Humphrey Tales: All Manor of Cat at Downy Birch (the Foreword)

The stories you’re about to read took place in a town very much like your own.  And the streets, and the gardens, and the two-footed, unusually tall, disturbingly loud, rambunctious then ravenous, warm-lapped for napping human‘s (as I’ve heard them called) are all, coincidently, similar to your’s in your town.  With one very distinct difference:  In Cricklade, a marvelous miracle occurred.  Humphrey was born.

Humphrey has an unusual talent, even beyond the mystical reputation of Jellicoe Cats (tuxedo or black-on-white Cats).  Humphrey has the blessing of serendipity, cousin to the enormously influential Providence, under whose influence Humphrey was born at the musty corner of a dank basement.

Borne into the Royal Order of One, Humphrey’s FemmeFeline (that is, his birth feline), was an orphan herself.  She’d been abandoned in a bus line repair shop, so that the nameless mother might survive that bitterly brutal winter.  Humphrey’s mother, just another anonymous female, it is rumored, had the kind of litter which occurs only once in every 62,835 litters brought into this village every decade: The litter came to be known simply as The One Litter.

This fortuity often delivered hope to all cats;  The One Litter brought one Tom Cat predestined to a higher standard, and the true spirit of feline friendship, duty, and allegiance to whomever discovers Tom Cat, The Litter of One.

The talent Humphrey possesses is the ability to communicate with whomever rescues him from oblivion after being orphaned by his nameless mother.  This human will give Tom Cat his true Jellicoe Name (as communicated to him by the kitten he just found).  And everyone that meets Humphrey will think it is the perfect name (which it is).

These are the adventures of Humphrey, the cat of Downy Birch Manor and his Great Purpose?  To dethrone the Mongrel Canine and the moniker “Man’s Best Friend,” thus returning to all felines the righteous mantel and distinctive title designated by a human clan: He’s-Part-of-The-Family and with that moniker comes the Fireside-Favorite-of-the-Four-Footed-Feline, in the case of Downy Birch, an age old Hearth Braided Rug.

 

Smack Dab In The Middle Of Nowhere: Ah, Perfect!

Last weekend we packed practically half of our possessions (well, it sure felt that way) and went out-of-town for a two-day furlough from life’s daily grind.  We travelled south from Chicago and around the tail end of Lake Michigan to the eastern shore and small, polka-dot-like towns of Southwest Michigan known as Harbor Country.  These bucolic villages sprung to life during the mid-eighteen hundreds as either orchard or timber towns.  After Chicago (due west across Lake Michigan) was destroyed by fire, it was petitioning timber companies from Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan to deliver as much timber as fast as they could to rebuild Chicago.  A number of towns from this region answered the call.

(On a side note: Much of what is today Chicago’s Grant Park (to the south of our world-class Millennium Park (completed 4 years late (2004) and (hoo-boy) $325 million over-budget)) is built on debris from the fire.  Local officials opted to dump the relatively small amount of rubble into convenient Lake Michigan).

Southwestern Michigan saw Stevensville and Benton Harbor being settled as orchard towns and still retain prominence for their peaches, blueberries, and wine-grapes; Union Pier and Three Oaks hit their stride as major logging centers for Chicago’s restoration.  However, once the forests were dismembered Union Pier relied on a small but consistent tourist industry for Chicago residents while Three Oaks turned to agriculture (mainly fruit orchards).  Other small whistle-stops took hold along miles of unobstructed beaches and sand dunes as summer retreats.  Union Pier was affectionately known as the Catskills of the Midwest and, like many of its nearby towns enjoyed an annual easterly migration of Chicagoans desperately seeking the serenity of rural retreats less than ninety minutes from the city.

That is until the 1950’s when tourism began to wane as Chicagoans discovered their northerly neighbor, Wisconsin was flecked by inland lakes upon which one could raise simple three-season cottages, retirement retreats, even mansions.  And a mere seven-hour drive from Chicago is Wisconsin’s famous peninsula known as Door County.  Comprised of small towns and hamlets dotting both the eastern shore abutting Lake Michigan and the western shore adjoining Green Bay, it compares easily to Delaware’s Rehoboth Beach, Boston’s Martha’s Vineyard, and New York’s Fire Island.

For thirty years visual artists slowly discovered Southwestern Michigan’s slow pace, abundant properties, and speedy access to Chicago.  Over the years the area has become an established center of professional artists and independently owned road-side galleries offering a variegated degree of original art.  But then, in the mid-eighties, gentrification began its blight on these drowsy little towns as over-stressed and over-worked professionals sought a destination closer to home than Wisconsin’s offerings; a location with an aging and troubled economy; a place where you could buy a house, some land, and a night sky chock-full of stars for a fraction of what you’d pay in Illinois or Wisconsin.  And what made these Harbor Country towns so appealing?  Poor economic conditions: They looked and felt pretty much the way they did in the fifties when they’d been abandoned by Chicagoans the first time.

And so they came, prosperous couples with new families gobbled up properties like Romans marching across Europe.  The lakefront corridor was by far most desirable, especially the west (lake) side where modest stone bungalows with beach rights might fetch as much as seven figures.  The march continued both north toward Benton Harbor and west, leap-frogging the Red Arrow Highway, and slowing its pace at the eastern most fringe of Three Oaks.  By 2000 the narrow lanes, over-built lots, and idyllic, provincial, and simple character of these sleepy hometowns were scuttled by the import of urbanized behaviors and expectations.  Rather than fleeing the unyielding stress of city life for a long-weekend of birdsong, hammock-naps, and tall tales around a blazing fire, these transplants smuggled stress, brash voices, and booming stereos across state lines, and piled their city lives one-on-top-the-other, until their retreat disappeared, and their urban maladies doubled because now, not only were they experiencing the exact situations from which they fled, they were stuck in a tiny, Hicksville town, that oh m’god! couldn’t draw a shot of espresso, much less support a Starbuck’s!

Except for Frank’s.  Our longtime friend found a small, modest home built of cinder block overlooking a field of corn and backed-up against a steep ravine hidden by a dense thicket and impassable brambles.  It had been home to a family of four until the kids left and, luckily for Frank, so did the parents.  The small and unassuming house and garage was overcast by Hemlock and Juniper pines which splayed out in all directions like the bloom of a peacock’s tail.  Frank has an uncanny creative quirk: he can look at a common object and by deconstructing it in his mind, he imagines its parts which he then assembles into a completely new object.  In this bashful home which dutifully sheltered a self-effacing and respectable generation Frank saw a discreet refuge, and a distanced and disconnected property a few inland miles due west of the shore communities whose infrastructure narrowly supports the torrent of weekenders and the subsequent bottlenecks (roads, shops, restaurants).  Frank prudently purchased the property and created a master plan which included landscaping: pruning the pines, planting native fruit trees, installing a 2,500 gallon koi pond and waterfall, indigenous gardens, fire pit, and outdoor sculpture; upgrading the utilities in the house; and the most innovative change: repurposing the two-car garage into a modern three-bedroom guest house complete with a full kitchen, fireplace, vaulted ceilings and scores of windows which flood the rooms with sunlight and the achievement of privacy, serenity, and timelessness; the very qualities desperately sought by other Chicagoans who impulsively bought homes in the favored townships on the popular lanes only to discover that their little resort town had overdeveloped into the Lilliputian version of Chicago.

Sans, oh m’god! A half-caf double-foam skinny extra hot latte with three pumps of caramel!  Which, by-the-way, Frank concocts (simply espresso, sugar cube, and twist of lemon) using an original, aluminum-bodied, Bialetti stove-top espresso maker.

That Frank, he’s simply an innovator and an inspiration to everyone who’s ever really gotten out of the city and into the real Harbor Country, his retreat in the middle of nowhere, which is precisely where we urbanites yearn to be. 

Thanks, Frank.

Fall’s Early Mornings Are Still Night

I closed the door behind me and with it the toasty comfort and wafting aroma of brewing coffee.  Turning to Jenni who was dancing at the gate, fall’s early morning rigor prompted my quick donning of gloves.  Carefully stepping down the frosted front stairs I blew into the air looking for the smoking gun, the evidence I’d need to herald to the neighborhood (like Paul Revere) the Winter is coming!  The Winter is coming!  Though I studied the air carefully as though I was looking for fingerprints, nary a puff appeared; no telltale sign besides my goose-flesh.  Fall‘s playing cat and mouse with us, I told Jenni as I turned the gates lever and she bolted out like a favored gelding at a horse race.

We’d gotten an early start today, earlier than normal.  Jenni was up and out of bed at half past five and though I pleaded for patience, her answer was determined and direct: any limb (or part of limb) which had poked out during the night like Punxsutawney Phil or General Beauregard Lee was suddenly startled by a dogged lapping of tongue as though the targeted extremity was a popsicle on the hottest dog-days of summer.  Heavy-lidded doziness and a ten thousand duck down comforter can be very seductive, but what’s really arousing is the cold and wet dogma of the persuasive lap-ping dog which highlighted my dog-eat-dog world.

Jenni’s quite content cavorting in Fall’s early morning chills.  I’ve donned thin gloves but toughed it out and left the toque at home.  There’s a certain sadness during fall; like knowing the fireworks-like trees will soon be bones unable to produce shade; the morning chill creeps longer into the morning like the warned child near the cookie jar; leaves once an inferno, crackling like dry wood now slimy and slippery and stick together like wet newspaper.  Fall is falling; it’s falling leaves and falling temperatures and falling daylight. 

But to Jenni, there’s never been a better, brighter or brisk beginning.

 

After 50 Years, I Can Speak My Father’s Language

I became Harold’s (my father’s name) youngest son when he was forty-nine years old.  Forty-nine today isn’t what it was in 1958, especially when you lived life full bore.  By the time I became conscious of his presence (three years old) he’d already begun his initial descent.  He had the looks of Walter Cronkite, the physique of Jackie Gleason, the temper of John McEnroe, the contempt for women of August Strindberg (Swedish Playwright and infamous misogynist 1849-1912), the alcoholism of Johnny Cash, and a creative and innovative mind in the areas of electrical and mechanical engineering.

There were just two of us (me and my older (2 years) brother.  That is, until 1972 (I was 14 years old), when the dirty laundry was aired: Our father had a previous marriage which produced two daughters and a son.  As I recall I was excited by the prospect (kind of like the “Brady Bunch“) and my brother was apprehensive and quite angry.  The confession of a first marriage only occurred because the eldest daughter had the strong desire to discover what happened to her “real daddy.”  The first wife’s precept that no one was to try to find their father until she had passed was strictly enforced and subsequently honored by all.  She passed in the early 70’s after which the eldest daughter’s search began.  As to why our mother or father kept this secret and never disclosed anything about it is anyone’s guess.

The marriage bond between my father and mother was broadsided by the wrecking ball in 1963 when the County Sheriff appeared at our front door to serve our dad his notice to vacate immediately which, we learned later, was a bitterly contested condition of their divorce. From that day on and until the day he died he expressed a cruel, ruthless and chronic acrimony and rancor toward our mother which he publicly and conspicuously displayed, especially when we visited on Sunday afternoons.  I don’t know if his brutish and vengeful behavior during our visits was aimed at my brother and I, or if he thought we’d run back to headquarters and repeat verbatim his vitriolic euphemisms such as “that god-damned pollock” (those were the only words he ever used to reference her).  I think his ruthless contention began after his first wife deserted him in the middle of the night with the children and his business partner and their business’s assets liquidated to cash.  The few things he treasured had fled in the night leaving him alone and penniless.

But he was not the victim; he was the perpetrator.

As I was to learn later in life, my father lived fast!  It took me a number of years before I could admit that my dad had already been someone else’s dad before he was mine.  What’s more, he was dad to three kids and husband to some lady some place and neighbors and club members and tavern buddies and business partners and customers all of whom I would never meet, but of whom meant very much or very little to him, and this whole other life never ever in a million years, not even for a split second ever imagined that somewhere some day in the universe there’d be Harold’s youngest child telling you their life story.  Well, until the age of fourteen I thought Harold being my dad was a one-act play; I was shocked to discover that there had been an earlier play, a one-man production entitled The First Dad is the Real Dad penned by his first family, which unbeknownst to me, devolved my one-act into a superfluous epilogue found in ancient Greek dramas.

Yet there were earlier chapters, when he was practically barbaric; young and handsome and strong and libertine.  Chapters in which he had pockets stuffed full of youthful immortality and adventurous hunger. Chapters which bore great resemblance to the stories of Hemingway or Faulkner or Steinbeck.  Chapters of male bonding and passage: acquiring the finesse of fly fishing; developing the patience of a deer hunter; learning how to set up camp.  Chapters about acquiring mechanical and electrical skills when combined with his creativity conjured up devices which awed his employers.  It’s these chapters that are out-of-print, those few siblings able to remember have long passed, names of friends or places or dates abandoned.  It would seem that my understanding of who and what my father really was would be conjecture, similar to explanations of figures in portraits painted by famous artists.

Except, there was one trail which we’d never bothered to follow: a couple of phenomenally heavy boxes which contained an enormous array of hand tools, parts, components, knobs, fuses, and rust.  These boxes had been buried in my brother’s basement for years, neither he nor I had any practical use for them.  In fact, they reminded both of us of particularly painful memories when both of us declined our dad’s invitation to study drafting in high school (and therefore follow his life’s path) and turned our attentions to the performing arts.  That was when I could feel my father’s pride drain from him as though he’d just been gutted.  But fifty years later, after I endured a break down and was determined to entertain my curiosities and creativity I spotted the art of wood working.  And I read a passage: “A Woodworker works wood with hand tools, he doesn’t machine wood with power tools.”  And so began my acquisition of various tools, all with specific purposes, and some which looked distantly familiar, as though I’d stumbled across them long ago but didn’t know what, if any, use they’d have.  What I didn’t understand then, I clearly understand now: Context was missing; meaning was missing; purpose and use and technique and discipline and understanding were all missing the first time, as an adolescent, I had found them.  But today, as I work wood with my hand tools I finally understand my father’s native language.  A language of tools and imagination and creativity.  A language of applied science.  A language which died the same day he did.

But it’s been rediscovered and is as important to me as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I finally understand the language he’d been speaking, how he saw his world, what he’d use to solve problems, and why he was so devastated when my brother and I impolitely snubbed his advice about drafting class and joined glee club instead.  And while I’m overjoyed to finally uncover a common thread uniting me to my dad, it’s also bittersweet: It’s a reminder that he’s gone and a wish that I’d give anything if he and I could, for just one day, sit together in my work space and “talk shop.”

The attached pictures show my dad’s tool at the top or the left and my tool underneath or to the right of his.

The Crisp Season of Change

At last it’s arrived, like a visit from my favorite uncle who told tales of unimaginable childhood freedoms (having been raised on a fruit orchard farm).  At long last it’s arrived, the darkness of dawn mornings and the dimness of late afternoon twilights.  Finally, finally it’s arrived, the season of the apple and the pumpkin and hot cider.  And thank God they’re gone, days that grated like my cat’s yowling or, tortuous days akin to the incessant presence of my just-turned-teen sister and her coterie of screeching and cackling teensters (defined as a pimply, high-pitched, recently teened and obstinate-as-hell, alien transmutation); those chronically simmering days followed by feverous and languid nights, the forecasted but broken-promised breeze failed to arrive like those letters from your summer camp romance.  Relief has clocked-in, elbowing out a tireless summer which dropped anchor like a battleship of fervent seamen and remained well past dry-docking the sailboat.  The ease of fruit pie-like single-layered simplicity (shorts sandals shirt) has given way to the time-consuming layered bundling like wrapping grandmamma’s Chatsford teapot for shipping, encasing oneself with layer upon shedable layer.

I’ve recently concluded that I prefer seasons of change (Spring and Fall) over seasons of suffering (Summer and Winter).  I enjoy the initial imperceptible adaptations which occur in the early spring and early fall: Spring’s first cautious knock of Snow Drops; fall’s tentative nips of brusque breezes.  Of course these trepidations soon give way to Spring’s salvo of elevating stems topped with an eternity of color and Fall’s broad strokes of vividly colored canopies which subtly cautions us of life’s temporal cycle.  The seasons of change also highlight our world’s overwhelming beauty and diversity; it’s also a testament that every piece of (what we call) life patiently waits its turn to express its individual magnificence, it’s solo, when the world recognizes its achievement during the season’s glory!

If only we, as part of nature, would patiently wait for our turn to shine with respect for each other (and our colorful diversity).  And that we, as a Snow Drop or a stitch in Autumn’s auroral quilt, are an irreplaceable verse in life’s grand narrative.  

Maybe We’re Just Like Ducks

It’s called imprinting, the rapid learning process by which a newborn or very young animal establishes a behavior pattern of recognition and attraction to another animal of its own kind or to a substitute or an object identified as the parent.  Ducks must be given full credit for bringing this natural attraction to the world’s attention.

We’ve all heard of some unusual attractions that ducklings have developed: humans, dogs, even beach balls.  So, if a duckling can blame nature for his predisposition for beach balls, perhaps our sexual proclivities are the combination of imprinting and sexual awakening: Love Potion No. 1.

My Duck Day coincided with the appearance of the concrete caravan and my budding sexual identity.

It happened during the dog days of summer, near the end of a blistering July, 1966 that the concrete caravan first appeared at the top of the hill on National Avenue and slowly made its way past Lapham Street, past the Roebuck house, skipped the alley, patched Elmer’s front walk and finally stopped to repair the crumbling curb in front of my house.

Most of the cement-men were career contract-labor: exceptionally efficient at chain-gang-hard-labor; blood-orange skin from the unrelenting sun, hints of aging hair poked from beneath hats, enormous bellies born from beer, and exhausted cigar stubs deeply wedged at the side of their mouths.  And then there was this one guy, unlike the others, this one guy resembled the older brother of everyone’s best friend; this one guy was the guy that came to pick up your sister, bewitched your mother, and worried your father; this guy, handsome in a blue-blood kind-of-way but absent of the sophisticated grooming; his countenance was basic, organic, and naturally simple; his body was whittled by the repetitious pounding of pick-axes; his age was disguised and  purposefully vague evoking my curiosity; he was a pioneer, trailblazing through his indecisive twenties.

He wore identical clothing each day: A clean, sleeveless white T-shirt absent of any distracting graphics; tattered by abrasions, the frayed front pockets of his torn 501’s gave witness to his desperate deep-hand searching for loose change to feed the pop machine; a thick, brown belt wormed its way through the faded-to-white belt loops and cinched the denim preventing its avalanche; a navy blue bandana was tied tightly across his forehead to restrain a chalky cowlick; and concealing safety glasses which rationed the gleam of his lapis colored eyes.  Draped yet suggestive, his broad shoulders were easily double the width of his narrow hips which plunged into the deeply concave impressions of his hindquarters which were kept aloft by fleshy legs challenging the denim’s restraint.

Each morning he would arrive fresh like today’s baked bread.  As the toil took its toll his sweat marked then saturated his T-shirt prompting its removal which resembled pulling peel from fleshy fruit.  From my perch on Mrs. Bower’s front steps I mapped the pathway of his perspiration, its headwater found near his neck where it gathered then overflowed and trickled south swallowing isolated beads of sweat and tributaries which first appeared on his capped shoulders and added volume and speed which breached the sinewy levee of his spine and flooded the darkening waistband of his 501 ‘s as well as the white cotton banding which sat low on his hips.

I watched him for more than a week when my mother took notice and opportunity of my afternoon routine of sitting on the front porch.  It was her idea that I take the hose and water Mrs. Bower’s flowers and front lawn.  Perfect, I reasoned, an alibi should allay any suspicion caused by my daily observations.   On Tuesday of the second week of their construction I walked through the gangway with the spitting hose and began to shower Mrs. Bower’s flowers.  By the time I started to water the parkway (grass between the street and the sidewalk) the man in the blue bandana ambled cautiously over to me like a slow, curious cow to a farmer holding a bucket of feed. I stood on the sidewalk and thumb sprayed the grass when he asked, “Mind if I have a drink from there?”

I stood dumbfounded and handed him the hose, his wide, thickly calloused hands reaching across the freshly poured concrete for Mrs. Bower’s  Craftsman “Kinkless Guaranteed” one hundred foot garden hose, and moved the bubbling water to his mouth, drinking quietly, his lips pursed into a muscled “O”.  I watched with a great deal of curiosity as his Adam’s apple moved up and down with each quenching swallow, the dimples in his cheeks mirrored the rhythm of his bobbing Adam’s apple.  When sated he returned Mrs. Bower’s hose to my care and said, “Thanks; I’ve seen you watching us for a couple of days; thinking of a career in concrete?  What’s your name?”

“T.M.,” I said quietly.

“Thanks for the drink, T.M.” he said with a wink, then turned and rejoined his crew.

July, 1966 became known as The Summer of Eye-High Marigolds and Mrs. Bower’s Famous Flowers as reported in one local paper.  That July day in 1966 when Bandana Man put his lips to Mrs. Bower’s Craftsman “Kinkless Guaranteed” one hundred foot hose and quenched his thirst, I, instantly developed an unfamiliar thirst rising from deep within, a thirst temporarily doused by Bandana Man’s proximity, but which would reignite moments after I switched off my bedroom light later that night; by morning I longed to be near Bandana Man.  My disquieting need to putter around the front yard required a significant diversion, an understandable reason why I needed to be there.  Which is why my camouflage became an avid interest in gardening.  I think Mrs. Bower’s was exceptionally proud, and I’m happy that she took all the credit.  It was her front yard of course which received my best intentions while I continued to catch furtive glances through the gardens towering stems.

It took the concrete caravan an unprecedented three weeks to complete its concrete repair from the Roebuck house on the north end of the block to the Nichols’ house at the south end.  It was a Friday, I think, that the inevitable happened: I ran out of hose.  The crew had just turned the corner and was heading west on Mitchell Street. I stood there, water pouring from the stretched hose, acknowledging yet not understanding life’s cruelty: Why were we both at the same crossroad at the same time, if all it meant was fame for Mrs. Bower’s flowers?  As Bandana Man turned the corner he stopped, looked back at me, dropped his pick-ax and trotted in my direction, his tanned torso rippling like sheets on a clothesline.

He untied his bandana and held it beneath the cold water, wrung it out, then wiped his face and neck, returned it to the cold water and said, “You look kind of hot.  You hot, T.M.?”

“Yes,” I answered while nodding my head.

He took the hose from me letting it drop to the ground, turned me around, and wrapped the navy blue damp bandana around my head and tied it snuggly in back.  He spun me around, studied me for a moment, then said, “Cool man, you’re one of us now!”  And with a tousle of my hair he turned and ran to catch up with the crew which from afar resembled a motley gang of vagabonds.  I remained at that spot and allowed the water to drip down my face, catching a few droplets with my tongue, detecting a hint of salt which I knew was my first real taste of men.

Quality Counts

I recall favorably the first night I spent in my spouse’s garret twenty years ago.  Naturally, I maintain this memory carefully, doting on it like a delicate photograph that’s aging, edges first, a creeping brown border and satellite-like spots threaten my recollection.  There are certain details which remain as crisp as a carrot because their impact struck me with tremendous velocity: his lingering fragrance hidden in the cotton of yesterday’s white shirt, the organization of his morning rituals: washcloth, cream shave, razor, brush.  I remember these sneak-peaks into his privacy because they played important roles in who he was daily.  All men have similar morning rituals but what impressed me, even back then, was his carefully selected instruments.  Many men could care less, but for him it was important to have the precise razor or brush or after-shave balm.

Another time we’d been invited to a business colleague’s home for dinner.  He orchestrated a wonderful meal which reflected skill, passion, and pride in what he presented to his guests.  But most amazing was the absence of commotion, replaced instead by ease and fluidity and sufficiency produced by efficient use of very few utensils.  I never ask for a recipe, but I did ask the secret to his efficiency.  His reply?  Limit yourself to four knives, but buy the very best knives: spend the extra money in the beginning, rather than repeatedly replacing them.

I allow myself the luxury of paying close attention to my private rituals and the tools by which I perform them.  Personal details or items (whether tool, accessory or peculiarity) does someone select?  These very personal choices provide a glimpse of who they really are, who they are and how they behave in private, when no one is watching or evaluating.  These details are the intimacies of an individual.  They’re not declarations or pronouncements or bravado; they’re not obvious, are often found in private rooms (bedroom, bathroom), are easily overlooked as an insignificant article or one of propriety’s niceties.  But I have found them to contain much more passion than everyday items.

Personal details are often sought out or surreptitiously discovered or introduced by way of kindred spirits.  They’re rarely received as gifts because their personal significance is concealed for fear of ridicule by friends for their dandiness.  Cost is rarely a deterrent; if a person has selected a specific item their determination to acquire it is very strong; they’ll scour the marketplace; they’ll participate in auctions; they’ll keep abreast of discounts; and if all else fails they will happily exchange money for the possession or, if it is simply beyond their reach, they’ll step away and always admire the item with the hope of a giddy teenager meeting her teen idol.

It’s possible to obtain objects which are more than capable of performing the same tasks.  For example fountain pens and ball-point pens; Bulova and Breitling watches; thermograph and letterpress stationery.  It’s not the price that assigns value.  Workmanship, materials, design, style, function and longevity all play important roles in my decisions.

A word of caution if the item is categorized as luxury: the old adage you get what you pay for is very important.  A replica of an item is not an inexpensive version of the item.  A replica is, at its basest, a forgery, misrepresenting itself as authentic at a 75% mark down.  If you find a deal too good to be true, it is too good to be true!  If you’re really in the market for luxury items do a lot of homework first; learn everything you can about the item; understand the difference between worth and value; and don’t buy as an investment unless you’re an aficionado.

These are my personal details: Grooming: Merkur safety razor, Niegeloh Topinox nail trimmer, Erbe scissors (Solingen, Germany); Kent hair brush (UK); Proraso shave cream and after-shave; Burberry Brit Eau de Toilette; Stationery: Letterpress monarch paper and envelopes, fold-over note card and envelopes, calling card, and return address label; Nakaya Urushi-Lacqured Long Writer fountain pen; Kitchen: Victorinox 10-inch Chef’s knife, 3-1/4-inch Paring knife, 12-inch Granton Edge Slicing knife; ARY Hot Gloves with red silicone grip; Polder Digital timer; Kuhn Rikon can opener; Audio: Etymotic Research HF5 in-ear earphones; Etymotic Research High-Fidelity ear plugs; Etymotic Research er89-2 Bluetooth cell phone headset; General: Fenix LED flashlights; Boker Solingen pocket knives; Barking Dalmatian Soap Dispenser.