As a result of the technologically-advanced tablet–a word, which, like gay, has been redefined, no longer used for aspirins and religious decrees on stone, now the term to describe a flat device placed anywhere to access information, inaccurate or not–what does truth matter?–about anything–I easily identified the source of the above quotation, whose speaker, until the moment after I’d tapped out the query on the noisy glass keys, was a mystery. Oscar Wilde! But of course.
It was a dear friend who called out to me–as i was leaving his house with a freshly procured aromatic bag of hydroponically-grown pharmaceutical-grade weed,–“All things in moderation–including moderation.” The perfect twist on an expression I loathed, being a hedonist at heart with a Puritan’s talent for self-castigation.
“All things in moderation” is a phrase dating back who knows how long and one which holds little interest for me. I hail from a people of excess: Russian Jews. I do not bother to put a coat on when something needs to be done at 5 am outside in 10-below temperatures. Sometimes I end up nursing minor frostbite for days, insisting on bringing things in and out of my truck, cleaning the opaque windshield of ice that has formed overnight atop the real windshield, not bothering to walk ten steps back inside to retrieve gloves. If I fall in love with a CD, I listen to it until it holds the same allure as elevator music piped in while the dentist drills at my molar.
If you’ve read this blog, you already know i sell antiques for a meager living. Antiques are all about excess–shopping until you are ready to fall down because Victorian coal hods ball and claw foot Morris chairs are reflected in your dilated pupils like the dollar signs spinning in the pupils of someone playing the slots in a Vegas hotel at 3 am.
In my family’s house, there were no antiques, but I don’t think anyone even realized it. The furniture was heavy mahogany, considered antiques despite its glassy polyurethane finish. There was porcelain, mostly made by the American company Lenox, a few Limoges pieces, but in the end the only value to any of it was that my grandmother and mother had decent taste and after they were gone, I discovered, quite by accident, a sizable demographic–who would become my initial customer base–that was indifferent to authenticity and very much influenced by price. This is where I started and where I began to hone an appreciation for antiques as art, rather than commodities.
In my shop people ask about my private antiques collection, the one they presume fills the “Colonial” home I either inherited or purchased with the great fortune I am exacting from stuff found on the curb, hastily “restored” with Lemon Pledge, and priced $499 for quick sale. I would like to be that person, have a huge office with a great walnut partners’ desk and shelves upon which to display my antique typewriter and fountain pen collection, Arts and Crafts light fixtures dappling everything in subtle hues, a porcelain claw-foot tub and a counter-top made from stone purchased at the local quarry. Instead I live in an old camp on a hill and I can barely afford to have the driveway plowed. The truth is, I am a minimalist: I find that living amongst too many things distracts me from… I don’t know what because I am distracted.
Still I love what I have put inside my house, mainly things that would not sell in the shop or that I wouldn’t dare bring into the shop, my dog, and odd objects that hold some kind of meaning or story or represent a time of life that I need to remember so that I can sustain hope. This is a little photo essay of things I love:
- Pluto, my 9-pound Jack Russell terrier, lying on the yellow demilune sofa, the only two things in my house which are not antique. On top of the sofa is a Victorian textile, which, while old and battered, many of the grand tassels torn off, is one of my all-time favorite auction purchases. Not for a minute did I consider selling it. Also pictured is the garish hand-made 100% cotton pink coverlet from the online Goodwill site.
- Someone took this Edward Hopper quotation and decoupaged it onto this small board. Decoupage–here done with amber shellac, a process I remember well from my childhood–is a labor of love and will always remind me of the l970s when we used this technique to forever preserve lesser quotations and pictures of animals and teen idols. I love this quotation and I love that someone felt compelled to preserve it. I picked this up in a thrift shop along with an apple-red fleece zip-up bathrobe like my grandmother might have worn, on the way from Binghamton NY to Hamden CT to help my mother enter hospice. It was snowing the whole way and I was transporting three mid-Century chairs in my the back of my pickup with no cap on it.
- A cast-iron German Shepherd ashtray filled with assorted dice given to me by my friend Meredith. The dog was purchased from a tragically-defunct vintage shop called Funkin’ Junk, near my mother’s condo, which I frequented during my visits to her over the last year or two of her life. The woman who ran the shop was tiny and tough and it is because of my admiration for her that I decided to get into this racket. My sister bought the ashtray for me and because it reminded me of Zen, my dog for 15 years after whom my store is named, I have never used it for smoking–nor is anyone else allowed to.
- Some things are so ugly, they are beautiful. This might be said of these two pink chairs–twins, really. I bought them from another defunct vintage store that practically paid me to get them off the premises. Sometimes they sit in front of the wood stove, but these days they face the yellow couch since the pattern on all three pieces is sort of Art Deco and thus compatible. Someday I will part with them–hopefully both will go somewhere together and it will not be the transfer station.
- A poster of Munch’s rendering of The Thinker, purchased at the Rodin Museum in Paris in the early 90s when I traveled out of the country for the first time with my then-partner, Jan. The Rodin Museum was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen–rivaled as it was by the Tuilleries and that great cemetery where Jim Morrison and all the nameless holocaust victims are buried. My only regret is that I was not drinking at the time and did not imbibe even one glass of red wine, preferably with an early lunch followed by a long nap, as the French like to do. I love this poster though it is buckling because it is in a cheap DIY frame and has lived in the moist bathroom for years.
The coolest, most uncomfortable shoes I have ever owned. I don’t know the vintage–maybe the 50s? I think they are boys’ shoes and they are so cute, it is criminal. But all I have to do is put them on and walk ten steps and I end up putting them aside in favor of some Doc Martens or Skechers–something reasonably functional. I bought them from a guy named John who had an old farmhouse in Cummington, Mass. His boyfriend had left him and he was selling off everything. I was just starting my business and each weekend I’d head out to his barn and load up the back of my truck with more stuff, most of which never sold. He gave me these–amazed anyone would even want them. But I will never part with them unless someone offers me enough money to retire. Any takers?
Blurry picture of beautiful folk art on a board. Like my customers love to say, I got it for nothing. But I’d have paid a lot more for it if the owner had asked. It’s a jack Russell with a giant benevolent cow and it’s quite old, done in oils. I have a Norman Rockwell of a JRT and a boy, lying on what looks to be a hillside. What’s interesting is the way breeds are consistently portrayed in paintings. JRTs are always so relational, which is exactly what I would say about Pluto. She lives to relate to people. I wish I knew who had painted this and when. I would like meet him/her.
My Shasta camper, vintage 1961, purchased blind on ebay for a bit too much, gutted on the inside, currently a work in progress. So cool. If only I could wear the old shoes inside it.
My favorite typewriter so far–and there have been many. An old avocado green Royal with the great Art Deco label on front. Works like a charm and has adjustable action. I usually tire of them and sell them eventually, but, as I’m growing older and ready to commit, I plan to keep this one for the duration.
And, finally, Beckett from Waiting for Godot, the play that, in my opinion, poses the question better than Shakespeare ever did: Does one give up or persist in the face of impossible despair? The jury is still out–as it was for the characters and, I imagine, for Beckett himself. This print was given to me by Jane Picard, who hopefully will persist though I’d forgive her if she decided not to go on after all. It hangs next to my door and I keep Pluto’s leashes on hooks above it to remind me why I must slough through another day. I also keep it in the antiques shop under a photo of Beckett. Interestingly, people often mistake his weathered face for that of Jack Kevorkian, whom I can imagine might have said the same thing–though with less poetry. The quotation and portrait have also been assigned to Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs… which I find amusing. I am waiting for someone to attribute both words and picture to Gertrude Stein.