In Portland, Oregon in the early 80s there was one goal in every child’s mind: win the smile contest on “Ramblin Rod”. Ramblin Rod was a children’s television show hosted by a local car dealer, which in retrospect is quite odd. Each episode, Ramblin Rod would host a smile contest and all the kids in the audience would grin their hearts out trying to win. Five kids would get pulled out of the audience, lined up next to the wooden ship (which was the one homage to set decoration) and the finalists would be given one last chance to smile. Why were kids so desperate to win? Because the prize was amazing. Winners of the smile contests were given a certificate for a free case of soda pop from the Pop Shop, a local manufacturer and bottler of pop. The warehouse was huge and filled with soda of every make and model: sassafras, strawberry, black cherry, grapefruit, pineapple, lime, orange, chocolate, maybe even a bubblegum. Since we weren’t normally allowed sugar and certainly not sugary pop, it was truly heaven. Not that I ever won the smile contest. Luckily I had generous brothers with winning smiles.
Local soda pop is primarily a thing of the past. As with almost every other product, nationalization of sales and distribution of major players, here Pepsi and Coke, eventually lead to the downfall of the local manufacturer. One company, though, has managed to hold out and hold on to the local flavor. Detroit’s Faygo is the real deal. The company has been in business since 1907 and every kid who grew up in Detroit can sing the jingles. They have flavors as standard as root beer and cola but get wild with Rock & Rye (sort of cream soda flavored) and Red Pop (which is purportedly strawberry flavored). They are vestiges of the past and distinct hometown favorites. Perhaps with all the talk of eating locally, we should also consider drinking locally. Faygo is a great place to start.
I'm a product designer (or that's what it says on my résumé anyway) and even I think that Design Within Reach is far from within reach. I normally spurn the threshold of their stores but this apron reeled me in. I've also resisted getting an apron for this long, thinking it a purely suburban accoutrement. But seeing as I spend most of free time in my kitchen, it was time to invest.
And oh, was it worth the wait. Worth the countless pairs of jeans I've ruined with chocolate stains. Yes, all for the über-Apron. This apron by Ontwerpwerk has built-in oven mits. Yup. No rushing around looking for the oven gloves you put under the baking tray anymore and no flour-covered shirts. Plus, this isn't a fussy floral number my mum would wear – well she wears a lab coat to cook. But that's another story.
Full photo by DWR, detail by us.
After successfully making it out of the 80's and 90's without branding myself with some sketchily translated form of calligraphy on the back of my milky neck or delicately inked onto my ankle, this winter I have donned a far a less permanent, yet equally foolish option. Unlike the questionable tattoos designed to ward off bad spirits and alert people to the fact that the wearer is an insecure and unimaginative round eyed devil that believes their "tat" is an edgy addition to their business casual persona, my new Kanji emblazoned Japanese working gloves unapologetically reek of jackass.
Made and purchased in Japan, these lovely additions to my winter attire can easily be worn face up or face down depending on how foolish or brave I am feeling. Although they are clearly labeled "Japanese Kanji", I have not had the inclination to have them properly translated. Until I do, I will be certain not to wave to anyone I suspect of reading Kanji for fear of insulting their mother, or requesting them to cut my hands off.
This past weekend produced two images will be forever etched within my mind. Like endless loops of space shuttles and towers disintegrating before my eyes, two pivotal moments in time have been captured to be revisited until the end of my days.
The names of the key players are music to my ears, Tyree and Tyrell. One man, a Giant, who used his head to extend the life of his team and the hopes of a city. The other man, a mental giant, whose inability to extend life cost him his head.
Of course I speak for David Tyree of the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, and of Tyrell of Blade Runner fame as originally played by Joe Turkel. However, this weekend I played Tyrell at our friend Cindy's theme-based birthday party (no, I will not show you what I looked like). Outfitted with big goofy glasses and a plush white bathrobe I danced and weaved through a collection of Roys, Sebastians, Rachaels and even a couple of Leons (who may have not known they were playing the part). But there were none more beautiful than Natasha's Rachael or sexier than Karen's Pris whose spot-on eye makeup was courtesy of my art school training, an old tooth brush and Natasha's watercolor set. Cindy supplied the guests with her own version of humanoid "replicants" that dutifully served guest food, drink and her birthday cake in their highly waxed and buffed futuristic design.
Needless to say, both events come back to me with the blur of adrenalin and the clarity of Fox's slow motion replay. Thank you Cindy. Thank you Giants.
New York Giants photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times
OK, so my step mother isn't the only one who is really good at buying presents. Just before we left, Karen was over from London and handed me the iconic blue bag that has my heart going into palpitations. No, not that kind of blue. A better, more valuable kind. To me, anyway.
Smythson is quality in bound form. All their diaries are pigskin and handmade, originally designed to slip into a gentleman's pocket. Hey, I'm no gentleman, but I have a certain swagger with this in my pocket. And I'm not the only one – Smythson has held the esteemed Royal Warrant of Appointment since 1964. I wonder if the Queen has emerald green too?
To make the present better, we need to learn from the past. Obvious statement, right? Knowing what's come before means that you can learn from the mistakes of others, from the things in history that were good and the things that were bad.
However, the resurgence of a nod to the past, to an era where objects were made properly by craftsmen and artisans, has been rife in the design world. Chandeliers abound, and the details of the old-fashioned have taken on not an artistry but have been relegated to merely a wink, a detail for the sake of detail.
Someone breaking out of the swampy territory of trend is Rob Price and his design for our local, Spring. Rob's piece is not merely a nod to the past, but quite literally a chunk of it. Taking the impracticality of having a huge grandfather clock in one's tiny New York studio, Rob has created a slice of one, complete with walnut and glass, the hands breaking free of their traditional home. The outcome is a poetic and beautiful piece, steeped in history yet relevant today.
Rob's piece has led to a green clock project set by Spring and Core 77 to a number of artists and designers, of which Michael and I are two of. The opening is this Friday at Spring Gallery on Front Street in DUMBO. Hope you can make it!
Photograph by Spring
Last Friday proved to be an evening of breaking numerous New York City (this includes Brooklyn) stereotypes.
1. New Yorkers don't hang out with their neighbors, let alone speak to them in the elevator.
Here in our DUMBO building we are like family, well maybe a college dorm. It's a building of impromptu dinners, club nights, spontaneous summer parties and even holidays together beyond the confines of our domicile. Therefore it was no surprise when our neighbor The Fitness Guru ask us and a number of others to join him and his lovely Guress for a relaxing evening at the "Russian Baths".
2. Nothing relaxing or legal could possibly take place under the BQE.
Yes, even I was caught off guard when I was told there was a great spa, Body by Brooklyn, located Park Avenue and Washington Avenue. How could this be? After all, Natasha and I walk by there every week on our way to teach at Pratt Institute and we had never experienced anything other than abandon cars, broken pavement and a continuous swirling cloud of exhaust and dirt. But The Guru was right, although a tree couldn't grow in this section of Brooklyn, a spa certainly did.
3. Russian baths are disgusting and vile homes to bacteria, men with hyperactive hair follicles and questionable endings to treatments.
OK, I'm not exactly sure how many other spas/baths offer private suites with a Jacuzzi, steam room and plasma screen TV for $200 an hour, but it all seemed in keeping with this quirky establishment. A year and a half old, it was so clean that even this man from the world of OCD didn't think twice about putting on, or taking off his communal flip-flops. Surprisingly enough, we weren't met with any hirsute men or women, nor hulking frames that one would expect to be lumbering around such a place. And for better or worse, funny business was kept to jokes over drinks at the well-stocked bar. The restaurant was clean and health code conscious as well. In fact, The Guru saw a head of lettuce fall on the floor expecting it to be put right back into the food supply only to witness it being picked up and thrown directly into the garbage. No five second rule at Body by Brooklyn!
4. New Yorker skepticism keeps us from spending our money and trying new things.
As a New Yorker I am always alert, ready and aware of the scam, the smooth talker and the deal. This goes double when the person proposing the great opportunity has an foreign accent other than a proper, Queen's English. But this night my pores and mind were open to anything. Therefore when "Ben" the Turkmenistan masseur approached me to explain the "special offer" of a Dead Sea Salt Exfoliating and Traditional Russian Platza (a.k.a. Jewish acupuncture), I caught him off guard and before the hard-sell I said yes.
The experience was well worth the price of $80 (the deal was anything over $40 would waive the night's fee of $40). First this slight 110 pound man, a former 190 pound man, took me to the steam room for the exfoliation. And as Ben explained, the salt was from the Jordanian side of the the sea due to a huge price gap with the Israeli salt. Under the watchful eye of the rest of the room, he began a massage that gave me the strange sensation of being rubbed down like a side of short ribs.
Now, soft and tingly I was sent off for a soak and warm up in the hot tub before I entered the Hot Room where the Platza would take place. The hot room should be called the "I just died and went to Hell" room. At 190 degrees, even the walls and floor are too hot to touch. In fact, it is so hot that Ben had to wear a Soviet star emblazoned wool cap soaked in water to keep his head cool, and his hair follicles from burning to a crisp during the entire session. As he prepared the treatment bed by pouring ice cold water on a blanket I tried to acclimate my lungs to the light and searingly invigorating air. Lying face down on the bed Ben covered my head with a cool wet towel that was soon to take on the heat of the room. I could hear the rustle of the oak leaf branches that he would soon be beating my arms, trunk, legs and feet with. Fifteen seconds into the treatment I thought I was going to die as my lungs failed to provide me with amounts ample of air. This was similar to the unsettling feeling I experienced the time I was ascending the heights of Mount Kilimanjaro.
This uncharted course quickly turned to relaxation and otherworldliness. As I turned over the rhythmical beating of the leaves took me further away while dead skin cells were whisked from my limbs. After a final beating while sitting on a bench with my arms extended like Jesus, Ben instructed me to journey to my salvation, the ice pool. As I plunged into the water the cells of my body sang a song and joined the universe. I felt everything and nothing, but I was certain I was very much alive. After the pool I was swaddled and place on lounge chair to take it all in. Ben suggested a vodka shot and a drink to finish the treatment. Now that's a happy ending.
If you're like me, you spend too much time on Instant Messenger than you should. Remember how much work we got done before the internets? And you know you shouldn't do it, especially as irony and sarcasm really don't translate very well on it, but hey, it's still fun. Much to my unnamed friend's chagrin, I tend to keep everything that she writes down, emails and ichats included, and what you see above is an excerpt. Because anything out of context is fun.
Cue I'm Blog, where people can upload their random iChats, out of context. Yes, my one isn't as risqué as the ones shown on the site, just two friends talking about Good Reads , but perhaps I will upload some anonymously.
Michael's going to like this one, he's a self-professed germophobe. Me, not so much, but I do like things to be neat and tidy, even though my desk belies this idea.
Along come the Restless Chopsticks. We just set a form and function project to our class a few weeks ago, and this answers the brief perfectly. Nothing extraneous, no silly rests made of bamboo. These chopsticks elevate themselves from the table on their own and appear like they are floating. You see! Form and function go together.