Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shall we play a game?

I never had Merlin. I never had Simon. I never had Blip. And Blip was the one I wanted most of all and I totally remember seeing it at the store right before Christmas and it was only $9.95—why didn't my parents get it for me?!

We also never had Atari or Intellivision or any game system except for this really bare-bones one that my brother had hooked up to his tiny black-and-white Panasonic TV. It had just three games: tennis, hockey and breakout. Breakout was the best. Next to Blip.

Anyway, now I have Merlin and it doesn't work so it's like I still don't have Merlin. I see I can get Blip on etsy for just $10—the price unchanged since 1977! Hmm. But I definitely don't remember it being this loud:

Monday, November 28, 2011


This guy. Right? He was totally awesome! At least I know I thought so when I was seven years old and wore a blue and white polyester baseball shirt emblazoned with a photo of an exultant Jimmie J.J. Walker shouting "Dy-no-mite!" every single day. But that gets me to thinking about Dynamite magazine and which came first. I mean, who is responsible for making "dynamite" the "awesome" of the ’70s? And that just gets me to thinking about what a great freaking magazine Dynamite was and why don't I ever see it at any estate sales because I would totally totally snap that shit up... Okay, I just looked on ebay and it turns out I could buy a stack of Dynamites for like ten bucks but I am NOT going to do that. No, sir.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sascha Brastoff, or the story behind an ashtray

One Friday morning, I go to an estate sale in a promising neighborhood, all high hopes and great expectations (Jewish doctor, 1950s subdivision of 5-to-10 acre lots), and everything is crap. Hate that. Finally, after fruitless poking through all these sad rooms, an ashtray catches my eye and I pick it up despite myself. I haven't smoked in more than eight years, since finding out I was pregnant the first time, and ashtrays, no matter how cute, are just unhelpful reminders of a past life that's very much past. I turn it over and find that it's "marked." If I've learned anything from my childhood on the antique show circuit, it's that a mark is always better than no mark (unless that mark is Made in China). A mark indicates a collectible, and a collectible is always special even if it's not exactly to your taste (you can alway sell it!).

So this ashtray is marked Sascha Brastoff California, which doesn't mean anything to me but I like the design and I'm otherwise empty-handed so I buy it for four bucks. I mean, ashtrays are excellent receptacles for coins, paper clips, hair bands and acorns, right? As soon as I'm back at my post (a.k.a., the laptop on the kitchen counter), I google this Brastoff fellow and what an awesome character he turns out to be: A scholarship student at the Cleveland Institute of Art back in the 1930s, he also danced with the Cleveland Ballet. He eventually moves to NYC, where he's a sculptor and a window-dresser at Macy's. In 1942, he enlists in the Air Force and ends up designing costumes and scenery for the USO. He also invents a character called GI Carmen Miranda and becomes very popular with the troops—cut to he ends up doing his drag act in 1944 movie Winged Victory, directed by George Cukor and starring none other than the real Carmen Miranda. He lands a contract with 20th Century Fox as a costume designer; he eventually gets out of his contract so he can start his own ceramics biz in L.A. with the backing of Winthorpe Rockefeller. Business takes off and he's a bit of a society darling; by the early ’50s he has his own factory and counts the likes of Joan Crawford and Zsa Zsa Gabor among his clients.

Seems like a he was a bit of a Jonathan Adler type (or rather Jonathan Adler is a Sascha Brastoff type)—if Sascha had lived to see the age of reality of TV (he died in 1993), he'd probably be a judge on one of those design contest shows uttering memorable catchphrases like "See ya later, decorator!" His career definitely had highs and lows (the carousel he did with the Franklin Mint is apparently very collectible but...yikes) but if you google images for him you will be treated to a parade of midcentury eye candy. Read more about him on this lady's blog.

Anyway, the point is that sometimes you learn a lot when you buy an ashtray.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Librarian

I love Modern Library books and actively started collecting them a few years ago when I'd managed to snag several with intact dust jackets at a few of the better library sales (a tip for the library sale naif: the best source for books of literary consequence is your local JCC). I have a vague intention of collecting all of the volumes in the Modern Library one day—I don't know how many there are and I prefer to remain ignorant for now—and then admiring them grouped together in all their glory. I remember a piece in Martha Stewart Living from maybe a dozen years ago featuring the interior of a home belonging to Martha's irascible daughter Alexis. She had a collection of Modern Library books on display—but maybe she had the jackets removed? For the sake of color uniformity? I would never do that. Regardless, it made an impression. Of course she probably bought them all in one lot, which really sucks the fun out of it, in my humble opinion.

I got these editions of Jane Eyre and David Copperfield at one estate sale—an amateur deal where all the moldy books were strewn willy-nilly across the moldering carpet and the safest way to browse was to just kind of gingerly push stuff around with your foot. What are the chances of finding your two favorite novels of all time at one sale? When all the other books were of a religious or self-helpy nature? That doesn't happen often, people.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Postcards from the edge

I live in what I consider to be a prime estate sale neighborhood: mostly ranch houses built in the 1950s and ’60s, lots of retired military folks (military = well-traveled = interesting estate sale fodder) and doctors (already discussed what makes their sales generally worth hitting). If I didn't live here already, I would totally stalk my own hood. So when a sale crops up, I tend to get irrationally territorial—like, who do you people think you are coming to my turf, trying to buy my neighbors' stuff? I haven't called the cops on the estate salers who park in the street (you are so busted! no one is allowed to park in the street here!) but I've been sorely tempted.

Like at this sale, at a ranch house set way back from the road, tantalizingly obscured by a grove of oaks—how many times have I jogged past it, biked past it, walked the dog past it and wondered what treasure lies within?

Well, I got a pretty good haul, including a box of San Antonio postcards. Oversized and rounded at the edges, with saturated colors and brightly colored borders, they were printed in McAllen, TX, by James Hanshaw Postcards. Not sure when but I'm going to guess the ’70s. (I might just be saying that because this image of La Villita is reminding me of the famous chase scene in The French Connection.) James would have benefited from the services of a proofreader but doesn't that just make the idea of San Antonio—7th largest city in the U.S., number one tourist destination in TX, simultaneously disrespected and embraced for its core lameness—as the city that "spans the centurys [sic]" all the more endearing?

I don't know what I'm going to do with all these cards exactly (a feeling I often experience post-sale); if you'd like me to mail you one while we still have a postal service, lemme know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The fun city girls

You know, I used to be a fun city girl, whistling for taxis, dancing on bars, throwing my hat triumphantly in the air in the middle of busy intersections. But just judging this book by its cover—and how can you do otherwise?—I might as well have been the pitiful hausfrau I am now compared to these chicks:

Stephanie had been the Mayor's wife, until she cut out to start the most fanatical of all Women's Lib groups—B.I.T.C.H.
Sabrina had been his mistress, until certain ground rules of politics made him ditch her.
Michele's latest heart-throb was a black militant who taught her that all was fair in love and class war.
Irene had an overwhelming passion to be "in" where the red-hot action was.
When this quartet of crazy ladies ganged up on one poor man, there was going to be a bang heard 'round the world!
*This novel is rated "R"—for riotous, ribald and deliciously readable every scandalous page of the way.
I made a valiant effort to read this book, but the staccato prose and groovy slang defeated me. What I took away from a quick skim is that the titular Fun City Girls are reminiscent of Mary McCarthy's The Group or of the book-publishing chippies in Rona Jaffe's The Best of Everything. Full of old-is-new fashion references (Cacharel, Sonia Rykiel) and amylnitrate-fueled sex this book is. "Deliciously readable" it is not:

They were Man and Woman, stripped naked of phony cultural restrictions and creepy inhibitions. They were free. Adam and Eve in the primeval state.

Set in the magazine industry in the early 70s, The Fun City Girls is dedicated to erstwhile NYC mayor John Lindsay, and rated a blurb from longtime New York magazine food critic Gael Green ("Delcious!" she pithily, allegedly proclaimed.) Since "the poor man" these fun city girls gang up on happens to be the mayor of New York, I'm trying to imagine a similarly tawdry roman a clef inspired by Bloomberg and I'm coming up empty...(how about you?). This book has left few traces on the internets that I could find—a flickr set here, a $5 copy on ebay there—so I don't think it made a big splash back in the day. Too bad. I really wanted it to be better, especially given the magazine angle that's so dear to my heart. Striving freelancer Irene wants to transform Modern Woman from "a manual of sewing hints and casserole recipes...into an exciting, informed magazine for today's exciting, informed modern woman."

!!!The editor of Modern Woman. The youngest editor of a major magazine in the United States. Maybe the world. No more the uncertainties of free-lance assignments. No more tedious rewrites. No more fights about having her more controversial articles printed by chicken editors. She'd be the editor! She'd have the power! She could finally do what she always wanted: change the world!!!

Aww, once upon a time a magazine editor wasn't just a romantic-comedy excuse for Jennifer Garner or Kate Hudson to wear Manolos and bark orders—it held the promise of changing the world. And well, before I get too jaded about that notion, let's consider Gloria Steinem and all the radical womyn behind the founding of Ms. magazine, the subject of an entertaining oral history in New York magazine. Ms. was launched in 1971, the year before The Fun City Girls was published—taken in that context, I should probably cut it a little more slack.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The moon belongs to the man in the moon

Globes are, like, totally hot now, right? I've seen artful clusterings of them in shelter mag layouts and on the finer design blogs and I'm down with it, although one day having a bunch of globes in your fireplace is going to look as dated and goofy as...what? Avocado-colored kitchen appliances? Macrame plant holders? I'm reaching here; everything old is new again and therefore we should throw nothing out. Everyone knows that. Anyhoo, just to be contrary, I'm going to focus on collecting moon globes. So far I have two.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Origin stories

This one goes out to Dallas, TX—to Baby A (5.5 lbs) and Baby B (3.5 lbs), who arrived unfashionably early to the party today. The first first cousins, first nieces, to this first-time aunt and uncle and two eager-beaver cousins. Wonderful, indeed.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Empire state of mind

Eighteen years I lived in New York City and what manner of Big Apple souvenir did I ever own? A few cool old books about the city maybe. A framed needlepoint tapestry of the skyline. Umm... not much else. I had a lot of Texas stuff, mostly things my mother would find and give to Lindsay for Christmas because he was a Texan living in New York City and surely a few Texas tchotchkes would mitigate the homesickness he must be feeling?

Fast-forward to now, seven years into our Texas residency and we've shed the majority of our Lone Star knickknacks—and I'm finding myself buying collector plates celebrating the Empire State Building. Oy. I'm trying to restrain myself. A few vintage postcards here, a framed photo of the WTC in all its nighttime glory there... Actually, I can't look at that WTC picture, currently residing in the garage until Lindsay takes it to his office. It bums me out for all the obvious reasons; I remember proclaiming, not long after 9/11, that I would never leave NYC because then the terrorists would have won. So much for that. But I also can't look at this picture without thinking of the two pairs of old-school Spot-bilt sneaker-skates that were at the same yard sale for like five bucks and we didn't buy them! Who cares that they didn't fit? They were so cool! New in box!

Anyway, one shouldn't look at the WTC and think of sneaker-skates. Lindsay has got to take that thing to his office.
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