Monday, July 30, 2007

Nice Shirt

Yep, the rumors are true, I am doing a small (very small, blink and you miss, small) guest shot on CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie. If you don't know the show, it's a sit-com, the driving premise being the adventures of a small Muslim community in the middle of a vast open prairie, and by that I mean Saskatchewan. It's gotten good notices and the audience seems to be growing as it heads into its second season.

The character I'm playing is something close to home...a pawn broker. Not quite an antique dealer but close enough.

Typecasting is pretty weird: I've played a pawnbroker before, but never an antique dealer. Maybe pawn brokers are more dramatic and therefore get more air-time. Maybe I look more like a pawn broker than an antique dealer. We all have stereotypical images floating around our pointy little heads and typecasting is a kind of visual shorthand that dramamongers believe allows the audience to get the joke or message or whatever a little quicker.

You know what I mean. How many times have you said (or thought): "You're an accountant? Wow, you sure don't look like an accountant. You look more like someone who should be doin' a pole dance while I shove paper money into your g-string."

Or something like that anyway.

Like I said, it's a shortcut and like many shortcuts, sometimes they're dangerous.

I seem to play the professions over and over: doctors, lawyers, judges, accountants; a cop only once, a computer nerd once, a short order cook, once. I guess I look more like a judge than a cop.

In 1999, I played a doctor in A&E's Dash and Lilly, a bio-pic about Dash Hammett and Lillian Hellman that was directed by Kathy Bates. We were talking about typecasting and Kathy said this to me: don't knock typecasting honey, it's been very good to me.

She's right. And she oughta know, she's got an Oscar and a couple of Golden Globes sitting up there on the old mantle.

Type casting is better than no casting at all.

This afternoon I went in for my
wardrobe fitting. I'll probably be wearing an "aloha" shirt and a little fedora.

You'll recognize me: I'm the one that looks like a pawn broker.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

His Left Foot (okay, right)

Just a little follow up on the nephew's foot. After seeing the ortho-surgeon on Friday, it was determined that he probably wouldn't need surgery. And another appointment in two weeks to see how things are going.

So how did he resolve the navigation in his death trap of an apartment?

Skate board.

Yep, you read it here first. No, not standing on it, sitting on it. And he propels himself around like Eddy Murphy doing his veteran's con act in the beginning of "Trading Places".

Although he's staying with his mother for a week or so, (no sense in his suffering alone) he's using the skateboard there too.

Human ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. Or in this case nephew's ingenuity.

I Love A Mystery

During the late 1930s early '40s there was a very popular radio program called "I Love A Mystery". I think many of us do, judging from the popularity of the whodunit genre of books and movies. Even the Antiques Roadshow is really a mystery program. And just like other mystery programs the audience participates by helping the detectives. They offer valuable assistance by screaming at the tube. Things like, but not limited to: "IT'S ART MODERNE YOU IDIOT, not art déco. Any fool can tell you that!" and, "twelve hundred dollars? Who going to give you $1200 for that? I had one out for sale for fifty dollars and not only did no one want it, there was a whole bunch that looked pretty hostile at my even asking fifty. They were ready to grab the torches and the pitchforks and look for a hangin' tree."

Yep, it's a mystery.

Today we picked up this thing at a yard sale. It's just a little mystery not a big one. But here we go.

We think it's a kind of mezzaluna, a food or vegetable chopper. But perhaps it's not that easy. So let's have a look.

The handle is really three bits: the center is lathe turned which suggests factory-made to me. The end bits are carved walnut, with clear tools marks which suggest hand work. The iron blade is set into the handle with two pins or rivets or nails, can't really tell. And there are no maker's marks or patent stamps or any other indications of commercial manufacture.

Anyway is it factory or home made? Probably factory, but we really don't know.

And don't forget that there are other tools which can have a similar look as well such as a leather worker's half moon tool. I've seen a plumber's half moon too, but that's another story that we'll save for adult swim time.

So there you have it. That's the mystery and the process and until we find hard evidence of what it really is, it's all conjecture.

Even if great gran' swears to you that she used one exactly like it in nineteen ought two, (you remember... that's the year the storm took away poor old Mr. Jenkins and his one good milking cow, that he called Annabelle, but who's real name was Mary Margaret), it's still anecdotal.

I didn't say it was a good mystery. And I didn't promise a satisfying answer, but I will let you know if I ever find out for sure.

'Tis a puzzlement.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

True Blue

I'm feeling kinda blue today.

There was an article in this morning's Toronto Star about the opening of a new show at the Textile Museum of Canada: The Blues. The subject of the show is, well, blue stuff, indigo fabrics and the like. I'll probably go next week but it is on until March 2, 2008.

And I'm thinkin' that we seem to have a great affinity for blue. About 16% of people surveyed (SURVEY SAYS!) blue is their favorite color. I know 16% isn't huge but this was the largest individual choice. Sorry I can't cite my source for this survey but since I found it on the net it must be true.

When I was of an age where I actually listened to adults there was always talk about Paul Newman's gorgeous blue eyes. Mine are blue too, but more of a really cool acid-washed denim blue-gray. Today's factoid: according to Wikipedia, only about 8% of the world's population can claim having blue eyes. Lucky me.

While I am drawn to blue, I don't collect any but many do collect blue: vintage denims and other indigo textiles; flow blue china; blue willow pattern china; cobalt blue glassware. That kind of stuff.

There are a number of books around including one I
really liked called, (the link will take you to, Blue & White Japan. Title says it all: it's about blue and white in Japan and the photos are lush.

As I said, I've always been drawn to blue, and even though it's the world's favorite color, I can't say that it's my favorite color. My favorites change all the time. And I'm nothing if not inconsistent.
I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

Monday, July 23, 2007

Life's a mess, clean it up.

Just as I'd finished unloading the car after a long, long day selling at the Sunday Market, the phone rang: my nephew has been taken to Emerg with a broken leg.

He's fallen out of a tree.

I better clear something up first: said nephew is forty-something and I don't know what he was doing in a tree. His mind is a dark and scary place and I don't want to go there.

So Emerg at TGH was good and the staff good and the wait fairly uneventful except for the drunk in the waiting room trying to sleep it off on a bed cobbled together from three or four chairs and benches who kept screaming for his sandwiches. Apparently he was hungry and felt that room service was not up to his exacting standards. I agreed with him and complained bitterly that good help was indeed hard to find. And keep. And the menu limited by the chef's adamant unwillingness to be bold.

After the x-rays revealed a broken heel (as well as some other stuff) an appointment was made two days hence for a visit to the Fracture Clinic where the temp splint would be removed and a proper cast laid on. They sold him a pair of crutches and waved "buh-bye". Did I mentioned the other leg was injured as well? Nothing serious, it just hurt to walk on it. Even with the morphine and percocet. So here's the question?

How do you use crutches when you don't have a leg to stand on?

We managed to get him into the car and the Security Team at his apartment building was kind enough to carry him (really!) up the stairs, through the double doors, into the elev
ator and up to his apartment through his door down the hallway and onto his futon. This was a Laurel and Hardy team by the way. Yep. slight and small Laurel did the heavy lifting while Hardy the larger more muscular of the two held the doors open and piloted the elevator. Just like in the movies. And who said art doesn't imitate life. And if I'd written the scene in a script everyone would scream (say it with me now): cliché! Now, nephew's studio apartment is full of stuff. Bric-a-brac. A warren of crated cubbyholes filled with computer bits and the lengths of cables connecting them; with stereo equipment and the lengths of cables connecting them; assorted large speakers and the lengths of cable connecting them. Did I mention there's all this cable lying around on the floor? Here's the dilemma? How does he get around until the good leg stops hurting enough to use to support the other, presumably bad, leg so he can use his crutches?

Of course if he takes enough drugs, the pain will go away but I doubt that
he'd be able to stand up let alone manipulate the two sticks nesting in his armpits.

What about a wheelchair, you ask. He wouldn't be able to navigate a wheelchair through that clutter. Rick Hansen wouldn't
be able to navigate a wheelchair through that clutter.

we got back to our place. And I looked at our hallways. And I thought whoa! Every dealer I know lives like this. Boxes piled everywhere. Stuff just bought to be sorted, cleaned and priced; boxes from a show just finished, waiting to go back to a designated storage area, assuming of course, one has off-premises storage even if it's the back shed or mom's locker at the condo.

It's, you know, a dealer thing. We can't have anyone over for afternoon tea except other dealers, they're the only ones who understand. Everyone else just thinks we nuts. Or a sad and pathetic bunch justifiably worthy of both pity and scorn.

So after I said
whoa I started to wonder: how are the paramedics going to get the stretcher with me on it through this labyrinth. Yikes!

I'm still wondering but I'm workin' on it.

And I swear to you now, as G-d is my witness, I'll never go hungry again! Sorry, got caught in the moment. But I really am going to clean up my act. Really.

Ricky Jay's character in David Mamet's film the Spanish Prisoner says: worry is interest paid in advance on a debt that may never come due.

And as far the nephew goes, I guess the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mob Mentality

I'm torn. I suppose I've always been torn, kind of a Libra thing I suppose weighing one against the other, striving for some sort of balance. Maybe I'm not torn, just unbalanced.

I like to see things in groups. Not necessarily arranged just so, but randomly heaped so that it might be pleasing to the eye. (But not "desperately random, like the elaborations of a bad liar").

We always have groups of stuff just kicking around, people come over and touch them, play with them and put them back and I usually don't have to reconfigure them into a more decorative grouping, they fall that way naturally, organically. In the shop I always tried to have multiples of some things just sort of piled on a shelf for the sculptural effect.

There's an old retail maxim that states: pile 'em high, watch 'em buy.
But in the world of antiques, where one of the things we sell is rarity, it's hard to convince a customer of an item's exclusivity when there's a huge honkin' pile of them just sitting

Maybe that's why I always resisted calling myself an antique dealer. I just sold stuff that I liked and hoped other people would too. I was also troubled by the word "antique", too many definitions of what it means. If you ask around you'll get a number of answers to the "what's an antique" question, the most common being something that's over 100 years old.

The magic number.

If it's ninety-nine it's just, well, you know, collectible. So just how did we arrive at this century rule? Here's what I heard, and I believe it. In the mid 1930s the US tariff code was being modified and the government needed clear guidelines to exempt antique imports. The leading dealers, galleries, museums of the day were polled and the overwhelming response to the question of what constitutes an antique was... something created prior to the industrial revolution.

Makes sense.

So the government in its wisdom says the Industrial Revolution happened about hundred years ago, didn't it (remember, this is all taking place in the 1930s), therefore an antique is something that must be over 100 years old.

And remember this is a government bureaucrat talking tax exemption here. And really tax collectors, customs officers and insurance agents are the only ones who should be getting their knickers in a knot over the definition of antique.

But I digress.

The torn part is I also like to showcase single items, and I really do mean showcase. Present a single item, in a showcase, all by its lonesome.
Something that deserves a little focussed attention because it might otherwise be missed just sitting on shelf with the rest of the goods for sale. Things look special under glass, with good lighting even when they're not. You could pick a pebble off the street and display it and people would gather 'round the case and stare. Some might question your sanity and hope you'd be denied a permit to carry a concealed firearm, but others would say "cool, I never thought of it that way before."

Of course I'm not speaking of my own personal pebble here; well, more of a stone than pebble, really. And it is special, and really smooth, and it calms me to rub it, and feel its coolness in my palm, and I stop hearing the voices for a while...

I was at an antique show in Palm Beach a few years ago, the really tony Palm Beach International Art and Antique Show. This is the kind of show where you can ask the price of something and the response could easily be "Ah... that would be one point five. Lovely isn't it". I also overheard a dealer and potential customer negotiating (arguing) over who was going to pay the sales tax on a $200,000.00 purchase. I think the dealer caved on that one. Anyway, there was a spectacular necklace on display in a showcase that had seemingly been constructed solely for that piece. It was lit (lighted?) perfectly and the display team had mounted the necklace so that it appeared to float in the center of the case as if worn on an invisible neck. The effect was stunning, and so was the necklace for that matter. I'm not sure but I think the dealer was Fred Leighton, a major player in the world of shiny trinkets.

So here's a piece that's dynamite on its own, would sell just as quickly in the main case with the other jewelry, and yet ol' Fred goes to the trouble and expense of spotlighting it. Now that's marketing!

It was simply a great piece and it deserved the attention. And all great pieces whether they're cut and faceted rocks or smooth and shiny stones deserve to be singled out.

They can stand on their own.

And so I'm torn. I like things in groups, in colorful, untidy, little gatherings and I also like the spotlight on the pieces that might be ignored. All your eye needs is a little help to guide it in the right direction.

Hey! Look at me!

Thursday, July 19, 2007


What is it that we seek when we're out hunting/gathering? What is it that separates the great stuff from the merely good? I believe that it's grace. Grace of conception, construction, creation; sometimes it's just a happy accident when the universe has, for once, conspired to help instead of hinder. I once bought a small willow creel, a fishing basket, that was just perfect. The curve of the back meant to sit comfortably on the hip, the carefully crafted pattern in the weave. It wasn't a particularly rare creel in the ordinary sense, but absolutely a rare creel in an extraordinary sense. It was special.

Thomas Merton, priest, scholar, author, wrote that Shaker chairs were imbued with grace because they were built by people capable of believing that angels might one day sit in them.

Last week we were out on a Saturday morning hunting/gathering and came to a yard sale where we bought a stack of quilts. One of them I thought was special. It reminded me of the spectacular quilts done by the quilters of Gee's Bend. I first heard of them through an article in the October 2006 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

These quilts are imbued with grace.

While mine is not quite the same, it does have something special about it. There's a beauty to the layout and to the patch repairs. Unintentional, but fortuitous.

Let's just call it Tuesday's child.

And this is what I believe we should be seeking, both in the objects that we surround ourselves with, and in the company we keep. A certain grace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Curbside Shopping

Yup, it's our favorite. Everybody loves finding stuff for free. Especially when it's so close to your house that you don't have to schlep it huge distances, or tie it to the roof of your car with odd sizes of bungee cords that you've tied together in a very haphazard fashion, hoping that you're not stopped by the police and have to explain why you have this thing sort of attached to your roof but dangling precariously down one side because the day they taught rope tying at Scouts, you were hanging out smoking with the cool kids. Another merit badge you didn't get.

Today's curbside find is an old wooden ironing board. In really good shape, too. If I wasn't already using one (with another in reserve, for when that one goes), I'd keep it. Good thing I have warehouse space where we keep the stuff we rent out to photographers and the movies ( Too bad we already have a half dozen sitting around waiting to be rented out. Good thing we'll be at the Sunday Market this Sunday. Guess what we'll have out for sale... really cheap.
It's a good thing.

Toronto Vintage Clothing and Textile Show

I know I said we'd closed the shop but we are still selling. Most Sundays we can be found at the Sunday Antique Market (that's its real name but most people just know it as the St. Lawrence Market) located at the corner of Jarvis & Front Streets. There's been some sort of market on this site almost since Toronto began. On Saturdays it's a food and farmers' market and on Sundays it's antiques. It starts early and goes 'til 5:00pm. We can be found just inside the main Front Street entrance, just opposite the washrooms. Convenient for all concerned.

But that's not what this post is about.

For the past number of years we've been selling at the Toronto Vintage Clothing and Textile Show. Probably the best vintage clothing show around. For many years it was held at the tiny charming Enoch Turner Schoolhouse (the oldest schoolhouse in the city of Toronto) and then we had to move. I think the neighbors objected to the noise of dealers grunting at 5:00 am while they were humping their merch from the street into the building. For the last couple of shows we were in the beautiful scenic Barbara Frum Atrium at the CBC building. A very nice venue right downtown and convenient to public transit and lots of parking and parking lots.

It was perfect.

Naturally it couldn't last. Now there's construction and no parking and yadayadayada. What this means is: we got tossed.

Also in the past, this once a year show has been held the first weekend of March, which still left us open to lousy weather and loading in the snow problems. Last year ice falling off the CN Tower caused police to block the surrounding streets. This translated to tough loads/unloads for the dealers and trouble getting to the show for our customers. But our customers are a hardy bunch of Canadians and many made it and were very happy they toughed it out.

Now, oh joy, oh joy, this very week we heard that
June Troy, the show's promoter has a new location lined up and has, after much begging, pleading and urging by her dealers, moved the date to the end of the month which should help with future storms or other nature-based mayhem.

I'll publish all the info as soon as the contracts are signed and everything's confirmed.

This Business of Antiques

We closed our retail antique shop in October 2007 after thirty years in the business. The marketplace had changed and we hadn't changed with it. Didn't want to. We'd started off selling antiques that had meaning for us or had touched a chord. Things (and let's remember that they are things after all) that had some redeeming features: either of some historic merit; design merit; quirkiness; or rarity. We started out to make a living but didn't want to fall into the trap of selling things that were popular or just saleable. Oops. So after thirty years or so we have an inventory of stuff that we like but no one wants to buy. Oops.

You'd think that with the popularity of tv shows like The (British, American, Canadian) Antiques Roadshow there's be a huge interest in these relics of our past. But I've come to realize tain't so: the audience is a game show audience. It's the Price Is Right for the Sunday Times crowd. They love the show, the info, the history, the info-tainment, they love playing the how-much-is-it-worth game, but they ain't shopping. They're not voting with their discretionary dollars.

Here's my theory: our original customers were boomers. They started buying second hand, cheap and cheerful, and then grew into savvy antique shoppers, finding bargains as well as spending big bucks when the item called for it. They decorated; they collected. Now thirty years later, their kids are grown and flown, they're downsizing, they're disposing of the parents' estates. They're spending winters in Florida or Costa Rica or Remulac and they don't want all this stuff. So they're selling it off. But who's buying? There's a glut of really nice, but let's face it pretty ordinary, brown furniture out there. The kids don't want it. If they're interested in antiques at all, it's mid-century modern that they're following.

Well that's the theory anyway.