Marcia and I were in the gift business for almost twenty years.  She was a retailer.  I was a rep.  We saw the world from two totally different points of view.

In the late 1970s, I took a shot at making a living as a commercial artist serving local businesses, creating my own paintings on the side.  I worked part time as a vegetarian chef, as an assistant teacher working with handicapped children (Down’s, autistic, brain damaged, schizophrenic) and in a day care center.  I collected my illustrations of maps of states of consciousness and published the images as a greeting card line called Maplands.

The greeting card company morphed into a repping firm that carried small greeting card lines from publishers and artists across the country.  I found I could make a living representing the wide variety of images emerging on the scene.  I lugged samples to small, new, local stores specializing in a new industry calling itself the contemporary greeting card business.  Gibson, Hallmark and American Greetings were being challenged by Recycled Paper.  With Recycled Paper’s success, a host of smaller competitors appeared.  These were the kinds of companies I was working with.

My sister Terry joined me, followed by others until we were a small firm of four reps.  With time, I called on the larger chains such as Osco, Walgreens, Montgomery Wards and Sears.  My staff and I served the many shops around the city and state, hauling around samples, taking orders and helping retailers make a living.  My best line was Andrews & McMeel, which provided me The Far Side by Gary Larson and Calvin & HobbesFar Side calendars pretty much paid my bills for several years.  That allowed me time to start several other businesses related to my comic illustration.  I published comic monthlies, syndicated a dozen cartoonists to the alternative media and produced my own strip, placing it in almost 200 publications.

Nineteen years I participated in three trade shows a year, eating and breathing the concerns of small, local businesses.  Year after year Christmas came in August at the Chicago Gift Show.  By the time the holiday season arrived, it felt like an anticlimax.  Whenever I received a greeting card, I’d reflexively turn it over to view the publisher.  Most cards I received I knew by sight.  I was an expert in an arcane side business of the American gift industry.  I’d been a manufacturer of greeting cards, a distributor, a rep, an illustrator of greeting cards and casual consultant to hundreds of stores on how to best make money selling greeting cards.

During this same period, the woman that was to become my wife started a toy store in 1981 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, a shop called Saturday’s Child.  I walked in to sell her greeting cards.  When our marriages ended, we became attracted to each other and started dating ten years later.

Whereas I was deeply enmeshed in the world of retailer needs and product availability, Marcia was seeking an evocative product and sharing it with discriminating customers.  We maintained two remarkably different frames.

I was raised with no religion in a Jewish household that revered Freud and work.  Filling stores up with product for Christmastime and keeping them stocked with greeting cards throughout the year was a way to make a living.  Gift giving became this constant background patter like air conditioners humming in summer time.  My apartments were crammed with samples.  I had thousands of dollars of gift samples at any time that I would be giving away.  My friends and family were amused by my never having to engage in holiday shopping.  For me, gift giving had become unconscious, nonsacred and almost mundane.

Twenty-two years Marcia kept her toy store open, making gift giving as sacred as is possible in a society filled with the compulsion to make money.  Though she housed over 400 vendors, Marcia knew every product in her store.  She observed closely what sold and listened to her customers when they told her how a present was received.  Hundreds of thousands of children received toys from Marcia’s store, toys that she made sure had a chance of evoking joy.

When we married, my closets full of samples met her basement full of toys.  I changed my profession first.  It was years before all the samples were finally gone.  Then Marcia let go of the toy store.  That was maybe five years ago.  Though the toys are gone, several displays still linger in the basement.

Marcia conducted a sacred business.  Such a thing cannot easily exist.  She sought to bring happiness to children in the form of products that could be purchased that evoke wonder.  I was in it for the money.  There were things I loved to do that I could not do without a way to pay the bills.  I represented over 100 vendors in those nineteen years, some with stunningly beautiful products.  Still, my focus was making stores money so I could make money.

Complementary opposites match up in an almost infinite variety of ways.  It’s fascinating how by shifting scales and widening perspective, two seemingly nonrelating features can fit well together.  Indeed, opposites can attract.


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