Post Office

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I loved this image of a tiny post office and I think I would have been quite happy to visit it to do my regular postal business. We have to assume that they were serving a relatively small community at the time considering that tiny letterbox affixed to the front to capture those off hour missive mailings. If you look carefully at the sign above the door there is a faded sign which for all the world appears to offer Pork Dolls, but is I believe an older version of the Parkdale sign.

I expected this to be a small photo and instead it is a mid-century version of a photo postcard. There is a stamp (six cents) and cancellation on the back from the morning of May 27, 1968, but must have just been sold that way at the post office as an item since it isn’t addressed to anyone. The photo is a bit timeless, a woman we assume is our post mistress, with her cat, a good size striped kit, long tail and ears back. Parkdale turns out to have remained a fairly remote community and seems to be best known for a recreational park area there.

I don’t know why, but I always liked going to the post office as a child. It was always a thrill. We had two on our regular errand route and I was equally fascinated by both. My parents rented post office boxes at each, one in Sea Bright and the other in Rumson. They were quite different in feel, although probably constructed at about the same time. Each had those wonderfully elaborate, decorative cast iron set post boxes and were in large part responsible for my fascination I think.

The Sea Bright post office was light filled and airy, as befitted a beach community. As a result sun generally cascaded through the cheerful windows of each of those boxes, enabling you to quickly see if you had mail. Sometimes there would just be a chit which meant you had to go to the window for a package that was too large for your box. Of course I just loved the little doors that opened to a code my mom or dad had memorized. That post office existed much the same until hurricane Sandy nearly wiped out the town a few years ago. It was eliminated in the post-Sandy renovation it seems. It is shown below, courtesy of the internet, more or less as I remember it however.

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Meanwhile, the Rumson post office is a more substantial brick building and darker, although still with those wonderful decorative windowed post office boxes. It was the post office we frequented most. When I got older I had a friend whose father was a postman. He was ill tempered, or so it seemed, and I was somewhat afraid of him. I associated that post office with him, and therefore liked visiting this post office less over time as a result. The family lived in a gracious, old brick house almost next door however and even as a child the convenience of being so close to work struck me as very desirable. (I grew up to walk to work almost every day for the better part of 30 years at the Met so I internalized that well.) This post office survives in a somewhat expanded version of its original brick structure and appears to service the communities of both Rumson and Fair Haven.

I am sorry to say that as an adult I find visiting the post office here, the one on 85th between Second and Third Avenues, more of a chore than a thrill. Perhaps because we do not have a PO Box? (These are also those charming old metal ones and perhaps if we availed ourselves of one I would like it better?) Our mail comes to our apartment building; packages are held by the doormen who recently began recording them in an electronic tracking system. So much for the romance of chits waiting in tiny windows – instead the thrill of an email announcement I guess. Kim visits the post office more than I do as he is frequently mailing off artwork, books, films etc. to folks. I cannot say he seems to enjoy it, although he takes a book to read in line patiently waiting. There is one agent who is a comic book fan who recognized him and that is about as close to small town postal intimacy as we have achieved here in Manhattan, to date anyway.

I was unable to find an address for a post office in Parkdale now. The closest one, also tiny, appears to be in a town called Swink. It is a small building with two other, unidentified commercial tenants, adobe facade. So I guess the folks in Parkdale head over to Swink now for their postal needs, the tiny building, their postmistress and cat long gone.

 

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Time Flies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It has been a rough year and one that has lead to some reflection as I hit our anniversary today. Kim and I aren’t big on ceremony around it; we generally recognize it without much fanfare – usually an exchange of small toys, a card, perhaps a day out together just knocking around as I think today will be as we look 18 years in the eye. Unlike today, October 14, 2000 was an unseasonably warm day. However, like this year, the prior weekend had produced a hurricane or at least tropical storm, leaving me relieved that we had changed our minds from a fanciful outdoor ceremony in Central Park over Columbus Day weekend which had been my original thought. It would have been a bit of a disaster. For the record, today is a crisp, chilly typical mid-October day in New York, although the trees have yet to change color since the cold snap is only recently upon us.

I am always the first to say I had a bad attitude about marriage for a long time. Frankly, if you weren’t going to have kids I couldn’t really see anything in it. It just seemed like another one of those society created conventions that people felt the need to go along with. I cheerfully crossed it off my list. I can’t speak for Kim, but I have to assume it hadn’t made it to the top of his list either since he is considerably older and hadn’t given it a try yet. He did bring it up early on in our relationship, but I suggested he stop talking about it.

Even when I began to contemplate it seriously it was also to accommodate society – ensuring that Kim had health insurance. My employer, the Metropolitan Museum, informed me that nothing short of marriage would do that. So marry we would. (I like to say that I loved Kim enough to want him to have health insurance – really, is there a better way to say I love you?) The other factor was that my sister was in the latter stages of fighting an almost decade long battle with breast cancer (one she would lose a year later), and I did have the revelation that if I wanted her to be at my wedding and well enough to enjoy it this wasn’t something I could put off indefinitely.

Perhaps it was all these things, but it came together one day I was sitting at my desk and an email newsletter I used to get from a Buddhist publishing company hit my inbox. There was an extensive quote from the Dalai Lama about not deferring happiness – in essence, that there is a tendency to defer even those things that will make us happy, and that we had to quite simply have to make space for them in our lives if we wished to pursue happiness.

I’m not sure I can do the full equation of why it suddenly hit me that this was exactly what I was doing about getting married – thinking we would do it eventually, in the vague future, maybe after this or that. The switch flipped and I changed my course immediately. Kim and I had been together for almost six years and had been living together in this studio apartment for almost all of them. As my sister Loren said when I told her about our impending nuptials, if we could live in one room together for this long we were most likely compatible.

Obviously I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised that being married really was different than living together. I felt it immediately. The wedding rings – a symbol I had somehow dreaded (feminist writings about them being like the ring in a cow’s nose ran in a loop through my head) – were somehow more like matching secret decoder rings we shared. In many ways, marriage was like forming a corporation – we became a team in a way I had not imagined. On the very rare occasion (I can only think of one) when we have a knockdown drag out fight, the marital bonds give important pause about the dissolution of the relationship. Most importantly it greatly amplified a feeling that I had of knowing I had a person on my team no matter what. We wholeheartedly accepted and embraced the role of champion of the other.

Ironically in a way I have become a great fan of marriage, yet I can’t help the nagging qualification that I consider it a small miracle I found someone as splendidly suited to me as Kim. I do believe that when I considered marriage in the abstract I never allowed myself to imagine that I would find someone as endlessly interesting as I find Kim. (Essentially, if I had known I was going to get to marry Kim Deitch I may have had a better attitude about the whole thing.) I have been gloriously lucky enough to find someone with whom the never-ending conversation of married life remains always fascinating. Yes, marriage like anything worthwhile is undeniably hard work, but I easily consider it one of the best decisions I ever made. Happy anniversary Kim!

In It for the Toys: Part 2, Doggie

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post:  Last week I wrote about the thrill of a new celluloid toy purchase. (In It for the Toys: Part 1 can be found here in case you weren’t paying attention last week.) I bemoaned the fact that the toy is no longer functional. Long before stuffed Felix the cat dolls were a twinkle in my eye, my adult fascination with toys began with a small number of antique toys, wind up and battery operated, some that just make me laugh with sheer joy! Why wouldn’t you want to own that? It remains a mystery to me why anyone today would sell a wind-up toy without showing its movement – for me it is almost always the movement that will sell it.

I believe was in fact looking for a toy that would cheer when I stumbled across this little fellow on eBay and he fit the bill. Complete with his box he was a bargain; he isn’t especially rare although admittedly finding him complete with his candy, essential to the effect really, is a bit harder and you really do need the candy. The video he was sold with had loud annoying music, but nevertheless did the trick. While well preserved with his box, he does not appear to be new old stock. There are small signs of use and the balls that are the candy are not in their original wrapper. I am pleased to say he was fairly easily acquired, and does not disappoint.

The mechanism is very straightforward, much like a cycle in animation, he endlessly tosses “candy” in his mouth which falls out the bottom, through the can and back into position to be tossed again. Splendid! To seem him in action in a brief snippet I filmed you can go here.

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Candy Loving Canine box, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

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Instructive box illustration

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As always, the box offers additional charm, the text on the front Mechanical Candy Loving Canine, ALWAYS HUNGRY NEVER SATISFIED, with a fair cartoon rendering of the dog toy with a cat and dog looking on with amazement – Gosh how much can he eat? When will he stop? And then what appears to be for all the world, a mole popping up out of the ground in the bottom right corner. The mole shown on two sides with the dog too, the other sides are instructional about the use of the toy – in case you couldn’t figure it out. This little fellow was made in Japan, as is probably to be expected of a tin toy of this era. If you believe as I do, that toys bring joy, then hopefully this little fellow brightens up your day today.

In it for the Toys: Part 1

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: My interest in toy collecting actually did not begin with cats. My first toy purchases were battery operating and wind-up toys. Some of these were purchased for my then boyfriend, Kevin, as gifts and ultimately one or two for myself. I have written a little bit about this period of collecting in my post Happy Life Toy (can be found here), which consisted of haunting a now long-gone toy store called Darrow’s on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. My early fascination with those toys was all about their movement – funny drinking bartending men or tin monkey; a car with Japanese tourists taking photos. A great toy was entirely defined for me by its movement, some of which I would just delight in at times.

I knew that today’s toy was no longer functional when I purchased it, but somehow even just visualizing the movement captured my imagination. It is a wind-up toy. This little girl in her attire of the late ’30’s early 40’s, a somewhat grown-up outfit as well, is hitting the road, her beret over one eye, her bindle over her shoulder, and her dog following on a leash. The arm with the bindle would have gone up and down, and the dog (who has a charmingly piggish appearance) is a “nodder” and his head would have bounced up and down as they rolled forward. I am sorry to say that the action does not kick in even if you roll it forward manually.

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Meanwhile, I have also written about a wariness around collecting celluloid toys, those made of the early fragile plastic which disintegrates before your eyes when exposed to heat or light, which can also shatter or dent easily. Somehow I have always felt that my life is a bit rough and tumble for collecting in this category – that it should be the province of those with glass doored cabinets and the like. Paying a substantial amount of money for something this fragile makes me a bit nuts. Still, the occasional piece slips in under the wire and today’s post is one. There is no maker’s mark I can find on it, and I have never seen it or a similar toy before. She does bear a Made in Japan sticker, jauntily applied to her bottom as shown below, it is also embossed on her back.

Kim and I agree that there’s something harking to Little Orphan Annie about her – or maybe it comes to mind because Kim is reading his way through those strips right now. However, it cannot be denied that she is a plucky little girl, off to take on the world with her faithful dog friend, just like Annie.

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Toy Sleuth

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I write today from an airplane, speeding (or so they say, feels pokey and small today) across the country to catch up with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in Santa Barbara, California. I am nibbling a square of dark, mint, organic chocolate I packed for the occasion and contemplating a rather satisfactory toy interaction I had earlier this week.

A number of months ago, maybe as long as a year, my good friend Eileen was opining on a toy she had as a child, but had long lost track of. She described it as a mouse playground which puzzled me – what the heck did that mean? Nothing came to mind. I began asking questions. Eventually Eileen located one mouse and I used the photo of it to do an image search on Google. Bingo! Turns out it was a German company, Kunstlerschutz. Wagner Kunstlerschutz produced sturdy looking toys in conjunction with Max Carl Toys of Germany during the years of 1951-1965. These figures were “flocked” rather than made of actual felt. I recognized them from my childhood, but have no memory of actually owning any.

I believe that most, if not all, of the world’s toys pass through the wondrous portals of eBay so next I began searching for said playground to see if it could be purchased. I found Kunstlerschutz animal houses (vaguely European in design), a school, a sort of a farm and of course ultimately the playground as well. However, while the animals are widely available, probably a tribute to their fairly indestructible nature and popularity, the buildings and playground are much harder to find. They seem sturdy enough, but still with pieces that could be lost or broken. I found record of one that had been sold on eBay previously for a large sum of money. Nonetheless, knowing that anything can happen on eBay, I put an alert on my account for Wagner Kunstlerschutz and playground and waited. I never heard a word until the other morning when at 5:30 AM this little gem popped into my inbox – complete, mice and all, for a fairly reasonable price. It was meant to be.

Other than a few books (my posts on A Cricket in Times Square can be found here, but I have also written revisiting my childhood favorites in The Story About Ping and Push Kitty), I have not largely pursued acquiring toys from my own childhood. I understand the thrill  and emotion of being able to experience them again however. Our books and toys were how we constructed our childhood worlds and possessing them again gives us our portal back to the past in a special way. Coming home from California on the airplane I watched the recent documentary on Fred Rogers which left me weeping. (Yep, sitting next to a pleasant seeming young German couple who were wondering why. I should have gone to a theater like everyone else.) Meanwhile, I wish Eileen (and her cat Apollo, who is meeting the Mouse Playground for the first time in these photos) much enjoyment with their newly re-acquired toy.

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Wagner Kunstlerschutz playground now in the Eileen Travell collection! All photos by Eileen Travell.

 

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Camperdown

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last night Kim and I made a trip off the island (Manhattan island that is) to attend the wedding celebration of a much beloved colleague of mine, Morgan Bakerman, to her splendid significant other, Ben Brown. The elegant and jubilant party was held at the Prospect Park Boathouse. The Boathouse turns out to be quite near the park Zoo, which Kim and I had just explored a few weeks ago on a mission to research it for a possible story idea, however we had not made it down and around the correct corner to see it on that trip. Therefore, we were not aware of the truly extraordinary, ancient and magnificent (and famous) Camperdown Elm that graces the entrance.

This behemoth was evidently planted back in 1872, a gift to the park from a Mr. A. Burgess, a florist from Brooklyn. The Camperdown Elm was discovered in Scotland less than 30 years before our Brooklyn tree was planted. It was discovered by the Earl of Camperdown who then reproduced it through cuttings. (This tree is only reproduced through grafting – it does not reproduce by seed.) The Brooklyn Elm was celebrated in the poem by Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Marianne Moore, written in 1967 and published in The New Yorker. The publication of The Camperdown Elm was said to have rescued the tree at a time when a financial commitment was needed and the park was also in both disrepair and financial straits. The tree whose innate, quirky persistent desire to grow horizontally – like a giant bonsai of its own making – requires propping in places as gravity fights back, especially in one so old and clearly needs a certain amount of care and attention to survive.

This trip to Prospect Park reminded me that Olmsted and Vaux were playing their A game when they designed it – applying lessons learned from their initial foray designing Central Park. It is interesting to see their sensibility applied to this slightly different endeavor – the trademark arches in place, decorative tiles brightening interiors. The park is cared for by a conservancy group, but not with the precision of Central Park and this gives the visitor a different feel. Slightly overgrown, although also remarkably well-preserved in places. Below are some photos from last night – including a bonus photo of us!

As some of you might know, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy for two years and had an extraordinary opportunity to get to know that park very well. I acquired small amounts of knowledge about trees and plants – I do not have a great memory for those kinds of names and information. However, the Camperdown always fascinated me. Back in 2000 when I worked for the park, the Camperdown Elm near the East 72nd Street playground was still a very small young tree and I loved the quirky, downturned “weeping” branches.

I was told that if you plant a Camperdown Elm you were making a commitment to future generations – they are very slow growing, but can be extremely long-lived. You are unlikely to live to see it to true maturity. (This is of course true of all trees to some greater or lesser degree, but the extremity of this commitment is illustrated by our Brooklyn Camperdown example.) The Central Park one, shown below perhaps a bit larger than it was when I worked there, was a favorite of mine. Sadly Camperdown Elms are vulnerable to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease that has run rampant through the United States, killing generations of these beautiful and much loved trees before their time. So a close eye was kept on this little Camperdown, and it has responded to its care  and nurturing by growing into early maturity. I still route myself past it occasionally, making the long walk to work in Columbus Circle from Yorkville, still taking an ongoing somewhat maternal interest in it.

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Sittin’ on a Wall

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have already opined on the origins of Humpty Dumpty (see here for my post Humpty Dumpty where I discuss my version of the toy shown here, several amazing variations on it, and dip into Humpty’s humble beginnings) so I will not focus on that today. I admit that the weird toy attracted me to the card though. Even owning one, I remain fascinated by it’s strangeness and can’t quite get enough.

This Humpty wears a jolly beret! (Mine has a peaked cap, jaunty as well. Did Humpty always wear a hat? Did I miss something about that?) He and the little girl both hold their hands up in the air in an identical pose – she just wrapped in some illusion fabric rather than a dress, but seated on a little cushion and with those hotsy totsy shoes! They appear to perch together on more of a chimney than a wall, but perhaps we can say a piece of a wall? This card is clearly made by a professional studio and was never used, nothing written on it.

Hang on now because I’m afraid I am going to wander down that sort of meandering path I do occasionally when I have something scratching at my mind. I have been thinking a lot about the crucible of change and how I have gone through it at various points in my life. I wish today I had a story of how I went into it and came out the other side. While I know intellectually that there is always another side and I will eventually come out, I write today as I flounder in its midst; without even a glimpse of the far shore yet, trying to figure out to paddle my craft there.

Humpty Dumpty and his great fall are a good metaphor for this – man, once he fell all the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again. After the page has turned and change has begun, watch out because like Humpty, you aren’t going back to the old you. Last week I alluded to this (see Time is Flying) and the process I went through after my sister died years ago. More than I thought it would, my father’s death has propelled me into another catalyst for a transition that is roiling forward, somewhat of its own accord.

I feel like I am clutching a tiger by the tail, being thumped around as I try to hang on. This week I think I realized that you can’t fight it, despite a rather cat-like tendency of mine to abhor change I need to figure out how to embrace it. Transition and growth sound so positive that after the fact, you tend to forget the growing pains, but there is nothing now but to get on board. It is a tough path to be on and taking charge of it requires marshaling resources I will have to find. And it is hard to remember that it is not so much about putting the pieces back together – that ship has sailed – as it is about forging an entirely new whole.