Joyeux Anniversaire: an Anniversary Ode to Kim

Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who are wondering where all the photos have gone I assure you that I am storing up a few that are slowing coming in by mail. Much like the Felix fiesta of a few weeks ago, a photo phase is in our near future. However, today following on yesterday’s whining about our apartment woes, I am scribbling an anniversary ode to Kim – tomorrow is the day. (Surprise Kim!)

While at the moment we find ourselves largely devoted to the more ho hum aspects of our lives – packing for the window replacement, doctor’s appointments, a loaf bread gone unexpectedly moldy, and Cookie stealing Blackie’s favorite sleeping spot (Blackie is pacing the apartment grumbling as a result), our 19 years rates some ballyhoo I think despite the fact that we rarely put much into celebration of the day. (Also of note, come November we will have met 25 years ago and have lived together for most of that time. Sometimes we seem to focus more on that anniversary than the day we actually got hitched.)

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Bronze cat based on Benin design and perched on local fabric, all brought back from South Africa

 

One’s 19th anniversary is evidently the bronze anniversary, symbolizing stability and health within the union, reflecting the way the couple have supported each other through challenges and obstacles, according to our friends at Google. (Kim, a heads up that your favorite metal, copper, doesn’t come up until our 21st.) Having just purchased a bronze cat (which is perhaps the only bit of bronze we own) we will attribute it to the anniversary granting me credit where it is perhaps not due as I only looked that up this morning. Meanwhile, I tend to agree with Google – the 19th seems like a moment to raise your head up and acknowledge that the corporation is running just fine and to take a moment to give a nod to the Board of Directors. Yay us!

I think the best tribute I can give to our union is that when I congratulate people on getting engaged I tell them all that I wish that they will be as happy with the decision as I am and I mean it very literally. Quite simply, it is the best decision I have ever made and it was not one I arrived at easily either. I still marvel at the workings of the machine that is marriage, and I am the first to say it seems to be tricky business – to the extent one can claim to get it right.

Putting romance aside for the moment, I think of it more like a corporation. Your spouse is your teammate on all the things to come every single day, as long as you are together. (Not to mention that your lives will be one long continuous conversation – people should consider that when picking out a spouse. I beg people to consider this and make sure they are really interesting.) That covers a heck of a lot – everything from career decisions, to leaky faucets, to which side to support in the coup d’etat of the co-op board. It is damn hard to find the right person to partner with in all of what life throws at us so I don’t blame my younger self for questioning if I was up to the task of finding one.

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However, in Mr. Deitch I am pleased to report that I find the best yang to my yin. Where he is fuzzy I am on point, where I have moments of panic he remains calm. He is dreamier and I am more concrete. This puts us in charge of different segments of the corporation, Deitch Studio if you will, but doesn’t mean that one doesn’t inform the other. Kim’s right there when I make career decisions and I make my nascent contributions to Kim’s comics world.

Meanwhile, the world of Deitch comics is pretty much one you enter into when you walk through the door of Apartment 16D here on 86th and York Avenue. As a mega-Deitch fan I enthusiastically embraced being a card carrying member of that world immediately when Kim and I first started living together and my appreciation has only grown. It is an interesting and delightful (if occasionally dark) place – and there is nowhere I would rather reside. Somehow we still manage the day-to-day of bill paying, grocery shopping, long work days, and periodic separations such as my recent trip to South Africa for work, while keeping one foot happily in the realm of Deitchiana.

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Reincarnation Stories hits the stands the day after our anniversary! Lucky me, my comic book avatar makes numerous appearances.

 

We rarely actually fight, but do disagree and snipe as people will – especially perhaps people who live together in a very small space. And only being human we nurse our gripes and allow them to fester until they take on velocity and grow to unwarranted proportions upon which a periodic reckoning takes place. This is always very painful as ultimately we are each other’s best friend and to be on the outs with each other is really being out of sorts with yourself.

So today I raise my metaphorical glass to my mate and wish us many more decades ahead. One cannot know where time and life will take us and how we will respond, but it is my fervent wish that I am penning much the same sentiments for years to come. For now a tip of the hat to the first nineteen years.

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!

 

 

Pinned

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This little tidbit has been sitting under the computer waiting for its turn at bat in a blog post and here we finally are. I have never seen this particular Felix pin before. In an attempt to research it I did find another for sale – I am pleased to say for that one for more than I paid for it. Score!

Other than this very dapper little Felix gracing it, the interesting features of this pin are that it is made of cardboard and it is quite old. I have never seen another pin made of cardboard in this fashion and a quick internet search did not immediately turn up additional ones, although I assume it was a genre.

Previously I have trumpeted my affection for the Hake’s auction catalogues (I devoted one post to it here) and one of the joys of that catalogue are the obscure, often ancient political and premium buttons that generally make up the front section of those catalogues. Unlike this little gem, those tend to impress me with the gravitas of materials – daguerreotypes, non ferrous metals metals and a range of reproduction processes – they fascinate me. This one goes in the opposite direction – simplicity and cheapest of materials. In that regard it is a bit amazing that it has survived so long in fairly pristine condition.

The Felix on my pin is somewhat primitive and off-model so this may not have been a fully sanctioned Felix affair. It would have been a very natty fellow indeed who would have sported this in his lapel or on his tie. I purchased it from a seller in the US and my guess is that it was made here although there is no marking of any kind.

As a child in the ’60’s and early 70’s I was fascinated by the metal buttons of the day – and it was a button-filled time. I remember someone giving me an early Smiley pin and I was crazy about that. I would have owned dozens of those if they crossed my path. Meanwhile, my father brought home piles of election buttons of the day for me – his job as a news cameraman putting him in a rather unique position to acquire them. Being pre-political myself I judged them on a purely aesthetic level, although I was known to hold a grudge against Presidential candidates who I felt had taken my father away for prolonged periods, Nixon was one of these. Somewhere I have a few signed political photos from the period. These were not sufficient to acquire my forgiveness; I was a hard child. The buttons below are of the type I remember having.

I don’t know how these things are done now, although with the general porousness of news media and the ability to broadcast easily from virtually anywhere I am sure it is different. At the time of my childhood, a camera crew like my father’s covering national and international news, would be dedicated to trailing a significant Presidential candidate from more or less the time they declared through the primaries, or if they dropped out of the race sooner. (This as in the case of Edmund Muskie who my father, a generally somewhat apolitical they-are-all-bums kinda guy, had a mysterious fondness for. Dad felt strongly that Muskie had been railroaded out of the race in what was later known as the Canuck Letter incident – this somewhat verified by the Watergate investigation. It always left me feeling that Dad, who had traveled with him for months and was generally politically cynical, must have been onto something.)

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Election years meant Dad traveling virtually non-stop all the way through the cycle which could even be a bit longer than twelve months. As a result I hated those Presidential election years as a child, missing my father who was frequently gone for months at a time including birthdays and holidays.

In those days news was still captured on film and messengers were used to fly it back to New York daily. A camera crew at that point was made up of an opulent four or so people (dedicated sound, film, lighting, reporter and a producer), whereas at the end of my father’s career he had what he called a one man band and he would cover stories alone with the reporter – the monster camera managing sound, lighting, recording and of course sending to a satellite for transmission. If I remember correctly, in the early days of satellite transmission they plugged into phone lines. I would imagine they have done away with that – I see news vans here in the city with a sort of satellite dish on top, perhaps a variation of that.

These days I collect on the occasional button. However, I do keep on of these Kim Deitch Sunshine Girl pins, reproductions created for a gallery opening several years ago, on my desk at work to remind me of the denizens of Deitch Studio while I am away for the workday.

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Sunshine Girl pin reproduction.

 

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Original Sunshine Girl pin.

The One Year Mark and the Uber Adventures

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This rambling and personal post was written last week while in Los Gatos and San Jose for a business trip. I was there over the anniversary of my father’s death, but since I would be sad about that wherever I was I decided there was no reason not to go. (I wrote about Dad at some length last summer in a post here.) The reason for the trip was an unexpected opportunity for a dinner on the west coast. I work for Jazz at Lincoln Center and Wynton Marsalis, and his schedule is generally so tight that opportunities for him to host something on the west coast are rare. Anyway, what follows is the tale of the unexpected things that happened on that trip.

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I didn’t think I wanted to post today, the one year anniversary of my father’s death. Like Father’s Day I sort of felt like what of interest could come of it. However, the universe conspired today and as it has been a rather extraordinary day which has triggered much reflection which I will share.

I find myself on the west coast as I write. I flew out for a dinner held in Los Gatos last night – it used to make my sister Loren laugh, that her little sister would be flown across the country for a single dinner. (It isn’t that it happens so often, but it happens often enough.) Having come out here I also inquired about a meeting with a foundation in Los Angeles which agreed to see me, and so as I write this I am on a smallish plane speeding to that destination. However, in every sense that puts me ahead of my story.

When I left the house Thursday afternoon in a yellow cab, I immediately hit a wall of traffic and had time to contemplate the trip ahead, sitting in the parking lot that the road to JFK airport had become. No matter how often I do it, every time I leave home to travel I am somehow surprised to be reminded over again that I exists fully outside of the daily bubble that is my life – joyfully, Kim and the cats; my minor daily commute to and from work; my own punch list of things that need doing, errands that need running and work that needs to be done. Somehow it is always a shock to realize that I am a being apart from that comfortable day-to-day, and here I am, on my way to the other side of the country and I will still be me. Sounds simple but this is what I remember thinking while stuck in traffic, listening to my gym music on my phone for a distraction which, for someone who otherwise generally doesn’t listen to music made after 1939, is a surprising mix of rock ‘n roll from the ’70’s, Bruce Springsteen and even a bit of Motown.

Everything about the kind of dinner one travels across the country for requires someone like me and my team of people to create it, people whose job in part is to assemble an evening that seems perfect yet effortless. We all know that effortless requires forethought and elbow grease. While this dinner was no exception, it did not present any truly unique challenges. By the end of Friday night a lovely meal had been executed with some Bay Area elite and all of whom seemed lovely. A colleague and I jumped in an Uber to head back to the hotel.

While checking my email I saw one from a college friend. I don’t hear from her that often so her emails in my box always cause a thrill of anticipatory pleasure when I see them. Sadly I rapidly realized that it was not the case tonight. On this evening she was writing because her husband, a man of our own newly minted middle age, had mysteriously died in his sleep on Tuesday.

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Jack Kennedy who sadly and unexpectedly died last week.

 

I rarely make a visit to this part of the country without routing myself through their town, but this fast and furious trip was an exception. I had reached out to her in the weeks leading up to it and said it wasn’t likely but giving her a heads up in case my plans changed and I found myself able to swing through. On this evening my post-dinner, champagne infused brain raced. It was so sudden and so unbearably sad. I emailed her when I got back to my hotel, almost midnight by then, told her I could push LA off and come see her if my showing up wouldn’t increase the chaos she was already experiencing. The suddeness was overwhelming and knocked me sideways. I had last seen them on a trip with the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra last fall and I had stayed with them. They had come to the concert.

When I woke this morning it was as if someone had pulled loose thread of stoicism I had carefully constructed for the purpose of getting through this weekend, the anniversary of Dad dying a year ago. My calm started to disintegrate and a wall of sad began to ooze around me with memories of last summer. However, despite realizing this nothing to do but attempt to button it up, pack my bags and headed out for a meeting in Santa Cruz which was to be followed by going directly to the airport.

I live on the east coast and my geographical knowledge of this part of the world is not, to say the very least, deep. Therefore, foolishly, I had planned an in person early morning breakfast meeting with Wynton in Santa Cruz when I was staying in Los Gatos as it was the last time I would see him before September, back in New York. Somehow, although the time for travel had been dutifully been plugged in by the extraordinarily capable colleague who had put the trip together, I managed to miss the mountain that sat between where he was staying and where I was.

The view was stunning, mist hanging in the valleys like a Japanese print and the winding highway reminded me distinctly of travel in Bhutan years ago, but the sheer folly of the trip across a mountain for a meeting rather than a call struck me as especially idiotic on my part. However, as it turns out the driver, Gajend, was from Nepal and we had a long conversation about how pollution has changed Kathmandu for the worse and how this was a baby mountain compared to those that made up the foothills of the Himalayas. He had been back recently and I have not been since 2000.

As I described my trekking on a sacred path on Mt. Kalish in Tibet, I realized I hadn’t really thought about that life changing trip in years. I told him about the various sacred caves I had climbed to – sometimes crawling into tiny ones on my belly as instructed, and he was interested, but it cheered me to think about as well. I remember tying prayer flags to the top mountain pass and saying a prayer for my sister, who was dying from cancer. And I remember leaving something on a mountainside full of bits of clothing and items with the idea that it would help draw you back to that sacred spot when you at the moment of death. I also laid on the ground among the detritus left by others and meditated for a few minutes on that sacred ground – imaging that I would return to that spot at the moment of my death and therefore have a more auspicious rebirth.

The restaurant in Santa Cruz turned out to be right on the beach and it reminded me of the seaside New Jersey town near where I grew up, where I waited tables and was short order cook to beach going visitors in my high school and college years. Santa Cruz seemed a bit more affluent than Sea Bright. The sight and smell of the ocean was cheering.

I had my suitcase as I was to head directly to the San Jose airport after my meeting although I was still torn – should I just bag everything planned and head instead to my friend’s home in Santa Barbara? So frustrating to be so close and not see her. Yet, I sensed too that I was a tad too raw and this news had ripped the scab right off the wound that was the anniversary of dad’s death; I really was not at my best. The lack of coffee probably didn’t help.

I was the first to arrive at the restaurant and within minutes I realized that I did not have my eyeglasses! Now my sister was blind like couldn’t see her hand in front of face unable to see without her glasses and I am not that bad, but I’m pretty bad. My prescription sunglasses (in addition to being sunglasses) are only for distance only (I wear progressive lenses and mostly they are geared to mid-range) not to mention impractical inside. Alas those were perched on my nose and my regular glasses nowhere to be found and were presumably in the Uber I had just exited.

 

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View from the restaurant in Santa Cruz.

 

By the time Wynton arrived I had reached out to Uber (yes, the app has a place for left something in my driver’s car) but hadn’t heard back. We talked over breakfast for about an hour (throughout which I continued trying to contact the Uber driver with no luck), and after making sure I was okay to get back to San Jose he left for a film shoot. I sat outside near a large ukulele band setting up to play. Normally that would have cheered me immensely but not at this point. Frankly I didn’t know what to do next and I was melting down. I pulled out my phone and I called Kim in New York. I felt better hearing his voice but then he suddenly immensely far away and I was missing him. The dam broke and I found myself sobbing –  yep, just sitting on a curb in Santa Cruz and weeping.

A few weeks ago in my first post about Frances Hodgson Burnett (which can be found here) I said you want to marry someone smart enough to give you good book suggestions when you are whining about having nothing to read (and I still maintain there are worse ways to chose a mate), but really one of the very best thing about Kim is he remains very calm in emergencies and times of extreme stress. Although I am generally the more rational of the two of us and I rarely lose it, but when I do he is one of the few people who can get me off the ledge.

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Bad photo of the uke band tuning up from where I sat on the curb talking to Kim.

 

He spoke very calmly to me even though in retrospect, never having experienced me in quite that state before, let alone on the other side of the country), he probably was a bit worried.  We agreed that I would get another car and head back to the hotel where I started in San Jose and hopefully be able to meet up with the first driver there. I pulled myself together and called yet another car and a woman Uber driver named Guadalope picked me up. (I am sorry to say the uke band had not started before I left – I was very curious.) The first driver, Gajend, eventually called he had my glasses! We established that he would meet me at the hotel where he’d picked me up, but he was in another area and it would take him two hours to get there.

I was probably screwed for the flight to LA and I became confused all over again about maybe changing my plans and heading to Santa Barbara. I called Kim again to update him. I was still weepy and by the end of that call Guadalupe pretty much knew the whole story. Kim took charge and told me I was definitively not going to Santa Barbara and just get my eyeglasses, we’d figure out things out from there. He was right of course, you cannot drop your hot mess self with your own problems onto someone who truly is in the midst of dealing with their own, more significant crisis.

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The very capable Guadalupe driving us through the mountains.

 

About the time we hung up, Guadalupe and I were slowing down in traffic to a stop – yes, because there was an accident somewhere ahead. However, Guadalupe turned out to be a resourceful woman and she softly said something about how there are not many back road options and she turned the car (just, um, briefly off-road) and she took us up exactly that sort of back road.

Once again I was brought back to memories of traveling in Bhutan and the endlessly winding roads in order to go over the mountains – constant switchbacks with nausea induing constant turns and twists. Oddly the roads were populated with many people on bikes (it was so steep I can’t imagine how the muscles in their calves must bulge) who braved the cars emerging from each blind turn. I have a strong inner ear and rarely experience car or sea sickness, but I was turning a tad green by the time we finally emerged on the other side and went bombing off toward the hotel.

As I plunked myself down to wait on a bench outside the Holiday Inn where I had spent the past two nights I reflected that for me today was clearly going to be about learning patience and slowing myself down a bit. This Holiday Inn wasn’t bad, but it was in the midst of a very poor area. The day before a colleague and I had walked about two blocks away and eaten rather splendid Mexican food for lunch (an enormous bean burrito in my case), but encountered several people who appeared to be homeless, their possessions in the shopping carts they pushed.

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Snapped this photo of this souped up motorcycle by the front entrance of the Holiday Inn while parked on a nearby bench.

 

Across from where I sat waiting, there was a stop for the local light rail line which I had no time to figure out during my stay and I watched people come and go on that. I read part of a Frances Hodgson Burnett novella Theo: A Sprightly Love Story, on my phone. I fought with a cash machine in the hotel – and lost. After counting all my cash to figure out what I could tip Gajend – who at this point had now driven me across a mountain where he probably didn’t get a return trip and now was making his way to me, wasting his work day, gas and time I found I had $100. Somewhere in the back of my head was my mother’s voice asking me why I had traveled across the country with so little cash – and she was right of course. She taught me one should have cash in case of emergencies. Anyway, I would give him the $100 and figure out cash in LA.

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Eventually a heavy-set man, probably a bit older than me, decorated with monotone tattoos and walking a tiny, bulging eyed dog came and sat on the bench with me. We passed the time, discussed the dog – the pup tired easily with such short legs working hard when they took a walk. My cat Cookie could have taken this dog on with one paw behind her back, but I kept that thought to myself as it seemed like it could be considered unkind. I was just about to ask if I could take their photo when Gajend pulled up! Yay! He jumped out of his car with my eyeglasses in hand. I thanked him profusely and gave him the hundred dollars. He offered to take me to the airport. I ended up making the flight, where I started this post, with enough time to be a lousy slice of pizza for lunch.

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I write now, a day later and tucked into my airplane seat heading home after my last round of meetings in Los Angeles. I am very anxious to get home and see Kim and the cats. All will likely be asleep when I slip in around midnight, we are early to bed folks when left to our own devices.

I just watched Dumbo on my tiny airplane screen, which was about the level of emotional intensity I felt like I could manage at this point. After my usual tomato juice (don’t know why but I always have a glass of tomato juice when I fly) I had a stiff drink, which I generally never do when I fly – afraid of jet lag. It wasn’t a martini, dad’s favorite drink, but I think he would approve. So at last here’s to him!

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A blurry photo of Cookie claiming my suitcase for her own purposes upon my return.

 

 

 

 

Frances Hodgson Burnett, an Excellent Read

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Kim drew Little Saint Elizabeth into this illustration in his Alias the Cat!

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In some ways it is crazy to think I can tackle this subject in a blog post so I will start by saying, this is a warning shot over the bow – I am just skimming the top of very deep water indeed today with an expectation of subsequent entries.

As the author of childhood favorites such as A Little Princess, The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy we all know Frances Hodgson Burnett and the classic films (and many remakes) made from her stories. I read them as an adult and especially loved The Secret Garden. As much as I liked the film, the book had much more flavor and depth.

I had not however given these stories or her much thought in years however when Kim stumbled on and purchased Little Saint Elizabeth a beautifully illustrated volume of stories, ostensibly for children although the title story is a bit gruesome and had a similar, appalling ending to Anderson’s Little Match Girl. We found it at the now mostly eradicated flea market on 24th Street here in Manhattan. He purchased it for very little and we considered it quite the score.

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From the story Little Saint Elizabeth

 

Somehow it did not inspire further digging at the time and it wasn’t until a few months ago, while whining one night in bed about a delay in receiving my next volume of the Judy Bolton series to arrive (future post about that series pending there), that Kim suggested I poke around Burnett’s adult fiction. (May I just take a moment out to say, you really do want to marry someone who is going to make helpful, smart suggestions like this. I do think it is the very best part of being married and no one thinks to tell you that. Choose wisely I say!)

Thanks to Project Gutenberg this could be accomplished with great alacrity, at the speed of a download. For those of you who have yet to be introduced to it, this is a magnificent site it is free downloadable books and stories, generally focused on early works which are out of copyright. This leads to access to many of the more obscure and hard to find works of early authors which would be prohibitively expense to purchase to read, even if you could find them. I read many of Edna Ferber’s short stories from these downloads.

While in general I might say I prefer to read with a book in my hand, about half my reading is done with these downloads these days. (To be fair, another swath is audio books I listen to at the gym – much contemporary fiction is consumed that way.) A great advantage is that I can pull out my phone and read a bit while on line somewhere or on the subway – it is always with me. My Frances Hodgson Burnett mania has been hell on my reading of the New York Times lately, but the news isn’t all that great these days anyways. And as a result I have had a more contented summer commute than most during horrendous subway delays and waits.

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Photo portrait of Burnett from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery collection

 

Born in England in 1850, she evidently always wrote, even as a child. Her own financial fortunes seemed to wax and wane dramatically from childhood through adulthood much like the story lines of her fiction. Born into affluence her father dies when she is young and the family slowly spirals into poverty which ultimately forces a move to Tennessee to live with an uncle, who in turn becomes impoverished. Burnett begins publishing magazine stories to some success when she is 18, in order to help support her family and she quickly becomes a writing and publishing machine. She eventually marries and has two sons. She is living in Washington with her family when in 1879, on a visit to Boston, she meets Louisa May Alcott and Mary Mapes Dodge, editor of St. Nicholas magazine, and that is when she starts to write children’s fiction. This is of course where her fame will live on.

Meanwhile, an interesting aspect of Burnett’s adult fiction for me is she is another entrant in a long line of women who write about the then modern woman of the day. Pictorama readers may remember my posts about the serial books Grace Harlowe and The Automobile Girls and The Moving Picture Girls (which can be read here) as well as my more recent one, mentioned above, about Edna Ferber, Fervent for Ferber (you can find it here).

In my mind there is a fascinating timeline that can be drawn from, let’s say, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) and her world of women which by necessity revolved mostly around caring for men and their families, to Burnett – women’s fortunes were still largely dependent on men and marriage, but there is an increasing sense of independence and control of their own destiny. The more independent American woman is frequently brought into contrast with her European (generally British) counterparts, causing all sorts of consternation. After Burnett the truly modern woman slowly emerges – driving cars, working for a living, controlling her own financial destiny – ultimately Edna Ferber’s women sit firmly astride both worlds, working, running businesses and finding their own success. I do hope Burnett and Ferber had a chance to meet, and I am glad Hodgson Burnett lives long enough to have a peek at that world for women. In another universe I believe I am writing a PhD thesis on this.

Even when Hodgson Burnett is writing about men, she is writing about women. I will expand on this theory when I return to this topic and write a bit more about some of the books. For though now I think I have chattered on enough for one Sunday!

 

 

Howdy Doody

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I think I would have wanted to grab up this photo wherever I might have run across it. However, this image is actually of my uncle and was among the cache of photos I discovered in New Jersey last week, referred to in yesterday’s post. I knew the familial tale of my uncle entering the Howdy Doody look alike contest, but if I had seen the photo I did not remember. It evidently hung in my grandmother’s house, so I must have seen it as a child and just can’t recall.

Nor do I remember Howdy Doody since it went off the air in 1960, before I was born. There was an early 1970’s resurgence of interest in it that I vaguely recollect from being a small child, but why anyone would be interested frankly mystified me from what I could see. My own childhood was not without television puppets – Kukla Fran and Ollie made appearances and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was deeply beloved. (Full disclosure, watching the recent documentary on Mr. Rogers on an airplane recently I wept openly the entire time. There was a Danish couple next to me who were clearly concerned about the state of my well-being. Strangely however, many people have reported the same reaction.)

Puppets eventually morphed into muppets and the world got Sesame Street. Although my younger brother watched Sesame Street and therefore I know it well, I was a bit long in the tooth for it myself. However, I recently went to a performance at Dizzy’s where Wynton and Elmo had a conversation and played together. I had forgotten all the music was jazz – turns out I remembered all the music! The Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra will have an anniversary tribute concert to the show in the fall.

For Kim’s generation though Howdy Doody was the real deal. Kim has frequently opined that, despite his father Gene’s involvement in television, he was never able to leverage a spot in the Peanut Gallery on the show. Kim did make numerous childhood and teenage appearances on a variety of kids shows – The Magic Cottage, Allen Swift was a family friend and there was his show Captain Allen among them. In addition, Gene utilized a flipbook Kim made to illustrate the persistence of vision which Gene showed on national television – so it was natural that he would aspire to a spot in the audience of the Howdy Doody show. (Meanwhile, Kim has just told me that the flipbook was on display at the Museum of Modern Art for an exhibit on UPA – however, sadly it seems to have been subsequently lost.) Kim has touched on early television and cartoons in numerous stories he has written and drawn. (Most obvious of course, The Search for Smilin’ Ed and Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Those can be found here and here.)

I gather there were multiple cartoon jockey entertainment tv shows in his youth and Kim credits Howdy Doody with introducing him to silent films. I remember Bob McAllister and Wonderama best – also Bozo the Clown – showing cartoons, but the idea of silent films on those types of shows seems exotic and wonderful. And I do remember the prizes on Wonderama (if I remember it was just sort of a lottery thing and a kid in the audience just won them, but I could be wrong, maybe they did something to win them) and therefore I can only imagine the sort of longing that must have been created by the haul proffered for the winner of the Howdy Doody look alike contest!

I looked for a full list online and that was unfortunately not available despite references to it. Kim remembers that there was a film projector among the loot – clearly this would have been at the top of the list for a young Kim Deitch with his budding interest in animation and film. I imagine the list was drool worthy indeed and clearly my mother’s younger brother, John Wheeling, was not immune. It wasn’t a time when a lot of photos were casually taken in their family so a certain amount of planning (wheedling) must have gone into even getting this 5″x7″ photo I imagine.

Hake’s auctions, eBay and sites now make it possible to have a good look at some of the merchandising and premiums from our childhoods and much earlier periods. Some hold up quite well – the Little Orphan Annie and Buster Brown rings – Captain Midnight’s Mystic Sun God ring brings a premium still. There’s something thrilling and deeply satisfying about actually seeing photos of all those things. I enjoy those sections of the Hake’s catalogues very much. (For a stroll through my enjoyment of these catalogues see an earlier post, Ode to a Toy Catalogue, here.)

 

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Captain Midnight Mystic Sun God ring

 

Sadly, Howdy Doody merchandise and premiums do not hold up to 21st century light of day! They are plastic, cheap paper and of a lower order. I offer a brochure of their premiums and some of the higher end examples below.

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However, being the beneficiary of the toy laden munificence of exotica proffered for this contest was not the fate of a young John Wheeling. Despite his very credible photo, needless to say he didn’t win the contest. Little Billy Oltman, shown below in Life magazine, won the 1950 contest, besting more than 17,000 rivals. He is younger than my uncle and it is said his mother enhanced his freckles to increase the likeness to the (rather dubiously homely) famous puppet. One can’t help but wonder if perhaps some sort of a fix was in. Of course it is a bit late for sour grapes almost seventy years later.

Oltman Howdy Doody Magazine