July 4

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is more of a rumination on the past post so you might want to get out early if you don’t like those. I don’t own either of these firework labels, but I like the idea of industrious kittens preparing your firecrackers for you, yet still playing – kittens will always be kittens! Letting them play with your fireworks is probably a bad idea however, needless to say.

Pictorama readers know I grew up on the Jersey shore (one post, about the other end of summer and the local fireman’s fair can be found here), and by this time in the summer a beloved routine of maximized daily beach going would have already commenced. Waking to an overcast and potentially rainy Fourth, such as I see out my window right now, would have equaled tragedy indeed, but then again every day missed out in the sun and water during those summers was a catastrophe. In this way I feel deeply sorry for the kids who, due to the virus, won’t be able to go to the beaches and pools this summer. It was a precious release valve of my childhood.

Meanwhile, my parents shared a deep aversion to crowds. For my father as a news cameraman it may have been the daily need to fight his way through them, his more than six feet four inches enabling him to make his way so he could get the shot he needed for the news. My dad was appalled when he discovered that I used to routinely go to see the Thanksgiving balloons blown up each year. He always said it was one of his least favorite assignments, along with shooting the parade on Thanksgiving Day. Just shook his head in amazement like how could he have failed so as a father. Needless to say, much from my kid-perspective disappointment, we never went to see the parade either.

Mom just doesn’t like crowds and will do anything to avoid them. And when I think about it, summer crowds in that shore town meant long traffic jams. I can see being in a car with a bunch of kids in the oppressive summer heat (our cars did not have air conditioning back in the day – yes, I am that old – and we frequently had ancient automobiles as well); stuck in traffic, waiting for the drawbridge, or just in a mass of cars released or heading to the local race track, Monmouth Park and the beach – was not attractive. But also, my parents eschewed large group gatherings.

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The drawbridge between Rumson and Sea Bright which figured largely into my childhood, causing traffic chaos and which I crossed on foot with some trepidation.

 

Anyway, it was a fact and that meant that no amount of wheedling and cajoling or nudging would get them into a car to take us to see fireworks on the Fourth. They even avoided the small town parade that took place early on the morning of July 4, except for a year I vaguely remember being pressed into service to march with my Girl Scout troop, Brownies most likely. For my folks it was a weekend to stay home which they took to with a certain fierceness which was unlike their usual casual willingness to comply with our simple childhood whims.

As a kid this was nothing short of a grave injustice. I loved fireworks with the strangely delayed boom, boom, the cascades of color and the patterns of the lights. Seeing them on television, or off in the distance from our backyard, just didn’t cut it when I knew a few miles away I could have, in theory, had a front row seat. We had a sailboat and we might have, like hundreds of others, taken it out and watched them over the water. (River traffic on those nights was easily as bad as land traffic however, and frankly my father’s somewhat dubious skill as a skipper may not have qualified him for that tricky night maneuver, heading to a different river and involving two drawbridge openings. Of course I didn’t realize that as a kid.)

Therefore, I have no memory of viewing fireworks in person with my parents as a child. I don’t remember discussing this parental failing with my siblings, although I must have talked to my sister about it. It must not have concerned Loren much or I would have remembered – she was the more vocal of the two of us. Edward was much younger and did not weigh in on the debate either. Perhaps he remembers something of it I do not.

Adolescence brought some independence and I routinely imposed firework attendance on a long line of boyfriends. Most complied with some enthusiasm – we picnicked in parks, swatted mosquitoes and took the displays in, shrugging off the crowds and the parking problems. The best was going out on a motor boat with friends of friends one year and parking more or less right under where the fireworks were going off – close enough that the curling hot little bits of burning paper falling from the sky landed around us in the boat. It remains the peak firework viewing experience of my life.

I probably should have stopped there, but human nature being what it is I continued to pursue firework watching through my early adulthood. Displays switching here in Manhattan from East River to Hudson, and I would head over to the East River on those designated years (for some mystical reason I never tried to see them from the westside), to watch them on the FDR. Even here in Manhattan the density of humans thronging over to the viewing area meant a long, hot walk and wait for crowded viewing, followed by a still hot and very crowded walk back to packed subways and buses. A bridge would always seem to obscure your view. It took years for me to get it out of my system.

Somewhat like my childhood home on the river, Kim and I live with a view of the East River, although we face northeast and see the river as it turns a bit toward the north. And much like the backyard of my childhood, we have only partial and obscured views of the fireworks in Queens in most years and a very poor one (high rises in the way) of those set off over the East River. Early on I made nascent attempts to head over to Carl Schurz Park, or to scamper up to the roof with a pint of ice cream to have a look. Although I gave up on it years ago, I still have a small itch most years, to see them.

This year the fireworks are canceled in New York, although illegal ones have strangely abounded since early in the spring, occasionally waking us and rousing the cats to head for safer ground, such as under the bed although it is such a regular occurrence that they generally ignore it. Kim woke to a cacophony of car horns at Gracie Mansion a few weeks ago, protesting the illegal fireworks which also set off car alarms. (I slept through it, but read about it and the point of it days later.) Although I prefer fireworks to the sirens of ambulances that we heard throughout the nights of March and April, it is far from soothing and there are nights when it tests my already frayed nerves.

Because going out for groceries in our pandemic pounded city still seems like a big deal – our newly introduced outdoor dining seeming radical to my pasty housebound self – it would have been unlikely that we would deviate and embrace public Independence Day celebration. I have finally become my parents and avoid crowds.

Meanwhile, as a fundraiser for organizations that end their fiscal year on June 30 and begin anew on July 1, in recent years I have generally found myself exhausted over this holiday, the end of a final long sprint to the financial finish line, and in other years I have extended it with vacation just to catch up a bit.

Vacation days are going begging this year though as Jazz at Lincoln Center battled through the end of last fiscal year, having already gone more than three months without earned income, our hall dark and our orchestra unable to play. We hit our marks for last year, but now go barrel headlong into an even more difficult year, facing at least six months without earned income and trying to charter an unknown course ahead. Not to mention that it is also unclear what vacation means now, without leaving our 600 square feet and computer screens. Still, we’re slowing to a halt for a day or so here at Deitch Studio, pausing and catching our collective breath, before heading back into it.

 

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Glorious Food

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have generally always had a good relationship with food. Despite a few allergies in early childhood, eventually resolved on their own – horrifyingly chocolate was briefly among them, followed by a reaction to animal fat triggered by a vaccine as a toddler. However, I was never an especially picky eater (it should be noted that I did have an odd and specific loathing of meatloaf, to my family a well-known aversion), although the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in suburban New Jersey did not exactly encourage fearless experimentation. During my college years, I eventually wandered toward eating only fish and dairy on the animal side of things.

I did grow up around good cooking (some of my posts about my ancestors, their restaurants and cooking here and here), and despite coming of age in an era of tv dinners and frozen vegetables, the local bounty of the Garden State plied us, at least seasonally, with fresh vegetables (nothing like a sun warmed Jersey tomato or corn right off the vine), and locally fished seafood right off the boat.

Even the sandy soil of our backyard, not immune to fall and winter’s hurricane flooding of salt water, still managed to provide us with a not insignificant annual bounty of tomatoes and herbs at a minimum. Strawberry vines grew wild and these were generally tiny, but sweet – however, you had to beat the bunnies and birds to them and in later years we surrendered them to that cause. Sunflowers grew even taller than my father and there was often a strange annual surplus of squash. Corn and cucumbers would not grew there, despite my periodic attempts. We Butlers were casual farmers at best however – our interest waning as the summer grew longer and hotter, however by that point everything pretty much ticked along as long as you were attentive about watering during the long hot days.

My mother reduced her efforts largely to containers in later years and even then the luxury of fresh herbs from the garden, only picking what you needed, spoiled me when I was visiting and cooking there. By that time I had already had a (albeit brief) career cooking professionally. However, despite having been around it plenty as a kid, I really learned to cook by doing it with friends who knew more about it than me – eventually fueled by a very real interest in cookbooks which at one point in my life I read on my long daily subway commute during an internship while living in London.

If I have a talent for cooking (and I would volunteer mine is modest at best really) it is that having grasped the fundamentals of a recipe I can then riff on it and make it my own with variations on a theme. (For me this is less true in baking which I approach as alchemy and a science not to be messed with – although there are people who are amazing at this, I have long recognized that I am not one of those magicians.)

My interest in cooking has long been submerged and drastically subdued over the years by long hours and travel for my job in fundraising. Without really being aware, our food needs were increasingly being met by a variety of easily made or semi-assembled meals. Kim is not a fan of eating out (and back in normal days I ate out a lot for work), and we generally limit even our take-out eating to Friday night. Until recently that was Mexican food. Taco Today, owned by a Korean family and less than a block away, was our Friday night destination after a long week. I would sometimes meet Kim there after working out at the gym, although gym after work not happening in the past year or so as my hours at work grew ever longer.

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View of First Avenue from inside Taco Today, waiting for our Friday night order last year.

 

Those were of course the sylvan pre-pandemic days. Taco Today closed for renovation in early March and therefore avoided the dilemma of deciding whether they could stay in business. We have stuck to our Friday night take-out and supported our local pizza place (love you Arturo’s!) and first one and now another Mexican establishment somewhat further afield. There was briefly a sandwich shop on First, just opened pre-Covid, owned by an Indian man who would occasionally slip some native Indian fare into the offerings. He closed sometime in late March, but I just noticed yesterday they seem to have re-opened.

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Arturo’s Pizza is the best and we are very grateful for their effort to remain open during the Pandemic. This fellow greets us each time at this tiny hole-in-the-wall Yorkville establishment.

 

Working from home has involved even longer hours, but well, at home. I have already written some about the beehive of activity here in this one small room we call Deitch Studio and home. (I outlined some of the details in my recent post, We Work Each Day: Clivette Cont. which can be found here.) Thankfully our kitchen renovation (which still gives me horrors, the details can be found in a few posts that start here) was completed last fall. It has been put to excellent use.

It should be noted that I have always indulged in eating copious fruit and working from home during a pandemic I have allowed an unfettered consumption of oranges, apples and berries. Meanwhile, slowly the cooking memory muscle has begun to grind back to life. First a renewed interest in how to use leftovers, then wandering over to pastas. Fish fillets now enjoy blankets of sauce and dinner rarely has fewer than two vegetables. I replaced my broken food processor. Kim’s birthday saw the production of an actual, if simple, chocolate cake (recently documented here) and suddenly the itch to bake and cook is beckoning. (And yes, for those of you who are paying attention, I really only have one size of loaf Pyrex so everything is uniformly coming out the same size and shape!) I think I feel gazpacho coming on next.

The ever present worry about health living in quarantine during a pandemic has presumably fueled this interest beyond the additional time spent at home. What greater defense has there ever been against falling ill than eating right? Concerns about dieting seem absurd when considered in the context of pandemic, people falling ill and dying all around. While I have controlled a nagging desire to let loose with a barrage of baking (visions of chocolate chip cookies lurk in the corners of my mind), I made a decision early on that if I was going to be in quarantine I was doing it with dark chocolate and good ice cream. (Other folks thought this way and for a time ice cream was hard to find here.)

Frankly, if you are going to be marooned somewhere for several months, having continued access to excellent bagels (shout out to Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue) and pizza (another huzzah for Arturo’s, also on York) goes a long way to making up for the lack of access to outdoor space and well, space in general. Yay Manhattan!

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Messy crowded counter which I did not have time to clear off when the urge to make this cheesy olive loaf yesterday. 

 

Meanwhile, this week the desire manifested itself in another recipe from The New York Times, this time for an olive cheese bread. Bread in general presents a problem for me as I have arthritis in my hands and kneading has been out of the question for decades already. I more experienced baker might be able to substitute some aspect of the Cuisinart for this activity. (If you are one of those folks and want to enlighten me, please do.) I have not figured it out. This sort of faux bread skips that step and requires only a firm hand with a spatula mixing.

I have long thought that if I had stayed in the professional cooking business I might have moved into baking and not fancy pastry, but more down to earth things like bread, muffins and loaf cakes. I have never had a significant sweet tooth really and it is those savory items I might have spent my time concocting in another life. These are more forgiving than the French pastry of my training as well and allow even my somewhat ham-handed invention and variation.

Back to the cheesy olive bread. It is very simple and it is really delightful. Somehow it reminds me of my grandmother’s somewhat cake-y loaves. Kim is not a fan of eggs so I replaced them by doubling the buttermilk (I could have done the same by using yogurt and doubling it, but I couldn’t find yogurt I liked at the market) and it worked just fine, better than expected. (Now I have half of a container of buttermilk to use – any ideas out there?) I went the route of rosemary for herbs and included the suggested fresh ground pepper.

The smell while cooking was heavenly and a bonus is that you experience it all over again if you heat your slice before consuming which I also recommend – although oddly it doesn’t seem to actually toast. Might be my lack of eggs in the recipe but not sure. Meanwhile, mmmm! I am looking forward to slicing up some tomatoes, perhaps with some fresh basil, to put atop of slabs of this.

The recipe can be found on the NYT site here or as below. Thank you Melissa Clark!

Savory Olive and Cheese Loaf by Melissa Clark

2½ cups/320 grams all-purpose flour (or a combination of all-purpose and some whole-wheat or rye flour) 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1½ teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon baking soda ¼ cup/60 ml olive oil 1 cup/240 ml fermented dairy product (buttermilk or plain yogurt) 2 eggs ¾ cup/110 gr sliced pitted olives 1 cup/8 ounces grated cheese cup/8 ounces grated cheese (Gruyère, Cheddar or other hard grating cheese), divided (7 ounces & 1 ounce) 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, oregano, marjoram or rosemary OR 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper.

DIRECTIONS: Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch loaf pan (or line it with parchment). In a large bowl, whisk together dey ingredients. In a large measuring cup, whisk together olive oil and buttermilk/yogurt. (If using thick Greek yogurt, thin it down with a little water, milk, or whey from yogurt-making.) Whisk in the eggs. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry to form a heavy, thick batter. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the pitted olives and ¾ cup/7 ounces grated cheese. Finally, add the herbs and seasonings. Spread the batter in the pan and scatter the remaining ¼ cup/1 ounce grated cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is browned and the top of the loaf springs back when lightly pressed, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve warm as soon as you can unmold it (about 30 minutes after baking).

Teed Up

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today I dust off an item I have owned for so many decades that I do not remember exactly how or where I acquired it. However, given the time period I came into possession of him I would guess I found him at a street fair.

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s Manhattan had street fairs, spring through fall, almost every weekend and all over the city. Unlike what they became later, in those early years there were a lot more tables of mom and pop types set up selling old stuff, semi-flea market style. (Meanwhile the beloved flea markets were being chased from their real estate so that new, towering condos could be constructed.) I followed them religiously around the city, taking in each new neighborhood along the way as I was fairly new to the city still, and purchasing odd items.

The street fairs were eventually taken over by corporate entities and the small time sellers pushed out and with that I stopped going. These days I would guess they will continue to be paused entirely during our coming pandemic colored summer and fall and who knows if they will come back and in what form. However, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, all of Manhattan is developing a sort of a free for all, al fresco attitude with street vendors selling food and every establishment with a liquor license selling wine, beer, sangria (think diners trying to make that extra dollar) and mixed cocktails for consumption on the street. Protesters close down streets with marches daily, but the city has comparatively few cars in it, at least in my part of town. I realized recently I haven’t seen a yellow cab in months.

I believe this china, smiling, cart-driving, solid citizen was purchased in a nod to my then boyfriend, Kevin, who always had a nicely decorated, very 1950’s style bar in his tiny apartment on I think it was 10th between Avenues B and C. He was my street fair partner in crime and his taste in bar tchotchkes and decor definitely had an influence on me and my collecting in those days.

We drank as well and would explore interesting old New York lairs on the weekends. In that way we explored all of the still extant Yorkville bars, some almost private clubs like Elsie Renee’s Oke Doke Bar, where the elderly owner studied each person via a small window in a wooden door before deciding if safe to allow them into the charming, if barren, bar – not much decoration here; some dusty liquor bottles and plastic flowers as I remember. Her apartment was behind it through a small outdoor courtyard you could see from the bar if it wasn’t dark. Elsie was a stout, gray-haired, no nonsense kind of German matron. I think she served more or less two kinds of (German only) beer. I believe I drank Dinkelacker and Kevin maybe Spaten. A second woman of a similar age helped her and I would see her in the neighborhood, a bright kerchief over her hair, shopping in the remaining German markets of the neighborhood.

Then there was another tiny hole in the wall one called The Toy Bar in the East 70’s, around 77th and Second I want to say. It was ablaze in twinkling Christmas lights and was heavily decorated in toys that were from the 60’s and 70’s, that decade or two largely dating them to my own childhood. They weren’t great toys as such (I was just at the very dawn of toy collecting interest), but the overall effect was splendid and it was a friendly bar. Sadly it drifted out of existence fairly quickly. I often thought if I had lived a bit closer I would have frequented it more.

There were others – a strange subterranean piano bar in full 50’s regalia attached to a restaurant in the East 50’s; another neighborhood piano bar further east; the Top of the Tower Bar perched atop of the Beekman Towers on First Avenue on Mitchell Place (where First Avenue meets Sutton Place) with the most splendid views up and downtown and of the enormous Coca Cola sign across the river. I think we knew that we had a finite amount of time to experience all of these and took advantage of it, to the extent that our limited resources allowed.

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My Bar Caddy would have fit right in at most of these places I think. I find his smile just a tad smirky – the tiniest slip of the brush contributing to that. There is strangely detailed straps and bits hanging off of his cart and bags which being golf ignorant I know nothing of – but I am impressed by the detail nonetheless. (My eye-hand coordination, or lack of, made me such a remarkable failure at golf that I never tried after that first time in gym class, although I sort of admire tell of its Zen qualities. I have a golfing branch of my family however, on my mother’s side, and my great-aunt once won a car at a tournament with a hole-in-one. Notably, she made a second hole-in-one at the same club a few years later. Her granddaughter, a successful eye surgeon, was also splendid at the game and still plays.)

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Finally, tucked into the back of this chipper fellow is a single drink stirrer. In the shape of a golf club (a putter? Kim who did a stint as a caddy says yes.), it has lived, appropriately, in the back of the caddy as long as I can remember. However, it is my memory that it was purchased separately. It is evidently from the Highland Hotel, in Springfield, Massachusetts and on the reverse side it declares, Every Meal a Pleasant Memory. In parting I share a postcard of the Highland Hotel and their menu below. More meals and drinks gone by although in another time and place.

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Drive-in and Take-out

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today’s post comes again from the magic box of photos from Tom Conroy, stored on my desk, and which I am now exploring more fully during these continued quarantine days. I chose this one because it made me think of the early drive-in’s of my childhood – a summer source of great delight, although not as old as this beauty.

Carpenter’s Sandwiches clearly had a vast menu. A close look shows that in addition to a myriad variety of bbq, they offered bean chili, burgers, beer and stein churned buttermilk. Located at 6285 West Sunset Boulevard, other photos of its unusual architecture are available online. An early automotive blogger has documented it with six publicity photos, those attributed to the libraries at USC. My photo seems to have come first from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (at 5520 Sunset Boulevard – there’s an enormous Target there now) and then a movie still archive in Santa Fe, New Mexico – stamps from both are on the back.

My photo could have been taken at the same time, but appears to show another side of the building. Sandwiches ranged from the high end, sirloin at twenty-five cents, to the low end of fifteen cents. (That blog post, mentioned above, with six additional photos of Carpenter’s can be found here.) My side of the building seems to feature the desserts and coconut custard, french apple and berry pie were all on offer. I like the snappy uniforms of the carhop attendants. It had a sharp, come hither look at night as well.

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While I cannot find the ultimate date of demise of Carpenter’s it is easily traced as far as the early 1940’s. Founded by Harry B. Carpenter and his brother Charles, they continued to build their venues with distinctive architecture and a later version is shown below.

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My own memories of ancient drive-ins is fairly foggy. There was a Stewart’s in a neighboring town, Atlantic Highlands, which seemed to feature the root beer brand and, visited only occasionally, seemed exotic at the time. Although originally a west cost chain, a quick search says that thirty such ones still existed in New Jersey in 2019. I have better memories of an early Dairy Queen which served burgers. It was located in Long Branch, New Jersey and near my grandmother’s house so it was a more frequent stop. It merged in my mind with MacDonald’s which was a slightly later entry but eventually took over more or less entirely.

Diary Queen eventually became a mostly ice cream only franchise near us and the one in my hometown was the very frequent scene of post-dinner visits with dad. (You could easily talk him into it – visits usually resulted in a vanilla cone with chocolate sprinkles for me – although a rare chocolate dip, or rainbow sprinkles could sneak in and an even more rare vanilla sundae with strawberry glop would lure me in. Dad was generally a chocolate cone man, as was my sister Loren. Edward, I can’t remember what you or mom ordered. I think mom often took a pass.) There was a time when a job at Dairy Queen would have been a pinnacle of a certain kind of success for me. I never achieved it, sad to say. My job as a short order cook and sub sandwich assembler at a pizza establishment was as close as I came.

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This Crazees ice cream is on the site of and in the original building of the old Dairy Queen in Rumson, New Jersey where I grew up.

 

As we make our first cautious moves into post-quarantine life here in New York City we are embracing eating outside – spontaneous evening cocktail strolls seem to quietly have taken hold, and I find myself fighting hard to resist the siren beckon of the Mr. Softee truck (Pop-Goes-the-Weasel playing over and over) in our neighborhood, late in the evenings. A bit further out, a variety of new drive-ins are springing up – I have read about films in diner parking lots, old drive-ins taking on new life. (Perhaps a live jazz show in at a drive-in? Could happen.) For now, on the cusp of this particular summer, we are in the middle of our first phase of getting back to life, not as it was but as it will be.

Blue

Pam’s Pictorama Post: One of the facts of living in a small space is that you routinely have to make decisions about what you can and cannot acquire or keep. Since I have lived my entire adult life in studio apartments, this is pretty much just the way it is. The very existence of this blog, chock-a-block full of toys and other precious detritus, proves that I have never wanted for stuff, but despite that decisions are constantly required. A few years back I wrote a post bemoaning some rather large items that had crossed my path which I was unable to provide a home for, much to my chagrin. (That post, Close Quarters can be found here.)

Most disappointingly, living in a small space meant that when my grandmother and then my parents, were moving to smaller quarters I was not able to absorb more of the familiar and treasured items as I might have otherwise. You could, probably rightly, argue that I saved myself a lot of trouble by not accumulating more things than I would ultimately be able to use. In particular though, I smart a bit over the cuckoo clock that I loved as a child which I considered taking. The reality of it was that it was much larger than I remembered and also had the potential for being quite loud. Sort of anathema for a tiny space.

Instead, I gathered a smattering of items. I have already written about a glass made of red and white spatterware that used to sit in my grandmother’s kitchen and was beloved by the entire extended family.  (That post Ann’s Glass can be found here.) Unlike that glass, some of the items that turned up were not ones I was familiar with from my childhood in her house. Among those was a small set of these glasses.

I assume these were meant for cordials of some kind as they are fairly tiny. The color would have been irresistible for my grandmother who loved all things blue. I wish I knew the story behind her acquiring them because I can barely remember her consuming a glass of wine. I can only imagine they were from a long ago time when the family might have gathered and a variety of drinks served. Or perhaps they were just too pretty to resist, although frankly that was not her style – things were practical and got used.

Cinzano? Vermouth? The former seems possible for that Italian side of the family, the latter less so. These were not sophisticated, nor even regular drinkers. Sherry? Perhaps. Somehow I had reached a ripe adulthood before an elderly friend gave me a bottle of Tio Pepe sherry, her favorite.

The first time I ever had sherry was at her house. It is, in my opinion, an acquired taste but it did grow on me. And, upon the receipt of that bottle I decided that this was an ideal use, as such, for these glasses. However, following largely in the footsteps of my ancestors, I am not a regular drinker and therefore these glasses languish a bit in my cabinet, as does the sherry. However, just to see them each time I open the cupboard gives me pleasure and although it vaguely violates my use it or lose it philosophy around dishes. They are exempt.

The Fur Person

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This book was a prize when I discovered it and gave it to my mom, back when I was in college. Mom was reading May Sarton’s poetry and journals at the time. Being a keeper of kitties herself, the slim volume discovered in a used bookstore, devoted to and written from the perspective of Sarton’s adopted stray Tom Jones, was a score for a holiday gift for mom and quickly became a family favorite.

Some of the phrases Tom Jones uses to describe his world quickly integrated into the cat lexicon of the Butler family home and remain in use for many a subsequent generation of cats, both in New Jersey and the Manhattan branch, of which of course I am in charge. The kneading paws of our kits became starfish paws and a cat sitting in his or her favorite window, watching the world go by, is reading the newspaper. Even before discovering the book my mother had already christened our inordinately smart girl cat, Winkie, her Fur Child, and would allow that the sixth chair at the kitchen table was hers and Winks would perch there, ever politely. These phrases have been used so often I had somewhat forgotten their origin, traced to this book.

I hadn’t thought of the book in decades, but recently when researching and writing a Pictorama post, the memory of it nagged at the edges of my memory until I finally remembered it. The edition I gave my mother was a hardcover, early edition, much like the one I purchased for myself recently. I located an inexpensive copy online, hardcover and illustrated as I remembered, and it arrived quickly, a gentle explosion of mothballs and mold when opened. (It is still in print and also available in inexpensive paperback form, I believe, complete with the original illustrations by Barbara Knox, which I think you want to complete it, although I find them a tad uninspired.) I recommend it as an absolute must read for cat lovers.

Tom’s story is one of a stray tom cat who, as he comes of age, realizes the attraction of living with a housekeeper and sets off in search of an appropriate set-up. After abandoning the small boy who claims him as a kitten, briefly considering life in a grocery store, he ultimately determines that an old maid with a garden would be best suited to his needs. After some trial and error, he finds his home with not one, but two, old maids – presumably May and her partner, Judy Matlock, although only identified here as Gentle Voice and Brusque Voice.

Judy, Gentle Voice, is the first to invite Tom into the house and the one who names him; she is the cat lover in this family. May, Brusque Voice who smokes and is less likely to pet and coddle, eventually grows into loving the critter in their midst. She is the one who works at home all day, forging a special bond as shown when they both care for him during a serious illness – my guess would be a bad case of ring worm from the description. It is clear he has become central to their lives. (I can tell you that the cats here have an entirely different relationship with Kim who is central to their all day every day, although perhaps that is shifting some now that I have been pandemic installed here now for several months. That is a long time in cat days.)

May Sarton’s tone is indeed a tad brusque which keeps the book from falling into the saccharine, maudlin or childish. Tom Jones is a un-spayed male cat and Sarton gives a fair, if comical, view of what was on the mind of a young boy cat who came in off the streets. She also relishes describing the kitty joys of digging, tree climbing and has an especially entertaining interlude with his introduction to catnip. A novella, barely topping 100 pages, it is a quick read. It is a book that could be enjoyed by younger folks, but is written for adults.

My copy of this book, is inscribed on the inside cover with the name Mildred Krainock, Aug. 1957 in a neat script, written in pen. Despite a 1957 copyright, the fly leaf announces that this volume is in its third printing so the book was popular from the first. (May Sarton had already published a clutch of books – novels and poems – and was an established writer.)

As a book penned in the mid-50’s Sarton is both tongue in cheek with her language – she would have only been 45 when she published this book – but probably also accommodating a time when old maids would have been the most acceptable way of looking at two women living together. I don’t think Sarton was much bothered about keeping her sexuality under wraps even in those early years, but she assumes the mantel of an unimpeachable role for the times here.

I am happy to tell readers this isn’t one of those awful books where the denouement is the death of the pet in question, but while researching this book I realized that Sarton wrote it either just before or during the time she and Judy separate, as noted by Wikipedia, was in 1956. The book is dedicated to Judy and while the back fly leaf assures us that Tom Jones and Sarton continue to live together in Cambridge, MA, evidently in reality Sarton had left for New Hampshire after the death of her father by the time of publication.

While it is unclear where Tom Jones would have landed in their parting, the book implies that he is somewhat more fond of Judy than of May. I realized that I was enjoying the idea of their happy household, ruled by Tom at the the helm, continuing for years beyond the book, and was sadden by the knowledge that it was most likely written in remembrance and tribute, honoring days now passed, or passing.

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Piercing

Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.

It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her  – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.

Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.

For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.

It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.

Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!

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My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.

In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.

 

A Cat in Gloves

Pam’s Pictorama Post: The bottle featured in today’s post was a gift from Facebook (and real) Friend, Dan Theodore. Dan faithfully shows up at many of Kim’s speaking engagements and before a recent one he told me he was going through some things that belonged to a family member and did I want this bottle as it had a cat on it? I happily accepted which brings us to today’s post. (I realize as I take photos of this that I could use some advice from friend Eileen Travell who shoots glass routinely for the Met. I did the best I could!)

As it happens, in addition to cats, I have long been fascinated by blue glass. Since my childhood days of beach combing and hunting for sea glass, glass colored blue has attracted me. If you have hunted sea glass you know that green and clear opaque are the common colors. Blue and red are very rare. When Loren or I found a piece we would crow and lord it over the other.

It lead me eventually to the logical question of, why is there so little blue glass to begin with and then the exercise of keeping a weather eye for blue glass bottles in their original whole state – assuming of course that somehow those bottles had to find their way into the Atlantic ocean, often broken, to ultimately make their way into my glass collection. Aside from some medical bottles I did not find too many in use. I assume this is because cobalt is a somewhat more expensive color and unless you had a reason for using it why add expense. As a child I had the sort of naive idea that all the glass in the ocean was from ships – ocean garbage dumping had not occurred to me.

Without really knowing much about what I am talking about I am vaguely aware that some of the chemicals I used for my early process photography warned that they had to be stored in dark amber bottles because exposure to light would damage them. There might be something to this for the use of blue glass which seems to have a limited use primarily for medical purposes. Furthermore, Wikipedia has informed me that what I call sea glass should be called beach glass and while I stand corrected I will continue, as I always have, to call it sea glass. In addition, the internet informs me that more rare than blue are the previously alluded to red, but also yellow and lavender which frankly I don’t remember having ever seen in person.

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Cat bottle from animal series by Clevenger Brothers, in Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

Sliding back to today’s bottle which has an interesting story in its own right. This bottle, with an image of a cat on one side, reads Cat, The Cat in Gloves Catches No Mice. This is evidently a known saying. The meaning is, you cannot be too cautious and get what you want. I am not sure I endorse this saying, and right now I am looking at Cookie’s white paws (the gloves to her perma-wear tux fur) and thinking they do not hamper her in the least.

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Curled up kitty on Clevenger bottle, Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

I was surprised how quickly the history of this particular bottle was revealed to me online as the only markings are a C and a B on the bottom. The bottle is the product of the Clevenger Brothers, an eponymous  South Jersey enterprise founded by brothers in the 1930’s. They were seeking to revive a much older glass industry in the area and their bottles are generally reproductions of these earlier designs. Some of their own early efforts, those that are handblown and also the efforts of some of their more creative employees executed off hours, are of some value. Ones like mine are collectible for their charm and have a market.

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Elephant bottles by Clevenger Brothers. Not in Pictorama collection.

 

This cat bottle is evidently part of a series on animals they produced. It is unclear to me if these were original designs or also copies of earlier ones. Although I found references to it I did not find much of substance or many examples aside from this elephant version below which I like. These bottles were made from molds and could have been made any time during the company’s history. There is an interesting brief history of the company which can be found at this link, 1987 Clevenger Brothers Glassworks the Persistence of Tradition, at the Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center site. It would seem that the factory remains in existence as a quasi-museum today and it is on a list of historic sites in South Jersey.

Growing up in Jersey I have long been aware of the history of the area and in my childhood there were sites where you could visit amateur excavations to search for such things as early glass. Although we drove through the Pine Barrens a few times in my childhood and I was regaled with these stories, we never stopped at any of these sites to dig. However, I do appreciate this gift and even more now that I know that like me, it comes from my place of origin, the Garden State.

 

 

February Festive

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Getting into a pre-birthday and pre-Valentine’s Day mode here at Pictorama today. I will report that Kim is hard at work on the annual Valentine which will debut (hopefully) next week, and I am here to say it is going to be a stunner! Meanwhile, I have a few commercial kitty-esque offerings to start the ball rolling today.

It seems that cats have always figured somewhat largely in the visual language of Valentines and I therefore always keep half an eye on what ebay has to offer in vintage Valentines in the weeks leading up to February 14.

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from Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

 

The cat and mouse card caught my eye early – there was something truly feline in the way this puss studies the mouse (a mousy looking mouse despite her anthropomorphic portrayal) and she seems is dancing in a strange little holiday dress. My valentine is written across the dress, with a little cheat of the nt in order to make it fit neatly. A nod toward the crueler side of feline nature is a bit surprising in a Valentine sentiment, You look sweet enough to eat. This cat means it folks, a bit of blood lust in his eyes. Nonetheless, it was sent To Jean From Lorraine as per a very childish pencil script on the back. We’ll assume it was taken in the best spirit meant.

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Pams-Pictorama.com collection

 

This second card is identified as having been made in Germany which seems to be the place of origin for some of the best early Valentines and is more traditional. I liked something about it’s wide-eyed kitten enthusiasm and bought it for a few dollars on a whim. I think I would have been pleased to receive this one. And I do hope it made the recipient, Elsie Minke, feel kindly toward Raymond, as per the inscription on the back of the card. It is a sweet card and has a tiny bit of cardboard in the back to enable it to stand up on its own and evidence of use tell us that it was employed to do that at one time.

Piles of childish Valentines were exchanged each year in my elementary school days. My memory is that class lists were distributed in the early years and we routinely wrote one for everyone in our class thereby removing the possibility of someone not getting any I would guess. We bought big plastic packages of tiny cards with envelopes and dutifully filled them out, collecting mostly the same in kind in return with perhaps the addition of the occasional box of candy hearts.

High school brought a gauntlet of single roses to be ordered in advance and delivered day of – a fundraiser for some group or other. This afforded an annual (somewhat ambitious) opportunity for anonymous Romeos to put a bid in, or even bolder declarations by others. Purchase by boyfriends was requisite. (We also did something similar in the fall with large white mum corsages – with purple ribbons, school colors – to be worn to the Thanksgiving football game. It always seemed to me like a tradition that probably dated back to the 1950’s as the 1980’s were not a corsage-wearing decade for the most part.) Yes, the holidays could be competitive affairs for adolescent affection.

Meanwhile, my father was always the very best Valentine and he would show up from work with boxes of candy and something special for us. I still have a silver heart key chain he gave me one year, a matching one for my sister, and which I used for years. Dad was a splendid gift giver. Despite never being equipped to remember my precise age after I turned 18, he was always very good about holidays and gifts.

On the (many) occasions he was traveling during a holiday he either sent missives in his absence or showed up with them a day or so later, but they were always great. As a news cameraman his travel was by its very nature unplanned so I am a bit amazed when I think back on it. Dad kept a suitcase ready packed in his locker at work so that he’d at least have a few days change of clothing if sent abroad without notice. He frequently would end up having to buy clothes when a story lasted longer than a few days. This lead to my father, who liked clothes and buying them, having a much more robust wardrobe than my mother, who is somewhat ambivalent about them. (I take after him.) Somehow, probably with my mom’s organizing help, he managed to hit all the holidays and birthdays splendidly.

Pictorama readers know that Kim has found a way of topping this, producing an annual, very personal drawing for me. I will share this year’s great Valentine reveal next week. (A few from years past can be found here and here.) You still have a few days folks, get out there and stake a claim on your Valentine, there is no time like the present.

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Back

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am sitting with a rather delightful pile of toys and postcards at the moment, in part thanks to the fact the on the Saturday after New Year’s my back went out and I spent most of the next ten days on my back in bed or propped up with pillows on our couch. This lead to a lot of television watching – I am very caught up on home renovation shows and TCM’s December programming; reading – finished all the Frances Hodgson Burnett adult novels I currently have access to and have moved onto the more obscure of her children’s fiction; and, lastly, spent a lot of time (and ultimately money) trolling ebay. So Pictorama readers will be in the clover with posts in the coming weeks. However, today instead I focus on the subject of my back.

I come from a long line of troubled backs. My father was 6’5″ and carried the weight of a small child in camera equipment every working day of his life. This combined with driving long distances, also for his job as a cameraman for network news, meant that periodically his back would blow and he would be recuperating for weeks. As noted above, Dad traveled a heck of a lot for his job and so, in some ways, aside from his summer vacation which was usually 3-4 weeks at a stretch, the most we saw of Dad for long periods was when he was recovering from one of these debilitating events.

However, over the duration of this recovery I reflected on poor Dad’s misery with his back. Being such a large man, my mom couldn’t possibly really help him get out of bed or out of a chair. His preferred chair for these spells was a very old Windsor rocker which, if it was summer, we would even move out into the yard for him to sit in, packed with pillows. That was once his back was good enough to walk at all, bent over but somewhat mobile, and sit in any chair. (I happen to be the current owner of this chair, which is suffering from a broken leg. Nevertheless, I also confess that after this recent incident, this choice of chair mystifies me somewhat. It is NOT what I would have chosen to sit in even if it wasn’t broken.)

Because of the ongoing problems, his back seemed to  have a feather trigger and I can remember it going out once when he reached for the salt at dinner. My mom always ribbed him about how it went out just as he began the project of changing the storm windows to screens one spring and she had to complete the onerous task. These were family lore about dad’s back. The worst (and most family famous) episode was during the Bicentennial when he was in Rhode Island for work, hanging from the rigging on a tall ship, camera on his shoulder when (perhaps not surprisingly) his back went out. I cannot imagine how they got him, and the camera, down in one piece but they did. He then had his colleagues pack him in pillows in his car, more or less immobile and he drove himself back him to NJ. As I remember, he was home for weeks on end that summer. In the rocking chair, in the backyard during the day, us kids, cats and dog, satellites of activity buzzing around him.

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A photo my mom recently found and gave to me. Probably taken of Dad at work at about the time I describe, mid-seventies. Apologies for the bad reproduction!

 

My own back woes harken to early adulthood, when cooking professionally, and a fall down a flight of basement stairs on the job (you’ve never really lived until you’ve cooked in a New York City restaurant in an old brownstone-type building and run up and down basement stairs all day) precipitated learning that I had arthritis in my lower back and hips. In my case it ties out as inherited from my maternal grandfather, who I called Poppy. Sadly treatment was limited in Poppy’s day and when he was still quite young his spine fused, and when I knew him he walked permanently bent at a 45 degree angle. Even worse, the years of cortisone treatment combined with a heart condition killed him when he was only in his fifties, about my age now.

Treatment has changed and improved radically since then with the advent of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and even over the course of my adult life with biological drugs on the market now. I amaze that I see commercials for cures for psoriatic arthritis now when for years I did not know anyone else with the disease. Are there more of us or are we just better known?

For all of that I have never before put my back out in the traditional sense before. This siege seems to have been brought on by business travel compounded by more than a week of solid evenings at work, frequently standing for several hours at each. Eventually the Christmas holiday arrived and Kim warned me it was a critical mistake when the day after I decided to (at long last!) turn our closets over, bringing up bins of winter clothes from the basement and sending the sundresses down in their stead. I sensed trouble with my back and tried to stay the tide by having a massage that Friday. (Kim has been very thoughtful by not saying he told me so – he did tell me so, more than once! This is something I love about my spouse.)

Saturday I was enjoying the Vija Celmins exhibit at the Met Breuer. She is an extraordinary artist and so glad I didn’t miss it! Anyway I was loving the exhibit when at some point I sat down – and realized that getting up wasn’t going to be all that easy. Pain!

I got myself home and there I stayed through into the New Year. (I tried a brief trip to the office but couldn’t make a full day.) Suddenly I was in the land of my forefathers and walking bent, unable at times to fully straighten. I thought a lot of about Dad and Poppy!

Ocean 1975 by Vija Celmins born 1938

Ocean 1975 Vija Celmins born 1938 Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of the Judith Rothschild Foundation 1999 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P78336

 

I tried the usual remedies – Aleve, hot rubs, ice packs. A visit to my trainer who used a massage gun on me which with some stretching helped a little, but the spasms began again almost immediately. The doc was reluctant to use muscle relaxers and told me to keep on with the Aleve. A friend suggested acupuncture and I was surprised I didn’t think of it sooner. I had received acupuncture treatments on and off since the onset of the arthritis although have not been in a few years.

In the early years of pursuing acupuncture, late 1980’s, it wasn’t that easy to find someone and I got a referral to Dr. Ching Y. Ting from a colleague in the Asian Art Department at the Met – she had curvature of the spine which gave her back trouble. I saw Dr. Ting for several years. He spoke little English and smoked constantly. (So much for acupuncture resolving that habit!)

His operation was housed in a two bedroom apartment in an enormous white brick building in the East 30’s. Broken into a labyrinth, it was a rabbit warren of cubbies where numerous treatments were ongoing at the same time – ticking egg timers for each treatment luring us all to nap during treatment. Assistants coming to our rescue when our timer dinged. In addition to the cigarette smoke, there was always steaming tea being consumed and instead of heat lamps the heat in the apartment was turned way up, creating a steamy, smoky, exotic atmosphere which was just short of terrifying to my 23 year old self at first.

Dr. Ting was a very good doctor and I saw him as frequently as I could afford to, but sadly he died suddenly several years after I started to see him. (I heard that he just fell over after a family banquet at a restaurant in what was described to me as a good way to die.) Subsequently, I briefly saw some of his colleagues (treating an arthritic toe) over near Penn Station; followed eventually by a woman in the West Village (extremely capable, during an episode of frozen shoulder) whose location was inconvenient; and finally (during the second frozen shoulder) Eileen Chen who I turned to this time. She, like Dr. Ting, is a doctor fully versed in Chinese medicine. Her uptown location has closed, but she is still operates an office on 57th Street, which as it turns out, is about a block and a half from where I now work.

Eileen was unavailable over the holiday week for my emergency treatment so I saw a young colleague of hers, Hilary Zelner. I was unhappy about changing docs under the circumstances, but ultimately Hilary has done an excellent job, her style patient and chattier than Eileen, and she gets the credit for having gotten me back in shape. Needles have piled high with each of my treatments, more than I ever remember before. She mentioned how they vibrate and grow hot to the touch in my back.

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If you’ve never had acupuncture my experience is that it doesn’t hurt in the way you might think it would. The needles themselves going in are so thin you barely feel it if at all. However, the purpose, in the simplistic way I understand it, is to release energy and clear the path of flow. As nerves are activated there is occasionally a shock – more surprising than actually painful – although the ongoing movement of energy does hurt, as do some needles. You lie down, face down in my case, on a massage table and generally remain very still. The needles, after their placement, stay in for 20-30 minutes in my experience. She used a heat lamp on me during the duration of the time the needles are in.

I spend the 20-30 minutes in the dark, considering how I got my back in such bad shape and how long it will take to repair – and how not to do it again! You can feel energy traveling up and down your body. No sleeping during these treatments! I have thought about Dad and Poppy and wondered why Dad never tried acupuncture. I have thought about work and about what to make for dinner.

In all, the treatments, have been uncomfortable and exhausting, but after two (long) sessions I saw amazing improvement. I completed my third last night, preceded by a session with their massage therapist (new to me and entirely different from any massage I have had before; I haven’t made up my mind what I think yet), and I came home like jelly. Today I tackle a gentle work out at the gym and see how it goes. However, just in case, I also go back to Hilary on Friday!