Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s been a rough road back here at Deitch Studio this week. Pictorama readers know that last week we were working to get on the other side of catching Covid. (That cheerful post is here if you missed it.) I rallied enough to go to Jersey to check in on my mom on Sunday night for a few days.
It rained early on Monday so I didn’t run. It cleared later and although I have largely lost my sense of taste (and smell) I still managed an appetite for a strawberry ice cream cone, belatedly in honor of my dad for Father’s Day. A friend and I stopped at Ryan’s where I used to buy ice cream for him weekly. Summer is in full swing there and even on a weekday afternoon it was abuzz. I felt like I could taste it at about 40%.
Therefore, I didn’t attempt my maiden voyage, post-Covid run until Tuesday morning; which very agreeably, dawned not just sunny but unseasonably cool. I took the route north through the woods and did a neat 3.7 miles, not bad if very slow. My body seemed willing to partake, but I could see my limit pretty clearly. Tired, but no coughing.
I had piled a bunch of appointments up for this visit to my mom and post run I met with a flooring guy named Mike who was very pleasant and looked like this was probably his first job. One of mom’s folks had her grandchildren with her as it was the first day of summer vacation for them and their camp has not started yet. They were thrilled with a friend’s visiting Bichon puppy (Ariel looks like a toy and stays in a playpen when she visits the Butler house) and so, among increasing chaos, I retreated upstairs for a Zoom meeting.
It was just after the call that I found out my brother in-law Simon had died. He had been in the hospital but I hadn’t expected him to die. Kim and I were on the phone when I was called back downstairs as a mattress was being delivered. Puppy barking, children shrieking, a queen sized mattress coming in through the garage held by two confused looking men – poor Kim I had to call him back.
It always amazes me that my housebound mother’s house is like Grand Central Station compared to our apartment in Manhattan. It is the crossroads of the universe.
I headed back to NYC that afternoon. I found Kim fielding the kind of calls you get on those days – friends checking in and whatnot.
Kim is the one who will write about Simon. (He already wrote something this morning which will appear in the Comics Journal, online shortly.) I really only knew him slightly, but he and Kim were living together when I first met Kim and their creative collaborations were still underway during the first years of our being together. (Simon subsequently did a stint in jail for selling his methadone, which arguably saved him from a potential overdose. That period effectively ended their active collaboration on Southern Fried Fugitives, a comic strip they did for Nickelodeon Magazine.)
Luckily Kim’s brush with Covid seems to have been lesser than mine and he seems more solidly back while I continue to have periodic coughing and sneezing fits which come on me simultaneously and flatten me briefly. I got up early today and violated my rule about writing this blog very first thing in order to be out and running before it got hot. Even before 7:00 today the temperature was climbing.
Still running slow, but topped out at more than 5.7 miles. It was good to check on all my usual haunts which I have seen so little of. (I walked part of the route last weekend and said a quick hello to those who follow my running journal on Instagram stories.) I am hoping it kicks my overall energy into gear.
So life has not quite resumed its normal stride here, but we’re working on it. I feel like I have to give a shout out to the folks at NYC Funeral and Cremation. It appears to be an enormous company here in the five boroughs, but Mary has thoughtfully guided me through an extraordinary labyrinth of online paperwork the likes I have never experienced.
She called on Friday when I had paused in the process (to work), making sure I understood next steps and the need to complete them. They answer their phone at all hours and whoever I have gotten on the other end was unfailingly lovely without being smarmy. I think I will remember their thoughtfulness for a long time to come. I always appreciate someone who does their job well and of course being treated kindly is also good. I would highly recommend them, but obviously prefer not to have to use them again.
So that’s where we are late morning on this Saturday at the end of June. The world is turning upside down politically and so we are swamped from the outside as well as from within. Nonetheless, we’re taking a few deep breaths and moving slowly forward here at Deitch Studio.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This morning I took read my post from last Memorial Day weekend. I was in New Jersey for a concert for work. Despite being in a tent the extraordinary downpour had largely soaked us all and it had essentially been a cold and sodden mess. As it was still one of the first times I was hearing live music I more or less forgave the weather. It was also one of the first times I was seeing my mom as during the first year of the pandemic I treaded softly in the pre-vaccine, no home test days of last spring.
I had however returned to New York via ferry, somewhat exhausted from my exertions both physically and emotionally. I got up tired on Monday morning, Memorial Day, went running, fell and broke two fingers. (I wrote about it here and here.)
It was chillier, unlike this weekend which has already turned warm enough that I am puzzling through had to stay hydrated during my runs in the growing heat and humidity. I was still wearing my heavy sweatshirt when I fell – I was grateful that I thought to take it off so it didn’t need to be cut off once the huge bandage was on my hand.
Of course I thought about this while running yesterday – giving the lumpy sidewalk where I fell a jaundiced look as I went by. Falling kept me off of running for a few months. When I stopped I was running about three miles I think and it took me awhile to get back to that distance, especially since it was full on summer heat by then. The ring finger on my left hand is still recalcitrant and I think I will need to break down and have my wedding band refitted to that finger as I think that finger and the knuckle is permanently enlarged. (I had been told the swelling could take up to a year to go down.)
Given time I run six miles now, some days cutting it short to get to an early meeting. I tend to think that is where I am topping out, at least for now, as it is hard to find the time to run longer than that four or five times a week. (Then again, it never occurred to me that I would be running that far either so who knows?)
I will focus on getting a bit faster for awhile. I have never had the urge to run fast actually which is good as I know I never will. I have a short stride for a tall person and I have always been more interested in distance, the long haul. However, I am very slow so I can pick up the pace a bit. Not killing my middle aged self in the heat is a bigger problem though and for the summer mornings I cannot get out as early as I should I need to be careful. Investigating what and how much to drink when.
Mom has had some health issues and since Thanksgiving I make more regular and longer trips to stay with her in New Jersey, vaccinated now and endlessly tested. Although I am a devoted homebody and miss Kim and the kitties, I enjoy the time with her too. (A few of the posts I have written about my time there can be found here and here and one on running in Jersey here.) Whichever place I am in I find hard to leave. It is just the way I am. Running while I am there is one of the things that grounds me though. I am a person who responds well to routine and set about creating them wherever I am.
One of my routines is that since Christmas I have treated myself to coming and going to Jersey via @rideswithcash, a dog and driver duo based in Monmouth County. This has allowed me to come and go at odd hours which fit into my work schedule better and generally saves some wear and tear on me. Jeff is lovely and great about making time for me. The mainstay of his business is folks going to and from the airports, although I guess there are other needs like mine too. The bonus is of course having Cash, his lovely Australian Shepard, sitting with me along for the ride. Petting that beautiful pup has soothed me through some otherwise stressful trips as I fret about mom or work.
This spring Cash was joined by a sibling sis – Penny! Well, of course fluffy Penny is about as cute as anything could be. She flirts and plays and chews and is generally adorable. I am not sure Cash has totally bought into Penny yet, but I am sure he will over time. I haven’t made a trip with both of them yet so we’ll see about that, maybe as early as this evening.
Meanwhile, a year has brought us through an intact if somewhat abbreviated concert season at work. We will be wrapping with a final concert and surrounding events in a few weeks. Variants come and (sort of) go and attendance at events waxes and wanes accordingly although ticket sales for concerts has remained strong.
Our offices officially went to a three day in-office schedule in April. Although we try to bring everyone in on Wednesdays so we can plan meetings, it still feels very empty most days. We are still rebuilding staff which is a slow process and of course other days people might be out or taking vacation days before the end of our fiscal year. Rebooting what was our office culture is hard and I can only imagine that we need to embrace what a new version will be. We are impatient, but only time will help puzzle through that.
I wrote recently about the interviewing I have been doing recently for a myriad of open positions. (That post can be found here.) I wish I could report that the positions are all filled, but not yet to date. A newly fully staffed team will be a large step forward in creating a new work paradigm. In the short term however the interviewing process is like having another job.
For those of you who were following the story of Stormy, the kitten mom found in her backyard a few months ago, I have news to report. (Her rescue origin post can be found here.) After gaining a bit of strength and familiarity with the house, Stormy left her lofty perch in a large dog cage where she was protected from the hustle and bustle of other kits and has joined the kitty pack in the house.
On my recent trips she has hidden herself entirely during the day and I have at best only caught a glimpse of her at times. However, she has a distinctive meow and I hear her when the lights go off at night, leading a feline rampage through the small house, up and down the stairs, skidding on the bathroom rug at the top before heading back down.
Stormy’s special partner in crime is another adoptee from the backyard, a gentleman puss named Gus. Gus, who looks a bit like he is made from spare parts, has made no secret of the fact that he is quite smitten with Stormy and follows her around devotedly although her hiding even eludes him at times and I will find him waiting for her to emerge.
Well, the big news is that my mom woke up the other night to find Stormy curled up on her lap! She did not stay for pets although she evidently acknowledged mom before hopping down. It is a rather remarkable step however. I often wonder how she can be such a friendly cat, clearly used to being handled when we found her so very small and starving. Did someone have her and lose her? Put her out? We’ll never know her story, but despite my initial reticence about keeping her I am of course glad we did.
So, after those updates and bits of reflection I am off for that run (early) and then packing to head to New Jersey for a few days. I have promised to get the new gas grill working and some other daughterly duties. For those of you who follow my running journal on Instagram, see you from Jersey!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I found myself thinking about time during a particularly hard won five mile run yesterday at lunchtime here in Manhattan. It seems my body is more willing to do my bidding in the early mornings and by late morning and early afternoon it balks some at the request. Luckily this is where habit kicks in though and after working the kinks out I’m good until some point at about mile four where I have to apply some discipline to make it through. The fifth mile was added recently and time doesn’t always allow for it, so I am still negotiating it each time.
Being a fairly compulsive gatherer of data I have recently started using an app (Strava) to record distance. My phone was somewhat mercurial in its recording of distance, same exact run different reads, but now I get not only distance, but speed and performance such as tracking time on inclines. It’s a bit dangerous to start feeding me this sort of information because I immediately become competitive with myself and have an urge to go faster and further.
I have written before about the fact that I run slowly (some of those running posts can be found here and here), but even in the realm of slow jogging I find myself increasing my speed incrementally now that I see it. So I am thinking about time in various ways while I run, either in small literal ways or in a larger sense. Seasonal change happens in almost daily increments as demanded by the weather, always reminding me that regardless of what I think time marches forward inexorably.
I maintain a photo journal of my runs on Instagram (mostly posted as stories and can be found on the four or so days a week I run @deitchstudio) and those snapshots remain on my phone to remind me of the seasons of my runs over the last eighteen months since I started in November of ’20. Running in the cold gives way to spring and then the heat of summer and back again to fleece leggings. I am excited to see the progress of the magnolia and cherry trees in New Jersey as spring burgeons and when I am back this week.
Time and the perception of it passing is somewhat subjective in my opinion. Certain activities elongate time, not stopping but slowing. Meditation, printing photos, lifting weights and now running are among the activities that produce this effect for me. My work days, always crazy busy, tend to speed time up in a reversal. I have always needed to find activities to balance that frenetic work energy lest I just burn out completely.
Time with my mother in New Jersey passes at a different pace too. I find myself examining that time which also slows it down. Morning coffee with her is a good time and I savor it. Running in her suburban neighborhood takes on a somewhat magical quality and the same five miles seems more epic there than my trot up and down my also beloved East River at home.
Meanwhile, I have just passed the five year anniversary of my current job. Like everyone else, I have conducted the past two years during the pandemic and am now in a liminal phase of partial re-entry as we commence year three. I have frequently said that I learned more about my job (fundraising for a performing arts organization) during the past two years than I learned in the previous three decades. That is an exaggeration of course and it is the first thirty years that made success (defined in large part as survival) possible. I have drawn on experience, but also the leadership that I worked with and learned from in my nascent decades working at the Metropolitan Museum. (I wrote about my time there and my departure here.)
As I prepare to usher my somewhat tattered troop into a new work world with weekly time back in an office, I am reminded that despite an illusion otherwise, time has not stood still. The roadmap of our work remains intact, another annual Gala (the first in-person in two years) is on the immediate horizon. However, the issues we face for interaction together, such as mask and vaccination protocol, possible infection and negotiating our in-person time and space together are entirely new and I don’t begin to know how to answer all their questions. We are all older and we have spent the past two years intensively together and yet very much apart. So I stand on the threshold of my fifth year entirely unclear about what it will bring, but time will tell.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I pick up from where I left yesterday, but use the opportunity to focus on running. Pictorama readers know that about 18 months ago I started running. I have slowly (very slowly!) built my distance up to 4.5-5 miles four or so times a week, as my work schedule allows. This morning, having a bit of leisure time at my disposal, I topped out over 5 miles.
Today was overcast but warm. Rain has moved in since so I am glad I got out early. (Although it means you all are getting this post later than usual as a result!)
Running in NJ tends to encourage me to expand my footprint a bit as I investigate the neighborhood, poking down new blocks, cul de sacs and deadends. I am confident enough in my mental map that I don’t worry now about getting lost, although I tend to keep myself hemmed in to the east and the west by major roads it is easier not to cross.
As I have said in my previous posts about running, I run slowly. For a tall person I have short legs and therefore a less than impressive stride, but I cannot blame my overall slowness just on that. My feeling about running is pretty much that I find a pace I can generally just keep up, more or less indefinitely. As if I was an automaton toy, set into infinite forward motion. I will speed up around obstacles or otherwise as needed but there is a general lope that I keep myself to. Everyone passes me – people running with baby strollers pass me – the older and the younger alike. My only interest in increasing time is a sense of efficiency about the amount of time I have to devote to running and therefore the ratio of distance to time.
For me running is about being in the moment which releases me from all the nagging worries that I nurse throughout the day (and night) otherwise. I focus on my stride, where my feet are falling and the music (today was largely Bruce Springsteen in honor of New Jersey) which is familiar enough to be ritual as well.
Suburban life is stretched out before me as I run here. Today was no exception. The first part of my run takes me to the crossroads of several churches and a synagogue. This morning I was treated to the church bells ringing as I started out. This church is next to a playing field and a small wildlife preserve that I circle before heading back out into a neighborhood north of here.
I ran further north and then west than usual and encountered the elementary school for the town, tucked away behind a main street but somehow on a block I think I never encountered growing up here. The Viola Sickles School is a pretty Art Deco designed building. It has a large playground and playing field behind it which I toured. Just on the other side is a pretty little downtown street of restaurants and shops on a main road. My mom lived in one of the houses on that main street which was converted to a candy store which we used to visit occasionally when I was little. Somehow I couldn’t get rid of the idea that my mom grew up in the candy store but this was not the case. I think it was a small gas station that my grandfather had at that time and before they moved to a neighboring town.
The houses near the school are old and lovely. These few blocks seem to have somehow escaped the general gentrification of the area. I hope someone buys them and restores them on their tiny lots instead of tearing them down.
I loop around and head south for the most familiar part of my run which I have been saving for last recently. It is overcast and the sun alternately fights to come out and gives up. Today is one of the warmest runs I have had this winter and the temperature is hovering around 50. Robins are everywhere, as well as sparrows, cardinals and bluejays. I see a bunny with a bushy white tail – too fast for me to get a picture. Back at mom’s the chipmunks are in evidence again as well. I spy the first snowdrops of the season in bloom and snap a photo of them.
Around mile four I start to feel it in my legs a bit. I use a GPS driven running tracker now called Strava as my phone seemed to be inconsistent about recording miles. I had some trouble with it at first – it would turn itself off which was frustrating – but I seem to have gotten past that.
Strava makes me more competitive with myself despite not really intending to – can I be faster on the big inclines? Go a bit further today? It sends me electronic encouragement for each of my runs. I am a sucker for its praise.
This week I see several book exchange boxes in the neighborhood, but don’t take the time out to examine them. I do note them however for future reference. Today I realize one is in front of the Knights of Columbus meeting place. I run through the parking lot and notice these rather special benches below.
I realize that I am already over time and distance and still have to get home. I think of one of my favorite phrases – save something for the swim back. It is true of running – and many other things too.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I was very much in denial that it would happen, but when this week rolled around I found myself packing to head off on my first (albeit very brief) business trip to Chicago. My denial that it would happen (a west coast trip was canceled earlier this year as were similar events) of course did not enhance the experience as I deferred my decisions about packing and appointments until the last minute. (I have written about my pre-Covid business travel several times including here and here.)
I have always found packing for out of town events difficult. Each region has its own sensibility and trying to strike the right note and feel appropriate is stressful. In California, I sport too much black and am not beautifully causal enough, in the Midwest I tend to be under dressed or too professional and not festive enough. Add two years of not doing any of this, weight gained and weight lost, and a closet which in some ways is a frozen time capsule of winter of ’20 and you have packing stress.
It also came to my attention that my hair (which has been somewhat defiantly gray since my 30’s which I wrote about in a post here) had meandered down well past my shoulders and perhaps this was not the most professional look. These days I generally loop it up into a clip or with a hair tie and don’t think about it most days except when it annoys me by falling down during my run.
So with just a few days to go I dropped a haircut appointment on top of an ambitious schedule, although the person I have long been devoted to wasn’t able to take me. At his suggestion I saw someone else in his salon. Brianna did a splendid job and was the first person other than David Smith to cut my hair in more than two decades. (David owns the salon now, Smith and Morgan, and he did stop by to see progress on the big snip.) I am grateful to both for helping to transform me back to a more business-like version of myself on short notice.
That done an evening outfit was then considered and devised out of the decaying edifice which is my closet. At long last a peacock patterned silk blouse, a long-standing favorite of many years, emerged from the depths of my closet along with a favorite leather blazer and the new pair of dress trousers I am sporting this post-diet season.
Among jewelry I chose two rings from my favorite stash of ones I used to wear daily, a giant bee and a turquoise one that looks like a robin’s egg perched on my hand. They both always cheer me up to see. I have rarely worn rings during our long at-home period and breaking two fingers on my left hand has shuffled my ring wearing (actually dieting does too) when I do and left me somewhat bereft without my wedding band on that hand. (I was told the swelling could take up to a year to go down so I have not attempted to alter it yet.)
Where it started to go a bit wrong was deciding that I wouldn’t take my roller suitcase and instead use the weekend bag I take to my mom’s in New Jersey these days. My fear of wrestling it into the overheads on the plane and having to fight about it all was more than I could withstand considering.
My laptop of several years, which has been valiantly pressed into daily service in a way it was not purchased for, suddenly began to threaten that it may not be properly charging anymore. I purchased a keyboard for my iPad instead and decided I would bring it instead, cementing my decision that I didn’t need the larger bag. This was a mistake which I was to have much time to rue as I attempted to carry it on a mini-marathon gauntlet which is La Guardia airport and the equivalent of several city blocks between where my cab left me and the terminal. Part of this was through a construction site which was wet and muddy and well, long. The suitcase grew heavy, never again I swore.
Like many before me I will confess that my packing skills were sadly wanting for lack of use – my forays to NJ to stay with my mother in no way prepared me for packing to fly for a business trip. I found myself in Chicago with an entirely dried out old mascara and no shampoo. I almost forgot to put my liquids in a bag, but no one actually seems to care about that anymore? Worst of all, I didn’t pack anything to read! While I planned to work most of the time I didn’t pack or download a book for the trip whereas I usually include several – just in case. I purchased a trashy novel at La Guardia which sufficed for the most part, but gosh, what was I thinking?
Of course there is the mask part of this. A colleague in DC who has small children and a husband who travels frequently for work had made a study of the best and most comfortable masks. I was endlessly grateful to Lesley for both reminding me to think about it (comfort and safety for long periods of wearing) and for giving me a link where I was able to purchase them. Every restaurant in Chicago told me, as they checked my vaccination status, that this and the mask mandate are to be lifted next week.
Ironically Chicago was the last business trip I took in February of 2020 (I wrote about an earlier leg of that trip here) and I stayed at the same hotel, the historic Palmer House a few blocks from the Art Institute. I found the hotel still beautiful, but in a somewhat reduced circumstance with no room service and restaurants closed, occupancy felt low. At my arrival time of 8:30 at night I was barely in time to grab a quick sandwich at the bar. (There was a Grab & Go take out with some sad food and no one to pay – truly grab and go I remarked to a fellow traveler who spontaneously revealed that he hadn’t been out of his house in two years. I assume he meant travel?) My room was clean, but no cleaning staff in evidence which was fine for me, but unusual.
The long rabbit warren hallways are decorated with photo portraits of generations of musicians and actors. I made a point of remembering a soft right at Frank Sinatra, past George Burns and then a hard left at Louie Armstrong.
After some debate and planning I left the hotel just after sunrise for a run along the lake. I am used to cold runs along the water (and through the woods at mom’s), but even sporting my fleece tights and down liner the Chicago wind was a shock.
The stunning beauty of the waterfront made up for it and it is clearly a favorite with runners there. It is broader and larger than my East River Esplanade at home by far and there were fewer runners than at home and notably no dog walkers, too windy and cold for them I guess, and perhaps they prefer the nearby park. Although frankly I have never seen another city with as much dog walking activity and romping as Manhattan.
The Beaux Arts buildings dot this horizon in one direction, the more contemporary skyline in the other. A Ferris Wheel in the distance, by what appeared to be a cruise ship made me think of a young adult novel I read years ago about the history of the Ferris Wheel and its origins at the Chicago Exposition of 1893. Kim had suggested it called, The Great Wheel, was written and beautifully illustrated by Robert Lawson in 1957. I highly recommend it for all ages. Cakes of ice floated around, ducks took them in stride.
However, the Chicago wind did its job during my four miles and I returned to the hotel to find my face flaming red with windburn! I had, as I always do, put a layer of moisturizer and sunscreen on before my run, but that only appeared to have made it worse. I have never seen it so red!
Meanwhile, breakfast with a former Met colleague, now at the Art Institute, helped cheer and ground me later that morning. Then I dug into work, held a staff meeting from my hotel room after purchasing something to calm the skin on my face, thank you Neutragena and Target. I made it through the remainder of the day and evening largely without mishap, although running an event out of town for the fist time in years could be the subject of its own post about muscle memory. Snow! Cancellations! Guest of honor still on the road in the snow! Seating changes! Young musicians who forgot the stand for their keyboard! Cocktails and several courses of food later the evening wrapped.
A not insubstantial amount of snow overnight sadly meant no run on morning two – which I regret because I wanted a better look at the Ferris Wheel, alas. However, I rose early, packed, crammed three meetings, breakfast, coffee and lunch into the first part of the day (Board member download from night before, former staffer and long ago colleague – no cabs around so all via Uber which was also an atrophied muscle) and visited with a colleague who had just arrived. I see Georgina so rarely in person these days that an in-person visit with her was almost as rare as seeing my Chicago folks.
Before long it was time to pick up my very weighty bag, throw it over my shoulders and head back to the airport, home again to Kim and the kitties!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This past week I went on a particularly long run in New Jersey, more than four miles. The weather was an agreeable 35 degrees and my morning of meetings started late enough that despite being a bit cold I took the opportunity to explore a bit.
When I first started running there I was afraid of getting lost as I didn’t know the area and there are a lot of dead end streets and cul de sacs to get lost in. It took awhile for me to get the lay of the land and understand where my mom’s house is in relation to a few large roads that will always put me back on course eventually, making it almost impossible to actually get lost I now know. (I have written about running in New Jersey before and one of those posts is here. One of my early posts about teaching myself to run can be found here.)
I have written a bit about this area which exists in my mind these days as a sort of ideal small town with more ball fields and playgrounds than I can count. Communal basketball hoops adorn many of the dead end streets and it is easy to imagine a spring and summer rife with kids playing there. It has become my other reality or parallel universe now that a spend more time with my mom at her house.
There is a charming middle school at the end of my mother’s block, Knollwood it is called, and each morning when I run there I see kids in various states of readiness migrating toward it to start their day. They come on bikes or walk, alone or a few together, sometimes running or pedaling hard as it gets later. Cars and buses are dropping them off on the other side, but that isn’t usually what I see from the side of the school I approach.
The houses here range from new build large and obviously affluent, to bungalow and Cape Cod small, like my mom’s. They indicate a fair amount of disparity in wealth I think as I run by them, but somehow they manage to knit together a community, homes almost universally cheerfully neat and tidy looking.
If I head further in one direction I know that beyond the woods where I start these runs that the homes will grow larger and further apart in the town where I grew up. As I go in the other direction the homes get smaller and closer together and older. This area forms a literal meeting point of three towns and each has a different flavor.
As I survey my surroundings (to an unlikely soundtrack of Billie Holiday which I am stuck on for no identifiable reason), I ponder how mindfulness can be uncomfortable and how sometimes forcing yourself to be in the moment is so much harder and more painful than escaping it. For me and with my personal history January is the most terrible of months, stinking with the memory of illness and death. Accepting that and not trying to escape it is hard. Despite a determined brand of personal optimism, I tend to skirt the beginning of each year warily, more just getting through it than embracing it as a new beginning.
This year has its own challenges and this week packed a wallop of January-ness my way along with some sodden snowy rain. The anniversary of my sister’s death, two more resignations at work, spending time (mostly reliving the past) with my mom who is not well – it has been a rocky road and I will be glad when the 31st passes, hopefully gently, into February. A tsunami of these issues clamor for attention in my brain and only the gentle repetitious pounding of my sneaker clad feet can help me unsnarl these thorny thoughts.
As I make my way over, up and through this neighborhood I think about it. The word liminal keeps looming in my mind so I examine it. Liminal, the space between things, the moment on a threshold. We all are existing in that liminal space right now as we try to figure out what the world is going to look like, needing to let go of what was and embrace this unknown next thing. That space is a bit of a respite from the drive forward, but you know you are going to have to take the plunge so there is little comfort in that perch, like standing above icy water before diving in. By its nature it is an uncomfortable place to be.
I think I understand the desire to leave for a new job and to assign all that was bad about the past two years to what employed your hours during that time. I can see that a new job might be a fresh new page to draw on and a way to reinvent yourself and push into the new world. So I try not to resent the further dwindling of my work team and the demands it will make on me and the remaining folks, but I admit it is hard.
My own style however is to dig my heels in and have a real look at myself, marshal my reserves, retrench. It is only by facing what is hard that we can actually resolve it. One of my expressions is the only way through is through – a self-evident but annoying truth. I see signs of reluctance in myself that I need to square off, face and resolve. I remind myself that there is a steeliness I can call on when needed and it is called for now. I use it and add on that extra mile.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: One somewhat sleepless night my phone buzzed a few times and instead of ignoring it I had a look. A dealer I follow was having a late night sale and she was sending me an advanced heads up on a few things she thought I might like. In my bleary state this one jumped out at me and I bought it – and went back to sleep. However, I was quite pleased with myself when it arrived. (Tip of the hat to @missmollystlantiques.) There is a nagging thought about another photo of a young girl with a cat in her lap I didn’t buy, but what can you do?
The composition on this card is kind of great with this natty fellow standing in front of the pole and the shadow of it going at an angle behind him. I could have asked that the darks be more distinct, either in the shooting or the printing, but even with that he forms an interesting triangle in the middle. His hat is tipped over his eyes so they are in shadow, roguish, but kitty is in full light and leaning toward the camera a bit – while safe in his arms of course. Is that a cigarette hanging from his mouth we see the shadow of?
Kim is thinking it is from the 1890’s. I am not so good on dating men’s attire – any thoughts out there? I agree that the picture really looks like an early Kodak snapshot, despite being printed and mounted this way.
The background is a bit winter bleak with the trees and the ground barren. The sky is a flat cloudless white, it was hard if not impossible to capture clouds on film at the time. It appears to be a sort of residential urban spot, houses to our far left and a storefront peering out to the right, street behind him. It came to me from the midwest and there are no markings on the back so I will assume it may have originated there.
It is a chilly, but sunny November morning here – clocks fell back and Marathon here in NYC today. I was largely sidelined from outside by a bad cold for a week, but made the trip through Central Park twice toward the end of last week for work. Almost overnight the trees have gone to an aching beauty of all too brief color, and the light has what I think of as a golden fall hue which seems particular to the northeast at this time of the year. (The one fall of my life I spent in London I was shocked by its absence. I went to Berlin for a weekend in October and there it was. Go figure.) One cat is snoozing endlessly on the couch while the other is chasing her tail in the bathtub.
This fall respite seems brief and fragile as we go headlong into winter and I know soon the trees will be bare and that light will have turned pale like it is in this photo. I have been adding to my inventory of layers for running and trying to remind myself I ran through it all last year so it is possible. Yes to gloves, no (at least for now) to hand warmers, and yes to a hat. Shall we try fleece lined tights? I feel the cold deeply so it is sheer discipline and these layers that will get me out the door in these coming mornings. (My true inclination and nature would be to curl up in the warm apartment and stay in bed.) I am having one of those years when it seems like wait, winter was just here and where did summer go?
The squirrels have been in a frenzy. Perhaps I have just never noticed before, but as I walk through the park I see them congregated in groups and they are stuffing their little faces madly with nuts and burying them at an equally notable rate! Wow! They are so distracted with their nut consumption that they allowed me and my fellow denizens to take photos of them munching away. (Admittedly, me and my fellow New Yorkers are easily attracted by even these nominal displays of nature.) Of course their wild activity is creating a great stir among the many dogs being walked there and a sort of unbridled squirrel chasing ensues. Distracted or not, dogs chase but never catch squirrels in the park. It is like an endless comforting cartoon animation cycle.
Meanwhile, I am fervently hoping these squirrels don’t know something we should and that they are preparing for an especially cold winter. We are continuing to work largely from home until February for now so my trips will remain a few times a week for outside meetings meetings. (Perhaps even outdoor, we’ll see.) For now I am going to put a few layers on and get over to the East River and get started. Let’s enjoy fall while we can.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Suddenly there is a nip in the air on my early morning runs and I find that I have added a cotton layer to my togs and my running shorts have been put away. Sunrise is later and later these mornings and up to this point I have resisted going out before the sun is poking up onto the scene – I remind myself that this is still New York City and running alone in the dark is perhaps not the best idea nor indeed safe.
I am hitting the one year mark since I started running and thus far I have persevered through summer heat and two broken fingers. (Earlier running posts, and the broken finger story, can be found here and here.) I try to run most mornings, short of having to be in midtown for an in-person meeting before 9:00 which I increasingly often do for work. On those days I walk the three miles to (and often also back from) Columbus Circle instead. Those mornings I cut the city catty corner and walk through Central Park which certainly has its own early morning charm. I cannot help but compare and contrast these mornings to mine spent in our little east side enclave.
At the one year mark I run about three miles. I run a slow, gentle jog. Despite being exclusively on concrete I try to land softly, mid-foot, and to keep my joints loose. My right hip and the muscles reaching down tend to complain a bit, less so if I am rigorous in my warm up, which I try to be. I have psoriatic arthritis and I know that eventually it will all catch up with me, but I have taken the use it or lose it approach to my joints as I will ultimately be a great candidate for a hip replacement regardless. I have chosen to take the using them up approach to my joints. (A post devoted specifically to my workout as someone with arthritis can be found here.)
I began running because I was spending so much time in our tiny apartment sitting in a chair, no longer able to go to the gym, that I realized I needed to do something. Walking (which took too much time and didn’t seem to raise my heart rate at all) quickly gave way to running. Although I like working out, especially lifting weights, I have never aspired to run so this was a strange turn of events, however it solved the cardio problem and also helped address the pandemic pounds I needed to shed.
At first my body resisted this turn of events, but with the help of my trainer I stretched and cajoled it into compliance. I have, over the year, lost close to 40 pounds (most of those put on in the first six months of the pandemic – read some of my baking recipes here and here at your own peril), although I warn anyone entering into this endeavor that it is very easy to feed a workout and gain weight instead of losing it. Losing weight, for me anyway, is tied to a careful (merciless really) counting of calories and thoughtful food choices in conjunction with exercise. Running has also largely eliminated nagging lower back pain I had acquired even before the pandemic from too much sitting, long hours of airplane travel and concert hall seats.
I commented to Kim this morning that running has changed my body in an interesting and far more overall way than I expected. Of course you expect more muscle in your legs, but it has changed my upper body too. Something about my posture and even the way I move is different. Far more than lifting and my former (devoted and beloved) gym routine the total impact is more significant it seems to me.
I run slower than most of my morning compatriots and speed just isn’t something I am competitive about, my competition is only with myself and is generally more about distance and consistency. I set myself at a comfortable pace and mostly only alter it to go around folks or if dogs get too inquisitive – in a nippy way. Some days are peppier than others, but regardless I take time to note the denizens of the Esplanade and those of you who follow my Instagram account know that I will take time to snap some photos. (My running adventures are documented more or less daily in my stories here.) I try to take a kindly attitude toward my middle aged body which is, after all, answering my call to this kind of exercise. I remember that it is serving me well and I should not be critical of its efforts on my behalf.
I used to listen to books but while running I replaced those with music – at least to the degree I can cajole my iPhone to play it while running while still snapping the occasional photo. I tend to like to listen to the same thing over and over, and then switching to something else. Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony accompanied me on many a run, second maybe only to Beethoven’s Seventh. I have wandered through some classical – YoYo Ma playing solo concertos, Moonlight Sonata – popular music of my teen years (think Bruce Springsteen) and most recently Billie Holiday which is a bit of surprise. I usually like something more upbeat. However, I was taking a tour of Autumn in New York this week, hence the name of this post. (A few choice versions can be found on Youtube here, here and here, Sinatra, Holiday and Sarah Vaughn respectively – at least available at the time of writing this.)
I pass the qi gong and tai chi practitioners, some stationary, others in a sort of walking-moving meditation. Folks are taking boxing lessons (I would like to try this some day, broken fingers notwithstanding), others working out with someone instructing them via their phone, yoga gatherings and a series of trainers who are set up along the river just beyond the park’s environs – Juliet and Darryl are among the trainers who watch me run by everyday, their white boards with contact info and declaring their names. They have stopped offering their cards, but I watch their instruction with some interest daily. The gorgeous view of the river is great for this (and meditation and yoga which is also all around me) and I find the time near the water restorative. I am nicer and kinder in general on the days I run. I often think that if I worked for me I would make sure Pam was out there every day!
On my route there is one camp I always note, set up by a gentleman in a choice spot over the river in a little cul de sac above some sort of Con Ed semi-deserted building. Recently he has added house plants, an interesting framed print and most poignantly a Fischer Price type child’s toy of a house. I don’t see the resident often, although occasionally I see him communing with some sea gulls who seem to know him. He disappeared for awhile and it seemed that someone was packing up the area but he came back and it seems to have rolled back to where it was.
Among the permanent residents, Collage Woman is either sleeping or working on gluing things from catalogues into her books. Writing Guy, if he is there, has nodded out on his bench and over his notebook. Then there is a steady stream of people, virtually all men, who I suspect have only recently joined the ranks of the homeless. Often they are using a roller suitcase for their possessions, although sometimes a back pack with frame and a sleep mat. One day I ran behind one very large man using a table leg and a Fresh Direct bag as a bindle. This group fared poorly during the harsh storms and hurricanes that battered us a month or so back (our tales of flooding and leaking can be found here and here), but I worry about all of them as the colder weather approaches. This group seems especially and terrifyingly ill-prepared for it.
The East River Esplanade, running along the river and along with Carl Schurz Park, waking slowly into being our Yorkville town square these days as I wrap an early run at the north end. The morning traffic along the FDR drive runs less scenically along one side of me. As I head up back from 91st Street I look at it and always have a moment being grateful that I am not commuting in one of those cars today.
I loop back through the park and stretch some more. At this hour we runners and early bird walkers are slowly outnumbered by commuters are lining up for an early ferry, the dog walkers who have multiplied, school kids making their way to their destinations, as well as people heading to work on bikes, motorized scooters and of course walking – this group replacing those of us in work out wear with office attire. In my mind I run through an unconscious rule of thumb which is: vehicles should give way to runners, runners give way to walkers and we all find our way around those who, for various reasons but usually involve dogs, are standing still in the path. Not everyone follows this rule and we try not to be run down by the various newly motorized bikes and scooters, not to mention regular bicycles, sometimes in the hands of a nascent rider. I worry about those because they usually do not sport a helmet either.
I smell the coffee and breakfast sandwiches of those who are parked on the benches, just enjoying the sunrise or communing with their phone. It wakes my empty stomach up with an inquiring growl and I remind tummy that reward in the form of coffee and breakfast awaits us too, but after the run. These days I split my breakfast acquisition between Bagel Bob and The Mansion Diner. Bagel Bob became my pandemic go-to in the neighborhood and a couple of eggs on a whole wheat wrap is my order there. I stand in a line of bagel buyers and folks on their way to work or school. Although it has re-opened its few tables it isn’t really a sit down sort of place. People at Bagel Bob’s are on the go.
The Mansion Diner, another neighborhood stronghold, is more of a sit down affair and now offers a broad range of seating both in and out. It is frequented by our local policemen taking a break on the job, but also folks who have the time to savor a proper breakfast, or maybe having take-out like me, or supplying the ongoing delivery business which seems to employ a small army of men. (Who orders breakfast delivery in the morning? I have long wondered about this. Doormen? Is it a version of breakfast in bed for the UES clan?) I wait for my single egg on an English muffin here, listening to a rather consistently fine loop of Frank Sinatra blasting inside (this invariably makes me think of college Sunday brunch) and out while checking my email, or occasionally heading back outside to finish my stretching on neighboring stairs, while my breakfast is being prepared.
Unlike Bagel Bob’s, The Mansion stays open to cater to a dinner crowd, even in these nebulous post-pandemic (can we say we are post I can’t help but wonder?) times. At one time it would have been mostly elderly people and some with young children, but now that we all eat earlier (six o’clock is the new eight o’clock here) and as it is very local it is a broader sampling of the neighborhood.
I am starting to eye warmer socks online, also running caps as my baseball cap will seem insufficient soon. (Yes, the dreaded moths have eaten all my wool hats I ran in last season.) I am giving reflective garb a sideways look too – if for no other reason than when I run at my mom’s house in New Jersey where cars are a bigger issue. (Running there has been documented in a recent post here.) I am somewhat confused by the idea of putting screws in the soles of old sneakers for snow and ice traction. But my cotton baseball shirt will give way to a proper sweatshirt and it will take more willpower to get out the door in the morning. I know autumn will quickly turn to winter here, but I do plan to be out there even on those frosty and snowy mornings.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s an overcast fall morning and I am waiting for hot coffee to finish brewing so I can wallow around in a few mugs of it. Our windows are open as a nod to plaster from recent repairs to dry and as a result our shades are uncharacteristically wide open, also as an assist to the workmen and to keep them clean in the demolition and repair of the ceiling and wall around them. (Some posts devoted to the clean up post Hurricane Ida can be found here and here.)
October showed up last week and I still feel only a reluctant recognition of the fact. However, there is no stopping the march of the seasons and I no longer run in shorts and have even layered the occasional long-sleeve top. While I haven’t seen many leaves start to change yet, some trees have already lost theirs. There is a final hurrah of fall flowers in the park which I am grateful for and in the way that October has yesterday was downright hot in the sun, while today is gloomy and chilly.
Kim and I were married in October – our anniversary comes up this week. It was a freakishly warm and gloriously sunny Saturday, after a prior weekend when a tropical storm had raged here in New York. October turns this black cat collector’s mind to Halloween and some related posts are likely to come soon.
For those of you who follow the adventures of my work life, I can say that there are more days I wander in and out of the office and evenings at our jazz club, Dizzy’s. I have always been fond of Dizzy’s, but somehow it has really been a bit of a beacon from the past as I formulate a work vision of the future. Our concert season doesn’t commence here in New York until November which seemed like a long time ago until now it does not. But somehow a few hours of live music and dinner at Dizzy’s, overlooking Central Park and Columbus Circle, is comforting in a way I had not imagined. It is a bridge between the then time and now.
Otherwise, I largely trot around the city in a rotation of breakfast, lunch and drinks meetings related to work, largely seated outside. (My 3 mile morning run expanding to include daily walks to locales around Manhattan, now racking up as much as another 7 miles a day!) It will be interesting to see if these meetings move inside as it gets chillier or cease for the moment. My team joins me with a combination of trepidation and some enthusiasm. An October date for a full on return to the office has been pushed back, but for how long we are unsure. I understand the peevishness of my staff at the uncertainty, but remind them we are getting the job done and there is nowhere to go but forward.
Meanwhile, I have a rare post follow-up (last week’s post can be found here) and discoveries made post publication. I had penned my post on a cast iron puppy piggy bank I acquired earlier in the week and when Kim read it he informed me that the designer noted, Grace Gebbie Drayton, is actually of some commercial art and comics note.
Born in Philadelphia in 1878, her father an art publisher, she attended Drexel and the (then) Phildelphia School of Design for Women where she studied under Robert Henri. She married, and divorced, twice (she seemed to have a hard time getting much passed the decade mark with husbands) and Drayton is the moniker of husband number two.
Her significant claims on fame are the creation of the Campbell Soup Kids advertisements beginning in 1904 and a comic strip called Dolly Dimples. In reality she had several such comic strips, all with somewhat saccharine names, among them – Naughty Toodles, Dottie Dimple, Dimples, and The Pussycat Princess, some strips (The Adventures of Dolly Drake and Bobby Blake in Storyland and The Turr’ble Tales of Kaptin Kiddo) were written by her sister, Margaret Hayes and illustrated by Drake.
Cuteness seemed to be her professional beat although there is something about her bio which suggests it may have been less in evidence in her personal life. Drayton owns the title of first woman to be a cartoonist for Hearst. She specialized in round faced, chubby child characters and in addition to the comics and commercial work she illustrated children’s books. An abundance of her Campbell Soup Kids and Dolly Dimples work survives (the Dolly Dimples paper dolls proliferated), and Drayton’s work is in the collections of several museums here in the United States and Great Britain. Drayton died young at age 56 in 1936.
Kim had recognized the style of the bank even before knowing that Drayton had a hand in it. While researching her we turned up this nifty cat bank and doorstop variations, shown below. It is a bit less available than the pup, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it (or a slight variation) doesn’t enter the Pictorama collection. More on that if it it comes to pass.
My bank had the rattle of a few coins in it and Kim was itching to see what they were. I was reluctant to unscrew the bank which shows no evidence that it has been apart in many decades. Much to my surprise Kim displayed his adeptness of a childhood skill which involves coaxing coins out of a bank through the deposit slot. Only a bit rusty, he had four wheat back pennies, and one Lincoln, out in no time. (I do wish I had taken a photo of this process!) Wheat backs were minted between 1909 and 1959. One of these is dated 1924, three are from the 1940’s and one is from 1975. As Kim cheerfully volunteered, this proves all of nothing, but somehow is still interesting. I am toying with the idea of putting them back in the bank, but Kim has the finders keepers on that one and he can decide.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Some on-going Pictorama readers may have figured out that I am an Aquarian, a February girl, my birthday tucked in next to Lincoln’s and a kissin’ cousin to Valentine’s Day; amethyst is my birthstone and I am a water sign. Although I do not go deeply into astrology I have given a lot of thought to my relationship to water which has informed much of my life although sometimes I wouldn’t say I actually have an affinity for it as this story bears out.
I grew up on a river, close to the Atlantic ocean, and these days we live with a view of the East River where I run most mornings now. (IG followers see my running journals, @deitchstudio or Pams-Pictorama, where I share some of the views of the water as well as my slow progress, impeded in part by falling and breaking a few fingers on Memorial Day. I have written about my endeavor to start running over the past year which can be found here, here and here. Reconnecting with the life of the waterfront has been wonderful over this past pandemic year and I appreciate it as much as the much needed exercise.)
I was taught to swim as a tiny toddler, in a pool in Sea Bright, New Jersey (a neighboring beach town I have devoted a few posts to which can be read here and here) and I took to it reasonably well. I have never been a great swimmer, unlike my sister Loren who was all swim teams and life saving, however I was at the beach and in the ocean and pools constantly between the ages of about six and twenty, so I guess I did it well enough to stay afloat and get where I was going.
Living on the river as we did floods were a constant part of our lives. At first we had an adorable little house on a narrow spit of land in Sea Bright where the river ran hard and fast into the bay on one side and the ocean was on the other. Without the sea wall the walk from one to the other would have taken ten minutes. It is a cottage that lives on in my imagination, a nifty little mail order home from Sears, it was sea sunlit and smelled of salt and sand.
We only spent summer weekends there so I was not subjected to the ongoing floods of suffered by year round residents, threatened as it was by both sides when tides rose. When I considered moving back there as an adult my parents were loathe to have me deal with the flooding, which while endurable as a summer beach cottage would have been more problematic 365 days a year, so instead I settled in Manhattan.
While still a tot my family moved full time to the shore and our first house in Rumson was on the (aptly named) Waterman Avenue. Just around the bend from the Sea Bright-Rumson draw bridge, we lived on a fast moving part of the water as it merged into the bay, teeming with boat traffic in the summer. Our view was of downtown Sea Bright across the river and the ocean just beyond and we were within walking distance of the beach. (My adult dream life takes me back there occasionally, enduring hurricanes and even tidal waves.)
Each year fall and early winter would bring hurricanes and quickly we learned about the days we would be picked up from school early, the car would be parked on higher ground where it would be safe and we would prepare for the high tides around us at home with streets that turned into ponds or sometimes raging rivers. (Sadly, I believe a hurricane did pre-empt Halloween one year.) Occasionally we kids would be left with my mom’s parents in Long Branch, an inland part of the neighboring town where my mother grew up, but she would generally return to Rumson to weather the storm and keep an eye on things. She recently described one of those evenings spent in bed on the second floor of that little house with the walls quaking with water and wind.
Generally those storms were a lark, the flood days, at least for us kids. My mom would put on her waist-high waders if she had to go out when the squall calmed, but the water had not yet receded. (Dad was usually at work in the city or traveling for his job at ABC News – it was the family joke that he missed just about every major flood we had.) Sometimes the flooding was just annoying, occasionally it was significant and memorable, but mostly it was just part of the fabric of my childhood, accepted as part of the way things were – the same as having cats and dogs and a green Plymouth station wagon.
Eventually we moved to a larger house several blocks away, but perched on an inlet of the river which was further protected by a small island between the mouth of our “pond” (which went by both names Oyster Bay and Polly’s Pond – I never could find out who Polly was and the oysters were sadly long gone when we got there). The natural barriers and somewhat higher land meant not just calmer waters, but less flooding on a regular basis. Hurricanes still meant flooded streets, but even water in the yard was less common.
Although flooding impeded daily life less, we weathered a few significant and memorable storms in that house. My parents were ultimately dislodged from that home by Hurricane Sandy and the shifts in water tables which brought the first water into the house we ever had – even then it only filled the garage, but destroyed the water heater and even warped the wooden floors with so much dampness under them. With the advent of every hurricane we have, I offer ongoing gratitude that my mom, now alone, is tucked away, relatively far inland in a tiny home in neighboring Fair Haven.
All this to say, that history behind me, these days I live on the 16th floor of a high rise building on the upper Eastside of Manhattan and while our river views mean we can get with some high force winds in a storm, in general flooding is not something we often consider. Living on the top floor of a building which is more than a half century old means that our water intrusion generally comes from above, or occasionally from aging pipes. (Our building was re-piped several years back – a true horror. I thought I had written about it, but alas I cannot find it as a link for your consideration.)
Kim and I have experienced leaks in almost every single possible area of our compact 600 square foot abode – water has come from under the kitchen sink, it has worn through pipes and leaked in the bathroom walls. On occasion it has poured from incorrectly installed pipes in the ceiling near the windows and onto our books. As I write today, the ceiling near the windows sags from another mistake in design after the re-piping fiesta and the wall under it is soggy as well, all pending repair in the foreseeable future.
Most notably, a new front has opened over my current work at home desk set-up as a result of the recent Hurricane Ida. As it turns out, after a lifetime of preparing conscientiously for storms and fretting about them, when one finally came along to bite me, there was no real warning or preparation. Normally a storm that has hit land and traveled over it for several days means no more than some stormy days by the time it arrives. A storm that has gone back out to sea can pick up speed again and be a threat, but Ida, while she packed a wallop when she hit New Orleans and Texas, didn’t seem to be a threat as she winded her way through the Midwest and up to the greater New York area.
As the somewhat desultory rain of the day turned harder into the evening, I became aware that the wind was blowing hard enough to make me glad that the building had installed new windows – although they could certainly still shatter in high winds. However, it was a call that I got from my doorman at 10:00 at night that worried me. Our building basement had several feet of water in it already and the elevators were not functioning. We were not to go to the basement and be aware that the stairs on the first floor would be slippery.
Morning dawned and the news was appalling. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day – people trapped in basement apartments and in raging flash floods. Horrible stories. Meanwhile, several feet of water remained in the building basement although the elevators came back online in the morning. (We were told that the water simply poured in from the windows and the street.) It was several days before we were allowed to begin investigation of the storage locker we keep down there, shifting seasonal clothes kept in bins, household items that have gone out of vogue or use for a time and not much but some artwork.
As it happens, we found some interesting stuff and I will devote tomorrow’s post to what we found (art by both Kim and me) and rescued from that rapidly molding enclave.