Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2009


I went to Italy with the intention of finding some really good, old stuff.

I've come home from Italy without finding anything.

Well, of course, that's not true in the metaphorical sense. I re-discovered friendships and cemented old ones. And I saw lots and lots of good, old stuff. I just couldn't get any of that into my suitcase. Italy is just chocked full of old stuff--thousands of years-old stuff, in fact. And pardon me if I've misunderstood all the issues of Progressive Architecture and Elle Design, but supposedly it's also full of really new, groovy stuff--Italian designed shoes and clothes and light fixtures and hip, chrome, minimalist furniture. Italian design. So, somewhere around that country, I thought, there would be at least a couple centuries worth of stuff floating around somewhere in between, you know, Marcus Agrippa and Donatella Versace.

There had to be someplace where Italian women dump their old Prada shoes and Mussolini-era cigarette lighters? Those…
A fellow writer friend of mine has given me a bit of grief over writing a blog, basically stating the old wisdom: 'why will they buy the cow if they're getting the milk for free?' Although, since he is a novelist, he used something more creative and more PC, and it's telling I can't remember what it was.

During the '70's my mother pointed out--perhaps reasonably, in retrospect--that your basic corner whore was smarter than those academic feminists who declared that not only did good girls do it on the first date, good girls should do it on the first date. "At least the whores are getting paid something for the job they do. And if those women think being able to go out and work their asses off at some office and then go home and put out for free is going to make them liberated, they've got another thought coming." She took a dramatic drag on her Pall Mall. "I tell you: work like a horse--they're gonna ride you like one."

Fair enough…

good bones

"She can wear a paper sack and look good--she's got such great bone structure." People often said this about my oldest sister in a way they might have hoped would trickle down to the rest of us as a genetic compliment. It was true. Johanna is very tall and has cheekbones and tons of sharp, jutting attitude that could pull off anything. Dare to tell her she didn't look good in that floor-length embroidered, nomadic goatherd's leather coat with the shaggy fur collar, the cowboy boots over her corduroy overall pants legs or the holly twigs in her fierce, swept-up-'do. The thing is, she would put them all on, as if donning a sack. And, on her, damned if they didn't look good.

I knew what they really meant by my sister's 'great bone structure.' She was thin. While my other sisters and I were shorter and periodically on the upholstered side, Johanna was a sort of high-backed shaker chair-- an elaborate coat-hanger--for her hip-hugger jeans, tiny tees…

golf clubs of the dead and the voodoo bowl

No, there's nothing very old here in Florida. And yes, it drives me nuts. When I moved here in 1993, it felt like moving to the bottom of the universe--the far flung place where nothing happened--the place where people came to get away from places where stuff happened. It took me years to look at it a slightly different perspective. In fact, it is the top of an entirely different universe--the quiet apex of the Caribbean, the top wisp of South American continent, rather than the dragging, soggy tail of the Northern one. Turning to this different point of view, Ecuador is closer than Ames, Iowa, and Lake Titicaca is no more remote and exotic than Lake Superior. It is cheaper and easier for me to travel to places that previously seemed outrageously beyond: Colombia, Trinidad, Lima--than to Chicago, Cincinnati, Hartford.

And, in fact, geologically speaking, Florida truly is the New World, having really only just raised itself out of the water a few relative moments ago by the sheer in…
It's no secret that I hate living in Florida. I hate the sand and the heat and the weird, plasticky texture of the grass that reminds me of those welcome mats with the little daisy in the upper right hand corner. I hate mowing the lawn on Christmas Eve. And above all, I hate that, with the exception of a few fairly impressive shell mounds piled up from Calusa clambakes, there's nothing very old here at all.

An "older home," is a Florida real estate-y term applied to any dwelling that was built before 1999. I say, as a general rule--with the exception of tents--no one should ever use the term "older home" if the residents are older than the home.

New buildings are made to look old here: Spanish colonial villas; Italian Mediterranean pallazzos and French provincial chateaux; Florida cracker-style stripmalls; Queen Ann style beach cottages done up with more lace and rick-rack than a maiden great auntie. But there's something amiss in these nostalgic architec…
These are lean days in the thrift stores. To everything there is a season and that goes for the ebb and flow of crap, too.

In my old hometown, early summer was the time to reap, and May presented the richest pickings--when the exodus of university students cleaned out their dorm rooms and ratty rentals and the weather became agreeable to garage sales and estate auctions. Summer Thursday nights, my mother would start to plan her garage sale attack plans, marking the newspapers with esoteric symbols that ranked the sales according to location and prioritized them by time and the secret language of the classified ads. She and her best friend would head off at dawn, stocked up on smokes and stoked up on McDonald's coffee and sausage biscuits. Going with them was an all day commitment that required fortitude, stamina and a tolerance for air that resembled the dense fug of a BINGO parlor.

Here in this fantasy land of Florida, May is still high tide--an influx of castoffs from seasonal res…

Used Shoes

Saturday, July 25, 2009 I've been away from writing--having second thoughts about my abilities as a writer of anything more than magazine articles and press releases. And I've been occupied by a brief moment of heart-rending wrestling with an old friend who wanted a second go round. In the middle of something like that, sometimes it's difficult to remember the difference between what you want and what you want right now. That all this second hand shopping and second thoughts are actually the ends to a means and not the ends themselves. That is, find things of quality that no one else sees; turn it into something uniquely your own; sell dear. Still it's hard to let things go, even when you know you should.

I found a pair of Prada shoes at one of the higher end thrift stores yesterday--the kind of thrift store where wives of retired executives volunteer because it's clean and in a good location and because it benefits abused women--to whom, I suppose, many of the…

Withdrawal Symptoms

I haven't been to the thrift stores in a while. I reached a saturation point, perhaps, with the pilled sweaters and the dull black shirts and tangled piles of crap. Some of that stuff didn't deserve a first chance--it was bought carelessly, thoughtlessly, and chucked out with as much care and thought--ugly dresses, grotesque knickknacks, vapid wooden signs that say "Love isn't the destination, it's what makes the journey worthwhile." I'm suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that people cast off; the mass of things that they simply couldn't stand to have around another minute.

I don't miss it, particularly. Once the habit of it all wanes, I'm kind of the out-of-sight-out-of-mind school of thought when it comes to missing things. But remind me of something and all the missing comes right back

costume process-cut and paste

I learned to sew the way some boys used to learn how to build car engines or repair bikes--by taking junk apart to see how it was made. Or, more accurately, hacking it to pieces and then nipping and tucking it into something else.

This dress was one of those Franken-costumes: a turtleneck maxi dress re-cut and trimmed with marabou salvaged from a dejected negligee in a Salvation Army reject pile--a little office number for Li'l Abner's Appassionata von Climax. I'd attached a bustle train with rooster tail feathers on the back and then loaned it to a broad-shouldered boyfriend for a drag gag and the bustle came back looking as though had been in a cockfight.

Finally, I retrofitted the backside with this saucy little peplum flounce made of unopened bills for a Hell-themed costume party. This was its last appearance. One shift of dancing in a go-go cage and the whole envelope went to hell. Student loan statements, old telephone bills, and insurance invoices fluttered down on t…

The Seven Suits of St. Vincent

My younger son's teachers have all taken me aside at one point and another to tell me that I need to encourage his precocious artistic talent. My deadpan reply to them is to say that we, as professional educators and parents need to work together to nip that precocious talent in the bud! They would consign a child to a lifetime of squatting in grotty apartments, weeks of Ramen noodle rations, and telemarketing to pay for it? What kind of monsters are they??? (Monsters with dental, that's what kind!)

It doesn't necessarily get me upset when they lament cutbacks in the arts in schools. I say we take a few moments of science and consider letting the arts fall where they may. I say why not wheedle in a little lesson in scientific illustration while dissecting that frog or talk about the mathematics of the golden mean? But people say that's just me, which is to say, a heretic, worthy of burning.

Well, anyway, I caved and signed the kid up for Art Camp. I would have anyway. I …

Magic Carpet

This is about a rug I bought at the Goodwill. It was 12 bucks. Very clean. But the story is worth way more.

In 1988, Susan Begley and I traveled to Greece the way most college students travel abroad: that is to say, very scruffily. We'd boarded the train in Budapest with an apple struedel under each arm and a bottle each of something dreadful that we picked up at the local Cheerless-Eastern European-Booze Booth. We rationed the alcohol by getting on already buzzed and slept with our heads resting on the struedels.

"Wake up, Americans! Wake up, Canada!" the train conductor slapped our heads with his billets. He cheerfully hustled us onto the platforms with 12 or 13 other staggering passengers: Australians, Canadians, two really pissed off-looking German girls and us. They took our passports and disappeared into the warm station house while we stood there, lined up execution style, bleary-eyed, scuzzy mouthed, and shivering without the presence of mind to think there was an…
I guess I can get a little tetchy about the second hand thing. On the one hand, there's a peculiar pride in being able to spot a Stella McCartney cashmere coat at 20 paces or an authentic Dooney and Bourke purse hanging with the pile of Clinique gift bags and Chinese knockoffs. And on the other, there's a sort of nervous embarrassment about stopping the car near a curb to toss some intriguing lawn furniture into the trunk and discovering that there are people still using it.

But a lifetime of being the butt of family jokes from the aunts and cousins...yes...ho. ho...hmmm. Gets a little old and tired--and that goes for the cracks about hand-me-downs, too--we're Catholics, for chrissakes! I think hand-me-downs are part of the catechism, aren't they? After all, all of my mother's sisters and brothers had a bent toward collecting--junk cars, old church statuary, canned foods, dusty stacks of cash--but our house: that was something of a showcase. Friends and relatives w…
Found about six or seven frilly hostess aprons at the Goodwill. Frilly organdy and whimsical printed cotton. Useless things. But there were so many of them! Were they owned by some now-dead, perfect hostess of the 50's with one for every outfit? Were they made by some ironic, pin-up wannabee with an apron fetish? Were they for a group? Or did each come individually and all wind up together in some incredible coincidence?

I couldn't justify buying the entire lot but I couldn't leave them, either. Now, I feel terrible about breaking up the collection. Should I go back and buy the rest?

This era of wash and wear precludes much need of apron wear. After all, it takes probably less energy and water to launder a tee shirt than to wash and iron one of these little numbers, but could there be a Renaissance of the Hostess Apron?
My friend and sometime boss, but mostly my friend now after all these years, Kathy Becker, editor of Naples Illustrated magazine, put me to an interesting test of my second hand, vintage clothes finding skills. She wants vintage Oscar de la Renta for a garden party, size 8 on top, size 14 on the bottom. I'm thinking I might just go for the full monty and find the hat and gloves.

I have often said, give me the Yellow Pages and some mild curiosity and I could find Osama bin Laden. AND he'd be wearing vintage de la Renta and LIKING it.

The easiest route would be vintage clothing dealers. It's funny, though about those because they tend to get all precious about them. But they're still just, you know, used clothes. I suppose there's someone out there who can really do crafty-decorate-y things with an old prom dress and a hot glue gun. I ain't that kind of girl. If the sweat stains and dry rotted seams won't let me wear it to the annual polo fundraiser, I don'…
Found a new pair of Donald J. Pliner red suede wedge pumps at the Goodwill. They were $15.99, which is a bit much for the GW, but they were new and surprisingly comfortable for having a 6-inch heel. And, you know, anything for the red shoes.

I put them in the red section of my shoe collection with my Coach patent leather red pumps, the red pebble grain Lauren slides, the red Keene maryjanes, a non-descript but utilitarian pair of ballet flats, and the red suede boots that I've only gotten to wear a handful of times. Women don't like to part with their red shoes. Red shoes don't age well, they fade, they scuff, they oxidize. The red needs to be pristine, uncreased, danced in once and put away. Like the perfect shade of red lipstick, they must be flawless in order to not look trashy or tired. Red gets tired fast. The color, not the idea of red.

And, really, what is it with the red shoes?

Second Hand Thoughts

I am now a middle-aged mother of two young boys, living on a suburban street in southwest Florida. I drive a Toyota SUV, which has been thrown up in so many times, I gag at the thought of it. I work as a fitness instructor, a Weight Watchers leader, and a presently under-employed freelance writer. I've had worse jobs. But Nature abhorrs a vacuum. I am now a blogger.

And I'm having second thoughts.

Oh, not about blogging. I've been thinking about that for a while since magazine work sort of dried up and I'm looking for a new literary agent and have eaten everything in the house.

Just second thoughts. You know: first impressions, second thoughts, third and fourth chances.

My mother was an antique dealer. Or a picker. Or a collector. Or just a hoarder, maybe. She used to go to garage sales, thrift stores and auctions and buy antiques for her antique store. Then, she went to garage sales, thrift stores and auctions to buy stuff that went to her friends' antique stores. The…