Our beloved Maisie, the furry heart and soul of Knock Knock, passed away last week, and we are heartbroken.
Every dog is special. But Maisie was special. A model of self-possession, she was preternaturally calm and keenly observant. She had a remarkable poise even the humans among us admired, and a dignity that demanded reciprocation. She was also capable of great affection and all the enthusiasm and tail-wagging of a puppy, even near the end of her life.
Besides Jen, Maisie is the original Knock Knocker. Jen rescued her as a puppy in early 2001, and the two were on a walk in Venice when they spotted what would become the Knock Knock offices. Maisie was the mascot of the company, featured prominently in our early catalogs and on our website.
Maisie came to work nearly every day, and sprawled luxuriantly on the orange couch. She also liked to plop down in the middle of the floor, thumping her tail and accepting scratches and treats. (She never begged, but did have an effective Jedi mind trick, looking at you with a grave vulnerability that just made you want to feed her.)
Maisie lovingly tolerated her rambunctious younger brother, Paco, who joined the family six years ago and adored her. And though he often tried to compete with Maisie for the attention of others, she never stooped to engage in such tactics.
She didn’t need to. We just loved Maisie, and she knew it.
It’s hard to imagine life here at Knock Knock without the musical thwacking of her tail or the jingle of her collar.
December is a very special holiday month for me and Knock Knock—because it’s Maisie’s birthday. It’s the whole month rather than a single day because when I adopted her from the South Central LA Animal Shelter, in February 2000, I was told she was eight weeks old.
Sweet Maisie as a puppy, soon after her homecoming. I don’t know what was up with those awful streaks in my hair, but I do know I was in the middle of organizing or housework or something.
All the young puppies were kept together in one kennel area, and as I watched them, Maisie stood out. The other puppies were either bullies or fearful wallflowers, the latter almost catatonic, shivering in the corner as the bullies picked on them. Maisie was the only one who was neither. She had this sense of self-possession that has carried through in her character to this day. She would play and wrestle happily with the bullies, but if they started to get rough or bratty, she would just walk away without engaging. And she’d approach the poor terrified pups and lick them or lie next to them.
I asked to take her for a test drive, and when she was put in my arms (only 15 pounds—now she’s 75), her whole body wagged and wriggled as she exuberantly licked my face. Then, all at once, her whole body went trusting and limp and her head plopped decisively onto my shoulder as if she’d snuggled in for the long haul.
I found the Knock Knock office complex while I was walking with Maisie. I’d just decided to put aside the book I’d been working on for a couple years and make a go of this Knock Knock thing. In December 2001, when Maisie turned one, I signed a lease to start in February 2002, which made Knock Knock real for me. Maisie was the charmer of the complex, playing and romping with her favorite soccer ball in the parking lot when we worked outside.
When we did portraits of the team for Knock Knock’s first catalog, Maisie posed as well. I always think of this as her nude picture because she’s not wearing her collar. Maisie was one and a half here.
Now Maisie’s eleven, and Knock Knock’s almost ten. We have a few dates from which to choose Knock Knock’s anniversary: January 1, 2001, is the date of our incorporation. We started work in earnest in March or April. Our first products came out in October 2001. I personally think of our anniversary as starting in March and lasting through October.
Maisie was featured prominently in our early catalogs and website, in particular her formal portrait for our first catalog in which she looks breathtakingly dignified (FYI, like me, she’s never really enjoyed being photographed). Paco came along six years later, and while he’s an important part of life here, Maisie’s the heart and soul of the place. Maisie’s just one of those special dogs. She’s got wise eyes and somehow gets the ineffable “it.” Everyone notices that about her. And Maisie’s starting to get really old, and it’s breaking my heart.
I also can’t believe that Knock Knock’s going to be ten. We were the young upstarts for so long, and now within the gift industrial complex we’re almost part of the establishment. With both Maisie and Knock Knock, as with raising children, the saying comes to mind “The days crawl by but the years they fly.” Every day at Knock Knock has an intensity and density to it that make every last few months feel like longer ago than they ever really are, but oh my god, where did the years go? Like in Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game,” one of my favorite camp songs (Camp Kee Tov was pretty comprehensive in its musical repertoire), the teenage boy is told, “Take your time. It won’t be long now / ’Til you drag your feet to slow the circles down.”
Maisie today, with her whitening muzzle. She’s always loved to wriggle under the covers—every morning after she eats her breakfast. Often she’s all the way under, head and all.
So even though we’re supposed to think about the holidays during the holidays (and sell some products—buy, kind readers, buy!), the end of the year is also about endings and upcoming new beginnings. I find myself contemplating what it is to lead more of an institution than a scrappy startup, how to keep the freshness but combine it with greater reach and more business acumen and sophistication.
And with my dear sweet Maisie, I’m pre-mourning what I still have (an awful trait of mine—I seem to have no capability to live in the present). Her arthritis slows her down and her hindquarters have to be lifted into the car. She’s had a variety of health problems, any one of which could be her downfall. Her muzzle is almost completely white. Her personality has evolved as she’s gotten older—she’s kind of crotchety now, while still being the sweetheart she’s always been. She’s really insistent about the things she wants, including letting me know she’d like me to take away the bone that Paco’s chewing and give it to her or get Paco out of her bed. She’s been with me through almost all of my thirties, and all of Knock Knock, which for many years was no easy thing, so her loving constancy really meant a lot to me.
Though I am woefully prone to nostalgia (“hypochondria of the heart,” as someone characterized it)—even before something has ended—my pre–New Year’s vow* for Maisie, for Knock Knock, and for as much of life as I can muster, is this: enjoy where we are at this moment, because soon enough I’ll miss where we’ve been.**
*It’s unlikely to work, mind you, but I’ll definitely try.
**This is a little corny for me and Knock Knock, but Maisie’s one of the few forces in my life that can bring me to corn.
Around the corner from my house (and around the corner from the office, because they’re just a few blocks apart) is Maisie’s tree. I don’t remember how she discovered she could do this, but she loves loves loves to jump into it, crane her neck up and look around, and jump out. When she was younger, she did it over and over again in a row. I took this video a little too late, a couple years ago, and she was already having trouble with the jumping. Now she puts her paws up on the tree and I lift her rump just as I do to get her into the car—she still loves it. When she’s barking like she is here at the tree, it means she’s really excited—when we’re on a walk, she positively sprints for the tree.
Oh, so gosh-darned cute. Who doesn’t love an iconic yellow smiley face? But wait—where the hell does it come from? Read on, grasshopper.
The original concept of Knock Knock included something we were calling a “catazine” or “magalog”—at the time, we didn’t realize this was a real thing. In addition to creating product for sale, we were going to put out a magazine, a publication that had only one advertiser: us. I quickly realized that (a) creating and distributing products might be a lot of work; (b) creating and distributing a magazine might be a lot of work; (c) doing both might kill us, or at least me, because I’m just that weak; and (d) it might be better to start with the money-making endeavor (and lord knows that wasn’t going to be the magazine, no matter the hybrid word).
The compromise was that we included content in our catalogs, from quotations to false facts and stats to—gasp, I know this will surprise you based on this blog—essays. Of course in around 2007 or 2008 we stopped doing that because we got jaded and it was kind of too much work. But before that? I think our catalogs had some extra-special pleasure in them.
Our Spring 2004 catalog may be my favorite catalog we’ve ever done. It was horizontal in format and oh-so-cute. We won some design awards for it. It had three full pages of something for nothing: a history of the phrase “Have a nice day” and a special Knock Knock Kidz Korner. Enjoy!
The best history of “Have a nice day” you’ll ever read.
You’re welcome to print this out and fill it out while you’re waiting for the dentist.
You’re welcome to print this out and fill it out while you’re waiting for the dentist.
Note: After approximately 678 words of exposition, there are many cool pictures with descriptive captions below. If you have no desire to read the introductory essay—and believe me, I wouldn’t blame you—just skip down to the pictures.
Happy dogs at the intersection of Navarre and Seville Courts (in my Venice mini-neighborhood, the alleys all have regal Spanish names: Cordova, Granada, and Toledo are a few of their alley hermanas).
I’d never experienced alleys before I moved to Los Angeles, and to Venice in particular. Right before I landed in LA, in 1998, I freelance-edited a book called Everyday Urbanism (reissued, in 2008), one of my favorite books I’ve worked on. A compilation of essays about slices of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area, its timing was perfect; I was just starting to realize, with the help of another book I was overseeing, Hollywood Handbook, created with the Chateau Marmont hotel, that Los Angeles had some guts and depth under its smoggy, Botoxed skin. When you’re raised in the Bay Area, it’s practically your birthright to hate Southern California. We would always explain the “rivalry” like this: Northern Californians think that Southern Californians are materialistic and vapid and dumb, and Southern Californians are too materialistic and vapid and dumb to think about Northern California. Did you catch the superiority complex there? What I learned once I’d been living in Los Angeles for a while is that Los Angeles is huge and San Francisco is small; Los Angeles basically thinks of San Francisco as a hilly bed-and-breakfast. It’s a contest of non-equals in which one side cares a lot and the other side not at all.
Anyhoo. Between my newfound friend Laurie Jacobson, a Hollywood historian I’d hired to contribute to Hollywood Handbook, and whose amazing apartment right under the Hollywood sign I’d take over when I relocated from New York City (she was moving to Santa Rosa to marry the man who played Timmy on Lassie,whom she’d met at a nostalgic stars convention; their wedding, at the Hollywood landmark Yamashiro, was like a photo album of child stars, including the Beaver, familiar faces all transposed onto middle age); the pictures we were using for the book, from the Bison Archives, along with the stories told by its founder, the encyclopedically knowledgeable Marc Wanamaker; my increasingly frequent visits to LA that didn’t only involve staying with my grandparents in their trailer park in the northeast corner of the Valley (not a stellar Southern California perch) and accompanying them to malls and amusement parks, I was starting to get the sense that Los Angeles was a pretty rich place. And I now get the sense that that was a pretty long sentence.
I spent about a year and a half under the Hollywood sign, in Beachwood Canyon, before my friends Carrie and Dean exposed me to the beachy, eminently walkable perfectitude of Venice. I seem to land in the Berkeley of wherever I go—Ann Arbor, Michigan; the East Village in NYC; and then Venice. I house- and dog-sat for Carrie and Dean to see if it was a true match and wore out their not-young pug, Doc, exploring by foot. Soon after, Carrie and Dean decided to move back to the Boston area, where they’d both grown up, and I took over the undermarket lease on their house (thank god they moved back a year later, unable to stay away, and bought another house a few blocks away). I now live next door to that house (long story), right alongside the namesake home that has the KNOCK KNOCK on the front door.
As I walked Doc I discovered the alleys and remembered reading about them in Everyday Urbanism. The alley essay talks about the hidden, unspoken economies and social interactions of the Venice alleys—the wealthy homeowners, exponents of rapid gentrification, leaving their castoffs on top of their garbage cans (Venice garbage cans are left and emptied in the alleys) for the homeless walking through; the Central American can collectors . . . there were more layers, but it’s been a long time since I read the essay.
I now walk the alleys primarily because I can let the dogs run and sniff and explore off-leash without endangering them too much, a calculated away-from-the-real-street risk that I’ll be able to anticipate someone pulling out of their garage. I recently mentioned to a friend how much I love the alleys of Venice, how I’d never encountered alleys before LA, and he said, “That makes sense because it’s such a young city. You wouldn’t find alleys in older city planning.” I’m not sure if this is true, but it appears that way to my naked (okay, contact lens–clad) eye.
Venice Alleys: A Photo Essay (vs. a Words Essay):
Typical Venice. Ramshackle original Victorian-ish shingle house, converted into multiple residences, with a newfangled “lot filler” (that’s what I call the big bricks of homes that the newer Venice money builds on the 26-by-100-foot lots; you want a big house when you’ve paid $1 million for a tear-down) in the background (and, of course, a Prius driving by). Paco has found something of olfactory interest on the asphalt (the alley pavements are in terrible condition because the city doesn’t take responsibility for them; I’m not quite sure how they managed to get out of that).
Compare-and-contrast auxiliary vehicles, one of two. On one side of the alley, a vaguely Indian pedicab in the back of a pickup truck of non-recent vintage (protected, of course, by Bel-Air Patrol, despite Bel Air’s being some 12 miles to the north of Venice and worlds apart).
Pedicab close-up. I wonder if it’s related to the incredibly active Hari Krishna center nearby, which holds an annual float parade, the Festival of the Chariots (here are a couple videos: one illustrating the floats in motion and the other capturing musical performance and some unique resident dancers), on the Venice Beach Boardwalk. The pedicab isn’t secured in any way, and it’s been in the back of this pickup for at least a year. I sometimes wonder if anybody would notice if I took it. I won’t, though. Just one of my (I admit, not few) criminal fantasies.
Compare-and-contrast auxiliary vehicles, two of two. Directly across the alley from the pedicab-pickup combo, not 15 feet away, a few lot-fillers, one with a sizeable boat (it’s new-looking and at least 25 feet long) and the other with a new Mercedes.
Coming around to another alley entirely, on the other side of Abbot Kinney from my home alleys: the Knock Knock alley. That cinderblock building is the backside of our office complex. They’ve recently swept the alley clear to increase parking. The construction on the right is work to convert the former Samy’s Camera building into a new, huge Quiksilver store.
Next door to us leans the detritus of the studio of the artist Laddie John Dill and a slightly improbable citrus tree, even more improbably thriving. A huge piece of Dill’s, similar in approach to this bedraggled outtake, hangs over the bar at Hal’s, one of the oldest restaurants on Abbot Kinney (i.e., circa 1987, also famous as the year I graduated from high school), the exterior of which is often used as a location on Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Dill shared the former bottling plant (so sited for convenience to the railroad that used to run through the alley; the city only recently completed covering over the tracks) with Ed Ruscha. Ruscha loved the light at the back of the building, space that was enclosed by a wood shack (you can see where it attached to the building along the midheight wood horizontal). I love the concentric ghosts of the large-scale canvases that he sprayed as they leaned against the wall.
I love walking by this “mural” every day (it’s on my way home) and think it should somehow be landmarked. I wanted to paint a border around it and stencil something like “Ed Ruscha was here: 1985–2011,” and even got permission from the landlords, but I haven’t gotten around to it. The landlords’ only concern was that it would invite more graffiti, and even though we haven’t yet memorialized the spot, that yellow splatter of paint in the middle (which is grotesquely three-dimensional) is new.
I supposed it’s a bit anticlimactic (not to mention loooong) to follow the Ed Ruscha story with more alley pictures of lesser importance, but there are two additional elements of our office alley that I love. One is this this little pagoda-style folly of a building that’s actually the back house of another, newer building that fronts on Abbot Kinney (you can’t see the old pagoda from the street). It’s currently home to the Harlot Salon, recently opened by the friendliest woman, Marylle Koken (“pronounced like the mushroom—morel,” she told me), who doesn’t mind letting the dogs venture through the open back door when I take them out for breaks.
Finally, this great old brick building, currently home to a custom-jeans company called the Stronghold (established, so the site says, in 1895, the first denim brand manufactured in Los Angeles—but with a long break, I’d imagine, since the current company, which makes “reproductions” of the originals, isn’t that old). The building is beautiful . . . here’s a picture of the front, which I didn’t take:
. . . but I couldn’t easily find historical information about the construction other than to learn that it was built in the early 1900s. I only just now learned, while conducting real-time blog-post research, that the Stronghold also hosts secret, quasi-invitation-only “speakeasy” concerts by the likes of Jackson Browne and Ben Harper.
And there, dear readers, you will conclude, as I have, that the Venetian cookie has just crumbled full circle. After writing a magnum blogus about being an insider, at the end of the day (or the end of post), I am ever reminded that I’m never quite inside enough, as so few of us are. Color my paradise at least partially paved.
Knock Knock was formally incorporated on January 1, 2002, but we didn’t release our first products until October 2002, so somewhere in between is where I count our anniversary. In 2012, we’ll be ten. Ten! Just like humans think they’ll never get older and it takes a long time to reconcile oneself the fact that one is, indeed, older, I still think of Knock Knock as a young upstart and have to remind myself that in fact we’ve been around the block and there are many companies younger than we are.
Long shot, medium shot, mediumer shot, and closeup of the door that launched a very, very small empire.
I was procrastinating about starting a book when I started Knock Knock. For a while I’d been saying to myself, When I finish the book, this is what I’ll do. Finally I admitted to myself that, in all my procrastination (during which I made all kinds of things that would later become Knock Knock products or inspirations), I was actually pursuing this nebulous company idea and not writing the book. One day I was sitting in my living room thinking, If I were to do this, what would I call this company? My eyes swept around my living room, where I was sitting on the couch with my laptop. My front door was open so that Maisie, then just under a year old (she’s eleven now, my sweet girl with the rapidly whitening white muzzle) could run in and out of the house to greet passers-by.
On my front door, which was painted in what would later become Knock Knock orange (my orange phase had just begun) were plastic letters spelling out “KNOCK KNOCK.” (On the inside of the door I’d mounted “WHO’S THERE”). In one of those fits of procrastination, I’d taken letters more familiarly used on those black felt-corduroy-ish grooved signboards, cut off the prongs that slide into the grooves (in the process slicing up almost all my fingers with my X-Acto knife, and not for the first time), glued them to the door, then painted over them, because if you’re going to do something cute, it’s got to be subtle, right?
As I did my “What to call this thing?” sweep around the room, my eyes landed on the KNOCK KNOCK, and I loved it immediately. It evoked childlike play and glee. It was almost compulsively call-and-response (“Who’s there?”), which to me seemed the height of interactivity. In its association with joke-telling, Knock Knock was all about humor. I knew that the repeated word would make for a good logo and liked the letterforms—”KNOCK” is almost a palindrome, with the N and C offsetting what might otherwise constitute cloying symmetry. And of course Ks are pretty interesting-looking letters. Finally, I thought it would be loads of fun answering the phone “Knock Knock” (I probably should have anticipated, however, that after years of this, we’d get a little bit sick of people responding, “Who’s There?” and this, of course, would be all my fault, not theirs.)
Soon it was time to incorporate as Knock Knock with California’s Secretary of State. I found out something astoundingly unlikely—there was a defunct law firm in the San Fernando Valley that had incorporated under Knock Knock. I never found out why (and assumed that part of the reason they were defunct was because of the name-business mismatch), but when I wrote them a sweet, naive letter asking their permission to share the name, I got, naturally (these were lawyers, however defunct), a cease-and-desist letter.
What’s inside the Knock Knock? Why, Who’s There (Inc.), of course!
There was a brief period of brainstorming about alternate names (Whorligig was one of them—don’t ask), but fortunately we were able to file as Who’s There Inc. D/B/A Knock Knock. (D/B/A means “doing business as,” kind of an official and acceptable business alias.) There was someone squatting on knockknock.com (and still is—again, don’t ask, as it adversely affects my blood pressure), and minutes after I looked at knockknock.biz someone else purchased it (you guessed it—don’t ask, but obviously I was able to buy it, though we still wobble between that and knockknockstuff.com, another don’t ask).
About a year and a half after starting the company, I moved away from the house with the KNOCK KNOCK on the front door (though would over the years would run people by so they could see the founding inspiration of the name), but strangely enough, in April 2011, I moved into the house next door. So now I see it almost every day. Unfortunately, the new tenant hasn’t kept the house up like I did (I’m an inveterate home-improver, even in rentals), and the orange paint has worn off the letters, making them less than subtle and hence annoyingly cute as well as cheap and plasticky looking. I love my new house, though, and it feels like coming home to live next door to the house that sheltered so many good things. I have a fantasy of taking over that house, too, however, so maybe someday I’ll be able to restore the orange paint to the plastic letters that launched a very, very small empire.
Check out our journal’s cover! The illustration of the dog (in "play bow" position) with the yellow background is actually a window in which a photo of one's actual dog can be inserted. Cool, right?
As you may have surmised, Knock Knock—and KK-ers—love dogs. I hope you’ve gotten to know a little about Paco and Maisie, our Head Honcho Jen’s goofy and serene (respectively) resident pups, and you may have seen (and purchased!) some of our past animal-loving products: the instructional book How to Have an Ill-Behaved Dog(from our Self-Hurt series), the Pet Organizer, and a KK Pad, “Don’t Kill the Pets.” Yup, we’re dog people. To be fair, we also have cat people here (some of us are even poly-pet-owners or, as Jen likes to put it, “ambipetrous”).
Creating a dog journal had been a pet project (pun intended) of our head honcho’s for some time. Originally envisioned as something along the lines of the classic “baby’s first year” journal, but for dog owners, the idea morphed after some brainstorming as well as because of our support for older and rescue dog adoption. About a thousand hours and a gazillion decisions later, in the spring of 2012, you’ll be able to find It’s a Dog’s Life: A Journal of Our First Year Together in amazing stores near you. After all, whether you get a purebred puppy or a middle-aged mutt, it’s about your dog’s first year with you.
Most people here work in InDesign or Illustrator to write into layout form, but I’m partial to the hand-drawn touch.
One of our main goals for It’s a Dog’s Life was to create a combination guided journal and record-keeping organizer, with a sizable dose of Knock Knock humor. With fill-in-the-blanks, checkboxes, and helpful prompts, as well as interesting monthly content about the care and handling of your pooch (maybe I’ve drunk the orange Kool-Aid, but who doesn’t want to know about, say, canine body language?), this approach entailed a bigger editorial project than a straightforward journal. More factual content always means extra time given to research, fact-checking, and proofing. My first correspondence about this project was on Valentine’s Day 2011, and the final typeset, fully designed files were off to manufacturing at the end of July. We recently got the first proofs back from the printer, and they look great!
A lot of the research was done online, of course, but I also haunted my vet’s office and pet stores for written material. A funny thing happens when you’re researching a new project—everywhere you turn, something pertains to it. The New York Times, YouTube, news stories, my dog Elsa’s several trips to the emergency room (she’s fine)—all provided fodder (kibble?) for the project.
My dog Elsa. She played a part in the product brainstorm.
This was a completely new product for us, which meant free reign to dream up any ideas and concepts—no precedents! This suited me fine, since I take a somewhat unusual approach to writing for layouts—instead of working in Illustrator or InDesign, I dream up content and then sketch it out by hand. This means I need to work closely with a designer because, as you can see, my drawing talent is more MOBA than MOCA. But that’s the only way I can envision the layout as it incorporates text with design. Luckily, I got to work with the brilliant and patient designer Alexis Lowery, who transformed my scribblings into a design approach blending her take on (gotta say it) doggy style with the signature Knock Knock wit. Alexis also found a talented illustrator, Marian Richardson, who brought various dog personalities to life within the pages. I won’t lie—some of it was a struggle to get exactly right (for instance, deciding on the cover took longer than we thought) but in the final push, it just all came together.
I love the result, as do Paco, Maisie, and Elsa, and I hope you will, too!
Without chance, the world would just be boring. And without Google Roulette Mondays, in which we put a chosen word into Google Images to see what comes up first, frivolity would have no meaning.
To kick off our first search, it’s only fitting that we should type in the names of our favorite pups (and Knock Knock mascots), Maisie and Paco.
Vaguely creepy, right?
The first picture that popped up was an odd banner that read “Maisie” over the words “Parallel” and “Simulation.” Huh? It appears to have been created in Microsoft WordArt (that 1998 duo-color gradient isn’t from just anywhere). So apparently Maisie was a “C-based simulation language” used at UCLA. We may be geeks, but we don’t speak computer.
So we moved onto the next photo. At initial glance, the picture is innocent—just a boy holding what seems to be his newborn baby sister. But after digging a little deeper, we came to find that this thirteen-year-old boy from London was said to be the father of baby Maisie.
Most definitely creepy.Poor Paco.
This Marilyn Manson–meets–Mickey Mouse hybrid is terrifying. (Granted, it was still beautifully shot by Paco Peregrín, a high-profile Spanish fashion and art photographer.) We didn’t find the rest of the campaign from which this image derived, but that’s probably for the best.