Change?

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Luckily for me someone thought this was Felix and posted it on eBay where I snatched it up immediately. I believe this little change purse (obviously much beloved by one or several children over its lifetime) is Norokuro, the Japanese cat/dog character of early comic fame there. I have written about Norokuro a few times before when speculating on a celluloid toy (in the post found here, Norakuro, the Japanese Felix? and Pam Toy Post) and someday would love to find a stuffed toy one if such a thing exists – I have seen no evidence of that however. While searching for such a thing I did come across this photo of a larger than life one from an exhibition of his creator’s work, Suiho Tagawa, at a museum in Koto City, shown below. That guy reminds me of the giant Dean’s Mickey Mouse we have in our bedroom, but is a bit disappointing somehow. I am hoping for a more cuddly version to turn up.

Meanwhile, this worn little nubbin of a toy change purse is splendid. I am not certain, but I think his eyes moved originally and the zipper is designed so it looks like a large, toothy, grinning mouth. It is quite small – wasn’t holding much change and a bill would have to be folded some, although I confess I know nothing of Japanese currency at the time and maybe it was more adequate than I think. The inside is surprisingly untouched and new looking, the same blue as the back shown below, with a small tag that reads Chase Japan in English. He is well designed in my opinion. And, quite simply put, I would have been nuts about this as a kid, utterly delighted to own him.

change purse back

I have dim memories of owning less remarkable change purses as a child. This one tugs at my memory and vague, tactile but indistinct memories of mid-sixties versions of my own rise up. I know I had a bright blue cloth change purse in the shape of an animal of some sort, but there were plastic ones too, long lost to time and evidently memory as well. Strange, when I think about it, that change purses are so interesting to children considering that money doesn’t yet have real meaning, and not to mention that during my childhood the ownership of them would have largely excluded boys. Somehow though, if you had one of these with a few coins in your pocket you felt like you had the world on a string!

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Who Is Pam Butler

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

Reincarnation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wisemen’s

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This fails to be a proper Mother’s Day post, but Mom figures large in my memory of this childhood haunt, so it is with that nod to her that I proceed. Memories of Wiseman’s store have bubbled up a couple of times recently and it nibbled at my mind until I decided to record and share a few thoughts and memories of this iconic establishment of my childhood.

I think most of us born prior to 1970 or so have a Wiseman’s in their past. For me and my family it was a dusty miracle of a store in the neighboring town of Sea Bright. That town is a tiny landspit of a peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Shrewsbury River to the west, within walking distance over a draw bridge, from the house I grew up in. This narrow beach community can be traversed at its widest point in a brisk 15 minute walk. From any elevated point, such as the second story of a building, you can see the river and the ocean at the same time. It exists in a sort of infamy for its well publicized tendency to flood, and most recently Hurricane Sandy almost wiped it off the map. (Although in my childhood it was a Hurricane Donna that everyone referred back to as a literal high water mark, when the ocean and the river met on the main drag, Ocean Avenue. Strangely, photos show the water from each different colors.)

However, as it has evidently done repeatedly over the decades, it has slowly rebuilt and re-emerged. The specifics of the town are different from my childhood – a huge pizza establishment and bar where my mom had a store and the Post Office once were for example – but the bones and general outline remain the same. A full service restaurant where there was once a (superb) pizza place where I worked one summer – polyester uniform and all. The hardware store, church and laundromat have persisted. The Foodtown has become something called Andy K’s. 

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The church here has remained throughout. This appears to be a fairly recent photo.

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The Foodtown during it’s morph into what is now Andy K’s.

 

Still, it is another layer that I need to pull back to place Wiseman’s. It was on the same block as the belated pizza place as I remember. It was down from a store called Sy & Art’s which carried everything you needed for the beach, from high end bathing suits to towels and basics. Sy & Art’s lives in a sort of miasma of late 1960’s/early 1970’s psychedelic color and prints in my mind’s eye and although we might stop in occasionally, it was more for tourists who forgot their beach towels or tanning lotion than locals. (Wiseman’s would have been about three buildings down the block from the photo at the very top – that corner most prominent was where Sy & Art’s headquartered. Try as I have I cannot find a photo of it or the building, still standing, that Wiseman’s was located in.)

Wiseman’s was a old fashion soda fountain, stationary and newspaper establishment. I do not remember consuming any food at the counter, although mom when asked seems to remember that the occasional ice cream cone was had there, this despite a rather memorable amount of dust, dirt and grime we both seem to remember. (They must have had take-out coffee as well, but this was before the ubiquitousness of coffee to go. I won’t say I never saw my parents drink take-out coffee, but it wasn’t the daily thing it is now. It was more something you did while traveling.)

Mom vaguely recalls that Wiseman’s was owned by two elderly brothers and agrees that I have spelled it the right way, having once herself been corrected by one of the brothers on the subject. My parents religiously purchased their weekend papers at Wiseman’s in the days before we had home delivery of those. It was my go to for a variety of items which included, but were not limited to, comic books, candy and even an inexpensive sort of toy which could occasionally be wheedled out of the paper purchasing parent in question. Most often it was comic books – my parents exhibiting a bit of rare squeamish about the more exotic candy offerings such as wax lips and odd tubes of colored sugar in numerous forms.

Wiseman’s was a strange and exotic territory for me, full of promise, and I never missed an opportunity to tag along on a trip there. It seemed surprising when we made the rare, unscheduled weekday stop, perhaps for a stationary item which they also carried, because it was a weekend destination in my mind. It would be quieter on those weekdays, without the bustle of a Saturday or Sunday when it was the center of the universe for a certain kind of local activity. It was a somewhat cramped dusty space, despite a very high, old tin ceiling, but narrow. There were ancient cheap toys, Halloween costumes, packages of outdated invitations and the like on the higher shelves, while the items that turned over frequently such as candy, magazines, comics and newspapers, were at an easy grab to the door. I remember looking up and being fascinated by the possibility of what you might find there. That promise remained unfulfilled alas; it was a realm I was never allowed to explore.

As I got older my purchases morphed from Archie comics into Tiger Beat, followed by Teen and eventually Seventeen. I could be wrong, but I believe Wiseman’s may have disappeared before I got to Cosmo, but perhaps not because I do not know where else I would have purchased it. (This was before magazines would have been sold in the always crisp smelling Sea Bright Drugstore, or the Foodtown which took care of almost all of our other ongoing needs and supplies as well as the daily papers.) I seem to remember Wiseman’s closing while I was in high school. Alas, it was not there when I waitressed at the pizza establishment, nor when I was employed by the French cuisine restaurant further down the street, both during college.

Someone mentioned it to me the other day and perhaps that’s why it came to mind last week when I was writing about the toy cowboys and horses I used to get by the bag as a small child. That was the nature of the toy you would get there. In my mind the weekend mornings merge together, the smell of the newsprint and dust, the anticipation of comic books, candy and all sorts of unexplored possibilities. I can imagine the sun slanting through the door and dust motes playing, as if knowing that it was a memory being minted even then.