Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Startup

by Daddy X

I started my antiques business in 1989, gradually drawing away from the bar and restaurant career that I’d been involved in since the mid 70’s.  I’d landed a job as sous-chef, then moved on to my own kitchen in North Beach, SF. After moving from the city I worked as bartender/manager in a bowling alley that was reputed to be the toughest bar in the county.

I often tell of the time, at a party, when a big Marine-type heard me say just that—that I worked at the toughest bar in the county.

“Yeah, where?” he said, probably expecting me to mention one of two biker bars (I’d worked one of those, as well.)

When I told him, he said: “That Place! Fuck! I forgot about that place.”

I kept at it until deciding that the antiques sideline needed my full-time attention. Until then, the careers had overlapped. In 1995, I finally thought I could make more by selling things I’d bought than by working behind a bar. Momma X had a good, steady career in book production, so that enabled us to gamble with a situation that could be feast today, famine tomorrow.  

Of course, this wasn’t a decision I’d pulled from the ether (or other, darker places) it was rather an extension of my motis operendi, so to speak. I never had the resources to be a serious hobbyist in any field, so I had had to create businesses. For instance, my professional cooking career had a genesis in my interest in good food. I still do the lion’s share of cooking around the X household.

In 1990, I started with a tiny space in an antiques mall in a local town known for its plethora of antique stores. The little burg still draws tourists from all over the SF bay area and beyond. But to really hit the focused market, a dealer has to exhibit at the shows and antique fairs. People don’t go to shows without money in their pockets. In a tourist town, the malls can attract lots of ‘looky-loos’.

The shows themselves range from local down-and-out flea markets to sky’s-the-limit antique fairs. If a dealer has a reputable name and offers a more sophisticated inventory, they can have the opportunity to do the higher end shows, many of which at that time had long waiting lists for purveyors. The best shows tend to be invitation only.

Over a period of fourteen years, I increased my geographical range, from venues in the SF bay area, to southern California and Nevada. Every year, I took a three-week road trip, driving first to a fair in Pasadena, then on to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the annual Ethnographic Show, which draws top dealers from around the world.

But most shows take place on weekends; I was getting older, not as enamored with a life on the road. So I opened a small gallery near a local community college in 2000.

And that’s about how it went in the 90’s. I stayed at the gallery, doing just selected shows, and my business grew. I can’t say it prospered, but the money coming in eventually overtook what was being spent. Although, as I intimated, the income was not what one would call dependable.

What that business did (and still does, albeit in a greatly reduced capacity) was to introduce me to the esoteric ways of the world. As many of you know from my previous post “Shelf Life” (which happened to be the last post here on OGG for 2013) I deal in ancient and tribal art from all over the world. Yes, I’ll pick up a more contemporary piece that catches my eye from time to time, though ancient and ethnographic are the fields I am known for.

And a grand field it is. Objects enable us to investigate how other cultures lived, what they considered important, and to compare the information in depth, in turn revealing differences among us over the ages, and what we have in common.

If this sounds like a scenario where huge amounts of money were involved, you’d be mistaken. I started on a shoestring and couldn’t even think about going into that business today. Back in the 90’s the US still had a vibrant middle class. The lower to middle range was my bread and butter. I never sold an object over $10,000. In fact, the vast majority of my sales were from $50-$1,000. Many of those pieces could change the atmosphere of a room. Ordinary people could and did afford to buy a rare and beautiful object for their home. Antique shows were packed with people.

Back then, (in fact, even now) I could sell you an interesting 2,000 year-old coin, amulet or bead for $10. Of course, for that money you won’t get the best coin or bead, but the fact remains that almost everybody could afford an ancient sculpture, which is, in fact, what an ancient coin is.

Now, twenty to twenty-five years later, our middle class has just about dried up. Nobody but the rich can afford the luxury of such beautiful and esoteric items, and the privileged desire only the best. This is a microcosm of the entire economy, which at the top level is booming.  In the art world, for example, multimillion-dollar sales are common, while less popular artists go hungry. It’s a slippery slope, to use the cliché.

This inequity speaks to the larger loss of our quality of life since then. The current generation is the first in our lifetime who isn’t looking forward to a better world.

Back in the early 90’s I also began a novel. On a word processor. Not an erotic work, but a ‘last man on earth’ scenario. I guess I had maybe 50,000 words written when it became apparent how much I liked writing dialog in the few flashbacks.

Hah!

Dialog is difficult when you’re dealing with the last man on earth. Guess I could have made him bonkers. I think the piece is around here somewhere on a floppy disk.



18 comments:

  1. Floppy disks belonged to the nineties, too!

    I hope you find that novel. It could be the breakthrough into longer work that you're looking for! (And if you need a floppy disk reader, I can probably come up with one!)

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    1. Huh-- This looks like it erased my first reply? Jean? Is this rubbing off?? :>)

      Anyway, Yes. I knew somebody must be doing translations, but didn't know (or was too lazy to find out) who did it. Now I'll look around for the disk. It surfaced a year or two ago.

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  2. Daddy:
    Ah, floppy discs, a term that has disappeared from the lexicon. Do you remember when floppy discs flopped?

    Do you remember what a do-loop is?

    No doubt your great ear for dialogue was developed in your bartending years. I have enjoyed the all-dialogue pieces you have posted on ERWA. I actually think they are better training than flashers, but let's not have that argument here.

    I don't know how you would do dialogue with the last man on earth but if you wrote it as a Harlequin Romance it could all be internal dialogue. (Incoming!) You could always have the guy talking to his cock which is suffering the pangs of withdrawal. (I did that in some early work that you found amusing.)

    Having survived, your life looks colorful now. It probably didn't feel too colorful then. The antiques business must be all internet now. I always loved the charm of antique shops although I was only a looky-look.

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    1. No know floppy floppy disks nor d-loops.

      But yes, listening to dialog has helped me with vernacular pieces like "The Episode of the Hinny" I just posted on ERWA.

      Actually, looking back on that time, I feel pretty good about it. I was blessed with the mind's ability to remember the good times without guilt, and to try and recognize the difficult episodes as learning experiences.

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  3. This is not only an interesting story of your employment but a telling example of the way income inequality is affecting our society.

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    1. Bingo!

      Thanks Annabeth. Many people don't remember what it was like to look forward to something better. The socialist policies of the Roosevelt administration were the factors that widened our middle class, bringing the "American Dream" to so many during the 50's and 60's. Such things as the GI Bill, strong unions, and a truly progressive income tax had the country running better and better every year. Much of this to be reversed since 1980. The results are evident. Yet people continue to vote against their best interests.

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    2. I've read it stated that people "vote their aspirations, not their situations". They approve of tax breaks for the rich because they see themselves as "temporarily disaffected millionaires", not as the great unwashed that the truly rich see when they look down from Mt. Olympus at the rest of us. (I think the second quote is from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.)

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  4. Do you have any tattoos? I'd think that in a biker bar, you'd almost have to, to be accepted. Husband only has 2, one on each upper arm. But I have 10, some are pretty big. The place we go shoot pool in regularly is a biker bar, and the skin art on the female bartenders covers most of their visible skin. It's about the only place I feel unadorned!

    We just have to be careful to check out who the "entertainment" is, because they used to let some biker jerk "sing" and tell stories about how much he hated when the White House wasn't white anymore, while he spewed bigoted and misogynistic poison. They have Black bouncers there, and I always wondered how they listened without punching him. Husband dragged me out of there a few times, when I was so visibly angry I was shaking. He told me that if I mouthed off to the guy, he wouldn't hit 5'3" me...he'd hit my 6'4" husband. So I let him take me home. But it sure ruined our good times.

    You're so right about antiques. One of my brothers-in-law collects artifacts, and some of them truly "make" the room light up. I have to settle with encouraging students from the high schools I sub at, by buying artwork I enjoy from their yearly art show at the end of the year. And one of husband's brothers attended the Chicago Art Museum school of art during his college years, and we have 2 of his originals also. Owning original art is a joy that shouldn't be reserved for just the very rich.

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  5. Hehe.

    No, no tattoos. Funny, I never had any desire to permanently alter my body. Seems life has other ways of pummeling us with indelible signs of what we've been through. Not my place to add more for a whimsey that may be here today, gone tomorrow. What if you get a tattoo of something that turns politely incorrect in weeks to come. Then what would I do with the big open poontang on my arm?

    But to each their own, and I must say that a woman who put up with that much pain would certainly put up with my shit. That in itself would make her attractive.

    Ooo- that bar you go to. Stay safe! It's nice to be there with a big guy, though. Cuts down the number of assholes who would try him. (or you, on his arm) But what he says about getting another person in trouble is a very 'real' thing. I knew several types who'd' get into a beef, then have his friends have to pull him out of it.

    Art should be appreciated by everyone. Disappointing how it's being funded less and less in our schools.

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  6. Oh, and BTW, if you haven't figured it out, that was 'politically' incorrect above.

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  7. After all you've said here that I've read, I knew that was sarcasm! My art is mostly symbols of things I value, for instance, my husband's name in a heart on my thigh (10th anniversary gift to him.) An anklet with 4 hearts on it, with each of our kids' initials in a heart. Iggdrasil, the Celtic tree of life on my back, along with 2 hearts melting into one. My zodiac sign on my calf, since when I was in high school and college, EVERYONE knew their sign! And on my other calf, my artist listened to me sob about how much I missed my Mom, who was too far gone into dementia to understand when I finally got my first book published (though she would have been inordinately proud of me, which made my triumph fall a bit flat) . He designed a book cover that shows a manuscript tied with a bow, that says, "My Mother Emily will be with me forever", and there's a palm tree, a beach and a setting sun behind the manuscript. I was able to stop crying when I got that, knowing that I've honored her memory for as long as I'm around to enjoy my ink.

    When I sub in Art classes, or see students covering their notebooks with sketchings, I tell them how much money a tattoo artist can make. I've been going to the same guy for 20 years, but one of my sons has a friend who was always drawing, even in grade school. He now does tattoos. What other way can you make money by creating art, yet not have to go to college?

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    1. Libra here.

      Sounds like your tattoos are timeless themes. You'll never be sorry about them. And, yeah, tattooing does sound like a good job for an artist. Especially for a pervert like me. They certainly are accepted by pretty much everybody these days, and even the otherwise 'squarest' (what ever that means these days) -looking people sport them.

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  8. Not me. I guess that makes me tragically un-hip. Can't stand them. Don't get me started on piercings! Jeez.

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  9. Regarding dialog and the last man on earth, I vividly remember a science fiction story by Marion Zimmer Bradley, about a woman captain of a small research spaceship. By the end you realize that's she's a split personality, and the two or three other characters she refers to--gardener in the hydroponics lab, cook, someone with an undetermined role who is her sometime lover-- are in fact herself in different personae. She was picked especially for this mission, where someone who felt all alone wouldn't be able to stand it, but she cracks up when an actual person from a passing ship comes to visit. Eerie.

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    1. Sacchi, do you remember what collection that story was in? Amazon has a lot of her books, some for free. This sounds like a great story, and my whole family is into sci-fi, with my husband a huge fan of Asimov and Clarke, and one of my sons working his way through LeGuin's books now.

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    2. I think the story was in one of the Norton anthologies of science fiction, used as a textbook fir a college course between ten and fifteen years ago. I'll see if I can pin it down better than that.

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    3. Yes, the Norton Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ursula LeGuin and someone whose name I forget. Came out in 1997, longer ago than I'd thought. I can tell by some of the reviews on Smamzon that it's the same book because they mention stories that I know were in that one, even though no one mentions the story I spoke of. The book is obviously not representative of current science fiction, or of "Golden Age" work either, but somewhere in between, with a bit of a slant toward the feminist. Mostly excellent writers who had/have considerable influence on the genre, but not always their very best work in this case.

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  10. Hi Daddy X

    Actually I'm thinking about what you've said about the middle class. There's a lot of truth in that. Who knew things would change so much for so many in such a short time? And so much bullshit has taken the place of simple things. It's sad. I hope it will change in my life time.

    Garce

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