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.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Pit Bull in a Princess Dress takes to the Airwaves

I started the day in what I call the "princess" dress. I thought it would make me feel more professional at the NPR studios in Ann Arbor. I had a serious message prepared. As I pounded this keyboard afterwards at the sweet cafe around the corner from the studio (Jefferson Market), the dress could hardly contain the rough talking, dirty jean-wearing salvage slave too enraged to drive home yet. As my grandmother Eugenia, liked to say to us girls, "you all are so pretty, you ought to look pretty!'" translation: comb your hair, put something decent on and behave like young ladies. I got special "manners" lessons, that's paid off. I had spent hours thinking about the topic NPR asked me to speak about: three things to make Michigan a better place to live. I live near and work in one of the hardest places, but also the coolest. I now realize I didn't pay very close attention to the examples they sent me. I knew the segments were short, but I felt so strongly about my three things I just thought and wrote what I believe to be true. They promised it would edit down and sound fine. I didn't get to say what I wanted to. So I pounded away with righteous indignation, I'm calling up my army. NPR wanted to give people some simple ideas of things they can do, I want them to take to the streets. My friend Peter reminds me that expectations will only cause pain and suffering. I'm not interested in letting myself or anyone else off the hook that easily. I know what's causing pain and suffering, and the cure for it isn't something simple. We need to do more. On the lead topic exercise thrift, I spit out, "If you want to save Michigan, quit buying cheap new crap at Target" and predictably, "recycle, repurpose, reuse." I had a more erudite repackaging of this heavily trafficked mantra, but the host's question instead elicited, "yes you can repaint that table you already have and use that." At 4 in the morning I'm capitulating, it's probably better than I think, yesterday at 11am I was disappointed. They are talking about demolishing thousands of homes and buildings in Detroit. I'm thinking reusing that end table comes up short. I can't even imagine what Detroit will look like after we wipe half of it out, not to mention where is all that stuff going? Am I crazy to want to keep the ruins? roofless and gaping with trees growing through? This is the Detroit I grew up with and love. This princess still believes there's a real possibility that a fairy tale ending is in store for places like our train station. I drive back home through Detroit, Transformer 3's set needs signs and animal rescue Jon has me routed to a sign grave yard. The pit bull Tom greets me at the gate. The owner Michael and his helper Eugene go out of there way to help me look through the pile of signs, nervously holding the ladder I insist on climbing up to get a decent shot on my camera phone. "Maybe you should keep a change of clothes in your car." Tom doesn't look worried at all and flops down in the heat. The sweat is making a stain on my back. I keep climbing. I call the set buyer who's appreciative, I'll be back there tomorrow to see the other jeans. The other two things, community networking and cook at home go a little better, I get my point across that we have become disconnected and its causing joblessness, hopelessness and illness. I hope they don't edit the story about how the lawn mower purchased from my neighbors at Billings instead of from the "discounter" actually ended up being a gift that paid me (years of snow removal, forklift borrowing, real estate mediation and free popcorn from the owner Rick Johnson) nor the shout out to my octogenarian sales help Jerry who lives across from the shop. I didn't get to talk about foraging for the food growing wild and delicious in our city, but I sure "weighed in" on my concern about what we've been feeding ourselves and what people are forced to eat in a city bereft of fresh food sources. I hope I conveyed how important it is to me to share the gift of good food with everyone at my table and that taking an interest in knowing, helping and caring for each other is all Michigan and anyone else out there needs. Rest assured the pit bull in the princess dress isn't done chewing on this bone.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Help a Brother, Help Yourself Out

This is the money left on our porch today to pay the rent. It's a stunning amount of bills, mostly 1's, and they represent the tips from all the drinks our tenant poured. It's right on time. Waiting on people is really hard work, I know I've done it. I am reminded that I'm not the only one working hard and I am chastened. We have for so long been working hard, for ourselves, our needs, our wants, all the things that money can and cannot buy, and I think we have lost sight of the importance of connectedness. It's been an intense week. Even with help, I still do most everything myself and have for so long that to delegate, to ask for the help I really need, feels like more not less work. There's something wrong with this thinking. It's taken a toll, and not just on me. I tell my son Wyatt that his parent's focus is on living a good life. That doesn't mean easy, it means satisfying. Satisfaction comes from positive experiences, not possessions. He just got to spend a month in Italy, I think he's getting the idea. I know this sounds hypocritical coming from someone who sells things for a living, but there's a lot more to what we do and how we do it and that makes all the difference. We all have to make our living doing something, hopefully that something is honest and meaningful to you, ours is. I spent the morning shopping for the store at the local flea market. This is a little market in the town where we live. Most everything comes from around here. It's used stuff and pays other hard-working local dealers their living. We socialize a lot, ask about each other's businesses, health, families, laugh, sometimes cry and often hug each other. I have been shopping here for 18 years and yet today I met a dealer I knew of, but didn't know. We made a nice connection. My shop is 4 blocks away and he followed me over to see it. He said out loud what I have been thinking (even more serendipitous, it's exactly the topic I've been working on for an NPR interview I'm doing this week) about this idea that working together is what we need to do more of to live better. I followed him to his house to see his collection. Oh my god, it was a museum, in a beautiful federal revival house with two lots and a garden. It's next to an abandoned building in Detroit, he says it's safe, there are no bars on his windows and no problems. I think this says a lot about him and the energy he puts forth. I see lots of ways to help him with his business, including recommending this house for movies to rent. I'll put the word out. He makes us blt's. We brainstorm about hosting fellow dealers for a salon, a party, something fun and useful in this beautiful big old house. I confessed I'd had a really hard week, he said he had too. We agreed today helped us both out. I hope saying this to you helps you out. Maybe you can help someone else out. Remember the mantra: May a beautiful where ever you live begin with you.