Comic Con: On the Road in NJ

From the car on leaving the west side this AM.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is an unusual and somewhat experimental post as I attempt to take you on the road with us to the East Coast Comic Con this morning. As I sit in our Manhattan apartment, pajama clad, sipping coffee and pounding a green smoothie, it is a bright sunny day. In less than two hours we will hop in a car (hired driver – we are a non-driving couple, something largely only found in New York City) and leave the island as a former boyfriend used to say. As a Jersey girl myself it is a trip to the Motherland, not that I have more than a passing acquaintance with Secaucus, but Jersey is Jersey.

Kim is a guest signing books and on a panel for this comic con and I am tagging along to spend the day basking in the glow of being Mrs. Kim Deitch. Unfortunately, I have a nascent chest cold blossoming. Hopefully it will not impede me for a day of poking around comics. There’s a rumor that there may even be toys. For now I am tossing down some coffee and scrounging around the kitchen for a fulsome breakfast for the road. Prepare for some comics geeking out today.

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Paul Karasik, Peter Bagge, Kim and The Pam of Pictorama

I have some experience with Comic Cons by now. If they are here in NY I will often trek over toward the end to help Kim pack up and have a fast look around. I usually arrive to find a line of, mostly, men and boys lined up with books in hand, from the well worn to the just purchased. On many occasions I man the box of original art for sale, keeping an eye on it and also plying our wares. I am bad cop when it comes to selling, driving harder bargains and reluctant to drop prices.

It is safe to say that when I hooked up with my hubby I had not considered the question of fans. Now, please understand, I consider myself the Queen of the Kim Deitch fans so I certainly understood that such a thing existed, however as a girlfriend or spouse it is something to consider when a sort of ongoing line of female fans appears online, at cons or even occasionally in your home. I consider myself pretty easy going, but I also have never seen a reason not to stake my claim and make myself known. I’ll let things go to a point but then, like a big old pussy cat who is sitting and quietly watching, I slam my fat cat paw down.

I remember being at San Diego, the big Comic Con, and wandering off to find us lunch while Kim hung at his table. I returned, hard won sandwiches in hand, to find a hoyden woman in what I can only describe as a wench costume, in my chair, making eyes at Mr. Deitch. Needless to say, I asserted my spousal rights and sent her in her way.

San Diego May have been my first big out of town con experience. Although I may have had passing experience with occasional costume clad people, nothing like the high-end costumes – from anime to Star Wars – that I experienced there! Of course, film and other media have jumped on the Comic Con bandwagon so these are now with increasing frequency multi-media extravaganzas.

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Kim and I hanging at the pre-start of the con

Okay, our ride got us to the Meadowlands way early and we joined the queue outside. Chilly and mindful of this chest cold I quietly muscled us inside. We curled up to watch the con come to life!

Below is a parade of costumes spied from my perch today.

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Beyond the Pale

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Earlier this week a friend and former Met colleague, Melinda Watt, one who I miss since she relocated to Chicago a few years ago, tagged me in an Instagram challenge to post seven book covers over as many days without comment. Since I Instagram frequently and inhabit both an apartment and office surrounded by books I figured what the heck. I started with what I was reading (a Judy Bolton juvenile mystery, but more about those guilty pleasures another time) and then pulled the next book off of the pile next to the bed, The Motor Boys on the Border.

Then I started going off the rails a bit – the no comment piece was sort of nagging at me. As you probably know if you are reading this, I am chatty by nature and as I posted The Heroine or the Horse, Leading Ladies of Republic Films on day 3 I felt a vague annoyance at not telling the story of how I had found it for sale on the street in front of Argosy Books several days earlier while running around for work, and snatched it up for Kim – and that by coincidence we had watched several Republic films over the following weekend. (Clearly vital information.) However, I did enjoy the commentary by folks on the post and snuck my snippet of a story in via the comments.

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So the next day I decided I would post Alias the Cat. While I could easily write volumes about the place this book has in my heart and life, I also felt that as book covers go which could speak for themselves it was an excellent choice, and not to mention that it is always a fine idea to promote the family product here at Deitch Studio. I posted it and I thank Instagram compatriots for all their nice comments and continued generous likes.

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The much beloved Alias the Cat where I step out as a character!

 

Earlier yesterday I also posted the sad news that Leslie Sternbergh Alexander died. I didn’t know Leslie and her husband Adam especially well, but over the course of more than a decade of openings and parties we were a part of each other’s world for many years. We first met over the duration of a seven year stint of my dating Kevin, Art Director for Screw magazine and comics fan who pre-dated Kim in my life, but I saw more of Adam and Lesley after Kim and I got together. They were fixtures at a certain kind of gathering and the premature passing of the second of them is mournful for the comics community. Leslie was a gifted artist whose work I felt like I never saw quite enough of, but who seemed to inhabit a life that was really her art. Yesterday Kim shared a story with me I hadn’t heard about how they had denied him my phone number when he heard that Kevin and I broke up. This was a bit of a running joke as no one in the comics community would give up my number until our friend Carol Lay jumped ranks and provided it. I hadn’t realized they were among the withholders.

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Leslie, on left, and Adam

 

For this reason, over the last 24 hours my mind has been dwelling on the early and mid-90’s – people and parties and how it all ultimately took my life on a course I couldn’t have foreseen. When I woke up this morning and I had a look at Instagram and thought about books again, Beyond the Pale came to mind. So in complete defiance of the no comment rule of the Instagram challenge, I bring you the tale today.

Back in about 1990 I was wandering around in a bookstore I used to frequent on Madison Avenue in the 70’s, Books and Co., which was a delightful way to spend an afternoon. (This bookstore, memorialized in various films as the prototypical bookstore, is still missed today by those who knew it. I was a tad intimidated by it and rarely went upstairs as a result. However its disappearance left a hole that I occasionally poke at – like a missing tooth.) As I was perpetually broke at the time, my purchases were spare but the enjoyment of the selection process was a pleasure to be savored. One day I found several copies of Beyond the Pale remaindered and I purchased one for $2. What to say about a $2 that changes the course of your entire life?

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Books & Co. as I remember it. This image snatched off the internet.

 

My then boyfriend Kevin had introduced me to the world of underground comics. I can’t say I was an especially astute student. Mostly I either found the art interesting or, less often the writing, but virtually never both. There were exceptions – Art Spiegelman’s Maus for one, a few other things. Suffice it to say however, I wasn’t getting it. However, as a devoted girlfriend I continued to try as Kevin was utterly devoted to them and found them endlessly fascinating.

Beyond the Pale, an early anthology of Kim’s work published by Fantagraphics, was different and I saw that immediately. I loved the art and how there always seemed to be something new in it each panel every time I looked – the stories took me happily down a rabbit hole of one kind or another, sometimes unsure where reality left off and fantasy started. The drawings were a visual aesthetic that rang a bell deep in my brain and the stories told of a fascinating world just outside of view, one I realized I had always wanted to visit. I took it home and devoured it. Reincarnated potatoes! Clowns, Big Billy Goat, chess playing marvels – tales of the asylum where Kim once worked, and of course early cartoons! This was where I wanted to live!

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Fold-out page from Beyond the Pale

 

I finally understood the appeal of this graphic form marrying the visual and the written – I got it. I went back and bought the remaining copies (two as I remember) and gave one away and kept the other until it too was eventually given away. I began raiding Kevin’s collections for snippets of Kim Deitch work. It was never quite as gratifying as the deep dive of an entire book, but Kim is prolific, Kevin’s library was pretty complete, and my ferreting paid off over time.

I was an official Deitch fan by the time I met Kim in person at an exhibit Art Spiegelman was having at a gallery on 57th Street a few years later. It was an evening with the comics crowd in full regalia. However I only remember meeting Kim and his brother Simon, and finally putting a face and person with the comics I liked so much. They were living in Westchester at the time and as a result were not all that frequently present at these Manhattan openings and parties. I liked talking to him though (he was as interesting in person although somewhat laconic – I was afraid of Simon) and in a compulsive way which is part of my nature, I began to look for him at each gathering, considering it a bit of an event if I saw him and spoke to him. The full progression from fan-girl to girlfriend and then later wife will require additional posts – it was a progression that took a number of years and a few turns before that happened. I now happily inhabit an entirely Deitchian world and there is no place I would rather be.

So today I take a moment consider this particular volume and how that $2 investment  took me down a path that I could not have possibly foreseen at the time – which is after all the way life is wonderful. Meanwhile, with this very long post, I have certainly subverted the Instagram challenge with its cover only pretensions.

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My copy of Beyond the Pale, with the original $2 price on the inside cover.

 

Economical Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: If you are by chance a newbie to Pictorama, you may not know that photos of people posing with Felix (stuffed ones larger than an average child, people clutching the toy form of him) make up the depth of my ever-growing collection. Even I do not entirely understand my endless fascination with these photos, but I absolutely have yet to see one I wasn’t anxious to add to my collection.

This aforementioned collection adorns the walls here at Deitch Studio – photo postcards climbing up the wall near the kitchen, across from where I sit and write at this moment, more by the front door and tintypes and assorted others near the bathroom where they get the least light of all. Kim is including some in the drawings for his next book – the one that he’s working on now that will come out after Reincarnation Stories later this year. Even I amaze at the tiny renderings of these photos in fine Deitchien style. They were giving him the devil’s own time this week, but I think they look great! I am always pleased and excited to have a nod to Pictorama in the wider Deitch Studio endeavors. (Incidentally, the pre-order on Amazon for Reincarnation Stories can be found here – always good to plug the family product.)

My collecting of these photos has long outstripped our ability to display them in our tiny apartment, but it has not impacted my desire to continue to acquire them – frankly not in the least. In fact, one of the great pleasures of this blog endeavor is to be able to look through the posts and be reminded of the photos tucked away – reminded of photos I have not seen in awhile. It was my original intention to use this blog to organize these photos – as well as the the other cat photos I have collected, including people posing with giant stuffed black cats, sometime astride them – such as seen here. I can’t really say this blog has organized anything, however I would still like to see that happen – it would be so much fun to be able to leaf through a fat book of my collection. I suppose every collector feels that way though. (Sigh.)

Today’s photo, a recent acquisition, represents a bit of a sub-genre. Somewhere in Britain, enterprising photographers who couldn’t be bothered to acquire a large, stuffed rendition of Felix appear to have made their own wooden cut-outs of him for posing, propped up with something that looks like a third leg or a second tail in each. Today’s addition appears to be the very same (or remarkably similar) Felix as another I featured in December of 2016 in a series of these so-called Flat Felix photos. (The post can be found here. The other two posts about these are found here and here.) However, the backdrop is decidedly different as you can see. The seller of the card of the two men identified it as located in Blackpool, England.

Flat Felix Three

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There was evidently a proliferation of these fellows. I throw in a third, flat Felix, for additional comparison below. If I had to draw a conclusion from these photos, I would say people were a tad less enthused than those posing with a fully stuffed Felix, but four is really hardly a fair sampling and I own so many of the others. Still, one of the joys of collecting is the ability to compare photos side-by-side. The child in today’s photo does look a bit tentative however, the backdrop painting of a fantasy park is a jollier one than in the other photos. Like virtually all of these photos, this one survives in good condition because it was never mailed, there are no notations on the back either however.

 

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So my virtual museum of images continues. I hope you continue to enjoy this rather specific photo journey with Pictorama.

 

 

Premium

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Something given as a reward, prize, or incentive…Early 17th century (in the sense ‘reward, prize’): from Latin praemium ‘booty, reward’, from prae ‘before’ + emere ‘buy, take’. From the Oxford English Dictionary.

Pam’s Pictorama: For me one of the amazing and tantalizing pleasures of existing in the moment of time and space that I do is the relative availability of various premiums from the past. These items, only obtainable previously through either luck (think Cracker Jack) or by dint of labor (collecting cereal box tops shall we say), the products of early, crafty advertisers, are available now to us for examination and purchase more or less at will. It’s hard for me to describe how entertaining I find this to be – booty is the perfect word indeed, treasure! To a large degree, just being able to actually see them is enough, but yes of course, sometimes I find myself with a hankering to possess them as well.

I first became aware of this particular bounty while working my way through a Hake’s auction catalogue. On the festive occasion that those folks sends me one of their fat color catalogues I like nothing better than to curl up in bed and read every page, pointing out the best stuff to Kim. (If the folks from Hake’s are paying attention I would like to point out that I rarely disappoint them on the occasion of receiving their missive and have made many a purchase I may have not discovered online. I wrote a little ode to the Hake’s catalogue once which can be found here.) In the process of this, I have discovered things I never knew existed that deeply interest me. Among these are strange political buttons of elections long past and a wide variety of premiums – give aways from everything, cereal to radio program tie-ins. Most with origins I am at least passingly familiar with, although some dimly at best.

Therefore it is fair to say my fascination with these items is not linked to a particular affiliation with the origin. I can deeply enjoy perusing Lone Ranger premiums (silver bullet ring anyone?) while being only passingly familiar or interested in the lore of the Lone Ranger, his comrades and their adventures, having personally only ever been exposed to the television show as fodder for Sunday afternoons in my childhood. The rings alone – those that might decode, magnify, signal or contain a bit of mythical meteorite – tempt. Truly I would like to own them all and have only barely contained myself, limited by space, money and time.

Obviously where advertising and premiums intersect with felines I have made acquisitions (for example I opine on some splendid pin trays which sit happily on my dresser in my post Corbin Canadian Cats which can be found here), however I do wander astray occasionally however and give into something. Today’s item, this wonderful Little Orphan Annie Ovaltine mug purchased for me by Kim, is an example I am especially pleased with. It was easily obtained – I imagine the bar for acquiring it set purposely low and therefor in a sense still is – and you can all have one if you want. We paid a nominal amount for this very pristine example. I believed that it came in this cream color or a white version when I bought it. I purchased a cream colored one – but I now realize as I photograph it that the cream reads white – maybe all are cream colored? Ultimately I chose this one because of it’s utterly unworn state. It looks like it just came out of the box.

These mugs, manufactured exclusively for The Wander Co., Chicago makers of Ovaltine (as per the bottom of the mug) were evidently a tie in with the Little Orphan Annie radio broadcast, sponsored by Ovaltine from 1931-1940. I gather this was an extraordinarily effective tie in and, in the day, one rarely thought of the radio program without also thinking of Ovaltine.

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I have only a passing experience with Ovaltine from my own childhood. It wasn’t a favorite by any means but wander through it did. In my mind it was a lesser cocoa additive than the Nestle or Hershey scoop-able brown powders or (best of all) syrup that was preferred. My memory is that I sort of liked that it was more granular than powder which made it more interesting to dispense. I am not sure that the concept of it being more of a malted drink than a chocolate one was entirely coherent to me although my tastebuds knew it and preferred chocolate. I gather there was a nominal component of it being nutritious?

This mug surprised me by being somewhat child-sized, not tiny, but as an adult more appropriate for expresso than your morning cup of joe, which means I will not be using it for that end. I dearly love the image of Sandy on the back. I deeply regret that I have never found a Sandy toy that seems to entirely capture his mercurial charm. I continue to search. I am very enamored of the one I wrote about in my post Sandy Finds a Home which can be read here, but cuddly he is not. I would like to find a nice mohair version, something you can imagine a child taking to bed at night.

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Sandy, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Little Orphan Annie is enjoying a prolonged vogue in our home. Kim is reading his way through the series, via the IDW volumes for the most part, and is currently enjoying and very involved in 1935. I read one of the volumes several years ago and intend to get back to it now that they are all in the house or will be. For now he recounts highlights and occasionally points out whole strips for my delectation. Weekend mornings are his primary comic strip reading time – while I work on these posts as a matter of fact.

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The siren call of premiums has started to take hold of me however and I think Pictorama readers can anticipate a trend here. The lure of these items, hard won and carefully hoarded for us future generations, is one I cannot seem to resist.

 

 

 

From My Sweetie

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who are familiar with Deitch Studio and Pictorama tradition, today is the long anticipated day when the nexus of Valentine’s Day’s meets my birthday (tomorrow) and the Kim Deitch Pam-specific annual creation is unveiled. Yay! Recent readers may remember that I foreshadowed animal imitators with my post, Ratters and Mousers (which can be viewed here) and this year’s spectacular missive from Kim addresses my affection for folks dressed up in animal costumes.

This interest in animal costumed performers pre-dates my meeting Kim and the beginning of our story. My own drawings and paintings favored this as a theme for a number of years. I collected animal masks (cheap plastic ones) to this end for awhile, and I like to think it was this fascination which provided a germ of the idea for the cat costume storyline featured in Kim’s book Alias the Cat. (What kind of wife would I be if I didn’t provide a link to purchasing it here?) I have had a deep (to date) unfilled desire to find a definitive antique cat costume and searched eBay for years to no avail. When I purchased my first photo of kids posing with Felix, I did wonder if it was perhaps a small person in a costume, until I was able to study it closely enough to know for sure it is a stuffed toy. (Quick photo off the wall below, low quality but it tells the story.) If I am being honest they do frighten me a bit, people in animal costumes, but it that good scared way that just makes you think hard.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Luckily film arrived on the scene in time to capture things like the 1907 Dancing Pig – which I adore and Kim has included in his drawing. (For those of you who have never seen it, a version resides on Youtube, here.) I am overjoyed when I can find such snippets, however like so much popular entertainment of the past, much is lost beyond remnants and I am afraid this is true of Alfred Latell and his Bonzo Dog performance. I wrote about Latell (yes! you can read it here) after discovering a photo of him. I was subsequently contacted by some of his family seeking to find out information about him. (Keep a weather eye out for a further future post about him which helped inspire the Valentine theme.)

I think this Valentine also somewhat inspired by my morning habit of reviewing my Twitter feed which is, by design, almost exclusively cat videos, photos and a silent film and early music feed. Occasionally there is a GIF, video or photo so great I demand that he stop working and come see it. (Kim is very patient about this considering this is already part of his workday.) While a bit of bad news and world decay occasionally creeps in, this Pam practice is devised to be a largely happy, pure entertainment way to start the day. (There is a dose of the New York Times online each morning too – so as not to get too far removed from the realities of every day – heavy sigh.)

Meanwhile, who could ask for more than a husband and partner who seeks to recreate that which is lost to the sands of time (or perhaps never was, but should have been) for my personal entertainment? That rascal Waldo even makes an appearance. Thank you Kim! It’s wonderful. Here’s to many future Valentine’s to come!

 

Best Wishes for the New Year!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: 2018 is being rapidly ushered out the door and today I offer the annual Deitch Studio-meets-Pictorama card reveal. When I designed this year’s card I am not sure I was thinking about making it a New Year’s card, but it seemed to make itself and that’s what it turned out to be. Frankly 2018 was a tough year and I am not sorry to see the hind end of it – good riddance! Meanwhile, this was a rare season when I had an idea for the card and I pretty much sat down and out it came, exactly as I was imagining it. Kim, already deeply immersed in his new book, made some adjustments and inked it up and here we are – ta-dah!

If anyone reading this is post is new, welcome to this Deitch Studio annual tradition. Kim and I have collaborated on a holiday card since the first year we started dating. (May I note, such was the thrall I held over him, even in those nascent days, since it turns out that in reality he isn’t a fan of Christmas in the least.) Anyway, that makes 24 cards. We cannot seem to locate anyone who has good ‘ole number one which we hand colored. (Kim is rumored to have one in his files – somewhere.) By the second year we started rolling them out to a wider audience and a bit more efficiently. The card is generally drawn the day after Thanksgiving – although executed more expeditiously some years than others. I always start the card. Some years Kim adds more, some years less. Generally speaking we each draw ourselves, although this year Kim remains sort of Pam-esque as Kim Deitch fans may note. (Some former card reveals can be found by clicking on: Merry Christmas from Deitch Studio! and Merry Christmas 2015.)

The boat theme is a nod to my father who liked to sail. Born a city boy, something about sailing always intrigued him and throughout my childhood he always kept a sailboat, docked or moored in the river behind where we lived. Since he grew up in Washington Heights, I have no idea of the origins of his love of being on the water. My sister Loren got the sailing bug from him and she and her husband devoted much of their free time, summer and fall, to sailing. I, on the other hand, did not. While I am not as bad as my mother who, despite being the daughter of a fisherman and repairer of outboard motors, goes a bit green just watching a boat bob up and down in the water, I cannot sail a boat any more than I can drive a car. I see the appeal – the quiet of being on the water under sail can be thrilling and beautiful. (My father and sister were both overwhelmingly impressed that I had several trips on the enormous sailboat the Sea Cloud II when working at the Met and it was pretty amazing!) However, the time and money that one needs to devote to this pastime is beyond me and my somewhat inadequate swimming skills mean that I was never destined to be a fan.

One of my father’s trips to the hospital last year landed him in a room with a beautiful view of the Navesink river – we lived on the other side of town on the Shrewsbury river, but both rivers are lovely, if somewhat different. The hospital is built along the river and the views of it seem to be a more or less luck of the draw situation and we won the lottery that time. We looked out and talked a bit about how we’d rather be out on the water sailing than sitting in that room. I think I was thinking of that a bit when drawing this year. I plunked a sailor’s wool cap on my character’s head like dad wore in winter, and set Kim, me and the cats in this tiny vessel sailing and looking forward to the New Year, leaving 2018 behind.

Who Is Pam Butler

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is from the appendix of Kim’s upcoming book, Reincarnation Stories, and is a rare Pictorama husband and wife co-production. I wrote it, several months back, although some of you have heard the story before. Enjoy!

Reincarnation

It begins one day, simply enough, riding on the subway. Kim forgot to bring something to read and he picked up a free newsletter for the Learning Annex – cheesy adult “courses” taught by reality tv show stars and people promising you that you too can make a killing in NY real estate. (Yep, I think Donald Trump was advertised in one of those – who could have guessed?) I read over his shoulder. Semi-seriously he announced that there was a course in past life regression that he thought he would take – he’d always had a story in mind around reincarnation and maybe it would be a good jumping off point. So I flippantly said I’d do it too. And just like that, we decided to phone and make a reservation.

What I didn’t tell Kim was that I had been approached about past life regression before and the thought had sort of terrified me. I suffer from a potentially debilitating form of arthritis and more than once it had been suggested to me that I might try to go into my past lives to see what might have caused it. Well, I figured if I had either done something so awful in my past life, or even worse, had some dreadful injury that shook my joints to this day, that I sure as heck didn’t want to know about it and relive it. Still, this was the Learning Annex – no need to take it seriously. It would be fun to do with Kim and if he was going to a past-life regression course I sure wasn’t going to miss it.

As it happened, the day we were scheduled to attend in the early evening turned out to be a complicated one for me. It was a sunny and beautiful day as I remember, I want to say spring rather than full on summer. I was working for the Central Park Conservancy at the time, but had taken part of the day off to attend the funeral of Lydia Mananara, a woman I had worked with at the Metropolitan Museum for many years. She wasn’t much older than me and had died of breast cancer. I had cared for her cat, a lovely plushy long haired tabby-stripe, while she was in Italy seeking alternative treatment or perhaps just spending time with family there, over the course of many weeks. After the funeral there was a reception at the Met where I saw former colleagues and met family and friends of hers I had not known. It was a strange moment of displacement having worked there for so long and being back for what may have been the first time since leaving.

That evening after work, Kim and I went down to Union Square and to the address of what appeared to be some sort of elementary school. I remember thinking that this was turning into one very long day, and we trudged into a classroom with table desks pushed together to form a large U. There were about ten people in the room and they were as varied as the human content of any subway car on a given morning commute, a few young, some older, generally nondescript. The course instructor entered and he too was pretty generic, middle aged and pale. He started out by telling his story.

Seems that when he was a kid somewhere in the Midwest, a visiting hypnotist had come to town and he had gone to see him perform. In what he’d later realize was an unusual vulnerability to hypnosis, he slipped easily into that state and, jarringly into a past life. Frankly I can’t remember if he was actually the subject of the hypnotist or if he fell into the influence from the audience – the latter seems unlikely. Anyway, he went on to describe, in fairly horrific detail, being a small child running for safety to a root cellar from where he spied his family of prairie settlers terribly murdered by Indians. Of course he had no idea why he experienced it, but a number of years later he took the opportunity to be hypnotized again and this time in his past life he was an adult, hidden away on a mountainside witnessing the slaughter of other settlers by Indians once again. This time he understood it to be a past life and devoted future time and energy to developing the skill to hypnotize himself and travel back to past incarnations.

He ended his presentation and offered that he would now help us all slip back into our own past. He turned the lights down, but traffic thrummed out the window and florescent lights hummed in the hall. At first quieting my mind and focusing seemed unlikely. Still, I had developed some meditation chops and it didn’t take very much for me to still my mind into the desired quiet before going to a “safe place” and then rolling back into something else.

He “woke” us up to wherever we had landed in our minds and asked us to look around. I was in the desert, a barefoot and nearly naked young man in my teens. The soil beneath my feet was sandy but hard and a reddish color. The teacher’s voice instructed us to take note of the year (I want to say it was the 1880’s, but I have trouble remembering that more precisely now) and things like who was President, to take note of our surroundings. I don’t know who was President and at first I thought I was in Tibet – a place I had been twice and had a great affinity for – but I gradually became aware that I was in the American West instead – and that I was a young Native American male. I was aware of being absolutely dirt poor, hungry, and not educated. I was essentially a dumb young kid.

His voice now guided me to go to the day I died and to take note of how I died. Seems like I was killed in a stupid fight with another kid – I don’t know over what. He told us to take care now to apologize to anyone we had hurt. I found myself apologizing to the guy who killed me (maybe I killed him as well?), and then I apologized to my mother and my grandmother. I had left them alone when I died and it had been my responsibility to take care of them. I felt bad about it all, but in a dispassionate sort of way. The instructor now guided us out of the past and into the current moment. He turned the lights on and suggested a break before we spoke about our experiences. Kim and I found a water fountain.

Kim, “Man, that was a waste. Nothing!” I looked at him surprised, “Really?” and quickly told him about my experience. We both wondered if somehow the teacher’s own experiences related with Indians had influenced my subconscious. I didn’t know about that, but I did know I wasn’t looking forward to telling him that I had been an Indian!

After the break we sat back down in our seats. Kim and I were seated about halfway around. Like Kim, not everyone had experienced anything and only two other stories stood out for me that day which I remember. One was a not especially cogent tale of another planet and this stayed with me because the instructor didn’t seem to find that unusual and said it happens – other planets. The other was quite moving. There was a young, attractive woman in her twenties who had found herself a bench at a bus stop near Union Square, but in the 1940’s. It was July and very hot and she was 9 months pregnant. She died in childbirth later, I think the same day. I wonder to this day what brought her to the Learning Annex that evening to have that experience.

As for me, I reported in the most straightforward way possible what I had seen and experienced. It certainly isn’t the past I would have imagined for myself and yet that is what makes it compelling. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism I can easily accept the concept of a past life, one in an ongoing parade – hopefully ultimately toward enlightenment. The idea of even a brief window onto a self that was so different – impoverished Native American teenager who gets himself killed in a fight over something so stupid that it, unlike these other simple facts, was not indelible through time. Only that I had been young and stupid and gotten myself killed when I should have been taking care of my mother and grandmother remained. I guess the good news is that I got a bit smarter over subsequent lives. The instructor did give me a bit of a fish eye – or maybe I imagined it. But I don’t think my former self was doing any of the killing he had witnessed.

I am not sure Kim believes that my experience wasn’t entirely one of suggestion placed in my mind by the instructor’s own stories. It was a day when I had already had my share of contemplating mortality and it is more than possible that the experience was a combination of what I brought to the table so to speak. All I can say is that bit of time in another body seemed real and different, and the poignant moment of apology one that had been a long time coming.

On that day I certainly didn’t get any insights into the arthritis that troubles me, and it didn’t lead to a desire to do it again and learn about other lives, if that is indeed possible. Instead it left me with a strange sort of shiny spot in my memory. As if out of the dim past one small bit has been brought into high relief. Real or not, I keep it there like a talisman, a lucky penny, dropped from the past into my lap here in the future.

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