Friday, September 28, 2012

Finnish Fridays: Shroomin'

Finland is the land of trolls and toadstools. So here are some cute little wooden toadstool candlesticks for your viewing pleasure. In truth, these toadstools were made in Sweden (the little blue labels underneath clearly state this fact), which probably makes this the perfect opportunity to explore the centuries-long fractious love-hate relationship between Finland and Sweden, but I don't have time to wade into those frigid waters right now. Right now, I need to get in my car and drive a few miles to an ugly neighborhood with a promising-sounding estate sale before it's time to meet the kids at the bus stop. If I see anything interesting, I'll share on instagram. Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Benji forever

Back in the day, I was first in line when a new Benji movie came to our neighborhood cinema. I was probably the scrappy little mutt's biggest fan. That Benji was so funny! Remember the scene in the first movie when he gobbles up the crook's SnackPack? And the bad guy is like, what...? Butterscotch SnackPacks were my favorite. Mmmm. SnackPacks.

(Okay. I just googled SnackPacks to see if they're still available. They are still available, but apparently they're "nutritious" now and no longer served in a catfood-type can so they're not the SnackPacks of Proustian memory and therefore not worth revisiting.)

Anyway, when I spied a 5-DVD set of Benji movies in the $5 bin at Target, naturally I snapped it up. My kids love dogs, ergo, they will love Benji. So much better than that total bummer Marley & Me, which I so would not let my kids watch. Or the one with Richard Gere where the dog meets him at the train station every day till one day he...doesn't. And don't even talk to me about Old Yeller, a movie for masochists if ever there was one. Benji never dies!

But silly me did not consider the fact that Benji was made in the ’70s, a grittier time, for sure. Benji isn't exactly Serpico but there is a kidnapping plot and random acts of violence, like when Benji's girlfriend, a Maltese named Tiffany, gets kicked into unconsciousness by the criminals whose shenanigans are the motor of this plot. My kids haven't cried so much since The Beast was pursued by a pitchfork-wielding mob. Now Benji collects dust in the DVD closet, right next to Beauty and the Beast. I doubt we'll ever get to For the Love of Benji, probably my personal favorite, or that we'll read this 1975 paperback novelization. (Fun fact: these are the same kids who are mad at me because I won't let them watch or read The Hunger Games.)

If you're a Benji fan, check out this video. It's a trailer that features on-the-street interviews with "real" people who've ostensibly just seen the film. Too funny.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Paperback of the week: On the Road

I have a confession to make. I never finished Jack Kerouac's On the Road, never came close. I'm sorry—it's boring! Maybe I would like it now, but probably it's too late. In my college days, it was important to revere the Beats because they went to our university and warmed our barstools and killed their would-be lovers in our parks. But I just couldn't get into them—unless Frank O'Hara counts as a Beat. Does he count? I completely love Frank O'Hara.

The cover of this 1968 edition is pretty rad—no surprise since we've already established that Signet paperbacks are so ruling. Check out this person's handy flickr set devoted to On the Road cover art—I still like this one best. I also like the blurb on the back (especially the gratuitous capitalization):

Jack Kerouac, Hippie Homer of the turned-on generation, shocked the country from coast to coast with this wild Odyssey of two drop-outs who swing across America wrecking and rioting—making it with sex, jazz, and drink as they Make the Scene.

Shit, that book sounds awesome—why haven't I read it??

The trailer for the new movie version doesn't seem quite as awesome but it's got such a purdy cast. I predict I'll watch on Netflix, and only sleep through some of it, hopefully not the wrecking and rioting parts.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What the kids got: an occasional series

Rubik's cube, with a few colored stickers missing, making it even more challenging to solve

10¢ shades


When they have to have something, marbles always a good choice

The thing you get in a Ziploc marked 25¢

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finnish Fridays: I am Aires, Hear Me Bleat

Warning: If you're a very naive believer in the zodiac, don't read the next paragraph.

I used to write horoscopes for magazines despite having received no astrological training. I mean, I guess it's not entirely accurate to say that I wrote them. It might be slightly more accurate to say that I jazzed up/embellished/fleshed out the predictions written by a bona fide astrologist. But still. I kinda wrote them. I.e., made them up.

Like most things that require a suspension of disbelief, astrology is something I disbelieve in. Maybe in part because I'm an Aires (a "true" Aires, mind you, not one of those "on the cusp" Aires) and my personality traits seem to bear little resemblance to the Aires dossier. Astrology buffs have been known to spit-take when they learn that I'm a fire sign, let alone an Aires, purported to be the fieriest of all fire signs. Sometimes this is insulting.

So how does a skeptic end up with so many zodiac tchotchkes? When your Finnish relatives give them to you, of course. And I'm not complaining—this guy is supercute.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Things I didn't buy: Early holiday edition

I've definitely got a weakness for vintage holiday ornaments and I've been known to buy them at the height of summer without feeling like I have a problem. But these balls were like $5 apiece! I mean, seriously—they didn't even have the original Shiny-Brite boxes.

I used to shop at Kinney shoes, but I don't remember MudKats. Couldn't help but glom onto the cute box, though. Sadly, these were a size too small, which is probably a good thing since there's little call for duck boots in South Texas.

I didn't buy these Christmas ties because I don't know anyone in the history of the universe who needs Christmas ties.

I'm a little fuzzy on the purpose of a Lafayette four-track solid-state stereo 820, but it looked like something Lindsay might buy and then put in the garage till the end of time so I decided not to text him and ask if he wanted it. Do you think he wanted it?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Old bags

It doesn't happen very often but I'm always pysched when I'm provided with a vintage shopping bag to hold my vintage purchases at an estate sale. Aren't shopping bags right up there with newspapers and takeout containers as hoarders' most favorite items to hoard?

Anyway, this bag brings me back to when Banana Republic was all about looking like you were headed to the sun-soaked savannas of Out of Africa. When the company's marketing campaign consisted of a teeny print ad in the back of The New Yorker. A far cry from the purveyor of blandly trendy disposable office clothes BR is today. (Sorry but if I'm forced to be mall shopping, I'm going to choose Gap over Banana Republic every time.) As for Hickory Farms, I'm pretty sure I never actually made a purchase from the one at our mall, but I do remember helping myself to free samples of smoked sausage and cheese on the way from Bamberger's to Spencer Gifts.

P.S. If seeing this BR bag has made you misty for the chain store's safari days, check out this obsessive dude's blog dedicated to all things vintage Banana Republic. Wow.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just the tickets

One thing you can say in favor of hanging onto all your old concert ticket stubs is that at least they don't take up much room. But what do you do with them? Mount them in shadowboxes? Laminate them? Scrapbook them? Stick them in some box and tuck it in the back of some closet and let them get sorted out by the poor saps responsible for your future estate sale?

Probably the latter.

These tickets all date to my high school days, when going to concerts was an absolutely essential part of life. It's what I lived for, it was why I sold cigarettes and lottery tickets at the drugstore for minimum wage ($3.35/hour). This was before I moved to NYC for college, when I'd be able to see live music at clubs and other smaller venues, finances permitting. In high school, we mostly went to arena shows—though NYC's much-missed Pier was fairly intimate—and my brother usually drove. Now I hardly ever see live music! It's sad. Next month will mark a year since I went to a show—Lucinda Williams at Gruene Hall. The place was chock-full of old people—folks who've probably amassed their own fair share of ticket stubs—and I felt downright sprightly by comparison. Sadly, I don't have a stub from that show because I purchased my tickets online. Didn't save the online receipt either. Why bother?

Following is an annotated list of the ticket stubs recovered from the storage facility. (Note: I saw way more shows than this so I can only assume more stubs will materialize in the future.)

Yes at Forest Hills Stadium (1)*
The Roches at Town Hall
Crosby Stills Nash at the Pier
Peter Gabriel at Madison Square Garden
Stevie Nicks at Garden State Art Center (2)*
Bob Dylan and Tom Petty at the Meadowlands
The Smiths at the Pier (3)*
The Real Thing at the Plymouth Theater (4)*
Miles Davis (and Kenny G!) at Avery Fisher Hall (5)*
Bob Dylan (and the Alarm) at Jones Beach
Velez, Gorn, Fedman at the Knitting Factory (6)*
Dire Straits at Madison Square Garden (7)*
Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Pier (8)*
Squeeze at Garden State Art Center
The Kinks at Madison Square Garden (9)*
Tina Turner at Madison Square Garden (10)*
The Rolling Stones at Shea Stadium

(1) My first concert—Owner of a Lonely Heart!
(2) The Hooters opened
(3) Best. Concert. Ever.
(4) As in the Tom Stoppard play. Starred Jeremy Irons and Glenn Close.
(5) Kenny G opened for Miles. I can't believe I saw Kenny G!
(6) No idea who this is.
(7) Yes, Sting was on hand to sing "I want my MTV..."
(8) Joe Satriani opened. It was billed as a battle of the guitar heroes. Stevie won.
(9) My second concert ever; the "Come Dancing" tour. Tommy Shaw of Styx opened.
(10) A private dancer, a dancer for money!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I think that I shall never see / a poem as lovely as a key

I collected a lot of things when I was a little kid (bottle caps, matchbooks, plastic horses) but none with the single-minded intensity as I did keys. I don't have any origin story for this obsession; I can't explain my passion for keys. I don't think I've actively pursued keys since I was maybe 11 or 12, but I am happy that I still have this collection. My five-year-old is nuts for it—especially the concept of the skeleton key—so while we were in NJ, we started The Key Project, in which we trace every key in the collection and admire each shape. If I were a different person, I'd just keep her tracings in some adorable book or binder and sell off the keys, but I can't do that. Quelle horreur. Instead, we await some sign that my parents have figured out the cheapest possible way to ship several pounds of keys.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Heaven is a place

Wow. Right?

So this is one of many travel brochures I found in my "Gillian wants this" box, though I don't remember seeing it when I did my last big sorting eight years ago. I probably would've taken it then if I had.

I kinda remember the day I visited the observation deck of the World Trade Center, though not nearly as well as I remember watching the towers burn from a stalled D train on the Manhattan Bridge. I remember it was another piercing blue-blue sky day in New York City, but it was sometime in the early ’80s. I'd been invited along with my friend Rob and his family on a day trip to the city. First we toured the UN and then we headed down to the WTC. Funny, I usually have such sharp memories about this sort of thing, but I don't remember if a special occasion warranted this trip, and I don't remember anything about the elevator ride to the observation deck. I just remember that it was cold and sunny; that the deck was very open, a little scary for someone who's a little bit afraid of heights, that it wasn't crowded, and that Rob and I just hung out on a bench, chatting, till his parents said it was time to go.

And here's the evidence of that little field trip, saved for more than 30 years. After 9/11, I kinda remember seeing images and stories about brochures like this, as well as other WTC souvenirs, which seemed so "ironic" and "creepy" and "prescient" in hindsight. I poked around on the internet yesterday and see that there's a bit of a market for 9/11 and WTC mementoes on ebay. Folks selling brochures and matchbooks and observation deck ticket stubs. Tickets issued on the days just prior to 9/11 seem to be fetching the highest price. Some sellers were asking for $20 or $30 for a 9/12/01 issue of The New York Times. I have several newspapers saved from that week, including that one. They're in a box in one of my big closets, of course, which is where this brochure and stub are going to end up. You have to wonder who's buying the 9/11 memorabilia; it seems a little twisted. Maybe people just want something tangible to make them feel like they were part of it, like they were there. I dunno. But with the 9/11 museum in NYC turning out to be as much of a clusterfuck as everything that's transpired in the redevelopment of downtown, ebay might be the only place we can commune with the relics of that dreadful event for some time to come.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Storage wars

All this week I'll be sharing the "treasure" I liberated from my parents' storage units while visiting the homestead in NJ last month. Dedicated readers of this blog and people who actually know me (mostly one and the same) are acquainted with my family's pack-rat tendencies—we choose to avoid the term "hoarder," which has too many negative associations thanks to that show I've never watched even though all 500 episodes are idling in my Netflix queue. Netflix is a kind of socially sanctioned hoarding, don't you think?

Anyway. To catch up on the backstory, read this post. In a nutshell, my mother is an antiques dealer who's been accumulating stuff—both inventory and not inventory—for many decades. My brother and I grew up on the flea market/garage sale/antique show circuit so the thrill of the hunt was inculcated in us at a tender age. As a result, we both have a lot of stuff, though a run-in with bedbugs forced him to do some impressive downsizing in recent years. I'd call him a minimalist if it weren't for the way he stubbornly clings to his CDs. Also, pulling off the hat trick that is minimalism is easier when you've got your parents' storage units to house the overflow.

Over the years, my parents have managed to keep the local ministorage facilities in business; depending on whom you're talking to, they're renting a half dozen or significantly fewer storage units. When my father retired a few years back, he made emptying and consolidating those units his raison d'etre (well, along with eating jelly doughnuts, driving to appointments, running races and singlehandedly supporting the New York Times by paying full newsstand price for it every single day—who does that?).

Important lessons are learned when you're in your 70s and still running 5Ks, like slow and steady might just win you your age group. My dad may be proceeding at a glacial pace, but I'm pleased to report he has made some headway. On the first day of our August visit, my parents took me and the kids on a field trip to the storage facilities. At first, the kids were not excited. "Is this an estate sale?" my five-year-old asked suspiciously as my dad rolled up the metal door. "Cuz if it is, I'm not getting out of the car!" Eventually, both girls were won over by the sight of old toys and the smell of old books.

Things were so much tidier than the last time I'd visited that I was actually able to find The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, a book for which I'd been pining for, like, forever. Of course I'd managed to score two other copies at sales while pining but they aren't the same—my copy has a dustjacket! And my copy, well, it's MY copy, the one I used to take into bed with me on weekend mornings and sing "The Foggy Foggy Dew" and "John Henry" till my parents finally got up and made me breakfast.

Then I saw this Lynyrd Skynrd boxy mobile thing, a promotional item sent by the record label to Country Pie, the record store I used to work at. Do I need it? No. Do I even like Lynyrd Skynrd anymore? In theory, a little, but not in practice. Is this thing worth money? Maybe—I haven't gotten around to checking. But I did snap its picture.

I also found my roller skates! I cooed over them, regaled my indifferent children with tales of my roller-disco days, instagrammed them and returned them to the storage unit. Take them? What would I do with them? They don't fit my kids yet. And they'd be so expensive to ship. But get rid of them? My skates?! Mon dieu! How could I?

Whenever I'm back in NJ, I tend to fret over the contents of these storage units (and the basement and the attic). I hate to see money being thrown away on the rent; I shudder to imagine my brother and I having to finish the job of sifting though all this stuff at some far away future moment. But here I was, part of the problem and definitely not the solution. I decided I had to start doing my part and not just talk the talk.

Baby steps. First, I took my Gamma World game, because my five-year-old daughter, who is a total gamester, was begging me for it. I think she's got a few years before she grasps the whole role-playing TSR concept (god knows I never did), but surely we can make room in the game closet.

I also nabbed these books, though I have sentimental attachment to neither. Can't resist a book about birds or a book about streakers. Just doin' my part.

And finally, I took a large plastic bin–the kind that holds years worth of tax documents–because there was a Post-it on the lid that read "Gillian wants this." Post-its never lie, right? I recognized it for what it was: another Pandora's box. Eight summers ago, when I was making the move from NYC to Texas, I spent a couple weeks in limbo at my parents' house. They seized the opportunity to make me sort through the warehouse of ephemera they'd been amassed: scrapbooks, letters, notes, photos, yearbooks, Playbills, posters, tchotchkes, art projects, report cards, travel brochures, ticket stubs, old phone bills (yes, old phone bills). Should there ever be a museum dedicated to my life (something I fully expected to have happened by now), the curator will have a lot to work with.

I spent days out on the screened porch, inhaling clouds of dust and molder, bagging up childhood detritus. Some of it was easy (phone bills); some of it not so much (I really was good at drawing horses!). I didn't have any trouble tossing years of elementary school homework, the heady scent of ditto still clinging to the pages, but I couldn't quite part with my college notebooks and papers (hey, it's never too late to go to grad school). I narrowed and edited and condensed and consolidated to a few containers, which I wasn't ready to take with me and I wasn't ready to take to the dump. My parents generously agreed to keep those boxes, and so here they were again. It was time to cull. I was as ruthless as I'm capable of being (i.e., not too ruthless). I got rid of the obvious trash that I must've been too overwhelmed to deal with last time, and then packed up everything else in small amazon boxes. They arrived in San Antonio a few days after I did. I'll share the pics this week.

In the meantime, where to put the stuff? Right now I have two enormous closets where I keep this sort of thing, but the closets do double and triple-duty—they're also filled with holiday decorations and Lindsay's guitars. With another child now in school and generating all kinds of adorable ephemera, those closets won't be big enough. Texas houses don't have basements, and our house doesn't have an attic. I will have to learn to be less nostalgic, less inclined to sentimentalize objects and scraps of paper, because storage unit rentals are not in my budget.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Finnish Fridays: Tango til they're sore

Today on Finnish Fridays we're featuring a pair of dancing Finns carved from wood, which my mother gave me, I don't remember when. Underneath someone has written in neat ballpoint print "Souvenir from Finland, 1953." This tchotchke has never really pleased my eye but the kids love it for some reason, and have managed to incorporate it into the ongoing Verdopolis-like sagas they weave with Playmobil, Littlest Pet Shop, Polly Pocket and Papo figures.

It does remind me of this Morley Safer segment that aired on 60 Minutes in the early ’90s about the alleged passion the Finns have for the tango. I say "alleged" because overall the tone of the piece is quite patronizing and it makes it seem like you can hardly make your way through a public space in Finland without running smack into a flash mob of mopey Finns sadly tangoing. Ptooey. I never heard anything about this Finnish love affair with the tango till I saw it on 60 Minutes.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All cover and no 45

Few things are as sad as picking up a gorgeous record sleeve and finding it...empty. Well, maybe it's worse to find the record inside but irrevocably damaged. I dunno. I suppose if I were craftier I could somehow have turned these into purses and sold them on etsy, but I'm not, so I didn't.
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