Off to Work We Go

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card had an immediate appeal, but there are some mysteries about it that came to mind as soon as it arrived and I studied it a bit. For one thing, the generally very amateur nature of it – overexposure on the edges, and the line of odd exposure or printing at the top – is very much at odds with the professional title printed at the bottom. The man in the suit is charmingly incongruous with this wonderful fluffy tuxedo kitty on the back of great and zooty bicycle. (A quick Google image search reveals a 1940 Schwinn in red and white that is remarkably similar if not spot on.)

Biking to work – I briefly considered New York’s bike program when I took my new job, thinking the ride between York Avenue and Columbus Circle (I envisioned doing it mostly through Central Park) would be a nice bit of extra exercise. The complications of arriving at work sweaty and riding in office attire perplexed me some, although there were brief moments of seeing myself riding with a certain éclat sporting a tight black skirt, like something out of an Italian film circa 1960. However, both my husband and my trainer voted it down swiftly and soundly as unsafe, even with the hair mussing helmet I vowed to wear. (Subsequently I have taken to walking on nice days – it takes about 50 minutes at a good clip.)

If this photo was more expertly executed I think we would get a better look at this great kitty, riding on the back. Out of curiosity I looked to see if there was a term for giving someone a ride on the back of your bike, in some places it is called a backy, straightforward enough. The same search revealed no popular term for giving someone a ride on your handlebars – incidentally something I personally have never done and I guess it is unlikely I ever will at this point – there doesn’t seem to be a widely known consistent one. In Australia they call it a dink however and evidently at one time in MN (only it would seem?) it was known as giving someone a buck. I gather the term is no longer in use. The term, give someone a pump, was also in use for this, but has taken on, um, a quite different contemporary meaning.

All references to it come with dire warnings about the danger and how it is against the law in many places. The cat seems unconcerned however. He or she is a solid citizen, calmly perched here, nicely hefty and fluffy with white paws and bib and, best of all, a nice white mustache. I am a sucker for a good mustache on a tuxedo. Cookie’s mustache is crooked – like the remnants of a sloppy drink of milk. My cat Otto was the feline incarnation of Chaplin – or Hitler – with a perfect little black mustache. Meanwhile, you can bet that kitty was just posing and wasn’t really going for a ride. No fool kitty!

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Cookie in a recent photo

 

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The Boys and Felix

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: I have periodically opined on how much fun it would be to have your photo taken with a nice Felix the Cat doll and this one looks like a third child in the photo. Felix is such a handy size I wonder if it is a prop (probably) or actually belongs to these youngsters. I know if it was I as a tiny tot, I’d have been bellowing for him to come home with me; greedy, thankless child that I was. These two kids look quite jolly, the older one downright debonair – perhaps best not to meet him as a gent (or cad) around town later in life. The younger one appears to be trimmed out in fur which seems all odd from today’s standards. Even in our own decadent times – fur trimmed outfit for your toddler?

This photo seems like the sort of studio shot taken for the purpose of eventually ending up on grandma’s table of treasured family photos. My mother’s mom had studio portraits, large ones, of my mother and her brother, both in graduation cap and gowns, as I remember. The one of my mother had hand colored tinting, and it was the first time I ever saw that in a photo. As a kid I was endlessly fascinated by it. I can see it in my mind now, hanging in the dining room (housing a table which occasionally held food, but we absolutely never ate at – that was done in the kitchen with a table and space which both somehow magically expanded to fit an infinite number of family members as required) on a flocked print wallpaper, gray with a green design. The photo did not look like my mother, mostly because her nose was broken and not set properly shortly after high school when the photo was taken. I didn’t know that until I was older and wouldn’t have thought to ask for an explanation for the transformation. My uncle looked exactly the same – his Howdy Dowdy resemblance following him into adulthood and beyond. As the younger brother his photo was true color and his bright red hair and freckles stood out.

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into a nursing facility, much was disposed of and a small number of things were absorbed by my mother and uncle – who by that time was living down south, but collected a number of things. I do not know what happened to the photos, my mother was not overly fond of hers so she clearly did not claim them. I do not know if my uncle did. I must think to ask my mother when I call her later today.

 

Canton Ohio Photo Studio

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This is a sweet and interesting photo. The gentleman on the right appears to be in a WWI uniform – are they brothers? A fair guess that they are. The idea that that they posed this photo with their cat is of course extremely compelling for me. Nothing is written on this card and it was never sent. It is oddly filthy, with dirty fingerprints both front and back. Now that I have photographed it I will see about cleaning it, but am afraid I might damage it. Not like I know much about that sort of thing. These gentlemen pose in front of a faded background scene, their sharp shadows belying any illusion of realism.

Of course if I were to take a photo before leaving for war, of those dearest to me it would include my kits as well as my humans. This fellow was of course transported to said photo studio, M. Mimi’s to be precise, for this purpose. (I have my doubts about the quality of M. Mimi’s work, I must admit.) Those of us who live with cats are aware that, while the level of distress varies from feline to feline, in general they do not approve of involuntary locomotion and their distress runs from what I call end-of-the-world meows to mere dark muttering of malcontent.

I understand that some people have cats that travel contentedly (don’t look so smug!), but I have never been acquainted with one of those well adjusted fellows, not in my many cat relationships. Cookie and Blackie do not transport especially happily, but they are far from the worst felines I have known in this regard. When they were oh-so-tiny we transported them together in one carrier. This seems utterly impossible to imagine now. Anyway, I will assume that the cat’s appearance in this photo was a non-negotiable issue. Perhaps a copy of the picture went with the soldier and this one stayed here, as did the cat.

While I have often noted the tendency for people to grab their cat when they are being photographed, the idea of a posed portrait with one is much more unusual. In this case they had to also convince puss to sit still for the moment – and he or she did as it isn’t blurred at all. It’s odd, but the cat seems to be taking it seriously. In fact, all three are pretty serious. I can’t tell for sure, but I believe he has a cigarette in his left hand, uniform of the day pulling in some places, prescribed bagginess in others.

The man in the overcoat is a bit unusual as well, at least by today’s standards. He has kept this very long coat, hat and his gloves on for the photo. Under it he sports a full suit and tie, scarf. He smokes a cigarette. Unlike the cat he seems to be in a bit of a rush and they are awkward in their pose, not quite touching. The story is forgotten as far as we know, but the photo will be cared for to the best of our abilities at its current resting place here at Pictorama.

Tea, Oil, Milk

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This mystifying little photo was one of the more random purchases at my postcard convention foray a few months back. These gents seem to be enjoying a private joke of sorts with their marked bottles of booze, tea, oil, milk – those on the table and the presumably dead soldiers (which appear to be champagne bottles) on the ground around it. There is nothing written on the reverse of the card and it was never mailed. It is a bit amateurish with the feet on one cut off and his head grazing the top of the frame, but it is very jolly and even sort of ambitious in its own way.

It’s a silly little postcard, but in some regards it illustrates what I love about this period of photography. Photography was novel enough that people would take the trouble to put together a whole scenario and pose for such photos. A statement of themselves and of purpose as such. In this case it is about boozing for these somewhat formally attired gentlemen represent their beverages as tea and milk and then the third bottle – of oil. The idea of getting oiled we’ll assume? Google tells me that the term is originally of British origin, for getting drunk of course, and perhaps derived from the thought behind a well oiled machine. Makes me think a bit of Popeye cartoons for some reason, although admittedly there was not booze in those. Although he had Olive Oyl of course, – a special oil, er Oyl unto herself! There was an Oyl family and Olive had siblings named Castor and Crude; my memory is that, for better or worse, they do not play a significant role in the strip however.

The photo postcard phenomena makes up the lion’s share of my collection. Either journeymen photographers who would take the image and presumably send it to the recipient later – or do a fast developing in a, more often than not, worn bucket of developer resulting in a faded image years later. One like this seems more homemade – both in the intention and execution, and I imagine it was a kit or something like a friend with a camera where the photos were sent off to be developed and printed on the postcard stock. We’ll imagine that a merry time was had by all in the making of this photo – meanwhile, it is hard to imagine people setting themselves up to take such a photo today, despite the ease of photo taking and ever present selfies that abound. Perhaps just one way the world is a tiny bit less fun than it once was.

 

Tabby cats

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Those of you who have followed Pictorama for a bit know that men and cats are a sort of a sub-genre for me. For some reason I find it very appealing to see that some man of years gone by has grabbed a cat or two for a photo. This man seems to be quite pleased with these two great tabby kits – one perfectly calm and the other clearly itching to get on with the duties and pleasures of his own cat day.

While tuxedoes are generally considered to be the cats of choice here at Pictorama, I harbor a deep affection for our stripe-y feline friends. They are, in their own way, the very archetype of house cat, aren’t they? (I pause for a moment to reflect on that term – house cat. Interesting.) I think of them as generally genial, although my parent’s had one, Wally, who was insane and would randomly attack people with ferocity. (He was the kind of cat who created cat haters by embodying and realizing their cat fears.) Further back in my childhood however, there was first Zipper and then Tigger, both of whom exemplified the tabby persona with aplomb and good nature.

I have written about Zipper before – my mom rescued him as a tiny kitten from an ally behind a laundromat where two boys were tormenting him. He was so malnourished that he slipped between the space between the cushions in the back of the car. Somehow this made mom arrive at naming him Zipper. After a diet of cream cheese to build up his strength he grew into an easy going if occasionally skittish cat. Despite his early bad experience with humans he would submit to some petting. My mom alone could hold him though. For the rest of us he would quietly slip out from under your grasp without fuss.

Tigger meanwhile was a plump black gray and white striped tiger. She was the kitten of my insane, if remarkable, calico cat Winkie. Tigger had a good personality, undemanding yet smart and friendly. She would sleep on my bed, a bit erratically but always welcome. One day she wandered off and was missing for a very long time. She was discovered in a barn several blocks away and somehow brought back to us, the denizens of the broader neighborhood having heard that we were looking for a cat of ours. We were delighted to have her back and she settled in immediately. However, oddly, within the next year she disappeared once again, this time for good. We searched, but ultimately suspected that she had adopted another home, and when weighed we were ultimately the ones found wanting. Ours was a large but cat filled house at that time so perhaps she had a fair gripe. I have always hoped she found a home where she was the sole feline resident in charge, much adored, feted and spoiled as she deserved to be.

 

Crown

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: This card also from the El Dorado of the postcard show last week. It is a bit more curious than good, although I think it is compelling. I don’t know for sure what it depicts, although my first thought was that it was some sort of traveling show, I have changed my mind. The tents are sizable, but appear more for living and sleeping-in than for come hither attractions. They are somewhat complicated, as I think tents mostly were at that time, set up by a series of ropes and poles. (I am glad I wasn’t charged with figuring that out. I don’t think I would have been good at it.) The one to our right shows an accumulation of grime near the flap from much use. I guess it is a roadside camp, Crown being the name, the brick building perhaps bathrooms and an office? Or a gas station? There is the pile of wood in front of these folks, and a fair amount of trash scattered about. It is weedy and they have set the tents up in the only clear space.

I like this group, family of some kind I assume or family and friends, with their two dogs – one wriggling into a blur here. The one woman and young girl are in neat, but comfortable cotton house dresses, the other woman a bit more dressed up. While this appears to be a somewhat down at the heels locale, they seem chipper enough having their photo taken this way. The card was never mailed and there is nothing written on it so we don’t know anything about them, which I regret.

I do not hail from a camping family and in my life I have only ever done it on a few occasions. As I remember, I was unremarkable at best as a girl scout camper for a single trip at approximately age 12. (I recall a messy experiment with making pancakes in a skillet over a fire – pancakes are actually a tad tricky even at home I find in retrospect. An even more dismal attempt at using a compass and map to find our way back to camp in a test of sorts. I seem to remember finding the road and using it to return.)

Subsequently, many years later and on the other end of the spectrum, I camped while hiking around Mt. Kailash, a sacred mountain in Tibet. I don’t fool myself – the success of this venture was entirely due to some extremely capable sherpas who set up our tents and cooked our food. I only credit myself with having been smart enough to have engaged them. It was July, but we woke up to several inches of snow one morning which was a shock, (it was cold and we slept in layers of clothing, coats and sleeping bags) and another evening heard something skulking, scratching and growling outside our tent which we chose not to investigate. Otherwise, it was in every way preferable to staying in awful, mostly empty and decaying hotels in the small enclaves of Tibet which I had done on a previous trip. All appeared to have been built in 1970 and with an eye to a tourist industry that the Chinese government imagined, but never materialized.

Therefore, for the most part I have decided that for me camping is more of a means to an end than something I do for the sheer enjoyment of doing it. I would happily camp again in Tibet if it meant seeing things I couldn’t see otherwise, but am unlikely to pitch a tent in the wilds of upstate New York any time soon. Meanwhile, these folks may have take a broader view of camping – or they may have been doing it out of necessity as well, to get from here to there – but stopping to have their photo taken along the way.

 

 

Happy Hollow Special

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Today marks the beginning of delving into a nice big pile of photographs I purchased last week at a postcard show here in New York City. Way back in college, I remember an art professor, Maureen McCabe, saying she loved this show because she bought things like vintage paper dolls for her work constructing collages. That was a few decades back and I suspect that the sale has changed over time. It was small, but sincere, and for me a happy hunting ground. This bi-annual sale is provided by the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York (more about them here), which evidently meets monthly largely for the purpose of buying, selling and trading postcards. I noticed a mention of them in the New York Times recently and made a note of this sale a few months ago.

I may have purchased enough postcards to keep me from needing to drop into a meeting before their next show in November, but we will see about that. The process of looking through physical cards is quite different than the sort of internet searching I do and I stumbled across some interesting, non-cat affiliated cards, this being one of them. Kim patiently waded through postcards with me last Saturday afternoon, after traveling to and from midtown in a deluge, so a shout out to him.

I would love to know more about these folks, posing here in front of this striped carnival background. These lucky little girls are riding in high style, drawn by this large goat. Goat carts were popular in this period and below I include a photo I grabbed of a goat cart in Central Park in the 1870’s. I always thought they used smaller goats, but this photo and the others I found show big goats. The Central Park goat cart is quite high-end compared to our friends posed with this more humble affair in Hot Springs.

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I recently read about Goat Yoga online which seems, touchingly, to simultaneously combine yoga and admiring, frolicking goats. I have a general fondness for goats – in Tibet you see these small ones that look like Scotty dogs everywhere and I always wanted to scoop one up – however I resisted the temptation. In addition I spent many years doing yoga and, while I have found that cats can take a real interest in yoga (they generally try to out-yoga you, and they usually can as they are flexible little critters), I admit I never thought about doing it with goats. Clearly, my lack of imagination. Anyway, I see online that there was an attempt to bring said Goat Yoga to Brooklyn, but the Board of Health put an end to it so we here in the five boroughs will never know the pleasures of it I guess.

Getting back to our postcard, I would say that the donkey sticking his head in and the stray arm to the other side of the frame, sort of frame this photo compositionally. I myself wouldn’t have minded seeing more of that donkey fellow with his big furry ears. Mom and Dad and the kids are in their best bib and tucker – Mom sporting a splendid hat and is especially dressed up for the occasion. As carnival photo opportunities go, this one is decidedly lower end than most however – certainly not as luxe as posing with Felix at the beach (see for example my post Felix Mugging), but it has its own charm.

The cart is labeled Happy Hollow Special, Hot Springs and below, somewhat mysteriously, 21, is also painted. If you look very closely, you realize that this “cart” is propped up on a small stand and isn’t going anywhere. Perhaps this guarded against a rogue runaway goat. Goats are known for their independent natures, after all. Although this card was never mailed, written in pencil on the back is Sal & Birdie with their daughters Dorothy & Marion. A quick look online reveals that Happy Hollow, Hot Springs is a vacation destination in Hot Springs, Arkansas and perhaps that is our photo locale, a very long time ago indeed.