Monday, December 27, 2010

A Salvaged Christmas Story

As much as I love to host a good dinner party, my preference would not be Christmas dinner. It's a long day, and a hard tour of duty in my small kitchen and house. First of all, you are jolted out of bed at some ungodly hour when you have a youngster around. My 72-pound darling jumped on top of my up-too-late and deeply sleeping body, raring to rip through all the packages under the tree. I barely get through that first cup of coffee before it's time to start receiving the guests, serving the brunch, then the snacks, making drinks. More people, more packages and paper, clearing and washing of the endless dishes. Pretty soon, the egg nog, wine and what have you starts to kick in and as my sister Lia's friend says, "Gaggino in Italian means loud," and boy is it ever. I love to see my boisterous clan having a good time, but I'm starting to get tired. Then I see across the room the very thing that reminds me why it is good to have cause to celebrate, no matter what. There is Wyatt, oblivious to the chaos, quietly locking and unlocking the antique tea box I gave him for Christmas. Turns out he was taking a break from his cousin who had just pissed him off about something to do with how he didn't eat his vegetables and how come he gets to have dessert. And rather than get into that ongoing feud, I say skip the vegetables, have some dessert and would he like to hear a good story about the tea box or the truth. Child after my own heart, he chose a good story. So I told him about a place called Hell's Kitchen, that sits on an island where the misfits, mavericks and mystics live. They don't have our big regular stores, because they aren't regular people and don't like all that regular stuff, and there isn't any room on this island anyway. Instead they sell their wares on blankets and out of boxes right on the city streets. They don't look regular either. One guy favors a one-piece hot pink spandex leotard, closely held clutch, big glasses and thinning hair in a pony tail. These big guys with thick accents looking rough in their greasy coveralls don't even give him a second look. Meanwhile I'm wondering how to move those 300# cast iron industrial bases they brought and what exactly they are saying in their lively wise-guy- sounding conversation. I do my best impersonation which makes Wyatt laugh as he eats his ice cream. I draw a picture of all the fantastic things I've ever seen in the countless shops and flea markets I've traipsed through over the years, put them all in this story. I tell him how my gimlet eye catches the glimmer of a diamond and it's this ancient tea box all the way from China. Half buried, I see it gleaming there. The real black lacquer, a dozen layers painstakingly applied one at a time. Real gold paintings of emperors and shrines all over it. The box still has it's key, a miracle really, which kept the valuable and highly-prized tea safe. Inside it has two elaborately etched aluminum containers each with an inner and outer lid to seal and keep fresh the precious and flavorful leaves. Wyatt is now old enough to boil the water and he makes himself the tea which he has just learned to like, generously spooning in the thick honey I wrapped up with the box. He noticed the repair to the foot, but only because I'd admitted it was broken when I bought it. He didn't say anything about the cracking lacquer. I eventually told him the true story, that someone had brought it by my shop right here in Royal Oak, but he wasn't listening anymore. His cousin had come up with some new game and Wyatt was off to play it, the feud forgotten, his mother left with an empty ice cream container and half-finished cup of tea. It was a little sweet for her taste, but she smiled and drank it anyway. She then said uncustomarily, to heck with it, and left the cup in the sink, and refortified, took her place once more at the adult's table.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Multiples: Because More is More!

There's something primal about the attraction of things in multiples. I liken it to that promise of plenty: enough food to feed the herd, the never ending wine supply. It's quite likely it's the mathematical properties seducing our brains. The heaping bowls of oval soaps in the fancy bath stores, the orderly rows of identical objects in gradational color code. There's nothing I love finding more than a really good thing in a large quantity. Like why didn't I get all those differently colored springs in 10 sizes? It's on the list now. I did have the good sense to take the whole box of porcelain lab crucibles. Simply elegant, the thinnest porcelain, beauty and high function. I'd have been happy with 5 and yet, here's this whole box, an embarrassment of riches really. Can you imagine thimble-sized with it's own tiny acorn-like lid up to shot-glass size with perforated bottoms? I think of it as baby toys for adults. Pour the little one with truffle oil into the big one with olive oil, count 7 almonds into individual bowls and line them up with glasses of wine. Here's this jar of cigar bands on the other hand….look, man, hoarding is an art form! Can we thank those beautiful, smart, tortured people(me and you for instance) that can't part with a simple little wrapper cause it still looks like the ring you pretended it was when you were a kid? Of course the first thing I did was open the jar and try one on…it still fits! It must mean I'm to have them. I got not one serious idea for their use, I just like looking at the jar of them. And the funny, emotional thing is I only want to sell them to the person who understands that it's about the whole jar and our soulmate who saved them for us. Then there are all those worker's name badges. I nearly had a heart attack when I opened the bags and saw the hundreds and hundreds of them…with weird old names like Alvin, Dudley, Wendell and Scooter. It became a kind of physical therapy to separate out the 50 "Slim" from the 75 "Mick" and should I keep all the Sids and Sidneys, Pete and Peters separate or do you think the formalists will be ok in the same drawer with the upstart abbreviators? Can you say…O.C.D? I am trying to remain functional, so I just stuck names starting with the same letter in that file drawer unit I love…the one with the multiples of the same grass green, identical-sized file drawers. So far I managed to partially cover a pair of jeans with names. Now I want to sell them at a show cause it's getting a little claustrophobic. Can I off them in Ziploc baggies of 8?12? Same names or varietals? Could somebody please just buy a bushel basket and make a quilt with these? I need room for my new toys, that nice group of trophies with the same WWII airplane on it and richly-hued velvet-covered buttons. And no, I am not ready to share them...yet.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blessed gifts

This is my first holiday in 18 years that I'm not racing around in retail madness. Okay, it's not like I was ever Macy's or anything, but I tried to give dissenters a place to buy their friends "the deal gone wrong" shredded money ornament from Detroit. You can still have one, this time around the good news is that you get to have me make one or 20 (it was a lot of money) and it's a simple phone call. Chances are good I'm close by since I only live 4 blocks away. I know I keep making excuses for not having regular retail hours. The truth is I work better if I can just focus all my attention on you. When more than one person came into the store, I didn't have the opportunity to figure out what a good gift would be for the best friend who hates Christmas (funeral flag with magnet that sticks to your car or fridge) or the gay sister who just came out to a hostile home crowd (tooled leather holster, brown bag). Now I have the time to drive around, find that giant Christmas tree sign and take it to your condo, because you work all the time. Of course you had to get it for your sister who goes crazy at Christmas with 7 trees packed with ornaments and every room decorated with vintage Christmas. I can't imagine how you are going to wedge the 3'x6' sign into that display, let alone your little Honda. But then,when you are John Arnold and making display magic for all the best dressed homes and stores in town, making the impossible happen is all in a (very long) day's work. That's why they fly you across the country to decorate their homes, cause you made the ones here so brilliant with an actual 8 Mile Sign you salvaged for a backdrop to the outlandish Christmas trees you created. Had I not brought that sign over tonight, I would have missed your blessed mother shrine which you so lovingly adorned with the melted dolls from my store that look like angels (well to you, me and Julie at least). More importantly, I would have missed you thanking me again for finding them so that your friend who understands your aesthetic and mine could so generously give them to you as a gift. And, she would have missed how much we appreciate her because I was over and snapped that picture on my phone to send her and tell her so. So many good gifts and it isn't even Christmas yet. While you are making it beautiful for all of them, I will make a few things for the people who make it beautiful for me, while I leisurely hang around my store this Saturday welcoming the interruption to find that elusive gift for a very special someone. Of course, if that doesn't work out for you just call me, I'd rather wait until there aren't any distractions and it's just the two of us.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Epiphanies they come in threes

Nothing says holiday like: snakes and apples in the garden of Eden(snake bite kit included), soldier's blanket and sock, burned out bulbs and plastic firemen, don't walk to our Etsy store (heritageco)

Wyatt and tonight's entertainment: homemade play-doh target...the rapture

My marketing guru Ann Siegle ( just got done telling me that I could talk about whatever I wanted to in this blog except religion. She's not the boss of me. Ann, when you major in English literature, there's a story you gotta know. I'm permitting myself this transgression. It all began with that hard labor (it's my story, remember?). The building a business a little too out there for this town, the buying what I think will sell and not what I really believe in. It's so hard! It's so heavy! I'm shrinking! Small but mighty (of course the tide will turn as I leave the frontlines of retail and downsize my job description), and the Goliath of cheap, boring, generic shopping will fall to the Davids of small interesting businesses. I was told I'm a dissenter, so if you want to shop with this David you gotta call me and make a date or catch me when I'm in my store, which no longer has regular hours. But, I digress. Back to the hard labor (don't you love a martyr?). It took me a few years to figure out exactly what kind of business I wanted to have, wah, wah, and a few more to find an inn. New York has plenty of inns, it's a dissenter's dream convention and they're rolling up their sleeves to help me out, lend me a couch, push me around (can't be too comfortable). So, I'm gonna labor there a while longer. But either the baby mama is getting tired (really?) or this particular incarnation is really fragile, needy and hungry (no kidding). Behold! on this not so easy of days, the first Magi appears. She says "reach for the low lying fruit;" i.e. the internet. Dissenters worldwide! Yes, I'm behind. I thrive on working with live people. How great that my sister-in-law Nancy (Studiop-graphic designer)who has worn every hat for my business (and then some) has put our irreverant wreaths on Etsy (heritageco) and a few things on Ebay (heritagecoii), I'll get there. I'm a lot more excited about a cool looking and tech-saavy website that hosts this blog, another one I'm going to start soon, and whatever else I'm doing. I love what Yuen Hom ( did with my business card and her website diagram looks like it sprang out of my head, sans the messy bits. Where there's fruit, there's a serpent (get the matching wreath!). The second Magi reminded me today not to pick more than I can carry, fruit that is. He thanked me for making his home a place he loves, service you can only provide if inspired and focused. The third Magi came with cigarettes, a big Indiana heart and a cautionary tale. The discomfort of transition is temporary, and I'm not going to apologize for bumming cigarettes while I suffer through it . (Isn't it possible that like all fathers in the day, this particularly expectant and stressed one, father or no, might have smoked a cigarette?did I say that out loud??) She was a sympathetic ear and reminded me that the first and only real baby I am still raising is a messiah to me. While we talked, a timely message of thanks came for an unexpected kindness I had shown. Everyone loves surprises don't you know? It's wondrous to receive them and I appreciated every one I got today. However, the pleasure I really get is in giving them. Well there aren't four Magis, but my clever friend suggested I might be a sort of Magi disciple and named me Maggino. Not a bad idea to have a fourth one, especially an Italian cook. It's a long, dark and hungry trip through the desert, but that's another story.

Friday, December 3, 2010

On Joy and good plumbing

I am sitting here on this cold winter morning eating breakfast and reading about the puppet collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts. How nice for the plumber to come first thing and bring me a much more interesting idea to consider(and I love puppets, really). He has come because there is a back up somewhere from the kitchen to the bathroom to the laundry room, what amounts to the sole extent of our small water system. The plumber is now performing one of his regular rituals; methodically going line by line to solve this timeless problem: where is the block and where is the water going or coming from? The usual suspects: a plug, a vacuum, a volcano. I have no doubt he will solve the problem with our plumbing today. He is smiling, he must think so too. I discuss this philosophical notion he brought to me today. We agree that we both enjoy the logic and surety of the solution to be had on the other end. Of course it's despsicable, blockages are messy. But I am deriving such pleasure from having this rational exercise to begin this day, I think it's a great gift. I know this sounds weird, but before you write me off as just, well, off, consider that joy might be underneath a lot of crap (you knew I'd work it in). Try to forget the false promise of pretty packages, look for daily gifts in and amongst the crap. Ignore the relentlessly perky melodies or worse, the loop of disappointments playing in your head. Focus on a job you might do well today, deliver the gift of a small kindness. Joey just gave me one, and there's the mess all over the bathroom floor to prove it. I just called his boss Bob, owner of Royal Oak Plumbing. I told him Joey fixed the problem and that I'm happy and love his crew. He laughed, said he loved me too. I know, how queer and sappy. Think what you will, this really got my day off to a good start. I have a little painting job for a client's new store that just opened, I'm gonna finish it now and deliver it to her today. I have my crew replacing some workers at another new client's job. I am pleased to have his confidence and determined to do a good job and help him out of a jam. I still have a store to rearrange, the Christmas stuff is still in boxes. It's the hardest part of my day, I'm putting it off, writing instead. The holiday thing isn't really my bag, but I'm working on it. I know in advance what will and won't get finished, I am well aware it's a blockage. I will perform my daily ritual. It won't be cleared the way Joey cleared our plumbing, but pleasure like water, will find the open path. I will do my best to clear a path for joy, no matter how small. And once you get a line cleared for it, even a small trickle of it? Well it's the daily ritual to try and keep it that way. Hell, I'll give you Bob and Joey's number, maybe they can help you too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One lap at a time

It always starts with the first lap,"ugh..36 laps, it's too hard, I wish it was over." I say this practically everyday. I go to the pool, I complain, I swim the 36 laps, I always feel better afterwards. It's a ritual, complain, swim, complain, whatever. Another of my many charms. Ha! Taurus, does that explain it? Stubborn, it's frustrating but it's not all bad. The huge mess from New York, two weeks later, that's another hard one. The shop, that one with no retail hours, has to look a certain way, impossibly time consuming because I have this involved process that requires moving and removing the same things and it's heavy and there's a lot of stuff. Ugh, my patient husband offers to help me the day after Thanksgiving. I work through it, he lets me grumble, moves it twice, says nothing, what a saint. Perfect, I'm chasing my tail. He's an artist, how well he knows the process. I want the store to look as beautiful as that booth, I want that feeling to come home. It isn't going to be the way I see it in my head, not on this day. It's Thanksgiving weekend and I have invited my mailing list to come by and see all that great stuff I talked about. Plus, people person that I am, I miss them. I know, I know, no more retail hours, but it's about balance and this is how you find it, by trying something new, in small bites. Staying with a narrative, not finding out what happens at the end of a story. Adjusting and readjusting. I open the door to my imperfect world Saturday and promptly break the first rule of sales; apologize for the mess. But you know what I've consistently found? My customers don't see it that way. They love the hunt as much as I do. They like digging and poking and finding a surprise. It's a bright menagerie of interesting things to their fresh eyes, and though I worried they wouldn't, they did come. Though I worried they wouldn't shop, they did. As one new customer said to me, it's like the white fire surrounding the letters of the Torah. Magic happens around the words, in the interstitial spaces and margins of what isn't spoken, seen or planned and holds an important key to life. I wanted to have the perfect shop I had in my head, and it was perfectly imperfect and me, I just don't get that it's ok that way. I expected familiar faces from my list, but most of the ones I saw were new and just happening by. I was a little disappointed at first and then these great new people came in and what a wonderful unexpected feeling, the store still draws new people and with them fresh energy. You aren't suppose to say anything that isn't positive, but I can't help but tell them, my business model is messy. It isn't necessarily a bad thing. I got what I needed, the shop and I are o.k. just the way we are. And then a few familiar faces came in that made my heart smile, like long time antique dealer Jim Secreto and designer Steve Knollenberg, who let me know that what I write, mattered to them and that they thought my new business ideas were good. Yes, I'm not mainstream, the show circuit sounded crazy because it is, but beneath it they understood that it's my passion and they admired my strength. Jim said go back to the Pier Show, be myself wholly, and don't flinch. And yes, I need to balance the hard work required with the quiet acceptance that it's time for something easier, like making better use of the internet and asking for the help I need. Ultimately, it's the only way to make my business and my life better, and the life of those I love and the people I have the privilege to do business with. I could go on, but I think I've made my point. More importantly, I haven't made it to the pool yet today. 36 laps, boy will that feel good…just as soon as I finish. By the time you read this, I will be there and be glad.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kitchen Accomplished (well almost...)

Always happens, a job to finish just before a big holiday. This time it's client chef Dave Mancini and his kitchen is under construction and it's Thanksgiving. Of course he's cooking. He lives on Woodward Avenue, the route for Macy's big Thanksgiving Day parade and he's having brunch roofside for 20 people or more. It's not like we didn't know he didn't have a kitchen or that he would probably want to cook in it on Thanksgiving. No actually, I stopped production on the big piece, stainless counters, to jam a bunch of projects through for the Pier Show in New York. I think we can do everything! Or, we work well under pressure! Or I just want it all! The scary thing is it's all true and we get a lot done, actually we got it all done. (And now we are really tired). So here's how it all works. I cajole/encourage/beg/bug daily (ok, twice daily): Richard Gage Design Studio to fabricate and install 22' of stainless counter; Royal Oak Plumbing to install a sink, disposal, faucet and dishwasher and carpenter/electrician/all around handy guy Jim Linck to make, finish and install a cabinet. I also have to keep Dave reassured and calm amidst the chaos of having his large kitchen ergo his loft all torn up for weeks. Sometimes the little things mean a lot. Ahead of the big production, I send my crackshot do-anything colleague Amy Nolfo over to do a deep clean and organizing project. Just cleaning and getting stuff put away will make Dave feel better and his hectic life easier and the additional clean up later will be minimal. My plumber Bob Tourtillot is a prince, he had already rigged for Dave a temporary sink as a favor to me, it's a little insurance just in case we have to throw down plywood and call it a kitchen should everything fail. Yes it's busy and I'm stressed about getting it done and pleasing this client. But here's what's easy, here's why I love this job. I am working with clients who appreciate what I do and know I am doing my very best to achieve their goals. I am working with a team of skilled professionals that I have been working with in some cases for nearly 20 years. I believe in maintaining good relationships. These people know I will call them for every new project that comes up. Loyalty pays. You reward honest, good work, you pay the fair wage. You don't nickel and dime people, in the end you lose and save nothing. It comes with experience and time and I learned it the hard way, and I learned it but good. So it's the Tuesday before Thanksgiving now. The counters are done, with extra details and top quality stainless that will stand the test of a serious chef like Dave. The sink, faucet and dishwasher are in, who knows who Bob put off (and let me know about it) but by golly he fit my job in. Jim Linck, is the calmest zen all around skilled guy who has everything ready for the plumbers and will wait for Bob who is running late and has zero time to waste. The best pizza in the city is waiting for me as I bring the key to Dave and I get that bonus I've been waiting all day for, the heartfelt thank you. I also get to be one of those people with a ringside seat for the best parade, at the best brunch, in this city with a big heart, on this day of thanks. Detroit. It has my loyalty.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bad Company and I Can't Deny It

It's a good thing I like 70's rock, cause that's all you get besides country and pop on a commercial truck rental radio. I'm bad company all right, hammering the 12 hour drive straight to Detroit, sailing through New York am rush hour drive, you know I think I fairly own this town. I'm on a mission (fueled by adrenalin) and I'm gonna use all that time to figure out how I actually make New York a regular working location while still doing business and maintaining a normal family life in Detroit. I feel so good, I'm actually pragmatic about the whole dismal return from the show. I figure it's a cheap PhD in building a new business. I did my job, created a booth I was proud of and passed out cards. All good, that is until I finally stopped, literally had to lay down on my packing blankets on the gravel in front of my shop. Oh my God I am so tired. While I was riding high on New York, all the harsh realities of Detroit and all my responsibilities at home were waiting for me. Can a middle-aged, albeit high energy, mother actually do this and not take prisoners? Of course something has to give and I couldn't drop the regular retail store hours fast enough. I'm a little impulsive, I send this newsflash out last week in between the standby flight and the next day drive out to New York. Nobody's gonna catch me and talk me out of this decision. I confess I felt a twinge not being there this first week, but then I had to stare at all that mess from unloading and more hard labor. Oh sure I'm gonna do this again? now? not! It's gonna take me a while to catch up with my own self. I'm beginning to understand that this transition will be slower and harder than I want it to be. When you are raised in a blue collar town and you've been punching a clock there (or responsible for whomever is suppose to be on the clock) for 18 years, believe me, you're gonna be looking around like you just fake called in sick when you stop doing it. There's also the promise of today being that day when someone's going to walk in and buy up the store that's still on the loop. I keep hearing "breathe" and other yoga/spiritual-type mantras…WTF!! would be more me. But you know something? I go to the new early-bird buyers club at the Royal Oak Flea Market and there's MarkyD, Dr. Art, Daya, Dennis and David with big hugs for me. Dr. Z has his new 2011 pocket calendar, one for me and one to send to Lulu. Bob and Larry are discussing socrates or the Schrodinger equation or whatever those two brainiacs discuss at their regular table over coffee. I do some shopping therapy, nice painting of death, gymnastic rings, creepy always a pick up. I got 7 hours of sleep for a change. Design projects keep coming, a new client I will secure later in the day works for the big rock station. Just my kinda client, a straight forward single guy with no crazy girlfriend, who just wants to get the place done and get on with the party. How cool is that? Tomorrow it's another project I like, commercial retail space and two brave young women opening businesses in Birmingham. My dealer friend in New York has asked me to scout stuff for our favorite Brooklyn restaurant. I send her a slew of pictures. I'm doing it aren't I? My family and friends are behind me, I got money in the bank today, what's the problem? F--k it, I take Wyatt to see the new Harry Potter movie. He holds my hand, we jump at the scary parts, eat a bucket of popcorn. "Rebel souls, deserters we are called…bad company till the day I die…" I gotta rock on.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gotham City Glamour

I've gone for baroque (see pic), jamming the machine to assemble this collection, my team, my 46 year old body. I called in every favor to get a booth at the Pier Show in New York. Only got word it was mine last week. Put Rick and his studio crew to the paces to get stuff built, including show walls (cause they cost $1000 in New York...well it seemed outrageous until we actually had to build them too). Flew home this past Wednesday from last week's trip to the NYC, literally changed clothes and went to work to help the studio finish, load (in the dark,$#%&&TYG daylight savings!), say hello and goodbye to my poor family and sleep a wink. I jumped into the van Thursday and hammered the 11 hour drive back to my friends' Adam and Andrea's couch, commandeered our friend Peter to help me set the booth up yesterday and break it back down Monday (his new mantra: lose my number lady). Then, I get to drive the 11 hours back home Tuesday, unload Wednesday, massage.... So basically it's the best booth in the entire history of booths (my humble opinion of course) Baroque and three ring circus (actual trapeze cape from the circus) crazy and I love it and this is putting hypomania to work for you. I swear soon I will lie down and not get up for days, in the meantime folks, it's showtime and I gotta get on the coffee drip to fuel this day. Wish me luck! Will have better pictures to post on the newly revamped website I'm gonna work on just as soon as I stop doing something else. Now it's Saturday, I am posting this, putting my show face on and taking the subway in to face New York! I hope everything sells out!!...but what doesn't comes back to the shop next week, so call and come see me (you come wednesday and take one end of any of this heavy shit and I promise you wonders! deals! the cure to salvage addiction!). Oh yeah, did I mention? Nor more store hours as of November 15. that stopping something else, it's retail. You like it better when I come in special just for you anyway.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Who would want to run the NYC marathon?

No one. That's the truth. No one wants to run 26 miles. You run 26 miles because you have to. I'm glad I don't have to. But it's 2:18 am and I just sat down to eat something like dinner, it sure feels like a marathon. I think it was only 8 miles, but by foot and train from the West Village to my Forest Hills stop in Queens, it was an hour and 40 min. commute. Yes, I sat at the wrong platform for 3 trains, before I realized mine wasn't gonna come here. And, I lost my metro card and had to fumble around for awhile before I said f--k it, just buy another. O.K. that's it, I'm done whining. Roll your eyes if you want, I can't see you. This is a very big pond, my fish just got smaller. But in water's distortion, I think I am bigger. So I met two really lovely men at the Rhinebeck show last month, the ones that spent their time and money with me. They said it was because I was nice and funny, good information. When they said they couldn't hang the light they bought, I offered to come over and do it on my next trip. So I followed up and they invited me over. I'm not going to tell you how wide my eyes got when I arrived at their apartment. They have big jobs, it doesn't seem to be fazing them. They are decorating the place themselves. They hung the ratty flag with the nude unstretched over it and over their bed. When they told me my stuff changed the feeling of their place, well it did a little. I wasn't in the door 10 minutes and I found I was holding the lucky ticket...cigarettes...Like how did they know I don't smoke regularly and had them? Of course they don't either...nice bond, my husband will love this. We had 3-hour group therapy starting at 9pm and then I got busy on the consultation. Said the "cool" light should go over the pine cabinet (and not blocking the view of the water and the lights of New Jersey!) Asked for something to put it up on, like those matching kiddie chairs looking bullied next to that couch, plugged it in at the dark entrance and voila! I'm a genius...well they thought so. Now I'm 12..look at me! look at me! Next I'm gonna do cartwheels. We need lights next to the New Jersey window view. Those industrial caged bulb and socket kind lying on the desk. I need a 10' ladder. Do you have a drill? It's some old boyfriend's good Dewalt, they don't know they don't use it. Already got the right bit in it. 4 drywall screws, a measuring tape, some nails a hammer, those hooks doing nothing there. Now we have sconces on either side of the window, cords neatly tucked against the window frame. Take all those pictures down, put the old oars underneath, much better. Some problems solved. All of lower Manhattan out the panorama of views from New Jersey all the way around to the top of Citibank in Brooklyn. They said I was pretty, hugged and kissed me goodbye. What a really very nice thing they did for me. Now I've known them 5 hours and all our lives, at least that's how it felt tonight. If this is a distorted view, well ignorance is bliss. Shit, I forgot to take time, they invited me back over :).

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Running the NYC Marathon…

Yes i've been training for years and I'm finally gonna do it. Pray i make it to the finish line, even if they have to drag me the last 50 feet…ok well not THAT marathon. I mean my parallel version of the nyc marathon where I fly into the city this weekend to check out doing the flea markets in December, fly home then turn around the next day in a loaded truck to drive back to do the Pier Show (November 13&14) that I just talked my way into yesterday. And I gotta write about this, right now? This my friends is the real antiques road show. It's an obsession and I'm a slave to it. All hands are on the bench, work benches that is. In between the new installation at the Detroit Science Center, Rick's studio is putting together the latest designs (oh no I can't just take Rhinebeck leftovers…)Remember the scraps from the Starlite lanes facade on 8 Mile Rd. The one where I was begging the demo crew to save anything for me? So far from that metal scrap, we cobbled together two 6' columns with light up stars. Those blue beauties are gonna be on the front of the booth. Then there's the void collection; simple modern furniture Rick makes from the voids left from punching industrial parts out of sheet metal plus lights we did out of industrial parts, etc. on one side. 20th century store display, signage and graphic looking stuff will go on the other and at the back some stunning pieces of historic architecture. It's the tiniest booth, costs more than my mortgage payment (a LOT more) for the weekend. It's a one-woman show and I'm taking deep breaths, but really it's me calling on all my friends to rent walls (scenic prop)borrow a bigger van (carlin construction inc.)hire crew in new york to load, set up, load out, sleep on the A team's couch (forgash photography&co) that makes it possible. I'm of course banking on bigger apple wallets and their love affair with Detroit. And what's not to love? If I could disassemble and truck the entire imagination station installation , that's what I'd really like to set up on that pier and I'd be hauling those tireless visionaries Jeff DeBruyn (president, Corktown Residence Council)and Jerry Paffendorfer (co-founders)the architect/artist Catie Newell, countless volunteers with me. Simply one of the most moving things I've experienced in Detroit. 150 people standing in a hush, waiting for the sun to set, the light at just the right angle to stream through all that wreckage art. I started the line and the man behind me finished, "There is a crack, a crack, in everything…that's how the light gets in…" Leonard Cohen.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sacrifice, Adapt, Stay Afloat

That the economy isn't coming around anytime soon seems to be working for some people and they are the ones making it work for me. I'm drawn to unstable ground which is what attracts me to water and sailing; the constant adaptation required to maintain balance my steady state.

I am back to working some regular Saturday hours unless I'm doing a show. Business was slow last Saturday, but one person came in looking for design help for a new family-owned restaurant, and she hired me to come out to consult on the spot. Turns out it's her retired parents who are spearheading this venture, ran a restaurant in this space for 40 years, and hope to start a new version of it up again after a 15-year hiatus. What? Why? Because their last tenant failed, and they are covering a big nut and it seems like doing what they know or used to know is the best way to cover the bills while trying to sell the building which is their ultimate goal. Got that? The daughter is a stay-at-home mom of 4 under 13, she's trying to help save the nest egg by handling it all herself including cleaning the filthy huge place. The change in the direction of the wind is easy for me to negotiate and I put the design hat back in the bag, synthesize the facts, impressions of the family players as described and intuit the feelings of mother and daughter in front of me. I call in my man-of-action contractor, Dave Carlin and his son Allen. Cost reality check, ouch, I propose the minimalist low cost "perk" and style staging to get the place sold (which hasn't been vacant long), while making it easily adaptable for a restaurant, if that's what they want to do. I'm happy for the vote of confidence and to be of service.

Next up, I am sitting in on a design meeting between a couple opening a 7000 sf coffee shop/retail operation and their architect. It's in an 1880's building in a prominent historic area of Detroit. They want to remodel it while keeping the historic character intact. Budget is tight, new is necessary in places, but where to make style sacrifices and still have historic reference and the authenticity that enhances the customer's experience and the bottom line is the trick. The architect has designed what looks like a suburban, made-to-look-old, but is obviously not, not cheap solution. I take this all in and determine that what I've got to sell is salvage solutions strategically placed to balance budget and look. This means finding them on my time and getting paid only if they buy something, probably sight unseen. Not the smoothest waters, which means I gotta focus on the tack or my small craft will capsize.

Meanwhile, I'm fielding text messages from other clients trying to open a new retail concept in Birmingham before Christmas. It involves multiple tenants with my clients controlling the look of everyone's build-out. They want the industrial Heritage Co 2 stuff they've used successfully in their other two stores. They know first hand that creative use of salvage contributes positively to the customer's overall impression and in a fickle economy, being the kind of place people feel good to come to and support is key to survival. No, it's not as easy as ordering from the retail display catalogue. Some hand-holding is required on both our parts to convince tenants, some without the ability to visualize, how repurposing rough-looking stuff can be adapted to suit their taste and will meet their needs. This is ultimately a matter of trust, they are buying into what I say we can do. There are sacrifices of certainty with the unknown and when things change so can the cost. I have to convince them of the value of uniqueness, sometimes over savings, ease and instant gratification. It's worked well with these clients and making them look good motivates them to sell me. That's smooth sailing.

It's Saturday again and here I sit on another slow day with not much to show for it this time. I've sacrificed a day with my family to sell this package in a not easy time or town. It can look like fair weather when you set sail, but a seasoned sailor is always prepared for the storms that come suddenly out of nowhere. When it's sink or swim, you better be ready to swim.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Perpetual Motion Marisa Machine

I have no off switch. I don't even have a dimmer. Rick and I are invited to be guests of the chef for a 5 course fall harvest dinner at Goldner Walsh, Tim Travis' nursery in Keego Harbor, but I actually never sit down to the table. First of all I have a hard time preparing in advance for anything, so I'm forever making plans at the last minute. I am not prepared because I am perpetually overbooking myself. I think I can do everything, do it all myself and under estimate the time everything will really take. Only if it's a pressure cooker can I possibly get around to designing a table with those great fat posts that have been sitting around for 5 years for the show I'm about to do two weeks later. And, of course I have to express material for some artwork I'll have to frame in New York where that show is. What could possibly be the advantage of preparation and timely framing in your spacious, full-equipped studio at home when instead you can assemble them with someone else's tools in their New York apartment the day before the show?

We are childless and hungry, and I've been on my feet in a field all day looking at antiques at the Ann Arbor Saline Antiques Market. It's 7:00pm by the time I get home, the chef, Ross Yediak ( and his partner Libby Shaw are easy going friends of ours, so we decide we are just going to "show up." No seats at the table, big surprise. We make our way back to the kitchen to atleast say hello. Have you been in a chef's kitchen when the food is ready to be served? It's hot and harried. We aren't in the kitchen 5 minutes and I'm plating green salads with risotto cakes and a Michigan relish. And this in one of my "get-ups," because I am actually going out and want to wear something "fun" after spending all day, everyday in dirty jeans and a t-shirt. On this night it's high heels and Joel's 70's patchwork jeans I bought off him at the Chelsea Garage Flea Market. I am now running in the hateful shoes out to the beautiful table with a salad. I catch someone who looks my dad's age eyeing the tattoo shirt that really looks like my entire torso and arms are covered with tattoos..exactly the sort of wait service he should expect in this suburb. Of course someone else could have served it, but I was already prepping it so I might as well serve it right? This is own- your- own work- alone mentality...or just hard-working, hard-headed me.

I was shocked to see so many dealers I know from out-of-town set-up in Ann Arbor. We are in a very tough market and coming here is dicey in my book. It's a beautiful day and the weekend ahead looks like more of the same, the best possible scenario for a good show...once upon a time. It should only take me an hour and a half to shop this show and I have 10 other things I should be doing, but I am lingering and catching up with everybody. This is as close to relaxing as I get. Truthfully, it may be the most important thing I do all week. I want all the dealers to do well, there are really great dealers here and really good stuff at this show, but I know how the crowd was in Rhinebeck where Chelsea Clinton just got married and if they were buying carefully... In the end I don't buy any of the things I really loved, too much risk. I only buy smalls. I get all the news, strategize for the next bigger, very expensive show in New York that I'm angling to do. More importantly, I cross my fingers I can share a booth and expenses there with a dealer I just suggested it too. He seemed intrigued. I am crossing my fingers. This is really the work I do

We are eating samples of the previous course off the top of the food warmer in between spooning kale, braised carrots and positioning the roasted chicken just so. I load the plates on my arm like I've done thousands of times before when I waited tables 25 years ago. You don't forget how. In a way, I never stopped practicing. I am starting to sweat.

On the way to the Ann Arbor show, I stop and take yet more pictures of a house that I have admired for 20 years. It has been boarded up all this time, never occupied and never offered for sale to my knowledge. I have a fantasy of gutting it to the bearing walls, painting it all white. I'd put only the essentials in it: a bed, a table, a chair, good reading material. I imagine silence. Oh yeah, almost forgot, a reading light...that would require a switch... oh never mind.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brand Detroit

I drove straight through from Rhinebeck, New York, Sunday night so I could be back in time for an underground dinner in Detroit. Don't think I don't know the risks I take. The show was no blockbuster. I was lucky to do as well as I did. Well it really isn't luck, I don't sit down. I speak to everybody and thank them for their interest. I tell them I'm from Detroit. It's not easy explaining why a 1930's photo of a dead baby in the woods is incredibly beautiful and important to share, how a medical model of a brain is an interesting thing to find in an art collection and why a set of cast iron branches from Detroit's train station are worth every penny, so fragile is our hold on this once magnificent building, on this still proud city. I can be thick-skinned, most of them will walk away and take nothing, it's cool. I'm a nighttime driver, I take naps when I get tired. I was 6 miles outside of Toledo at 7:30 am. Plenty of time to get home, sleep more, pick Wyatt up from school, throw a football, get dressed for dinner, head to an undisclosed abandoned building somewhere....The turnpike comes to a dead halt. Not a good sign, I saddle over to the closest trucker, bum a cigarette (another lousy thing that keeps you awake) get the news...Tanker caught fire, caught a second one on fire, it's gonna be an hour atleast. Oh good, I've just had breakfast, coffee and a cigarette. Sorry slave followers, you get it all, I hop the fence and head to the cornfield. I climb back over the fence, 36 hours of selling, 3 1/2 hour workout loading it all back into the truck, 10 hours on the road, 1 hour nap, makeshift cornfield facilities: figure that into the cost of goods. I'm fortunate to have prodigious energy, a low give-a-shit factor. It's not"salvage princess." I'm in bed by 10:30am.

It's worth all the hassle me getting to here, as we grab our map and find the mystery building where dinner will be served by top chefs in our city. It's a defunct automotive service center and showroom from the 20's. Still solid and cared for mostly, but windows broken or boarded up. I'm taken by windows lately, driving through our city, all the varying degrees of brokenness in windows, like lace, tattered lace, stained and torn and still beautiful but no one really wants to wear it. The sun is setting through the lace, we park inside and walk the spiral ramp up to the roof. People! all dressed for dinner and glasses of champagne. I can't stop taking pictures to say hello to the people I know, let alone speak to my guests. The sun is setting, the concertina wire sparkling, we are cradling this tattered city with sharp barbs like the most delicate fabric, that cuts you holding it gently in your bloodied hands, and the rest of the world is marvelling at our tenacity and our ability to love something so tattered and worn and harsh. They lead us down a now candlit spiral ramp...carefully across a rough surface in the dim light to some stairs, more candles. I feel like I'm descending into the catacombs. The showroom of peeling paint, long tables with white tablecloths and napkins, more candles. We can barely see each other. There is no power for lights, the chefs are cooking in a garage by generator with makeshift portable equipment. They are happy to be together, not missing their fancy kitchens too terribly. Dave Mancini, Supinos; Mark Djozlija, Wolf Gang Puck (and wearing the beautiful detroit begins with you t-shirt I gave to him); David Seals, Due Venti; Andy Hollyday, Roast; each comes out to introduce their dish, a wine pairing, a live musical accompaniment (Steve Jarosz, Clem Fortuna, Skeeter Shelton, Frank Pahl) A giant American flag flanks the corner. I am like a bee, hovering over the tasty morsels, catching up with my husband and friends, then over to my neighbor Chet and his partner Kyle (who made the view out my shop window special when they renovated old Billings), a film maker from New York is introduced to me, Heidi Ewing. John Arnold walks in late with his beautiful friend Julie Taubman. His shirt says "Defend Detroit." She is obsessively photographing every inch of the city, putting her resources behind a book she's publishing, a message she can put real authority behind. He kicks my ass saying you have to find beauty where you live or you are just lazy. We are all brand Detroit, as singular as your fingerprint, and New York wants it and Hollywood wants it and by God I say sell them a ticket! In fact, I'll even drive it there and sell it to them personally.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Salvage Slave: Building an Empire from the Empire State

Salvage Slave: Building an Empire from the Empire State

Building an Empire from the Empire State

A friend of mine from New York referred to my ever expanding and evolving business strategies as "building my empire." As I neared the border of New York yesterday with a fully loaded van for a show I've never done in Rhinebeck, New York, this week and saw that sign "Welcome to the Empire State," I smiled at the pleasure I take in actually following through on a dream I have and, a little like a kid, so proud of my bravery. I was reminded too of another girl from my hometown, Rochester, Michigan, who similarly went to New York to follow through on her idea, and look what an Empire the material girl built. Luck and bravery is surely required to negotiate the hornets nest of traffic entering the Emerald City at rush hour on a rainy Monday. So sorry if the shot of the George Washington Bridge crossing from New Jersey lacks the backdrop of the magnificent skyline, dude it was all I could do to follow the ridiculously complicated directions to my friends' place in Queens and not destruct. The white knuckles grippin the wheel after an 11-hour drive in the pouring rain with a load so heavy it made driving the van like steering a parade float earns me a girl scout badge for sure. Not that I'm looking for a badge, truthfully I could care less about the stress. I'm feelin on top of my game and having the time of my life. I got killer shit, way to much for the 8x16 booth I have, but the show costs more than my monthly mortgage payment so I will forgo the minimalist gallery look and give them Detroit salvage as it looks in the heritage company imaginarium. As usual, the paint was still wet on the table I designed and built with Richard Gage Design Studio. Then there's the last minute electrical issues with the newly made pile of lights. Of course I had to reload the already packed van because it looked like my axles might crack. What? I couldn't get excited about dealing in say postage stamps? Like the t-shirt says, Detroit hustles harder. Don't I know it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Taking the Show on the Road to Rhinebeck, New York

Call me spoiled, but all I have to do is collect up interesting parts, dream up some designs and the Richard Gage Design Studio builds it. This week we are feverishly building industrial lighting which is all the rage on the coasts. We also have in production a table we designed from old-balusters, a stand for a gladiator helmet made out of a street sign, a light-up arrow to restore and a light that spells "COOL" fabricated from a board found with a series of holes drilled through it. Detroit continues to be in the hot seat for creative inspiration of all kinds, and we've become a regular weekly feature in the New York Times ( see the article from last Sunday's NYT travel magazine titled, "Artists in Residence" from last sunday's issue 9/26/10). I've appointed myself the steampunk ambassadress to next week's show in Rhinebeck New York, upstate an hour and half from the city and I'm crossing my fingers the magic translates to good sales. What could possibly be easier? I get to keep my ratty jeans on and one of my Detroit t-shirts, have an excuse for my perpetually short dirty fingernails and dealer scars as if I looked that way because I just got done changing the oil in my used Chevy van. I hear it's a "decorator crowd" in Rhinebeck, all shopping for their multi-million dollar country homes and New York City apartments with their decorators in tow. Though it won't be like the good ole pre-Madoff days, even austerity has more zeroes behind it than I owe to the man. If Detroit is what they want, I'll just unpack the tool and die shops, factories and old Detroit now jammed into my shop and watch it take on that Marcel Duchamp quality it does when it's presented in a pristine white show booth. It may not look like it, but I also have a girlie side underneath the dirty blue collar and trash mouth which makes for a bi-polar design aesthetic that I manage to make work. Like pairing the factory grunge with the very beautiful cast iron laurel branches and medallion that I'm offering from that media darling, Michigan Central Railroad Station. I contend it was the far more beautiful little sister to its thriving big sister Grand Central Station which shares the same architect. Even though ours is in a ruinous state, negative attention is better than none at all and it's what's keeping it in the limelight and away from the wrecking ball. As long as it still stands, idealistic Detroit lovers like me still hold out hope it and other beautiful buildings like it, will one day be restored to something of their former beauty and purpose. The pair of vintage cast brass lions from an old Detroit estate and a copper deco pediment both in green patina remind us that Detroit still has plenty of its historic elegance. Hand-made folk art, 100+ year-old nautical carved wood fragments from a Great Lakes vessel, advertising signage and the random collection of found stuff makes for a fun display. It's a deep source of pride to come from a legacy of craftsman, designers, engineers and the hard-working skilled labor that built it all and I think that energy brings it together. It would be nice to have a big city trust fund, but I was raised with a midwest work ethic, on a GM engineer's salary and it financed a great university education so who am I to complain? I'm out there representing all of you Detroiters and Midwesterners, so wish a home girl some luck.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back to School

And I thought I had guts…In a stunning display of self possession and assurance, 11 year-old Wyatt Gage donned his new school uniform and strode into the 2 year-old Henry Ford Academy School for Creative Studies at the Taubman Center in Detroit for his first day of middle school. Wyatt is most likely the only kid commuting from the suburbs to attend this charter school. He is definitely a minority. He left the only school he's ever known, Japhet, the 11 kids he's grown up with and many of the 80 kids who make up the entire student body there. I was leaving for Brimfield and New York the next day, and in a way I feel like I'm going back to school too...what? Mother is crowding in on this spotlight? That's pathetic. Please tell me she is not going to go into that bit about reinventing herself again…Wyatt wouldn't care less about Detroit's history of divisions as any indicator of what's possible in the future. His interest in color is on a wheel and every subject he learns at this new school is taught through a lens of design. It's all quite experimental and we aren't sure of the academic rigor, but I'm not convinced that's what's gonna make the man anyway. He's geeked about the first day's "design challenge" involving dropping an egg without breaking it. I'm worried about dropping the company nest egg and breaking the bank.

I've got less to spend at this show than I counted on and with all the bad economic forecasting we keep hearing, I am wondering what I will be able to buy now and what I will be able to sell. There's over a hundred 6th graders and Wyatt's one of maybe three white kids. What does Wyatt see? A whole world of new friends to make and I watch him as he scouts them out.

I've made some new friends in New York and the connection seems to have a good future. In this economy, I'm really hoping I can work with these people to make something good happen for all of us.

I saw Matthew Barney speak about his Cremaster series at the DFT the other night. If you've seen this work, it's quite obvious that it's all in the salesman's power to sell it, cause that is not an easy thing to sell. I go back down to Detroit to join Wyatt for lunch that first day. I spot him at the table and see he's kind of keeping to himself. I go right into worrying he's lonesome for his old friends at Japhet. To which he says, "No I'm just tired, I'm going to need to go to bed earlier." Who is this? After a few days, he tells me, "mom, I have two new friends for sure, Cameron and Travis." I board my flight and stop worrying. Suddenly flying to New York and driving to Brimfield to shop or driving back to New York in two more weeks to set up and do a show, making new business contacts in the city, finding and selling esoteric junk is no big deal despite the big deal I've been making about it. I truly believe in the power of what it is that I sell, and I put all my power into it. That I've managed to keep the crazy train on the rails, making a living for nearly 20 years ought to convince me that this works and yet I still have those crises of confidence and stress myself right out. Here's this skinny kid coming from the safest nurtured corner of the suburbs, taking on this big school in the middle of Detroit without any fuss, and I'm recycling 18 years of the same worry? Really? What we don't waste energy on while children are performing miracles every day. You need a reality check? Hang out with a kid. They have a way of cutting right through all that manufactured adult crap. Why? Because it gets in the way of having fun and that would be dumb, so they don't do that. I'm lucky I have this weird job I invented. It doesn't need reinventing, it just needs consistent leadership and seeing as its worked for me all this time, I guess I'm providing it. So I'm gonna shut up now, work and have some fun doing it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Urban Pioneers Start a Revolution

Our client and good friend Dave Mancini, owner of Supino's Pizzeria in the Eastern Market, just celebrated his second successful year by hosting a big cookout at the Farnsworth Farm on the near east side of Detroit. If this party is any indication, Detroit might not just recover, it's gonna start a revolution. The steampunk pioneers are circling the wagons and looking to make a new model settlement on the rugged, high speed global frontier. In the middle of this untamed community garden, local urban farmers, businessmen and artists, grandpas and babies, diehard city dwellers and curious suburbanites stood in line for Dave's grilled pizzas (eyes wide when they saw the sophisticated toppings: tuscan pulled pork, just cut basil, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, etc.). Motor City Brew flowed continuously in the bayou heat and kids zipped over and under adults and on top of a giant log jungle gym. The party was a buzzing hive of new ideas. Creative collaborations are being planned and executed under our noses. It was a joyous display of creative talent, including those new to the D and the prodigal children from places like New York and Amsterdam. Detroit is a giant magnet and they come for the spectacle and find themselves staying. Music wafted from the experimental art gallery/theater/performance space squatting in the abandoned building across from the garden. Lo and behold there was my 11 year-old Wyatt on electric guitar playing with the big boys. Actually, this is a whole block (and then some) of experimental gallery/theater performance space. There's the west end anchor; full-blown farm of urban farmers Kinga and Andrew, growing and raising their children on years of city harvests before anyone else had the cahones to do it. The menagerie home of gardener/artist/chef/animal lover Molly Motor a few doors down who might be cooking, tiling or tilling at any given moment. Murals on houses and small gardens have sprung up down and around the corner. Sprouted and nurtured, Farnsworth is a living, growing community. When Richard Florida (Carnegie Professor and author of the highly acclaimed Rise of the Creative Class) talks about what makes today's cities successful, these are the sorts of people and places making it happen. I know that Detroit has been at the bottom of this list and that I sound like Pollyanna predicting yet another renaissance for Detroit, but if you had been at this party and talked to these people, you'd be as energized (and sleepless) as me. Look for more happenings like this, check out If you wanna know what's else is going on, head down to the Eastern Market on Saturdays, check the bulletin boards at places like Supino's Pizzeria and Avalon Bakery. Or hey, come by and see me…well if you can catch me that is….o.k. well then call.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hey Ho Where To Go Ohio

Now that I am of a "certain age", I allow myself a few breaks here and there. Like why hammer the return home from Pittsburgh in a day when I can invite myself over to the modernist museum in Cleveland that is Michael and Debbie Edwards home? I love the old traditional neighborhood, turn of the century vernacular homes with ordered lawns and of course theirs is extra special because these are people of taste and substance. It's the oldest house, the original dairy farm sitting way back from the street on a huge lot, landscaped, sculptures, how lovely for the interloper's overnight? Of course the story inside is something else. In their hands, the spaces are clean white gallery rooms, hardwood floors, original doors and woodwork. Beautiful bones as they say in the architectural parlance. But, how they've designed it, selected edited, selected, tis a modernists' dream. Everywhere you look is a statement piece of the masters, reminding you of the powerful voice post war America had in the world. I sip the prosecco they hand me and study exceptional examples of the applied arts: sculptures in wood, clay, paintings, textiles, ceramic vessels, furniture by the cognoscenti of the day mixed in with simple primitives, Michael's own ephemeral photographs and pieces of other eras that balance the collection and make it a handsome place. We compare our rustbelt cities. They say Ohio struggles like detroit but is more complacent and defeated compared to what they describe as a still fighting the fight, not backing down, scrappy Detroit. I had never heard Ohio described this way, but I sure recognized Detroit and sighed a quiet sigh of relief. I couldn't exist in that environment. I'd have built a compound around myself too, and then travelled every minute I could afford. They've closed their store which only drained resources and are working the surplus into their living museum and mostly selling it on line. I give them a lot of credit for their ability to adapt to the new paradigm in our beaten economies. I personally don't work well in that solitary business model. I've dropped in on them unexpectedly, the veritable Cat in the Hat to their Sally and I. I'm bouncing with tales of a business reinvigorated by a new movie making industry in town, design projects and art installations for better-supported cultural institutions. This has resulted in new found energy to brand my business as proudly Detroit and market it to better markets on the East Coast and beyond. I know I would not be in this expansive place if not for the positive feedback of a newly emerged buying public. So you know what this cat is thinking: I am going to New York and Debbie and Mike are on my way, couldn't I design them into the act? Wouldn't this stunning collection, their sophisticated mid century classicism make my industrial modern steampunk sparkle and dance? Forget that tired worry of…."but it's competition!…won't it steal your thunder?" Look I've been going on about this for like 20 blogs already. Huge paradigm shift, get it into your head, we can't just keep on going in this same myopic direction where it's every man for himself and you're on your own. The well is mighty dry, and either we all get just what we need or we're gonna watch people all around us drop like flies. I really believe these times were tailor-made for a middle child, a born collaborator who lives to work together with other like-minded, smart and talented people. Can you really argue with a little success? Can you really tell the Cat who is clearly having a ball up their juggling it all that it's not any fun to play with others? No my friends, you cannot.Throw caution to the wind, toss a ball in the air. Get in on this act before mother finds out what a mess you made of it all.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Coincidence and Connectivity? What a Trip

Anyone that thinks they don't need to pay attention to connections or have all the ones they need, should have been in the van with me today. I travelled to Pittsburgh to pick up some foundry molds for Richard Gage Design studio's sculpture for the Detroit Science Center. I'm traveling alone so it's the perfect opportunity to catch up on all the phone calls I didn't get to. I am organizing an open house at my shop next Monday for some photographer/dealer friends of mine from New York who have just been cross country buying up a storm of vintage photos, equipment and god knows what all else. I am hooking up with them in New York in two weeks time and we are going to Brimfield together. During the series of conversations, I get to talking with one of them about why they should come and photograph Detroit. It inevitably gets political and we debate universal rights the feds should govern/mandate vs. state's making up their own as they see fit and how widely it varies place to place. We agreed there was just a huge issue of migration with people flocking to the state's with the desired health care insurance, tax policy, gun rights, gay marriage, cheap cigarettes, whatever etc. And it went on from there. Here's how things got weird and wired up together. It's as if everybody encountered today had listened in and had something to add. The photographer calls me back, he had a phone call right after we hung up from a magazine customer who might have a shoot in Pontiac, Michigan of all places. Seems they have a story to tell of some former drug addict turned activist/local saviour (a beautiful Pontiac begins..?). Suddenly an opportunity to get paid to come take pictures in Pontiac and Detroit next month is tangible. An hour later I'm paying the guy at the toll booth who tells me I've entered a blue state from a red state and they can't come up with a joint policy and that's why I'm confused about having to pay two tolls 50 feet apart. I then get lost and pulled over for doing 80 in a 55 and the cop tells me Michigan is one of 5 states Pennsylvania doesn't have a reciprocal agreement with and he can't ticket me. Instead he has to take me to downtown Pittsburgh and I have to go before the magistrate and pay the fine directly or they'll put me in jail…He decides to let me go with directions to take it easy, like nobody ever let's me go. Now it's rush hour and I'm starved. I'm a picky eater and some chain factory food won't cut it. I park the car on a side street and ask the professional looking guy walking by my car if he's a foodie, cause i'm from Detroit and I want a recommendation for really good eats. Just so happens of all the guys walking around Pittsburgh today I stop the one from Detroit. In fact he just got back from vacationing yesterday in Lexington Heights, community of 400 where I have a cottage and just spent the weekend 8 houses away from him and his family. We exchanged cards in case I have more problems with cops or he needs a place to rent on the lake next summer. He sent me to the best Thai restaurant where I am writing this in a beautiful garden setting. Dude take my word for it, we are connected. You got to get out of your box and get on the universal wave length. You have inspired conversation to look forward to, trips to beautiful places, a get out of jail free pass, homeboys with restaurant recommendations, amazing business opportunities in a crap economy, happiness and fulfillment. When the hard times come, you'll have faith, good memories and real friendships to sustain you. Don't delay, dialogue today.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

DIFFA Installation by The Heritage Co.2 and Richard Gage Design Studio

In Detroit for the very first time August 12-14, DIFFA (Design Industry Foundation FIghting Aids invites local designers to design dining table vignettes as part of their big nationwide fundraiser. The first big event to be hosted at the top floor of the new Taubman Center at the Center for Creative Studies, The Heritage Co.2 and Richard Gage Design Studio took the opportunity to showcase current work Rick is doing for the revamped museum store at the Detroit Science Center and the material I continue to mine from Detroit's rich industrial heritage and offer for sale and rent at my store.

Our table featured wood foundry molds (which will be part of two sculptural front entrances for the remodeled store), steel factory table from a now defunct Detroit tubing fabrication shop, Detroit Public Works stencil "A beautiful Detroit begins with you" c. 1950, "Joe the Tinner" commercial advertisement from a sheet metal fabricator that had been on Grand Blvd in the 1940's, assortment of letters reclaimed from local commercial signage, vintage theater spot lights on surveyors stands, vintage lunch boxes.

Not done until it's over done, I stubbornly insisted on creating a "costume" to go with our installation. Much as I imagine all of those clothing designers do before a big runway event, I feverishly spent 2 hours before the opening event decorating my sister Alyssa's destroyed 1970's Levis with reclaimed workmen's badges I have in droves at the store. To think of all the talented designers and artists who have lost their lives to AIDS, it seems only fitting that at the ninth hour I should become a slave to fashion as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

NPR's Three things connectedness

By the sounds of the comments I got from my experience at Starlite Lanes, the second topic I spoke to NPR about: Community Connectedness, couldn't be more important or appropriate. Quite honestly, isn't it the bedrock of civilization? Aren't we suppose to stick together to fight the wild beasts in the wilderness? Reeling it in to Detroit and its environs present day, it appears to me that to improve the conditions for living well in this area and the state, we need to pay a whole lot more attention to the people we meet in our communities everyday. When I started on this topic I had called it "community networking" and talked about taking the "shop local" thing to the next level, but it's so much more than a business skill and the state and this region need more than economic improvements if we are going to have a great place to live and work. I think the current economic crisis sure put the spotlight on that. When we never felt more successful, more flush, were we really and did it make us healthier or happier? You can blame Washington, Lansing, General Motors, the banks, this president or the last one all you want, but all you can really change is you. Why not start there? I had a horrible winter at The Heritage Co.2, maybe the worst ever. How did I get back on track? Making connections. I don't mean cold-calling. I mean having conversations with everyone I came into contact with. People kept me going: my mail carrier Barry who routinely asks me how I am doing and genuinely cares about my answer. My neighbors, Tom Natocci and all the lovely men at Cloverleaf wine, who always had a glass of wine to share, and helped me out when we needed affordable wine for two tastings. My neighbor Jerry who covers for me on Saturdays and looks out for me the rest of the week. Rick Johnson at Billings, whether its a forklift I need, or mediation on a touchy real estate deal, snow-plowing, help finding an off-season Christmas gift, a place for a movie crew to park a truck...Can you imagine all that kindness and support is out your door? If you know me, you might say how easy it is for me because I'm so outgoing and of course you'd be right. You also should know I use to be shy and got over it practicing social skills one person at a time. Now don't for a minute think this is all about being really friendly so you can get a job or some help for yourself. You got to pay into the karmic bank if you are going to make withdrawals. My friend Roland told me something very valuable he learned in AA . When I told him what a hard time I was having, this is what he said: do something for somebody else. We become myopic when we are stressed. It always feels like we're alone, unable, an innocent victim, whatever. There's always someone worse off than you and you come across them everyday. Darrel from the South Oakland County Shelter is definitely in a much harder place than I am. He came into the store last Saturday asking for a job. He told me he needed $25 for a bus pass. He had a new job starting Monday and he was really trying to get himself out of the shelter. You know I know what a lot of you are thinking and I have often felt the same way. Bus fare? New job? I've heard that one. He's lying, he's probably going to buy crack, booze, etc. Does how he spends his own money have anything to do with me? No. He didn't ask for a handout he asked for a job. I have a whole lot full of weeds. It's 90 degrees. Darrel suggests he could take care of my weeds for me. I should wait for someone "better" to stop in and ask if he can weed for me? He did what he said he'd do and I paid him the $25 we agreed on. A lot of us got some pretty sweet loan deals , did we all spend it like we said we would or should ? Did we honor our obligations? Who's a crack addict? You get my drift. The lot looks much better and I have a new able-bodied man I know I can call on for help when I need it. More importantly I was not feeling too good when I went in on Saturday, but I felt a whole lot better after I got to talking to Darrel. Sort of reminds me of 'ol what's his name showing up with no money looking for a place to stay with his pregnant wife...Make connections, be yourself, be kind, make your home a better place to live.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Compulsive Salvaging

I had 10 other things I was suppose to do today and atleast 4 topics ahead of this blog to write about (like last nights DIFFA event and my get up). But then Jon called me about Starlite Lanes being torn down and I had to go see. I tried to get out of it, I couldn't help myself. I get there, it made me ill. I forgot why I can't do too much salvage anymore. The physical labor/danger angle not withstanding, it makes me ill. Like how animals in cages at the zoo make me ill and I can't go there either. By the time I arrive, they have the marquis clean off the otherwise nothing building. It's 11 a.m. and over 90 degrees. The crew consists of two pairs of brothers and a fifth guy, all nice men, all working at this dirty, hard job. They humor the salvage lady in her new "a beautiful detroit begins with you" tank top. I tell them I save things and make things out of them. They stop the slaughter and start helping me sift through the debris. Despite the fall, there's still plenty of useable beautiful stuff, I'm feeling better. New people come and go, mostly scrap salvagers. I go get cold drinks. I ask about the boss showing up. No one seems too worried. Then the boss shows up along with some official looking man carrying his mac. They look at me. The frontend loader operator says I'm his girlfriend. The functionary proceeds to recite state clean air standards and regulations and what they, who are in violation, need to do to continue this demolition job. He talks like he's teaching a college course they've signed up for. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say these guys have had all the education they never wanted and will ever need. The upshot is that it will cost, in his estimate, $180 each to have a physical to see if they qualify for the right to do this job, to buy a special respirator and a few more items. Which, he goes on to say, they may not need at all because the air quality in the building may not be an issue. Now, he doesn't say the state is going to test this first. No, they just gotta pay this money, see if they make the cut and also fill out a 5-page questionnaire. If they don't do these things? Well, should the state come by this site, on 8 mile Road, they could be fined or put in jail. Now you might argue, the boss oughta pay for this. And maybe he should or would, except it looks like a nothing building. I really don't think he's making a big dollar on this with the fees, equipment and labor costs (and by the way, he tells me he lets then keep whatever scrap money they make). Maybe you're thinking, well what about safety? Sure, once you get past survival, safety would be next on my list. The functionary leaves. The boss says in effect, get this cleaned up and lets get out of here. Everyone gets busy, the boss turns to me, "so who are you (really?)" I tell him as I watch them crush all the stuff I wanted to save. He asks me twice if I'm a spy for the state. I tell him what I think about what I just heard. He tells me I should have told him I wanted the stuff sooner. He stops the crew, tells them to help me load whatever I want. This is so not how this goes. I tell him so. He laughs, says people like me follow him from job to job like this. He invites me to go with him to see if there's anything inside "the contaminated" building. It's empty, as clean as a whistle. I load, ask him what I owe him. He smiles, says "friendship." Girl scout's honor, he says friendship. Do you believe that? We exchange cards, I leave. In the end, seems they weren't actually suppose to take that beautiful marquis down yet. More than one party asked to purchase it. The boss doesn't act too upset about it, seems he takes a lot in stride. It's hot, these men got the call to work, they showed up ready, able and willing to do the work. This is how business is getting done in Detroit my friends. You got a better idea? I'd say run for office, but by the sound of things, I'm not convinced better ideas would survive the quality of the air in there.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Exercising Thrift

Would you believe I am curled up inside my sweater right now? I am bracing myself from the wind blowing hard from the east off lake huron. The water is deeply blue and the front is driving the waves pounding into the break walls. My god it is beautiful here. I can't tear myself away. Somewhere my 3 young charges are building a fort on the beach out of brush and twigs. This is the sweet life, what a legacy. Keeping my footprint light, in every way I can, impressing this idea upon these 3 children feels like a moral imperative. Take only what you need. Waste nothing. Leave no trace of your passing so that this beauty survives you. Each of us, in this bountiful country, need to be good stewards. At Wyatt's school Japhet, their curriculum emphasizes character qualities based on the golden rule. I feel strongly about the one that says, "exercise thrift." By the looks of things in our state, in every state, we need a refresher course. Our lifestyle and values have hit critical mass and we are at the lowest point I have ever lived through. It is painfully evident that our insatiable appetites threaten our bodies, our relationships with each other and the places where we live. I am overwhelmed by the task I am asking of myself and you, so deeply entrenched our wicked ways, turning the tide so tall an order. I try to focus on breaking it down into smaller bites. Like just picking up garbage lying on the ground in front of me and teaching Wyatt to do the same. Examining what we define as "garbage" and taking the time together to sort through it, recycling everything we can. I make my living selling reclaimed materials: from building parts, to factory parts, decorative and utilitarian items to undefinable found things that intrigue me. Teaching Wyatt the idea that he doesn't need another new thing has been a real challenge. I spend a lot of time talking Wyatt out of his wants. I feel defeated when I finally just have to say the "no because I say so" line and often guilty when I give in. Surely one more thing won't matter? I"m uneasy. I try to divert attention, make up some adventure, go treasure hunting. It's a fun, creative, job and inspirational. While I'm looking for useable stuff to sell, he carries a bag to collect up scraps to make art out of, bones and things of interest to study. We wonder where it came from, it's history, it's purpose, the possibilities. A found item might entertain him for an entire afternoon, maybe more, then guiltlessly recycled the next. I can't imagine channel surfing or mall shopping offering similar satisfaction. Clearly it doesn't. The activity need cost nothing, you start out the door, never putting a key into an ignition. We find all kinds of useful things that maybe need a little cleaning or small repair. We all have natural ingenuity, if we tune into it. The skills may be dormant, but I am sure they are there, having been passed down for generations by ancestors who had to do everything themselves with what was at hand. We just got out of practice. There's plenty of help on the internet, at the library, maybe next door at your handy neighbors. Just ask, pay attention, be appreciative. If you have useable items you no longer need or want, donate them to your church or a service organization, sometimes they'll even pick it up. I know you are busier than ever. Enlist your family, work together, make it habit-forming. Try to make it fun. While your at it, pay attention to what is happening with the resources shared by your community: your water, your infrastructure, the parks and downtowns. Say and Do something about waste and contamination when you see it happening, we'll all have less work and expense later. Then stop right where you are. Take this minute to witness the natural beauty around you. Do it again tomorrow. You are making connections, you won't want to let your fellow planet dwellers down. Listen to your mother, make good choices.