Monday, March 29, 2010


It wasn’t until fifth grade that the pieces began to fall into place for me. Oh, I still panic when playing navigator in a moving vehicle and the pilot springs the difficult question on me, “Do I turn right or left at the next corner?” Panic raises its ugly face as I wrestle with an answer that will inevitably be the wrong response. It’s an issue that continues to mess with my life as a dyslexic. I can’t remember double digits when required to enter them. When making a purchase using Rick’s debit card. Is it 19 – 21 or 21 – 19? Given any situation where there are only two possible answers I’m going to be completely flummoxed. It’s how my dyslexia gets in the way of my mind, but in fifth grade a key unlocked a door in my brain and I began to learn how to deal with it. Until fifth grade most of my teachers assumed I was stupid and placed me in the remedial groups left to fend for myself while the teachers spent time with those kids who seemed more worthy of their attention, but in fifth grade some magic happened.  It was fifth grade when Mrs. Larson saw something in me that gave her reason to push my capabilities and lift my sense of worth. My self-confidence had a real growth spurt that year and I continued to grow academically all through the rest of my educational life.
Emmy’s moment of “Ah-ha” happened this year, the year she turned thirteen. Previously, prior to our New York demise, she constantly devalued herself, thinking she was slow or worse, stupid. The competition at Friends Seminary was brutal and even though she felt socially safe, she felt completely academically deficient in the face of such salient competition. The two of us worked a schedule of 6:30am breakfast, school, bath, dinner, and homework until eleven before I tucked her into bed and the cycle repeated the following day. It was a heart-breaking existence watching her try so hard and failing so miserably. Like I did in my early years, we both had our successes that kept us from giving up. We both had strong visual communication skills but like many dyslexics our verbal capabilities lagged miserably behind the rest of the pack.
Emmy’s seventh grade scores on the standardized testing ranked her in the bottom 15% of all private school students, a fact I would never have revealed to her. Testing is always a dreaded experience for dyslexics. While most kids were whizzing through the multiple choice questions I was left trying to figure out if it’s my left or the stove’s left that has the six quarts of boiling water needed for the pound of pasta before I could even start to tackle the issue of converting the quarts to pints and the pounds to ounces. The process of decoding the question was frequently more difficult than knowing the correct answer. These tests were always traumatic for her because of the way they pounded on her self-confidence. This year the results were reversed. The results of Emmy’s eighth grade testing placed her right on the line between proficient and advanced in reading, well into proficient in language arts, mathematics and science and into the coveted advanced area in social studies. She leapt from a seventh grade English teacher giving her an unsatisfactory and suggesting she not return to Friends in the following year to getting an A- in her third quarter at her new school in Madison. I don’t know if it was completely due to the new environment, a place where she might have sensed a bit of a leg up given the advanced nature of her previous New York schooling. Her finding the key to her potential might have occurred no matter where we were, but if the move to Madison escalated Emmy’s treasure hunt to finding her academic self-confidence then I am eternally grateful. If this was our one reward coming out of our catastrophic failure and the cosmic reason for our moving out of New York, the sacrifice of leaving the city both Rick and I so totally loved was worth the gift it has given her. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010


The tale started two years ago. We were still in the city struggling to survive month to month. By a stroke of luck Beth Dempsey from Images and Details called. She had been Rick’s PR agent for the furniture line when it first came out. Beth had a client, the Vision Council, who sponsored a big show at the Javits centered on the eyeglass industry and its affiliated fingers: medical and health. Beth’s job was to create a buzz in the media getting them to promote the current eye associated products in their magazines, blogs and editorials. What Beth wanted us to do was spruce up their press registration and lounge area previously held in a dreary underground box complete with dreadful carpeting, institutional beige walls, harsh overhead lighting and an acoustical tile ceiling. I have no idea why Beth came to us, perhaps she knew of our downwardly spiraling business and preformed an act of charity or she thought I was green enough I'd be hungry for the opportunity or maybe she just thought we would do a good job. Whatever the reason, the opportunity has grown over the past three years into a sizeable event expanding from our first lounge to the following year’s lounge and event space to this year’s lounge and a front and center booth in the Crystal Palace area of the Javits.  This piece of prime real estate in the Javits gave us a chance to show our client what we were really capable of doing. It also brought us back into the New York market shedding a bit of our homesickness and giving our creativity a chance to stretch its wings.
Beth presented a concept of a photo gallery of iconic eyeglass wearers and an additional pictorial of eyewear trends. We also needed to add the health division’s request to show their newest products wrapped in a concept of the four seasons. With this information we began to envision the space, It enfolded as an airy white expanse defined by seventeen two-tiered towers with silk dupioni drapery bridges forming a backdrop for the framed icon images. A central gallery of trend kiosks led to the frame stations where the press were fitted for free frames.
Each corner progressed through a year of healthcare related product flowing from spring to summer to fall and then winter, anchored by trees representing each season.
From spring blooms to snow encrusted branches the seasonal corners encouraged the pres to make a complete meander though the entire space.
The height of flattery came in a 9:30pm phone call the night before the event was to open when our client called asking if we would help them accessorize their exclusive designer space. The head of the event had seen what we had done and was unhappy with the look of their premiere space. She wanted our assistance in taking the decoration to the next level – in the next twelve hours, ten of which were only useable for sleep or internet research. It’s amazing what you can do in New York with a van and a charge card.
The whole thing was a good step up on the ladder to recovery.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


This is the first in a series of glimpses back into my past. They'll appear sporadically as I take time to look over my shoulder at the rewards and consequences of a life lived.


I was sitting in the back seat of Barry’s old Volkswagen convertible gliding back up Santa Monica Boulevard from an afternoon spent soaking up the nothingness of a Malibu beach. Barry controlled the steering wheel while another friend sat as co-pilot. I lounged in the back exhausted from the beach but exhilarated from what youth had to offer…no responsibilities.  Grains of sand still clung to our hair and the sheen of suntan lotion glistened off our exposed skin. I could lean back and just enjoy that sense of immortality that was a gift LA doled out to so many hopeful, foolish kids. It was late afternoon as our little red VW chugged on up Santa Monica Boulevard going several blocks, stopping for a red light and then getting another few blocks before we stopped again as another light made its transition from green to yellow to red. The lights seemed timed against our journey as if we were still tethered to the ocean and it didn’t want to let us go. We were three guys all in our early twenties, bronzed from the sun, tousled haired, laughing with the joy of our clear lack of responsibility. The radio barely worked but you could still hear the Stones through the static against the sounds of Santa Monica Boulevard rolling over the open roof and windows of our beautiful red chariot. Pulling up to the next red light Barry turned to grab an orange that had rolled into the backseat. The curls of Barry’s beach beaten hair fell to the sides of his face as he reached his hand between the seats to retrieve the orange. I caught a huge smile on his handsome face as his eyes had lifted beyond the view of the backseat and were riveted beyond our car and into the next lane. I would later learn that Barry would win the title of Mr. Gay Nude America but right now we were just three guys in a dirty convertible. His gaze made me turn my head to look in the direction of his gaze. Pulling up beside us was a sleek black limo. Its approach was slow as it eased up in honor of the red light. As it glided into a stop next to our car the driver had aligned the limousine slightly ahead of our very tiny bug so that the back of the limo was adjacent to our car. The windows of the limo were smoked glass making a mirror of our images, all of our faces now reflecting our youthful curiosity back at us. As we stared at our reflections the window slowly powered down and a woman’s face leaned into view from behind the glass panel. The soft late afternoon sun hit her face and lit it with a soft shade of pink partially from the reflection off the sides of our red car. The face was painted in the way that vintage stars paint their faces in order to hold on to the image that now only existed on celluloid. There was a very tiny smile that only showed in the corners of her pumped up candy apple red lips. Her eyes were deep and covered with fake lashes that she seemed barely able to hold open. Platinum blonde hair framed her face in a style no longer worn by current starlets. Long waves of golden locks fell along the sides of her face while a knot of blond was twisted on top in an effort to pull the weight of gravity and age away from the surface of her face. Mae West gave a slight wave, there was a barely perceptible pullback of the head and neck that indicated a flirtatiousness she still possessed. A huge hoot erupted from our little car as the light changed and the window rolled back up. Both cars engaged their accelerators, eased up on the brakes and pulled on up the road.
From the perspective of youth in that beat-up red Volkswagen bug life was endless and full of laughter and possibility. Inside the limo was the knowledge that life never gives up. We both rode on with smiles on our faces: ours big and open mouthed, hers small but still visible at the very ends of the corners of her mouth.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Laurie works at the Boston Store and also teaches a course in visual merchandising at MATC, Madison Area Technical College. The school started out as a lowly stepchild to the University, but it served the community by providing mechanics and beauticians to the white-collar government officials and university professors abounding on the isthmus of our post-war metropolis. Now the college has expanded and grown into a reputable institution providing technical training to a broad base of industries including the design community.
After looking at our book that had floated around the aisles of the Boston Store for over a month, Laurie approached Rick about our doing a guest lecture for her class. They were in the midst of a section on retail furniture display and interior design.  It was flattering and scary at the same time. It instilled a bit of puffery, a pinch of confidence, into a couple of egos that needed some reinforcing, but at the same time it made my knees shake with the nagging question of capability and Rick’s legs to quiver with the task of getting up in front of a group of people when he was still working on prying himself out of his sealed cocoon of antisocialism.
We drove around, literally, taking notes on talking points. Laurie had asked us to do the lecture twice, once to each of her two sections. We decided to start with an overview of Shaver/Melahn Studios talking about our history of transforming from an AV studio producing software for the industrial show business industry to Rick’s going back to school and beginning the interior design phase of the business, then sneaking in the opening of our retail store in Andes and finally the addition of Rick’s true passion: our furniture design branch. Passion became a key to our talk. We constantly stressed the need to have an intense passion for whatever you do. Without passion life becomes a series of chores, jobs to be completed but never challenging the metal from which we are made.
We then took our audience on a journey through past projects discussing their relevance to the story of design. We talked about concept and finding a starting point from which to launch a design. We emphasized the element of teamwork and how important the client is to the success of a project. If you haven’t satisfied a client’s needs than you haven’t listened and listening is crucial to success. We talked about inspiration and knowing your field, getting out and looking at what is being done in your field. We emphasized taking the time to scour every nook and cranny seeking inspiration in a piece of hardware or turning an ordinary flea market find into an extraordinary centerpiece for a window display.
Laurie’s classes were two hour chunks of time. I feared we’d be done in twelve minutes hoping if we opened ourselves up to questions we might be able to fill another couple of minutes. In both cases the bell rang well before we had run out of words. You’re never really sure how well you’ve done, but our reward came when we received an email from one of the students praising our work and asking for an internship. You can’t beat that.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


The New York Times recently ran an article on starting over when you’ve reached a point in your life where the lines on your face and the gray streaks in your hair make you unqualified for the current job market.  Men fair better than women but young seems to over trump wisdom on most job search applications. They detailed various scenarios of people who beat the system and dispensed some tips for success but the prognosticators were not high on the chances for those of us with a little grey on the roof. The big take-away for me was time to stop scouring the want ads and looking for help wanted signs posted in the local retail store windows. I was just wasting my time placing myself in a job market filled with newbies twenty and thirty years my junior willing and eager to slide into jobs they saw as temporary stepping stones to the rest of their lives and employers willing to hire them knowing they could get them for low wages without having to provide any benefits and then dispose of them or promote them when the time came knowing the list of applicants wasn’t going to dry up in the current economy.
Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur was going to have to be my mantra, In the New York Times article the success stories all seemed to have the same scenario: hire yourself and do what you know best. Put out your shingle and market the heck out of a life of experience no newbie can match. So the shingles now out and we’re open for business. Think of this blog entry as a sort of chain letter. Please pass our website onto anyone you know who needs any kind of design help. We can work via the internet, or in person and we have current passports allowing us to travel anywhere a plane, train or pack mule can take us.
I’m considering anyone out there to be my agent or a potential client. You’re all a link to the rest of the world. Consider this is my application. 

To turn our blog in a new direction from how to start over to how to find the time to get it all done.