The Old's Cool Podcast
"Of Elephants and Hierophants."
We're going to shake things up a bit over here, starting with the name of our newsletter, which has gone through many incarnations: The Upshot, MO' Better, and O' News to name a few.
It's now going to be called Wiseacreage. As you're probably aware, we are in the process of founding the Old's Cool Academy, which you can read all about here, and our nickname is going to be the Wiseacres. Our mascot will be "Smart Aleck." You can imagine.
Over the past few years we've written monographs, handbooks, and also published a collection of essays, Oedipus Wrecks, to some acclaim. We've realized that we have a lot of wonderful minds all around us, full of wisdom and experience, so we've teamed up with Mariner Gallery to bring some of this genius to light in a different and new for us medium and format.
Introducing The Official "Old's Cool" podcast, a weekly half-hour show-and-tell where we'll tackle some of the most important topics of the past, and the gnarly and divisive and fascinating present, and come to some sort of consensus on the right lessons that need to be learned and the best way forward for us all to not only survive, but to thrill and thrive.
We'll also explore traditional (and non-traditional) lifestyles and crafts, history, art, music, and books. We'll speak with the many (and mostly local) artists, disrupters, iconoclasts and recalcitrants and kings who are fighting the good fight in many arenas and levels deep, with as much finesse and value-add as we can.
While looking classy, sounding wicked smart, and having a cool hoot the whole time of course.
Our inaugural broadcast features one of our West Point classmates, Mike Lerario, who fills in the backstory to the slogan "Patton Was Right," which was about us fighting the wrong enemy during WWII. And we discuss why the General hit the nail on the head back then, and is now vindicated by the way the world has been hammered into submissiveness over our folly ever since.
The Third and Elm Press, owned and operated by my friend Ilse Nesbitt, had an “Open” sign hanging in the window when I walked by later that afternoon to go to Battery Park to watch the sunset, so I popped in. The shop is so old school and intact you’d think you stepped over the threshold back into 1960. The motto is a quote from Goethe:
“Whoever works joyfully and enjoys what has been done is fortunate.”
She was framing a wood block print and I asked her if her ears were ringing the other day. I was talking about her because an America woman, Anne, I met at a party had been born in Sapporo. I asked her why? Most Americans born after the war in Japan were either born in Tokyo or Yokohama, since that’s where the military and the diplomats lived. Her father was a businessman in Sapporo.
Ilse was German, and lived in The Land of the Rising Sun during the war because her father was a chemist working for a company in Minami, about halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama. She has told me so many fascinating stories about living in there during the war, some of which I’ve recounted in other monographs. She was telling me today that when the American guards outside of town would see the Japanese children coming up to them to ask for chocolate or cigarettes, they would say “hana moshi” which means “nose housecleaning” since they always had runny noses. The kids would run away.
I was leaning against “a great clattering rig of iron,” the 1897 Golding Platen Press that dominates her studio, and it’s a perfect example of the industrial revolution’s optimism and muscularity. I couldn’t help but notice it. She went into a story about Gutenberg and his Bible, and how it was not only revolutionary in concept, it’s absolutely perfect in execution. She said that he created a stunning masterpiece on this very first try, and no one has ever printed anything better.
She and her family were eventually shipped back by the Americans and she remembered her mother telling her that when she got to Germany she’d at least be able to read the street and shop signs. Japanese signs are sometimes written vertically, sometimes horizontally, sometimes read right to left, other times left to right, so she’d always been confused. At least when she got back home she wouldn’t have that problem her mother assured her.
Ilse also mentioned that her father could read and write Japanese fluently, since he was an engineer after all, and had learned it in school as a teenager. But when he started working in the factory, he couldn’t really speak it since he never had had any practice, so he communicated with his colleagues using a notebook and pen. He would write everything out, and they would write their answers back to him like he was deaf and mute.
The ship sailed into Bremerhaven late one night, and then they took a train to a small town outside of Frankfurt where the refugee camp was located. The compound was surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and the front gate was flanked by two guard towers. The American sentries had machine guns. The entrance had a barbed wire barrier about 20 feet in front of it with a sign on it that said:
IF YOU CROSS THIS LINE YOU WILL BE SHOT.
Welcome home! Luckily she did cross the line and luckily she wasn’t shot.
Just then her cat came slowly down the stairs and scuffled around my feet. I forgot the name, but Ilse said she was 21 years old. The old feline threw up nonchalantly at my feet, and then sat down and looked at me. Ilse apologized and I told her not to worry. I grabbed a paper towel and bent down to pick it up. Ilse thanked me again and said she couldn't bend down because she didn't have any legs. As matter-of-fact as that.
I said "What? You don't have any legs?" She said she had lost them in a tram accident in some city in Germany after she had started university, or right around that time. I finished picking up the puke and threw the paper towel in the trash.
On my way home I was thinking that I'd probably known Ilse for almost three years, and she had never mentioned this before. Not a peep. I've met many, many people who will tell you that they're lactose intolerant or allergic to peanut butter, or are vegans or vegetarians or alcoholic or suffer from diverticulitis or some fashionable psychological condition within five minutes of meeting them. And then use whatever one or some of these in some weird intersectionality to virtue signal justification for their own shortcomings, bad behavior, failures, as well as the same for their spouses, children, oily same-party politicians, or anyone else who subscribes or will listen, forever. Ad nauseum.
I don't know Ilse that well, but I can imagine she not only never used the fact that she was a double amputee as an excuse for anything, ever. In fact I'm willing to bet she never even thought of doing so because she didn't think of herself as in any way crippled or entitled to any kind of special treatment. I'm sure the idea would be anathema to her.
The gas-lit sconces flanking the front door of the John Stevens house popped on and flickered as I headed home, and I just caught the sensational sunset over the Newport Bridge, like an iron salamander chasing the amazing day away from me.
As promised, something just as abstract and practical as last week: we spoke with local artist Rupert Nesbit about modern art, and how imagination and feelings/ intent unfortunately trumps skill and craft and just about everything else these days – "Modern art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text."
Where we discuss the importance of style and good design and the honed, discerning artistic eye in our everyday lives. Or we try to – the digressions and sidebar salads elbow their way in. Jibes and asides take up most of the rest of the civilized part of the discussion. Socratic irony fills in the remaining blanks.