Somewhere in Dixie Land

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: Long time readers know that I am a bit of a sucker for photos of men and cats. While affection for felines was certainly been a requirement of Pictorama paramours predating Mr. Deitch, it still especially pleases me, and even surprises me a bit, when the male of the species scoops up a kitty for a photo like this. (Other photos in this Pictorama sub-genre can be found here, here and here.)

This photo, which is dark and a bit grimy by any standards, hails from a seller in Columbus, Ohio. There is no address or postmark which means it was likely stuck in an envelope. In a strangely light blue ink and carefully neat hand it says, Your Ever Loving & Affectionate Son Fred. XX and below that, Somewhere in Dixie Land. (It was also marked for previous sale at $20 which means someone took a loss as I paid a lot less.)

Of course the recipients, Mom and Dad, knew Fred in the photo but sadly we do not know which of these strapping young fellows he is. I would like to imagine he is the one who grabbed kitty in the middle, unruly hair somehow escaping the camp barber. In some ways it is the patterns of those cans, the tiles and even the door that give this photo a visual interest. (Given our current bunker existence I will admit to eyeing those pyramids of canned goods in a way that pantry envy may not have tapped me previously.)

Our quartet of guys are in casual army issue garb. Somehow it manages to look hot and muggy without specific evidence other than donning shorts and the rolled up sleeves of their shirts. Not sure this was actually KP duty or an adjunct of working in the pantry. Kit, who is hard to see, but I would gamble a guess is a tuxedo, probably lived a pretty high life between treats from the humans and a pleasantly steady high protein diet of mice.

I imagine there is a chance that these fellows left the relative comfort of the humid American South for the more dangerous and decidedly uncomfortable existence of a WWI soldier elsewhere in the world, probably a century ago now, and at a time much more challenging even than our own.

 

The New Year

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I admit when the New York Times posed the question of if we were indeed not just starting a New Year, but perhaps a whole new decade I was a tad overwhelmed. Suddenly the teens have slipped away and we are launching ourselves into the ’20’s. How on earth did that happen? It was a busy decade – in fact it was a busy year – and it is almost hard to look at the stretch from where we started to where we ended and consider it all of a piece.

I start by sharing a New Year’s card today which I have purchased, but will not reach my mailbox until later in January. (Technically this bends if not actually breaks a Pictorama rule about having items in hand when I write about them, but we know about rules and how they are made to be broken. I claim that privilege today.) I love this somewhat ambiguous image of one cat welcoming the other two, senior and youngster into the New Year, gesturing to the road, a mysterious half-smile on his face. The scene is a snowy one, but the path is clear. The elder cat seems to be saying, “Oh yes, let’s head on into this year!” (Not sure why this is Bonne Annéel rather than Bonne Année. Please feel free to enlighten me if you know or get the reference.)

The French can be depended on for New Year’s cards and I believe the art on this postcard is by Maurice Boulanger – a French artist for whom there doesn’t seem to be much biographical information.  Boulanger’s cards were being produced as early as 1903 – or at least there are some postmarked that early according to one website I found which attempts to catalogue the several hundred cards that were produced. (The postmark on this one is obscured, shown below, addressed in this beautiful neat hand.) Working during the same time as Louis Wain and clearly influenced by him – his cats seem to belong to, if not the same universe, certainly a neighboring one of slightly more sane felines. This card is not signed by Boulanger, but certainly seems to emerge from his stable of kitties.

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Highlights of this decade for me include this blog which came into existence around the halfway mark of the decade, August of 2014. In the wee hours today Pictorama hit 125 subscribed readers – thank you readers! (And a special hello to new subscriber, Ver It’s Peculiar.) I never seem to have the right moment to thank you all for signing up; please know that I am always encouraged by it. A new reader is the very most cheerful thing to discover attached to a ping! on my iPad. For those of you who have meandered around the archive you know that there are more than 600 posts, virtually every Saturday and Sunday. Many of you show up directly from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well and your interest is no less appreciated!

One of the most significant changes during this decade is that back in 2010 I was still working at the Metropolitan Museum, leaving the Museum wasn’t even a gleam in my eye. 2017 saw that surprising change after thirty years, when I moved to Jazz at Lincoln Center to continue fundraising but overseeing it. I write about Jazz more than I did the Met. Working at the Met after so many years was like breathing – it was hard to take a step back until after I left. They were family to me however and always will be. (My post about leaving the Met can be found here and some of my posts about my work with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra can be found here and here.) They too have become family – I find that Kim and I have been slowly absorbed into that, albeit very different, clan.

Most notably, I lost Dad in the latter part of this decade, having lost my sister Loren in the previous one. The loss of loved ones creates its own relative time – all time gets divided into before and after. (I wrote about my last days with Dad here and a bit about my sister here.) Those are the markers that live large in our mind’s eye.

Meanwhile, a look back on posts of 2019 reminds me that this year kicked off with recreating my grandmother’s Poor Man’s Cake (I’m sort of itching to make it again – perhaps it is to be a New Year’s tradition for me – yum, that post is here), covered authors Edna Ferber to my continuing obsession with the ever prolific Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Too many posts for me to list for those!) Work took me to the west coast (post here), Johannesburg (here) and most recently, Wisconsin (here). We started renovation on the apartment (too many of those posts to list as well), and best of all Kim’s book Reincarnation Stories was published in October. (Today it is on the Best Comics of 2019 list published in the New York Times Book Review. At the time I write this it can be found here.) I wrote my own two-part, very biased wifely review of Kim’s book which can be found here and here. Some posts this year were good and were well received, some less so. Thank you to those of you who continue to read regardless.

Looking forward is more important than looking back and in that vein Kim is hard at work on his next book, How to Make Comics, even as he continues to do appearances for Reincarnation Stories. I am not really a hardcore resolution maker, but it is my hope and plan to continue, and complete, the work in the apartment, fulfilling a dream of creating a wall of built-in bookcases for increased storage.

I would like to travel a little less for work, but I am not entirely sure that is an attainable goal as I already know I will be in London and Paris with the orchestra in the spring, and maybe Florida and maybe a trip back to Madison, Wisconsin also loom this winter. I would also like to take more time for myself – spend more time with Kim and my mom, get back to a more orderly exercise routine. (I have never written about how beloved my exercise routine is to me, but it definitely keeps me sane as well as fit.) This job seems to require endless time so that will be among the challenges of 2020.

So, for now, a toast of the writerly glass to you all, and my Bonne Année wishes to all for 2020. See you on the other side!

 

 

 

 

Raising Funds

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This weekend I am fresh back from a trip to Madison, Wisconsin. It was the first time I set foot in the state of Wisconsin and even for the residents of Madison, it was unseasonably cold and snowy. Manhattan was suffering from a modified version of the same, but it was a shock to my system nonetheless and required a scamper to find my snow boots (hidden under the cleaning products that generally live under the sink, but currently reside on the floor of the living room closet during the enduring kitchen renovation), and to retrieve my winter coat from storage. The chaos from the kitchen work has meant that the summer clothes have not been exchanged for the winter clothes here (a ritual of small apartment living) and the best I could do was to grab a few things from the basement containers, buy a few others and plan to layer a lot. (For those of you who are just tuning into my home renovation story you can find the origin post here.)

Leaving Kim and cats to fend for themselves amongst the workmen, I departed Tuesday afternoon for a whirlwind two days in Madison. This was originally meant to be a longer trip with the orchestra as they made their way to Chicago, but that part never gelled so I just zipped in and out of Wisconsin. (I will do the same in Milwaukee in December as Big Band Holiday tours the Mid-west. My prediction is more snow there!) Madison is the long-time former stomping ground of one of my colleagues and many of the people we were visiting were supporters of local Madison projects with whom she had worked for many years. Walking down the streets of Madison with her was like being with the mayor of that town so glad were they to see her back!

It was lovely to experience their hospitality and generosity. Several of them support Jazz at Lincoln Center now, largely in tribute to her, but also because they are interested in our music education programs (some in their community) and because essentially they are philanthropic people. Their support is evident in named spaces and on donor plaques throughout that town and the pride in what they have created is tangible.

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Interactive donor recognition at the Overture Center in Madison.

 

Madison, the capital of the state, is a city of about 260,000 people and a whopping student population at the university of 45,000, 10,00 of those doing graduate work year round. This makes it a little more than half the size of Minneapolis which it reminded me of in their devotion to supporting arts and culture in their community. (And not to mention winter weather.) The capital building, a slightly smaller version of the one in DC, is at the heart of downtown and I am told it is an area that teems with local life from a robust seasonal farmers market, to art fairs, music on the green and even as the starting point for their local marathon. I was also told that the building is open to the public seven days a week and in many ways this puts New York’s City Hall, increasingly inaccessible, to shame.

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Capital building in Madison, photo taken earlier this week. Even for locals the snow and single digit cold was early in the season.

 

It makes me reflect on how different it must be to raise money in an area like that – with a dedicated, but more finite donor base, sharing them with the other major charities in the community such as the hospitals, and of course the enormous fundraising machine that the university must be.

I can see pros and cons of raising money in that milieu, but at the end of the day it is a very different animal than the sort of day-to-day I experience working for an international performing arts organization in the heart of New York City. One conversation I had with someone, who spoke with great gratitude for the work my colleague had done for their city by raising money for two significant projects there, a student union and an arts complex, stayed with me in particular.

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A beautifully renovated theater from the 1920’s within the Overture arts complex in Madison.

 

While over the years individuals may have expressed gratitude for what I had done for them personally (access to the Museum’s collections, an opportunity to hear a concert for example) never had a donor expressed gratitude for the work done on behalf of the community. This struck me as an especially thoughtful perspective – imagine being thanked for raising money. Feeding the giant maw of need of one of these magnificent gems in the crown of Manhattan’s cultural life does not have the same resonance with individuals here and we are the facilitators are seen at best as a necessary part of the machine at best. Generous individuals see it as their responsibility to be philanthropic or even their pleasure, however never has anyone thanked me for helping keep the doors of the Metropolitan Museum open, nor for keeping the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra going. I must say, not that I would have expected them to either, but I was touched by the idea. It renewed my faith in my chosen profession.

While I enjoyed my stint in Wisconsin I do not pretend I am cut out for life in a small city. Enticing though space and pretty Victorian or Arts and Crafts houses in the downtown area were, I believe I would chafe quickly. Nonetheless, I will carry the experience with me and it makes me more reflective about the nature of my work. Meanwhile, I have returned contentedly to our one-room home, piled high with boxes of kitchen items for now, to deal with the newly purchased faucet with a faulty tap recently purchased and the microwave which was the wrong size and has to be exchanged. Eventually it will be finished and the winter clothes will be restored to the closets for the season and life on 86th Street will return to normal.

 

ID – #O92

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Over our vacation this week a visit to the Met revealed something I had never seen before – a collection of early photo ID pins. Reminiscent of mug shots these identification tags seemed largely to have been from the industrial world of the 1930’s and 40’s, maybe into the 50’s. (I learned that earlier there had been just metal pins with numbers.)

From companies we still know today, such as Proctor and Gamble and Frigidare, to the rather snappy but little known Textile Machine Works, each of these is interesting individually, but they create a wonderful overall effect when you see a couple of dozen displayed as the Met has currently put together.

Unlike the rather uninteresting identification folks like me carry daily today, these photos in their tin frames are impressive in their weightiness. Sadly, I am not sure anyone will ever find my Jazz at Lincoln Center identification worth recovering and saving, nor will they have the chance as today’s ID cards are of course chock full of electronic information and are generally required to be returned upon leaving employment.

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From the exhibit at the Met, one of many badges in a display case.

 

Although not especially attractive aesthetically, my Met ID was a wonderful thing which not only open employee passageways and activated elevators, but it also gained me free admission to all of the museums in New York and many elsewhere. The photo was decidedly mug shot-esque, but the person taking the photos was usually kind about it and would take a few and let you pick. Over the 30 years I was there I learned a few things about getting the best photo, but lousy at best really. (They were also nice enough to produce photos needed for passports and travel visas.) I do miss that ID and the empowerment it accorded.

My current ID gains me access to our offices and the bathroom in the hall, as well as opening the doors to our backstage area in the hall. In addition it occasionally gains me access to backstage at other venues when the orchestra is playing. The photo, such as it is, is sort of illegible really.

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These tin badges, worthy of any child playing sheriff I would think, have heft. It is easy to see why they all still exist as one can easily imagine people keeping them after years of service to a company. You can just imagine a retirement after many years, the badge put away and then saved again and again by subsequent generations.

After our morning at the Met Kim and I wandered downtown, stopping first at Blick for art supplies, then lunch and my favorite clothing store, DL Cerney – maker of vintage inspired cloths for both men and women utilizing vintage or vintage inspired fabrics, buttons and designs. (Our day was a well worn path known to Pictorama readers!)

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DL Cerney on 9th Street in the East Village

 

Our afternoon ended with a stop in at Obscura Antiques and Oddities in the East Village. which I wrote about before in my birthday post. There we had the surprise please to meet up with Mike Zohn, one of the owners. In all my visits, I do not think I have every been there when Mike was there, although I think it was he I met at an opening of Kim’s a few years back. I believe that was when I first heard about the store which I like to wander into a few times a year. I asked him to keep me in mind when he runs across early Felix items.

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Being sold at Oddities and Obscura Antiques, sorry we don’t have room for this somewhat creepy nodder.

 

Meanwhile, to my amazement he was selling a small clutch of photo identification badges in a cabinet near the front of the store, just like the ones we had seen earlier in the day. I chose the one below as the nicest. I suspect that these may become a sub-genre in my photo collecting over time.

 

 

A quick look tells me that the LaPointe factory in Hudson, MA made broaching machines. Now, I have to say, that even as I look at the definition of a broaching machine (Wikipedia’s can be found here in case you are curious) I do not really comprehend what it does. I guess I would say I understand it to be a type of bit that makes grooves and other irregular cuts.

Unlike today’s identifications which, while they have numbers generally require a name as well, this one identifies 092 only that way. Many seem to have had a similar height chart behind the employee as well. I sort of wonder – how useful it was to know that 092 was 5’6″ and a half? While this pin is wonderful in all it’s substantialness, I have to admit my flimsy piece of plastic is easier to hang around my neck daily – and thinking about the holes this must have put in the shirts and jackets of 092. Although perhaps he wore it on a uniform and therefore did not make his wife nuts.

My maternal grandfather worked in a Bendix factory in New Jersey and I am searching for a nice example of what his ID might have looked like. (My grandmother was not a saver of such things.) Hopefully a future post on that.

 

 

Kitty Paw

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post kicks off with this lovely item a colleague gave me recently. My reputation as a collector of all things (frequently black) cat she scooped this little item for me while away for the weekend. Reader’s may remember that I chose to hang some of my cat sheet music in my office when I started my job, two years back now. (Some posts devoted to that sheet music cat can be found here, here and here.) Other cat related items have snuck in over time, a white cat here (I wrote about my sub-collection of white cats here in my post The Lore of the White Kitties) and a few black cats there. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when Patricia produced this little gem for me, but I sometimes forget how evident my cat office theme is.

As you probably realize, this item (the mini emery boards are very handy indeed as well) is a nod to the popular Cat’s Paw advertising design below. I’ve included a nice example of their advertising, but an even nicer photo of one of their heels. (These from a A Brief History of Cat’s Paw Heels which informed me that Amelia Earhart supposedly died wearing a pair of Cat’s Paw-heeled loafersAmazing!)

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The most important feline acquisition for my office may be this lucky gold cat I picked up in Washington last fall. I am not an overly superstitious person, but I must say the financial fortunes at work began to improve substantially after acquiring him which I credit, at least in part, to this happy waving fellow. I tracked the history of these Chinese waving pusses awhile back (you can read it here in my post Come Hither Kitty) and this one, painted bright gold, has a big job for a little guy but he seems to be up to it. As a struggling fundraiser I embrace all avenues of revenue.

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And as I write, today is June 30, the last day of our fiscal year at work, my second at this job. It has been a squeaker, but I would say we will just about make it over the bar this year. It hasn’t been the least bit easy – in fact there have been times I would say it has been quite grueling and I have been awake many nights running numbers in my head and wondering if it was possible. My colleagues have made it easier and of course in fact have made it possible so a big tip of my hat to them. Tomorrow morning we will drive a wooden stake in the heart of fiscal ’19 and kick off the coming year with some champagne (it’s in the fridge now guys) and bagels. I will cheerfully pay off a $10 bet to Ed who had more faith than I did in my ability to drive this one home. (Thanks Ed!) The coming year will not be easier, but with lots of hard work and what Kim likes to call some average good luck, hopefully we’ll be celebrating again this time next year. Gold lucky kitty, keep on waving!

Under My Skin

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Another evening at Dizzy’s

 

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Much to my surprise, today seems to be a day when I decide to let the toys and photos pile up for another day and instead give Pictorama readers a few thoughts I have been mulling over recently. I recently hit the two year mark at my job, which after thirty years at the Met remains feeling “new” to me.  I will consider this a two year check-in for those who are counting and have been following.

I have come to realize that spring is an especially tough time at this job – struggling to make budget (fiscal year ends with financial reckoning on June 30) while taking out our crystal ball and doing our best estimate of income for the coming year at the same time. A clutch of important events culminate in these weeks, kicked off by our Gala and ending with our final concerts in June, and 24 hours and seven days do not seem to be enough time to get it all done.

Not surprisingly, after almost countless late work nights, much budget fretting mostly at 3 AM on sleepless nights, and weekends worked, I fell prey to not one, but two viruses making their way through our office. The stomach version utterly flattened me and resulted in Kim quietly but firmly urging me (peeling me off the bed and then escorting me) to the urgent care facility down the street after 24 hours without improvement. The second of the one-two punch virus is a head and chest cold. (Faithful readers know I was battling this when we arrived at the Meadowlands last week for the East Coast Comics Convention – that post here. It grew into a proper cold and knocked me out on Sunday and Monday.) I continue to sniffle and cough as I type this.

Like all foolish mortals, I thought I had this cold on the run after three days of relative care and corresponding improvement – better known as willing it away. Wednesday night I attended a gala event in honor of a board member who has been extremely helpful and nice. It wasn’t a late night but much to my dismay, although I guess not surprising, I woke up Thursday feeling lousy again. The work day was devoted largely to doing the stressful final edits for an enormously important and detailed grant proposal between meetings, and the day was to end at our club Dizzy’s. It was a performance, the Bill Charlap trio, which I had looked forward to and a dozen guests were booked to come to dinner. Enormous downpours and thunderstorms throughout the day, along with increased coughing and cold laden wuzzy-headedness, did not improve my state (mental or physical), and really home in bed was the only desirable, albeit unobtainable, conclusion to the day.

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A daytime, nearby view of Columbus Circle from a similar perch near Dizzy’s, snapped on a recent day.

 

However, a dozen guests for dinner is not something easily ignored and I did my best to rally as I headed over to the club after work, tributaries of water like streams overwhelming storm drains, a tentative and watery sun finally making a late day appearance. A less than promising start to the evening, however no one canceled and the night began to unfurl. The guests, almost all people I was meeting for the first time, arrived and they were all lovely and interesting. None of them knew each other but in a rare bit of chemistry they immediately clicked with us and each other. Something unexpected started to happen. Suddenly conversation was lively and sparking across the table. The sun grew bolder as it started to set, the way it sometimes seems to do, and we were treated to the reflection of it reaching across Central Park as it melted downward. Drinks in hand, a first course was passed family style around the table and the evening was off and running.

Then Mr. Charlap and the two Mr. Washingtons, on (Peter) bass and (Kenny) drums respectively, came out and started to play. Slowly the room began to fall under the spell of the music, a sense of enchantment and elation stole over us. It was the music, the view, the food – a uniquely New York moment someone said later. Everything else melted away. Listening to the opening bars of Stardust, with a mouthful of very good, hot and gooey macaroni and cheese, looking out over the room and the stunning view of late spring Central Park, when an extraordinary sense of well-being washed over me. One has those moments of knowing that you are in exactly the right time and place that you should be and that you are fortunate to be there. (The best I can offer is a Youtube clip of Bill Charlap playing Stardust but with a vocal can be found here.)

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Kenny Washington, Bill Charlap and Peter Washington, far right

 

As I looked at both our guests and my colleagues at the table, and across the room, I realized that sometimes sharing music in this way is incredibly intimate. The woman on my right, a writer, was so inspired that she had grabbed a menu and was jotting notes on it. I understood the inclination. Each person was off in their own world listening, some with eyes closed ecstatically, others looking off in their own way, a few of us tapping our feet or swaying gently with approval and connection.

At that moment I reflected on whether or not there were experiences at the Met which were similar. As much as I deeply loved spending time with people looking at art I am not sure there is a parallel experience – such an intimate, shared experience.

When I think about the Museum and my many years there I remember good times and bad, and many wonderful moments as well as ongoing challenges met. However, it did not have the dramatic highs and lows of this job – often coming at the same time. Frankly, this job is like riding one of the bucking broncos on Kim’s beloved westerns. And I often wonder if I am built for the ride, barely hanging on it seems, having always been a sort of even keel person myself – an innate cat-like in a desire for the sameness of daily routine and organization. I cannot say I am comfortable with it (as my exhaustion and virus prone season prove) and yet, as the title of this post suggests, it has gotten under my skin. I wrestle with this – as frankly do those who are closest to me (ask Kim and my mom) – and wonder if I am running too hard and fast to sustain. Meanwhile, Thursday night I remember thinking to myself, was a typical day at Jazz at Lincoln Center – amazing and unpredictable peaks and pain, amazing and all stuffed into fourteen or so waking hours, one in a string of many.

Ellington is Essential

Pam’s Pictorama Post: This is a quick post today as I am dashing off to Rose Hall (the House of Swing) where I spend much of my time since taking up my post at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Having recently hit the two year mark, now it is hard to remember that there was a time when the labyrinth of our backstage confounded me. But this post isn’t so much a reflection on that as how I will spend my day today. This weekend in May belongs to a competition of fifteen of the finest high school jazz bands the nation has to offer fighting for the title of the best in the US.

Among the somewhat myriad educational programs we run, this one is called Essentially Ellington. Born out of the realization that most of the arrangements for Duke Ellington’s music were lost, Wynton Marsalis began a journey of recreating them (a band member actually does this each year) and distributing them for free to high schools all over the country. Many of these high school jazz bands then compete regionally for the opportunity to be one of the bands chosen to come to Manhattan to show their stuff and compete for the national title which happens over a three day period in May – this year culminating today in the finale of the 24th year of the program.

The first year I attended I thought – man, a whole day of high school jazz bands – I wonder if they are paying me enough? I was very quick to realize how very wrong I was. These kids are amazing – think Olympics of jazz band competition. I’m telling you – people would pay to hear most of these kids play.

Although it is a competition they are generous with their praise for each other – great solos are met with thundering applause and approving cheers, each school’s performance given an enthusiastic standing ovation when it completes its rounds. Last year when a young female trumpet player hit what is sort of the triple crown – winning the composition award, top achiever award and her band taking best in the competition – the approval of her peers just about brought down the house. Additionally, the ovation of the kids for their band directors at the end of the festival went on for seven minutes – there is love to spread around in that hall on Saturday night.

Since I am a fundraiser I know the details and demographics well. Half of the schools that compete nationally are what are called Title 1 schools which is the designation of those which are financially disadvantaged. Understanding the lack of resources at those schools, and even with the assistance we can offer (financial as well as providing some on the ground educators to train band directors and do some clinics with the bands locally at the schools), it is nothing short of a miracle what these chronically under-resourced schools achieved in order to arrive here this weekend.

While all the students are all of a high caliber, there is nothing like the moment when one of them takes a solo and suddenly the judges all sit up a bit and start to smile. As jazz musicians themselves they can’t help responding to the music. Yesterday during a trumpet solo by a young man from Rio Americano high school in Sacramento began his solo, I too found myself sitting forward in my seat and when the group from Snoqualmie, Washington took the stage next we were all blown away by a young woman who took her turn soloing, singing and playing the trumpet. Memorable.

By the end of the weekend new friendships will have been forged among the students – and for some of them, especially those who pursue a career in music, those are the seeds of cohorts that will inform the professional relationships of a lifetime. Many of the band directors will send love from the stage to wives who are chronically deprived of husbands on Mother’s Day again and again over the years. (The competition is webcast on our jazz.org site and many of the competing schools are watching it and cheering their school in auditoriums back home although a variety of parents and teachers travel with the kids as chaperones.) My colleagues from all parts of the organization, from the Chief Financial Officer to assists, will each be responsible for one of the bands throughout the competition. Seeing them in the civvies for long days and evenings in the hall is part of the drill.

It is all as American as apple pie, if also somewhat exhausting. As one fan said of the festival, there’s something about it that is very democratic, and for this and other reasons we will all find ourselves wiping a tear here and there over the course of the three days. So it’s 7:00 AM and I have to get to midtown. Let the finale begin!

Breakfast

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s early Sunday morning and instead of being curled up at our computer at the far end of Kim’s work table, which is where most mornings find me, I am propped up in bed in “my” room at my mom’s house in Fair Haven, NJ. Pictorama readers have found me here before and therefore might guess that I have cobbled together my breakfast from my mom’s mostly vegan offerings. Although only exercised infrequently, it is an alternate routine of sorts. I scrounge coffee and a bagel and take it back upstairs so I don’t have to face her hungry cats with the decision of whether or not I should intercede on their behalf, break ranks and feed them early.

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Mom’s cat Red joins me on a sunny spot on the bed while I write this

 

I myself have a cat-like craving for routine and a green smoothie and (very large) coffee in hand is how I start most days at home while at the computer and chatting with Kim. I try not to get sucked into my work email and instead read the newspaper online (prize or interesting tidbits read out loud to Kim, who in turn proffers some stream of consciousness thoughts while he works) or if it is the weekend work on a blog post.

I wrap up with a look at Twitter and Instagram (see last week’s post which describes my cheerful all-cat, all-early-film preferences on social media) and then, if it is a weekday I begin the process of getting ready for work. I like to get there early and frankly it isn’t an early morning kind of place so being there first isn’t that hard to achieve. Today’s post is about the space between leaving the cocoon of the apartment and arriving at work, although I will perhaps devote a future post to the Q train, which deserves one of its own and skip that part of my routine. (As someone who walked to work for years taking the train each morning was a big change.)

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I have lived my entire adult life in New York City, so I don’t know if the daily commute to work kicks off sufficiently different elsewhere. We live in a building in the Yorkville section of the most Eastern part of upper Manhattan. Our building, christened in 1960, is of an anonymous white brick facade where one in a rotating series of doormen are the last folks to say have a good day each morning. I always feel as if they should also hand me my brown bag lunch as my mom used to do on my way to the school bus each day.

I have written before about my chosen neighborhood diner previously in my post Cornered (found here) and also about the role a local diner played in my walking commute to the Met each morning – a tradition that I mourned a bit in my post, here,  about leaving that job after 30 years. Starting on my first day of work at Jazz at Lincoln Center I began sizing up my breakfast options. I eventually began dividing my breakfast consumption between a bodega and a restaurant – on either end of the block that is the west side of Seventh Avenue between 57th and 58th.

The bodega is less expensive. Starting with this new job, I fell into the habit of purchasing flowers for my desk  at the start of each week and the bodega wins many Mondays because it also sells flowers. The downside to it is coffee that is not great and the fact that the construction workers, who put in long days on the towering structures near my Columbus Circle office, form long lines and purchase baskets piled with staggeringly high calorie breakfasts of eggs, cheese, sausage and bacon, coffee and other drinks.

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Office flowers one day recently

 

On the other corner, my preferred establishment was a restaurant with take out in one half of it. The waiters and coffee guys. a rotating cast of musicians. occasionally belting out a rather stunningly good renditions of Happy Birthday (yes, at breakfast and I cannot explain that) for an appreciative customer. I often wonder to myself if being a few short steps from Carnegie Hall was encouraging or discouraging for them.

The short order cooks, a non-singing crew, generally remember my regular order. Then, as things do in New York, it closed abruptly one day. It took me a few days but I eventually found the cooks, but not the singing waiters and coffee guys, at a chain restaurant called Roast Kitchen and, after an initial snobby resistance to breakfast at a chain restaurant began to frequent it.

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Morning at Roast Kitchen, 57th Street near Seventh Avenue

 

My order varies daily, although my large coffee with skim milk is consistent. One of the men there offers me a blessed day whenever he waits on me (or sees me) which was a bit surprising at first, but I have come to appreciate. After all, blessing is good. They offered me the rare free coffee or even lunch on occasion – as at one point they also became my midday salad provider. (I am especially fond of the spicy pumpkin seeds, pepitas.)

The regular cast includes three men – the man who blesses me, another man who does most of the cooking and is the least friendly, and a very young man who seems only capable of the most simple tasks at hand. (Making your coffee is, for example, a bit complicated for him, especially when combined with the cash register. However, he seems to be reasonable adept a making the soup base and the prep for the later lunch.) There is an occasional woman working the register, but not often. They appear more frequently to help at lunch.

One of the things that interests me about it is that, despite being a chain restaurant, they actually do seem to cook there. I see stock being made each morning for the daily soup, the oatmeal homemade as well – it isn’t just all dropped off a truck from a shared kitchen in another borough. Hot greens with a pile of grain offerings isn’t my thing for lunch, but the salad made to order is acceptable – sometimes with a slab of roast salmon, but most often not. There is only mysterious artisanal and I tend to avoid it.

Lunch caters to a broad population, office inhabitants like myself, students and teachers from The Art Student’s League next door, and there is a long line snaking through the storefront. No time for any pleasantries – all business at lunch – as am I, feeling lucky if I have managed to duck out for the ten minutes round trip to get the aforementioned salad.

Meanwhile, the whole point of the breakfast interaction is that it also be briefly efficient and mine is generally satisfyingly so. Yet, it is an important interlude in the space between the subway and the office, as I move from one world to the next and prepare for the rigors of my day. It is a friendly oasis these days between and not unlike the doormen at my building each morning, they send me on my way with their well wishes for a good day and hopes to see me later – and a paper bag with a hot breakfast in my hands and I am repeatedly grateful – and yes, in fact somewhat blessed.