Friday, January 13, 2012
When last year's big blizzard hit, it caught us completely by surprise, meaning that after spending half an hour shoveling out the 20-foot parking spot in front of our shop--Jeeves was off that day--I realized we didn't have a single busted plastic lawn chair or rusty grill to set out, which items, according to Chicago's unwritten etiquette, are the correct thing for claiming Dibs on a parking spot after you've shoveled it. (And if you don't know about this wonderful tradition, check out the column in today's Chicago Tribune by the great John Kass) But hey, I didn't watch "MacGyver" all those years for nothing. So lacking the proper symbols, I made do: I dragged an antique leopard-spotted chair out to the curb, where it not only served to stake out our territory, but also--for a few minutes, anyway--helped to elevate the tone of our neighborhood, which is still, as they say, 'up and coming.' High & Low, you know? It's all about the mix. Or so they tell me.
When I was a kid growing up in Beloit, Wisconsisn, my mother worked for a group called Community Concerts, whose goal was--and, apparently, still is--to bring music to small towns without orchestras of their own, and one year, we had a group called the Norman Luboff Choir. They probably sang for an hour and a half, but I the only thing I remember of the whole concert was a silly but gorgeously-sung snippet of an encore that lasted all of about ten seconds: "Help keep our junkyards beautiful--throw away something lovely today." It got a big laugh because it was the era of Lady Bird Johnson's campaign to get Americans to stop throwing trash out their car windows.
That same impulse towards beauty,then, was the motive behind my hauling our leopard chair out to the slushy street--except that I wasn't really throwing it away. Not, of course, that some people didn't slow down, just in case.
Anyway, so the line in that song was what was running through my mind as I ran back & forth across the street, dodging traffic to adjust the chair's angle, trying to get a shot of it sitting just so in front a pile of dirty snow before I lost the light. Well, that line, and the personal mission statement that Elsie De Wolfe came up with over a century ago: "I am going to make everything around me beautiful. That will be my life.”
Elsie, what a gal: actress, decorator, honored with the Croix de Guerre & the Legion d'Honneur for her work in WWI, and named Best Dressed Woman in the world at age seventy. Personally, compared to her, I feel like a total slacker, with not a single medal to my name. But we all do the best we can. If, in my case, that meant sticking an antique leopard-spotted fauteuil outside in a puddle of slush for the sake of a picture, so be it. Even if it was only there for a moment, it was long enough. Besides, Elsie always did like leopard.
Elsie Photo By George Hoyningen Huene, 1930
By the way, if you're in town, stop into the shop this weekend for the last few days of our January sale: Twenty percent off all antiques and up to sixty percent off selected items. And just so you know, I cleared that parking spot for you. I don't even have a car. We're at 1822 West Grand Avenue. You'll recognize the chair. Antinuous will greet you.