Sidebar: Media

I hadn’t planned on delving into this particular topic, but the subject came up in conversation last night, and I was frankly shocked at the number of people in our group — all erudite, affluent, and very well-educated — who either derived the overwhelming majority of their news from television, or who never read a newspaper on even a periodic basis. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am well-aware of the fact that print media is dying, newspapers are dying more quickly than everything else, and very few people under the age of 40 (which would include all of last night’s group) ever even touch a print newspaper, unless it’s to discard the copies of USA Today that certain chain hotels inexplicably still leave outside of one’s room each morning.

I say all this because I fervently believe any man who wishes to consider himself a gentleman — and by that I absolutely do not imply anything whatsoever to do with socioeconomic status — needs to be well-read, whether it be the important issues of the day, subjects of personal interest (as you may have surmised by now, cars are one of mine), general happenings in pop culture (though do feel free to skip over anything containing the word “Kardashian” or “Lohan”), or simply topics that happen to intrigue. (While the full story is regrettably only available to subscribers, I recently found myself spending 90 minutes immersed in the New Yorker tale of the implosion of one of America’s most esteemed law firms, Dewey & LeBoeuf. Incidentally, lest you find yourself discussing the subject and don’t wish to embarrass yourself in front of strangers, the latter word is pronounced “le-BUFF.” As is Shia LaBoeuf’s last name, for that matter.) When I was 18 and headed off to my freshman year in college, my father — in one of several traditions passed down from father to sons, a process that originated with my grandfather — gave me a gift of a four-year subscription to my choice of two newspapers: The Wall Street Journal or USA Today. (If you’re wondering whether this was in some way a test: it most certainly was.) I picked the former, although I later switched to reading The New York Times daily — for many years after college, and on my own dime, mind you — after becoming disenchanted with the Journal’s unapologetically right-wing op/ed section. I still read The Times today, but like most people my age and younger, I read it online, generally via their nicely put together iPad app.

Anyway, all of this is a long-winded way of saying: you need to read shit. Good shit. As much as reasonably possible, taking into account the demands of work, social lives, family lives, and everything else. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  1. A daily newspaper. I read two: the aforementioned New York Times and The Guardian, the British newspaper. As of late The Guardian has garnered ample attention thanks to a certain Edward Snowden, a man whom I hope needs no further explication. I’ve been reading The Guardian since 2001, a year I happened to spend predominantly in the UK. (I returned to the States — through Boston Logan, no less — on September 10, 2001, in case you were curious.) Unlike the American media, British newspapers are unabashedly biased, and at the time The Guardian was the most lefty of the bunch. It became regular reading, even after my return to the States, for two reasons: unlike the American media, it was vastly more skeptical of the rationale for invading Iraq from day one — and in part because of what I read in The Guardian, along with other British media such as The Independent and even the BBC, I was opposed to the invasion from the beginning. The second reason was somewhat of a surprise: until I lived in London and read its media regularly, I honestly had no clue most of the rest of Western society is predominantly pro-Palestinian, which was, and is, unheard of in American media. Anyway, the point is that you should obtain your news on global affairs from at least one news outlet outside of the U.S.
  2. A proper men’s magazine. The two obvious choices here are GQ and Esquire, both of which I read (although these days they’re distressingly similar). If you know where to look, you can often find annual subscriptions to each on sale for something ridiculous like $6. Both have Web sites too, of course, and you can access at least some of their content there, but it’s just not the same thing. (To me, at least.) GQ has the advantage of offering print subscribers free access to their iPad app, as do a number of Condé Nast publications (I think). I’ll also throw in a positive word about Details, to which I also subscribe. It’s a much quicker read and nothing on the literary level of the aforementioned two magazines, but it’s witty and certainly informative.
  3. The New Yorker. Further explanation shouldn’t be required.
  4. A news weekly. Newsweek is dead (at least in print) and Time may as well be, but The Economist is certainly a worthy read, and you’ll find tons of subject matter you’d otherwise never encounter in American media. My mother is an ardent reader of The Week, even given its right-of-center slant (and she’s far enough left as to border on communism), if only to get an actually fair and balanced viewpoint to counter the “liberal media.” (And please don’t try to argue, even for a nanosecond, that Fox News is “fair and balanced.” Absolutely no one buys that shit.)

There are more I’d recommend, but let’s just start with these, shall we?

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Wheels: Ford Bronco (1966-1977)

I just read an article in the new issue of Automobile — sadly, not available yet on their Web site — about one of the vehicles I was planning to suggest as an eternally cool ride, so I took it as providence and decided to go ahead and start on the topic. Roughly speaking, I’m going to divvy up the Wheels section of this blog into three parts: New Cars, Late-Model Used Cars, and Classic Cars.

First, a word on the latter. By “classic” I don’t mean a ’66 GTO or a ’57 Ferrari 250 GT California — not that those cars aren’t awesome beyond words, but that awesomeness comes at a rather dear price (particularly the Ferrari – good luck finding one of those for under seven figures). I’m talking about vehicles just slightly under the radar, ones that are (for lack of a better word) cool but not priced in the stratosphere, and also not in the realm of the exotic (which is important when it comes time to service the thing)

And speaking of which … that’s another huge advantage of vintage cars: their construction is simple enough that just about any mechanic can work on them. They don’t have elaborate electronics (or, really, any electronics) or direct-injection engines or turbochargers or power windows/locks/sunroof or any of the things that quickly eat up the budgets of owners of newer cars. Hell, you can do most of the work yourself with only a rudimentary knowledge of automobile construction (I have a friend right now who’s fixing up a ’60s-era Chevy pickup, and he’s never previously worked on a car his entire life).

Which brings us to the original Ford Bronco. No, not the one O.J. drove; that was the second-gen model. The first Bronco was introduced in 1966 and produced until 1977, although models from the early ’70s are arguably the best. (The earlier models still had some kinks to work out; the later ones were hobbled power-wise by emissions controls.) I think the first time this vehicle caught my eye was nearly 20 years ago when I saw “Speed” for the first time; Keanu drives a Bronco as his personal vehicle in the first part of the movie. The Bronco wasn’t the first SUV, but it was arguably the first true precursor to the SUV as we know it today — except minus the bloat, the passenger seatbacks with TV screens for keeping Madison and Jaxon entertained, and even a second set of doors. (Aside from the iconic Jeep Wrangler, there are no new two-door SUVs sold today, at least not in the States.)

So: why the Bronco? Well, there is no “why” per se, except that it’s totally bad-ass. Okay, there’s also the fact that it was built on a truck chassis and can consequently handle just about anything you throw at it, including off-roading, and still last seemingly forever without needing to change any major parts. There were also enough of them made that finding one for sale shouldn’t be a major challenge. Really, the only question is whether you want a pristine, fully restored version or a fixer-upper. You’re probably looking at a price tag of at least $15K for the former, and probably more like $25K. (OTOH this is a vehicle that won’t depreciate in value, assuming you take care of it.)

You will no doubt notice after looking at Bronco ads that a number of them are roadsters. Know going in that nearly all of them are after-market chop jobs. Not that that’s bad per se: the Bronco was originally designed for use as a roadster, although the factory-made versions were discontinued in 1968. (NB: true, original roadsters are by far the rarest Broncos of them all. Only 5000 were produced, out of a total of 225,000 first-gen vehicles. As one might expect, they’re priced accordingly.) Buyers routinely sawed the tops off the backs of their Broncos because a) it’s easy to do without damaging any major functional part of the car, and b) Jeep had already popularized the look with its CJ, the early version of today’s Wrangler.

Some last thoughts:

  • Pre-1973 Broncos were available only with a manual transmission. Even worse, only a steering column-mounted manual transmission was available. The engines in many of the earliest Broncos were also anemic at best. Consequently, many of these models have been retrofitted with automatics and higher-power engines. While I don’t usually endorse cars with such fittings, the Bronco is an exception since its engine bay is more than large enough to fit a big-block V-8 — as was standard on many ’70s models — and not difficult to retrofit with a more modern transmission.
  • Any car built before 1990 or so is susceptible to rust, which is one of multiple reasons why it is imperative that you have any vintage Bronco you’re considering buying inspected by a good mechanic. Obviously, Broncos that have spent any substantive amount of time in a snowy climate are the most susceptible to it, and trust me that rust is one of those things that can be nearly impossible (or actually impossible) to fix.
  • Many, many Broncos have been retrofitted with aftermarket equipment (aside from the aforementioned engines/transmissions). This is good in that some of this equipment is really cool, but bad because it likely means the truck’s been exposed to some seriously harsh driving conditions (particularly any improvements designed for Baja racing). Again, this is why you need a comprehensive mechanic’s report before buying one. (That said, first-gen Broncos have one of the most active parts aftermarkets of any car ever sold. Even if a Bronco’s shell has been literally destroyed by rust, you can still buy a replacement one.)
  • Arguably the best engine sold as original equipment with the Bronco was its 302-cubic-inch V-8. I’m not sure what year it was introduced, but it’s standard in most produced between ’72 and ’74 at the very least. This particular engine is both durable and still easily driveable in modern conditions, even with the rudimentary three-speed automatic transmission it was sold with at the time.

Basics: What NOT to do

I’ve spent several weeks contemplating where to start here, given the sheer breadth of subject matter I need to address. Instead, I’m gonna go with things you should absolutely not, under any circumstances, be doing, buying, wearing, acquiring, discussing or even thinking about.

  1. Hipsterism (in all its facets). This blog is ABSOLUTELY NOT a guide on “how to be a hipster.” People hate hipsters for a whole series of goddamn good reasons: they’re twee, overly precious, overly proud of themselves, often funded by overindulgent parents (hence the term “trustafarian”), prone to living / working / socializing only in areas that have been anointed “hip” by the Hipster Powers That Be, and — most of all — hipsters are, in reality, exactly what they profess NOT to be: conformist slaves to trends and approval from fellow hipster friends. Now yes, there is a tiny tiny tiny fragment of the global populace that can get away with hipsterism — Zooey Deschanel, I’m looking at you — but, to be completely blunt, this guide is for leaders, not followers, and hipsters by definition follow the crowd.
  2. What is or isn’t “in” this season. I do not give a flying fuck if the likes of Miuccia Prada or Tom Ford has decided that pink camo pants are the thing in menswear for a given season. What I wear, and what I suggest you wear, works regardless of season. (NB: I mean “season” in the fashion sense, not the actual sense. Clearly you should not be wearing wool topcoats in July.)
  3. Quirkiness. See “hipsterism” above. If you ride a one-speed bicycle around town because of the “statement” it makes about your self-identity, quit reading now and don’t return until you’ve ditched the pussy wheels and come back with a form of transport that indicates you are in possession of a pair of testicles.
  4. Wearing brand names for the sake of wearing brand names. Now yes, if you read my intro you presumably noticed that I dropped a number of brand names in it. That’s not what I’m talking about here. All of the brand names I’ve mentioned thus far are notable for the same thing: no one will know what brand name you happen to be wearing unless they a) manage to see the inside of your collar, waist, or coat; or b) have a good enough sartorial eye to recognize the likes of a Brioni suit when they see it. (You should be easily able to spot one by the time I’m done with you, incidentally.) Here’s the brutal truth about brands: most of them are total bullshit!! That Hugo Boss suit your boss wears? Made in a Romanian factory with glue solvents, not stitching. Those $400 Oliver Peoples eyeglasses your “quirky” BFF is so proud of? Along with about 90% of the world’s “designer” eyewear, they’re made by Luxottica, an Italian company that has gotten very, very rich from selling people very, very, VERY overpriced eyewear under the guise of it being an “affordable luxury.” (On the flip side, buying Luxottica stock is probably a very good idea, given their dominance of the market.) I could go on and on here, but suffice it to say I’m going to aim you in the direction of authenticity in everything you acquire. (Btw if you really need some glasses, I strongly recommend Warby Parker, a company you may already know. $95 for high-quality frames and lenses is hard to beat. More on other awesome companies that disintermediate the middle man later.)
  5. Buy anything truly expensive — by this I mean real estate and cars — without a comprehensive knowledge of what it will cost to maintain, upgrade, refurbish, or renovate the thing, and also how it will appreciate in value (or, at the very least, depreciate mildly). For example’s sake — and this is a topic I will delve much more deeply into later — let’s say you want to buy a used Porsche 911. (NB: I will find you and beat you if you pronounce the word “Porsche” as one syllable. It is ALWAYS pronounced “POUR-sha.”) And let’s say you find a fucking cream puff 2002 model for sale, for far less than an older 1997 model with comparable mileage, and decide to buy it. BZZZZT, THANKS FOR PLAYING, BUT YOU HAVE JUST EPIC-FAILED! Had you done your homework, you would know that Porsche aficionados detest the 996 series (covering the 1998-2004 model years) for two reasons: the front end is nearly identical to the first-generation Boxster’s (and on a 911 that just won’t do), and the 996 was the first 911 in 45 years to be equipped with a water-cooled engine instead of the classic air-cooled one. (NB: If you wish to fancy yourself a Porsche aficionado, know that they always refer to 911s by the company’s internal nomenclature. The current 2014 911 is known in Porsche circles as the 991. The last of the air-cooled models — which remains one of the most coveted modern Porsches — is called the 993.)
  6. Bore anyone with any argument as to why a particular phone / computer / tablet is superior to others. The Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft wars are BEYOND FUCKING TIRED. Preferring an iPhone over an Android phone is one thing; wrapping your self-identity around this fact, and getting into any sort of argument regarding its superiority, is another. To quote a bitchy friend of mine: “Girls! Girls! You’re both pretty!” (To quote an even bitchier one: “Girls! Girls! You’re both cunts!”)

Intro: A taste of things to come

Ever walk down the street and spot some dude with looks to kill? I don’t mean physical looks (though that helps). I mean his look. Perfect outfit. Perfect accessories. Gorgeous shoes. Looks like he has personal shoppers at Barneys and Bergdorf’s on speed dial. Would you believe me if I told you, quite simply, I am that guy? No bullshit. I might be wearing a MTM — you’ll learn that acronym soon, my friend — Brioni suit, tailored to perfection and available to the (very wealthy) hoi polloi for around eight grand, coupled with a Thomas Pink shirt, Charvet tie, Ferragamo shoes, and all the proper accessories (vintage Omega watch, tie clip, handkerchief, belt, proper billfold, and a briefcase with such ridiculously perfect milk chocolate-brown leather you’d swear I stole it from Hermès? (NB: The correct pronunciation of that last one is “air-MEZ.”) I could be walking out of a five-star hotel en route to the airport, where my first-class seat – international first-class, that is, an entirely different animal than domestic first – awaits … when I’m finished drinking my 21-year-old single-malt Scotch and enjoying some pre-flight servuga caviar. Or you might see me in a flash as I zoom by you on the freeway in my V12 bi-turbo AMG Daimler (you’ll soon learn that one, too), blissfully unworried about being pulled over by the fuzz since I’m jamming their entire radar- and laser-gun spectrum.

But guess what? That Brioni suit cost me three hundred bucks. The Charvet tie may retail for $250, but I paid $22. Those Ferragamos sell for $895; yours truly acquired them at a 92% discount. I stayed at the five-star hotel — rack rate of $495 a night — for $70. The international flight was free. And the Benz? Acquired for less than you’d pay for a new Camry.

No, I didn’t rob, trick, connive, or otherwise illegally or immorally finagle my way into any of the aforementioned deals. I’ve merely mastered the art I’m about to begin imparting to you: living a five-star life on even the strictest of budgets. I don’t have a trust fund or a six-figure salary paying my way; in fact, I’m in grad school in a large American city, as it so happens, and subsisting largely on scholarships and student loans. You’d never guess it from my attire, the car I drive, or even my apartment — beautifully appointed with gleaming hardwoods, Caesarstone countertops, and a Viking range — but, then, you don’t know the full story about how long it took me to find that awesome apartment, or how I convinced my landlord to give me a two-year lease at a 50% discount.

You’ll be hearing that story, and many others, soon enough. I’m not giving away all of my secrets — some are simply too precious and finite to share — but it’s time for me to reveal most of the tricks up my (two-ply Egyptian cotton) sleeves.