Tag Archives: Hartford

Rhoda and I

Give me an open shelf and I immediately go into display mode. From the pragmatic to the aesthetic–whether we’re talking everyday dishes or a collection of shells–in my mind they occupy the same sacred space. A well-arranged shelf is like music to me. Where did this come from?

Ah yes, Rhoda.

Not since The Mouseketeers had I been so enamored with a television show. From 1974 to 1978, for the life of the show, I didn’t sit there with my ears on but I was hooked. Rhoda was at first a backstory of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later a spin-off. She had all the right ingredients and captured my imagination in a way that Mary hadn’t. Unlike Mary, Rhoda wasn’t perfect. She had issues. She had verve. And Rhoda was a window dresser. Having moved from Minneapolis back to NYC at the start of her own show, Rhoda called out, “New York, this is your last chance.”

I was working as Communications Editor for G. Fox & Co., a large department store at the time in Hartford, Connecticut. My first gig out of college, editor of in-house publications. Unlike Mary, who was tied to her desk, I had the freedom to roam between departments with paper & pen and camera, attending events, getting stories, and becoming acquainted with both employees and management. And in all the world of G. Fox & Co., I considered the Visual Merchandising team the most creative bunch—far more creative than my department, or even advertising.

Inspired by my new arty friends, the window dressers, I rented a trendy loft space in a beautiful old building enjoying a renaissance at the time near Union Station in Hartford—an area undergoing a major effort in urban renewal. My high- ceilinged, light-flooded space was a blank canvas for all that I would do. A massive store window, if you will. I think I got as far as rolling in a wooden spool for a table, my first piece of furniture ever, to start my life around.

Rhoda married Joe. Then love bumped me off course too, and the next thing I knew I quit my job, left Hartford, lost my security deposit and first month’s rent on that loft, left my first piece of furniture behind, flew to St. Thomas USVI for a couple of years, and… we won’t go into it.

Let’s just say I should have stayed, kept writing, and set my stage. Two things that make me immeasurably happy.

Rhoda’s marriage to Joe fell apart too. The ratings plunged. Joe was the owner of a wrecking company, and my ex-husband might as well have been too. In any case we pulled ourselves up through design, Rhoda and I.

“What is design but the creation of orderliness?” states Mary Douglas Drysdale.

Today my blue & whites are in a hutch. Like things together, that seems to work.

Bookcase 3

A major bookcase is color- blocked like a Mondrian painting. When I’m watching a game and my attention wanders, it is most likely up to the books.

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In the master bath, a shell collection sits on pine shelves that once held Costco-sized spices, sea salt, pepper mill, olive oil and vinegars in a kitchen in Pennsylvania.

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In the kitchen today, much of what was once hidden in upper cabinets is now out. Stainless steel kitchen shelves hold all our white every day china and clear glasses. The idea is that what is used frequently, doesn’t get dusty. And as cooks in prepping we experience extraordinary head and shoulder space.

Live with what you use and what you love. And get rid of the rest.

Yep, I can see Rhoda winking at that.

 

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Filed under display, visual merchandising

Meeting Maya

Passing Time

Your skin like dawn
Mine like dusk.

One paints the beginning
of a certain end.

The other, the end of a
sure beginning.

Maya Angelou

 

Every now and then, perhaps just once in a lifetime, we are in the presence of someone who, we suspect, must be a god. She walked into the room donning a long brightly colored African caftan, her hair wrapped in a turban, holding herself high, seemingly floating on grace. Elegant and eloquent. Each word carefully chosen, as in her poems. The clarity with which she annunciated. Offering words up like holy communion.

I met Maya Angelou before I knew who she was, before many of us knew her. It was 1975 and Random House had just published “Oh Pray My Wings are Going to Fit Me Me Well” and she was on book tour in Hartford CT. The Public Relations department at G. Fox & Co., a large department store, was sponsoring the event in a reception room.

I was on my first job out of college as Communications Editor at G. Fox & Co. With a Polaroid camera strapped over my shoulder, pen and steno pad in hand, I interviewed managers and covered rallies and events for material in publishing “Fox Tales,” the monthly in-house magazine. It was the day of literal cut and paste, and that deadline was perhaps the only time I could be found at my desk. Otherwise I got to run around, and I especially enjoyed covering events such as this that had nothing at all to do with the retail world.

Back to Maya.

Her every word, her commanding presence, demanded we listen, just listen. I remember her attentiveness to us. Her joy in reading. It was like being at a sermon where you get it. And the congregation comes floating out, higher than they were when they came in.

A woman who was silent for so many years. A silence that must have been cleansing like a fast. Thus her purity of words. How could I not think she was deity?

When our daughters were young, we toured the United Nations in NYC. A friend of the family, a delegate, had arranged for us to go behind the scenes. It was spectacular—all the art, the etiquette, rich in languages and men in robes. Ten year old Jackie believed she was in the presence of “kings of many lands.” No one could dissuade her and no one wanted to, for her awe and respect was beautiful.

I felt much this way meeting Maya.

I took her photograph that day and came away with a signed book. That photograph is pressed somewhere in the pages, and that book is packed because I am moving. And now she has died, and I long to hold it.

 

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Irrational Fears in an Irrational Time

Two presidential candidates, attractive, bright, Harvard scholars both, stand before us in a crowd. Spring is warm, much like summer, and the candidates have removed their jackets. Obama rolls up his sleeves as well. Mitt leaves his sleeves long, pressed, and buttoned at the cuff. Obama reaches out to people with both arms. Mitt methodically shakes hands with his right hand, trying to give a formal hand shake, over and over, despite the fact that folks are all around him. I see a world of choice in this election. One man is real. His ears stick out as do ours. While the other man looks computer rendered. “Mannequin man,” I call him.

Beware of mannequin men, women, and children. As a child I believed that mannequins were simply posing by day, but came alive at night. The grandest department store in Hartford, Connecticut at that time was G. Fox & Co., where legend had it, female mannequins were modeled after Katherine Hepburn, also Hartford born and bred. Her father, Thomas Hepburn, a prominent physician, and her mother, Katherine Houghton Hepburn, head of the Connecticut Suffrage Association. Now as fond as I am of Kate, I know her to have been formidable. Twenty years later in La Jolla, California, the seamstress on my wedding dress, a close friend of one of Kate’s nieces, confided that Kate had nothing to do with her niece because she had failed to complete her college education. Aunt Kate held her standards as high as she held her neck, and, like a mannequin, she did not bend.

Anyway, back in Connecticut, back in time, my best friend shared this fear of mannequins with me and together we fed each other’s fantasy. On sleepovers, in that moment just before sleep, one of us would mechanically move an arm, raise a leg, or turn her head, and with all the woodenness and soullessness of an android, come alive at night as a mannequin. Apparently the only way to deal with a mannequin was to become one yourself, and so we terrified both ourselves and each other by never wanting to be the first one to snap out of it.

Whether it’s your best friend acting, plaster, or plastic, now I know what this phenomena is called: The Uncanny Valley Effect. Coined by robotics professor, Masahiro Mori, in 1970, “The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics and 3D computer animation which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The ‘valley’ in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.” (Wikipedia).

These are strange times and we stand at a precipice. While “mannequin man” tips us into an uncanny valley, the president, on the other hand, is one of us. I’m just saying….

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