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William Leiby
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Patina

Musings6 min read

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organization of the entire tapestry.

Richard Feynman


Antiquing

One of my favorite things to do with the people I'm closest with is visit antique shops.

There are a bunch of places scattered around Chicago, and it's always a joy to stop in and see what the curators have in stock.

Each location is unique in its clientele, its layout, and most notably its goods.

Ranging anywhere from a few cents to things like old Rolling Stone magazines to tens of thousands of dollars for ornate, bespoke interior furnishings, each item comes cloaked with a certain history, meaning, and utility.

There are a few select pieces one may stumble across that could flood a potential buyer with an almost endless stream of value. Those items, few and far as they are to come by, have what I call patina. While each ornament may not possess this physical standard in the most exact sense, I'll give an example to illustrate my point a bit further.

Cycles, 1968

I have a Frank Sinatra album hanging on the wall in my apartment. It was pressed in the late sixties and still has that dusty, "grandparent's basement" smell to it. For context, the frame it resides in cost me more than the vinyl itself.

I bought it not so much as a means to signal my admiration for the artist, but rather for one very particular reason; My Way of Life.

My Way of Life is bar none my favorite song by Sinatra, and the reason I have such a deep adoration for it is because it nearly didn't make its way onto the album.

It's on the second side (and the second to last song) of the entire record. The overtaken track - Wait by the Fire - didn't make the final cut, and that's where it all starts. During the 3 hour recording session, it's said that the Chairman's threshold for quality might have entered into a realm well past perfectionism, and one of the two tracks had to forfeit its position on the album. As the story goes, the orphaned track has yet to be heard by any soul other than Don Costa, Bill Miller, and Frank himself.

That vinyl pays me an endless stream of intangible dividends each and every time I walk past it. Not in any financial sense, but because of the story that's tethered to it.

When there's an iceberg of a narrative attached to something worth the price of an Uber ride, I sometimes find myself phasing into the midst of an acquisition.

Beyond the Material

I've come to find that material goods aren't the only thing that have, and develop, an underlying "patina" - careers, information, people, and even activities themselves can take on such characteristics as well.

Activities

Let's start with running. Besides reading, I have yet to find an equivalent activity where I'm able to reap such asymmetric upside at such a profoundly cheap outlay.

For less than an hour of one's time, a marginal amount of depreciation paid towards some shoes and gym apparel, and the occasional soreness that may spawn after the fact, the mental palate cleanse that's simply a byproduct of the activity itself has yet to be reproducible in any other domain for me. It's a universal truth that comfort stomps out the fire that an adversary provided the kindling for, and this becomes increasingly apparent to me each and every time I think I can skip out on my daily jaunt.

Reading's also worth harping on, too. In most cases, where the immediate payment falls within the realm of a latte and the time put towards the text itself, one grants themselves access to walking with the eminent dead. If not just for a moment, this will forever remain a priceless opportunity to those who choose to capitalize on it.

Beyond that, the ability to explore wonderful subjects all the way from the biographies of high-caliber business executives to timeless philosophical writings remains a portion of my daily budget that I do my best to allocate time for. With history jumping close to the top of the list as one of my favorites, I've found that turning over the rocks of the past does a few things for me. In being able to see exactly what paths key figures in certain eras charted, the foggy tint in my metaphorical lenses turns to that of a much clearer hue.

People

I'm grateful to have a select few of these folks in my immediate circle. To say there's just one commonality between all of them would be far too simplistic, while to also give the counterpoint would be nothing short of erroneous. Suffice to say that if the fringes of their personas were to be written off in any way, then I would but singe the very silk unto which their operating systems are woven into.

As with any sort of outlier, there isn't a single variable (or even a handful of them) that dictate their outcomes. Instead, it's many things stacked up next to one another - each in concert with another that, in turn, produces a result well beyond what any semblance of ordinary looks like.

Uncle Warren promptly tells one to "write your obituary and then try to figure out how to live up to it". What a gift to have an example you can walk alongside, even just for a moment, on the way there! Moreover, when virtue makes its way into their deck of cards simply as an operating standard, mimesis tends to kick in and theory quickly turns into application.

Career

As the unfolding performance of one's true potential, career sits at the intersection of all these things. It's where the underlying complexion of one's "patina" truly shines through.

Charlie Rose aptly says, "The way things get done in the world is through focus and personal connection." Just as a stem provides support to a blossoming plant, so too are the elements that preface one's economic activities. Without any underlying substance (namely the expansive wings of intellect and correspondence), "patina" is but a distant desire for someone who has taken solace in fool's gold.

In Processing

On the surface, "patina" can come across as rather phantom in nature, but there's rationale to it on the back-end. Picking something with, or the high probability of developing, "patina" allows one to make a single decision that eliminates a thousand future ones. To have such a powerful arbitrage at one's disposal (and at all times for that matter) is rare to come by.

The more likely something (or someone) is to develop an underlying "patina", the more I wish to participate in such engagements. Surrounding oneself in the presence of these arbiters tends to have an exponential curve attached to it, where the return profile (as intrinsic as it might be) sits in plain sight to those who bother to look in the first place.

When "patina" is viewed as a feature, and not a bug, one is then able to turn a distorted perspective of the world into a vivid landscape of imagery in a rather prudent manner.

If such a picture is worth a thousand words, then you can't help but wonder what the camera that took the damn thing might be worth too.

© 2023 by William Leiby - All Rights Reserved