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.