Superga 2750 Cotu Classics/Everyday Wear

I love these shoesIMG_20140716_113708329. I find  them to be comfortable and reasonably priced. I wear them almost everyday. They make me feel like centrally planned economies might have worked if the clothes had been made by Italians.


Grenson “Stanley” Long Wing Brogues/Investment Piece

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These shoes were given to me for Christmas by my father. I would never be able to afford them myself, though because he is my father, I suppose I actually could, even if it rarely feels like that. They cost $400.00. They only make this shoe in different colors now though, and I don’t think any of them are as versatile. You can get a similar shoe in the same color from their premium line, but those shoes cost $740.00. It’s hard for me to imagine that the premium line is worth the extra $340.00. I think the only real difference is that the cheaper versions are assembled in foreign countries, while the top-shelf shoes are made entirely in Northampton, the traditional home of English shoe-making. Many shoes from Northampton, incidentally, cost two or three times as much as the premium Grensons. I’d imagine that the construction is marginally better on the more expensive shoes– that the stitching is a bit tighter and a bit more even, and that there are a few more layers of polish on the leather. I’d guess, though, that even a professional in the luxury shoe industry would have to inspect the shoes with some care to notice a qualitative difference.

When I flew home after Christmas three years ago I had these shoes on my feet and a $300.00 sweater, given to me by my mother, on my back. I had $200.00 in my bank account. I wanted more.


Archival Clothing Rucksack and Flap Musette/Workwear

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I have a backpack and a flap musette from this company. A musette is either a bag used to pass meals to cyclists during races or, more generally, a “type of haversack also known as a butt bag.” I keep cigarettes, sunglasses, and a book in mine. I use the backpack when I need to take more things with me. It is supposed to be made to last forever but has started to fray at the corners, which I take to be evidence of my own ruggedness. I left the musette at a bar in Portland once. The bartenders laughed a bit too hard when I went back to get it and described it like this: “It’s gray. About so big. It’s basically a purse.”


Randolph Engineering Aviators/Military-Inspired

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I lent these to my friend Kittler once. He looked better in them than me. I told him he should buy a pair. He said he felt uncomfortable wearing them because his father had been a fighter pilot.

Randolph Engineering used to have a contract to manufacturer eyewear for the military. Now they have a collaboration with Michael Bastian. Mine cost about $200.00. I paid more because I wanted polarized lenses. I need to get the temples adjusted.


Kamakura Shirts Blue OCBD/Americana

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I read about these shirts on Put This On and wanted one, though I wasn’t able to make it to the Kamakura store in New York until recently. It is amazing. You should really go. There are rows of neatly folded shirts in bright colors and many sizes. There is little else.  Impeccably dressed young Japanese men wait with a tape measure, and a burning enthusiasm for Americana. It is like a neo-con’s wet dream– servile Asians with a deference to all things old and white. I also like luxury though, especially when it comes for $80.00 a shirt. Plus, I decided long ago that it was dishonest not to dress like the Ivy League parasite I am.

The shirts are cut very slim. Maybe even a little too slim. I always take mine off and change into a t-shirt when I get home.  I never want to go outside in anything else.


Nutcase Helmet/Safety

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I only wear this when I’ve been drinking. I should probably wear it more.


An apple a day….

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I think that as a fashion accessory capable of demonstrating my oral fixation the apple is second only to the cigarette. I do not think i can eat 30 apples a day.


In which I buy new speakers, part 1.

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Audioengine A5+

I woke up late this morning, which has been a recent phenomenon in my life after many years of rising early even after long travel or nights out and as soon as I woke up started listening to NPR and cleaning the mess from a dinner I’d cooked for my friend Cantona two nights before. I’d given up on a nearly lifelong ritual of listening to NPR while performing household tasks in favor of cheap television over the course of my time in Berlin. Strangely, the NPR service was horribly glitchy for years and still cuts out or stalls frequently, whereas many of the legal and illegal purveyors of streaming video are limited only by available bandwidth. And this difficulty in accessing NPR was more than just annoying, it was alienating; the technical glitches seemed indicative of some more general trouble I was having with the experience of being foreign to the place where I lived, but also, increasingly, to the place where I was from; I learned recently that the State Department limits postings to three years because after that time people almost inevitably begin to sympathize more with the country in which they live than with America. And I’ve been nearly five years in Germany altogether, and have spent most of my adult life studying its literature and culture. Add to this the fact that the six-hour time difference between Berlin and the East Coast means that, in the morning, you’re always choosing between hearing the somewhat bizarre programming that runs on NPR at 2:00AM or hearing, quite literally, yesterday’s news, and the whole experience started to seem bitter and melancholic.

At some point, though, I decided to reject this particular incarnation of my “homelooseness,” to steal a term coined by James Wood in a great essay in the London Review of Books this past February. The NPR player has improved over the years, and the steady diet of bad television was providing my super-ego with far too easy a source of reproach. The one advantage of all of the bad television, though, was that I rarely gave a shit if I couldn’t hear a few lines of dialogue because my computer speakers weren’t loud enough to compete with the sink or the washing machine. But somehow with NPR these constant interruptions came to fester and reinforced my conviction that I would likely also get a lot more out of the music I listen to with a proper set of speakers. And well, I had disposable income, and so I disposed of it, this time through the purchase of a pair of Audioengine A5+ Premium Powered Speakers. I hadn’t wanted, initially, to spend so much goddamned money on a pair of speakers. My needs, I figured, were simple: it had to be loud enough to hear dialogue over the washing machine, and simple enough for me to take with me wherever I might go. I wanted something decent, certainly, but also figured that any set of speakers more powerful than my laptop would constitute such an immediate improvement to the quality of my listening experience that there was little reason to spend more than a hundred or so.

I turned, as I always do when I’m contemplating some electronic purchase, to The Wirecutter. It’s a great site, if you don’t know it. The whole conceit is that they recommend a single product in a variety of categories as the best purchase for most consumers, and the recommendations are based both on exhaustive analysis of the existing review for a category of products and on independent testing. This appeals deeply to some part of the ethics and aesthetics of consumerism with which I was raised; responsible consumers, I was taught, are informed and make wise decisions after careful deliberation. It’s hard to see any real ethical virtue in consuming this way rather than more spontaneously– in either case the chances that your purchase will depend on the exploitation of any number of workers and will contribute unnecessarily to the degradation of an already fragile environment are basically 100%, so thinking that my obsessive research regarding any purchase that costs more than $50.00 somehow exculpates me from the guilt of modern consumerism is kind of like thinking that it’s better to hit your wife if you use a proper 1-2 combination. But whatever. I want shit sometimes. I’m a terrible person. So is everyone else. A particularly nasty bit of modern marketing will remind you of this if you somehow forgot: “Hier bin ich Mensch hier kauf ich ein,” runs the slogan of the German drugstore DM. Loosely translated: “Here I am human, here I go shopping.” Many Germans recognize the ad, though, as a play on the most famous line in Goethe’s Faust: “Hier bin ich Mensch, hier darf ich’s sein.” Again, roughly: “here I am human, here I am allowed to be it.” So we used to have Faust declaring his humanity. Now we buy toilet paper and laundry detergent. Same same.

Anyway, I wanted some speakers, so I turned to the Wirecutter’s article on computer speakers. First, let me say this: I consider myself a connoisseur of snobs, which is something you get to be when you’re as pretentious as me. And, in my personal estimation, audio- and oenophiles are in constant competition for the title of the very worst kind of snob. So I was a bit annoyed, initially, that the reviewer The Wirecutter had chosen to recommend computer speakers, Brent Butterworth, is clearly a hardcore audiophile. Here’s how he describes himself:

As Stereos Expert for About.com and an editor and writer for numerous audio-focused magazines and websites including Sound & Vision and Home Theater, I’ve been testing speakers for more than 20 years.

By my reckoning, I’ve conducted more blind speaker tests than any other journalist in the U.S., including a recent evaluation of outdoor speakers for the Wirecutter. I even built a custom modular audio switcher just for the purpose of blind testing. And I’ve also done lab measurements of hundreds of speakers; here’s an easy-to-understand primer (PDF) I wrote on that topic. In fact, I did lab measurements of the speakers tested here that you can see on the About.com Stereos page.

 

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M-Audio AV-40s

I mean, why would you lab test speakers? I just need to know how they sound, which presumably you can tell me by using your ears. But I’d actually bought a set of computer speakers on this guy’s recommendation about a year before, when I made the ill-advised decision to try living in the States again for a while. And they were awesome. Unfortunately those speakers are in the States and I don’t know when I’ll be able to collect them. Also, they have been discontinued, so I figured I’d just buy whatever he recommended and would be similarly pleased. But here’s the thing: his current pick, the M-Audio Studiophile AV 40, may well sound amazing, but they’re ugly as sin. I mean, I feel like owning a set of those things would give me acne. Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that they’d explode if you tried to play anything other than death metal, Grand Theft Auto, or porn through them.

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Audioengine A2+

Still, I found it hard to give up on the idea of buying those speakers, because, like I said, that whole ethic of consumerism thing. They fulfill their designated function very well and at a reasonable price! They’re a smart purchase! And what? You pay more just for a pretty case? So superficial. Well, I am, it turns out, very superficial, because I just couldn’t reconcile myself to the idea of owning speakers that look like they should be sitting in someone’s mom’s basement, right between the samurai sword and the sex doll. Butterworth’s step-up pick, on the other hand, the Audioengine A2+ Powered Speakers, look like the kind of speakers that play Al Green while the model/graphic designer you met at the gallery drinks a post-coital prosecco. And generally these speakers are beloved. But some people had their complaints. Butterworth, again:

I agreed that the A2+ had the clearest, flattest midrange and treble response. Voices and most instruments sounded extremely natural, and overall the A2+ performs like a real high-end stereo speaker. But then there’s the bass. It certainly had more than I expected from 2.75-inch woofers, but still, most of my deep-bass test tracks overwhelmed it, even when I was sitting just 3 feet away with the volume turned down a bit. I also found that the other speakers easily played 3 to 6 decibels louder; at 6 feet, the A2+ simply doesn’t produce enough volume.

Given that my initial standards were, “I should be able to listen to NPR while I wash the dishes,” and “it should sound better than the speakers on my MacBook,” you’d think this wouldn’t have worried me particularly, but of course it did, and so I spent the majority of my leisure time for something like a week reading reviews of different stereo systems, and the more I read about different speakers, the more I came to hate audiophiles. The first reason I came to hate them was because the more I read the more anxious I got about my possible dissatisfaction with the luxury good I was intent on purchasing. Take this line from a review of the PSB Alpha PS1 in Sound and Vision: “Aside from the predictable bass rolloff—inevitable in a speaker of this size—the Alpha PS1 offered a well-proportioned balance of frequencies with more top-end air than you’d expect and generous (but not excessive) detail in the presence region.” I didn’t know that I was supposed to expect top-end air at all! Which leads me to believe that I’ve been setting the top-end-air bar far too low all of these years, and that I’d likely be enjoying my life a whole lot more if I had higher expectations in that department. Detail in the presence region, on the other hand, is something that I’m aware of missing on a regular basis, but I don’t think that any pair of speakers is likely to resolve that problem.

At any rate, I nearly abandoned the project altogether a couple times, which is basically how I spent the last three years not buying a bike. But then the morning NPR routine being basically impossible without some kind of speakers convinced me that I should pull the trigger, as the phrase goes. Plus, I had money I hadn’t wasted yet, and that always makes me anxious. So I ended up buying the Audioengine A5+, which, though neither as small nor as sexy as the model below them, were promised to be loud and very, very satisfying. And so I managed to more or less drain my bank account to stem my anxiety about bass rolloff, which is a phrase I almost understand.

Next Time, on the Not-So-Young and the Anxious: Unboxing, Adorno, etc.