Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Everything's cuter when it's French, part 2

If you say it in French, aspiring to be the "perfect secretary" doesn't seem half bad. Imagine the outfits a parfait secretaire must wear! Doubtless entire chapters are devoted to the art of scarf-knotting but I can't read them because, you know, they're in French. Still, I think this book was worth a dollar just for its flashy cover design.

The French also manage to make umbrella sales seem like a desirable vocation.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Everything's cuter when it's French, part 1

In honor of the Oscar sweep of The Artist, a movie I totally loved, I'm going to devote the next few days to a few French things I have lying about, starting with this series of French classics published by Hachette's Le Livre de Poche (Pocket Books): L'espoir by Andre Malraux, Graziella by Lamartine, Eugénie Grandet by Balzac, La Jument Verte by Marcel Aymé, Claudine a l'Ecole by Willy et Colette, and L'Or by Blaise Cendrars. I initially passed them up at my favorite Goodwill because they seemed a little overpriced for ex-library books, not to mention in French and I don't speak French. But I returned several days later, relieved to find them still there as I'd been obsessing about their covers all week. I can't find a date on any of them, but they've got to have been published in the time of midcentury awesomeness, no?

I came to my Francophilia somewhat late in life; I suppose it sprang from working for the same French company on two separate occasions but really that could have just as easily gone the other way. Repeated viewings of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg helped, as did actually going to Paris on someone else's seemingly limitless expense account. I was raised an Anglophile by Anglophile parents who'd met and married in England (though they are not British) and was fed a steady diet of teatimes, Upstairs Downstairs, Forsyte Saga, Monty Python and all things Austen. What I love about England is the landscape, music, pints, accents and literature. But the French have them on design, food, Sancerre, fashion (apologies to Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith) and just the ability to make everything look cuter, like, you know, sailor shirts. Or matchbooks. Or book covers. If I read/spoke French, it's possible I'd even prefer their literature, though it seems heretical to say so. But since I've read all my Flaubert, Stendahl, Balzac, Zola, in translation, I can never be sure.

Monday, February 27, 2012


I buy books that I've never read because I want to read them. I buy books that I have read because I no longer own a copy—either I borrowed it or checked it out from the library or loaned it out and never got it back. I buy books that I already have because I discover a different edition that's more attractive and/or valuable (sometimes I get rid of the old book, sometimes I don't). I buy books I've already read to give to my friends and family. I buy books for my kids to read now. I buy books for my kids to read in the future. I buy books for my friends' kids to read now or in the future. I buy books for my kids' teachers. I buy books because their covers are irresistible. I buy books because sometimes I can't believe the book exists. I buy books with a vague intention of selling them. I buy books because I'm a collector and a completist.

The latter reason is why I bought these beauteous Anchor Doubleday paperbacks designed by Edward Gorey. I documented my obsession with this series here, and I'm glad to say I only have around 193 to go. I doubt I will ever read The American Transcendentalists or The American Puritans. Maybe The Secret Agent but I'm not a big Conrad fan. Basically, I bought them so I could admire them.

I love books, as tangible objects, but don't get the wrong idea—I also read lots of books on my phone. In this way, and probably no other, I'm practically like a Japanese teenager.

Two Fridays ago, I went to an estate sale at a home that had the sort of library that no one has anymore. In addition to several sets of Encyclopedia Britannica and various editions of the OED, they had a complete set of the Great Books of The Western World. The Yale Shakespeare. The Heritage Press/Limited Edition Book Club. Numerous Modern Library books. And great towers of Life, Look and Time magazines. The rest of their library consisted of hardcover best-sellers and paperback literary classics and trade paperback book club fodder. I scooped up practically every book written by Barbara Pym (even though I already have them all) and a few by Kingsley Amis that I didn't have. These folks had been true generalists and serious readers, though I'm sure, like most of us, they couldn't claim to have read every book in their library. Let the record show that I purchased the Heritage Press editions of Herodotus, Picture of Dorian Gray, and Somerset Maugham's Moon and Sixpence and not one appeared to have ever been cracked open. Will I crack them open?.

They had also been book subscribers—you forget that mail order book clubs were once commonplace. I understand, having just googled it, that the Book of the Month Club does still exist, but does anyone know anyone who actually subscribes to it? And if there is any real value to it? Okay, your first four books are just a dollar, but how about the rest? Somewhere online I read an argument in favor of mail-order books—they're relatively inexpensive, the selections are made by highly trained, knowledgable editors and you never have to worry about going out to a bookstore in bad weather, or worse, finishing a book in the evening and not being able to get a new one because the book store is closed. Um. Somehow I'm thinking the book clubs need to rethink their business model before it's too late. Their demographic is aging—dying. I've seen it firsthand.

At this estate sale, I was, as usual, the youngest person in the room. Several elderly folks wandered around, peering at titles, and their verdict was unanimous: "What a lot of books!" One remarked: "I've never seen so many books." Still another said: "I don't need any more books! I have enough at home." An elderly gent mused: "I need another book. I just finished mine. What was it again?" His wife prompted him: "Have you read this one? You like this author."

Many of my old friends and colleagues are writing books, creating content, apps, scrambling to keep the printed word relevant. Meanwhile, that Friday afternoon, I was feeling very much out of the game, having relegated myself to the role of scavenger/savior trying to build the perfect library before it all disappears. I felt like Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey—while all the useful people were out in the trenches in France, I was obsolete, shuffling around the library with a few elderly companions and tsking over the latest news from the front.

After I paid for my books, one of the estate sale ladies helped carry them to my car. It was raining and we leaned over the boxes as we walked, trying to keep them dry. We chatted:

Me: They sure had a lot of great books. Did you have a lot more yesterday?
Her: Yes, but not that much more. We don't get the people coming to buy books like we used to. Everyone has to have one of those Kindle thingies now!
Me: Well, I love my Kindle but that doesn't mean I don't love real books as well...
Her: I can't imagine reading on a machine. I used to be a teacher and I have to feel a book in my hands. Like I taught my kids, and now my grandkids, "Let's read a few pages and then stop, put the book down, and try to visualize what the author is saying."

I thought it must take her a very long time to finish a book, but I didn't say so. What's the hurry, right?

Friday, February 24, 2012

More ’60s Vogue: All the young dudes

For your Friday viewing pleasure, more eye candy from The Sixties: A Decade in Vogue, starting with Terence Stamp (Terence Donovan, 1967), above, circa Far From the Madding Crowd, one of my favorite beautiful/depressing Thomas Hardy adaptations. Happy weekend!

Mick, "whose strange individuality will keep him a star. To women, Jagger looks fascinating, to men, a scare." (David Bailey, 1964)

Why hello, Tom Stoppard... (Snowdon, 1967)

Peter O'Toole (Jerry Bauer, 1963)

Mary Quant and Alexander Plunket-Greene (Brian Duffy, 1962). Sorry this is more about the dress than the dude. I'll post more in the future; can't help myself.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


How happy was I to score The Sixties: A Decade in Vogue (edited by Nicholas Drake) at an otherwise underwhelming library sale two weeks ago? As with the Scavullo book, it was pretty impossible to narrow down my choices to scan but it does seem bad form to scan the whole thing... I did my best, starting with cover girl Twiggy, a no-brainer of course. Those eyelashes! Those rings! Maybe I will scan some Vogue dudes tomorrow.

Do you recognize this winsome face? Maggie Smith, the dowager countess to end all dowager countesses. Gorgeous, right? (Bert Stern, 1963)

Shirley Maclaine, who will be joining the Downton Abbey cast for the third season, as Cora's mother and likely nemesis of Dame Maggie. I love this pic but her hands are scaring me a little—kind of like if that Oliver Stone movie with Michael Caine starred murderous jazz hands instead of just a regular old murderous hand. (David Bailey, 1965)

Francoise Hardy, at 18. What can I say? (Jean-Loup Sieff, 1964)

Jeanne Moreau. The perfect cat eye. (David Budnick, 1962)

Jean Shrimpton. Love everything about this picture. Which Stone did she date? (David Bailey, 1962)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Old school

I think we can all agree that it would be fairly tasteless if ads for estate sales always featured the profession of the deceased, but sometimes the estate sale companies just can't help themselves. Certain kinds of dead people attract more buyers. I've already discussed how the estate sales of doctors tend to be hot tickets, and I recently went to the sale of a person touted as San Antonio's Most Famous Flamenco Dancer. I bought San Antonio's Most Famous Flamenco Dancer's vintage telephone, as well as a box of her office supplies (never used, just $4).

But the one kind of sale I hate to miss is the kind that almost never gets played up in the ads: teacher sales. Especially art-teacher sales. That sounds horrible, right? Like I'm some kind of ghoul, gleefully rubbing my hands together in anticipation of more teachers dying? Well, I'm pretty sure most of the teachers whose sales I've attended were just moving into nursing homes—really nice nursing homes. And the rest were merely downsizing and relocating to Dallas to be closer to the grandchildren. (Yes, sometimes a little magical thinking is necessary if one is going to continue frequenting estate sales.)

Anyhoo, the thing is, the teachers' families didn't want their children's books and art supplies and crazy retro teaching materials but I do. Let the teachers' families fritter their lives away standing in line at the one open register at Michael's or Hobby Lobby; I'd much rather replenish the coffers of my kids' craft cabinets, art bins and desks at an estate sale.

A question I'm often asked as I wait in the check-out line—balancing stacks of kid books and old paintbrushes in the crook of one arm, brandishing my checkbook with the other—is, "Are you a teacher?" Nope. "A home-schooler?" Hell, no! When would I have time to go to estate sales? (Duh!)

I'm always psyched to come across Sakura Cray-Pas. They're versatile, easy to use and unbeatable for rendering rainbows. The Japanese company started making them in the 1920s, and they were specifically designed for children as part of a new movement in art instruction, which was kind of anti-art-instruction, encouraging kids to free draw instead of copy. A radical idea at the time, apparently. But even better than the cray-pas themselves are the boxes. They're so rad—dig that midcentury-style rooster!

If you buy new Sakura products online, the boxes don't pack the same graphic punch, though they are still being made. Whenever I'm in NYC, one of my must-stops is the Kinokuniya bookstore across from Bryant Park, where I spend way too much money on hamster stickers, Totoro pencil cases, the latest Moshi books, Moomin and Miffy stationery. The store has a great art supply section and stocks Sakura products in the rooster boxes, but a wee little pack of cray-pas is, like, twenty bucks. So far I've managed to back away slowly, knowing that before I make too big of a dent in my stash of vintage art supplies back in San Antonio, another retired teacher will be relocating to Dallas.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

They're not bad...they're just drawn that way

Time to play my favorite estate-sale guessing game: What, exactly, were our late neighbors up to? What was going on behind those modest brick walls, beneath those popcorn ceilings, atop those shaggy shag carpets?

I got an armload of Walter T. Fosters at the home of yet another San Antonio Sunday painter. This person had all the great, and more rare, manuals devoted to pin-up girls (I already wrote about one here). But as I leafed through Drawing the Figure by Russell Tredell, what should fall into my lap?

A clipping from a mysterious periodical, an exposé about a "Free Love Cult in the Caves of Crete." Frustratingly, the text of the article was not saved; just this picture of a very limber free love cultist busting some kind of gymnastical yoga move on the beach of what I assume must be Crete.

This toothsome lass is on the flip side of the clipping. Free love cult member? We can only hope.

I wish I could report that after conducting a thorough investigation into the matter, I found out all kinds of interesting things about free love cults inspired by Eileithyia, the Cretan goddess of fertility who was born in one of the womb-like caves of Crete, but all I found out is that Crete has womb-like caves, many of which are believed to be the birthplace of mythological gods, including Zeus. Which makes the caves of Crete a pretty good place to start a free love cult considering Zeus was one of the earliest and most accomplished practitioners of the sport.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Scavullo's ’80s ladies

It was pretty hard to choose who was most scan-worthy from Scavullo Women, Francesco Scavullo's 1982 coffee-table book celebrating the ladies of the late ’70s/early ’80s and their disco-diet tips. There are 46 featured; half, Scavullo says, are models, and the rest are the usual cross-section of "novelists, journalists, housewives, princesses, singers, schoolgirls, fashion editors, designers, businesswomen, movie stars, theater stars, television personalities." (Among those not pictured here: Carol Alt, Farrah Fawcett, Tina Chow, Catherine Oxenberg, Adelle Lutz, Jill Sander...) What they all have in common is that they're "fabulous" and the photo he's selected is "of a woman looking the best she's ever looked in her life."

A modest fellow, like most fashion photographers.

I never owned this book back in the day, when I aspired (futilely) to look like these ladies (I have the raccoon-eyed, purple-clad, big-haired school portraits to prove it), but that Brooke Shields cover is etched on my brain, just like the dippy monologues from the old Calvin Klein commercials. When I snatched it off the "health and fitness" table at the New Braunfels library sale last year, it was the first time I'd ever cracked it open. To my 21st-century eye, the "before" shots—the more natural, minimally made-up pictures—are infinitely more appealing... Guess I just can't help the blandly tasteful person I've become (see previous meditation on this subject). There's no mistaking that the "after" shots date to the last days of disco.

Somebody must've thought that the book couldn't stand on its own, that it needed a servicey angle, and somehow, I think, Scavullo was not that person. Posing as a beauty guide, it makes empty promises familiar to readers of women's magazines, and the so-called secrets, tricks and tips boil down to the usual platitudes: Know thyself. To feel good is to look good. Don't take fashion magazines literally, or you'll be a fashion victim. Scavullo's women ramble on and on, their quotes seemingly unedited, as they struggle to come up with something helpful to say:

Gia Carangi, one of the first of the supermodels, struggled with heroin addiction and died of AIDS at the age of 26. (Most people know her from the TV biopic starring a young, on-the-brink Angelina Jolie.) "I eat a lot. I eat everything—except, I don't go for mixed salads. I eat pizza and hamburgers, and I eat pheasant and Jell-O and steak and spaghetti."

La Liz: "Even three years ago, I wouldn't have said that I might ever, possibly, conceivably, under any circumstances have a face lift, because I'm of the grow old-gracefully school, and every wrinkle I've got is a wrinkle earned. But it's wrong to discount any possibility."

Patti Hansen, aka Mrs. Keith Richards: Not big on exercise back in 1982 but when she went through a "fat period," she decided to enroll in an exercise class, the Lotte Berk Method: "I looked around at all the little fatties in the class, and I thought, Oh, wow, this is going to be great; no contest! Well, by the end of the first class, I couldn't lift my leg and these tubby little bowls had their legs wrapped around their waists. I was so embarrassed!"

Designer Norma Kamali, on where she would shop if she didn't wear her own parachute jumpsuits: "I would probably dress at the five-and-dime. They have lots of great things; I buy my underwear there now." (I actually love Norma Kamali, but she didn't exactly have any "beauty secrets" to share with the masses.

Proto-supermodel and all-round nutbag Janice Dickinson: "If you're happy, you don't have to stay out at discos all night, you don't have to snort cocaine every second."

Polly Mellen, Vogue fashion editor in the Grace Mirabella era: "I dye my eyelashes so I don't use mascara. I love everything else, but I don't like to do that. It gives me the willies; it bores me."

Polly's peculiar views on mascara pretty well approximate my feelings as I leaf through this book—sometimes it gives me the willies, and sometimes it bores me...but mostly I love it.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

From a monkey and a chicken and all the other fine people who toil here at Thingummery.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A room with a Viewmaster (or two...)

Like a youngish lady who lets herself go prematurely grey, sometimes I think I make myself seem a lot older than I actually am by saying stuff like: "I wrote all my college papers in longhand on yellow legal pads!" Or: "I've seen Benny Goodman and Count Basie perform live!" And of course: "I remember when we got our first color TV—and the first show I watched on it was The Lone Ranger!" Yeah, I am somewhat old-ish, depending on the context, but I'm not yet a card-carrying member of AARP. Still, it's probably fair to say that my tastes have always skewed a little old, or old-school. Old-school sounds a lot better, doesn't it?

Here comes another fogeyish admission: The first time I saw Disney's Cinderella was on my Viewmaster; I never saw the actual movie till my three-year-old daughter got the DVD. I only knew Cinderella distilled to 21 eye-popping three-dimensional or "stereoscopic" images. And as swell a movie as Cinderella is—I might even say it was one of my favorite Disneys if its charms hadn't been somewhat eroded by repeated (and repeated and repeated) viewing—I'm not sure if you really need more than those 21 images.

Like most cool stuff, the Viewmaster was introduced to an incredulous public at a World's Fair (in this case, the 1939 fair). Back then, it was marketed as a high-tech alternative to the postcard, so most of the early reels feature tourist attractions, scenic landscapes etc, but they eventually started making reels of popular TV shows, movies and other fodder for kids. The old-fangled Viewmaster is still being manufactured as a novelty toy, though the $12 Fisher-Price version, while more or less the same product, isn't nearly as lovely to look at as the ones I've collected from the ’40s-’60s. Like the ’50s model pictured here (incidentally I did NOT pay 12 bucks for it—I'm sure it was half price).

I wonder if there's a way to share the images from the Viewmaster reel on the internets, because as cute as this object is, the awesomeness of the Viewmaster is what you get to view. Generally when you score one at an estate sale, it'll come with a bunch of reels. This one came with more than just highlights of the Grand Canyon and The Rescuers and Snow White: the three-part "Movie stars of Hollywood, USA" (featuring glam publicity stills of Debbie Reynolds, Van Heflin, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Wagner, Dick Powell et al). Something called the Eighth World Boy Scout Jamboree (a wholesome good time, for sure). Tarzan, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Rin Tin Tin and several reels of Tom Corbett Space Cadet, including "The Moon Pyramid" and "The Mystery of the Asteroids." Apparently Tom Corbett was one of those midcentury cultural juggernauts—it was a Sunday comic strip! a series of novels! a TV show! a radio show!—that's pretty much been lost to the sands of time, unless of course you're still consuming your culture via the Viewmaster.

Bonus fun with the Viewmaster? Watching your digital native children, who've been effortlessly troubleshooting Mommy's iphone issues pretty much since birth, fumble with technology that is neither seamless nor intuitive. "Now, honey, don't get frustrated, you've just put the reel in backwards..."

Monday, February 6, 2012

The REAL story of how I missed the O'Neil Ford estate sale

I am a big fan of children's nonfiction books that purport to be REAL or TRUE or ALL ABOUT—to be the last word on the subject at hand. The REAL book about easy music-making! The REAL book about farms! As opposed to all those unreal farm books, stuffed with their falsehoods and fictions. Like Charlotte's Web—E.B. White clearly had no idea what he was talking about. "Some pig"? Get real, ’50s kids!

I got The Real Book about Easy Music-Making, The Real Book about Journalism and The Real Book about Farms at a library sale that I wasn't optimistic about because it was at a new library, way out in the exurban sprawl. I was misguided. Even out in cookie-cutter subdivisions only just sprung from the scraped earth, there are old people donating their old books to new libraries. But the biggest surprise about these "real" books was the inscription on the inside cover: "The O'Neil Ford Family, Willow Way."

I don't know if people outside South Texas know from O'Neil Ford, but he was a renowned midcentury modernist architect who spent most of his professional life in San Antonio, where he designed or redesigned various public buildings and spaces, as well as a number of private homes (to live in an O'Neil Ford is definitely something to brag about). I was familiar with Ford's work, but I didn't know anything about Willow Way, so of course, I googled it and discovered that was the name of his homestead—a ramshackle ten-acre former farm on the South Side, which had been in his wife's family since the 1920s. Ford died in 1982, his wife in 2002. And the estate sale—which sounds like it must have been the mother of all estate sales—took place in late 2005, a year after I moved to San Antonio. How do I know this? Because my google search also turned up a link to a story about the sale in the San Antonio Current, written by my pal Elaine.

If you are a habitué of estate sales, you're familiar with the One that Got Away, the One You Missed, or most dreadful—the One You Arrived at Only In Time to See Someone Else Leaving With All the Stuff You Totally Would Have Bought If Only You Had Known That This Sale Should Have Been Your Top Priority. You can really get bogged down in the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens, so it's best not to dwell. You have to accept your limitations; it's simply not possible to hit every estate sale on a weekend, or to know which ones are really worth the bother. Classified ads must be parsed closely. Location must be considered. The pricing practices of the estate-sale companies must also be factored in. Based on that rough calculus, choices must be made. Don't get me started on what I could be missing at all the run-of-the-mill yard sales that make up the bulk of the classified section of the newspaper. The vast majority surely suck, but amid that sea of smeary black ink there are probably a couple of doozies every week. I'll never know.

Unfortunately, thanks to Elaine's article—in which she dodges wild poultry while previewing the eclectic offerings for the paper—I have a pretty good sense of what I missed at the O'Neil Ford sale, and seven years later I'm grinding my teeth just thinking about it. She interviews David Dillon, an architecture critic and old friend of Ford's, who describes him as an omnivorous collector:

I think what's visible at Willow Way is, on the one hand, the incredible range of interets, the kind of magpie quality of the collecting that [Ford] did, and to some extent the messiness of his life—it was not exactly clean in the traditonal sense—there were all kinds of ghosts, all kinds of loose ends, and they're all out there at Willow Way, too.

Arrgh! She should have told me! Why didn't she tell me? Sigh. Back then, I wasn't pursuing this interest with quite the same intensity. I certainly wasn't blogging about it; I was too busy on my other blog devoted to new motherhood and the culture shock of moving to Texas and blah blah blah. One detail in the article does more or less confirm that my books somehow wended their way from this fabulous estate sale to this pretty decent library sale to my overstuffed bookcases and this blog: "A small woodframe house with a hearth that could hold a Mini Cooper," she writes, "is given over entirely to silver-fish infested books inscribed 'Willow Way Library' in graceful penmanship."

Well, there you go. I didn't find any silverfish but a torn note, written in graceful penmanship, did fall out of the journalism book:

Dita-get book at library (if you want it) Cell & Psyche—Business & Science. Muir Library. Hairdo & manicure 10:00 Isabella. Take Neil's desk top to Mr. Schulz. Buy dish-washing soap and hairspray (ask Dita).

Who wrote the note? Who was out of hairspray? Who is this Dita and did she really want to check out Edmund Sinott's meditation on the mind-body question when she clearly had so many errands to run? (My best guess is that the book in the note is actually titled Cell and Psyche: The Biology of Purpose.) Will we ever know the REAL story of O'Neil Ford and his messy life? Who knows—who cares—I'll take the enigmatic detail, the tantalizing slice of life over the potted history anytime.

But I still wish I'd made it to that sale. Somehow I think I would have left with more than just a few books.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Every grain of sand

Do we think this is the sort of book that would still find a publisher in these trying economic times? Not that Taplinger, the publisher of Sandtiquity: Architectural Marvels You Can Build at the Beach, is HarperCollins or something, but still. This is the sort of thing that makes 1980—when a quirky idea and a bad pun could equal a book deal—seem like a lifetime ago. Where are the vampires? The dystopias? The dystopian vampires? Maybe today this would make a decent tumblr. But a tumblr that lands a book deal? Doubtful.

I got this at my local Goodwill a while back, and oddly enough, it's not the first (nor likely the last) sandcastle book I've purchased. There seems to be a genre of sandcastle-building books that I can't help buying despite the ennui with which the prospect of actual sandcastle-building fills me. I realize this bad attitude of mine is becoming a recurring theme—but if I'm lucky enough to be at the beach, why would I build sand ziggurats and sphinxes when I could be (a) swimming in the ocean or (b) lying on a lounge chair rereading Anne McCaffrey novels? Or how about going shelling? Kids enjoy doing that and it's basically the beach equivalent of going to estate sales.

Apparently, authors Connie Simo, Kappy Wells and Malcolm Wells had the opposite issue:

One summer we found ourselves unaccountably tired of tanning, napping, snacking on gritty sandwiches and supervising the kids' bucket sculptures. But we had also outgrown sand mermaids, and soup, drip-constructed castles, and burying each other's legs. Our solution to summer boredom soon became a mania and never failed to draw curious crowds as we gained skill, confidence and ingenuity in bringing vanished civilizations back to life.

To have such problems! I mean, honestly. But I understand "mania." Ahem.

And I admire the artistry and industry of the authors. But if you were planning to actually execute any of their designs, you can get inspired by their photographs but otherwise you're on your own. They're not big on details. This is what they have to say about building one of the seven wonders of the world:
For our version of the Great Wall of China, we made a mound that snaked along the beach following miniature hills and valleys. We added turrets of our design and the roadway on top was inscribed with a popsicle stick. We packed the walls in such a way that the vertical dents suggested masonry.

Note: This is the sort of book I could easily part with on etsy or ebay but at the merest mention of that possibility, the husband, who regularly complains about my book-buying mania, kicks up a fuss. Like, how could I even contemplate getting rid of this treasure?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trivial pursuits

Once upon a time every house in suburbia had a game closet. At least, that's what I've gleaned from rummaging through the closets of the deceased on my estate sale rounds. Is that still true or has the concept become completely outmoded—displaced by the media room or just the computer (or phone)?

In my youth, we kept the games stored on the top shelf of the upstairs hall closet, along with linens, lampshades and the entirety of my father's wardrobe (Victorian architects were not big on storage space). We would occasionally play board games as a family—Scrabble, Monopoly, Parchese, Yahtzee, Boggle, dominoes—but mostly a whole lot of progressive rummy. I also remember playing Pick up Sticks and Sorry! and Mastermind and Battleship with my brother. That all went away when he got into TSR role-playing games like D&D and Top Secret. I gave them a try but was mostly bored after the initial thrill of rolling my character traits and creating a dossier. At some point my attitude became, why waste time playing any sort of games when I can just be rereading Anne McCaffrey novels?

That's still pretty much sums up my feelings, but you know, when you become a parent you get roped into doing all kinds of things you never planned on doing, and in my case that would include playing award-winning, supposedly-cognitive-skill-honing games. If you're my husband, you just play the games because you think they're fun (weirdo!). So we've got a pretty extensive library of all the Connect 4s and I Spys, Slamwiches and Zingoes, along with a whole bunch of vintage board games I've picked up at estate sales for two or three bucks a pop. If the boxes are aesthetically pleasing, I find them difficult to resist. Just last Friday, at the estate sale of a very dedicated Sunday school teacher, I bought first editions of Clue, Skunk, a chess set with Renaissance-style chessmen and a WWI game called Dogfight . I can't imagine playing any of them except maybe Clue—but I expect Lindsay will play all of them, though I wish him luck trying to convince our daughters that WWI flying games produced by American Heritage are cool.

Anyway, to accommodate my perversity (i.e., buying games I'll never play) and the rest of the family's genuine affection for games, I was recently forced to convert our linen closet into a game closet. Not just one or two shelves—the whole damnn thing. Who needs a linen closet when you've got four bathrooms with plenty of storage in each? (Apologies my NYC friends-but you realize infinite closet space is one of the perks of moving to Texas.)
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