Putting the Dog Before the Cart

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s photo is not only suffering from age, but probably from being under exposed in the first place. In person it also has a bit of solarization that photos from this period often get, almost as if the silver is rising to the surface, making it even harder to see. I knew this when I bought it (to Miss Molly’s credit she does nothing to enhance the images of the photos she sells – that doesn’t happen often, although in my hobby I come across it occasionally), but I loved the image and I decided to take a chance. It is small, the image is only about 3″x4″. So, my apologies for its inherent short comings.

This photo appeals to me because I would have adored having such a set up as a child. I have written on several occasions about employing our long-suffering German Shepard, Duchess, and my cat Snoopy in a complex series of games and scenarios. The fact that, at least as a small child, I would not have had the appropriate real estate needed to really enjoy such a contraption, I will leave aside – you need some real acreage to really sport about it something like this, but wow – you’d really be doing something!

I have long contemplated that the connection with our domestic animal friends is different when you are a small child. Is it because you are, in reality, that much closer to their own intellectual bandwidth at that point? Or are you just communicating more freely? I have always wondered. I can remember long childish conversations with them both, prattling happily along, looking deep into their eyes as I spoke, absolutely certain they understood every word.

Perhaps because of the sheer amount of attention paid to them, they would allow me to undertake all sorts of indignities that I wouldn’t dream of inflicting on my pets as an adult – trying to ride the dog, dressing up the kitty, adventures with the doll carriage and the like. My parents would intervene occasionally if things got out of hand, but generally we were left to our own devices. I would have been on this dog cart thing in a minute given the opportunity. Duchess, somewhere in dog heaven, is perhaps grateful the opportunity did not arise.

My new always-at-home life has changed my relationship with Blackie and Cookie. It isn’t a coincidence that shelters have been emptied of dogs and cats during the pandemic. They are excellent company during these days that merge into one long working day.

The daily routine of Cookie and Blackie was forged early here at Deitch Studio, formed around Kim working at home and his day. Kim and the kitties start the workday (very) early, and he is in charge of their feeding, morning and evening. (Eating to cats is, without question, the most important part of the day – a brief but glorious interlude. We have strict feeding times in an, ever-failing, attempt to keep them from driving Kim nuts all day while he works.)

Until the middle of March I was on the outer edge of this cat constellation, home on weekends, but otherwise generally in the ongoing daily act of coming and going – packing a suitcase and leaving for days at a time on occasion, very undependable. They expected it and my departures and arrivals frankly rarely rated so much as a flatten ear or a greeting glance from either.

I noticed the other day when Kim went out for a walk that the cats sat by the front door the entire time, staring at it. Waiting and willing him to return. They clearly have very little faith in my ability to open a cat food can.

Yet, I think the cats have, over the course of more than four months, completely erased my daily departures from memory. I too am now a daily fixture – if a slightly less useful one. Blackie makes his appearance in Zoom calls and demands a 3:30 cuddle no matter what else I am doing – and Cookie helps me work out daily (she likes it when my trainer, Harris, appears on the iPad for a FaceTime workout where she flirts with him a bit), and both fight me for my work chair. Kim can vouch for the fact that I talk to them all the time – Cookie tends to actually answer. She’s the chatty kit of the two.

And of course I believe they understand me, or at least a certain percentage of what I tell them – mostly encouragement about being the best kitty in the whole world!  and the handsomest boy cat! and even the occasional please get off of the desk – thank you very much! – it isn’t philosophical discussion for the most part. I will have to be home many months longer before I can perhaps find my childhood knack and we can enter into long talks about the meaning of life together, Cookie, Blackie and I.

Gentlemen with Cats and Chicken

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Taking a break from the ramping up of holiday madness all around us and spending a little time with these fine fellows today. Men with cats has long been a favorite sub-genre of my card collecting. (A few earlier examples can be found here and here.) This card was never sent, but someone wrote what appears to be the name Robert Hersir. (On a whim I looked the name Hersir up and discovered it means Viking King.)

I like these guys, and not just because they were smart enough to immortalize their cats and chicken when having this photo taken. There’s something frank and fun about them – the rakish guy with his askew bow-tie in the middle especially. Hat thrown down in front of him, shiny button boots of a day gone by fashion thrust forward, young striped tabby cat in his arms, looking somewhat alarmed or at least admittedly peevish. He stares right out at us from his day, back in the early part of the last century.

My father would occasionally hold one of the cats in the manner of this man, and he would inform the cat that he or she was in “cat prison”. It is a term and strong arm approach I have sometimes adopted with my felines as well when grabbing them up and holding them hostage in this way. (Despite or even because of this, the cats adored my father. I can’t say mine seem to enjoy the experience as much.)

Our guy’s suit, like the kitty, is striped and the photographer gets credit too for the symmetry of the image and how well the image works. It appears to be a photo set when I examine it carefully, a much worn one though it must be said. It also leaves me wondering who takes their kitty and rooster to a photo studio? I can only imagine a world that was a slightly different (more interesting?) place back in that time. Oddly, this is not the first rooster booster pet photo in my collection. I wrote about roosters as pets in photos at least twice last year. (Those posts can be found here and here.)

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The chicken in question, held by a fairly natty fellow with a posy in his buttonhole, looks calmer than the cat. He is somewhat indistinct and it is a bit of a call on my part to say rooster rather than hen, but I believe it is a fellow fowl.

Our third gentleman, who sports a sort of sweet smile, has an almost imperceptible black cat curled up in his lap. Like my kitty Blackie might have, this kitty has made himself comfortable for lap petting during the duration of the session. No stress for him. This man and cat are perched on a small bench of sorts while the guy with the rooster seems to be squatting, but it is hard to tell. All three men wear suits, the paper collared shirts of their day and ties.

I hardly need to mention that the painted backdrop is stained, peeling and generally tatty beyond imagination. The floor covering appears to be much in the same state. It suits these guys fine, but I can’t exactly imagine who came in next. Hard to imagine newly weds or vacationing duos lining up after, but it seems a fitting setting for these guys and their pets.

 

A Trip to the Pet Store

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Kim and I are largely the stay-cation types and enjoy the quietude of Manhattan on holidays as a rule. This week we took a walk together in the late morning of July 4. One of the cat dishes had broken earlier in the week and, as our beloved family owned store on York Avenue, Calling All Pets, was closed for the holiday, we wandered into Petco on Lexington and 86 Street to see if we could procure a replacement. We did, almost immediately, scoring the exact small white dish with pawprints in a design around the outside.

While at the check-out counter with our purchase we noticed a single bright blue Fighting Fish, a Betta, in a container at the register. He was in the sort of one serving size container you get for take-out soup and seemed a tad forlorn. Never having gone further into the store than the catfood display at the front, I had not realized that they sold fish. We decided to wander back and have a look after a brief discussion about whether or not we should add this single fish to our lives – we decided that only Cookie and Blackie would win as a result of that decision. (Our only foray into fish ownership, such as it is, was the subject of an early popular blog post Ode to a Shrimp which can be read here.)

Let me begin by stating that there is an official broad Butler family prohibition on pet stores. Betty, my mom, has actively protested them and has especially been involved with the elimination of puppy mills, at the source and in stores. My mother’s animal rights involvement is indeed another future post as she is an amazing person, but suffice it to say, I have never purchased an animal from a pet store. However, Petco did host the adoption day where we ultimately acquired Cookie and Blackie so it is in a sense their ancestral home. We discovered a small ongoing adoption center for dogs at the back of the store and, although they sell birds, there was a sign encouraging the adoption of those as well and notification that they had a parrot available. The bird display was a bit  low-key and sad. Although they seem to have a nice community here.

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However, fish tanks fascinate me and remind me of my childhood, so after a quick look at the birds we went over to examine the tanks. I never did find the friends of the Betta and perhaps he was up front because he was the last to be sold. Siamese Fighting Fish, are in the gourami fish family and, although they are gorgeous, colored in deep jewel tones with extravagant long fins, they are called fighting fish because the males are so aggressive that they cannot be in a tank together or they will fight to the death. I always believed they could not be in a tank with any other fish, but my reading online for this blog states otherwise.

The fish tank of my childhood was a tribute to the tanks of my mother’s own childhood, informed by her experience and also eventual pre-med studies of zoology and biology in college. (Douglas College, the all-women’s division of Rutgers at the time did not have a proper pre-med program and she tells me that one took a dual major to achieve the closest possible coursework.) In retrospect it wasn’t glorious by some of today’s standards (I have been in homes and offices where amazing tanks take up whole walls, maintained frequently by visiting professionals), but ours had a variety of fish with live plants which fascinated us kids and our then cats alike. (Zipper was very fond of it and liked to “pat” the fish on the glass but never reaching in; Snoopy, a very dignified cat paid it less attention. If kitten Pumpkin had an opinion I do not remember.) Like most children, we’d started with goldfish won at fairs and the like, which had sadly abbreviated lives and I guess mom figured if we were going to do it we would do it right.

Even such a fish tank at the level of ours takes a considerable amount of care and in hindsight I am a bit amazed that my mother took it on knowing what it required. Periodically the fish had to be removed and the tank and any objects (I believe there was a sea chest with treasure in it) carefully cleaned in a way and with substances that would not harm them. Then fresh water had to be prepared, the tank and plants re-installed before the fish could be returned. All of this under the watchful eyes of three small children, as many cats and a German Shepard – most likely while my father was off at work or doing something else. I remember her explaining to me that saltwater tanks were even more complicated and that she had one when she was a little girl.

Nonetheless, mom ran a pretty tight ship on the fish tank and it is a glowing memory of my childhood. Neon tetras (which can be seen in my phone video below made at Petco the other day) made up the rank and file citizens of our tank and their winking color brings me right back to being about eight years old and staring at our tank, sometimes with Zipper in my lap, so he could have his polite look.

 

 

I’m not sure I remember all of the denizens of our tank but I know we also had a few Zebra fish, some guppies and some tiny shark variety of critter. (Internet swipes stolen below.) There were also snails and a catfish sort of guy to help keep it all clean. (I liked his “whiskers” and he was a favorite to watch, often attached to the side of the tank so I could see his tummy.) Lastly, something we called an Angel fish, but I cannot really find its likes online. Our track record with keeping them all alive wasn’t entirely unblemished – I do remember a few fish funerals held at the toilet of the coincidently well located, nearby bathroom. However, in retrospect and reading even a little about it online today I realize that ours was generally a well kept and happily balanced fish tank and that even as a small child I had a sense of how fragile that ecosystem was.

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This lesson was dramatically brought home to us by the acquisition of a Kissing Gourami. Now, to mom’s credit, even online right now you will be told that this is a non-aggressive division of the species compatible with smaller fish in a tank – much like the tale of the fighting fish outlined above. Sadly, we were not to find this to be the case. This little fellow, bully that he was, began systematically eating his way through all the other fish! It wasn’t so dramatic that we realized it right away, but nevertheless it quickly became apparent – and what to do?

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As hateful as this was none of us quite had the stomach to kill him outright, but of course we could not allow him to slaughter every other fish. Luckily someone my father worked with had a much larger tank (where our Gourami would not be the biggest guy on the block) and he was packed off to live with Jack Gray’s fish, leaving us to wonder how he fared matriculating in that larger milieu. (The Buddhists have a saying, big fish eat little fish and I reflect on that often. A favorite illustration of that -from the Met of course! – below.)

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Big Fish Eat Little Fish, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Metropolitan Museum of Art collection

 

I do not remember the ultimate demise of our fish tank. I know it did not make the move to our next house when I was about 12. I assume it petered out – for which my mother was likely grateful.

After our adventure looking at fish, we had a quick tour of lizards before leaving. Generally speaking I have an okay relationship with lizards. It is a step up from rodents, for whom I wish a happy existence however I generally like to keep at arm’s length, but below furry critters who I pretty much universally want to get to know. Gecko’s proved endearing when traveling through Nepal where they ate the mammoth cockroaches in the hotels, “barking” all the while. I have a vague memory of my brother asking for a lizard and my mother saying she just couldn’t do it because all she could see was the day that she found one of our cats with a lizard tail hanging out its mouth.

I’ve always been particularly interested in chameleons. This little fellow, shown at the top of this post and below, took a real liking to me yesterday and he stood and waved at me for what seemed to be an extraordinary length of time. For all the world he did seem to be appealing to me to please take him home and I was tempted to heed his call. With Betty’s long ago words about cats and chameleon’s sadly I could not however really consider it.

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Mornin’

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This entertained me with its little bit of photo collage that makes it possible. The noisy boy kittens (I think they are wearing shirt collars like they just came from a late night party) are “singing” to these proper girl cats, who sport enormous bows, presumably it is their human neighbors who are also being serenaded, much to their chagrin. I am especially enamored of the little house the girl cats are in. This card was mailed on October 22, 1907 at 5:30 PM from Lyons, Kansas to Miss Dorothy Curtis, Villisca, Iowa. (Villisca remains a very small town, only 1200 people as of the 2010 census so even today maybe a street address isn’t needed. The town is evidently best known for an unsolved axe murder in the summer of 1912.)

Cats preventing sleep – night and morning – is a big topic, bless their little nocturnal hearts. I have written some about the morning routine here at Deitch Studio. You’ve heard about how I take my place at the computer eating breakfast while Kim commences working at his end of the desk. During the week I read the newspaper and maybe cheat in a little work email and on the weekend I sit, as I do now, writing this blog. What I have not described is Cookie and Blackie’s routine which starts much earlier.

Ever since his first night in the apartment as tiny kitten, Blackie has been the most likely to sleep on the bed with us. (Despite having been terrified of us and hiding under the bed all of his first day here, I woke in the middle of the night to find him curled up between us snoring away.) He starts his evening between us, usually while we are reading, but after lights out he moves to a spot near my feet. He is sometimes joined by Cookie, who has a pillow of her own down there.

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Blackie, crammed between us during nighttime reading in bed.

 

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Cookie on her pillow perch at the foot of the bed.

 

Come 4:00 am (that’s not a mistake, 4 o’clock!) Blackie begins a frontal assault, primarily on Kim as I do not get up at that hour. This largely takes the form of head butting and jumping on a bookcase full of toy cats, and then plummeting down onto the bed. Cookie watches to make sure he executes properly. If for some reason he does not, she will start racing around on the bed – sometimes they have a chase over us for good measure. Kim is an early riser and more susceptible than me and generally he gets up and feeds them and starts his day.

For those of you who follow us here at Pictorama ongoing, you know that my job at Jazz for Lincoln Center keeps me out quite late on some evenings. In addition, anyone who knows me well, knows that I love to sleep so the early routine of the house is a bit trying for me at times. I have always loved to sleep. My mother tells the story that she brought me home from the hospital and I slept through the night (as did she) and she panicked thinking something had happened to me. I am fond of picking the right pajamas and night gowns, always cotton like our sheets. (I discuss my fondness for my pj’s in a former post which can be found here.) At this very moment I am wearing a pair of pajama bottoms with a toile elephant print which I purchased in homage to the elephant drawings Kim is working on. I adore them.

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

 

But I love my kitties more even than sleep. And, as I alluded to above, they have figured out that I am not the most likely suspect to get out of bed and often, now tummy full of delicious cat food, Blackie will wander back for a second snooze, curled up with me when I finally hear the clock radio an hour or so later.

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Blackie coming back to share the bed early one morning recently.

 

And of course, once we are both out of the bed it becomes a kitty haven. I close with a rare shot of the two of them sharing it.

 

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