Smooth as Glass Savings

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today isn’t quite a toy post, but I guess we could label it a premium post, which is a genre I explore not infrequently, usually in my quest for interesting cat related items. (A favorite post about Corbin pin trays depicting cat heads can be found here, and the more recent acquisition of my Feed the Kitty bank here.)

This little bank was acquired last weekend on what may be our final trip to the store Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. I was sad to learn recently that they will be closing at the end of the year, a fact I discovered via Instagram where a parade of visitors are paying their final respects and posting them. Evidently it is more a decision about wanting to do something different than about raising rents, but I was very sorry to see this as I have made it my premium choice for expeditions celebrating my birthday or our anniversary annually. A truly great day is pairing a visit there up with a trip to the The Antique Toy Shop in Chelsea. (Some of my other adventures and acquisitions at these establishments can be found in prior post here , here and here.)

It is a bit boring to bemoan how all the interesting places for poking around in old stuff are disappearing. It is just a reality of the way we live, especially in fast moving Manhattan where things seem to come in go with an alarming rapidity. But it saddens me, as poking through the detritus of lives past is one of my great joys. However, I try to be philosophical about the general entropy of retail in Manhattan.

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Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village when we visited last week. I really wish I had room for Mr. Peanut.

 

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Paper Mache mask at Obscura recently.

 

On our recent visit Kim purchased this little bank and a lovely little cabinet for me (future post) as an anniversary gift. I am just charmed by it and I immediately imagined stuffing it full of change as a child – and then being faced with the quandary of retrieving the coins as there seems to be no obvious option for cashing in. There is a seam running down it, and in the case of mine there is a crack near it which makes me wonder if someone didn’t break it in an attempt to open it at the seam. I suppose the purpose of piggy banks was saving, but I have never approved of the idea that you should have to break your beloved piggy bank in order to eventually realize your savings. It seems cruel.

My own experience with piggy banks starts with a nice pig model decorated with painted pink roses. The one below is not the one I had, but puts me reasonably in mind of it.

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I also had a Snoopy one that, given the evidence and availability on the internet of the model I called mine, every child of my generation must have owned at one time. My memory was that it was actually a bit fragile and made of some paper mache material so I did not keep change in it. It was beloved though and I owned it for a very long time. I don’t think I kept money in the pig either – although both had rubber handy plugs in the bottom for releasing the change. No smashing my pig!

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As it happens I instead kept my savings in a small safe made for that purpose. It had a combination lock (with the combination written on a tag the bottom as I remember, defeating the purpose but preventing the obvious problem) and it held a lot of coins, and then it weighed a ton. My sister and I each had one, and although I kept mine for more than a decade I could not tell you what happened to it ultimately. Somehow it and the change in it were lost to the sands of time. The one below, available on Etsy, is pretty much spot on the one I owned. It is a kick to see it again.

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Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Paint was a small Pennsylvania paint company which was acquired by a glass corporation back in 1900. Therefore the slogan smooth as glass and the glass bank premium make total sense and a slogan still associated with them today. (On the reverse side of the bank it also states, Nature’s Colors in Lasting Beauty, a poetic thought.) The paint brand is still very available and the company has become one of the world’s largest corporations, PPG. I am not in a position to comment on quality of their paint except to say that my own kitchen was recently painted with Benjamin Moore and in all fairness, I had not considered Pittsburgh.

The prevalence of contemporary piggy banks found during my online search makes me assume that children are still given them with the intention of instilling a sense of thrift and savings. In a world where, according to Google, the average price of a Hershey bar is $1.60 and a comic book almost $3, kids either need larger piggy banks or to replenish them quickly. I know nothing of the economy of childhood today, but assume it involves as more folding money than coins. In a sense this is too bad as coins were nice objects to collect and own, although folding money seemed downright exotic when I was a kid.

Raising Funds

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This weekend I am fresh back from a trip to Madison, Wisconsin. It was the first time I set foot in the state of Wisconsin and even for the residents of Madison, it was unseasonably cold and snowy. Manhattan was suffering from a modified version of the same, but it was a shock to my system nonetheless and required a scamper to find my snow boots (hidden under the cleaning products that generally live under the sink, but currently reside on the floor of the living room closet during the enduring kitchen renovation), and to retrieve my winter coat from storage. The chaos from the kitchen work has meant that the summer clothes have not been exchanged for the winter clothes here (a ritual of small apartment living) and the best I could do was to grab a few things from the basement containers, buy a few others and plan to layer a lot. (For those of you who are just tuning into my home renovation story you can find the origin post here.)

Leaving Kim and cats to fend for themselves amongst the workmen, I departed Tuesday afternoon for a whirlwind two days in Madison. This was originally meant to be a longer trip with the orchestra as they made their way to Chicago, but that part never gelled so I just zipped in and out of Wisconsin. (I will do the same in Milwaukee in December as Big Band Holiday tours the Mid-west. My prediction is more snow there!) Madison is the long-time former stomping ground of one of my colleagues and many of the people we were visiting were supporters of local Madison projects with whom she had worked for many years. Walking down the streets of Madison with her was like being with the mayor of that town so glad were they to see her back!

It was lovely to experience their hospitality and generosity. Several of them support Jazz at Lincoln Center now, largely in tribute to her, but also because they are interested in our music education programs (some in their community) and because essentially they are philanthropic people. Their support is evident in named spaces and on donor plaques throughout that town and the pride in what they have created is tangible.

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Interactive donor recognition at the Overture Center in Madison.

 

Madison, the capital of the state, is a city of about 260,000 people and a whopping student population at the university of 45,000, 10,00 of those doing graduate work year round. This makes it a little more than half the size of Minneapolis which it reminded me of in their devotion to supporting arts and culture in their community. (And not to mention winter weather.) The capital building, a slightly smaller version of the one in DC, is at the heart of downtown and I am told it is an area that teems with local life from a robust seasonal farmers market, to art fairs, music on the green and even as the starting point for their local marathon. I was also told that the building is open to the public seven days a week and in many ways this puts New York’s City Hall, increasingly inaccessible, to shame.

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Capital building in Madison, photo taken earlier this week. Even for locals the snow and single digit cold was early in the season.

 

It makes me reflect on how different it must be to raise money in an area like that – with a dedicated, but more finite donor base, sharing them with the other major charities in the community such as the hospitals, and of course the enormous fundraising machine that the university must be.

I can see pros and cons of raising money in that milieu, but at the end of the day it is a very different animal than the sort of day-to-day I experience working for an international performing arts organization in the heart of New York City. One conversation I had with someone, who spoke with great gratitude for the work my colleague had done for their city by raising money for two significant projects there, a student union and an arts complex, stayed with me in particular.

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A beautifully renovated theater from the 1920’s within the Overture arts complex in Madison.

 

While over the years individuals may have expressed gratitude for what I had done for them personally (access to the Museum’s collections, an opportunity to hear a concert for example) never had a donor expressed gratitude for the work done on behalf of the community. This struck me as an especially thoughtful perspective – imagine being thanked for raising money. Feeding the giant maw of need of one of these magnificent gems in the crown of Manhattan’s cultural life does not have the same resonance with individuals here and we are the facilitators are seen at best as a necessary part of the machine at best. Generous individuals see it as their responsibility to be philanthropic or even their pleasure, however never has anyone thanked me for helping keep the doors of the Metropolitan Museum open, nor for keeping the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra going. I must say, not that I would have expected them to either, but I was touched by the idea. It renewed my faith in my chosen profession.

While I enjoyed my stint in Wisconsin I do not pretend I am cut out for life in a small city. Enticing though space and pretty Victorian or Arts and Crafts houses in the downtown area were, I believe I would chafe quickly. Nonetheless, I will carry the experience with me and it makes me more reflective about the nature of my work. Meanwhile, I have returned contentedly to our one-room home, piled high with boxes of kitchen items for now, to deal with the newly purchased faucet with a faulty tap recently purchased and the microwave which was the wrong size and has to be exchanged. Eventually it will be finished and the winter clothes will be restored to the closets for the season and life on 86th Street will return to normal.

 

Sewn Up

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I type I pause to consider if today’s post was a Pictorama Toy post or not, because while I think of this little fellow as a toy, he isn’t. He is a sweet little practical item from a time more or less gone by days – a sewing pin cushion and tape measure. Now, I admit it is hard to imagine sticking pins in this fella (making him perhaps more hedgehog than kitty), but he would be very cheerful and perky to perch on your sewing table or to find in your sewing basket. When grasped you can hear the crunch of his kapok or sawdust filling (aren’t pin cushions filled with something to sharpen the pins though?), his eyes are glass and his cheerful red tongue can be pulled out for a tape measure. (I cannot not display this as it no longer can be made to retract.) He has a tag on his tummy, but any manufacture information printed on it has long faded away. I like his red plastic collar which has remained firmly in place.

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I have already opined previously on my inability to sew. (That post which features another pin cushion cat can be found here.) My maternal grandmother didn’t sew a lot, however she did have a sewing basket which I now only remember as round and I believe covered in fabric, although most I see from the same period are wicker so perhaps my memory is flawed. As a child the magic of the sewing box was all about the rare occasion of when it was opened and I could peer into the interesting bits and pieces inside. Sewing baskets make tremendous sense, housing all those sewing necessities in one place so that one can quickly get down to the task at hand. However, as I do it so seldom I seem to be loathe to spare the shelf or table space and instead have to scramble each and every time I sew a button on.

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The pleasant jumble inside this sewing box reminds me at least a little of my grandmother’s.

 

Crammed inside there were scraps of fabric, thread of course and fascinating tools whose use I had no idea of – nor have I necessarily learned about them since. The exception was the shiny coin-like needle threaders which always interested me – so bright and tempting! They are an exception because I eventually learned to use one and ultimately became utterly dependent on them for threading needles, especially as I get older and my eyes get more frustrated with the difficulty of this task. Wikipedia tells me that these have been around since the late 18th or early 19th century and that a head of a woman is generally stamped on them, which is how I think of them. I show the classic version as I know it below. Genius!

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Additionally, I am familiar with this model below of porcelain doll as sewing kit although I cannot remember who used one. Perhaps my father’s mother who sewed less than my other grandmother, but I have a very specific tactile memory of these. I think I was very small and slightly afraid of it.

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If I had discovered this little kitty along the way I don’t think anyone could have stopped me from nabbing him for my own. As it was, he was one of my very first black cat purchases from a now defunct antiques annex in Red Bank, New Jersey. He sits proudly among the other black cats where to my knowledge no one remarks on his utilitarian beginnings.

On Stuff

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As we remain packed (and dusty) during our renovation stint I find myself reluctant to go digging among my collections so today I am reflecting on that which I have recently packed up in the process. Life in our apartment is about maintaining status quo right now, with hopes of all returning to its rightful place in about ten days. The process of packing up was by necessity much quicker than I would have liked (tucked in after the window replacement packing and unpacking a few days prior) and unfortunately the thinning out of unnecessary items will have to occur on the unpacking side.

As I have opined – it is a very small kitchen and in general a compact, tiny really, apartment. Having said that I was amazed by how much I had managed to store in the kitchen cabinets. Like a clown car at the circus, it just kept coming and filling more (and yet more) boxes. I had honestly thought I could pack the kitchen in two hours and instead found myself searching frantically for additional boxes and packing well into the night. Boxes were piled higher and claimed more space in the living room until there was only a path through it.

What I found interesting was that in some ways it was like excavating through the layers of my life back to my much younger self, setting up my first apartment in New York City. As I measure the reality of my life against the sort of adult existence I imagined for myself, the difference can be divined through dishes rarely or never used.

I was launched from my home in New Jersey with access to generations of dishes and a certain wonderful excess of antique furniture. (As a result I have a truly unusual number of antique rocking chairs in a very small space, but we’ll discuss my family’s mania for chairs another time.) As I packed up wine decanters and covered serving dishes well into that evening I realized I had envisioned a life where I would entertain more, one where I would actually cook. I was unable to peer into a future where at most we would grab some pizza or take-out from the Mexican place across the street (run by a Korean family which makes for not quite authentic, but perfectly satisfying cuisine), move some piles of books and call it a meal.

In addition to the aforementioned decanters and covered dishes, I am in possession of a full set of sterling silver – I think it is service for at least eight. I had tucked away serving bowls, luncheon plates and some fairly esoteric baking devices such as a gram scale, which had not seen the light of day in decades. I will certainly send much of this on its way to a thrift store in hopes that it finds a home where it is trotted out and used more frequently and I am touched in some ways with gratitude that I was launched into adulthood with such largess. Nonetheless, I am also confronted with a ghost memory of a younger me, imaging a different sort of future where I would cook and bake and have a need for serving dishes. One that has never really reached fruition.

It isn’t like I have never cooked for friends, although admittedly it has not happened in recent years. I am a good cook – professionally trained as I thought that was how I would make my living at one time. It is a muscle I rarely exercise beyond weekend meals for Kim and I however and those more about dietary exactitude and convenience than creative cooking endeavors. (However, Pictorama readers might remember when I was seized with a desire for my grandmother’s poor man’s cake over the holidays last year and I recreated it with the help of the internet. I posted about it here. Incidentally I found the Pyrex baking dishes I knew I owned and could not find and which I ultimately replaced with a purchase from ebay.)

In part it isn’t just me but the world that has changed and I dare say there aren’t many people in New York apartments who are making much use of decanters or cake plates these days, even in larger abodes. Perhaps it happens in the houses in other parts of the country where HDTV home renovation television thrives – but even there the days of formal dining rooms seem to have faded away.

The question remains, how much of this will I keep out of a sense of nostalgia and perhaps promise. By this I mean, will our entirely new kitchen mean a renaissance of baking and cooking? It seems unlikely given my current job and priorities. Still, with the holidays on the horizon there is an itch for another poor man’s cake and perhaps even some of my grandmother’s spice cookies if I can locate the recipe.

Marathon

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today we here at Deitch Studio are recovering from our endeavors in Brooklyn yesterday. (If you missed that post it can be found here.) It is a bright sunny but chilly day, and it is in fact Marathon Sunday here in Manhattan.

The first Sunday in November is the designated day for the marathon and today’s 45 or so degree, bright sunny day is on the fall cool side of what one might expect on this day. It is, for the rest of the United States, also the day our clocks change to Daylight Savings Time, falling back an hour at 2AM. And for those of us live along the marathon route it is notable as a rather significant inconvenience – we here on York and 86th Street are more or less corralled on the East side of First Avenue as the route for the runners enters onto First Avenue in the Fifties and runs well above us before turning west again.

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When I first moved to Yorkville in about 1987 I was deeply and personally offended by this as perhaps only a twenty four year old can be. How could anyone or anything dictate my ability to cross First Avenue at will and do what I wanted on a Sunday afternoon? That was crazy and I raged a bit, but it was indeed true. The marathon is quite simply an immovable reality of New York life.

 

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Yorkville – 86th between First and Second Avenues.

 

Over time it became a marker in each and every year. There were years when I crossed First Avenue early and returned late, thereby avoiding the issue of crossing during the thick of the run which lasts a few hours. When I worked for Central Park we hosted a brunch at the north end of the park – Central Park always plays a key role in the marathon as the finishing point and I always like to see it showcased, often at its best with leaves blazing with fall color.

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Fall flowers on Park Avenue recently.

 

If you are wondering, no it has never occurred to me to watch the marathon from our perch. Standing on First Avenue and cheering does not much interest me. We can usually hear the cheer go up for the front runners and then an ongoing later as the pack swells and travels up the Eastside.

One year I unthinkingly made a date with Carol Lay for lunch downtown in the East Village and had to perform the maneuver I like least which is sort of running along with the participants up a few blocks while you cross – trying not to distract or impede them in any way. I successfully managed it that day, however shortly following me there was a nasty incident where an older man who was blind insisted on being escorted across and it ended badly with a crash with a runner causing some injury to both. This incident scarred me for attempting that crossing in future years.

Meanwhile, the date with Carol stands out in my mind because she had given my phone number to an inquiring Kim Deitch at a Halloween wedding. The result was a date with him on the long Veteran’s Day weekend the following week, 25 years ago this year and the rest is our marital history. Nonetheless, other years have dictated a need to cross, although it is generally manageable if you at least time it so you are not in the thick of it.

In recent years I have accepted the limitations of the day for the most part. The largest irritant has been trying to time a trip to and from the gym at an optimum time. I recently joined a gym in our building so this year even that doesn’t concern me much. I generally devote this day of urban captivity to turning over my closets to fall and winter clothes (another fine tradition of New York life in a small apartment, the seasonal shift of clothing from our basement storage unit), but this year we are too tightly packed and distressed by our kitchen operation for me to manage it right now. At this rate you will see me layering my summer wardrobe way into winter and throwing a wool coat over it. (With an upcoming trip to Madison, Wisconsin in about ten days this could get interesting. I think they have already had snow this season.)

Although I am very fond of working out I am not a runner. Persistent and systemic arthritis have prevented from me exploring it – the constant pounding hastening an eventual need for fusions and replacement joints which lurk in my future. My cardio takes place on a more forgiving elliptical machines or a bike. I don’t think I have marathoning in my nature though either. I have always thought training for a triathlon would be more my style – breaking running up with swimming and biking. It is unlikely to happen with this body in this lifetime however.

Nonetheless, I have made my peace with my role as temporary prisoner to the marathon and accept it as a rite of autumn. Today’s grocery delivery, trip to the drugstore and to buy sample paint will wait until the day is longer in the tooth and a fewer, slower runners remain, making their way up First Avenue, as the now earlier than yesterday sunset overtakes New York City.

 

 

Brooklyn Bound

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning we will abandon our horrendously messy, currently under renovation apartment and to head to Pratt in Brooklyn for the Comic Arts Brooklyn (CAB) festival. We will be setting up at a table and I will be in my wife-fan mode selling some original art and t-shirts while Kim is signing copies of his new book Reincarnation Stories. (He will be in a conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac later today as well and the past two weeks have been peppered with interesting online communication between them as they prepare.)

We are frankly relieved not to be spending the whole day in our over-flowing, packed to the ceiling with boxes studio apartment! (For those of you who may have missed the earlier installments on the work in our apartment I whined eloquently about it last week in my post which can be found here. The work continues apace and we are now living with the fridge in the living room and using only a hot plate and toaster oven to cook. Slowly you forget that you ever lived without everything jumbled in boxes around you and that you didn’t do dishes in your bathroom sink.) The prospect of two meals out an not made in a toaster oven is cheerful.

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Our apartment earlier this week. Arg!

 

I come from a long line of the mercantile. Irving and Gertie Butler (my paternal grandparents) owned a store, Butler Dry Goods I believe it was called, in Mt. Vernon, New York. My dim memory of it was a store that sold all sorts of bits and pieces, but mostly clothing essentials – underwear, sneakers, and basics, not fashion. My childhood was filled with nylon babydoll nightgowns from the store in the summer and flannel pajamas in the winter. It also supplied us with Danskin mix and match twin sets of stretchy shorts, shirts and pants in bright colors. (When I think of myself or my sister under the age of ten this is what we are wearing. I had a bit of a love hate relationship with these twin sets and was usually jealous thinking my sister’s were better for some reason, but you do a lot of that in general being a younger sister.) I want to say there were some toys in the store, but I do not have a clear memory of that and it seems like I should. (Did I get some of my boxes of Colorforms from there? Bags of plastic cowboys and Indians? I cannot say for sure.)

 

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My mom opened a more contemporary version of that emporium in New Jersey in the 1970’s and called it The Village Store. I remember that better of course and even worked there on occasion. Her version was largely the same sort of practical clothing, but some jewelry and a few other things that came in over the transom. It was on the strip of beach community within walking distance of our house, Sea Bright, near the drawbridge and next to a bar and the post office. (I opined on the town of Sea Bright and Wiseman’s – the kissing cousin of the dry goods store – the paper goods store. It was the cornerstone of the community and I wrote about it in a post that can be found here.)

In addition to my link to these successful sellers in days of old, I have a restaurant and a bar restaurant on the other side of my family. Tending bar, short order cooking, is the same selling skill set really. All this to say, if genes have any say in this process I have the bona fides for chatting and selling.

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A bad photo of an undated photo – cousin Frankie Cittadino as short order cook at the family bar in Long Branch, NJ. 

 

I guess it is fair to think that fundraising is a type of selling so perhaps I have not strayed far from my ancestors. At a minimum it employs a similar skill set. Today I take up the mantel and watch out CAB, I will be manning the sales of all things Kim Deitch. We are picking and packing up our bags now and I’ve got a great t-shirt just for you – see you there!

Drinking with Fat Cat

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the chaos of renovation here at Deitch Studio today, I am focusing on this odd recent acquisition. It was purchased for a few dollars on a whim – Kim and I liked the logo, a sassy Sylvester type kitty with a fat cigar hanging out of his mouth.

I generally do not purchase new items and I do not own any beer or soda cans – although I believe I have bid on an early Felix soda bottle in my life and lost. As it turns out, unsurprisingly, Fat Cat, is a popular name. As a result I am having a bit of trouble making sure that all the information offered is about this particular company. For example, there is a Fat Cat brewery in England which seems to be tied out to a pub there and distinctly different. I see some different logos for it and remain unsure if they all belong to this product.

As Deitch Studio has a professed interest in beer bottle cap collecting (Eleanor Whaley makes her first appearance in Kim’s bottle cap collecting tale published in Deitch’s Pictorama) which harkens back to Kim’s own childhood bottle cap collecting, I checked out the internet to see if Fat Cat beer had a good one. It does not appear to be sold in bottles, however I did find this rather nifty golf ballmarker below which admittedly probably does not have its genesis with the beer, although it turns up with a search of Fat Cat beer cap. (Yep, had no idea about ballmarkers in general and I gather it is just as it sounds – marks where your golf ball landed which I gather is occasionally needed.) If I played golf I would want one of these.

 

The can itself reveals that it is brewed and canned by MOII, Monroe, WI. In addition, it proclaims the following about contents, Malt, hops, water, bla bla bla, what more can I tell ya? It’s just plain ol’ good beer! We will have to take their word for it as I purchased this can pre-emptied, from the bottom as I guess collectors prefer? In addition, not sure who or what MOII might be.

The ratings for it online appear to my unschooled eye to be about average, sadly not living up to the exuberance of the can. Citrusy seems to be a popular adjective, but also bitter and “average hops” whatever that really means. It seems that there was a brewery that you could visit in San Diego until recently. Yelp has marked it closed however.

Generally speaking, I like beer in a rather unspecified way – such as in a cold one on a hot day. I generally prefer a light lager such as this one more or less proclaims to be, although bitter does worry me. Even more than wine, I have never really ventured into the world of beer and the various aspects of tasting it and what I might like best. (When I was in training to be a chef I was taught a bit about wine tasting so I have a point of reference for that.) In high school I knew several guys who started making home brew from a kit and then started taking it very seriously. One went on to be come a brewmaster professionally. It was very dark beer and I confess I never liked it. I am a Corona kinda girl.

Kim no longer drinks (stopped long before I met him – as he says, he did all of his drinking early on) and although he doesn’t mind having liquor in the house I don’t keep beer since I think it is what he misses most and not having it is no hardship for me. However, there’s usually wine around and currently a somewhat exotic bottle of Jack Daniels that I got at a work event recently as well, but the fact is I don’t drink much, especially at home, either. I do cook with wine however and I was taught that you should only cook with wine that is a quality that you would drink – hence the presence of wine in the house.

In the end I just applaud this jolly can and commend it to my crowded shelves. Certainly given the opportunity I would order it in a bar or restaurant out of curiosity. Meanwhile, as their can proudly proclaims, We gottit made!