Wednesday Witness: How Many Licks?

Who else remembers the candy commercial that seeks to answer the age-old question, “How many licks does it take to get to the Toostie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”

The old owl manages just three licks before crunching the candy with his beak and swallowing it hole. “Three,” he answers with authority—even though, in his impatience, he has come to the wrong conclusion.

Continue reading

‘Broke To Death’

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” — Matthew 11:29-30

A few Sundays back, we had a guest priest, Fr. Tony Dummer from the Christ the King Retreat Center in Buffalo. The gospel reading was from Matthew chapter 11, and Fr. Tony recalled growing up on a farm in Oregon and using a team of horses for certain jobs. He said that one of the remarkable things about draft animals working together as a team is that two horses or oxen do not move twice as much, but several times the weight that one can. Continue reading

Book Break: Old House of Fear

While back home in Michigan over Divine Mercy weekend, I had the pleasure of browsing the Mecosta Book Gallery and coming home with my first Gothic fiction work of local literary hero and celebrated thinker and writer Russell Kirk, an unjacketed, former library edition of Old House of Fear.

Too few people, perhaps, know of Russell Kirk today. Even growing up a few miles from the tall brick house where he dwelt and wrote, and with his four daughters not far from me in age, all I knew growing up was that a eccentric writer supposedly lived in that big house. Such knowledge was wasted on my teenage self; had I known he was one of the foremost conservative political thinkers of the last century and a novelist to boot, I may have postponed Yale for a year and ultimately saved myself the trouble and the expense.

But I didn’t — and now I’m playing catchup.

I would describe Old House of Fear as a Gothic men’s adventure story: equal parts ghostly yarn, murder mystery, and manful romance. Our protagonist is sent by his employer, a Scottish-American industrialist intent on buying his family’s ancestral home on the remote Scottish island of Carnglass. The requisite castle has an ominous name — the House of Fear — though in its ancestral Gaelic it would be spelled fir or fhir and means “man.” What begins as a challenging business transaction with a strange old widow becomes a treacherous tale of intimidation, terrorism, and murder, involving Communists and occultists, as well as more run-of-the-mill ruffians, a beautiful red-headed niece who may also be a witch, and the ever-present shadow of a legend: a grostesque, three-eyed goat-man said to haunt the island from time immemorial.

It is a quick and satisfactory read, if a bit tidier than I expected at the end. I enjoyed it thoroughly and recommend it wholeheartedly…if you can find it! If not, I may be convinced to loan it to you!

Reliving My Childhood

Yeah, that’s the look!

I have a confession to make: I have spent the last few weeks with a goofy grin on my face, reliving my childhood. It began back in November when, for the first time in many year, I finished J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and decided against my original intentions to begin The Lord of the Rings trilogy immediately. These were my favorite books as a child and teen, and indeed, I still have the Special Silver Jubilee Edition paperbacks I grew up with — tattered, torn, and taped back together again. I have meant to turn back to them for some time now, considering that the the last time I read and loved them I was less than half the age I am now and neither Catholic nor even Christian in any meaningful way.

Consider this as well: for the past 14 years, the only substantive interaction I’ve had with the peoples and history of Middle Earth has been through the hit movies (and an occasional comment from my older two sons, who have read them in the interim). Truly I underestimated the impact of regular exposure to the films without reading the books. I had forgotten just how wonderful these stories really are!

Somewhat disturbing, but it was all I had!

You see, I had grown up with the Ralph Bakshi animated movies and had not loved them. I daydreamed about what the characters and places would look like in real life. In high school, I ran across a hardcover edition of The Complete Guide to Middle Earth with this image on the cover (the rest of the fellowship shows up on the back), and it fueled those daydreams for many more years.

Loved it, except for Aragorn as a musketeer? And Pippin’s hat…

So when the first of The Lord of the Rings movies was released, my love was deep, fueled by the imagery and fanned by a long absence from the text. As I re-read the stories in recent weeks, I was drawn back in: to the breadth and scope of Middle Earth; to the perils at every stage of the journey to Bree, Rivendell, and Mordor; to the practical concerns of traveling unseen across an unfriendly landscape; to the brutality of war and love of honor, fellowship, and song–and of course a pipe and a pint. I shook my head in disbelief, I grinned, I laughed out loud — I even choked up a time or two!

I also realized how utterly short the movies fall. Not simply because of what was left out or added — but in terms of the overall tone and message of the story.

Then on Tuesday I took the older four kids to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Star Wars has even deeper roots in my childhood psyche: these are the first movies I remember loving, and those stiff plastic action figures are the first toys I ever craved and collected. Even as a grade-schooler I think I recognized that Star Wars had all the elements of the stories I liked best: aliens and spaceships, swords and sorcery, a “lone ranger” and his native sidekick in a rough-and-tumble desert wasteland. Of course, The Empire Strikes Back was the best of three original movies, and of course, Han Solo was the best character — both for the same reason: I was beginning to realize that life wasn’t all sunshine and daisies, and people aren’t always perfect. From that standpoint, Empire seemed very real to me, and Han Solo gave me hope that even a scoundrel could find a way to rise above.

So imagine my delight the first time this image started circulating the Web:

“Who’s scruffy-looking?”

Much has been made about how the new Star Wars movie is a throwback to originals, with so many iconic images like this one that call to mind the movies I grew up with. But on top of that, I found a sense of wonder and chemistry that the three prequels abandoned in favor of spectacle and special effects. Again, I shook my head in disbelief, I grinned, I laughed out loud — I even choked up a time or two. I was a kid again.

Blogger’s Note: I will likely write a more thorough post on each of these experiences in the near future. In the meantime, let me say that, without a doubt, Han shot first. He always more Clint Eastwood than John Wayne, anyway — more of a Lone anti-Ranger than the Lone Ranger himself. Also, if I can’t be Sam Elliott in my elder years, I’ll be Harrison Ford.

More Shave For Less

The old standby: Gillette Sensor Excel and Edge Shaving Gel

The Art of Manliness (AoM) website continues to be a favorite destination for my sons and me, for everything from well-researched writing on the history of manly honor to how-to articles on wilderness survival. It is not without flaws, of course: there is an undercurrent of hipster consumerism that manifests itself, for example, in the site’s frequent Huckberry giveaways. Huckberry is a free subscription site that aggregates interesting content and cool manly gadgets, products, and clothing, and every week or two, AoM sponsors a giveaway to drive traffic to Huckberry’s store. The merchandise is often quite nice, but how can a site touting manly self-sufficiency advocate for purchasing a $40 hardwood six-pack carrier (or a $120 “wallet” made out of old baseball glove leather) when any man worth his salt could make the same for the cost of a few bucks and a little elbow grease?

Nevertheless, if you pay attention at AoM, you might learn something that actually saves you money. For the past several months leading up to this summer, I’ve been wearing a full beard as opposed to my more typical goatee. When I finally decided to lighten the load on my face, I couldn’t find any spare cartridges for my razor — an old double-bladed Gillette Sensor Excel I’ve had for years now. I scraped by (see what I did there?) with the old cartridge until I got to Walmart to pick up some more. $20+ for ten cartridges.
My head rebelled. Must be discontinuing these, I thought. I should get the razor Brendan has; then we’ll use the same blades.
Brendan’s razor is a triple-bladed Schick Hydro 3 he got at Christmas time. It’s nowhere to be seen, though there are a few cartridge left on the rack — also $2+ a piece. I could get a newer model Gillette or Schick cartridge razor for $10-$20, and pay through the nose for cartridges you use three times and pitch, or go cheap and completely disposable. 
Secondhand Gillette safety razor
and badger brush, $12 total
Then I noticed a tiny box that read “Wilkinson Sword double-edged razor blades” — a 10 pack for a couple bucks — and I remembered something: a few evenings back, Brendan had been watching a video on the Art of Manliness site: How to Shave Like Your Grandpa. I turned my back on the Walmart rack and went home.
The video was helpful, as was the original article and several others on the site, and I learned a ton of useful (and useless) information. For example: who knew that most shaving brushes are made with either boar or badger hair, both of which provide an appropriate level of stiffness while retaining a certain amount of water needed to mix shaving lather? Badger is considered the premium hair for shaving brushes, but boar is more readily available — leading to a discussion about a side business to Brendan’s taxidermy work: Would hunters miss a few brushes’ worth of hair from their boars? Would a naked badger mount ever catch on?
Of course, the hipster element persists here too: an old-school wet shave is considered the pinnacle of…something…so you can spend hundreds of dollars on “silvertip” badger brushesmodern safety razors (or sought-after vintage models), organic and vegan shaving soaps and splashes, you name it.
Yeah, I didn’t do that. As I approach my 40th year, I like cheap and secondhand, and I like things that last. I found an secondhand Gillette safety razor at an antique shop in Rogers for $5, which I opened and scrubbed with hot soapy water and a toothbrush, then found a pure badger shaving brush with a chipped handle and its bristles intact at an antique store in Buffalo for $7 (“That’s luxury right there,” says Bren) — I washed that thoroughly several times with antibacterial soap. Blades were a $1 for ten; shaving soap was $1, I think, and after four shaves, I can’t tell I’ve used it. I’ve picked up a couple of other things, just to try: a tube of cream for a few dollars, a shaving “scuttle” for $2 at a secondhand store in Monticello, drugstore aftershave, that sort of thing. I’ve used one blade thus far for four shaves, and shaving twice a week on average, I shouldn’t need to purchase anything else (blades, cream, or soap) until Christmas, at which point, I’ll buy blades in bulk at a couple cents a piece.
Secondhand shaving scuttle and soap, $3 total
What’s more? These are the best shaves I’ve ever had. Incredibly close and smooth on the cheeks and jaw; the neck has taken more practice, but it’s closer than ever with no more nicks or razorburn that with a cartridge. It takes two to three times as long at this point — one pass it all is takes with a cartridge, because the second and third blades take off the first couple layers of skin.  But I’m getting faster, and when you know you’re saving money and can feel the difference when you do it well, a few more minutes seems worthwhile.
What’s pictured is all you really need: a razor and blades, a brush, a mug, and soap — and really, your palm can sub for the mug. $15 to $20 to get started. Bottom line: If you’re not gonna grow your beard out like my dad, then shave like your granddad — you’ll get more shave for way less money.