I’m a little late in mentioning this, but my close personal friend Andy Spade, the brains behind Jack Spade, the J.Crew Liquor Store, and Partners & Spade, among numerous other entrepreneurial splendors, retained my close personal friend Max Blagg, the poet who is fast becoming the W.H. Auden of fashion models, to write a little book for the Liquor Store titled What a Man Should Know, and hired Hugo Guinness, the dashing artist, to illustrate it. I suspect Andy also whispered in Max’s ear a bit. The result is a splendid little compendium of casual, offhand philosophy—a nice post-mod meld of sartorial and satori. It can be had at the J.Crew Tribeca Men’s Shop at the Liquor Store, 235 West Broadway, New York City, 212-226-5478, www.jcrew.com/tribeca.
We learn that a man should know the branches of his family tree, and how to recite a good limerick, program a remote, fire up a barbecue without starter fluid, drive in a blizzard, talk to children, and catch a fish. Blagg, a recovered Brit, also touches on more recherche material, such as the last line of Joyce’s Ulysses and the history of the blue blazer. It is a bon bon of a book that one can read in the time it takes to have a good nap. In fact, it is so idyllically written that it is probably a perfectly good substitute for a nap.
I happen to know that Mr. Blagg is at work, probably not very hard, on a sequel enumerating many things a woman should know which will also, presumably, appear at the Liquor Store and most likely, eventually, in bookstores. I will add that while some might think that it is presumptuous for a man to tell a woman, in fact women, what they ought to know, if anyone ought to know what a woman ought to know it is probably Blagg. He is in a position to do this, having known many, many women both casually and biblically, and for good fun he has that typically English propensity for putting on a skirt now and then to cheer up the party.
Not only did I find What a Man Should Know amusing, it was also flattering, in that I could check off the vast majority of items as knowledge possessed—though if I were forced to survive on my fishing skills I would probably perish, and I don’t know all those canoe paddling moves Blagg enumerates, so I might avoid more stretches of the upper Niagara than the author. But the best thing about this slim volume is that it made me think of my own list of things that a man should know.
A man should be able to send back a bottle of wine with precision. It’s not whether you like it or not, but whether it’s corked or cooked. Corked means blighted by a sort of mold called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) or “cork.” Cooked means someone left the damn bottle next to the radiator or the sun. How do you do it? Simply tell the waiter or sommelier, “This wine is corked,” or “This wine is bad.” It never hurts to ask them to try it themselves.
The above molecule is one reason the twist-off cap is increasingly popular. A man should also know the good vintage years within his lifetime (or at least 2005, 2000, 1998, 1990) and how to pour a beer.
A man should know not only how to tie a tie at least three different ways, he should be able to tie his own shoes and insert new laces two different ways.
A man should be able to make a good vinaigrette without using mustard.
A man should know the rule differences between amateur and professional sports and such. Like what’s a legal catch in the NCAA vs. in the NFL. Or what’s the difference in goaltending between the NBA and in international play. During World War II many a soldier was shot by “friendly fire” when he was considered a possible Allied-impersonating German, or maybe a “Jap” who’d gone to UCLA and was unable to answer a question like “Who won the world series in 1938.” The assumption was that if he didn’t know the answer that he was an enemy (or possibly a sissy). The correct answer is: The Yankees beat the Chicago Cubs in four straight. Today such knowledge is a little harder because there are so many teams and playoffs, and frankly baseball, like most other professional sports, has become a big bore. So knowing the rules should suffice.
A man doesn’t need to know anything about hockey unless he’s Canadian. I have been dragged to the occasionally hockey game for decades and I still couldn’t tell you what “icing” is. Well, actually I could, but I resent knowing. Why? As Rodney Dangerfield once said, “I went to a prize fight and a hockey game broke out.” That fighting is stupid and silly. I once went to a Rangers Islanders game and almost everyone in Madison Square Garden had their face painted and was wearing the jersey of the Long Island team or the Manhattan team, even the women. And fights kept breaking out in the stands. Between women! And there’s a team called The Mighty Ducks. And now they play hockey in Florida. That’s so wrong!
A man should know when he’s being insulted in a major foreign language, including British. To be called a wanker is bad, although to be called a cunt can be a compliment.
A man should be able to prepare a full turkey dinner without a cookbook. Same for pie crust.
A man should know how to dance, and not just some improvised disco freestyle but also the foxtrot, the waltz, the salsa, the tango, the mambo, the chacha, the twist, the stomp, the mashed potato, the jerk, the cool jerk, the swim, and the frug. If necessary I can do the hustle or the minuet.
A man should know the meaning and etymology of his full name.
A man should be able to use a semicolon and a colon.
A man should know the real rules of pool, not just the bar room rules. A man should have a legal table tennis serve.
A man should be able to take care of houseplants without them dying.
A man should be able to make a tomato sauce from scratch.
A man should be able to make basic chiropractic adjustments and crack a back.
A man should be able to make himself invisible on the street, a technique, according to William S. Burroughs, as simple as seeing the other person first. And how to win a fight in the first five seconds.
A man should know how to make a margarita, a daiquiri, a negroni, and a Manhattan.
A man should know all the Q words in the Scrabble dictionary that don’t require a U, and the correct strategy for winning at Monopoly.
In addition to his sun sign man should know his rising sign and the basic planetary configuration as well as his blood type and the APR of each of his credit cards.
A man should know if he is descended from Ghengis Khan (who had red hair and green eyes) or Niall of the Nine Hostages.
A man should have at least a basic idea of what the apocryphal books say that doesn’t jibe with the New Testament, the difference between the Sunni and the Shia, and between the Ashkazim, the Sephardim, and the Mizrahim.
A man should know the difference between effect and affect, farther and further, inquiry and enquiry.
A man should be able to unhook a bra with one hand and roll a joint blindfolded using a tampax wrapper.
A man should have some idea of what a freemason is.
A man should know who the three tenors are, one way or another (Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carreras, or John Coltrane, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins).
I was didn’t care for the Boy Scouts, but every man should know how to tie a square knot.
A man should know the acupressure revival point.
A man should know how to induce a satisfactory orgasm.
A man should know how to recognize the goddess should she choose to manifest herself in his vicinity.
A man should know how to recognize the presence of a god.
Here’s an excerpt from what the great poet Ezra Pound had to say on the subject:
“What is a god?
A god is an eternal state of mind.
When is a god manifest?
When the states of mind take form.
When does a man become a god?
When he enters one of these states of mind.
By what characteristic may we know the divine forms?
And if the presented forms are unbeautiful?
They are demons.
If they are grotesque.
They may be well-intended genii…
What are the kinds of knowledge?
There are immediate knowledge and hearsay.
Is hearsay of any value?
What is the greatest hearsay.
The greatest hearsay is the tradition of the gods.”
A man should know how to disentangle himself gracefully from useless discussions of religion and politics.
A man should know how to forgive and forget.
A man should know how to get even and take no prisoners.