Pamela Harris

First Time Ever March 16, 2016

(photo by David Pultz)

About a month ago I sat down to write about Donald Trump. But where to begin?

He's been on and off in the background since I moved to New York. I don't remember if the first time I noticed him in the mainstream press was because he and his then wife, Ivana, bought Mar-a-Lago and gold-plated everything in it. He built Trump Tower midtown and that, too, shimmered with the look of gold. The joke was he didn't: he started an airline, then it failed. He went bankrupt then went bankrupt again. Ivana was out and Marla Maples was in. I don't begrudge a person a failed relationship, yet I remember Page Six had a raucous time with him.

The thing is, nobody took him seriously. He was all bluster and balls, but when you wiped his ego away there was no there there. If he popped up in the press it was entertainment, nothing more.

My perception of him began to change when construction began on Trump Soho, a condo-hotel highrise on Spring Street near my house. (Supposedly, Trump sold his name to the developers and manages Trump Soho versus owns it.) The neighborhood protested, to no effect. Excavation at the site began and soon after workers hit human remains. They discovered 190 bodies were buried in the lot, in vaults, multiracial members of a church from the 1800's (see photo above). The NYT described the find as, "It is not just that a great window has opened on 19th-century urban life (one-third of the remains were those of children, and half of them suffered from rickets). A link has been forged to New Yorkers who were in the forefront of early battles against slavery."

Archaeologists were called and after that the story gets gray. Out my window construction barely stopped. Some articles say that the bodies were quickly moved to study them out of the public eye, "to respect the privacy of deceased individuals." What happened next depends on what article you read, since many have opposing facts. It does seem that Trump was supposed to bury the remains elsewhere and instead the remains disappeared. As did the story.

The ghosts must not have been happy. A worker fell off the roof and died. Pre-sales for the condos were reported to be brisk, but this was a lie. Lawsuits followed and Trump Soho went into foreclosure.

Soon after, a documentary, YOU'VE BEEN TRUMPED, played the festival circuit. It documented Donald Trump's attempts to build a golf course on an environmentally sensitive stretch of coastline in Scotland and how the locals tried to prevent it. It got built with the promise that it would generate 6,000 jobs, but ultimately added only 200. It was reported that Trump was bullying locals to get their land, leaving them without electricity or water. When a wind farm was proposed within eyesight of the golf course Trump opposed it. Another legal battle followed. He lost (so far), but by this point Trump was moving more and more into the public view. It meant his responses to those opposing him were, too. You're a loser, you're a fool, you're totally irrevelant, you're stupid. For the very first time I got see that Trump was a bully.

I grew up with a bully. My sister wasn't savvy like Trump nor as personable, but like him she had absolute belief in the truth of her convictions, no matter how completely lacking in truth they might be. The fury in her behavior caused real fear in others - you could call it terror - and I saw that most people gave her what she wanted to avoid being humiliated by her wrath.

The way I dealt with her changed over the years. When I was little I'd run when she lifted her fists. In my teens I avoided her as much as I could. If we were home alone I went out or pulled all-nighters with friends, whatever it took to not see her. My face would burn at the insults she'd levee and I'd panic at her threats. As I got older I'd go silent to show my opposition, or crack a joke to crack the tension, or keep my visits brief. Deep down I soothed my hurt by feeling smarter than she was, more sophisticated, more independent. It wasn't until my thirties that I realized how afraid of her I was. I still remained inert around her, diffusing, diffusing, diffusing.

And then one day I didn't. I was in Massachusetts to take my mother to chemo and an argument over her care escalated. My sister threatened to "kick my fucking ass and smash my fucking face in." My heart pounded and I could feel myself start to slide into ignore it, what a fucking asshole, be cool, and something in me stopped that slide. I looked at my sister and for the very first time saw an equal, not someone better or worse than me. From nowhere I told her I loved her, and that I always wanted her to love me, and I was sad that we never felt like sisters. I was matter of fact, calm. And then I told her I wasn't afraid of her anymore. At this she raised her fists like she always did. For the first time ever, I clenched my own. She must have seen something in my face because she suddenly screamed and ran out the front door. I watched her run in circles on the front yard, screaming in frustration. I looked at my mother, who shrugged like she always did, and in that moment I told my mother I loved her. She patted my hand and said that was nice. "Now you tell me," I said. Neither of us had ever said those words to each other and she dodged - that's nice dear - and ducked - okay dear - then after a couple of more pokes finally she told me.

My sister came back in the house, silent, and for the first time ever I saw hate in her eyes. I grinned and boasted, "Mom just told me she loved me." I put my arm around my mother and possessively patted her shoulder. "I love you both," my mother said. My sister's face hardened more. I didn't care.

Two friends of mine know Donald Trump. "It's all a front," they say. "He's not like that. He's doing this for show." They quickly add, "He'll never win." In this world we're living in, do all bullies lose?

The Ball Dog January 24, 2016

We weren't sure what to expect with Ginger and the snow. She loved it last year, but last year she was a tyke, a tiny thing, so we did a lot of carrying and quick plays.

Yesterday we went out at 6:00 am for a family walk (it was my birthday, and on birthdays and holidays we always do family walks) and she was crazed. The deeper the snow, the deeper she plunged into it. She loves snowdrifts and likes to walk wherever it isn't plowed. We came home and she whined for an hour, needing to go back out. Having to go back out.

Today we spent an hour at a basketball court around the corner. It was her second walk - after the first she came home long enough to warm up, eat, nap and get a cookie. Right now she's behind me snoring, though she'll wake up any minute because the meatballs Joe are cooking are just about done. With the blizzard, my birthday continued into today and a perfect dinner is coming right up.

The New Year December 31, 2015

What to bring into the new year with me and what to leave behind:

In: Lately I've been fearing that I eat like a pig. I eat out a bit with friends, but mostly I'm home or out with Joe. The last month I've been having an exceptionally good time with food and there have been instances with Joe where I don't think twice about picking something out of my tooth, or grabbing the hunk of whatever fell off my fork and onto the table back up with my fingers and shoving it into my mouth. I'm talking the whole time, btw, not missing a beat. I haven't wiped something off my shirt and plopped it in my mouth, nor have I eaten anything that fell on the floor. These might simply be 'yet's.' HP, let me be a little more elegant while dining.

Out: Broken sleep. Ginger, we love you madly. I could list a million ways we love you here, but I'm too tired to make sense of them. No more wanting to go out at 3:00 or 4:00 to play. Sleep until 6:00. Give me a solid eight hours. I'll gladly take seven. Six, unbroken. I look like I'm eighty these days from lack of sleep.

In: Pretty much what my life already is. This year I moved into a new place with accepting what is and not getting too hung up on what isn't. I have my moments still, mostly with work, but they don't last long. This year I really got to see that I persevere, no matter what.

The happiest New Year to everyone I know. xoxo

Ahhhhhhh December 26, 2015

The happiest holiday to all. It's been a while since I've posted and for a few days now I've been planning to, but goofing off has gotten in the way. I had to mutter and putter this way, then pat the Ginger that way. Then roam to the fridge and take a bite of everything in it, then get on the couch and ponder what to watch. In short it's been a perfect couple of days.

What's been going on is, I wrote a play. Last Saturday I did a closed read-through with an amazing cast and it was illuminating to hear the words and see kernels of what works and what might not. The reading was a chance for all of us to share the words on the page - it wasn't about performance - but it was a pro cast and they came prepared. This week and next I'm percolating, seeing what comes up.

Putting a reading together is a bit of work. I also directed it, which meant casting it, then meeting individually with each actor. I also got the physical space to hold the reading in and dealt with the numerous details that come up. for anyone considering doing the same, it's worth it. I can't yet see the changes I'll make to the play, but I can feel them. The play is almost ready.

There was also a lot of art business to deal with, most of it good. Most of it: I was on a really nice roll, then a dealer vanished with a painting. The dealer was someone I had never worked with, but she had been around for over twenty years and had a great reputation. It was a private show curated for a corporation, and when it was supposed to come down the dealer suddenly refused to return emails. I called her and she panicked when she heard my voice, then pretty much hung up. We had contracts - this wasn't the usual handshake deal - and after two months of trying to deal with her I reached out to the other artists in the show. They also weren't getting emails or calls returned, so together we wrote, then called the dealer. After another week of silence I'd had enough and called the dealer's client who had sponsored the show. That worked. The painting came back within the week.

Every part of life has been busy and this week and next is delightfully quiet. Purposefully quiet - I'm spur of the moment and not making plans. Anything good to watch that I may have missed?

Anything good to eat that I may have missed eating? I doubt it.

If I don't get off the couch between now and January 1st, the happiest New Year to everyone. I so appreciate all your comments and emails and love hearing your thoughts. May 2016 be golden.

(For those of you who don't live locally, that's a trash can on a subway platform.)

Sergio Sanchez October 29, 2015

In my last post, I mentioned that I found a wallet walking Ginger. It was early in the morning, really early, with the sun just coming up. We were walking near Spring St. and I was half asleep, my eyes absently following the curb. Ginger stopped to sniff a crack in the sidewalk and after a few moments a wallet registered near the gutter.

The wallet was small, designer, the kind that has slots for credit cards and a license, but no opening for money. Maybe you'd carry your money in a clip or cram it into your front pocket. Or maybe you don't need money anymore because of plastic and Apple money and bitcoin.

I picked the wallet up and took a quick look through it. There was a hotel card, a lot of cards for tattoo shops, and then I saw a license. The name on it was Sergio Sanchez and in the picture he had a nice enough face. Ginger and I had a walk to get to, so I put the wallet in my bag, we went to the dog run, and about an hour later we came home. Once she was settled I did a quick search and found many Sergio Sanchez's. I googled his address and a few clicks later I found him.

He was an artist and tattoo artist. I found a few email addresses for him and by the time I made a cup of coffee he had exuberantly written back. He couldn't believe I found it. He was midtown at a hotel and came right down, and after he gave me a huge hug he patted his pockets, like he was looking for money to give me a reward. I didn't want one or need one - I've been mugged and what sucked wasn't just the pain of losing my wallet but losing all the little irreplaceable things I kept in it. Plus, I loved that wallet. I didn't ask Sergio how he felt about losing his wallet, or if he liked his wallet, or how and when it went missing, but I do know that if you lose a wallet you want it back.

The address for this blog is a tag in my emails, so he must've checked it out while we were emailing. He liked the blog and loved Ginger's pictures, and for a thank you he wanted to do a drawing of her. Though I genuinely didn't want anything, how do I say no to that? Could I say no to that?

He seemed like a sincere guy and I know how gratitude in the moment can make you want to give the moon to whomever you want to give it to. I also know that time passes and life gets in the way despite best intentions. I had no expectations whatsoever, and I was surprised when a week or so later he emailed me looking for a hi-res Ginger picture. I sent him a few, still with no expectations. Which is why I was completely shocked and elated when, two months later, his wife emailed me for my address. He had finished the drawing.

The day I found his wallet I checked out his website and saw he had done some gorgeous animal tattoos. Really beautiful. I was on my way out when the drawing showed up and Joe wanted to let me open it. Though I got home very late that night I couldn't wait to see it and carefully opened the package. When I did, my eyes teared up.

The photo above doesn't do the drawing justice. Sergio captured Ginger's essence in his drawing, her angst and excitement and vulnerability and quirky self. His drawing is truly of our dog. It's so beautiful in person and I can't wait for it to come back from the framer so I can hang it.

My tears, though, were also because I was so moved that Sergio Sanchez took the time to do this drawing. He did it with love, too, which says everything about this guy. Humanity can feel like it's cracking and crumbling, to the point where I have to knuckle down and pray for faith. The drawing is a gift in so many ways. Sergio Sanchez, I thank you deeply.

Good Luck Dog September 14, 2015

I'm always interested in why certain posts trigger a lot of emails. The last post certainly did, so I want to reiterate that as far as I know, our building is not for sale. Nor is there a buyout on the horizon.

We are finding money, however. I've hinted and more than hinted that Ginger is keeping off hours, and what this means is she's overwhelmed by all the construction and won't leave the block when the sun is up. She loves the workers and many love her, but the chaos is too much. She's a high energy dog, so she has to get out and run, and this means that Joe has been taking her to the dog run in the middle of the night. Anywhere from 1:00 to 3:00 in the morning she wakes us up, and out they go to play.

We've tried everything to change it and this is what it is right now. I take her out around 6:00 in the morning, sometimes a little later, and we might go to the river or stroll for a walk. Any day now we'll get rid of the middle of the night walk. Any day.

The city is very different at the hours Joe is out. He sees it all, yet he also sees quiet. What we both see, however, whether it's 2:00 in the morning or 6:00 in the morning, is what people lose.

Over a year ago, we were all out for an early morning family walk and there, on the quiet sidewalk, was a fifty, folded neatly in half. A few months later I found a twenty, then Joe found a twenty.

This winter, sitting neatly on the fresh snow, I found another twenty. A few months ago I was wrangling Ginger up Mercer Street and on the middle step of a stoop was a pretty gold elephant charm on a tangled thin gold chain. I could almost see the graceful girl who may have been wearing it, maybe sitting with a guy after their date. Maybe she was nervously playing with the elephant and didn't realize she loosened a loop on the chain.

I found an amazing pair of bisque lamps once with Ginger and after we came home I went back out to get them. We've met groups of twenty-somethings who were so well dressed and so high that when they bent over to pet Ginger, vials of white powder fell out of their top pockets.

Walking Ginger we pass keys, sweaters, scarfs, pants. I once found a pile of Manolo Blahnik shoes, right shoe only, size 11. Two months ago I found a wallet, and when I tracked down the owner he was so relieved to get it back he wanted to do a drawing of Ginger as a thank you. I didn't want a reward, but how could I say no to that?

We have a ceramic tray we put Ginger's money in and last year she bought herself a beautiful winter coat. This year she might buy herself a car harness or a flotation vest. If she finds another twenty, we might even monogram it.

The Buyouts August 24, 2015

Seven years ago a good friend lived on West Broadway, in a small studio. She lived there for over twenty years and then the building sold. She was rent stabilized, which basically means the landlord has to offer a new lease when the old lease is up, at an increase set annually by the city. Rent-stabilized apartments tend to have lower rents than market apartments, often much lower, since a landlord can up the rent any amount desired with the latter once a lease is up.

The general law with rent-stabilization is, once a rent hits $2700 a month, the apartment comes out of stabilization and goes to market rates. When a stabilized apartment becomes vacant, landlords usually renovate it or do enough work to the space to up the rent over $2700 a month and therefore free it from stabilization laws.

There's also rent-control, but rent-control laws went out years ago and these apartments are rare. Our building has two apartments that are still rent-controlled, and these tenants, who moved into the building in the 1950s, probably pay less than $900 a month for a one-bedroom. (Their neighbors pay around $3200 for the exact same apartment.) In addition to the two rent-controlled spaces there are maybe five rent-stabilized apartments left in our building and the rest are market.

Back to the friend who lived on West Broadway. When her building sold, she was offered $20,000 by the new owners to move out. They eventually settled on $50,000, and a month later she moved to Brooklyn. Around this same time a building on Thompson Street sold and one tenant, an elderly woman who had lived there forever, refused to take a buyout. She didn't care what the offer was. She wasn't moving. The new owners started construction around her with the hopes that the inconvenience would make her move, but she got an injunction against them. The building still stands as it was.

I've written about our neighborhood being a giant construction pit and over the last year some of the buyouts we're hearing about have been substantial. A guy with a Pomeranian at one end of the block had a big rent-stabilized apartment in a small townhouse and got $500,000 to move. Across the street, a woman with a Chihuahua inherited a townhouse from her auntie, who paid $50,000 for the building in the '50s. A builder paid her $12 million to move, and she's now in Tribeca.

Another townhouse owner just got $12 million to add his townhouse to the lot of buildings that got knocked down across the street. We watched it get razed this summer. The owner of the lot paid the owners of a nearby building $26 million for air rights, which allows for the new building to be taller than it could. We just heard that Renzo Piano will design the new building that's to rise here, and this ramps everything up a notch.

Renzo Piano designing a building is a big deal. The buyout chatter has risen and it's now moved to our end of the block. Will our owners sell? A mom and pop own our building and they bought it in the 1970s to leave to their kids. Their kids want nothing to do with complaining tenants and constant maintenance, but it's not their call to sell. A few buyers have made big offers to the owners and they've passed, so I don't think this building is going anywhere for a while.

The building next to ours is single-family, artist owned, that if anything may one day be converted to a museum. The building next to that is a small loft building converted to five co-ops. (One frequently rents for $24,000 a month and once the Piano building rises so will that rent.) The two buildings after this are owned by brothers and there's a lot of hopeful buyout chatter there. One of these buildings has rambling, mostly rent-stabilized apartments. The other building has small apartments with shared toilets in the hall and bathtubs in the kitchens. It's real old school New York, or what New York used to be. Our whole block is, really.

Our downstairs rent-stabilized neighbor loves to fantasize about how much he'll hold out for, should our building sell. His price is $250,000, a figure that started at half that amount then steadily ticked up with the rate of neighborhood construction. I don't really think about it, since I don't see it happening anytime soon. It's so easy to get tangled up in what might be, but then it becomes golden hand-cuffs. Ginger would love to move and would probably do so for a good cookie, since she's done with all the construction and the noise and the dust. I'm with her on that. Would you hold out and wait?

Scaffolding August 7, 2015

We heard rumors last year that this parking garage had sold. Behind it, where that little tree to the left is, lived a very beholden church. The church sold quite a few years ago, but once a year a vigil would be held and many wreaths would be laid on the steps.

Earlier this year the church finally came down. Next to it, a brownstone came down with it. That is now one building site.

This parking garage is a second building site. Rumors on the street are already flying over it. If you look at the bottom photo, you'll see a yellow building to the right of the garage. It's an old building, kind of sweet looking. Supposedly, the parking garage needed to use their roof for scaffolding and the yellow building said fine but that will cost you half a million dollars. The garage wasn't going to pay that, and then some deal was struck. Overnight scaffolding went up in the back of the building, out of eye shot, on the patio of a first floor tenant of the yellow building. We don't know if they plan to use the roof still, but we do know that the first floor tenant is none too happy about it.

That's the least of it, since all the tenants in the yellow building and even one of the top guys working on the garage are worried over what will happen to the yellow building once they start taking down the garage. The yellow building is old, so old they think some of the mortar might be sand. And the garage is as old if not older, so who knows what structure might be supporting the other.

Then there's the rumor that the church and brownstone site refused to let the garage people access the back of the garage through the church's site to put up that scaffolding on the patio, and a whole lot of ego got exchanged in that exchange.

We're curious why the garage people are erecting scaffold around the billboard, since that billboard has to come down. The scaffolding is going up fast - today is day three since the scaffolding truck pulled up.

To the left of the scaffolding, the red brick building with what looks like a grid of windows on its facade is brand new. As is everything on that block to the right of it. And to the left, though you can't see either of these directions because of new construction.

All the trucks and beeps and general cacophony of living in a construction pit has put Ginger on edge. She only wants to go out at three in the morning and that's when Joe takes her to the dog run. I take her to the river or for a long walk at six a.m., and once the sun is fully up and construction has kicked in she won't leave our patch of sidewalk. We're barely sleeping, but we're hoping things start to change once all the demolishing is finished. It's wishful thinking, but it's what I'm telling myself right now. The construction guys and occasional construction gal love her, so she's happy as can be.

New Show July 12, 2015

It's been going well in the studio. I go through spurts where every drawing works out and I've been in that process.

It actually never goes not well. My attitude is however it's going is how it's going. I've been doing it long enough to get satisfaction from it, no matter what. Writing is much more frustrating. Though also immensely satisfying.

Over the last few months I've had some new people coming through my studio. I'm in a show that opened yesterday at the Amy Simon Gallery and it seems to be going well so far. I like showing and it's nice to be back out there. The show will be up through August.

Wynn Handman July 9, 2015

The acting coach and all around extraordinary human being I studied with this spring, Wynn Handman, was recently interviewed for Theatre Talk. The interview appeared on Channel 13 and CUNY/TV last week, and in case you're curious about him or want to get a sense of him, you can see the interview here.