade of the blue, cut of the lapel.

It was a typical Friday crowd: ladies in hats, large groups of celebrants, diners roaming from table to table visiting with old friends or trying to make nice to new ones, and everyone sipping Sazeracs. To their immediate left, however, was a table of ladies who were clearly tourists.  They were wearing nothing of interest and, worse, they were eating Chicken Clemenceau with green peas.

As the fellas sipped and gossiped, gossiped and sipped, the chatter got looser and louder.  Finally, one of the ladies to the left felt emboldened and turned to the group sweetly and said, “Excuse me, but we couldn’t help but notice that all of you are wearing seersucker suits.  We were just wondering if you all were in some sort of a club or something?”  One of the gentlemen, who will not be named, simply replied:  “Why, as a matter of fact, ma’am, we are C***suckers in Seersucker.”  “Oh my, I see,” she said and turned back to her chicken and peas.

I’ve never worn a seersucker suit. It would be a tad too comical for someone my size. That said, I do own a half dozen seersucker shirts, a seersucker jacket, a pair of seersucker shorts, one seersucker bowtie, a pair of chartreuse seersucker tennis shoes.  My collection is not limited to clothing.  I’ve got two seersucker bedspreads and a set of seersucker placemats with matching seersucker napkins. I came very close once to purchasing two purple striped seersucker lampshades.  The price, not the color, was just too extreme.

All of this brings me back around to that brown seersucker shirt. Seersucker should be about celebrating the dandy and creating a little ruckus. Lime green? Yes indeed.  Hot pink?  Hell yeah!  Brown seersucker just seems too serious, a little prim even, and most certainly a waste of a good indulgence.

My advice to those who feel compelled to go brown in the summer is very simple. Either do it in linen or go get a tan.  Better yet, order a Manhattan cocktail and get your brown on that way.  Anything, I beg you, but please don’t sully the seersucker.