Pamela Harris

Upstate November 10, 2014

We had been talking about moving.

We talked about moving almost three years ago and even went upstate to check out a few houses. We were looking for a little bit of land where we could listen to birds. Columbia County on the east side of the Hudson had peaked our interest since it was right on the water and looked like Vermont.

The first property we looked at we fell in love with. It was a ten-thousand square-foot barn on five acres. It was a spectacular wreck - you could see the sky through the roof, and an animal, maybe a badger, had cleared a path from a little copse of trees to a snuggly home under the cement floor. But it also had fifty-year old beams and cross beams and a silo and it was sturdy and solid. The circuit breaker box had an afro of wires coming out of it and supposedly a well and septic were already in, and we actually considered buying it for about five minutes. When we put numbers down and estimated what it would take to get in and finish it over time, the basic costs were astronomical.

We kept looking online, but nothing compared to that barn. I found a beauty of a farmhouse with a small barn and it got snatched up fast. Joe got a big freelance gig, I got busy, we kept looking online, and though we found things that were nice, nothing said home.

I'm not sure why or how or what was in the air, but about three months ago Joe and I looked at each other and we knew we were ready to move. I've written about this and that and both, really, are just another bead on the how-New-York-is-changing necklace. Something has shifted here, something has finally given me the push I need to fully commit to leaving. I have been here a very long time and New York City is home. But I am now ready to make home elsewhere.

We've opened our search to the west and east side of the Hudson, within roughly two hours from Manhattan. Last month we looked at houses on the west side of the river and confirmed that there can be a flooding problem in some of the Hudson River towns. (One of my favorite houses had a stone wall in the living room, and when I touched it the stones were wet. Ginger thought it tasted good.) We also saw what the bad economy and lack of employment has done to some of these beautiful towns and to say they're depressed doesn't describe the emptiness that permeates street after street. We'll gladly do up and coming that's rough on the edges, so hopefully by widening our search we'll discover a great little town. There's a lot of movement north right now, so I'm sure eventually we'll find a place that feels like home.

Some of these small towns have Second Empire homes like the one above. (It's not for sale and I believe it's been cut up into six apartments.) Call me crazy, but there's something about a Munster-y house that's perfect. I don't like small rooms or low ceilings and some of these oldsters have been trashed. But sometimes they're exquisite. Look at it! Come for noodle salad!

Halloween 2014 November 1, 2014

The Halloween Parade loads in on our block and those surrounding it and we wondered what Ginger would think of all the antics. On the way home from the dog park she dove into it. For five minutes. Then she saw a spider that smelled like a dog and decided she had enough.

One October 1, 2014

Today, Ginger is one. It's hard to believe the little boogie is a whole year old. No-one knows her exact birth date, but today feels right.

She got a new bed and a new ball, a Turnup that goes haywire when it bounces. (She can destroy a tennis ball in a nanosecond and this ball is sturdier. Plus its crazy bouncing exhausts her.) For lunch she had some homemade braciole and later we'll take her to the dog run to throw her ball some more.

The braciole is her favorite present. Joe's a vegetarian, but every once in a while he cooks what he grew up with for me and the dog. He makes the braciole with meatballs and a sauce and it takes most of the day. Ginger sits on her bed in the kitchen and after about two hours of smelling meat meat meat tries to catch his eye with "Now?" Not now. "Now?" Not now. I roam in and out of the kitchen looking for some dumb excuse to be there and finally Joe puts the water on for the spaghetti. That's when I know we're close. I dive into my seat and Ginger and I stare at each other, both shaking with wait. Joe will cut a small braciole into little pieces to put over her kibble, he'll slice up a fresh Italian bread, and then we all sit down to eat. (Joe makes himself spaghetti and sauce.) We barely speak it's so good.

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.