Cat House

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This photo of a handsome shiny black cat seemed like just the thing the other day as I scrolled through eBay. Unfortunately, as I often find when trying to capture my kit Blackie, a black cat can be tricky to capture, especially if lurking the shadows. He is positioned perfectly in the doorway to his kitty abode however – eyes glowing, a feline watchdog, vigilantly overseeing the situation. This cat house is a good fit for him size-wise, and he even has a pot of flowers out front. Those are sprightly, the plant behind a bit more anemic, although the overall impression is that this is a neat and tidy corner of the world. I purchased it from Montgomery, Alabama, but there’s no indication about where it might originate from and it was never used.

Back in June I wrote about the dog house from my childhood. (It can be found here in the post Mr. Frank, In the Dog House.) Our dog didn’t spend much time in her house and we never even considered a house for our cats, other than our own that is. Over the course of my childhood our cats largely roamed free, in and out of the house more or less at will, numerous times a day. We were never possessed of a cat door, but cheerfully did their bidding at the door. Somehow over time we joined the ranks of those who kept our cats entirely indoors, where they were safe from predators, and cut down on their own preying on birds and whatnot. At some point there was a town ordinance passed which served to severely curtail free range pet cats – I was shocked to find this out, but it meant the Butlers no longer had indoor/outdoor running felines.

I have not seen many cat houses firsthand. Recently though Kim was on a panel at his alma mater, Pratt Institute and I did notice that they had several cat houses on their campus. Unfortunately, I only have the photo below snatched off my Instagram account, the original photo a victim of my attempts at good phone hygiene and the ongoing purging of photos. The Pratt cat house, one of several as I remember, was a more downscale model than ours above. Yet was probably a more practical affair, plastic over the door to help keep the winter chill (not insubstantial that day) out.

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I didn’t see any cats in these houses on that day. In looking for a better or additional photos of the Pratt cat houses I discovered that Pratt has a well documented history of caring for stray cats. An article in the New York Times from May of 2013 describes the steam plant at Pratt as the heart of cat central at the art school. The strays tended may range in numbers from dozens to more than 100 – but whose counting really? They are (or at least were, that was a few years ago) tended by Pratt Chief Engineer, Conrad Milster who christened them with names like Dulcie, Landlord, Art School and Prancie. The article explains that these free range kitties are fed and cared for by Mr. Milster at his own expense. Clearly the cat houses are another of his contributions. The cats contribute to the well being of stressed out students and faculty and are unofficial mascots of the Brooklyn school.

When I was in college in Connecticut I had a cat friend who I referred to as Ranger Tom. I do not remember where that name came from, but he was a hefty gray and white fellow – spotty nose like I generally am drawn to in a cat. He was more of a visitor cat – seemed well cared for and just making the rounds to see what acquaintances he might make, and of course what food he might get out of it. As a vegetarian I wasn’t his best bet, but would occasionally keep this or that on hand that a visiting cat might approve of. We were only acquainted in my freshman year, but I missed my own kitties and he was a welcome diversion therefore I say excellent work Mr. Milster. Keep those cat houses going.

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Tuxedo

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have a soft spot for tuxedo cats – those felines whose white paws look like spats, ankle fashion for men from a former day, and whose white chests look like the white bib of a tuxedo dress shirt. Often there is some sort of black and white mustache to complete the effect. I have written about my first cat friend of adulthood, Otto, who was a fine example of a tux – perfect little Chaplin/Hitler style mustache, four white feet, bib and tummy – and there has been a tux in the house ever since. (As a child I had a splendid love affair with a tortoiseshell, polydactyl name Winkie, but have never owned another kitty with either of those qualities to date. One of those posts with part of her story can be found here at Tom the Bruiser. With Otto I inaugurated a long line of Butler tuxedo cats.)

Once these photos arrived in the mail I was surprised to find that these were both were originally larger photo postcards that had been cut down, the backs of each bearing part of the pre-printed postcard indicia, nothing written on the back. And not to bury the lead – I adore the photo above of kitty in the man’s arms, but giving him a little cat shove. Obviously it was that manuever which inspired my purchase.

Those of us who live with these little darlings know the get away from me polite-but-firm paw shove quite well. (The same cat Otto mentioned above, disliked my then boyfriend at one time. She slept on my pillow at night, draped around my head – and if he came too close she’d reach out with one of those many-toed paws and give him a little cat shove. I will, however, go on record saying that she was devoted to Kim.) All of the participants in this photo, cat, man and dog, are looking right at the camera – man, cat nor pert dog distracted by the stealthy and comical cat-shove. They make a nice family, these three, and I have to assume the man thought of them that way and that’s why he gathered them up for this photo.

I felt compelled to buy both of these photos of this little fellow so that they would stay together. The second photo just gives us a better look at our slightly portly pal the cat – a solid citizen as we say in this house. His or her expression sans annoyance in this one. The fabric of the chair sets off the tuxedo markings and it is a nice picture, but you have no sense of his personality as you do in the other photo, which plainly shows that this little fellow was a real card. I bet there were stories that were told about him and his friends, the dog and the man.

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Lucky Kitty and the Sea Shells

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This postcard comes from Great Britain, but the location is unidentified. It was never sent and there is nothing written on it. I am on the fence about whether this was a mass produced postcard or something small scale, even singular. (Kim speculates even printed; we aren’t sure.) This shell garden may have been something of a local tourist destination, and perhaps they produced these cards – or maybe a lucky one off.

When I look at something like this garden I wonder how it all started. Was there a basket of shells, an abundant collection, which inspired someone to start affixing them, perhaps to a planter at first? Plunk a few on every Sunday until this is what the yard looks like? Or was the whole thing envisioned of a piece? While I suspect that the first is the most likely, I prefer to think that someone had a grand vision, started collecting shells and got to it. A living seashell mosaic. The kitty looks to be a lovely fellow and the seashells have a luminous quality. This card sends me day dreaming into thoughts of being tucked away in this garden.

Of course the handsome black cat makes the photo for me, although it does suffer from being poorly lit – we don’t even see glowing eyes or whiskers. Historically the British seem take a kindly attitude toward black cats, although admittedly I don’t know their feelings today. Therefore I do not think his or her presence was at all perceived of as unlucky – in fact they seem to take promote the idea that black cats are lucky. I have been reading a lot online lately about how people don’t adopt black cats because of the superstition. I think of the joys of living with our almost black kitty, aptly named Blackie, and I am stunned that someone might deprive themselves of living with such a great little guy. However, we did once have a cat sitter who wanted to see the white spot on his chest. She was sort of joking…and not.

Off to Work We Go

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card had an immediate appeal, but there are some mysteries about it that came to mind as soon as it arrived and I studied it a bit. For one thing, the generally very amateur nature of it – overexposure on the edges, and the line of odd exposure or printing at the top – is very much at odds with the professional title printed at the bottom. The man in the suit is charmingly incongruous with this wonderful fluffy tuxedo kitty on the back of great and zooty bicycle. (A quick Google image search reveals a 1940 Schwinn in red and white that is remarkably similar if not spot on.)

Biking to work – I briefly considered New York’s bike program when I took my new job, thinking the ride between York Avenue and Columbus Circle (I envisioned doing it mostly through Central Park) would be a nice bit of extra exercise. The complications of arriving at work sweaty and riding in office attire perplexed me some, although there were brief moments of seeing myself riding with a certain éclat sporting a tight black skirt, like something out of an Italian film circa 1960. However, both my husband and my trainer voted it down swiftly and soundly as unsafe, even with the hair mussing helmet I vowed to wear. (Subsequently I have taken to walking on nice days – it takes about 50 minutes at a good clip.)

If this photo was more expertly executed I think we would get a better look at this great kitty, riding on the back. Out of curiosity I looked to see if there was a term for giving someone a ride on the back of your bike, in some places it is called a backy, straightforward enough. The same search revealed no popular term for giving someone a ride on your handlebars – incidentally something I personally have never done and I guess it is unlikely I ever will at this point – there doesn’t seem to be a widely known consistent one. In Australia they call it a dink however and evidently at one time in MN (only it would seem?) it was known as giving someone a buck. I gather the term is no longer in use. The term, give someone a pump, was also in use for this, but has taken on, um, a quite different contemporary meaning.

All references to it come with dire warnings about the danger and how it is against the law in many places. The cat seems unconcerned however. He or she is a solid citizen, calmly perched here, nicely hefty and fluffy with white paws and bib and, best of all, a nice white mustache. I am a sucker for a good mustache on a tuxedo. Cookie’s mustache is crooked – like the remnants of a sloppy drink of milk. My cat Otto was the feline incarnation of Chaplin – or Hitler – with a perfect little black mustache. Meanwhile, you can bet that kitty was just posing and wasn’t really going for a ride. No fool kitty!

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Cookie in a recent photo

 

Canton Ohio Photo Studio

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a sweet and interesting photo. The gentleman on the right appears to be in a WWI uniform – are they brothers? A fair guess that they are. The idea that that they posed this photo with their cat is of course extremely compelling for me. Nothing is written on this card and it was never sent. It is oddly filthy, with dirty fingerprints both front and back. Now that I have photographed it I will see about cleaning it, but am afraid I might damage it. Not like I know much about that sort of thing. These gentlemen pose in front of a faded background scene, their sharp shadows belying any illusion of realism.

Of course if I were to take a photo before leaving for war, of those dearest to me it would include my kits as well as my humans. This fellow was of course transported to said photo studio, M. Mimi’s to be precise, for this purpose. (I have my doubts about the quality of M. Mimi’s work, I must admit.) Those of us who live with cats are aware that, while the level of distress varies from feline to feline, in general they do not approve of involuntary locomotion and their distress runs from what I call end-of-the-world meows to mere dark muttering of malcontent.

I understand that some people have cats that travel contentedly (don’t look so smug!), but I have never been acquainted with one of those well adjusted fellows, not in my many cat relationships. Cookie and Blackie do not transport especially happily, but they are far from the worst felines I have known in this regard. When they were oh-so-tiny we transported them together in one carrier. This seems utterly impossible to imagine now. Anyway, I will assume that the cat’s appearance in this photo was a non-negotiable issue. Perhaps a copy of the picture went with the soldier and this one stayed here, as did the cat.

While I have often noted the tendency for people to grab their cat when they are being photographed, the idea of a posed portrait with one is much more unusual. In this case they had to also convince puss to sit still for the moment – and he or she did as it isn’t blurred at all. It’s odd, but the cat seems to be taking it seriously. In fact, all three are pretty serious. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe he has a cigarette in his left hand, uniform of the day pulling in some places, prescribed bagginess in others.

The man in the overcoat is a bit unusual as well, at least by today’s standards. He has kept this very long coat, hat and his gloves on for the photo. Under it he sports a full suit and tie, scarf. He smokes a cigarette. Unlike the cat he seems to be in a bit of a rush and they are awkward in their pose, not quite touching. The story is forgotten as far as we know, but the photo will be cared for to the best of our abilities at its current resting place here at Pictorama.

All in the Family, cont.

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Continuing the family theme from yesterday, I have one of those photos that just got better and better for me the longer I looked at it. This is a very celebratory group and unfortunately they, like yesterday’s family, failed to note anything about the nature of or participants in this photo. It is my thought that this celebratory group is a wedding party, bride’s family to her side – although the little guy peering through could also be of that clan, since I am already making assumptions about family features.

They are posing with a single symbolic celebratory drink for toasting, each sporting a lavish corsage or elaborate boutonniere. Of course, the reason I love this photo is that they have rounded up the family dogs and this nice black cat to be in the picture. The beagle seats himself willingly on the one side while the other fellow is being held in check, collar or short leash stretched ready to tear madly off in some sort of get away. My friend the black cat is somewhere between patient and not as he considers his next move. He appears to be a rare all black kitty, although perhaps there is a patch of white on that tummy some place hidden from the camera, nonetheless I am glad these don’t appear to be superstitious folks and he is beloved enough for a place next to the bride.

We document special occasions with photos of family and pets often make up part of that family. How often do you see a photo of someone, an author photo or just a newspaper photo of someone posed at home, where they have scooped up the family cat or grabbed the pup? While it is said that you choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family, in a sense we do. We marry and join families and we declare that the people closest to us in a variety of ways are family, defining it for ourselves in many ways. Clearly our pets make up part of that family for many of us, and I love to see that it goes back this far, to the early days of photography.

 

 

A Happy Birthday to Me

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I stole the image here today – he is not in the Pictorama collection, but he seemed to want to wish me a Happy Birthday. It was used for this purpose and sent to someone named Marjorie on August 21 of 1907, sent from Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie Janet, Uncle Allen, Beaumont & I, and signed by Auntie Marion.

Today I draft this post this poised on the threshold of my birthday (for the record, perched also on the edge of a computer chair also, which I am sharing with a less than cooperative kitty who believes he owns it, Mr. Blackie). As I stare down the barrel of the coming year, it is a time I take stock and figure out how I might pull my socks up a bit in the coming year. Like many people I am in fact ambivalent about my birthday, getting older is not all that entertaining after a certain age and being reminded of your mortality more sobering than celebratory certainly. My approach to it is tackling it two-fold – planned celebration and a hard look at the year ahead and behind.

I remember when this approach to birthdays began to formulate. On my 21st birthday I suddenly found I was daunted by the prospect of my birthday for the first time – I had crossed that line between looking forward to the annual march toward adulthood to suddenly realizing I was there, but had no idea where I was going. I was living in London on a year abroad program in college. I had a perfectly splendid time living there, finally realizing that many possibilities were open to me – I could decide to live in an exciting city rather than a small town, and the world was a big place to explore with many possibilities. However, when my birthday arrived on a cold damp day in February (which in all fairness it always is – in New York there is often a foot of snow on the ground and I have canceled endless birthday plans around the weather) I was suddenly overwhelmed and realized that I was far from home and those who loved me. Adulthood was upon my and I had no idea what I was suppose to do with it.

Deciding not to be beaten by the day I attacked it. I kicked it off by walking into the upscale hair dresser of one of my wealthier roommates used and had my shoulder length hair clipped into the shortest of boy bobs. (We had a barely functioning shower in our flat, and I had been considering this for a month or so since moving into this new place, and washing my hair with the meagre hot water was nearly impossible. Kim has clearly expressed a preference for my hair long and I anticipate his shiver of dismay when he reads this.) I called a good friend, Don Bay, and threw myself on his mercy and asked him to take me out. I then went to a favorite antique and junk store located on the King’s Road and purchased a flowered silk dress, cut on the bias, from the 1920’s; a black wool jacket with houndstooth trim; an Egyptian influenced necklace – probably also circa the 1920’s, and a tea pot in its own metal warming sleeve. To me it looked pleasantly like a space ship. I loved that tea pot. The spout chipped, but I never had the heart to throw it out and still have it.

I dolled myself up in my purchases (sans teapot, of course) and Don took me to dinner at a Greek restaurant – somewhat shocked as everyone would be for weeks by the newly shorn hair. We had a long night on the town and I remember coming home very late and calling my mom. I have always spoken with my mother on my birthday figuring she is the only other person to have witnessed them all – and I had not been able to do earlier in the day. The operator, very British, chided me for calling New Jersey at such an ungodly hour – how funny! I can’t imagine an American operator doing that. Mom didn’t care; she was glad to hear from me and we talked a long time.

Meanwhile, my sister Loren had the ritual of calling and waking me up on my birthday which started when she left for college – in order to be the first to wish me a Happy Birthday she would say. She announced one year that I should take my birthday off from work as celebration and she agreed to take the day with me. At my behest we went to the butterfly exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History – it may have been the year of its inception. I had a strong yen to see it and it seemed like the perfect pre-lunch activity for us. What I didn’t realize was that she was actually somewhat horrified by the butterflies which, in a rather insistent way, kept landing on us to gently suck the salt off our skin. Surprising to me because she was not squeamish about many things, but I always loved her for not wanting to spoil my fun and gamely taking the butterflies on.

Sadly, it has been more than a dozen years since Loren died and at first birthdays were an almost unbearable reminder. I still miss the morning calls, but friends have piled in to fill the void in various ways. I have continued the tradition of a day devoted to myself and my endeavors – this year Kim and I have a day of adventure planned poking around some junk stores and bookstores. (In the rain, not snow this year.) In addition to a day to myself, about the same time I also instituted dinner or lunch with my fellow Aquarians, spaced throughout the month, which stretches the birthday spirit out and ensures I see people I don’t always get much time with. Dinner with Eileen (where we also have our fortunes told annually) is on Monday night. Lunch with Ada, who is in her 80’s, is next week at the Met. Whitney was at the end of January to accommodate increasingly difficult schedules to juggle. New Aquarians await meeting and are always welcome to join the club.

Meanwhile, having devoted the past ten months to a new job, I have my work cut out for me in the coming twelve months – and I suspect that it will provide all the adventure I could ask for at the moment, including a trip to London at the end of the month. As I finish this post, it is my actual birthday. A large box containing a rather extraordinary toy (future post) which arrived from Belgium in January, awaits my opening, and the day with Kim stretches ahead like a glowing like a gem, despite the downpour. I am a lucky girl indeed and it is a very happy birthday already I think.