Curiosity and the Cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I remember many years ago blithely quoting, “Curiosity killed the cat” to my brother who rejoined without missing a beat, “and satisfaction brought him back!” I had never heard the second part and loved it, so perfectly does it describe the intense nature of a curious kitty. Wikipedia pegs the origin of this saying in print to the early 20th century, however one can’t help but feel it goes back to a much earlier time.

If I remember correctly, the Butler cat in question was a long, svelte, but querulous orange tabby named Squash. He bore this rather inelegant name as he was the second, smaller orange tabby in the house. The elder was our massive cat Pumpkin, therefore Squash was a little Pumpkin. He was a sweet natured cat if a bit of a doofus, best remembered for being so long that he appeared to have extra vertebrae and was able to sit vertically like a human in a chair. He was also very attached to one of the other cats and could most often be found piled on him at any given moment. I don’t remember what it was that Squash was investigating at the time of this discourse. As we had a pile of cats I’m surprised I remember it was him.

These three-of-a-kind kits also appear to be orange tabbys too – stripers as Kim likes to call tabbys. Each of them is wearing a matching collar and what I think of as a bird alert bell. Whatever they are eyeing is going to have a fair chance of getting away thanks to those bells, assuming it has ears. However, as cat observers know well, a cat’s deep attention can be devoted to something we humans can’t divine or see. On numerous occasions I have found Cookie, sometimes alone often with Blackie, staring hard at one of the walls, unwilling to have their concentration broken or to be easily distracted. One can only assume that their finely tuned cat ears are focused on activity within the wall – oh my! And then there are occasions when you can tell they think something is alive and of vital interest – and it is not alive at all. Kim’s shoe laces seem to frequently fall into that category in this house, as does a recently revealed nail in the wall which drives Blackie to distraction almost daily.

These three feline beauties are sitting on an nice stone wall in a warm looking cascade of light and their fluffy fur coats shine. I have the changing light of fall on my mind these days and it could well be a sultry fall afternoon, but that could just be me too. Regardless, the person behind the camera not only caught this trio of cats at a great, unified moment, but also with bold shadows that echo them below. It is a photo postcard, although it seems like a late runner to the genre, not as old as most of what I purchase, and probably but not definitely professional. In addition, it is in perfect condition, but the nubbly scalloped edges do peg it to a certain period. There is no writing on the back and it was never sent.

Each cat tail is curled around the kitty in a different stage of unfurl and it has to be said that our friend to the far left with the largest white bib and the chap in the middle are far more intent than their brother on the far right. He is looking at whatever it is, but also appears like he might just yawn and head for a nap shortly too. Maybe he is just fooling me though. All have their ears pointed forward and precise cat toes lined up at the ready.

Orange tabby cats run predominantly to the male – Google tells me about 80/20 to males – and I have referred to them thus. However, out of the four orange cats I lived with over the course of my childhood it should be noted only three were male, so we Butlers defied the odds somewhat. Meanwhile Calicos run to virtually all female. I have found that both run toward certain personality types, but perhaps more about that another Pictorama day.

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Flying to the Moon

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I guess I am a sucker for kitten balloon photos. You may remember an earlier, similar card in my post Flying Dutch Kitties, which is in all fairness, a better photograph. It was the moon that grabbed me in this one – I do love a good man in the moon. (I am, after all, married to Kim Deitch. His man in the moon images are, of course, the best and one of the many sterling qualities I married him for.) This one looks full of mischief to me. I can remember being a little kid and looking hard at the moon and being fairly sure I could put together the face of the man there.

This appears to be an American made card, sent from Chicago in 1912, but the specific date is obscured. It was sent to Austria however, and there is a long note, penned in tiny German I have no hope of translating. Landor, the maker of the card, seems to have been partial to cat photo postcards, made at the turn of the century, but I cannot find the history of the company online.

Unlike the masterfully constructed set in Flying Dutch Kitties, this one is deceptively simple. As if you could have easily taken this photo at home with a couple of kittens, string and tissue paper. For me, these are the photo equivalents of how I felt about the Little Rascals when I was a kid. You would look at those various stitched together vehicles, clubhouses and staged shows and the construction seemed like it should only be just within your reach – which of course, wasn’t true at all. Now I frankly marvel at the thoughtful construction and technology of them.

As for me, I have failed to record Cookie and Blackie doing any of their “tricks” for the camera – hind leg standing and boxing; Cookie giving Kim high fives; or her skill in moving a small rocking chair she is partial to. Candid photos of orchid eating or displayed on Kim’s desk is about the best I can do with these two. Too bad – I could be a contender for the Queen of the Cat Video on Youtube if only I was a little bit faster with the camera.

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Cookie & Blackie in an undated photo

 

Painted Puss

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This rather lurid painted photo caught my eye recently – I guess it was something about the saucy looking woman with this cat draped around her shoulders. (My cat Zippy used to occasionally climb up around my neck when he was a youngster – while I was sitting at the drawing table. It seemed very sweet, but was a little tough on the neck and shoulders after a few minutes. I don’t know how he got the idea – I have never had another cat that did this.) Somehow the colored cat’s fur and woman’s hair have more or less merged into one here. The painted cat expression can’t hide a certain annoyance when we look closely – somehow they managed to leave kit’s whiskers white as well as some chin hairs. She, on the other hand and if somewhat garishly painted, has quite the come hither look. You boys better watch out!

This is a German card and the postmark is illegible. It was sent to someone in Holstein and there is a pencil note written in German which I have not attempted to translate, but the sender’s name is Erna Steine.

This photo reminds me that my maternal grandmother had matching high school graduation photo portraits, cap and gown, of my mother and her brother, my Uncle John, hanging in her living room. They were the first hand-painted photos that I ever saw and I was always fascinated by them. My mother’s in particular looked nothing like herself. I wouldn’t say that it had as much impact on me as the somewhat terrifying, dramatically technicolor picture of Jesus in her bedroom (that’s another whole story – Kim and I were just discussing that yesterday) which more or less scarred and colored my views on Christ for years, but it stayed with me and formed and lodged an image of my high school mother in my mind.

My Uncle John looks exactly like a younger version of him in his photo – all red hair and green eyes. As for my mother, perhaps it is the fact that my mother truly never wears make-up. (I wonder sometimes how I can be her daughter since I have delighted in it since my early teens.) The painted photo gives her vivid lipstick and rouge. My mother’s nose was also broken in an accident after that time, and it was set slightly differently – bottom line, she is barely recognizable. Yet of course, in another way she is, especially when I look at the photo with adult eyes. When my grandmother’s house was cleared out and ultimately sold, I believe my mother ended up with both photos. My parents have just moved and almost everything is still in boxes – I must remember to ask where those photos are. I would like to have them someday.

A Puss Cafe

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Party cats! Let’s face it, this is a favorite sub-topic of mine – dress the cats up in party clothes and have a good time. (See my recent post named in fact, Party Cats.) Clearly, those folks back in 1911 had a similar sentiment. The exact process they used to arrive at the photo above is an interesting question – no Photoshop back then. I assume they made a print of a photo (remember, no enlargers in 1911!) and then painted over it and shot it again? As I was working on this post I very accidentally stumbled across the original photo, a photo postcard from 1909, which I have grabbed off of eBay and offered here for comparison. Fascinating – I don’t think I have run into this process from this early period.

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Photo card not in Pictorama collection

 

The cat has quite a sour look on his face. He looks like he wants to smack the heck out of someone – the strap for the tiny top hat pulling under his chin.  What a puss – as they say! His tail seems to have been fattened up a bit in the touch up, and he has strangely incongruous stripes on his backend if you look carefully. And those two bottles of drink with a single glass on a tiny table – waiting for his girl?

The back of this card, written in pencil, is the first I totally give up on reading; it has faded beyond recognition and seems to have been a bit sloppy to begin with. (Too much drink, like the kitty?) It was mailed to Oscar Lovesturn (?) Stanwood, Washington on October 11, 9 PM 1911 from Decorah, Iowa. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that this card was that old – it looked newer to me, and I purchased it without seeing the back where it is canceled. Reminiscent more of early television than early photo postcards – I felt that way a bit about the equally old (and mysterious) Cat of the Sea post as well. Ironic of course considering both hail from before 1920!

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Cat Cap

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This French photo postcard shows a sprightly fellow who has had this hat (it was advertised as a sailor’s cap, I’m not sure about that) placed jauntily on his head. He appears fairly divorced from this fact – and instead has his gaze fixed on something (we’ll never know what) off in the distance – something a wise cat photographer uses to keep the attention of his puss photo subjects we’ll assume. There is no date, although there is a studio mark in the lower left which appears to be DLG and 440/2. Oddly the back is addressed, Monsieur Robert Douet, but it bears no postmark, nor stamp so perhaps it was hand delivered? I can’t quite decode the faded message on the back. It appears to be bonjour petit yor Y Le-Cointre. So, something along the lines of Hello little one and a name. A French cat, you’d think he’d wear a beret.

It’s an odd photo – the hind most quarters of the cat are cut off from view. Nice looking kitty though, bold stripes and a sweet face and it appealed to me. When I look close I almost think the hat looks more like it might belong to a jockey. I can’t explain what seems to be an age-old desire among some of us to accessorize cats. It is perverse – taking these animals which are essentially finely-tuned killing machines and being endlessly amused by plunking a sombrero or pair of eyeglasses on them. However, I’m the first to say it entertains the heck out of me. Bring on the Youtube videos!

Years ago I had a feral cat, Otto (Miss Otto Dix, Pictorama readers know her story) who liked to curl up on my head at night and I would call her my cat hat. We were best friends, but I would have lost a hand or arm trying to dress her up. (I was tempted, but resisted.) I also had a great hope of walking her on a leash – she seemed to have an interest in the outside and we lived on the six floor of an apartment building so I thought she might like it. It was clear though that she could and would wiggle out of any collar or harness – and balked at the very idea, so we never tried. I was afraid of her getting loose. She taught me some hard lessons about the cat-human relationship.

These days Cookie is too cranky to consider dressing up, and Blackie so perfectly distinguished I don’t have the heart to fool with his gorgeous dignity. Alas, I will never become the William Wegman of kitty set.

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Cookie and Blackie, awaiting dinner one evening.

 

Party Cats

Pam’s Pictorama: This card passed the it made me laugh when I saw it test. Dancing kitties in party hats – what more can you ask for? I used to have a theory that the cats had secret soirees as soon as I left them alone in the house. In fact, the first year we were together I made Kim a valentine of he and I walking in on them in full decadent party regalia.

While they may not have been enjoying cocktails with umbrellas and putting on festive lais around their necks, I do remember discovering that my various cats and the apartment had a lives of their own while I was away at work. This started before I met Kim and when I lived alone with my first cat, Otto. The two incidents that stick in my mind occurred on days when I normally would have been at work – odd holidays I think, like Election Day which I happen to get off from work, but most people don’t. The first one doesn’t really involve the cat, but in the middle of one day while quietly reading a book, I heard someone letting themselves into my apartment! Turned out they were routine exterminators who came periodically and sprayed the place and I never knew. Seems that they also liked to look at the progress on whatever painting I was working on at the time which we then discussed for a bit. Another time, another apartment, I was home again on a weekday, Otto sitting on the window sill, and suddenly I heard a woman talking to her! And Otto (who was a girl cat) was answering her – they chirped back and forth for a several minutes. Turned out it was a woman on a higher floor who could see her on her window perch and evidently they chatted frequently.

Others have commented on this phenomena. I had a boyfriend once who, in order to see if his phone was out of order, set his tape recorder, went around the corner and called his apartment. When he played the tape he realized that each time the phone rang in the empty apartment, his cat would chirp in response – but strangely the cat never did it when he was home. Was he answering the ring? Years later, one night I awoke to a light in the other part of the apartment (we live in a studio and we sleep in a corner carved out as a bedroom so a light any place will wake me) and got up to see both cats, Otto and Zippy, sitting in front of the lit computer screen – I’d say looking a bit guilty. I’ll just say keep an eye on your credit cards folks. Such is the private lives of apartments and cats.

Our cats Cookie and Blackie enjoy a lot more human companionship than previous pets since Kim works at home, and therefore Deitch studio is in rollicking full tilt most of the time. In fact the kits seem a bit incensed if he and I go out for any length of time and leave them alone. I believe they feel we are here for their ongoing entertainment. So whatever hijinks they do get up to on their own – gin fueled cards games and smoking hookah pipes, wearing party gear, must occur instead late in the dark of the night while the human denizens of the apartment are sound asleep.

 

Catville

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Of course this little fellow and his pun just cracked me up! I’m not entirely sure what exactly he is perched on, but he has a very serious expression and has a very nice striped coat. This card, mailed on August 24, 1914 at 8AM from Oliverea, New York has a slightly primitive look. Despite having spent a fair amount of time in the Catskills, the name Oliverea was not immediately familiar to me. It should have been since it is not far from Big Indian, where I spent a considerable amount of time visiting a long ago boyfriend on weekends. He was cooking at a place called Rudy’s Big Indian – which despite its name was a fairly high-end restaurant in the new cuisine mold of the time, the late 1980’s. In this case it was the kind of food that lead eventually to the farm to table trend of today, local produce and such. My memory was that the owner was a really sweet guy who was very good to the utterly insane guy I was seeing. He was a Buddhist who had been helped by people and was paying it back, but the boyfriend, Andrew, drove us all nuts. I think I heard Rudy died unexpectedly, several years after I had severed ties with Andrew after his post-cocaine sobriety morphed into stage 2 alcoholism. Meanwhile, the restaurant was evidently bought and is now under the name Peekamoose.

Prior to my disasterous, long-distance relationship with Andrew (which briefly turned me into a weekend denizen of Amtrak, staying in nearby Shandaken, and ultimately made me realize that living in the shadow of mountains depresses me terribly) I had grown up visiting cousins in Sullivan county and had a more cheerful opinion of it. The cousins, three of them two girls and a boy, just like the three of us – each Butler a year older than their cousin counterpart. We would run wild in what seemed like endless woods at the back of their house and go swimming in a lake instead of the ocean as we did at home which therefore seemed exotic. They had a huge dog, a Great Dane I think, instead of a German Shepard like ours. It was like a parallel-universe Butler clan located in the Catskills instead of the Jersey shore. It was also the house where my dad had gone for summers as a kid, up fro the City, with this same cousin and his sister – and they would tell us stories of all the bad and interesting things they had done. I only vaguely remember the stories about exploring caves, riding horses and getting yelled at by their aunts. I imagine they were a handful.

As you can see from the back of the card below, this was mailed to Master Paul E. Rooffs (? – I’m open to suggestions on the name) at 890 East 34th Street, Brooklyn, New York. (On a whim I googled this address and found a house that I thought very well might have been there in 1914, but further research showed that it was built in 1920.) To the best I can read the card it says, Aug. 23 – Dear Paul I wish you were here to [sic] with us. I have a good time riding in the Ford and also go swing [or swimming misspelled?] with aunt Will. Expect to go home by the end of the week with lots of love I remain lovingly – it is signed with a name I cannot decode (Suzanna?) and also written at the bottom is Vonderveer Park.

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Back of Catskill card

 

It goes without saying that a text message will deliver this communication between friends or family more quickly and efficiently today. It will, alas, sadly never have the evocative charm of finding this kitty and message more than a hundred years later. Pity the card collectors of the next century.