Pam’s Pictorama Post: The world is slowly returning to its pre-pandemic axis, at least in some ways, and the sheer delight of seeing people we haven’t and even conducting business in person is a process of rediscovering a forgotten pleasure. Yesterday we had an early dinner with our friend Bill Kartalopoulos. It was so lovely to sit outside on a beautiful evening (and not because we had no choice but to be outside), and catch up with him in person after more than a year.
Meanwhile, last week I had an afternoon to myself and headed over to the Upper Westside of Manhattan for drinks with a fundraising colleague of many decades. Karen and I have never worked at the same place, but we have been a part of professional groups together and loosely tracked each other through work and life changes, our careers running along an unusually close parallel, these folks help you along – sending prospective staffers your way when needed, assisting when you need to unknot thorny problems, and of course having a drink and a giggle over what is going on in your respective organizations or cheering you on when you are just frustrated and losing your perspective.
I was early to meet Karen and strolled east on 84th Street. These days of too much desk sitting in a small apartment has pushed me to add on a few blocks here and there of walking whenever I can. Scratching at the back of my brain was a shop I often walk by, but either it is closed or I haven’t had time to go in whenever I have found myself in front of it.
I have peered at its interesting windows, chock a block full of fascinating bits, frequently over the years. Recently, when late for a haircut, I had taken note of a wonderful array of jolly painted doorstops, mostly of flowers in the window. (One tempting cat doorstop, in the shop.) I will say, I am relieved to see that this establishment had made it through the pandemic – oh the frustration if it had disappeared and I had never darkened its door!
It turned out it was my lucky day and John Koch Antiques was open for business. (The link is here in case you wish to peruse a bit of online antique furniture buying.) It is happily the sort of place where you should expect to have to squeeze through stuffed aisles sideways in places. Furniture piled high, cabinets full of china and trinkets worthy of notice though. Just the sort of place to spend some happy time perusing and digging around. So little of this sort of thing left here in Manhattan!
John Koch himself was seated behind a desk, approximately right in the center of it all. He was carrying on an animated conversation with a customer about a museum reproduction of a Rodin’s The Kiss.
I had half an eye out for silverware – we need some in a not especially urgent way and I like to pick up old, odd silver pieces or bakelite handled ones. Meanwhile, I gave a look at a silver (plate? painted?) tourist cup of New York which appeared to feature Grants Tomb. (I was unable to see what else was featured.) However, when I wandered into the furtherest room I saw this towel rack, on the wall with companion piece. (Apologies that I cannot remember the subject matter of the other one, but whatever it was I found it less dynamic than this one I purchased.)
Perhaps it was my latest reading project, The Ranch Girls by Margaret Vandercook of Camp Fire Girls fame – clearly more to come on this series – however, thanks to Kim’s interest in the Western genre, we are in general a very cowboy friendly household. Mr. Koch didn’t miss a beat when I interrupted his conversation to inquire about it. He immediately named a price I found agreeable and shouted for a man, working nearby in the same room as the piece, to unscrew it from the wall. It was wrapped and in my hands in a few moments and I was only five minutes late to meet Karen.
Made of some sort of resin to resemble carved wood, this fellow is caught in an action pose on his rearing bronco. I like the little ranch on a hill behind him which gives the ‘scene’ a lot of dimension. I am a fan of the faux stone design at the bottom, as if he is perched on this ledge. Arguably, there is something odd about the turn of the cowboy’s foot, and the proportions between his figure and that of the horse are a bit off, but we can’t really blame the designer for cheating it a bit, he or she caught the spirit of the thing nicely. The textures of his chaps and coiled rope, the stony terrain and the definition of the horse give it texture.
It is my assumption that it was made to hang on a kitchen wall where hand towels and pot holders could be kept handy. (Let me know if you know otherwise!) My thought is to hang it away from the stove in case it is inclined to melt a bit, nor do I want it to get gooped up with grease. If I thought it was necessary ongoing I might designate it for holding our masks by the front door of the apartment, but we are very much hoping that our mask wearing will soon be a distant memory of a time gratefully gone-bye.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: As I write this it is developing into a soft spring day here in New York City and if it doesn’t cloud up too much I hope to get out for a run in a bit and enjoy it. There is something about this photo of women playing softball or baseball, which makes me yearn toward summer. On the back of the photo, in pencil script, it says only, Backyard NH Aug 1945. The stately farmhouse in the background and all these trees, it is a regular idyll. It fed directly into my desire for the outdoors this spring as I observe every new sign of growth and progress toward summer daily. (I snatched it up via a sale by @_wherethewillowsgrow_ a favorite photo friend.)
I am very fond of the suspender style shorts worn by the pitcher and the short skirt of the catcher is pretty cute too. There is a protective fence between them and that lovely house so this is a well-used baseball diamond. The photo has a haziness, as if some how the humidity of that August afternoon and the visual incarnation could reach out and frizz my hair a bit, all these years later. The trees seem to fade right into the whited out sky. It is trimmed with those wonderful scalloped edges, the way photos often were at that time.
By August of 1945, I guess WWII was just about to be declared over officially. Of course people would have had a pretty good sense that it was ending, but I wonder if after all those long years they really believed it. Were things already hopeful in August of 1945 or were they just beyond exhausted by it all? Probably both by turns and that six years and the devastation of millions dead is among the world events that greatly overshadows even our current world-wide woes.
Yesterday I made a trip to the East Village for the first time since fall, to see about getting my eyeglasses repaired – they broke just as I was leaving for New Jersey a few weeks ago and I have been living in my spare pair. It was a riotously beautiful day, sunny but windy and still jacket weather. There is a wonderful glut of tulips this spring – speculation in the paper about if New Yorkers are just enjoying them more or if there are more. As a tulip lover I would vote for there are more of them – but we are definitely loving them all.
Meanwhile, East Village residents were out in force on the streets and packing every outdoor hut and cafe. Manhattan has changed I believe for the long-term, in this way, and New Yorkers have claimed the sidewalks and streets. I think it has given birth to a new sort of cafe society outdoors. Temporary huts gradually giving way to more permanent structures and perhaps like Paris, our restaurants will largely open onto the streets.
Looking more carefully however it is easy to gloss over the vast number of empty retails spots, like a growing gap-tooth smile. Some old friends are among the missing. A favorite toy store has disappeared after 38 years, heart breaking, but not unexpected. I wrote about them in a prior post which can be found here.
I stopped in at a clothing store on the same block on 9th Street, DL Cerney (@dlcerny, their site can be found here and I have written a little about them before) which I am very fond of. Their men’s trousers have been the only “hard” trousers I have worn since March of 2020 and it is them I will look them to dress me in some sort of return to the world clothing. Their designs, fabrics and tailoring is exquisite. I found them in a little storefront tucked between McSorley’s and a friend’s apartment on 7th Street many years ago. At the time I could only afford the occasional item and they were selling a mix of vintage and their own designs. (I had a pair of heavy, men’s black Cuban heels I wore, resoled and wore through again in my 20’s. Maybe best shoes ever.) Eventually, sadly they disappeared and it was literally decades later that I rediscovered them in a storefront on 9th, further east by a block, having taken over a storefront from another shop I frequented.
Since then, over the past several years, I have been happily clad in their lovely button down shirts and men’s trousers which make me feel a little like Katherine Hepburn, or sometimes just a well-dressed man. My feeling is that I am always perfectly attired (if also very comfortable) in their clothes. I have taken the trousers to London and Johannesburg and worn them endlessly. Having said that the trousers are fairly indestructible and my elderly tailor admires them each time I bring a new pair in to be hemmed with cuffs. For me they are a reasonable starting point for a transition out of daily workout clothes, thinly veiled with sweaters and the occasional necklace or earrings for a shoulders up appearance on Zoom.
As I tried on a few things I talked to Linda St. John, who along with Duane Cerney, are the principals of the business, and a bit of shopping there is also a nice visit with whoever is in the shop that day. We talked a bit about where New York seems to be in the recovery process, and for them it is still a bit discouraging I think. Like those of us in the performing arts (trying to re-open our hall and our club Dizzy’s at Jazz at Lincoln Center), retail continues to lag and in their case the loss of tourism and students (not to mention the subtle migration out of small city apartments to bigger digs for those who could afford it) continues to erode business. They have challenges with suppliers. We are all trying to stay afloat until we reach the shores of better times.
We discussed, as I have with Wynton and my colleagues, whether we are poised at the beginning of the end of this long pandemic haul or not. We may be or is it just the next bend in the road? The end of the beginning rather than the end – I hope not! However, none of us knows what our corner of the world will look like in six months, let alone another year and I think we’ve learned the hard lesson that we only thought we knew before anyway.
It wasn’t too difficult for Linda to talk me into a spring dress, although I had arrived hunting a linen version of the trousers I love, but in a slightly larger (post-pandemic) size than I am in possession of currently. Nonetheless, a dress, even a casual one, is like a stake in the ground, hopeful that there will be summer meals and drinks outdoors and maybe even days at the office as we inch our way forward.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is a contemplative work/life missive by way of warning to my readers. (Toys, photos and Felix to return shortly.) We haven’t had one of these in a long time. And while I have posting a bit about things like setting up my office in the apartment, (some of those posts can be found here and here) I have not written about my job since New York shutdown, our concert hall closed and tours canceled, almost a year ago now, last March.
In the past I have written occasionally about my work at Jazz at Lincoln Center, often reporting in from trips with the orchestra to far flung places (some of those posts, from trips to Shanghai, London and South Africa can be found here, here and here), but I have not written much about our quarantine times professionally. (The photo above of the outside of our hall was taken in June on my first trip to midtown since March.) Frankly, I figured I didn’t have anything to add to what everyone was probably struggling with in their own way, living their own version of quarantine imposed issues and addressing them in your work life. Also, it has been exhausting to live it and I have not had much time for reflection. I will start though by saying that I know I am very lucky to be able to work from home (be it ever so humble), and of course to have a job at all. I think about both those things often. (For those of you who might be new to Pictorama and in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I work for the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra and Wynton Marsalis, fundraising for the organization.)
As we march toward the one year mark, one that seemed impossible and I among those who refused to accept as even a possibility last spring, new rhythms and routines have of course been established. The work day starts very early here at Deitch Studio and I have adjusted to Kim’s program. It is rare that I am not at the computer and having my first look at the day around 6:00. Some mornings find me working out in a nearby park, jogging and doing some of the exercise that is hard in our confined space, working off early pandemic pounds. Other mornings might instead mean lifting weights here in the apartment – trying to make it possible for Kim to work in on the mat between rotations. (My posts about teaching myself to run and working out at home can be found here and here.)
If Wynton has calls he is making during the day ahead, to thank people or sometimes to ask for a gift, he gets his notes from me early. Sometimes there is an official briefing on the schedule, other times a spontaneous call early after reading my notes. (When I was walking instead of running sometimes I could multi-task and do a call then, but talking is beyond me while trying to run.) Then the long day of being at my “desk”, an ancient drafting table, commences. (I have recently ordered a new desk chair, one with arms, which will hopefully relieve what is now a chronic aching lower back.) Kim is subjected to a never-ending litany of calls and meetings, which he is required to endure my end of, my office now used to mutterings that occasionally come from his side of the room. Him now deeply versed in my work, where we stand to goal and each and every gain and setback daily. Wynton’s voice via the phone has at times seemed like another resident of the apartment.
The work day continues, with a break to eat a quick lunch which Kim and I try to do together, until about six o’clock when Kim usually knocks off work and Cookie and Blackie get their (long awaited; by then they are on my desk and staring hard at the back of Kim’s head) dinner. I usually start our dinner around then, we eat together and then sometimes I drift back to work for awhile, or it might be another good time if Wynton and I need to talk. Sometimes there are events, me in front of Kim’s work table on Zoom doing a welcome and introductions.
Like everyone else, my days are now spent clad in variations of comfortable clothing. There are evening “events” such as online concerts and conversations, and those demand rare forays into applying make up (I really thought I had forgotten how at first), putting on a nice top and maybe even a pair of earrings. I, who always dressed for work and a roster of evenings out, who rotated a beloved array of rings on multiple fingers daily, and faithfully applied make-up every workday, I have embraced the soft trouser (think sweat pants; the Addidas ones are for dressy events although no one sees them) paired with a hoodie, or the workout clothes from an interrupted or abandoned exercise session earlier in the day.
I have worn out one pair of sneakers, the only shoes I wear these days, and I found recently that I had worn through my moccasin slippers which I wear in the house. Wore right through them and we started finding little diamonds of the soles around the apartment. The replacement, below, arrived yesterday and I am wearing them, quite contentedly, now. My feet resist the discussion of eventual progression back to hard shoes. I have coaxed my feet into snow boots on a few occasions as needed.
Earlier in the pandemic, Wynton was doing a live show, Skain’s Domain, on Monday night and each week kicked off with a night of 90 minutes of interviews followed by just regular folks who had logged on asking questions and telling stories. (A sample posted on Youtube can be found here.) It was usually about music, but politics and world events would creep in. People welcomed a chance to just be with other folks, even if it was more time on Zoom, late in the evening. It ran until the summer when we decided to take a break.
I won’t go into the details, but suffice it to say that a performing arts organization that once earned more than half of its revenue from concerts, touring, a jazz club and hall rentals, which suddenly found fundraising as its only means of income (and many of its expenses still pressing) has struggled mightily. That means me and a somewhat dwindling but devoted staff have been very busy for the past eleven months. As a fundraiser it is the challenge of a professional lifetime like I thought I would never have and that can also be exhilarating if exhausting. Someday I might write about that part of it, perhaps after I am not in the thick of it.
Wynton has, not surprisingly, been a great leader under these extreme circumstances. Although he has driven the organization hard and at times the staff almost to the point of breaking, as a result we have remained disciplined and continued to produce and remain in the public eye, despite the obvious limitations. He encourages, nags and at times if needed will even taunt us into action. A steady flow of online content, live shows, education programs, new music and archival concerts have been marshaled into being. My colleagues, who I always realized were amazing professionals each in their own field, have been incredible. I reflected the other day that among the very few people I have seen in person in the last eleven months (other than Kim and cats) have been folks from work. The absolute joy of in-person encounter leading to jumping up and down in excitement since hugging them was not possible.
Needless to say, there is no victory lap here though and like everyone else, we remain unsure of where we even are in this process – halfway through? Almost there? My mantra has been not to look ahead, but keep my shoulder to the wheel, easier not to speculate beyond immediate needs. The race, clearly a marathon, continues.
This week however I found myself required to live in the future for a bit and it was interesting to go there. I have been writing proposals for an audience development project, one to take place after we return to our hall, whenever that turns out to be. For the purposes of the request we are assuming we are back, playing live music in January 2022. The request is to help underwrite the cost of concerts so we can offer deeply subsidized tickets for a returning audience, re-engaging with post-pandemic live performance in a hall, and also use the opportunity to grow our audience. Around each of these concerts would be an Open House style festival with school kids, families, local mid-town vendors and restaurants. All kinds of people together in a space – mingling and enjoying music.
In the process of writing I realized that, while of course I reflect occasionally on what I call the time before I have yet begun to construct a vision of what the time after might actually be. I mean, I suppose we all have some vague idea about aspects of it – what will a commute look further than ten feet across a room look like, how will we arrange swing shifts in the office, will we ever sit in conference rooms again. (How much will I travel for work? Will I ever return to purchasing nice clothing and make up?) But to really imagine a time when we are gathering inside in groups again and listening to live music, all presumably without fear of infection, is both hard and liberating. Can we just throw off more than a year of how we are now living and working? Surely there will be residual changes from it, but moments of living in that time in my imagination has helped the future start to take root.
I am by nature a planner. I like to anticipate and know where I am going and how I will get there. I have had to release my grip on the need to know over this time which has not been easy for someone a bit compulsive like me. Still, suddenly it seems like maybe it might be time to start to let the future, the after time, to cultivate that glimmer in my mind and let it grow.
Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: After seeing flea market finds from folks in other parts of the country on Instagram, I got to thinking about the Chelsea Flea Market. It had closed last December, but then I had heard a rumor that it was taken over by someone else so I went online to investigate. Sure enough, although originally scheduled to open in April the re-opening had been delayed due to Covid, but it would be opening in a few weeks, in September. I marked my calendar and last weekend, perhaps week two of its reincarnation, Kim and I wandered over.
Like many New Yorkers, my relationship to this market is as long as my residence here in Manhattan. In the years before I lived here I frequented one on Canal Street which I was very sorry to see disappear, and another small one on Broadway, both on the edges of Soho. (Imagine! Flea markets in Soho – needless to say both gobbled by the rising real estate and gentrification of that area. I wonder if, now that evidently no one wants to live here in a post-pandemic world, we will see flea markets crop up, once again, on lots that would have otherwise gone to over-priced luxury apartments? One can only hope that it will be a byproduct of our unusual time.)
However, it was the Chelsea Flea Market that held the record for ongoing weekend visits over decades. More things purchased at the garage there, which used to boast two floors of vendors, than I can possibly remember – although a few stand out in my mind, like my black cat ash try stand which I happen to be looking at right now. I didn’t really mean to buy it, but the seller made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – and now, many years later, I am so glad!
The Chelsea Flea Market was a constant weekend companion and occupation through several relationships prior to meeting Kim, in fact a sort of an acid test for men I was dating – I mean, there was no long term hope for a relationship that didn’t embrace the flea market, right? With Kim the flea market became a weekend rotation every six weeks or so throughout the spring, summer and fall. The insatiable desire for property to build on nibbled away at the edges and it went from a high I remember of about six scattered locations, to the just the garage (which closed) and the now current (lone) spot on 25th Street, off Sixth Avenue.
In these weeks and months while Manhattan tries to find its footing again, figuring out what the city will look like now on the other side of closing down back in mid-March, we keep our expectations pretty low as things try to start up again. The current incarnation of the market is about two thirds of the lot devoted to sellers, in a vaguely socially distanced way, and the other third given over to a few food trucks and tables. Someone reminds you have your mask up as you enter the lot. (This lightly gated approach reminds me that one of the lots went through a phase which lead to a lot of peering in and seeing if it was worth paying the vigorish to enter or not.)
Sadly, the large indoor market that houses my favorite toy store, The Antique Toy Shop – New York, is closed. His website says he hopes to return at the end of December. I remain hopeful of its return.
At first I thought the sellers were all new merchandise (mask anyone?) of little interest to me, but a slow stroll around revealed tables boasting boxes of photos, vintage clothing, jewelry, and finally even some old books of interest. The table where we purchased this really sort of special photo, glued into its period self-frame of embossed cardboard, also boasted a bookcase of interesting young adult fiction from the early 20th century.
I quickly picked up the volumes below: The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge, Larkspur, and Ruth Fielding in Moving Pictures. (Ongoing Pictorama readers are aware of my fondness for juvenalia of the early part of the last century. You can read some of those posts about everything from the adventures of TheAutomobile Girls, and Grace Harlowe to Honey Bunch can be found here, and here, not to mention Judy Bolton, Girl Detective, which can be found here.) I will be sure to report back if any of these volumes reveals a new vein of reading interest.
While waiting for the seller to finish with some other customers Kim and I found the photo. The embossed frame seems the perfect setting for this timeless photo of a family in front of this extraordinary thatch roofed building. It is a pretty huge building really, with large windows which appear to have shelves behind them. A chimney belies a fireplace within, but while I thought this was a home at first I am unsure as I look more closely. The enormous double doors don’t seem residential somehow – was it a store? There is a neat path leading up to the front door and around the side.
The family looks prosperous, mom in a long black dress which could have been found in parts of this country (and Europe) from 1900 through the 1920’s. Both the man and the boy are in suits – the boy is sporting a shiny bicycle though, which appears to be a full adult size and probably a bit big for him. Something slightly illegible is inked on the back – something and John. Could be Linda and John. Kim and I cannot fully decipher it.
Sadly it is missing a corner and there is a split in the lower right side, but none of that takes away from the overall effect and beauty of it. When I was able to speak to the seller she apologized for the delay. The books were five dollars apiece and much to my surprise and delight, she threw the photo in with the group. I packed it carefully between the books in a bag I keep with me. (Remember when the end of plastic bags in New York was big news at the beginning of March?)
Feeling quite chuffed, Kim and I strolled back to Broadway in the autumnal sun and alighted atop of some highboy tables at a nearby Vietnamese restaurant where we consumed spicy shrimp sandwiches. The sun was out and the Flat Iron Building within view. Thank you New York! Our day was a good one.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 apartmentand 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.
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.
Blackie slightly horrified at packing during for the re-piping project.
Cookie having a grand time during the same packing project!
Pam’s Pictorama: This weekend I am waiting for the US Post Office to catch up with my photo acquisitions, and so today I am heading down one of those personal tributaries. Earlier this week I had a number of reasons to contemplate my deep attachment to coffee. The first occurred when I accidentally left my morning coffee at the deli, several blocks from my new midtown, high-rise office perch. It was one of those (many) chilly wet days we had early this week and the idea of retracing my steps was dispiriting – but so was the loss of treasured coffee. I resentfully made due with a cup from the dreaded Keurig (don’t mind it for a strong cup of tea, but not a fan for coffee) and slunk, sadly back to my office.
The Jazz at Lincoln Center offices are equipped a large kitchen right off the reception area. It has two refrigerators, toaster ovens, microwave, coffee machines, soda and snack machines and – most surprising of all – a dishwasher which they run nightly. Really, I could cook a full dinner for a family with what they have as a staff kitchen. (And, not surprisingly, jazz music plays in the public space all day which means you sometimes find yourself passing on the way to a meeting and stopping to listen to an especially fine Louis Armstrong moment as happened the other day, making me late for a meeting. However it is the kind of place where people are willing to accept that.) An office manager makes coffee for two large carafes daily, but my timing is always off and it goes fast. I arrive too early and therefore with outside coffee in hand. On this particular day the wait seemed too long.
Meanwhile, I read several articles about cold brew this week – perhaps not coincidental as we are heading into hot weather and the ever-calculating media is ready to turn our attention to purchasing cold drinks. I considered cold brew briefly a month or so ago when Fresh Direct accidentally delivered a couple of cans of cold brew coffee to us and I liked them enough to consider adding some to our order – until I saw the price (ouch!!!) and decided I would stick with my cheaper methods of coffee consumption.
I have experimented with several methods of making coffee over time – electric perculators and machines, French presses, expresso devices and paper filters – tried ’em all. In the end I returned to the method I grew up with and which now seems to be pretty much sneered at, the old fashioned perculating stovetop pot of my childhood. (I had a young colleague at the Met who found the concept downright exotic in a steam punk sort of way which made me feel very old.) Frankly, it fills me with great pleasure to smell and hear a pot of coffee perking on the stove in the morning. My parents have long switched to a complicated machine (which I do battle with each time I spend the night at their house), but it brings me back to early mornings in childhood and evokes a sense of comfort and pleasure that few things do.
I remember when I started drinking coffee in high school. I was rehearsing late for a school play and someone brought me a cup with milk and sugar and I was immediately hooked. Oh nectar of the gods, where have you been? I did away with the sugar pretty quickly and stuck with the milk ever since. Shortly after, when I began drinking it at home my father would say, ever single morning, “You’re too young to drink coffee.” (He continued to say it well into my twenties.) And I have a dim memory of my grandmother said that it would give you black knees when I was kid – a statement that in retrospect mystifies me even more now. (She also would say that chewing gum was made of giraffe hooves – even odder.) My sister Loren was less partial to coffee and I have no memory of this exchange or a similar one between her and my father.
During my brief stint of cooking professionally one of the older chefs who did a lot of catering explained why much coffee produced in those giant catering urns is so awful. It seems that if you don’t unscrew it entirely and take the urn fully apart to clean it, which is an arduous procedure, over time the build up creates an unacceptably acid taste in the coffee. Most people are lazy and just wash out what is easily visible. I never worked enough catering to test this explanation, but I have had a lot of bad urn-made coffee which makes me consider it anew each time.
I recognize that I am both less effective and less pleasant when under-caffeinated in the morning (although equally less fun when over-caffeinated later in the day – it is a balancing act many of us know) and therefore these days I do not generally risk leaving the house without initial coffee consumption. It is made with the above method and there is generally some in heavy glass carafes in the fridge for cold consumption as well. Therefore, my work cup of coffee tends to sort of be the icing on the cake and the reward for having gotten to work.
The new job required figuring out where my all important morning coffee would be acquired. Several places that were adequate for food acquisition were immediately eliminated for sub-par coffee. The issue with the purveyor of current favor is a tendency to set the purchased coffee down in an odd spot, away from the food I am buying, in a spot where I am likely to forget it. (I will add that I was fascinated to discover that the man who makes the coffee at this establishment has such a lovely singing voice that he is periodically pulled away from coffee making to sing a rather memorable Happy Birthday to seated clients on request. Clearly not a coincidence that he works with Carnegie Hall beckoning across the street.)
At home my preference is to drink my coffee from one of two substantial Starbucks labeled mugs that were given to me by a software vendor I worked with at the Met – or another wonderful, enormous Felix mug given to me a year ago by Mary Allen and Morgan Bakerman, my much missed colleagues at the Met. I was deeply fond of an equally large mug that Nickelodeon mag had given Kim years ago which sadly got broken. It is mostly about quantity for me – I prefer fewer trips to the pot. However, I also favor the mug shown here above was given to me many years ago by another former colleague, Bernie McCormack, many years ago, when returning from a work junket to Buffalo. Clearly those work with me understand my deep love of the stuff.
Setting up for Christmas, 86th Street and First Ave, NYC
Pam’s Pictorama Post: If you are going to live in a city like New York you should have a pretty thick skin about change. After all, cities are constantly evolving, building new on top of old and on a relatively small island like Manhattan the land grab means constantly shifting vistas. Having said that, change is somewhat anathema to my nature – I have a catlike love of continuity and routine. Therefore, in some ways, I live in a state of discomfort here. And, until recently, Yorkville the tiny post-German enclave hanging over the edge of the Upper Eastside was somewhat beneath notice. However, it has started to catch up with us.
With some dismay I have been watching and waiting for the dissolution of the southwest corner of 86th and First Avenue in favor of ridiculously expensive condos. (York Avenue is undergoing a similar demolition at 86th, curling around a building housing a diner and a newsagent, 86 on one side, York on the other.) For the handful of you how follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you have seen some of these photos as I started to record it.
When I first moved to the ‘hood, back in about ’88, the diner shown here on the corner was my diner and in many ways it stayed my neighborhood diner. (To be clear, I also have a diner near work and perhaps some day I will outline this complex relationship which is very special. Kim once visited and remarked that it was like I was Mayor of a small town there.) In those early years when I was cooking for a living and this diner was a daily stop for a (large) pre-dawn breakfast before a day of cooking in midtown. In Manhattan (and perhaps elsewhere, but I have never really lived elsewhere as an adult) your diner is the place where they know you on sight and generally know how you like your coffee and your eggs. As a recent grad new to the city this seemed like a miracle of friendliness. The owner once asked me on a date in those early years which took me quite by surprise – I was more easily surprised at that age. I said no thank you. I believe I was already dating the crazed fellow chef as mentioned recently in my post of Catskill remembrance, The Wigwam.
This diner actually moved to Second Avenue as the dissolving of the corner began, taking over an existing lesser diner’s spot and it’s name, and where they are enjoying the long anticipated Second Avenue subway boom. Although I have not needed a local diner for a long time I have fallen into the habit of meeting a friend there on weekends and, low and behold, the waiter remembered our orders this weekend. Nothing short of a miracle. Seems I have a diner in the neighborhood again.
Diner in its new incarnation on Second Avenue and 86th Street
The corner in question has been where Christmas trees have been sold in recent years. (When I first moved here they were sold on an empty lot on First – can you imagine an empty lot! Highrise there now.) I especially enjoy when the Christmas tree folks set up camp for a few weeks. They come right before or immediately after Thanksgiving. Their fragrant pines create a temporary forest. Part of me objects to the idea of growing these trees just to cut them down and serve them up for a short-term sentence of decoration in someone’s home – but the smell is glorious and our out-of-town guests a nice change of pace.
Tree seller settled in with his cell phone
Beyond that, heading across 86, was what had been our grocery store for years, a Gristedes. I cannot really mourn the loss, it was poorly run, grimy and you always had to watch the register and your change for mistakes. However, there was (and I am so very sorry not to have a photo of it now) a VERY large green pear (we’re talking human-sized) attached to the front of the store which christened it as the Pear Store in the Pam/Kim vernacular of daily life, as in “Yeah, I’ll pick it up from the Pear Store on the way home.” Replaced in our house largely first by Fresh Direct, then Fairway and then the addition of a Whole Foods, we also cling to a Gristedes on York for general grocery needs. However, this store is a wondrous single story – yep, nothing above it, a row of brownstone walk-ups peering over it. We knew we were on borrowed time as Manhattan hates nothing so much as the opportunity to build upward, and I understand the air rights went for a mint. In general, the loss of this corner will mean a loss of light on the ground for us daily denizens of the neighborhood, as what is likely to come will be hulking and light obscuring for sure.
First and 86th Streets NYC
Inching further down the block I will add that there once was a splendid hole-in-the wall Russian restaurant on the far side of the grocery store. It must have housed about eight tables. They made heavenly blini for a bargain price. If you weren’t careful however, they gave you large servings of kasha with your entree and the middle-aged Russian proprietress would yell at you if you didn’t finish it. I didn’t realize that kasha was a smell from my childhood – Russian Jewish grandparents on my father’s side, Sunday lunches – and I hate it. Probably hated it as a child too. No kasha for me. (I had my last date with my ex-boyfriend Kevin there. We ate there frequently and had gone there after returning from a trip to a wedding in Maine where he broke the news that he was calling it quits after seven years.) The storefront has since become a high-end drugstore and I believe is not being torn down.
Zipping back around to the First Avenue side of the block, there was briefly a rather interesting store that sold nothing but pickles and olives. They relocated to Lexington Avenue where frankly they seem to do a better business. Then there was a sort of pop-up dollar store where Kim purchased some dubious readers (eyeglasses I mean, you can still see the sign for it), a fairly traditional barbershop, a bar, and most recently a sort of city-run residential halfway house of some kind. While I do not especially bemoan much along that stretch, I will mention that the apartments above the diner on the corner were long coveted by me. Corner views are always especially nice and look at that top floor – that must have been lovely – there are skylights and a glassed in room at the top. Sigh. Can’t really envy it now because if I lived there I would be looking for a new perch here in Yorkville – and unlikely to afford it!
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is the only Victorian trade card I own of this variety. It is a bit hard to see, but the top says, Ha! Tis Me. The Maltese Me Rival. I do not claim to understand it – I just liked the image of this great frowning striped kitty forced into this very flat perspective – look at his claw paws and an angry puffy tail! On the back, in tiny type, is an exhaustive list of The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co.’s Branch Houses in the U.S. – with almost a third of them in New York City – and a notation at the bottom that the Principal Warehouse, 35 and 37 Vesey Street, N.Y. P.O. Box 4233. It is a tiny card, about the size of a playing card.
The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, founded in 1859 as The Great American Tea Company selling tea and spices at discounted prices in New York City, changed its name in 1869 to commemorate the first transcontinental railroad. Much to my surprise, the company morphed first into the A&P tea company and ultimately A&P supermarkets of today. (Kim seems to have known this all along – fascinating man my husband.) All I can say is, they sure would get more of my business if they had kept this ad campaign. They were generous in their distribution of Victorian trade cards and there seem to be more than you could imagine once you go looking. Scores for sale on eBay at any time – their survival rate a reflection of their popularity during their heyday.
Our friend the Internet supplies us with much information on the specifics of the cards and story. The folks over at http://www.thepethistorian.com have a nice little essay on the subject. The cards were printed by A.B. Seeley, copyrighted 1881. This one appears to be the second in a group of six and represents the story of a girl cat, romanced by the street cat, but who waits for an upperclass Tom to come along instead. He beats up poor Mr. Street kitty – who ends the series bloody, but not bowed and trying to convince us that he won this fight. (I am snatching just that final image for your entertainment below – wouldn’t mind adding that one to my collection.) The language on the cards seem to be references to poems and other things that would have been recognized by people of the day – but overall it is a recognizable cat tale of love and love lost that is pretty easy to follow and appreciate.