Pamela Harris

Uncle Lorrie September 19, 2014

Last week I finally found my way into a project I've been writing. It feels good to be working steadily again. I've been doing this long enough to know that when I'm fumbling around it'll change and I'll break through, so I keep fumbling. Being in a groove feels easier than not being in a groove, yet then my brain buzzes with low level story distraction and I become bad company. I have to make sure I get out enough to keep air moving between my ears.

I've also been a bit of a weepy mess. Each morning as I go about my routine tears inevitably come. Granted - maybe I should have led with this - my uncle Lorrie died last week. The week before was the anniversary of my mother's death. And the week before that was the anniversary of losing our sweet Opal. Most of my family is dead and the only immediate family left is a sister I haven't spoken with since my mother's funeral four years ago. I feel too young to not have a family, so there's definitely grief in the tears. But in there somewhere is also a kind of intuitive knowledge that change is coming. I don't know what it is or what it looks like, but I can feel it.


The Singleton September 1, 2014

(top and middle photos by Joan Sowma, bottom by Joe Villari)

Ginger is what is known as a singleton. It means solo puppy, either from a litter of one or taken from the litter too young. She was found abandoned and alone at about five weeks old, so we don't know if she had siblings or what happened to her mother or where she got her start.

Most dogs don't leave their litter until eight to twelve weeks at the earliest. Those extra weeks give them a chance to learn when the nipping is too hard or not hard enough or inappropriate. They learn impulse control, since they can't eat if their mother won't roll over, and if they steal or guard toys their siblings won't play. They also get security from having a mother around to investigate the world with and have built-in playmates to shred that world to pieces with.

Singletons need a lot of socialization. Ginger (and Opal's) ASPCA foster mother had two grown dogs and a couple of cats, so Ginger got a solid start when she was rescued. When we got her our goal was to mix her with as many dogs as possible, so every day we took her somewhere to play, to meet people, to meet dogs, to get used to city sounds. Being around puppies was key and we'd take her to a weekly puppy play group at Biscuits and Bath where our battering rams would collide and work their crap out with each other.

A month or two ago she started to grab her leash as we neared the end of a walk. Or she'd butt us in the knee with her nose. Occasionally it would escalate into a full on pit fit where she'd start barking and leaping wildly, running in circles, getting down with her butt in the air like she wanted to play. Trying to get her to settle made it worse, so we'd bait her home with treats. Joe eventually called a behavioralist from the ASPCA who remembered Ginger well, and wasn't surprised when Joe described Ginger's actions. "That's common singleton behavior," she said.

It's called arousal. Some dogs get aroused when they're bored, but Ginger seems to when she's tired and overstimulated. At the end or beginning of a walk, if she can't have a chicken bone, can't drag a cardboard box home, can't lick the dead rat, can't get her way, thar she blows.

The solution was simple: get a chain leash that she won't want to bite. Now, every time she starts to grab the leash, we get her to sit and we give her a treat. Or we give her a floppy toy she likes. She shakes the shit out of it and she settles.

We're always training with her, i.e. she has to sit to get a treat, sit before we open the gate to the dog run, drop and leave things on the street, leave toys or things that aren't hers, and in general not behave like a banshee. She's really good most of the time and she's slowly getting better with this. Next up is trying to get her to sleep past 5:30 a.m. Oh, would that be nice.



Holiday Weekend August 30, 2014

What are we doing today? Absolutely nothing.



Phone Home August 18, 2014

My little E.T. Throwwwwwwwwww itttttttttttt!


Morning August 13, 2014

Ginger just turned ten months old. We're getting a routine down.

She wakes up around 5-5:30 in the morning and plays with her toys until she can't take it anymore - about 4 minutes. Then she howls and growls and digs through her blankets. She runs to Joe's side of the bed and licks his knee then she races down the hall and dives on the floor. She rolls on her back and wiggles all over while she grunts and grrs, then she runs back to the bedroom and howls. We're supposed to ignore her - we reward the good. She whimpers and sits there staring at us while she mewls and whines. It's the saddest thing I've ever heard. She puts her desperate little head inches from mine and quakes for a pet, which is tough to ignore, so after fifteen minutes one of us, usually Joe, gets up.

As he walks down the hall Ginger chases him, then she flips herself over so she's belly up. Rub rub she wiggles. Rub again. He does. Her tail wags a hole through the rug she's so happy. She's not clocking to go down or wanting to eat. She just wants her pack awake with her.

Fifteen minutes later she's on her feet, dragging her bed around the living room. We feed her and by 6:15 one of us (usually Joe) takes her down. We either take her to the river for a nice walk and to a dog run there, or to a run we're members of. She chases a ball, catches it and brings it back, catches it and brings it back. Every four or five catches she jumps in the pool and gums the ball while she splashes around. Then she brings it to us to throw again.

At this point it's nearing 8:00 and we head home. She walks with the ball in her mouth and everyone wants to pet her, take her picture, coo over her. A guy who works in a parking garage once gave her a ball and now she peeks her head in every time we pass to see if he's around. He's as eager to see her and often comes out and pets her. He's part of her street crew now. To this dog, her crew matters.

Closer to home we sometimes pass a gaggle of thuggy teens. They're part of a local harm reduction program and most are homeless. The minute they see Ginger their jailhouse posings and angry stares vanish. Ginger Ginger they yell and she wags and rolls over so they can rub her belly. When they pet Ginger and smile I can see how young they really are. Ginger would sit with them forever, so it takes some coaxing to get her moving.

We get to our building and she dawdles up the stairs. Once we come into the apartment she sits. She drops the ball, we remove her collar and leash, and she gets a treat. She lays under the table while Joe and I have breakfast, and when we settle into work she wraps her paws around Joe's feet and sleeps for a few hours. Sometimes when she dreams she wags her tail in her sleep, which kills me. I'd love to see her sleep until 6:00, or even better, 6:30, but being out when the city is quiet means I hear the birds sing. It also means we have a happy dog. And seeing Ginger happy is infectious.



Rats! August 4, 2014

Remember that 1970's movie, 'Willard,' about the guy with two rats who ends up with an army of them trained for revenge? It did so well they made a sequel, 'Ben,' which ended with a single rat redemption (the other rats were killed by a flamethrower). With the amount of rats I'm sharing the sidewalk with, I may film a reality series called 'Sh*t Your Pants in New York!'

Rats are everywhere. On sidewalks, at the dog run, under cars, in empty lots. Neighbors get the New York Times delivered and the paper is delivered rolled like a tube, tossed at our building's front door. A month ago I saw a rat tail sticking out of the tube, the rat inside gorging away on who knows what. At dusk Ginger stands on point, obsessed with a loading dock across the street. Workers occasionally put garbage there and when they do it's a giant rat saloon, with slithery comings and goings and leaping and eating and frantic mating. There are even new garbage bags that are supposed to be vermin repellent and I frequently see them ravaged on the sidewalks, corners gnawed off, the chewed plastic added to the pile of trash the rats have pulled out to get to the good stuff.

I think it's all the construction mixed with new restaurants. The local newspaper has covered it a little, only in that Tribeca restaurant owners will now be fined if their trash isn't put away properly. What's going on down here is beyond a restaurant problem.

Ten years ago a friend lived on Broadway, in a loft built at the turn of the century. She put in a gorgeous new kitchen in that had a roll-out pantry built into the wall. She kept boxes of large dog cookies in the pantry and couldn't figure out why she was going through them so fast. One morning she saw that a rat had chewed a small hole in the bottom of the box. The rat strategically put the hole in a place where cookies wouldn't fall out, but could be dragged out one by one. They plan, these rats do. Seeing them out in the bright light of day is not normal. This new breed of rat will swagger in through the front door and tuck the dog cookie box under its little rat arm. Then it'll give you the finger while stealing your jewelry, and maybe even grab a book on it's little way out.


Changes July 15, 2014

Last week Joe was in front of our building with the dog, under an awning away from the sun. A homeless guy approached him, wearing clean clothes and a hospital wrist band, as if recently discharged. "I'm done," the guy said. "I've had it and I'm gonna kill someone. I want to go out with a bang." Joe stayed steady, his usual demeanor, though he went on alert. Was this guy going to try to kill him? Joe let the guy vent, he listened, and after a queasy ten minutes the guy walked off. Who knows if the guy stayed calm because Joe acknowledged him as a human being, or if he had other plans. All I cared about when I heard this was that the guy walked away.

The next two days we kept our eyes out and Joe did all the night and early morning walks. This is Soho so it's a constant stream of people, but Joe didn't see him and I didn't see anyone that fit his description. On the afternoon of the third day I was on our block with Ginger when a motorcycle took the corner, broadsided a SUV, and kept going. A bunch of people yelled after him - he caused damage - and I, not being steady like Joe, joined the group who yelled. Ten minutes later I was alone on the block and his motorcycle parked near me. He got off his bike - he was a big fella - and he slowly stalked toward me, carrying his helmet like a weapon. Now it was my turn to die. He was pissed and looked loaded, a dangerous combo, so I put a very concerned look on my face and asked if he was hurt from slamming into the car. All the air went out of him as his fury diffused, and though he eyed me distrustfully he started mumbling about coming back to leave a note. He approached a white van and glanced at me to see if I was watching, and I calmly pointed at a different SUV, the one he actually hit. He looked at the car, then sat on his motorcyle and stared off. I ambled out of their with Ginger.

Yesterday Joe and I were out for a very early morning walk with the dog and as we approached our neighborhood a very large man in a red shirt staggered toward us. "Let your pitbull bite me, c'mon, do it!" We both thought he was joking since we get that a lot then people bend down and hug her. This guy menacingly came at her and Joe walked her out of his radius and we continued on our walk. I was shaken but also felt relieved. Things happen in threes and that was our third run-in.

Our neighborhood has been changing for a while. A lot of homeless people sleep in the park nearby, on the school stairs, on the wide steel ledges in front of old cast iron loft buildings. Most of the homeless I see are gentle, beaten down, trying to get through the day. Some could be institutionalized for sure, but the rage on the street is something I haven't seen in many years. What's different today is our neighborhood isn't sliding down -- it's blowing up. Literally; buildings are coming down fast and a whole new skyline is going up.

Because of that skyline, the way light moves through my apartment is changing. On almost every block there's construction for new condos, co-ops, or gut building renovations. They advertise 'Home as it should be' and start around ten million dollars. Five million is cheap down here. Twenty-five million isn't unheard of. Out of town buyers are rampant, which means owners don't live here. In turn commercial rents are rocketing and the neighborhood infrastructure of laundromats, delis, hardware stores, basic goods, our hospital, are gone or nearly gone. They've been replaced by high-end restaurants, boutique hotels, tea shops, French bakeries.

The changes in the last year have been startling. Many of my regular spots have closed, spots in my landscape that made this city home. Joe's Dairy, Pearl Paint, the gas station and car wash on the corner, Sullivan Street Bakery, Cody's, OK Harris gallery and Loehmann's are just a few. A couple years back my lunch spot, Jerry's, moved ten blocks south, but closed this year when it couldn't survive the move. At night it's gotten loud with partiers screaming on the street at 4 a.m. Living here I'd hear hear tunnel traffic, but never people. Now there's noise day and night from construction cranes, pile drivers, jackhammers, clubbers, angry drivers who are angrier than they were a year ago, hotel doormen blowing whistles to hail cabs for guests. There's a constant hum now. Sleeping has gotten fractured.

I was out recently and ran into a DJ who's been around for 20 years. We were talking about how New York has changed and he commented that his New York doesn't exist anymore. I'm feeling this way, too. Everything changes, change is constant, but what's happening here -- maybe even in the world -- feels fundamental. Even culturally it's gone beige and corporate. In New York City! It's as if the most basic givens are no longer.


Wednesday June 22, 2014

We had been throwing a ball at the dog run and as we leashed up to leave two of Ginger's friends came in. Things get a little wild with these two dogs, but Ginger hadn't had a good rumble in a couple of days so I stayed. It's all fun and games until someone starts crying, and on Wednesday that someone was me. As Ginger was barreling down the astroturf flanked by her mates she suddenly screamed and dropped onto her side. She laid there stone still, not moving.

It took me two seconds to reach her. The other owners quickly grabbed their dogs as I carefully looked her over. The astroturf gets slippery and it happened so fast I couldn't figure out what she hurt. I slowly checked each leg for a broken bone or something in her paw or anything that would tell me what happened. She didn't cry at all so I helped her to her feet and saw that whatever happened, it was her right leg. She was limping as I led her out of the run so we sat for a few minutes to settle. Joe was uptown and I couldn't call him for help, so I picked her up and carried her home.

I was a wreck, much more than she was. She's a compact forty pounds so I could walk okay with her, but had to stop a few times climbing the stairs. She was so calm. It didn't seem like anything was broken, but I wanted to get her home and get a good look at her. Instead I ended up taking her back out -- she had to pee as soon as we got home, and while we were outside Joe came home. Or really, I kept her down there since I knew he'd be home soon.

He carried her upstairs and she let him gently turn her this way and that. We iced her leg and she seemed okay, except she wouldn't put weight on it. We hoped it was a sprain, but our vet was closed so the next morning we went over before they opened and waited. Our vet took us immediately and it turned out it was a sprain, and now Ginger is on a pain killer, an anti-inflammatory and rest.

All Thursday she was mellow and quiet. Joe carried her up and down the stairs, and outside she wouldn't put weight on her leg but would occasionally test it. We carried her to a local garden where she could sit on a bench and get attention then Friday evening her banshee came out. She started racing around the apartment on three legs, she threw her toys in the air, she dragged her bed around the living room. Yesterday she woke up and was barely limping. When we wouldn't take her to the dog run she ripped her blanket off her bed and wrapped it around her head so she could furiously gnaw her way through it. We did take her on a slow walk, emphasis on slow, but no playing with dogs until we check in with the vet on Monday. This morning she was like a popped spring at 5:15 a.m. so Joe took her out with a ball to roll, not chase.

In the last couple of days she's gained a couple pounds between growing and no exercise. She loves being carried and now lifts her paw when she's done walking. Carry me to that squished rat. Bring me to the garden. Find me a chicken bone. Give me a cookie and make it artisanal. She's gone from sweet Ginger to insane Ginger, but it's still a relief to see her inching back to herself.




The other evening we were coming home from our after dinner walk and as we neared our block we passed two elderly men in suits. They were Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly. I leaned to Joe and said, 'Holy shit' and turned around for a second look. Claes Oldenburg lives next door and I see him often, but to see them together was thrilling. It felt like what old New York must have felt like, two art icons casually walking and talking, maybe heading to dinner given their lack of rush yet sense of purpose. CO must be in his 80's and EK is at least 90, and what stood out was their complete lack of self-consciousness.

Oftentimes, when I see a celebrity on the street, no matter how un-self conscious they appear you can sense their antennae looking for a camera. Claes Oldenburg and Ellsworth Kelly were oblivious. Granted, paparazzi may not stalk them, but it was like seeing Mickey Mantle walk by. Oldenburg's and Kelly's art changed art. They may slip around the city anonymously, but their impact is tremendous.

Top image:

Ellsworth Kelly Colors for a Large Wall 1951 Oil on canvas mounted on sixty-four joined panels 240 x 240 cm The Museum of Modern Art, New York, gift of the artist, 1969

Bottom image:

Claes Oldenburg Clothespin, 1976 (Philadelphia)


Ball Dog June 10, 2014

(top photo by Laura Smith)

Ginger has turned into a ball dog. At first she'd watch it sail past, then eventually she started trotting after it. She'd catch it and parade it around the dog run, showing it to everyone while she bounced it in her jaws. Once in a while she'd bring it back, but she'd usually plop down and shred it. Then we started training her.

We'd throw the ball, she'd chase it, we'd bribe her back with a treat. Drop we'd say and pretty quickly she got it. When she'd drop it Joe would give her a treat then immediately throw it. She'd chase it, bring it back, get a treat, chase it. Pretty soon she started bringing it back and dropping it at our feet on her own, treat or no treat. Within a week we had a ball dog.

Chaos can break out at the dog run and she'll ignore it if we're throwing a ball. Her best friends come lomping onto the run and if she's chasing, she doesn't care. She'll go until she drops, so we'll end it long before she's ready to. Or we'll end it if we want her to play. She's a thief so we have to watch her with toys that aren't hers, but one of the runs supplies piles of balls so if another dog intercepts hers there's always another close by. Early mornings we get into a throwing and chasing rhythm that's a kind of meditation. It's a great way to start the day.

When we leave the run, if she looks like she doesn't want to move I'll give her a ball to carry. She wags the whole way home with it in her mouth, showing it off to dogs and humans alike. I'll take it from her at the end of our block then use it to bribe her up the stairs. When we get home I trade her a treat for the ball and it goes on top of the fridge until we go out again later. This dog loves her routine and happily, we do, too.