Pam’s Pictoram Post: Today is something Pictorama readers really have not seen before – a true collaborative moment in Kim’s work between the two of us! While it is true that our holiday card is an annual collaborative effort (this year’s card is sitting half finished on the couch in pencil as I write, for those comics interested readers who are new to Pictorama, last year’s card reveal can be found here). Additionally, one or two of my bits of writing have been illustrated by Kim (see the appendix of Reincarnation Stories, and my own reincarnation tale – or catch it up here), this marks the first time a whole idea of mine has shown up.
Taken from Kim’s next book, How I Make Comics, these pages are an actual story of mine, told in my words, but embedded as part of a longer book length story. More or less just how it unfolds in the book, we were together one night at the Q train stop on 57th Street waiting. I was watching the rats frolic on the tracks and pointed them out to Kim. I have a mixed relationship with rats – mostly fear, but also respect for how smart they are and how adaptable.
Fair to say I take the, I’ll stay in my lane and you stay in yours, Mr. Rat, approach to our ongoing, symbiotic life in a big city relationship. Of course, having grown up on the water and beach, water rats were a part of my childhood and I was cautioned about them in a way that added to whatever fear of them I might have developed on my own. Water rats are significantly larger than their city counterparts (at first I thought city rats were large mice when I got here and saw them frolicking among the garbage pails on an alley), and our story is not about them today – although I may also have a water rat story lurking in me somewhere too.
Anyway, the real life story, which is largely accurately reflected in the book (although it takes you down the usual Deitch rabbit hole shortly after), is that I went to work the next morning, got off as usual at 57th Street and found myself reflecting on the subway rats again as I walked to my office. This story evolved quickly in my mind on that short walk and I shared it with Kim the next morning. (My early morning routine of coffee, paper reading, Kim working and our talking as well as my commute – back in the before world when I had one – has been expounded upon here. In addition, for comics fans, Kim’s process was thoroughly examined by me after the release of his most recent book, Reincarnation Stories, and that post can be found here. That post is a real companion piece to this one and if you haven’t read it and find this of interest, now would be a splendid time.)
As it would happen, it is a story of rat reincarnation. I will confide that Kim has frequented told tales of his friend since childhood, Tony Eastman, who kept rats as pets at one time and what excellent pets they made – smart and likable. (A special memorial nod to Tony who to our great sadness died very recently.) The downside of this ratty relationship is that rodents cycle through their lives at a very fast pace. Now, on one hand, if they didn’t the human race would rapidly be overtaken by them with their prodigious reproduction and cunning survival instincts. On the other hand, as Kim points out, it makes it a bit sad to become attached to them as pets. Just as you get attached, they die. I was thinking of that when this story came to mind.
As a student of reincarnation, I got to thinking – you have the sort of classic prisoner in a cell with only a rat who he befriends. Sadly, the rat dies – as rats and I guess we all do – and he is bereft, hesitant to invest his affections in the next one that comes along, yet finally he does. Ultimately that one, and the next one, die as well, but slowly his affection and time invested in teaching the rats is rewarded by increasingly smart generations of rats because in fact it is the same rat, reincarnated. They are gaming the evolutionary and karmic wheel by cycling through rat lives with dispatch. Eventually, the rats surpass him on the wheel of reincarnation and when he ultimately dies, he becomes an elevated rat, now under their tutelage.
It struck me as a particularly Deitchenian story so I shared it with Kim the next day. Although intrigued, at first he was reluctant to do another reincarnation story, but then it took root in his imagination and to my surprise he decided not only to use it, but to use it as I wrote it out – and here are two pages from it, for your preview pleasure!
There we have it – a rare view into the inner workings of Deitch Studio. As Kim just reminded me, I have to some degree, in his words, been back-fielding on his work for years – I had forgotten that the title of Reincarnation Stories was my idea. I have always approached this thoughtfully though. After all, as Kim Deitch’s biggest fan, I had no desire to change anything – to damage it unintentionally with my influence. However, years spent together, living a largely Deitchian world existence in this one-room apartment, was bound to have an influence. And today, for the space of a post, we pull back the creative curtain for the speculation and erudition of Pictorama readers.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: For readers who feel like maybe there has been a lot of wandering around in these Pictorama posts lately, I have a very Felix-centric post for you today. I scooped up this single page a few weeks ago. I don’t read French so I pressed our friend Rika Deryckere into service and she was kind enough to do a splendid job of translating this for me (and Pictorama readers) as presented below. Thank you Rika!
Much to my surprise, it is a philosophical opining on our friend Felix the Cat by the French theorist, critic and film maker Jean Mitry. Mitry (1904-1988) has a small bio on Wikipedia citing him as the first person to take French cinema out of the club and into the university. He authored several books, film philsophy, critique and semiotics, and was the co-founder of the Cinémathèque Française. There is an annual award in his honor at the Pordonne Film Festival, given to individuals who have distinguished themselves in recovering and preserving film heritage.
This page was carefully removed from wherever it appeared and has come to me with no indication of the magazine it was excised from. Some of my more erudite film readers may know a lot more about this and I invite you to share if you do. It was certainly my introduction to it. I love the way it is illustrated and some of the non-Felix cats intrigue me.
Meanwhile, in a strange nexus of worlds, Kim points out that the passage where Mitry talks about Felix dividing himself into many and then coming back together brings us right to Waldo’s origin story. It is found in Deja Vu, most easily found in the collection All Waldo Comics.
There it seems Felix (yes, Felix), working for the CIA at the time, recruits Waldo and under Felix’s tutelage somehow the nine lives of cats becomes multiple Waldo – who in turn need to be dealt with in Waldo-Deitchian fashion. Hence, for those of you who have wondered, the reason that Waldo sports a #1 on his chest, as he is the original…and the universe here at Deitch Studio spins merrily forward! I share a few sample pages above and below from that story – and then onto the translation.
Le dessin animé
The Animated drawing
Félix – le – chat
Felix the cat
La gloire des vedettes est menacée.Un être étrange est apparu.Plus malin et plus simple, il s’est emparé du cinéma en sautant à pieds joints au beau milieu de l’écran.
The glory of the stars is threatened. A strange being appeared. Smarter and simpler, he took over the cinema by jumping with both feet into the middle of the screen.
Tache d’encre tombée du pinceau de Patt Sullivan, il s’est étalé sous la forme d’un chat. Ne me demandez point pourquoi on le nomme Félix, nul ne le sait et lui il s’en moque. Personnage important il n’écoute que lui-même, agit à sa guise, suit sa fantaisie, sans avoir de compte à rendre à personne.
Ink stain from Patt Sullivan’s brush, it sprawled out in the shape of a cat. Don’t ask me why he is called Felix, no one knows and he doesn’t care. An important character, he listens only to himself, acts as he pleases, follows his fantasie, without being accountable to anyone.
Il vit à l’ombre du pinceau curieux qui l’entraîne dans les plus folles aventures et le rattrape au vol après avoir fait mine de l’abandonner. Cependant il n’est jamais en peine de quoi que ce soit.
He lives in the shadow of the curious brush that takes him on the craziest adventures and catches him in flight after pretending to abandon him. However, he is never at all worried about anything.
Etre surnaturel, il trouve toujours toute ressource en lui-même et possède la faculté d’agir sur sa personnalité.
Supernatural being, he always finds every resource in himself and has the ability to act on his personality.
Changeant selon les événement, grand ou petit, terrible ou misérable, il se promène au milieu d’un monde créé pour lui. Héros d’un univers magique, incarnation du miracle et de la légende, le voici qui s’élève sur le bout de petits pieds et lance par-dessus la balustrade des nuits un bonjour en copain à son grand frère Charlot. Mais, Félix, avantagés par les facultés invraisemblables de son aventure, évite d’une pirouette les cataclysmes les plus épouvantables, — mieux, il s’en sert pour triompher de ces ennemis en les retournant contre la logique.
Changing according to the event, big or small, terrible or miserable, he walks in the middle of a world created for him. Hero of a magical universe, incarnation of miracle and legend, here he rises on the tip of little feet and over the balustrade of the nights says hello as a friend to his big brother Charlot. But, Felix, favored by the incredible faculties of his adventure, avoids the most appalling cataclysms with a pirouette – better, he uses them to triumph over these enemies by turning them against logic.
Et celle-ci, la ridicule pipelette hargneuse qui vous oblige à se décrotter de toute poésie avant de rentrer chez soi, si fière de sa raison, loge étriquée, monotone et sans air, la méchante logique disparaît dès qu’elle le vois poindre à l’horizon.
And this one, the ridiculous surly blabbermouth which forces you to get rid of all poetry before returning home, so proud of its reason, cramped, monotonous and airless, the evil logic disappears as soon as it sees it dawning at the horizon.
Car Félix porte avec lui tous ces petits lutins espiègles que l’on nomme insouciance, féerie, irréel, imprévu, mystère-du-temps-présent, esprit-de-contradiction. Et la mégère rentre dans sa tôle car il est, lui, le champion de la liberté et de la fantaisie, son ennemi triomphant.
Because Felix carries with him all these mischievous little elves that we call recklessness, fairyland, unreal, unforeseen, mystery-of-time-present, spirit-of-contradiction. And the shrew comes back to his senses because he himself is the champion of freedom and fantasy, his triumphant enemy.
Il a battu en brèche les vieux préjugés asthmatiques, les convictions ancrées dans leurs tanières de certitudes comme les crabes dévoreurs de poissons.
He shattered old asthmatic prejudices, convictions anchored in their dens of certainties like crabs that eat fish.
Il est vainqueur. Et quand il paraît au coin de la page blanche, il se demande sous quel aspect il va se mettre en scène afin de mieux pouvoir tourner en ridicule les choses que nous croyons immuables et qu’il se charge de transformer malgré elles selon son imagination ou son caprice.
He is victorious. And when he appears at the corner of the blank page, he wonders in what aspect he is going to stage himself in order to better be able to ridicule the things that we believe to be immutable and that he is responsible for transforming in spite of them according to his imagination or his whim.
Je me souviens de l’avoir rencontré au carrefour d’un village en quelque lieu de féerie nocturne. La drame rôdait sous l’aspect d’un chien râgeur, amant de la belle.
I remember meeting him at the crossroads of a village in some fairy-tale place. The drama lurked in the guise of an angry dog, lover of the Beauty.
Surprit, Félix tombe, mais il se ressaisit bien vite. Il veut vaincre, il veut être plus fort que lui-même. Et voici que s’opère le miracle : il se dédouble, il se multiplie et devient plusieurs « lui-même » qui tombent à bras raccourcis sur le chien jusqu’ à plus soif.
Surprised, Felix falls, but he quickly pulls himself together. He wants to win, he wants to be stronger than himself. And here is where the miracle takes place: it splits, it multiplies and becomes several “itself” who fall with short arms on the dog until the end.
Après quoi tous les petits Félix seconds, satisfaits de leur rôle, rentrent les uns dans les autres et redeviennent l’unique Félix-le-chat.
After which all the little Félix’s seconds, satisfied with their role, fit into each other and become the unique Félix-the-cat again.
Et Félix possède toutes choses aussi bien que lui même. Il est dieu.
And Felix owns all things as well as himself. He is god.
Il agit sur tout et sur tous. Il n’est pas de désir ou de volonté si apparemment impossible ou invraisemblable qu’il ne puisse satisfaire, et qu’il ne satisfasse.
He acts on everything and everyone. There is no desire or will so seemingly impossible or implausible that it cannot satisfy, and does not satisfy.
Triomphe de l’illusion, de l’arbitraire, de l’acte libre. Triomphe de la poésie dans ce qu’elle a de plus secret, de plus inattendu.
Triumph of illusion, of arbitrariness, of free action. The triumph of poetry in its most secret, most unexpected.
Seul au monde, Félix peut dire : « Je m’abstrait, donc je suis », et je suis quand je veut, où je veux et comme bon me semble.
Alone in the world, Felix can say: “I abstract myself, therefore I am”, and I am when I want, where I want and as I see fit.
Poète surréaliste, plus fort qu’aucun autre, il vit son propre rêve. Il jongle avec les étoiles et transforme tout à son image. Aperçoit-il la « belleé tout en haut de l’Inaccessible » dans les nuages, si haut, si loin qu’il ne puisse y parvenir?
Surrealist poet, stronger than any other, he lives his own dream. He juggles with the stars and transforms everything in his image. Does he see the “beauty at the top of the Inaccessible” in the clouds, so high, so far that he cannot reach it?
Que feriez-vous à sa place? Eh bien, il attrape son regard, son regard qui fixe sans cesse ce joint si haut, l’accroche à une branche d’arbre et poursuit sa marche élastique sur ce fil conducteur.
What would you do in his place? Well, he catches her gaze, her gaze wish is transfixed, joins so high, hooks it to a tree branch and continues its elastic walk on this common thread.
Il se sert même de ses points d’exclamation et les transforme à dessein en massues, en patins à glace ou en ailes d’aéroplane. Il est le magicien de notre temps, et s’il s’est emparé du cinéma comme du reste, c’est pour s’en servir selon sa fantaisie de poète vagabond, humoriste et philosphe, selon son bon plaisir …
… qui est le nôtre aussi bien.
He even uses his exclamation marks and purposely transforms them into clubs, ice skates or airplane wings. He is the magician of our time, and if he has seized the cinema as well as the rest, it is to use it according to his fancy as a wandering poet, humorist and philospher, according to his good pleasure … … Which is ours as well.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I thought I would be writing about the adventures of Miss Pat and the joys of juvenile fiction, however today turns out to be a brief segue. For obvious reasons, over the past week I have had a lot of time to reflect on my particular, long-standing affection for voting. Please know I write this post in the most non-partisan sense and ruminating on the concept, act and how it takes place in our Yorkville community here. Spoiler alert – this is mostly a hometown post, a stroll through our town, New York City.
When I consider voting, there is the metaphorical aspect of it – participating in the process and fulfilling the mandate of being a citizen in a democracy. Women voting is a recent enough development – in the big picture – that I personally cannot imagine taking it for granted.
And I am enough of a nerd about all of this to have reveled, to some degree anyway, in the nitty gritty examination and descriptions of vote classifications recently, as the news media while searching for new speaking points over a long haul of many days of vote counting, dug into the strata of what votes are counted when and how, rules that vary by state. I am deeply satisfied at the extraordinary voter turnout in the recent election. Voter apathy always greatly saddens and troubles me. You don’t have to agree with how I vote, but quite simply in my opinion you should exercise the right to vote.
However, I also actually like the very act of voting. I deeply miss the voting machines New York clung to for a very long time. These antique metal boxes, with their pull-string privacy curtains, had lovely little colored levers you would push, ticka-ticka-ticka, you would pull the big metal handle into place your vote was counted. It was somehow very tactile and satisfying – you really knew you had done something when you pulled that lever.
Having been away at college for my initial voting years, my first in-person voting location, back when I lived on 85th Street here, was a small German Church a few blocks away on 84th, between First and Second Avenues – some services still delivered in German for the elderly residents of Yorkville, or at least this was the case, I have not checked in recent years and that population may have dwindled away. Voting took place as it does, in a sort of multi-purpose room as shown below, with the small stage at the front where I always somehow imagine Christmas pageants taking place.
Kim and I have frequently wandered into jumble sales held there over many years of living here. Often there is one associated with a small block street fair to celebrate Oktoberfest or the Steuben Day parade, oompah band playing outside while beer, bratwurst and hot dogs are happily consumed. In the before days – no block parties or street gatherings during the course of our pandemic fall.
After moving to our current home on 86th Street, Kim and I voted in a school nearby on 88th Street for many years. There was usually a PTA bake sale going on (ignoring some arcane law which may prohibit such things) and I always loved the feel of it. You would see neighbors, out of their usual context of your halls and elevators, sans their usual dog on a leash, looking for the same line as you to wait in. It was set up in a high school gym so you had that sense memory too.
While I enjoyed the sight of the bake sales I usually eschewed them in favor of stopping by a great bakery that used to be on First Avenue, Glaser’s. They were in the same spot on First Avenue and 88th Street since 1904 and given the photos they displayed, it looked exactly the same. Three women, one younger and two elderly, all sporting degrees of Irish accents, waited on customers, tying white cardboard boxes of pastry with the red and white string I remembered from my childhood baked goods, as produced by my non-baking paternal grandmother on Sundays. They only transacted with cash and were pleased if you produced exact change which was deposited in an enormous old metal register like the ones you see on American Pickers, after they dutifully added your purchase up on a separate machine or by hand. You were issued a yellow handwritten carbon copy of a receipt from a pad.
Glaser’s was a bakery that still produced mocha layer cakes – my sister’s unusual favorite choice of birthday cake since childhood and a dying breed of cake – an excellent black and white cookie, and a really superior apple turnover. I met my neighbors down the hall there for the first time, waiting in a long line for Thanksgiving pie pick-up. Judy had her dog Pica and I offered to keep an eye on the sedate canine while Judy had her turn inside. A few days later we realized we both lived on the 16th floor of our building.
Election Day however was more likely inveigh me to invest calories in one of their trademark homemade sugar doughnut – these always seemed perfectly right for an early November morning. I used to buy boxes of these cake-y treats for my staff at the Met after long nights working events at the Museum. No matter how late we had been there the night before the expectation was expected that you would be your desk at 9:00 the next morning – homemade doughnuts made that seem a bit less awful and was a thank you for their hard work.
I went to Glaser’s often enough to be known there, but not so often that I was a regular. Their Christmas cookies melted buttery in your mouth and I would order boxes in advance to bring to holiday gatherings and to drop off as a holiday thank you to various people. Sadly Glaser’s closed a few years ago now, lines circled the block in the last days to have one more go at their treats.
When I worked for the Met Museum Election Day was a holiday (it was made so at JALC for the first time this year) and I would usually vote in the late morning after the before work rush and before the lunchtime one. As someone who enjoys the whole process I vote in every election – even those with no major issues or candidates. I vote in all primaries and was among the few who showed up for them this year – pandemic and Biden’s candidacy meant folks did not bother.
I remember that I had in fact voted in a special election the morning of 9/11, among a small smattering of people, which meant I got to work extra early that morning, those result ultimately canceled as a result of the attacks.
Our voting place was moved to a church a block away a couple of years ago. It has a lovely yard with a garden I have always admired and I suspect that the actual church is one of the most beautiful in the area, although I have only glimpsed the interior. I used to make daguerreotypes in the garden, hauling my tripod from my darkroom on Second Avenue. No bake sales associated with voting there sadly. I admit that I like it a bit less, but still find it charming in its own way.
Kim generally accompanies me to vote in the more substantial elections – Mayor and President. He and I voted early this year – a well publicized first for New York. (Initially I got the date wrong and we made what turned out to be a trial trip to 75th Street.) It held little if any of the charm of my usual voting experience, but a four hour wait on a chilly November morning, slowly moving around a block (and around again) had its own frisson of interest and was certainly memorable. Kim read one of my Judy Bolton novels and I listened to a historic novel about Britain the 1920’s on my iPhone. In the chill I began to fantasize about making a seafood pot pie which I made the next Sunday. (Instagram followers will recognize these photos as I tracked it all in real time posting.)
As it turns out it was unnecessary, so many people voting in advance that we could easily have voted on Election Day. A conversation with a Jazz at Lincoln Center Board member who lives in my neighborhood confirmed that there was virtually no line – he still votes at the school on 88th Street. When I told him I missed voting there he bought me chocolate chip cookies from the bake sale and left them with my doorman.
Due to the pandemic the folks working at the voting location were younger than usual and that was sort of nice to see. We were hand sanitized and six feet apart – separated to the point of my almost losing track of Kim at one point, but his cowboy hat enabled me to locate him. Ballots are now fed into scanners, no ticking of metal switches, alas.
Partisanship notwithstanding, to see New York, and in fact the country, so actively invested in an election that there was literally dancing in the streets here when results were announced; the extraordinary election turn out despite the pandemic; and watching the process unfold in a determinedly ordinary way, despite sudden national examination and spotlight, deeply pleased and moved me.
I have long imagined that should I eventually make my way to an active retirement period of life that I will work at my voting place, becoming one of the no nonsense, bespectacled, cardigan wearing elderly women who authoritatively tells you where your line is or how to fill out your ballot, some chocolate chip cookies dotted with M&M’s, tucked in my purse for later.
Please note: I wrote this earlier this morning, before the news about the election being decided. Whatever your affiliation reader, I hope you will join me in a sense of relief that we as a country voted during a worldwide pandemic and that the system held, votes were counted and we have come out the other side. Let’s hear it for democracy!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: I suspect many of us have found or continue to seek ways of comforting our tired brains, bloated as those brains are these days, with bad news and uncertainty. Pictorama readers know that one of the paths to calm for me has been baking. (An expanding waistline has sent me to exploring soups and stews more recently – more to come on that.)
The act of making something from dispirit parts, the smell permeating the tiny apartment while cooking, and the lovely, nourishing end product are balms for a frazzled Pam. (Some of my baking posts can be found here and here.) I sometimes wonder what Kim makes of suddenly having a wife who not only now makes two out of three meals a day (I took over lunch recently and we are consuming simple but thoughtful ones), but is fully re-exploring her atrophied cooking muscle. Generations of cooking ancestors are having a field day with me. The days of heating up pre-made dishes are largely a memory here.
Meanwhile, although I have continued my work out via video with my long-standing trainer (shout out for Harris Cowan – love you!), with limited time and no access to a gym my cardio has sadly fallen away. I admit that I never liked it as much as lifting, but it was built into a routine and if nothing else my body misses it.
I attempted to cure this ill with walking up our 16 flights of stairs (part of Kim’s regime), but never found it really satisfactory. This week I have started an attempt to reclaim some early morning time from work (yes, I am one of those people whose work hours have more or less consumed all my waking ones) with walks along the East River. The opening of a long-closed gate which leads from Carl Schurz Park to a path down the East side has served as my destination thus far. The East River, sparkling with morning sun runs along one side and the speeding cars on the FDR are on the other. Now that I have told you all about it perhaps it will help me maintain my resolution as the weather turns foul.
The other way I clear the thorny issues from my mind is my bedtime reading. My bedtime reading is separate from my audio book listening (what I listen to when I exercise or am stuck waiting in line somewhere which happens increasingly these days) which runs to contemporary novels and some historic fiction. Nothing you would be embarrassed to be seen reading in public, but nothing too trying to the frayed nerves. (I have a friend who made me laugh recently when she said she only reads historic non-fiction because she knows how it ends!)
Bedtime reading has been juvenile fiction from the early 20th century for quite awhile. It certainly predates my quarantine reading, (posts about Grace Harlowe and even Honey Bunch can be found here and here and date back to 2016), but I devoted the first few months of pandemic life largely to the pursuit of Judy Bolton, girl detective. I have already opined on my affection for Judy Bolton (those posts can be found here and here) and Kim has just taken them up so I am happily reliving them.
This series of 30 books has been hard to replace in my affection. Their plucky young heroine and her escapades were always good at setting me right before drifting off to sleep – mind relieved of fretting about work and world and instead thinking about the exploits of Blackberry her cat and others.
Our good friend Everett Rand, who along with his wife Goioa Palmiari, founded and edits the annual mag Mineshaft, was responsible for introducing me to Judy Bolton. It was to Everett that I turned to for my next fix. Among his recommendations were the Miss Pat series.
Written by Pemperton Ginther (nee Mary Pemperton Ginther, a name I am fascinated by so it is fortunate I am not naming so much as a kitten right now), this series of ten books was written between 1915 and 1920, a prodigious output. Ms. Ginther, more obscure than Margaret Sutton of Judy Bolton fame, does not currently enjoy so much as a Wikipedia entry, but I did find a bit of biographical data on a database devoted to Bucks County artists.
Ginther was born in 1869 and was a painter, illustrator and novelist. Evidently some of her stained glass designs still grace churches in Philadelphia and Suffolk, Virginia. She attended Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, (a woman’s college at the time and one I was very interested in attending until on one visit with my mother we found a junkie curled up in the hallway entrance to the dorm – mom vetoed it after that) and she was prolific.
Tomorrow in Part 2 of this post, I will regale you with the joys of the Miss Pat series as I am at more or less the halfway point in the series. I know you are on the edge of your seat! For now, having just completed a Saturday morning call for work, I am going to pour myself another cup of coffee and make my way outside for that morning walk!
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a theory that cats like to hear their origin story – that every cat likes to hear (albeit in a soothing tone, while being petted in a calming way) how they came to live with us. Blackie is bigger on this tradition than Cookie, although she is the star of the story and she likes that part, enjoying it in her own way. He settles into comfort on my lap and is lulled to sleep by it.
The story goes like this: Kim and I had spent days looking for a pair of cats and that particular day we made a last stop at Pet Smart where a rescue group, Angellicle, was adopting out kittens. (There site can be found here.) Cookie, a tiny little speck of a kitten, was clearly tired of the way this was going. She leapt up in the cage to get our attention and then, our little girl who although she likes being petted detests being held, leaped into my arms with all the adoration, cuteness and purring she could muster – which was considerable. Our boy Blackie, who has turned out to be a lap cat, was, on the other hand, very scared and could barely be held for his trembling.
After a few hours of kitten school instruction, required by the group, the kittens who eventually became known as Cookie and Blackie, were presented at our apartment by the man who rescued them. (He called them Thing 1 and Thing 2 and occasionally I still call them Cat 1 and Cat 2.) There was a third in the litter, a tabby, and he kept that kit along with an older cat he already had. He told us that a stray had given birth to the litter in his basement in Brooklyn, on a pile of fabric he kept for his clothing design business.
Cookie, true to form, came bouncing out of the carrier to inspect the new digs and Blackie, eventually peeled out of the back of it, reluctantly accepted his fate and ran under the bed for the next ten hours or so.
However, late that night I woke up to find Blackie curled up between us, contentedly asleep. My stirring caused him to wake and he had a moment of panic, but then decided it was awfully comfortable and we probably weren’t going to kill him, and went back to sleep and has slept on the bed with us most nights since.
That’s pretty much the origin story I tell them – different things emphasized for each cat – you get the idea. Kim (politely and with all due respect) thinks this is nuts, but is used to it I suppose. I have done it with each of the cats, each with their own story, and my mom does it with her cats. It’s a Butler family thing I guess. I am convinced that they never tire of hearing it. I hope I haven’t put you to sleep like Blackie!
All this to say, its good to remember your roots and to celebrate your origin story. Pictorama’s origin goes back to my boredom during the extremely long and tedious recovery from a foot surgery I had, actually not so long after we acquired Cookie and Blackie – in my photos taken in or from bed where I spent all day every day, they are still adolescent and leggy.
I decided to establish this blog as a way of organizing my nascent photo collection, especially the burgeoning collection of real photo postcards of people posing with big Felix dolls such as this one – with an eye toward maybe eventually collecting them into a book. Almost immediately I also began documenting my toy collection, another origin story there; I have been collecting those much longer. I settled on the Saturday and Sunday format for my posts within the first few weeks.
Since seeing the first people posing with a giant Felix photo postcard in John Canemaker’s book Felix: The Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat I wanted to know more about them. In fact, wanted to own them. A reproduction of that one from Canemaker’s book is below.
Over time, in my photo collecting I began to stumble on them, endless variations of Felix different sizes and locations, tintypes, glass negatives and photo postcards, posed in England, Australia and New Zealand. I purchased every one I have been able to, although inevitably one or two has gotten away – and yes, I remember each one of those, regretfully!
Meanwhile, it is a happy day when a new Felix photo comes into Deitch Studio and this one showed up about a week ago. Although it is printed with a postcard back, the paper is lighter than I think of generally with these photos. Like most, if not all, it was never mailed and nothing is written on the back.
Although most of these souvenir photos seem to be on or at the beach, the only evidence of that here are the sand pails and shovels held by the children. Felix has been set up by this lovely broad staircase, lined with stones and leading up to some flowering shrubs at the top. The rocks continue and make up the wall behind Felix.
The children are dressed up, by our standards anyway, for a day at the beach and the little girl has a bow in her hair. They both have slyly happy smiles though – and of course Felix sports his usual toothy grin. He is a fine specimen, an extra large size, almost dwarfing the children, the adult in the group. Felix offers an arm which, as shown in many of my other photos, one could wrap around oneself to get a chummier shot with him. One foot is showing a bit of wear, but otherwise he is looking well tended.
The set of wheels that intrude into the lower left corner are curious though. A careful examination shows a seat above and a platform between them – if not a wheelchair at least a wheeled chair of some sort? I wonder.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: A happy Halloween to all! I am wrapping up my series of seasonal posts with a final nod to Halloween today. These tiny jack-o-lantern style candy cups are paper mache and may have sported handles and paper inserts – one still contains an insert. I assume they would have been filled with candy corn and the like, although frankly I am a bit unsure precisely what small candies would have been offered when these might have been new.
These candy containers are miniatures of the larger ones kids carried to collect candy in. Like my cat version below, they would have paper inserts for eyes. (A post about that acquisition can be found here.) Until recently I thought these were meant solely for decoration, but recently I have seen period photos of kids carrying them for candy filling purposes.
I have long desired possession of some of these Halloween wonders for my own and I have not yet gotten my hands on a large pumpkin to complete my collection. I would happily accept another cat if it had the right expression – twist my arm, you know?
My introduction to these paper mache decorations was a shop in Cold Spring, New York. A couple of hours from Manhattan on a Metro-North train will deliver you to the heart of this lovely little town on the Hudson. I used to make the pilgrimage each fall to look at the changing leaves along the river on the train north and then spend the day wandering around antique shops. One store had an amazing collection of these early Halloween decorations, all being sold for much more money than I could hope to amass at the time. It whetted my desire for them however and it is only getting sated now – this opportunity provided by my new provider in the middle of the country and due to a certain amount of internet trolling I did not previously indulge in.
Meanwhile, when I consider candy from this period I am going to guess that a fair amount of it was probably still homemade when these pumpkins were new, perhaps in the 1920’s. I just finished reading a book from 1915, Miss Pat and Her Sisters, where the author Pemberton Ginther indulges in a lengthy description of homemade candy preparation. Although I understand that somehow it was brightly colored and lots of sugar was involved I really know no more than I did when I started and don’t see it in my mind’s eye at all. Did it look like homemade Necco Wafers?
While I have certain bone fides in the kitchen and can hold my own in the world of soups, pastas, stews and even baking to some degree, candy has long failed me. (Some of my cooking related posts, cheesy olive bread and a one-bowl chocolate cake can be found here and here.) My childhood reading of early juvenile novels (which Pictorama readers know continues today) inspired me with fantasies about homemade candy making, at least pulling taffy or making fudge. However, it was a miserable failure each and every time we attempted it.
My sister Loren was usually a part of these culinary explorations which is notable because after a certain age we didn’t indulge in a lot of mutual activities. Loren ultimately became a good cook in her own right – leaning towards success with breads, another area I have not achieved too highly in – but she could get a bit experimental and was known to throw random ingredients in if you didn’t keep an eye on her – but it wasn’t her fault we failed. Our fudge, regardless of recipe, never hardened and our taffy was a sticky monstrous disaster. (May I add, candy thermometers have always seemed extremely exotic – coated in sticky, hot sugar on the stove. Why doesn’t the heat make them explode? I have always wanted to own one but I suspect it would be disappointing.)
In retrospect, I assume there are some tricks to pulling taffy we just didn’t have in our repertoire, but I will never understand where we consistently went wrong with fudge. It is my understanding that fudge should be easy – children should be able to make fudge. After multiple attempts over a long period of time we gave up on it. To this day I cannot eat fudge without duly noting our failure, tugging at a corner of my mind though.
Like many American children of the mid-twentieth century, my imagination was kindled by the concept of Turkish Delight in the C.S. Lewis book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Perhaps this candy was well-known by the British children of a previous generation, but I have to admit this kid from New Jersey was well into adulthood before coming across Turkish Delight in person. It turns out that I like it, although admittedly it was never good enough that I imagined being inspired by it to sell my siblings into witch-dominated servitude. (However, it goes without saying that sometimes just living with siblings would have you ship them off without so much as a Mary Jane in exchange.)
I believe I was actually in London the first time I had Turkish Delight, although I think that was just by chance as I have subsequently had it here on many occasions. A plate of it came with bitter black coffee at the end of an excellent meal in a Greek restaurant. I also remember that my friend Don turned my cup over when I was done, sludgy grounds sliding onto the saucer, and then proceeded to read my future from the designs made by the grounds on the inside the cup. That was a first too – maybe the only time I have had my coffee grounds read. Anyway, Turkish Delight was the rare candy event that successfully survived the leap from the literary world to the real one.
Meanwhile, a quick search reminds me that licorice was popular at the beginning of the 20th century. (Mom and Loren were fans, I never was and would eat the red version only, if pressed. If Dad and Edward had a preference I cannot recall it. Ed?) In the day when these pumpkin containers would have been stuffed, candy corn was indeed already around, as were Tootsie Rolls and Hershey’s chocolate.
On the more homemade side there were sugarplums (also called cream filberts and later, yikes, were known as mothballs – um, talk about a fall from grace), potato candy (a homemade Depression era treat made with potatoes and peanut butter – really?), and my favorite, toffee. (I opine a bit on the delights of toffee when celebrating the purchase of this Felix toffee container below. Read that post here.)
Strangely it turns out that candy cigarettes have been around since the late 1800’s. I was fascinated by them as a kid and only ever saw them if they turned up in my Halloween haul. As I remember them, in addition to chocolate ones, there were ones made with white sugar and those came in lovely red and blue plastic “cases” – the candy cigs had little bright pink ends like you were smoking with lipstick on – who can make things like that up?
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Picking our very Halloween run of posts back up today, I share with you all a candy container which just turned up here at Pictorama. (May I just add that the very phrase vintage candy container thrills me?) He is an odd duck and a bit more fragile than I thought he would be. I have not yet found the best final spot for him in the new bookcase, among the black cat toys. I had planned for him to live with some of his Halloween brethren, but in addition to being fragile he rolls dangerously. Right now he is resting against one of my extremely off-model Felix toys, nestled safely into his side safely on a lower shelf.
Mr. Pumpkin has a few dents which can be forgiven considering his advanced age. He is marked simply on the bottom, German, and nothing else. (I don’t know how much they actually celebrate Halloween in Germany but there was a time when they were making some of the greatest Halloween items being sold in this country. Strange, right?)
Pumpkin Head appears to be paper mache, or a close relative, lined with cardboard. I can only imagine what a glorious thing it would be to show up for a Halloween party and find an army of these fellows, stuffed with candy on a decorated table! Or perhaps he was dropped into the candy packed pillowcase of some lucky child – who loved him so much he has survived the long march of time this far.
He is pretty friendly looking with just a touch of madness. I confess to a bit of intimidation by some pumpkin-headed figures. Even as an adult, I admit that they fill me with some unease – my idea of a horror film, being chased by mad pumpkin-headed figures, legs and arms seem to make all the difference to my psyche.
In addition to the well-documented ongoing black cat addiction, I went through a period of purchasing Halloween decorating books of the aughts and teens, originals and reproductions. As a result a brief examination of the Dennison’s decoration empire can be found in a 2015 post here. Founded as a maker of jewelry boxes in the 1840’s, Dennison’s was the first maker of crepe paper. They were the reigning king of holiday decorating for over 100 years, starting in 1897. Their Bogie Books fulfilled every curiosity I harbored about the details of early 20th century Halloween celebrations.
Even as a kid I was somewhat fascinated by Halloween of yore. I remember insisting on bobbing for apples at some Halloween party and I can only say it is perhaps a skill that one develops over time. (And clearly not one to revive in this Covid year of contagion.) Perhaps this was a regional thing and some of you readers were routinely bobbing away. My Halloweens were ones of unromantic plastic pumpkins and pillowcases for candy, uncomfortable masks of hard plastic that were purchases out of boxes and were hard to breathe in and even harder to see out of, especially in the dark – they always seemed to poke you in the eye a bit.
I am not sure if a renewed interest in Halloween items is speaking to me this year because of unexpected availability or perhaps fulfilling a different yen during this oddest of years. Maybe it is a desire to mark the changing season in a year of remarkably similar days. (My new mid-West supplier Miss Molly seems to be the reigning Queen of Halloween and has turned up a surfeit of items – she occasionally even sends me things to look at while she is in the parking lot of a flea market, somewhere in the environs of St. Louis. Seems like a glorious way to spend your weekends actually. I enjoy vicarious pleasure in her ventures.)
When I was a young adult I continued to carve pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns much as I had since I was a child, wielding the knife now however – and cleaning up the huge mess. The last time I did it was the first Halloween after Kim and I got together. What I remember best is that my cat Otto loved the smell of the pumpkin guts, rolled around in them and insisted on eating it. (Incidentally, canned pumpkin can help at cat clear hairballs out of their system. Just a kitty tip in passing.) Sadly, I did not have the foresight to document the Deitchien influenced creation.
Trick or treating in Manhattan is an odd ritual with the kids of our high rise building going door-to-door to apartments who have indicated that they are welcome. Local businesses also get into the spirit and hand out candy to the kiddies. This year, a sort of ham handed CDC recommended fashion, the building will forego and instead offer pre-filled bags to the offspring of the building. Regardless, we are on the countdown to Halloween ’20 however, and I have at least one more small Halloween treat up my sleeve to share next week.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It has been a long time since I bought what I call a moon photo. When I first started collecting I looked at them endlessly, purchasing a few along the line. One is pinned up in my office – that place I used to go to daily and have barely laid eyes on for the past seven months. I realized the other day that I missed seeing the toys, photos and sheets of early music adorned with cat imagery that I surrounded myself with there. I retrieved a few things on a trip in recently, but am thinking I may need to rescue a few others on my next trip. (This very special box made by Kim resides on my desk there and I think it needs to come home to my now home office desk on the next trip. I wrote about it once here,)
Years ago I saw a wonderful accumulation of moon photos, all framed together – each one top notch. It was at an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. A quick search on their website shows some really great ones (you can find them here), but it was the great eye that had put them together in a frame a certain way that appealed to me. Some things seem to be better when you amass good examples of them together for display. If I had the space I would consider investing the time in creating a nice moon photo grouping like that. Instead I have my wall of people posing with Felix-es I guess. (The photo below from an April 2018 post which can be found here.)
When I first considered taking up photography (both the collecting and the taking) it was the idea of the sort of joy that people seem to bring to posing for photos like this that interested me. It is the same with folks posing with Felix – they get a big smile on their face just by being there. It remains one of my goals in life to find a moon set and get my photo taken in it. I briefly wondered about building our own moon photo set, but there are some things a studio apartment really cannot accommodate, no matter how creative you get.
An early entry into my collecting was featured in a short post at the very beginning of this blog. It is below and 2014 post can be found here. It is a nifty variation – a full moon and it seems like a professional postcard that was produced en mass rather than the sort of individual snapshot. Still, for me, all moon photos are of interest. They can run into a lot of money and if seriously collecting them you would be forced to pay up for the most part. Therefore, given my other weaknesses, I am a somewhat desultory collector of moon photos.
Today’s photo interested me in particular because one of the participants is holding a small animal – I am guessing dog although one could make the argument for cat. The man in the dark suit is holding it in a grip my father used to call cat prison – holding the kitties, with both of this large hands, in this no nonsense sort of hold – usually when they were within reach and doing something somewhat undesirable. It was not cat-escapable. When ultimately released the cat would shoot forward like a feline missile. Annoyed at the interruption of its wrongdoings and the temporary containment and limitations imposed on its inalienable freedom.
It seems to me that dogs don’t seem to require this sort of strong arming for photos under most circumstances – they usually get with the program pretty quickly and pose with the family. Either way I have an extra soft spot for folks who bring along the family pet for such photos.
That roguish fellow with pet notwithstanding, our photo participant posers are a fairly serious looking group. Two out of three women are smiling – the woman in the middle isn’t and I don’t know why because she has the best spot, smack in the middle, white stocking legs, ankles crossed, hanging right over the edge of the moon. The photographer had a good eye for this set up and composition. It is a bit faded, one imagines that the developer used was probably well into its long day of use.
The set is a slightly less imaginative one than some and sadly the moon face is largely cut off from view – I always like to see those variations and here we just see the tip of the nose. (The photographer loses points for that. He or she also loses a few points for the distinct shadows behind the people which kill the illusion to some degree, although it does give us a better sense of the construction of the set.) The clouds are a tad lumpy, but there are stars which I tend to approve of in my moon sets. The card, like most of this kind, was never mailed and there are no notations on the back.
I leave you today with a snapshot of the Felix photo wall – there are a few additions pending and soon it will march over the ajoining top of the kitchen door and ultimately wander down the other side. (There is another, smaller annex of Felix photos, tintypes, in the hall near our bathroom.) Small apartment or not, I always say there’s always room for one more Felix photo.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a short personal post – a report from my mother’s house in New Jersey. As I write this, for the first time since early March, I am spending the night somewhere other than our studio apartment in Manhattan. As Pictorama readers know, and like so many of us, I have spent the last seven months exclusively in our apartment.
This morning I went to a basement office of a medical center on East 65th Street and took a rapid Covid test. I felt I should in advance of seeing my mother; it was negative and made me sneeze. After returning home for a quick lunch and to pick up my bags I went to 35th Street where I caught a ferry and arrived for a visit with my mom, the first since February.
It was also my inaugural trip on this ferry – I tried taking it once a decade ago and it didn’t show up which sort of soured me on it. It is about twice as expensive as the train, but much faster. However, as the train seemed to have more germ potential than sitting outside on the water on this glorious October today I made my way to the FDR and the 35th Street.
As with everything these days, the capacity of ferries is lower and done on a first come, first serve basis so I arrived early. There was a huge line, but it turned out to be for the popular route that runs up and down the east side, to Queens and Brooklyn.
I had made my first trip on this route earlier this fall when visiting one of my staff in Queens. I made the offer that I would travel to see each of my direct reports at a location of their choice – outside, socially distanced, but near them. Two accepted the offer and the first thoughtfully planned drinks at a pub near the ferry in Astoria, just a few minutes from the 90th Street stop at the north end of Carl Schurz Park, near my apartment. It was a quick and lovely ride and inspired me to consider the longer ride to Highlands yesterday.
Suffice it to say that signage is very poor at the ferry terminal at 35th Street and no staff who were forthcoming with information. After wandering around and asking many people waiting in numerous lines, I found the one that was headed for New Jersey and parked myself in it. (As someone who has literally travel from Tibet to Patagonia you would think a ferry trip to New Jersey wouldn’t have required much thought on my part, but it actually did, at least this first time and not to mention being out of practice!)
Although the water had looked calm, it was very choppy getting onto the ferry – in retrospect this must have been the water traffic with the high speed boats coming and going because once we pulled it it was the most lovely day to be on the water you could imagine.
It made me realize how little I have actually been outside since we went into the initial lock down in March. I mean of course I am out, shopping or even just taking a walk, but living in New York City you usually spend a large portion of your life on the street – commuting to work, going out to meet people at offices, restaurants or for drinks. We are on trains, running errands, picking up lunch around the corner. Now there are weeks I only go out a few times if very busy with work. It was exhilarating to be not just outside but on the river, speeding by the landmarks of southern Manhattan. I couldn’t resist taking photos.
Quickly enough though, the landmarks became familiar on the other side – a small lighthouse, the buildings on the north end of Sandy Hook and eventually the beach at Highlands, remembered as seen from the shore growing up here – and even trips that were made by boat there many years ago now. Live music was playing just beyond where I could also see it. Kids were playing in the water and people were out, sprawled in the sun. It was like traveling back in time. Just seeing the beach and the water satisfied a craving I hadn’t really recognized.
In addition to seeing my mom, I am here for an outdoor event with the septet made up of Wynton Marsalis and other members of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. They are playing at the restaurant at Monmouth Park racetrack, The Blu Grotto. This is part of an outdoor mini-tour up the east coast, a drive-in located in Pennsylvania, then up to Yarmouth, Vermont and New Hampshire, ending in a week in Chautauqua, New York. This in a effort to be able to play together and fulfill the urge of our audiences to hear live jazz during this long hiatus while our hall and others remain dark indefinitely. They will be tested, masked and distanced during this time. It is onerous, but they are glad to be able to play again.
I am looking forward to seeing them and hearing them in person later today. I travel home, on the ferry, tomorrow. Perhaps doubling up on the ferry and taking a second one to 90th Street to get home. Meanwhile, I am going to grab another cup of coffee and visit with my mom, cousin and cats here in Fair Haven.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a quick post – I am on my way to New Jersey soon – seeing my mother for the first time since February and the virus outbreak. Maybe I will post tomorrow about this weekend and what it is like to travel beyond the subway for the first time. I am heading off for a rapid test in a little bit, some extra insurance before going to see her as she is in a vulnerable category for the virus.
I am experimenting with taking a ferry instead of the train. Luckily the weather has turned and today is a sunny and beautiful looking fall day. I will put extra layers on and see if I still have good sea legs – the East River, which I can see from my window as I write, is looking quite calm today. Some Pictorama readers know that I grew up by the seashore, near the ocean but on a river that flowed directly into it a short distance from our house. More recently I have been on small cruise ships and river boats on trips for members of the Metropolitan Museum when I worked there. It is always a small shock to my system though, to be on the water and the sense one gets from being in any boat.
Leaving from East 35th Street, it will take about the same time as the train, over an hour, and leave me in Highlands, approximately the same distance from my mom’s house as the train station. Highlands, and its kissin’ cousin neighbor, Atlantic Highlands, were the stomping grounds of my high school and early college summers – a dollar movie theater for second run films, lobster rolls and clam sandwiches at outdoor stands at the water’s edge. It lives large in my memory of that time.
However before I head off to the adventures of the day, I will offer this small item, purchased recently – a change purse, advertised as Felix, but in my opinion (sample size of one as a colleague of mine says), Norakuro, the Japanese Felix – my name for him. His black and red, patent leather face, winking at us, would be a prize under any circumstances, but as it happens I have an alternative version (googlie rolling eyes instead of winking ones, more worn) which I offered up in a post back in June of 2018. (That post can be found here and other posts about Norakuro can be found here and here.)
For me the winking-blinking eyes give him a roguish charm and the idea of putting a few hoarded precious coins in him (it could only hold a very few really), further tucking him into a tiny purse or pocket brings me zooming back to being a very little girl. I would have really thought myself hot stuff! Seeing them together delights my collector’s sensibility and somehow adds to their appeal. And yes, given the opportunity, I would indeed purchase further variations – bring ’em on!
Enjoy Norakuro and wish me luck on my travel adventures. More to come from the road.