On Stuff

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As we remain packed (and dusty) during our renovation stint I find myself reluctant to go digging among my collections so today I am reflecting on that which I have recently packed up in the process. Life in our apartment is about maintaining status quo right now, with hopes of all returning to its rightful place in about ten days. The process of packing up was by necessity much quicker than I would have liked (tucked in after the window replacement packing and unpacking a few days prior) and unfortunately the thinning out of unnecessary items will have to occur on the unpacking side.

As I have opined – it is a very small kitchen and in general a compact, tiny really, apartment. Having said that I was amazed by how much I had managed to store in the kitchen cabinets. Like a clown car at the circus, it just kept coming and filling more (and yet more) boxes. I had honestly thought I could pack the kitchen in two hours and instead found myself searching frantically for additional boxes and packing well into the night. Boxes were piled higher and claimed more space in the living room until there was only a path through it.

What I found interesting was that in some ways it was like excavating through the layers of my life back to my much younger self, setting up my first apartment in New York City. As I measure the reality of my life against the sort of adult existence I imagined for myself, the difference can be divined through dishes rarely or never used.

I was launched from my home in New Jersey with access to generations of dishes and a certain wonderful excess of antique furniture. (As a result I have a truly unusual number of antique rocking chairs in a very small space, but we’ll discuss my family’s mania for chairs another time.) As I packed up wine decanters and covered serving dishes well into that evening I realized I had envisioned a life where I would entertain more, one where I would actually cook. I was unable to peer into a future where at most we would grab some pizza or take-out from the Mexican place across the street (run by a Korean family which makes for not quite authentic, but perfectly satisfying cuisine), move some piles of books and call it a meal.

In addition to the aforementioned decanters and covered dishes, I am in possession of a full set of sterling silver – I think it is service for at least eight. I had tucked away serving bowls, luncheon plates and some fairly esoteric baking devices such as a gram scale, which had not seen the light of day in decades. I will certainly send much of this on its way to a thrift store in hopes that it finds a home where it is trotted out and used more frequently and I am touched in some ways with gratitude that I was launched into adulthood with such largess. Nonetheless, I am also confronted with a ghost memory of a younger me, imaging a different sort of future where I would cook and bake and have a need for serving dishes. One that has never really reached fruition.

It isn’t like I have never cooked for friends, although admittedly it has not happened in recent years. I am a good cook – professionally trained as I thought that was how I would make my living at one time. It is a muscle I rarely exercise beyond weekend meals for Kim and I however and those more about dietary exactitude and convenience than creative cooking endeavors. (However, Pictorama readers might remember when I was seized with a desire for my grandmother’s poor man’s cake over the holidays last year and I recreated it with the help of the internet. I posted about it here. Incidentally I found the Pyrex baking dishes I knew I owned and could not find and which I ultimately replaced with a purchase from ebay.)

In part it isn’t just me but the world that has changed and I dare say there aren’t many people in New York apartments who are making much use of decanters or cake plates these days, even in larger abodes. Perhaps it happens in the houses in other parts of the country where HDTV home renovation television thrives – but even there the days of formal dining rooms seem to have faded away.

The question remains, how much of this will I keep out of a sense of nostalgia and perhaps promise. By this I mean, will our entirely new kitchen mean a renaissance of baking and cooking? It seems unlikely given my current job and priorities. Still, with the holidays on the horizon there is an itch for another poor man’s cake and perhaps even some of my grandmother’s spice cookies if I can locate the recipe.

Renovation: Right in the Thick of It

Pam’s Pictorama Post: As I sit today at my computer perch, words fail to describe the renovation chaos we are currently existing within here in our tiny abode. We kicked off the fun with a mandatory window replacement project requiring that the entire contents of the apartment shift to the interior most side and be covered against ages old flying plaster as the windows were taken from their frames. Brawny men used power tools to yank out the old and then sheer strength to bring in the new.

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Kim somehow manages to continue working on some tracing as the windows get yanked out and then replaced. This taken from my spot at the computer – the only choice!

 

Cats spent the day huddled in the bathroom, the barricade buttressed additionally by our mattress and a chair or two. One and done – the windows were done in a day (a few terrible tense hours really) and the army of men moved onto the next apartment. We were number one – the very first in the building – and we are relieved as we watch their march continue through the building – progress pausing for the occasional very rainy or windy day. (If you missed it I posted about the pre-game packing of the apartment in a posts that you can read here and here.)

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Cookie the morning of window removal – deeply uneasy and unsure why.

 

For one thing, I swear I had no idea how much stuff I had managed to cram into our tiny kitchen over the years. I honestly (utterly naively) thought it could be packed in two hours. Man, was I ever wrong! Boxes and boxes (and hours) later I realized that I had held onto dishes that had been given to me decades ago I had utterly forgotten about and that I had utensils (some obscure) that I last used in my professional cooking days – which are now a full two decades behind me.

Some of these (a particular crimper of pie crust comes to mind) were hard to source originally and much beloved in their day, but have remained unused for years now in response to my present pie-making-less life. (Sadly, to a large degree, calorie control means that I exist in a largely pie-free eating state as well.) I am reminded of a life I might have imagined for myself in my twenties – wine decanter and matching glasses anyone? Dessert plates? I will try to cull the herd on the unpacking side. Meanwhile, boxes filled with breakables teeter in piles on one side of our single room apartment.

Acknowledging how hurried the packing really was I now harbor a secret deep concern that I have destroyed our delicate eco-system and will never be able to return us to a normal life. I am reminded of why I waited so long to get this work done, the last real renovation having been done when I moved into this apartment more than twenty years ago now. (Kim and I are hovering on the brink of 25 years since we got together, about two weeks from today, and I moved into this apartment about six months after that.)

While I am not especially picky, peeling linoleum, aging counters, cabinet, and a chronic broken overhead light were demanding attention which seemed impractical to tackle one project at a time. In addition, despite my lack of pastry producing these days, we really do cook in our kitchen pretty much daily. (Unlike some of our fellow storied Manhattan denizens, we do not keep cashmere cardigans in our oven as storage.) Ovens and refrigerators have come and gone over time. However, job changing, helping my parents move followed by Dad’s illness and ultimate decline, have all meant that I have invested no time or energy in the apartment. It has come back to haunt me and I am paying the proverbial piper now.

We are approximately in the middle of the kitchen process – or at least I would like to think so. The stove disappears on Tuesday, as does the water. The fridge will (somehow) find its way into the living room for the duration. (That will be interesting.) I will batten down the remaining hatches and figure out a way to heat coffee and heat the occasional item over the coming week or so. Our devotion to smoothies like to take a hit in the near future as well. (I wrote about smoothies recently, opining on the absence of them when I travel. The post can be found here.) Like our cats, we get disoriented quickly without our routines and our nerves fray rapidly.

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Kitchen dismantled and in progress. The floor is sporting its originally incarnation of linoleum here, recently uncovered.

 

In terms of our cats, Cookie has taken the process especially hard. She is a precise little creature and the ongoing disturbance is really taking a toll. Each night when I come home she and I sit on the couch and she meows the entire story out to me, insisting that I pet her and scratch her ears while she does. She meowed in outright alarm while I packed up the kitchen. I would say she is in a state of high nervousness that only a female house cat can achieve. Meanwhile, her brother Blackie, continues to nap on my spot on the bed, largely unconcerned. I won’t say he is entirely unaffected, but it is remarkable the difference in temperament.

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Blackie curled up in bed, as usual.

 

And yes, for those of you who are Pictorama readers ongoing – all this with Kim’s new book Reincarnation Stories hitting the stands last week! (My two-part review of the new book can be found here and here.) A very nice review came in from NPR (with a shout out to Pam of Pictorama – in addition to the excerpt from the New Yorker online and some other previews. (Always promoting the family business here at Deitch Studio, those links are below.)

Next weekend, despite apartment woes, we will be in Brooklyn where Kim will sign books and have a public conversation with fellow cartoonist Nina Bunjevac. (Comice Arts Brooklyn at Pratt Institute – I think they go on at 5:00. Kim will be signing books and I will set up with some t-shirts and original art work for sale.) Things are hopping here at Deitch Studio all around. Stay tuned for the next installment and wish us luck!

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Cookie this AM on her new favorite perch, two boxes of Reincarnation Stories.

 

Links to some early reviews for Reincarnation Stories:
NPR – Kim Deitch Spins His Yarns

Kitten on the Keys via the New Yorker

The Many Reincarnations of Kim Deitch

Info on the Comic Arts Brooklyn gig

 

 

Overwhelmed

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Recently I started our tale of renovation woe and adventure and now we stand on the threshold of it. If all goes with plan, our windows will be replaced on Tuesday and work will begin on our kitchen shortly after. (That original post can be found here.) Today I sit, surrounded by boxes that need to be filled, wondering how exactly we will do it.

Generally speaking I am very good at managing things. A friend at work once compared me and my then colleagues to border collies. Efficient, sometimes nipping, exacting little canines, herding and organizing otherwise errant sheep. (Fundraising at the Metropolitan Museum often seemed that way. It was about steering things along and executing them. At Jazz at Lincoln Center a bigger and toothier animal is needed – another colleague used to refer to something called shark-itude, and for now suffice it to say more of that type of animal is required in this job.) Fundraising breaks down into many exacting tasks to be executed ongoing and your success is largely your ability to continually hit those marks, or as many as possible.

Therefore, the fact that I sit in our 600 square foot apartment (at least they told me that was how many feet it was when I purchased it – I have neither tested nor challenged that fact, but I have wonder occasionally) worrying exactly how to do what needs doing is a bit unlike me. I have been examining the challenge for days, weeks in fact pausing (only when in South Africa and other things overtook my daily consciousness) and frankly it seems mathematically beyond reason to arrange our furniture in a fashion which allows the window folks to do what they claim to need. That is without actually removing any of the furniture to another location.

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Cookie is ready to help

 

A friend was over last night and suggested turning the couch on its end and propping it up against one of the bookcases for the duration – the best suggestion I have heard to date for increasing access although the execution of it concerns me a tad despite the fact that I consider Kim and I reasonably fit. (Thank you Bill!) Boxes of our beloved (and admittedly a few still unread) books are being packed today in a wild variety of liquor store boxes – Bailey’s anyone? Kim’s to be maintained in his own mystical reading order requiring his own packing. (I just piled mine in by size.) A couple of real dogs are heading to the thrift store where perhaps they will find a new readership. These boxes will theoretically, in turn and when we are in a post-window replacement world, hold dishes and pots and pans from our kitchen. They seem inadequate for that and there will need to be more I suspect. Hopalong Cassidy is playing on the tv although we are not watching, somehow his voice has a soothing Saturday morning aspect to it.

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My pj’s are still available online from a company with the great moniker, The Cat’s Pajamas.

 

I prefer to do rather than to fret, but as I sit in my elephant pj’s this morning, cup of cold coffee at my side (night attire and coffee drinking habits have indeed been examined here and here for new readers) I am somewhat unsure how to proceed. I apologize that you, Pictorama reader, have to be along for the ride, but truly it is the only thing on my mind today. I wonder if the great generals and other masterminds have had these moments – sort of knowing somehow you will have to drag a camel throw the eye of a needle and wondering if you are up to the challenge.

I guess I figure come what may, somehow furniture will find a temporary perch, room will be made and windows replaced. Hopefully no furniture, toys, cats or people will be injured in the process. I will then find the stamina to empty our tiny but packed kitchen for phase two. (I’m sure you will hear more from three weeks of kitchen work and at least a week of take-out eating as a result.) As you see above, Cookie is at the ready to help. As I write she is supervising Kim packing Frank Merriwell paperbacks. (Blackie is snoring on the bed having assumed the warm spot I left upon rising earlier, as is his habit. For now he is unconcerned with this adventure. I am cat-like in my own craving for home quiet and routine. My own fur is therefore ruffled greatly.)

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Blackie slips into my spot in bed for a nap when I get up each morning.

 

After all is done I will see if I can muster the energy for a last maneuver for me and my troops – erecting a wall of bookcases which would enable us to see portions of the floor we haven’t in years. Wish us luck!

Renovation: the Beginning

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A much younger Blackie during an earlier version of packing up the apartment for work to be done.

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Into everyone’s life eventually home renovation of one kind or another must come it seems. For better or worse I have kept it to the absolute bare minimum in my adult life time, but despite all efforts stuff gets old, worn, breaks and has to be replaced. I spent the first decade or so of my adult life in a rental apartment – renting might be the only way one can really avoid the need to do home repairs of substance, although I understand from my renting compatriots that renovations can be wished on you even in a rental when the landlord has a plan as well. (Sigh.) I renovated this apartment when I bought it and before I moved in, but now it is more years ago than I want to put in writing and the useful life of many things has come to an end.

Our upcoming home improvement is a combination of work that our co-op needs to do dovetailing in an unfortunate way with a renovation of our kitchen which is at least five years beyond when it should have been done. (Suffice it to say that I am afraid that if the Board of Health in New York City rated home kitchens like restaurants that we would be found sub-par and they would have closed us down.)

After my convalescence post-foot surgery about five years ago, I became aware that the kitchen needed a serious re-do. With a massive plaster cast on my foot I spent three weeks in bed, with it propped higher than my head, followed by another few weeks on a “knee wheelie” which was too large to negotiate our tiny, closet-sized kitchen. (A Great Dane could not fit in the space.) Recuperation ended up being about five weeks without seeing the kitchen at all. (Kim was top chef under my bedridden direction and of course there is take-out) and when I finally saw it again I realized the time had come and it needed some work. However, with some building mandated work coming out of the blue, then changing jobs soon and finally Dad’s illness, it didn’t happen. Suddenly years have passed and here we are and it is in a wretched state.

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Blackie examines my foot cast while I recuperated from this surgery about five years ago.

 

I had hopes of executing the kitchen renovation over the summer, but alas, I had underestimated the difficulty of finding a contractor in NYC for my relatively puny job and instead spent the summer chasing those until I found Mike who seems to be a responsible citizen of the world. For my readers (I will assume most) who do not live in Manhattan co-ops all of this will seem strange and dreadful – which it is. In order to do more than change a light bulb (I am exaggerating but only slightly) in a New York co-op apartment you need to file paperwork – and more paperwork. Then you wait and they ask for a bit more paperwork – licenses, plans, spec sheets for stoves and the like. I understand they want to make sure you aren’t moving walls, ruining pipes or generally bringing the place down around our ears, but it gets a bit absurd.

While Mike and I are in the negotiating with the management agency stage paperwork stage of the project we are in a honeymoon phase of us-against-them. Hopefully we will remain a good team but let’s face it, that is like the difference between dating and marriage. Nonetheless, no complaints, at least he’s been willing to go steady with us.

Somehow, simultaneously, our building which has dawdled along on a project to replace all the windows (they too had planned for the summer) has scheduled this to happen at the same time. I don’t know if you reader are like me, but the idea that some day in the next few weeks someone will come and rip the windows out of our sixteenth floor apartment and tuck new ones in kind of freaks me out. I mean, inconvenience and packing up notwithstanding. There’s going to be a period (hours? minutes?) when our beloved single room home is just nakedly entirely exposed to the outside, sixteenth floor outside world? Yikes.

So we will wrap bookcases in plastic, pack antique toys away (it means everyone will get a good dusting at least) and cats too will have to be spirited into the locked bathroom or to the vet for the duration which we understand to be a day. I’m not sure if I will stay and huddle at my computer perch for the duration or abandon ship for the office after work has commenced. We do not have a firm date yet, but it hovers (menaces, lurks) immediately upon my return from South Africa, a week long trip which commences tomorrow as I write this.

Meanwhile, Kim and I are not strangers to work being done in this apartment. As I alluded to above, the building had a project of pipe replacement a few years back (yes, they re-piped the entire heating system – I guess pipes give out over time, who knew?) which required that a large swath of our ceiling and some of our floor be ripped out for what turned out to be several weeks of work. They encased the work area in plastic, with a little zipper to get in and out, but dust and plaster were everywhere and we remained shrouded in plastic for weeks – more or less living perched in bed and only Kim’s work table otherwise accessible.

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Swathing the apartment in plastic for the re-pipe project which ended up going on for weeks

 

Therefore today, in addition to packing for more than a week’s sojourn to Johannesburg with my beloved Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra, I am assuming the hat of Director of Operations for Deitch Studio once again. I deeply suspect there will be more to say about this soon.

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Blackie slightly horrified at packing during for the re-piping project.

 

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Cookie having a grand time during the same packing project!