Friday, March 21, 2014

Pack Man

The other day Barry was at his house unclogging a defiant drain and Priscilla the Packing Pro was visiting the “nullies” (her son’s children) in Phoenix, Arizona. As a result, Danny and I were alone together in the trading post.
Steve Simpson Packing

The Internet gods had been good to us the prior day, so there were Navajo rugs, woven baskets and turquoise jewelry to ship. Since Priscilla generally heads up projects of this nature and she was scheduled to be gone a few days, something had to be done before Dustin the UPS driver arrived in his big brown cargo van. Danny is not yet good at this stuff, so that left me to manage the job.

Despite our reputations, Barry and I are in fact capable. In the early days of Twin Rocks Trading Post he and I were responsible for virtually every aspect of the business, including packaging. Despite what most people believe, Priscilla did not come to us completely capable. Believe it or not, Barry and I had to train her. She was not always so competent, and we were not always so . . . well you know.

So, reaching back into the past for guidance, I assembled the necessary implements; boxes, tape, markers and labels, and set to work. Before long the orders were ready to go and I walked them upstairs to Danny for entering into the computer. Danny looked at me with a mixture of amazement, concern and fear. He obviously had little faith in my ability to ensure the orders would arrive in good condition.

At that point I decided Danny should be reminded who was in charge of this Popsicle stand. “Listen Bud”, I said in my most authoritative voice, “I was packing when you were still in Pampers!” Obviously considering our age difference and the longevity of Twin Rocks Trading Post, he acknowledged that statement might well be true. Still, I am sure Danny wondered whether his commission was in jeopardy if the contents of my packages were damaged in transit.

When things settled down, I reviewed my leadership training materials and quickly realized I had overstepped my boundaries with Danny. So, in an effort to be a kinder, gentler, more effective manager, I took my young assistant aside and explained that, because of my skills as a packer, I used to be known as the “Pack Man”. “Look” I said, trying a line I utilize for customers who also question my ability to securely box their purchases, “I have an doctorate in creative packaging.” Despite my best attempt at sincerity, he once again looked worried. “Really?” he questioned. “Ya, ya, sure”, I said, “now go back to work. Everything will be fine. Guaranteed.”

A few days later, we received a call from one of the individuals receiving my shipments. While I held my breath hoping everything had arrived intact, I heard Danny explain our prior discussions and then laugh out loud. When I asked him what the customer had said, Danny replied, “They thought you should try out for the Green Bay Packers.”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; the team.

Saturday, March 15, 2014


The other day Priscilla and I were working at the trading post when a skinny fifty-something woman walked in. The woman was maybe 5' 10" and 130 pounds. She had shoulder length salt and pepper hair that hung straight down, big brown eyes aided by large, heavy rimmed glasses; her face was pleasant. She wore an oversized grey sweatshirt with "Oregon" printed across the chest, green straight-legged jeans and faded blue deck shoes with no socks. Priscilla greeted her and struck-up a conversation as the woman looked around the store. A few minutes into their discussion a man popped in, stood there holding the door open for a moment while he absorbed his surroundings and proclaimed, "I can't afford to be in here!" He promptly turned and started to leave. At that point, if I could have discerned the future, I would have let him go. Unfortunately I was incapable of doing so and blurted-out, "We don't charge to look."

Santo Domingo Indian Mountain Turquoise with Jacla Bead Necklace - Ray Lovato (#126)

The guy came in saying, "Well in that case . . . ." He was dressed in khaki shorts and a tan, button-down camp shirt. He too was fifty-something years of age and approximately 5' 10". His full head of hair was mostly white, as was his scraggly beard. He was easily 250 pounds and his clothes were wrinkled and looked well-worn. My wife would have called him "frumpy looking". Because he saddled right-up to the skinny lady, Priscilla and I figured they were together. We soon discovered the guy was hugely outspoken and that we should have encouraged him to continue his exit strategy when we had the chance. He soon let fly comments like, "Wow, I can't get prices like these for my beads." and "Honey, we should move here and set-up a store, we would be rich in no time." Before long I decided obnoxious would be a good word to describe the guy. The skinny lady just went on looking without a word, as if her beau was saying more than enough for the both of them."

My interest piqued, I asked curiously, "What kind of beads do you sell?" He walked over to the case containing Ray Lovato's turquoise necklaces, pointed out several and said. "Just like that, that and that." "You sell high-grade, natural turquoise?" I queried. "Yes," he replied, "just like those you have in the case." At that point I recognized a cloud of doubt passing over the skinny woman's face. It seemed she was fighting to restrain a comment. Seeing her reaction, and wondering at her thoughts, I queried on. The guy told me he had a bead shop on the Oregon coast and went to Tucson every year to attend the gem and mineral show to buy gemstone beads. "Who do you buy from?" I asked. He told me he bought Kingman turquoise beads from Marty Colbaugh and Sleeping Beauty beads from Dan Courvoisier. Mr. Frump went on to tell me it was unusual for him to pay in excess of $100.00 per strand. At that point things became clear to me."

"Well", I said, pressing my point, "I believe we are comparing apples to oranges. I know those guys and their product. They do not, will not, cannot, sell high-grade natural turquoise beads for anywhere near $100.00 per strand." I continued, "And that is to say nothing about them being made in the USA by Ray Lovato or any other prominent Native American artist." Mr. Frump "harrumphed" with disdain and said, "Well I will take your apple and eat your orange, because you are dead wrong." At this point I knew I was dealing with a fruit basket mixed with a hand-full of nuts. My thoughts were confirmed when the skinny lady walked up to her man, slipped her hand into his and squeezed lightly. Like her, I decided then and there it was time to change the subject and move past our disagreement. To get back on track we talked about their shop, what other products they sold and how they managed to be away from their shop for extended periods. I also discovered the skinny woman was an artist in her own right. By the end of our visit I figured we were back on good terms."

We said our good-byes, and as the couple headed out the door Priscilla and I heard Mr. Frump say to the skinny lady, "That guy was a real nincompoop!" Priscilla busted-out laughing and said, "You shouldn't argue with customers, even when you are right you are wrong." I snorted in acknowledgment, and told Priscilla, "That sounds exactly like advice I was given by a wise old sage when Laurie and I were married. He said, "Never fight with your sweetheart, because even if you win you loose." He was spot on! For the remainder of the day, whenever Priscilla thought back on Mr. Frump's parting shot she would say to herself, "nincompoop" and begin laughing all over again. I hate to be the butt of a joke, but in this case it seems well deserved."

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve, Priscilla and Danny; the team.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Put the Bite On Me

So there I was, sitting at my desk trying to finish a long neglected project when I heard Barry say in a gruff voice, “Where’d this come from?” He was referring to a woven pitch basket made by Etta Rock. From my office window I could see him standing in the store, inspecting the weaving as though he had never before seen one. Priscilla, standing close by, smiled with a sly grin. She knew what was coming next. This is a scenario played out countless times over my years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, and Priscilla knows it by heart. Sometimes Barry and I switch roles, with me playing the part of crusty business owner and Barry being the compassionate protector of Indigenous traditions. No matter how it is scheduled, the production always ends the same.
Etta Rock

“We don’t need more of Etta’s pitch pots, we already have too many. And besides, we’re outta’ cash,” Barry advised. Without looking up from my computer I responded, “Etta put the bite on me. I couldn’t say no.” Barry grudgingly acknowledged the futility of his argument, recognizing there was nothing to be done. The conversation ended as it always does, without any resolution, and with the knowledge that so long as Etta is alive there will always be a return engagement and an overabundance of her work on the shelves.

Anyone who knows anything about us has heard of Etta Rock. She and her pitch pots have become as much a part of our tapestry as Mary Holiday Black, Lorraine Black, Luanna Tso or Elsie Holiday. We are interwoven, interconnected, intertwined . . . inseparable. These individuals are in our trading post DNA. Of course we did not need another pitch pot. That was never at issue. Etta wanted money to pay the bills, and she was not leaving until she sold something.

At times like this I often think of our friend Bill Boyle, a high school contemporary who holds an M.B.A. from Stanford University. When it comes to these recurring themes, I have frequently considered asking his advice. Anyone who attempts to apply logic, financial or otherwise, to our business model will, however, come up wanting. Knowing this, I have conscientiously left Bill out of the equation. My fear is that he may conclude Barry and I should be institutionalized in a home for the economically insane.

Barry and I understand the problem is that we are vainly trying to hold on to the old ways. Call it a mid-life crisis, call it an unwillingness to move on, call it what you like, Barry and I cannot let go of the past. Etta is one of the last traditional Navajo people we see on a regular basis; she wears the customary costume, she speaks only in her Native tongue (although we suspect that is part of her act), she lives on her ancestral lands and she makes traditional crafts that have little relevance to contemporary society. So, knowing what we know about how quickly her lifestyle is fading, we support her.

While Barry and I fret about what happens when we can no longer run the trading post, we are equally anxious about what happens when the Etta Rocks and the Mary Holiday Blacks of our world are gone. We fear that when the rugs, baskets and silver work we have known all our lives are gone, we will be left to sell rubber tomahawks, plastic drums and chicken feather headdresses. So we buy Etta’s pitch pots in the hope we can hold on to that slice of history just a bit longer.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; the team.