Friday, May 30, 2014

A New Strategy

As anyone who has visited Twin Rocks Trading Post knows, Barry and I are constantly searching for a better business model. Living in one of the most isolated regions of the United States, in one of the most economically depressed counties in the land presents unusual challenges. We are, therefore, always on the lookout for a new strategy to manage the unusual demands.

Considering how successful New Mexico’s drive-through liquor stores have been, we recently researched the possibility of doing something similar with Southwest art, which as we know can also be intoxicating. After contacting a few paving companies to see if they could lay a strip of asphalt through our showroom and surveying our current customers we decided this particular idea is likely not feasible. Aside from the issue of people speeding through the display area, we feared selling turquoise, silver jewelry, Navajo rugs and baskets while cars idled would leave us exhausted.

In an effort to solve this business puzzle that has bedeviled us almost 25 years, every workday morning I fire up the computer and read the financial news. The other day while checking various sources, I spied an intriguing article entitled, “Rude sales people can boost luxury sales.”

The essay noted that Southern Methodist University had recently concluded a study finding that consumers experience an increased desire to buy luxury goods after being treated rudely. Indeed, the research indicated more rude the salespeople, the higher the customer’s desire to buy posh items.

Now, Momma Rose did not raise her children to treat people badly, and she would certainly be angry if she knew Barry and I were being unkind to our patrons. This is, however, business. With that in mind, I sat down with Barry, Priscilla and Danny to discuss my findings and lay out a plan of action, including short-term and long-term goals. Priscilla and Danny were not convinced the project had merit, but Barry was immediately “on board.”
Steve and Barry trolling for dissension.
In fact, Barry suggested we not only mistreat our visitors, but that we stop bathing, brushing our teeth, shaving and wearing deodorant. He figured that in addition to increased sales, we could save at least five bucks a week in toothpaste, razor blades and soap. While Priscilla was still holding out, after a time Danny seemed ready to sign on to the program. He reckoned he could also save on the water bill. As a young dad with one child on the carpet and another in the oven, any savings is significant. Barry thought this new personal grooming program might also be an effective means of birth control for Danny.

So, the next time you come to Twin Rocks and are disregarded, neglected or mistreated, please know it’s not personal, it’s just business.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014


To paraphrase the Bangles, it was just another manic Monday. I was sitting in my office staring at the computer screen, wondering aloud where I might find inspiration. Creating a Tied to the Post article every two weeks puts much strain on my brain. Interesting subject matter is hard to come by, so Steve and I are constantly on the lookout for the next good idea. I began vocalizing my concerns because sometimes, someone, somehow, takes notice and gives me a thread of information I can run with. Just then Danny, our Internet manager, hurriedly walked by on his way to his upstairs desk. I took the opportunity to accost him, hoping for insight. He was in such a rush all he said was, "I dunno". "You are just somehow", I commented as he retreated. A bit later Steve strolled by on his way to make a telephone call. "I have nothing to write about this week,” I prompted. All the feedback I got from him was an obtuse snort. "You are so stinkin' somehow," I told him. Another snort.

"Priscilla!" I yelled into the store, "I am brain dead in here." Our friend Priscilla is the matron of moderation around Twin Rocks Trading Post. She is never caustic or too rushed, she is, simply, sweetly somehow. Priscilla walked over to my door, leaned on the threshold and said, "Just write somehow." "What do you mean by that?" I queried. "You know,” she said, "do it like you did it every other time; do it somehow." I thought about what Priscilla was telling me and mentally replayed my encounters with Danny and Steve. There had been a tidbit of inspiration in our interactions after all. Locally inspired conversational dialog, as it turns out, was the key to focusing my muddled mind.

Testing my memory, I tried to discover the first time I heard the word "somehow" in dialectal context. As far as I can recall, it was in the mid 1970s, during my years at San Juan High School. Some friends and I were between classes when we noticed a couple Native boys pushing each other around and cussing in a fashion sure to culminate in a fistfight. As kids do, we stopped off to see the show and wager on the outcome. During the shove fest, one of the boys thrust the other away and hollered, "You were talking to my girlfriend, somehow!" The other boy returned the favor and yelped, "She was talking to me, and we are just, somehow." About that time a teacher came around and broke-up the courtship conflict. The boys seemed to have adequately expressed their frustrations, and in no time were buddies again. My friends and I were hooked, and began to use "somehow" at every opportunity.
Navajo Tree of Life Pictorial Rug - Marie Begay (#03)  –This Rug Is Simply Somehow–
I dare say that if you walk about the trading post or cafe, you will hear the word "somehow" used in a variety of contexts. On or near the Rez it is sociologically acceptable to use the word between friends and family to express loving relationships and to strengthen alliances. With in-laws, the term is used to soften or divert negative commentary and is used in place of criticism. With outlaws, it is employed to lessen the impact of what might be considered frictional commentary. With purveyors of law and order, it is utilized to attempt an exclusion of punishment. A word of advice, however, if you say something like, "Oh, officer you are so somehow," you better say it with a big smile and a look of admiration, even if you don't mean it, because, those who don't, wind-up with free transportation to a Reservation reformatory.

"Somehow" can be very useful in many ways. For instance, in close personal relationships one can use it in to avoid over-exaggerating a sensitive subject. Having previously expressed your concern, and discovering the situation has not yet been resolved, a backdoor apology such as: "Oh honey, I regret, I was just so somehow," might prove useful. I have often seen young, passionate Native couples fawning over each other and using "somehow" in the context of beautiful, sexy, elegant, exhilarating or magnificent. I warn those of you who have a partner uninitiated into the subtitles of the word not to try it on your mate unless they are Rez-wise. I once looked lovingly into Laurie's blue/green eyes and said, "Oh honey you are so somehow." She took it as sarcasm and I wound-up sleeping on the La-Z-Boy sofa several nights.

World English Dictionary; some·how [suhm-hou] adverb 1. in some way not specified, apparent, or known. Idioms, 2. Somehow or other, in an undetermined way; by any means possible. She was determined to finish college somehow or other. Origin 1655-65; some plus how

Twin Rocks Colloquial Dictionary; somehow [sum-howe] adverb or otherwise 1. in all ways not specified but, mostly known. 2. An all encompassing word to explain what cannot be easily explained or described. He/she was determined to finish college but he/she is somehow. Could mean anything and/or everything of consequence. All parties in on the conversation would understand, mostly. Origin 1970 plus or minus a few; some plus how.

Somehow I have found inspiration, somehow.

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Livin’ Outside the Box

During the 1970s and ‘80s, “thinking outside the box” became the watch phrase for solving conventional problems using unconventional means. Once introduced, this metaphor was quickly adopted by the business community and over the intervening years has crept into every aspect of our daily lives, ultimately becoming a guiding principle in contemporary society.

The Fort at Bluff, Utah

Although Barry and I are familiar with the concept, since we are certain we have never seen the box, and likely would not recognize it even if we stumbled into it, we do not believe it is applicable to our work at Twin Rocks Trading Post. We live beyond the normal confines, so we have never been concerned with such things.

In fact, our small community is so geographically isolated we are not guided by mainstream principles. One does not reside in this part of the world and expect to be directed by the ordinary ideals. The original settlers of this town discovered that natural fact when they loaded their wagons and struck out for what would become their new home. A trip expected to take six weeks took six months, and when the party arrived they were faced with unexpected challenges. They put in their head gates and irrigation ditches only to have them washed out by the raging San Juan River; the rains came only sparingly or all at once; and wind and dust storms ruined their fledgling crops. They were required to develop extraordinary techniques just to survive.

Because of technological advancements, today’s residents have more conveniences than those early inhabitants. On the whole, however, this is still a challenging place. When Jana and I were dating, I often thought of those courageous pioneers. Traveling extensively with her own Southwest arts and craft business, when she turned the truck towards Bluff she always cautioned me, “It will take time, there is no easy way to get to there!”

This environment demands creative thinking. Traditional solutions are not generally relevant to our needs. At Twin Rocks Trading Post, Barry and I have found that well-established business models do not work for us. In fact, we often wonder if we will ever find one that ensures our long-term viability. At Twin Rocks Cafe, it is the same situation. Fortunately we have a staff raised on unusual experiences. Many of them grew up in homes located on windswept mesas, without water, power or telephone. They had to be inventive just to exist.

When people inspect our Navajo baskets, scrutinize the Twin Rocks Modern rugs or eat Peaches DeChelly at Twin Rocks Cafe and say, “Well, now that’s thinking outside the box”, we reply, “No, that’s livin’ outside the box!”

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

Friday, May 9, 2014

Yellow Roses

Bluff Yellow Roses

The wild yellow roses of spring have blossomed on the Gaines’ property just across the dusty gravel parking lot of Twin Rocks Trading Post. I see those leafy green, thorn encrusted bushes graced with softly beautiful, sunlit blossoms as a metaphor for my own personal contradictions. Many years ago, when I first caught sight of my future wife, I was certainly, intrigued. She was and is to this very day long, lean and lovely, and has the most captivating blue/ green eyes I have ever seen. As I mentioned, however, I was young and not yet ready to marry, especially not to a local girl. I was nonetheless intrigued. Yes, at least that. We dated a bit and flirted, but things were not yet serious. So when an event in need of a gift of gay and delicate flora came about I would gift her yellow roses.

Somewhere, somehow I had discovered yellow roses were considered a gift of friendship, and it was my desire to convey that message in a clear distinct manner. There were other gifts of sky stone and silver and a ceremonial basket to her mother and father, all of which seemed perfectly innocent to me. My life as a bachelor was guarded and protected at all costs. What I was not aware of was that my stars were in for realignment. To make a short story long, Laurie and I dated, off and on, for seven years. Time rolled on and somewhere in that timeline the fun and games took on a more serious note. It was a rough and tumble noncommittal relationship that ping-ponged back and forth so often we were both dizzy and worn out by the effort. One morning I finally woke-up to the realization that I just did not want to live my life without this wondrous small town girl.

With a great deal of trepidation I went to Father Washburn and asked for Laurie's hand in marriage. I was, indeed, nervous about the encounter because of our cultural dissimilarities and the fact that I am, "One of those damn Simpsons.” My misgivings were all for not, all Laurie's father had to say was, "It's about time!" We adopted Jefferson Starship's "Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now" as our theme song, ignored the naysayers and set a wedding date. Twenty-six years and three amazing children later Laurie has stuck with me. Although I am now known to be contrary, stubborn and someone who is far to willing to sacrifice my personal life and love for the sake of a missive, she has stuck with me. I often ask myself why and how, but more often than not simply thank my lucky stars she has.

I am fortunate enough to work in a business where artists are inspired by nature. The natural world is beautifully expressed through rugs, baskets, jewelry, pottery and much more. Even in the depths of winter, a gritty, red sandstorm of spring or a blistering hot summer day we are surrounded by warm, rich sunlight; fresh, green growing things; singing birds; summer storms; dancing wildlife; and rainbows. If there is an expression of nature that can be revealed through art it is done so here. The Native American and various other artists we represent have opened our eyes and hearts to everything from the rising sun, to moon sets and every natural wonder in between.

Each spring when the yellow roses bust loose I am reminded of my new interpretation of their symbolism. Those golden flower blossoms stand for how my philosophy has evolved through time. Because of hard-won personal experience, Laurie and I have developed a strong and enduring relationship. Given enough time, simple friendship can turn into something deeper. Life can and does sneak-up on us and snaps us onto a new reality. Much like that age-old farm implement planted next to the rose bushes in the Gaines’ boundaries, I have seen better days. Although some may argue that I am as outdated, forlorn and useless as that implement, Laurie makes me feel I am not. Because Laurie chose to overlook the meaning behind my yellow roses our friendship developed into much more. Because of her, I feel alive, vital and viable.

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

Friday, May 2, 2014

Racist, Racist, Who is the Racist?

Our good friend Marx Powell in fond of saying, “He who angers you, owns you.” Well, I fear I am about to be owned.

Since Craig went out on his own, Barry and I have been spending a great deal of time at Twin Rocks Cafe. Aside from the 15-hour days, I have enormously enjoyed the experience. I am a people person, and the cafe attracts a wide variety of cultures. Every year about this time visitors from around the world converge on Bluff, and most of them are hungry. As a result, we often get to meet them. Some we even get to know.

Twin Rocks Cafe

Last Wednesday, I finished my work at the trading post and took up my post as busboy, host and chief sweeper at the cafe. As Gordon Lightfoot might say in the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, “At 7:00 p.m. the main hatchway gave in, and the good ship and crew were in peril.” For us it was a flood of people that threatened our ship and crew. In an instant we were unexpectedly awash in customers, and our staff was overwhelmed.

Consequently, I asked Kira to start a wait list to better manage the crush. Shortly after she started taking names, a Native couple walked past the waiting throng and sat down at a table. I tried to politely explain that many others had arrived ahead of them and were waiting for the table they now occupied. They looked stunned, and refused to unseat themselves. While I was attempting to clean another table and waiting for them to give up their position, a second Native couple arrived and seated themselves at an adjoining booth. Once again, I attempted to describe the situation and asked both couples to please place their names on the list and allow us time to properly accommodate the other patrons who had already done so.

They persisted, “Are you kicking us out? Just take care of us.” The clear implication was that they were being mistreated because of their skin color. That was made ever more clear when they went to the cash register and began badgering Kira.

Now, I admit I am biased. I dislike ignorance, laziness and people who lack character. I am also against people who mistreat my old dog. I am not, however racist. Nor, to my knowledge, is any other individual working at Twin Rocks. I, therefore, am offended by those, whether they are people of color or not, who label me simply because of the tone of my skin, and by people who attempt to gain an unfair advantage because they are from a minority group. In Bluff, we are all, in one way or another, a minority.

One of the enduring memories I have of our now defunct Hozoni Pottery operation is a drawing Craig had posted on the wall. The Xerox copy featured a young man saying, “I know I am good, because God don’t make no junk.” That is how I approach the people I meet, and how I wish to be approached by those who meet me.

As Marx will surely agree, I am now a slave to this particularly pernicious issue.

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